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Leveraging Design to Mitigate the Impacts of Increasing Extreme Temperatures

After more than 40 days of 100+ degree weather here in Austin, it goes without saying: It’s hot out here in Texas! But then again, it seems like it’s hot everywhere. According to data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service, we’ve just seen the hottest June and July on record. In the Arizona desert, century-old saguaro cactuses are collapsing and dying. In Palermo, Sicily, the local observatory reported its highest-recorded temperature since records began in 1791.

These extreme temperatures have dire consequences for people, the economy and natural resources. An estimated 61,000 people died as a result of last summer’s heat wave in Europe, and hundreds were reported dead in the heat dome that scorched the Pacific Northwest. To escape the high temperatures, many people shelter indoors and blast the A/C to stay cool and comfortable – and that’s if they’re fortunate enough to have access to A/C/. This means higher electric bills and strains on the power grid and infrastructure. Additionally, we deplete natural resources, such as fossil fuels, more quickly in an effort to keep up with increased electricity demand.

As stewards of the built environment, the Forge Craft team believes in innovating our own work to be a part of the collective solution. We recognize that the industry of constructing and operating buildings is one the highest contributors to the release of carbon and we feel that doing our part to limit this is essential to continue providing viable places to live. This means designing and providing spaces that improve the human experience while reducing our environmental impact.

To combat the negative economic and environmental implications of rising temperatures, we are producing structures that consume 50% of the power of a code minimum-designed building. One of the metrics we use to measure this designed efficiency is the Energy Use Intensity (EUI), which measures the amount of electricity consumed per square foot of a building.

Through efficient design principals, Forge Craft designs apartment buildings that have an EUI value of <30. Energy Star notes that the standard apartment building has EUI value of 59.6.

To better understand the implications of design decisions we make on the performance of a building we’re working on, we also frequently work with our GC partners to develop robust energy modeling for our projects. We compare the performance of different systems and establish a cost/benefit analysis that allows our clients to make the most informed selection for the project. This also allows us to take a holistic, building-wide approach to the project instead making decisions about certain systems in a vacuum.

On a recent project, for example, we modelled the energy and cost impact of providing a higher R value for additional insulation versus installing heat pump water heaters. After comparing the data, we found that the water heaters yielded a greater reduction in energy consumption and cost less than installing additional insulation.

Personally, I love tools like energy modelling because it puts important information in our hands and provide us with the opportunity to make significant impacts on the performance of our buildings through informed design.

As architects, we believe we have a crucial role in not only mitigating some of the biggest challenges caused by climate change, while also providing solutions that improve the human experience in the face of rising temperatures. The Forge Craft mantra is to design buildings that look as good as they perform – by doing so, we will design the most sustainable buildings that provide safety, comfort, joy and shelter for their inhabitants.

To learn more about Forge + Craft Architecture & Design’s affordable housing projects, visit our Affordable Housing Craft Studio page.

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