The latest news on New York architecture.

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Sustainable Roof Designs: First Steps

Retrofitting a roof can be challenging in New York City, especially when it comes to the city’s goals to reduce urban heat island effects. Each roof retrofit brings its own goals and challenges. Building owners may be presented with several ways to maintain their roof or go green with photovoltaic panels. The City of New York encourages building owners to go for net-zero, so what are the first steps in a sustainable roof project?

The first steps in a feasibility study includes determining a building owner’s top priorities. What opportunities are they hoping will come out of this roof redesign? Maybe they want their roof to be able to perform energy collection functions, or to capture energy with an array of solar panels. There are many options that can help a building owner meet requirements for net-zero energy use. Producing a feasibility study will help in considering several factors such as the building’s location, orientation, surrounding buildings, zoning, historic designations, and engineering requirements. 

If the goals for a roof retrofit are more centered around reducing urban heat island effects and the building’s carbon footprint, you might want to consider a green roof to absorb heat or perhaps something less expensive such as white paint to reflect solar energy. But even these systems require feasibility studies which evaluate whether a building is able to incorporate these aesthetic changes, especially if building is within a landmark district.

New construction is a different process, and plans for buildings with carbon neutral or net-zero energy use roofs are standard. New roof construction can provide systems for energy collection, decreased energy use, light, and water collection. While new systems can be more expensive initially, the energy savings are significant over the life of the building. These sustainable roof designs are also essential for certifications such as LEED, Passive House, NYC 80x50, and other healthy building certifications.

Feasibility studies for new construction, while less onerous than retrofitting, still need to take location and orientation into account, as well as the immediate environment of other buildings that can cast shade. The majority of energy systems on roofs are solar-based, so assessment of orientation, zoning, and the immediate neighborhood are critical for success.

For more information about first steps in a retrofitted or new sustainable roof design, please contact us

Published in Miscellaneous

Commercial buildings contain everything from apartments to department stores, hotels to office space, doughnut shops to medical clinics, and sprawl over more than 80 billion square feet in the U.S. In green-speak this means each year commercial buildings are responsible for close to half of all energy consumption in the United States at the cost of over $200 billion per year, more than any other sector of the economy. And of this power consumption, nearly 30% is wasted through inefficient operations. But with measurable historical data and a long-term commitment to sustainability, we can lighten this environmental impact.

Today's progressive commercial building owners are factoring Energy Performance Indicators (EPIs) into their operations costs. By initiating energy benchmarking based on the past two years' energy usage, and by analyzing the data and upgrading inefficient equipment, a commercial building's green reputation can be maintained indefinitely. Not only are unforeseen liabilities addressed in time, but most corrective measures are inexpensive and may receive a financial payback as a bonus.

But the green building trend is not all about energy efficiency or the environment anymore. For American consumers, it means a healthy place to live, with a lifestyle compatible with nature. Sustainable architecture improves a building's resilience to climate change, including flooding, drought, and exhausted energy resources.

Adaptation to a changing climate is critical, but natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, or political actions like terrorism and cyber terrorism, also call for consideration in a resilient design. Each of these challenges can be analyzed not only for data that is historically valuable for benchmarking but also for future projections.

Resilient systems provide for basic human needs, including potable water; a conservation source such as harvested rainwater can be the primary backup. Composting toilets and waterless urinals are options for human waste disposal in the event of a public sanitation breakdown. 

To reduce a building's energy dependence, manual overrides should be in place in case of malfunctions or power outages. Elevators, escalators, and stairways should be managed for the mobility of tenants during emergencies. EMT's and firefighters need to access a building under any circumstances. If necessary, breathable air and comfortable temperature and humidity levels can be maintained with vernacular designs commonplace before HVAC systems, such as high transom windows for natural ventilation and light. And a non-perishable food supply could provide residents with adequate staples for a three to six month period.

Scott Henson Architecture integrates aesthetics, financials, and code regulations to design buildings that are both functional and attractive. Sustainability expertise includes vegetated roof systems and solar power systems. Please contact us to review your commercial building's resiliency measures.

Published in Sustainability

LEED certification: Silver, Gold, and Platinum- does it add any real value to a commercial construction project? LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Developed by the United States Green Building Council, LEED seeks to reward the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of buildings that meet standards for sustainability, performance, health, and resource efficiency.

LEED certifies over 1.85 million square feet of construction space daily, and as such, has become known as the benchmark of excellence in sustainable design and construction. Both industry professionals and consumers know LEED certification means quality, sustainability, and energy savings.

LEED boasts benefits to people, planet and profit. These profits include increased building value, higher lease rates, and decreased utility costs. By 2018 LEED certified buildings will contribute over 29.8 billion to the US economy. Value in green building accrues in two ways:

1. Sustainable design increases a building’s value up front, with an estimated 4% increase in estimated value yearly.

2. Maintenance costs for green buildings are estimated at 20% lower.

The actual cost to build green is competitive with traditional means of design and construction, with an estimated premium of only 1-3 %, which can be paid back by energy savings in as little as a year. The application process for LEED certification for commercial projects, including campus buildings, is detailed on the US Green Building Council website.

For more information on sustainable architecture, please contact us.

Published in Sustainability

The purpose of sustainable architecture is to: "eliminate negative environmental impact completely through skillful, sensitive design." 

Considerable thought about how the project will affect the environment begins the sustainable design process.  Beyond eliminating adverse environmental impact, any sustainable design must create projects that are meaningful innovations that can shift behavior; a dynamic balance between economy and society, generating long-term relationships between user and building, which is respectful of the environmental and social differences.

Relieving over-stressed resources requires reducing pressure on them, not continually increasing them, whether more efficiently or not. Best is a greater reliance on natural materials that are compatible with the environment.

Sustainable applications and principles require the use of:

  • Non-toxic, energy-efficient and sustainably produced materials.
  • Emotionally durable architecture to reduce the consumption and waste of resources which increases the relationship durability between people and the design.
  • Design influence measures for total carbon footprint and life-cycle assessment of the resources based on sustainable standards.
  • The Constructal Law, which is a physics principle that urges the use of sustainability and evolutionary design in general.

Globally supported, the concept of sustainable design is the ultimate environmentally responsive goal. Any person looking to construct a building from the ground up or remodel an existing building should seek out the advice of a professional architect. Not any architect, but one who is respectful of sustainable design. The interdependence between human design and the impact on the natural world demands co-existence in a healthy, supportive and lasting way.

Scott Henson, a full-service Architectural firm, knows sustainable design. Ask how he can update your environment in a responsible way. Contact Scott Henson today.

Published in Sustainability