Monday, 21 May 2012

Lunacy of 'Green Building' Design

I just finished reading the humorous, direct, and in my opinion - very accurate assessment by Dr. Joseph Lstiburek of the dysfunctional separation of good building science and the current state of building design.

You can always count on Dr. Lstiburek to tell it the way it is and this article tells it straight.  Having recently completed both the BuildGreen and LEED AP training courses, I cannot agree more with Joe's points of view.  When things like 'day-lighting' are given more points and priority in a building design than ensuring a bullet proof and energy efficient building envelop, then the system has somehow been turned on its head and all the change is falling out of the pockets in terms of heat loss or gain through a poorly performing envelope.

Part of my journey through the 'sustainable neighbourhood' has been down flashy roads that promise all manner of wonderful things for me if I just use this particular flooring, or use ground up glass for my counter-tops.  Oh and how healthy I will be if I can just design a dwelling where I can see every leaf on every tree from every spot within that dwelling.

Now do not get me wrong, these are all important aspects of a good and sustainable building design.  But on scale of importance they are nearer the bottom.  If the basics like shedding water, keeping heat in or out, and ensuring the transfer of air is only through the holes YOU want, are not thought out and well executed, then what have you really achieved? You end up with a building that is much more expensive to build (putting in all the premium non-VOC finishing products, huge volumes of glazing, LED lighting, etc.) but will not pay you back with substantial and measurable energy savings.  And unless you are reducing your energy needs you are not fixing the planet no matter how many gallons of Volo paint you use on your project.

I have now realized that the roads I should travel on in the 'sustainable neighbourhood' are the narrow, darker lanes that talk about building science, continuous insulation, air barrier strategies, glazing ratios, building compactness, dew-point potentials, drying potentials, ...  While these roads are not as flashy as the others, they do provide the promise of a payback of my investment and the ability to make a real change to my impact on the planet.  The vendors along these roads all provide real-word methods for measuring their products performance and therefore payback.

I have come to see the beauty of these lanes.  They are narrow because that allows the most efficient use of land.  They are darker because they are conserving electricity and do not have flashy neon signs.  Just billboards providing defendable promises.  I recently had a discussion with a colleague over the aesthetics of a particular roof design on a high-rise we were driving past.  He has more of an artistic aptitude than I and was trying to get me to see the nice lines of the design and how it 'flowed' and was different than the traditional box look.  All I could see was that it had a butterfly design that would not adequately shed water and to me that was 'ugly'.

I believe this is the point that Dr. Lstiburek is is trying to make; until the design community, and population as a whole, start seeing bad building envelope design as ugly, we will all just be standing on our heads with the money pouring out of our pockets!