My Ideal Energy Efficiency Building Standard
ED – Mark has written a lengthy piece on energy standard reform that we insisted he chop into bite-sized parts for this blog. This is the first installment and provides a basic overview of his “dream standard”. Future posts will go on to provide some critique of existing standards and a fleshing out of details . . . we assume.
It’s very easy to find faults with existing standards or certifications because they all purport to define the ideal in a given space, but to be broadly accepted they are forced to make various concessions and end up as an odd mixture of both the ideal and current practices. The good ones retain their core focus and over time make improvements to slowly get closer to that original ideal, lifting the industry with them along the way. The bad ones lose their initial focus and become jumbled monsters that are a burden on all participants while also being ineffective at accomplishing their original goal.
This series of posts will detail my ideal energy efficiency building standard without regard to any established interests. My overall goal is to reduce the amount of energy that we all require to live happy, fruitful and comfortable lives so my ideal standard gives the highest praise for buildings that allow someone to live comfortably on the lowest amount of energy (as the pictures below show, that definition of comfort may vary significantly).
It is good to keep in mind that this form of energy standard has two main purposes. One is to provide an estimate of the likely energy consumption of the building based on typical occupancy. This number can then be used by a number of groups including regulatory agencies enforcing an energy efficiency code, real estate agents selling a house and builders to fine tune the efficiency of their designs and give them something that they can use to compare to other builders for bragging rights. The second purpose is to allow potential occupants the ability to estimate what their total energy consumption would be at each of the homes that they consider. This is where the rubber hits the road as they say. Though these two groups will use slightly different inputs, they can both use the same energy modeling tool or standard.
Without further ado, here are the main tenets of my ideal energy efficiency standard:
1. It’s rating would be displayed in the form of one number that translates to the amount of energy that each occupant requires over a year to operate the house, to perform their daily commute and to account for their portion of the home’s embodied energy (depreciated over its lifetime).
2. It would have an air-change requirement, but it would be based on natural air changes instead of air changes when the building is pressurized at 50 Pascal.
3. It would be a prescriptive standard but every few years it would require owners to publish their actual energy usage data (and monitor the building’s temperature and humidity).
In my view this is the only truthful way of rating a building with regards to energy consumption. Also, it can easily be adopted by taking any existing energy modeling tool and adding an embodied energy calculation and a way for prospective owners to estimate their commuting energy consumption.
I think that I’ve said enough to get the discussion mill turning, so I will end here for now. I will use subsequent blog posts to delve into the details of each of the tenets, why I think they’re important and how they differ from current energy efficiency building standards.
There are a few aspects that are more difficult to assess but should perhaps receive some attention. Should water consumption be one of the core tenets? Would an embodied energy calculation sufficiently emphasize the importance of sourcing building materially locally, using recycled content and avoiding construction waste? Should the ideal standard specify air quality measures or is it just common sense that things that cause cancer should be avoided? Should it specify a Cradle to Cradle framework where all buildings need to be able to be disassembled at the end of their lifetime and entirely reused (recycled instead of down cycled)?
Or, should we abandon the idea altogether because it will prevent people who live in a certified Passivhaus but commute 100 miles every day via helicopter or those who have 3 people living in a mansion featuring a HERS 0 because of a football field sized solar PV array from being able to brag to their friends that they are “green”?
Please let me know in the comments below and stay tuned for part two where I will delve into the first tenet, the idea of comparing energy use per person vs. established practice of energy use per square foot and explain why commuting energy and embodied energy are so important.