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'The Secret to Excellence...' Reduce Energy Demand

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Nevelyn Black's picture
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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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  • Apr 20, 2022

“You can’t get to Net-Zero unless you build a better building…” said Michael Ingui of Baxt Ingui Architects.  Easy for him to say, he’s an architect, artist, and the founder of the Passive House Accelerator LLC, a catalyst for zero carbon building.  Like Ingui, energy efficiency and renewables aside, many feel the focus should be on reducing the energy demand of buildings.  “A lot people debate how we should get our heating whether it’s oil or gas.  What it we could design houses that don’t need that at all?” Ingui said.

As demand rises, the debate continues.  In the residential sector, energy demand is forecast to rise by 3.6 percent to 145 TWh by 2024. Many initiatives promote renewable energy in buildings over the reduction of energy demand.  However, experts feel ‘the secret to excellence’ is achieving a good protection system (insulated and hermetic), a ventilation method that recovers heat and a building with little demand for energy, like a Passive House.  It is believed that then, and only then, should energy efficient equipment and strategies be implemented.  

A building that requires little demand or a Passive House design maximizes the use of 'natural' sources of heating, cooling and ventilation to create comfortable conditions inside buildings. It harnesses environmental conditions such as solar radiation, cool night air and air pressure differences to drive the internal environment. Passive measures do not involve mechanical or electrical systems. If successful, a building like this could actually generate more energy than it needs.  

“People have been building this way for a very long time in Europe, and I think it’s really making a lot of headway in the U.S. now.  Especially in Brooklyn...” Ingui said.

Reducing the energy demand of existing structures will also reduce energy consumption and emissions from utilities.  According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, residential energy efficiency could be the largest source of reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the US. and a 2016 study showed that increasing insulation in all the single-family homes in the country would lead to annual reductions of 80 million tons of carbon dioxide from power plants. 

“The primary purpose of a building is to provide shelter,” Christoph Reinhart, director of the building technology program at MIT.  "“Being thermally separated, reducing conduction, is always good," he added.  This means a well-insulated building is paramount.  While it might not sound as exciting as planting trees or buying a new EV, improving insulation can reduce emissions and increase the “passive survivability” of a building, or the length of time buildings stay at a comfortable temperature without power, said Victor Olgyay, principal architect in the carbon-free buildings program at RMI, a think tank that studies sustainability.

Although installing new insulation seems extensive and costly, “It’s just an integral part, the insulation,” Reinhart said. “If you have this vision of a great future for society, you need the insulation too. You can’t sidestep that.”

Brooklyn is embracing the Passive House design and architect Michael Ingui said, “I only have to heat my house ten days a year because I have built a better building.”  For those unable to ‘build’ their own energy efficient home or Passive House, the U.S. Department of Energy is providing assistance to help fund weatherization upgrades.



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