The headlines this past week, such as: NBC: “Climate change: catastrophes ahead”, CNN: “Climate change is here, action needed now” – were very sobering. Is it too late to change our course or is there hope?
Cars and transportation are often thought of as the big energy hogs; they use 28% of the energy produced in the United States according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). At 47.6%, buildings consume more energy than any other sector and contributed almost half of the CO² emissions in 2010.
In 2005, Ed Mazria, the founder of Architecture 2030, called the architecture community to action and challenged us to reduce the energy consumption in buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030. A few weeks ago, I was at the American Institute of Architects South Carolina’s annual convention and heard a presentation from Architecture 2030 that was the most optimistic forecast on energy use in buildings that I have heard in 10 years.
The EIA produces an Annual Energy Outlook projecting the energy use in building for the next 15 to 20 years. Each year since 2005, the energy consumption in buildings has dramatically declined from the projected outlook. The following graph shows the difference in the projected energy use in 2030 and how we have reduced the projected use from 2005 to 2014 due to energy efficient designs.
There is more good news. When we save energy, we save money. The next chart shows that we have saved 560 billion dollars in building operations between 2005 and 2013, and we will save trillions between now and 2030.
Many homeowners think that building a “green” house is not going to make much difference in the big picture. The line labeled best available demand technology shows the 1.94 trillion in savings if all new houses meet the United States Department of Energy Star® designation. As taxpayers, we receive additional benefits by the reduced need for building new energy plants.
To take advantage of these savings, you will want your new home to be Energy Star® certified, or certified by one of the more rigorous certification programs such as LEED for Homes or EarthCraft. In existing houses, the best first step is to have a home energy audit. Elm Energy Group in Hilton Head is a local provider. The energy audit will highlight the performance problems and develop a prioritized plan on mitigating the problems. The Energy Star® website also has a tool to assess your home’s energy use.
If the energy audit identifies air leakage as a problem, you will need to seal and insulate to keep hot humid air out of the crawl space, attic, and the interior of your house. Other typical improvements include improving the heating and cooling system, sealing the ductwork, replacing windows, upgrading lighting, appliances, and water heating equipment, and installing renewable energy systems.