Thomas J. Phillips – Healthy Building Research, Davis, CA – The HEAT is On, Part 2 – How climate change will affect IAQ, future proofing buildings & beyond energy efficiency

Air Date: 11-1-2019|Episode 563

This week we welcome back Tom Phillips for Part 2 of our discussion on “How climate change will affect IAQ, future proofing buildings & beyond energy efficiency”. During Part 1 we talked about how climate change has and will affect IAQ in Part 2 we will review and add to that discussion then spend most of our time talking about future proofing buildings and beyond energy efficiency. Tom is passionate about this topic and has put a lot of effort into educating people with fact based information. This is just what we need when talking about this topic.

Tom Phillips is a consultant on healthy sustainable buildings and lives in Davis, California. He has spent over 35 years working at the intersection of research and policy addressing public health, pollution, and buildings, mainly at the California Air Resources Board. From 1985 to 2009, he designed and managed research contracts on human exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants, ventilation, air cleaning, and building ventilation. He also produced health-based guidelines on indoor combustion pollutants and air cleaners. Tom has served as a technical advisor to national, state, and local agencies, NGOs, and private firms on various IAQ issues, climate change adaptation, and green building programs for homes, schools, and offices. Since 2010 Tom has served as the principal scientist at Healthy Building Research, where he has assessed IAQ research needs for net zero energy buildings, effective ways to prevent intrusion of outdoor pollutants, and ways to adapt and mitigate climate change and health impacts in the building sector

Z-Man’s Blog:

The Heat Is On, Part 2
Tom Philips is a consultant on healthy sustainable buildings. He has spent over 35 years working at the intersection of research and policy to address public health, pollution, and buildings. He has served as a technical adviser to national, state, and local agencies, NGOs, and private firms on IAQ, climate change adaption, and green building programs for homes, schools and offices. Tom is passionate about climate change.
Nuggets mined from today’s episode:
Why focus on climate?
The data made me do it, as a scientist I couldn’t ignore data. Killer heatwaves and wildfires occurred between 2006-2010. He has personally experienced heat exhaustion. He was overheating in his own older retrofitted home when he tried to go without AC. He is concerned about the heat risks to the elderly and very young, and other vulnerable populations. The vulnerable die from overheating mostly in their homes. Elderly deaths were projected to be up to 9K per year in CA cities by the end of the century.He wanted to be able to tell his grandchildren that he acted on climate change to help future generations.
  • More frequent longer heat waves. More frequent and longer power outages. More humidity. Effects are interactive, resulting in more buildings are overheating, including low-income urban housing and schools.
  • Opines climate models are improving with growing understanding of the effects of clouds.
Future proofing buildings:
Climate adaptation or future proofing and mitigation should occur on the Building scale, Community scale, and Regional scale, and in Social Systems.
Humans and mammals can adapt: Mesa Verde cliffs dwellers, and physiology such as “radiator ears” in jackrabbits.
High efficiency housing can retain heat like a “thermos bottle. Home design is moving towards simplicity, resilience and durability using less mechanically and energy dependent systems. Low energy, passive heating & cooling, ventilation, overhangs, and louvers that are adjustable. Fixed overhangs with deciduous vines and vines with trickling/misting water can also work.
In an overheating emergency, attach foil to the outside of windows.
  • Cooling season will grow 2 months on each side (Tom misspoke in the video).
  • New hobby is photographing good shading examples.
Cited an example of a high efficiency building on a university campus in which the windows cracked due to severe heat on the west side. He opines that some high performance buildings dropped the ball on shading.  Gave examples of DIY projects such as awnings and solar fabric shades and a critic of mindless use of air conditioners (that use energy and produce greenhouse gases) as a panacea.
  • Climate adapted buildings have superior passive survivability (how long occupants can survive before evacuating).
  • Quality control problems in US housing construction, joke is that suburbs are built with a chainsaw and case of beer.
  • Climate adaptation and resilience guidelines are available from LEED/RELi, Collaborative for High Performance Schools, British Columbian Step Code  (Supplement of Overheating and Air Quality), and CIBSE (UK professional standards).
Some climate models do better than others. Hurricane Sandy was predicted by European weather model. The Russian climate model sounds fishy; would need to see the original source of information. (For assessing extreme heat projections, the Cal Adapt model discussed earlier uses only the models that predict heat well).
New homes can and should reach passive or near passive house performance, but we also need to go to positive Energy & Carbon targets (restorative and resilient). Quality control and good maintenance will be essential.
Existing buildings – this is where most of the carbon reduction potential is and where vulnerable populations are, so a lot of improvement is needed.  Passive house retrofits can be done, but need to be done at a scale to be more cost effective (several project in the US and Europe are doing this)
Chinese city has the largest Passive House project in the world LEARN MORE
DOE Net Zero energy is voluntary, in CA its mandatory for new homes.
An affordable Bakersfield, CA Net Zero Energy House was modeled to optimize energy costs. The potential improvement in energy costs is a reduction from $1800 to $900 per year. Cooling energy can be reduced 23%. CA will shift to a carbon metric without creating outdoor or indoor IEQ problems. Gas and wood fired power plants are often used for peak power production,but are big carbon emitters.
Some super efficient, market rate homes are now installing PV and batteries; some receive subsidies for integration with the electrical grid.
Urban wild-land interface is getting dryer. More dead trees and abundant fuel. Fire control strategies have built up fuel for 50+ years. Yosemite is experimenting with burning checkerboard patterns (to reduce buildup and rapid spread of super fires). Concerned about the 90-100 MPH winds that can transport burning embers over miles. What took 100 years to build our land use patterns will take decades to undo.
Insurance industry has dropped coverage or increased rates in high-risk areas, and is developing a fire risk rating system involving annual inspections to ensure that landscaping maintains a fire resistant barrier.
Fireproofing resources:
Fundamentals of Resilient Design: Designing Homes for Wildfire Resilience. Alex Wilson, 2019. RDI.
How to Protect Yourself From Wildfire Smoke: Air Quality Tips.  Singer et al., 2019. LBL.
CARB and EPA guidance on protecting yourself from exposure to smoke from wildfires.
  • Beyond energy efficiencies, we need to look at carbon, health, and human performance in life cycles of 50-100 years. Bridges and aircraft construction are doing it, the building sector is lagging behind.
  • Overheating of schools outside of summer season is a growing problem. Some school districts are trying to set upper limits for students and pregnant teachers. There is international movement on overheating buildings. Indoor overheating guidelines have been set in the UK (London and Manchester also have design guides to factor in urban heat island effects).
  • Seeing that it has been proven successful elsewhere, Asia is jumping on the bandwagon to lower carbon emissions.
  • Follow the money: Big Development Banks are considering global warming.
  • Growing general awareness will drive the need to measure indoor temperatures. A Harlem study found that during heatwaves indoor temperatures may exceed outdoor limits. Building occupants need protection against heat stress.
  • Mega drought risks for the southwest are growing. Danger that it will shift to a point where it will become fixed. 99% probability to have a 35-year mega drought by 2100 due to interactive effects of global warming and lower precipitation. Like the vicious cycle that occurred in Sahel,Africa in the 1980’s.
Closing Comments:
Adapt buildings now, focus on vulnerable populations, be selective (can’t do everything), and plan for flexibility later. Measure indoor heat & humidity, share the data and solutions, and advocate for protecting health.
Z-Man Signing Off
Name the scientist who in 1896 calculated that cutting CO2 in half would suffice to produce an ice age. He further calculated that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 would give a total warming of 5-6 degrees Celsius.
Answered by:
John Cala, CIH
Industrial Hygienist
North Carolina Dept. of Transportation
1594 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC