Into the Heart of Energy Efficiency

Nobody cares that this kitchen was designed for efficiency.

Nobody cares this kitchen was designed for efficiency.

What can you gain from making what you own, rent, or consume more energy efficient? Typically such gains mean buying expensive, longer lasting things, increased personal comfort and security in extremes of weather, lower energy bills, added home market value, and so on. For some, gain might include reduced personal guilt. (I’m leaving out social recognition – the ‘cool factor’ – because most of us can’t afford to be early adopters.)

Getting recognized for these as accomplishments is an uphill battle. Politics are partly to blame.

US fossil fuel interests threatened by loss of market share have attacked claims of cost-effectiveness, energy efficiency, and safety by demanding government program cuts, and by framing any public debate on energy with a peculiar leap of logic. ‘Without combustion, there’s no civilization and therefore lessening combustion of fossil fuels leads to cultural and economic collapse.’  To act otherwise is ‘socialism’ or whatever other label the John Birch Society favors.

A chance to help avert planetary destruction clearly provides no motive for Republicans. There’s no guilt. Quite the opposite: favoring an energy efficient design or product is seen by GOP members as a wounded bull sees a red flag, as Toronto’s Mayor-of-ADHD sees a bicycle.

The only acceptable appeal, then, lies with adding personal comfort, living frugally, and maybe, just maybe,  increasing the market value of one’s home (should you be lucky enough to have an equity stake in one).

Into the heart of extremes.
I grew up in a town where houses had attic escape hatches to the roof, with ladder or knotted rope leading down to the roof edge, should a blizzard block the storm doors and 1’st floor windows with drifting snow.

Decades later, on a steamy  Gulf Coast night, ground fog soaking my legs and water bugs scattering in front of me, I realized how sensible were those who lived in homes perched upon pillars, above the dampness and bug wake and hurricane storm surges  – nothing like the cookie-cutter neighborhoods of TV sitcoms.

One design must not fit all in our coming era, the anthropocene, with weather extremes increasingly surpassing the historical record.

Renter’s dilemma – and a glimmer of hope.
US mortgage lenders want 20 to 30% down, as was standard practice to the mid-90’s. Good paying jobs these days being as scarce as Democratic politicians with backbones, that’s a high bar.  No wonder Millennials are slow to marry and less likely than their parents might have been to steward a modest property toward energy efficiency.

If you’re writing the rent check to a person – indicating that contact with an actual owner is possible – and, supposing you want to stay awhile and are handy, it’s worthwhile asking  if he’ll let you weather-strip the leaking windows and such.  Takes a little trust and time and tact; but, you’ll be making the world a better place while comforting yourself  – at the landlord’s expense.

Recycle-not, label not?
Recycling is today a bullshit option, with hundreds of shiploads of US-generated cans bottles and plastic and packaging waste sent to China for reclamation  – with the dregs open burned, I suspect.

Recycling once was value chain alchemy, a noble cause that turned waste to resources, preventing pollution.  What began with mandatory returnable bottle labeling morphed, over the course of 40+ years, into a game of transoceanic  pinochle  – a perverse and surprising outcome created by spiking Chinese raw material demands. (Didn’t people wonder why suddenly landfills in the USA were lasting longer than had been projected? Why demand for heat recovering incinerators was low?)

I’m unsure if Green Building standards have yet made that much difference in the energy efficiency of buildings.  Insight or links anyone?

Home owner’s dilemma.
Nobody cares that I designed my kitchen, the one pictured above, with double-glazed, argon-filled windows special ordered with expensive Low-E and solar gain reducing coatings.

And, nobody cares, either, that the lighting is all LED, high-efficiency, dimmable to 20% of design luminosity, with no flickering.

When I mention the energy efficiencies,  people are distracted, even transfixed, by the fake granite and the mandatory proof of hip-ness, stainless appliances.   These responses being the intended Pavlovian outcome of watching HGTV.

Though I may personally revel in my low heating and cooling bills, and stand in child-like amazement that, through kitchen windows, the August sun warms not my skin, fades not the furniture, these things may not add market value. Most home buyers look for size, decoration, and other residential bling.  Wait honey, this bath doesn’t have two shower heads, it needs updating!

What would make a difference?
Funny you asked. That will be the subject of my next posting.


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