Applying Passive Design in Challenging Environments 1

Friday, January 8th, 2016
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Passive design involving window placement can be even more effective than adjustments to building orientation when it improving natural ventilation and reducing HVAC-related energy consumption.

While much of the hype around green building focuses on reducing the environmental impact and carbon footprint of a built structure during the process of construction, or else sophisticated and hi-tech accoutrements such as solar panels and autonomous smart systems, there remain other simple yet elegant methods for improving sustainability that are all too often overlooked.

Chief amongst them is perhaps passive design, which entails the creation of adroit designs that serve to minimise energy consumption, usually by methods as simple as building orientation to facilitate air flow and cut down on HVAC usage.

“Many new building products are emerging to help reduce the impact of construction on the global environment,” said Shane Grice of Unique Windows to Sourceable. “But are we overlooking the huge differences that can be made with a smart design.
Before we add the solar panels the energy efficient appliances the Eco friendly floor and wall coverings we should start from the very beginning – the design of the building.”

Grice notes, however, that while passive design serves as an excellent and economical means for improving the efficiency of built environments, the conventional method involving precision orientation of buildings is not applicable in many circumstances.

“I have read numerous articles and studies as to what makes for the best passive design, and the most commonly encountered information concerns the orientation of the dwelling – it is recommended that you position the building so that windows will face the direction of the breezes,” said Grice.

“That’s all well and good if you have a large enough block to do this. But what if you are like most of us and are building on a standard size residential block in suburbia where there is not always a breeze or it’s blocked by the house next door.”

Grice notes that passive design to facilitate natural ventilation need not always rely on shifting the orientation of buildings to catch prevailing wind patterns, and that the positioning of windows can be equally if not more effective at inducing air flow indoors.

“Passive design generally involves creating movement of air without the use of external mechanical or electrical means,” said Grice. “So a passive house should be able to move air without the use of fans or air conditioners. While breezes may help, there is still another extremely effective option available – incorporating high level windows into the design of the building.”

According to Grice passive design via window positioning simply exploits the basic laws of physical to produce natural air flow in a manner which highly effective yet wholly devoid of energy costs.

“We all know hot air rises but in most houses we don’t allow for this hot air to escape. Instead we move it with fans or cool it with air conditioners,” he said. “With high level windows the hot air will escape while drawing cooler air in through the lower level windows.

“This design will compliment any ceiling fan as most new fans have the reverse function. So instead of pushing the hot air down and around the room again it will pull it up and push it out through windows.

“Now we have created a building that can truly be said to incorporate passive design – and is actually the most cost effective form of free air conditioning even if there is little to no breeze.”

While passive design in the form of window positioning is actually nothing new, Grice notes that the latest automation technology makes its incorporation into modern buildings far more convenient, by facilitating the operation of windows situated in those hard-to-reach places that the process entails.

“There is a large range of window automation equipment to achieve operation of high windows,” said Grice. “From the basic wall mounted switch controls to high end yet affordable systems controlled by means of smart phones. These systems bring new meaning to the term ‘window automation.’ They possess programmable features that can monitor temperature , humidity, CO2 level, rain ,wind and smoke so they will even open the windows when you burn the toast.”

Grice notes that the ability to install elevated windows that can be conveniently operated confers other benefits in addition to natural ventilation – such as improved penetration of natural light and attendant reductions in lighting usage.

“By adding windows up high you have also created a natural light source that will create an airy and more open feel, while reducing day time lighting costs for as long as the sun shines.”

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  1. Elrond Burrell

    "Passive design generally involves creating movement of air without the use of external mechanical or electrical means," said Grice. "So a passive house should be able to move air without the use of fans or air conditioners." refers to a passive design philosophy it should be noted, not the Passive House (Passivhaus) standard. A Passivhaus building usually incorporates mechanical ventilation with heat recovery as this maintains comfort and saves more heating energy than it uses in fan energy. So, counterintuitively, mechanical ventilation in this application is more sustainable than 'natural' ventilation while maintaining a more comfortable and healthy Indoor Air Quality.