We return, from time to time, to the reason we do this at all, and the reasons we do it this way. Our bias is not hard to spot: in improving the energy behaviors of your family and your home, small moves will be good enough almost every time.
The young woman in the photo is Norma Vally, host of the show Toolbelt Diva. Her approach is to empower women (and men as well) as home maintenance experts and remodelers. We agree wholeheartedly. You can do much more than most folks think, and you can steer clear of trouble by trusting someone like Norma Vally.
It’s not necessary to strap yourself to a second or third mortgage, call in the solar panel mavens, gut your old kitchen or any other room to strike a blow for energy conservation in your existing home. Some authorities advocate borrowing to your limit, tearing your old house down, and building a new one on the same site. Some experts say old house retrofits are only worth doing as privately funded projects, that retrofits aren’t worthy of tax credits and incentives since they won’t add significantly to the global picture. Thanks a lot. Try that one in Europe, where the buildings are often hundreds of years old and structurally tied to neighboring buildings. Only in America could we entertain tearing structurally sound buildings down to make room for new buildings costing much more and, incidentally, using less energy.
We always come down on small steps. We always come down on working with what you have. We always come down right next to fiscal caution, reluctance to incur debt, the addition of sweat and toil to your home’s difficulties, and the value of DIY derring-do, within limits of safety and sanity. Don’t try to replace your breaker panel or air conditioning system. I don’t want you on my conscience at 3 AM. Old men sleep light as it is.
Energy conservation is cumulative in the sense that dozens of small improvements always add up and sometimes multipy your energy efficiency (adding insulation to your attic and sealing air leaks in your ceiling yield BIG dividends when done together). Twenty five cans of foam and a dozen tubes of caulk will cost you about $200 at the home store. The payback on that application, when the materials are shrewdly installed, is less than one year. The payback on a water-stingy showerhead is mere months, unless your teenagers are seen entering the bathroom with pliers in hand. Weatherstripping can cost hundreds of dollars, if you get excited and treat every window and door in the house, but once again, the payback is perhaps two years, or less.
We approve entirely of photovoltaics, solar hot water (which we install professionally and advocate with enthusiasm), efficient hvac systems, super-insulated attics, tankless water heaters, geothermal heat pumps and technologically advanced windows. Thank God and the engineers for all that nifty equipment. But don’t tell me I have to buy it to be in the energy game. If it doesn’t make sense financially, and all of those energy improvements return a payback of over ten years, then let’s wait until the piggy bank and the economy have lowered the risks of big energy investments. Meanwhile, please pass the caulk and weatherstripping. I can get by very well on basics until the numbers make sense for me.
So as these posts pile up, you know exactly what we’re selling. We advocate big moves when they’re well planned, shrewdly financed and based on real numbers not smelling of fudge. We advocate replacement of systems and equipment that is worn out or unsafe, or replaceable with equipment that will deliver immediate improvements in comfort and energy savings. We don’t get too excited about payback calculations exceeding about ten years. If the rate of energy return is that gradual, you need another reason to invest your hard-earned cash. And there are other reasons, but don’t kid yourself. Photovoltaics won’t necessarily make your retirement come sooner or float you a free energy tab. Ask hard questions of anyone anxious to sell you on a life-changing investment that costs more than a new car.
It’s not exciting to look at life this way. It doesn’t make for a buzzy, colorful blog compared to many I read that cover global issues, expensive retrofits and futuristic technology. It does put regular people, I hope, in touch with resources and encouragement that will help them improve their energy efficiency in small moves. And at 3 AM I might be awake over something, but you dear folks won’t be on my conscience. Bless you all, see you next time.