By Melissa Dittmann Tracey
LAS VEGAS – Targeting existing homes for energy savings will go much further to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. than focusing on newer homes, panelists said Wednesday at a talk on green building during the International Builder Show here in Las Vegas. New homes, in general, are already built more efficient, but older homes can be big energy wasters.
Indeed, homes built before 1983 are to blame for 70 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions related to single-family energy consumption in California, said Mike Hodgson, president of Consol, who detailed results of a study conducted this fall for the California Homebuilding Foundation.
A $10,000 investment in retrofitting a 1960s home for energy efficiency could make a big impact: It could save 8.5 tons of carbon, Hodgson said. Meanwhile, increasing energy efficient of a new home by 35 percent over current state requirements would reduce emissions by only 1.1 tons.
Changes to older homes that are needed include replacing mechanical units that
are 20 years or older, replacing water heaters that are 15 years old, and upgrades to ceiling insulation. If such energy savings measures are taken to existing homes, in 7 years, gas emissions could drop by 33 percent in California alone, Hodgson said.
"We're no longer talking about just putting on sweaters or lowering the thermostat,” added Devon Hartman of Hartman/Baldwin, a design and building firm in Claremont, Calif. “We're talking about creating energy through efficiency measures.”
Hartman said that green building is “revolutionizing everything we do with building. We’ve been doing things all wrong. We need to put a halt on how we do the insulation, energy, and caulking in a building.”
Hartman, who performs energy audits on homes, says on average he sees duct systems that leak 30 percent and sloppy building practices that haven’t focused on cutting energy costs.
He said more education is needed in the building industry and among home owners on how to retrofit homes for greater energy savings. He also said incentives need to be available from the federal government so people will make the needed changes to their older homes.