Gallery: Big Steps To Make Our Cities and Buildings Better


There are a lot of things wrong with the way we build our cities, and in these hard times, there is a lot wrong in the way we are rebuilding them, or unbuilding them as the case may be. These activists were out the other night trying to stop the demolition of 41 historic buildings in Brantford, Ontario, that are coming down because some people think that this is better than trying to fix them. But fixing them is greener, and just one of many things we could do to make our cities and buildings better, more efficient and healthier.

1. Ban Demolition

“Every brick in building required the burning of fossil fuel in its manufacture, and every piece of lumber was cut and transported using energy. As long as the building stands, that energy is there, serving a useful purpose. Trash a building and you trash its embodied energy too.”

Big Steps in Building: Ban Demolition >

2. Ban Formaldehyde

As we know courtesy of FEMA’s optimization experiments, Formaldehyde exposure is not a good thing. It gets worse; a new study links it to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. As we know courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency, energy efficiency is a good thing, which is why they promote Energy Star houses, which have effective insulation, high-performance windows and tight construction. If you are going to have a tightly sealed, energy efficient house, it should be a healthy one.

Big Steps In Building: Ban Formaldehyde >

3. Put Solar Hot Water Heaters on Every Roof

How dumb is this? Use coal to boil water. Use steam to spin turbines and run generators to make electricity then transport it long distances to connect to a coil at the bottom of a tank- to make hot water. Solar hot water panels are dumb simple too — they’re often just a box with a glass lid with black pipes in it. You can even build them yourself. Others types, like evacuated tube collectors, are more efficient if more expensive. Chinese manufacturers are cranking them out by the millions — so why doesn’t every house have them?

Big Steps in Building: Put Solar Hot Water Heaters on Every Roof >

4. Install Gray Water Recovery Everywhere

For many people gray water re-use is, well, a gray area. However it has been thoroughly studied and documented, and is accepted in the IPC, or International Plumbing Code. Most municipalities use this or the Universal Plumbing Code, (UPC) as their standards (although neither is international or universal, but that is an aside). According to Ecospace:

The details: Basically what the IPC is now saying is that water coming from bathtubs, showers, lavatories (read sinks), and clothes washers are no longer required to discharge into the sewer main. This gray water is now considered collectable for the use of flushing toilets, (and subsurface landscape irrigation) if the proper procedure is followed.

Big Steps in Building: Install Gray Water Recovery Everywhere >

5. Plant a Tree

A deciduous tree planted on the south side of a house is the ultimate passive solar system; it shades in the summer and lets the sun through in the winter. Let’s use this time-out in the housebuilding industry to develop codes and bylaws that make appropriate tree planting part of the requirements for the construction of any home.

Big Steps in Building: Plant a Tree >

More Big Steps in Building:

6. Make Natural Ventilation Mandatory

7. Ban Minimum Floor Areas

8. Change our Building Codes from Relative to Absolute

9. Survival, Not Suburbs

10. Get Rid Of Those Radiator Fins


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