EP141 Sustainability is complex, why simplicity is more important than ever with Steven Biersteker (October 2023)

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    EP141 Sustainability is complex, why simplicity is more important than ever with Steven Biersteker (October 2023) #HeliumRadio

Another post on LinkedIn is what got this conversation/episode started. Perhaps it was the architectural rendering of a piece of cake that caught my eye – well done Steven! (FYI as of this writing this post has 564 reactions, 59 comments and 45 reposts- that’s influence!) Meet Steven Biersteker, architect by day and content creator by night. Here is his LinkedIn page: We explore a lot of topics in this episode including why Steven entered this field and how he got to where he is today. (My favorite part of every episode.) Other notions we discuss: Getting to low operational carbon is simple … in theory.

We are running highly efficient buildings on high carbon fuels.

Citizens need to demand better and use energy smarter.

Designing highly efficient buildings is critical, but so is low-carbon electricity and smart users. We learned that he’s writing a book (ABCs of Carbon + Architecture) because he sees a big problem: There is a huge gap between the know-it-alls and the know-it-nots. His book will be simple to read, digestible, and most importantly brief (see the book outline below). And also see below for 10 important questions about low carbon design for every architect and builder to ask themselves/their client. It’s on all of us to work together, you can make a difference. Be willing to ask questions. This episode was recorded in October 2023.

Here is a sneak peak of the key topics in his book:

CARBON LINGO – The Key terms you need to know

GLOBAL WARMING 101 – The basics, nothing more

SCOPING OUT CARBON – Who’s scope are carbon emissions?

MEASURING CARBON – How we measure this stuff

WHOLE LIFE CARBON – Embodied & Operational Carbon


EMBODIED CARBON – What’s accounted for?

MATERIALS – Emissions & carbon sequestering


OPERATIONAL CARBON – The basics of emissions

ENERGY USE – How does energy impact GHG

REFRIGERANTS – What’s the issue with refrigerants?

CARBON COMPARISON – So what is a ton of carbon anyway?

BONUS: 10 simple questions to achieve a low-carbon design. 
1. Does this building need to be built?  No – Great, you just saved the planet. Yes – Move on to question 2.    2. Does this building need to be built this big?  No – Build what you need and nothing more.  Yes – Move to question 3.    3. Is there an existing building we could use instead?  No – Let’s try and build the best new building we can.  Yes – Renovated buildings reduce embodied carbon by up to 70%    4. Can we use a biogenic material as our structure?  No – Focus on less material and lower impact materials.  Yes – Stick frame and mass timber are great structural options    5. Can the building be designed to come apart?  No – Concrete is the worst material for disassembly.  Yes – Steel and Mass Timber should be bolted for disassembly    6. Can we fully electrify the heating & cooling systems?  No – Maximize energy efficiency through passive system design  Yes – Heat pumps will reduce your energy use by 3x’s    7. Can we reduce our mechanical system size?  No – Large mechanical systems are expensive to operate long-term  Yes – Use south-facing glazing and passive ventilation    8. Can we specify biogenic insulation and cladding materials  No – Find the lowest impact insulation materials. Try EPS over XPS  Yes – Cellulose, hemp, denim, and wool are great insulators    9. Do the users know how to best operate the building?  No – Make sure users are aware of the passive systems that reduce energy use  Yes – A great building that isn’t operated well destroys the design    10. Can we minimize the impervious site materials?  No – Large parking and sidewalk areas have a large impact  Yes – Grasses and natural areas create carbon sinks    Sustainable building design is complex, but there are some basic questions that will help make the most important decisions.  

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