Re-skinning Gives Old Buildings New Life, Reduces Emissions up to 70%

Here's a statistic most people aren't aware of: the largest percentage of urban greenhouse gas emissions come from the operation of residential and commercial buildings. Not cars, not garbage, not industry – buildings.

With outdated insulation, heating, cooling and energy use, most buildings are simply inefficient by today's green standards. In Toronto, office buildings, shopping centers and urban dwellings account for 63% of the city's emissions, and in other major cities worldwide, buildings account for between 60% and 80% of emissions. London comes in at 60%, Hong Kong at 72%, and New York at a whopping 79%. These numbers make it clear that solutions for climate change must include solutions for dealing with the aging, out of date buildings in our cities.

Canadian organization ZeroFootprint is confronting the challenge head on with a plan to "re-skin" old buildings and upgrade infrastructure. The idea of reskinning isn't necessarily new, but it has never been implemented on the scale required to make a major impact.

Says Ron Dembo, the mathematician founder of ZeroFootprint, "Re-Skinning is more than just adding a layer of cladding to the outside of a tower block to freshen up its looks or protect its deteriorating exterior. If we approach it in a holistic manner, re-skinning can seal energy leaks and provide a new layer of insulations as well. If done in conjunction with traditional retrofitting, such as installing geothermal heating and cooling systems, it can maximize these efficiency gains."

•    It can be used to hide a cheap retrofit;
•    It is potentially non-invasive;
•    It can make a ho-hum building into a handsome green role model;
•    It can be used to engineer an energy reduction of as much as 70%;
•    Re-skinning can be smart — software, solar, thermal, media, vegetation etc.

A new skin can hide the electronics, piping, cables and other services that make a building "smart", making retrofitting faster more affordable. Not to mention that adding a new outer skin can reduce emissions by 70% and freshen the visual appeal of a city.

To kick-start the initiative, Zerofootprint will launch the "The Zerofootprint Building Re-Skinning Competition" at the Discovery '09 Conference in Toronto today. The green building competition launches with the goal to develop "a methodology that meets five criteria: a "smart", reproducible, aesthetically pleasing, cost-effective, energy-efficient solution for the re-skinning of buildings."

The competition promises to draw the best minds in architecture, design, building and engineering from all over the world, and will hopefully yield advances in state-of-the-art technology, design and materials for building and retrofitting. Once the competition winners are chosen, ZeroFootprint hopes to deploy the project globally.

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