Articles

Energy Efficient Homes A Must
By Dennis Goodenough

Wisconsin State Journal
December 11, 1990 

Heightened awareness brought on by events in the Persian Gulf has renewed interest in avoiding another energy crisis.  The environmental movement is making us all more aware of the potential erosion of our planet.  What can the average person do to help?  A good place to start is the American home.

In today's world, the "American dream" should pass environmental muster.  10 years ago, just after the last energy crunch, it appeared housing would go through a much-needed shakedown.  That shakedown would have yielded a more energy-efficient, nature friendly, and user friendly place to live.

The movement died just as it was getting up to speed.  Could now be the time to reconsider energy-efficient housing?

It's true the energy crunch of the late 1970s led to improvements in 1980s housing.  Codes now specify better insulation, for instance.

But one look at today's housing developments shows that we are a long way from using known technology to reduce our homes’ impact on the environment.  The implementation of rudimentary technology would improve the quality of our lives and the quality of the environment.

So why don't we build energy-efficient and environmentally responsible homes?  Is it cheap energy?  Is it resistance by the housing industry to smaller, more efficient design?  Is it incompetent contracting?  Is it lack of a national policy?  Is it a buyer ignorance of what is available?

What ever it is, a behavior change is in order.  We are long overdue for an alternative to "bigger is better."  The marketing people have nurtured this myth into a monster.

Physical size is only a minor player in achieving a home that functions well.  Everything about a "bigger house" extracts a price.  They cost more to finance, build, decorate, furnished, heat, cool, clean, maintain, and site.  All too often, they become liabilities rather than assets.  In many cases they enslave their owners rather than enrich their lives.

Further, people are having smaller families today.  Our knowledge of traffic flow in floorplan inefficiency is much better than it used to be.

It seems the last considerations in building housing today are the amount of resources consumed and the cost to the environment in constructing, maintaining and operating a home.  By using environmentally responsible design, both can be greatly reduced without compromising quality of life.

Environmentally responsible design means:

Super insulation (R-43 walls, R-60 ceiling).
Air-to-air heat exchanger system.
Proper orientation of Windows (70% face south, 20% faced east, 10% face north or west).
Air lock, or "double" entries.
High efficiency mechanicals including heating and cooling, water heating, lighting and appliances.
Proper development locations and landscaping, both to increase the homes natural protection and to stop urban sprawl.
Reduced square footage. (Efficiency rather than domicile overkill).

It is not easy for each of us to accept responsibility for the way things are.  Certainly, the time for restraint and self-control, if not already upon us, lies somewhere just ahead.

Wasting resources at our current rate is insane.  What is urgently needed as we head into the next century is a reshuffling of our priorities.  I propose we start with more energy-efficient, user-friendly homes.