We need to change the way we build and live if we’re going to avert catastrophic climate change, and it’s time we think about the biggest carbon offender: the suburbs. Suburban living is car-centric, energy intensive due to the design of the houses, more expensive to maintain due to low density, and embodies other problematic issues. It may sound like a daunting task to switch the suburbs from an unsustainable system to a sustainable one, but that’s exactly what people are trying to do.
According to new research published last week by Teicher and two colleagues, if the trend away from downtown cores continues, it is essential to urgently refocus some of the effort to fight climate change from cities to suburbia.
Global warming is making our cities hotter than ever before, which has led many to turn on the air conditioning. The irony is that to keep us cool we turn on machines which consume a lot of energy, and if that energy comes from a non-renewable state then the local cooling ultimately adds to global warming. Fortunately, there are simple low-cost ways to keep you cool in the summer heat while you’re indoors. Over at Popular Science they’ve put together a handy guide.
A lot of warmth comes into your home via sunlight. In individual rooms, you should control these rays with blackout curtains or shades. If you still want sunlight, open the curtains on windows that don’t face the sun directly; this allows indirect sunlight to filter in.
The color of the curtains’ outward-facing side also matters. We see color because that particular wavelength of light bounces off an object. Because heat radiates as infrared light, “hot” colors like red, orange, and yellow will deflect the most warmth.
Of course, not everyone enjoys living like a vampire. If you need more direct light, consider solar screens and window tints instead of curtains. These treatments can remove certain wavelengths of radiation while letting others in.
Current popular building practices lack a nuanced approach to sustainability due to years of it being culturally ok to put future generations into ecological debt. Thankfully, things are starting to change and architects want to build a sustainable future, and fast. Prior to mass industrialization buildings were constructed using locally sourced materials, making them more sustainable with a relatively small carbon footprint. As globalization increased the techniques of using local materials were forgotten and now architects are calling for everybody in their field to share best practices around locally sourced material and techniques.
Architects are at the forefront of our drive to lessen the impact humans have on the environment. While the agenda has stayed relatively constant since I was at school, the sustainability goalposts have moved – and narrowed. A building designed as zero-carbon just half a decade ago would now be considered ‘operationally’ zero-carbon at best, whereas ‘whole-life carbon’ calculations now consider the building’s demolition and waste disposal. Our thinking, designs and architectural goals must evolve, but things are evolving at such a speed; how on earth are architects to keep up?
‘Renewable and sustainable technologies change very quickly, as does our understanding of sustainable outcomes, so it is important to try to keep on top of it,’ says Tate Harmer partner Jerry Tate. ‘We need to communicate to each other in our industry, sharing best practice and our experiences to help get to the right answers.’
Our current selection of building materials tend to be carbon intensive and can have long lasting unhealthy impacts on humans. This issue (and others) have led some to look into alternative forms of building which are healthier and sturdier than what we currently use. There have been attempts at this in the past and with each iteration of research we get better at figuring out alternative building materials. One of the most interesting is to use mushrooms to build the entire structure, and to let it keep growing.
Joe Dahmen, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia School of Architecture, said people first became interested in mycelium for construction about 15 years ago as a substitute for foam insulation, which isn’t biodegradable and can pose a potential health hazard.
“There’s a real tie-in here with healthy buildings,” he said, noting that he became interested in mycelium as a replacement for formaldehyde-based glues.
When you think about geothermal power you may think of giant installations benefiting from the heat the earth produces; however much smaller geothermal setups exist. These smaller systems are often called geoexchanges since they cycle heat from the ground to the building above or vice versa. Small residential systems can take a long time to recoup the costs of installation and demand for these small systems keeps increasing. Larger installations for condo buildings can see positive returns very quickly due to the sheer quantity of energy those buildings need. The good news here is that more and more condos are looking to this more sustainable source of heating and cooling.
Lloyd Jacobs, general manager of FortisBC Alternative Energy Services, which has installed geothermal systems in dozens of multi-residential buildings in B.C., said there is “a huge demand” for alternative heating systems in large buildings that might have been heated by fossil fuels or baseboard heaters in the past.
Traditionally, a challenge for geothermal energy is the high cost of digging and installing the borefield — that is, the liquid-filled underground loops that store and supply the heating and cooling to the system.
But Martin Luymes, vice-president of government relations for the Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada, said those upfront expenses are now offset by savings from things like lower energy and maintenance costs in as little as three to five years for large buildings.