While our houses are now beset with various coloured recycle bins for different types of waste, and posters are stuck up at offices touting the sustainability initiatives, insufficient attention is directed towards ensuring that the buildings we live and work in are energy efficient and environmentally sustainable.
The energy used (and wasted) in constructing and operating buildings is commonly drowned out under the furore over gas emissions from cars and factories. A report in 2007 however showed that buildings in the US emit as much carbon as the entire combined economies of Great Britain, France and Japan.
For the West to become truly sustainable it needs to start thinking more about the effect that architecture is having on our environment.
Designing Healthier Buildings
The US Green Building Council (USGBC) was founded in 1993 and has since pushed for healthier and more environmentally aware architecture. The Council highlights 5 areas of criteria in which a building should be judged on its sustainability:
Energy efficiency has been set aside as perhaps the most important of the above points, and that which rightly receives the most attention. The principle loss of energy in buildings is through windows and there is now a rising movement to highlight the importance of energy gain and retention through the intelligent application of windows. A pane of glass can lose or gain up to 10 times the amount of heat than a same sized space of wall can. The importance of windows can no longer be undervalued.
Thankfully, the more energy efficient a window pane is, the more noise it keeps out, an added incentive to fit good windows whether or not an individual is heavily inclined towards sustainability.
Today, most window manufactures provide a rating – the U Value – of how energy efficient their products are. In addition to this, most modern windows will be labelled with their Solar Heat Gain level and their air leakage.
Time of Change
Established window manufacturers such as Neuffer who have been making windows since 1872, have seen a vast change in the priorities laid out in the design and creation of windows over the last two decades. To keep ahead of nippy new manufactures Neuffer windows have adapted to fit this fresh trend of sustainability applying sustainable windows to private homes and offices alike.
One of these nippy, new manufacturers is Indow Windows of Portland, founded in 2011 with the mission to ‘maximize carbon reduction’. The company has seen success in highlighting the cost of old fashioned windows. Rather than replacing a single pane window with a double one, Indow Windows will instead take measurements of the window and custom make extra fittings. Putting an emphasis on sustainability and environmental awareness at the forefront of the business, Indow Windows have been rewarded with an enthusiastic reception. They also practice what they preach, using only environmentally friendly paint and fitting their offices with a reflective roof so to keep it cool in the summer.
The other sustainability challenge with regards to windows is repair and replacing broken pains. Thankfully windows can be recycled! Nowadays window manufactures often provide recycling services as part of their window glass repair service. Recycling of window glass often involves an open loop approach – in other words, if the window glass can’t be recycled into it’s original purpose the glass will be recycled into other industries. For example the insulation industry can use recycled window glass for loft insulation and the construction industry uses window glass for backfilling ground works, ménages and pipe bedding.
With new technology and research the industry of window manufacturing has been revolutionized. With gas-filled double-pane windows, glass coating and PVC framing, architects and window manufacturers are moving in the right direction for a brighter and more sustainable future.
Emily Kenway works in the third sector promoting responsible practices by companies and investors. Prior to 2011, Emily was a professional opera singer before following her passion for sustainability into this new career. Her particular interests include the circular economy, environmental impacts, and the food industry.