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From emissions reductions to cool roofs, Miami-Dade County is exploring how building efficiency plays a role in the growing heat crisis.
In Miami-Dade County, Florida, buildings produce about 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which trap hot air and raise surface temperatures to uncomfortable and, sometimes, unlivable conditions. That’s why the county is targeting building emissions as it works to forge a more resilient community.
“Extreme heat … is the No. 1 weather- and climate-related killer globally, nationally and here in South Florida,” said the county’s Chief Heat Officer Jane Gilbert, but it has been “grossly underappreciated in terms of its risks.”
The county’s Office of Resilience in 2021 launched a five-year program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the energy efficiency of residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Through the voluntary Building Efficiency 305 program, property owners track, report and share data on their buildings’ energy and water use so they can cut waste and identify performance improvements that will keep utility costs and temperatures down. Property owners use the Environmental Protection Agency’s free Energy Star benchmarking platform to compare their building’s energy use to similar buildings, past consumption or a reference performance level.
More than 150 structures have been enrolled since the program’s inception, including county government buildings as well as those in the cities of Miami and Palmetto Bay.
“The goal is to publish that data so when you are looking to buy [or rent] a space … it becomes a part of your selection criteria,” said Miami-Dade County Energy Manager Patricia Gomez.
Officials hope to eventually see a 20% reduction in energy and water consumption among participants by 2026. According to a 2019 report, the program could reduce carbon emissions by 44 million metric tonnes valued at $1.9 billion.
Miami-Dade County is also supporting heat-mitigation efforts through its Sustainable Buildings Program, an initiative that encourages sustainable building practices in the face of climate change. The program was established by the Sustainable Buildings Program Ordinance in 2007 but was updated in 2022 to further clarify requirements and establish efficiency standards for infrastructure projects.
The ordinance, for instance, requires that all buildings constructed by or in the county must achieve a silver certification from the Envision rating system or the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED. Achieving a LEED silver rating certifies buildings include a certain degree of energy- and water-efficient systems or other sustainable materials.
According to Gilbert, one way to achieve a silver status is by constructing buildings with cool roof materials such as aluminum and reflective coating, which are designed to lessen the amount of heat a building absorbs from the sun. As a result, there is less demand on the building’s cooling system and, thus, less energy, air pollution and emissions generated.
“Cool roofs not only improve the efficiency of the building but reduce the urban heat island as well,” Gilbert said. According to the EPA, cool roofs with high thermal emittance, referring to how much absorbed heat a surface is able to release, can keep properties 50 to 60 degrees cooler during summer weather peaks.
“There is a big opportunity for buildings to take advantage of [energy efficiency], and as we are seeing this increased heat and need of power,” Gomez said, “it is very important for everybody to do their own part to help the overall situation.”