How YOUR Buildings Can Create a Net Zero Carbon Economy

A power plant representing industrial energy production contrasts with Smart Plus Academy's focus on sustainable building practices.

Are you a construction professional who wants to incorporate measurable energy savings into your construction procedures? Or perhaps a more precise question is, are you currently able to calculate the energy demand in terms of kilowatt hours in your construction designs?

The energy consumption of our buildings, and the resulting carbon emissions are becoming a critical factor in construction, both in our physical reality and construction code updates.

In this article, we will explore the science behind the code changes, international regulation updates, and what that means for Australian construction professionals.

According to the International Energy Agency, 39% of our carbon emissions come from constructing and running our buildings. That is 39% of all the oil, coal, and gas that is being burned and sending greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere. And most of this energy leaks straight through our windows, walls, and roofs! The standard solution? Burn more coal to make more electricity, to pump in more energy to our underperforming buildings!

Most building professionals know there are better ways to design and build, but how do we systemize it? What’s the most accurate way to calculate the energy demand of our designs in kilowatt hours and dollars? That’s exactly what being a Passive House professional is all about!

Graph of ice core reconstruction

Image Credit: NOAA

But first, let’s understand the big picture and why we can’t afford to continue business as usual.

Having studied the atmospheric conditions of gasses trapped in ice cores dated back 800,000 years, scientists have determined that the amount of carbon in our atmosphere has increased more dramatically in the last 200 years, than it did in the 20,000 years preceding the industrial revolution.

In high concentrations, carbon emissions create a greenhouse gas effect by trapping energy in our atmosphere that would dissipate under regular atmospheric conditions. The massive bush fires of 2020 that we experienced in Australia are a reflection of the atmospheric conditions increasing in severity and consistency and evidenced in fires across Brazil, the US, and Russia.

Having studied this atmospheric change and making accurate predictions to global warming evidenced in arctic ice melt, bush fires, and coral bleaching due to rising ocean temperatures, global climate scientists have been sounding the much-ignored alarm since 1979 when they met at the First World Climate Convention in Geneva.

But in 2008 the European Union heeded these warnings and established the Action Plan for Energy Efficiency which proposed quote “a binding requirement that all new buildings needing heating and cooling be constructed to Passive House or equivalent non-residential standards.”

It seems the EU parliament put the facts together that 39% of carbon emissions come from the building and running costs of buildings and that these carbon emissions create a greenhouse heating effect that is causing temperatures to increase at a velocity that causes species extinction. But what data do we have to show that the passive house method is the answer to the monumental carbon footprint of the building industry?

Image credit: Passive House Insitute

By 2008, 250 units in 14 different building projects, across five countries of varying climates had been built to the passive house standard and monitored for over a decade in comparison with standard builds and it was found that heating energy savings averaged about 90% in comparison with standard building stock.

Perhaps more relevant to well-intentioned building professionals, are how passive house methods compare with new construction that is labelled as energy efficient but has less methodical systems of measurement. Not only are the predictions of energy usage significantly more accurate with the passive house builds, but the overall energy loss is reduced by 75% compared to the average of “energy efficient new construction”.

Heating Demand Passive House Graph

Image credit: Passive House Institute

In 2016 the Paris agreement received sweeping support from 196 countries in the commitment to redevelop their economies to reduce carbon emissions.  Both the EU and the UK made commitments to net zero carbon economies by 2050.

In 2017 a 57-page report was filed with the Energy Department of the Australian government titled Changes Associated with Efficient Dwellings Project.  One of the major conclusions was that better design can lead to affordable increases in efficiency, while attempting to change the efficiency post-design often leads to upspeccing which causes unnecessary price increases.

In 2019 the city of Melbourne and the Australian Capital Territory joined over 100 councils to declare climate emergency and mandate “greening and zero emission buildings through their planning scheme”. Nearly Zero Carbon emitting buildings are already the standard for new construction in Europe, and the Passive House criteria fulfil every aspect of these requirements.

In 2021 the UK put forth the Future Buildings Act in which they propose how to make “new buildings more energy and thermally efficient, as well as ways to improve energy performance of existing buildings through reducing energy demand.”

Australia is a commonwealth country that also signed the Paris agreement and international pressure is mounting to make a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

And now representative Zali Steggall has put forth the Climate Act Bill which has already received broad support from state governments, industry leaders including the Business Council of Australia, and the UK’s climate change committee.

It is clear that this change in building design is necessary and occurring as we speak. The question is, will we wait until the last fossil fuel company gives up its lobbying power in parliament before we start designing and constructing better buildings?

The solutions we need depend on how construction professionals decide to move forward in the face of this overwhelming data. Do we wait for a slow bureaucracy with mixed interests to tell us how to solve a problem or do we assess the situation ourselves and take action?

Passive House professionals are part of a movement that is actively pursuing and initiating solutions, and it’s why we love working with our students!

Passive House methods are the most effective and measurable system of reducing our carbon footprint in the building industry and we are passionate about guiding you through the steps necessary to implement these proven techniques.

Check out our courses for both designers and tradespeople and keep your eyes open for more content coming through our Facebook page, emails, and Instagram where we will be giving concise, practical advice with industry experts on installation, affordability, great design, and much more.

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