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Can We Turn Down the Temperature on Urban Heat Islands?

The volunteers fanned out across cities from Boston to Honolulu this summer, with inexpensive thermal monitors resembling tiny periscopes attached to their vehicles to collect data on street-level temperatures. Signs on their cars announcing “Science Project in Progress” explained their plodding pace—no more than 30 miles-per-hour to capture the dramatic temperature differences from tree-shaded parks to sun-baked parking lots to skyscraper-dominated downtowns. The work of these citizen scientists is part of a new way of studying the urban heat island effect, with volunteers mapping two dozen cities worldwide in recent years. Past studies of urban heat islands—in which metropolitan areas…


Our Ancient Furnace is a Goner: Now What?

Jennifer McEachern has finally said goodbye to the original oil-fired furnace in her 1953 Connecticut ranch, and is leaping at the opportunity improve indoor air quality as she ponders a new source of heat. There are other issues as well, as she explains in this Q&A post, such as lots of air leaks in her home’s building envelope. A blower-door test shows 15.7 air changes per hour at a pressure difference of 50 pascals, 10 times what a conscientious builder might shoot for today. McEachern says her first choice for a new heating system is a boiler that runs on…


Archi-torture: The Pain of Bad Details

While this post has little (or maybe nothing) to do with green building as most of us understand what it means, I find myself seeing some terrible residential design work in my travels, and I feel it deserves to be addressed. Where design quality can intersect with green building is the subjective concept of “beauty.” The Living Building Challenge has a Beauty Petal as part of the program requirements. According to the website: The intent of the Beauty Petal is to recognize the need for beauty as a precursor to caring enough to preserve, conserve, and serve the greater good.…


Efforts to Ban Gas Hookups in New Construction Widen

Atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to increase, prompting new warnings from scientists. Concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide also are on the rise, according to a new UN report. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash. A campaign to lower carbon emissions by prohibiting fossil fuels connections in new buildings has moved to the East Coast. In mid-November, a town just outside Boston became the first in Massachusetts to ban oil and gas installation in new buildings as citizens there joined a number of California communities that have already enacted similar bylaws. There were only 3 votes against the proposal at a…


Climate Change for Builders: The Biggest Opportunity

When people say, “Earth’s climate has always changed,” I think back to a college geology class I took in 1992. The professor’s PhD research specialty was drilling deep in glaciers, peering back hundreds of thousands of years, and comparing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels with surface temperatures. My professor would agree that both temperature and carbon-dioxide levels have always varied. But he would add that they have always correlated very closely with each other. The relationship is complicated, with higher temperatures often preceding higher CO2 levels, but they always end up following a similar path, largely because of what we now…


How to Look at a House like a Building Scientist (Part 3: Temperature, Humidity, and HVAC Systems)

Editor’s Note: This post is part 3 in a series of articles on how to use diagnostic tools to uncover problems with buildings. You can read part 1, on air, here and part 2, on heat, here.  I’m back, with more tools of the trade that I use for forensic examinations and to diagnose problems in buildings. I’m roughly breaking this series of articles into the topics of air, heat, and moisture: this time, we’re looking at temperature and humidity meters, how I use them for investigations and—more specifically—to take HVAC (heating/ventilation/air conditioning) measurements. Temperature and humidity meters In the…

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