The built environment as a tool in the climate change fight (ii)

This is the second of a two-part series. The first part focused on how the design of urban built-up areas, in general, can be optimized for reduced greenhouse gas emissions. For context, check it out here

The construction, operation and demolishing of buildings is a major contributor to the emission of greenhouse gases. To varying degrees of success, several countries are taking serious action to enforce energy codes in new residential and commercial buildings. This is because the potential for reduced carbon emissions is enormous. Here are some ways buildings can help in the fight against climate change;

Design

An integrated design approach is required here. This is where the design team sits together including a professional with expertise in building energy use and comfort. Every site is unique, so the buildings to de developed on these sites should be just as unique to take advantage of the inherent site peculiarities. The rainfall patterns, the sun’s path, wind direction, and nearby developments are all considerations worth discussing during the design phase.

In addition, finishes, landscaping and even the roof type should be chosen with sustainability in mind. The building should also be designed and oriented to make the most of daylighting, shading and natural ventilation. This enhances the indoor comfort of users. The thoughtful design also reduces the need for artificial lighting and cooling, leading to energy savings over time.

Energy 

Lighting, cooling/heating (depending on where you live), cooking, usage by electrical appliances are some ways the modern building uses energy. For most homes and offices, the sources of this energy are the national grid from power stations, most of which are fossil fuel dependent. First of all, our buildings should be designed to require less energy for these uses. 

After the design follows the installation and use of energy-efficient appliances for more judicious use of energy. Only after these two steps should we begin to think about investing in renewable energy. This is because any inefficiencies in energy consumption patterns will carry over and one ends up spending just as much on energy.

Water 

The first thing to do when it comes time to discuss the use of water is to identify the uses that require potable water and those that do not. Cooking requires potable water, but water for scrubbing and watering the lawn need not be potable. You catch the drift, right? Some areas are blessed with an abundant supply of rainfall and the harvesting of rainwater in such areas should be encouraged. The harvested rainwater is excellent for laundry, could be used to flush the toilet, wash the cars and water the hedges. This leads to savings on water bills.

Further, it reduces the gallons of water required to be treated, pumped and piped to your home (think of the energy required for the water company to do that and how it is generated). The initial costs involved in investing in the rainwater harvesting system will be offset by savings in water charges over time. And if you live in an area without a constant supply of water from the public mains, surely you’re already harvesting rainwater? If properly treated, it could even be used for cooking.

In ending, there are more detailed nuances to an environmentally sustainable building. The design of buildings is rapidly changing, and we need to embrace these changes. We could choose to ignore them altogether, or we could choose to be at the forefront of sustainable building design practices, fully armed with the knowledge and desire to adapt to changing times. I’m in the camp of the latter. What about you?

PS: This is the second of a two-part series. The first part focused on how the design of the general urban built-up areas can be optimized for reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

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Boat Sekyere

Boat Sekyere

Boat is a valuer fascinated by sustainable urban land use planning. He was recently selected as a Local Pathways Fellow of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN Youth) - a global Fellowship of 128 young leaders who will champion SDG 11 in their cities. When he's not reading another e-book, he's out photographing an event (@rsbpictures) or cycling in his hood, binge listening to his favorite podcasts. Say hi at boat.cridbox@gmail.com

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