I was recently reading an article “Who do you blame for your energy lemon” by Alex Wilson on FineHomebuilding.com about using an energy star label system for new homes. This is a good idea for informing prospective new home buyers about the performance of the home they are about to purchase. My question is what about the homes out there that are already built? There needs to be a standard by which all homes are measured for energy efficiency. One way to accomplish this is by comparing BTU’s of usage per square foot. The way that this works is you can break down the amount of energy any given house uses by the square foot. This allows you to compare apples to apples with any size house just by comparing the BTU usage. It has been my experience that this is, in my opinion, the most equalizing method of comparison. I wish I could take credit for this idea but I cannot it was first introduced to me at my energy efficiency classes and makes very good sense to me.
If you think about it, is it the home builders fault that the houses we live in today are so inefficient? Is it the inspection process that is to blame? Do we need stiffer regulations to make every one conform? Or is it the home-owners who insisted on the least expensive home. I don’t believe that it is any one reason for the problem we have today, but rather we all have played a part in the inefficiency problems of today’s homes. It is not because of better technologies and techniques because they do exist. It is what we consider as important to us in a home that causes the rift. You know what I mean, the builder offered a free upgrade for custom cabinets or for only five hundred dollars more you could have R-39 in your attic. Which would you choose, probably the cabinets and so would most everyone else because who cares about insulation when you are talking about the home of your dreams.
The answer to this problem will take a collective effort on all parties. The home buyer has to be educated on what an efficient home is, and demand such homes. Home builders need to exceed current code requirements and follow up behind sub-contractors more carefully (police themselves; don’t expect the code official to do it!). The codes need to be stiffened to reflect higher efficiency standards, and codes enforced in full. All this leads us to the current way of doing construction as a whole needs to change, from the buyer to the end product.
A standard like BTU’S per square foot would help to establish a guideline for all parties to follow and would encourage healthy competition in the right direction. Imagine instead of the granite counter tops and hardwood floors being the topic of discussion at your neighborhood picnic, instead you discuss who has the lowest BTU’s/sq’ in your neighborhood. Probably not going to happen in anyone’s home but mine , but If you decide to purchase a house with a bad rating at least you have been informed, and can take action to improve your house immediately.
Time and time again I meet homeowners that have no idea how their house is performing until we show up and test the house. Quite honestly neither did I before all this became important to me. The heart breaking part is I find major energy loss problems that have gone un-checked for decades, and the homeowners had no idea that they had these problems. Would it not make sense to test our houses at the time of purchase? I like how Alex Wilson sums it up in his article by comparing the current building industry to the failed auto industry. Are the American people ready to bail out the building industry? After all we continued to purchase cars that were inefficient even though the American car industry refused to change. Are we going to continue to purchase inefficient homes?