It’s been one of the most challenging articles I’ve had to write, as I had to leave out so much, but at the same time one of the most satisfying. This is a hugely important topic. Buildings account for up to half of all energy consumption, and are the biggest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Much attention is given to exotic future remedies, such as carbon sequestration and clean coal. But a way to slash emissions using existing technologies is sitting under our noses: simply rethinking how we design the buildings we live and work in, to use much less energy.
The arguments for building with energy needs met largely by marrying with the local environment and passive strategies are so compelling that the research for this article is persuading me to switch my own plans to buy a place in French Touraine, where I live, to instead build a zero-energy home — no small challenge, though, given that French builders are far behind their German, Swiss, and Austrian neighbours here.
Image: Low-income “passive” terrace houses in Lindas, Sweden; M. Wall