Just me, thinking out loud

December 18, 2015

Anyone who has read a blog, sat in on one of my presentations or been a client of Carmel Building & Design knows that I’m passionate about sustainable building. The passion stems from a desire to take what I’ve learned about human impact on the environment over the past 25 years and apply it to my chosen profession. But, it’s not just a way to satisfy my need to address the larger issues that come with being environmentally mindful, it’s also a way to meet the needs of homeowners—like the need for healthier indoor air quality, quiet, durability, and energy and water conservation. And in the end, building in a way that’s better for the home’s occupants is also better for the planet.

These are not conclusions or practices that I’ve come to easily, nor alone. There are many forward thinkers who have contributed to the wealth of knowledge that’s available today. Often it’s a matter of trying things, taking steps then looking back to see if something can be improved to achieve an even better result. I admit that looking at the BIG picture can be overwhelming and trying to address all the problems out there can quickly stamp out the flame of activism. It’s important to start small, and start smart. Notice that START is the operative word.

Another realization I’ve come to is that it’s crucial to celebrate and take pride in every achievement regardless of scope or size. Sometimes I expend too much effort thinking about what I haven’t yet done versus what I’ve been able to accomplish. Every step we take in the right direction is reason for joy…nothing motivates most of us like the sense of having done something right, something good.

The reasons we decide to adopt a more planet friendly, sustainable lifestyle, don’t matter as much as the decision itself. One person might want healthier indoor air quality because there’s asthma or allergies in the family. Another might be looking to build or remodel a home that is more durable and has a better resale value. Another could be most concerned with lowering their carbon footprint, while yet another might focus more on energy and water conservation and reducing related costs. Whatever brings you to the table, be proud that you’re taking a seat, and a stand.

The building industry has a tremendous impact on reducing harmful carbon emissions through the home, buildings and communities we design and build. At the November 13, Building Carbon Zero California conference in Palo Alto, keynote speaker Dr. Diana Ürge-Vorsatz spoke to the impact of the building industry on reducing the carbon emissions that fuel climate change. I’ll throw out a few facts that drive the point home:

  • In 2010, the building sector accounted for 32% of global energy use; 25% of energy related CO2 emissions; 51% of global electricity consumption…And in the U.S. that last figure was 70%!
  • Building-related emissions more than doubled since 1970; expected to double/triple again by mid-century.
  • It’s a fallacy that the power plants, not the buildings, are creating the problem. Buildings create demand for the energy that power plants produce. Our buildings need cooling and heating, lighting, etc. most coming from electricity. Globally, one-fifth of total energy used in buildings is heating/cooling. (In my experience, it’s higher in the U.S.)
  • The building industry plays a key role in bringing this total energy usage down.
  • Good design in residential building and retrofits can reduce heating/cooling energy use by 1/3 by mid-century, assuming that building floor area will at least double during same period, without sacrificing comfort.
  • Why retrofit or build to achieve only a 30-40% increase in efficiency, when we can employ available standards like Passive House and others and achieve a 90% increase in efficiency?
  • Passive House and other high-performance building standards need to become part of the building code, moving high-performance from a niche to a mass market.
  • Very high performance buildings can save as much as 60% of HVAC-related energy globally by 2050.

To see her presentation, visit www.co2zeroca.org, click on link under Highlights and go to Keynote presentation. The entire presentation on climate change is fascinating, but she gets to the heart of the building industry’s impact around 1:01 if you want to focus on that.

Over the next few months, I’ll be focusing blogs on positive outcomes, things that are being done to improve our state of living and nurture the health of the planet. Stay tuned. And feel free to send your questions, comments and suggestions to info@carmelbuilding.com.

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