California's New Target: Carbon-Free Electricity by 2045!

California’s electricity grid is headed for zero emissions.  In a ceremony on September 10, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 100, setting a 100 percent clean electricity goal for the state by 2045. 

Brown simultaneously issued an executive order establishing a target for carbon neutrality statewide – also to be achieved by 2045.  The state’s strategy is to continue reducing carbon pollution while increasing carbon sequestration in forests, soils and other natural landscapes.  Improved air quality and public health outcomes are also to be incorporated into any new policies and programs.

The new legislation preceded the Global Climate Action Summit last week in San Francisco, and comes on the heals of the state’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment (find Central Coast Section here).

Source: California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment: California’s Changing Climate 2018

Source: California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment: California’s Changing Climate 2018

The report projects, among other things, an average annual maximum daily temperature increase of 5.6°- 8.8° by the year 2100. With increased temperatures and more extreme heat events, an increase in electricity use for cooling is expected. All the more reason to make that energy carbon-free.

For more information on California’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and boost the number of zero-emissions vehicles on the road, see the press release from the Global Climate Summit.

Ready for your home or business to be carbon-free right now? Contact us to go ZNE!

Biophilia Blog - Acoustics and Your Plants

Plants are probably the most widely known strategy for bringing biophilic elements into a home or work space.  But those palms, ferns, and rubber plants are busier than you think.

In addition to being visually appealing, plants reduce stress, increase productivity and creativity, cool the space, and even remove toxins from the air.  Did you know they can also help keep the peace?

As open office spaces become more popular, lack of sound privacy and noise intrusion are consistently cited as problems in the workplace.  Recent research supports the use of plants as an effective strategy for reducing noise levels – up to 15 decibels. They accomplish it through three mechanisms:

·      Sound absorption – thick bark and leaves have dynamic surfaces that absorb sound

·      Noise deflection – flexible surfaces vibrate to transform and redirect sound energy

·      Sound wave refraction – aka reducing echoes

Plants, when introduced in medium to large groupings and at strategic locations in a space, can provide significant reductions in noise levels for occupants.  Tips for using plants for acoustic performance:

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·      More is better - think planters and living walls vs. individual pots as larger groupings are more effective than single plants

·      Work the edges – planting along walls, corners and other edges maximizes the likelihood that plant features will diffuse sound waves as they reflect off surfaces

·      Surface area – irregular bark surfaces and larger leaves work better than smooth small ones

Not sure what to plant?  Here are some top performers for removing indoor air toxins while improving acoustics at the same time.

Interested in bringing biophilic design to your next project?  Contact us!



Design Fundamentals in a Time of High-Tech

With Zero Net Energy requirements for new residential construction in California looming on the horizon, it can be tempting to seek out the next high-tech solutions to get a project over the ZNE hurdle.  From solar shingles to heat pumps to LEDs, the options are numerous…and sometimes unnecessary.

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On California’s Central Coast we are fortunate to live in a climate zone where sunshine is plentiful and cold weather limited.  Because of this, the fundamentals of passive solar design – such as thermal mass, sun angle calculations, and appropriate shading – are still very effective measures for ZNE construction.

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Recently, we worked on a residential project where part of the building was south-facing and had a proposed 7.5-foot porch overhang for shading. 

We created an energy model for the entire building and noticed some dramatic results when we played with the overhang depth.  While maximum shading was effective in keeping cooling costs down (aka zero), it had a marked (and detrimental) effect on heating loads.  As the overhang depth was reduced, space cooling increased slightly, but only by a fraction of the decrease in heating energy.

Note: We is modeled with an electric heat pump (for heating and cooling).

Note: We is modeled with an electric heat pump (for heating and cooling).

After working with several options, we suggested to the project team an optimal depth for the shading, which would balance more direct sun (free heat) with some additional cooling load in the summer.  The result was almost 30% savings on electricity use over the proposed design, getting the project that much closer to ZNE.

Interestingly, no overhang could have reduced the total energy use even further in our southern California climate zone, but we know from experience that comfort is negatively impacted when a space receives too much direct summer or autumn sun.

So, on your next ZNE project, consider starting with the basics.  Then, when it’s time to optimize daylight or energy efficiency, contact us for some of the more technical calculations.

In Balance Green Consulting - 10th Anniversary!

As the In Balance Green Consulting team, we are celebrating! It has been ten years since our Principals Andy Pease, Architect and LEED Accredited Professional, and Jennifer Rennick, Architect and Certified Energy Analyst, launched our firm.

Andy in 2010

Andy in 2010

Jen in 2010

Jen in 2010

Before joining forces a decade ago, Andy and Jennifer’s paths first crossed years prior while working on an energy improvement project. A few years later they were working independently, Andy focusing on green building and Jennifer on energy modeling. During that time, they would informally collaborate and share insights regarding green building practices, LEED, and energy performance. Over time, they began hiring one another for projects or pursuing projects together, taking turns on who was prime. Soon they realized that their skill-sets complemented one another, as did their passion for a balanced approach, both in life and in architecture. In spring of 2008 the two formalized their partnership by establishing In Balance Green Consulting.


“The words ‘In Balance’ bring powerful images for us,” says Andy. “Balance applies to the natural world, to your work/home life, and to the reality of having projects move forward. You can’t be so focused on one aspect that a project is no longer economically feasible, for example; there is always the triple bottom line.” Andy and Jennifer created this business as two women who both had young kids and wanted a balance of career, family, helping the community, and making the planet a better place. Those values remain key.

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The company has grown over the years to include new team members and expanded services. Andy reflects on this growth, “We needed to bring on qualified staff, professionals who also understood the LEED process and whole building energy performance. Once we hired staff it triggered our next milestone, moving out of our living rooms into an office. We sub-leased space in the beginning and eventually moved into our own office here at the Soda Water Works building.” 


Our diverse portfolio includes winery, office, hospitality and retail, residential, government and education projects. Jennifer recalls the excitement of being awarded the first big projects. “One of the first wineries we worked on was Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles. The client saw the benefit of high performance and daylighting, which was very exciting. Not everyone working on the project understood all the implications of daylighting, whereas now it’s much more understood. This was one of our first clients to move forward with LEED certification.”

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Over the past decade we are fortunate to have been involved in a wide variety of successful projects. Along with celebrating the past decade, we are also looking forward to what the future holds. Andy summarizes our vision, “One of the things that drives us forward is how to be most impactful. We love working with organizations that want to take big steps to reduce their environmental footprint and improve quality of life for their building occupants. At the same time, we are excited to provide services to clients who are just getting up to speed with the concepts of green building and want to explore how far they can take them.”






Monterey Street Mixed Use Achieves LEED Certification

The new Monterey Street Mixed Use complex, located in the heart of San Luis Obispo, has received LEED certification. The project provides close to 70,000 SF of commercial and residential spaces. Three existing qualified historic buildings were combined with new infill shell buildings to create a two- and three-story complex with retail stores, restaurants, a pedestrian plaza and 60 studio and 1-bedroom apartments.

Monterey Street before the restoration

Monterey Street before the restoration

Monterey Street in 2018

Monterey Street in 2018

“We are proud to build sustainably in San Luis Obispo,” says owner Copeland Properties architect Mark Rawson. “We understand the importance of sustainability globally, and we are committed to doing our part locally. This infill project brings housing and other important uses to downtown while preserving our historic heritage.”

Monterey Street achieved LEED certification for implementing practical and measurable strategies and solutions to achieve high performance in the following areas:

Site: The infill site supports community connectivity and alternative transportation with a location that provides access to multiple local services.

Materials: 90% of the existing buildings were reused for the project.

Water: A 31% reduction in indoor water use was achieved through the use of highly efficient plumbing fixtures.

Energy: The project is expected to use 12% less energy compared to similar buildings. A rooftop solar electric array offsets the energy use of the shared public spaces.

Regional Priority credits: Monterey Street achieved four regional priority credits, the maximum available to projects. These priorities emphasized on-site renewable energy and a site selection that integrates new construction into existing infrastructures.

Congratulations to the project team!

·      Owner: Copeland Properties

·      Architect: Mark Rawson

·      Associate Architect: Rea & Luker Architects, Inc.

·      Contractor: J.W. Design & Construction

·      LEED Consulting: In Balance Green Consulting

·      Geotechnical Engineering: Earth Systems Pacific

·      Civil Engineer: Above Grade Engineering

·      Structural Engineer: Ashley Vance Engineering

·      Mechanical/Plumbing Engineer: Brummel Myrick & Associates

·      Electrical Engineer: Power and Communications Engineering

·      Landscape Architect: FIRMA

·      Renewable Energy Provider: Pacific Energy


Grouping Retrofits to Gain Efficiency

Rather than build new facilities, many companies are finding their best bet for reducing overhead is to relocate to existing buildings or simply stay where they are and focus on maintenance and retrofitting. Either option creates an opportunity to combine needed upgrades with an analysis that can optimize efficiency for your building.

Roof repairs needed?

A leaky roof can’t be ignored, but a straight replacement may leave out a big efficiency opportunity: removal of the old roof and adding rigid insulation underneath it. In addition, if you use a ‘cool roof’ combined with the added insulation, your air conditioning loads can drop 30% or more, depending on your climate.

While we’re on the roof…

Replacing or retrofitting a roof is a great time to add solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. In fact, PVs generate more electricity when mounted on a cool roof than on a dark, hot roof.  

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Take a look at daylighting

Another upgrade that dovetails with roof work is adding skylights or suntubes. Adding daylight to interior spaces reduces the amount of electric light needed and provides better quality of light for employees, which reduces operating costs and increases productivity. By planning for PVs and suntubes at the same time, the PV panels can be spaced for maximum efficiency, ensuring they don’t shade each other or the suntubes.

Photosensors on lighting

Once the daylighting has been added, it’s important to adjust lighting controls so that the electric lights shut off automatically when there is sufficient natural light.

Electric lighting


If your electric lights are more than 10 years old, an upgrade will likely pay off. Sometimes a lamp and ballast replacement is enough; sometimes new fixtures and a new layout are needed. Combining suntubes with a lighting upgrade at the same time will simplify the layout and reduce interruptions due to the ceiling retrofit work.

Energy Audit

A whole-building energy audit will help identify other high-impact improvements that are possible for an existing building, such as mechanical equipment, insulation, windows, pumps, indoor water use, or even irrigation.

Retrofit Analysis Services

At In Balance Green Consulting, we work with engineers, suppliers, designers, and commissioning agents to develop the best balance between long-term planning and near-term implementation in grouping retrofits for commercial buildings.

·       Preliminary Energy Analysis: We use energy modeling software, such as EnergyPro, to model the energy performance of a comparable standard building (or the existing building prior to upgrades) and compare it to the proposed energy efficient building, identifying the highest-impact improvements.

·       Daylight Modeling: We use IES software to develop a daylight model, determining the size and spacing of skylights and/or suntubes to achieve the most appropriate light levels.

·       PV Solar Analysis: We provide system analysis, including sizing, expected energy savings, and a payback pro forma.

·       Follow-through: Working with the selected contractor and/or design team, we help define the total project scope and provide technical assistance and expertise throughout implementation.

Combining deferred maintenance items and energy upgrades can lead to construction cost efficiencies and increased ROI for commercial projects.  

Contact us to get the conversation started.

Highlights from the Zero Net Energy Series

Our four-part series on ZNE strategies, presented with Allen Construction and the Central Coast Green Building Council, opened last month to a sold out crowd.

For those unable to attend, here’s a glimpse at some of the highlights:

ZNE Compliance – Jennifer Rennick:

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A common definition for ZNE is that a building produces as much energy as it consumes.  While that is the case for “operational ZNE”, California’s Title 24 code will require projects to comply via one of two methods.  The performance method will be based on the Energy Design Rating (EDR), while a prescriptive method will use conditioned floor area (CFA) and a Dwelling Adjustment Factor to determine compliance.

What a difference sealing an attic can make – Scott Nyborg:

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Using measured data from a renovation project in Los Angeles, the effects of air sealing and insulation on attic temperature were shown to be dramatic.  While indoor temperature initially fluctuated in sync with outdoor air temperature (OAT), as measures were put in place the variability was reduced from 20 degrees to 5 degrees in a 24-hour period.

For more information, see the Central Coast Green Building Council's website.



Strategies for Collecting and Using Rainwater - Residential Edition

In a winter season that seems set to bring more sunshine than rain, it is easy for rainwater collection to drop to the bottom of anyone’s priority list.  Yet, long periods of warm dry weather punctuated with short intense storms make smart water use - especially if you have irrigation needs - all the more important. 

Depending on how, and how much, irrigation water you use, several capture options can make sense.

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Small (50gal) free standing rainwater tanks: Typically connected via a diverter from a residential downspout, these tanks or “rain barrels” are inexpensive and easy to move from one collection location to another.  They can fill up quickly (roughly 0.1 inches falling on a 1000sf roof) and are handy to use for watering nearby plants, pots, or a tree.

Large (5000gal+) tanks:  More expensive and requiring much more room in a yard (about 8 ½ ft diameter), they also need to be plumbed, filtered and maintained.   That said, they can be connected to each other and to pumps, which for large properties may offer more bang for the buck especially through dry summers.

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Portable water pillows/bladders: A relative newcomer to the market, these flexible flat “balloons” made of material similar to that used in rubber rafts come in a variety of sizes and shapes.  Several manufacturers now make them with price tags that can vary widely. 

The innovation here is that they lie flat, so they are well-suited for crawl spaces or under decks, thereby freeing up yard space.  DIY hookups and pumps make the water available for landscape use.  They can also be drained and rolled up for storage in the dry season.

For winters that bring rain via frequent small storms, the smaller tanks or barrels can work well to water during the gaps and then let them refill with the next rain.  For years like this one (and likely future ones?), with infrequent larger storms, storage systems with large capacities become more important (and useful) to make it through even the “wet” season.  Be sure to check with your local jurisdiction regarding permitting requirements.

As water rates continue to move toward reflecting the real cost of provided water, the benefits (for plants and for your wallet) of capturing rainfall become more evident.  The important thing is to get started!