Why do a superinsulated retrofit?
There are three main reasons for contemplating a
superinsulated retrofit: global warming, peak oil / peak natural gas, and price
and security considerations.
1. Energy conservation because of global
housing is about 20% of the U. S. national energy budget. Of household
energy, space heating is roughly 50%, electricity is about 35%, and water
heating is about 15%. We can go with solar or wind energy to take
care of the electric component, but the only way to reduce space heating
for a given building is to insulate. Turning down the thermostat,
wearing a sweater, sealing cracks, etc., will take care of only small
increments of household energy. To really take a whack at it --
reduce by 50% or more -- you have to deal with the basic insulation.
Global warming is a significant threat which literally
threatens the human race. We need to reduce carbon emissions by
80-90% in a few decades. Most homes are heated by natural gas in
North America. It's true that natural gas contributes the least to
global warming of all the fossil fuels, but global warming is a major
event that threatens humans with extinction. We need to reduce use
of natural gas for heating as much as possible, or this 80-90% will not
2. Energy conservation because of peak oil and peak
There's another reason for energy conservation, and that
is that we are faced with declining supplies of natural gas (the main home heating fuel in
the U. S.). (The homes that are heated with oil have to deal with
peak oil, already widely discussed.)
Peak natural gas has already happened in North
America, and unlike oil, natural gas is technically quite difficult to
import. Unless we spend billions or trillions of dollars on infrastructure to
import natural gas, and unless export capacity is expanded overseas, we
face the real possibility of natural gas shortages in a fairly short time,
perhaps 5 to 20 years. For political reasons, it is unlikely
that this infrastructure investment will happen. Even if we do, we may find that we have
invested hugely in a dying infrastructure, as world-wide natural gas is
expected to peak in about 10-15 years or so.
We could of course switch to wood, but
if we want to avoid instant deforestation, we will want to reduce our
wood heating requirements to the minimum anyway as well, so we'd still
need to insulate. (See my discussion of wood under "What
are the alternatives?" to superinsulation.) No matter what
fuel we use short-term or long-term, we will want to insulate our
buildings as much as possible.
3. Price considerations.
At current prices, a superinsulated retrofit makes no
sense whatsoever. A superinsulated retrofit will cost in the region of $30,000 - $50,000 or
more, depending on your situation. For insulation to pay for itself
in 20 years (say), and assuming your retrofit can cut your heating requirements by
2/3 (say), your heating bill would need to be on the order of $3000 a
winter or more, about 10 times more than most people actually pay.
But it is possible that in 5 to 10 years prices will be
this high, and thus it would be justified financially, either because of shortages or because of the threat of human
extinction due to global warming.
Scariest evidence to date: Matt Simmons ends a talk on
peak oil in which he outlines all these dire predictions of how we're
facing declining oil supplies, and then concludes by saying, "and
this doesn't even discuss the situation with respect to natural gas,
which is even more serious for North America." David
Hughes has addressed this question in discussing the "natural gas
If you can't afford to insulate this drastically, that's
a good excuse, but we could afford it, so we did. By doing it
now, you avoid the rush later when the nation panics about the coming