About gorillas and homeowners

The beauty of a project like ours is that you get to think a lot. There is a steady stream of problem solving, cascades of questions, a constant flow of ideas, and the occasional trickle of epiphanies.

One of those epiphanies emerged even before we conceived this pilot project: We can’t build our way out of a looming energy and carbon crisis with new, green and energy efficient buildings alone. They help, but the 900 pound gorilla in the room that throws a temper tantrum is our existing building stock.

According to the US Department of Energy, residential buildings consume an estimated 22% of the US energy (another 19% is consumed by commercial buildings).

We hope that this pilot project demonstrates how building owners can make a dent in that 22%. We showcase a rational process, from the big picture to the nitty gritty bits, and energy conservation strategies that should yield a good return on investment.

But I have a lingering doubt that this will be enough – because so many homeowners lack the most basic knowledge of what it takes to operate, run and maintain their buildings.

Here is what I mean: When do things get fixed? After a problem manifests through a catastrophic failure, i.e. wet drywall and mold because the parapet has been crumbling for years with rainwater infiltrating freely; or a fried furnace blower because the air filter has never been changed and is clogged solid; etc…

These things could have been prevented proactively and fixed at a fraction of the cost, if only the homeowner would have known what to look for. And it’s not only the mostly innocent ignorance of the homeowner. The various building trades are not doing that much better, but are called in to fix the problem. That’s what I call the compounding of a catastrophe.

Bottom line: We don’t invest much time into our homes any more, which is confirmed by data from the 2012 American Time Use Survey.

To effectively run and operate an energy efficient building – or any building for that matter – the owner or occupant must possess some basic knowledge about the building and its operation. Even better would be some knowledge level of building science. It could make a big difference and save big money, because it opens the door to proactivity.

It is once again nice to notice that I am not alone out there with these thoughts. Martin Holladay at GreenBuildingAdvisor.com picked up on the same subject and it is worthwhile reading his take in his blog “Do Homeowners Need to Understand Home Performance?

By the way, do you know what kind of heating system your home has? Forced air? Hydronic?

About Marcus de la fleur

Marcus is a Registered Landscape Architect with a horticultural degree from the School of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Sheffield, UK. He developed a landscape based sustainable pilot project at 168 Elm Ave. in 2002, and has expanded his skill set to building science. Starting in 2009, Marcus applied the newly acquired expertise to the deep energy retrofit of his 100+ year old home in Chicago.

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