Residential ZNE is Almost Here: Code Changes and Practical Applications

With code updates on the horizon (Title 24 2019 takes effect January 1, 2020), many of our clients are beginning to focus on how to design to the new “Zero Net Energy” (ZNE) requirements for residential construction. 

We recently presented a summary of residential energy code changes for Santa Barbara’s AIA, and we’ll be presenting for AIA Central Coast (SLO) on June 19. As with past code cycles, there are prescriptive and performance paths for compliance, with the former serving as baseline for the latter.

Jennifer Rennick, Certified Energy Analyst and our in-house energy modeling specialist, noted that, “Envelope improvements and photo-voltaic (PV) energy systems will be required, as expected. Less obvious is that the new code takes into account that our peak demand is now 2 PM – 8 PM, so high energy demand during those hours will take a bigger hit than in the current code.”

Within the prescriptive path, the code offers options for new HVAC and water heating systems that help projects comply with more demanding energy use rules. Notable is that Quality Insulation Installation (QII) will be required for the prescriptive path, but remain a credit under the performance method.

For projects that use the performance approach, an Energy Design Rating (EDR) will need to be calculated. One part of the rating is energy efficiency, the other incorporates the addition of a renewable energy system. 

Of course, energy efficiency goes hand in hand with high performance assemblies, a specialty of In Balance’s Mike Horgan, a licensed contractor and Certified Passive House Consultant. He recommends EDPM gaskets and air-tight adhesives for sealing sill plates, a common and pervasive location for air leakage. He emphasized, “From sealing, to insulation, to waterproofing, details that effectively convey to contractors how to construct air-tight and vapor permeable assemblies will be essential.”

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Mike finds that constructing models of details that will live onsite, such as this one demonstrating an applied eave detail for a continuous “red line” exterior envelope, facilitate communication and lead to better building outcomes.

Two online resources that can be helpful for visualizing examples of high performance assemblies include:

·      Foundation Design Handbook by Oak Ridge National Laboratory 

·      Illustrated Guide: R22+ Effective Walls in Wood-Frame Construction in British Columbia

Interested in ZNE detail consulting or constructability?  We offer personalized sessions at your office, online, or on the job site (with props!) to discuss your project specifics. 

For Santa Barbara projects, reach out to Michelle Zimney.  In San Luis Obispo and surrounding areas, please contact Jennifer Rennick or Mike Horgan.

Shedding Some (LED) Light on Operating Costs

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We’re a fairly handy crew here at In Balance, so when Mike Horgan – licensed contractor and Passive House consultant – recently joined our ranks, we put him right to work … on our own office.  While our work spaces enjoy plenty of daylight, on cloudy winter days and toward the back of the office, we can use a little boost. Recently, some of the lamps finally died, so we decided to replace them (and the rest of our fixtures) with LEDs.

Here’s a breakdown of the costs and considerable benefits.

Our office has six fluorescent lights – each consisting of three 32 Watt lamps inside a 2’x4’ ceiling troffer - with a total wattage of 109w including the ballasts. Assuming electricity @ $0.20/kWh:

·      When operating 8 hours each day, 5 days a week, at $0.20/kWh, the total annual operating cost for each fluorescent fixture is $45.41.

·      The new 40 Watt, recessed LED panel operating 8 hours each day, 5 days a week, at the same $0.20kWh, will cost just $16.64 annually to operate.

*LED bulbs rated for 50,000 hrs/2000 per year = 25 years. Fluorescents need to be changed every 20,000 hours.

*LED bulbs rated for 50,000 hrs/2000 per year = 25 years. Fluorescents need to be changed every 20,000 hours.

Net Savings

The material cost for the 2’x4’ LED fixtures is $80. Mike did the install, but let’s assume hiring a licensed contractor for a total cost of $200/fixture. 

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At a net savings of over $3,000 over the life of the bulbs for our fairly cozy space (and even more when considering labor costs for installation on CFL replacements), the economic benefits of the retrofit are evident.  Equally dramatic, though less quantifiable, are the improved color rendering and absence of humming or flickering with our new lighting, which make being in our space more comfortable. And of course, we are saving energy and carbon emissions, which we love most of all.

Want to take on energy retrofits? We can help identify cost-effective strategies. Contact us.

Tri-County Regional Energy Network (3C-REN) Rolling Out on the Central Coast

New funding for energy efficiency improvements, workforce education, and carbon emission reduction projects is on its way to residents and businesses in the tri-county region.

In December, San Luis Obispo county joined its counterparts in Santa Barbara and Ventura in an agreement to allow utility ratepayer fees earmarked for efficiency programs to stay within our region, instead of being pooled and redistributed statewide.

This new program, known as 3C-REN, allows tri-county governments to collaborate and effectively operate programs that reflect our regional needs and allow for local innovation and autonomy. Outreach and opportunities are being identified now, with implementation beginning mid-2019.

Specifically, 3C-REN programs and funding will reduce energy consumption, reduce carbon emissions, directly benefit the residential and commercial construction industries and increase regional economic activity in three major categories:

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The first two program areas serve the building industry directly, including architects, engineers, builders, trades, and inspectors.  The third program area serves residents through a direct install program, expanding to serve renters as well as home owners.

We congratulate our county partners in establishing 3C-REN and look forward to engaging with the new programs and opportunities for energy efficiency on the Central Coast.

Have good ideas for training or programs? Let us know and we’ll pass it along!



Please join us in welcoming Mike Horgan to the In Balance Green Consulting team!

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Mike is a licensed builder in both California and Massachusetts, as well as a certified Passive House Consultant. No, we’re not launching a construction arm to our firm! Rather, we recognize the need to further bridge the gap between building science and in-the-field implementation, and we are thrilled to have Mike on board for that effort.

Mike has worked in the construction field for more than 25 years having begun framing homes at the age of 17. For 13 years he owned and operated his own design-build firm on Cape Cod specializing in energy-efficient new construction and renovations, and he has many zero-energy builds to his name. He has built in numerous states in the U.S. and in three different countries.

Mike specializes in bringing building practices, methods, and theories to real-life applications for architects, designers, and other builders. He focuses on life-cycle cost analysis of materials and applications; waterproofing, airtightness, vapor and insulation detailing; and the constructability of assemblies as cohesive packages.

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He is a graduate of Worcester University in MA with degrees in Economics and Finance, and Boston University with post-graduate degrees in Education and Linguistics. He is an active member of the San Luis Obispo Climate Coalition, within which he leads the Building Decarbonization team working towards carbon-neutral design and construction of businesses and homes. 

Looking Forward in 2019...

Happy New Year from all of us at In Balance Green Consulting! We’ve had a little time off over the holidays and are back at work, energized and optimistic about the new year. In case you are feeling unsure about that optimism, here are five things we’re looking forward to for 2019:

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1.     Zero Net Energy Homes! Title 24 2019, which officially comes online Jan. 1, 2020 includes Zero Net Energy for new homes. The requirements for onsite renewable energy won’t cover all energy use, but it’s a major milestone in sustainable living. ZNE for non-residential is on target for 2030.

2.     Local Climate Action! Engaged citizens, empowered city and county staff, and motivated elected officials are coming together to address climate action. To name a few: City of San Luis Obispo has set a goal of Carbon Neutral by 2035; SLO and Morro Bay joined Monterey Bay Community Power and will have carbon-free electricity starting in 2020; and the Sustainable Future resource is launching in Santa Barbara.

3.     LEED Upgrades! Never an organization to rest on their laurels, the US Green Building Council is rolling out an update across all programs – LEED v4.1. And it’s better, addressing documentation issues, bridging market demand and recognizing new opportunities around the globe. They also added ZNE certification and a re-certification program for older LEED projects.

4.     Healthy Interiors! Daylight, non-toxic materials, biophilic design, individual comfort, acoustics and more are all receiving the attention they deserve in our built environments. WELL and other programs merge building design, operations and behaviors for improved health and wellness.

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5.     Lower Carbon Emissions! As reported by our friends at Architecture 2030, U.S. building sector CO2 emissions are 20.2% below 2005 levels. And that’s despite adding approximately 30 billion square feet to our building stock during the last 12 years! Now we’re picking up the pace from high-performance buildings to Zero Net Energy buildings to all-electric Zero Net Carbon buildings.

Add to that list fabulous colleagues, clients and collaborators, our beautiful central coast, superb local food and wine and the joy of friends and family – no wonder we are feeling hopeful this New Year.

Have a project you are excited to get started? Contact us to see how we can help!

New Affordable Housing in San Luis Obispo

Congratulations to the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo (HASLO) for their latest affordable housing project, which recently opened, just in time for the holidays!

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Iron Works, located on Broad Street, consists of 46 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartment flats, plus community rooms and support spaces. Developed by HASLO, the project effectively leveraged local funding and tax credits to maximize it’s ability to offer affordability and service.

In Balance Green Consulting is proud to have joined the team, providing energy modeling, green consulting and TCAC services, in concert with Peggy Myrick of Integrated Commissioning and Energy and Paul Dunn of Central Coast Energy Consultants. The architect was Ten Over Studio.

Embodied Carbon - Resources for Mindful Design

With the recent publication of several national and international reports on the alarming rate of climate change, the issue of atmospheric carbon, and what we can do about it, is on all our minds.

According to data from the U.N. Environment Programme, the building sector is the single largest contributor to global warming, with building operations and the embodied carbon of building materials representing roughly 28% and 11% of annual global emissions respectively.  Turning a ship that large is an enormous and complicated task to say the least. 

Are green certifications the best use of money, energy and time?  How about policy advocacy?  What tools are available to help optimize a design with carbon in mind?

The Carbon Smart Building conference that recently convened in San Francisco focused on these questions and more.  Using the framework of reducing the carbon emissions footprint (aka embodied carbon) of everything we build, sessions addressed Net Zero Carbon building, deep energy and carbon reduction retrofits, and Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment tools. 

In the wake of the conference and amid concerns about embodied carbon, BuildingGreen, Inc. has produced several resources worth checking out:

·      A summary table “Who’s Addressing Embodied Carbon” (about halfway through article).

·      A handy “mind map of embodied carbon” that attempts to capture the breadth of activities related to the topic. 

·      An excellent guide on reducing embodied carbon for practitioners, with a focus on structural materials, assessment tools, and optimization strategies.

One takeaway from the guide is that “structural systems are the most significant source of embodied carbon, but enclosures are also significant… [and] are under the architect’s control.” Building with wood usually has a lower impact than metal or concrete, for example, but it depends on the how the wood is forested. Also, metal and concrete can be manufactured in lower-impact ways, but you need to specify it.

Running through a life-cycle assessment sometimes gives surprising results, as in this study conducted by LMN architects comparing 5 different ways to create a brick façade with varying impacts of Global Warming Potential (GWP).

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Also worthy of mention are several tools offered on the Architecture 2030 website including the Zero Tool, 2030 Palette education series and the Carbon Smart Materials Palette.

Notably, in California the state government has given the zero carbon movement a major boost with the passage last year of AB 262, the “Buy Clean California Act”.  The new law requires state agencies to consider the embedded carbon emissions of materials used in state-funded projects.  Specifically, beginning in 2019, Buy Clean will require contractors who bid on state infrastructure projects to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions data for certain materials they use, such as steel and glass.

Locally, the San Luis Obispo City Council set a target in September of carbon neutrality by 2035 for the entire city. Simultaneously, the Council voted to join a Community Choice Energy (CCE) program, which will provide an opportunity for more locally controlled and generated renewable energy and offer resources for energy programs and local contractors.

Interested in looking at life-cycle analysis for your next project? Let us know!


Laundry-to-Landscape: Easy Graywater for the Right Project

Sophisticated graywater recycling equipment has opened up possibilities for water re-use, but a $200 washing machine gadget may be your best investment for residential graywater.

We recently had a client approach us about recycled water, understandably wanting to do their part to conserve this precious resource. They envisioned gathering sink and shower water and using it to flush toilets. While this is certainly doable, the number-crunching tells a different story that ends up saving money and effort.

First, here is a re-cap on what is allowed in California: Graywater can be collected from laundry, showers and bathroom sinks. Kitchen sinks, dishwashers and toilets generate blackwater, which must go to the sewer or other treatment, but graywater can be collected for re-use. Untreated graywater must be used within 24 hours, or it becomes “blackwater”, so if it needs to be stored, it must be treated to a high level. Graywater used for landscape irrigation does not require treatment as long as it is distributed below the surface (e.g., underneath at least 2” of soil or mulch).

Starting at a few thousand dollars, water treatment can make sense at the scale of a hotel or multi-family project, but for a single-family home, the appeal of using graywater directly becomes apparent based on the example calculations below.

Let’s look at some numbers, assuming a 4-person home and water-efficient devices:

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Toilets are so efficient now (as low as 0.8 gal/flush) that treating graywater for flushing just doesn’t pencil out. It’s also notable that even if you have lots of showers and laundry to generate graywater, you’ll still need to supplement your irrigation with potable water.

Although showers may generate more graywater, there are a few big advantages of laundry-to-landscape (L2L):

·       The washing machine is already pumping out the waste water with enough pressure to distribute to your landscape – no additional pumps or tanks needed in most cases

·       Laundry water is generated all year

·       No building permit is required.

For showers, you’ll likely need a surge tank and a pump, and a building permit is required.

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For L2L, efficient implementation requires advance planning because you either need the laundry machine to be on an outside wall or you need to plumb the waste line under the slab in the first place. L2L retrofits are pretty easy if the washer is on an outside wall or you have a raised foundation. The device is basically a 3-way valve that can divert graywater to the irrigation or be manually switched to the sewer, just in case you have a bleach load that you don’t want routed to your plants. To avoid clogging drip emitters, laundry water is usually targeted to trees or bushes. Materials are $150 - $300.

Although L2L is pretty common now, we predict that re-use of shower water will be on the rise, along with new waterless technologies for toilets. As we move toward water conservation goals, we’ll be using every tool in the toolbox. Net zero water, anyone?

Want more information? Checkout Greywater Action, for more details and options, or send us an email to see how graywater could work for your project.