Energy Efficiency Retrofits Work

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In 1999, I bought a rambling ranch house that was built in 1964. It was drafty and hard to heat. There was one sunny kitchen window facing east, but an abundance of big windows and a sliding glass door faced north to capture the mountain views.

Somewhere along the line, an addition was put on, and the new floor plan did not allow for good air circulation. The place was hard to heat. I heat with wood, and I was burning seven cords a year in two woodstoves! As soon as I moved in, I added large sunny windows. I couldn’t imagine a winter without sun in the house!

Propane was the fuel source for cooking and hot water. The cost was going up, and my girls were becoming teenagers, which naturally meant more showers and laundry.

Life in the ranch was getting expensive.

Retrofits in time for the 21st Century

In 2007, I retrofit the house to cut my energy bills. I added an attached solar greenhouse and solar hot water. I beefed up the insulation in the attic and installed low-e windows. I think replacing the north facing, single-pane sliding glass door alone was a huge benefit! I changed the floor plan for better air circulation, and I brought in natural gas, getting rid of the expensive propane. I bought a front-loading washing machine, which cut down on fuel and water right away.

When all was said and done, my energy bills were cut by more than half! I am now burning 2-3 cords of wood, instead of seven. My gas bill is $20 a month, instead of $90. My solar hot water will have paid for itself by this year. My washing machine paid for itself in three years. I did not install solar PV, because my electricity use is minimal. It would not have had the quick ROI of these other upgrades.

Importance of energy efficiency in existing buildings

Buildings account for 39% of CO2 emissions, 40% of energy consumption and 13% of water consumption. These numbers tell me that the first place to cut back is through energy efficient retrofits of existing buildings. I must not be alone, because the USGBC (US Green Building Council) stated in December 2011 that there are now more LEED Certified retrofits than new construction. The USGBC had to create a new category, LEED-EB (Existing Building), in 2008 since there was so much energy efficient renovation going on.

Retrofits are beneficial for reducing energy use, as you can see by my own story. They also are keeping the construction industry alive in these financially difficult times when construction is at a near stand still. Energy efficient retrofits are creating construction and energy jobs.

Retrofits, energy efficiency, and home values

In the end, a green building will have a higher value than a conventional building. Commercial tenants are requesting energy efficient space with low utility bills, good indoor air quality for workers and low operating costs. It is projected that, in the very near future, conventional buildings will not be in demand and may give a business a negative reputation. Green building will be more competitive.

Retrofitting is expected to become a multi-billion dollar market over the next few years. For commercial buildings, it will be about value and demand. For homes, it has been and will continue to be about upgrading instead of moving. In this unstable economy, selling is a crapshoot, so homeowners are remodeling, and with their new awareness of the environment, they are going green.

Green retrofit programs, loans, grants

HUD (Housing and Urban Development) started a Green Retrofit Program in 2009. Loans and grants are available to eligible lower and middle-income families to upgrade and preserve affordable housing. Up to $15,000 is available per unit for HVAC upgrades to improve heating and cooling systems, water-conserving fixtures to reduce water use, low VOC products for better indoor air quality, reflective roofing, low-e windows, and Energy Star water heaters and appliances. Again, aside from saving energy and lowering emissions, this creates jobs.

To remodel uses less materials and energy, and then the building uses less energy in the long term. Simple retrofits have the highest and fastest ROI, being a good investment, bringing money in while saving at the same time. Building new can also stress old infrastructure. It’s much more sensible to me to work with what we have instead of starting over. I am all for retrofitting.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.