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Sat 26 Feb 2011 12:00 AM

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Chilled out

Switching off the air-con and turning on green awareness in construction

Chilled out
Going green means new habits, and not just new buildings
Chilled out

When I went to Cinestar Mall of the Emirates recently, I was
surprised to see a DEWA advertisement showing a woman visiting friends in a villa
trying to figure out a polite way of telling her hosts she was freezing. A close-up
of the air-con controls revealed the indoor temperature to be 19°C; this was followed
by a quick shot of the poor woman shivering in her abaya. Then a bright and cheery
sign popped up on screen: Help save energy! Set your air-con to 24°C or higher!
This was rather ironic, considering I had just put on a jersey I had brought along
especially to the cinema.

This drives home the fact that no matter how much we talk about
green building and sustainability, it is likely to remain talk until we tackle the
much larger problem of changing prevailing mindsets (and maybe even cultural perspectives).

No matter how sophisticated a building’s energy management system,
if the occupants are disinclined to raise the setpoint temperature, then the impact
of global warming remains a moot and fuzzy concept.

What we typically tend to do is to throw the latest technology
at such a problem. These days there are so many BAS, BMS, HVAC optimisation and
energy-management systems that one is unlikely to change the setpoint temperature
simply because (a) you do not know how to, or (b) you cannot find the switch; or,
surprisingly
often, both.

While it is the responsibility of the construction industry to
ensure that we ultimately end up with sustainable and livable urban environments,
it is equally the responsibility of residents and occupants that they use the technology
at their disposal efficiently and wisely, in order to contribute to energy efficiency
and resource optimisation, rather than make bad habits all that much easier to entrench.

This reminds me of just how sophisticated the construction industry
has become in terms of responding to the needs of end users. It has moved well beyond
the old bricks-and-mortar image; these days it is equally about the kind of materials
used in the interior fit-outs, for example, to ensure that mould and fungal growth
is not encouraged, right down to the kind of construction chemicals used so as to
ensure no volatile organic compounds are given off.

Buildings are one of the biggest consumers of natural resources
in terms of their construction, and one of the largest consumers of energy once
operational. It is not only easy to forget this, it is even easier to become blasé
about it very quickly.

There are a lot of people rubbing elbows on the planet at present.
The urban landscape is becoming increasingly crowded. What we have to remember is
that a lot of individual actions will quickly add up to a massive overall effect.

So go on, live greener. At the office, speak to housekeeping
about the cheap lights and the rattling air-con, and at home, turn up the setpoint
temperature.

Gerhard Hope, is the editor of Construction Week.

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