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Sustainable Building Techniques for Your Home: An Interview with Erika Duran of Dagher Engineering

By Erika Duran

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

We are building systems engineers and sustainability consultants. We offer design and consultation of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems as well as sustainability services which are integrated in the design of our systems and we perform LEED Certification Consultation, Energy Modeling, and Commissioning.

Can you briefly explain what a certified LEED building is?

LEED is a framework in which you meet minimum requirements in the areas of Site Development, Water Efficiency, Materials and Resources, Energy Efficiency, and Indoor Environment for your project type. Certifying your project is a voluntary process and there are various rating systems which you can certify you project under. The rating system is dependent on the scale of the project and the type of work being done. There are also several levels of certification; the higher the level, the more the requirements have been met or exceeded from the baseline criteria.

What are some key questions for a future "green" homeowner to ask before the design process begins?

"Green" home owners should know that there are several sustainable building certification frameworks out there. From LEED to Passivhaus to Enterprise Green Communities to the Living Building Challenge. These frameworks are primarily starting steps to a green building or project. The design process should be an integrative approach with all of the disciplines involved. The owner should ask the architect if they have sustainable project experience and if the rest of the team has experience as well.

They should work together to develop an Owner Project Requirements document which includes all of the desires of the owner for the project at large, as well as the sustainability requirements of the project. This document can address things like the minimum energy efficiency of the project; if materials specified will contain recycled and regional materials; off gassing limits of products used on the interior of the project; water efficiency of fixtures and other water consuming fixtures.

If sustainability is definitely at the forefront of a project, your architect or sustainability consultant should be the champion of this regardless of what traditional strategies are typically used. Sustainability is not just a checklist, but a process. Often what results is better communication among disciplines and the project team will know its sustainable targets and project goals as a whole.

How popular are sustainable and energy-efficient homes? What are some of the top benefits for homeowners?

Energy efficient homes are a huge trend in construction currently. Energy efficient homes provide a direct benefit to the homeowner through the lowered cost of energy consumption to run the systems in their homes through construction methods and selection of efficient equipment.

It is important for the owner of these systems to monitor the energy consumption their home to verify that systems are working. Homeowners should not be shy to question if things are not performing to their target; usually this indicates that there is something that is not working properly. Taking remediation steps can mean the difference between a four-year return on your investment and a 10 year return on your investment.

What are the most commonly used sustainable features in Long Island homes?

Having a well-built building enclosure, using materials that insulate well, installing properly sized HVAC systems and appliances that have an Energy Star or equivalent rating, using products that have low VOC content to reduce off gassing; using materials that incorporate recycled content, sourcing materials from local suppliers, using dual flush fixtures and low flow showerheads and faucets; putting timers on lighting systems that do not have to run continuously, having controls that respond to weather conditions and use patterns.

What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to designing and building environmentally conscious homes?

Some of the bigger challenges are having homeowners understand that sometimes the technologies used can be simple and inexpensive and sometimes they will have high capital costs that will pay off in the long run. High capital costs make people shy away from using certain equipment such as solar panels or measurement and monitoring devices, however if used and maintained properly they will definitely make your home more efficient.

Another challenge comes with the design team and teamwork, there are times in building design that space allocation for a system will compete against usable square footage. There is an intrinsic value to systems and accommodations of really well designed and efficient systems that the consumer can be better informed about.

In real estate, it is often the case where the value of usable square footage lost is the only factor looked at. There is a positive value that is gained from accommodating a better performing system or a more appropriate piece of equipment that works better within the design. This value is generated through time and reflected in lower energy consumption and costs through the lifetime of the equipment.

How do the costs of building and maintaining an eco-friendly home compare with those of a typical home?

Maintaining an eco-friendly home and a typical home are comparable in cost. Systems might fail and systems will eventually be replaced. Since the systems of energy efficient homes are under scrutiny from the beginning, it is likely that the eco-friendly home will outlast traditional homes.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with your company?

People can reach out to us via contact@dagherengineering.com or they can reach Erika directly at eduran@dagherengineering.com.

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About The Author

Erika Duran is the Sustainability Consultant at Dagher Engineering.

Phone: 212-480-2591

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