Green Building to Reduce Global Warming

Introduction to Green
Building Advocacy

"Green Building" is the 21st Century catch phrase for architectural designs that emphasize conservation of energy resources in harmony with their natural and nearby surroundings. The basic components are orientation to weather elements, fixed and variable shade devices, sub-ground habitat, more insulation, solar panels, water and fuel recycling, roof gardens and so on.
     From the 16th through the early part of the 19th century, in Europe and the Western World, building design was mostly chained to prevailing style. Progressive change was slow and dependent upon man's acquisition of new engineering knowledge and new building materials. One example is the flying buttress that allowed dark, round arched, Romanesque cathedrals to be replaced by thin, web-like and lofty, light filled cathedrals with pointed arches.
      Late in the 19th century, iron replaced stone and masonry as the basic structural material and soon, relatively flat cities became dotted with taller, multi-storied buildings. Soon again thereafter, the advent of high strength steel strength steel and electrical elevators allowed for skyscrapers. Freon air conditioning made their interiors habitable. In post WWII America, several now famous architects experimented with flat roofed forms that broke conventions in long established residential styles. Many, tried to employ conservation ideas, but long established and familiar individual residential styles remained essentially unchanged. They mostly got bigger. However, their innovative efforts were rewarded by commissions from developers of commercial, industrial and high rise city buildings all over the world. Computerization in design, engineering and manufacturing, combined with modern chemical/physical technologies further freed designers of nearly all restraints to their imaginations. We now witness the rapid construction of sleek buildings thought impossibly futuristic a decade or two ago.
A Return to Natural Habitats     However, a revitalized realization is developing that fossil fuel resources, for the production of energy upon which 20th-century buildings and their components rely, are neither inexhaustible, cheap nor always available to ensure uninterrupted service. Ergo, there is a renewed and popular fascination with green buildings, as if such concepts were entirely new. Although this is welcome and promising, the primary elements of practical design preceded even the Romans and their learned descendants in the micro history of style alluded to above.
     Essentially unnoticed for centuries, unsophisticated bands of populations in weather hostile places such as jungles, deserts and ice planes built habitats motivated by survival rather than style. Some we learned about in grade school and quickly forgot because wealth and abundance allowed disregard and waste. Jungle huts were built with thick insulating clay and abundant animal hair, vines or straw. Animal hide tents of Americans Indians remained light and mobile so they could follow food resources and relocate to more seasonal friendly places. Dessert nomads in Algeria and environs built homes and storage facilities topped with sails that deflected prevailing winds down into ducts which distributed cool drafts to each main room. The point is, when rudimentary mankind was forced to deal with harsh realities it was as resourceful and adaptable as need be. The question is whether modern mankind is capable of the similar ingenuities in sufficient scope and time to survive its escalating rate of population growth.
Raising Public Awareness      There will no doubt continue to be distinctly separate private residential, multi-residential, commercial and governmental utilizations of design components in the effort to conserve energy in the delivery of building materials to and within buildings. As in the past, it is likely that the first step beyond laboratory experimentation will occur in showcase houses or in other attention seeking entrepreneurial projects. Like fashion magazines these highly published demo models are meant to simulate public conscience, initiate constructive inquiry and prompt action. There will be cross pollination of good and bad ideas, good but economically premature ideas and combinations thereof. Some will take immediate root and others will take longer. Maybe far longer. Initial cost premiums will lessen as mass production provides efficiencies and technological innovations reduce inefficiencies.
      The important fact is that the effort is gaining international acceptance in all realms of building design, construction and maintenance. Incentive formulas for monetary reward and tax penalties will be tried. Building codes will increasingly reject arcane designs and enforce compliance with new standards. Finally the potential for sustainable long term implementation of conservation has arrived. Widespread benefit will occur more rapidly when investors and buyers of properties give up the charm of style based on familiar appearance. Instead they will have become motivated by the economies possible of waste and pollution reduction. Imaginative designers everywhere will strive to make their projects "beautiful" as the meaning of the term continually evolves.
     Though already mentioned in passing, here is an incomplete outline of key areas of the movement now called Green Building.

1. Below ground and earth bermed structures.
2. Landscaping requiring no chemical fertilizers.
3. Plant shade trees without blocking solar collectors.
4. Water natural planting with recycled drainage.
5. Use only site lighting powered by solar cells.
6. Maintain flammable landscaping away from buildings to prevent property loss.
7. Orient windows, louvers and roof overhangs to the locale's sun path.
8. Minimize windows and doors on northern exposures.
9. Collect rain water for storage and reuse.
10. Pitch roofs for maximum benefit of solar panels.
11. Employ energy devices to return power to the local grid whenever possible.
12. Purchase the most energy efficient household appliances available.
13. Use fans when AC is not essential.
14. Engineer all plumbing electrical and mechanical systems for maximum efficiency.
15. Choose materials manufactured nearby to reduce energy consumed in transport.
16. Use recycled building materials. Avoid sidings & trim requiring paint or stain.
17. Specify maximum, but not over maximum, insulation everywhere.
18. Ventilate all voids subject to mold and rot to avoid premature replacement.
19. Specify only thermally sealed doors.
20. Specify glass that minimizes heat loss and maximizes thermal benefit.
21. Use quilted curtains to cover windows at night.
22. If a fireplace is a must, choose only one and keep the damper closed when unused.
23. Power down the premises when vacant.
24. Have your design consultant add ten more beneficial power savers to this list.

The prognosis of successful implementation of this movement may be measured in part by a reduced appetite for high powered ego automobiles. The accused and jury are us.
      - Roger Whitcomb

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Better Insulation Yields Comfort, Saves Energy. Money, Too

While public utilities and building codes have emphasized adding insulation to reduce heating and air conditioning costs, traditional cellulose or fiberglass insulation only do part of the job. In winter they supposedly keep the warm air in the living space and during the hot months of summer, they supposedly keep the hot air from entering that space.
     However, as we all know, even with the best insulation, rooms heat up in the late afternoon in summer and will lose heat at night in winter. What happens is that the attic insulation has to release the heat it has absorbed during the day or at night, either into the living space or the attic or crawl space under the house.
     However, there is a relatively inexpensive product, which is also easy to install, which will reduce the amount of heat entering the insulation in summer while retaining more of the heat in winter or at night. It is two-sided roll of aluminum called a radiant barrier, which can be stapled to the rafters or laid flat over existing blown in cellulose or fiberglass bat insulation.
     During the summer it reflects the heat entering the attic through the roof back outside before it enters the insulation. Likewise, in winter it also reflects the heat from the living space back into that space, adding another R-factor (thermal resistance factor) to the overall insulation. It can also be attached below the floor joists to cut heat loss by reflecting heat back through the floor. Because the material is perforated, it allows air to flow and prevents moisture buildup.
     Radiant barriers are manufactured by different companies and can be purchased in most large hardware stores or ordered on line from some home improvement sites. While there are companies which install radiant barriers, depending on your flexibility, attic or crawl space, most unskilled home repair persons can manage the installation.
     In the process you will enjoy cooler summers without consuming energy to run air conditioning and warmer winter evenings without burning as much oil, coal, natural gas or wood. This means greater comfort, lower energy bills and fewer carbon emissions.
      - Tony White

The Overlooked Energy Source:

Bringing Geothermal Close to Home

We all look to renewable energy sources to help us cure ourselves of our addiction to foreign sources of fossil fuels. Such sources include hydroelectric, nuclear, wind, solar, ocean waves and geothermal. Much is written about each, but geothermal seems to get less attention than the rest, and what we do get usually refers to major projects to tap existing pools of superheated steam or efforts to create very large new man-made, single-location sources of hot water or steam. Both are used to generate electricity for use elsewhere.
     Often overlooked (as a subset of geothermal energy) are geothermal heat pumps designed for use in individual homes or commercial buildings, and which provide both heating and cooling. This article will explain broadly how they work and why they should be an increasingly important part of the solution to our problems.
Energy From Elsewhere — Most Is Wasted      As we have heard, roughly half the fossil fuels used in this country are used to heat and cool buildings, both residential and commercial. Given the cost, the pollution impact and the limited availability of these fuels, such consumption is increasingly foolish, damaging and unsustainable. Unlike vehicles, which carry substantial fuel quantities with them, buildings usually sit still and can therefore take better advantage of local sources. So, we should ask whether fossil fuel consumption for heating and cooling buildings makes any sense at all.
     Electricity, generated in renewable ways, can be used directly to heat or cool a building, but the large amounts needed cause transmission losses and such high costs that this approach rarely makes sense, except perhaps near to large hydroelectric projects.
     But there is essentially unlimited energy directly below virtually all the buildings we build and use, and all it takes is a bit of electricity to access it. Enter the Geothermal Heat Pump A few dozen to a few hundred feet beneath almost every place where man wants to live or work there is usually an aquifer that comprises water at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. These aquifers are the source of most of the water we use for our daily needs. Generally speaking, the water is replenished by the natural flow of rain and snow back to earth. It is deep enough that the temperature is governed not by the climate at the surface, but instead by the virtually limitless energy stored in molten rock in the core of the earth. Where there is no aquifer, there is at least a subsurface temperature that offers similar opportunities for extracting energy.
     But how can we use an unlimited supply of water (or rock) at 60 degrees to heat a house to 70 degrees? This is where the ideas get clever.
     Think about your refrigerator or your air conditioner. Both of them are heat pumps. One is pumping heat out of the fridge into the house. The other is pumping heat out of the house into the surrounding air. But how can heat be "pumped"? Here is how:
     Any compressible fluid, like air or Freon, heats up when it is compressed, and cools down when it expands. So, if we compress Freon, making it hot, then extract the heat from it by running it through coils cooled by an exhaust fan, and then release the pressure, the Freon will be a great deal colder than before, providing a source of cool air for the fridge or the bedroom. So, while the device is cooling one area, it is heating another.
Heat in Winter      Now extend that concept to an aquifer’s steady supply of water at 60 degrees: Expand some gas so that it is cold, say 40 degrees, and then run it through some coils submerged in 60 degree water until the gas is back to 60 degrees. Then re-compress the gas and it will heat up to say 100 or 120 degrees which provides a steady source of warmth in the winter. Since the aquifer, or the subterranean rock, is generally 60 degrees F, the expanded gas that is to be passed through the aquifer must be colder than that for it to absorb heat from a material that is "only" 60 degrees. Of course, both 40 and 60 degrees are "hot" compared to absolute zero which is minus 460 degrees F. (Absolute zero is the temperature at which there is no more energy in the form of heat left in a substance.) So the expanded gas needs to be cooler than the heat source, but not so cold as to cause problems from freezing something.
Cool in Summer      When it is too hot outside, reverse the process and use the well water to remove heat from the compressed gas, offering a source of cool air in the summer. So we are exchanging energy with the earth below the surface, using it sometimes to absorb energy, and other times to supply it.
     How can we take advantage of this? When a house or commercial building is being designed and built, or refurbished, especially if the water will be supplied from an individual well, allow for the heating and cooling to be by geothermal heat pump. The original cost can be twice that for fossil fuel equipment, but the payoff in reduced energy consumption provides a handsome return on investment, especially in this period of sustained high fossil fuel costs.
     Many will ask, "Since I still need electricity, where are the savings?". True, electricity is still needed to drive the system, but only about 20% of what would be needed to heat the building directly. And electricity is the form of energy that is most likely to result from exploiting the various renewable sources listed earlier.
     So, using a renewable to take advantage of another renewable sounds pretty good to us. Savings of 30% to 70% in heating and cooling costs are not uncommon; the benefits in reduced reliance on foreign sources are substantial, and the carbon emissions are nil.
     To find local suppliers of this technology, Google "well water heat pumps" or "geothermal heat pumps" together with names of nearby towns or cities. And you can harvest links from Wikipedia to use in locating vendors.
      - Douglas Ayer

Keep An Eye On...

Green Roofs, and Gardening with Green Roof Plants

The green roof movement originated in Germany and is now relatively commonplace in Europe and Japan, but is just beginning to sprout in the United States. Economic and environmental concerns are bringing to the front and center of environmental design what has until now been an anomaly.
      More cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago are offering incentives to builders to utilize living roofs rather than plain concrete for rooftops. Three million square feet of green roofs were planted in North America in 2005. This year between 6 and 7 million square feet are expected.
      Among the benefits of such design are the prevention of the release of significant amounts of greenhouse gases, a major reduction in storm water run off and its redirection to such things as toilet flushing, and a decrease in the effects of the urban "heat island" caused by roads, sidewalks, and parking lots.
      For more: Contact Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a nonprofit industry association based in Toronto: greenroofs.org . Also Ed Snodgrass, a pioneering green roof nurseryman in Maryland who writes an "Ask Ed" column for greenroofs.com and is the author of "Green Roof Plants".      - Kenneth MacWilliams