March 15, 2014 – Vol.18 No.51
 

Deep Energy Retrofits on Older Homes Needed to Cut Emissions.
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News

 

Own a pre-1970's home? Want a significant cut in energy consumption and carbon footprint? Then get out your sledgehammer, pry bar and cat's paw. Order up a dumpster. It's time to demolish the inside of your house: Take your beloved house down to the bones, to the shell, and do a gut renovation to bring it up to modern standards for energy efficiency.

The US got on the "energy is important" bandwagon in the 1970's in response to two oil shocks. Though vehicles took the bulk of the hit in the embargoes, the overall energy picture, including the energy consumed by our homes, came part of the national consciousness and even led to the creation of the Department of Energy in 1977.

Since then every energy aspect of our homes and buildings has been analyzed and improved upon: heating and cooling systems, appliances, insulation, windows, light bulbs, the color of roofing materials, all the way to the building structure itself, the envelope. Because of the oil shocks our homes and commercial buildings have gotten more efficient, saving energy, money and often making buildings more comfortable to live and work in.

Certainly people with older homes can install new heating and cooling systems, buy new appliances, twist in new lightbulbs or swap-out windows and doors, but it's what lurks behind walls that needs upgrading. Old, loose-fitting and often poorly designed ductwork can best be repaired or replaced with wallboard or plaster gone. Insulation can be blown into wall cavities with some success, but a better job can be done with interior wall surfaces torn out. While things are apart it makes sense to replace plumbing and wiring too. Not only should water pipes be fully insulated, it's wise to replace pipes anyway to eliminate the possibility of toxic metals or future leaks. Wiring needs to yanked out and replaced as well. Older wiring systems, with decaying insulation, under-sized wire and corroded connections can not only waste energy but can be hazardous.

According to a new report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), "The need for innovative ways to reduce residential energy use is growing. States are setting increasingly aggressive energy savings targets for utilities and program administrators, as well as longer-term energy reduction goals that call for even greater savings. In California, for example, their goal calls for a 40 percent reduction in existing homes' energy use by 2020. While this is an ambitious goal, considering that savings from the highest-performing residential retrofit programs top out at about 30 percent, it is increasingly feasible. New research and program experiences show savings of more than 50 percent of home energy use can be achieved through deep energy retrofit projects. Deep energy retrofits rely on significant upgrades to a home's shell and mechanical systems to deliver much more comfortable, long-lasting, aesthetically pleasing, and low-energy houses.

"Our new report on residential deep energy retrofits reviews the latest research and program experiences, while providing recommendations for next-generation programs designed to target savings of more than 50 percent of the energy used in the home. In the report, we assess four major program and research efforts involving particular retrofit processes, technologies, and savings opportunities, including one utility-scale deep energy retrofit efficiency program."

Those words "Deep energy retrofits rely on significant upgrades to a home's shell and mechanical systems to deliver much more comfortable, long-lasting, aesthetically pleasing, and low-energy houses." can only mean a major gut renovation to do the job properly.

The report "Residential Deep Energy Retrofits" by Rachel Cluett and Jennifer Amann. The authors note that, "Deep energy retrofits aim to save 50 percent or more of the energy used on site in a home as compared to actual pre-retrofit usage or an estimate of energy use based on housing and climate characteristics. These savings are realized through improvements to the building shell including insulation and air sealing, and often through upgrades to high-efficiency heating, cooling, and hot water systems suited to the smaller energy load of the house.

This report presents findings in four areas: workforce, retrofit measures, costs, and energy savings. We conclude by identifying barriers to scaling up deep retrofit work and strategies for overcoming them."

It's sometimes humorous to watch yet another design emerge for a zero energy, zero emission home. These are easy to build compared with the task converting the millions of pre-70's homes in the nation to something far more efficient than those homes are now.

 

Residential Deep Energy Retrofits

 

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