Monday, 5 October 2015

Lesson 1: What is a low energy building? Into the unknown

The course I'm teaching on low energy building just started. The first lesson of a course has to start with an introduction. In fact not one introduction but many. Not just introducing the content to the students, but also introducing the teacher to the students, the students to the teacher and the students to each other. 

Before the course, I had no idea how many students would turn up, and what their levels would be in regard to English or the content of the course. In the worst case I would have had a small group where half of the students just wanted to learn about low energy building and had no interest in the English language, and the other half were only interested in practicing their English and not wanting to learn anything about low energy buildings. As it happened there were certainly a couple of people who seemed a lot more interested in the topic than in language learning, and one student who confessed in class that he was just there because it was in English, but he promised he would study hard! The rest of them seemed to be interested in both the content, and the opportunity of practicing English while learning about it. There was not a huge turnout, and if I do the course again next year I'll have to consider whether to do it in Japanese.

There are three things I want to learn about new students: What are they doing here? What do they know? and how is their English? More specifically my questions for them were:
Why are you taking this course?
What language do you want to speak when talking to other students?
What is a low energy building?
Why should we make low energy buildings?

So what is a low energy building?

There are several interpretations to this:
An igloo is one example of a low-energy building. It just takes a couple of people an hour to make. Materials are all locally sourced: blocks of ice, glued together by water, which is made from the blocks of ice. Similarly a teepee takes little energy to make. In both cases they have a limited impact on the planet.
There are also a wide range of eco-friendly buildings, for example with grass roofs, water collection and composting. 
An empty house is another example of a low energy building. Low energy because nobody is living there! 
Another definition still could include buildings with their own generating potential, for example covered with solar panels.
The definition which I'm going to focus on in the course is a building that uses very little energy. There are various standards for this, and I'll be looking mostly at Passivhaus. The course is not a Passivhaus course, but Passivhaus has asked most of the questions about low energy buildings, and it seems to have most of the answers.