Herb Swanson for The New York Times

A so-called passive house built by Habitat for Humanity comes together in Charlotte, Vt.

 

The New York Times, September 29, 2010, by Tom Zeller Jr  —   The nation’s building stock plays a bigger role in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions than many Americans might realize — accounting for as much as 40 percent of primary energy use, 70 percent of electricity consumption and nearly 40 percent of carbon-dioxide emissions.

Why? Well, one reason, according to Laura Briggs, a professor of architecture, interior design and lighting at Parsons the New School for Design, is that for most of the 20th century, the architecture and design world has remained quite separate from engineering.

“The main hurdle to seeing more energy-efficient building is a lack of knowledge,” she said in an interview last summer. “We’ve done a really bad job as educators in linking building sciences with architectural aesthetics.”

Zero Energy Design The Home Energy Rating System, or HERS Index, is a scoring system that can be used to compare the efficiency of various building standards. Energy Star and other green buildng standards may not go far enough

In other words, while American architects are well schooled in matters of design, they often receive little training in the physics of how a structure breathes, how it consumes energy and how best to elevate its overall efficiency.

This is changing, of course, as evidenced by the budding forest of “green” building standards and certifications on the market, from the United States Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes point system to what is arguably the most recognizable label for many Americans: the federal government’s own Energy Star program.

Indeed, more than 1 million Energy Star qualified homes, which consume at least 15 percent less energy than conventional construction, have now been built in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, which jointly administer the program.

That might sound good, but advocates of more aggressive building protocols like the passive house standard, which aims for homes that use up to 80 percent less energy overall than conventional construction, say the lack of ambitious targets may actually be hindering the effort to address pressing problems like global warming.

“If everybody keeps building to the Energy Star standard, just meeting that, we’re not going to solve our global problems, and our buildings are not going to be ultimately reducing our impact on the environment,” said Peter Schneider, a project manager with the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, a nonprofit charged with administering the state’s efficiency programs. Mr. Schneider was on hand to administer the preliminary blower-door test on the Landau house, the passive house that I profiled on Sunday.

“What we need to be doing,” Mr. Schneider said, “is what passive-house is doing.”

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