In the Wake of Sandy: Does Resilience Sell Home Performance?

At our house in Maine, Sandy caused a comparatively minor power outage of about 14 hours. We're a state of trees, after all, and the grid in Maine is vulnerable; power outages like this happen often.

Personally, I enjoy these events. We hunker down with candles, the family hangs out together and, for the most part, we put away the screens. We don't have a generator, but our propane cooktop functions, our building envelope is tight enough to keep the heat and, if an outage goes on for days, we have a little coal stove (horrifying, I know, but it was there when we bought the place) in the basement that can inject some heat.

Lisa, on the other hand, is much more deeply disturbed by our vulnerability during these events. 

I am willing to bet that she is much more representative of the typical homeowner than I am. 

In the aftermath of Sandy, with so many people confronting how truly defenseless we are against real storms and energy interuptions, it should to be a huge opportunity for home performance retrofits. No doubt, Sandy will sell a lot of backup generators, but will this mega event result in people addressing the fundamental resilience of their homes and their dependence on external energy sources?

The concept of resilience is getting a fair amount of traction these days. Alex Wilson of Green Building Advisor has launched the Resilient Design Institute. There's a terrific new website, The upcoming NESEA Building Energy 13 Conference has an entire track on Retrofit for Resilience.

The big question, I think, is whether the typical homeowner, suddenly confronted by just how vulnerable their homes are, and for whom the need for energy is no longer a peripheral consideration, will be inspired to improve their resilience. 

The opportunity for the home performance industry around Sandy is extraordinary, but we clearly face some big obstacles. People will want to rebuild as soon as possible, and expediency may reward the immediate contractor rather than the better one. Insurance companies will hold many of the cards in who gets the work (though that is an opportunity itself.) Of course, many home performance contractors in the affected areas have had damage to their own homes and buildings, and significant interruption to their current work flow. An exceptional contractor in Monmouth County New Jersey wrote me this morning that his office was non-functional and most of his jobs cancelled or postponed. 

But amidst the challenges, there is much to be positive about. The midatlantic states are ripe home performance markets: a climate with both heating and cooling challenges, aging housing stock, real energy demand challenges that make for cooperative utilities, and some of the most outstanding loan and rebate programs in the country. Efficiency programs in NY and NJ are some of oldest in the nation, and the current governors of those states seem to understand our industry (hat tip, in particular, to the awesome Efficiency First chapter in NY.)

Still, we will need to be on our game to make this a positive. Energy and durability and resiliency are a lot more important right now than granite countertops and tile showers. A unified industry and a common message that cuts through the noise will make a big difference, and that's what I'll be thinking hard about in the coming weeks. 


Lisa Fahay's picture

Lisa is fine with no power and candlelight.  She does not enjoy the fact that the toilets can't be flushed.

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