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LEED not nearly enough, says University of Toronto professor

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by Ian Harvey

The way University of Toronto professor Danny Harvey sees it, we’re in a war to save the planet from its greatest enemy — us.
LEED not nearly enough, says University of Toronto professor

The way University of Toronto professor Danny Harvey sees it, we’re in a war to save the planet from its greatest enemy — us.

And while there’s a lot of finger-pointing all around as to who or what is to blame for acidification of the oceans, climate change and other ills affecting Earth, one of the key areas we can and must do more to improve upon is in construction design and execution.

“This is a global planetary emergency and we need to be in a footing for war, on a scale we were globally for World War II,” says the environmental studies professor, who explores the issues in detail in his most recent book, Energy and the New Reality: Energy Efficiency and the Demand for Energy Services (Earthscan, 2010).

“We are facing a catastrophic disaster; by the end of this century, will we lose one third or 90 per cent of the species. Will the seas rise five meters or 25 metres?”

He says buildings account for about 33 per cent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, which continue to grow despite the shifting trend to LEED and other sustainable practices.

While positive, that transition isn’t happening fast enough, especially with existing buildings.

“LEED Platinum, for example, offers a 50 per cent energy saving over today’s standard building model,” says Harvey.

“But hardly anyone applies for Platinum. Even so, we need to see energy reductions of 65, 75, even 80 per cent.”

In fact, says Harvey, architects, engineers and owners don’t need to reinvent the wheel or take a chance on unknown technology.

What’s needed is for those behind design and construction processes to start looking at buildings and operations holistically rather than a piecemeal assembly of components and concepts.

“All the components for these kinds of efficiencies exist, we’re just talking about putting it together in a different way,” he says.

He notes that his research shows even if a project invested in every efficient design feature and technology on the market today, the cost would be recovered in 16 years through lower energy costs — and that’s before soft costs like healthier, happier tenants are calculated.

LEED has had an enormous impact on our thinking, he says, but decades from now Harvey would like to see other innovations enshrined in national and provincial building codes mandating maximum energy efficiencies beyond what the highest level of LEED certification delivers today.

In addition to the obvious technologies such as quality glazing and insulation, for example, Harvey’s suggestions include use of ceiling and floor heating and cooling systems which he argues are several times more energy efficient than forced air; the incorporation of double façades and mechanical shades, especially on western facing walls, fresh air ventilation and adoption of some of the programs and standards in Europe that are leading the world in this sector.

He points to the Center for Interactive Research on Sustainability, currently being in Vancouver, where projected energy costs are 56kWh/m2/yr — an 84 per cent saving over the standard model of 353kWh/m2/yr — not including the use of photovoltaic (BiPV) and solar thermal which will generate up to 47kWh/m2/yr.

“That’s on paper, and it will be less in operations for a variety of reasons, construction people taking short cuts, not being able to do what was on the plan and the way people use the building,” he notes.

And it’s being achieved with known technologies such as a high-performance envelope, adjustable atrium shading, hybrid ventilation, day lighting, variable speed drive motor systems(VSDs), demand controlled ventilation systems (DCVs), and 90-per-cent heat recovery.

It’s an example of what can be achieved, he says, and should be the standard practice for all buildings.

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