How the Climate Crisis is Impacting Building Design Decisions
When we consider how we can tackle climate change, we think of our diets, cycling to work instead of driving, or cutting back on our fast fashion purchases. But we tend to overlook one of the biggest changes we could make and that’s the very buildings that we live and work in every day. These structures play just as much of a significant role in how we combat the effects of climate change, yet they’re so often ignored.
But now, architects, builders and designers are changing their processes to accommodate issues like flood risks and rising temperatures, to create buildings that not only alleviate climate risks but are prepared against them for the future.
Technology to reduce emissions already exists and can even be cost-effective in some cases. But changes to our approach to the built environment is dependent on industry-wide adoption to design for resilience against issues such as severe weather, rising sea levels and so on. Even small changes now could result in tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions being lowered in the future. These are a few of the ways that building design decisions are changing in response to the climate crisis.
Buildings are one of the leading culprits of carbon emissions, accounting for around 40% of total global energy consumption. Passivhaus, translating literally to passive house in English, is combating that with an energy efficient design that delivers a higher level of comfort for residents and uses minimal energy to heat and cool the building.
Passivhaus buildings maintain an almost constant temperature due to the rigorous construction, insulation and ventilation, using the sun’s heat to retain warmth. There are several features of a Passivhaus construction, such as low heating demand, higher levels of insulation, high performance windows, an airtight construction that’s more than 20 times more airtight than a standard build, and over 80% heat recovery from ventilation exhaust air.
Hard-working heating systems
Climate change may be causing hotter summers, but it also increases the chances of freezing temperatures in winter. The rise in rainfall alters humidity and encourages snowfall, and that means that there’s a greater need for higher indoor temperatures. Architects can reduce the stress on the planet and minimise pollution by creating warmer homes through efficient windows, increasing natural light to warm the building naturally without heating, and creating an airtight space to reduce draughts.
Likewise, smart technology can lower emissions while keeping buildings more comfortable for occupants. Many engineers are now installing energy-efficient programmable systems in buildings that will improve their sustainability and conserve energy.
Retrofitting existing buildings
New construction is likely to employ the bulk of the greening strategies, but existing structures can still do their part. Retrofitting buildings with the latest in innovative technologies can make a huge difference. It’s something that designers are already carrying out in certain high profile buildings, such as the Empire State Building which had its heating and cooling systems replaced and all 6,500 windows updated to reduce energy usage by 40%.
More residential homeowners are looking for ways they can upgrade their properties to improve the energy efficiency, reduce bills and energy usage, from installing smart devices to adding shading to minimise the need for air conditioning.
It’s recommended you assess the current condition of the property beforehand, however, because structural issues and dampness could negate expensive changes you’re planning on making and exacerbate problems in the future.
One of the many negative consequences of the climate crisis is the increased risk of flooding. As the temperature of the earth rises, the oceans become warmer and this affects the likelihood of tropical storms, hurricanes and severe weather conditions, as well as rising sea levels caused by melting glaciers and icecaps.
This has resulted in architects and building designers looking at ways they can protect structures from rising waters, such as coastal buildings on stilts and floating structures that lower the risk of flood damage, as well as flood-resistant materials that can protect the durability of the building. Using materials that add a natural waterproof layer to buildings, such as concrete, ceramic tile and foam insulation, they can limit water damage. Similarly, building designers have also started raising electrical systems to reduce electrical fires and damage caused by short circuiting.
Building for drought-ridden areas
Precipitation may increase in some regions, but in others it’s leaving prolonged periods of drought which can cause material damage and degradation. In drier climates, drought can lead to cracks in buildings and their foundations, and cause stability issues, so it’s a concern for builders that needs to be addressed.
Construction professionals are looking for ways to cool buildings built in these regions, such as cool roofs that reflect solar radiation to keep the building cool and capture winds to cool the surface. From cascading buildings that create cooler zones below street level to light-coloured renders that reflect sunshine and large windows with solar shading, architects are thinking outside the box in hotter climates to prepare against the warmer seasons.
Buildings are our shelter from the elements, and as the impact of climate change becomes more prominent, it’s essential that those buildings are resilient to higher temperatures, floods, high winds and more. The way we build has the potential to create a positive effect on the environment, helping to contribute to reduced carbon emissions.