Sunday, 29 August 2010

be prepared `a la China

China follows that old warning "be prepared", something that Europe definitely has unlearned; or, may be Europe is still just not old enough to understand.

Meteoric growth and scant domestic energy reserves mean that action is urgently required. Energy efficiency must be taken into account right from the planning and construction stage and the energy requirements of new buildings must be significantly reduced.

With German assistance, China is aiming to improve the energy efficiency of its buildings. At a meeting of the "German-Chinese working group on energy efficiency in buildings", the German Federal Ministry of Building, the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD), the Deutsche Energie-Agentur GmbH (dena) - the German Energy Agency - and the Chinese state-controlled Center for Energy Efficiency in Buildings (CEEB) adopted wide-ranging cooperative activities and a new working programme.

The Chinese state's control obviously is not discussing global warming, whether its man-made, coming or going; China has decided that they better prepare for energy becoming even more expensive while their population and economy is growing. So not only do they invest in all kinds of resources but at the same time they are covering the consumption end.

Hello? Anybody out there seeing the consequences? China is - here too - boosting its competitiveness!!!

Carpe diem!

Friday, 27 August 2010

eco, friendly, green and credentials...

Following the coverage of the Highland Housing Expo you will have heard a lot about the designs, concepts, and most materials  being eco-friendly and also all kinds of references to "green credentials" that have been added or included..

Any idea of what that is? Any measurable parameters? What are the specifications? Is it measured in kg, metres, kWh, colour intensity or leagues or miles, may be seconds?

  1. anything giving evidence that someone is entitled to or deserving of credit, confidence, etc.
  2. a document that serves as official proof of a person's position, authority, etc.; specif., letters of credence
transitive verb credentialed -·tialed, credentialing -·tial·ing
to furnish with credentials

Environmentally friendly (also eco-friendly, nature friendly, and green) are synonyms used to refer to goods and services, laws, guidelines and policies considered to inflict minimal or no harm on the environment.[1] To make consumers aware, environmentally friendly goods and services often are marked with eco labels. But because there is no single international standard for this concept, the International Organization for Standardization considers such labels too vague to be meaningful.[2] 

Where there is no "single international" Standard and nobody measuring a thing it all boils down to pure marketing rubbish!

Here are some more bubble texts which you should read, take in and think about their consequences:

sustainable design
a mix of affordable, energy-efficient accommodation
a breathing home
dynamic living space
dynamic breathing permeable insulated roof ...
...directly through the insulation...
...heating and cooling the air passively
environmental buffer
passive solar gain
carbon-neutral living space
key-design features
absorb and store the free heat
a sustainable modern approach
passive solution
passive systems
heating by south facing windows
pragmatic sustainability
driven by sustainable sourcing
thermal mass ... entirely breathable
a living structure
a simple envelope
with the future in mind
fully recyclable solid timber
natural ventilation
house of two boxes of honest industry
a solar buffer space
basic mechanical ventilation
making it happen
find an environmentally friendly way to travel

I admit, those phrases are taken out of context; but most contexts ain't make them any better; but worse.

Carpe diem!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

highland housing expo!

going by Wikipedia: "expo" may refer to:
"a warm welcome to the Highlands"

Before we went to visit the Highland Housing World's Fair I had been wondering why the media cover of this once-in-a-life-time event was so sparse and why when ever I came across an occasional comment e.g. on Twitter it mostly referred to "nice pictures" taken during that "fabulous day out" mixed with those empty phrases like "fantastic", "interesting" and "worthwhile". Here is the exception to the rule: "ir-is.html">auchterness"

Well, now I know.

Getting this exhibition started had its pains; anything from "wrong location", "bad timing", "illegal site", "no interest", "too expensive" to the usual yet ambitious exaggerations like "...the fair will be the first of its kind in the UK and will be an innovative development of 55 homes which will be at the cutting edge of modern design and sustainable building techniques".

It might be the first but the rest of this official line was and is wishful thinking; hollow words but occasionally those bounce back. The catalogue says: "52 fantastic houses designed with the future in mind". Whose?

There is no accounting for taste, so why discuss it; but the quality of craftsmanship is measurable and any figure appointed to what I saw would be sub-terrestrial; it is an insult to any craftsman's pride. By no means should that expo be taken as a showcase of what Scottish craftsmanship can achieve and I dare include Scottish architecture in general, today and in future. (No wonder snagging lists come in endless series...)

cutting edge? no, lots of cut edges!

As one being interested in energy (construction plays a major role), its generation, consumption and conservation I took a look at the official consumption figures of the various houses; reading the latest fantasy novel offers more realism and truth. You will find all figures here. Same goes for U-values like 0.12 for a wobbly sandwich "filled" with glass wool accompanied by the line "we are the only ones approved to build to Passive House Standards in Scotland...".

wrapped in "sustainable" rubber

Total rubbish those figures; those are misleading the customers, building control but also politicians that far too easy tend to immediately put those fancy headlines on their flags not knowing what they are talking about (example? "wood is carbon neutral!" - but the terms "draught proofing" and "Zero Carbon Housing" ain't any better!).

It is obvious that there is a lack of control and thorough examination to separate what is pure marketing b...s... and what has de facto been built standing up to scrutiny. To make matters worse the houses are tiny, family unfriendly, the bedrooms even smaller; whoever drew them up obviously sleeps in 3/4 sized beds and is short.

The rest, sorry, was no better; it seems like "kitchens" and "windows" as well as "bathrooms" had been contracted out to one major supplier, each; may be that cut cost and made those a fortune but it did not follow the idea of an "expo" where you (normally) would want to demonstrate what is possible (tomorrow) and show an eye-opening and mouth-watering variety.

And one last thing for now: may be I am the last species of its kind but even if that was the case I would still believe that a customer wants to learn and understand and not "be sold for stupid"; that's German for "taken as a fool"! Instead of placing trained and knowledgeable staff able to answer any questions and give background information the positioned secondary pupils, nice, beautiful and friendly, repeated stereotypically, at best, what the fabulous but meaningless posters and leaflets said, anyway and only.

Flower House, finally now open, five days to go...

If you don't have questions but want to have a look, may be where the flowers are, hurry up.

Carpe diem!

Also, 27-08-2010: eco, friendly, green and credentials

Update 29-01-11

BBC: Housing Expo "Ghost Town" resident loves her new flat

Figures released by Highland Council on Friday showed August's exhibition of the energy-efficient homes made an operating loss of £514,000.

Almost £651,000 was spent on expo, but ticket sales amounted to £137,000.

Ms Meikle said she had been on a waiting list for an affordable property for four years.

The Inverness Courier: Housing Expo to mount sales drive in bid to recoup £6m

Cash from each sale is to be returned to the public purse as part of an agreement with the Scottish Government, which underwrote the controversial housing scheme with £6 million of taxpayer's money.

The Highland Council: Scotland's Housing Expo - Socio Economic Study

Visitor numbers peaked at weekends and during the last week
There were many visits by groups of professionals from different parts of Scotland
Visitors particularly interested in learning from the Expo included a leading property specialist from Australia and a reporter from the Chicago Tribune
The average visitor stayed at the Expo for just under 4 hours

Average socio economics at its best...


Sunday, 22 August 2010

naughty but nice or comic and art?

The other part of the art!

Thank you bdonline for the price (I got tweeting an architect's joke); Tate's catalogue on "RUDE BRITANNIA" made my day. The exhibition is still on until September 5th; as the BBC put it it is "A grand celebration of Britain's taste for the naughty but nice"

"The exhibition explores British Comic Art..." under which cover I found the below "Photo Op 2005" by Peter Kennard and Cat Philipps:

It is already becoming history with the last US combat troops leaving Iraq (BBC). Still it sends shivers down my spine and always will: an illegal mission built on lies and deceptions never accomplishing anything but destruction and death and more death initiated by criminals of war on the loose while holding office and still talking about peace.

Man refuses to learn; is that another part of the art?

Carpe diem!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

an unacceptable risk

...getting smaller doesn't mean they are melting!?

John Ralston Saul on the climate change gamble.

I couldn't agree more: we are facing severe changes from gas levels to weather extremes and from the number of people to the peaks of most resources but still discuss who threw the ball into the water - or what ball into whose water?

Carpe diem!

Monday, 16 August 2010

draught-tight or air-proofing...

or is it vice versa?

I am sure our forefathers already tried to find that draught-proof cave...

The other day I was left with the following tweet line:

...(I) prefer draught proofing for general public & getting them to understand concept, couldn't sell ' air flow control'.

I had initially provoked the line when I had criticised the terminology "draught-proofing" as being not good and precise enough in comparison to the term "air tightness" or rather "air flow control". My intention had not been to offend the addressee, an architect, but to make clear that modern construction need to be built to a precise standard, for example to meet a given standard of air-tightness level.


Well, the air we breathe among others transports water (humidity) and thermal energy (heat/cold), but also all sorts of dirt, dust, germs and spore. So to set a level for the air exchange rate helps to control the levels of what it contains; many reasons speak for an air tight building envelope:
  • it avoids structural damage
  • ... draughts
  • ... and energy losses;
  • it improves noise protection within the building and to/from the outside
  • ... and air quality.
Of course, the tighter your envelope becomes the more ventilation is a must; the best solution is to install a controlled automated ventilation system including thermal energy recovery (heat/cold), something that we had installed in our first house in 1981 and love ever since.

I think even the "general public" ought to know and understand these principles as I am a firm believer in customers that not only know what they want but understand why they want it. Ignorance may help to close a clever deal for one side but will turn out to be a bad advisor for both.

The technology exists; what is needed is the understanding and education of both, the industry and the customer accompanied by the will of both to make a difference. Once that happens health and comfort will replace the discussions about morbid homes and heating allowances.

A win-win situation as it will be the time when "Affordables" become affordable.

Carpe diem!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

the summer is over

Black Forest

Back in the office; the disastrous every days' global news with 75% on climate and weather catastrophes and the rest on wars and bombs limit my expectations; not pessimism, but sober realism.

Not surprisingly EUROland is still hanging in there; soon the € will return making the headlines as none of the immanent problems have been solved; really, not even addressed but are due worsening. Against all negative figures and American kludge the $ will get stronger; difficult to see what will happen to the £ - my best guess is it will get stronger against the € as the £problems are just such while the €problems are unsolvable and an accumulative disease. Wonder how China will cope with doing the splits between its announcement of appreciating its currency while exports need to keep growing fast; it might comfort the big party that their $assets will be very profitable and help buying out the remaining resources for their own good while they watch the real estate bubbles pop.
The US are approaching Double Dip; not funny, Japan and Europe are following right behind, the question will be who will be able to develop an upturn after what very likely will be a long and deep second dip; its line magnified will look like a bouncing ball loosing its momentum while moving downhill. But then, one country alone won't make it anyway.

Upwards it goes with many other figures; unemployment same as CO2; food and commodity indices are influenced by falling yields and high(er) demands which will mix some hard to digest inflationary figures in what will be deflation for mass products and all assets from housing to shares; some call it stagflation - I believe that is just trivialising what will cause the scissors between poor and rich open ever faster and wider.

On top of all the human race faces an unseen change of its biotope; no matter what it is called the human influence by its mass and the unlimited consumption of limited resources is causing massive disruption and destruction. Anchored deep in the alleged human intelligence the deniers of any human influence - caused by +seven billion energy wasters - are democratically allowed to have their say and frivolously (and ignorantly) dispute what the armies of scientists of all faculties come up with on a global scale.

Any optimism left will see hard times with no good news coming in; the bad news about us finally acknowledging that the endless number of ongoing and unsolved and as such unsolvable crunches is just one big overall crisis will hopefully be the first good news. I wonder how long we will have to wait for that to happen.

Carpe diem!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

sunny investments

The scheme shows the connection to the mains (E)
of an individual's house PV unit (A) connected via the rectifier (B)
and the feed-in-meter (C) to the mains-meter (D).

(Sharp Germany)

On average over the last five years the price for energy generated by PV panels has decreased as follows:

  • 2010 > € 2,950.00 per kWp (-14.49%)
  • 2009 > € 3,450.00 per kWp (-19.77%)
  • 2008 > € 4,300.00 per kWp (-10.42%)
  • 2007 > € 4,800.00 per kWp (-4.00%
  • 2006 > € 5,000.00 per kWp
Government incentives have done the deal: solar power becomes more competitive; nuclear is, if at all, just one minor but then technically not solved (waste) and dangerous option!

Yes, the Intelligent Grid needs Smart Meters but also decentralised supply of energy from the reverse end; this way the basic load can be reduced and it will be more evenly distributed; at the same time overall emisions from power generation will be reduced considerably and the nations' risky dependance on fossil fuels or other imported (again > nuclear) energies will be reduced.

In addition energy efficient devices (LED etc.) and real (!) and supervised (!) Passive House building standards are the way forward and the only option to fight climate change and excessive energy cost.

Carpe diem!