Carbon Neutral/ Net Zero (part 2)

by Doug Murray on October 8, 2011

All four speakers at the Carbon Neutral/ Net Zero Talk were presenting what, seemed to be, a “new” direction for architects, engineers, and builders to be aware of in dealing with and trying to meet the challenge of a low ,or no carbon future. This is an exciting direction from my point of view, but it’s not a “new” direction.

What each speaker was presenting is non-high-tech solutions in building design and building energy use for the transition to a fossil fuel free age. These non-high-tech solutions could be summed up as “designing-with-climate” which is the title of Victor Olgay’s book published in 1963. In his book he details the same principles being addressed at this talk. Even though these ideas are not new, it is exciting to think that these concepts are now becoming main stream.

Since I first became interested in architecture I have been interested in these ideas. Frank Lloyd Wright also sparked my interest in these design-with-climate concepts. He was designing with these principles before other architects- working with the natural energy flows of the building site. FLW designed the Larkin Co. office building in 1904 that used a passive rock storage. In the basement a large mass of rocks were cooled with night air.  During the day as the office temperature began to rise from: the sun, the office workers, the lights, and office machines the warm office air was circulated through the cool rocks to deliver cool air back to the office spaces.

These ideas were also part of Passive Solar Design that became popular in the 1970’s. The principle of having your dwelling work with the site and it’s micro climate  is as old as the first man-made dwelling. Actually, it is older than the first man-made dwelling, because living in a cave is also a form of a passively conditioned dwelling. The earth’s ground temperature is around 55 degrees F. So living in a cave mitigates the extremes of the outside temperatures. It is cooler than the summer heat and warmer than the cold winter temperatures. It also protects from the wind. In Canyon De Chelly, Arizona the rock ledge above the Indian’s dwellings shades their homes from the hot summer sun, but lets in the low winter sun to warm their homes, and this is the main principle of passive solar design. There’s no moving parts; there’s no cost, just planning and design so the building will work in concert with what nature is already doing.

So in affect it’s back to the future. And this is very good if it can become main stream. To design buildings that work with their micro climate: Natural lighting; shading and thermal mass for cool and heating.  These design-with-climate strategies can still be disregarded by piling on photo voltaic panels to meet the energy demand. This solution is an expensive one, but at least this is preferable to the old way of just adding a large fossil fuel burning  furnace, or using a large amount of grid line electricity to make the building livable.

The design-with-climate principles require more planning and coordination than the typical building design process, but the rewards are sustainable, more comfortable, lower operating costs, and a smaller or zero carbon footprint.



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