by Bruce Wilson
Imagine a world where there is a climate crisis and most people, feeling helpless about the vastness of the problem, ignore the easiest changes that can make the quickest impact while providing a good return on investment. Well, there is a climate crisis here on our world and we are virtually ignoring improving the efficiency of our buildings. Let’s face it; solar collectors on the roof or driving a hybrid car are much sexier than an energy audit, air sealing, and adding insulation.
For years we were told that when the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 350 ppm we risked irreversible climate change. It has now passed 400 ppm so it is past time to act decisively.
To show how important buildings are in our efforts to combat climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘s Fifth Assessment report, focused on buildings. This is because buildings account for a 40% share of the global energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
We need to focus on energy improvements to existing buildings since new buildings are more efficient than old buildings because of building codes. Of course we need to keep improving codes to push the envelope on energy efficiency.
Tax incentives have been a valuable incentive to spur us to save energy and install renewable energy, but Congress is forever letting those incentives lapse—unlike the ones they pass for the fossil fuel and nuclear industries.
The tax incentives passed at the beginning of the Obama administration were the best ever and helped stimulate a lagging economy. Even the conservative National Association of Home Builders lobbied for the extension, but Congress let those incentives lapse.
If we are truly serious about climate change then we should pass The Cut Energy Bills at Home Act which was first introduced in the Senate with bipartisan support in 2011. The bill would create a new tax credit—the first residential performance-based tax credit given to homeowners who make energy efficiency improvements. The proposed bill would provide performance-based tax credits of up to $5,000 per project for homeowners who install qualified energy efficiency measures.
Under the bill, the value of the credit begins at $2,000 for a 20 percent reduction in the energy consumption of a residential home for heating, cooling, water heating, and permanent lighting. The credit increases by $500 for every additional 5 percentage point increase in energy savings, up to $5,000. The credit is capped at 30 percent of the cost of the improvements.
Improving the energy efficiency of your house is one of the only things you can do for climate change that has a return on investment. It will not only lower your energy bills, but will also make your house more comfortable and improve your indoor air quality.
If you replaced windows and doors and added insulation to take advantage of the 2009 energy efficiency tax credits without first doing an energy audit you may find that there is still much that you can do to improve your buildings energy efficiency. In fact, windows are seldom highest on the priority list given in an audit—air sealing leads the way.
In my work as a contractor I have lowered the heating bills of one previously un-insulated house by close to 80%. What the client likes best is the improved comfort of his house.
The first fuel economy standards and energy efficiency and renewable energy tax incentives of the Carter Administration provided us with data that shows that government incentives work to reduce energy use. In only the second major reduction in energy use in this country’s energy history we reduced our energy use about 14 % over ten years.
During that period we had economic growth as our GNP grew by 94%. This was during a period of extremely high inflation with interest rates on home mortgages ranging from 12 to 20 percent.
We grew our economy while reducing energy use because saving energy makes our economy more efficient while it creates local work.
If you want Congress to act in a meaningful way concerning Climate Change, urge your Senator or Representative to pass The Cut Energy Bills at Home Act!
by Bruce Wilson
Bruce Bruce, a LEED® Accredited Professional, is a general contractor and consultant specializing in green building, renewable energy, energy improvements for existing buildings, and historic preservation. Bruce was also a founding member of the Lehigh Valley Green Builders.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)