PODCAST: Fighting climate change, one building at a time


You really can't make the climate math work without decarbonising where we live and where we do business foods. It's key consideration to make sure that these new housing stock can contribute to reduce their greenhouse gas emission. You're listening to the zone with me conlon. Even though the covid nineteen pandemic has put a dent in commuting and other forms of travel. New york is still a busy city teeming with traffic but petrol and diesel. Far from being the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions hit that dubious honor goes to buildings more than two thirds of the city's carbon footprint comes from the energy that goes into heating cooling. All lighting buildings. New york state has an ambitious plans significantly reduce its carbon emissions by eighty five percent by mid century but here in the city a dense metropolis full of buildings from different eras. The scale of this task is playing jimmy. Joseph from the new york state energy research development authority accepts that the challenge is significant. But it needs to be tackled building. Decarbonization is one of the more significant challenges in our a climate agenda. But you know you really can't make the climate math work without decarbonising where we live and where we do business. So that means bringing to scale many different solutions and overcoming barriers in the millions of buildings that we have a across new york state and we have over four million buildings in new york. State and seventy percent of these buildings were constructed before the emergence of the energy code. So these buildings were not designed to be energy efficient. And if you look out your window you could probably glean as as much so many. And i would say the majority of these buildings will need to be retrofitted or upgraded in some way shape or form over the next few decades to reduce carbon pollution and to achieve our greenhouse. Gas reduction goals. So that's what we're very focused on. And we have many different strategies to try to drive progress on that front. I was joseph senior vice president strategy at the new york state energy research and development authority explaining why the state needs to get to grips with the energy leaking out of inefficient buildings. I'm one of the strategies. For cutting the state's carbon footprint involves finding ways to ensure that new buildings us just a small fraction of energy needed by buildings for heating and cooling on a snowy windy day in february. I headed to the bushwick neighborhood of brooklyn new york to meet chris. Benedict's an architect base in manhattan. Who's had her own practice since one thousand nine hundred five and has always been interested in designing buildings that are environmentally. Sound as possible. She wanted to show me to her projects commissioned by the riseborough community partnership which develops low-budget housing for low income families senior citizens and other populations with special needs with an emphasis on energy efficiency. Both projects demonstrate that it is possible to dramatically slash energy needs without costs rising through the roof. The first is a reasonably built construction for senior citizens which means strict ultra-low energy or passive house standards this building a special because it was either the first or one of the first new construction buildings and definitely the first affordable housing building in new york city where we sought to meet the passive house. Standard was an empty lot. Grass growing in here and a lot of the construction was very typical. The exterior of this building is now clad with installation which was an unusual thing to do in two thousand five and we like putting insulation on the outside of buildings because it keeps all the thermal mass of the building inside of the installation and keeps the temperature inside very steady. We also like installation on the outside of the building because it keeps condensation from happening inside of the building because of the walls are warm. And there's no condensing surface. It improves the health of the people in the building by insulating on the outside. There's a lot of things going on in buildings right now with regard to their mechanical systems. That could be improved. That could bring us a big jump forward. Why is this important for it to be tights. There's normally in all buildings here in new york a lot of building leakage. So in the winter buildings experience something called the stack effect which is a physical effect. Where air at the bottom of the building that is warmed up rises up through the building and then pulls more cold air in at the bottom so often in new york. People are very uncomfortable on the first floor. They live there and their overheated at the top and they open their window and this is a cycle can control by creating an air barrier to reduce the staff effect in the building they might have steam boiler systems so steam is on and off. Steam has to heat all the radiators up in the entire building water condenses and comes back down to the boiler again but people on the get heat when the steam gets up there condenses and the heat comes out into the room then the heat goes away and so you have to keep doing that. It's hard to maintain temperature in a steam heated building. And so a lot of energy is used for that often the radiators are oversized for the rooms and then the buildings don't have insulation so you're losing the heat that you put in a very quick rate you know. That's kind of the poetic and beautiful thing about a passive houses. You're cutting down the rate of heat loss out of the building enclosure. And you're making up for that heat with the people and the lights and everything else that goes on inside of the building. So you're matching the rate of the occupants and what they do with the rate of the heat going through the enclosure. so it's it's kind of a poetic beautiful thing. Buddha's benedict is not only concerned with designing new buildings to the highest environmental standards. She's also helping to transform those extremely leaky buildings. She mentioned. we are in grove street in brooklyn and these are four buildings that are part of a nine ding project called casa pacifica and the project is to take existing buildings and bring them to the passive house standard. The passive house is based mostly on creating an airtight enclosure. That is insulated with continuous installation. Ventilation that is done with heat recovery. So that when we're taking heated air or air condition air out of an apartment. Were taking energy that we put into that conditioning and putting it back into the incoming airstream you've really put a new brand new skin on outer layer on the existing building. A how complicated is that to do. Well you know it kind of looks simple when you look at it now but it was It was a puzzle to figure it out. Most projects such as cassava are encouraging examples of innovation. Climate action. agenda. It's clear that they contact place in isolation as giant. Joseph explains joined up thinking is needed if the city and state to achieve their goals. We need high-efficiency electricity to heat and cool our buildings so that means moving off of the fossil fuel based sources of heating that. We have today for buildings. We need to make our buildings. Energy-efficient contain the costs associated with expanding the electric grid because we are going to need to build out the electric grid if we are to electrify the four million buildings and in new york state. And then the third thing we need to do is Incorporate more load flexibility into buildings so that buildings can communicate with the electric grid and buildings can ramp down and ramp up their loads to balance the overall systems and whilst established cities such as new york are grappling with the legacy of their past other parts of the world or urbanizing at breakneck speed. Potentially storing up problems for the future. Christofle is the head of the housing unit at un habitat the un agency that promotes safe and sustainable urban environments a supporter of retrofitting products like cazar perceive which improve existing housing stock. He's confident that the developing economies of the global south can benefit from the kind of innovation seen in new york from the best figure. I'll work on housing with his very large share of the emissions to come about of like the new housing stock that is required to be built in your future. So when we work as you touching on the future of cities your forensic for it's really key consideration to make sure that decision and this new housing stock can mitigate the impact undo on the climate but also contract to reduce greenhouse gas emission. some companies are pretty printing houses in africa sub saharan africa. And some years ago this would have not been really maybe like the most attractive approach to reducing greenhouse gas emission. And especially from the lakers. Joel point of view. But it's a very. It's a very interesting solution to be able to produce housing at scale at cost but also By streamlining the way that you are building house in the also like sourcing sourcing materials. You can really have a positive impact on the environment by reducing emissions christofle alone head of housing at un habitat back in new york. No one is underestimating. The scale of task ahead but there is a sense that the political technical and logistical stars are running and that we have a fighting chance of achieving the goal of bringing down global temperatures one building at a time. It's not rocket science. The challenges that we need to achieve. There's just a a lot of issues. We need to work out on the ground. We gotta get the costs down. Are we going to get care. I've traveled to some european countries where they set these goals. And they say they're gonna try and that's what we're gonna do. We're going try. I'm katelyn and you've been listening to the latest on the flagship podcast from news for daily texts audio and video stories. Go to a website. News dot u. n. dot org.

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