Designing Buildings for Climate Change

January 25, 2014 — Leave a comment

Researchers propose scenarios for future weather patterns.

Scientists at the University of Exeter have created an online database called Prometheus to show how increasing temperatures will affect future weather patterns in the United Kingdom. The creators hope that their projections will help architects design structures that are better suited to the hotter climate of the 2050s and 2080s.

“Buildings are modeled using historic weather. As the climate warms, this means estimates of overheating and energy use will be wrong. As peak temperatures are predicted to change by much more than means, this error will be substantial,” Exeter physicist David Coley told THE FUTURIST in an e-mail. “We use the output of the probabilistic models to create a series of example weather files (which can be found on our Web site). These cover all common weather variables and are on a one hour time step [change]. The reason we use probabilistic data is that the climate science is not perfect. Hence the predictions cover a range.”

The United Kingdom’s Met Office Hadley Centre (cited by the researchers) reports that the 40°C (104°F) temperatures at the height of the 2003 European heat wave will be common for Europe during the summer by the year 2040. The 2003 European heat wave saw tens of thousands of deaths from heat stroke. Heat mortalities were particularly high among vulnerable communities.

“Think about the 14,000 elderly people who died in Paris in 2003. They died because of a failure of buildings to moderate the external climate. The temperatures in the heat wave are soon to become common. Is it acceptable that we are designing buildings around the world that will kill people?” asked Coley.

Among the Prometheus project’s findings is that the mean temperature in London in 2080 would be higher than that of Washington, D.C., today.

“People want to compare a typical year in 2010 with a typical year in 2050, say, to see the difference. This is the first time this has been done,” the group wrote in a press statement.

The various files are available for free on the Prometheus site and are compatible with common building-simulation software. Used correctly, they show how any given design will respond to weather variables within a wide range of scenarios. Not all building projects will be affected by climate change the same way, Coley noted. “Some companies need to be precautionary, some conservative. For example, if you were thinking of expanding your ice cream factory, you might take the 10th percentile; if [you were] designing a flood defense you might take the 90th.”

Many construction strategies actually amplify the effects of climate change. A 2°C rise in mean summertime temperature outside a house could translate to a 3°C rise in mean summertime temperature inside the house, depending on the method of construction.

The findings contradicted accepted thinking on the subject, which assumed that any relationship between external structural temperature and internal structural temperature would be difficult to obtain given the complexity of the movement of heat indoors. In one of the papers available on the site, the researchers call this link between internal and external temperature “climate change amplification co-efficiencies,” a somewhat esoteric term that may show up more frequently in tomorrow’s construction proposals. The ability to quantify these coefficiencies could have a major influence on building design in the future.

Coley reports that the Prometheus project is already helping architects reconsider how to build in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. -Patrick Tucker

Source: David Coley (e.mail interview), University of Exeter Prometheus Program. Web site http://centres .exeter.ac.uk/cee/prometheus/.

 

Originally published in THE FUTURIST, September-October 2010

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