The Importance of Retrofitting in the Energy Sector

Jeff Wilson has spent his entire life as a carpenter dreaming of the perfect energy-efficient home.

He’s been creating answers for years — in fact, since he was a toddler. His idea began with the green childhood home erected by his father and great-grandfather.

“I was always trying to stay up with what was going on in the realm of efficiency and alternative energy,” he adds, adding that he looked into earth-sheltered concrete dwellings, straw-bale dwellings, rammed earth, wood frame, and even “Earthships” built of old tyres.

What made the most sense to Jeff, and what most people would do, was to just fix what was broken.

Jeff, in particular, set out to complete a Deep Energy Retrofit (DER). This process extends beyond weatherization, light bulb replacement, and lowering the thermostat. (However, these activities are a wonderful place to start.)

A DER is a comprehensive strategy to greening a home. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for a leaking house. Rather, it entails developing a strategy to address energy loss through the building exterior, doors and windows, heating and cooling, water heating, lighting, and appliances. It encompasses indoor air quality as well as residential energy generation. It’s essentially a great, eco-friendly scheme to make a home run as lean and nasty as possible.

Jeff’s objective was to demonstrate that a DER, despite seeming highly technical, is a doable project for the average household by using off-the-shelf items. It’s also less expensive than continuing to pay excessive energy costs. (Jeff’s monthly bills averaged $150.) However, keep in mind that his house is less than half the size of the average 2,500-square-foot American home.)


Motivated by a Higher Goal

According to Jeff, the country is suffering from “energy obesity,” the result of years of disregarding our energy usage and ignoring efficiency. Now we’re dealing with wild swings in energy prices. We must rely on volatile regions of the planet for energy. We’re facing a slumping economy, and energy efficiency, according to Jeff, is the best medicine.

Jeff is an avid reader, and when he came across a piece in Architecture2010 that used Energy Information Administration data, it inspired him to start a house refit project. The analysis examined the costs of generating new energy from three different sources: “clean” coal, new nuclear facilities, and building efficiency. According to statistics, home efficiency costs one-sixth the price of clean coal and one-fifth the price of new nuclear energy. Improving residential energy efficiency costs one-third of what today’s cheapest, dirtiest form of coal energy does.

“If you want to create jobs, don’t build another coal plant; instead, invest the money retrofitting homes,” Jeff advises. “I see a great chance for individuals to save money, as well as a great opportunity for the country in terms of business.”

So, three years ago, Jeff began writing a book about efficiency, and he embarked on the huge endeavour of converting his home to be energy efficient. Why is this so? Because, he claims, there is no better moment than now to begin this process. Improve your efficiency now, because what family couldn’t benefit from the extra money saved on energy bills? Do it now, while the economy need new job categories, such as green construction.

“Isn’t it true that if not now, when?” Jeff inquires. “It’s one thing to talk about energy efficiency and complain about how horrible things are; it’s quite another to become part of the solution.”

Getting Going

So, how do you begin working on a DER? Slow down and establish a strategy before rushing into a home-insulation project or using vacation money to replace windows right now.

Jeff recommends conducting an energy audit to identify the top priorities that will provide the most efficiency and the highest return on investment. Take on energy-saving tasks as your budget allows, and stick to your strategy. “There are many half-measures that appear to help, but what we really need are long-term answers,” he says.

The energy audit is the first step toward greening your home.