Published on May 27th, 2014 | by Roy L Hales


Are You Up For America’s Better Buildings Challenge?

May 27th, 2014 by  

Originally published in the ECOreport.

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The Department of Energy has just released a new infographic about energy waste in the US. It traces conservation efforts back to the Better Building challenge that President Obama launched in 2011. 50% of America’s energy is wrapped up in its buildings. The DOE asks, “Are you up for the Better Buildings Challenge?”

This was released along with three videos.

President Obama speaks in the first one. He starts by describing the efforts that the Walmart store he is in has been improving their energy footprint and goes on to talk about the nation as a whole. The 500% growth of solar installations is part of this.

“We know that buildings more energy efficient is one of the easiest ways to create jobs, save money and cut down on harmful pollution that causes climate change. It could save our businesses tens of billions a year on their energy bills – and they can then use that money to grow,” President Obama said.

Secretary Moniz announced that the Better Buildings Challenge partners saved $100 million last year. He mentioned that when some members realized how much money they were saving, they said “this is what we should have been doing all along.”

“Obviously climate was a big driver, but the reality is this is a no regrets activity in terms of its consequences,” Moniz said.

The last video is composed of clips from some of America’s business, community and educational leaders describing what they have been doing.


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About the Author

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the the ECOreport, a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America. He writes for both writes for both Clean Technica and PlanetSave on Important Media. He is a research junkie who has written over 1,600 since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

  • Tom G.

    To Michael Berndtson and others:

    Lots of discussions here about Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning and without knowing a lot more about the actual building its hard to recommend a path to travel. However here are a few ideas.

    When it comes to AC the key first is to keep as much heat generated inside the building to a minimum. Replace every light bulb you can with CFL’s or LED’s as a start. Look for anything that creates heat like water heaters and standing pilot lights on furnaces and gas stoves. Of course do everything you can like shading, sealing, caulking, at least dual pane Low E windows and where possible add insulation up to R-50.

    I would call at least 4 or 5 good AC contractor for some local input before sitting down and discussing how large a check to write, LOL. You could if you wanted to and money was not a big issue, go with an elaborate new heating and cooling system like a ground source heat pump system. You are however talking about a 5 figure $$$$$.$$ price tag. Alternatives might include building a new 16″ X16″ vertical duct run from the basement through to the second floor. Or if you decide to go with something like mini split AC units the duct/refrigerant lines could run in a smaller 4X4″ space. These mini split systems for example, can cool from 1-4 rooms all from a central compressor unit mounted on the ground or exterior of your home. Heat pumps can be very efficient since you put in 1 unit of electrical energy and get about 3 units of cooling or heating. Far superior to even 97% efficient gas furnaces. However, air source heat pump efficiencies drop quickly as temperatures fall below about 20 F.

    Get some preliminary ideas by talking with some of your neighbors who have about the same type of home. And don’t be afraid to be a little creative. Even going the cheap route using high efficiency window units is not out of the question. The average 12X16′ bedroom can do nicely with about a 6,000 BTU unit for less than $200.00 from a big box store for each room. Here again the mini split AC units will have an edge since they are usually quieter and can be more efficient with SEER rating up to about 22 for the premium units. These units can cost about $1,000-$4,000 but some can serve as many as 4 rooms.

    When you get done with all of the improvements you can think of and afford, LOL; then consider some type of renewable or supplemental energy system. Solar of course is an option. A natural gas Combined Heat and Power unit would be a good addition for those times when the power goes out and can be very efficient since you get both heat and electricity from the unit at the same time. Don’t really like the idea of standby generators unless they are permanently installed outside and run on natural gas or propane. Storing fuel at home is unwise for most homeowners.

    Good luck and be sure to tell everyone how your project turned out o.k.?

  • Rick Kargaard

    Higher efficiencies for buildings (and trandsportation) is probably the fastest and easiest way to reduce fossil fuel use.
    There are added benefits of comfort and and dollar savings
    On many upgrades, payback times are rapid.
    I applaud government incentives in this area.

  • Jodina Joseph

    I am not agree because

    • Matt

      You don’t agree because you want people to invest in your fav oil company? Are you making money on the click throughs?

      • Michael Berndtson

        I believe the comment above is spam. Like those comments that tell the blog readers how they can make thousands of dollars a month on a computer from home.

  • Michael Berndtson

    Speaking of energy savings, what’s the best way to cool a two story brick masonry house? The ducting was installed for heating and proto central air cooling, circa 1940. In other words, not the most modern of HVAC installs. A friend wants to know. For those living in seismically sensitive areas and only know stick construction, brick masonry construction means bricks hold up the house. Pretty much ever home and apartment building in Chicago, built before the WW II, is this construction. That’s a lot of buildings. Like a big number.

    • Mahdi

      Heat reflecting windows, insulation, shading. Keep the heat outside the house. That’s for the start. You will realize that you don’t need cooling most of the time except long lasting heat waves. Then start searching for the best HVAC.

      • Mahdi

        Then you can start to think about FV panel on the roof to run your air conditioning and other stuff.

        • Michael Berndtson

          Awesome. I (I mean a friend) appreciates the input.

    • Offgridmanpolktn

      Mahdi covered most of the priorities in seeing that you are dealing sealed system and avoiding outside influences. Just thought it important to add that since you are talking about using original ductwork that most of them up through the sixties and seventies are very under sized. Have seen big savings on run times of heating and cooling systems by adding supplemental duct fans in these older buildings.

      • Michael Berndtson

        Your are correct about duct sizing. Small ducts make fan work, so to speak. Most of the homes in Chicago, pre 1930s, used steam or hot water heating and obviously no central air. The old radiator style heating. My house is from the era of early attempts at forced air w/ air conditioning as an option. Air conditioning didn’t really get going until the post war suburban boom.

        Much of the modern era home design and HVAC technology got its start at the Chicago 1933 Worlds Fair, “Homes of Tomorrow” exhibit. A couple of the model homes from the Exposition were moved to the South Shore of Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes and are part of the national park. Here’s some photos:

    • nakedChimp

      ..for HVAC look at systems that recover energy when exchanging air with the outside for ventilation purposes – the best example of a system that covers this for big buildings i’ve come across so far is the GSWT (unfortunately German only,

      The reason for this afai understand it is because the better you isolate your building envelope (walls, windows, ceilings) – the air-tighter it has to be – which brings the problem of moisture and polluted air inside the building. Now once the heat loss/gain through the envelope has been mastered heat loss/gain via the needed air exchange the old way (windows/doors open) is the next big thing to tackle.. thus the above system, which recovers 90% of heat/cold while exchanging air.

    • LookingForward

      bricks are better insulation, what’s with you Americans and wooden homes, no wonder the world is suffering from deforestation 😛

      • Michael Berndtson

        Much of the US is seismically sensitive. Meaning a house could come down upon the occupants like a ton of bricks. So there are building codes and whatnot. An all-brick constructed home is pretty awesome. The walls in my house are about 10 to 12 inches thick. Chicago had mandatory masonry construction after the 1871 fire. It’s changed over the years. Nowadays it’s probably labor cost more than anything besides earthquake zones that keeps brick construction from coming back. It’s still used for facades w/stick structural. Brick was so popular in Chicago and most of northern Illinois because it sits atop clay from about 5 feet to 100 feet below surface.

        • LookingForward

          That’s probably why it’s popular here too.
          It doesn’t have to be brick, make it cement/concrete, it’s a lot sturdier, and if you only do solid walls and foundation with all round minimal metal skeleton, no worries about a ton of bricks falling during an earthquake.
          Besides, labor costs should be cheap too (atleast cheaper then bricks, don’t about wood, Americans tent to build wooden houses very fast), with cement/concrete, since you only have to place a molt and skeleton and por it in.

  • JamesWimberley

    I’m surprised the target is as low as a 20% improvement. Zero net energy buildings are entirely feasible and will become more affordable.

    • Offgridmanpolktn

      Of course net zero buildings are possible and that is probably the long term goal. But to ensure a big change like that you are much more likely of success by breaking it down into smaller more easily achievable steps. It is just simple human nature that is being accommodated to celebrate the completion of each step of a journey rather than concentrate on how much further there is to go.

    • LookingForward

      Does the US have a law about new buildings being zero net?
      My country, Holland, for example, has a new law that all new buildings, incl commercial and residential, from 2020 onward need to be zero net.
      If the US had that too, it would be an even bigger step forward then the better building challenge. You would see a huge move from old houses to new houses, old neighbourhoods could be demolished and rebuild.

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