Apparently this approach differs greatly from the current focus on technology – low-E windows, solar panels, energy saving bulbs, energy efficient HVAC.
Why the difference? I’m going to give away my age here, but I think there might be a clue in reflecting the condition of our “growing up” years. The energy efficiency pioneers of the 70’s were raised in a world which was just starting to incorporate central forced air heating and central air conditioning in commercial buildings, but mostly without that buffer of mechanical temperature controls in their homes. They knew summers to be hot, and winters to be bone chilling cold. They experience humidity, and knew the cooling effects of a light breeze. So the ‘problem’ they were solving was the core issue of achieving a more even temperature and humidity to increase the comfort level.
The catalyst which sparked the flurry of home innovation was the OPEC oil crisis, but the 60’s generation set the stage in the interest to go “organic,” and embracing nature, and to do your own thing. So the 70’s energy efficient designs are innovative, organic and leverage the opportunities offered by natural elements. They are based on building physics, harnessing solar heat, moving air through buffering plenums, shading designs for cooling. Mechanical heating and cooling were then positioned as supplemental, providing the final bit of temperature moderation. And ‘mechanical’ solutions were equally creative in those days, including whole house fans, solar thermal radiant heat, trombe walls with fans…
But forced air mechanical units essentially trumped all those approaches, and this Millennial generation approaches design from a difference reference point. They start with the presumption that central air HVAC is normal and necessary. So then the question becomes how to produce the electricity to feed this mechanical creature who has a permanent spot in your basement or attic. So we put our efforts into solar panels, windmills, hydroelectric. And the HVAC monster is not the only electricity gobbling resident in the household. There are water heaters, refrigerators, coffee makers, microwaves, TVs, radios, hair dryers, hair curlers, hair straighteners…. and a gazillion more gadgets. In systems thinking jargon, we would call this an electricity addiction. And the interesting part is that if electricity prices are kept low (either through subsidized coal, or reduced priced of solar panels), then it triggers an even greater addiction to electricity. While I’m not necessarily advocating a return to the cave, this addiction and new norm distances the HVAC ‘solution’ even further from the core issue - which is rooted in building physics.
|from solar to Architecture2030|
So call me an old geezer looking for some recognition for my craft, or a die-hard granola, but I prefer to bill myself as a systems analyst and root cause problem solver who thinks we could learn a lot by cruising the second hand bookstores and picking up the old 70’s energy efficiency solutions. If the black and white photos make you uncomfortable, you can certainly Photoshop in some color – but I think there is some fundamental knowledge to be gained. And if you prefer to learn on-line, there is no finer collection of these experienced builders than at GreenbuildingAdvisor.com. These guys have been experimenting, building, and testing building systems for years.   ( Click HERE to read an excellent synopsis of the solar vs superinsulation lessons from the last 30 years). Which brings me to Ed Mazria, who I first knew the author of the epic book on Passive Solar building. Now, he is best known and the catalyst for the Architecture 2030 movement, bringing together good science, analysis and problem solving to boldly set the energy bar at the level we need to see to address our climate issues.
|Solaripedia design in Serbia|
So what if we were design with the starting premise of NO mechanical assist in dwellings. Afer we've refined the design as best possible, only then would we identify the need for supplemental space conditioning. The energy for this smaller and more targetted heating and cooling equipment can come from the grid, but ultimately, we would ‘pay’ this forward by creating excess energy, cleaning more air than we pollute, harvesting and placing more water than we use. This goal of becoming energy neutral might help re-assess the need for all the eletricity gadgets as well. Combining the knowledge gained through the experimentation of the 70’s and 80's, the growing knowledge of building science, and the technology of the Millenium, there is no reason we couldn’t achieve Mazria’s goals and leave our own legacy for our children to build upon.