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Houses used to be built with temperature as the top priority. Before we had energy-guzzling mechanical systems to change the temperature to whatever we wanted, builders had to use natural forces and clever engineering. This meant positioning homes to capture the sun’s heat in the winter or to direct a cool breeze through it in the summer. Builders carefully insulated and sealed homes. The locations and sizes of doorways, windows, and the overall design of the house all maximized temperature control.
Houses were basically thermal batteries – storing heat in case it’s needed later. But air conditioners and heaters take so much energy to work. In fact, more than half of the average household’s energy consumption is used for heating and air conditioning. And this energy is a huge chunk of the five hundred sixty million tons of carbon dioxide that American homes generate each year.
But what if we built homes so that they didn’t need tons of power to be constantly heated and cooled? If we don’t have to rely on our machines, we aren’t putting those damaging carbon emissions out into the atmosphere. The technology has been getting more energy efficient over time – think about those lightbulbs, and double-paned windows, and better insulation – we’ve already improved so much. But homes are a lot bigger than they used to be and expanding the square footage is wiping out the gains that we’ve made.
The other benefit of building an energy-efficient house is that you’re protecting against losing all temperature control if the power grid goes out. So if there’s a storm or overuse of electricity and the power goes out, you don’t immediately lose all your hot or cold air. This can be life-saving in an emergency. Architects like Siena Shaw are building with these techniques to bring a household’s energy demand down by 80% or more.
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What Is Passive House?
“Passive House (Passivhaus) represents today’s highest energy standard for building performance with the promise of reducing the operational energy consumption of buildings by up to 75% in California, while providing superior comfort and extreme indoor air quality – all with minimal additional upfront investment.”
How Old Houses Were Built To Minimize Heat In The Summer
“Builders years ago built homes with large overhangs so the sun would not enter windows during the hottest part of the day. You don’t see generous overhangs in new homes all too often. This is an example of a building practice that’s going from history to legend to myth.”
Building Science for Homeowners – By Allison Bailes
“Energy Vanguard’s mission is to turn houses into high performance homes. We do this by: teaching building science to professionals and homeowners, helping home energy raters succeed, designing high-performance heating, ventilating, & air conditioning systems, helping manufacturers, government agencies, and other businesses with building science research projects.”
Young people today are facing the realities of the climate crisis, mounting pollution, endless waste, and a society that is holding onto inefficient ways of producing energy. To that end, it’s easy to feel hopeless, but this is a generation who not only want solutions, they’re willing to build them. Impact of Everything is a series that is taking a look at the maverick engineers, scientists, tinkerers, and innovators who are helping to solve the world’s biggest environmental problems through technology.
Seeker empowers the curious to understand the science shaping our world. We tell award-winning stories about the natural forces and groundbreaking innovations that impact our lives, our planet, and our universe.
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