After a bitterly cold winter in 2014—and another predicted this year—many American’s added a new phrase to their vocabulary: “Polar Vortex.” With these cold temperatures, people everywhere learned that climate change doesn’t always mean global warming. Climate change also has the ability to cause severe storms, such as Superstorm Sandy, and unusual weather patterns. Increased instances of severe weather have led to another word being added to our everyday lexicon, and that is “resilience”.
Innovations in building technology mean architects have more choices than ever before when designing sustainable buildings. Buildings that use a glass curtainwall or include a lot of windows are popular design choices. While plenty of natural light in a building is desirable, it does come with some unintended consequences in the area of resilience.
A recent study conducted by the Urban Green Building Council compared various types of building construction and looked at what would happen if a blackout occurred in New York City during a cold snap. According to that study, “glass conducts about five times more heat than a typical insulated wall. Therefore, between two buildings that are otherwise equivalent, the one with more window area will be colder during a winter blackout. Even the extra sun through a well-lit south window will barely make up for the absence of insulation; other windows will lower temperature faster than a wall would.” The study further discusses how adding extra insulation to an existing building can be easily accomplished by building an additional exterior layer.
This is not intended to be a treatise against windows or the use of glass in building design. I, like most people, enjoy natural light in my home and place of business. But as we continue to fight climate change, we must be prepared to deal with its immediate impacts by embracing principles of design that encourage resilience, of which adequate insulation is a vital component.
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