Building Science Corporation Stresses the Importance of Efficiency

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By Peter Troast - March 12th, 2009

logoAt the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association Building Energy 09 Conference where I am today, some of the very best (not to mention most entertaining) sessions are from various representatives of Building Science Corporation. They are a monolith in the field of building science, and primarily a technical organization focused on the contractor community, but Joe Lstiburek, John Straube and Betsy Pettit are great communicators that consumers tackling their home energy use should know about.

A great example is a BSC published article from last month, authored by John Straube, called "Deciding on Energy Priorities When Building New." Straube argues that the most effective way to ensure a building's longevity and continued energy-relevance is to focus on efficiency above all.  Waxing a bit existential, he cites the uncertainty of our energy future in its assessment of appropriate energy priorities.  "The future is uncertain.  This is a truism, and yet... we need to make decisions in the present or very near future."  We can't be sure what oil prices will look like in fifty years, or what the most cost-effective sources of renewable energy will be.  What we can be quite sure of, however, is that energy will not be getting cheaper or more abundant per capita.  All of which makes it relatively self-evident that "reducing a building’s operational energy requirement is the best protection against an uncertain future, as regardless of where energy comes from or what its future price, using less of it will always be better than using more."  A truism perhaps as certain as the uncertainty of the future.

We're not in the new building business. EnergyCircle is focused on the roughly 138 million US & Canada residential buildings that already exist.  The Building Science article is important and relevant because increasing an existing home's energy efficiency can be a relatively easy, painless process.  The BSC article underscores the importance of taking home energy efficiency on.

So how is it done? Building Science splits the energy efficiency of a building into four crucial components: 1) Insulation, 2) Air Sealing, 3) Solar Control and 4) Efficient Appliances - each of which should be looked at in terms of their potential return on investment.  If you are in the middle of a renovation and can add some wall insulation cheaply, fine, do it.  If not, there are probably more cost-effective ways to save energy.  Adding attic insulation, for one, is often an inexpensive and effective upgrade.  Just be sure that the attic has good air sealing first, so you don't have to dig through all that insulation to air-seal it later.  Solar control, for reducing solar heat-gain during the cooling season, could be something as simple as shades or blinds.  Efficient appliances that require a large up-front investment, like a new refrigerator, may or may not be worth the cost (unless you're planning on replacing your old ones anyway, of course).  But efficient lighting?  Certainly worth the $1-extra plunge.  As for the larger energy hogs, you can increase their efficiency by cutting back on vampire power, doing laundry during off-peak hours, turning off lights when you leave a room, and setting back your thermostat either manually or with a programmable thermostat.  All of which can be done cheaply, easily, and with little or no existential anxiety.

If you are into building science, and want to explore beyond the home energy efficiency resources available on EnergyCircle, the Building Science Corp website has a wealth of great information.


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