A friend once described being at our house like this, “It’s almost like everyone else’s house, but just a little different.” He went on to explain that the “hippie granola” soap that we use in our bathrooms tends to gel in the pump dispenser, which can cause it to spray out at odd angles. Regular visitors to my house have learned to shield the pump dispenser with their hand to catch it all, but new people sometimes get sprayed. Welcome to change, my friend. Sometimes you get splattered by an errant mist of soap.
My contribution to this blog will inevitably get geeky. I expect to use numbers and graphs and talk about how much energy we use and how we can all use less. We’re going there. But for this first entry, I feel like I need to explain what it’s all about. Why I’m doing this, why my company exists, what it’s all about. I think it’s about change.
Change is great after you’ve done it. Last year is always the best time to go on a diet, up your IRA contribution, and learn a new skill. Because that would mean that now we’d be richer, smarter, and better looking. Change sounds like a great idea, but there’s a reason more people aren’t doing it. It’s scary and hard.
In the green building world, we’re in the midst of a terribly inconvenient change. The Energy Star new homes program is making its requirements harder to meet. There are plenty of totally valid reasons to freak out about it: the timing, the cost, the learning curve. I admit that sometimes I whine about it. But in the back of my mind I know that two years down the road there will be benefits like fewer callbacks, fewer problems, and happier homeowners. I also accept change as an inevitable human activity. We figure stuff out and we decide to do things better. The code and Energy Star and buildings in general are getting more complicated, and we’ll all rise to the occasion.
When we chose to do things differently to solve one problem, we can create a whole cascade of new problems, benefits, and other interesting phenomena. For the same reason that my soap jams up the pump dispenser, it doesn’t dry your skin out like “regular” soap. The older I get, the more willing I am to take that trade. Home energy also involves tradeoffs. The new heat pump water heaters use half the energy that the older tanks did and they make your house less humid in the summer. But they are a little louder and the recovery time is slower. It’s my job to talk people through it until they realize that the tradeoff is almost always worth it. Sometimes I wonder if people would let go of their death-grip on incandescent light bulbs if we could just focus a little more on what a hassle it is that they burn out so fast. Who enjoys getting the ladder out to change them?
I think we all know that our lives would be better if everything we did was intentional and well-informed. Energy efficiency is not an exception. I personally think that the reason we use so much energy is that it’s super easy to flip the switch, and when we do there is no information about how much energy we’re using. What would happen if a video screen popped up to show us a mountaintop getting blown off in West Virginia, or a miner with black lung disease trying to breathe? I figure that almost half the energy we use gives us little to no real benefit, and I want to make better decisions.
That’s what my part of this blog is going to be about.