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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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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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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HOW TO CREATE A SMOOTH, PREDICTABLE AND ENJOYABLE CONSTRUCTION PROJECT

I am listing below tasks that I have found are critical for creating a smooth running home construction project.  These are all tasks that an experienced Owner’s Representative, (a.k.a., Project Manager) should either initiate or ensure are accomplished during the design and building process. Ideally the Owner’s Representative/Project manager is to be the person in charge of managing these tasks listed below.

  1. Budgets:  Create budgets that are realistic at various times during the process in order for the owner to be confident that the project is proceeding within the financial comfort zone.  This budget should be comprehensive including all associated costs and wish list.  
  2. Budgets ideally are created:
    1. Early in the conceptual design phase and verifying as the design progresses that the original budget is still realistic.
    2. Prior to the construction drawings being drawn.
    3. Prior to construction starting
    4. Once a month during the construction. Keep owner apprised of Predicted Final Cost.
  3. The design team is the clearing house for all design related communication, unless otherwise requested.  We don’t want random people making design decisions that may not have the overall design direction in mind.
  4. Offer possible solutions to problems prior to announcing the problem.  Always consult with Design team first, then after agreement, notify owner of the problem with options for solution.
  5. Consolidate questions (RFI’s) into a list and then communicate these to the appropriate entities with as much lead time as possible. Avoid panic phone calls. Identify which party is responsible for answering each item: Architect, interior designer, owner, contractor.
  6. Arrange questions to be answered into groups by date needed in order to continue an orderly pricing/ordering/construction process.  
  7. Expect that some answers will come as building takes shape. In a true custom home some selections are best made when the building is taking on character.
  8. Send weekly updates to design team and owner apprising them of tasks being worked on each current week as well as planned for the following week.
  9. Plan ahead on critical times for owner and design team to visit the site; such as electrical wiring time, to avoid future surprises and changes.
  10. Make client feel as much an informed participant in the process as they wish to be.
  11. Schedule site meetings with all key subs, and if needed designers, during various stages of the job to coordinate their needs and timing.
  12. Update budget and schedule on a monthly basis and share with owners, and if desired, the design team.
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If You Want Confidence You Have a Good System in Place When Building a Home

By hiring me a your owner’s rep early on in the process you can be assured of having a great process that will give you peace of mind and save you lots of money during the entire construction process. (And design, if you bring me in early enough.)

Here are four duties I can perform that will give you confidence that you have a good system in place:

1. Verifying that the Budget is appropriate and sufficient for the planned work.

  • Become familiar with the plans and specifications
  • Analyze the contractor’s budget line by line item and compare to others
  • Comparing the budget values for costs compared to the proposed construction schedule

2. Vetting the contractor

  • By checking on his financial and professional standings
  • Inquire and verify as to his/or her’s commitment and availability for this project
  • inquire and vet the key management and support personnel. (If any)
    • In the case of the one man contractors:
      • Establish his/her experience, knowledge and skills
      • Establish what systems if any will be used for budget and schedule management.
    • If needed, supplement contractor’s capabilities with Owner’s rep’s systems for tracking budget
    • Create and update our own schedule.
    • Verify with contractor that key steps such as site utilities are planned for.

3. Vetting the major sub-contractors and verifying they can fit our construction schedule.

4. Verifying plans are complete and all permits are processed

Here are other tasks I can perform during the construction process:

  • Create preliminary schedule for the entire process from design to move in
  • Ensuring, building and design remain within budget
  • Substantiate Status of permit processing, facilitate as prudent.
  • Verifying that the Budget is appropriate and sufficient for the planned work
  • Analyze the contractor’s budget line by line item and compare to historic data
  • Comparing the budget values to the proposed construction schedule duration. (e.g: is supervision enough)
  • Review all plans and specifications
  • Review all contracts with all subs and owner paid consultants
  • Compile budget encompassing all hard and soft cost envisioned for the entire project
  • Keep all encompassing budget up to date
  • Work with contractors, and designers to provide detailed construction schedule
  • Keep construction schedule up to date
  • Weekly site meeting with Owner’s Rep and Builder.
  • Twice monthly meeting with Owner’s rep, Architect, Contractor (owner invited to all key meetings)
  • Substantiate all temporary and permanent utilities are planned for
  • Additional subcontractors recommend as needed
  • Green building features and materials suggestions
  • Review and negotiate proper change order issues
  • Giving options to the design team when needed to potentially save money, including alternative construction techniques, and reviewing other areas of cost saving.
  • Scrutinize all invoices, explore questions in invoices and approve proper invoices.
  • Managing final close out at completion:
    ▪ Collect all lien releases
    ▪ Collect all warranties
    ▪ Manage final payments to subs and contractors
  • Prepare Operating Manual for owner’s future use and maintenance with emergency preparedness.
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