I was reviewing an article in Home Energy by Steve Mann that came out in the January/February issue (“DOE’s Challenge Home,” p. 6). He wrote on the latest iteration of DOE’s Challenge Home Program. Steve points out, in his usual insightful and articulate way, what he sees as the strengths and weakness of this program. I hope you’ve read it, or will read it. Send us your comments by email, or on the Home Energy website.
Reading Steve’s article made me think, “Wow, do we really need another government program that requires builders and contractors to get their heads and their business plans around another set of building requirements?” Before I get in trouble with DOE, I have to say that my conclusion is, “Yes, we do need another government program.” Before I get in trouble with the free market folks reading this, I have to say, “Yes, government programs are often a barrier to some businesses thriving.”
One of my history professors in college shared his idea about how organizations change. For 25 years, he said, everyone but the people leading the change fight it tooth and nail. Then for 25 years they go about making small changes that eventually end up bringing the organization in the general direction of the needed change. For 25 years after that people convince themselves that things have always been done this way.
Change is hard, however it comes about. That’s why it takes a consistent effort over a long period of time from leaders who see the necessary change and are committed to push it step by small step into reality—often against a lot of inertia and those who are invested in keeping things the way they are. But it is necessary. We have to find a way to move to a more sustainable way of life, a more sustainable way of building and living in our homes. The survival of our species and a healthy economy depend on it.
Sometimes it helps me to look at the extremes to find a way forward. If we had a purely free market economy, most of us would experience a swift decline in our living conditions, but an elite group of people would live relatively well. Think Black Market. If we had no private sector, the government was all-powerful, and there were no non-profit advocacy groups, I am convinced we would experience a swift decline of living conditions among most of us but an elite group of people would live relatively well. Think Soviet Union. Capitol systems need regulation and democratic governments need people who work and innovate, and those who provide them with capitol to do it.
When change happens in home performance, I think it happens through an interaction among the private sector, non-profit organizations like Home Energy, and government. So yes, I believe we do need government programs to help us move to a more sustainable way of living, even though government programs can be a royal pain in the … neck. Of course some programs are better than others, and all programs can be tweaked and changed in order to work better for everyone.
I wonder how the 30-year life of Home Energy matches up with the timeline of the nations’ sustainable building movement. It’s hard to say exactly, because people have different ideas about when things began. From my purely personal perspective, having worked for the magazine for almost half of its life, it feels like for the last few years we have been, in the scheme of my college history professor, in the second period, where people all over are making the little changes that brings us closer to our goals of broad-based sustainable home building and renovation. Home Energy spent it’s early years in that first period, when very few mainstream builders and contractors were interested in building science and they didn’t want to look at the house as a system. Our authors, along with people at DOE, EPA, HUD, and some other government bodies, have sometimes been a thorn in the side of builders and contractors, by forcing them to look more closely at how they build and renovate houses. But we are no longer one of a few voices calling out in the wilderness. Others we began with and partner with, such as ACI, EEBA, BPI, RESNET, ACEEE, DOE, USGBC, others, and lots of new players are now advocating for sustainable home building practices. And Home Energy, through it’s authors, staff, and advertisers, provides ongoing support, and sometimes, still, a gentle nudge, to the home performance community. At least that is what we always aspire to do.
I’m proud to say we have been an important part of a building revolution—call it home performance, green building, sustainable building, resiliency, or something else that began decades ago. When we get to the point where builders and contractors read Home Energy, and say to themselves, “This is always how we have done things,” than we will have arrived at our destination. I hope it doesn’t take us too long to get there. Then we could start a new magazine, Home Energy on Mars.