NESEA Conference 2024 Takeaways

Apr 29, 2024 | news

Our team headed to Boston in mid-March to participate in the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s (NESEA) BuildingEnergy Boston conference focused on climate resilience. The event brought together over 1,000 industry leaders and professionals to share ideas and discuss high-performance building and design, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. We came away excited by the presentations and discussions, ideas, and the new connections we made. The posts below by Keaton Hankus and Hunter Davis include some of their takeaways from the conference. 

Defining Your Role in the Sustainability Movement: What Practices Can Provide a Greater Impact?

By Keaton Hankus

The NESEA event was filled with bright minds, all sharing a genuine passion for sustainability. There was a sense of community and purpose in the room of such like-minded people. The common goal of a greener future was apparent. I was happy to represent our firm and showcase our dedication to creating high-performing buildings. I believe the modern architect has a duty to push boundaries, shape our future, and inform our clients of sustainable practices. In doing so, we must always be aware of new concepts and technologies. Among many other organizations, NESEA has created a close community devoted to sharing the latest and greatest in the world of sustainability.

Throughout the event, I was fascinated by the diversity of professions and their reasons for attending. I attended this event with the lens of an architect, looking for cutting-edge building methods and materials. However, the concept of sustainability extends much beyond the world of architecture. The push for sustainability spreads through many disciplines, reaching many aspects of our modern ecosystem.

A greener society requires change at all scales and involves expertise from a collective of professions. Topics of discussion ranged from the tiniest details of a building to the amelioration of an entire city’s infrastructure. The mission towards a more efficient society is a challenge with much depth. However, we can push the needle in the right direction with everyone doing their part. As the scale of this issue varies, anyone who supports the green initiative should define their role in supporting it. What can I do as a residential architect? How can I design a more efficient building? Where do I find the best resources? I must utilize my knowledge in architecture to leverage a change in how we design.

In my focus on sustainability in the context of small-scale architecture, I was drawn to the discussions on building envelopes. I had sat through several presentations about efficient HVAC systems and found they must be paired with an effective envelope. The building could have great systems, but it will not make a difference if the envelope leaks. Airtightness is found to be the best way to maximize efficiency. There is a great deal of detailing that comes with an airtight building, but when paired with a high R-value and efficient systems, it is proven to be successful.

It was reiterated that creating an airtight building envelope requires precision at every design and construction stage. Each step plays a crucial role in achieving optimal airtightness, from selecting the right materials to ensuring seamless sealing of joints and connections. It is important not to rush high-performing buildings. They might be more time-consuming, but there is a high-quality outcome in return. Homes today are often constructed with a focus on speed and cost efficiency rather than longevity. This way of building is short-term and does not withstand the test of time. Building operations contribute to 28% of the world’s CO2 emissions. These inefficient homes demand more energy while continuing to waste it. Taking the time to design a home with the proper materials and techniques can significantly extend the life span of a home and contribute to less energy consumption.

There were many key takeaways from the NESEA event. I enjoyed learning about green initiatives in different forms and exploring sustainable practices in different contexts. I discovered useful information that relates directly to the projects I will be working on. I came back from this event inspired and ready to apply what I had learned. There are many intelligent people behind the sustainability movement who continue to advocate for efficient practices. In my role as an architectural designer, I will continue to enforce the need for high-performing buildings.

Optimizing Mechanical Systems and Flood Risk Preparation—Actionable Takeaways from NESEA Sessions

By Hunter Davis

This year’s NESEA conference was both educational and inspiring. I took away two key insights from this that could significantly impact our work. The first is the potential for optimizing our mechanical systems to enhance building performance and save costs. The second is the growing importance of preparing for future flood risks.

Optimizing mechanical systems
Mechanical systems’ performance in providing energy savings and indoor quality has drastically improved and will continue to improve. Designing a sufficient mechanical system starts by identifying the use and goals of the building. By doing so, we can understand exactly where the energy will be used and ensure that the design of the system will reach the energy goals and quality of the indoor space.

Different strategies presented at the conference involve recovering energy being lost and storing the energy produced for future use. For example, Resilient Design for Facilities, Communities, and Climate, presented by Nancy Hanright, Tracey Weeden, Jess Farber, and Nicole Voss, optimized the use of geothermal energy to reduce the energy loads of the heat pump and domestic hot water within a healthcare facility. This change allowed them to avoid adding fossil fuels to the building and resulted in a 40% increase in efficiency. They also document a reduction in noise and the space required to store the mechanical equipment. Also, they were able to design the system to achieve their goals of going “green” and creating a patient-centered design.

In another presentation, A Practical Approach to Understanding, Managing, and Reducing Your Building’s Emission, Ariana Axelrod and Gregory Gilson discussed the importance of identifying the existing building’s energy use. They utilize a scoring system called BERDO to set an initial score for the building, from which an assessment of potential Energy Conservation Measures (ECM) can be done. These ECMs can strategically increase efficiency and decrease environmental impact.

Both presentations demonstrated how we can make decisions to reduce our energy consumption early in the project. They also called attention to the mechanical system’s life after the project had completed construction, with both presentations continuously measuring and monitoring the mechanical systems to ensure that the designed systems produced the intended results.

Importance of preparing for future flood risks
The keynote presentation, Climate Change: What Will You Do When Your Project Floods, presented by Elaine Hoffman, Jennifer Johnson, and Patrick Murphy, focused on flood protection goals and different design options to implement. They highlighted the importance and urgency of mitigating the risks that come with flooding, especially considering the increase in 100- and 500-year floods, and stressed focusing not only on one’s own site but on neighboring sites as well to benefit the community. The team described their goal to reduce the impact of pollution that travels downstream when a flood occurs. They also discussed how we can reduce the impact of the watershed (rainwater) on our site by preserving existing tree canopies and increasing the number of mature canopies. By designing our site and buildings to be flexible, efficient, and adaptable, we can drastically reduce the damage caused by floods.

In summary, I’m eager to apply the strategies I’ve learned to optimize our energy use and design our sites and buildings to withstand the increasing flood risks of the climate crisis. And I look forward to contributing to a cleaner, greener future.