Monthly Archives: January 2012

Greenhouse Gas | The Danger of Air Conditioners

Greenhouse Gas HFCs Produced by Air Conditioners

Air-conditioners while keeping us cool, release the potent Hydrofluorocarbons (‘HFCs’) greenhouse gas into the environment. Unfortunately HFC as a refrigerant replaced the ozone-damaging Chlorofluorocarbon (‘CFC’) greenhouse gas in the mid 1990s. At that time governments around the world acted stop the growth of the emerging holes in the ozone layer, the biggest hole being the hole over Antarctica. CFCs were not only damaging to the ozone layer, they were a potent greenhouse gas. Now we have to worry about HFCs.

Greenhouse gas from air conditioners

Greenhouse Gas Producers

photo credit :Flick’r  (c) by FLO

Unbridled Growth of Air-Conditioner Use

Flying in the face of Climate Change action and the quest to reduce greenhouse gas and carbon pollution in the environment, legislators are making it too easy for the average person to adopt air-conditioning.

Due to mass production in China air-conditioners are very cheap. In the last 30 years there has been an almost unhealthy alliance between air-conditioning manufacturers and governments throughout the western and developing worlds to promote the use of air conditioners.

The air-conditioning industry itself has mounted enormously successful advertising campaigns to convince people that their homes are somehow incomplete without an air-conditioner.

Even in Australia the energy efficiency measures in the Building Code of Australia and the rating tool ‘AccuRate’ assume that:

  • there is a heating and cooling device in the home
  • the efficiency of the structure is determined mainly by discomfort hours of the interior
  • how little the space heating/cooling equipment is used.

Achieving Natural Comfort Inside the Home

Any architect with experience of designing homes in temperate climates knows we simply do not need air conditioning when well-optimized passive solar principles are applied to the home design and the householder knows what to do to achieve natural comfort.

My wife and I are by no means economic battlers. Our home, the Housing Industry of Australia “GreenSmart Building of the Year” in 2005 in Western Australia, does not have air conditioning at all and only a small solid fuel fireplace that was used only on very cold winter nights. See pictures and details of  our solar passive home.

In 2006 our fireplace was not used at all.

Indoor temperatures stay comfortably between 18 degC (64.4F) and 28 degC (82.4F) at least 99% of the year.

When the temperature is 35 degC (95F) outside, we remain a comfortable 26 deg C (78.8F) in our living areas during the day and when the outside temperature goes up to +40 deg C (+104F) we still keep a bearable 28 deg C (82.4F).

Why are we, and many of my architectural and engineering colleagues, so passionate about having people in temperate climates experience the benefits of natural comfort by applying passive solar homes design principles and avoid air conditioning?

It is because we know what can be achieved by clever design and construction of a home and using simple centuries-old management practices. Also we are aware how damaging wholesale air conditioning  is on air pollution!

In the 1970s many of the world’s building science experts demonstrated very well that homes in temperate climates did not need air conditioning for cooling in summer. Even in sub-tropical and hot desert areas it can be greatly reduced.

However the ‘dumbing down’ of regulations to suit the ignorance of the average person and the builders supplying homes to them, as well as the large home-appliance stores making large profits from convincing people that they needed cheap air conditioners, really prevented any common sense and self-discipline from prevailing.

Of course bureaucrats and government authorities simply took the easy way out and avoided any backlash from the public.

Greenhouse Gas | 400,000 tons Released

In teaching the “MSc In Environmental Architecture” course since 2006, I emphasize this aspect in the hope that a new generation of scientifically-trained architects will bring some common sense to building regulations in the future. It simply has to happen, preferably earlier rather than later.

The Premier of Western Australia, Mr Colin Barnett, was unfairly attacked by many members of the public in 2010 for having the courage to suggest that in a temperate climate like Perth, Western Australia, there is no need for air conditioning. He stated he did not have air conditioning in his own house. Unfortunately the public has been brained-washed into believing they need to create comfort by flicking an electrical switch.

The consequence of taking this undisciplined approach is that 400,000 tons of greenhouse gas is now being released into the atmosphere each year and is growing by 10% annually.

In most affluent suburbs in Western Australia the peak load on power demand has grown at 10% each year. There is a double whammy of leaking HFC greenhouse gas from air-conditioners and the need for additional coal fired power stations to supply the electricity for their use.

Minimize Air-Conditioning

Air Conditioner Photo © by rockriver

Clearly a Plan B is needed. Intelligent people can avoid this “status symbol.” Nobody is suggesting that air conditioning is not a modern technological miracle of the 20th century. Over the last 20 years it has become twice as efficient as when it was first introduced.

By alleviating uncomfortable working conditions in the hot and tropical areas of the world, the use of air-conditioning has increased productivity and added economic prosperity to much of Asia.

In modern office environments and hotels in temperate climates the density of people and the heat loading from lights and appliances such as computers, makes it necessary to have some air conditioning. However, much can be done to reduce energy dependence and the leaking of HFC greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. To suggest that we all need air conditioning in the residential sector in temperate climates is nonsense. Obviously powerful lobby groups have created this illusion.

One would think that the engineering profession and academia would be leading the way in minimizing the use of air conditioning. Simple action like opening windows at night and closing them during the day, using natural heavy weight materials inside for thermal inertia, will do the job all but for 5 days a year in Perth.

Reduce Greenhouse Gas Reduce Energy Dependence

The reality is climate change and something needs to be done and fast!
I believe that we cannot allow laziness to undo much of the great work in reducing energy dependence in the built environment.

Refer to David Fogarty’s articles for Planet Ark on the effects of carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more about solar energy homes and greenhouse gas reduction solutions.

To keep abreast of important changes in renewable energy please sign up to receive our newsletter on the home page: Solar Energy Facts


Solar Movies | Solar Energy + Solar Movies

Solar movies are a current internet fad but the most important solar movies are those that show you the effective and efficient way to use solar power is to build your home as a passive solar home based on your climate.

Read more about the solar movies on our website and see the link at the end of this article. In the meantime watch what Garry Baverstock A.M., award-winning green architect and solar specialist has to say:

Solar Movie | Climate Sensible Designs

In addition to our excellent building guide Low Energy Buildings in Australia and easily downloadable green home plans which are available on this website, we recommend the viewing of our solar movie‘Climate Sensible Designs – Living in a Home that Breathes’, as well as a number of past solar movie productions.

They give a clear idea of how you can empower yourself and live cheaply, comfortably and make a contribution towards saving our planet from the severity of uncontrolled Climate Change.

David Karsten, producer and presenter of several television programmes, takes you through the environmental reasons for building according to the sun.

Climate Sensible Designs is just one of our solar movies and David shows how easy it is to incorporate solar passive principles in your building design.

Once your eco-architect checks the location of your land and knows the sun’s angles for various times of the year in your area he/she will know where to place the windows, doors and shading for your new passive solar house.

Remember, it doesn’t matter whether you live in USA, Asia or Europe, the principles are still the same. Start with some research on the sun angles for your area. Once you have this information you can base the location and aspect of the house for the best passive solar results.


Eliminate Power Bills

By using the sun, wind and incoporating natural building materials you can reduce your heating and cooling bills dramatically. In some climates it is possible to completely eliminate power bills. Of course once you have a passive solar home you can choose a solar water heater and solar energy panels using photovoltaic cells, to bring your home truly into the 21st century.

Efficient water use, natural and low energy building materials, landscaping that suits the climate and local food production, will all add up to a carbon neutral or sustainable house.

Solar Movies | Passive Solar Design of Buildings

Solar Movies

The first solar movie we made is also available from our on-line shop and the information is still valid today: Passive Solar Design of Buildings.

Imagine living in a solar passive house, with solar panels on the roof to create free electricity and a solar hot water system to supply free hot water on sunny days.

Go directly to our shop to check out the Climate Sensible Designs solar movie or one of our other solar movies or read more about green building products elsewhere on this site.

Solar Movies Available Here

Should you purchase our solar movie DVD, ‘Climate Sensible Designs’,  please let us know if it helped your understanding of what can be done.

Washing Cottesloe Beach Away

Outlining the comprehensive facts behind a story is often needed for true understanding of any issue. Therefore the following article is offered as a case study of coastal redevelopment in this 21st century.

Image Marine Parade Cottesloe Beach

View of Marine Parade Cottesloe Beach

Following some preliminary media publications of latest findings and from the early reactions by the public, it has confirmed to us that this local issue in Perth concerns most people. Also, this problem is not in isolation in Australia and has in fact repercussions around the globe. Already buildings are starting to fall into the ocean in parts of South Africa, due to decades of inadequate government control of development set backs from erosion-vulnerable sea frontages. This International problem has been clearly understood by the US Department of Defence, NASA and the global scientific community from some time now. It is now appropriate in a democracy like Australia that the facts are taken into account, inconvenient as they may appear at this time.

Recent publication of early 3-D images in the local newspaper, “The Post” and the Perth main newspaper the “the West Australian” demonstrates to our administration at, that there is a level of genuine interest by journalists and editors to disseminate the facts and subsequent challenges for proper planning of building developments at Cottesloe Beach.

Current View of the Beach Near Indiana Tea House

Current View of the Beach Near Indiana Tea House



Image End of the Century View of Indiana Tea House

End of the Century View of Indiana Tea House


A critical aspect of the development of buildings near Cottesloe Beach and near coastlines everywhere, is the environmental risks and the geophysics of the land on which they are built. The problem is  beyond just achieving high standards energy efficiency, solar design of the buildings in isolation and overshadowing the beach at critical times. Of course it is important. But if the buildings are likely to be inundated by the ocean planning and design priorities must change. The big picture needs to be looked at and a long-term vision formulated that suits the geology and the ingress predictions of the ocean through climate change induced level rises. Surely, this is the logical precursor to any planning scheme in coastal regions?

Climate Change Sceptics

What the climate deniers do not seem to realize is that levels are rising and a huge weight of scientific evidence to predicting 900 mm to 1.100 metre rises by the end of the 21st century. For the Western Australian government to now suspend proper planning action for Cottesloe Beach, based on these predictions is very irresponsible. The latest outlandish statement that the earth is cooling not warming at all is a classic case in point.

Tell that to the Icelanders and Greenlanders as their ice shelf continue to melt at an alarming rate, explain why the Bearing Straight being oped up to the sea, explain why Pacific islanders are already being relocated to Australia an New Zealand as their home are flooded by sea water and their crops and fresh water supplies poisoned by salt, explain to the Swiss why their glaziers continue to recede, melting at an alarming rate. Of course they cannot.

The analysis work done on government technical reports by Ecotect-Architects and it’s group of professional colleagues does bring these important chunks of information together in a coherent way. Most professional architects would agree that designing out of the ground is the only way forward. Anything else is at risk of being poorly conceived.

Iconic Cottesloe Beach

Iconic Cottesloe Beach

Cottesloe Beach

The term ‘iconic’ Cottesloe Beach that the people and tourist operators constantly use in describing this part of the western Australian coastline, will not exist unless steps are taken to ensure the beach and its primary sand dunes can move in an easterly direction for a minimum of 30 metres to have any chance of salvaging a beach for future generations. The cost of building sea walls shows be a spectre too awful to contemplate from 2050 onward. Alternatively, the cost of demolishing 5 storey buildings (proposed under the latest version of the local planning Scheme LPS3) along the Marine Terrace alignment and removing the sea walls will be an impost too great for that generation to bear. We need a new planning vision to solve this first step in the way forward.

Of course the overshadowing of the slowly easterly located beach at the end of the century and the 50 year lead up to it will mean increasing overshadowing of the beach to the point where there will be a wall of shade most of the morning throughout the seasons. Goodbye ‘icionic”status! This is the bottom line.

Surely rationally minded intelligent people and residents of the are will see their real estate values fall and their current beach amenity erode slowly from hereon and speeding up in the second half of this century need to revisit their entrenched beliefs and support a new way of thinking to Cottesloe beach.

Already there are tell tale signs of sand dune erosion from the 250 mm rise over the last 150 years. If anyone has not noticed the early signs and a few metres lost over the last already since WWII, they certainly will realize it by the year 2030 when about another 7-10 metres of beach will be gone for many hundreds of years.

Image Current View Near Ocean Beach Hotel

Current View Near Ocean Beach Hotel

Image End of Century View Near Ocean Beach Hotel

End of Century View Near Ocean Beach Hotel


3D Modelling

Ecotect-Architects are carrying out this work on a pro bono basis to ensure the local residents and the general Perth public fully understand the consequences of planning the future foreshore built environment without taking into account the alignments of the beach and primary dunes as it moves in an easterly direction.

Associate Andrew Ferguson and Colin Henley, as a volunteer architect, have assisted putting this 3 D model together and helping my team to interpret the geophysics, accurately estimate erosion by the end of the century and show the long term effects of ocean rises, storm events and super-tides.

What is the Way Forward and Why?

Key points in ensuring proper process must be handled with care. For this reason our expanding team of experts plan the following steps ahead before moving onto real solutions:

1. In the early part of 2012 the firm will be developing this model further into 3-D fly over movies to explain the issues to the public in a very explicit way.

2. Ecotect-Architects as part of its volunteer effort will be outlining in more detail the ramifications of this 3-D investigation in relation to the current planning scheme that is being negotiated between the WAPC, the Government and the Town of Cottesloe.

3. Ecotect-Architects via it parent company Wise Earth P/L plans to survey responses from the Cottesloe residents as well as the wider community about the consequences of ocean level rises in the future.

4. Ecotect-Architects will be regularly consulting our team of professional experts about the way most prudent way forward in relation to establish a trully sustainable development for Cottesloe Beach.

5. As part of due process the firm will be consulting higher authorities about the legal validity of the LPS3 scheme finally submitted by the Town of Cottesloe and their accepted amendments to the modified LPS3 proposed by the WAPC and in fact the originally proposed LPS3 itself.

6. With great sincerely our colleagues uphold our right to question all the work done by all parties to date. Clearly, it is our community duty and professional responsibility.

7. It has been with great care that the predictive model was generated as accurately as possible to credibly synthesize all of the government commissioned studies on coastal erosion, geophysics and ocean level rises due to climate change. This will be more accurately developed as the work proceeds.

8. Legal questions as to the short term and long term implications of the LPS3 are highly appropriate to be asked at this time. The consequences of ignoring intergenerational equity considerations must have bearing of the responsibility at all levels of governments and reflect an open, legal relationships with landowners in the precinct.

9. It is obvious from this early released 3-D work that the future beach will be overshadowed dramatically by 5-8 storey buildings built on the current Marine Parade alignment. Acceptable solutions need to be investigated.


Image Cross Section of Beachfront Near Ocean Beach Hotel

Cross Section of Beachfront Near Ocean Beach Hotel

10. The current 3 D model clearly all development should move eastwards to allow for a future primary dune system and lower the heights to 2-3 storeys max for the first 20 metres or so back from this alignment to prevent overshadowing of the beach in the morning. If the development zone can not be shifted then a lower height temporary (demountable) building approach should be taken along Marine Pde.

11. Any higher rise development will simply have to move easterly and be strategically placed to address many of the issues (and more) that were identified in the Enquiry by Design exercise. This can be done effectively by prudent design and planning.

12. Armed with this 3-D model we believe the local and wider community needs to reassess the LPS3 and the Enquiry by Design conclusions, and adapt to the newly revealed coastline circumstances.

13. All ocean levels shown it the 3 –D presentation are average water levels. Storm events and super-tides will result in about another 1.5 to 2 metre ocean rises intermittently.

14. Full ramifications will be released in the New Year as the complete 3-D picture showing rock formations is completed.

Highly Appropriate Action

The Cottesloe Beach 3-D model demonstrates how design and planning teams have failed to fully understand the implications that our children and grandchildren will need to address.

Also, we believe that it is unethical of any government or local authority to continue to approve any development in full knowledge of the results of ignoring their own technical studies and expert advice. Mainly it has been a failure to visualize what these studies actual mean beyond short-term politics and governance.

Our team is definitely not conspiracy theorists or anti-development. We simply know that most people outside of the architectural professions can not visualize in 3D and believe it needed it to be presented to properly expedite any planning schemes and development regulations.

Hopefully this time consuming and expensive gift to the city and the state will be the catalyst for more reasoned and informed debate on the planning of the foreshore.

If there is more public support and professional encouragement by all levels of government to this initial contribution to the planning debate about Cottesloe Beach, the Ecotect-Architects team is prepared to build a popular technically correct vision for implementation at Cottesloe beach for the next 90 years.

As one community and people of good faith we believe the past needs to be put behind us in the community and sort out Cottesloe beach once and for all and adapt the LPS3 and future planning schemes in a way that functions way into collective future.

Our kids, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren will be the beneficiaries of this effort.