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©2014 This excerpt taken from the article of the same name which appeared in ASHRAE Journal, vol. 56, no. 12, December 2014.

By Andrew Pape-Salmon, P.Eng., Member ASHRAE; Ed McNamara; Ariel Levy, P.E., Associate Member ASHRAE

About the Authors
Andrew Pape-Salmon, P.Eng., is an associate with RDH Building Engineering Ltd. in Victoria, BC, Canada. Ed McNamara is owner of Turtle Island Development in Portland, Ore. Ariel Levy, P.E., is a managing principal and senior building science specialist with RDH Building Sciences in Portland, Ore.

The Ramona is a model for high-efficiency in a multi-family residential building with low incremental construction costs. The primary design objective for the Portland, Ore., apartments was to pursue a high performance building envelope as a precursor to whole-building energy efficiency.


Building Description

The Ramona Apartments provides 138 units of affordable housing that is targeted at families with children. Completed in March 2011, the Ramona is a 230,760 ft2 (21 400 m2), six-story building with one level of underground parking. There are five stories of wood frame construction above a concrete podium. The ground floor includes 12,864 ft2 (1200 m2) of space leased to Portland Public Schools for an early childhood education center and 1,760 ft2(164 m2) leased to a non-profit community group. The upper floors contain apartments, mostly two-bedroom and three-bedroom units. The building is certified at LEED Gold.


Problem to be Solved

The project team set out to meet the Architecture 2030 Challenge for reducing energy use by 50% from other existing, similar buildings (http://tinyurl.com/qaq66fy). Besides the technical challenges, there were two complicating factors:

In an apartment building of this type, tenants control most of the energy use. The design could not rely on complicated systems or on central controls.

The budget, already limited by the financing of affordable housing, was further constrained by the difficulty of obtaining financing in 2009.

The design and construction process aimed to maximize collaboration between team members who had worked together on several projects and could build on the relationships and on the lessons learned. From the very beginning of design, everyone was at the table and the major subcontractors were active participants. Before making design decisions, the team analyzed multiple options, modeled the energy savings, and tested the pricing. The team put a great emphasis on an airtight, thermally efficient building envelope. This was considered the most cost-effective way to get energy savings, the best way to reduce reliance on tenant behavior, and a good strategy to avoid future maintenance costs related to maintaining equipment.


Design Process and Decisions

Building Enclosure

The team's first step was to design an efficient building and an efficient envelope. The team began by studying eight to 10 massing models and assessing them for cost and energy efficiency as well as for aesthetics and for suitability for the site. The U-shaped design that was selected provided a high ration of floor area to skin and, therefore, provided the most energy-efficient shape. The team developed and priced 12 different options for framing and insulating the exterior walls. Each of the 12 wall assemblies was modeled, including calculation of an overall R-value for the opaque walls and glazing. Three different window performance levels were considered for the initial models (U-0.45, U-0.35, and U-0.29); a total of 36 possible assemblies were analyzed. The energy model showed that the windows were extremely important. The least performing opaque wall with the best window had a better R-value than the best performing opaque wall with the U-0.45 window.


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