Actual Media

Climate Adapted Buildings

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Courtesy of Actual Media

Acknowledging our power-hungry practices and demanding a proper understanding of the fundamental laws of physics within the context of a building.

The single-greatest environmental impact of buildings today is their ongoing energy usage, which accounts for almost half of global energy usage. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) requirements of conventional buildings represent more than 50 per cent of overall building energy consumption.

Traditional design methodology is often based on what has worked in the past or upon simply meeting the minimum requirements. This design approach lags significantly behind what is considered to be the current best practices of building design, which carefully balances operational efficiencies and environmental stewardship. Emerging sustainable design trends are becoming equally convoluted, striving to balance too many environmental goals without prioritizing energy usage as the primary objective.

Even today, designs frequently result in high energy requirements and we typically waste about 65 per cent of the energy in HVAC systems as parasitic losses (the heat losses that occur during transportation from the central mechanical heating system to the occupied spaces). Furthermore, our current building energy standards prescribe energy performance in ambiguous terms, making it difficult to recognize that our approach to energy efficiency is seldom as effective as intended. It also does not allow for direct comparisons of different buildings since improvements in building energy performance are expressed in relative terms, as per cent improvement over a fictitious reference building.

The new school of sustainable design does not require exclusive reliance on highly sophisticated and complex technological solutions. Instead, it demands a proper understanding of the fundamental laws of physics within the context of a building and its environment. A logical approach to design embraces the thorough implementation of simple, low-tech solutions before reaching for the more complicated, high-tech strategies.

The result of this approach is to create a building that conforms to its local environment rather than isolating itself from it – otherwise known as a Climate Adapted Building. A focused and straightforward design methodology is described below to serve as a framework for achieving the most energy efficient buildings that also offer the highest level of interior space comfort conditions.

The Big Picture

The first step is to understand the holistic approach to defining energy efficiency within specific climate conditions. Establishing a building energy efficiency target in clear terms will prescribe a minimum building energy performance in kilowatts-per-hourper-metre-squared (the rate of energy used per hour by the space, expressed as kWh/ m2,) per year for a specific building in a specific climate. A number of European countries have already developed standards that prescribe the minimum acceptable energy targets. In Germany, a typical building designed to local standards used approximately 180 years of heating energy. In the 1990s, the standard was revised to 100 kWh/m2 year. The most recent revision has lowered the standard further to a minimum energy performance target of 60 kWh/m2 for new construction.

With these clear and measurable energy targets in place, designers can be freed up to use any combination of building solutions to meet or exceed the targets. The two most common building energy performance targets are annual heating energy per unit of occupied area and occupied volume. Not only does this methodology eliminate the current moving target approach to energy efficiency, but it enables a direct comparison of the energy performance targets of different buildings.

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