Tag Archive for: architect

Architects – AIA’s List of Critical Questions to Ask

LEAP Architecture is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Here we share AIA’s list of questions to help you decide if an architect is the right fit for you and your project.

Questions, Questions, Questions

Every architecture firm brings its own combination of skills, expertise, interests, and values to its projects. The challenge is to find the one that aligns most closely with your project’s needs. Selection is a mutual process.

The most thoughtful architects are as careful in selecting their clients as owners are in selecting architects. Be prepared to answer questions about your project’s purpose, budget, time frame, site, and the team of players you anticipate being involved with the project.

Below are some questions, broken up by topic, to address when meeting with a prospective architect.


Architects Experience

• What is your design philosophy?

• What sets your firm apart from other architects with similar experience?

• Do you have experience with the building type and size of my project?

• Will you share with me a portfolio of similar projects and provide a list of client references?

• Who from the architecture firm will I be dealing with on a regular basis? Is this the person who will design my project?

Take a look at LEAP’s Portfolio for Residential and Commercial Projects. 


My Project

• What challenges do you foresee for my project?

• What do you see as the important issues or considerations in my project?

• What is your estimated timetable for my project?

• What means will you use to collect information about my needs, goals, etc.?

• How will you help me to fully understand the scope and sequence of the project? Will you utilize models, drawings, or computer animation?


Design

• What are the steps in the design process, and how are they organized?

• What criteria will be used to establish priorities and make design decisions?

• What do you expect me to provide?

• How disruptive will construction be?

• What role do you have during construction? Am I expected to work with the contractor directly?

Here’s a pretty thorough walk-through of LEAP’s design process.


Green Design

• Do you have experience with “green” or sustainable design?

• Do you regularly integrate low or no cost sustainable design strategies into projects?

• Considering the many areas that may be affected by sustainable design, how will you determine which options to pursue?

• If sustainable design technologies are implemented, do upfront costs exist that may affect the construction budget? What are the expected pay back times?

Read how LEAP approaches Green Design.


Architects Fees

• How do you establish fees?

• In anticipation of a formal proposal with costs, what would you expect your fee to be for this project?

• What is included in your basic services and what services would incur additional fees?

• If the scope of the project changes later in the project, will there be additional fees? How will these fees be justified? How will this be communicated to me?

• What is your track record with completing a project within the original budget?

Here’s one of LEAP’s posts that covers the benefits of working with an architect and our general fee structure.


LEAP welcomes your questions. We strive to make sure that your project is a good fit with our expertise. The AIA also offers a nice PDF guide, You and Your Architect.  Download it here, and start asking away! Give us a call 518-669-9435, and speak to Eric. And lastly, check out our client reviews and testimonials.

Architects —Why You’re Not Working with Them

Do you have a building project on the horizon? Have you kicked around the idea of calling in an architect, but got talked out of it? Here are the 3 reasons why you aren’t calling architects, and why it hurts you not to.

1. My Builder’s Doing the Design

“My builder says we don’t need architects. His team can do the design”.

Sure, they absolutely can, but here’s how it’s likely to go. First of all, the builder wants to keep your design fee, the primary reason they cut out the architect. In order to make the most profit, the builder will look through their stock plans and grab an existing design that most closely matches your requirements. Change the name, move a wall out here or there, and call it done. If you are in the market for a standard issue, (cookie-cutter) house, hey, this really is a fine way to go (no cynicism).

Good Design Floats

You only need an architect if you want your structure tailored to your needs, routines, and desires. If you want a dream-house, or incredibly efficient office building—where form and function are seamlessly integrated—tell your builder you insist on working with an architect. Better yet, get your architect first and then approach a builder.

In recent conversations we’ve had with bankers and real-estate agents, it is established that homes with excellent design have a significantly higher re-sale value, compared to poor or average designed homes of the same square footage. You’re spending the money anyway, let’s make your home great! See an example here of before and after photos for a modern addition we designed. The value of this property has increased astronomically.

modern addition, before and after photos, home improvement, home renovation

House exterior before and after dramatic modern addition

Communication Bridge

Having an architect is having a building advocate. When the builder suggests a change, how do you know it’s in your best interest? It may not be, and it may not fit with your design theme. At LEAP, we make sure all the details that make this design exclusively YOURS—actually get built into the structure.

LEAP Architecture is your communication bridge between you and your builder. We speak plain old English, and we also speak builder.  We can take the time to understand your goals from the start, explain building terms, and what impact a particular change will have. Builders also appreciate this arrangement, as they are crazy busy with construction.  For a builder to take time out to even pick up the phone, let alone take time out for a in depth conversation, is time away from what they do best.

Documentation (or How to Cover Your Butt)

What if (eekk) something goes wrong in construction, and delays might be the least of it. The wrong type of kitchen counter was used, formaldehyde containing paneling was installed in your bedroom, the project is over budget. How do you protect yourself and make sure you get what you signed up for? Well, a big part of our jobs as architects is documenting everything! It’s certainly not the most glorious part of our job, but from a legal protection standpoint, an absolute necessity. We keep track of the paper trail from day 1, including all correspondence, dates, decisions made, etc. If the time ever arises where say, your builder made a mistake but assures you it’s actually your fault; we quietly pull out our files and get to the bottom of it.

2. Architects Are Too Expensive

“Building a house is so expensive, bringing in an architect will just waste more money.”

Design Fee

Let me break it to you gently, you’re going to pay a design fee either way. Either the builder will get it—see above—or it can go to your architect. Here’s why you want it to go to the architect. A great design will enhance your day-to-day living and it will also significantly increase your property value. And in many cases, you’re not paying anymore than what the builder charges.

The table below shows two options for LEAP’s services, a) a bare bones option for a permit set of drawings and b) our Design Package. Our Design Package only cost a few % more than the bare bones, and what you get for that will amaze you. In addition to structural drawings, we do a whole integrated design where we specify the materials to be used, color schemes, lighting, window placement, storage, functionality and site analysis. For a more in-depth read, take a look through the series on our design process.

architects

 

3. Architects Aren’t Accessible

“An architect wouldn’t be interested in my project, it’s not grand.”

What comes to mind when you hear the term architect? Skyscrapers? City centers? Looming glass clad structures that seemingly defy the laws of gravity. Well, yes. Architects do design those, but architecture is not exclusive to monuments or anchor buildings. It’s accessible to everyone, and everyone should take advantage of architects services.

You can call us right now (518-669-9435) for an initial conversation about your project. We’re happy to give you feedback and guidance. In the first 5 min we will ballpark the construction costs, so you can make an informed decision, and move forward with realistic expectations. Whereas builders can be tempted to low-ball project budgets and up-charge later, we prefer to be upfront and give you the best information we can from the start.

So what are you waiting for? We don’t bite, and we don’t gouge. Making our clients happy is in our best interest. Give us a call today!

 

 

Meet the Architect, Eric Davenport

Get to Know LEAP Founder and Architect, Eric Davenport in our next series of posts!

5 Questions with Eric

 

 Architect-Eric-Davenport-Albany-NY

What was your first job?

My first job was working at Stewarts in Clifton Park, NY, where I grew up. One of my duties was scraping out the bottom of the chili pot—an experience that turned me on to vegetarianism, lol!

 

What led you to become an architect?

I think I’ve always been drawn to architecture, even as a little kid. The process of designing something that people will live and work in, it seems commonplace, but when you really think about it, it’s a really big deal. Architecture influences all of us, everyday, whether or not we consciously recognize it. One of my favorite quotes:

“Architecture is basically a container of something. I hope they will enjoy not so much the teacup, but the tea.” –Yoshio Taniguchi

 

How does your family influence your design approach?

Architect-Eric-Davenport-Albany-NY

LEAP Architect, Eric Davenport with his 3 kids.

My wife Claire and I have 3 children, ages 4, 12, and 19. So I understand that family  life is sometimes chaotic. The flow of the house should bring a family together, be a backdrop for, yet also enhance daily activities. The materials used is another big consideration. These should be aesthetically pleasing, but also durable and easy to maintain. A good design meets the needs of both growing children and the parents. Many families need “together” spaces and “away” spaces to help balance the family dynamics. We also explore specific growth plans for families, and also businesses to help improve their bottom lines.

 

Have you traveled? How has that shaped you?

Travel has had a profound influence on my life and work. I worked through my undergraduate degree at Ball State University in Indiana. My last semester was spent in Copenhagen, Denmark. I really connected to the Scandinavian aesthetic—clean lines, lots of light, and it always feels fresh. The weather in Denmark is not so great, so little effort is spent on simple exteriors. However, the interiors are other-worldy: warm, cozy, vibrant spaces for living, working and playing are key to the Dane’s happy lifestyles.

I also traveled and studied in Sri Lanka, India and Nepal, which helped inform our practice with historical context. It’s one thing to look at these ancient structures in a text book. When experiencing them in person, I learned how historic structures can be used in contemporary ways, and contribute to sustainable design strategies.

After coming back to the states, I knew that I needed to incorporate green and sustainable building practices into my designs. I complemented my environmental architecture education by attending ECOSA, the sustainable design institute in Prescott, AZ.

Spending time out in the desert was wild. It helped me appreciate the specificity of regional climates and their impact on architectural design. I studied under the guidance of Tony Brown, who was an apprentice of Paolo Soleri. Soleri, for those of you that don’t know, founded the Arcosanti, an urban laboratory focused on innovative design, community, and environmental accountability in the high desert of Arizona.

For the last 10 years I’ve been living and working in New York’s Capital District, which is also where I grew up. Living here, it feels a little like completing a circuit.

Architect, Eric Davenport nepal

Portrait of the Architect as a Young Man in Nepal. LEAP Founder and Architect, Eric Davenport in his formative years.

Do you have a passion project?

Haiti is a big one. I started volunteering in Haiti in 2003. The initial focus was on education and how to affordably create schools as a space for teaching with cultural arts. My involvement grew from there. I really fell in love with the country and the people. I’m proud to say that LEAP has worked not only on schools, but emergency relief community designs, sustainable agricultural pro
cessing plants, community centers, computer centers, and food security programs. I’m working on a longer story about my Haiti experiences, so stay tuned for that in the coming weeks.

Architect-Eric-Davenport-Albany-NY

LEAP Founder and Architect, Eric Davenport overseeing construction of a seed storage facility in Haiti.

 

 

[box type=”bio”] LEAP Architect, Eric Davenport excels in understanding complex needs of businesses and families. LEAP’s goal is to provide affordable solutions to companies and residential clients. He has extensive experience in single family and multi-family residential projects and also specializes in interior design.

Contact LEAP and let us put our experience to work for you![/box]

 

 

Passive House Design: Air Sealing & Pink Slime

This is the fourth post in our series on Passive House Design. If you missed either of the previous, click on the links below to get up to speed! LEAP’s intelligent design process consists of four main steps. Today we explore the importance of air sealing, and pink slime—that’s a technical term.

 

Passive House Design Process

  1. Site Analysis
  2. Doors and Windows
  3. Insulation
  4. Air Sealing

“Your Love is Lifting Me Higher”

We want you to have a love affair with your house or office building (or why not both?). It should be an uplifting space that makes you want to sing and dance. And hopefully it’s just you dancing—because your building is (or should be)—coated with pink slime. Not the psychomagnotheric slime that had lady liberty strolling around, cracking domes like soft boiled eggs, but the air sealing kind.

Air sealing is critical to temperature and moisture control, and reduces draftiness, noise and pollutants. It also plays an important role in energy efficiency. Proper sealing of joints and penetrations in the building envelope can reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling by 30%.

passive house design, air sealing, spray on seal

Here is an example from Ghostbusters II, where they went a little overboard with air sealing the building.

 

The Ghosts of Air Sealing

The wind whistling past your building at night can do more than just make eerie noises. It can actually create a negative pressure zone, which tries to suck air out from the inside. Here is a list of critical locations where air tries to get out (or in—refer to image at the top):

  • Around doors and windows
  • Around electrical fixtures
  • Basement band joist and exterior penetrations
  • Wiring/plumbing/duct penetrations
  • Vertical meets horizontal planes: (roof to wall, floor to wall, wall to wall)

Air Barriers are materials that stop moisture-laden air from entering building assemblies, reduce air leakage and, wind-driven air from entering into and through insulation. Examples of air barriers:

  • Interior drywall, fully sealed for continuity and air tightness.
  • Exterior sheathing: plywood, OSB*, fully sealed for continuity and air tightness. (*needs coating)

How do you ensure that these sheathings are fully sealed? Pink slime to the rescue! Certain spray foams and caulks are applied to the framing members to effectively seal the locations mentioned above. One of the products we like is by Owens Corning. They make a spray foam with flexible seal technology (and yes, it is pink). Not all spray foams can be used for air sealing. Some do not adhere well to the frame, and some are too rigid, which means they can crack and create gaps as the structure settles.

So, with yet another set of important design considerations to manage…

 

Who Ya Gonna Call?   LEAP ARCHITECTURE!

We ain’t afraid of no gaps!

LEAP works with energy star certified framers and contractors, who know how to seal and frame correctly, saving you from any number of scary scenarios down the road. Proper air sealing is that much harder if the framing member aren’t in correct place, which is why LEAP specifies a detailed instructions for framing and construction. One of our the most notable directives: ROCK the CEILING FIRST!

LEAP specifies that the ceiling be sheet-rocked before the wall framing goes up. This allows the space behind the walls to basically be capped by the ceiling, instead of creating an ‘air corridor’ directly up to the attic and below to the basement. The energy benefits gained using this method totally outweigh any inconvenience for builders.

passive house design, blower-test

Kit to conduct Blower Test to measure air sealing. (looks suspiciously like an ecto-containment unit)

So how do you know that you have achieve effective containment? Well, blower door testing is a diagnostic tool designed to measure the air tightness of buildings. It uses a calibrated fan capable of measuring airflow, mounted in a flexible panel positioned in an external door. A pressure-sensing device measures the air pressure created by the fan. The fan both pressurizes and depressurizes the home. By recording both flow and pressure in each direction, the system is able to provide highly detailed information about building air tightness.

There are two main ways that blower-door tests are reported: airflow at a pressure difference of 50 Pascals (cfm50) or air changes per hour at a pressure difference of 50 Pascals (ACH50). The first number — cfm50 — can be read directly off the airflow manometer at the time of the test. The second number — ACH50 — can only be calculated once the building’s volume has been determined. To calculate ACH50, multiply cfm50 by 60 minutes per hour and divide the product by the building volume, including the basement, measured in cubic feet.(1)

Passive House Design requires an ACH50 of 0.6, which is pretty rigorous to achieve. Aside from Passive House, standard New York State requirements for building tightness are likely to be upgraded by October 2016, where all constructions must meet and ACH50 of 3. This means 3 air changes or less per hour, which will require installation of a whole house ventilation system per ASHRAE standards.

passive house design, air sealing

Air Change per hour at 50 pascals (ACH50) as it relates to Passive House Design and mechanical ventilation requirements.

[box type=”bio”] Contact LEAP to design an air-tight building worthy of an ecto containment unit and watch as we fire up our foam insulation spray guns (we won’t cross the streams!).[/box]

Passive House Design: Insulation–That’s a Wrap

This is the third post in our series on Passive House Design. If you missed either of the previous, click on the links below to get up to speed! LEAP’s intelligent design process consists of four main steps, each building on the previous. Site analysis is the first step, because it informs all the other steps. You can have all of the best windows, doors, and insulation, but their effectiveness is diminished if the orientation of the structure isn’t correct.

Passive House Design Process

Today we explore the importance of insulation, and avoidance of thermal bridging.

  1. Site Analysis
  2. Doors and Windows
  3. Insulation
  4. Air Sealing

Insulation to Minimize Heat Loss

A typical modern house loses and gains approximately 150 kWh/m²a of heat, where the units refer to energy per floor area. A “leaky house” will have double those losses — think older windows, no wall insulation, and degraded door seals. On the other hand, a passive house will be 20x more efficient compared to the leaky house, and 10x more than a typical modern house. A big part of how Passive House Design minimizes thermal gains and losses is through super insulation.

passive house insulation, passive house design

Comparison of heat gains and losses for different house types.

Passive House Standards

Per the definition of Passive House—it can use no more than 1.4 kWh per 1 ft² of living space annually. For example, a 2,000 ft² house would only use 2,800 kWh per year, which comes out to $280/yr (@ 10 cents/kWh). To achieve this efficiency, we’ve discussed how the structure’s envelop must be air-tight, but we also need to insulate the heck out of it.

The insulation itself is generally comprised of multiple layers, all with high R-values. This insulation covers the entire envelope of the structure, including under the footing,with the only exception being the windows and doors. To be continuous, the insulation goes on the outside of the framing, opposed to between studs in a conventional building. The outermost layer of the insulation-sandwich is a water/wind membrane, which tends to be UV sensitive. This necessitates installing siding to cover and protect the membrane.

This configuration significantly reduces the heat transfer through the walls, roof and floor compared to conventional buildings. A wide range of thermal insulation materials can be combined to provide the required high R-values. Special attention is also given to eliminating thermal bridges.

A thermal bridge is a break in the insulation surrounding the house. In a traditional home, this would include all framing members of the structure, and things like porches and overhangs. Thermal bridges lead to massive heat loss, negating the benefit of “over insulating” the structure.

passive house insulation, passive house design

Example of a possible combination of insulation layers for a Passive House Design.

 

 Much Ado About Porches, Decks, and Overhangs

We don’t pay special attention to these “add-ons” for nothing. There are lurking thermal bridges…ready to let all the heat in (or out) of our carefully crafted structure. So instead of penalizing Passive House structures and sending them to the corner with no porches or decks, we work around it. Normally a ledger board would be affixed to the structure as a supporting member for the deck or porch. Instead, we design it to stand-off, and put all of our support posts in the ground. In this manner, we avoid creating a break in the continuous insulation wrap.

So to wrap up, (pun intended), think of super insulation for a passive house like Ralphie’s brother in a Christmas Story. He is bundled to the max, layer upon layer of winter clothes, along with socks, boots, gloves, and his hood pulled so tight that he can barely see—and all on the outside of his “frame”. I guess Randy and Ralphies’ mother understood the dangers of heat loss and thermal bridging back in the 50’s. That lady was well ahead of her time.

[box type=”bio”] Interested in Passive House or Green Building Design? Whether you want to start from scratch or renovate—we can help! Every $1 spent on design saves $10 in construction costs. Don’t shoot your eye out. Let us provide you the best design possible. Contact us to get started.[/box]

Passive House Design: Windows— A Dark Age Salvation

We are continuing our series on Passive House Design. LEAP’s intelligent design process consists of four main steps, each with the aim to maximize human comfort, energy efficiency, and real cost savings. Today we explore the importance of good windows and doors, along with what constitutes them as such.

Passive House Design Process

  1. Site Analysis
  2. Doors and Windows
  3. Insulation
  4. Air Sealing

We Aren’t Living in the Dark Ages, or Are We?

So you took a perfectly good, well insulated structure and put holes in it. Oops, I mean windows. You put windows in. But that’s one of the reasons we crawled out of caves and stopped living like mole-people. Our homes and offices are more pleasant with natural light and vitamin D.

Let’s look at an example somewhere between mole-people era and modern times—the reign of castles. I think we can agree that castles were not the pinnacle of energy efficiency. To support this claim, Eric “Outlander” Castle_R-value, passive house designDavenport, traveled back in time to report the effective R-values of castles as 4… Well, in comparison, the effective R-value of a passive house is 42. (Well really it’s 40, but we all know the answer to life, universe and everything is 42).

 

So what the heck is this effective R-value you speak of?

R-value stands for resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating value.

Effective R-values are the TOTAL resistances provided by all components in a wall assembly. This equates to patience and higher math—tallying up the  thermal bridging, air infiltration, radiant heat loss or gain, and moisture impact on the overall structure. These factors usually reduce the effectiveness of the labeled R-value, on say conventional cavity-filled insulation.

Poor window quality can totally tank your whole effective R-value. You can construct your walls from the most insulating material in the world, but if you’re then installing crap windows, you might as well tack an oil cloth over the opening and call it good.

Which brings us to the puffy sleeves of the 1980’s. Building designers deemed “Windows for all” & “Architecture is above human whims!”, as a backlash to the 1970’s energy crisis and inoperable windows. This equated to: we can put windows everywhere, (even on the—gasp—west side of the building) and a window, is a window, is a window. We shall install the same windows in New York, California, and Alaska—climate dependence be dammed!

Well, to give you an idea of how well that worked out—the one design fits all approach—the effective R-value of these buildings dropped back to 4. Yes, 4. Your new, beautiful, big-hair building is the energy equivalent of living in a drafty castle. Back to the dark ages. (Weren’t puffy sleeves popular in the middle ages too? Coincidence?)

So we continue to claw our way out of the dark days of the 80’s, towards the light of Passive House Design. Good windows (and doors) equals a good thermal envelope, which equals a high effective R-value (42!), which spreads comfort and energy efficiency across the land.

 

What Constitutes a High Efficiency Window?

Soft, but what light through yonder window breaks? It faces east, and  2″ is the notch. Or rather, placement and construction—a high efficiency window doth make. And who pray tell constructs the finest windows in the land? Well, the Europeans do. Perhaps it was those long, drafty years of castle living that haunt their collective consciousness. But at any rate, they have figured out how to build a great window.  And the big secret? A deep notch.

A deep notch accomplishes two things: makes the structure stronger, and reduces thermal bridging. The wood/glass interface is the weakest part of the window, and also where most of the energy is lost. European windows have a 2″ notch, whereas most American made windows are only 1/2″. This extra 1.5″ seats the glass securely in the frame and significantly reduces air leakage.

The Passive House Institute has a database of Passive House Certified windows and doors (and no, they don’t have to be European). When manufacturers from anywhere meet Passive House specifications, they can become certified. Below is an example of what a Passive House Institute certification seal looks like. Notice the list of 7 different climate regions.

phius-window-certification-for-the-us

Types of Windows

The type of window is also important. Double hung are out. Casement, awning, and fixed windows are in. Tilt-turn windows are a good option for functionality and air sealing, see image below. The three positions (fixed, tilt, turn) allow for security, venting and ease of cleaning, respectively.

Placement is another key factor. For balanced daylighting, large and floor to ceiling windows are typically placed on south and east facing walls. Small windows are placed high up on the north facing wall. As a rule of thumb, window area is no more than 10% of the total floor area for a given room. This helps prevent overheating in the summer and losing heat in the winter.

3-Tilt-Turn-Windows-passive house design

Tilt Turn Windows are a good choice for Passive House Design. Image from Glo Windows.

 

We didn’t really touch much on doors, but the same principles apply: good sturdy frames and good sealing will be more energy efficient. Bad doors are like installing a portcullis? It’ll keep the critters out, but not much else. The payback for spending a little more money upfront on good doors and windows is well worth it. Want to know how much? Contact LEAP Architecture today, and we can fill you in!

 

 

Passive House Design: Live like Goldilocks, Minus the Bears

Designing by trial and error can be exhausting. Take it from Goldilocks. She was so tired after all the rigmarole of finding “just right”, she actually fell asleep in a bear’s house. LEAP Architecture takes the guess-work out of Passive House Design with our (Bear-Proof) Design Process. Our intelligent site design consists of four main steps, each with the aim to maximize human comfort, energy efficiency, and real cost savings.

Passive House Design Process

  1. Site Analysis
  2. Doors and Windows
  3. Insulation
  4. Air Sealing

This week, we focus on the in’s and out’s of site analysis. We circumvent all the wandering through the woods, sleeping on hard beds, and eating loads of porridge. We nail just-right the first time around. Did we mention it also provides a great payback?

 

Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

That old military adage couldn’t be more appropriate here. Maybe we’ll make it the company tagline. But seriously, upfront site planning for your building makes so much sense. And, it doesn’t cost anything extra! The builders don’t care if your front door faces north or south, but when the arctic air blows in, you will.  It pays to orient the building to capture more sun-heat in the winter and stay cool in the summer. Here’s how we figure it out.

Passive house design, site planning, intelligent site design

The Down and Dirty of Passive House Design

We measure, map out and consider all of the following:

  • Sun paths—Measure and diagram the arc throughout the year, location of shadows
  • Wind patterns—Measure and map the micro and macro climates
  • Vegetation— Survey what, where, tall/short, do they break wind? (hehe, break wind)
  • Topography—Hills? Valleys? (Caves of hibernating bears?)
  • Roads—The approach. You would like to access your building, wouldn’t you?
  • Views—Gaze on lavender fields doing dishes (move to France, but you get the idea)
  • Notoriety or Privacy?—To be seen or not to be seen, that is one of many questions.
  • Acoustics— Want to hear the babbling brook, but not the highway?

We combine your personal preferences with the climate data to optimize the placement of your structure.

Geometry: Be There or Be Square—if You’re a House

square footprint, cube house, passive house design

Building geometry is defined by how large your structure is going to be, or it’s volume. Smaller structures, like houses, are more efficient with a square footprint and minimum surface area. If you are not a house, be rectangular. High surface area buildings are much better for offices and larger structures.

To help understand surface area, picture a cube vs. a long rectangle. They can both have the same volume, but the cube is more compact, where the rectangle is long and skinny. The actual surface exposed to the outside environment for the cube is smaller, requiring fewer square feet of insulation.  Smaller structures tend to be externally loaded, which means the outside environment has the largest influence on its energy efficiency. Minimizing the area for that interaction to take place helps to dampen the effects.

A higher surface area to volume ratio is desirable for larger structures, as they tend to be internally loaded—meaning inside activities have the greatest influence on the inside environment. Picture a skyscraper—the sheer number of people occupying the building, machinery running and other inside activities have a much greater impact than the outside environment. A rectangular structure is preferred (vertical or horizontal), not only for the higher surface area, but to also help maximize natural light penetration into the space. Ample natural lighting can significantly reduce electricity usage.

Quick Summary of Building Geometry:

Smaller structures:

  • Maximize building volume; minimize surface area
  • Square floor plan preferred
  • Tend to be externally loaded structures- outside activity effect environment

Larger structures:

  • Higher surface area than volume is desired
  • Rectangular floor plan is optimal
  • Better for natural light penetration
  • Internally loaded structure -inside activity effects environment

Orientation – Get your Walls on Straight

modern_square_house, passive house design

All that previous work of mapping the sun and wind and rain and…well, that gets put to work. Houses for example, will predominately have windows and doors located on south and east facing walls. This helps reduce blasts of arctic wind infiltrating your domicile, as cold wind tends to blow from the north in the north east. Eric Davenport, our very own Avatar, also considers things like banking wind currents off hills to create more ventilation in your house. If this isn’t some air-bender shit, I don’t know what is.

For larger structures, orienting the short end of the rectangle to face west will prevent that terrible afternoon glare on your computer screen and eyeballs. Maybe you’ve experienced this unfortunate office situation, or another.  When the long side of the building faces west —the afternoon sun heats 1/2 of the building, jacking that side up to 90 deg—and those people get hot. People on the dark side freeze because the air conditioning kicked on and now their space is 50 deg. Intelligent site design gets the temperature in your office building just right, keeping the bears happy and solving all your HR issues. Well, at least the fight over the thermostat.

[box type=”bio”] LEAP Architecture Makes Environments JUST RIGHT!

Contact us today for a Passive Building Consultation.[/box]

It’s Alive! Passive House Must Breathe.

In the next few posts, we are going to break down some of the key elements of Passive House Design. Today we examine the part of the mechanical system—proper ventilation and energy recovery.

Passive House Design Process

 

No One Likes Stale Air.

Passive buildings are designed to be air tight. Really air tight. But we want clean air to breathe, and keep our home feeling fresh. So how do we efficiently bring it in? In the northeast, the outside air is too hot and humid in the summer, and far too cold in the winter. This predicament traditionally necessitates the use of furnaces and air conditioners—the darlings of your utility bill.

Passive Building Design takes a more clever approach.

[box] Summer = hot air outside/cool air inside

⇒ use outgoing stale air to cool down incoming fresh air

Winter = cold air outside/warm air inside

⇒ use outgoing stale air to warm up incoming fresh air[/box]

And never the twain shall meet. Incoming and outgoing air streams are kept completely separate from each other, so stale air doesn’t end up back in your environment.

 

What Sorcery is This?

Let me introduce the star of the show—  ERV, or for those not into architecture acronyms Energy Recovery Ventilator. This is the preferred system here in the northeast US, due to our high humidity and wide temperature range. The beauty of an ERV is that is can harvest heat in the winter and reduce heat in the summer, while effectively manage humidity. The humidity component increases the energy harvesting efficiency of ERV and creates a more comfortable living environment.

 

ERV_graphic, passive house ventilation

Schematic of an Energy Recover Ventilator (ERV) for Passive Buildings.

In the summertime (cooling season), the system conditions incoming warm, humid air by passing it over coils or channels containing stale, cool air being exhausted from the house. Desiccants are used to remove humidity from the fresh air intake, which adds to the cooling effect. In the winter, the system uses warm, stale air being exhausted from the house to pre-heat the incoming fresh air. Humidity can be added to incoming air in order to maintain a comfortable level, preventing humans from drying out!

mechanical_ventilation, passive house

Mechanical ventilation diagram for Passive House Design.

Typical ventilation systems are set up to extract stale air from the “wet” areas of the house—kitchens, bathrooms and storage rooms—through the use of ventilation ducts that channel air though the ERV and exhaust it outside. Incoming air is ducted from the outside of the building, into the ERV, and then into bedrooms, living rooms and dining rooms. Inline filters can be added to the incoming air stream to remove pollen and other particulates.

For typical homes, only a single ERV  and blower are required and they reside inside the house for a low maintenance operation.  Heat exchange efficiency can range from 50 to 90%, depending on the type of system and manufacturer. It is generally accepted that ERV can cut energy usage by 50%.

High-efficiency ERV systems ensure optimal indoor air quality and comfortable living for energy-efficient and passive building construction. The whole house ventilation system really is like the heart and lungs of a passive building.

[box type=”bio”] Eric Davenport, LEAP’s founder is Passive House Certified, and understands the ins and outs of these systems. If you are considering a new build, or even a retrofit, leverage our expertise to get the most out of your project.[/box]

 

 

Passive House: Heat Your House by Watching TV

Passive House Design is a little bit like Vegas. Well, the slogan at least. Passive houses or buildings, are designed with an extremely air-tight-envelope. Nothing gets in or out without being allowed to. This makes it possible to harness the energy of seemingly small actions to eliminate your heating bills.

 

What Happens in Passive House, Stays in…

Imagine going about your normal, day-to-day activities, —watching TV, using your computer, and turning on the stove and all that energy is captured for use.

Microwaving your lunch at the office? Same deal. New office buildings can seriously benefit from passive house design. And did we mention body heat? The warmth you generate also contributes.  It’s pretty amazing to think that those small actions provide all the energy required to heat a building. That’s one of the beautiful things about passive house.

It takes an extremely high level of architectural design to achieve a Passive Building. That’s why Passive House Certification is one of the most rigorous for architects. And guess what? LEAP’s very own Eric Davenport is Passive House Certified.

According to Eric, the qualifications and tests for his Passive House Certification were harder than his architecture exams, but totally worth it. “Sustainability and net-zero building is such a passion of mine, I wanted to offer this as a core service to my clients”.

 

Commercial and Residential Passive Buildings

Passive Building Design is applicable to both commercial and residential buildings. This is exciting because it means everything from skyscrapers to single family homes can be designed for sustainability. This includes office buildings and multi-family units. In all cases, passive building design is comprised of three main features:

  1. Proper Insulation
  2. Zero Air Leakages
  3. Zero Thermal Bridges

Particular consideration is also made for using triple pane windows, proper orientation to the sun, and heat recovery ventilation. What does this really mean? It means designing your building to work for you. Set it and forget it.  Yes, you will spend a little more on high quality insulation, windows, and a heat exchanger, but it will literally insulate you from fluctuating oil and gas prices.

[box] Interested in reading more on Passive House and Building Design? We have a great article written by Eric Davenport, along with a “Passive House Explained in 90 Seconds” video. Check them out here. [/box]

LEAP is part of the Passive House Alliance. For more information about making Passive House Building mainstream, check out PHIUSphius-large

LEAP Architecture Awarded Best Of Houzz

Over 35 Million Monthly Unique Users Nominated Best Home Building, Remodeling and Design Professionals in North America and Around the World. LEAP was voted “Best Of Houzz” professionals by their enormous community of homeowners and design enthusiasts actively remodeling and decorating their homes.


Award Winning Architecture

Albany, NY USA, January 15, 2016 – LEAP Architecture of Albany, NY has won “Best Of Customer Service” on Houzz®, the leading platform for home remodeling and design.

The award winning design firm with over 25 years of experience in the residential design market was chosen by the more than 35 million monthly unique users that comprise the Houzz community from among more than one million active home building, remodeling and design industry professionals.

Design and Customer Service Awards

The Best Of Houzz is awarded annually in three categories: Design, Customer Service and Photography. Design award winners’ work was the most popular among the more than 35 million monthly users on Houzz.

Customer Service honors are based on several factors, including the number and quality of client reviews a professional received in 2015. Architecture and interior design photographers whose images were most popular are recognized with the Photography award. A “Best Of Houzz 2016” badge will appear on winners’ profiles, as a sign of their commitment to excellence. These badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals in every metro area on Houzz.

 

 

aja-architecture-best-of-houzz-badge-2016-2“Anyone building, remodeling or decorating looks to Houzz for the most talented and service-oriented professionals said Liza Hausman, vice president of Industry Marketing for Houzz.We’re so pleased to recognize LEAP Architecture, voted one of our “Best Of Houzz” professionals by our enormous community of homeowners and design enthusiasts actively remodeling and decorating their homes.”

 

 

About LEAP Architecture

LEAP Architecture is an award winning design firm with over 25 years of experience in the Resort / Hospitality / Entertainment / Residential design markets. Their breadth of projects spreads from the beautiful Adirondack Mountains and the scenic Hudson Valley, and into culturally-rich New York City. Read more

“Architecture is a supportive background for people’s activities. Good design enhances people’s daily rituals. At LEAP, we strive to connect people with their surroundings through architecture.”

~ Eric Davenport
Principal, LEAP Architecture

 

About Houzz

Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device. From decorating a small room to building a custom home and everything in between, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world. With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community empowered by technology, Houzz is the easiest way for people to find inspiration, get advice, buy products and hire the professionals they need to help turn their ideas into reality. Read more…

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AJA Architecture and Planning Awarded Best Of Houzz