Saturday, April 26, 2008

Building the Future

When architect Freda Pagani talks about being at home on different levels, she doesn't mean different floors of her house.

Rosalind Duane, North Shore News
Published: Sunday, April 20, 2008

The West Vancouver resident and former director of sustainability at UBC, now retired, says it’s important to consider the environmental footprints you leave in your house, your community, your country and on the earth, and how they are connected.

Certain actions at home have an impact on the environment, which affects the surrounding local community, as well as the larger global community, she explains.

“I think the majority of us have accepted that climate change is underway, and I think people feel helpless about how to have an impact,” says Pagani, but adds that small changes do add up. “We can all be part of a solution.”

On Wednesday, April 30, Pagani will give a presentation called Sustainability at Home, at the West Vancouver Museum. Her presentation will focus on sustainable or “green” practices for the home. Some of the simplest ways to make changes at home that will help reduce energy use include: changing traditional incandescent light bulbs to fluorescents, using less hot water, using clothes dryers and dishwashers less and turning off lights and electronic equipment when not in use.

As an architect, Pagani has been on the forefront of an important trend in sustainability: green building. Green building refers to environmental practices applied to designing new buildings and renovations in order to reduce the construction’s negative impact on the environment. These practices can include simple measures, such as choosing energy-efficient appliances and making sure the home or addition is well insulated and has proper windows to prevent energy loss. Green practices can also include less traditional things such as installing solar panels to heat hot water, or even using geothermal heating, which employs natural energy from under the ground to heat or cool a home.

“The design should respond to the local context, the local climate, the local geography and the local culture,” adds Pagani.
“Indigenous building tends to be green just by its nature because it’s very suitable to its local context.”

She notes that houses should use local materials, responding to local climate, and should not necessarily look the same in different places because of the climate difference. If you live in a rainy climate, your building should shelter both people and the building skin from rain. If you live in a very hot, dry climate, your building should shade the occupants and move air through the building easily so the building can cool down quickly.

When renovating or building a home, Pagani says it’s also important to reuse materials whenever possible.

“About a third of the waste going to landfills in the Lower Mainland is construction waste,” she notes.

When buying in a new building, homeowners can ask their realtor or developer what green features there are in the building. Many developers are now using green building rating systems like LEED or Built Green, so there’s some kind of certification that the home has some green features.

The trend to green building started in the Northwest in the early 1990s. At that time, Pagani was involved in the design of new buildings at UBC and pushed for a demonstration green building on the campus: the C.K. Choi building.

Slots under the windows in the Choi building facilitate natural ventilation, and there are a lot of reused building materials on site. For example, the exterior bricks used on a good portion of the building come from a street in Yaletown, and before that they were used as ballast on ships coming over from Britain.
The heavy timber used in the construction is from a building that was across the street on the campus. The Choi building also uses a composting toilet to save water.

“In the Lower Mainland and we’re not used to thinking of water as a valuable resource because it rains here so much,” says Pagani. The composting toilets consist of 16-inch diameter stainless steel tubing that travels from the toilet fixture into a tank in the basement. The tank is kept moist and mulch is added to bulk it up. Liquid from the tank [90 per cent of what goes into the tank is liquid] is pumped up into a constructed wetland in the front of the building, which has a series of plants with microbes and roots that purify the water as it goes along the trench, By the time it reaches the end of the trench, the water passes the same health standards found on most beaches in Vancouver, and it’s better than some of the beaches.

Composing toilets are available for use in homes, and the technology has come a long way to make it “non-offensive” to have a composting toilet in a house, says Pagani.

Other design features that may help save energy at home include incorporating passive solar design into the layout of a home. This means designing the house so that sun is allowed in to heat up the house when you want the heat, but shades the house from the sun when you don’t want the heat in the summer. That’s easily done with overhangs, the placement of windows, and a good design, explains Pagani. Homeowners can also plant deciduous trees where they want to let the sun into the home in the winter and have shade in the summer. It’s not necessary to have air conditioning in Lower Mainland homes if the homes are designed properly, says Pagani.

She says reducing energy use is the most important green initiative families and individuals can take to help the environment.

Fossil fuels [such as coal, oil, gasoline and natural gas] are a non-renewable source of fuel since the fossil source they use is not being replenished as fast as it’s being used. It is now widely accepted that fossil fuels are damaging the environment and contributing to global warming.

Pagani states: “You have to do you part and do what you can to save energy.”

Sustainability at Home
Guest Speaker: Dr. Freda Pagani
Wednesday April 30, 7-8:30pm
@ West Vancouver Museum


Anonymous Vancouver realtor said...

It`s really essential to have such kind of presentations which bring closer the green building scheme. As a Vancouver real estate agent I`ve observed recently that people are more keen on investing into remodeling their home which I think a really good sign. They need encouragement so I hope that people won`t miss the opportunity to get more inspiration and they will go and listen the presentation.

3:59 AM  

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