So far this summer in NYC has been an endorsement of global warming... again. While one year certainly does not constitute a representative statistical sample, having recently moved to a top floor walk-up in SoHo, my sweat-stained shirts tell a different story. Given ConEd's virtual monopoly on New York's power grid and the correspondingly high prices, I took a number of energy-saving measures, including changing all of my bulbs to compact fluorescents and installing a fan to blow fresh night air through my apartment in order to supplement my air conditioner and reduce my footprint.Still, the heat and humidity remain oppressive. After the strong July sun cooks the roof of the building, the temperature of my ceiling remains nearly 100 degrees and my A/C labors to keep up. Consequently, I inquired to the superintendent about the insulation above me and I learned that the building also has a workable crawlspace between the ceiling and the roof. That area is currently filled with hot stagnant air all day long. I suggested to the super that we install a blower on a timer or thermostat in the crawlspace along with some porous fiber fill, so the crawlspace could function as an intelligent insulator. It's a landmark building so the front façade can't be changed, but we could eerily co-opt existing chimneys into vents for the crawlspace. Sadly, even as ConEd campaigns for energy reduction, city regulations on building are prohibitively restrictive and landlords remain unaware that capital improvements can be translated into rent increases, even in rent-controlled apartments.

Just how much energy could be saved by altering the roof, however, would have been hard to determine in the era before visualization. Now, however, tools like Computational Fluid Dynamics can be used to determine how much heat transfers through that crawlspace, and what the exact energy savings will be. The size and flow rate for the required fan can be determined once a cost benefit analysis is quantified.

In this awkward period where old city laws and regulations remain inflexible, tools like CFD visualization allow everyone from architects designing skyscrapers to amateur home renovators like myself to figure out what kinds of measures can be undertaken to save energy. For people like my super, a visualization of air and heat flow would better help him to understand the importance of insulation, heat retention and the often counter-intuitive pattern of air flow, so old buildings can be taken into the modern age. Visualization would also allow stakeholders such as neighborhood boards and building management to both quantify and visualize the precise trade-offs between maintaining outdated city ordinances and compromising to help us all toward a more sustainable future.

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