Loading...

Efficient Buildings Could Save Thousands of Lives in U.S. Every Year

August 24, 2021 by TWN Staff
Efficient Buildings Could Save Thousands of Lives in U.S. Every Year
The 3,000-seat Viking Pavilion is the hub of Portland State Athletics and the bustling urban campus. It became a model of energy effienct design after a major renovation. (Wikimedia Commons)

Buildings in the U.S. are responsible for 40% of the country’s total energy consumption. A new paper published in Science Advances, authored by Yale School of the Environment Economics Professor Kenneth Gillingham and colleagues at Yale’s SEARCH Center and the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science states by improving the energy efficiency of new and existing buildings, the emissions generated from heating and cooling them could be reduced – preventing thousands of premature deaths every year.

The study lays out two building efficiency improvement scenarios and estimates for how many premature deaths in the U.S. would be prevented in each case. 

The burning of fossil fuels, in addition to greenhouse gasses, releases large amounts of harmful airborne particulate matter called PM2.5 (particles with diameters of less than 2.5 micrometers), which can cause heart and lung disease and aggravate conditions like asthma. The reduction in premature deaths is primarily due to the reduction in PM2.5. 

The “optimistic” scenario, the authors say, envisions a 50% increase in appliance efficiency (everything from refrigerators to boilers) and a 60-90% increase in the efficiency of buildings’ outer shells by 2050. The researchers estimate that up to 5,100 premature deaths would be prevented yearly if those conditions were met. The “intermediate” scenario – still “a big step up” from what is being undertaken today, says Gillingham – could save up to an estimated 2,900 lives each year.

These estimates of lives saved, however, are focused on changes in outdoor air pollution. 

“It is important to also consider the impacts on indoor air quality that may accompany changes in building ventilation,” says study co-author Drew Gentner, associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering and the environment at the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science. 

The potential drawback of the increased energy efficiency of buildings, says Gillingham, is that when buildings are more tightly sealed to prevent leakage of heated or cooled air, the total amount of circulation between indoor and outdoor air also decreases.

“While tighter buildings can partially isolate you from outdoor pollution, it requires greater attention to indoor pollutant emissions,” Gentner says.

For example, inside a home, emissions from cooking or appliances can impact indoor air quality. “If you close the building shell and don’t accompany it with recirculation and filtration upgrades, then you can actually face some health impacts,” Gillingham says. 

But even without additional indoor air filtration upgrades, the researchers found that improved building efficiency would still save roughly 3,600 per year under the “optimistic” scenario, and 1,800 under the “intermediate” scenario.

The researchers also note that some outdoor air pollution factors, like wildfire smoke, would be reduced indoors if buildings were made more efficient and there was less circulation between outdoor and indoor air. While average outdoor PM2.5 levels have been continually decreasing over time in the U.S., wildfires can sometimes drastically increase outdoor air pollution. And, as recent years have shown, wildfire smoke can spread across large swaths of the country, causing harmful levels of air quality from coast to coast.

“These results, including effects on outdoor and indoor air pollutants, are quite interesting because no one’s modeled both before. People have examined similar questions narrowly in small regions, but no one’s done it broadly over the entire country,” says Gillingham.

In The News

Health

Voting

Energy

Race to Cut Carbon Emissions Splits U.S. States on Nuclear

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — As climate change pushes states in the U.S. to dramatically cut their use of fossil fuels,... Read More

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — As climate change pushes states in the U.S. to dramatically cut their use of fossil fuels, many are coming to the conclusion that solar, wind and other renewable power sources might not be enough to keep the lights on. Nuclear power is... Read More

January 12, 2022
by Dan McCue
Biden Administration Advances Renewable Energy Projects

WASHINGTON — Seven federal executive branch agencies have begun rolling out wind, solar and other clean energy projects, the White... Read More

WASHINGTON — Seven federal executive branch agencies have begun rolling out wind, solar and other clean energy projects, the White House announced Wednesday morning. According to a senior administration official, the effort builds on President Biden’s commitment to “pull every lever” to scale up the use... Read More

January 7, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
White House Allocates Funds for Poor to Pay Heating Bills

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced details Friday for how it will fund energy costs for low-income persons this winter... Read More

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced details Friday for how it will fund energy costs for low-income persons this winter as a cold wave swept over the nation. A White House statement described increased funding under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program as another victory... Read More

January 6, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
California Wildfires Show Need for Underground Power Lines

WASHINGTON — California fire officials this week accelerated calls for drastic action to confront global warming when they blamed overhead... Read More

WASHINGTON — California fire officials this week accelerated calls for drastic action to confront global warming when they blamed overhead power lines for the second biggest wildfire in the state’s history. The Dixie Fire burned nearly 1 million acres last year, sparked by an overhead power... Read More

December 29, 2021
by Reece Nations
GAO Presses Lawmakers to Improve DOE Carbon Capture Projects

WASHINGTON — The Government Accountability Office is pressing lawmakers to institute legislation that would improve oversight and accountability of the... Read More

WASHINGTON — The Government Accountability Office is pressing lawmakers to institute legislation that would improve oversight and accountability of the Department of Energy’s carbon capture and storage demonstration project expenditures. GAO conducted a study of DOE’s investment of $1.1 billion in carbon capture and storage projections... Read More

December 29, 2021
by Dan McCue
Biden Administration Pulls Support for Coal Plants, Carbon-Intensive Projects Overseas

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has ordered an end to federal support for the construction of coal plants and other... Read More

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has ordered an end to federal support for the construction of coal plants and other carbon-intensive projects overseas. The policy, which was communicated to U.S. embassies earlier this month, is expected to be fully in force by the end of 2022... Read More

News From The Well
Exit mobile version