Energy- and resource-efficiency are important ingredients when buildings are planned, designed and built. There is no real conflict between attractive architecture, a sound indoor environment, energy-efficiency and reduced environmental impact, but architects and engineers must choose environmentally-adapted options. If a house is to be built with the environment as a central consideration, environmental sustainability must be part of the decision-making process.
Swedish and Nordic companies are capable of producing houses with lower energy consumption and environmental impact than required by the building standards. Scientists, construction engineers, construction companies and manufacturers of heating systems have come up with a whole range of initiatives. Here, we will be looking at the passive houses and smart heating systems of the future.
There are many practical opportunities to build new, energy-efficient houses and refurbish existing houses so that they consume less energy. Technical measures include:
- Well insulated windows of moderate size, which are screened from direct sunlight in summer. Large windows generate both heat losses and excess heat. The larger the glazed areas of a building, the more important it is to use sun protection, extending roofs and other measures to create shade from the most intensive sunlight.
- A well-insulated building with airtight climate screen saves energy. The climate screen can be made from plastic foil and should be as sealed as possible. Sealed houses are better than houses that ”breathe”, provided that they have a ventilation system fit for the purpose. The problems which arose in connection with the energy crisis in the 1970s were due to houses being sealed without any improvement to their ventilation systems. The result was a poor indoor environment and ”sick buildings”.
- Ventilation systems can be fitted with heat exchangers which recover heat during the cold months of the year.
- A solar heating plant can provide the house with hot water. Heating can be provided through district heating or heat pumps, or by biofuel.
- Energy-saving household machinery and home electronics, as well as low-energy bulbs, can reduce energy consumption.
It is important to consider things in advance and analyse how much energy will be consumed in a building and how much will be lost from it. Unfortunately, there are circumstances which stand in the way of a long-term environmental approach, particularly regarding multi-family dwellings. Here, the person responsible for the cost of construction is normally not responsible for the cost of operating and maintaining the property. But even in existing buildings, more efficient energy consumption can be achieved by fine-tuning the heating system, adding insulation, replacing windows and recovering heat from the exhaust air. Replacement of taps and mixers save both water and energy.
This article was first published in Advantage Environment printed in February 2008