Do you wonder why others aren't focussed on getting themselves into an energy efficient home?
What factors undermine the logical drive for energy efficiency?
At this time it's crucial that we do not make the wrong decisions when it comes to building or retrofitting houses.
Whilst on holiday I happened to bump into some people who worked in the shale gas industry. They were very pleasant but, as with the bloke down the pub who I discovered had voted UKIP the other day, there was a slight tension when I started asking more in-depth questions. To be honest they allayed many of my fears, but perhaps armed with more knowledge myself I could have dug deeper.
Anyway, one aspect that became very apparent from the conversations was that they did not see themselves as having any responsibility in making sure that the energy they extracted goes as far as it possibly can. I know this probably isn't part of their job description but for some reason I found it unsettling.
It got me thinking as to some of the factors that might be slowing down the roll out of energy efficient homes.
1. Cheap energy
Although energy efficiency makes sense, it's amazing how quickly it can fall down the list of priorities when cheap energy is plentiful. When I initially started my research, I was unaware of the energy crisis of the 1970s and the subsequent drive for better housing in the 1980s. Unfortunately, despite many solutions being exhibited at trade shows such as Homeworld, none of the energy efficient designs made it into the mainstream.
In our current predicament of depleting fossil fuel reserves it would seem very unlikely that the cost of energy could go down, but if the extraction of shale gas leads to another ‘oil rush' then it could happen. The worst case scenario would be if subsidies were given to these companies in a desperate bid to keep the energy coming rather than address the efficiency of our building stock.
2. Fossil Fuel Industries
Companies that make a living from the extraction of coal, gas, oil, etc., are ultimately going to be out of business on this planet. It may take 500 years, 200 years or happen much sooner than we all imagine, but these finite resources will eventually run out (and we also know some of them can't be used anyway without triggering the final disastrous consequences of climate change). For a very lucrative business, they will not take this lying down. As experts in locating and extracting resources, with considerable funding behind them, don't expect them to wind down their activities, even if that might be what's best.
3. Weak Legislation
Governments, more than ever, have a big role to play in driving up the standards of our homes. Clearly this can't happen overnight but with an over-arching goal and an incremental approach, at least things will be moving in the right direction.
Of course, this is often easier said than done. In the UK, the Code for Sustainable Homes was such regulation, with the long term plan to make all homes zero carbon by 2016. Unfortunately it's falling on some rocky ground as its box ticking approach seems to favour bolt-on gadgets over fabric efficiency. This is where the government's contemplating scrapping it and clinging onto the positive spin of ‘cutting the red tape to get the UK building again'. Simplification of systems is a good thing but I personally believe getting rid of targets and moving deadlines is not a good solution. Of course, the Code needs an overhaul though!
4. The Difficulty of Retrofitting
While simple measures (such as installing loft insulation) can help our homes perform better, more radical retrofits are invasive. Whether insulating externally or internally there is likely to be loss of features, which can be hard for some homeowners to accept. Plus the more airtight the building becomes, the more important it is to have a clear ventilation strategy. With no straightforward solutions it's easy to favour new build or consider retrofitting the property at a later date when better approaches might be available.
For some homeowners it will be a lack of finances that stops them from upgrading to something more efficient. For others it could be the thought of living for the day – who cares about the right or sensible thing to do when they can have their dream kitchen! House appearance may also play a part in the psyche, deterring some individuals who imagine energy efficient homes only to be rather ugly boxes.
For those who live in a reasonable size of house and are feeling the pinch, the most immediate way to reduce running costs is to move into a smaller house. This helps the individual but doesn't address the overall problem of rising utility bills. It could also lead to a period where a lot of larger houses become vacant or are only partially heated during the colder months.
7. Different standards of energy efficient home
What classes as an energy efficient home to one person might be laughable to another. As with labels such as ‘eco' or ‘sustainable' or ‘low energy' homes, it's all about quantifying what these things are before they become the buzzword of the day. That's one reason that an as-built standard such a Passivhaus makes life much simpler: you can immediately tell whether a house hits the mark.
What do you think is slowing down progress to energy efficient homes? Is there anything you'd like to add to the list?