Building energy-efficient Chinese homes

China’s booming economy is building bigger and better homes for its people. But with energy consumption sharply on the rise, a new study warns that China should concentrate on sustainable, energy-efficient designs for new housing.


A collaborative study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Chinese universities reveals that Chinese developers are abandoning traditional practices and relying on energy-intensive Western methods instead. With energy consumed by buildings expected to equal a third of the country’s energy needs by 2020, the trends in building design are worrying.

The MIT study suggests that applying China’s long-established approaches to modern building designs could yield substantial energy savings. Designing traditional low-rise buildings oriented to catch winter sun and summer breezes makes more sense that opting for energy-intensive skyscrapers, says the study.

Although Chinese leaders recognize the need for energy efficiency, construction work is hampered by the costs of energy-efficient equipment, poorly skilled workers and building codes that are not enforced. And because most people still get free heating, there is little incentive to save energy, says the report.

The group is now working with developers to build simple, computer-based tools that Chinese builders can use to compare the energy efficiency of different designs. In two ongoing projects, teams are designing a low rise, high density development for a 10 hectare site outside Beijing and a group of low rise residential buildings for a two hectare site in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.

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