Climate change and design of houses

Published: Friday 31 August 2007

it's time we got worried about the way we build our houses, offices and markets. As more people migrate to cities, the need for more buidlings is causing a construction boom. This in turn makes astronomical demands on construction materials as well as energy--construction is one of the most resource-intensive sectors, be it bricks or steel or cement. And then throw in the cost of transporting these over long distances.

There are other costs, too. In the absence of sound planning of materials, buildings become inefficient in the energy use. This also creates an additional--and recurring--demand for new material for their upkeep. The construction industry often overlooks how buidling material, the built form, and the occupants play upon one another. What is environmentally unsound is also unhealthy and wasteful (see Cover story How green is your building?).

As climate change becomes more visible, we need smarter buildings that use less water and energy. The fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the growth of direct emissions from the construction sector was 26 per cent between 1970 and 1990. Energy is consumed not only during the construction of an average building all through the years of its use--for heating, cooling, lighting, cooking, ventilation, and so on. Buildings currently in fashion use very high levels of electricity. The total emissions from this sector are as much as 75 per cent of global emissions from human sources.

Needless to say, it is necessary to address these matters. There are numerous opportunities for governments, industry and consumers to adopt common sense in our buidling plans. Much can be achieved if more sustainable construction solutions are used, such as intelligent lighting and ventilation systems, low temperature heating and cooling systems, and energy saving household appliances. Reducing the ecological footprint of buildings will go a long way in mitigating climate change, among other things.

Many say 'green buildings' do not make economic sense. Perhaps this is so in the short term. But sensible planning takes the long view. Time has come to look at the lifetime economics of buildings, and then do a cost-benefit analysis. Policies and trends over the years have made habits out of unnecessary expenditures. Our building codes, even with a recently acquired politically correct terminology, are feeble at best. Policies governing construction need an overhaul. Economic sense needs to walk towards common sense.

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