Why Net-Zero Building is Important
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Environmental issues are becoming more and more prominent as time goes on. Governments worldwide have developed initiatives to reduce carbon emissions in every industry to achieve “net zero.” One industry that has adopted net-zero building technologies is construction.
In addition, reducing the energy consumption of buildings of all kinds is vitally essential to curbing greenhouse gasses.
What Does Net-Zero Mean?
The term “net zero” refers to reducing excess greenhouse gasses to zero or as close to zero as possible. Net zero is where harmful emissions are so little that they can be absorbed into the atmosphere without ill effects.
While some carbon emissions form naturally, most excess emissions are from human activities and technology.
It is this amount that has begun to destabilize the atmosphere of the Earth, causing a wide range of environmental repercussions across the globe. Studies by the United Nations show that the Earth’s temperature has risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius. If the temperature reaches 1.5 degrees, the catastrophic effects of global warming will become irreversible.
To prevent this, the United Nations forged the Paris Agreement. This states that countries must work together to reduce global emissions by 45% by 2030. By 2050, the world needs to reach net-zero emissions.
What Does Net-Zero Building Mean for Construction?
Because reducing carbon emissions has become more critical than ever, net-zero building techniques and construction are becoming more widely accepted. Also known as zero energy building, these types of construction methods utilize renewable energy and energy reduction technologies both as part of the building process and incorporated into the building itself.
The most crucial aspect of net-zero building is reducing reliance on fuel sources that produce harmful emissions. Currently, fossil fuels are still the most significant source of energy — power plants burn them to produce electricity on a national scale. Therefore, reducing the energy a building needs to maintain itself is essential for reducing its carbon footprint.
Net-Zero Building Technologies
To that end, new technologies make buildings more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. These include utilizing renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal.
Eco-Friendly HVAC Systems
A building’s heating and cooling system comprises roughly 40% of its energy usage. Because of this, one of the best ways to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings is by utilizing eco-friendly HVAC systems.
These can include programmable thermostats that use digital technology to adjust the building’s temperature automatically. These systems have become very sophisticated — they can make precise adjustments according to how users program them.
Automating the building’s temperature functions is convenient but can also reduce energy consumption. Making minute but regular changes to the building’s temperature can reduce the HVAC system’s overall power.
Other essential HVAC technologies for net-zero buildings are economizers, variable speed drives and demand-controlled ventilation systems. These have become standard in environmentally friendly HVAC systems.
Economizers allow the HVAC system to use air from the outside to lessen the energy demand on the building’s air conditioning. Variable speed drives work together with programmable thermostats to vary the speed at which air travels through the HVAC system.
Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems
Geothermal is one of the world’s most significant renewable energy sources. The center of the Earth emits a large amount of heat that permeates through its rock and mantle — becoming trapped in pockets. This heat can generate electricity on a national scale.
Individual buildings can also harness geothermal energy through geothermal heat pumps.
These are unique types of HVAC systems that use pipes to pump heat from a geothermal source into a building’s heating and cooling system.
The heat from geothermal pumps is processed through a coolant tank so that the energy can be used for heating and cooling. The coolant absorbs the heat and can be processed through another piping system to heat the building and a separate one for cooling it.
Geothermal heat pump systems are the most energy-efficient HVAC systems currently available. Utilizing the underground heat dramatically reduces the energy needed from power plants to maintain the building. The system only uses energy to move the coolant and heat through the pipes — lowering the building’s potential carbon emissions.
Renewable Energy Sources
Buildings can use other renewable energy sources, such as solar panels and hydroelectric energy. Solar and wind energy devices have already been available to the public for some time — and for some, these have become a standard for net zero building and energy efficiency.
Solar, in particular, is a highly potent energy source for heating and cooling systems. These highly versatile systems can use solar technology — from solar photovoltaic panels to solar air heating.
Solar air heating systems use specialized solar panels to capture heat and radiation. Rather than convert that heat into energy, it is injected into an HVAC system — warming air traveling through a pipe system before being distributed to the interior of a building.
Like geothermal heat pumps, these systems can make buildings far more energy efficient, allowing them closer to that net-zero building goal.
Green Construction Materials
The production of common construction materials such as steel, concrete and drywall is also one of the most significant contributors to carbon emissions in the construction industry. Drywall, in particular, is hazardous to the environment if left to decompose — becoming a toxic material that can produce highly toxic fumes and seepage.
Because of this, many construction companies are incorporating recycled and more environmentally friendly materials into their projects. Materials such as wool can be used as insulation, while bamboo and treated lumber have replaced mass-produced wood materials.
In addition to reducing the carbon footprint of a building, the use of these materials can also give a project a unique look and feel. Recycled materials also reduce the cost of construction since they are much more available and affordable.
Net-Zero Building is the Future
Although there are some challenges, the net-zero emissions goal is achievable if every industry does its part. Net-zero building can help the world reduce its carbon emissions by normalizing renewable energy technologies and green construction materials.
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About the author
Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.