Last time I wrote about 4 major initiatives that the entire building industry needs to come to grips with, and quickly. Al Gore has famously modified that African proverb:
“if you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.Â We have to go far quickly.”
I stated in my last blog that there are four different areas that our industry needs to focus on quickly and together — understanding passive design, bringing energy modelling into the earliest stages of design, understanding the world around us, and smart grid technology. Right now, most firms are still dealing with the first two issues…but the next two are around the corner for many engineers and architects.
People are moving quickly to tackle good sustainable design, but there is the “together” issue still looming large for many firms. What happens if you have designed a great passive building, then you go to submit it for building permit and it is denied? This is a big problem, and points more at the “together” issue that Al Gore mentions in the proverb. Many governments still have not caught up yet, and are giving inadequate guidance to help people get to big-time energy savings in buildings.
It turns out that permits get denied all of the time, primarily because of unfamiliarity with techniques and design principles for passive design. Even in California, arguably the most progressive government in the United States when it comes to energy efficiency, the California Energy Commission admits that it does not have standard processes in place to submit a permit for passive buildings designed with little or no cooling systems, or passively heated buildings. So even though you can analyze and predict passive design performance using our software, California may not accept it? Seems counter intuitive, given the urgent need right now for good buildings.
Currently California does have something that can help. California Title 24 (the name of the California building energy code) does allow architects and designers to receive permits for unique or novel buildings that are out of their normal field of vision…which includes naturally ventilated buildings, passive solar design, and mixed-mode hybrid designs.The design team simply needs to submit an Alternative Materials and Methods of Construction (AMMC) application, as outlined in section 10-104 of Part 1 of California Title 24. Our consulting arm has been involved with the successful submittal of an AMMC to the State of California and received permitting for non-standard designed. It can be a longer process, but you have to go down the path to receive the rewards of lower energy consumption.
Many local building code officials don’t see good passive design everyday. So what do you do when you want to build something unfamiliar? This is a big problem that our office has to address on a regular basis in San Francisco. If we are taking this whole green business seriously, and we believe the proverb, then both architects, engineers, and building officials all need to be a part of the solution. It doesn’t stop on the drafting table.
How are you addressing this issue in your hometown? What are the other avenues that local codes take to allow designs that don’t fit the mold, but in reality, are far more efficient? If your building officials don’t have a process, then how can you make sure they have one? (Kind of a grassroots question.) We are lucky here in California to have this process, and ASHRAE 90.1 also has a process in place. It would be really cool for other people to give responses sharing their stories about how they got around the building permitting issue for sustainable design. I think it goes to the heart of our problems and our quest for solutions. The development staff at IES feels that we’ve developed great tools to convince building officials of non-standard designs. It answers all of the thermodynamic questions that most good building officials would ask, and it helps to visualize the answers in more intuitive ways.
Let us know how we can help.
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Posted : October 17, 2008 by Dimitri
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