Efficient Design

Questions for Efficient Design

On December 22, 2007 Mr. Lovins contributed the following questions to QuestionsForLiving®.

Do you have a universal, or common, set of questions which you ask yourself when designing any new creation (be it a physical structure, engineering solution, or improved processes)?

Mr. Lovins's answer:

  • What are we trying to achieve, and what's the cheapest way?
  • How can our design imitate nature's solutions?
  • How many systems, subsystems, and parts can be eliminated?
  • How can each remaining one do as many duties as possible (at least three)?
  • How can we gain efficiency leverage by starting our savings downstream, turning compounding losses (from energy source to end-use) around backwards into compounding savings? [See my lectures on advanced energy efficiency at www.rmi.org/stanford]

What were the primary questions which you asked yourself in the design of your house in Colorado, where you're ripening your 35th banana crop at 2200m (7100') elevation with no furnace?

Mr. Lovins's answer:

  • Would it be feasible to eliminate the usual furnace in a climate that can drop to -44C (-47F), have frost any day of the year, and have 39 continuous days of midwinter cloud?
  • Might this approach reduce total net capital cost (because superinsulation, superwindows, air-to-air heat exchangers, etc. cost less than the furnace, ducts, fans, pipes, pumps, wires, controls, and fuel-supply arrangements)?
  • Could the building be made as efficient electrically as thermally, saving ~90% of normal usage?
  • Could it be ~99% thermally passive, maintaining comfort without controls?
  • Could it use solar heat for ~99% of its water-heating energy by using a stratified quasi-seasonal storage tank?
  • How could integrative whole-building design improve human health, happiness, and productivity? [Answer was yes to all, with a 10-month payback in 1983. For additional information regarding the house, please take the virtual tour: www.rmi.org/rmi/Amory's+Private+Residence and download the Visitors' Guide at: www.rmi.org/rmi/Library/NC07-12

If you do have a universal set of questions, which you ask yourself in the design of any new creation, please list the three to five questions which you find to be most useful.

Mr. Lovins's answer:

I especially enjoy these design quotations:

  • You can only get to simplicity through complexity. - Anon.
  • Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler. - Einstein
  • I wouldn't give a nickel for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I'd give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity. - Einstein
  • Perfect simplicity is not when there's nothing left to add, but when there's nothing left to take away. - St.Exupéry
  • How did I sculpt David? I just chiseled away everything that wasn't David. - Michaelangelo
  • Seek the pattern that connects. - Bateson
  • You know you're on the right track when your solution for one problem accidentally solves several others. - Corbet
  • Avoiding problems is even better than solving them. - Lovins
  • All the really important design errors are made on the first day. - Design proverb


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