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!

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 12.27.17 PM.png

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).

Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 7.47.36 PM.png

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:

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 4.33.35 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 4.36.30 PM.png

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.

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:

Biophilic stairs foyer.jpg

·      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.

Passive solar design - Green Energy Times - cropped-main-700x460.jpg

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.

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 10.23.22 AM.png



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.

Team 2013 Sydney's Farewell.jpg

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.”

photo 3.JPG

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