If one was to add up the usual culprits for an energy bill, it’s always best to start with the worst, largest abusers? Not just the largest, but also with ones that bring real comfort and safety home? We certainly spend more time under our roof than in our cars, but we spend A LOT more on cars just for looks, status, and performance. These days, cars under $20,000 are just as good as higher end models except for a few perks. But who really needs to get to 60 miles an hour one or two seconds faster for $20,000 to $100,000 more? None of us!
The same is not true for houses—your investment matters. As one of my clients said when confronted with the choice, “I’d rather make my house nice and comfortable than get a fancy car for the next few years.” One easily saves $30,000 to $100,000 dollars in ten years by improving a house’s efficiency.So when one buys a house, let’s say at the age of 35 and stays there until retirement, there is a $100,000 to $300,000 difference in savings and if one plugs that money to paying capital in mortgage, one doubles that. I would like anyone to show the same kind of return on capital in the stock market!
Unfortunately, the current thoughts around house design are much like cars, where no one makes real money making really smart simple lightweight cars, only complicated ones with a steady stream of expensive spare parts and labor pay off dividends – again at our wallet’s expense. It’s the same with buildings, as contractors and people supplying services are the ones making a living with hard-earned income.Highly efficient buildings are healthy, comfortable, easy, and economical to maintain, as there are hardly any parts to go wrong or wear out. The good news is that by addressing some basic aspects of our homes, we can change this equation in a way that’s good for our wallets and for the environment.
Our most demanding requirements are cooling and heating, and both can be eliminated by permanent simple generous economical insulation. Starting with the roof by raising it to between R = 60 to 80,80 preferable in New York or further north, but even in the south for cooling highly insulated roofs make even more sense.
High efficiency R = 10 windows or more are equally important, but so few professional even know about them. and they have been around for more than two decades! I personally had them in my previous house since 1995, and in the next one. the design is based on the availability of them. Even in the winter months, being able to sit next to a picture window without feeling a chill is like driving a luxury car for free. With great walls and the right roof, one can eliminate 90% of heating and cooling, and ALWAYS have your home at 72 degree 24/7 without having to pay for it.
By switching to LED, one saves 85 % of a major part of the rest of household power requirements, and for real, avoid the fluorescent fixtures, as they have such a poor color rendering making everything gloomy.
Hot water is another area where for some reason energy companies are so entrenched in avoiding good solutions – like solar hot water and geothermal pre heat. Hot water is truly the major component in utility costs, as we all have daily showers and use several gallons of the precious heated material. Just think how long it takes to boil a pot of water and multiply this several times, and then the number of members in the family. Tanks are rarely even insulated to meet code minimum. And the code as we know it is itself a minimum, not what smart professionals should request to best meet their clients’ needs.
If one has geothermal wells installed, it’s good to have a well water line included at the same time. This way, one will not lose the garden that one might have spent years caring and designing during long dry spells, as solar PV will pump water when needed in an emergency too.
New induction ovens and cook tops are fantastically better than anything out there, and don’t have the oxygen-grabbing feature that gas stoves (or old type fireplaces) have, which need huge amounts of fresh air to be safely used. The cool gourmet gas stoves need a large window open to get enough oxygen to operate properly. Good luck trying to find that fact in the brochure for the stove!
Refrigerators are bit of a joke even today, and it’s hard to find one that could be called ‘efficient’. The market is so driven by the cost and the thinness of the wall to maximize the interior space that our energy bills (and wallets) are barely considered.
Once we have done all of the above, our electrical needs can be reduced 90%, and with solar panels, we can be totally grid free and able to operate when powerful storms ravage our power grids for days or weeks at a time.Even better, in winter storms, a small wood burning fireplace guarantees total comfort even in blackouts. My clients and I can testify to that! You can’t put a price on not having to find a hotel when thousands of others are doing the same, to not worrying about bursting pipes, or losing your frozen food during summer brownouts.
Grid Lock in the Capitol Hill – How Expensive Is It to Tax Payers in US?
We architects are a strange breed, as we are as qualified as doctors in terms of education, but we are not able to prescribe medicine with efficiency like doctors do.
Since the 1970’s oil crisis, there has been a minimal understanding of how to make our country a smarter place. We applaud the fine stock market evaluations of the software based institutions in Silicon Valley, California, but rarely look at the BIG picture. Our media is much more like Low Fat Milk these days where serious analysis is treated like a heart clogging fat, to be avoided at all costs. And since the media is so spread out between different platforms, there is simply no focus or common thread. The loudest sound bite rules for the next few seconds.
I wrote about many of these issues in the One Trillion Dollar Waste a Year blog in Fall 2014 celebrating my 50th year since wanting to become an architect, so I will not repeat some of the issues laid out. Instead, I’d like to discuss the broader framework in which these problems play out. When assessing the health of our country, the deficit and banking crises should be at least secondary to primary threats, like energy insecurity and environmental damage. But we seem not to have suffered enough to have common sense. Europe took two major world wars to find religion. The fact that we pay 1/2 the cost of the oil in comparison to rest of the world has lulled us to keep living the ‘American Dream’ and this shell oil is more like an Indian summer day in duration before we are truly stuck with the rest of the world’s REAL WORLD difficulties.
Ask what happens to the economy if you double oil price from 4 dollars a gallon and double the heating and cooling bill in one’s house – PLUS the related increase in food costs due to the same increase in processing costs. That is the WALL that we’ll face in about a decade and are we prepared? No IPAD or GOOGLE stock evaluation will help us there. We’re doomed.
Banking used to be for supporting industries that actually MADE things that could be sold. If one looks at the Fortune 500 listing, one begins to find industries in making things somewhere between 400 and 500, so the first 400 is reserved for service based and similar companies.
There should be a way to reward directions that are BETTER for your overall healthiness as country, as a whole than what we are doing. The example of trillion dollar loss a year in energy waste is just one aspect. There are more, but in Capitol Hill, the game is power and helping our (each Senator’s and Congressman’s) local constituents.
Just as an example, why do we need medical insurance companies that actually are sometimes more painful than the disease itself when trying to solve treatment options as to what is covered and what is not? A cap is important in anything, and if the individual can, let them pay more out of their own pocket. Medical costs cannot grow with current rate any more than building simply stupid buildings or driving cars that they claim to be good mileage cars when the speed limit is 30 MPH instead of closer to 100 MPH. That’s what we should be having by now. What do you think?
Tapani Talo, AIA
New York , USA Tel: 1- 914 – 645 2940,
Email, – firstname.lastname@example.org