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RED's Designs for a Changing Climate
Dawn Danby, 25 Oct 05
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Over the course of ten weeks, the UK Design Council's RED team lived in their temporary laboratory, "a draughty Victorian terrace in Lewisham". They then worked to uncover the significant technical and policy barriers to retrofitting a typical house. The team have spun their findings, and impressive proposals, into Future Currents, a project addressing households' carbon impacts through energy use.

Our flat was like a sieve. The holes were everywhere. Cold air came down the chimneys, through the gaps in the floorboards, through the electric plugs on the wall, the large air vents in the kitchen and second bedroom, by the pipes, through the ceiling, under the doors. He told us that with the 20-mile-an-hour wind made by the fan, the air in the flat would change 40 times an hour. If the air had been water, the flat would have sunk in less than two minutes... An estimated six tonnes of carbon dioxide were being emitted a year from heating, lighting and powering the flat.

The first target the specialist suggested was to cut air changes to five an hour. But how? His company did not offer a retrofit service. Which local builder to approach? What trade? It would be easier just to turn the gas central heating up a notch or two, or buy an electric fan heater.

RED asks a rare question: "Can we make energy interesting?" Readers vote on their top ten policy recommendations, most of which alone blow away any 'Top 10' list I've ever seen. Redesigning Energy Policy details RED's concepts for empowering homeowners, and includes Personal Carbon Allowances, a '1 million roof' campaign for investing in solar or green roofs, and a whole set of systems that would support the creation and maintenance of urban decentralized energy in the UK. They've even designed gorgeous energy-use statements for households.

Check back for more: they've also commissioned five top designers to come up with energy-saving concepts, and even these design briefs are unusually sophisticated. I mean, how do we create desirable draught excluders, or make internal surface wall insulation "attractive, fashionable and even popular"?

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Comments

Well the big reason old homes are soo spendy to heat now is people are wimps. Back in the good old days you only needed heat if your toilet froze over;/

As I have lived for a time in homes that were 40 degrees inside and drafty I can attest thats why beds were made that way and why bedrooms were small and cozy.


Posted by: wintermane on 26 Oct 05

Great post Dawn. I'm not sure that energy efficiency techniques need to be popular with homeowners. The answer may lie with the trades.

I got to tour Northern Europe in 1996, learning about "Green" Building there (courtesy of the German Marshall Fund). In Denmark, I visited an energy information center where the folks thought they needed a "consumer education campaign" about solar water heaters. After a lot of futility, they realized they needed a "plumber education campaign". So the drill was: free bus ride to the solar water heater factory; free tour with hands-on demonstrations, chats with the factory staff, rub elbows and such; free beer-and-sausage lunch; then we'll give you a small subsidy for your first 3 installations while you get over the learning curve. Local plumbers attended in droves. Within 3 years, solar-water-heater installations in that part of Denmark were up 10-fold.

My suggestion: make energy interesting to folks in the building trades, to folks who work in lumberyards and hardware stores, and to realtors.

Oh - and to landlords. I designed 16 townhouses once, for a guy who's an insulation contractor. We insulated them right. He charges a slightly higher rent, but throws in heat. It's very, very profitable.


Posted by: David Foley on 26 Oct 05

Years ago, I had a gas water heater in my apartment (built by Day and Night, one of the original solar hot water heating companies in the USA, circa 1890). Eventually, it started to leak and had to be replaced. I arranged with my landlord to install a demand hot water heater. They would pay what they would for a regular gas hot water heater and I'd pay the difference.

Ordered the water heater. Made an appointment with the plumber. He comes in, sees the demand hot water heater, and freaks, "I don't know how to install this thing!" His boss comes in and shows him how. It works well with a little maintenance (cleaning a valve) about once each six months.

A few years later, a new landlord comes in and renovates the apartment. Now the hot water heaters are downstairs in the basement behind a locked door. My gas bill goes up, reflecting the losses I'd previously avoided (about 1/3 of the hot water heater's energy usage).

I'm trying again though. Installed a half gallon per minute low flow showerhead in the bath a week or so ago.


Posted by: gmoke on 26 Oct 05

I need to amend my last post. It IS important for energy to be interesting to "regular" folks. Just look at Gmoke, who is interested - and frustrated.

I forgot that after all, building-occupant behavior can trump tight building envelopes and cutting-edge equipment. My insulation-contractor/landlord friend wouldn't do too well if his tenants left the windows open in winter.

Perhaps we need several kinds of "interest" in energy. For building occupants, visible meters and gauges, with real-time feedback about energy use, have been shown to be very effective. Interest in hands-on techniques, equipment and systems should get to the trades, folks in lumberyards and hardware stores (where laypeople get a lot of their advice), and the facilities managers and building custodians who actually operate and maintain buildings. The basic life-cycle cash-flow information needs to get to developers, realtors, mortgage officers and landlords.

And of course, one of the most powerful and pervasive kinds of feedback: pricing energy at something close to its real cost. For us 'Murricans, perhaps that includes a separate line item in our income tax forms, clearly showing just how much of the tax bill is for military junkets to protect oil sources, subsidies to oil and gas companies, etc., etc.


Posted by: David Foley on 27 Oct 05



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