Throughout history, people have constructed buildings with an intuitive responsiveness towards the environment and the climate in which they live, ensuring their own comfort while respecting limited resources and working with, not against, the forces of nature. By returning to an understanding of the basic principles involved in the ways that buildings respond to their surroundings, we can significantly reduce energy needs. Guidance on how to design buildings that need little or no energy for heating, lighting and cooling is the specific focus of this book.
We use energy to heat, light and cool our buildings. Much of the energy we use is derived from fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas), which are finite global resources. They will eventually run out. Before we seek to replace this fossil-fuel-derived energy with renewable or alternative energy sources (sun, wind, water or plant-based), we should first aim to ensure that our buildings use as little energy as possible, irrespective of where that energy comes from. Any energy source will result, from its production, supply and use, in negative impacts on the planet.
Aside from fossil fuels being a finite resource, there is a second reason to reduce the amount of energy used in our buildings. The way in which we convert fossil fuels into the energy we use for heat, light and power results in the generation of carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the greenhouse gases. A link has therefore been made between buildings, global warning and climate change. In fact, buildings are responsible for nearly half of all the CO2 emissions we generate.
Certainly energy is used in the construction of buildings – for example, from the mechanical excavation of clay to its firing and then the transportation of the resulting brick to the construction site – and this is a serious issue for designers to tackle. But by far the most energy is used by buildings during their lifetime. All of us who commission, design, operate and inhabit buildings therefore have a significant role, and a responsibility, in reducing the energy used in the operation of our buildings.