Old houses and buildings traditionally have huge difficulty retaining energy from within. Most of the houses we live in were built long before scientific research began to develop concepts of green building and energy efficient building materials and processes. Green architects now strive to produce low-energy and even zero-energy houses, the latter being completely self-reliant.
Heat is lost through almost every part of a building, from the walls to windows, floors and roofs. Increasingly, governments and construction firms around the world are investing in energy efficiency and passing legislation on minimum green requirements for new building projects.
Current green building projects include:
• New York City’s iconic Empire State Building has announced that it is undertaking a $20 million energy drive to cut usage in the world famous structure and will soon be meeting its remaining energy demand entirely through wind power.
• ‘Eco towns’ in the UK are still in the development stage but were conceived to set a new standard in green building with energy efficient houses, shops and transport that would be more than self-sustaining, and would also sell the excess energy back to the national electricity grid. Extensive research also went in to determining the best locations, ensuring every aspect of planning and construction was energy smart.
• An artificial foam, developed with inspiration from the nest of a South American frog, was the winner of the 2010 Earth Awards, an event that brings together investors and cash poor green technology designers. The foam will line the inside of coal-burning power stations and trap harmful carbon dioxide emissions before they can enter the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.
On a smaller scale, making windows more energy efficient is a relatively easy way to conserve heat and money, keep out noise and reduce the carbon footprint of a building. Double glazing uses two sheets of glass with a gap between them, which could contain argon, xenon or krypton gases. Triple glazing is also available, but does not necessarily provide greater efficiency.
The British Fenestration Rating Council (BFRC) is the national system for rating the energy efficiency of windows in the UK, in the same way that white goods (fridges, freezers, washing machines) have an efficiency guide signified by A to E ratings.
A frame for every home and every opening:
Energy smart windows need not look identical. For every different frame material there are window panes of all energy ratings.
• The frame most commonly used is called uPVC. They are recyclable and last a very long time.
• Frames made of aluminum or steel are just as durable and are also recyclable.
• Houses in tightly-regulated conservation areas can use wooden frames to preserve the original look of old houses. They demand more upkeep but have a lower environmental impact in their initial manufacture.
• In composite frames, both wood and metal or plastic are used, where the wood is protected by the former more resilient materials, ensuring less need for maintenance.
On roofs, vinyl and aluminum sidings are used to protect buildings from the effects of weather. Although less energy intensive to manufacture, vinyl sidings are harder or often impossible, to recycle. Vinyl (or PVC) is itself flammable and can cause problems for fire fighters with the release of dangerous gases when it burns.
Inside the building, attics and lofts can be also insulated to prevent the otherwise massive amounts of escaping heat. Luckily, anyone with some DIY skills can tackle the problem simply by laying insulation blankets across floorboards, restraint straps and brickwork. However, care must be taken not to restrict all air-flow within a structure as this inevitably leads to humidity and condensation, which can drastically reduce the efficiency of insulation materials. Air exchange systems are thus essential in effective long-term energy conservation.
Next time you have some work done, make sure your builder doesn’t leave the energy efficient windows back in the transit with the van vault. Energy proof your building now, and reap the benefits over the coming years.