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.  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.

Solar Decathlon

Posted : November 7, 2008 by Michelle

As an employee of IES who is looking at sustainability from the architecture and design point of view, I know how important it is to think of the energy consumption of a building before you finalize, or even start, a design. Thinking ahead to a green mechanical system is not something engineers are solely responsible […]

Drawing in SketchUp for analysis

Posted : November 4, 2008 by Pete

What I’d like to do in my blog is provide some basic guidance with some simple hints and tips for taking your sexy SketchUp model one step further and running the likes of detailed energy consumption, Architecture 2030 Challenge benckmarking and LEED daylighting compliance analysis. Now, I’ve had a bit of experience using SketchUp over […]

Happy Energy Saving Week!

Posted : October 22, 2008 by Kaye

Hello, In the UK this week The Energy Savings Trust announced that half of us would be greener if we had a bit more time in our day! To help us with this they have provided us with three useful tools to help us manage our time; The first is an “Energy Saving Clock” which […]

An integrated design process is proving to be the key to achieving high-performance, sustainable buildings. By bringing all of the project stakeholders to the table at the early conceptual stage of the process, the team can set forth with a common set of goals. The result is that sustainable strategies are better coordinated during design […]

Taking it to the Streets

Posted : October 9, 2008 by Nicole

I had the great pleasure of launching what might be best termed a “Green Blitzkrieg” last month as we landed in 9 US and Canadian cities and over 70 design firms from coast to coast. Many thanks to all those who hosted us — we hope you stay tuned via When after I’m you. It […]

International Challenges

Posted : September 30, 2008 by Chien Si

This problem of making a sustainable world is one of the most challenging that the world has ever faced. Although a number of people still actually debate whether CO2 comes from anthropogenic sources, I accept that humans are indeed having an impact. Making the change to a more sustainable built world is going to take […]

Model Merge

Posted : September 16, 2008 by Craig Wheatley

I’ve got a workflow conundrum for you today: I’m using SketchUp or Revit and I’ve delved into the Full <Virtual Environment> made some changes to the Templates in the Full <Virtual Environment>. I’m happy with the analysis. I now want to go back to the original model in SketchUp or Revit and want to change […]

Map CO2 Emissions

Posted : September 12, 2008 by Craig Wheatley

Hi there, The FT today posted a map of CO2 emissions on their website. It gives a geographical and US state-by-state snapshot of carbon dioxide emissions and a timeline of major events in climate change negotiations. Really interesting to look at the per capita figures, there are certainly some of us on this earth using […]

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