True lies


By Architect Don Bunting


American journalist and commentator Michael Kinsey once said: “There are plenty of facts. The trick is in making them make sense.”

A clever use of facts to sell something was renaming the old 1970s dependable split system air conditioner as a heat pump. Sounds so much sexier and more environmentally friendly than air conditioner.

And they do work just fine, offering home owners a reasonably economic method, at least in terms of installation costs, of moderating heat in summer and cold in winter.

It also balances the level of humidity to suit the ambient temperature, and does its best to filter out a bit of the domestic dust and grime.

However, its key weakness is that it does not supply any fresh air — it just recirculates the air in a room, with a little bit of fresh air getting in if you open a window, or happen to install a separate fresh air fan the way I did back when I was designing suburban bank branches.


So what is a heat pump?

A heat pump is a device that transfers energy from a source of heat to what is called a heat sink.

So, essentially, heat pumps move thermal energy in the opposite direction of spontaneous heat transfer (i.e. from hot to cold), absorbing heat from a cold space and releasing it into a warmer one.

To some extent, a split system air conditioner acts like a heat pump, at least in the cooling phase, by using a compressor. But in the heating phase it is no more than a fan operated electric heater. So not quite a heat pump.

And please don’t try to say they are environmentally friendly. They’re not.


Predicting the future

I love it when commentators try to predict the future, particularly when attempting to predict how we might all live in years to come.

One commentator who operates on the edge of my own past profession, came out with the statement that homes of the future won’t look too different from today, but what will be different is that in the future a lot of people won’t be living in houses. Really?

He also blithely said that we will no longer own cars, freeing up valuable land taken up by garages and driveways. Wow.

The key weakness in broadly theorising about how future housing might better suit our changing needs and way of life is that it is unachievable.

Any change in forms of housing will not be radical, but painfully slow.

It’s just Economics 101. We can’t afford to pull down most existing forms of accommodation in one go and replace them with something new. Won’t happen.


A better view

New Zealand Herald columnist Simon Wilson took a much more thoughtful and considered approach to the issue of housing.

He ticked off the key issues to address and decisions to make: enabling our not-for-profits, raising enviro-standards, implementing universal designs that cope with lifestyle changes, a focus on prefabrication, building smaller homes, and developing apartment complexes as villages.

He also recommends that the tongue-twisting Housing and Urban Development Authority (HUDA) be changed to the more user-friendly and descriptive Wharenui (meeting house or main house). Simple.


Algorithms rule

Technology reporter Jane Wakefield says that if you were expecting some kind of warning when computers finally got smarter than us, think again.

In reality, our electronic overlords are already taking control in a very subtle and sneaky way. Their weapon of choice: the algorithm.

Behind every web service is smart web code. This records and analyses what books we might be interested in, what services we might want and, essentially, controls how we interact with our electronic world.

Algorithm expert Kevin Slater has warned that the “maths that computers use to decide stuff” was infiltrating every aspect of our lives.

We don’t know it’s happening, until it leads us to somewhere we didn’t want to go, or to buy something we didn’t really need. Scary.

One new electronic venture that failed to fire was Amazon Go. This was a store without checkouts. Your purchases were automatically recorded and your account debited.

Amazon found that the concept was a step too far too soon, and its 87 pop-up stores soon closed down.


Sustainable luxury

You sometimes come across something that is so bizarre, so unbelievable that you wonder what an individual or company was thinking.

This was an announcement — I should say that it was in Vanity Fair magazine, a publication known for its view that luxury is a gift from the gods — that jewellers Tiffany and Company had appointed a chief sustainability officer.

Now, whatever your attitude to the creation and ownership of high end trinkets is, I imagine you would look on such items as sustaining nothing more than a desire to own the best.

A more prescient quote in this area might be that: The most sustainable building (or object) is the one you don’t build.

And in the context of fashion, not wasting valuable energy and resources on over-priced trinkets might be a good start.


The bare minimum

I was shocked but not surprised when I read that the Mayor of New Plymouth, in responding to a recent and major sewage overflow problem in the city said: We have met all our statutory obligations.

Don’t you just love politicians?

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