Warning: Do not stop building. Just find new ways to use your energy wisely. The future depends on it.
There is this perception out there that architects are sometimes wasteful. We carve out large areas out of small ones. We over-design by using materials in excess. We create superfluous forms that don’t make much sense.
I can understand this sentiment because part of what I do as an architect is to destroy before I can create. Whether it is earth that is being removed or an existing structure that has to be demolished, room has to be made for architecture to happen.
In making a home for ourselves, humans are using up natural resources. We are using them faster than they can be replaced. For instance, forests are being removed to provide wood and land. Wood is used as a material to build farms and homes on that land.
Much of our daily living comes from the Earth and its environment. Everything we make, use and throw away comes from natural resources. The discouraging part is that humans are unable to create these very same natural resources.
Here is a list of raw materials supplied by nature:
- Fossil Fuels
We often don’t think we are using these resources in our daily lives. We don’t even think of them as being resources. They can even be replaced.
The truth is that it takes time to replace them. These resources are of the non-renewable type and the most recognizable are fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are formed from the remains of plants and animals. It takes millions and millions of years for them to form. So they are not easy to replace.
To make matters worse, we are using natural resources faster than they can be replaced. Experts say that our rainforests, the size of New Jersey, are being cut down every year. The rainforests are the “lungs” of the planet. Without them, plants and animals must find another home.
Our activities impact the environment. We use the pulp of trees to make paper products. We use trees to harvest wood for building materials and to make furniture. We burn fossil fuels for energy to power and heat our homes.
You can imagine the damage caused to the environment. So why don’t we stop building?
The question is absurd. And yet, it has been asked.
The answer is because we don’t want to return to the Dark Ages. We need to find solutions.
It’s unreasonable to say that we can change our activities and stop building. This way of thinking is the same kind of limitation to the boundaries of thought defined by the Dark Ages. If we limit ourselves to the same thoughts and feelings like those who have lived back then, we are doomed to ignore everything around us now.
The solutions lie in some of the technological advancements we discover and cultivate today. We should care less with what humans did hundreds of years ago. We need to give power and energy to our minds and build new intellectual enterprises for progress.
We are all aware of the disasters we face in our environment. Yet awareness alone does very little to change our behavior when we are employing traditional information. A new transformation in thinking will have to occur in order to achieve success. Each one of us has to enlarge our minds for new thought.
Consider this scenario. Cities contribute 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions caused by converting fossil fuels to energy. The government’s response to climate change is inadequate to meet the challenge of significantly lowering this percentage.
A large part of emissions generated by cities come from homes and cars. Ordinary humans like you and I must make changes to our everyday habits and behaviors. There is much doubt on government reliance to think and change for us. We must rely on our own thinking and motive power to generate solutions.
New ideas connected with clean energy are important for society. They give excitement to the mind. They motivate us in our human nature to live while being in harmony with the environment and doing the least amount of harm.
Take concrete for instance, which is partly created by minerals. One idea is to explore modifying the concrete manufacturing process to reduce CO2 emissions. We have already started partially replacing cement with less energy-intensive materials such as fly ash and silica fume.
Another idea is to increase the potential for concrete’s inherent nature to absorb CO2 during the curing process. A significant portion of CO2 produced during the manufacturing of cement is absorbed during the product life cycle. Innovative manufacturers have already begun to replace the conventional lime admixture in concrete with magnesium silicate to take advantage of absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide as concrete hardens. This is called carbonation.
The result is that actually concrete compares favorably to wood when analyzing energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
Concrete building systems incorporate insulation, high thermal mass and low infiltration to create energy efficient wall systems that save energy over the life of a building. The result is lowering CO2 emissions compared to wood frame construction. Home builders and owners who want to retrofit their existing homes may want to consider alternatives to the tradition of using wood building systems.
A research study comparing the energy performance of concrete wall systems to wood frame structures shows that the concrete wall systems reduced energy requirements for a typical home by more than 17%. A stick-frame home would have to be built with R-38 insulation in a 12” wall to achieve the same energy performance as the insulated 6” concrete wall with 2” rigid insulation.
If we use our mind to think creatively, we can change how we re-make one of the oldest building materials in history. We can think to build new ways of using our resources carefully. We can think about the potential in energy savings for our homes.
To think that we can stop building is wasteful.