Smart and energy efficient is the new-ish approach for many architecture and design firms these days. The problem for the last decade has been that trying to persuade clients to incorporate some of these strategies into their needs has been difficult. Why? The prohibitive costs of implementing advanced technology-based elements into building design. PV panels are the first to come to mind. And when the cost is perceived as prohibitive by the client, firms balk at pushing them.
University researchers all across the U.S. have been investigating this very problem. Some of it has been done in conjunction with architecture departments, but more often, these investigations are cross-disciplinary endeavors by engineers, physicists, and computer scientists. But before you turn the digital page (i.e. scroll down or click another tab), read on, because many of these technologies are available today, and what’s more they are cheaper for both client and service provider.
One approach? Passive technologies. They are far cheaper and are potentially much easier to implement. For example, every architect recalls the model of the egg crate from their days in school. Well, at Utah University, this concept has been realized as a form of passive shading that can accommodate both shape and size of commercial buildings. A team consisting of Professor Ryan E. Smith, graduate students, and researchers from 3form created solar shading called CRATE. It’s adjustable profile means it can conform to numerous shapes. Even better, it allows the design to accommodate both energy and lighting requirements.
Ironically,the group began with the intention of developing expensive technologies such as DIPV or Design Integrated PhotoVoltaics and thin-film technologies. But they instead created the egg-crate inspired design for solar shading because the team realized this was a more feasible approach to their numerous investigations and studies. In other words, as any good research team should do, they let the results of the research dictate their continued research, rather than insisting on developing costly, high-technology products. The crate-shading was more cost-effective and therefore more accessible to a wider array of users.
Other passive strategies are used in a prototypical house by Professor Joerg Ruegemer. His first directive? Make every design site-specific. That means no master plans, that globalizing, universalizing modernist theory that forms the backbone of every architecture training program around the world. Why? They don’t work, especially when trying to be energy efficient. Instead, one must study the site carefully and using different approaches to determine all of its unique features. Indeed, he and his team performed 35 different studies on the site. This extensive front-end research paid off literally because building his house cost only $250,000. What does that mean for architecture firms? That they must eschew sloppy, random surfing of Google and really research the sites for which they are commissioned. They must be rigorous and disciplined in their approach to how they are analyzing sites, and use those research parameters for each project. A little forethought goes a long way towards saving money, as well as creating designs that are truly unique.
Thus for example, the team came up with various passive strategies that enhanced and minimized the solar properties of the site, depending upon the season. Windows, for example, were placed precisely to enhance solar effects in the winter, while the shading design took account of the sun in hotter months to maximize cooling. No expensive PV panels needed here. As for heating and cooling, nothing as costly as sub-floor piping that recycles either cool or hot water. Instead, Professor Ruegemer and his team relied primarily on insulation and airtightness for the house.
What’s another benefit to deploying passive energy efficient technologies? Saving 30%-45% of the energy that is otherwise expended by the design and building industry: according to him, in 2009 alone, the building industry emitted almost 50% of the US’s CO2 and consumed 77% of the total electricity used in that same year. What’s more, electricity consumption accounts for almost 30% of the overall greenhouse gas emissions. But even if a firm is not interested in the concept that there are consequences to emitting greenhouse gases (i.e. if they don’t believe in their harmful effects, despite the most famous doubter having recently recanted his doubts), the idea of saving money for the client and hence keeping them interested in future projects is surely a boon.
Next week, we will learn about different approaches to equipping PV panels more cheaply and more efficiently. - Click here for Part II
Sherin Wing, Ph.D., is a social historian who writes on architecture, urbanism, racism, the economy, and epistemology (how we know what we know by researching and examining the agendas inherent in our sources of information) to name a few issues and topics. She is dedicated to exploring issues in ...