by Mike Casey
Recently, I've been watching Saul Griffith's “Climate Change Recalculated,” a brilliant talk book about the connection between our individual carbon footprint (he presents his own in precisely measured details) and what it will actually take to power the future with clean energy. I’m coupling that with a read of Amory Lovins' “Reinventing Fire,” which looks at how we can convert the economy to a much cleaner basis.
In some ways, I consider myself a good test for the challenges these authors discuss about. I’m a professional cleantech booster who wants his lifestyle and consumption habits to reflect that to which I've devoted my professional life. However, based on what we as a society actually need to do on an individual basis to avert climate disaster, I'm not even close. For instance, my wife and I would love to make our typical, 28-year-old, 3,500-square-foot, suburban, Colonial home more energy efficient, even net-zero and/or "off the grid" if possible, yet we've been stumped by some pretty involved decisions on how to get there: e.g., tear-down or do an extensive green retrofit? What to do with the old materials in the home? What do you do in Virginia, with its scarcity of clean energy incentives, to handle up-front costs? How do you find someone to handle the work who gets green and won’t rip you off?
If I had the money, I’d do a complete dismantling of our current home and build a net-zero home out of hay bales. But my wife has...well, different tastes, and the real estate agent friends we’ve talked with all say that the home will sell for far less if it’s a net-zero home, because there are none like it in the neighborhood.
We've gotten wrapped around the axle, so to speak, on some of these decisions for a couple of years now. But we have recently had a catalyst: our furnace motor broke in the middle of the winter. We have a high-efficiency, wood-burning insert we used to keep warm over several days while we faced the choice of: a) replacing the motor ($800); or b) spending several thousand dollars on a new furnace.
Ours is a cheapie, and going on 15 years old – the point at which the furnace company says they begin to wear out. We looked into various options, but for now decided - at the risk of feeling like we're punting on making tough decisions - to simply replace the motor. Now that that's taken care of, and our family is warm again, we're planning on starting to interview green design/remodeling firms, to figure out who knows how to make an existing home really green. We invite you to follow us on our journey over the coming weeks and months.