Five years ago, I moved back to the US after spending eleven years in Europe as a craftsman. My plan in moving back was to build my own house and to do it using energy saving measures, and I started studying about ecological design and sustainable practices. Then I realized that the most sustainable practice is to fix up an existing home. Now I’m a BPI certified energy auditor, and I help others fix up homes to use less energy. The nice thing is that it isn’t hard to make a big difference.
Recently, I’ve started looking at how what I do for people here in America is done in Europe, and it has been very enlightening. I knew that houses in America are built entirely different from how they are built in Europe, so I figured that the way we test houses for efficiency must be different. What I discovered was that not only do we use a different ruler (CFM as opposed to liters per second) but the standards are vastly different.
Here we (try to) convert our blower door numbers from CFM50 to CFMn in order to say how many ACHn a building has. In Europe, they don’t worry about ACHn, but only consider ACH50. We think that a house that has 0.35 ACHn (roughly 7 ACH50) is in very good shape. In Europe, the Passivhaus standard is 0.6 ACH50!
This might help explain why the average American uses twice as much energy as the average Western European (even though the standard of living is higher for the average Western European). Personal habits are certainly a factor, but the buildings we live in also play a huge role. Here we build houses that will last as long as our mortgages, knowing that our grandchildren will more than likely be living in a different state. In Europe they build houses that last for centuries, knowing that they will likely be passed on from generation to generation. European houses built hundreds of years ago are still better than houses we build today. Why are we so far behind? Because we have been spoiled with cheap energy.
I pay six cents per kWh for electricity in KY, but it costs more than three times that in Western Europe. That means that the same money spent on energy efficiency takes more than three times as long for me to get back in savings. The cost of energy will certainly increase at a faster rate here than it will in Europe, and we will pay for our care free attitude toward efficiency sooner or later. It is time for us to take our heads out of our asses, stop using stud walls, and recognize that our fundamentals of home building are grossly insufficient.
There, I said it. Comments?
You can thank the US taxpayers for cheap energy. The US government subsidizes energy prices keeping rates low. It's just yet another way of the government playing "robin hood". If the government stopped subsidizing energy costs the bottom 40% of income earners that currently pay ZERO in income taxes would have to suddenly pay the real cost of energy. Those voters would make their opinion known on election day, no politician wants that.
Yes, because in Europe, they don't play Robin Hood. Do they? Taxes don't keep energy prices low, it is a lack of taxes which keep them low. Or do you have some information that I'm missing?
People in the US pay income taxes that the government uses to subsidize energy companies. Entire wars are fought overseas with the US taxpayers getting the bill in order to keep foreign energy cheap.
The energy companies are exempted from paying taxes much more so than being the recipient of funds from tax payers. Subsidies are things like ethanol which accounted for $0.04 per gallon at the pump, and not enough to sway anyone's vote. (BTW, that subsidy has been eliminated.) Yes, we do wield our might oversees to keep oil prices low and this is costly. I just don't see the connection you make between people not paying taxes and how their vote would be swung to the Tea Party if we stopped doing that.
Why else do you think the US pays billions to fight foreign wars? This keeps oil prices artificially low in the US. Not to get into a big political discussion, but if we didn't have a source of cheap foreign oil energy prices would certainly rise.
No arguments from me on that, and I can also understand why you wouldn't want to get into a big political discussion.
Comparing the US to the EU is probably a bit too broad to get a real picture. Both demographic areas are broad and have diversity within them.
It would seem your experience is in Germany. I have only read of techniques there but never seen them first hand. I think your experience is unusual and quite frankly I am jealous but will not hold it against you.
My wife is form Denmark and I have been there several times over the years. Even though the share a border there seem to be differences in construction. My brother in law is an Electrician so I have had the chance to walk some homes under construction while I was there. I am not saying plaster is not used but I saw homes with drywall.
Block construction is also the norm in DK About every 25 years this means ripping the mortar out between the blocks and refitting them with new. With as cold and wet it is there the maintenance needs to be done. My brother in law just had this done last year and said that it is normal.
The radiant floor heat used in homes there comes from an outside source. The city pumps hot water to be used in a loop and monitors how much is used and bills accordingly. Most of the older homes have forced air electric heat but this is rarely used. Every home that I have been to has a pot belly stove that is a major source of heat within the home.
They do not use gas and think that we are odd for having it in our home.
They do not have 110 electric and think we are odd for have two voltages within the home
I loved the article and it was proactive and made me think. I believe it important to bring as much to the table as we have to offer. I think with your experience you are in a position to improve the process with the material we use here. I don’t think we should build houses the same in Kentucky as we do in California. Nor should we build exactly as Germany or Denmark here in the US.
We have different processes, materials, and culture. I would focus on improving the process rather than changing the material and culture.
I had the pleasure of attending a training session taught by John Tooley below is his philosophy copied and pasted from the link provided
MY PHILOSOPHY ON ENERGY EFFICIENCY
Doing something right the first time trumps everything when it comes to building homes. The simple materials we have used for the last 100 years, when used correctly, will render very efficient homes. Until we abandon the “silver bullet” new product approach to energy efficiency, we will never affect the masses. Better products do not improve the process of building houses, improving processes improves processes John Tooley
Yes, I love that municipal hot water they're starting to use. I saw a new system just installed when I was visiting Italy (where I used to live) last summer. I'm not sure how the billing works, but essentially you don't get to use the water, just the heat from it that you extract with a heat exchanger. It's a small box with 6 lines coming out: 2 for the municipal supply and return, 2 for heating supply and return, 1 for domestic water in, and 1 for domestic hot water out. There are no gas lines, no high tension electric, no intake or exhaust vents, just 6 pipes. The only electric that it consumes is for the control panel and a pump that comes on when the thermostat calls for it. Centralizing the water heating plant and super insulating the distribution lines makes it very efficient if the distribution area is localized. Often the source of the hot water is a biproduct of electricity generation, so it's all gravy. I've never visited Denmark, but I've met many wonderful folks from there and hope to have the opportunity to visit in the near future. Thanks for your remarks!