Choosing efficiency over appearance

Energy efficiency starts in the home. Yet, relatively few homeowners choose to build homes or retrofit them with super-efficient building methods. Some expect that energy prices will fall to low enough levels that energy will no longer be a major financial concern. Most home-owners seem to prefer size, gadgets and glitter over efficiency. When pressed to defend their decision, the socially accepted reply is that it is their right as consumers to decide to buy whatever they want or can afford.

This is not surprising since advertising gurus have created a consumer culture in which our attention is focused on appearances rather than substance. In the recent words of one energy expert, “We live in a world where the $5,000 granite countertop will get picked almost every time by the prospective homeowner over the same amount of money spent on an ‘invisible’ envelope or mechanical upgrades.”

When individuals involved in marketplace transactions ignore the long-term environmental consequences of their actions, government action in the form of appropriate and enforced building standards is an effective tool to achieve desirable societal goals. Global warming and widespread environmental deterioration are clear warnings that existing patterns of energy consumption are not sustainable. Continuing to ignore such consequences is not only foolish, it is immoral and a crime against our children and future generations.

Those individuals who are willing to invest in energy efficiency and demonstrate to the public the many benefits of super efficient construction methods deserve to be recognized for their efforts. Victor and Polly Zaderej are building a super energy-efficient home southeast of Oregon, Ill. One of their goals is to invest heavily in insulation to offset future energy use and bills. Victor, an engineer, has both the skills and commitment to search widely for the best available technologies and practices in his effort to create a home that will use the energy equivalent of one watt per square foot for heating.

If enough individuals freely choose to take sustainable actions, the case for government standards would fall by the wayside. However, the past 20 years’ experience of failure to voluntarily curb ever-increasing auto and truck traffic and use of fuel-inefficient vehicles is a grim reminder that voluntary actions have fallen far short of the mark. Considering the extent of environmental damage and global warming, it was a major blunder to abandon a substantial federal government effort to upgrade energy efficiency and dramatically increase our use of renewable energy.

In addition to energy-efficient upgrades in insulation and mechanical systems, the Zaderejes will install monitoring devices to provide ongoing data collection verifying the building’s actual performance. The data should prove helpful in convincing future home owners and builders of the technical merits of high-performance buildings as well as their economic and environmental benefits.

We expect to offer workshops in the near future about the technologies applied in the Zaderej home and will keep the public posted. Meantime, plan to attend the solar workshop at our home Sept. 23 and the Tour of Solar Places in this area Oct. 7.

From the Sept. 20-26, 2006, issue

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