Friday, March 7, 2014

Rethinking Energy Efficiency

Your smartphone updates itself as needed.  The presumption is that improvements can and should be adopted as they are discovered.  Yet we don't use the same logic with our homes.  While not as sophisticated as a smartphone, your home does rely on technology to operate--complex plumbing, electrical, heating, cooling, and insulation keep your home comfortable year round.  But if you have a house that is more than ten years old, these technologies aren't built in to your home.  You might still be working with a furnace which is older than you.  Efficiency was not the same 30 years ago as it is today.  The same goes for your appliances. 

When fuel is cheap, you may be able to afford poor insulation.  You just crank up the heater and you are fine.  But as the cost of propane and electric go higher and higher, energy efficiency starts to make more sense.  Winters here in Ohio and throughout the country have become harsher.  Summers have been scorching.  Only energy efficiency is going to help you recover these losses.

As a kid, I thought the idea of energy efficiency was totally boring.  But now that I have to pay the bill, I appreciate my father yelling "shut the lights off" or "close the door, I'm not paying to cool the entire neighborhood."  The Germans have developed a new efficiency standard called the "Passive House."  It involves making the home so well insulated and enclosed that it doesn't require much additional heating and cooling, even in such locations as Fairbanks Alaska.  Walls are made very thick with insulation, all gaps are sealed, and a high efficiency air and heat exchanger is used to recirculate the air.

The same incentive for energy efficiency goes for cars.  I never thought the Toyota Prius or other hybrids were particularly exciting.  But as gas becomes more expensive, not paying most of my monthly income on such expenses is looking better and better.  If I were to run across a good deal on a used Prius, I would probably go ahead and get it. 

I never thought I would reach an age where the idea of staying home for a quiet evening and watching Youtube videos about home insulation would be exciting.  I suppose I have officially entered middle age.

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