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Sila: Clue in to Climate Change.
Introduction. Adventure. Awareness, What Now? Quiz.

Turning up the heat


Ryan: That building looks like a school!

Inukshuk: It is a school. But, not your ordinary school building. This is the Alaittuq School in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. The building uses a special technology to heat the classrooms - something called a solar wall.

Morgan: Solar wall! You mean solar, like the sun? How are walls made out of the sun? They just look like regular metal walls to me.

Inukshuk: They're not made from the sun - the walls use the sun's energy to heat the building. Solar walls are a new technology. Here at the Alaittuq School, they've installed one big solar wall - 66 square metres - to help heat the school during the long and cold winter.

Morgan: But how does it work?

Ryan: Yeah, how can one wall made out of metal heat a whole building?

Pictures of Morgan, Ryan and Inukshuk.

1) A picture of Alaittuq School in Ranklin Inlet, Nunavut.
2) A picture of a school under construction.

Inukshuk: You can see the metal panels attached to the outside of the building. There is an empty space between those panels and the wall inside. Air is drawn into that space through tiny holes in the metal. The sun heats the metal panels, and in turn, the metal heats the air. That warm air rises to a hole at the top of the wall and is blown by a fan throughout the school, dispersing warm air to every classroom.

Morgan: But we are up North! In the North, there isn't as much sun in the winter. And that is when it's the coldest!

Ryan: Yeah, and what about when it is cloudy outside? They can't work then.

Inukshuk: Actually, the solar walls work very well in a place like Rankin Inlet. Because the snow reflects sunlight so well, there is more light - and therefore more heat - hitting the walls. And, the walls are so well designed that even when it is cloudy, they can heat the building. Even if there is just a little twilight, the solar wall is effective.

Ryan: But how does that make a difference with climate change?

Inukshuk: Well, it reduces the need to burn fossil fuels like oil or diesel, which emit greenhouse gases, resulting in global warming. It also saves money - burning fossil fuels to heat buildings can be very expensive in the North.

Morgan: Every school should have a solar wall!

Inukshuk: Lots of different buildings can use solar walls. They can be used on almost any type of building, from houses to apartment buildings to schools, both in the North and in the South. In fact, the biggest solar wall in the world is at a factory in Montreal.

Morgan: But what about in the summer? Won't the building get way too hot! The Arctic may be a cold place during the long winters, but even it can get warm in the summer!

Inukshuk: That's an interesting question. In fact, the solar walls cool the school in the summer.

Ryan: What? How can something built for heat keep things cool?

3) A picture of Alaittuq in the summer.

Inukshuk: Well, warm air gets trapped in the space between the solar wall and the building. It then gets released through holes at the top of the metal panels. Quite ingenious, don't you think?

Ryan: These are the smartest walls I've ever seen!

Image Sources:

  1. Mark Buell, National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO)
  2. Mark Buell, National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO)
  3. Chris O'Brien


Last Update: 2006-08-09    © nature.ca    Important Notices
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