Good for the environment — good for the economy!
Our Buildings use too much energy today!
Providing energy services to residential buildings uses about 14.5 Quadrillion Btu (14.515 Btu) of primary energy per year, and despite progress towards better efficiency over the last 30 years, these structures still use about 60 percent more energy than necessary according to analysis by independent groups like Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE).
Consumers pay over $150 billion per year for utility and fuel bills, but the “price” for their energy consumption never fully recognizes the external societal costs — externalities — resulting from excessive energy consumption, and the large degree of hidden subsidies underlying conventional energy resources use by the economy. Externalities impact the common areas of the environment — the atmosphere, rivers, public forests, lakes, and oceans — because economics has not yet come to grips with internalizing these costs and impacts over the life of an action or investment. Indirectly, consumer health problems and lost productivity are the net results of a marketplace in which environmental costs of inefficient energy use are borne by society because they are not accurately reflected in the price of energy paid by consumers, industry, and the economy.
The same forces are at work in the allocation of other resources to building construction and renovation, development of land, emplacement of added infrastructure to support the development, and in the provision over lengthy life-cycles of utilities and services to such developments on the community and regional scale.
There are numerous important issues facing society when it comes to energy efficiency:
Energy Use and the Ambient Environment — How does resource efficiency help? What measures quantify value? Energy production and use is a big factor in environmental pollution. How can what is known about energy efficiency in residential buildings be used to reduce pollution from energy waste?
Indoor Environment — Better indoor environmental conditions means and improved quality of life. Understanding the interactions of indoor environmental parameters within, and as a result of, the design and refurbishment of buildings and their land use is vital for improving how the built environment performs and reducing its impact on the global environment. Indoor air pollutants and other processes that impinge on human health and influence productivity can be effectively managed both in new construction and in the rehabilitation of existing structures.
Air Pollution — Excessive energy utilization in the operation of buildings, combines with other building-related energy use in production of building materials, transportation of such materials to distribution centers and job-sites, re-working of materials on site (power tool energy usage), compensation for errors (tear-out & re-do) through insufficient planning or training of trades/labor, and removal of damaged or destroyed materials to land-fills, work together to elevate building related air pollution. Considerations of the full life-cycle energy use in the building are needed.
Water Pollution — Employing strategies to boost energy and resource efficiency in development means big gains in reducing water pollution. There are numerous opportunities for reduction in water pollution and in the volume of water use associated with residential development and occupancy.
Land pollution– More efficient energy use throughout the development, operation, and demise of residential structures will strongly influence local and regional land pollution impacts. Resource efficiency, including reductions, reuse, and recycling of natural non-renewable resources (steel. minerals, petrochemicals, etc.) means less pollution of land, tailings, and landfills. Optimization of the use of renewable and non-renewable resources in light of durability, recycling, reuse, structural, aesthetic, and economic concerns should be explored. Considerable research is underway in the area of material selection and design to lessen construction and demolition wastes.
Recognizing Externalities — The societal value of avoided pollution is contained in reducing the “externality cost.” An externality is any cost the consideration of which is specifically or inadvertently not included in the price charged when using a technical process or application that generates a product or good, using energy or other resources.
The societal value of avoiding externalities (estimates) just in terms of Air-pollution related avoidance includes:
International Energy Conservation Code (formerly: CABO-Model Energy Code) — full implementation could save about 750,000 Tons/yr, worth nearly $ 58 million to society (new homes)
Efficient windows (Low-E high-performance glazing) — 17.5 million tons/yr, worth about $ 1.1 Billion to society
Low-income Weatherization — 28 million Tons/yr, worth $1.9 billion to society
Foundation Insulation — 30 million Tons/yr, worth $ 2.1 billion to society
First Cost versus Long-Term Value
The marketplace creates tension between consumer demand for products and services that provide rapid payback, versus a life-cycle analysis approach which allows consideration of wider variables affecting the building’s environmental performance. The trade-offs between environmental performance and economic performance are not necessarily negative and the relationships need to be explored and recommendations based on sound analysis.
The long-term economic value of a building with higher overall environmental performance may be higher than a conventional building of similar design. Listed below are just a few areas where such trade-offs should be investigated:
- A better thermal envelope reduces (or eliminates) need for conventional H/AC equipment resulting in net cost savings and very much lower pollution emissions;
- Improved indoor air quality lessens “sick-time” and boosts productivity netting $100 or more per square foot from the investment; or
- Use of locally produced or manufactured building materials improves local economic conditions (creates jobs), lowers transportation-related air-pollution (not importing saw-timber from outside the area), improves building performance (designs and products tailored to local climate).
Opportunity Cost to Society of Environmentally Inefficient Buildings
The costs to society of inefficient energy use represent a perverse incentive to polluters and help reduce migration up the social ladder to home ownership due to cash flow from lower income persons being misdirected to excessive energy payments. Where possible, the social equity issues of environmentally insensitive residential development should be addressed.
Green building (energy and resource efficiency) should recognize to the extent possible the benefits that could accrue to the building industry from voluntary adoption by builders, developers, utilities, communities, and other entities.
- Consumer “green” recognition is growing.
- Bigger markets; U. S. and Exports
- Generating demand for lower impact products and services
- Creating new well paying “enviro-jobs” assisting with Conversion from Military/Industrial to Eco/Industrial Complex