Energy: Conserve It, Or Capture It?

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With apologies to all the Solar Professionals like Terry Shelton who really believe the "Fix The House First" gospel. We need more like you!

I’m sure you’ve noticed there are two poles of belief about what’s important in Residential Energy Conservation … Basically Conservation or Renewables.   The Conservation Camp says, “Design it right, Build it tight, Vent it right, Insulate the heck out of it, and your heating and cooling costs will be so low that you wont really need Renewables (solar, wind, etc).     This is the mantra of most Home Performance groups and it makes a lot of sense … especially in new construction.   It’s a little more difficult to go “all the way” in retrofit situations where the initial poor design was poured in concrete.

The Renewables Camp promotes renewable sources of energy, Solar, Wind, etc.  usually giving only a nod to Conservation, with most of the promotion and marketing directed toward whatever renewable product they happen to be selling.

It should be clear that we need both Conservation and Renewables to achieve our Energy and Climate goals.   The questions then, are ones of priority and balance.   It’s obvious to me and I hope to you that we should first conserve everything we can as cheaply as we can.  Especially in new construction, the added cost of a really tight, well insulated structure is so small that it should always be a first priority.   Building “to code minimums” is almost criminal when it would cost so little to do so much better.   Did I mention that I support stronger energy standards?

After we’ve done everything practical to improve our Home Performance, it’s time to direct our attention toward renewables.

But before we go there, let me take a stab at defining “everything practical.”    The “Energy Package” that I refer to on this site and in my classes is designed for renovation of foreclosed homes of 1000 to 1500 square feet and of 25 to 50 years of age.    Older and larger will cost more, this is offered only as a starting point.   It is a package that can be “slipped in” to a renovation of a foreclosed home with little or no stimulus or utility incentives and be sold for a profit in just the plain old American Free Enterprise System.   Here’s the package, in some semblance of order … dont try to pick and choose.  Complete systems are needed for complete solutions.

1.  Shell Seal of the whole house, especially the attic and the floor.

2.  A newly designed and well sealed and insulated duct system.

3.  A well tuned HVAC system, designed for the lower load.

4.  Lo E Windows,

5.  R-50+ Ceiling Insulation.

6.  Wall insulation.

7.  Energy Star Lights and Appliances.

8.  Efficient water use and heating,

9.  and a few other items …..

That usually costs $20 – $25,000 in houses of this size and age.   If you’re greening up a Mc Mansion, you can spend double that or more.  (Historical Homes and Architectural Wonders also add to the cost)

So the point is that this is the amount of money that should be spent on Conservation before we turn our attention to Renewables.    Until these items are addressed, it just doesn’t make sense to add renewables … it would be more cost effective to finish up this basic energy package before adding Solar or Wind or ?

I’ve spent most of my life and most of my blogging and teaching on Fixing The House First.   But I’ve recently come to two places where it’s time to move on to renewables:

1.  All the GreenEarthEquities homes have the Energy Package mentioned above.   They are saving 30% to 50% and are all sold, leased or rented at above “market rates” with no federal or utility stimulus — just free enterprise in America.    So, practicing what we preach, it seems like it’s time to push the envelope a little bit more and start adding renewables.    We’ve installed our first Solar PV system on one of our renovation projects and are considering ways to include them on every project.  … More in future posts.

2.  I just moved into a brand new home (in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia — cheap kilowatts and 4000 Heating Degree Days)   Being built by a production builder, it’s not exactly what I would have done … but other than a few items to finish up, Luelle is not ready for me to start tearing out the brand new stuff.    So, here also, I’m turning my attention to renewables.   I’ll be blogging about Solar, (both kinds)  wind, and Bio-Mass Gasification and residential power generation in future posts.

Luelle says, "No way is it time to start demolition.  We just moved in!   This is on a "Cruise to Nowhere"   Travel agents need to check out these new ships.   I'm doing my part, protecting her from pirates!   Dont laugh.   You haven't heard of any pirate attacks on cruise ships.   So my work must be working!

Luelle says, "No way is it time to start demolition. We just moved in! This is on a "Cruise to Nowhere" Travel agents need to check out these new ships. I'm doing my part, protecting her from pirates! Dont laugh. You haven't heard of any pirate attacks on cruise ships. So my work must be working!

That's the Miami skyline on this trip to nowhere.   The cruise line wants the travel agents to experience the ship ... so we are not distracted by destinations ... we just do laps about 20 miles off the coast.   It gives me a chance to catch up on my blogging....

That's the Miami skyline on this trip to nowhere. The cruise line wants the travel agents to experience the ship ... so we are not distracted by destinations ... we just do laps about 20 miles off the coast. And it gives me a chance to catch up on my blogging....

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