Archive for December 2012

All right I think I’ve teased this “insanity” thing long enough.

Several blogs back I started talking about the insanity of building the all-electric home. In reality it’s not insane to build an all-electric home. In fact I hope over the last several blogs I’ve convinced you of the intelligence of building the all-electric home. The insanity part is what we went through to advance the concept of the home. No one thought it was possible. On the contrary people told us we were insane for doing it. I’ve talked about “Title 24” and what each home has to comply with in order to get a permit to build in California. Here’s where the insane part comes into play.

But first a little background.

As with most things in life, at least for people like me with Economic Degrees, everything always seems to boil down to supply and demand. Every home uses energy. For virtually all of the homes in California, the “supply” of energy comes from the power grid of your electric utility company and the natural gas from your gas utility company. The demand comes from the people that live in the home as they go about their normal daily living habits. Although there are limits to how much energy supply a home can receive, for the most part based on the normal home activities of 99.9% of all homes, the amount supplied by the two energy companies handles all the demand any home can create. In other words it’s difficult to “demand” more energy than both utility companies “supply” to all homes.

Title 24 requires that builders provide components into homes that limit energy consumption or the “demand”, thereby creating less necessary “supply”. Supply is created by using natural resources. Limiting demand requires less supply and thereby saves natural resources. Actually it doesn’t really save anything because they’ll eventually get used. It just pushes out the necessity of the resource to a later date. Over time the State tightens up the compliance portion of Title 24 and mandates less and less demand on the energy required to operate a newly built home. That’s proactive and good news for the environment.

When we came up with the all-electric concept, we obviously had to convert the components of the home that operated off of natural gas to components that operated off of electricity. Although it’s great what that concept does for the use of natural gas, it explodes the energy requirements of the electric company. Gas components typically use less energy than electric components so we couldn’t pass Title 24 compliance. On paper, the energy required to run the all-electric home were HIGHER than what the State allows under current Title 24 compliance limitations.

Here’s the insane part.

Title 24 ONLY deals with the “demand” side of the equation. It completely ignores the “supply” side. For the last 75 years, basically the ONLY supply most homes received were from the utility companies. There was no reason to talk about alternative “supply”, because it wasn’t reality. And then along came solar power. Actually solar power has been around for a while so I should rephrase my statement to read, “and then along came reasonably priced” solar power. As with all technologies, solar power finally advanced to the point where it’s a realistic alternative energy “supply” for the basic home. Both in the energy it can supply and the cost of that energy system.

We put a big enough “supply” system of solar power on the roof of our all-electric homes so that even though the electric “demand” is higher than a normal home, the electric “supply” needed by the electric company is LESS. It’s LESS because it’s offset by the power supplied by the House itself through solar power!! How cool is that!

Looks like I’ll need one more Blog to finish up this thought

Until then

Herb

So I left off last time trying to explain the insanity we went through in trying to implement the all-electric home. I told you about Title 24. Title 24 is one of the “chapters”, they’re actually called Titles but I figured chapters would make more sense, of the California Code of Regulations. It’s the “chapter” that has the entire California Building Standard Codes. It governs EVERYTHING having to do with any kind of building that goes on in the State.

The State cleverly has used Title 24 as a way to force anyone building in California to build energy efficient structures. Within Title 24 is a compliance test that must be met before a permit can be issued to build anything. It’s actually pretty smart. Instead of wishing and hoping people build energy efficient structures, California has placed a compliance test within the Building Code that MANDATES that energy efficiency be built. Every few years they update the compliance test and kick the can of energy efficiency a little bit further down the road. I used the Federal Government and the method they use of having MPG standards for cars in America. They tell manufacturers of autos if you want to sell cars in America, then the average MPG of the fleet of cars you produce must meet minimum MPG standards. Every few years they up the standard, so over time, the cars become more and more energy efficient.

I keep using the term energy efficient. When I use that term I mean that a home built in 1950 uses a certain amount of energy to operate. That energy, for the most part, is created by power plants and distributed over wires into individual homes. Roughly around the 1960’s natural gas was introduced into homes as a cheaper alternative energy source for certain aspects of the home. A home built in 1978, when the State adopted the compliance part of energy efficiency to Title 24, uses less energy to operate. The power plant that supplies the energy to that 1978 home works a little less hard and uses a little less of the natural resource that is required to run that power plant. It could be coal, fuel, hydroelectricity, or even nuclear. Once more and more homes are produced, the amount of resources saved can be huge. Since 1978 the State has upped the Title 24 energy compliance standards many times so that a home built in 2010 uses roughly HALF the amount of energy to operate that a home built in 1950 does. It’s been a phenomenal success.

So once again I ask, where is the insanity? Title 24 and its energy efficient compliance strategy sounds like a great idea and as someone that has built in several other states I can tell you that California homes are built to far more stringent energy requirements and are much more energy efficient than homes built in other states.

The insanity is that the world, once it figures things out, moves much faster than government. Government can be very effective at making laws that encourage certain behaviors. Even if the behaviors aren’t very popular. The State of California had the foresight to make laws forcing more energy efficient buildings way back when no one really cared about energy efficiency. Energy was relatively cheap and although people got that we couldn’t expect to keep burning natural resources forever, it’s really someone else’s problem. People are funny in that they can absolutely understand that there is an issue, and absolutely understand that behaviors need to change, but they really want OTHER peoples behavior to change first. If being energy efficient means I have to change my behaviors or pay more for something energy efficient, then I feel that OTHER people should change. I’ll use cars again as an example. If you poll people they will all tell you that raising MPG standards is a great idea and then they go buy some giant SUV.

We NEEDED government to make laws like the compliance component of Title 24 because reality is no one was going to change their behavior on their own. In my opinion people use cost/benefit analysis when deciding how to behave. If the COST of me changing my behavior is higher than the BENEFIT I receive from doing so, then you’d better make some laws forcing me to change because otherwise it ain’t happening. And costs aren’t just financial. I define cost as any kind of sacrifice. Having to eat toast without butter is a sacrifice. If MY PERCEIVED benefit of not being 40 pounds overweight is less than MY PERCEIVED benefit of enjoying tasty butter, then I won’t change my butter eating behavior. That’s just reality. Notice I said perceived. Everyone perceives the world differently and behaves according to those perceptions. Behaving in an energy efficient way is no different. If my perceived cost of being energy efficient is higher than my perceived benefit, then I won’t be energy efficient. Period. I may say I am. But my behavior will be otherwise and only a law can change that.

So I still haven’t answered the insanity part and I’ve already written too much.

Let’s continue next month

Until then

Herb

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The Green Builder’s Journal is written by Herb Gardner, President of City Ventures Home Building Group. Herb has 30 years experience managing the building of residential and apartment communities in over 60 municipalities in 3 different states.

A big proponent of in-fill communities and the urban lifestyle Mr. Gardner has extensive experience in all aspects of residential home building, ranging from land acquisition to warranty management, he specializes in managing teams of people in delivering communities on time, on budget and to the quality standards the marketplace demands.

For Questions, Feedback or observations you can Click here to Email Herb

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