Insulating the lofts and cavity walls of existing UK housing stock only reduces gas consumption for the first year or two, with all energy savings vanishing by the fourth year after a retrofit, according to research from policy experts at the University of Cambridge.
The latest study is the first to track in detail household gas use across England and Wales for at least five years both before and after insulation installation.
More than half of all low-income households engaged in coping strategies to reduce their energy bills, according to a study from researchers at the Indiana University Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. The coping strategies, such as accruing debt, forgoing expenses on food, and using space heaters or ovens to warm their home, can introduce significant physical and financial risks.
The research could have direct implications for public policy improvements, including modifications to the U.S. Weatherization Assistance Program, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and state utility disconnection protections.
The investment “addresses a critical gap in federal assistance,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm told reporters. Much of the funding will go towards improvements for homes in disrepair, so they can then be eligible for energy efficiency upgrades.
This position will lead an organization which assists in reducing the Nation’s dependence on foreign energy resources, the energy intensity of our economy, and the environmental impact of our industrial processes, while achieving cost-effective product quality enhancements and improving our competitiveness in the global marketplace.
As the “Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for Energy Efficiency (EE)” you will:
Serve as the most senior official within EERE focused exclusively on energy efficiency programs, policies, and initiatives. Advise the Assistant Secretary and senior Department officials on the technical monitoring, evaluation and implementation of initiatives related to EERE’s Building Technologies Office, Advanced Manufacturing Office, Federal Energy Management Programs Office, and Weatherization and Intergovernmental Office. Advise senior DOE management, administration, executive branch, and industry leadership.
Oversee and direct subordinate Offices under the purview of EE. Direct organizational activities and frame strategic plans. Set internal control standards for effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity and assess all organizational policy, program, and project viability. Determine financial and personnel resources needed to achieve mission objectives and support mission operations.
Oversee and direct internal organization, staffing, policies, and personnel authorities required to carry out the responsibilities of EE. Provide administrative and technical direction of EE and its program offices including supervision of a large group of professional and administrative employees. Direct the development and implementation of the strategic allocation of human resources across EE Offices.
Represents the Assistant Secretary with other Federal and State Government Agencies, Congress, private industry, and associations to identify, analyze, and resolve technical institutional, public policy, programmatic and managerial issues impacting the Office’s programs and develops Departmental positions concerning these issues.
Oversee the assessments of current program performance, technologies, deliverables, and input from stakeholders in industry, National Laboratories, and other external constituencies.
Direct the coordination and review of EE programs’ utilization of agencies, national research laboratories, and other government facilities and equipment to develop centers of research excellence in support of the EERE mission and assure the integration and coordination of all program activities across EERE, DOE and the government.
Oversee the development and implementation of multi-year program plans and annual operating plans and manage the application of assigned resources to effectively achieve planned objectives. Develop annual program budget requirements, approve and manage the use and distribution of funds, and provide interpretive guidance to research performing organizations.
During the winter, especially in colder climates, it can be a challenge to achieve energy efficiency. It takes a combination of intentional design, building envelope maintenance and effective materials to minimize heat loss in commercial buildings.
Fortunately, builders and architects have developed some tried and true techniques to promote energy efficiency in frigid climates. Here are some ideas for accomplishing this timely task.
Most Australian homes have been built to notoriously poor standards. The energy performance of existing homes in Victoria, for instance, averages 1.8 stars – 6 stars is mandatory for newly built homes under the 10-star Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NaTHERS).
Decision-makers typically fail to appreciate the importance of a low star rating, even though it have profound impacts on households’ health and budgets.
These challenges have come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic as people spend more time at home. In a home with a low star rating, it can be hard and costly to maintain a comfortable temperature. If it’s too hot or cold occupants’ health can suffer.
Despite these impacts, two new pieces of research reveal it is extremely difficult for house hunters to obtain basic information like energy star ratings in the home rental and ownership markets. The researchers see this issue as systemic.
However, it appears real estate agents are not deliberately withholding information. In a “secret shopper” survey, 91% of the agents didn’t know the energy ratings of homes they sell or lease.
When ratings tools are voluntary, experience shows few people use them. In Victoria, for example, homes can be assessed by accredited assessors using the government’s Residential Efficiency Scorecard. Only 3,800 existing homes had been assessed by April 2020, according to state government data provided to me.
Agents know little about energy efficiency
In my doctoral research project completed in 2019, titled Residential Agent Engagement with Energy Efficiency when Advertising in Melbourne, I found Melbourne-based real estate agents do not actively promote information about the energy efficiency of properties. This is likely true Australia-wide, as agency practice is much the same across the states.
Agents typically respond to market trends and buyer preferences and their advertising reflects this. Understandably, agents highlight features they consider most likely to appeal to buyers. It’s up to agents to decide if energy performance will help them sell or lease the house.
As well as in-depth interviews with agents, I evaluated over 150,000 house advertisements. While some did refer to energy-efficient technologies, in most such cases these were simply listed, often in the body of the advertisement.
The message was likely to be lost among other details, thus not emphasising the benefits of energy efficiency.
This is partly because energy-efficiency performance reporting isn’t mandatory and the practice isn’t common. Agents have little incentive to develop an understanding of home energy performance and how it contributes to poor housing standards.
Most agents don’t even know the rating
Complementing my research, a recent research project supports the suspicion that real estate agents lack knowledge about the energy efficiency features of their properties.
Environment Victoria recruited volunteers to conduct “secret shopper”-style surveys with agents at properties open for inspection across the state. This ensured the data collected closely matched the information available to other house hunters. Volunteers asked four simple questions of 300 agents, including a follow-up question to each “yes” answer to help verify it.
The overwhelming majority of agents were unable to answer any of the four questions. The survey found:
91% of agents could not point out the energy star rating of the home
68% could not say whether the home had insulation
46% couldn’t identify any energy-saving features. One agent listed the “back fence” as an energy-saving feature.
The secret shoppers found agents were even less aware of energy efficiency when letting out houses compared to selling them. This is particularly concerning because Australia’s worst-performing homes, especially in winter, are typically rented, and tenants are usually less able to improve the energy performance.
The research does not suggest any moral failings by estate agents. As my research found, they are “market followers”. Rather, the findings suggest the need to amend the market rules in which agents operate, to ensure more equitable outcomes for house hunters.
Clearly, problems like these flow from estate agents’ poor knowledge of energy efficiency and its impact on the housing market, coupled with buyers’ and renters’ ignorance of the energy ratings of the properties they’re looking at. The problems can only be overcome if state and federal governments work together to make it mandatory to disclose the energy efficiency of housing at point of sale.
Home owners would then be required to provide information to buyers and renters about the energy star rating. House hunters could easily compare the performance of all homes they are interested in.
Such transparency would also provide more options to owners. Mandatory disclosure does influence the housing choices buyers make. Properties with higher energy ratings are often more appealing and fetch higher prices.
Mandatory disclosure is no panacea for improving the poor energy performance of Australian housing, particularly the rental properties that would benefit from minimum standards. However, mandatory disclosure is an essential element of a suite of policies that governments should implement to drive the transition towards net-zero-carbon, healthy homes.
Libraries are expensive to operate and there is never enough money to go around. By looking for opportunities to make your building more energy efficient, you can make changes that will continue to save you money for years. These six steps will help you start to improve the energy performance of your building, as well as save money that you can use in other operational areas.
Establish a baseline and assess your current energy use. Before you make changes, you need to understand where you are. Become familiar with your electricity and natural gas bills. Understand how much energy you use each year and how much it costs you. Quantify specific energy uses and costs. Some areas to look at include:
Lighting – Are you lighting areas that people don’t use? Are there places where you can replace less efficient lighting with LEDs or compact fluorescent bulbs? Do you have decorative lighting? Are your exit signs LED? Are lights too bright for the space?
HVAC – Do you have programmable thermostats? Are they programmed appropriately for your hours of operation? How old is your HVAC system? Has it ever been recommissioned/retro commissioned?
Building envelope – Does your building have leaks around windows and doors? Is your building’s insulation adequate for the climate? Are your walls uninsulated brick or block?
Get technical assistance. Ameren and ComEd offer free energy assessments for public sector agencies. The University of Illinois’ Smart Energy Design Assistance Center (SEDAC) offers free public sector energy assessments, assistance with retro commissioning, and information on how to save energy.
Make a list of changes you want to make, then prioritize it. Some examples of first priority changes include: installing motion sensors, turning off lights when not in use, eliminating decorative only lighting, installing LED exit signs, adjusting your programmable thermostat to align with building occupancy, installing weather stripping and sealing cracks, and checking your building’s hot water temperature and resetting, if appropriate.
Plan for more expensive changes and look for incentives to help you pay for them. These include installing dimmable switches and occupancy sensors, addressing over-illumination, converting to more energy efficient lighting, recommissioning or retro commissioning your HVAC system, upgrading to high efficiency equipment (boilers, fan motors, furnace), replace broken or malfunctioning windows and doors with those of higher performance, replace your roof and install more insulation, find creative solutions for uninsulated brick or block walls, and install a high efficiency water heater.
Ameren and ComEd offer public sector energy efficiency incentives. SEDAC will also help you find qualifying incentives.
Continue tracking your building’s energy use and making changes to ensure continuous improvement.
Tell your patrons. Let them know how much of their money you’re saving with the changes you make and how you’re using those funds to benefit them.
Building remodels or new construction are usually when libraries look at energy efficiency options. Why wait when you can start saving money now?