Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Climate Change?

There has been a lot of talk about climate change. Sifting through the banter and rhetoric is exhausting and confusing. There are champions for change, and those seeking the status quo. You can dispute if humans are the cause or not, but not the science of the change. We are seeing not only small changes but drastic global changes that have, and will, have profound effects on how we live every day and interact with our built environment. Our winters have been, and will be colder. Out summers have been, and will be hotter. Storms will be stronger. We will have prolonged periods of wet and dry. The reality: our climate is changing. So why should you care? A lot of reasons, but for this discussion the truth is your building is not designed for this change.

Europeans spent decades figuring out the New England climate. Initial European building designs failed miserably, falling apart and providing inadequate protection, forget about longevity. By the 18th century, American colonists adapted their designs to withstand the climate better, keeping occupants dry in the rain, cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. This balance took about century to refine and perfect.

When we fast forward to the mid 20th century, technology forever altered buildings and the way we live in our environment. While there were major 19th century advances in heating systems, air conditioning revolutionized the control of interior spaces, sealing us off from the inhospitable outside world. Energy consumption ran wild.

We spent the last half-century modifying building envelopes and design to best utilize these technologies. But then energy got limited or got expensive, so insulation, air sealing, and high performance windows and doors were introduced to increase comfort and reduce consumption. And today, we have advanced to where buildings can make and consume their own energy.

So what does building history have to do with climate change? Tons. Since 80% of Rhode Island’s buildings were built before 1975, we have a built environment that was not made for efficiency or modern comforts. As our winters get colder and longer and the summers getting hotter and longer, we remain inside buildings that fight to get us comfortable while our expenses continue go through the roof.

The truth is making fossil fuels into heat and electricity is getting more expensive. And when the weather fluctuates between higher highs and lower lows, it will eat more energy and your wallet. This is on top of everything else getting more expensive. You can stick your head in the sand and say “it ain’t happening” or you can create action. We can demand that we move from an extract and burn past to an invest for a free energy future. We can act by investing in products that last and methods that make more buildings efficient.  Even if you believe the government or the utility is doing too much or not enough, you would be foolish to not take advantage of what is available right now. What can I do?

1- Make your building more energy efficient. Now. Not next year, now. If you spent $5,000 on air sealing and insulating your house six years ago and saved 30% on a $3,000 heating bill, you are now making money. According to Massenergy.org heating oil has gone from $1.49 to $4.13 per gallon from 2004 to 2014, or 277%. And this was without things getting colder and demand getting higher. Call your utility, an energy auditor, HVAC specialist, wood stove installer, insulator, provide natural cooling, plant shade trees, and invest in your building …anything to reduce consumption.

2- Invest in renewable energy. This is a must. Why? Because no fossil fuel will eventually be free, ever. Right now, without incentives, solar PV takes about 7 years to be free. With federal, state, and utility incentives the costs can go down significantly. The RI Office of Energy Management is currently working on a new energy plan to include incentives similar to states that have implemented viable, cost-effective renewable energy systems. This new strategy should be completed by November 2014. Not a moment too soon. Other renewable systems like wind are controversial but extremely viable in the right spot. Systems like geothermal, rain harvesting, solar hot water, and other great old and new innovations are gaining in popularity and coming down in cost.

The bottom line is don’t get stuck in the past or stay in the dark. We are marching towards a future we have little control over. We need to think about how we live in a much bigger way. We no longer live in a world where we leave a window open in the winter because a room is too hot, leave lights on, or blast the AC when we are not home. We must demand smarter homes and products. We must buy smarter products that outlive us. We should not have to rely a smart user when the building is thinking for us. Be selfish, do it for you, or even better, do it for the person after you.

 

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