Zero Energy Building and Benefits

Amid rising concerns regarding the increasing energy prices, the popularly-discussed climate change impact, and the growing global energy independence, reports show that buildings are the main energy consumers in most parts of the world. This fact emphasizes the significance of targeting energy use of the buildings as a key to lessening energy utilization.

The building industry can considerably decrease energy use through the incorporation of energy-efficient strategies and methods into the new buildings’ design, planning, construction, and the operation. Another thing to do is to undertake retrofits to develop the efficiency and effectiveness of the existing buildings. This can result to significant reduction of the fossil fuel dependence due to the increase in the usage of both off-site and on-site renewable energy resources.

From research and discussions, the concept of zero-energy building is turning into reality. The main idea is to ensure that a building will have the ability to produce the same amount of energy it will be using for a year. Currently, there are buildings that are constructed to be highly energy efficient and they are meeting the Net Zero criteria. The number of such buildings may be low as of now, but the fact that the objective is being reached only signals that the world is soon going to be filled with zero energy buildings and the old ones are going to be the thing of the past.

As an outcome of the current construction technology advancements along with intensive academic research and improved systems on renewable energy, creating a zero energy building has become more feasible than before. And despite the fact that there are different metric sets for zero energy, many people agree that zero energy buildings have the following:

  • Excellent building design aimed to reduce energy consumption requirements
  • Effective renewable energy technologies meeting the minimized energy needs

A building called zero-energy is one that consumes almost zero energy from the grid, because it can produce its own required energy. Generally the sum amount of the energy utilized by these building on a yearly basis is about the same amount of the renewable energy generated on the location. Zero-energy buildings though are not totally free from the grid at the start, since most of them still have to depend on the government power sources when the weather will not permit the use of the renewable energy sources. This happens during cloudy days or on winter months and conventional power sources become the main sources of energy. Being zero-net energy though does not mean that a building is no longer responsible for carbon emission. Due to the unavailability of the renewable energy sources at certain times of the year, usage of power from the grid makes a zero-energy building emit greenhouse gases. When a building can eventually generate as much energy as it needs, it will be grid independent successfully, and it will no longer be responsible for the global warming.

The Principle Behind Zero Energy Buildings

The principle behind the construction of zero energy buildings is to have structures that do not emit greenhouse gases and to lessen the need to rely on the use of non-renewable fossil fuels. When a building turns zero-energy it basically becomes a responsible structure that helps in saving the environment from destruction.

Most of the zero-energy buildings still make use of electrical grid for their energy storage; some though are totally independent of the grid. Usually, energy is harvested on-site with the utilization of a permutation of energy-producing technologies like wind and solar, while decreasing the total usage of energy with very efficient HVAC and other lighting and electrical technologies. The goal of zero-energy is becoming the more practical option especially since there is significant decrease in the costs of alternative and renewable energy technologies while there is a more significant increase in the costs of non-renewable fossil fuels.

Benefits of Zero Energy Building

The development of zero-energy buildings turned out to be possible not just through the improvement made in construction and energy techniques and technologies, but it also has been improved significantly through academic research, which gathers accurate energy performance figures on conventional and experimental building structures and offers performance restrictions for complex computer models in predicting the efficiency of the engineering plans.

Saving the Planet

By reducing the dependence of the entire world on non-renewable fossil fuels, which include coal-fired electricity, it is very much possible to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases causing the global warming.

Buildings have big impact on the environment, particularly regarding carbon emissions and energy consumption. Surveys and researches report that in the United States, 48 percent of total energy consumption of buildings is the big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Averagely, a household can release about 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide in a year from fossil fuel and electricity use. Since a zero energy building has zero net use of energy, it does not release carbon emissions. This is the ultimate benefit for all mankind, to have a planet to live at for a very long time.

Say Goodbye to Energy Bills

One of the woes of building owners is how to pay the monthly consumption bills. This is true to both commercial and residential building owners. With a building successfully planned and constructed to be Net Zero, energy bills will be non-existence. A zero energy building id effectively designed and built with several features for energy efficiency such as, triple pane window and thicker walls. These features are responsible for creating as much amount of energy from renewable resources – like the solar panels – that it can produce all the electricity it requires.

A zero energy building takes advantage of the power given by natural resources like the sun and the wind. This means there is no need to depend on the grid when it comes to powering up the building and the appliances. In most cases, energy efficient buildings become energy bill-free eventually.

Affordable Homes

If you want a home that is environment-friendly and affordable at the same time, a zero energy home is what you should go for. Though it is a fact that the energy saving features may cost a lot (about 5 to 10 percent more) – which may contribute to a bigger budget in building a zero energy home than a conventional home – perfect planning and smart construction will ensure the affordability of the zero energy homes.

The affordability of a zero energy home will be very evident once it is lived in. This is when the savings from the energy efficient features will be of great use. It will be definitely more affordable to live and work in a building that is not consuming power from the grid.

More Comfortable and Healthier Buildings

People working and living in zero energy buildings can attest to the fact that they are more comfortable. Production is increased and harmony is an everyday luxury. An airtight building can provide the healthiest benefits because:
It provides better air quality indoors through ventilation systems that filter and clean the air. This results in reduced allergens and pollutant, while heat is retained inside the building.

It prevents build up of moisture that result in common mold issues causing major health problems.
It creates a highly comfortable home and work environment with few or zero drafts, minimal dust, plus quiet and reliable cooling or heating.

It creates a peaceful environment because of the thick walls that keep the outdoor noise out.
It has no harmful fumes from propane or natural gas appliances.

Wise Investment

For a standard home or building owner, one of the most common desire is to own a good property investment. A zero energy home or building is said to be the smarter investment for many reasons:

  • A zero energy building’s energy cost remains zero and this is the reason why the value of the property increases.
  • Reports say that foreclosure rate for energy efficient buildings are lower.

More people are now on the lookout for energy efficient homes and they are even willing to pay more.
Zero energy buildings are rot-free buildings due to the double walling. This is another reason why value is increased making a zero energy home a really good investment.

Ideal for Different Types and Sizes of Buildings

Zero energy can work for different sizes and types of buildings. Reports show that offices, universities and K-12 schools are now among the many zero energy buildings in the US. Even low-rising apartments and laboratories are now being constructed to be zero energy buildings. The sizes can go from 50 thousand to 100 thousand square feet.

From Zero Energy Buildings to Zero Energy Communities

Aside from individual buildings, a new trend is coming out and that is of zero net communities. This is indeed a great initiative as a community that is zero net energy can definitely offer a better and healthier living option to people. Who wouldn’t want to walk around a community that is surrounded by great houses and buildings that do not emit carbon dioxide? Wouldn’t it be better to breathe in fresh air day in and day out?
How will the concept of zero energy building translate to zero energy communities? Reaching zero energy from individual building to community level indicates the need to maximize the energy efficiency of every building and structure in the community – these buildings include the existing ones – and to meet the remaining required energy with use of renewable energy.

Providing renewable energy element can be an easier task at community level since sites are characteristically on hand to accommodate high-efficiency and larger-scale solar photovoltaic installations. Further than that, zero energy in the communities can be easily managed eventually.

By balancing options for renewable energy and the energy efficiency cost-effectiveness, communities will be able to discover a minimum-cost path to zero energy. There are different financial mechanisms that are existing today to help in the payment for incremental cost. Bigger asset values, improved comfort, energy independence, lower energy and maintenance costs and the probability for costs for lower life-cycle are among the many reasons why there are many communities that are considering going zero energy.

Zero Net Energy in Existing Buildings

According to reports, about a quarter to the verified zero energy buildings reported has been renovated existing buildings. This only means that it is possible to make old building, not just energy efficient, but also zero net energy.

This concept is ideal for communities aiming to go net zero. Instead of planning and constructing new buildings, existing buildings should be checked and valuated for their potentials in being turned net zero. The fact that many building are now energy efficient is a big bonus because there will be no need to design new power sources. The existing solar panels can be simply improved to ensure the best results.

The first step in turning existing buildings into zero energy buildings in the community level is to find the maximum energy efficiency of the existing buildings. This means to make a detailed analysis of each building and to audit the possible energy savings. The analysis should then be aggregated at community level. Measures for the energy efficiency need to be planned with the use of integrative design standards, analyzing not only the efficiency benefits from every individual measure, but also evaluating the interactions between the building systems and any qualifications for implementing each energy saving source.

Though the idea of zero energy building is still quite uncommon in some countries – even some developed nations – it is being discussed and the benefits being considered. In fact, the popularity and importance of zero energy buildings are booming worldwide. Some countries may not yet able to produce these buildings, but they are interested and looking forward to planning and construction in the future. If the concept of zero energy can reach every nation of the world, this planet is going to be a better and healthier place for everyone.

Solutions for Heat Island Effects

The heat island effect is a phenomenon that results in a dome of gathered heat over a certain location. In most cases, this phenomenon only occurs in urban and industrial areas. This effect is very evident because the heat temperature in that affected locations is significantly higher than that of the surrounding rural areas.

It is a well known fact that the population of Earth is exponentially increasing. Along with population increase, rapid technological development is happening as well. Population pressure is a main cause of both direct and indirect environmental impacts. One unknown, but usually neglected, effect is the unmanageable growth of heat islands. The formation of these temperature phenomena is mainly due to the materials used for the constructions of the city buildings. The fast-paced development of cities also considerably contributes to the heat island effects being felt in urban areas.

Heat island effect can intensify intense hot weather proceedings, which can eventually cause heat stroke that could also lead to certain diseases like organ damage, physiological disruption, and even death. –Higher temperatures accelerate chemical reaction which produces smog or the ground-level ozone. This is a big threat to public health, natural environment and in some communities; it will be harder to meet demands for good air quality.
Heat island effect affects climate change in two ways. First, it contributes to the overall global warming. Second, it constitutes a systematic partiality to monitoring of the global thermal surface, because several network thermal sensors are positioned in areas within heat island effects.

Causes of Heat Island Effect

Heat island effects are consistent parts of the modern urban landscape. These are noticed because of the steep temperature difference between that specific area and the cooler surrounding rural locations. The temperature variation can be as high as ten degrees Fahrenheit.

If you have been living in a rural area and working in the nearby urban town, you have surely noticed that big difference between the two locations heat temperature. The most common reason why heat islands happen in urban cities is because of the need to cut down trees and vegetation to make room for the cities. This kind of practice has significantly changed the temperature of the areas, making them a little warmer than locations that have been left untouched by civilization and technology.

Another reason why heat island effect occurs in a specific area is the modern day activities being performed in that location. For instance, if a city is full of industrial plants, it can only be expected that the air will be filled with greenhouse gasses emissions from the factories.

And as mentioned above, the materials used for building construction also contribute to the increase of this phenomenon. Asphalt and concrete, for instance, are construction materials that absorb enormous amounts of heat, which results in increased surface temperatures in the cities.

Tall buildings are also considered as culprits to the heat islands. They often hinder the air circulation in specific areas, which results in wind speed reduction and lessened natural cooling effects.

There are also many city buildings that have been painted with dark surfaces. What most people do not understand is that a dark surface can absorb more heat and light energy than light-colored surfaces. Dark surface are responsible for making the buildings warmer. This is especially true for buildings that have brick roofing and walls that are painted with dark coatings. For buildings with dark surfaces, the heat is transferred inside the building and then radiated back into the air, adding to the dome of heat island effect over the city.

Use of air conditioning is another cause of the heat island effect. When buildings have dark surfaces, they heat up more quickly, thus they entail more cooling from their air conditioning units. This practice will require more use of energy from the power plants, and this will cause more pollution. Air conditioners also exchange heat with the atmospheric air, which will cause additional local heating. Therefore a cascade effect is in evidence and this contributes to the heat island effect expansion.

Other contributors to the heat island effect are the continued use of non-renewable fossil fuels and the expansion of modern day transportation systems. These contribute significantly to the warmer temperature being felt in the urban areas.

How to Reduce Heat island Effect

One way to effectively reduce the heat island effect is to start anew – like going back to the beginning. This means to go green and plant new trees and grow vegetation. Nothing can be a better solution than to really turn back to nature. This should be done now before it is too late. Planting trees is still possible because the Earth is still nurturing all living things. The importance of trees is in the fact that they provide natural shade. They also enhance the overall appeal of the environment. They provide fruits and they help provide fresh air. If there are more trees in the urban areas, it can only be expected that the air moving around will somehow be fresher and cleaner.

Additionally, it has been shown that plants and trees can help in the reduction of the surrounding temperatures through evapotranspiration – it is a process that occurs when water from plants and the ground is released effectively into the air. This process allows the air to form natural humidity, as well as to create a pleasant, cooling effect. On its own, this process has the ability to reduce hot temperature or heat by at least two to nine degrees Fahrenheit.

However, it is not really that simple to solve the issue of the increasing heat island effects. Planting trees is a process that is actually easier said than done, if the areas to be planted to are the cities. Though it is possible for an individual to plant and grow plants and trees in his own backyard, it is not that easy to do the same task in a bigger location.

In order to significantly reduce the impact of the heat phenomenon, it is essential to strategically plant the trees and vegetation in specific areas to black as much of the sun’s heat as possible during the hottest parts of a day. For instance, trees may be planted on the building’s east side to provide it with a shade from the early morning heat from the sun. Planting on the west side is going to provide the building with enough protection from the scorching afternoon sun.

Some experts will even pronounce that there are certain trees that should be used depending on a specific region. For instance, in Greece, in the city of Chania, it has been proven that the Indian laurel fig is the best tree to plant for fighting against the city’s heat and climate change problems. In a research done in this particular city, five trees have been used for comparison. Humidity and temperatures have been measured in shaded and sunny areas. Then the evapotranspiration rate was determined along with measurement of the Discomfort Index – the level of discomfort the heat supplies to the people. It was the Indian laurel fig that has been discovered to have the highest rate of evapotranspiration. The other four trees used for this experiment are; Canary Island date, stone pine, olive tree and the bitter orange. The relatively high humidity under fig trees contribute significantly to a more pleasant and good micro-climate through higher evapotranspiration rates, which is about 6.9 mm in a day – this results in fairly lowered temperatures.

Areas that are planted with different trees are averagely cooler by about 87 degrees Fahrenheit than open and sunlit pavements. Trees and plants are considered to be the most cost-effective means of aiding the decrease in the heat temperatures being experienced in the urban areas. This is cheaper than installing cooling fans and sun awnings.

Aside from reducing the heat island effect, the use of greenery offers other positive benefits. With trees that surround buildings provide shade that will minimize the need for use of air conditioning. This results in less need for energy to keep these areas cool during the hottest days. Air quality is always better when there are trees around because plants have the ability to effectively store enough carbon dioxide. Green vegetation also reduces greenhouse gases emissions. Lastly, plants and trees make the areas better looking.

Conclusion:

Heat island effect refers to city air and urban surface temperatures that are comparatively higher than those in the nearby rural locations. Many suburbs and cities have air temperatures that are up to two to ten degrees Fahrenheit warmer than neighboring rural areas. Elevated environment temperatures can significantly impact communities in a lot of ways; by increasing demands for energy use, increasing costs for air conditioning, increasing pollution levels, and increasing illnesses and mortality.

Different solutions have been put forward for the effective reduction of heat island effect in urban areas. It is up to the communities and local governments to either follow or ignore the proposed solutions. The choices include: planting more trees and plants; painting building surfaces with white; use of sustainable energy resources; and decreased use of air conditioning systems.