Why do we keep making sustainability so hard? (Version 367)
I’ve written about this a lot. But it’s worth writing about again.
As a general rule of thumb, I intentionally put myself through whatever we ask regular Americans to go through in order to live more sustainably. It turns out I also have a passion for old homes – the craftsmanship and grandeur make me swoon.
And the fact that they’re all leaking energy like a sieve gives me a good excuse to get a “real world” experience with efficiency and sustainability.
Every time I put myself through a house project, I walk away muttering to myself, “No wonder less than 1% of our housing stock has gotten a deep energy retrofit. It’s too #@%!!*$ hard!!!”
So here we go: I’ve recently bought a fixer-upper built in 1928.
Let’s pause here. What average American even knows there’s such a thing as an energy inspection? A BPI certification? Or that there’s a contractor lookup on the BPI website?
As a person who owns a marketing agency that does an awful lot of research, I’d love to tell you the exact percentage. We haven’t probed on this … but my professional instinct says the percentage is wildly low.
I know the National Association of REALTORS® is committed to sustainability. REALTORS could begin advising clients that they get an energy inspection at the same time as their home inspection (which they almost always recommend). Maybe they even go one step further and call it a comfort inspection. Or a Healthy Home Inspection (playing to very real consumer drivers/concerns).
Bottom line, there’s a HUGE opportunity here for REALTORS to be heroes and help their clients.
There’s also an opportunity here for lenders. Lenders could ask, “Did you do a Healthy Home Inspection? If so, we can actually include $X in your mortgage/give you an additional loan at closing to improve the health and comfort of your home.” That’s extra money in the bank for lenders … and it creates the easy button for the homebuyer to do the right thing. Yes!
I started asking people I know in the home performance industry to help … but I’ve gone down a time-consuming rabbit hole. The first guys I talked to, whom I have a real affinity and great respect for, wanted somewhere in the $3,000-$5,000 range just to diagnose the problems and create a prescription. That includes zero actual work to fix the house. I just couldn’t find a way to feel good about that.
Now I’ve got a couple of other contractors I’m talking with, thanks to some manufacturer friends trying to help. That’ll be more time and, if past experience holds true, I’ll get a couple of conflicting recommendations. I’ll be locked up about what to actually do.
I also called a solar company. The house has a lot of wide-open, south-facing roof coverage. I have the benefit of having just judged the Solar Decathlon, so I even turned the local solar company on to high-performance panels I learned about at SD ‘17. They still came back with a $25,000 proposal that will only produce enough energy to cover 20-30% of my current utility bill. Sigh …
I’m COMMITTED to sustainability. I’ll wind up doing some combination of air sealing, insulation and HVAC improvements and maybe even a little solar. I’ll toss and turn over whether or not I’m doing the right thing, I’ll call lots of people I know and ask for help and opinions, and I’ll generally behave in a way that’s the polar opposite of normal people’s behavior.
Most people simply wouldn’t put themselves through this.
Last week I spoke a couple of times at the EEBA conference. I heard someone say, “We’re in a post-Building Science world.” Not in Mainstream America we’re not. If we had actual science going on, all of this would be easier, surely. Surely there would be simple formulas and diagnoses and prescriptions. Surely we’d all take the red pill (or was it the blue pill?) and we’d all be committed to fixing our houses and solving a massive carbon problem.
But that, indeed, is not where we are.