The way we finance, build, maintain and operate our homes is seriously outdated.
Home financing requires careful budgeting and preparation. There’s more to that when trying to get a loan for an alternative or sustainable house. If you’re building a straw-bale passive solar house or you plan to buy one built under the earth, lenders have a hard time finding comparables in the area. The financial industry requires some enlightenment when determining the value of these homes.
When it comes to a super-insulated house, it’s hard to find someone who has reason enough to pay extra. If every house on the block was built with conventional single frame construction, why would you pay for double framed construction? Too often we value our homes based on initial cost and appreciation. We don’t typically look at the running costs of home ownership. And that’s where we make this mistake.
What’s the mistake?
We do what everyone else is doing. We want the same house everyone else has.
I’m sure we’ve all started using energy-saving settings on refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines and clothes dryers. We’ve checked the age and condition of our major appliances, and you probably have replaced your fridge with a new energy efficient model. You’ve also surveyed your incandescent lights for opportunities to replace them with compact fluorescents and you have already started to buy new LED technology.
Maintaining your home is as easy as doing one task a day. But have you collected your utility bills to target the biggest bill for energy conservation remedies? Or crawled into your attic or crawlspace to inspect the insulation? Have you insulated your hot water pipes and ducts wherever they run through unheated areas? Or sealed the largest air leaks in your home? These items take more time and planning.
How we operate our homes is much harder to do, but a key ingredient to saving energy and money.
I used to have water running throughout my entire time in the shower. Why? Because it feels good, especially during the Winter time. But when I understood the nexus between water and energy, I made changes. You see, we use a lot of water to generate and transmit energy. Electricity generation consumes water to process the raw materials used in the facility or fuel, and to construct and maintain the plant. And it takes 2 gallons of evaporated water to create 1 kWh of energy…
Now I take navy showers every day, and it feels better each time I turn the water back on.
Homes built to last can’t save energy alone, people must do so too.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to make the paradigm shift.
It turns out that we are satisfied with what we’ve been doing. Our long standing relationship with familiarity often takes control over the way we think and act progressively. We become slave to our own patterns of thought and behavior. Here’s an example.
The 6 excuses we use when dealing with a big problem requiring big change as the solution:
- The problem is not really a problem. (We have plenty of cheap oil now.)
- To the extent that the problem is a problem, the problem is not our problem to solve. (The DOE can solve this for us.)
- We know who to blame – the Others. If they weren’t so stupid, we wouldn’t be in this situation. (Insert anyone else here, i.e. the fracking companies.)
- The problem can’t be solved. (Not now but… give it time. It will work itself out.)
- To the extent that the problem can be solved, it can’t be solved by us. (Again, others are responsible here.)
- And the problem can’t be solved without destroying the status quo and falling into the dark pit of the unknown. (Jobs will be lost, the economy will collapse and we’ll go back to living in caves.)
It’s a gloomy message, I know. But, I’m not all about the darkness.
The light of knowledge provides us with a great opportunity to turn things around.
For many years, I woke up each day just to go about my business as any regular human being would. I would acquire the resources needed for safety and survival like food, water and shelter. Each day, I would build friendships, develop my relationships and belong to communities. I also do some fun stuff too, like go gliding and do martial arts.
Really, I was compelled by deep habits and old animal instincts to do the things necessary so I can get to bed each night content enough to fall asleep, before another day repeats.
The point is I cared more about fulfilling my needs than anyone else’s. I cared about today and not enough about tomorrow. I didn’t think about the world at large. I thought to, acted on and behaved like my immediate life was the only life that mattered. In short, I was a taker.
I was taking from the Earth the resources necessary for my safety and survival. I was putting back both my products and my wastes. I was actually satisfying my own needs by taking more from the planet than it really had to offer me.
As a human being, it is difficult to reason through why we need to deliberately change all that.
I am just one of over 7 billion people out there. We are all driven by the same survival instincts to take more than the system can provide. And put back more waste than the system can take. We are living unsustainably in a finite system where demand is far outpacing supply. And we have no place to move on to when the resources are used up. Go to Mars? Yeah, right…
As an architect though, I look for and see solutions to how we can live differently.
We have already started financing and building zero energy homes. They produce as much energy as they consume. How about that? Wow.
These homes are built very airtight. They are highly insulated. And they utilize efficient heating, lighting and appliances to operate. The zero energy home is designed as efficient as possible so you can ultimately install solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to produce sufficient electricity to meet the remaining energy needs of your home. You can also use other renewables of your choice, if you don’t like solar.
As awareness for zero energy homes grows, more and more banks are providing mortgages for them. There are now strategies to get the appropriate appraisals too.
You can now remodel your existing home to a zero energy home. This is called a zero energy retrofit. This type of retrofit may be used with the deep energy reductions strategy for making your home more comfortable. And help save lots of money in energy bills.
So can we humans change? Is it too late?
I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not easy to change our behavior and the way we think. But we can change our homes and buildings. This is easy to do. If we do this, then we can change the way we build and maintain our homes. By devising a methodology to act and implement solutions, future disasters can be warded off.
When you are renovating or upgrading your home, think about performing your strategy in stages. Start with the result you want for your home project. Make little impacts along the way to meet that goal.
We certainly have to re-evaluate doing what we’ve been doing in the past. We must not allow our needs for today to prevent us from looking at home improvements elsewhere. For instance, do you plan on insulating your roof? Why not consider making it PV ready while you’re at it?
Think about increasing the benefits of a home improvement project. Make your home that extra comfortable, durable and healthy. Not just for you, but for generations to come in your family.
If you have a home with great memories, why not continue that history and pass it down to your children and grandchildren so that they may benefit from lower costs of living?
Here are the 6 steps to an integrated and well-designed approach to sustainable living:
- Start out with a list of home improvements, identifying your priorities.
- Understand the costs of these priorities and potential upgrades you want to add on.
- Determine which priorities add the most value and change your plans accordingly.
- Envision the result and benefits.
- Gather a team of experts to meet your goal.
- Execute the elegant plan for your home.
Here at Energetic Building, we provide you with the knowledge of building and maintaining these homes. We show you the benefits of implementing strategies for improving the comfort of your home in lasting ways. And we want you to be able to say that just by making minor adjustments to your home, you can influence major transformation around the world. Join us today!