Sustainability Starts At The Skin

What you wear determines your comfort. With the changing of seasons, so does our clothing change. The same is true for building envelopes. These provide more than enclosures to interior spaces. They act as transitions from the exterior to the interior. Conditions from the outside determine our intended comfort conditions for the inside space.

The building skin, just like clothes, play an important role in regulating our comfort level. It is critical for architects and designers to understand how the selection of materials, its life cycle cost, and how it performs with the rest of the systems will impact the operations of a building.

The advent of Building Information Modeling aids us in determining the feasibility of a structure. Add to this a new systems-thinking where architects and designers can pre-determine its performance in conjunction with the rest like the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and even structural systems, and we have the "Path to NetZeroTM" as a result.

I was recently introduced to Kingspan's Path to NetZeroTM during the Greenbuild 2010 Conference in Chicago. "It's a unique tool that will simulate the process of achieving high performance and net zero energy buildings," as described in Kingspan's microsite. The application, which will be made available as a free application for the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and Android mobile devices, was produced as a result of a white paper from the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industries about the goal of achieving net zero energy buildings by 2025.

I had the opportunity to test drive the app prior to its launch date during Greenbuild. Some of my observations include:

  • There is a good selection of standard wall composites typically used in office, warehouse, and school building types. (EIFS, split-faced block, tilt-up, and single skin with batt insulation, insulated metal panels)
  • The geographic location, which affects the climate conditions surrounding the building, is limited to major cities at the moment.
  • The results allow you to compare the energy savings at 30%, 50%, 70%, and 100%.
  • The ease of use of this app allows you to switch from one wall composite to another with a tap on the touch screen.
As an architect, will I have a use for this app? Here are some ways I can think of that this tool will help me in my practice:

  • I can use this app during schematic and design development phases of a project. I see it as a handy tool to streamline the exploration of the differences in cost between one type of wall composite versus another type.
  • It can be a useful tool to help a building owner make decisions on where to allocate resources, whether it is for purchasing a bigger equipment, or achieving an airtight building envelope that will help reduce equipment size.
  • It can be a quick and cost-effective way to have an overview of the effects of exterior material selection early on in the project without having to go through a detailed cost estimate.
  • It's a handy tool in conjunction with BIM.
Download and check it out in January 2011.


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