Living and working with climate change
Building designers need to anticipate rising temperatures due to climate change to avoid homes, workplaces and other buildings going into ‘meltdown’ in the future according to recent research.
To support them in this challenge researchers at Heriot-Watt University have developed a diagnostic tool to test the performance of buildings. Using 2009 climate projections, which suggest significant rises in UK temperatures over the next 70 years, the tool will allow building professionals to identify the risk of buildings overheating and becoming unfit for use, and to test low carbon solutions to reduce the risk.
Big cities and conurbations, particularly London, are vulnerable to ‘urban heat island’ effects, where the city experiences significantly higher temperatures than surrounding areas because of a greater retention of heat from the urban environment. To counter these effects, Heriot-Watt researchers believe that existing buildings need to be adapted and new buildings designed to counter climate change, to reduce associated health risks and improve the quality of life for occupants. Using low carbon strategies will keep emissions and energy bills low.
Dr David Jenkins of the Low Carbons Future (LCF) project research team at Heriot-Watt explains, ‘’It’s widely recognised that climate change is going to have a major effect on our environment. As external temperatures rise so will the temperatures within our homes, schools, offices and other buildings.
‘’Although climate change information is available it can come in a complex format and be time intensive to analyse. This can make it difficult to consider in building design. The LCF tool simplifies the process, allowing building teams to test current and future designs and climate change adaptations in a realistic timeframe and useable format.’’
The LCF risk assessment tool is the result of a three year research project which examined the risk of buildings overheating or existing cooling systems failing in a future climate. It modelled the performance of a number of buildings, in the housing, office and school sectors, against the projected climate in 2030, 2050 and 2080, for London and Edinburgh. Without adaptations, the risk of these buildings overheating was found to be significant and, in the case of the office, air conditioning usage was projected to rise considerably.
Researchers also examined industry attitudes towards climate change and found wide variations in its importance in building design depending on a number of factors including location and sector.
In London, and the South of the UK, issues of overheating are of concern for homes and non-domestic buildings. But, north of the border in Scotland, overheating is less of a concern as might be expected. Other extreme climate factors, such as flooding, often take precedence despite evidence suggesting that overheating is not uncommon in the non-domestic sector in Scotland. Across the UK, practice is generally influenced by current building regulations, rather than future use.
Extreme temperatures can have detrimental effects. The 2003 European heat wave led to health crises in several countries and resulted in an estimated 2,000 deaths in the UK.
Speaking at an event in London yesterday to raise awareness of the issue among the building and housing industry Dr Jenkins says, ‘’To combat the impact of climate change there needs to be a change in the way we design buildings.
‘’Unless we integrate adaptation into this process, we are likely to see an increase in the frequency of naturally ventilated buildings overheating and mechanically cooled, air conditioned, buildings using more energy, which in turn hinders our attempts to reduce carbon emissions.
“The industry needs to recognise and understand the issues of climate change and start planning to make adaptations not only in the workplace, but in our homes and other buildings. Academic research also needs to be more aware of how to integrate new ideas into existing building design, and be sensitive to the concerns of those practitioners putting these ideas into practice.
“Our research suggests that a range of simple measures from increased shading above windows to improved natural ventilation strategies can go a long way in making buildings more comfortable and better designed for the future.’’
The Low Carbon Futures risk assessment tool can be applied to the simulation results of any building and plans are being made to extend its use.