Thursday, April 9, 2020
Falcon Ridge Group
January 9, 2020

Why building density matters as much as building efficiency

We’ll always have Paris.

We spend a lot of time on this site talking about reducing our carbon footprint and about building more energy-efficient buildings and homes. A lot of urban activists are talking about the need for more “missing middle” housing and why we have to increase density. I go on about how most of our transportation and its related emissions are just about getting between buildings, and that what we build determines how we get around.

Put it all together and you can only conclude that our built form and density are really among the most important factors when it comes to our per capita carbon emissions. After a recent discussion of this on Twitter, architect Mike Eliason pointed to a study from 2013, Cities and energy: urban morphology and residential heat-energy demand, that looked at different building forms and types, modeled them and concluded:

Compact and tall building types were found to have the greatest heat-energy efficiency at the neighbourhood scale while detached housing was found to have the lowest.

This is not a surprise; David Owen wrote a book about it. We have shown other studies that came to this conclusion; my favorite has always been the Canadian Urban Archetypes Project which looked at single family and small multifamily urban projects, finding that crappy old multifamily buildings had lower overall carbon footprints than modern subdivisions. This European study doesn’t include transportation emissions like the Archetype one did, but is still fascinating.

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