1/2012

The building blocks of green living

The low-energy home

The NorthPass project collected information and feedback
on very low-energy building solutions.

The production of building materials as well as construction, heating and air-conditioning account for some 40 percent of all the energy used in Northern Europe.

Energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions could be drastically reduced through better insulation, more effective heating and ventilation systems and the use of renewable energy. However, finding cost-effective and viable solutions is far from easy.

"The lack of design expertise is standing in the way of more widespread adoption of low-energy building solutions. The technical expertise is there, but the ability to understand the big picture is lacking", evaluates Professor Timo Kalema from the Department of Mechanics and Design at TUT.

Kalema is in charge of TUT's share of the NorthPass project , which was implemented to raise awareness of low-energy houses among designers and builders in Northern Europe.

The three-year project is coordinated by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. In addition to VTT and TUT, research institutions, universities and consulting companies from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are involved in the project.

Jari Rintamäki ja Timo Kalema

"One of the myths associated with low-energy houses
is that the necessary technical systems are complicated",
says Development Manager Jari Rintamäki (left).
"In reality, using and maintaining, for example,
automatically controlled heat recovery units is not
difficult. With the right instructions, it's easy to live in a very
low-energy home."

Professor Timo Kalema (right) was in charge
of TUT's share of the NorthPass project.

According to Timo Kalema and Development Manager Jari Rintamäki, the collaboration between the countries has proven fruitful.

"In terms of promoting energy-efficient construction, Sweden and Denmark are well ahead of the other countries that took part in the NorthPass project," they say.

Each country has its own distinctive features. In the Baltic countries, for example, emphasis is placed on the renovation of suburban blocks of flats built in the 60s and 70s.

Facts for making informed decisions

The results of the project, which is due to end in May 2012, are freely available online. In addition to documents intended for designers, the website offers DIY builders a gateway to information concerning, among others, commercially available ventilation systems.

Calculators for determining the life-cycle costs of buildings will be added to the website later on. They can be used to calculate, for example, how quickly additional insulation pays for itself in lower heating bills.

What is energy efficiency?

The energy-efficiency of low-energy houses is mainly due to effective thermal insulation and heat recovery. It is also important that the site is carefully selected and the building is properly shaded from solar radiation in the summer to reduce the use of air-conditioning. Good indoor air quality is essential for creating a healthy living environment.

An effective mechanical ventilation system brings plentiful fresh air inside the house, removes dust and odours from the air, controls indoor humidity and reduces the risk of mould.

 

Low-energy homes are worth building, because they:

  • help combat climate change by consuming less energy,
  • have a lower environmental impact than conventional houses,
  • have lower life-cycle costs even when energy prices are high.

When building a low-energy home, the following points are important:

  • the right building site,
  • well-insulated and airtight envelope,
  • effective mechanical ventilation system,
  • maximized solar heat gain in the winter and efficient solar shading in the summer.

Further information: http://northpass.ivl.se/ass

 

Text: Martti Tammisto
Photos: Mike Holopainen, Petri Laitinen 

 

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