Tag Archive for: construction analysis

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]



LEAP Envisions Albany Art Room 2.0 – Commercial Redesign

From the outside, one of the most striking features of the Albany Art Room is their bright pink and blue sign. Just looking at it started the creative juices flowing, but the real excitement starts when you enter the space. Read how LEAP helps make the transition from residential to commercial more efficient. 


Commercial Space for Art

The Art Room is located in a converted 3 story house on New Scotland Ave in Albany, NY. Karen Schupack started the Albany Art Room to open up the visual arts to a wider community. AAR offers classes in various artistic mediums, along with drop-in open studio and private studio space. The first embodiment of AAR was in a storefront space next to El Loco on Madison Ave in Albany, right around the corner from Lark St.

Two years ago, Karen relocated AAR to offer up more space for the growing demand of her customers, both for studio rentals and open studio. (Did we mention it’s also much easier to find parking?) The new space also offers Karen the opportunity to customize her space and build more efficiency into her operation.

So how do you augment a structure, originally designed to function as a house, into a thriving center for business? (Hint: work with an architect). Karen connected with LEAP Architecture a few months ago and took the first concrete steps to envision a commercial redesign for her space.

Karen’s objectives were straightforward: utilize more space for revenue generating activities, and reorganize overall space for maximum productivity.

Doubling Retail Creative Space

LEAP understands that having the right information is key to making strategic business decisions. After meeting with Karen and touring of the space, LEAP put together a detailed layout of the building, which highlighted currently used space. Eric Davenport, (the project lead) was able to quickly identify underutilized areas that could be transformed into new studio spaces and additional classrooms.

The schematic below highlights the current space on the left (in red) and underutilized space on the right, (in orange). In short, LEAP identified additional studio space, which could double the current operation — within the exiting footprint. Expanding classrooms and studios would mean the ability to serve more customers and generate additional revenue.

There is of course, an investment for fitting up the new space. Which brings us back to the need for information.

LEAP-Sample-Construction-Budget-ROI-commercial redesign

Commercial redesign schematic for the Albany Art Room. LEAP identified additional revenue generating space inside the exiting footprint, which could double the current studio space.


Commercial Redesign – Does it Make $ense?

As business owners ourselves, we understand the question – Is it worth it? That’s where LEAP’s analysis of construction dollars comes into play. Our architects allocate money to the most appropriate categories, for the best investment and rate of return.

A LEAP architect put together a detailed cost benefit analysis (CBA) for AAR, to help Karen make an informed decision for her business. (But of course, we can’t share that). That particular CBA  is confidential to our client. We can however, show you what our analysis takes into account. Click here to see an example of LEAP’s CBA, a critical part of our construction analysis.

We will continue to support Karen in the next stage of growing her business. In the meantime, check out the offerings of Albany Art Room for yourself – where everyone is an artist!

[box type=”bio”] Contact LEAP if you are considering renovations to your commercial space. We help you plan and make critical decisions early on, that minimize risk and maximize returns. [/box]

Play Park Pavilions – Nature Concept in Architecture

Nature Concept in Architecture: Play Park

The Hudson Crossing Park celebrates New York’s Erie Canal heritage and is a recreational space that inspires adults and children to gather and play. The Park and Pavilions exhibit a nature concept in architecture approach.

Glulam Sustainable Naturla materials

Glulam Pavilions – A Natural Choice

Originally conceived by Marlene and Alan Bissal to help support a capital campaign for a future Environmental Education Center, the Hudson Crossing Play Park promotes the environmental education of children and families through the park’s programs and also its construction.

All of the materials used are natural, from the earth, and were pieced together to form a labyrinth, a boat-shaped play deck, gardens, paths and pavilions. The pavilions designed by Eric Davenport and Andrew Allison are made of glulam materials: Glulams are conventional 2x lumber, glued together to form beams that result in a timber look and feel without sacrificing old growth forests for true timber materials. Also, glulams give designers the ability to shape them, like in the pavilions pictured below.

Natural Materials Glulam Pavilion

Two Pavilions were designed and built: on overlook pavilion (above and below) that evokes a bird-like animistic form. This pavilion serves as a beacon for boats coming up the Hudson and portions of the Erie Canal and marks the Hudson Crossing location. The Park is an important gateway to historic areas of Saratoga.

Natural Materials Glulam Pavilion


The Pavilion below, also made of natural materials and glulams, shelters the picnic area and is a place of gathering for groups. The Nature Concept in Architecture approach shows up in this larger pavilion: it’s animistic forms give children the impression of a dinosaur spine, a lumbering tortoise, or a bird’s flapping wings.


Albany Architect Designs Pavilions for Play Park

Albany Architect Designs Pavilions for Play Park


Saratoga Play Park - Kids Build

Children help install pavers for the Paths through the garden

Natural Materials


LEAP Architecture

Businesses and families have hired LEAP Architects when looking for a Residential or Commercial architect.

Whether in New York City or in Upstate from Hudson to Albany, in Saratoga or in the Adirondacks, a LEAP architect will help you develop creative design solutions.

Click here to contact LEAP Architecture


Pavilion designs by Eric Davenport of LEAP Architecture and Andrew Allison of AJA Architecture and Planning, completed while employed by the Phinney Design Group.

Site design by Cardinal Direction Landscape Architecture, LLC




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