Thinking From a Whole-Building Approach

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In trying to improve energy costs, many people begin by thinking what kind of renewable energy they can add to their home.  Renewable energy options are wonderful.  But for many people, putting renewable energy as their first task to reduce energy costs is coming from the wrong angle. Realistically, when it comes to making a home more efficient, renewable energy is probably the last step many should consider taking. This is important, because 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.

Don’t look at renewables by themselves. Instead, consider where they fall in the grand scheme of things.  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 a process is needed to get there.

It is hard to overemphasize the importance of whole building design(link is external). The idea is simple: Energy efficient houses are made when every part of the home is working efficiently—not just one part.

If approached from a whole-building approach, there are a number of energy-efficiency home improvement tasks that should be tackled before considering renewable power.  Begin by asking some basic questions: Do you have outdated appliances?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 likely 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.

Any number of energy efficient home improvement projects can be planned around the various topics that are covered on this blog. But it is important to remember that every part of your home works together.  Improving your insulation, for example, may not have that much of an impact 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 and fit them together.

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Scott Minos

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