The Dumpster Home, Innovation and Green Building Careers

Homes tend to have a lot of embodied energy or embodied carbon emissions, arising from the energy used in the manufacture of the construction materials, such as bricks, and the energy used in transporting these materials and in actually assembling and building the home.  The figures will vary depending on construction techniques and location, but could typically be around 0.5 to 1 tonne of embedded carbon per square meter (around 10 square feet), representing very roughly 15 years of operational energy consumption  (1).

In general, the smaller the home, the lower the embodied energy and carbon in it. Additionally smaller homes require less energy to heat, cool and illuminate. As do work spaces that make efficient use of their space.

But making a home small, really small, down to around 20% of the size of a typical 2 storey suburban house, and comfortable is a design challenge. The Kasita home is a recent attempt to do this, and it all started in a dumpster, as shown in this CNBC video:

The design and construction of low embodied energy buildings such as the Kasita requires a range of skills, many of which are not usually associated with construction.

And as construction industry jobs are lost with automation, this could also mean changes in some construction related clean energy jobs, as shown in the Construction Robotics video below. For example, the integration of PV into roofing materials could mean that for a new home PV installers no longer install panels, all they do is the electrical connection.

For those working in Green Buildings it’s an exciting time, but also a time not to be complacent.

California and the EU are leading with their requirements for new homes to be net zero energy from 2020 (2), and then to extend the home requirements into commercial buildings in following years. This is going to require upskilling of the construction industry to deliver this, both in design, and in actual construction. In fact this upskilling has been happening gradually for some time, but it now needs to accelerate. And whilst for now zero net home energy requirements are looming for only the EU and California (combined population of 550m) in much of the rest of the world those countries with existing energy standards for buildings are likely to tighten them, whilst emerging economies without standards are increasingly likely to adopt energy performance standards for buildings. This is certainly going to grow the green building sector.

On the other hand the green building industry is coming historically from a place where it is at the high end of pricing. Most existing green commercial buildings are large and operate in the premium end of the market, with governments and large corporations occupying them. Those who have been in the green building sector for some time may find it hard to win contracts, but when they do the pay-off is good. As we move to a situation where every building – small to large – if not “green” is at least substantially “greener”, there may be more contracts, but margins are likely to continue to tighten, and expectations will be higher. The market will grow. New people will come into it, unconstrained by traditional thinking. Disruption and innovation will happen.

To thrive going forward requires those working in the green building space to delivery more for less, to tap into technological developments elsewhere and to innovate (like the Kasita house has done). Complacency is not acceptable. And if you are a disruptor and innovator and maybe looking for a new career, perhaps green buildings are for you.

Bruce Rowse

1. Its difficult to pin down the “average” embodied energy / embodied carbon in a home. 0.5 to 1 tonne/m2 could be considered an extremely rough estimate, See http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/38si9_en.pdf and http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/all-about-embodied-energy.

2. California’s target is for all residential buildings to use zero net energy by 2020, and all commercial buildings to use zero net energy by 2030.  In the EU, 28 countries have committed to new residential buildings being “near zero energy” from 31 December 2020. The directive 2010/31/EU also requires that after 31 December 2018 new public buildings are nearly zero energy. http://www.epbd-ca.eu/themes/nearly-zero-energy

About the Clean Energy Academy

The Clean Energy Academy provides a range of courses on green buildings. See www.cleanenergyacadamy.com/green-building/

Featured course: Passive House Design. Homes designed to Passive House (Passive Haus) standards have a low demand for space heating and cooling, have low overall energy use, must be extremely air tight, and be thermally comfortable. In this Passive House Design Course you’ll learn how to design a house that meets the Passive House requirements and as a project will be designing a home that meets the Passive House space heating and primary energy requirements. This Passive House Design training consistently attracts high student ratings and may be taken at any time.

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