Energy efficiency from the personal to the international

In December of 2015, I was invited by Vision Vancouver to join a panel moderated by City Councillor Andrea Reimer. I had the pleasure of participating alongside David Isaac of W Dusk Energy Group. Whereas he spoke to the “democratization of the electron,” I focussed on “democratization” of energy efficiency, in other words, what people can do towards making their homes and lives more energy efficient.

There was much social media attention, but I wanted to share the message I set out to convey in my opening statement, in the hopes that it will motivate others to, well, pick up a caulking gun…

“Thanks Andrea and the Vision Team for inviting me to join you for this Town Hall. It’s a pleasure to sit alongside community leaders like David and talk about something that has played an important role in my career, my life as a homeowner, and as a community member.

“Energy efficiency may not be the sexiest aspect of a renewable energy plan, but like in a spouse or life partner, the promise of dependability and the lure of a simple relationship should not be undersold!

“In fact, the International Energy Agency (IEA) dubs energy efficiency the “first fuel” and has actually begun to report on it as its own industry with its own market. In the 2015 Energy Efficiency Market Report (pdf), the IEA projected the value of the energy efficiency market will exceed 125 billion USD/year!

“The IEA describes efficiency finance* as “overcoming risks and bringing stability and confidence to the market.

“What the IEA is quantifying on a global scale, is benefiting communities at the local scale. Imagine separating out “energy saving measures” as a line item in a building retrofit.

“Policy-wise, lumping energy upgrades in with all renovations makes sense—it forces energy improvements when they are not the primary reason for the retrofit—but it doesn’t allow us to quantify elements of the energy efficiency market:

  • materials purchased at the local hardware store;
  • local labour invested in the installation;
  • training embodied in the killed labour; and
  • homeowner education about the importance of energy efficiency (invaluable).

“These mean local jobs and investment, precisely why a little town called Greensburg, Kansas opted for 100% RE.

“Flattened by a hurricane, situated in the middle of coal-country, this republication community made a collective decision to go 100% RE in favour of improving:

  • energy security;
  • price stability;
  • local economic health; and
  • local job development.

“But, ultimately, it is each of us as individuals who is going to have to make this commitment.

“My personal interest in the energy efficiency of buildings began in the last 2 weeks of my engineering degree when my masonry professor introduced us to building science. At the time, Vancouver was dealing with (soaking in?) leaky condos, a fiasco that, for building scientists, presented rich learning opportunities.

“I was hooked. This was the way I could combine my engineering training with my environmental passion.

“Like many fresh graduates, I had dreams of changing the world. I imagined a career in retrofitting, preserving our cultural inheritance mortared into the building stock that has shaped our cities.

“In reality, I ended up inspecting a lot of roofs, walls, windows, and bridges.

“Fast forward to 2010 when my family relocated to Metro Vancouver. No longer a practicing engineer, it is as a homeowner that building science is perpetually with me. Just the past Sunday, I was teaching my 10-year-old daughter how to pick out well-insulated roofs on frosty mornings—I’m certain she has filed that away in her “don’t care” memory box.

“Every house behaves differently, and this move meant I had to learn how air, heat, and moisture move in and out of my new-to-me house—no one knows that better than a building’s occupants.

“With Federal and Provincial energy retrofit grants available but soon to run out, I quickly hired an energy auditor. He calculated my house to be 34% efficient—34%! He also lamented that post-and-beam houses are impossible to make efficient.

“We had a restricted budget—having just entered Vancouver’s housing market!—so, replacing the 60-year-old single-pane windows was not an option at the that time.

“Armed with a tube of silicone, a caulking gun, some weather stripping, and a small amount of insulation, we managed to bring the energy performance up to 55%. And, we maxed out the amount of money we could get from the Federal and Provincial programs.

“To close our application, we had to have a final energy audit, but I’m tempted to have another one. I would love to know how much better our impossible post-and-beam is performing since we:

  • replaced all the windows with double-glazed units;
  • added a lot more caulking;
  • changed out the sliding glass door for a sealed, double-glazed swing door (with an insulated frame); and
  • sealed up the drafty wood fireplace.

“I believe the barrier to getting the low-hanging fruit is about motivation, because they aren’t these aren’t the difficult electrons to capture.

[At this point, I may or may not have pulled a caulking gun out of my purse…]

“The last few performance points are the biggest challenges, and for that the City will need to get creative on financing. But, there are more immediate solutions, like:

  • showing homeowners how their houses perform in comparison with other people’s houses; or
  • helping people navigate the many, and sometimes confusing, federal, provincial, and city programs.

“In the meantime, caulk your windows!”

Check out the Storify story for the discussion that ensued.


*The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy provides a comprehensive explanation of finance models that seem to be abysmally lacking north of the 49th.

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About ahemmayispeak

Environmentalist Egalitarian Engineer Writer There, I finally said it. View all posts by ahemmayispeak

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