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Thinking From a Whole-Building Approach

January 20, 2009 - 10:05am

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about a few tools you could use to find out how much energy you could make off of solar or wind resources at your home.

But now I'm thinking that I went at that from the wrong angle. Because realistically, when it comes to making your home more efficient, renewable energy is probably the last step you'll consider taking.

If you drop by the EERE Building Technologies Program, which handles building research and energy efficient building technologies, you'll see that they emphasize the importance of whole building design. The idea is simple: Energy efficient houses are made when every part of the home is working efficiently—not just one part.

So let's not look at renewables by themselves. Let's look at where they fall in the grand scheme of things.

This is important, because honestly, it's not very useful to add renewable energy to an energy inefficient home. It's not a magic bullet, certainly, and it's probably too expensive for people who could still significantly reduce their overall energy usage—partially because there are cheaper options for a home that needs a lot of work, and partially because it makes more sense to purchase a smaller renewable system when your energy requirements are lower.

Instead, it's best to think of renewable energy as the end goal for your home—as something you look into once you've done all you can to make your home as energy efficient as possible. And if renewables are the end goal, then you need a process to get there.

But if you approach it from a whole-building approach then, well, you're looking at a number of energy-efficiency home improvement tasks: Do you have outdated appliances? Do you waste energy you're not using? What about your windows—you don't want to have any air leaks. Your heating and cooling need to be efficient, insulated and not leaking air. You need proper insulation in your walls, attic, and around your pipes. You could identify a whole slew of issues in your home with an energy audit. And without replacing anything in your home, you could strive to change the temperature settings in your home.

Honestly, every post on this blog is about what you can do, and you could plan any number of home improvement projects around the various topics that are covered here. You just have to remember that every part of your home works together, and improving, say, your insulation may not have that much of an improvement if your windows leak like mad.

So, in short, don't get too disappointed if renewable energy seems out of reach. It's an end point. A final goal. And to have a truly energy efficient home, you'll need to look at all of the pieces of the puzzle.

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