How To Kill A Good Business by Positive Energy

Here's some food for thought. Of course they're broad stroke statements, but useful to consider. 

Product Weakness + Lack Of Innovation = Dead Business Models

  • Netflix did not kill Blockbuster. Late fees and a lack of innovation did. 
  • Uber did not kill the taxi business. Limited taxi access, fare control, and a lack of innovation did. 
  • Apple did not kill the music industry. Being forced to buy full-length albums and a lack of innovation did. 
  • Airbnb did not kill the hotel industry. Limited availability, limited pricing options, and a lack of innovation did. 
  • Amazon did not kill other retailers. Bad customer service and experience alongside a lack of variation and innovation did. 

Technology by itself is not the real disruptor. Being non-customer centric and neglecting to innovate your products and services are the biggest threats to any business. 

How are you staying alive?

The Solar Climb by Positive Energy

Greetings building science enthusiasts!

Miguel here again with more musings for your thought buckets. 

I want us to think about solar PV today. Although we don't often talk about solar PV from a systems level perspective, there are some notable global-market-level numbers to look at. This won't be a long post, but hopefully a thought provoking one, especially as we consider what the impact to human beings will be in all of this (after all, what else is the point if we're not looking out for the well being of others?). After reading through the massive report by GTM Research, we were a bit taken aback by this statistic: 

The concentration of global solar demand is more pronounced than at any time in the industry’s last seven years, such that the top four markets (China, the United States, India and Japan) are expected to account for 73 percent of total installations in 2017. Driven in large part by a new wave of installations in China, India’s market doubling in size, and falling PPA prices, global solar PV installations will grow more than 9 percent in 2017, reaching 85 gigawatts.
— The Global Solar Demand Monitor
Courtesy of GTM Research.

Courtesy of GTM Research.

In case you were wondering, the GSDM is a quarterly report that provides insight into major developments for the global solar landscape. They offer an assessment of the trajectory and key trends in the global market and providing thoughtful analysis of how the solar industry (as well as other renewable energy industries) function(s) across the planet. Green Tech Media also puts out The Energy Gang podcast, which is excellent and highly recommended for those of you who like to think about energy from a policy, economics-focused perspective. 


What Does This Mean?

To reiterate, they're calling for a 9% growth rate for solar installations world-wide. Given that there are some exciting consumer oriented prospects on the market here in the US, like the Tesla Solar Roof* (even though it's not the only solar roof available, nor the cheapest), one could assume this is responsible for the growth predictions. But scale up your thinking to what a 9% growth rate means on the global scale and you'll see that this kind of prediction has much more to do with the economics and viability of the technology writ-large. The potential impact solar carries on the way the built environment receives electricity is more potent than any other emerging technology. 

Again, 9% world-wide.

Yeah, it's a huge increase. We're talking a massive increase in supply for a rapidly increasing demand. Obviously this has some substantial implications if it holds true. The way the world is powered is undergoing a shift and so too will the way our built world receive it. More on that later. But first let's dive into how we're seeing this play out.


What About Specifics?

According to data put out by National Grid, last Friday alone in the UK, the nation’s solar panels beat the previous record set just last month by generating 8.7GW of power, more than nuclear and coal power combined. Making up around 25% of the UK's electricity that day, solar power was the second most used generating technology behind gas-fired power, which is certainly a new record. Similarly, we saw lion's share of California’s power demand going to solar, topping 50 percent for the first time in March of this year. According the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 40 percent of the state’s power demand was filled by utility-scale solar generation for several hours.

But it the impact doesn't squarely end with the consumer facing energy user. The uptick in solar industry jobs is soaring. The US added 50,000 solar jobs in 2016, a record in its own right. According to The Solar Foundation, the solar industry in the U.S. employs more than 260,000 workers nationwide — that’s more workers than Apple, Facebook, and Google combined

Courtesy of The Solar Foundation

Courtesy of The Solar Foundation

Last year alone we saw a jump in annual global PV demand of more than 50 percent, and this year we'll hit 85GW, doubling the amount of installed solar PV we saw in 2014. And GTM projects that demand for solar power will continue to rise. Plummeting costs for solar and other enabling technologies have driven the global-market into a new era of solar production. India’s Minister for Power, Coal, New & Renewable Energy and Mines reported in April on a record low price for solar power in a competitive auction: 3.15 rupees (5 U.S. cents) per kilowatt-hour.

It's no surprise that 27 US cities (that number growing) have committed to a 100% renewable energy plan. The numbers are working out in a time when governments (and their associated utilities) are under increasing pressure to be competitive and actually accountable to their constituents. Change is underway, my friends, regardless of the current federal domestic energy policies in the US. 

Take a look at the graphs.

Courtesy of GTM Research.

Courtesy of GTM Research.

 
Courtesy of The Solar Foundation.

Courtesy of The Solar Foundation.

I'll offer here a platitude my father used to repeat when I was growing up (Happy Birthday Dad!). He always always told me to "follow the money" when trying to get to the reality of a situation. In keeping that advice, I found that major investors on the global stage are allocating serious funding for solar infrastructure projects and companies. Solar energy is no longer the minor league, marginalized energy technology that it was reduced to in years passed. It's got real potential to literally change the world we live in. I heard Erik Solheim, the executive director of UN Environment, on Morning Edition just this morning and was reminded of his vision for clean energy technologies in the world:

Ever-cheaper clean tech provides a real opportunity for investors to get more for less. This is exactly the kind of situation, where the needs of profit and people meet, that will drive the shift to a better world for all.
— Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment

So What? 

This kind of reporting is somewhat tangential from a building science perspective, but when we consider what's on the receiving end of the solar PV market evolution, we're talking about human beings. And we can't talk about human beings without talking about health, and that absolutely pertains to building science. If we're not prioritizing health and only looking at energy, we're letting the tail wag the dog.

With such a prominent and contentious national conversation on the dismantling of environmental regulations and whether clean energy has a future in the US, I'd like to remind us all to take a step back and look at how we directly impact our clients' lives as professionals. I'm not suggesting we discard the importance of renewables (just look at all the data I just presented!), but I am suggesting that we need to bring another major variable into the conversation as priority #1 - humans. 

We spend 70% of our lives in our homes and if we deliver those home with health as our organizing principle, we have the potential to drive the conversation toward better energy solutions naturally. Design around people, a good building follows. 

An energy declaration without a declaration related to the indoor environment makes no sense.
— Dr. Fergus Nicol (Professor Emeritus of Architecture, Oxford Brookes University)

There are clearly demonstrable benefits of a cleaner energy economy to the planet and to our client's pocket-books. We should be advocating for solar PV as concerned professionals in the AEC industry. The global trends are self-evident - we're pacing quickly toward a solar powered world and you need to keep tabs on what that means to your business, your ethos, and your projects. But if we're not keeping up with how our buildings function and provide a healthy environment for the occupants, the energy delivery vehicle doesn't matter. 

If we actually focused on solving the mean radiant temperature problems with enclosure performance we would solve the energy and thermal comfort problems in buildings.
— Robert Bean, R.E.T., P.L.(Eng.), Healthy Heating

Grid competitive renewables are here and they're going to shape the way we deliver energy to the built environment. It's on us to know how our buildings are receiving that energy and whether the building is serving the occupants' health or if it's just "green" for the sake of being so. Don't let the tail wag the dog. Focus on delivering a healthy building and the rest will follow.

Now get out there and make it happen, folks - for the times, they are a changing.


 

*Did you know that the new non-roof Tesla Solar panel is produced by Panasonic? 

Texas' First Radiant Cooling & Heating System (That We Know Of) by Positive Energy

Greetings building science enthusiasts! 

We're delighted to share with you all that we've completed the installation of the first radiant cooling & heating system installed in Texas (that we know of). You might be saying to yourself now "wait a minute, I've totally seen radiant heated floors in Texas before. What are you talking about?" and you'd be correct. The system we're talking about is a bit different for a few reasons - it's not in the floor AND it's not just a heating system. It's a cooling and heating system that sits in the ceiling of our office. If that sounds crazy to you, well... it is. Keep reading. This was a serious research and development project for Positive Energy and we felt like it was kind of a crazy endeavor too.

It all started when Kristof took a course on mechanical systems with a man named Robert Bean (who is a Canadian gentleman genius and founder of healthyheating.com), who referred us to a book by Kiel Moe called Thermally Active Surfaces In Architecture. It's a phenomenal book. 

But don't just take my word for it. You'll find  some beautiful excerpts and graphics from the book's introduction throughout the remainder of this post. 

Why do we heat and cool buildings with air? How did a thermodynamically and physiologically irrational medium of heat transfer - air - become the dominant method of heating and cooling buildings?
— Kiel Moe, Thermally Active Surfaces In Architecture
Water And Air - Kiel Moe

"Water is 832 times denser than air."

"Energy Density is directly related to the density of a material. Water can capture and channel far more energy per unit volume than air. Thermally active surfaces are built around this basic principle."

The human body is a hydronic, thermally active surface system. Heat energy is transferred in and around a body through the hydronic circulatory system. The heart circulates heat through the blood back and forth between the core of the body to its skin, a thermally active surface. Its thermal system is decoupled from its ventilation system.
— Kiel Moe, Thermally Active Surfaces In Architecture
Radiant Cooling Kiel Moe

"Thermally active surfaces in buildings follow this logic, literally." 

 

This alters energy consumption and amends human comfort. Thermally active surfaces in buildings are not metaphors for the body and do not mimic a natural system. Rather, they share the same thermo-dynamical system. In this century, building science and systems will follow how the body actually functions. 

Obviously we were interested in exploring this kind of technology for many reasons. In fact, we did an entire podcast episode on the basic principles of radiant heating and cooling very early on in our podcast tenure. It was then that we saw the spark. We knew we were onto something. But given the fact that accommodating supply chains are virtually non-existent here in Texas, we looked west to California. That's where we found Messana. They're a manufacturer of radiant heating and cooling panels (thermally active surfaces) out of Italy and Santa Cruz, CA. We were so excited about meeting them that we did another podcast episode on radiant heating and cooling systems during our California visit a couple of years ago. 

If you haven't subscribed to our podcast yet, shame on you. Get to it! 

What was so immediately striking to me about this technology was the fundamental shift in thinking about how we heat/cool spaces. We've all seen radiators used in heating dominant climates and chilling beams used for commercial applications in cooling dominant climates, but never before had I conceived of turning the actual building surfaces into radiant surfaces. It took some time for me to wrap my mind around, especially the specifics of avoiding condensation, putting fluid in the ceiling, etc. 

More from Kiel Moe on the matter: 

Cooling is a deceptive concept. If a building does not get hot, it does not need to be ‘cooled.’ Thermally active surfaces ‘cool’ by continuously removing heat energy. This is fundamentally different from air based approaches to cooling. If a surface is cooler than the bodies and objects in its space, it is removing heat from those objects and has the effect of cooling. There is no circumstance when the surface temperature should be near or at the dew point temperature to heat or ‘cool’ a space. As such, condensation is not an impediment to thermally active surfaces. 
— Kiel Moe, Thermally Active Surfaces In Architecture

There is that fundamental shift - high temp cooling and low temp heating. It seems paradoxical, but it actually makes perfect sense when you take a look at the way heat transfer occurs. 

Energy Use.jpg

Thermally active surfaces utilize low-supply temperature heating and high-supply temperature cooling to achieve human comfort.  

This can save an immense amount of energy in the next century of building.

So there we were with all of this novel information about how the AEC industry is literally staring down the barrel of its own revolution, and we just couldn't let it lie. Gathering the chutzpah to pull this installation off was not exactly an easy process. Very early on, we were presented with a number of challenges that slowed us down and puzzled us. Were this an air-based VRF system, we would have had massive resources to leverage more or less at-will, but with a radiant technology, the local trade and manufacturing infrastructure to install is virtually non-existent in the Texas market right now. Add to this the fact that we had only theoretical expertise in how this could work and you have an installation requiring a significant amount of organization without a lot of organization. But we're suckers for a little bit of self inflicted pain so we rallied behind the general level of excitement to follow through. We worked with Messana, SpacePak, UltraAire, and assembled the "big pieces" of the installation. 


Smiling Faces On Installation Day 1

Smiling Faces On Installation Day 1

With the help of our good friend  Greg Cross out of Santa Cruz, CA (former Messana installer and wihz) we gathered the necessary equipment, ordered plenty of tacos, and got to work. There's a lot involved - sweating copper, running pex, hanging sheetrock, schematic layouts, system commissioning. Please don't try this at home unless you've got a professional on board or you're just averse to keeping your wallet full.

At this point you might be wondering "what the heck does a system like this even look like?" Well you're in luck - Matt Risinger came over to take a tour. 

We also made a pretty geeky video walking you through the whole thing in more detail.

As you can see, it's a complicated system, but the benefits of a low exergy system like this are bountiful.

  • Incredibly Low Site Energy Usage
  • Simulated Mass
  • Quiet Operation
  • Improved Thermal Well Being
Heat Transfer.jpg

Heat Transfer

"How did a thermodynamically irrational medium of heat transfer -air- become the dominant method of heating and cooling buildings?

Here are some highlights of the installation: 

It fortuitously happened that day that the morning outdoor temps started in the 50s and climbed into the upper 80s by afternoon. We had opportunity to use both system modes after we finally got the system turned on. And of course, we got out the IR cameras in both heating and cooling modes.


Radiant Diagram Kiel Moe

What would change if we heated and cooled buildings with water rather than air? 

 

Thermally active surfaces stand to advance architecture’s practices and performances: its techniques, technologies, professional and ecological sustainability, budgets, and formal possibilities.

Thermally active building surfaces is a technique that promises to finally dissolve the fallacy of fragmented architectural design, building science, and their pedagogies.
— Kiel Moe, Thermally Active Surfaces

If this maxim holds true, then our office should be the coolest one on the block (pardon the pun). We're thrilled to have this system in our office and can't wait to have you over to check it out. Let us know next time you'll be in the neighborhood and we'll see about having you over to check out our 8th wonder of the world.  

And remember, all of this madness is because we see the clear future for architecture and construction in one simple phrase:

Design Around People A Good Building Follows

Want To See It In Person?

Thursday, June 22

Please join us to get an in-person tour of our radiant system and discussion about the benefits and future of systems like this:

  • Bring the beer/wine you love along with an open mind.
  • Come to our office at 1206 B South 3rd, Austin, TX 78704
    • Please respect our neighbors by parking along 3rd street near the park
  • Show up at 4:30PM, leave at 6:00PM

Reinventing Construction by Positive Energy

Greetings building science enthusiasts!

Miguel here waxing philosophical again for your leisure and edification. Recently the McKinsey Global Institute (a private think-tank dedicated to offering ideas to move the global economy forward) released a study  outlining the state of the construction industry along with a set of forward-thinking solutions they see to increase productivity in the construction sector. The sheer scale of the report is remarkable, as should any globally applied perspective should be, and had some useful insights for those of us who think about the built environment. 

I've outlined some of the resonant highlights herein. Let's begin with their infographic and get more granular from there.

Courtesy of McKinsey Global Institute

Courtesy of McKinsey Global Institute

The Claims

Their premise begins with the somewhat startling fact that the construction sector, compared to the productivity of the rest of the global economy, is both stifled and laggard.

Globally, construction sector labor-productivity growth averaged 1 percent a year over the past two decades, compared with 2.8 percent for the total world economy and 3.6 percent for manufacturing. In a sample of countries analyzed, less than 25 percent of construction firms matched the productivity growth achieved in the overall economies where they work over the past decade.

It's important to note here that productivity is almost always never a good proxy for quality, but the causal factors of stifled productivity and poor quality may be shared. And while productivity remains a top priority for every industry, it is the humble opinion of this writer that continuing to argue that markets are naturally efficient as thinkers like Hegel have so staunchly done in the past, is a moot point. If you need proof, take a walk through a production grade subdivision sometime. Construction regulation was necessitated by the inefficiency and disorganization of the construction sector and its decreased focus on occupant (human) outcomes. We could get into the mire of detail regarding code and regulations and exactly how they "slow things down," but that argument is looking at the wrong end of the stick. If you're ever in Austin and up for a conversation over a beer, I'll explain the fallacies of.

Global Economy Construction Deficit

The big thing to take away here is that this lapse in productivity is currently leaving a lot of money on the table. What's even more interesting to me is that there may be some profound insight into how we improve the quality of our built environment laid up behind the premise of "productivity is broken."

Let's find out. 

The new MGI Construction Productivity Survey confirms many reasons for this poor performance. The industry is extensively regulated, very dependent on public-sector demand, and highly cyclical. Informality and sometimes corruption distort the market. Construction is highly fragmented. Contracts have mismatches in risk allocations and rewards, and often inexperienced owners and buyers find it hard to navigate an opaque marketplace. The result is poor project management and execution, insufficient skills, inadequate design processes, and underinvestment in skills development, R&D, and innovation.

This rings true. Each new degree of fragmentation in the construction industry is one more opportunity for miscommunication and potentially poor delivery. We see it all the time and that's why we're so insistent on integrated design and integrated project delivery. It's the most immediate way to bridge the gap and deliver truly high quality.

The study goes on to suggest that there are ways to improve the productivity and, if done with the right kind of thinking, I posit will improve quality at scale as well. 

Breaking Down The Proposals

Examples of innovative firms and regions suggest that acting in seven areas simultaneously could boost productivity by 50 to 60 percent. They are: reshape regulation; rewire the contractual framework to reshape industry dynamics; rethink design and engineering processes; improve procurement and supply-chain management; improve on-site execution; infuse digital technology, new materials, and advanced automation; and reskill the workforce. Parts of the industry could move toward a manufacturing-inspired mass-production system that would boost productivity up to tenfold. Industrial and infrastructure megaprojects need to instill holistic project-operating systems on-site and in design of offces. The highly non-linear and challenging nature of megaprojects underscores the difficulty of, and necessity for, moving toward an industrialized project-operating system.

Bringing this down to the residential level, I think they're 100% on the mark here with regard to improved productivity and improved quality. Here's the list of their proposed broad stroke changes across the industry for your convenience, along with my brief comments of what each could look like from a localized perspective (be the change you wish to see in the world, right?). 

Reshape Regulation

This is obviously complex and any pithy answer won't fully satiate everyone, but the trends are obvious. There are non-prescriptive standards out there, like the PHIUS+ 2015 Standard, that are almost entirely outcome focused. If this is not obvious, I'm telling you it should be. 

In Austin we've got the Austin Green Building Program, which was a pioneer program and did a lot to move the market here toward a more outcome based approach, but there's still a lot left on the table - especially in regards to the considerations of indoor air quality and energy use. To the builders and architects simply intent on moving product quickly to turn profit, programs like these are a hindrance and that's a big problem when you're talking about industry shifts. 

Something has to change and education is the most powerful tool that regulatory bodies can use to communicate financial benefits as well as human-based outcomes. Reshaping regulation is a lofty goal, but MGI is right in pointing out its necessity. 

Rewire The Contractual Framework To Reshape Industry Dynamics

Contracts are a big deal. There are great legal thinkers like Joe Basham of Allensworth & Porter, LLP. who are on the leading edge of making industry change through better contract processes and improved negotiating communications. As an industry, we need to think about how we can move toward better outcomes and thus less litigation. There is ample opportunity to get things right in delivery and contracts make a big difference in how the built environment is delivered. 

Rethink Design And Engineering Processes

There is more to say here than any of us have time for. Just look at our company, its mission, and by virtue of its existence, the very industry shift we're trying to facilitate. Of course we're focused on the residential market, but there is much to say about how MEP engineers can profoundly change health outcomes of projects if only they'd engage architects earlier and better and stick around through the CA process to ensure things are done well. The same can be said of architects willingness to rely on their consultants' expertise as a means of delivering better projects and building brand strength. 

Improve Procurement And Supply-Chain Management

This is easy to say and vastly complex and difficult to pull off. Just ask any HVAC distributor about it and you'll most likely get an ear-full of creative ideas that get lost in the shuffle of manufacturers' corporate business pacing. Much of the supply-chain management can be consolidated with panelized processes, which we're seeing more and more of with the tiny-house movement. 

Improve On-Site Execution

I can't see any other way to qualify this one except demanding honest, thorough, and quality work. Project managers need to establish the right kinds of feedback loops and inspection protocols to make certain their jobs are being delivered the right way. The study goes on to bring up a few pieces of software and throws out some jargon straight out of the Harvard Business Review, but the bottom line is that quality construction is not accomplished when processes are top heavy. We need experienced and intelligent on-site management to build a better world and it's up to construction firms to be forward thinking about their own processes. 

Also, the better the project is planned and engineered, the better the delivery can be. That should be obvious. 

Infuse Digital Technology, New Materials, And Advanced Automation

They really nailed this one. I'll simply quote them because they did such a good job.

"Companies can start by making 3D building information modeling (BIM) universal within the company alongside use of digital collaboration tools, drones, and unmanned aerial vehicles for scanning, monitoring, and mapping. They can put themselves at the cutting edge by using platforms such as 5D BIM to establish transparency in design, costing, and progress visualization; advanced analytics enabled by the Internet of Things to improve on-site monitoring of materials, labor, and equipment productivity; and digital collaboration and mobility tools (such as construction management apps loaded on mobile devices) to better track progress and collaborate in real time. On-site productivity can be increased by as much as 50 percent by implementing a cloud-based control tower that rapidly assembles accurate data in near real time that is both backward- looking and predictive (for example, using plan conformance and other variability and inventory metrics). Importantly, owners need to ensure that the right data ow through the various owner, contractor, and subcontractor systems. Big data also has a significant role to play. Techniques and data that are readily available today can produce large improvements in the accuracy of cost and schedule estimates as well as engineering productivity. Developing new lightweight materials and construction methodologies such as prefabricated pre- finished volumetric construction can further facilitate off-site fabrication. Advanced automated equipment and tools such as bricklaying and tiling robots can accelerate on-site execution. The introduction of predictive analytics and pattern recognition has enabled far more sophisticated monitoring of construction projects; one example is the network of sensors installed to track the impact of tunneling works for London’s Crossrail project. MGI’s productivity survey indicated that the biggest barriers to innovation by construction companies are underinvestment in IT and technology more broadly, and a lack of R&D processes. Establishing innovation of officers can make a difference for technology adoption."

The big caveat here is that in a vacuum, this piece of the puzzle is useless. We need integrated project teams to pull any of this off. Revit is a big deal for us, but without good project team integration it would be useless. 

Reskill The Workforce

Again, they summarized this one nicely. 

"Change in the construction sector cannot be achieved without investment in retooling a workforce that is aging and changing its makeup through migration. Construction firms and workers need to continuously reskill and train to use the latest equipment and digital tools. In the mix should be apprenticeship programs such as the one run by Siemens in the United Kingdom, training frontline workers in core skills that are currently underdeveloped; and increasing stability in the workforce by breaking seasonality and cyclicality."

If you're not learning, you're not growing. And to say "Son, I've been doing this for 30 years" is absolutely not a credential when the fundamental building physics have changed so much in that time-span. 

Wrapping Up

Overall, this was a really excellent and insightful study. My biggest disappointment is that their metrics do not look at quality of the built environment as much of a metric of progress as productivity. Of course I'd love to see mention of passive house degrees of progress as their end-goal, just like many of us are pushing for here with Passive House Austin.  HOPEFULLY the proposals they've laid out, if achieved, have the unintended side-effect of quality. Regardless, the study is thought-provoking and is a great reminder of how big our role is in the global economy as actors in the AEC industry. What we do has serious implications world-wide.

As thinkers in the industry it's important to stay on the forefront of where things are headed. We'll continue to bring you digested thoughts on studies just like these. 

Ming Rebrands Positive Energy by Positive Energy

Kristof asked his daughter, Ming, to take a stab at drawing our logo. Here's what she came up with:

Ming Positive Energy Logo

We talk a lot about human factored building design, but what about the humans doing the science too? We think she's onto something here. Humans designing (and science-ing) for humans. It's how we're building the future together.

And last but not least, Ming's class took on the task of writing and performing a jingle for the company. We present in full, the new Positive Energy jingle. 

Design Around People, A Good Building Follows by Positive Energy

The illustrious and ever gracious Robert Bean coined this phrase and we've adopted it as a rallying slogan. It's absolutely true, too. When human occupancy is the primary focus, we drop the pretense of oculocentrism and we prioritize what matters. If human beings can't thrive in their spaces (especially their homes), then what exactly are we delivering to society via the built environment? 

Design Around People, A Good Building Follows

Foresight & The Built Environment by Positive Energy

Greetings building science enthusiasts, Michael (Miguel) here writing down a few musings for your edification and leisure. 

Our colleague Bill Aylor over at Lake|Flato recently sent us a fantastic interview featured in Doggerel (a site run by Arup, a global firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants) on the Future of The Built Environment. In the interview, Dr. Gereon Uerz, a sociologist and consultant, unpacks the idea of corporate foresight and how it can be used as a strategy for making positive change in the way the built environment is designed and delivered. If you've got the time to read the article, I highly recommend it. If you don't have time to read it, here are a few takeaways that impacted me as they relate to Positive Energy. The quotes herein are pulled from Dr. Uerz's interview. 

What Is Corporate Foresight?

Corporate foresight provides evidence-based ideas about possible future developments based on ongoing trends. It gathers and analyzes information about things going on within a society and on a global level, then uses this information for business operations, especially in the fields of innovation, strategy, change management, and risk analysis.

There is a heavy trend in business the last few decades pushing for more data driven decision making. And for our purposes, we're talking about the data that speaks to a necessity for better, higher quality buildings. This trend hasn't fully made it to the larger construction market yet.

Cheap tract homes and suburbanization are in rapid expansion mode across the US, homogenizing architecture and lowering the bar for construction quality. Health problems caused by indoor environmental issues are only just beginning to make their public debut. And yet for many professionals, the only data driving decision making in design and on job sites are first cost. Foresight strategy likely hasn't proliferated into the AEC industry because old guard practices are comfortable and because it's difficult to fully understand the global implications of first-cost driven decision making. It's become normalized to "value engineer" which actually means "removing otherwise crucial pieces of a building for more expensive countertops and the like." 

But there are those of us who are the vanguard. There are a brave few who are weathering the tide to build profitable business operations around better decision making, prioritizing data driven decisions (like better air quality, energy usage, etc.) that are also profitable to the future of our ecological and societal positions. It's an aberrant thing to do, but the tipping point is now well within in range. People are telling/hearing countless stories of health impacts from houses that made them sick. We're better understanding the ecological impacts of our building practices more and more every day. It's a new industry milieu and it's a big deal.

How Does Positive Energy Fit Into The Equation?

We see ourselves at Positive Energy as an avid user of corporate foresight strategy. We've used it to do something a bit odd in the residential construction market - to deliver high quality and thorough HVAC designs and to verify that the systems get installed correctly.

On most residential projects, the HVAC design is left to installers and is almost an afterthought. Project economics have squeezed the delivery process of a building into this shape because nobody was challenging it. We're disrupting the notion that mechanical engineers should not be involved in custom residential markets simply because the old market dynamics dictated such. We're breaking into the habitual mind of architects, installers, builders, and by proxy, homeowners. 

This idea didn't come to life from some vague intuition or a gamble on entrepreneurial ambition. We've built our business by absorbing data points from a wide range of industries and market trends. We've consumed information intensely and it has shaped our perspective on the world - specifically regarding the built environment. Since our business was founded, we focused that perspective of the industry into an incubator of innovation. We knew we needed a deep knowledge of building science and we knew we had to keep the lights on in the office. We could offer that perspective and depth of knowledge somehow, although we didn't necessarily know how it would pan out. So we experimented with the business model... a lot.  

In the past we offered deep energy retrofits, testing services, owners representative services, building science consulting, enclosure consulting, mechanical consulting, HERS ratings, passive house rating, etc. We were trying to see what would really stick and what had staying power. It took a moment to settle in (7+ years trying to find that signature service that worked for everyone), but our use of foresight strategy paid off. We have since created a great service and profitable business that challenges the status quo, leaving serious questions with our clientele - questions about what what we're doing with the built environment. And we'll continue to use this strategy to innovate and bring more services to market that are not only useful, but crucial. 

We like to think that our foresight strategy works both internally to encourage innovation, but also at the market/industry levels to use that innovation for better built outcomes. 

If you do foresight, you are not just exceeding the usual time horizon of a company, but challenging some of its core assumptions. You’re not there to provide answers; you’re there to address the most relevant questions. You do a good job if the people who commissioned you end up with one more question than they had before. If they have one more answer, it’s what they want and expect, but I don’t think you’ve done a good job. Because when you’re talking about tomorrow, well, they’re not there yet, and you’re just groping in the dark. If you shine light on some areas that are just emerging and ask “What could that mean for you?” you’re doing a good job.

Integrated Mechanical Design

My hopeful assumption is that Positive Energy's efforts in bringing Integrated Mechanical Design to market has not only created the question Dr. Uerz wants asked, but also answers at least part of it. Our company's rhetoric is designed to leave with architecture firms the idea that more is possible, sensible, and reasonable. And our Integrated Mechanical Design service provides architecture firms with a means to bridge the gap. 

We want to help projects reduce risk and overall cost by shifting the way budgets are utilized. For now, we're using our IMD service to make transactional and positive changes for residential projects by helping architects and their clients prioritize the budget by encouraging data driven decision making. If you could cut 25ish square feet of your total floor plan to free up enough budget to ensure that the health and comfort delivery system of your home are designed and installed well, wouldn't that make sense? And by using the same foresight strategy, we're currently developing energy modeling services that will help projects make better systems decisions before it's too late to go back and change things without incurring major costs. If you could know more accurately how much solar PV you needed, wouldn't you want to save that money and use it elsewhere in the budget? 

Telling or even insinuating to architects and their clients that their budget priorities are misaligned with reality is not often a fun conversation. And not every architect gets it nor agrees. But there are those who do. They're paying attention to global trends. They're trusting their consultants to make decisions with expertise. 

It hasn't been easy, but the fundamental motivation for our building such an unusual business is quite simple actually. We want to transform the way that the built environment is delivered. In the long-term sense we want to usher in a new practical philosophy in our industry - prioritizing design and integrated project delivery as a means to improve how buildings affect occupants. Unlike other industries, we have the unique position to make an incredibly lasting impact. Whether that impact is good for society or bad is riding on all our shoulders.

The Future

The built environment has long planning cycles, there’s a huge investment that goes into it, and almost all ongoing megatrends — demographic change, urbanization, digitization, sustainability — are highly relevant. The leverage that you have is much bigger than in the consumer goods industry or others that operate on very short cycles.

While the road less traveled pioneering our way into residential engineering has been somewhat lonely and daunting, Positive Energy is seeing real results. We have not only begun to make changes here in Austin via our IMD service, but we've also positioned ourselves to scale the business beyond our local market. We're excited for what the future holds and we truly see each of our clients as a crucial part of that. If we can make good design decisions together and coordinate project delivery together, we can really lead the market and, in some ways, the industry together.

The trends aren't going away. Cities are growing and changing. Codes are changing. Home building is changing and the demands are more stringent. The planet is changing and we've got to be good stewards.

If you don't think we're telling the truth, look at the science on indoor air quality. Look at what the economists and sociologists are saying about demographic trends. Look at the transition underway in the energy sector. Look beyond short-term politics at the critical mass that our planet will hit as we urbanize and our population tops. We've entered an age where building science really matters. It matters because people want data to back up their decisions. It matters because those same people are going to be living in the buildings we're talking about and that is an immersive experience. If they're immersed in crap, the health and comfort outcomes are going to be crap. 

Only together can we keep that from happening and build a better future for society and the planet. At Positive Energy, we're confident that we can do it. I hope you'll join us in that rally cry.

One final thought from Dr. Uerz:

Buildings and infrastructure can provide ecosystem services just like nature does, but we don’t know to what extent, where it is applicable, and what solutions are already available... Since we aren’t going to stop covering the earth’s surface with infrastructure and buildings, we need to think really hard about how to make this beneficial in terms of services. If the built environment does nothing other than just accommodate people or host cars, it’s a missed opportunity.

This is history in the making and none of us know exactly what it looks like, but we shouldn't miss this opportunity. Let's get to work. 

The Building Science Philosophical Society - Jan 19 - Science of Sustainability by Positive Energy

The Science of Sustainability 

A building occupies a volume of the earth's atmosphere that we alter to suit our needs.

How we think about our world impacts the goals we set and the decisions we make.  As professionals engaged in the process of delivering homes and buildings to society, we are both influencers and the decision makers. As such our understanding and perspective matters a lot.

How do the decisions we make on one level (site, shelter) impact the outcomes on other levels (global resource/energy use)? 

Join us for an introduction to the science of sustainability - a set of accurate and realistic accounting principles necessary to evaluate buildings and their impacts, including all the resources required for their construction, maintenance and use over time. One that can quantitatively account for the way that people, buildings, societies and culture co-evolve. 


The Building Science Philosophical Society


Topic

The Science of Sustainability 

Where

Lake|Flato Austin Office
1711-C E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78702

When

Thursday, January 19, 2017 

What To Bring

Your beverage of choice. Snacks will be provided, endless beer will not. 

Holiday Tips From Positive Energy - Part 2 by Positive Energy

We hope you have a peaceful holiday season, filled with warmth, safety, and a rekindled passion for building science and good engineering.

We Look Forward To Your Business in 2017

Positive Energy wrapped up its busiest and best year to date and we couldn't be more excited about 2017. We're ready to take on your project's mechanical design and help you deliver excellent results for your clients. 

Holiday Tips From Positive Energy - Part 1 by Positive Energy

We hope you have a peaceful holiday season, filled with warmth, safety, and a rekindled passion for building science and good engineering.

Stay Safe & Stay Warm

Now that we've wound down a busy, wild year, let's take this holiday season to connect with our loved ones and prepare ourselves to get back out and change the way the built environment is delivered in 2017. We've done great work this year and we're proud of it. We're confident that next year will be even better. 

Solar Possibilities | The Building Science Philosophical Society by Positive Energy

Greetings Building Science Enthusiasts!  It's that time again. Join us for the next Building Science Philosophical Society meeting on Thursday, November 12 from 4:30 - 6:00PM at Positive Energy headquarters. Our friends from PCI Solar will lead us in a discussion on solar possibilities from an engineering perspective.  Show up. Bring libations. Activate brain. Discuss with friends!  BYOB 11.10.16 (click for calendar invite) Positive Energy's Office (click for directions)  And if you haven't heard our Halloween special short podcast episode yet, trust me you don't want to miss it! Looking forward to seeing you all there. 

Greetings Building Science Enthusiasts! 

It's that time again. Join us for the next Building Science Philosophical Society meeting on Thursday, November 12 from 4:30 - 6:00PM at Positive Energy headquarters. Our friends from PCI Solar will lead us in a discussion on solar possibilities from an engineering perspective. 

Show up. Bring libations. Activate brain. Discuss with friends! 

BYOB
11.10.16 (click for calendar invite)
Positive Energy's Office (click for directions) 

And if you haven't heard our Halloween special short podcast episode yet, trust me you don't want to miss it! Looking forward to seeing you all there. 

We Are Proud To Sponsor Four Homes On The 2016 AIA Homes Tour by Positive Energy

What You Don't See Matters

At Positive Energy, we take pride in delivering engineering excellence through our signature Integrated Mechanical Design services. We partner with the best architects in the world to ensure that their residential projects have both health and comfort delivered. Clients expect it and it's not easy to do. And this year, we're proud to have offered our expertise in Design, Building Science Consulting, and Performance Testing for four homes on this year's AIA Homes Tour. We couldn't be more proud to announce that we're sponsoring these four homes. They each exhibit excellence and a unique Austin style. 

Take a peek at the homes we're sponsoring and be sure to drop by and say hello on the tour October 15/16.

Photography © http://www.leonidfurmansky.com, courtsey of  AIA Austin


Webber + Studio, Architects

909 Columbus Street

This new home was designed for a family of four on a small lot that appeared unbuildable given an enormous pair of Live Oak trees and their critical root zones. The resultant buildable area accommodated a pair of volumes connected by a spatial isthmus creating a barbell shaped footprint. The pair of inside corners provides diagonal views between a corresponding pair of outdoor zones: the public front and the private back corners of the site. The house reflects the personalities of the pair of owners. Plywood interior wall surfaces and stained concrete floors are warm and relaxed, reflecting her hard-working earthiness in contrast with his techy entrepreneurialism, reflected in the scrappy but resourceful ‘bar-code’ exterior siding pattern.

Project Type: New Construction
Size: 1,700 square feet


Tornbjerg Design

3301 Perry Lane

This case study originated as a remodel of a 1951 ranch-style house. However, it was determined that remodeling would not be feasible due to highly expansive soils. Rather than demolishing the home, it was donated to a family of 14 and relocated to Bertram, Texas. The new structure was sited to maximize shading and breezes and utilized a pier/beam foundation to minimize site impacts. Construction began with a comprehensive holistic approach, and a number of components were utilized to generate an environment which improves occupant health and wellness. The home is highly energy efficient, provides healthy indoor air quality through reduction of VOCs, as well as long-term durability and visual comfort with emphasis on connections between indoors and outdoors. Conservation of resources was achieved through efficient and thoughtful use of space resulting in a smaller building footprint. The residential design also serves as a model for universal design and accessibility.

Project Type: New Construction
ize: 2,700 square feet


Rauser Design

907 Mansell Avenue

The client’s directive for durability and simplicity dovetailed nicely into the architect’s fixation with Dr. Joe Lstiburek’s concept of The Perfect Wall (also called The 500 Year Wall). This physics-based building-science concept pushes the air, vapor, and thermal control layers to the outside of the structure, eliminating the need for insulation in wall and roof cavities and allowing the structure to be expressed. The framing is shielded from the exterior extremes of temperature and humidity, which protects it for generations as if it were furniture. Responding to the building science and the projected longevity of the structure, the design uses a static, simple geometry and materials with long life-spans that age gracefully. Finish layers are reduced to their minimum: subfloor is exposed as flooring and ceiling, shiplap pine separates interior rooms, stair treads become bookshelves. The siting is a result of the surrounding heritage pecan trees as much as it is of the current and future neighborhood context.

Project Type: New Construction
Size: 1,450 square feet


Mell Lawrence Architects

4506 Balcones Drive

Sculptural concrete forms contain uncluttered living spaces in this home with separate guest house for a creative family of three. Private spaces and a large screened porch upstairs feature panoramic views. A 7-to-8-foot overhang wraps all the way around to control solar gain in warm months. Downstairs, a continuous perimeter space encircles a four-sided box containing the pantry, bathroom, coat closet and the stairway. Public spaces such as kitchen, living, dining spaces spin outward from the southwest corner, while a media room in the opposite corner acts as a cozy gathering area. Landscaping is all low maintenance, with new trees planted that will eventually surround the house.

Project Type: New Construction
Size: 3,798 square feet

9 Principles Of Integrated Project Delivery by Positive Energy

Our mission at Positive Energy is simple - we want to change the way the built environment is delivered. Part of that transformation happens when we work through projects differently, emphasizing the strengths of each key player involved. It's not always easy, but it makes sense. And the AIA knows this too. They have a name for this process and have even laid out fundamental principles to move it along. 

It's important that we all know these principles, infuse them in our process, and use them to strengthen and benefit our projects. Our Integrated Mechanical Designs are performed with these principles woven into each decision made along the way. It's a no brainer. Here are the fundamental principles of Integrated Project Delivery as defined by the AIA (California Council). 

1. Mutual Respect & Trust. 

Mutual Respect & Trust. In an integrated project, owner, designer, consultants, constructor, subcontractors and suppliers understand the value of collaboration and are committed to working as a team in the best interests of the project. 

2. Mutual Benefit & Reward.

Mutual Benefit & Reward. All participants or team members benefit from IPD. Because the integrated process requires early involvement by more parties, IPD compensation structures recognize and reward early involvement. Compensation is based on the value added by an organization and it rewards “what’s best for project” behavior, such as by providing incentives tied to achieving project goals. Integrated projects use innovative business models to support collaboration and efficiency. 

3. Collaborative Innovation & Decision Making.

Collaborative Innovation & Decision Making. Innovation is stimulated when ideas are freely exchanged among all participants. In an integrated project, ideas are judged on their merits, not on the author’s role or status. Key decisions are evaluated by the project team and, to the greatest practical extent, made unanimously. 

4. Early Involvement of Key Participants.

Early Involvement of Key Participants. In an integrated project, the key participants are involved from the earliest practical moment. Decision making is improved by the influx of knowledge and expertise of all key participants. Their combined knowledge and expertise is most powerful during the project’s early stages where informed decisions have the greatest effect. 

5. Early Goal Definition.

Early Goal Definition. Project goals are developed early, agreed upon and respected by all participants. Insight from each participant is valued in a culture that promotes and drives innovation and outstanding performance, holding project outcomes at the center within a framework of individual participant objectives and values. 

6. Intensified Planning.

Intensified Planning. The IPD approach recognizes that increased effort in planning results in increased efficiency and savings during execution. Thus the thrust of the integrated approach is not to reduce design effort, but rather to greatly improve the design results, streamlining and shortening the much more expensive construction effort. 

7. Open Communication.

Open Communication. IPD’s focus on team performance is based on open, direct, and honest communication among all participants. Responsibilities are clearly defined in a no-blame culture leading to identification and resolution of problems, not determination of liability. Disputes are recognized as they occur and promptly resolved. 

8. Appropriate Technology.

Appropriate Technology. Integrated projects often rely on cutting edge technologies. Technologies are specified at project initiation to maximize functionality, generality and interoperability. Open and interoperable data exchanges based on disciplined and transparent data structures are essential to support IPD. Because open standards best enable communications among all participants, technology that is compliant with open standards is used whenever available. 

9. Organization & Leadership.

Organization & Leadership. The project team is an organization in its own right and all team members are committed to the project team’s goals and values. Leadership is taken by the team member most capable with regard to specific work and services. Often, design professionals and contractors lead in areas of their traditional competence with support from the entire team, however specific roles are necessarily determined on a project-by-project basis. Roles are clearly defined, without creating artificial barriers that chill open communication and risk taking.

Comfort With A View - Building Science Philosophical Society by Positive Energy

Greetings building science enthusiasts! 

Now that we're well into summer and it's scorching hot outside, we should talk about heat and windows. We've all seen those little stickers that come on new windows, but what do they mean? 

Join us Thursday July 28 at the offices of Building Exterior Solutions as architect Adam Pyrek of The University of Texas School of Architecture and CINCO Labs leads a discussion. We'll break down what NFRC window stickers mean, how your windows' U Factors are tested, how they affect you and your clients. We'll even have a live window testing hot box so you can come kick the tires (not literally, but you get it). 

You won't want to miss this one!

What?
Comfort With A View - led by Adam Pyrek

Where? 
3709 Promontory Point Drive, Suite 206 | Austin, TX 78744

When? 
Thursday, July 28, 2016
4:30 - 6:00PM

Why?
Because discussing the built environment is crucial!

How?
Bring your own beer and an open mind for the best possible experience.

buildingsciencephilosophicalsociety

PHAUS Austin Chapter by Positive Energy

We are very proud of the efforts of the local PHAUS chapter here in Austin. Do yourself a favor and read a message from the president, Eric Griffin. You may recognize him because he's one of our very own here at Positive Energy! Check out the organization's website here

"Austin is an intelligent, thoughtful, vibrant and progressive city that in many ways has lead the nation in local energy efficiency standards and high performance construction.  However, engaging the community and creating a Passive House culture in a hot and humid climate has been a challenge. As conventional dialogue for high performance buildings has focused on heating dominated climates with minimal consideration of hot and humid climates with substantial cooling loads, the old Passive House standard was a non-starter for the design and construction leaders in our market.  Thankfully, PHIUS released the PHIUS+2015 building standard, which has reinvigorated our chapter. There's finally a climate zone appropriate, economically justified, performance based reason to re-think your perception of Passive House. We all understand that thoughtful design and implementation of building science principles is imperative for successful outcomes for owners and occupants in humid climates, finally there's a Passive House organization that does, too." 

Building Science Philosophical Society Meeting Announcement by Positive Energy

Our homes and buildings are complex systems of systems that have a significant impact on our lives -code requirements for their design and construction directly impact our health, our comfort, our safety and our bank accounts.  

Please join us for our next Building Science Philosophical society meeting next Thursday on 4/7, where the matter at hand turns to something we all have an opinion about - building codes*.

Strong, well-designed, effectively enforced building codes can save lives, save energy and reduce resource use. It's also true that building to code minimum standards leads to the worst building that can be legally built.

Complicating the question of Codes is that there are now a host of beyond-Code programs to choose from - see the icons below. Even assuming the "perfect" code, the elephant-in-the-room is effective enforcement. Beyond all this, how do shifting societal values and owner/occupant preferences affect this mix? 

Please join us for a lively and thoughtful discussion... It's even rumored that our local Austin Energy Code 'Czar' will be on hand to share his thoughts and opinions!

 

BYOB

Thursday, 4/7/16 

Positive Energy

1206 B South 3rd

Austin, TX 78704
 

*The emphasis for this discussion will be on those building code provisions that specifically impact the long term performance (health, comfort, energy use, durability) of the building. 

Sustainability Through Integrated Design - COTE San Antonio Event! by Positive Energy

C

Integration Matters - Integrated Project Design and Delivery

Is “Integrated” the new Green? The term is appearing everywhere. What does it signify for the industry and what does it mean for you? Prominent in the modern architectural lexicon, Integrated project delivery (IPD), Integrated design process (IDP) and Integrated design teams (IDT), all have a common aspiration - achieving multiple simultaneous positive outcomes through a process of expanding the project team’s understanding of interlocking impacts.  

Applied to buildings, the core meaning of integrated points to two key categories of outcomes that represent the why we pursue and this approach. 

They are: (1) human factors - a healthy, safe, comfortable indoor environment to support the occupants productivity and well-being; and, (2) societal factors - reduced resource and energy impact to support the owners/operators desire for reduced maintenance and long terms cost of ownership (as well as societal goals as expressed by Codes). 

How we approach the project delivery process is to integrate desired outcomes from four interlocking aspects of the project: (1) the architectural vision for the building; (2) the human factors of health, comfort and well-being; (3) the design of the enclosure; and, (4) the strategy for climate zone appropriate mechanical systems. A mutual and sympathetic understanding of these four facets leads to success in achieving project goals. 

What we are integrating is a project delivery approach. Specifically a project delivery approach that harnesses the expertise and perspective of the entire team of stakeholders to optimize project outcomes so that they increase value to the owner and occupants, while reducing resource use through maximizing efficiency. 

Please join us for this workshop and discussion to learn about and share thoughts on building design and delivery.

 

2016 ACI National Home Performance Conference & Trade Show by Positive Energy

The 2016 ACI National Home Performance Conference and Trade Show is coming to Austin, TX April 4-7! Mark your calendar and make your plans to join us for an exciting experience, from the best educational agenda in home performance and weatherization to networking opportunities like none other. This conference is being held at the Hilton Austin in the heart of downtown.

Click here for more information.

There is also an offer to volunteer to staff the event and get a free admission(!). These volunteer slots are limited so act fast if you want one. If interested contact Bethany Dittmar.