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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Building Resilience

The climate of the planet is changing. The heat causes more intense weather conditions such as hurricanes, storms, fires and other anomalies. The political divide is astounding regarding climate change. But while people are arguing over weather or not it is happening, or what is causing it I start to wonder, is there anything we are doing to adapt to these new planetary conditions? Building Resilience is an initiation that started in New York after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. City planners got together to figure out how they could prepare New York City for sea level rises and heavy storms. This idea has spread across the globe from Barcelona to Colorado.

Building Green California Fires

Combating Fire is difficult in a drought.

Building Resilience is affecting large cities from things like flooding but how does that translate to home building? Are there steps you can take to protect your home against the growing intensity of Earth’s weather conditions? On July 8, 2019, Building Green posted an article that you can read here describing the importance of building resilience and what home owners can do to prepare their homes for the coming changes.

The Building Green article states that San Francisco was the first city to appoint a chief resiliency officer. The resiliency strategy here in The Bay Area is focused on combating increased drought, fire, sea level rise, and of course, the ever impending earthquake. There are large scale issues that a city like San Francisco faces like people living in buildings that are too close to each other or in need of repair. This could lead to collapse during an earthquake or fires to spread more quickly.

 

Building Green Protect the Planet

We have to take care of the planet we have.

 

One city initiative in Marin County enlisted the help of a heard of goats to eat dry, dead grass to help protect against wildfire. I was fortunate to see this gigantic herd of goats while walking my dog. It was quite amusing watching the herd of goats graze as a group of confused dogs at the dog park looked up the hill with perked ears and heads cocked to the side at the sound of the Billy Goats “Baaaah”. Perhaps you do not have the property or the patience to enlist a herd of goats to help protect your home, fortunately there are some things you can consider when building your home.

Here, in the Bay Area we have no shortage of hills. When looking for a property consider living as high above the sea level as possible. This is an advantage in California that many do not have in other coastal cities. Routine clearing of dry grass and shrubs will create a barrier and help protect your home against fire if you live on a large property. Dirt can be an unsightly landscape design, but you can consider options such as concrete, tile or a succulent garden to separate your home from fire.

It is important to have someone knowledgeable at your side when you are building your home, to not only have a home that lasts, but to have a home that keeps you and your family safe while doing your part to protect the planet. Richard WOdehouse has 44 years of experience building custom homes and has all of the latest knowledge on building green homes.

For more information on how to consider climate change during your home building or remodeling project, visit Building Green.

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Environmental Factors in Home Building

The report below is an example of how much detail and care go into the construction of a custom home. It is not as simple as designing a home then going in to build. As we discussed in the last blog, there are many factors to consider when building a home. The location, the environmental threats, height, size, and geographic location are just a few factors that must be taken into account when building a home. It is also always important to remember that while cutting costs may save you money now, it can cost a great deal more in the long term. The damage cutting corners causes can often times lead to families having to take out a mortgage,  sell their homes or worse, go into foreclosure because the fix becomes too great a burden. The following is an (edited) report authored by Richard Wodehouse, Principal of West Coast Project Management. This home most likely had faulty stucco used at the time of the build. This coupled with the wind is starting to cause some potentially costly issues. 

Remember to consider the weather.

This residence is a three story contemporary design with large glass fenestrations facing the direction the winter storms attack this site from. It is located in such a way that it catches the full brunt of wind and rain. In the winter of 2018/2019 the San Francisco area receive unusually frequent and strong storms with record amounts of rain.  There have been an unusually high number of failures in homes resulting from the rains, landslides, and leaks.  West Coast Project Management Inc. has been called to investigate and repair other weather related problems in the area.  Roofing and waterproofing contractors are booked for the entire season.

GLAZING:

I observed that most of the north facing windows and doors had failed in that the dual glaze panels exhibited  a “rainbow effect” which is caused by the two panes of glass touching each other.  The cause of the collapsed glass is typically the result of the perimeter seals on the dual glazing failing and the gas encapsulated in the space between the two pains of glass escaping allowing the glass to bend towards each other from wind pressure.

As I will elaborate on in the discussion on stucco following, it is possible that moisture allowed to come into contact with the edge seals of the glass panels has exacerbated the rate of deterioration of the perimeter seals allowing the gas to escape.

STUCCO

I observed that the stucco on this residence was the synthetic type that was popular during the time this home was constructed.  The dominant product name at the time was Dryvit, a type of EIFS wall system that used foam insulation panels with a thin coat of an acrylic coating that mimics stucco in appearance.  

There were extensive lawsuits regarding moisture problems related to the use of this EIFS system.  If there are any areas where water can enter behind the acrylic coating it is trapped as this coating is non-breathable and therefore the moisture stays inside the wall potentially and probably causing damage to any surface it is touching.

The home showed signs of white discoloration around stucco cracks which is evidence of water  that entered elsewhere exiting at various locations on the North facing wall.

DECK WATERPROOFING FAILURE

There is evidence indicating that the deck extending out on the north elevation allowed water to penetrate the building.  I did not attempt to find the cause of this leak as the owner at the time had extensive plastic tenting covering the deck. (end of report)

It is likely that the owners of this home were not the one to have the stucco put in, but they will be the ones to pay the price. This is why it is so important to have an experienced and knowledgeable project manager or owner’s rep helping you build your home. A good project manager knows which corners are ok to cut and which ones you cannot. 

San Francisco is windy and damp year round, but the Bay Area is filled with micro climates. Marin, for example, is substantially warmer and sees a great deal more sun than San Francisco. The beach areas have the added difficulty of salt in the air which has its own set of challenges to consider. Sonoma county and Napa are considerably hotter and drier. Richard Wodehouse at West Coast Project Management Inc. has over 45 years of experience building custom homes, in many different climates. He is passionate about building custom homes and cares about homes being built to last, and built with the most recent technology in energy efficiency. 

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What to do When Your Contractor is Making Mistakes and the Budget is Out of Control

Hiring a contractor for your custom home rebuild can be daunting. You are ready to build the home of your dreams. Maybe you have the design team set up and have begun initial planning. But you hired a contractor that you thought was capable and reasonably priced and mistakes keep happening and the budget keeps getting out of hand. Most of us don’t know the tiny details of building a home and what is rquired to maintain, say, a warranty on materials. This is why it is so important to have a building team that is trustworthy and capable.

It really comes down to the old saying “you get what you pay for”. There are thousands of places you can cut costs when building a home: perhaps your door knobs don’t actually need to come from Italy, or maybe your kitchen backsplash doesn’t

Custom Home Design

Home Construction

absolutely have to resemble a Monet. But do not cut costs when hiring your contractors and design team. This will likely only cost you money in the long run. As they say “the Devil is in the details.” Unless you are a highly knowledgeable contractor that keeps up to date on the latest building technology, they are likely to miss small things that can cost big money. For example, you may not notice in the first year or two of living in your new home that the walls were not installed properly, but by the second or third year you start to smell mold, eventually you may have a full on leak. Or let’s say piping gets installed incorrectly, your cost of labor could double as all the piping has to get uninstalled and reinstalled, or if the measurments on your foundation were just a half foot off and the concrete gets poured, then there will be way more labor involved to break up the concrete, re measure and re pour.

 

I have been Richard’s assistant for a few years now and have learned many things about building at the expense of mistakes made during the process. My heart frequently goes out to home owners who know what they want but have put their trust in the wrong team. It’s not just building mishaps we see at West Coast Project Management Inc. sometimes the personalities of skilled workers don’t mesh, things get misscomunicated and toes get stepped on. It can be a real nightmare. If you know someone that built a home with little to no hiccups, I can assure you they where on of very few people who’s home building goes seamlessly from start to finish. Here at WCPM we can help you come up with a plan to get your project in the green again, we can work with your design and building team to make sure everyone is on the same page, and most of all we can give you confidence in your team again.

Making Custom Home

Putting work into the design

If you went with a contractor that you thought was going to work out but now your project seems to be going haywire, then you need to bring in an outside consultant like an owner’s rep. Richard has been serving the Bay Area and mostly Marin County as an Owner’s Representative and Construction Project Manager. We see a lot of cases like the above where we are asked to fix a messy situation. Richard has over 40 years of experience and is passionate about the environment and keeps up to date on all of the latest technology to help build a beautiful, custom home with the lowest carbon footprint possible, for a cost that is reasonable for you and the work.

You do not need to throw in the towel on your dream home because things have gone awry. By hiring a mediator or owners representative you can get your building schedule back on track.

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