What does the weather have to do with my building project?

Let’s talk about the weather

When you reach the point of using building simulation tools in a project, you’ve made a big leap. You’re committed to maximizing technology to build an exemplary building. But do you really have a grasp on the data that simulation tools and consultants use? No? Okay, then let’s talk about the weather.

Wait, what? No, we’re not changing the subject — we should really talk about the weather. Weather data has major implications not only for your building’s design, but for its performance and viability over the next 40, 50, or 60 years. All the calculations a simulation will make about future energy consumption, lifetime ownership costs, and the indoor thermal comfort of your building are largely based on weather factors like sunlight, wind, and storms. Who knew?

To make project decisions, consultants usually use historic data based on geography, and weather events. But we all know that climate change is causing major shifts in weather patterns. Put another way, the weather not going to behave the same way it has in the last 50 years for the next 50. That means that despite your best intentions to make proactive design, materials, and systems choices for superior comfort, your calculations will be way off using historical weather data.

Fortunately, things aren’t as bleak as they may seem. In their research on thermal performance risks and climate change, Pieter de Wilde and Wei Tian assert, “The current building stock is likely to be much more resilient towards climate change than generally assumed.” They think there are a few reasons for this. For one, today’s buildings are incorporating backup systems that compensate for loss of comfort and energy during drastic weather events. Also, design teams are purposefully choosing systems with 15-20-year lifespans, probably with an eye towards advancing technologies. And the effects of incremental climate change on a building’s systems in that time period would likely be minimal.

Despite the good—and obvious—news that today’s buildings are better than previous generations, issues of improper weather data and analysis persist. Through the power of artificial intelligence, we can now work towards overcoming this problem. Wilde and Tian indicate that current building simulation tools, coupled with automated sampling, analysis, and data aggregation—i.e. artificial intelligence—“allow making probabilistic predictions of the thermal behaviour of buildings subject to climate change.”

By using simulation tools and projected data that account for conceivable changes in climate, it’s possible to select a building configuration that takes into consideration the weather of today as well as the potential weather of tomorrow. Wilde and Tian warn, though, that human verification of such analyses is needed, as data sets and automations are far from perfect. As with all projects, it’s important to keep in mind collaboration and cooperation amongst designers, consultants, owners, and operators to make sure that technology you employ is being used smartly and effectively.

The demand for collaboration and further research into climate change’s effects on the built environment is pervasive. “Since appropriate performance indicators for climate change impact need further development, it is premature to set thresholds for acceptability of climate change risk,” say Wilde and Tian. “However, there appears to be interest in the industry to take these indicators and quantification of risk to a next level.”

As an industry professional, don’t you have that interest, too? The opportunity to get in on the ground level with this emerging use of technology is huge. Marry the work of consultants, building simulations, and automated data analysis. In doing so, you’ll make choices that yield a high-performing, comfortable building and help set the tone for future of building technology that can account for a rapidly changing climate.

It all starts with a simple conversation about the weather.