Sunday, March 14, 2010

If it is true, it will return. Recovering lost knowledge.

If the first Industrial Revolution had a motto, we like to joke, it would have been "If brute force doesn't work, you're not using enough of it."
- William McDonough & Michael Braungart : Cradle to Cradle
That is the world that was built for us and that we grew up in. A world of cheap power and the belief that wielding that power was the "best" answer to everything. From a building perspective, that led us to glass encased, sealed boxes in the desert. As long as you have the cheap power to cool (and heat) them, then things are fine. But when you don't, what do you do?

Turns out that our forebears knew and built differently.
- Verandas to shade large sections of the house.
- Trees and Ivy to shade the walls.
- Natural ventilation to draw cooler air in and push warm air out (double hung windows and high windows with ground floor doors in factories).
- Heavy earthen walls to act as thermal buffers.

When you couldn't count on brute force, you had to build differently.

And now, with the push to put a soft landing on climate change making "cheap power" decidedly not cheap, we're rediscovering that there are better ways to build.

A great example is Passivehaus.
In short: Seal and insulate the house to an extreme. Use passive solar (and appropriate shading), ground source heat and body heat to make the place warm. Use exhaust air heat exchange to keep the warmth inside. Use the most energy efficient fixtures and appliances available to keep electricity usage down.
Here is a recent example of Passivehaus in California!

And there is more to learn from nature itself via biomimetics (e.g. how termites manage to control climate in their mounds).

The truth is out there if we are willing to bend with nature rather than to try to break it.