I had every intention of posting artfully crafted paragraphs about energy auditing, complete with new, timely statistics and pictures throughout the post. The reality is that I’m so exhausted after a week-long whirlwind RESNET training session that I can’t even muster the energy to get a beer our of the fridge. Which I’ve been meaning to do for the past 3 hours. Physics and geometry have been resurrected from the deepest recesses of my brain (ouch), and facts on leaky ductwork and temperature differentials are still banging around in my skull after 5 twelve- to fourteen-hour days of cramming. So, you know, please bear with me if I ramble on in my current state. At least you can’t see me drooling on the couch.
On the first day of training, I learned that RESNET, like most energy rating systems, is actually focused primarily on new construction. Energy Star and other programs work in conjunction with RESNET on nothing less than a total gut rehab–meaning that the house needs to be torn down to the studs so that insulation and air sealing can be done or redone properly and effectively. This is obviously not ideal for historic homes. The RESNET scores uses the HERS Index, where a score of zero is ideal as it implies a zero-energy home. Granted, it will take decades for a zero-energy home to “earn” back the energy that it took to make it, but if you’re going to build new, it’s a good goal. Unfortunately, embodied energy isn’t rewarded in the same way even though an older home has already paid its sustainability dues and can be easily improved for efficiency.
In terms of scoring, there are many strikes against historic homes–for example, preservationists advocate for thoughtful insulation solutions like drilling small holes into walls and blowing in cellulose vs. tearing all the plaster down to insulate. Unfortunately, any insulation that cannot be seen is considered “Grade III,” and will lower the score on a report. Creative solutions that lead to keeping what you already have vs. replacing what you have don’t get points even though there is an obvious environmental benefit. In fact, more total waste is created annually from rehabbing homes than demo. Of course, this is likely due to the fact that we rehab more than we build new, which is a good thing, but considering how much waste is created by demo, it’s still a staggering thought.
Having said all of that, I still think that energy audits can and should be performed on older structures. Vintage homes may not make the grade on the final RESNET report, but wow, anyone who owns an older home certainly can benefit from these audits. You may not get to brag about your points on fancy plaque or qualify for grant funds under LEED for Homes or Energy Star, but you’ll get a more comfortable and efficient home.
Oh, and I should mention that new windows were repeatedly discouraged as a viable energy saving measure during the training. And, Obama’s new “Cash for Calkers” program could really give older buildings a leg up and compensate for some of the grant funds that are not available to existing homes, not to mention create more work for energy auditors and contractors.
It is unfortunate that there still doesn’t seem to be a way to evaluate the environmental benefits of living in older homes, i.e. embodied energy, or perhaps the amount of material that has been kept out of landfills because historic home owners haven’t added stories to their homes or gutted them every 20 years. And beyond materials, there are built in systems to help ventilate homes, allow heat to escape, etc. On the other hand, RESNET, or rather the HERS Index, is specifically designed to measure energy consumption based on how a homeowner is currently using their home, so it’s difficult to fault the system for not being more sensitive to historic homes. Energy consumed is energy consumed, and this system can help historic homeowners consume less. Period.
So….who wants to come up with an energy rating system for historic homes? If you want something done right…