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The Thousand Home Challenge

September 2, 2009

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl

President and Vice President

Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Linda Wigington’s presentation at this year’s Aug. 8-9 Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair in Oregon, Ill., focused on her project called the Thousand Home Challenge, an effort to implement a new home energy paradigm in North America focused on deep-energy reductions in existing buildings.

More than 100 million homes were built in this country based on assumptions of what energy, weather, water and general resource conditions will prevail long into the future. Given changing energy, climate and economic conditions, prevailing assumptions may no longer serve as an appropriate guide for home construction, remodeling, operation or owner behavior.

She raised questions to illustrate the significance of our assumptions about future conditions affecting home construction, asking what changes we would make in our homes if any of these conditions prevailed: energy prices doubled and continued to climb; intense storms and rains flood basements built in what are considered non-flood-prone areas; energy consumption in the United States is seen as morally unacceptable by the faith community; the world economy collapses; extended power outages become common; and green jobs and ongoing economic stimuli prevail.

Under such conditions, our existing homes would be obsolete and in need of major renovations. Over time, we would develop materials and strategies to deal with the new challenges. The transition would occur more swiftly and smoothly if we already had a broad societal base of experiences in making such modifications to guide us.

The Thousand Home Challenge seeks to secure the cooperation of 1,000 homeowners willing to make deep-energy reductions in their homes. Participants are expected to document their efforts to reduce home energy consumption, provide third-party verification of energy consumption and share with others how they achieved it. The efforts will be a work in progress as the results will come from what people choose to do with their homes in different parts of the country.

The underlying premise of the effort is to realize we should and can go much further in reducing energy consumption in our homes than is characteristic of existing efforts designed to cut consumption up to 30 percent. If the intent is to cut consumption 80 percent, some energy-saving decisions will differ from those made to reach a 30 percent reduction.

For example, it is common to recommend homeowners add attic insulation that, along with other measures, could achieve a 30 percent reduction. If the goal were an 80 percent reduction, the attic would be sealed to reduce heat loss and gains from small air leaks before adding insulation. A reflective barrier might also be added to roof rafters to keep out summer heat build-up.

Of course, such measures would have to be appropriate to both local climatic conditions and the characteristics of the home.

Substantial insulation upgrades were occurring in North America during the energy crisis of the 1970s, but interest slowed when energy prices fell. In Germany, more than 10,000 new residences have been built aimed at reducing energy consumption by 90 percent. A recent study found 140 German homes that underwent deep-energy reductions have cut consumption from 106,512 btus per square foot to 13,928.

While the German experience provides some helpful information, work is occurring in the United States along the lines of deep-energy reductions. Dr. William Miller, another speaker at the fair, has implemented a study comparing the effectiveness of four construction techniques’ energy-efficiency practices.

As an organization, the Illinois Renewable Energy Association has a major interest in energy-efficient homes and would like to hear from people who know of any such projects in this area or have an interest in initiating a project here.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the September 2-8, 2009 issue

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