Cities Journal
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13 Ways American Cities Can Reduce Energy Use

Photo credit: ricardodiaz11 / Flickr

2. Create Lifecycle Buildings

The structures that we live in as our homes, or places of work, and our government offices take a major toll on our energy footprint. The United Nations Climate Neutral Cities project estimates that about forty percent of all energy used worldwide comes from buildings used as residences, businesses, or public places.

While the specifics of many buildings can be improved upon to generate better energy efficiency (such as installing double-pane windows) the bigger picture that a city must adopt involves ensuring that each building has a lifecycle. It’s a fairly new concept in architecture, urban planning, and civil engineering.

Prior to the past few decades, the modus operandi of building construction has always been to build without concern for the far-away future, and to tear down old buildings and transport the waste to clog up a landfill. These practices continue in many parts of the world, but more and more developing nations have begun to adopt lifecycle building properties in order to ensure that any given building stays strong and functional, but can be recycled once it outlives its usefulness or needs to be upgraded.

The American Institution of Architects has made recommendations for new lifecycle buildings that comply with the US mandate that buildings reduce their emissions by 80 percent by 2050, including using allowance systems to cut down on the amount of energy burned over time, and financially penalize those who use more energy than they are allotted with.

In general, a main key to lifecycle buildings is ensuring the recyclable materials (most notably the steel frames) can be easily removed from the building upon its demolition, so that there is no need to expend energy hauling the waste and building the new material. Additionally, lifecycle buildings help to minimize the extent of urban sprawl by offering a location for new developments looking to put down roots without having to bulldoze up pristine landscapes.

Since there’s no limit on how short a lifecycle needs to be, developers can plan business operations with a turnaround time of just a few months, so that an office today can be a residential home tomorrow without needing the huge energy output of creating a new developed plot of land.

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