James Construction featured in the Green Building Alliance Member Spotlight

James Construction was featured in the Green Building Alliance Member Spotlight newsletter. You can read the article by following this link.

James Construction became a member of the GBA to collaborate with progressive thinking people and companies that truly believe we can change the way we think about and use buildings. GBA encourages collaboration and integration through its events and training.

Craig Stevenson, Vice President of James Construction said; “I believe that the advances we are achieving in high performance buildings, including low-energy and net-zero energy goals, are a direct result of this collaboration and integration, so GBA is a perfect fit for both me and my business. Moreover, GBA enables firms, like James Construction, to advance the Construction Management Industry in ways that have not previously been considered. Over the last few years, I has worked closely with GBA on numerous City and local sustainability initiatives.”

James Construction has been a proud member of the GBA since 2009.

AIA Pittsburgh’s Committee on the Environment (COTE) is introducing the AIA +2030™ Professional Series 2.0

aia2030_logo_tm_web2AIA Pittsburgh’s Committee on the Environment (COTE) is introducing the AIA +2030™ Professional Series 2.0. This program helps owners, design professionals, engineers, and contractors create buildings that meet the ambitious energy efficiency goals of the Architecture 2030 Challenge®. Ten, 4-hour sessions offer strategies to seek, design, deliver, and manage buildings that reach 70% or better reductions in fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions, giving design professionals, contractors, and owners the knowledge and leverage to demand and create next-generation, super-efficient buildings – and providing firms with the skills that will set them apart in the marketplace.

With 2.0, COTE builds from our highly successful 2013-14 series by incorporating a broader pool of speakers, more local case studies, and in depth tours of high-performing built projects. Content derived from the GBA 2030 Districts and Architecture 2030 videos will deepen the programming. The series will also dive deep into the significant changes the industry has seen in the last few years such as the use of analytical software to predict building energy performance. The updated program will strike a rich balance between new construction and renovation, residential and commercial, theoretical and completed, and urban and rural project types.

For more information click here, also please make sure to take a brief 8 question survey that will help tailor the classes to the participants specific goals and interests by clicking here.

Craig Stevenson has been proud to serve on the AIA+2030 Committee On The Environment for the last two years.

Natural Order of Sustainability

Passive First – Active Second – Renewables Last

It is well documented in the construction industry that building energy use accounts for 41% of total energy use in the Unites States. This opportunity creates an exciting time for anyone engaged in the built environment. New and innovative materials and equipment labeled “green technology” emerge daily and are marketed to change the way we do business. The search continues for the smoking-gun that will fix our energy consumption problem. As we implement the latest technologies, I can’t help but ask; Does this help us reach our goal of true sustainability? Does this impact climate change? Are we, in the AEC community, doing enough to reverse emission trends? The answer to me is obvious – No. The mere existence of ESCO, ESPC, and Sustainability Consultant businesses are sufficient proof that Builders and Designers have room for improvement.

When we look at buildings, we see a complex object operating dynamically. Changes to individual energy conservation measures typically do not result in directly proportional reductions to total building energy consumption. However, changes to groups of energy conservation measures typically have a compounding impact on reduction to total energy consumption. Where do we start? As it turns out, the smoking-gun is the process of how we design, build and use buildings.

This inspiration resulted in the creation of Energy Assurance™. A building-specific Energy Assurance™ plan is a game changing methodology that provides building owners the control necessary to measure and, more importantly, manage a building(s) energy consumption. Energy Assurance™ develops Energy Utilization Intensity (EUI) goals for the purpose of dramatically reducing energy consumption and delivering short, medium and long term financial returns. In most cases, Energy Assurance™ has 2-3 year payback periods, but can be customized to meet the client’s financial needs.

One of the keys to Energy Assurance™ is its commitment to the Natural Order of Sustainability, which is an energy methodology of Passive First – Active Second – Renewables Last. The Natural Order of Sustainability is a biophilic treatment of buildings as a living organism. Natural processes and designs are the standard to which we aspire. A subsequent benefit of Energy Assurance™ is that it creates an organic pathway to reach net-zero energy consumption.


Maximizing passive strategies first will reduce loads for heating and cooling systems, thereby requiring smaller and more efficient active solutions for mechanical systems. Utilizing natural triggers of new and retrofit construction make this cost feasible. Common passive building principles to optimize energy balance through the building envelope are continuous insulation, airtight compact building shape, thermal-bridge free envelope, high performance windows and doors, optimal solar orientation, shading and modest window areas to optimize moderate solar gains.


Active strategies to reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling are most effective when mechanical equipment is decoupled. Logically, planners will optimize passive space conditioning solutions as a core strategy. Common passive space conditioning solutions include an independent balanced mechanical ventilation system with heat and moisture recovery and pre-conditioning. This strategy will maximize a constant and filtered fresh air supply. Remaining peak loads can then be solved by implementing highly-efficient active systems. Active systems implemented using the Natural Order of Sustainability will be smaller due to passive load reduction strategies. Lastly, planners are challenged to manage internal loads with efficient appliances, HVAC, plumbing and lighting systems which minimize sensible and latent loads and internal gains.


Building owners who believe renewables are the smoking gun are quickly discovering that the return-on-investment for a renewable based energy efficient strategy is not financially sustainable. Passive building strategies lower the amount of operating energy in a cost effective manner by applying conservation measures first. In this way it is practical to supply all of a building’s energy needs with relatively low levels of renewable sources. Renewables in the Natural Order of Sustainability are used to offset or zero-out remaining energy consumption and carbon emissions of buildings as final strategy. Then, photovoltaic arrays and wind farms are more affordable due to their decrease in size and first-cost.

The Natural Order of Sustainability is logical. As critical enablers continue to emerge; like energy dashboards, energy disclosure ordinance, and whole building energy modeling, planners will begin to realize the hidden solutions to net zero. Net zero is possible without a financial premium and sacrificing thermal comfort using the Natural Order of Sustainability.

The Natural Order of Sustainability requires vision and patience. Optimizing life-cycle and construction triggers to implement passive strategies requires Energy Master-Planning and leadership to deeply reduce energy consumption.

The smoking gun is the process, which begins with the Natural Order of Sustainability.

For more information on Energy Assurance™, refer to

Passive Building Strategy for Commercial Buildings

The Passive House design movement has been the most effective design approach to reducing building energy use for over 25 years around the globe. Although Passive House design began in residential buildings, it is now widely used in many other building types including offices, hotels, libraries, museums, and schools. The passive building strategies developed by the Passive House Institute include a quantifiable performance standard that can be implemented in most building types. Buildings that meet this high performance building standard use dramatically (up to 80%) less energy and provide better indoor air quality and thermal comfort than those designed to conventional codes. This design approach also provides greater resiliency and survivability during extreme weather events.

Passive building strategies lower the amount of operating energy in a cost effective manner by applying conservation measures first. In this way it is practical to supply all of a building’s energy needs with relatively low levels of renewable sources. As a result, passive building strategies are the ideal foundation for net zero energy buildings.

A Passive House design relies on a few foundational principles to achieve extreme energy efficiency, comfort, and resiliency.


Passive building strategies are low-tech, with few moving parts, so buildings are durable and have minimal maintenance needs. Passive House design carefully models and balances a comprehensive set of factors—including heat emissions from appliances and occupants—to keep the building at comfortable and consistent indoor temperatures throughout the heating and cooling seasons, using as little active energy input as possible.

Passive building strategies do not radically differ from conventional building, but require special balancing and care through both the design and construction stages. The passive building designer uses software and design methods to adjust multiple variables—insulation R-values, wall construction parameters, etc.—until the design model meets the energy performance targets. Construction crews must learn and apply approaches to air sealing and thermal bridges. As a result, to assure performance, a project will undergo stringent third-party quality assurance and quality control inspections, including final testing and commissioning of the mechanical systems.

Passive building strategies do not dictate an aesthetic—they have been successfully applied in traditional as well as contemporary and minimalist designs.

Larger buildings are economical candidates for passive building for a variety of technical reasons, including economy of scale and a more favorable volume-to-surface-area ratio. Passive House multifamily projects have cost approximately 0% – 3% more than conventional multifamily buildings. A recently completed passive apartment building in Brooklyn, referred to in the “One City, Built to last” report that the New York City Mayor’s Office published in 2014, did not have a cost premium compared to a conventional building.

PHWPA: “Off the Grid? There Was No Grid!” Event

February 10 @ 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

Join in for a project review of Sant Lespwa, a recipient of the AIA 2015 National Honor Award for Architecture.  The session will walk through sustainable design aspects resulting in an off the grid project that actively engaged the local community in the design and construction process.

PHWPA-image2-300x225Sant Lespwa, which is Haitian for “Center of Hope”, was commissioned by World Vision and is located in a rural region in Haiti.  The project is a community resource center providing support, education, and skill building opportunities. Careful planning for natural ventilation, daylighting, water collection, sewage treatment, and electricity generation resulted in a completely self-sufficient building in a region where there are no public utilities and limited access to water.  Construction included on-the-job skills training for over 100 residents. The participatory and empathetic process created an uplifting environment that inspires hope.

For complete information about this event visit the GBA event page at:

James Construction is awarded an Energy Assurance service contract from the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing

James Construction is awarded an Energy Assurance service contract from the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing revitalization to analyse healthy and high performing strategies for the North Side Community group.  Energy Assurance services include green infrastructure, energy utilization baseline, and renewable energy studies.

James Construction will combine its Energy Assurance program with IES’s Smart Communities Lifecycle process to create a unique and innovative Energy Master Plan for the NCFH group.




Hilltop Community Healthcare Center Passive House Project nominated for a Master Builders’ Association Building Excellence Award.

Blower Door Test 04

James Construction is proud to have our Hilltop Community Healthcare Center – Passive House Retrofit project nominated for a Master Builders’ Association Building Excellence Award. This project is one of 25 projects that will be featured at the 2015 Construction Industry Evening of Excellence, which will be held on Thursday, February 26 at the Heinz Field East Club. For more information follow this link to the Master Builders’ Association of Western Pennsylvania website

City of Pittsburgh – Mayor’s Clean Tech Roundtable

The City of Pittsburgh’s Mayor’s office will be hosting the Mayor’s Clean Tech Round table this Thursday July 31st, 2014 at 2:00 pm. in the Mayor’s Conference Room on the 5th floor of the City County Building located at 414 Grant Street in Downtown Pittsburgh. This will also be televised LIVE on the City of Pittsburgh Cable Channel.

I am honored to be invited to participate in the round table discussion. The agenda for this round table meeting is available by clicking this link.

Defining Net Zero-Energy Buildings

nrel-report-coverHigh Performance Building projects often reference net zero-energy buildings.  The metrics used to establish goals in performance-based contracting specifications affect how buildings are designed to achieve the goal. Critically, the question becomes “How do you define net-zero energy use buildings”  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) defines a net zero-energy building as a residential or commercial building with greatly reduced energy needs through efficiency gains such that the balance of energy needs can be supplied with renewable technologies.

NREL’s Conference Paper, Zero Energy Buildings: A Critical Look at the Definition, addresses the definitions of zero-energy buildings (ZEB) and why a clear and measurable definition is needed in zero-energy projects.  Different definitions may be appropriate, depending upon project goals and the values of the design team and owner.  Four well-documented definitions are reviewed.

  • Net Zero Site Energy: A site ZEB produces at least as much energy as it uses in a year, when accounted for at the site.
  • Net Zero Source Energy: A source ZEB produces at least as much energy as it uses in a year, when accounted for at the source. Source energy refers to the primary energy used to generate and deliver the energy to the site. To calculate a building’s total source energy, imported and exported energy is multiplied by the appropriate site-to-source conversion multipliers.
  • Net Zero Energy Costs: In a cost ZEB, the amount of money the utility pays the building owner for the energy the building exports to the grid is at least equal to the amount the owner pays the utility for the energy services and energy used over the year.
  • Net Zero Energy Emissions: A net-zero emissions building produces at least as much emissions-free renewable energy as it uses from emissions-producing energy sources

The NREL study details design impacts of the definition used for High Performance Buildings and the large differences between the definitions.  Depending upon the goals set by the Owner, project teams will implement different project strategies, which result in significantly differing energy utilization outcomes.  Further, each goal will significantly impact whole-building project strategies to integrate efficiency measures with renewable energy supply options.

The NREL research study is a must read for all team members engaged in performance-based contracting projects.


LEED’s Value Proposition

In 2000, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) introduced its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system.  LEED is arguably the most popular green rating system in the United States, and has been instrumental in the progression of sustainable thinking in the built environment. Owners are asking if LEED certified buildings are directly influencing primary energy utilization and GHG emissions, and if so, how much?  Two reports attempt to answer this question based on empirical evidence.

NBI-CoverNew Buildings Institute’ report “Energy Performance of LEED for New Construction Buildings” analyzed measured energy performance for 121 LEED New Construction buildings. Measured performance results show that on average LEED buildings are saving energy.  The bad news is that there is a wide scatter among the individual results that make up the average savings, with a significant number of buildings using more energy than average for comparable existing building stock.  The take away from the NBI report is that performance energy results from LEED certified buildings vary greatly, and that better measured performance and feedback is required.


John Scofield, a professor of physics at Oberlin College, authored “No Evidence LEED Building Certification is saving Primary Energy”. Professor Scofield uses scientific data analysis of existing performances of LEED certified buildings. His report analyzes the public relations marketing versus performance data for existing LEED certified buildings.  His conclusions are, as his title suggests, there is no direct evidence linking performance of buildings to LEED certification.  Of particular interest is the collective momentum from all sides to understand the need for measuring performance of buildings.

APSImageAfter review of these reports, an argument can be made that any building that claims to be “green” or sustainable should meet the minimum requirement:

  • Disclose the building’s EUI.  If it is an existing building, disclose the existing EUI.  If it is a new building, disclose the as-designed or planned EUI.  Then, disclose the post-construction EUI based on actual performance data.
  • After this fundamental step, we can begin to debate and compare green rating systems.

Imagine in 10 years, looking back at this period and wondering how we classified any buildings as sustainable, without specifically addressing energy utilization and impacts on GHG emissions.