860 On the Wye Goes ZNE!

A new all-electric affordable housing project for veterans is set to open in San Luis Obispo next month.  The innovative Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo project will host residents in a 21-unit, two-story multi-family building with a common space, recreational facilities, a community garden, and onsite resident services from the U.S. Veterans’ Administration.

Early in the process, In Balance was contacted to consult on energy efficiency, inclusion of photo-voltaic panels (PV) in the design, and the possibility of making it a zero-net energy (ZNE) project.  There was no existing gas line to the property, an opportunity the owner seized upon to use savings from not extending services toward funding an all-electric development.

Jennifer Rennick, lead energy consultant on the project recalls, “A major challenge with all-electric multi-family housing is choosing a hot water system.  For 860 on the Wye, the team was able to identify a high-efficiency tank-style air source heat pump heater that could provide the volume needed without excessive energy loads.”  Additional efficiencies were gained through improved envelope construction, blown-in insulation, and integrating air-source heat pumps into the design to provide heating for the building. All available roof area now houses PV panels to achieve the ZNE goal.

In Balance also helped facilitate applications for incentives through the Multi-Family Solar Housing (MASH) and California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (CTCAC) programs, which helped the project meet basic cost requirements.

Congratulations to the whole team who made 860 On The Wye a success!

Changes at In Balance

We’d like to offer a formal (and long overdue) welcome to our newest staff member Beth Fillerup! 

Beth, a LEED Green Associate, brings her considerable expertise in marketing and client outreach to the In Balance Green Consulting team. When she's not producing first-class presentations and managing proposals, you might find her bravely immersed in LEED documentation, Cal Green code, and keeping up on the latest Zero Net Energy trends.

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We’d also like to congratulate Stephen Ames on his new job. Stephen, a HERS rater and LEED AP Homes, has taken a position as a Building Inspector with the City of San Luis Obispo. We look forward to working with him on great green projects in the future!

EV Charging Stations and ADA

In an unusual cross over between CALGreen and ADA, Electric Vehicle charging stations are triggering requirements for access compliance. 

How Many?

CALGreen mandatory measures require infrastructure for EV charging stations, including parking space(s), conduit, and room on the electrical panel (not the charging station itself). The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that a certain percentage of EV stations be “accessible." In the following chart, we meld the two to summarize the quantity of each:

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*If by some crazy chance you are providing more than 25 EV charging stations (!), be sure to consult the Access Compliance Reference Manual for additional requirements.

Of course, if you do install actual charging stations, the chargers themselves must be accessible per the chart above.

Size and Dimensions

The key point is that even if you only have one EV charging space, that one must be van accessible, meaning 12’ wide and 18’ long, with a 5’-wide access aisle. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th stations do not need be accessible, but a fifth station would need to be standard accessible, meaning 9’ wide and adjacent to the access aisle. Those spaces do not serve as your Accessible Parking Spaces, and should not be labeled as such.  Accessible charging spaces do need a path of travel to the building. The following diagram is provided in CBC Chapter 11B.

Figure 11B-812.9

Figure 11B-812.9

During the recent ADA Seminar sponsored by the Central Coast AIA and ICC Chapters, access compliance guru Greg Izor reviewed these important changes in the 2016 code. He also presented an alternate lay-out where the charging station is at the top of the access aisle, shared by two parking spaces, and the path of travel is behind the vehicles. In other words, there are lay-out options here depending on the site arrangement.

There are plenty more details in the code section, so be sure to check out CBC 11B-228 and 11B-812.


Congratulations to Caltrans on LEED Gold!

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in San Luis Obispo has recently been awarded LEED Gold certification.


The project located at 2885 S. Higuera Street involved a major renovation of and addition to an existing 35,000-square-foot structure.  Built in the 1960s, the space was originally used as a storage building and more recently a small viticulture processing plant, before it was remodeled for the new Caltrans offices. 

LEED certification was achieved through a variety of sustainable construction strategies including:  building and materials reuse; energy-efficient design; low impact development for stormwater; and reduced indoor and outdoor water use.

A summary of specific green features follows:


·      83% of the existing building was reused for the project.  Leaky doors and windows were replaced and a second floor of workspace was added to the lofty warehouse facility.

·      Exemplary performance was achieved for material reuse and regional materials, at 49% and 60% respectively.


·      A 40% reduction in indoor water use was achieved through the use of highly efficient flow and flush fixtures.

·      The landscape utilizes permeable pavers, bioswales and basins to efficiently filter and infiltrate stormwater, which reduces runoff and recharges groundwater.

·      Water-efficient plants and trees have been used throughout the landscape, reducing outdoor water use by 57%.


·      The building is expected to use 31% less energy compared to similar buildings.

·      35% of the electricity used in the first two years will be purchased from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.


·      The site design provided vegetated open space for 31% of the project site.

·      The project supports alternative transportation with a location that provides access to local services, extensive bicycle parking, employee showers, infrastructure for electric vehicles, and a comprehensive transportation management plan.

Regional Priority credits

·      Caltrans achieved four regional priority credits, the maximum available to projects.  These priorities emphasized water efficiency and a site selection that integrates new building into existing infrastructures.

View the Case Study. More details about the project are available at the USGBC project website.


OPALS and Allergies - What's the Connection?

The recent rains in California mean good news for drought-stricken cities and landscapes. But the sunshine that follows, and the trees and shrubs that will soon be in full bloom, can mean bad news for allergy sufferers - whose numbers continue to rise especially among children.

In some interesting research on urban landscapes, horticulturist Tom Ogren has identified one major culprit, botanical sexism.  He explains his findings:

Pollen on a male Gingko Biloba tree

Pollen on a male Gingko Biloba tree

“[I]n the name of tidiness, for the cause of low maintenance, male trees and shrubs were being planted by the millions. Since males produced no seeds, fruits, messy flowers or old seedpods, they were considered far superior to female plants. That these same male plants would plague urban areas with huge amounts of allergenic pollen never seems to have been considered. But of course, this is exactly what has happened.” – From “Gardening with Allergies”

What can landscapers and green building professionals do (these plants are often located outside open windows afterall) to counter this trend? This is where OPALS (Ogren Plant Allergy Scale) comes in, Ogren’s tool for selecting plants with low allergenicity. Now used by the USDA and other research institutions, the scale provides ratings from 1 to 10 for hundreds of species – sometimes separately for males and females of a species.

Armed with this data, landscapers and home gardeners are one step closer to creating allergy-free environments for all to enjoy at schools, offices, and homes.

For more information, see allergyfree-gardening.com.

Jennifer Rennick Architecture and Consulting Available for SLO City Projects

As many of you know, one of the Principals at In Balance Green Consulting, Andy Pease, was recently elected to San Luis Obispo City Council. In order to avoid potential conflicts of interest, our other Principal Jennifer Rennick has re-established her firm Jennifer Rennick Architecture and Consulting.

Our two firms share our outstanding employees and are pleased to now provide energy performance modeling, ZNE, LEED certification and other green building services, whatever the jurisdiction. JRA can be reached at Jennifer@rennickarch.com or Beth@rennickarch.com.



Computer Room Set Temperature - Going Up!

As the building industry continues to emphasize energy savings, a growing trend is to increase the temperature set point in data centers and office telecom or data rooms. As a kid I remember going with my uncle to the UC Irvine computer labs to play videogames with his co-workers. He would have me walk into the small server room to see my reaction to the chilling 55°F-60°F temperature that was maintained by a dedicated AC system.

The thinking was that the computers needed to be kept cold to avoid overheating, but as computer hardware technology has improved, the risk of overheating has been reduced. Cold server rooms is an old school design that not only consumes a significant amount of energy maintaining the frigid temperature, but also increases the initial construction cost by purchasing and installing a dedicated unit. Currently there is no consensus on the optimal set point, but 77°F - 85°F seems to be recognized as a safe range depending on the size of the space and equipment within.

Data Centers

Fortune 500 companies such as Hewlett Packard, Google, Microsoft and Intel have been researching the energy savings associated with raising the set points in their data centers while observing computer failure rates.  Some takeaways from their studies include:

·       Intel conducted a 10-month test to evaluate the impact of using only outside air to cool a high-density data center in New Mexico, where the temperature ranged from 64 degrees to as high as 92 degrees. It found no consistent increase in failure rates due to the greater variation in temperature and humidity and concluded, “This suggests that existing assumptions about the need to closely regulate these factors bear further scrutiny.” 

·       Intel’s Global Green Building Manager Taimur Burki, speaking at Greenbuild last month, noted their new standard for data centers is 90° on the cool intake side and up to 135° on the racks’ exhaust side!

·       Mark Monroe of Sun Microsystems has described how “Data center managers can save 4 percent in energy costs for every degree of upward change in the set point.” Keeping a data center’s temperature ambitiously high, however, may leave less time to recover from a cooling failure, so long-term equipment life should be a cost consideration.

·       Although the industry is generally in agreement to raise temperatures, actual set points vary. Dean Nelson, also at Sun, says, “There’s diminishing returns when you raise the temperature beyond a certain amount, because now your cooling systems are working harder to keep up with the increased fan speed on the server.  You’ve got to find that sweet spot. But it’s not where we are today. It’s not 65°.  I think it’s probably around 80° to 85°.”

The website Data Center Knowledge has additional articles and information.

Computer Rooms

For smaller “server closets” or telecom rooms, using an exhaust fan tied to a temperature sensor is an energy efficient and cost effective alternative to designing a dedicated cooling system. Based on a recent energy audit, UC Santa Cruz developed a new campus standard for exhaust fans in telecommunication rooms that includes continuous air ventilation sufficient to limit temperature rise to 10° F for a 1 KW load from communications equipment. Yet, since there is still no uniform design, the standard also reflects the uncertainty by requiring a dedicated HVAC system with a thermostat set to maintain temperature in the range of 68°F to 78°F.

In a December 2008 article for the website ITBusinessEdge, Drew Robb details temperature’s effect on equipment reliability at the time:  “For every 18° F above 70 degrees, electronics reliability is reduced by 50 percent. Therefore, it is best to set the AC to run at around that level or just a little higher – no more than 77 degrees.” Today we should be designing our telecom and server rooms to operate at higher temperatures and working towards standardizing the absence of a dedicated system.


In Balance Offers Powerful New Simulation Tool

In Balance Green Consulting has recently added a powerful new tool to our service portfolio: IESVE. This Virtual Environment software created by Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) moves far beyond compliance confirmation – it is a cutting-edge modeling solution that will provide building owners, engineers and design professionals with clear strategies for reducing energy use and increasing comfort in cost-effective ways.

While many of today’s energy-modeling programs are tied strictly to California Energy Commission (CEC) requirements, IESVE offers a wide variety of modules that analyze, identify, and design integrated energy (including CEC compliance) and LEED certification solutions – all from one central data model. This allows us to create more diverse and detailed solutions for our clients, including building owners, architects, developers, and engineers. The software is compatible with industry standard tools such as Sketchup and Revit, which helps when integrating with other team members’ plans.

Daylight simulation image from IES

Daylight simulation image from IES

We selected IESVE after doing research on the best tools for energy modeling. The software has been used for years in Europe, and is now being used by top firms throughout the United States. IESVE allows us to graphically show clients options at a highly detailed level.

As more building owners and developers look to increase the energy efficiency of their buildings, including Zero Net Energy, better resources and solutions are essential to the design process - particularly simulation tools that are used from project conception.

“Energy modeling presents the greatest opportunity for architects to realize more ambitious energy-saving in their design projects, particularly when used early in the design process.”
— American Institute of Architects (AIA)

Architects, developers, and building owners who are interested in high performance buildings or who desire better energy savings than can be gained through conventional mechanical systems will be particularly interested in what the software can provide.  Some of the cutting-edge systems that can be modeled and analyzed in IESVE include variable refrigerant flow (VRF), radiant ceilings and floors, dedicated outside air systems (DOAS), chilled beam distribution, and central plant systems. IESVE is also capable of showing savings through daylight and glare analysis, electro-chromatic glazing, and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) used to prove savings achieved through natural ventilation.