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When most people think about energy efficiency, once they stop talking about solar panels, they usually get to windows. “My windows are so old,” or “They’re only single pane glass,” or “I need to replace them,” and so on, much if it fueled by the replacement window industry selling the energy savings. Unfortunately, in most cases, those savings just aren’t there, at least not at the level at which they sell them.
There’s a joke about window replacementthat goes something like this: After her windows were replaced, a woman had yet to pay the bills she kept getting from the contractorwho did the work. Finally, a year later, the contractor got her on the phone and asked her why she had not paid for them. Her response: “Do you think I’m stupid? Your salesman told me that in one year the windows would pay for themselves. It’s been a year, ask them for payment!”
When people learn that I am a green building consultant, almost without exception, they ask me if I do a lot of work with solar power, which I don’t. I don’t install many solar power systems, either photovoltaic (the kind that creates electricity) or rhermal (the kind that creates hot water). I have been accused of being anti-solar because I often discourage people from focusing on PV on their homes, at least until they have done everything else to save energy, which they rarely bother to do.
PV makes a lot of sense in underdeveloped countries where there are unreliable or non-existent electrical power grids or for the rare person in a developed country who wants to live completely off the grid. In both cases, the key to taking advantage of solar power is to not use much energy in the first place. This also applies to anyone who wants to put panels on their home out of a desire to be “green.”
Some days I like my work, and some days I don’t, but I guess that’s just the way the world is. This love/hate relationship really rears its ugly head when I have to go out and do blower door andtesting on homes. It’s not one of my favorite things to do, but if the weather’s nice and the drive’s not to far, it can end up being a good, and reasonably profitable, day.
I’ve been involved, if somewhat peripherally, with the Home Performance industry for quite a while. I was one of the original group working on Home Performance with Energy Star in Atlanta quite a few years ago. As I learned more about this evolving field, I felt that it was both important and necessary, and thought that it had potential to be a profitable business model. I had concerns that the program was being managed by building science types (read: geeks) who were focused on collecting reams of data from performance testing and using this to sell improvements to homeowners. Fairly quickly, I determined that unless it moved from a technical to a sales focus, it wasn’t going to go anywhere.