How Upgrading Building Standards Could Dramatically Reduce Carbon Emissions

blog-building standards-8.17.15The United States has an air-conditioning problem. As a country, we use more energy to cool (or more accurately, overcool) our buildings than any other nation. And according to a recent study, the reason has a lot to do with outdated building standards. Many office buildings are constructed around guidelines based on the metabolic rate of the “average man” – essentially, the temperature required to keep a 154-pound man comfortable at his desk. But as the workforce grows increasingly diverse – women now account for 47 percent of employees – and office wardrobes get more casual, these standards no longer apply.
As this article in The Daily Climate argues, getting rid of that archaic standard and making a new, more efficient building standard the default could reduce the carbon footprint of new buildings enormously. Our research has shown that making the climate-friendly option the default option makes behavior change easier – so why not use that approach to incorporate climate solutions throughout the entire design and building process?

Cold and Old Standards — and Opportunities for Greater Building Efficiency

By Ruth Greenspan Bell & Tripp Shealy, contributors to The Daily Climate

Nudging design and construction toward 21st century building standards could have dramatic results and contribute to the President’s challenge to limit carbon emissions.

Last Monday, scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change answered a nagging concern of practically everyone we know: why are offices and buildings so ridiculously over-air conditioned? The article reports the design of office buildings incorporates a decades-old formula, a significant part of which is based on the metabolic rates of the average man.
In other words, buildings are constructed so that a man weighing about 154 pounds feels comfortable while he is doing a desk job. This goes far beyond setting thermostats—that would make it easy to fix.
It does involve permanent building choices such as equipment much bigger than needed. As the study’s authors point out, over designed systems lead to the very noticeable over-cooled result.
To be fair, if you read the references to the article, the guiding standard, ASHRAE 55-2010, (ASHRAE: American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) does not force anyone to plug a certain metabolic rate into the equation. It simply recommends values. It became the default standard for construction.
A behavioral scientist, or anyone who has keeps a wool jacket at work in the middle of summer to counter an incredibly cold office, can tell you that the power of this recommendation is huge.
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Image credit: Pixabay

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