Importance of Natural Resources

United States: Tackling Climate Change Close to Home (Passive House)

In the United States, our buildings are responsible
for over 40% of carbon emissions. People aren’t aware of this. You know we think about our cars and other
things as the things that are producing carbon emissions, but silently around us, all of
our buildings, our homes, office buildings, schools, hospitals, they are all burning energy, and that is a
big part of the climate problem. In the United States, local governments, businesses
and individuals are working on inventive ways to curb carbon emissions in an often-overlooked
place… Our homes. Zack Sempke works at NK Architects, a company
that specializes in a cutting-edge energy-efficient building technology called Passive House. I’m a very active proponent of Passive House
because it’s just clear to me that it’s a very powerful way to transform buildings
into a form of climate action. In the clean energy space, we are seeing solar
panels and wind just plummeting in cost and performance rising really rapidly. We need to take a cue from that and harness
science, essentially, to build better buildings, and that’s what Passive House does. In order to meet the Paris Accord targets,
we need to flatten out emissions by 2020, and then see emissions reduced by half every
decade afterward. The Paris Climate Agreement pledges to limit
the rise in global temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius. This ambitious goal will require a lot of
cooperation, determination, and innovation. Reducing energy use in buildings will play
a major part in this. According to the United Nations Environmental
Programme, buildings use about 40% of global energy. The moral imperative for action is clear. All of us – governments, businesses, consumers
– will have to make changes. More than that, we will have to “be” the
change. But how does this translate into a real life? In Seattle Washington, the Ritchie family
has built a Passive House for themselves, using advanced technology to drastically cut
their energy use I’m an environmentalist. I was an engineer for about ten years. I have been now in construction for about
ten or eleven years. I like to work with my hands. I like construction a lot. I wanted to take it to sort of another level,
to really do something meaningful for the community. Once you build a house, hopefully it’s going
to last for a very long time, and you have one opportunity to really fix the energy consumption
of the house, and you lock in that energy consumption for
a hundred years. And so for me that was a very compelling idea. We decided to do this house in that way. As you can see, this windowsill is probably
deeper than most windowsills. This windowsill is probably about maybe 10
or 11 inches deep, and that’s because the entire wall is 16 inches thick, so this is
a fairly deep wall assembly, much deeper than a traditional house. The typical house in the Untied States has
exterior walls around 10 inches thick. So it is an airtight house, and so we have
continuous ventilation, so we are delivering fresh air to the house all the time. A Passive House uses what’s called a building
envelope to heavily control the air that gets in and out of a building. That means a super thick layer of insulation
everywhere. Might be a little challenging to film in here. So this is the heat recovery ventilator. Here it’s bringing incoming fresh air from
outside and it’s filtering that air and so this is delivering fresh air to the house
continually. Having continually filtered fresh air takes
the allergens out of the air, takes toxins out of the air. The other part of it is our house is much
more comfortable. Like in our old home, in the winter, you know
you would be running the heat pretty constantly, and you would be bundled up. So for us, we can just have on a T-shirt and
a pair of jeans and flip-flop in our house all year round. On average, a Passive House costs around 3-5%
more than a conventional building, yet reduces energy use by up to 90%. In Pennsylvania, the state’s housing agency
has begun to incentivize Passive House technology by giving builders a competitive edge in their
affordable housing bids if they use it. The biggest threat that we face is climate
change. I’ve always loved our planet, I love nature,
I love our world. I see it slowly being eroded away on a whole
variety of fronts and it alarms me. Laura Nettleton, an architect in Pittsburgh
Pennsylvania, has recently been focusing on restoring old buildings to passive house standards. We were called into McKeesport. This particular neighborhood, because of the
reduction in steel production here, this community has kind of emptied out. This YMCA turned into a homeless shelter. And there were 72 residents living there,
and the building wasn’t updated and in poor condition. The ideal way to do retrofits is to put a
sweater on the outside of the building, and that sweater is made of insulation and a new
skin. The best way to think about it is, if I was
asking you to stand outside in a 15 degree day, all day, and I offered you two pieces
of clothing. I gave you a snow suit that went over your
head and it had mittens built in, and it went over your boots. Or if I offered you a wool coat. And we both know which one you would take,
you would take the snow suit, and the snow suit is designed to keep the cold air out. It’s the same principle as Passive House. And the same protection from a cold climate,
provides energy conservation in a hot one as well, reducing the need for air conditioning
when temperatures run high. So if you wrap your building with insulation
carefully, then you can really conserve a lot of heat. We saved 68% of the energy from the original
facility. So that was a huge reduction in energy. The Passive House movement is really taking
off across the Northeast and across the United States. Loic Chappoz works on conservation for multi-family
buildings at NYSERDA, New York State’s energy agency. The first piece of the equation for me is
reducing the energy we consume. Once you reduce the energy you consume in
your building by 50, 60, 70%, then it becomes much easier and possible to meet that energy
demand with renewable energy, be it solar, be it wind farms. What we are doing here in New York, we are trying to create a market to do very
deep retrofits of existing buildings, learning a lot from a successful program that
has been implemented in the Netherlands called Energie Sprong. The Energie Sprong program takes an existing
building, puts a new well-insulated shell around it and prepares the roof for solar
panels. The energy efficiency principles behind it,
like a super tight building envelope and continually circulating fresh air, are similar to Passive
House. NYSERDA is currently studying how to implement
a system like Energie Sprong or Passive House on a scale large enough to execute state-wide. And in an effort to expand the reach of this
technology, the Passive House Institute of the United States has begun working with their
counterparts in China and Japan to foster sustainable architecture on a global level. There is a real possibility that Passive House
can scale up quick enough to create a zero net carbon built environment by 2050, which
is what we need to do. I am sure it was the same thing when the first
houses had to be plumbed and to have electricity. “Oh, this is a stupid idea, we are never
going to be able to, it’s too expensive!” You know, right? It’ s the same thing, it’s just we are
working on how to make the energy more sensible.

Reader Comments

  1. Fantastic to see the UN bringing light to this important way to tackle climate change.
    When Superpod first published this information about passive house and climate change, there was virtually nothing on the subject. A lone voice is harder to believe. The more people say it the more things are likely to change…

  2. I am signing this petition, because AUSTRALIA is the driest country in the world, we need more done for the environment, but we need to look further into the future. Our weather is getting hotter, and it is putting pressure on families that can’t afford the heating and cooling bills. We need to adopt how those people in Coober Pedy live and build homes that are built within the earth, or partly underground.
    This plan will not only be cheaper for housing, for many people, it will also be cheaper for heating and also cooling because, though it is very hot in Coober pedy, their underground homes are not only cool in summer it is also warm in winter and in some cases do not need to use
    heating and cooling at all.
    These submerged homes could have beautiful floral gardens and lawns above ground, but also spacious garages, BBQ and entertainment areas and sheds, think of the amount of room you would have. Apparently the under ground and partly submerged homes, are beautiful and spacious inside and very comfortable. There are ways of bringing light into these homes without any problem and for those who which to have a room that is flooded with light, a single living area can be built that is either partly submerged in the ground or above the ground that is attached to the submerged home. A family can have the best of both worlds, and save a whole lot more money, than they would if the home was built all above ground and squashed together with the shed, garage, entertainment area, and lawns for kids to play on. THINK ABOUT IT. Mick

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