2 Global Warming – Green Architecture & What You Can Do

(C)Copyright 2009, Rand Soellner, AIA/NCARB

Welcome to the world of  Green Design, Green Architecture, Sustainable Architecture, Green Home Architects and Green Home Architecture.  It is the rare person that hasn’t heard something about this current hot topic.  Why is this so interesting these days?  What is it?

What is Green and Green Architecture?

green architecture
(C)Copyright 2004-9 Rand Soellner, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. photo by Mark Hutchison. Eagle Mountain Aerie Designed by Rand Soellner Architect.

“Green” means being environmentally sound.  There are many additional expansions to this brief description and more for green architecture, including related descriptions of Sustainable Design and Healthy Home Design.

Why does anyone care about being “Green?” and What is Green Architecture?

what are Green Design, Green Architecture, Sustainable Architecture and what is happening to our Planet?

Scientists have apparently confirmed that our planet appears to be warming a little bit each year. Every year from 1998 through 2007 has been among the 25 warmest years on record for the USA, per NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).  A possible 7.2 degree F increase during the 21st century seems possible.   Evidence of this seems to be that the polar ice caps and various glaciers are melting, which is also raising the height of the shorelines of the World’s oceans.  On the surface, this doesn’t sound like anything to be particularly concerned about, unless you happen to own an oceanfront condo.  There are differences of opinion, with some scientists doubting that anything we puny humans do will probably not alter the planet significantly.  I really am not sure.  I have to rely on the scientists.  Some, undoubtedly are alarmists, others overly cautious.  Who really knows?  Unfortunately, there are some scientists who believe there are other consequences due to Global Warming.  My own best guess, based on scientific explanations of our planet’s behavior over millions of years, is that we may be in part of a naturally occuring celestial 22,000 year cycle involving the Earth’s angular orientation to the Sun, in which the sun is directing its light more directly toward the poles, resulting in higher temperatures there.  This may be part of what is causing record-breaking ice melts at the poles.  That, along with our own uncontrolled use of certain elements.

What are we humans creating that is contributing to the Greenhouse Gases?  Mainly carbon dioxide.  From what?  Primarily from the burning of oil, coal and gas. Evidently all scientists have agreed this is true.  Prior to the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide was at about 280 ppmv (parts per million by volume).  Today’s level is around 380 ppmv.  This seems to be increasing at an alarming rate: 1.9 ppmv per year, since 2000.   What does this mean in a Global context?  During the last 650,000 years, the natural amount has been between 180 to 300 ppmv.  By 2199, this could become 490 to 1,260 ppmv, which is a hair-raising 75% to 350% higher than natural levels of greenhouse gas concentrations.  The results could be frightening.   That is part of our green architecture focus here today.

Consequences of Global Warming

green architecture
Beautiful sunsets are about the only good thing about global warming.

Increased dry weather (less rainfall) which is creating record-setting wildfires is one of the consequences of global warming.  In 2006 alone, nearly 10 million acres burned.   The World’s weather is changing.  That is not a good thing for us humans.

Drought takes its toll on World food production.  There was a significant drought from 1999 through 2002, said to be one of the worst in the previous 4 decades.

Warmer water in the oceans injects more energy into storms making them stronger, as evidences by the marked increase in category 4 and 5 hurricanes during the last 35 years and increased ocean temperatures.  Hurricane Katrina (2005) was one of the worst in our history.  While drought is the result of Global Warming in some areas, other locations experience severe flooding caused by extremely heavy rainfall.  This displaces people and destroys their homes and infrastructure.

Fire fighting costs have increased to over a billion dollars each year.  Green home architects certainly don’t want the home they designed being put in jeopardy, either.  They want their green architecture sustainable.

Heat waves in 2006 led to the deaths of more than 225 people in the United States.  In 2003, heat contributed to the deaths of 70,000 people.  Temperatures soared to 104*F.

Scientists believe that higher levels of carbon dioxide lead to allergy weed growth, contributing to asthma.

Diesel exhaust particulates combine with pollen, driving it deeper into our lungs.

Higher temperatures increase ground level ozone smog, which is a health hazard.

Heavy rainfall in particular areas (while not in others) can often result in mosquitoes carrying infectious diseases like malaria.

Certain species face extinction if global temperatures exceed 2.7 to 4.5 *F (such as polar bears who are now drowning).

Bermuda’s mangrove forests are disappearing. Substantial losses of treed areas could result in diminishing oxygen levels.

The oceans are becoming more acidic due to carbon dioxide emissions.  A 3.6 *F increase could kill 97% of the World’s coral reefs, which are an integral link in oceanic ecosystems.

Did anyone else see the Sean Connery movie : Medicine Man?  It may be that our hope to cure cancer now lives in some Tropical rain forest that is being cut down or burned to make room for development.

Now here’s a big one: Greenland contains about 10% of the World’s ice.  If global temperatures melt it, ocean levels could rise by as much as 21 feet.  There is no evidence that suggests that the next statistic will happen: if ALL of the Earth’s ice melted at the same time, there would be a sea level rise of about 200′ to about 250′ depending on where you are.  Information so far does not believe that any sort of human activity could possibly cause such a circumstance, so keep your surfboards in your attics if you are in Kansas.  I recently saw a scientist on the Discovery Channel illustrate that ice sheets that are presently floating in water will not affect ocean water levels whether they melt or not.  The reason: they already are occupying a volume of space in the water and the physical state, either liquid or solid will not substantially change the volume they displace in their floating positions.  The concern is the vast ice sheets and glaciers that are presently on land.  When they melt, they will definitely add to the volume of water in our oceans.  Of course, this is a concern for green architecture.

Much of the above “consequences” information obtained from the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council).

What is making our planet warmer than usual?

green architecture According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), there is a natural Greenhouse Effect, which makes our Earth 57*F, which without it, would be a chilly 0*F.  So, in its natural context, this is a good thing.  However, it occurs because certain gases in our atmosphere absorb/trap heat in the lower atmosphere, re-radiating downward some of that heat.  Water vapor is the most significant greenhouse gas.  Next is carbon dioxide and other trace gases.  There is nothing bad about the Greenhouse Effect.  The problem is that human-created additional greenhouse gases are contributing to the natural ones to such an extent that the Greenhouse Effect is overly enhanced and is making our World too warm.  What can green architecture do about this (more on this later).

Note: Global warming is not uniform at present.  For instance the SE USA has actually cooled slightly.  Most of the planet has, however, experienced an increased temperature of about .13*C per decade during the past 50 years.

What can green architecture and the public do to help reduce Global Warming?  And how does this impact Sustainable Architecture?

green architectureUse less energy for now, that is a green architecture main issue.  In the future, use optional energy sources.  Sustainable Architecture is all about being able to sustain what we have without damaging our planet.

We can reduce emissions from fossil fuel burning (like oil and coal and gas).  And how do we do that?  Especially with green architecture?  Well, we try to find sources of energy other than fossil fuels that burn more cleanly and have fewer contributing greenhouse gases like CO2.  How would this have architectural implications?  It starts to conjure solutions like:

–  sun – solar photovoltaic panels to directly convert sunlight into electrical energy. Now, I for one, as one of several green home architects, can say this is something that I have used.  This is a real plus for green architecture and sustainable architecture.

–  wind– Harnessing of the World’s winds at about 1,000 feet above the surface of our planet there are fairly consistent breezes: there are scientists presently developing helium-floating blimps that are large lightweight turbines that spin in the wind, turning a generator that is attached to a mooring cable that sends the wind-created electrical energy down into a power center for distribution to surrounding homes.  Green home architects can start using these wind solutions as they become available.  Another source for Green Architecture and Sustainable Architecture.

–  water– using the restless ocean currents to turn turbines to generate energy.   Green home architects can use water wheels and other apparatus to generate electricity in projects of ours near such sources of energy.

Okay, we can go on for some time with all the amazing technologies that are being developed for the future.  But what about Now?

That’s where green architecture can actually do something right now and what many of the existing programs are all about: Energy Conservation.   This is what these programs are all about: the US Government’s EPA/DOE Energy Star program (Energy Star Architects), the Building Code’s Energy Codes, LEED and other efforts.  The idea is: the less energy we consume, the less fossil fuels we burn and the less greenhouse gas emissions we create, which should slow down Global Warming.  Okay, so how do Architects reduce energy consumption?  Here are several strategies that seem to work well:

1.  Increase insulation levels in roofs.  This is the main source of heat loss/gain in all green architecturestructures, per Mechanical Engineers.  Green architecture professionals already know this.  Then in walls, then in floors.  There are a variety of insulation products, with all of their manufacturers claiming to be the best.  Architects need to make their own judgments based on factual data rather than sales hype.  Use doors and windows with higher insulation levels as well.  This is a key element in a Sustainable Architecture philosophy and fairly easy to accomplish right now.

2.  Seal structures and ductwork more tightly.  Use better craftsmanship with tighter joints and use sealants that plug the cracks and crevices to limit accidental escape of energy-attained air heating/cooling efforts from the interior side of the structure to the exterior.  Note that this strategy requires additional consideration of mechanical equipment for dedicated, controlled fresh air intakes and preconditioners so that adequate clean and oxygenated air exists to breathe.  This is smart planning through green architecture.

3.  Protect/expose glass areas to best advantage.  Cover windows in summer, expose them in winter.  This shades the glass from unwanted heat (that you will have to pay $ and burn fossil fuels to cool) in the hot season and lets in sunlight during cold months when it help heat the interior space.  This is not always easy to do.  But Architects are clever and have developed various strategies to allow this.  The fact that the sun has a higher (more vertical path) and is more north during summer and lower (more horizontal) and more southern in its daily path in winter (in the northern hemisphere) allows architects to understand the orientation of glass areas and to calculate overhangs to work with these natural cycles.  There are other factors, such as important views, however that often can outweigh these parameters, so it is sometimes better to make sure that main (large) glass areas are protected under most circumstances rather than not.   Also, use double pane insulated glass with Low-E coatings.  In some very cold climates, use of triple glazing is warranted.  Glass companies are also developing interesting technologies such as glass that can detect when sun is directly on it, changing itself to be more like a mirror, to reflect the heat, then change to transparent when the sun moves away.  This can be a key component in green architecture for home and building design.

4.  Begin using emerging technologies as they become economical enough to use.  green architectureFor instance, it may be that soon, photovoltaics may start to become more affordable.  This will directly provide power at the source without any need to go through a commercial, wide-spread power grid, through which there are presently huge losses of efficiency, resulting in the need to burn more fossil fuels to overcome the gird’s resistance to the pushing the energy to buildings and homes.  So, power production at the source of use would be a true boon in energy conservation and lessening of greenhouse gas production, especially for homes, which use more energy than all commercial buildings combined.  Some high-rise buildings are also beginning to use very interesting features such as large  propeller-wind-driven turbines to directly generate energy for the building. There are also recent breakthroughs in lighting design that permits usage of about 1/6 the amount of the energy as used in typical desirable lighting quality. Green architecture proponents need to monitor these technologies and incorporate them in their green home designs as they become practical.

5.  Use more efficient devices.  For instance, air-conditioning equipment is continuing to improve in efficiency nearly every year and specifying the most efficient will reduce the amount of power required to operate them.  Easy.  Green architecture companies can begin specifying higher SEERs right now.

6.  Use renewable, sustainable sources and types of materials.  This is known as Sustainable Design and has much to do with recycling construction materials instead of throwing them into waste dumps and landfills and using materials that have lower embodied energy levels that use less energy to produce them.  Green architecture firms need to look for the source of products and use those from renewable sources.

Green Architecture examples in home design:

e-mail green architecture prosRand Soellner Architect, is using each of these techniques.

tags :
Green Architecture, Sustainable Architecture, Green Home Design, Energy Efficient Home Architects, Energy Conservation and Home Design, timber frame architects, post and beam architects, rustic home design, cashiers, asheville, brevard, charlotte, atlanta, orlando, boulder, denver, jackson hole, lake tahoe, lake mead.

green home design universityGREEN HOME DESIGN UNIVERSITY QUESTIONS, for those of you taking Rand Soellner Architect’s course of green instruction:  about the Green Architecture and Global Warming:

1.  What appears to be the primary greenhouse gas that us humans contribute to the atmosphere that also contributes to global warming?
a.  Nitrogen     b. Oxygen     c.   Carbon Dioxide     d.  Nitrous Oxide

2.  What can we humans do right now to help reduce our contributions to global warming?
a.  reduce energy consumption     b.  eat more chicken     c.  grow beans

3.  Where in home construction will higher levels of insulation do the most good?
a.  within exterior walls.
b.  in roof and attic construction.
c.  basement floors against the ground.

If you are continuing in your Green Home Design University course to the next level,
Favorite this page now, by clicking on your “Favorites” menu choice in the upper left of your Windows Internet Explorer window,
then click here:  Green Architects, Sustainability, Healthy Lifestyle to go to the next level 3.
1. c., 2. a., 3. b.


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