Starting in October 2016, New York State and New York City codes require commissioning (known as Cx) on new construction and substantial renovation projects. Commercial buildings with mechanical capacities larger than 480K Btu/hr cooling, or 600K Btu/hr heating and service hot water must comply.
Building professionals are finding out the hard way that developing the necessary commissioning specs takes time and planning in the early stages of a project. Recently Taitem has fielded several calls from project teams, already deep into construction, who have just learned that they needed a building system commissioning plan but had not allocated any time or budget. Taitem’s certified Cx professional Nate Goodell has been able to help, but including commissioning from the start would have saved these teams time, money and unnecessary headaches.
Here’s a prescription so you won’t be caught painfully short on your next project:
Understand which buildings and renovations require code commissioning (Quick Facts sheet)
Develop appropriate commissioning specs. Include them in bid docs.
Include the Cx plan and agent in project kickoffs.
Factor into the construction timeline onsite Cx testing and issue resolution.
Review both your preliminary and final Cx reports promptly and file them on time.
The Ithaca Green Building Policy (IGBP) is being codified and will be a standard building practice in 2019 in both the city and town of Ithaca.
When asked to design to a particular standard, it’s expected that building professionals will react with a bit of resistance and uncertainty. Building owners and developers likely have concerns about the potential time and cost associated with building to new standards. Architects and engineers will need to study the new building code and will also need to educate local clients about the different “paths” they can choose under the new policy.
To gain a better understanding of the policy, we decided to take a close look at a couple of projects we completed in the past two years and see how they would measure up under the IGBP. The exercise gave us the opportunity to review the standards, understand the differences in the residential and commercial point system, and document some questions that we reviewed with Ian Shapiro (Taitem founder and co-creator of the IGBP).
Here’s a list of what we used as a reference:
The Ithaca Green Building Policy Guide and Final Report. In particular, section 2.14 “Pulling it all together: Recommendations.”
Comcheck. We reviewed two commercial projects and found the majority of information we needed to complete the “Easy Path” right in this report.
Project drawings and history. These were brief recollections shared verbally by the project manager.
We also created a few building calculation templates that we bounced back and forth among team members at Taitem and STREAM Collaborative. It was an exercise that didn’t take much time and helped us answer some questions about compliance. Here’s what we found:
In 2017, New York State (rather quietly) adopted the EPA’s high-efficiency “Water Sense” requirements for residential faucets, toilets, and shower heads. Note the water use numbers in this screenshot of section 2.39 from the NYS Building and Standards and Codes Supplement.
The gallons per flush (GPF) for toilets was previously 1.6 GPF and is now 1.3 GPF. Showers heads were previously limited to a maximum of 2.5 gallons per minute (GPM) and are now 2 GPM.
Many building professionals are not yet aware of these new standards. Continuous code development is essential and we can all take responsibility for sharing the news on improving standards.
Let’s spread the word. And for building professionals who want to improve efficiency even further, we might consider going with California’s flow requirements: 1.28 GPF for water closets, 1.8 GPM for showers and 1.2 GPM for faucets.
Learn the latest on energy efficiency for the NY multifamily sector. This annual conference is the place to update your knowledge of new technologies, design approaches, energy codes and guidelines, and financing options. Taitem founder Ian Shapiro will speak on developments in standalone heat pump hot water heaters in apartment buildings. Betsy Jenkins Parrington, Senior Energy Engineer, and Tim Allen, Senior Energy Analyst, will share results of a pilot program that is testing a new way to meter fuel oil in multifamily buildings. Senior energy analyst Evan Hallas will present and lead a discussion on small packaged heat pumps. Network with the Taitem team and other industry thought leaders and doers. Register Here.
Domestic Hot Water Distribution: Two Approaches
In multifamily buildings, domestic hot water can represent as much as 50% of the fossil fuel load and therefore must be addressed as we move towards higher and higher performing buildings. But upgrading domestic hot water equipment to more efficient technology can be challenging. Two DHW experts will explore different approaches. Karla Butterfield of Steven Winter Associates Inc. will discuss central distribution systems using case studies which demonstrate new requirements, solutions and measurement of performance. Ian Shapiro of Taitem Engineering will discuss air source heat pump hot water heaters, including both energy benefits and factors to consider for implementation in a multifamily building.
Piloting Ultrasonic Technology to Meter Fuel Oil Ultrasonic tank level meters are promising to revolutionize the metering of oil in multifamily buildings. Taitem’s Tim Allen and Betsy Parrington will describe a NYSERDA pilot program testing the accuracy and usefulness of these new meters. The 5-year pilot is approximately half way to completion, and the presentation will include preliminary results, lessons learned so far, and a comparison of ultrasonic meters and in-line flow meters.
Small Packaged Heat Pumps
Heat pumps are a key strategy for eliminating fossil fuel use, but split system heat pumps are costly. Multifamily per-room heat loss is becoming so small, whether through deep energy retrofits or high-performance new construction, that a small packaged heat pump might really be JUST what’s needed for widespread adoption. Evan Hallas will lead this lively discussion based on Taitem’s recent study of existing and emerging technology that’s shrinking heat pump size and cost to fit growing market demand.
Learn skills, gain expertise and make connections at this NYSERDA event
Hear about new and innovative net-zero and passive house design strategies
Acquire deeper understanding about changes in the energy code and federal guidelines for new construction
Expand knowledge on integrating renewable technologies in multifamily building upgrades
Meet energy financial and planning experts
Learn about new technologies for multifamily contractors
In the building industry, projects depend on many different minds working together toward a common goal. There are technical experts, designers, government planners and inspectors, and interested members of the public, to name a few. Learning how to provide technical information, project timelines, financial guidance and so much more to all parties involved, takes practice, patience, and a lot of smart communication.
A good project leader can figure out the strongest forms and timing of communication for the team they are managing, while communicating equally effectively with the client and owner. Communication about design details among the architects and engineers on a project may look different than communication to the end client. For example, your team knows that COs slow things down in the construction phase, but your end client might not know that “CO” stands for “change order.”
The tone and sense of professionalism you wish to convey applies to all audiences; there are tools that support effective communication no matter who you need to share information with. Once you have a few proven techniques for delivering information, there are no “difficult clients” and there are fewer instances of lost time or money on a project. As design consultants, we strive not only for timely and efficient communication, but also for straightforward ways to share our expertise as we move through a project. An educated and empowered client will go on to advocate for architects and engineers — and their smart building practices.
Taitem staff members are always working to improve the way they deliver engineering expertise and seeking new forms of communication among building industry professionals. I sat down with two of our top project managers to learn how they are communicating with their teams. Beth Mielbrecht is a Partner and Senior Engineer at Taitem, where she manages contracts for statewide energy programs and research. Her projects and the teams she manages typically grow and change over several years. Evan Hallas is a Senior Energy Analyst who manages the Aeroseal department and communicates daily with building owners, developers, contractors, and other building professionals.
These conversations have led to the insights I’ve shared below. I’ve also included some GENERAL TIPS that I’ve overheard while working alongside other outstanding engineers at Taitem. Check out what we’ve shared and please reach out with any of your own techniques for effective communication.
Know your audience
Evan says that a key component for communication is knowing who on the team already understands the value of his work and the technology he is presenting — and who needs more information. You don’t need to spend time convincing the person who already supports your work; you need to give them the tools they need to convince their team. Know your role in the decision-making process. If you are the technical expert, show up and give them the technical expertise they need with confidence. Each project has a decision-making team, and some have one final decision maker. Support the team by understanding whom each person reports to, and ask yourself, “What does each team member need to understand the information? Data sheets? Visuals of the final product in place? Financial documents?”
GENERAL TIP: Ask your client if they have any upcoming meetings where they will be delivering information that includes your services or potential project support. Offer to format your materials in a way that they (your contact) thinks their team will understand. They may not think you can help with that aspect of delivering your value and they will appreciate you taking that extra step.
You need more than one form of communication
Beth uses a blend of email and phone communication to deliver messages to her team. Some people prefer one over the other. The best way to determine what works? Ask! Decide on the best form of communication at the project kickoff meeting. If your client says they appreciate phone calls, find time for the occasional call to check in or deliver news.
Beth notes, “If I have a meeting over the phone, I’ll send an email as a follow-up to the phone call. I have a general format in my mind that I use to provide an overview of what was discussed. I’ll summarize our talk, offer some bulleted action items, and close with a reminder of our next meeting. This is great for documentation. I also send regular project updates via email no matter what communication platform is preferred. This keeps the team up to date.”
GENERAL TIP: Put the project name and phase in the subject line and apply it to all email communication for the project. This will make finding the right email thread quick and easy.
Evan likes to over-communicate with brief updates throughout the project. He shared, “I call all the time. Good and bad news. I over-communicate so that if something does go bad, the clients knows that you have control over the project. Delivering good news builds confidence. They understand that things happen and situations arise in buildings that you don’t necessarily have control over. If they hear from you all the time, they know you’re not being negligent. It might be a voicemail that doesn’t need a response — just an FYI — and I’ll let them know they don’t need to take the time for a call back.”
GENERAL TIP: Tell your client how much you will communicate so they are aware of your routine. You might have 20 projects going on, but for them, this is the only one they are working on right now. I bet they want to know how it’s going.
Lists are important
You might already be using a shared list that for managing communication among teams during the design and construction phase of a project. Identifying the need for additional lists among trades in different phases of a project could help with project efficiency and provide the end client with a strong sense of what you need to keep things moving forward.
When the building design components start to get laid out at meetings, there are always questions that come up from supporting trades as well as the end client. Questions to help clarify the design come up when you’re outside of meetings too. In an effort to keep things organized, it makes sense to list questions in a shared place. You could create a list of all of the questions that arise (stored in a cloud such as GoogleDocs that supports live editing by several people) with columns that clearly identify when and whether the question is answered, what the answer is, and who best person to answer the question is. When the question is resolved, you change the color of the row (I vote for light purple, but gray is easy on the eyes). The most important part of creating this type of list is sharing it with the entire team, including the end client, and including a simple email message that explains how you will work within the document.
GENERAL TIP: Email the team (or only those who have questions that need attention) at a set time each week. For example, on Monday, the team gets the list and is asked to review questions that need answering.
To meet or not to meet
Beth shared, “Periodic project meetings are very common. I prefer to have meetings when there is set agenda of items that need to be discussed. This makes the meeting more important and much more productive. When I have an outlined agenda, I also don’t get nearly as many cancellations.”
She continued, “Because I am the key liaison for my projects, I personally communicate with the entire project team. All members of the project team report to me, and all of their reports and updates come to my inbox. When an issue arises, after careful evaluation, I invite the people on the team who are involved in the problem to the meeting to work on the resolution. Depending on the size and scope of the issue, I inform key stakeholders of the communication, resolution and milestones once they are achieved.”
GENERAL TIP: Before you use the CC fields, ask yourself, “Does this person really need to be part of this communication?”
Clear and concise with a dash of feeling
Beth believes that using bulleted lists and simple spacing between paragraphs, can go a long way. Technology threatens to overwhelm us with information, which makes it hard to find and process the information we need. There is so much information written in so many different ways, and standards for clear writing are often overlooked. Beth shared, “Through years of managing different teams and various projects, I have learned how concise and clear communication builds trust and confidence in everyone. This informs my work now. My emails need to be simple and clear. My goal is usually to state action items and deliver the message effectively without additional noise.”
GENERAL TIP: Always include a deadline. Whatever the action items include, even if a definitive deadline does not exist, provide a date.
Leverage your firm’s brand
Your firm has its own mission and key values that help to develop its brand. Use that to your advantage when you are developing your communication plan at the project onset. Allow that to inform how you’re talking to the team, and keep it in mind when you’re crafting emails and presenting options. If your firm focuses on dependability and sustainability, for example, then use words that reflect this position and apply those words in your emails.
Evan shared, “I communicate Taitem’s responsibility. I make sure the client understands that Taitem is a responsible firm…that we are expert engineers with years of experience. I let them know that they don’t have much to worry about because I have the weight of Taitem behind me and that even though the client may not know me personally, I stand for Taitem as a whole. We will make things correct and work alongside the client to deliver expert service. I’m super confident when I communicate that. It goes a long way.”
GENERAL TIP: Don’t be afraid to use and repeat the words directly from your mission statement and website.
Debrief to review successes and shortcomings
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s tough to take the time to do this after a project is complete. Establish a process for closing out a project that includes an internal debrief with your team. This debrief is the opportunity to revisit successes and where identify tasks and people might need support moving forward. This builds morale, makes it easy to share ideas, and improves the design process. If you’re comfortable getting feedback directly from the end client, have that ready to share internally when your team comes together. Celebrate your successes as a team and acknowledge where you can improve.
GENERAL TIP: Don’t delay. Get some feedback from the client as soon as the project is complete. Then meet internally before a month goes past. It’s important to share best practices and potential for improvement when the project is fresh.
Today, Taitem Engineering was recognized among B-Corporations worldwide as a 2018 Best for the World honoree for the environment.
What does this mean?
It means that Taitem is creating the most positive environmental impact based on an independent, comprehensive assessment of 2,400 other certified B-Corporations administered by the nonprofit B Lab. B-Corps around the world were evaluated based on the environmental performance of their facilities, materials management, GHG emissions, and resource and energy use. Honorees like Taitem scored in the top 10% and set a gold standard for businesses that are a force for good around the world.
Taitem Engineering made the list thanks to its mission-driven business model, embodied in its name, “Technology As If The Earth Mattered.” We stand proudly among other B-Corps which were honored, including Patagonia, Etsy, Seventh Generation, King Arthur Flour, and Ben and Jerry’s.
Thanks to support from our clients, the strength of our community, and the service of our dedicated staff, we are walking our company talk to benefit the planet and its people. Taitem is an Ithaca-based firm, rooted in their local community and is being recognized internationally as an environmental steward. Check out the official press release here.
Look for videos with some fun info on our Facebook and LinkedIn pages today and throughout the week. Here are the direct links to the videos in the series if you want to take a sneak peak.
While the hillside location of Ithaka Terraces was a challenging spot for construction, developer Ed Cope and architect Noah Demarest make creating an all-electric Net Zero Energy condominium complex look surprisingly do-able. Prospective homebuyers, and energy geeks, have a chance to tour and learn more during Open House events on May 12 and 13. Read our interview with developer Ed Cope below.
The twelve new homes at 215 Spencer Rd, just 3 blocks from the Ithaca Commons, are inspired by the traditional architecture of the Greek island of Ithaka half a world away. They also demonstrate what best practices in green building make possible. The building designs are so energy efficient that an off-site solar farm will generate all the electricity needed to heat, cool, illuminate and power appliances in all the homes.
In the last two weeks, both the City and the Town of Ithaca accepted a new Green Building Policy report, creating a framework to promote sustainable development. While that is a vision that extends to 2030, Ithaka Terraces embodies many of the attributes today that the Green Building Policy seeks to encourage. STREAM Collaborative and Taitem Engineering authored that policy report, and the two firms had the opportunity to walk their talk on the design team for Ithaka Terraces.
We recently sat down with the developer Ed Cope to learn more about his vision:
When you started thinking about this project, what were the goals you had in mind?
EC: All my life I’ve been an environmentalist, particularly committed to energy efficiency and alternative energy. I live off the grid and installed solar panels back in 1984. I volunteered on the County’s Environmental Management Council. And I got into real estate, owning and renting properties through PPM Homes, an Ithaca property management company. Ithaka Terraces was a chance to build homes for people who want to enjoy an active urban lifestyle and do the right thing for the planet.
Why did you choose this spot for the Terraces?
EC: It’s a convenient location close to the Commons, parks, Ithaca College, Wegman’s and big box shopping areas along Elmira Rd. I agree with the City that urban infill is important as the City grows. This steep brushy hillside was part of the land the City had purchased to widen Spencer Rd. They tore down the rundown old apartment building, and the only new re-use that made sense was multifamily.
How did you prioritize the sustainability features for the overall design?
EC: My motivation is to provide the maximum possible state-of-the-art sustainable living with the highest emphasis on achieving net-zero energy while keeping the condo cost competitive with the market. Our solar farm 15 miles east made it an easy choice to go all-electric and avoid fossil fuels completely. Sustainable features include the use of air-source heat pumps, conduction ranges, LED lighting, electric water heaters, Low-E windows, super-insulated walls and roofs, smart temperature monitoring devices, and other energy-saving devices. We worked with NYSERDA’s New Construction Program, which provided some design guidelines to help achieve our goals.
For instance, the foundation is constructed of R23 Insulated Concrete Forms, providing continuous insulation on both the exterior and interior of the walls below grade and partially above grade. The slab is insulated with R15 rigid foam. The building features nominal 12-inch thick double stud exterior walls with a total of R39 continuous dense packed cellulous insulation and 18 inches of R63 loose fill cellulous insulation in the attic.
As led by Javier Rosa, PE, Taitem’s structural engineering design process supported maximum energy efficiency, by continually evaluating impact on the building’s energy performance. Two examples are:
• Wood wall studs were spaced farther apart than usual, to accommodate more cavity insulation
• Window and door headers were designed with 2 plies of wood members to ensure enough insulation to avoid thermal bridging (often headers are left completely uninsulated, causing a significant amount of heat loss.
What do you think your condo owners will like most about the Terraces?
EC: These homes support an active and climate conscious lifestyle so people can live their values every day. They support trends of the future that say we will be driving less, own fewer cars (and those will be electric) and be actively connected to the walkable urban community. Homebuyers will appreciate that they can get some clean energy options at half price – for example, I’m splitting the cost of optional Electric Vehicle charging stations and upgrades to induction stove tops.
What’s your favorite walk from Ithaka Terraces?
EC: The first is heading over to the west end of the Commons, the gateway to downtown. I walk that all the time. The second is up the hill to Turner and Hillview Place. It’s like a little Europe, with buildings up the hillside leading to two lovely, tucked-away pocket parks.
It’s clear that PPM Homes and the design team behind Ithaka Terraces are committed to empowering homeowners to live sustainably, and to enjoy all that downtown living has to offer. Ten of the twelve condos are still available, and visitors can tour them during the Open House on May 12 and 13.
Green building is an accelerating trend, spurred by new codes and requirements from New York State and Tompkins County. Both the Town and City of Ithaca are also developing new green building policies. There is a lot to learn, and municipal officials need to keep pace with developers, architects and contractors who are planning and permitting new multifamily housing projects. This workshop will help municipal staff and board members get up to speed with an overview of current green building technologies, terminology and codes.
Participants will learn the right questions to ask when reviewing proposed new housing developments. The format combines lecture with a green building features tour of the TREE neighborhood and a hands-on case study. The Town of Ithaca and the City of Ithaca will offer annual training credit for Planning Board members. Certificates of Completion will be presented to all attendees. Learn@Ecovillage is hosting the free workshops, in partnership with Taitem Engineering and the Tompkins County Planning Department. Funded by the Park Foundation.
Retaining the beauty of the past while supporting a sustainable future: Elmira Savings Bank polishes up Ithaca’s West End
The new home for Elmira Savings Bank (ESB) at 602 West State shows how smart re-use can bring an abandoned, century-old structure back to life. This revived commercial space was originally built to house the Ithaca VFW, was transformed into a funeral home, and later housed a succession of restaurants. Now the home of a full-service community bank, this high-performance building shows how sustainable design can maintain the aesthetic allure of historic buildings.
The design team, led by HOLT Architects, understood the significance of the building as a landmark located at one of Ithaca’s busiest intersections. Although it does not lie within a designated historic area, the building owner and designers were conscious of its value to the community. The ideas for the renovation they presented to the city planners reflected their research and respect for retaining as much of the circa-1900 building as possible.
The original brick exterior, which had been painted blue in recent years, was cleaned and restored to its original appearance as depicted in historic photographs. A renovated entry, upgraded building envelope, and windows that recreate the look of the original steel frames were added to improve the overall energy efficiency of the building. Metal sunshades were installed on the windows to temper the strong sunlight pouring in throughout the day.
A new 1,600 SF brick and glass addition to the north offers natural light and added functionality. On the west, a convenient drive-through service window uses an underground pneumatic tube system. The canopy for the drive-through complements the existing architecture, and thoughtful site work provides ease of access for bank customers and employees.
The interior of the building had deteriorated over the years, making the floor and roof systems irreparable. The design team was challenged to create a new, enhanced infrastructure with floors, walls, joists, and roofing. The new design is informed by state-of-the-art banking system workflow needs and the specific visual aesthetics and branding of Elmira Savings Bank. The renovated interior features a hybrid teller-line solution; streamlined, efficient technology mounting; and advanced acoustics to ensure customer privacy. Natural light fills the interior, creating a bright, lively, and engaging space for commercial banking clients and employees.
Taitem Engineering designed the mechanical and electrical systems for the building, which included electrical systems to accommodate bank equipment, security access points, and a new heating and cooling system. The original building was heated with a conventional boiler loop serving perimeter radiation and cooled through a rooftop unit serving the second floor and an air handler located in the basement serving the first floor. The owner’s goal was to have a consolidated mechanical system with all interior equipment located in the ceiling space and all exterior equipment at grade for easy maintenance.
Taitem’s mechanical engineer, Dominick DeLucia, suggested an air source heat pump to achieve ESB’s energy and efficiency goals. Taitem’s design team suggested the owners take a tour of HOLT Architects’ new offices to get a better understanding of this kind of system. After touring the space, ESB board members agreed that an air source heat pump would meet their heating and cooling needs efficiently and economically. They also appreciated the look and feel of the exposed ductwork that is showcased in HOLT’s new space.
Dominick DeLucia, the project engineer from Taitem Engineering shared, “not only has the air source heat pump system improved the efficiency of the heating and cooling for the entire building, but It has also allowed for zoning each space on both floors to improve overall occupant comfort.” The air source heat pump system was paired with an energy recovery ventilation system on each floor, which also greatly improves the indoor air quality and comfort to employees and clients.
Elmira Savings Bank intends to install a solar electric system on the building in the future and aims to be part of the Ithaca 2030 District, an interdisciplinary public-private collaboration working to create a groundbreaking high-performance building district in Downtown Ithaca. The 2030 District project is part of a larger effort in Tompkins County to reduce Ithaca’s greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050.
From high-efficiency windows that mimic the original steel frames, to the all-electric heating and cooling system, these improvements are a testament to the sustainability efforts of the Elmira Savings Bank board and its commitment to the Ithaca community. The building reflects the beauty of so many older Tompkins County buildings as well as the community’s preservation ethic. The ESB board is “walking the walk” when it comes to sustainability and achieving its goals to significantly reduce energy use in their buildings. The success of this project laid the groundwork for another celebrated Elmira Savings Bank location in Vestal, where the team will continue to showcase the preservation of historic buildings in the Southern Tier, while moving its valued building stock forward toward a sustainable future.
Ithaca property rental company Viridius turns to Taitem for a solar energy solution to grow the business bottom line and achieve their sustainability mission of Earth Friendly Rentals. Owners Zöe Hare and Stuart Staniford describe the process and why they chose local solar installer Taitem Engineering. Stunning aerial views of their Snyder Hill property show the 21.5 kW ground-mount photovoltaic array. State-of-the-art technology for design and data collection, paired with Taitem’s accessible community presence, are key benefits for Viridius. Tenant Michael Lenetsky couldn’t be happier.