The last 15 months have caused many of us to wonder if we will experience business-as-usual ever again. We have been restricted or prevented from visiting customers’ homes. When it has been permissible to visit a home to conduct an energy audit, complete a weatherization job, or gather information for a renovation, a strict health protocol was required. Now that vaccines are available and vaccination rates are rising, we are able to see a slight glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The waning of the coronavirus is happening! On a different front, the Great Ramp Up of Weatherization (GRUW) is coming! This is good news after more than a year of setbacks.
This GRUW will be reminiscent of ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) in 2009 but is likely to be much bigger. Before I say more about this, let’s take stock of where we are now and where we need to go.
First, the population has been ravaged by the coronavirus over the last year. Around 600,000 lives have been lost in the U.S. and this invisible threat has changed the way we live. We know now that we must ventilate our buildings better, install more effective filters in our furnaces and air conditioners, and use portable air cleaners in order to keep airborne aerosols in check.
Second, natural disasters are on the rise; wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, severe cold and hot weather, floods, and mudslides. It is likely that these events are a result of a changing climate, a trend that will not turn around quickly. So, what can we do? We must make our built environments more resilient in the long run as quickly as we can [see sidebar].
What is Resilience?
In the fields of engineering and construction, resilience is the ability to absorb or avoid damage without suffering complete failure and is an objective of design, maintenance, and restoration for buildings and infrastructure, as well as communities. Wikipedia
The 4-Rs of Building Resilience
- Robustness – The ability to maintain critical operations and functions in the face of a crisis or calamity.
- Resourcefulness – The ability to prepare for, respond to, and manage a crisis or disruption as it evolves.
- Rapid Recovery – The ability to return quickly to normal operations after a crisis or disruption occurs.
- Redundancy – Having built-in backup resources to support operations during a crisis or disruption.
Finally, climate change mitigation requires a significant reduction of the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHG) released into the atmosphere. To do this we must drastically reduce our use of fossil fuels. The residential energy sector that most of us work within is responsible for 20 percent of the US energy-related GHG emissions (all buildings worldwide contribute 40% of the global GHG emissions). These emissions stem from heating, cooling, and electrifying households (Goldstein, et al. 2020).
Decarbonizing the electrical transmission grid alone by generating power with solar and wind will not meet the goals needed for an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. This is because of the growing housing stock and the continued use of some fossil fuels. In addition to low-carbon distributed energy resources, getting to this 80 percent reduction target will require major retrofits to existing dwellings. And for new dwellings, we must lower per capita floor space from the current value, and create denser residential settlement patterns. (Goldstein, et al. 2020).
So how will these necessary and significant changes directly affect us? Although it is not the complete solution, one of the most cost-effective measures will be the widespread implementation of deep-energy retrofits; a big portion of what I am calling the GRUW. Research has already demonstrated that for detached single-family homes, comprehensive retrofits have achieved energy/carbon reductions of from 50 – 75 percent (Lucon, et al. 2014, page 690). This is the “low-hanging fruit”, one of the best returns for the money, meaning it is very likely that nationwide retrofits will be funded and completed. When these dwellings are made more efficient, their level of resiliency to the increasing probability of calamitous events will be increased, also.
It is likely that the GRUW will also usher in collateral upgrading of mechanical ventilation systems for our dwellings, likely based on the ASHRAE Standard 62.2. The increased public awareness of the importance of ventilation brought by COVID-19 is likely to fuel homeowners and apartment dwellers’ desires to make their dwellings safer for future pandemics. At RED we are expecting the use of our ASHRAE 62.2 tools to continue to climb, as it has done for the last four months.
Get ready for the GRUW; it is coming, and it is only a matter of when. It is easy to imagine a shortage of trainers, weatherization equipment, and related materials. Most importantly, it will be difficult to find qualified workers to undertake this important work. These are all challenges. However, weatherization work, both in the public and private segments of the market, will bask in the sun of high demand, increased wages/salaries, and as much work as we all wish to take on. This will be a welcome relief after our COVID days.
Goldstein, B; Gounaridis, D; Newell, J. 2020. The carbon footprint of household energy use in the United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 117:32 19122-19130.
Lucon O., D. Ürge-Vorsatz, A. Zain Ahmed, H. Akbari, P. Bertoldi, L.F. Cabeza, N. Eyre, A. Gadgil, L.D.D. Harvey, Y. Jiang, E. Liphoto, S. Mirasgedis, S. Murakami, J. Parikh, C. Pyke, and M.V. Vilariño, 2014: Buildings. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.