Author: Leyna O'Neill
Steam heating systems can be tricky. These ancient systems are deceptively simple and notoriously difficult to regulate. Most owners and managers allocate maintenance budget to the boilers themselves. However, when it comes to the pipes and radiators – the steam distribution system that heats the spaces that your residents actually care about – building maintenance staff are often left to their own devices.
In New York City, you can pretty much tell which buildings have steam heat in the winter without ever going inside — it’s common to see windows wide open in the dead of winter, a consequence of imbalanced steam systems. All that heat flying out of the windows represents dollars flying out of the owners’ pockets.
But, without a comprehensive strategy for making a steam heating system perform its job well – i.e. provide even heating across all occupied spaces in your buildings – you aren’t just negatively impacting your bottom line by paying too much in energy costs, you’re also risking your topline.
Let’s take a look at some of the side effects of a neglected steam heating system.
Anyone who’s lived in a building with steam heat knows there are some unique quirks. One Brooklyn resident I spoke with said that her newborn son is not a fan of their building’s steam heating system. The sputtering and clanking are known to wake people up, and that includes babies. Contrary to popular belief, those noises are not signs that the system is working well: it’s a tip that something is off. But more importantly, it’s a nuisance to residents. Strike one.
Maybe residents are having a tough time getting a hold of their landlord or super, or maybe they think they just know best since the problems are in their homes. Whatever the reason, people often want to take matters into their own hands when it comes to fixing problems caused by their steam heating system.
Case in point: a master-metered San Francisco apartment complex we’re working with is undergoing a major steam heating system retrofit, spurred by exorbitant electricity costs. When their steam heating system wasn’t warming up their apartments like it should, residents decided to buy electric space heaters, sending electricity costs through the roof. Strike two.
Enough is Enough
My own experience with steam heat wasn’t a pleasant one. After roughly 3 years of shoddy heating in my Brooklyn apartment, a frigid winter finally froze our pipes and had me saying enough is enough. Yes, there were other factors that made me want to leave my apartment, but reliable heat was chief among them. I went through all of these phases with my steam system. The noises were annoying, but I got used to them. When I got space heaters I was concerned that they were unsafe and I was not pleased with my electricity bills. But when I had no heat coming into my apartment and an unconcerned landlord, I knew it was time to go. Strike three.
Finding the Right Balance
By no means are we condemning steam heating systems. When maintained properly and routinely, these simple systems effectively deliver heat to all kinds of buildings. However, routine maintenance is key, and often undervalued. Poorly maintained steam systems cost more in energy bills and in emergency repairs, but, perhaps more importantly, they negatively impact your customers, i.e.your residents. If the system is a little wonky, most residents will just deal with it. But when steam heating issues pile up, it can push some residents over the edge, causing them to move, and putting a dent in your topline revenue.
For more information, Building Energy Exchange recently released a great white paper called Better Steam Heat. And, of course, we have many experts in steam heating systems at Bright Power – feel free to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 212.803.5868.
Real estate owners and managers are often spooked by energy and water investment projects for a variety of reasons. Maybe they’re haunted by unsuccessful past projects or maybe the results are just ghosting them. Whatever the reason may be, success lies in the approach. Below are some of our top tricks that will help you reap the treats of an intelligence-driven approach to energy and water management.
Don’t be Caught by Surprise
There’s nothing like an unsuspected scream or menacing shadow to scare the bejeezus out of you. However, scary situations are often avoidable with careful planning and awareness of your surroundings. For example, locking into a fixed-rate energy procurement contract is a proactive way to manage the cost of energy supply against volatile (and sometimes terrifying) market prices. This is a particularly useful strategy to consider in a mild autumn, when prices are stable. If you’d like to learn more about this winter’s energy market predictions, check out our blog on the subject here.
Survey the Whole Scene (or don’t just grab the first pumpkin that you see)
When you hit the pumpkin patch, you need to survey your options before landing on the perfectly shaped, sized, and inspirational gourd. That’s how we recommend implementing energy projects too, especially across a large portfolio. For example, take government and utility financial incentives: the SoCalRen program is an amazing opportunity to upgrade properties in Southern California at very low cost, but which properties should you choose? By evaluating your entire portfolio, you can assess where your investment dollars will have the biggest impact and show the highest returns.
Don’t be on the Losing End of Dramatic Irony
If only you could explain to the horror movie lead that answering the door is a poor choice because you know what is lurking on the other side. Alas, they can’t see the whole picture. Buildings are complicated environments with sprawling, interrelated systems and you want someone who can think holistically across all of them in order to effectively manage energy and water. Just because there is a heating problem doesn’t mean that the solution is in the boiler room. In fact, sometimes the source of the problem isn’t related to the equipment at all. In multifamily buildings, residents are as important a factor as any to consider when diagnosing any problem. This is why we recommend whole-building audits and continuous energy management services. Having our engineers go inside a building, speak with residents, and examine all of the systems’ functionality is crucial in diagnosing the root of an issue and presenting an informed solution. Providing continuous expertise and energy management lets us help you anticipate problems and recommend how to avoid them. Otherwise you’re liable to be frightened purely because you’re operating with incomplete information.
Don’t Jump to (Scary) Conclusions
As any parent can attest, some of the scariest things are the things that we don’t understand. And the only way to combat that is to probe a bit deeper and to figure out what is actually going on. It’s like in the Wizard of Oz when they finally peek behind the curtain…or those big, spooky Halloween displays that make your five-year-old scream and cry until you show him that it is just a toy (with an on-off switch), not a real skeleton coming to life.
For example, one of our clients always found water on the floor of their boiler room. Noticing that it appeared to be leaking from the bottom of their water-tube steam boiler, they called the manufacturer’s representative to come out, drain, and inspect the boiler. When he opened it up and saw corrosion on the tubes, the rep said “it’s all gotta go.” Our client was looking at frightening repair costs, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Before rushing into anything, we helped our client select a nondestructive testing (NDT) company and supervised a more thorough ultrasonic testing of the boiler tubes. When the results came back, they were surprising. The corrosion had looked bad, but there was actually minimal loss of tube wall thickness. When we leak-tested the boiler, there were just two pinhole leaks and a leaking joint. The root cause was likely that this boiler had run much more than the standby boiler, and therefore experienced many more heat up and cooldown cycles. The rep replaced the two leaking tubes, we fixed the control logic so that the lead boiler would rotate weekly, and together we filled, started, and tested the boiler – just in time for heating season.
There is so much to gain from strategic energy and water management. From avoided capital costs to utility bill savings and resident retention, the list of benefits is hard to pass up. But in order to get the treats, it’s important to bear in mind these tricks.
As leaves change and summer temperatures begin to wane, you can get away with putting off unpacking your winter coat, but for building owners and operators, now is the time to start transitioning buildings from cooling to heating season. With new September leases settling in, it’s more important than ever to make this transition smooth and successful. But what exactly should your site staff be doing to prepare? To ease the transition, our engineers are here to help. Below is a checklist outlining the most important measures to take as we head into the next season.
Cooling System Shut Down
- If laying up equipment for the winter (summer boilers, chillers, etc.) decide on a dry or wet lay-up. For a wet lay-up, make sure the water is treated properly to prevent corrosion during the off-season.
- Drain cooling towers and check for water in low spots. If they run year-round, check operation of the basin heaters and tower bypass valve.
- If shutting down circulating pumps (such as chilled water) that have variable speed drives, consider running pumps at minimum speed. In some systems – particularly ones with old pipes, many terminal units, and clog-prone terminal unit control valves – this can prevent the strainer plugging and valve clogging that would have occurred when the pumps were restarted.
- Seasonal changeover – many systems require manual valve position changes as part of a seasonal switchover. Failing to make these changes properly can result in poor operation or even equipment damage. Does your staff have an up-to-date accurate valve chart? Is there a written procedure and checklist for switchover?
- For any equipment that operates with glycol, check the glycol concentration. Check that glycol feeder supplies are full and feeder equipment is functional.
Heating System Prep
- If boilers have been shut down, have your service contractor fill and start them. If they were running over the summer, they should be cleaned and re-tuned for winter operation at higher firing rates.
- If your boiler is dual-fuel, make sure the oil tank is full at the beginning of the season, so that you have enough oil for a few days of operation during a cold streak.
- Are controls operating in automatic mode at the beginning of the season? Are the setpoints correct? (Do you have documentation of what the correct setpoints are?)
- Check the operation of all heat-trace systems. These are often neglected and abandoned.
- After starting up systems, check that all indicating devices are working. Replace dirty sight-glasses, blown out pressure gauges, and the like.
- If hot water or steam pipes have not had flow during the summer, blow down suction strainers and boiler/s more frequently for the first week or two of operation.
- Check functionality of all outdoor air dampers and freezestats on air handler. Freezestats can be checked with cheap freeze spray. If the stat can’t shut the fan down and outdoor air dampers can’t close, you risk coil freezing and expensive coil damage, not to mention water damage when the iced-up coil thaws.
- Check all piping exposed to freezing temperatures for “dead legs” – sections of piping that have been isolated or bypassed and have no flow in them. These are a freezing risk.
- Check drain lines from any condensing combustion equipment, especially if it drains outside. Combustion condensate lines will stay open in moderately cold weather and then freeze and shut boilers down when temperatures are at their coldest. In freezing weather, building staff should be checking this every day.
These are just a few of the most crucial steps to take before it gets cold to ensure heating systems perform optimally when they’re needed most. We encourage building owners to talk with their site staff to ensure these steps are being taken and incorporate them into standard procedures and written documentation for seasonal changeover. Consistent and reliable operations and maintenance is the backbone of healthy buildings, happy staff and residents and minimal headaches.
The value of energy management is often measured in its impact on expenses – how much money are you spending on gas and electric supply, what is the price of your boiler replacement, how much will a solar installation save you in the long run? But for multifamily real estate owners, the value of energy management reaches well beyond the expense side of your P&L into topline revenue.
Keeping occupancy and rents high is one of your core business objectives. But all it takes is one energy-related snafu to send residents running. Energy management – the least talked about most important secret to tenant retention.
Below are some of the most common energy-related frustrations that can cause a good resident to utter those feared four words – “It’s time to move”. Don’t worry, we’ve also included tips for avoiding these sticky situations.
While most residents choose an apartment based upon the base rent, they can get shocked (and steamed) when they start receiving their energy and water bills. Residents may not fully appreciate energy-efficient appliances on the day they move in, but the real cost of inefficient ones shows up in their utility bills, and reduces the chance that they will renew their leases.
Ratio Utility Billing Systems (“RUBS”), may seem like an attractive option for owners who wish to bill residents for utility usage without the costs of submetering. However, when residents are paying a small percentage of the whole property’s usage, their individual actions have a nominal impact on how much they pay. This means that it is incumbent upon you as the owner to implement energy and water efficiency improvements property-wide, or face the ire of residents when renewal time comes around.
Pro Tip: Install energy efficient appliances, clearly communicate billing procedures with residents, consider energy procurement options to increase control and stability over utility prices.
Even renters want to feel like they own their spaces. A big part of that is having their apartments at temperatures that are comfortable for them. But that is often not the case. The building systems that directly impact resident comfort – heating, cooling, ventilation – are often dependent upon ownership’s energy management strategy. There’s not much a resident can do when the apartment feels tropical in December because of an imbalanced steam system. So they open the windows, for awhile. Some people accept and deal with the energy blunders, but many don’t.
Pro Tip: Schedule an energy audit, followed by retrocommissioning, to make sure systems are properly balanced and functioning optimally. This involves a lot more than just tuning the boiler or changing an air conditioner filter – the whole system needs to be checked and tuned to ensure that it can deliver consistent comfort.
For many people, that nice hot shower in the morning really sets the tone for the day… unless of course the hot water never comes on, the temperature swings wildly between hot and cold, or the pressure makes it feel more like a sprinkle than a shower. For the resident, the worst part is that there’s nothing they can do. As an owner or operator, you have the power to bring in an expert to solve what can be a thorny problem with a number of different possible causes. But you should do it before it’s too late and your tenants are already out the door for the last time.
Pro Tip: There are a lot of things that go into delivering a nice hot shower, including the boiler itself, the recirculation pump, the tempering valve, the showerhead, the water booster pump and the pipe condition and configuration. You’ll need an expert to analyze the system, diagnose the problem and propose a solution.
It’s tough to trace any one move-out to an energy or water management problem but when it comes to multifamily, it’s clear that comfort is paramount and energy and water are directly related to some of the most notorious comfort issues. The good news is that these are solvable problems if you bring in an expert who knows what to look for. Just by acknowledging them you’ll show your residents that their comfort and quality of life is important to you. Let the renewals begin!
The sweltering summer shows no signs of slowing down both in temperatures and headlines. We’ve compiled some of our favorite blogs covering many aspects of the heat wave including price spikes, future forecasts, the impact of air conditioning, boosts in solar, and even historic cooling methods. Check ’em out!
California Powers 6 Million Homes With Solar Energy, Slays Record
Believe it or not this heat wave is having at least one positive effect. Huffington Post reports that California solar panels hit a new record for electricity produced, 8,030 megawatts to be exact. And that’s just for large solar plants. Read the full article on Huffington Post here.
The Global Environmental Impact of Air Conditioning is Big and Will Get Even Bigger
The world loves air conditioning. And now, more than ever before, people can afford to have one or several units in their homes. But what does this mean for the global demand for electricity to power those air conditioners? Quartz explores this question in depth. Read the full article here.
New York City Electricity Spot Price Spikes by 1,000%
The heat wave is not confined to outdoor temperatures. A particularly hot streak took its toll on the New York City electricity spot price per megawatt hour which reached $1,042, up from the average price of $94. Electricity bills were not directly affected but the price jump is definitely something to keep an eye on. Read more here.
How Houses Were Cooled Before Air Conditioning
Air conditioning is a relatively modern invention but heat has always been a problem. How did people deal with it before electricity? Curbed goes way back to explain some of the more creative ways to beat the heat. Read the full article here.
Get Used to These Extreme Summer Heat Waves
We’re already on track to surpass the record breaking temperatures of 2015 and scientists says unless we reduce our fossil fuel consumption, we’re looking at the new normal. “If we continue with business-as-usual burning of fossil fuels, and warm the planet by [3 degrees Celsius] by the end of this century, then what we today call ‘extreme heat’ we will instead call ‘mid-summer'”. Read the full article on Huffington Post.
Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council (RBSCC) is leading the way for new construction in the affordable housing market with their dedication to high efficiency building practices, and more specifically, the Passive House Standard to which their properties, Knickerbocker Commons and Mennonite United Revival Apartments, were built. After noticing these properties’ incredible performance in EnergyScoreCards, Bright Power sat down with RBSCC Director of Property & Construction Management, Ryan Cassidy, to discuss his experiences with Passive House.
Not familiar with Passive House? Check out our breakdown “What is Passive House and Why You Should Care”.
The following has been lightly edited for clarity.
LO: At what point did Passive House land on RBSCC’s radar?
RC: In about 2004 we started working with NYSERDA’s Multifamily Performance Program (MPP) and we saw that the incentives available for high efficiency buildings were substantial, and it was cutting edge at the time. A few years later we noticed that the available grant money was decreasing but there was an uptick in consultants who could administer the MPP program so we started looking for ways to construct buildings that were really geared toward energy savings. We got in touch with Chris Benedict [architect at Chris Benedict R.A.] who presented the idea of constructing a Passive House. It wasn’t something we were familiar with at the time, but Chris had extensive experience in energy efficient buildings so we were interested in her ideas.
LO: What was the motivation for going forward with Passive House at Knickerbocker Commons and Mennonite United Revival Apartments?
RC: Knickerbocker Commons was the first Passive House building we designed, though it ended up being built second due to a lengthy design approval process. The reason we stuck with it through all of that was because the design showed us that we could build the same building type for the same cost, but with significantly more efficiency. The numbers showed that we could have boiler systems and heating plant distribution that were one third of the typical size and then allocate those savings toward the insulation and ventilation. We went through the same process at Mennonite United Revival Apartments, though it got approved a little faster.
LO: So it was a combination of both cost-effectiveness and high efficiency that drove you?
RC: Yes, it works so well in affordable housing because our rents are so stabilized and we’re unable to implement big rent increases, but we can make up that difference on the operations and maintenance side with high efficiency design.
LO: Did you find any overlap between Passive House design consulting and Enterprise Green Communities (EGC)?
RC: Since it was an affordable housing project, we had to go through EGC and there was a lot of overlap between the two but Passive House goes above and beyond by focusing on performance. That’s another thing that really drew us to Passive House, it’s quantifiable. Anyone can specify a high efficiency boiler but if it’s not installed correctly, you’re not going to get the results. We were much more comfortable with the Passive House standard because it’s more results-driven.
LO: How cost-effective was Passive House construction and how did that compare to the cost of a typical new construction project?
RC: I think what separates Passive House projects from a lot of other efficiency projects is that you can deliver the building at the same cost, and that’s hard and soft costs, as a typical new construction project. It was even an easier sell to the funding agencies because it wasn’t going to cost anything extra.
LO: Can you talk about the incentives that were available to you?
RC: There were some NYSERDA incentives available but we didn’t go all the way with them because we really wanted to show that the design was our main driver, not programs. We wanted to show that we didn’t need additional funding streams to build a highly efficient building.
LO: How has the energy performance of the Passive House buildings compared to the non-Passive House projects you’ve done? We’ve seen the analysis in EnergyScoreCards but we’d love to get your take.
RC: If we didn’t have EnergyScoreCards I don’t know how we would’ve been able to represent that we actually hit our marks on this. We’re seeing major savings, 80% to underwriting, for the same cost as typical construction. Next, we’re looking for ways to push the envelope even further. How can solar fit into lowering energy consumption at a building even more? Now that we’re comfortable with the way these buildings are performing, we’re working with HPD, HCR and groups like Enterprise to make this accessible to anyone who’s building in the City. We think everyone should be building this way and we think everyone can build this way.
LO: What changes would be effective in getting more passive houses built in New York City?
RC: I would say it’s related to performance. There are people that say they’re producing high performance buildings but are they actually getting the results? I was at a the quarterly Carbon Challenge meeting today and the sustainability department there said that typically we are constructing new buildings with the same efficiency as 30 or 40 years ago. To me, that’s the same as producing a Chevy 350 today in the same way that you would in 1970. We need to make sure we’re in buildings that reflect the technology that we have available. It’s not about getting your LEED sticker, and frankly, it’s not even about getting your Passive House certification. Building with the means and methods to produce efficient buildings, that’s really what we care about.
LO: What kind of feedback have you gotten from the residents of your Passive House buildings?
RC: I’d say there’s a learning curve. In the beginning people would complain that they didn’t have heat, but the super would go into the unit and see that it was 72 degrees. What they meant was that their baseboard wasn’t hot. They’re used to thinking that if the baseboard isn’t on, that means they don’t have heat, but because the building is so well-insulated, the apartment is comfortable without the baseboard heating being on. Now people understand that the temperature is balanced, no hot spots around the baseboards or cold spots above the windows. The number one thing we get compliments on is the ventilation. The cooking smells and smoke don’t travel to other units because there’s no stack. It’s also nice that there’s not a lot of technology associated with Passive House. There’s no complicated thermostat or anything that the residents need to know how to use.
LO: I think I know the answer to this one, but will you be building to the Passive House standard in the future?
RC: Yes. Before we started this I said if we can get this to work, this is the only way we should be building. Like I said, it’s not really even about the certification, it’s about understanding the means and methods of high efficiency buildings. That’s what concerns us as owners. We really want to build to that standard on every project, even now with renovations. It’s especially important in New York City where most of the housing that will be built, has already been built. We need to make sure our existing housing stock is energy efficient so we’re going to build to this standard and try to renovate to this standard and hopefully get to net zero in the future.
People we work with often ask us why this energy management stuff really has to be so hard. Can’t it just be automated, kind of like Turbo Tax? We totally understand. A user friendly app that ties up energy management in a neat little bow would be ideal, but can it be done? We say no. Why?
Let’s break it down.
Real estate owners and managers need a tool that is built to scale. Automatically managing energy in a single family home might be a realistic software venture, although it’s still usually just Mom or Dad yelling at the kids to turn off the lights, imploring them to take shorter showers, and turning down the thermostat at night. However, energy management across an entire real estate portfolio is a different ball game. While there are plenty of tools out there that can handle the large volume of data and provide valuable insights (hello, EnergyScoreCards) they can’t actually do the dirty work.
Energy management for a real estate portfolio, like all nuanced fields, has a threshold at which an expert is necessary. Throw in an HSA and a mortgage to your tax return and you’ll be screaming for an accountant. In energy management, there are so many moving parts that a software-only solution is not only unrealistic, it’s undesirable. Technology can and should play an important role, but ultimately a person, an expert, needs to be calling the shots.
Buildings are complex, living, breathing ecosystems. (That dampness in the air could be because the ventilation system isn’t working, but it could also be that the air conditioners are oversized. Fluctuating hot water temperature could be caused by a boiler problem, a mixing valve problem, or crossover flow between hot and cold water.) Not to mention that buildings house people, and people are very tricky, unpredictable variables. (That skyrocketing water bill might be a leaky toilet, but could also be a crazy tenant who leaves the water running for white noise. The gas spike could be a problem with the boiler, but it could also be a tenant who has started using their oven as a supplemental heater.) We’ve seen it all.
With all these nuances, there is no energy management software for real estate portfolios that can do it all on its own. Technology will continue to drive this field forward, but expert humans are going to play an important role for a long time to come. Besides, you wouldn’t scrap the accountant and use Turbo Tax for your business, would you?
Our Top Picks for Energy Cinderella Stories
Every year there’s one small team that slowly but surely rises in ranks, winning upset after upset, while facing off against the biggest names in basketball. The same can be said for certain energy conservation measures which are often overlooked in favor of flashy, high-tech projects. But sometimes, it’s the smallest changes that make the biggest impact. Let’s take a look at our top five picks.
These simple devices are so easy to buy and install we’re not sure why they’re not on every faucet. By restricting the flow of water that comes out of your faucet, aerator implementation is a simple and cost-effective water conservation measure that can also result in major cost savings, especially across a portfolio. (Note: Low flow doesn’t mean crappy – we sometimes refer to the aerators we recommend as “engineered flow”, because they don’t get you any less clean, they just use less water.)
Where to start? Caulk has many useful applications. You probably think about caulking around the tub and countertops as preventing leaks into the floor below, but it also prevents mold and preserves indoor air quality. Caulking around your windows, doors and A/C sleeves keeps indoor air in and outdoor air out. So if you’re feeling the chill on a cold winter night, or when you receive your heating bill, feel around for air infiltration and try a fresh bead of caulk to keep you cozy and warm.
Energy efficient lighting has got to be one of the easiest upgrades out there with the most bang for its buck. The cost of the bulbs themselves are quickly recovered in short payback periods and improved quality of life. That’s right, efficient lighting also means comfortable lighting. Gone are the days of flickery twisty CFL bulbs – get yourself some of the new LEDs and enjoy beautiful light, much longer bulb life (10x fewer bulb changes) and much less unwanted heat, leading to a balanced indoor environment and budget.
If you’ve ever accidentally backed into an uninsulated pipe, you’ll surely understand the value of pipe insulation. Pipes get hot, really hot, and that’s exactly what they’re made to do. What they’re not made to do is retain that heat. This is where pipe insulation comes in. Attaching insulation around every heat and hot water pipe is not only an important safety measure, it also significantly cuts down heat loss, meaning you’ll have lower heat and hot water bills.
Control Your Controls
Sometimes the biggest savings are right under your nose. Many building owners implement building controls of some form. But more often than not, once the controls system is in place, it’s left to operate on its own without much oversight. Checking in on your controls is the best place to start when something isn’t working, but it’s an even better practice to check in when everything seems to be working fine. You never know what you might see. After all, a proactive approach to energy management is the real Cinderella story every year.
Passive House, or PassivHaus as you may have seen it written, is an innovative new approach to energy efficient design and construction practices. We’re excited to see it popping up across the United States more and more. There are plenty of well-covered examples of these projects – their potential impact on residential energy conservation efforts is unmatched. But what are people really talking about when they say Passive House? And more importantly, should you be considering it for your next development?
What is Passive House?
Passive House is a recently-developed German building standard that takes energy efficiency to the next level.* Buildings that are designed to this standard are called “Passive Houses,” but they aren’t just single family homes. Passive Houses can include multifamily and commercial developments, too.
Passive Houses require less energy to heat and cool, and are up to 90% more efficient than the existing building stock. Insulation and superior air sealing are the primary focus of Passive House design. The goal is to design an extremely air-tight building envelope, limiting outside air coming into the building. This allows for the ventilation to be managed mechanically, which dramatically improves indoor air quality without consuming unnecessary energy.
What are the benefits?
Passive Houses are built to exceptional standards, and the benefits follow suit. The fine-tuned control over indoor air quality and temperature make Passive Houses extremely comfortable for residents throughout changing seasons and across climates. An added perk of the focus on insulation is that they are also much more sound-proof than traditional buildings – something our friends in NYC and other bustling cities across the country certainly covet.
Additionally, Passive House is a smart financial investment. Because the buildings are so well insulated, their heating and cooling systems can be dramatically smaller, which helps offset some of the costs of higher quality envelope. The highly efficient design reduces energy usage and operating costs dramatically, making up any additional construction cost within a few years.
And, of course, these buildings are good for the environment.
How do I know if it makes sense for me?
While existing buildings can be retrofitted to these standards, Passive House is most common for newly constructed single family homes, multifamily buildings, and commercial real estate developments. If you have an upcoming construction project, Passive House is an excellent option to explore if you want to maximize comfort and minimize utility costs. The key is to incorporate it into the design process as early as possible for an easier transition to high-performance design.
We at Bright Power read the news of Tesla’s Powerwall with unbelievable excitement. For years, energy efficiency has been treated as either an obligation or a lofty goal, both of which has made it difficult to adopt for consumers and businesses, but it seems we’re at a turning point. Like Nest did for the thermostat, the Powerwall makes batteries sexy, cool, desirable. The reason this product will succeed is at least in part because people will want it. That’s something the efficiency market hasn’t seen and it’s something we need. The mass production of renewable technology means we are finally at a point where efficiency meets desire.
Getting the public on board is a necessary hurdle which must be crossed in order to reach the decision-making building owners who often block out the energy company ‘noise’ because it’s complicated, it’s confusing and there’s just so much of it.
Luckily, the necessary pieces to make this a sound business decision are already in place. Like the Powerwall, Bright Power’s Resilient Power Hub deploys batteries, but combines them with solar photovoltaics (PV) and combined-heat-and-power (CHP) to provide instantaneous, long-term backup power. And it pays for itself over time! The Resilient Power Hub was designed for small businesses as a part of the RISE:NYC competition (which we won, by the way) but it’s scalable to multifamily and commercial buildings where waste is big and opportunity is bigger. Bigger fish, here we come.