Raising our game in net zero building design

by Peter Barker | September 10, 2021 |  3 min read

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Over the past few weeks, I have very much enjoyed talking with some of our BIM Academy friends who share a passion for sustainable design and how we can fuse this with digital technology to create low and zero carbon buildings

These talks represent the first phase of our podcast series, where we explore digital engineering and its place in the fight against climate change. For the third podcast I had the pleasure of speaking with Tomas O’Leary, Director of MosArt Architects and Passive House Academy co-founder.

Tomas is a true inspiration in the field of Passive House; he lives in Ireland’s very first Passive House, which he built in 2005. Tomas has co-drafted several national Best Practice Guidelines, including those on Landscape Assessment, Wind Farm Planning and Passive House Design, and he also trains corporate bodies and local authorities on sustainable building in many different countries around the world.

I began our talk by asking Tomas why he thinks, as an industry, we have been so bad at accurately predicting the environmental performance of our buildings? His response was that there is a fundamental lack of understanding of the principle of building physics amongst many building designers. Although there is an appetite for improved knowledge, a failure of architectural education and reticence of the educators – some too set in their ways, perhaps – is a blocker for change.

This lack of understanding and slowness to grasp the available analytical tools can lead to a performance gap between how we hope or expect a building to perform and how it performs in reality.

Tomas explained that some energy performance analysis tools are too broad brush. If we’re not prepared to invest the time in doing the energy modelling properly early in the process, we won’t get the results we need in terms of accurately predicting performance and closing that performance gap. Many architects are crying out for sufficiently accurate but agile tools which allow multiple options to be generated, visualised, analysed and optioned. Using spreadsheets doesn’t cut it!

Perhaps a more fundamental approach is needed, such as the carrot and the stick, driven by government policy and ever more onerous statutory requirements. We have seen in many global regions that such incentives can be effective indriving energy efficiency and performance improvements.

However, it’s not all about operational energy efficiency. There is a rapidly accelerating demand for reductions in embodied energy and embodied carbon in the materials we use and specify in design and construction. But overall, we do need to raise our game when it comes to energy and how to efficiently manage the used of energy within our homes, schools, places of work and so on.

You can listen to the full interview with Tomas and myself on our podcast page and if you have any comments on what you think we should be focusing on for sustainable design and climate change, we would like to hear from you. Contact us at [email protected].

Digital Climate Podcast Episode #3 with Tomas O’Leary

Peter Barker

Podcast Host:
Peter Barker, Managing Director, BIM Academy

BIM Academy Guest and Sustainability Champion:
Tomas O’Leary, Director, MosArt Architects and Passive House Academy co-founder