Things you didn’t know about embedded carbon

There has become an increased awareness of the embodied carbon and the products we use in construction. A knowledgeable Owner’s representative or Project manager if part of the team can consult to benefit the project in reducing the quantity or volume of products with high embodied carbon.The amount of concrete consumed in new foundations with the increased structural requirements has a huge amount of embodied carbon due to the high temperatures required to create portland cement. Similarly, fenestrations in new buildings and homes have huge amounts of aluminum framed windows. These also have a high embodied carbon due the requirements for extracting, processing and fabricating aluminum. Below is a couple of databases that can be accessed online for free to help you measure the carbon embedded in your building.

Quartz

Accessed online for free, Quartz is a “common product” database—meaning it represents the typical impacts of about 100 generic products. Profiles include not only embodied carbon numbers but also other embodied impacts (like smog-formation potential) as well as material health data (like whether the product includes carcinogens during its life cycle).

Compared with ICE, which looks at broad groups of materials like aluminum and concrete, Quartz is much more specific. Rather than aluminum, for example, it has profiles for anodized aluminum curtainwall extrusions and PVDF-coated aluminum curtainwall extrusions.

The Quartz database is rich in product information, but, like ICE, it reports data by weight rather than by functional unit. It does this, according to the website, because the “exact function, quantity, duration, and quality of the product within the building are unknown, and the installation and use phases of the life cycle are omitted.” This means you can only compare insulation products, for instance, by weight instead of by thermal performance. In order to really make comparisons, the latter is needed, and that requires WBLCA.

Carbon Designer

An add-on to One Click LCA , Carbon Designer is a sophisticated early-phase tool that allows for quick side-by-side comparisons of a baseline building (chosen by the user based on region, building dimensions, and other parameters) and a design building (produced by making changes to the baseline assumptions). It’s very much a “what if” tool: what if I altered my concrete mix, or what if I changed the type of slab I’m using? Charts show what the proposed changes would do to the embodied carbon footprint of different building assemblies.

A barrier to more widespread use of this software is that it can only be purchased as part of a package with a WBLCA tool.

As an Owner’s Representative and Project Manager I counsel the design team to try and minimize the amount of embedded carbon. I do these types of consultations in my work in Marin, Sonoma, and Napa county.

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Differences in Architecture Across the US: Which Style is Right for You

Recently I have been traveling in the midwest. I am a Southern California native so I am always taken aback by the lovely brick homes and basements in more eastern regions. It makes me think about the differences in home architecture in the midwest vs. California and the different needs for safety and architecture styles when considering home design. 

The biggest difference between common homes in the midwest and homes on the west coast are basements (what are those? You mean they have a greater purpose than storing wine?). Many people I talk to from the midwest are surprised to learn that basements in California are not common. Brick is seen all over the Midwest because it is more likely to withstand tornadoes, but is not seen very often on the west coast because it is not suitable for earthquakes as there is not much give to it. If you live in a small town or rural area you may not need an advanced security system, however, if you live in a crowded city this may take priority. There are many things to consider when building a home to make sure it is safe for the area you are building in.

However, there are differences in architecture across the US depending on climate and culture. For example, houses with a triangular roof are more ideal for areas where it snows. There is a little more upkeep required when you live in a building with a flat roof to ensure the weight of snow doesn’t cave in your house. Adobe style structures, reminiscent of the Native Americans, are popular in the Southwest where it gets incredibly hot in the summer. These style houses help trap in the cold and the clay coloring fits in with the desert landscape. 

Construction Project Manager

A superb home in which Richard Wodehouse was the construction Project Manager. Lovely winter getaway that blends into its surroundings.

Then there are cultural differences in architecture across the US. Architects Greene and Greene designed the Craftsman style house in California which is why they are most popular out here. Spanish and mission style houses are more popular in California because of the Spanish influence in California and Mexico. Greek democracy was a large influence on architecture in the United States in the 18th and 19th century. This is why there are many homes and buildings on the East Coast that have features that mimic greek buildings such as columns or pillars around the house, pediments above doors, and even large porches. There is also the obvious nod to Greek architecture in state government and federal buildings like the buildings in the National Mall. More colonial style houses are popular on the East Cast where those designs originated, along with the shingle mansions on the coastal regions designed to fit in with the landscape. In the 1920’s art deco style structures swept the nation and these style buildings can still be seen from coast to coast and are represented in Malibu homes and buildings like the Chrysler Building in New York. 

Of course with the move of technology and advances in home building, you can see any of these styles outside of their origin. It is important to have a project manager or owners representative when building a home that is familiar with the styles of architecture and methods of building in the region you plan to build your custom home. Homes on the coast in Big Sur and Marin need to be able to withstand salt and sand as the waves carry it through homes. Many neighborhoods and regions have certain requirements like stilts or height parameters. If you want to build the custom home of your dreams and you have a specific style in mind Richard Wodehouse from West Coast Project Management has years of experience building custom homes in snow area like Telluride Colorado, the Spanish style homes in the posh Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego County, and where he is located now in Marin. 

Art Deco style home

Before building a home, research all of the different styles out there, see what will work for you and your family. Then consult with a seasoned professional to work out a plan on how to build. If you are in San Francisco, Tiburon, Napa, Sonoma, Berkeley, or Marin consider consulting West Coast Project Management for your home building needs. 

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Building Green’s Top 10 Products for 2019

Building Green recently published their top ten energy efficient products of 2019. If you would like more information on these products you can watch the video from Building Green here. However, the following are the products and what they replace (in no particular order):

10. SolarEdge EV Charging Single Phase Inverter- This replaces the standard home outlet for charging vehicles or difficult to integrate renewable energy and EV charging stations.

9. Industrial Louvers Custom Aluminum Sunshades- These sunshades offer an answer for buildings with no exterior sun control.

8. Rheem Prestige Series Hybrid Electric Heat Pump Water Heater- To replace the old standard water heater.

7. Superior Essex Red List Free Communication Category Cable- Use these cables to replace PVC-coated high voltage copper wiring.

6. Rad Power Bikes Red Wagon- These fun bikes can help cut down on energy, traffic, and car usage.

5. Shaw PVC-Free Resilient Flooring- This flooring can replace vinyl resilient flooring

4. Urban Mining Northeast Pozzotive Ground Glass Pozzolan- Replacing high global warming potential concrete.

3. MSA Safety Chillgard 5,000 Refrigerant Leak Monitor- Reduces your risk of high global warming potential refrigerant leaks.

2. NantEnergy Zinc-Air Smart Energy Storage Systems- Replace toxic lead-acid batteries.

1. Seool  Semiconductor SunLike Series LED- Get a more illuminating and less offensive light than regular LEDs with these.

http://www.seoulsemicon.com/en/

Seool SunLike LED

Whether you are building or renovating a home, or just want to learn new ways to help lower your carbon footprint, these are great alternatives to outdated energy uses.

If you live in the Bay Areas of Berkeley, Tiburon, Marin or San Francisco, and you are in the midst of or thinking about building the custom home of your dreams, make sure you have a knowledgeable project manager or owner’s representative to help you build an energy efficient home.

There are plenty of places to cut costs when building a home, but cutting costs at the expense of our environment does not need to be one of them.

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THE PERILS OF THE HOME MORTGAGE PROCESS

The following applies to mortgages called “jumbo” or over the standard Fannie Mae size that you hear adds for such as “rocket mortgages”.

If you are in a position of considering a refinance to help you purchase a home you most likely know someone who has gone through this process already. If you have then you probably know that refinancing (especially with a “jumbo” mortgage’) is going to be painful. In this blog I am going to give you some details that many don’t learn about until they are knee deep in the process.  I am hoping that I can pass on this information to forewarn you of the difficulties you may encounter so that you may be able to prevent them.

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INTRODUCTION TO SERIES ON BUILDING SCIENCE

Over the next few weeks I will be publishing a series of articles on practical applications of what has come to be known as “Building Science”.  Yes, there is such a term.  “They don’t build them like they used to” is quite true, but in a good way, we build much better now.

We have learned so much since the days of the log cabin in the real old days, and Sears kit houses which symbolized the emergence of fast and efficient building techniques after WW2.  Every year there are new products offered by an industry that has a world wide market.

In North America we build primarily with wood because that is a resource we have available.  In more Southern countries cement and masonry are the  dominant building materials.  High-rise buildings are made primarily of steel.

The concepts of preventing moisture infiltration, of creating healthy and comfortable buildings is similar in all.  What is important is a thorough understanding of how to combine materials so as to prevent holes.  Holes that allow water to enter or air to both enter or exit uncontrolled.

In the evolution of building techniques we have both improved our buildings in terms of energy efficiency, and at the same time created some flaws such as trapping moisture.  We have made our buildings more comfortable but at the same time sealed in some very harmful chemicals.

That is where building science comes in, it is the well studied concept of best practices.  It is how to have an energy efficient comfortable and healthy building. Topics this series will cover:

  • We will address what constitutes a high performance building or home.  
  • We will learn how to avoid the pitfalls of moisture build-up and mold creation.
  • We will learn why we now split insulation into both inside and outside the wall to create what is called CI or Continuous Insulation. 
  • We will learn why we want to think of a building enclosure, and not building envelope.

Due to the horrific fires suffered by so many residents of California in the last year, we will also cover ways of lessening vulnerability to fire. For example, we are finding fire often entered attics through vents and started burning the roof structure from the inside.

In the next issues you will find information on:

  • Thermal movement control in homes (heat and cold)
  • Water barriers and rain screens that allow the building’s skin to breathe but repel water
  • Various new products that are worth considering in new construction
  • Fire prevention measures
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