COVID-19 Helps Green the Building Industry

The industry has needed to embrace green building principles to create a healthier home

By Don Neff

The benefits of green building and monitoring practices in our homes and offices has been a long-term conversation and a topic of many previous articles by LJP and other industry experts. The COVID-19 pandemic has required a light speed adjustment in this direction, as our offices were locked down with stay-at-home orders away from office colleagues and technology support. Working remotely, although not a new concept, became our new normal and will in some form be part of our future. 

Little did we realize one year ago how dramatically we would need to embrace green building principles: daylighting, orientation, insulation, ventilation and mass (DOIVM) for a healthier home environment. In addition, technology needed to be integrated into our work from home lives in new ways we had not thought of before. This article will explore two concepts surrounding DOIVM* and technology through remote work technology and green building integration.

Little did we realize one year ago how dramatically we would need to embrace green building principles: daylighting, orientation, insulation, ventilation and mass (DOIVM) for a healthier home environment.”

In terms of remote work technology, zoom meetings from home offices have become pervasive, in addition to other tech tools like Skype, MS Teams, Bluebeam and CaptureQA to allow productivity at home and for business to continue. Working from home reduces commute time, saves gas, and encourages savings. 

Equally important, working from home also requires creative solutions to “unplug” from work. This includes physical and mental separations, including programmed downtime to maintain work-life balance. The physical separation can be achieved through architectural design solutions for new construction or remodeling, and new creative space planning ideas. These concepts address multiple work areas for dual income earners and home-schooling needs where families are all working and studying under the same roof.    

We know from first-hand experience when your home office is your only office, work time can far exceed the normal 40-hour week. Discipline is needed to achieve work-life balance by regularly unplugging from all our high-tech gadgets to relax, focus on our well-being, and simply taking a walk around our neighborhoods. Without establishing these boundaries to separate work and personal time, the pressures of home and work-life stresses can lead to burnout, overwhelm us emotionally, and ultimately compromise our immune systems.  

Meanwhile, in regards to green building integration, we all know about plug loads creating excess electrical demand and occupant behavior causing aberrations in home operating systems, and both can unravel the most sustainably designed and constructed healthy home-work environment. This risk of poor system performance grows when two to five or more are all living and working at home—around the clock and potentially taxing the home’s systems, such as active or passive ventilation, for example. A healthy home (Bau-biology) supports occupant health. But without feedback loops, we have no metrics to measure brewing problems, which can lead to a subtle deterioration of indoor air quality or potential long-term deterioration of the home.   

What to measure? Sensors which measure temperature, humidity, moisture level, water leaks, hot spots, cold spots, mold growth, carbon dioxide (CO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) monoxide (CO), supply and usage of site-generated solar energy, and battery charge levels, are just a few examples.The integration of these sensors into a data hub or dashboard—either centralized at one workstation, distributed throughout on a room-to-room basis or both—is also important. The dashboard can provide immediate feedback to understand occupant affects, system function, and overall performance of the home.

Examples of a power usage dashboard have been demonstrated by Southern California Edison in their Southern California Energy Education Center (Irwindale, CA) showing variable costs in real time when several appliances automatically turn on and off throughout the day, either in parallel or in series. Measuring this cost will help occupants adjust their behavior to schedule usage during off-peak pricing periods. Sensors have been used in the past for home automation system performance measurement but only on an experimental basis. The real test will be when major equipment and appliance manufacturers provide integrated plug and play whole-house solutions on a large production scale.   

These advanced systems can also include the programming of home maintenance activities into the system, with maintenance alerts, monitoring for compliance, and tracking completion with automated recordkeeping. Such a robust online customer service system could then be a game changer for sustainable building practices.  

What’s in your toolbox?

*Credit to Chris Prelitz, sustainable home builder and consultant in Laguna Beach, CA for the acronym, “DOIVM”.

Don Neff is the President of LJP Construction Services. For more information, visit http://www.ljpltd.com.

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