With the constantly developing situation regarding the world and its ever changing climate it is important to look not only on the scale of countries, governments, and economies but also to look more locally at communities, housing and local areas to see what changes could be made to reduce human impact on the environment. By changing things at the lowest level of organisation some big changes can be made to the way people live and their impact on their environment. A big focus in many countries is in the improvement and creation of housing stock to produce a new generation of efficient and climate resilient homes. Reducing the energy used by residential areas is a great way of reducing overall environmental impact!
An example of this type of programme is the UK’s attempt to integrate efficient heat pumps into homes. These heat pumps heat and cool houses more efficiently than conventional radiators and air conditioning, using less energy to reach the desired temperature. The pumps also have the benefit of reducing cost for homeowners by reducing the cost of their energy bill, a particularly important aspect given current energy market prices. Further to this the heat pumps do not directly combust materials to generate heat, lovering the carbon footprint of houses utilising the technology.
Unfortunately this scheme has seen fairly limited success due to the high price associated with integrating the technology into houses. The systems are significantly more expensive than conventional systems running at about £10,000 GBP per household. Even with the government subsidising the installation of heat pumps in properties the payback time from energy savings is quite long, as well as the upfront cost being excessive to lower income families. This highlights an important problem for sustainability in the future. Sustainability should be affordable for all and certainly should not be a burden for lower income communities.
Flood problem solving example
When considering climate change and making homes more efficient, it is also important to consider the reality of the climate situation. Unfortunately due to the level of heating that has already occurred there is likely to be more and more unpredictable weather and impact of the weather on local communities. As a result it is a good idea to design homes and communities with this in mind. This could involve ‘climate proofing’ homes and infrastructure to make it more resilient to dramatic weather events such as flooding and hurricanes. This can be extended to whole communities using clever strategies to control the consequences of a changing planet.
Unsurprisingly a lot of the technology and practices in the prevention of flood damage come from the Netherlands. The famously flat country is of course concerned more than most about the potential of flood damage to their country and has, as a result, many cutting edge schemes and preparations are taking place. One such innovation is a very simple one with great potential. It simply involves routing electrical cables as high in the house as possible instead of in the floor as is the industry standard. You would think that such a small thing wouldn’t help much against an oncoming flood. And you would be correct!
However, the important thing to consider in this case is the cost to rebuild for the homeowner. If the cables are placed in the floor they are exposed to the flood water and will require mostly or completely replacing. This has a good impact on reducing the cost of rebuilding for the homeowner and community especially in a time of few resources and money. Considerations such as this, if widespread, even though it is only a small change would have such a large impact! Luckily some builders all over the world have started adopting this useful technique into their standard building practices.
The floating houses
A more interesting technology from the Netherlands is the introduction of floating (yes that’s right, floating!) houses. These houses, when exposed to flooding and rising water levels, simply float on top of the water, reducing the damage to the house. This unlocks building homes and buildings atop floodplains, a previously unavailable area. This is a really interesting way of tackling the problem but is not without its drawbacks. The houses can cost upwards of 20% more to build than conventional houses and generally take… less conventional forms, limiting the available architectural styles.
A good way of doing both of the aforementioned things, those being the development of less impactful homes and more climate resilient homes is to localize power generation. Power in homes is very reliant on electricity grids to consistently supply homes with electricity. If this grid were to be disrupted by freak weather incidents (which are likely to become more common as time progresses) many homes and communities will be left completely without electricity to power their daily needs. You need only to look to recent history to see the impact. Unexpected cold weather crippled the electricity in Texas, USA, leading to mass outages and even deaths as a result of the power outages.
TESUP for local communities
Localised power in the form of rooftop or garden renewable energy is a good way to reduce a community’s grid reliance. Some communities band together to erect a large turbine in their area and share the power. Others decide to band together to form ‘local energy communities’, a group of people and businesses banding together and using their purchasing power to buy cheaper electricity. With lower home solar panels and wind turbines this has become more and more accessible, hopefully leaving less people behind monetarily. TESUP is a great place to check out some potential wind turbines for your community.
As hopefully you can see, the future of building is complicated and lots of work must be done to ensure the future of the earth’s building is sustainable and affordable for all!