Low winter light over the town of Iqaluit,
the capitol of Nunavut,Canada. Photo by Bill Semple,
architect and senior researcher at the Canada Mortgage
and Housing Corporation.I recently heard Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, speak at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab about his soon to be published new book, Green: The New Red, White and Blue. I can’t say much about his book because it hasn’t yet been published, and he only offered an outline. He did conclude his talk by emphasizing the need to take a systematic approach to solving our energy problems. “We need clean electrons traveling though an efficient distribution system into smart homes.” Amen to that! By the way, I’ll probably be shelling out some cash for Tom’s book, even though I hardly ever buy the hardback version.
Among home performance professionals, we also call the systemic approach, the whole house approach. For example, we think it is best to retrofit your home to make it more energy efficient before you invest in an expensive solar electric, or PV, system. You can buy a smaller PV system that way, and draw less energy from the electric grid. We think you should switch to CFL bulbs right now, buy Energy Star appliances when you need new appliances, and before the next hot summer have a home performance professional air seal your attic and add insulation. Make sure the contractor checks to see if you have proper ventilation in your home after air sealing-otherwise your gas appliances may back draft nasty things like carbon monoxide into your living spaces. Don’t go out and buy new windows, no matter what the advertisers tell you, until your old windows are worn out. In other words, do it all, but when the time is right.
There is a debate going on in our country about how to solve our energy and environmental problems. Some say corn ethanol is the answer; others say it’s cellulosic ethanol. Some say wind energy and some say solar energy; some say more government regulation is the answer and some say let the free market decide. These either/or approaches are wrong in my book. The more we are divided in our passion to solve our problems, the less likely we are able to solve them. The best-built homes are the ones in which all the parts-building site, building envelope, walls, foundation, attic, roof, HVAC system, appliances, lighting, and people-work in harmony and are most adaptable to change.
Tom Friedman also said in his talk at Berkeley Lab that writing in blogs about solving our energy problems is not enough. In our March/April 2008 issue of Home Energy we will publish a story about home building in the far north of Canada, within the Arctic Circle. The Inuit people who live there are already building to adapt to the climate change that is already occurring, as well as preparing for more climate change in the future. They are building homes that are culturally appropriate. They are also building in a way that will reduce as much as possible the emissions of greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. Amen to that! Amen to the systematic approach!
Jim Gunshinan is Managing Editor of Home Energy Magazine. He holds an M.S. in Bioengineering from Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania, and a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree from University of Notre Dame.