Home truths - low-carbon materials key to greener dwellings
1st June 2009
Forget complex, high-end technologies – basic truths and natural, low-carbon materials hold the key to sustainable and truly energy-efficient homes, argues James Hulme
In recent years there has been a great emphasis on the role of technology to improve the energy performance of residential and office buildings, whether newbuild or retrofitted. No shiny ‘eco house’ is perceived as complete without wind turbines, heat pumps, an array of photovoltaic panels and walls packed with foam-based insulation behind plastic membranes.
The truth, however, is that in our drive for energy efficiency we may be overlooking some basic truths about traditional building performance that are the key to real sustainability. In particular, relying on high-end technology may give short-term results at the evaluation stage, but the very specificity of these solutions mean they are going to be rendered obsolete by changes in the building’s use or configuration, or else fail in time due to their relative complexity and inability to be maintained simply. Membranes shrink or become damaged in routine alterations, while solar panels reach the end of their useful life after 20 years, even when specified for a building that should be around for 200 years or more. In the design of new buildings, clear distinction needs to be drawn between promoting the sort of smart technologies that sell new...
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