Calls for sustainability and energy efficiency in buildings, especially new developments are nigh on deafening in recent years, and rightly so. This is in response to the effects of climate change and the potential of the building sector to help cut overall carbon emissions. Cue what experts call an integrated/integrative approach to building design.
The introduction of new expertise in building energy use and comfort
The building design process thus far has been described as linear; the client’s tastes, architectural design, the design of the necessary mechanical systems, and on to construction. Until very recently, this approach has been thought to give very little, if any thought, to such aspects as the overall energy performance of the building, thermal comfort, and passive means of reducing energy demands.
An evaluation of these factors will help provide recommendations for the architect and engineers on what changes are required to their design choices. These new design choices are then re-evaluated by the “energy and comfort professional”. The design process now becomes circular rather than linear, and this process is repeated until a satisfactory solution is reached by all sides, This solution takes into account not only energy performance but crucially aesthetics, functionality and economy.
Every building site has unique features that have a huge bearing on the design and construction process. These features ought to be fully exploited. The need to enhance thermal comfort, visual comfort and indoor air quality should always be paramount in every design. This should first be done through appropriate architectural design. Only then can we consider how we can achieve these levels of comfort through maximizing the energy efficiency of electrical systems and fixtures.
A different school of thought
There is however the school of thought that there are delays and cost implications to the integrated design approach. To them, the ‘circular’ approach unduly complicates the design process and makes it drag on for too long. Depending on the scale of the development and the project financing terms, these delays could be costly.
In response, it has been argued that the added costs (if any), are recouped through energy savings and reduced operational costs. What’s more, if a building produces more energy than it requires to be run, the excess energy is exported to the main grid and the owners get paid for it. Again, in jurisdictions where energy performance certificates are awarded, economic benefits like the ability to command premium rents, higher rates of return and lower capitalization rates accrue to the owners. This is even more so for commercial properties.
The new expertise at the design table doesn’t end the conversation of an integrated design. Neither is an integrated design all about switching energy sources form fossil fuels to renewables. If this process is well-executed, the energy required for the operation of the building will be very small, and we can then think of renewable sources of energy to meet these demands. In effect, the more energy-efficient the building is, the lower the cost of the energy. Reduced energy costs mean reduced operational costs, as energy costs are some of the highest in the operation of buildings.
In the EU for instance, there are stringent policy directives on the energy performance of buildings, particularly new ones. Other jurisdictions can take a leaf out of the EU’s book on the energy efficiency of buildings and modify it to suit their own local needs. In the long run, the immense potentials of the building sector to reduce carbon emissions through their operation and use could be fully realized.
Some information and commentary sourced from the book “Sustainable Urban Design” by Adam Ritchie.
Photo by Michaël NANDONG on Unsplash