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White Hot, Ice Cold

By Katriel Costello

The evolution of environmental control is both exciting and futuristic, but not yet mainstream. Innovative products such as the Hot Springs and the Zanzibar radiators bring new aesthetics to fundamental needs, but it is still unclear whether technology or design will lead the response to environemental issues.

The Zanzibar, designed by Florence, Italy-born Francesco Dori, has crossed boundaries, both aesthetic and technological. It is a perfect example of a design that is closely linked with manufacturing. Dori, a former steel trader, was visiting a warehouse in Italy when he spotted some pipes lying on the floor. “I arranged the pipes in a sculpture and saw a radiator in it,” he explains. And in creating the Zanzibar, which essentially fits engineering around design, the look and feel were not dictated by technology. “The Zanzibar was innovative in engineering as well as design,” says Nigel Coston, technical director of Bisque in London and a vendor of the Zanzibar radiator. “Drawn rods with laser cut holes were needed to allow the water to run through the pipes. This technology was purely design led.”

However, it can work just as well when new technologies herald new designs. Invensys Climate Controls Europe (ICCE), Slough Berkshire, U.K., made it possible for consumers to operate heating and cooling systems through a mobile phone. Now it’s up to designers to come up with a device that isaesthetically pleasing, easy to use and fulfills the capabilities of the technology. “Customers’ accessibility options have widened, and the key is a handheld integrated phone and personal digital assistant which utilizes Microsoft Windows CE to provide access to buildingsservices,” says Shafique Shah, product manager for Building Energy Manage-ment Systems at ICCE.

A Matter of Taste

The look of the controls also is up to clients who must live with technology. “Consumers want functional products that will coordinate with the décor of their house,” says Bill McNamara, Product Management Director at ICCE. “If consumers don’t like our products or they don’t ‘fit’ with the style of their homes, this has a major impact on our sales figures.” That’s why controls such as thermostatic radiator valves, for example, have been designed to complement more architecturally designed radiators, with chrome finishes for an up-to-date look.

Putting people first is the philosophy of the Technical University of Denmark, Lyngby, Denmark, especially when it comes to indoor air quality. The degree of environmental control impacts people’s comfort level, and high indoor air quality has a positive impact on people’s productivity, according to Ole Fanger, Director of the university’s International Centre for Indoor Environment and Energy. Given that we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, the quality of the air we breathe indoors is important, he says.

Fanger theorizes that new systems must provide air that is comparable to the best you find outdoors, or even better. “New technologies will develop that will treat the air before you breathe it so that it feels acceptable and pleasant,” he says, “rather than the stale stuff you are finding in places today.”

People also are unhappy at having to put up with other people’s choices when it comes to temperatures. Fanger predicts that people will have individual controls, which are operated by a movable outlet on their desks. This portability will improve occupant comfort and energy efficiency, bearing in mind that inefficient temperature controls systems that don’t account for different preferences waste energy.

However, Peter Simmonds, Consultant Design Engineer for IBE Consulting Engineers Inc., Van Nuys, Calif., thinks this won’t necessarily lead to energy efficiency. “The technology for personalized control is there, but budget constraints don’t allow it. Nor does personalized control allow for control over your energy source. If you gave individuals their own controls, they could ask for more cooling or more heating than is necessary and the building would be consuming more than it could operate under.”

When the price of equipment drops, this technology will become more affordable, according to Simmonds. “The problem lies in modern technologies, which are still hard wired, so even though the individual controls could be cheaper, the wiring is the component that puts the price up.”

Need vs. Want

Perhaps part of this problem with cost is demand. Paul Priestman, Director of Priestman-Goode, London, designed the iconic Hot Spring radiator, beloved by Manhattan apartment dwellers. “I wanted to design a radiator that would be cheaper to manufacture and save energy in the manufacturing process, and that’s how the Hot Spring came about,” he says. “The pipe is fed onto a computer-controlled bending machine, which manipulates it, and this means less processing. In the home, the Hot Spring is mounted vertically, allowing air to be drawn through it, like a flume, so it becomes more efficient. It’s an icon for alternative radiators.”

The heating and cooling market has been slow moving, in Europe at least, according to Priestman, who also is President of the Design Business Association in London. He asserts that people will spend money on lighting and fancy fittings, but will buy inexpensive heating and cooling systems. Priestman believes this is changing, and Europeans are beginning to spend more money on their heating products. This change in perception largely can be attributed to the plethora of TV programs and magazines in recent years.

Attitudes to environmental controls differ globally. On one hand, it’s a simple question of climate. When Priestman shows his Hot Spring radiator to markets in the Far East, he says they’re far more interested in the process than the product. They’re fascinated with the idea of pumping hot water around a building to heat it up.

On the other hand, it’s a question of attitude. Han Siiang-Tang of National Taiwan University has created a Smart Home, which has energy-efficient windows, negating the need for all-day air conditioning. And the idea of environmentally intelligent dwellings is spreading. Some builders in Taiwan even have gone as far as to plant flowers into roofs of soil. The flowers help absorb the sun’s radiation, and the moist soil acts as a layer of insulation against the heat.

In North America, green roofing is on the rise. A $1 million Chicago City Hall project involves a roof spanning almost a block that is covered with 20,000 plant species. The City of Toronto has partially greened the roof of its City Hall, and the Vancouver Public Library, designed by architect Moshe Safdie, also capitalizes on the cooling idea.

Down the Pipe

David Scheatzle, FAIA, Professor Emeritus of Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz., is pushing the idea of intelligent houses and the future of environmental controls. An architect and an engineer, he designed the radiant system in Arizona’s Carefree House, which is radiantly cooled and heated using a system of panels. The surfaces of the floors and ceilings control the temperature. Scheatzle predicts, “A sensor on a wristwatch will be able to operate the controls over room temperature and determine how the body is sensing the thermal environment. It’s a sophisticated system that tells the controls what temperature the person should be.”

To this end, Scheatzle suggests that designers will have to determine where radiant panels will be placed and what they should look like when considering the interiors of houses, “because, quite simply, putting things in front of them will interfere with the heating and cooling of the building.”

Pure Energy

Growth rates of solar power and wind power are currently going through the roof.

“These dynamic growth rates—similar to the recent trend in mobile phone sales—are driving down costs and can only herald good news for renewable energy,” says Christopher Flavin, President of the Worldwatch Institute, Washington, D.C. “A decade from now, renewable energy is likely to be an accepted part of the mainstream energy business—and in a position to dominate the market for new electricity generators.”

On a practical level, in California, for example, residents are given a financial incentive. “Here in California and Long Island there are significant financial rebates, which are in place because the State has directed these utilities to give these rebates,” says Bill Bottenberg, Vice President of sales and marketing, EcoEnergies Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif. “As a result, it is reasonable for certain classes of customer to buy solar systems.”

Monitoring their customerbase, Bottenberg has identified three classes of customer:

  1. Those interested in doing something for the environment who are seeking a system that reduces the amount of greenhouse gases that are generated.
  2. Those unhappy with their current utility who don’t want to pay its costs.
  3. Those interested in having the latest gadgets. They also have electric cars, are technically hip, or environmentally conscious.

The future will see more geothermal energies, in which the heat in the interior of the earth is used as a source. Currently, the state of Nevada and Germany are getting heat and electricity from geothermal energy. Even the oceans are being tapped, with wave and tidal projects currently being developed from San Francisco’s Golden Gate to the Western Isles of Scotland.