by Doug Kramer, CEO of Lapolla Industries
The residential building sector has made incredible progress in sustainable building practices. The eco-friendly concepts and technologies that ten years ago were novel, untested and prohibitively expensive, have been widely utilized, refined, and made more affordable. While sustainable technologies continue to advance and grow in use, the earth-friendly home has moved swiftly from a unique idea to commonly built, and that’s a good thing for all of us.
Some aspects of eco-friendly building have garnered significantly more attention than others. For example, renewable energy generation, such as the use of solar power in homes, is growing in implementation and is widely talked about.
This spotlight on energy generation is indisputably important. The installation of the technology on new residential developments is becoming more commonplace, empowering more and more homeowners in multiple ways. It allows them to harness the sun to power their homes, to utilize solar power saved during times when the power grid is disrupted, to unlock long-term energy savings and, of course, to benefit the earth by reducing fossil fuel use for electricity and the pollution that results from it.
Even so, there are other important aspects of home sustainability that remain unleveraged. For example, in our hyper focus on energy creation many of us have overlooked the importance of its counterpart – energy conservation. The hard truth is that no matter how far we come in clean energy generation, it won’t mean much for homeowners and the greater community in the long run without the capture of that energy. What many don’t realize is that the creation and saving of energy must go hand-in-hand to really make a noteworthy difference. This all starts with the homes we build now for the future.
Battery technology is one way to save solar energy for use later on – such as in the case of a power outage – and this technology has seen some significant recent improvements. We also need to think about the building envelope itself. This is where we can leverage high performance materials to effectively seal the structure, preventing the loss of conditioned air and conserve the energy we utilize.
It has been said that the cleanest and cheapest kilowatt hour is the kilowatt hour saved. In fact, the return on investment associated with energy conservation to the homeowner is monumental, with up to 50% in energy savings now achievable over the life of the home. The financial benefits of energy conservation clearly line up with the environmental benefits and make a significant cost savings case for it.
As builders, architects, manufacturers and homebuilding stewards, we can work to better educate buyers on the importance of energy conservation in the home. So many consumers are aware of the benefits of solar power systems, but do they also understand the equal need for proper insulation as a means for conserving the energy generated by the solar system? There is a huge disparity today in the average consumer’s knowledge and understanding of how these two technologies work together to make a real impact on the earth and drive long-term energy savings in a household.
We also need to encourage our policy makers to focus more on incentives for energy efficient homes. The United Kingdom provides a great example of leadership in this arena by offering significant government incentives to help consumers pay for quality insulation and reap energy savings in their homes. In contrast, the U.S. has predominantly supported incentives for the generation of solar and other power sources. Again, these are highly important, but they do not provide a complete energy solution.
And finally, no matter what our political climate, we as an industry must continue to push the needle forward in responsible, energy efficient building practices. We have the power to shape the future of homebuilding and the health of our planet. Conservation is a complementary solution to energy generation and one that deserves an equal spotlight, as well as an emphasis in the homes we build now and in the future.