Author Archives: Sean Meehan

About Sean Meehan

Principal at the ADMG Companies an architecture and construction firm in Orange County, CA. Nature Boy, gator Fan, Science Nerd, Runner.

Making Sense of Sustainable Building

Sean Meehan, Architect, LEED AP, ADMG

The concept of sustainability in architecture is an ancient idea.  Roman architect Vitruvius wrote the Ten Books on Architecture, the earliest reference book on building science.  Over 2000 years old, his writings cover a variety of topics but include many concepts encompassed by sustainability today.  In fact, prior to building technologies such as air conditioning and electric lighting, most buildings throughout history would generally be considered sustainable by modern standards.

But what exactly is a sustainable building?  In contemporary terms, sustainability (or green building) encompasses a wide range of concepts, all with the main objective of reducing a structure’s impact on the environment.  Typical strategies include locating the building appropriately on the site, reducing water use and energy consumption, and utilizing safe, local and easily renewed construction materials.

In recent years, sustainability has evolved to include voluntary measures like product certifications and building rating systems, as well as mandatory requirements that are now found in both state and local building codes.  Whether voluntary or mandatory, most sustainability measures carry an increased upfront cost but are offset by substantial long-term savings on energy costs and other financial incentives.  Navigating that cost vs. benefit analysis on a typical building project can be a confusing and time-consuming endeavor.

The good news is that sustainability is a grassroots movement at heart.  It starts with simple things like recycling waste, limiting our use of water both indoors and out, and unplugging small appliances and electronics when not in use.  The even better news is that these easy sustainability measures save money as well!

If you are considering a building project and want to get the biggest return on your sustainability dollar, hire an experienced professional.  They can guide you through the decision-making process when comparing various certifications, rating systems and incentives, while identifying what measures will be most effective and appropriate for your project.  Ultimately, efficiency and economy are the goals of sustainability, and saving money while saving the environment is something we can all feel good about.

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Savings by Design – Incentivized Green Building

Sean Meehan, Architect, LEED AP, ADMG

Savings by Design

The concept of sustainability in architecture has been around for quite a long time. Frank Lloyd Wright’s notion of ‘organic architecture’ advocated the use of local materials, providing adequate ventilation, and breaking down the interior-exterior barrier by maximizing daylighting and views. Even the US Green Building Council, and its LEED green building rating system, has been around for well over a decade. Sustainability remains a hot topic in the industry, and in California sustainability measures have even been mandated by the Code with the recent adoption of the California Green Building Code.

Another sustainability program unique to California is the Savings by Design program. This is a statewide energy efficiency program, tailored to non-residential projects, that is funded by the Public Purpose Program surcharges to gas and electric bills. The nice thing about Savings by Design is that it is an incentive program – both Owners and Design Teams may receive monetary incentives (yes…in the form of a check!) for their participation in the program, based on the type of energy efficiency approach employed, as well as the amount of energy savings that are realized.

Much like the Energy Performance credits in LEED, Savings by Design has two main approaches – either a whole-building energy model, or a systems/prescriptive approach. The incentives available with the whole-building approach are greater, but so too will be the design costs to the owner, and likely also the construction costs. The whole building approach needs to be implemented in the very earliest stages of design to be feasible, and makes sense for larger, more complicated projects. The systems approach is appropriate for smaller buildings, and may be incorporated later in the project, where the specification of higher efficiency building systems and envelope assemblies may satisfy the program’s requirements.

The Savings by Design program employs full time energy efficiency specialists to assist Owners and Design Teams throughout the process. For more information on the Savings by Design program, check out their website. Here you will find FAQs, program brochures and applications, as well as links, resources, and past award-winning projects that have utilized the program.

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The Importance of Project Closeout

Sean Meehan, LEED AP, ADMG

As a typical construction project nears completion, the project team is usually inundated with many last minute issues that threaten to derail the completion of the project.  Often, the team has to commit so many resources towards meeting the deadline, that the administrative elements of project closeout may be neglected.  I will review the basics of project closeout, and their importance to the project in terms of mitigating risk and ensuring smooth operation of the facility.

  • Substantial Completion – The term ‘Substantial Completion’ generally implies that a project is sufficiently complete that an Owner can occupy or utilize the work for its intended use.  However, substantial completion is typically a specifically defined contract term that requires numerous conditions be met.  A typical AIA contract stipulates that the Architect will prepare a Certificate of Substantial Completion (AIA G704) that:
    • Establishes the date of Substantial Completion
    • Establishes the responsibilities of the Owner and GC for security, maintenance, utilities, damage to the work and insurance.
    • Fix the time that the GC has to finish all remaining items on a punch list accompanying the certificate.
    • Establishes the commencement of Warranties.
    • Must be accepted by the Owner and GC in writing, and upon acceptance, the Owner is to pay retainage applying to such work (adjusting for work that is incomplete).
  • Final Completion – Again, more so than meaning that the obligations of the contract have been fully performed, there are specific responsibilities established for this critical step in most construction contracts (always refer to your construction contract for specifics).  A typical AIA A201 requires:
    •  The GC to request final inspection in writing
    •  The GC to prepare final Application for Payment
    •  Architect to make inspection and issue final Certificate of Payment
    •  Neither final payment nor retained percentage shall become due until GC         submits:
      • Affidavit that payrolls and other indebtedness have been paid.
      • A certificate evidencing that insurance is in effect.
      • A written statement that the GC knows of no reason that the insurance will not be renewable.
      • Consent of surety.
      • Releases of waivers and liens.
  • Notice of Completion– While not a typical element of a construction contract, a Notice of Completion is an important tool for the Owner to mitigate risk.  In California, a Notice of Completion:
    •  Is to be recorded in the office of the county recorder within 10 days of final         completion.
    • Limits timeframe for a Mechanic’s Lien to be filed to 60 days for prime contractors and 30 days for subcontractors.

We should all endeavor to adhere to closeout procedures carefully to ensure that conditions of the contract are met.  The AIA has a series of free best practices articles on their website.  Their article on the topic has additional suggestions and anecdotes regarding this very important step in the project life cycle:  AIA – Planning for Effective Project Closeout

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Things are Heating Up

Sean Meehan, Architect, LEED AP, ADMG

Yes, the June gloom is officially gone as Southern California enters our true summer of extensive sunshine and hot temperatures.  Of course (especially here at the beach), it’s nothing like the recent heat wave which has gripped most of the south and central US.

But it’s not the temperatures I’m referring to in the title of this article.  I’m talking about fire season.  After the recent 1 million+ acres of wildfire in Arizona, including the biggest single wildfire in state history, communities everywhere need to be aware of proper home fire safety.  While most of the population in California doesn’t fall into a Very High Fire Area Severity Zone or a Wildland/Urban Interface Area and the the Code-required construction requirements that go with them, there are basic measures that we can all take on our property to protect it in the case of fire.

The basics of exterior home fire protection are simple:

1.  Defensible Space – ‘Defensible Space’ is defined by CAL FIRE as ‘the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs or any wildland area that surround it’.  This means 30’ of clear area immediately surrounding the home, and in rural areas another 70’ of ‘reduced fuel’ area to give the house 100’ of defensible space.

2.  ‘Harden’ your home – Fires spread to and between structures primarily by burning embers carried by the wind.  ‘Hardening’ your home means using fire-resistant/non-combustible materials for the exterior finishes.  This will resist the ignition of your home in the event of a fire in the area.  The roof and its related elements are the most vulnerable surfaces and non-combustible materials such as clay tile, metal panels or fiberglass shingles are preferred over wood or conventional paper-backed asphalt shingles.

There are many other guidelines, tips and checklists available to help increase wildland fire safety.  Here is a nice, easy to navigate website with home wildfire safety measures from CAL FIRE.

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Award-winning Architecture

Sean Meehan, LEED AP, ADMG

Writing these articles every month isn’t easy.  Between the various responsibilities of running a design firm, running a personal life, running through California’s endless regulations (in preparation for the California Supplemental Exam) and just plain running (literally…I’m planning on running another marathon in the fall), time is sometimes at a premium.  Whew.

So this month, I’m combining activities to save on time.  I like to surf the web and check out notable architecture projects around the country and beyond.  ADMG will be submitting one of our restaurant projects for design awards in the near future, but while we eagerly await completion…check out a few award-winning projects that others have done:

Combs Point Residence – A serene lake house in upstate New York

U.S. Land Port of Entry – U.S. Customs checkpoint on the Canadian border

John E. Jaqua Center for Student Athletes – Proof  that college sports is a big business

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People that Live in Glass Houses…

Glass technologies

Sean Meehan, LEED AP, ADMG

I recently had to move an old 37” cathode-ray tube television set down a couple flights of stairs, and my back is still recovering.  Fortunately, glazing and glass display technologies have made incredible advancements in recent years, and will likely feature heavily (but weigh less) in the built environment of the future.

I keep encountering electrochromic glazing in hotels, allowing users to control the privacy or shading function of their glazing with the flip of a switch.  While ‘smart window’ technology has been around for some time, the low quality and high price of the technology has generally precluded its widespread use.  But as the technology has matured and energy costs have risen, the incentive to make glazing do more for the building is finally becoming persuasive.

Even more innovative ideas appear to be on the horizon.  Smart glazing will likely be advanced so that it won’t just block the sun, but will incorporate solar panels to harness electricity and offset energy costs.  Another potential application is the addition of OLED lighting into glazing, allowing it to serve as a window during the day, and a light fixture at night.  Add in possible uses in the transportation sector – automotive, public transportation and aircraft glazing, and the opportunities appear to be endless.

The one application where we have all experienced recent advancements in glass technology is the touchscreen.  This application in our computing and smartphone devices has revolutionized the efficiency and simplicity of these devices, and touchscreen technologies may have a myriad of uses in the future.  Check out this recent, rather corny video from Corning (pun intended), showing some of the possibilities for the future:

A Day Made of Glass

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Filed under CONSTRUCTION, DESIGN, MATERIALS + METHODS, TECHNICAL

The Future of Retail

 

 

 

 

 

Sean Meehan, LEED AP, ADMG

An open letter to Retail projects:

Dear Retail,

We miss you.  We cherish the fond memories of partying with you just a few years ago.  You used to overwhelm us with acres of square footage, generous fees and an endless supply of tenants…and now, we would consider ourselves lucky to find a hot dog cart or a lemonade stand remodel.

Please send us a sign.  Were you kidnapped by an Amazon warrior?  Were you Netflix’d out of the picture?  Were you auctioned off into slavery on Ebay? Retail, we will not give up the search.  We are holding out hope for your safe return.

Sincerely,

ADMG

Okay, let’s be serious.  There is a glimmer of hope for retail, especially here in Southern California.  Marcus and Millichap recently released a promising 2011 retail report for San Diego, LA and Orange County.  While all of these locales have traditionally been at the top of this list due to the development restrictions inherent in California, even a slight projected strengthening is promising news.

And while some brick and mortar retailers like Blockbuster and Borders have fallen on hard times due to virtual competitors, others are poised to increase their market share.  The same report forecasts significant future development for drug stores and ‘extreme value’ retailers like Dollar General and Family Dollar.

ADMG boasts an extremely strong and diverse portfolio of retail projects, and we will be working hard to ensure we are in attendance at Retail’s big welcome back party.  Just as value is driving the decisions of the average consumer in a down economy, so too will it drive those of our clients.  Our service-oriented approach benefits both small-box and big-box retailers alike.

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