Tintin goes Passive

Belgium, the country that brought us Tintin, the reporter-turned detective, is in the midst of another great adventure. Belgium has finally found the culprit in its high energy costs and CO2 emissions which translates directly into loss of money and global warming. The culprit was always hiding right under their nose and worse yet in their homes and places of work: poorly insulated buildings. This was the perfect villain for Tintin to confront with energy savings strategies.

In 2001, Belgium was ranked as the European Country with the worst standards of wall insulation. However, thanks to a visionary elected official, Evelyne Huytebroeck, a program that educates architects, homeowners and interested parties about the design of energy sensitive construction was created encouraging low energy new buildings and retrofits. These projects are called exemplary buildings and in general denote buildings and project renovations of a high environmental performance standard. The results have been impressive, between 2004 and 2011, energy use has been reduced by 18%, and Co2 emissions by 11%.

Between the years 2007 and 2012, 5.1 million square feet of sustainable construction has been built and of that an impressive 3.2 million square feet of construction met the Passive House Energy standard. The program has been so successful that Brussels has passed a law that mandates all new or significant renovations for housing, schools and offices will need to reach Passive House Energy standard starting on Jan 1, 2015.

Like many of the Tintin adventures the culprit is no longer at large (at least in Brussels) and now the city has become the poster child of European sustainability. In 2012, the European Union awarded Brussels the Sustainable Energy Europe Award in the Living category. This is just the beginning of creating and promoting more energy-efficient buildings and sharing the message that passive house techniques are one of the most effective strategies in this endeavor.

Recently, Joke Dockx, the Director for Promotion of sustainable buildings in Brussels made several presentations in New York City to the USGBC and passive house enthusiasts showcasing the amazing transformation that Brussels has gone through over the past few years. I think that it is time that New Yorkers take note of what has undergone in Brussels and confront our own energy shortcomings. It has been proven that our buildings alone use over 70% of our energy as they are poorly insulated and require massive amounts of energy to climatize. Alongside researching ways to produce energy through wind and water we need to promote tighter building envelopes and smoke out the culprit within our homes, schools, places of entertainment, businesses.

I think it’s time for Tintin to do some sleuthing in NYC.

Stas Zakrzewski is principal architect at zh-architects, is passionate about beautifully composed high
performance buildings and believes in the increasing importance of designing energy sensitive and sustainable projects.
Twitter @zh-architects