Blogs > Matt Power > September 2013 > Uncharted Territory

Uncharted Territory

During the many hours I spent this month re-organizing and clarifying notes from the latest meeting of the Dept. of Energy’s Building America experts, (coverage in our August 2013 issue), it struck me how hard it is to make good sustainability decisions about buildings, when good research on a topic is so frequently absent.

For example, in the section on ventilation, I searched without success for a study that measures the actual particulate emissions created by cooktops and ovens. How can a builder or kitchen designer make a case for range hood ventilation, when there are no real figures available with which to impress upon homeowners why they should care?

The same is true of many other topics in building science. Well intentioned green building experts often find themselves alone in the wilderness, wondering whether to sink their money into new appliances and costly connstruction details. Is replacing an electric hot water heater with gas worth the upfront cost? Which climate regions make the most sense? What about all-electric homes? Are they viable in the coming era of zero net energy living?

Now throw even more variables into the mix: multifamily buildings, for example. Which systems should be top priorities when retrofitting for energy efficiency? Where is the hot water waste ocurring, in distribution or in the efficiency of the heating equipment? Should the units be ventilated and heated centrally, or treated as individual zones?

Complicated questions, to be sure. And the complexity gets even higher, when you introduce less familiar technologies. When is it a good value to replace an old electric hot water tank with a heat pump hot water heater? Is solar hot water a good solution, when you factor in housing type, climate and other variables?

Fortunately, many of these questions are being addressed by organizations outside of the corporate manufacturing world, such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building America program.

It’s good to see federal backing for residential R&D. It shows that experts are beginning to see that building and retrofitting structures for energy efficiency is not as simple as following a recipe from a code cookbook. In fact, such recipes often ignore a key ingredient, or just plain get it wrong.


 

Posted: 9/12/2013 11:35:35 AM by Mary Kestner | with 0 comments



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About Me

As a veteran reporter, Matt Power has covered virtually every aspect of design and construction. His award-winning articles often tackle tough environmental challenges in a way that makes them relevant to both professionals and end users. An expert on both building science and green building, he has a long history of asking hard questions--and adding depth and context as he unfolds complex issues.

 

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