From air-conditioning to clotheslines: dynamic conditions and the nature of energy modeling for code compliance
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This thesis, based on a methodology borrowed from Science and Technologies Studies (STS), studies the implications of using energy modeling software for code compliance in the architectural design process. Specifically, the careful study of the development and use the of the software itself, including the assumptions and frameworks of its developers and users, is required to accurately examine the implications and practical effectiveness of using energy modeling to aid in reducing the environmental consequences of the built environment. I argue that the value in studying energy modeling software is not primarily to improve the scientific accuracy of the software. Rather, the value is to demonstrate how the assumptions used in the software’s calculation methodology can adversely influence the technological decisions made by building designers when using the software to demonstrate compliance with energy codes. To develop this hypothesis I have employed both historical and empirical methods. In my historical analysis, I find that the origins of modern building energy modeling software date back to the beginning of the air conditioning industry at the start of the 20th century. One consequence of this history is that assumptions built into the software measure the relative efficiency of building components under static and assumed average conditions, but not the dynamic rates of consumption caused by inhabitation. This, in-turn, prescribes the problem-at-hand of energy code compliance as primarily technical. However, as others have argued, dynamic social and circumstantial issues also influence energy consumption (Guy & Shove, 2000). Therefore as means to examine potential conflicts between the static and technical method of analysis employed by code compliance energy modeling software and the dynamic and circumstantial context in which buildings are designed, my empirical analysis is of a design process for a net-zero energy subdivision in Austin, Texas in which energy modeling was required and used extensively. The case study is designed to demonstrate how the problems-at-hand for each distinct group of stakeholders involved in the design process was varied and did not necessarily conform to the technical solution advocated by the energy modeling process. A primary conclusion of my analysis is that all mature technologies come to us with embedded assumptions that may subvert our intentions. A secondary conclusion is that the competing assumptions and problem definitions of building scientists and building designers tend to frustrate the goal of sustainable development. My hope in studying energy modeling, in relation to practice and code compliance, is to discover ways to better use the analytical power of energy modeling that is more directly responsive to the dynamic and contextual conditions of architectural production and real world resource consumption.