Category Archives: Construction

Need a building? You’ve got some new options

The following post is by Alaska Structures:

Much has been said about sustainable construction methods and how beneficial reclaimed and recycled materials can be to reduce the carbon footprint of a home or commercial construction project.  However, often overlooked are the many non-traditional building alternatives that provide an energy efficient shortcut to a complete building.

Shipping Containers

shipping container

Highly durable and too often wasted, these hulking containers aren’t just for subterranean bomb shelters anymore. DIYers and construction experts have been creating beautiful, functional, and livable buildings out of industrial shipping containers for several years now and we’re thrilled with the results.

By reusing the massive metal containers for home construction, homeowners are able to enjoy sturdy walls, cool interiors, and endlessly expandable layouts. While working with standard shapes may feel limiting, many experienced container builders have found ways to create ventilated rooftops and innovative, expansive rooms using multiple container sections, as well as beautiful outdoor decks and living spaces.

While it takes a lot of hard work and logistical planning, the benefits of designing a custom home without the need for producing additional materials will provide a level of satisfaction beyond what typical sustainable building practices often provide.

Tensioned Fabric Buildings

tensioned fabric building

Perhaps some of the most versatile structures available today, a high-end tensioned fabric building can sometimes outperform even a brick and mortar structure in terms of durability. These buildings can withstand significant snow load and high winds, will remain intact during natural disasters, and help lower insurance costs.

High-end fabrics can provide insulation and security in any climate on earth and some manufacturers go the extra mile with HVAC systems, electrical connections, and other custom options. The lightweight nature and ease of installation make these fabric buildings a great option for organizations on the move, but with so many foundation options, there’s no reason why you can’t install your fabric structure in place for good.

Worried about meeting building code? Depending on where you purchase your fabric building, the company’s engineers may be able to meet or exceed various building code requirements mandated by your city or state governments.

Modular Buildings

modular building

Shedding the misnomer of “pre-fab” buildings, modular constructions aren’t just for the temporary construction site, and are not like the double-wide trailers of 40 years ago. Entire hospitals, apartment complexes, and even hotels are being built using modular practices. By using modular methods, major projects have found success with reductions in construction time, site preparation, and shipping costs.

The production of modular buildings is more efficient, so they are a much more eco-friendly solution when compared with traditional construction. The construction industry accounts for about 40% of the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. By using off-site manufacturing methods, the UK’s Waste & Resources Action Programme suggests that construction site waste can be reduced by as much as 90%. Off-site construction also requires less heavy machinery use during the assembly process, further reducing emissions during the construction.

Modular buildings aren’t just greener during construction either – many modular constructions come with super efficient HVAC systems, zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and glass walls/open office layouts that utilize more natural light.

Alaska Structures has manufactured fabric buildings for industrial and commercial applications around the world since 1975.

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Housing Summit 2014: how to get more housing on less land

The following post is by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties:

Housing affordability and the impact of the Puget Sound region’s dwindling supply of buildable land was the focus of the recent Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ (MBA) 2014 Housing Summit in Bellevue.

“Accommodating Housing Needs with Less Land” included presentations by top national and regional housing experts and a panel discussion with state legislators and homebuilders.

Are we running out of room to build new houses here?

“There is an explicit link between the availability of buildable lands and housing affordability,” said MBA Executive Director Shannon Affholter. “The Summit served as a starting point in a frank discussion about what’s working, and what’s not, in meeting the Growth Management Act housing targets and the region’s growing needs.”

A presentation by Todd Britsch, regional director for Metrostudy Inc., a leading provider of research and analysis to the housing industry, underscored the immediate challenge to the buildable land supply: based on projected population growth, King County has 3.87 years of supply remaining of assumed total inventory, and only 3.29 years of supply in Snohomish County.

“We’re seeing lot prices absolutely skyrocket, and the numbers are staggering. It’s a long-term issue and we have to address it sooner rather than later,” he said. “And if we don’t, the Puget Sound region is going to become the next San Francisco Bay Area, where only the ‘elite of the elite’ can afford to own a home.”

Nancy Bainbridge Rogers, land use attorney at Cairncross & Hempelmann, noted that GMA-mandated Buildable Lands Reports generated periodically by counties don’t provide a full and accurate picture of future trends.

“The reports compare housing targets to the actual growth. The reports must determine whether sufficient land exists to accommodate population projections.  Unfortunately, the reports are not required to include a feasibility component or an assessment of affordability.”

A lively panel discussion focusing on legislative solutions included Senator Joe Fain (R) 47th District, from Auburn; Senator Marko Liias (D) 21st District, from Mukilteo; Representative Jay Rodne (R), 5th District, from Snoqualmie; and Representative Larry Springer (D), 45th District, from Kirkland. Other participants included homebuilders Mark Kaushagen of the Pulte Group and Lynn Eshleman from Pacific Ridge Homes.

Individual panel members cited specific action items that could advance the goals of housing availability and affordability, including:

  • couple housing demand with affordability in future planning
  • passage of a transportation package and infrastructure financing bill
  • comprehensive review of the Urban Growth Boundary and its possible expansion
  • require cities in King and Snohomish counties to do a planned action on remaining undeveloped lands to assess infill housing opportunities
  • eliminate redundancies in the review and permitting process, and establish a meaningful time limit in which permits can be outstanding.


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The contractor’s role in LEED can make a big difference

The following post is by James Jenkins:

There’s been a lot of controversy over the expense and effectiveness of LEED certification. The controversy is affecting the perception of LEED, driving governments to remove laws requiring certification for publicly funded projects and pushing organizations that used to pursue Gold at a minimum to pursue Silver as a maximum. It’s a disturbing trend that is ill-informed.

SMR Architects rendering courtesy of PHG

Using a different solar thermal system saved money that was spent on upgrades for the Williams Apartments. The Plymouth Housing project opened in 2013 and is certified LEED platinum.

Many projects achieve LEED certification without any impact to their construction budget. Of course there are registration and certification fees that cannot be avoided but those costs are generally inconsequential. The costs to achieve LEED that do get noticed are the ones that change the design. Often times the contractor is not expected to change the outcome of LEED certification as many of the decisions and features were included during design. However, the contractor can contribute significantly by taking an active and educated role in the LEED process.

Design Document are not Absolute: Work with and educate your entire team and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

On a project we recently completed for Celgene we were able to achieve 30% Recycled Content, well beyond the initial 10% that was indicated on the LEED Scorecard. By identifying all scopes of work that could contribute Recycled Content and working directly with our subcontractors to help them understand what we were looking for and the documentation we needed to support it we were able to substantially increase the recycled content and contribute an additional 2 points to the project. Collaboration and education were key to accomplishing this.

Know the Intent of a LEED Credit and Get Creative: Many LEED Credits are achieved using one of few technologies or methodologies but sometimes simple, creative solutions can be used with little added cost.

At Northeastern University’s Seattle Campus we initially dismissed achieving LEED CI EA Credit 1 for HVAC Zoning because two private offices shared a single VAV box and the cost was determined to be prohibitive to add an additional one. The fact that we were so close to meeting the criteria kept nagging at the team. One day someone asked why we couldn’t control a damper using the occupancy sensors already installed for the lighting. It turns out that we could! While, not a typical way to achieve the credit the USGBC agreed that this simplified occupied/unoccupied status of providing ventilation to the space sufficiently met the zoning criteria.

Understand the Goals, Build it Effectively: If you understand the end goal, not the specific technology, you can find better solutions at a lower cost without affecting the project.

Plymouth Housing’s LEED Platinum Williams Apartments included a solar thermal system in the design. Initially, the project assumed that evacuated tube collectors would be used on the project, indeed the attractiveness of this newer technology and the capacity to produce higher temperature water appears to be the best option.  However, looking at total cost combined with efficiency led us to a different conclusion. In our research, on a flat roof where the angle we could set the collectors was infinite the efficiency of the two systems were nearly identical and the costs roughly the same for the same heating capacity. However, the evacuated tube collectors needed twice the roof area, twice the racking, more connection points in the roof and longer piping. The flat plate collectors were the lowest first and life-cycle cost. The savings between these two systems allowed us to include upgrades elsewhere that further enhanced the sustainability of the project.

As you can see, these examples did not involve spending large amounts of money but raised the certification level for each project. There are more than enough examples of LEED by addition and these are the projects that give opponents of LEED something to argue. These projects prove that LEED can be a tool of inspiration, when used as such pushes everyone on a team to do more with the same, or less, resources.

James Jenkins is the in-house Sustainability Manager and Net Zero Specialist for BNBuilders in Seattle. James has completed dozens of LEED projects and three Living Building Challenges.


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Do rain gardens work at industrial sites?

The following post is by the Washington Environmental Council:

Rand Lymangrover thought he had tried everything. His company, Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE), was failing to meet benchmarks for their general stormwater permit for the runoff from their Port of Tacoma facility. The main problems were zinc and copper: two metals in abundant supply at an industrial terminal with lots of galvanized fencing and heavy vehicle traffic.

Before the rain gardens were installed.

After failing to get below benchmarks by cleaning up and installing stormwater vault filters, Lymangrover turned to rain gardens. If it worked, he reasoned, the company would save money: at $24,000, it would cost about 10 percent of a more traditional, industrial-scale filtering system.

The contractor was David Hymel with Rain Dog Designs. The rain gardens were installed with the help of Stewardship Partners, which is working with Washington StateUniversity to install 12,000 rain gardens in the Puget Sound region.

Three years later, the rain gardens are working perfectly and are a regularly visited by other industrial businesses, city council members and many others.

After the rain gardens were installed.

“In addition to getting us below the benchmark, the rain gardens have really improved how things look down here and show that this green infrastructure feature works at an industrial level,” Lymangrover said. “You can always find a place to do a rain garden.”

During heavy rainfall, the TOTE rain gardens can handle over 160 gallons of runoff per minute.

Lymangrover invites other industrial businesses that are looking for solutions to their stormwater issues to consider a rain garden – and visit the ones at TOTE. His ultimate goal: to eliminate all stormwater runoff from the terminal.

Washington Environmental Council is a nonprofit, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to protect, restore and sustain Washington’s environment.



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Frank Ching illustrates new green building guide

Architect Francis D.K. “Frank” Ching, a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, is co-author of Green Building Illustrated, a newly published guide to green building design and construction.

Ian Shapiro, co-owner of Taitem Engineering in Ithaca, N.Y., wrote the text, and Ching was the illustrator.

The book, written for architects, engineers and builders, offers a variety of in-depth approaches to green building design, including a visual presentation of the theory, practices and complexities of sustainable design.

Shapiro emailed the DJC this description from Wiley, the publisher:

From the outside to the inside of a building, (the authors) cover all aspects of sustainability, providing a framework and detailed strategies to design buildings that are substantively green. The book begins with an explanation of why we need to build green, the theories behind it and current rating systems before moving on to a comprehensive discussion of vital topics. These topics include site selection, passive design using building shape, water conservation, ventilation and air quality, heating and cooling, minimum-impact materials, and much more.

Ching recently retired after more than 35 years of teaching. He is the bestselling author of Building Construction Illustrated, among other books on architecture and design, all published by Wiley. His works have been translated into more than 16 languages and are regarded as classics for their renowned graphic presentations.

Shapiro has been a visiting lecturer at Cornell University, Tompkins-Cortland Community College and Syracuse University. He has worked on several LEED building design projects, has led a variety of energy conservation research projects, and is a frequent contributor to ASHRAE Journal and Home Energy magazine.

The guide is available at local bookstores, including Ada’s, Elliott Bay and the University Book Store.


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