Private residence in San Francisco, Calif. Right image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Private Residence, Healthy Materials Consulting



Thornton Tomasetti is providing integrative design consulting for the renovation of a 5,000-square-foot house and construction of a 3,200-square-foot guesthouse. The owners’ highest priority is protecting human health, so the complete vetting of all materials and systems that could cause harm became a critical component of design and construction. We collaborated with the project team to assess building materials, products and systems through the lens of health impact, water conservation, energy performance and social and environmental justice factors.

Work focused on development of health-based criteria for selecting building products, materials, finishes and systems The sustainability team led a charrette at the start of the project to familiarize the project team with the owner’s sustainability goals and introduced a two-tier process for reviewing all products with potential chemical emissions or impacts to the environment.

The first tier sets criteria based on chemical content, with an emphasis on avoiding products that are harmful to human health and the health of the environment, using the International Living Building Institute’s Red List and California’s Chemicals of Concern as guidelines. The second tier assesses proposed project materials based on emissions testing, the best indicator of “real life” conditions. Careful scrutiny is given to a broad range of content and emissions, including microbials, pesticides, particulates, and volatile organic compounds such as benzene and formaldehyde.

The preparation of a “specifications options” document that provides at least two greener alternatives to each of the materials within the project scope – such as construction adhesives and technical fabrics – provided the project team with a well-defined way to apply the health-based criteria. This process-oriented method of material selection helps the architect, contractor, and homeowners create an optimal healthy living environment.

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Net-Zero Design

Owners, design teams, and now cities and states are setting ambitious goals for achieving net-zero energy. Our net-zero approach begins with an extensive analysis of the climate, building site and surroundings to identify available on-site resources such as solar irradiance, wind, vegetation and water. We drive loads down, and performance up, and model the building and its systems to help direct cost-effective approaches to achieve net zero. As the first engineering firm to join the American Institute of Architects’ 2030 challenge for achieving a carbon-neutral future, Thornton Tomasetti aligns early with building owners and design teams to establish the path forward and to provide strategic guidance and technical expertise for projects targeting net-zero energy and water.