The standard North American home (pictured above) is horrible inefficient and quite bad for the environment. As the climate crisis conies to worsen we need to change the way we provide shelter for people: and that’s exactly what Phoenix, Arizona did. Arizona is experience such extreme heat that everyday objects are melting and car tires explode, sometimes the airport can’t function either. This led the City of Phoenix to launch a competition for making the most affordable and environmentally friendly home.
The winning home building plan is available for free online from the city, meaning you can download a home.
The winner of the contest, Marlene Imirzian & Associates Architects, went even lower. The studio’s affordable, three-bedroom home, dubbed HOME nz, has an impressive HERS rating of zero. A $100,000 prize went to Imirzian’s firm, and the design is now available for widespread use; the City of Phoenix has made the construction plans for HOME nz available for free to encourage the public to build more eco-friendly homes. “The city of Phoenix has a very visionary sustainability director and department who are looking for leadership for built work in the Phoenix area,” says Imirzian. “[The] goal was to show how simple moves could result in significant [environmental] changes.”
Since Phoenix’s dry, sun-bleached environment involves extreme heat, the design incorporates high-performance glass, which reduces heat transmission from outside, and retractable fabric screens for greater shade and passive cooling without the help of an AC unit. But HOME nz is a useful and applicable model no matter the climate. “If the volume performs well in terms of the separation of the interior and exterior then no matter where you build your house, it will be managed optimally by what you’re surrounding the house with,” notes Imirzian. “It would do just as well in a very cold climate or [a place] where you need conditioning or heating.”
The urban heating effect is a very real threat to how we cool our cities. The concentration of cement and machinery generates and stores a lot of heat that natural systems can’t see cool. Unless we purposefully design our cities to incorporate natural cooling techniques. The video above explores three ways that cities can start to cool their local environments.
London’s tube system is literally heating up the city – and that’s a problem. A hundred years ago their subway stations were places to cool down during hot summer days and people had to wear sweaters while commuting. Today, this is no longer the case. The trains are heating the earth which in turn makes the entire tube too hot.
Cooling the tube is now a pressing issue and nifty ideas are being tried. New systems being tested tend to be green and benefit other parts of the city. Basically they are trying to transfer the heat to places that want it to save costs.
An experiment in Islington is trying that very thing using heat from the tube tunnels to warm up a municipal heating service provided to a housing estate. The advantage of this scheme is that it can remove heat in winter when it’s needed above ground. It may seem mildly annoying that surface users don’t want heat in summer when you’d think the tunnels are at their most oppressive, but in fact removing heat in winter helps during the summer.
If the clay surrounding the tunnel can be cooled in winter, it has more capacity to absorb heat in the summer.
As it happens, at this particular trial, the fans can also be reversed so that during the summer months, they can suck cool night time air down into the tunnels as well.
Geothermal energy is one of the most sustainable energy sources because it works off of heat transferring from the ground to your home. In Iceland, the majority of the electricity comes from geothermal energy because the country sits in a prime location. You can make use of geothermal energy at your home in a much smaller way.
I’m one of those people that can’t handle unrelenting heat and so I’m always looking for ways to stay cool. I’m also one of those people who doesn’t like air conditioning (for reasons beyond the obvious power consumption), as a result I love tips on how to make your home cooler in easy ways.
At Treehugger they have a list of 10 ways to alleviate the need for AC. Some require a few years to take effect (like growing a shade tree) while others can happen right away like opening the windows.
The windows on your home are no just holes in the wall that you open or close, they are actually part of a sophisticated ventilation machine. It is another “Oldway”—People used to take it for granted that you tune them for the best ventilation, but in this thermostat age we seem to have forgotten how.
If the Treehugger list is not enough for you, don’t worry! We’ve looked at energy-free ways to stay cool in the summer before: