Building & Design Blog Blog

Building & Design Blog

The Building & Design Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about building projects, tools and equipment, materials and hardware, and environment & energy. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

Previous in Blog: Nuclear Power in the U.K.   Next in Blog: How Smart is Virtual Construction?
Close
Close
Close
13 comments

Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

Posted September 12, 2010 8:27 AM

My dad has been in the construction business for nearly 60 years. With all that experience, you might think he'd know the secret behind something so seemingly basic as sustainable buildings. In his opinion, a truly sustainable building that not only uses zero energy but in fact becomes a net energy producer is fantasy. "Just think of all the energy and waste that goes into producing the products and materials that will make up the new building?" he asserts. "Think of all the labor, fuel, food, and transport. It all takes energy, kid."

My father has plenty of allies in his argument. Graham Fairley, head of fa├žade engineering at Aecom in the UK, notes that more information and design research are needed before architects and contractors can deliver a truly sustainable building. "Building materials are becoming more energy efficient," he admits. "But when you think about all the energy that's used to make it, and you don't know how long it's going to last, you don't have a real picture of what it is you're doing."

But that doesn't mean that we should give up on reaching for the holy grail of sustainable buildings. It just means that engineers and architects need to dig deeper for information on determining just what green materials take the least amount of energy to manufacture. In the end, it will be these zero energy materials that will create the foundations for the world's first truly sustainable buildings. What do you think?

The preceding article is a "sneak peek" from Building & Design, a newsletter from GlobalSpec. To stay up-to-date and informed on industry trends, products, and technologies, subscribe to Building & Design today.

Reply

Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be Good Answers:

These comments received enough positive ratings to make them "good answers".

Comments rated to be "almost" Good Answers:

Check out these comments that don't yet have enough votes to be "official" good answers and, if you agree with them, rate them!
Guru
Technical Fields - Technical Writing - New Member Engineering Fields - Piping Design Engineering - New Member

Join Date: May 2009
Location: Richland, WA, USA
Posts: 21001
Good Answers: 781
#1

Re: Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

09/12/2010 7:02 PM

I doubt there could ever be such things as "zero energy materials." Sustainability wouldn't require them, anyway. All that is needed is to get energy usage to be ≤ permanently available input (solar, wind, hydro). Of course, "all that is needed" is a big phrase....

__________________
In vino veritas; in cervisia carmen; in aqua E. coli.
Reply
Guru
Popular Science - Evolution - New Member

Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: India-Chennai.
Posts: 697
Good Answers: 30
#3
In reply to #1

Re: Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

09/13/2010 12:25 AM

Why do you doubt, "there could ever be such things as "zero energy materials." Sustainability wouldn't require them, anyway"?

There had been and still are many monuments and temples sustained till now since their creations. And we don't doubt of their sustainability unless could be affected by some force majeure.

__________________
A picture worth thousand words: needless to say if it is animated.
Reply
Guru
Technical Fields - Technical Writing - New Member Engineering Fields - Piping Design Engineering - New Member

Join Date: May 2009
Location: Richland, WA, USA
Posts: 21001
Good Answers: 781
#8
In reply to #3

Re: Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

09/13/2010 7:51 PM

Virtually anything one does to construction materials (grow, harvest, mine; cut, mold, forge, shape; transport, lift, install;...) requires energy. So I don't think the term "zero energy materials" is meaningful, unless some really weird definitions are used.

(You can get back some of the energy by burning or dropping them, but probably not 100%.)

Sustainability is a different concept from durability. As far as energy goes, using up stored energy such as fossil fuels is not sustainable. Using ongoing inputs like the aformentioned solar, wind, and hydro can conceivably last "forever" and hence would be sustainable.

__________________
In vino veritas; in cervisia carmen; in aqua E. coli.
Reply
Guru
Engineering Fields - Electromechanical Engineering - Technical Services Manager Canada - Member - Army brat Popular Science - Cosmology - What is Time and what is Energy? Technical Fields - Architecture - Draftsperson Hobbies - RC Aircraft - New Member

Join Date: Sep 2006
Location: Clive, Alberta, Canada
Posts: 5907
Good Answers: 204
#5
In reply to #1

Re: Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

09/13/2010 12:37 AM

"I doubt there could ever be such things as "zero energy materials."

silly goose... of course there are... just mention 'work' around some teenagers... and you will see some zero energy materials... they are made of it... 100%

but to be effective, we need negative energy materials.. .which means extracting it (by remote control... don't get any on you.) from an ex-wife...

(very good at mining... they come with built-in stone crushers )

chris

Reply
Guru
Hobbies - DIY Welding - New Member Hobbies - Target Shooting - New Member Engineering Fields - Civil Engineering - New Member United States - Member - New Member

Join Date: May 2009
Location: Red Hook, New York (Mid-Hudson River Valley)
Posts: 4364
Good Answers: 177
#7
In reply to #5

Re: Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

09/13/2010 8:11 AM

Great post Chris about zero energy teenagers! **LOL**

Well, I have had the grand privilege of raising/teaching/coaching/loving 5 teenagers through 2 marriages, and know exactly what you're experiencing my good man!

But, the question that should be begged is:

"How much energy do you have to expend (as in over and over again) to get a lazy teenager to move their butt off the couch or bed to get anything accomplished (as in chores and other tasks) that you have repeated asked them to do"?

I think the answer is that there's not enough energy on the entire planet to motivate the collective group of teenagers in this world.......the only way to motivate them is to dangle the car keys in front of their noses and promise that if they don't do ask you have politely asked then the keys stay in my pocket the entire week, and hence no date with the opposite sex in the upcoming weekend! **LMAO** Unfortunately, taking away the telephone privileges (like a generation ago) no longer works in this era because of cell phones, Twitter, and the Net.....damn! :-(

I swear that my hair has turned from jet black to "salt & pepper" solely from trying to get getting my teenagers to do anything over the past decade.... And the strangest thing is that while in the service I could get my troops to do anything, but I couldn't get teenagers to do zip...doesn't help if "Momma Bear" intercedes on their behalf for God knows what reason........**sigh**

How about you????

Hey, this would be a great blog topic! Might be worth trying it???? ***LMAO***

__________________
"Veni, Vidi, Vici"; hendiatris attributed to Gaius Julius Caesar, 47 B.C.
Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Power-User
Engineering Fields - Electrical Engineering - Not so new Member Popular Science - Weaponology - New Member Hobbies - Fishing - New Member, old hobby.

Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Windhoek, Namibia, South west africa
Posts: 405
Good Answers: 22
#10
In reply to #7

Re: Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

09/28/2010 1:11 PM

Righto!, A1, BA(best answer) Capt. You hit the nail on the head. 'Teenager we were once!' No explanation needed. By having offspring that reach 'teenager y', we repay our teenage sins and "automatically" think we know better as we've been there, done that & know most of it. But me'thinks that in todays' world we learn of new challenges to our offspring that didn't exist in our time. these 'challenges' are really learning 'curves' to me which I feel keep me up to date and remind me of constant change. But as you say, I think that all who have above said things,(teenagers) in the house might agree that this would be a great blog topic.(A little bit off from an engineering site but then we all, or most, probably have kids & they do affect our lives in a great way.) I IS HUMAN TOO!

__________________
The days of good english has went.
Reply
2
Guru

Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: I'm outa here
Posts: 1924
Good Answers: 196
#2

Re: Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

09/13/2010 12:15 AM

I don't think the sustainable design dwelling is a fantasy. Given the energy and strength of the average youthful human it is possible to build sustainable houses with local materials. It's been going on for millennia and continues today albeit in places not subject to the restrictive building codes of advanced Western nations.

The real question is not how to build a sustainable house. It is how to build such dwellings for all of humanity. There is probably enough land in theory. However not much of the land is suitable for such purposes. And what land there is tends to be in local pockets where human populations are at high densities.

There is another problem. As our material prosperity increases our demands for our homes increase in physical scope and increase in terms of energy consuming conveniences. So a century ago a resident of rural England was willing to wear a wool sweater all winter to be comfortable in a house where temperatures ranged between 10 and 15C. Today those same folks insist on heating the house to 22C in the winter so they will not need to wear sweaters and consider such practice to be a basic human need. As well the need to have separate bedrooms for each child, a "living room" seldom used for actual living and an entry hallway spacious enough to house an entire family in some third world countries.

So the discussion of a sustainable house cannot be done without a consideration of the standard of living its occupants (and their NIMBY neighbors) are ready to accept.

But why argue about the energy needed to build and afterward support a residential dwelling. The fact of the matter is that most of us can afford it whether we pay to build, buy or rent.

Ahhhhhhh....... But there are troubling exceptions. There are people that live in the streets sleeping either on the ground or in their aging automobiles. Will we see more of this? Good question.

Perhaps we need to explore the types and sizes of "houses" that would require minimal energy expenditures and would not be hampered by typical American municipal zoning restrictions or unrealistic building codes. A good exercise might be for each of us interested in this subject to explore just how we would after some disaster rebuild on our present homesite (If we own the home) or go forward (if we rent). Lets imagine for this exercise that there is a minimal amount of money available to pay for the rebuild and the local municipal authorities are in such a condition of disarray that building codes and zoning requirements will not be enforced. So if you have minimal money to buy building materials that consume a lot of energy in their manufacture, then there is an immediate sustainable plus to your plan. The same goes for ongoing energy consumption of the dwelling.

How would you do it? What building materials and techniques would be at the top of your list? How big would you build the new house? How would you prioritize the inclusion of energy consuming features and equipment? How well is the location (where you presently live) suited to human habitation?

Ed Weldon

Reply Good Answer (Score 2)
Member

Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 7
#4

Re: Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

09/13/2010 12:33 AM

I have been in the construction industry for a little over 40 years & I hold the same view as your Dad. All our activities are energy consuming. The new materials to which we are switching over for architectural beauty, functional efficiency all consume more energy. The urbanization is leading towards higher energy consumption and the the objective of self-sustaining building is a self defeating move & we satisfy ourselves with calculations over a partial area and show the benefits.

Reply
3
Guru
Australia - Member - New Member

Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: Australia
Posts: 2135
Good Answers: 251
#6

Re: Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

09/13/2010 3:13 AM

It's all a matter of balance. If my home were built and used 1MWh of energy and survived 100 years, then that's more sustainable that a similar home built using 0.5MWh and only lasting 20 years.

It's a little like the difference between a ceramic coffee mug and using paper cups. Eventually the re-usable mug reaches a point where the energy balance falls in favour of the ceramic.

Houses are hopefully durable items with predictabel lifespan. It's then relatively simple to equate value per year utilised spread over the life of the dwelling compared to alternatives considered.

For note, our house was a school that was to be demolished. We bought it, had it cut up and transported 20km, relocated onto piers all for under $10k. We saved the environment from receiving that building as scrap. I estimate the building has another 10 years before needing a new roof and then will have another 40 year life before further refurbishment.

$10k spread over 60 years seems sustainable to me, and in the end, the building will still be exactly the same amount of scrap that it would have made when we first bought it.

Sustainability and consumerism would seem to be the issues that are at odds. Durable goods that are truly durable average their impact over time.

As for daily energy usage, that's another game. We probably however waste more "sustainability" impact on food and our consumer goods. Fruit out of season transported huge distances, lightweight processed foods because we are too lazy to prepare them ourselves and so on.

My house is now at the point where it has cost us under $4 per day that we have occupied it. I know that my environmental footprint is much larger in the commodity area than in housing.

__________________
Just an Engineer from the land down under.
Reply Good Answer (Score 3)
Commentator

Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 70
#9
In reply to #6

Re: Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

09/28/2010 9:42 AM

Some great comments. However we are now in an era of "green energy" which is the opposite of the 3 little pigs and the big bad wolf who will huff and puff a "green house" down.

The concept of the present value of future costs does not exist in the flaky political world of the "green economy" and the nit wit green weenies who are more about political control than construction life cycle costs. Their currency is not knowledge or skill-- it is politics. Their thinking is not past the next election or the next power grab.

Reply
Guru
Australia - Member - New Member

Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: Australia
Posts: 2135
Good Answers: 251
#11
In reply to #9

Re: Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

09/28/2010 5:45 PM

Agree strongly with your sentiment.

I now work in an industry with lifecycles typically 80 years, and some potentially in excess of 200 years and yet all financial modeling (Net present value) and othere management principals all work inside a 20 year horizon.

Sustainability involves not stealing from the past, nor borrowing from the future, but the education system (and as you point out the political system) do not provide tools to determine and correctly quantify "intergenerational" equity.

"Consumerism" seems to be built into our first world mentality and the attraction of the short term gain appeals to the "now" generation since they won't be here in 150 years.

I won't rant on this, but there are books to be written about the folley that is creating and sustaining such short term focus.

__________________
Just an Engineer from the land down under.
Reply Score 1 for Good Answer
Guru
Safety - Hazmat - New Member Safety - ESD - New Member Engineering Fields - Transportation Engineering - New Member Popular Science - Evolution - New Member Technical Fields - Procurement - New Member Hobbies - Target Shooting - New Member Popular Science - Cosmology - New Member Engineering Fields - Architectural Engineering - New Member Technical Fields - Marketing/Advertising - New Member Engineering Fields - Food Process Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: Mariposa Ca
Posts: 5800
Good Answers: 114
#12
In reply to #9

Re: Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

09/28/2010 6:49 PM

What makes you think politics isn't a skill?

as you are so quick to point out we are dancing to their tune...

Reply
Guru
Hobbies - Musician - New Member Australia - Member - Torn and breading Engineering Fields - Nanoengineering - New Member APIX Pilot Plant Design Project - Member - New Member

Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Magnetic Island, Queensland, Australia
Posts: 3721
Good Answers: 74
#13

Re: Is Sustainable Design a Fantasy?

09/28/2010 7:21 PM

Building a Cellar on a Dune

Thought this might be of interest. It will lead you to a link here that has knocked me over. I wonder what your dad would say after looking at it.

Thanks to Yusef, again, Ky.

__________________
The Twain Has Met
Reply
Reply to Blog Entry 13 comments
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be Good Answers:

These comments received enough positive ratings to make them "good answers".

Comments rated to be "almost" Good Answers:

Check out these comments that don't yet have enough votes to be "official" good answers and, if you agree with them, rate them!
Copy to Clipboard

Users who posted comments:

bsvr (1); CaptMoosie (1); chrisg288 (1); Ed Weldon (1); Garthh (1); Jack Marcotte (1); Just an Engineer (2); ky (1); Leonf (1); Tornado (2); yesyen (1)

Previous in Blog: Nuclear Power in the U.K.   Next in Blog: How Smart is Virtual Construction?

Advertisement