Back in June, 2008 I wrote to Tom D’Errico, the Reformer’s editor, to ask if he might have interest in a weekly column on energy. I thought it would be fun to write a regular column on a topic that I’ve focused so much time on over the past 35-plus years. I was pretty confident that I could come up with enough topics to crank out a year’s worth of columns, and I thought some of the Reformer’s readers would appreciate such a column -- geeky as it might be.
Somewhat to my surprise, Tom said sure, and I’ve been writing this weekly column ever since -- except during an eight-month period in 2011 when I was on sabbatical from BuildingGreen and needing the freedom to travel and focus on launching a non-profit organization, the Resilient Design Institute.
This is my 273rd column. At about 900 words per column, that’s nearly 250,000 words (20 percent more words than Herman Melville’s Moby Dick).
While there is lots more that could be said about energy, I’m feeling a need to move on. With spring here I’m wanting to devote my weekends to creating the farm in Dummerston that I’ve alluded to now and then in my columns.
I also want more time for other creative endeavors. Writing the column has been a regular part of my weekend these past five-plus years -- just ask Jerelyn! Usually is isn’t a huge amount of time -- typically one to three hours (sometimes considerably more) -- but it takes a lot to come up with topics that can be presented in a way that is understandable to a lay audience and also informative to a building professional audience when I post the columns as blogs on BuildingGreen.com after they come out in the Reformer.
I’m also wanting to devote more of my creative energy to writing about resilient design and build more of a reader base on ResilientDesign.org. I’ve been wanting to post articles more regularly on ResilientDesign.org, but I just don’t find the time. I need to change that.
I’ll miss the feedback and questions
In saying goodbye to my Energy Solutions column I will miss the many positive comments I hear from readers who have appreciated the column. I’ll even (sort of) miss the calls and e-mail queries I’ve gotten pretty regularly since starting the column. Many of those start with something like, "Alex, I’ve been thinking of adding insulation to my attic ..." or "our boiler is on the fritz and we’re thinking of ..."
I consider myself an educator, so I like being able to help people out. I also like the fact that those people I’m reaching -- either through the column or through follow-up calls -- are reducing their energy consumption, contributing less to climate change, and in many other ways helping create a better environment.
But I won’t mind dialing that back a bit.
Parting thoughts on energy
If I can leave you with a few take-away thoughts on energy it is these:
-- Start with energy conservation. While not as glamorous as solar panels on the roof or a plug-in hybrid in the driveway, energy conservation is usually the smartest choice. Add insulation to your house so that your furnace or boiler doesn’t have to work as hard; build smaller so you’re heating and cooling less space; combine driving trips or ride a bicycle to reduce the need for your car; wash your clothes in cold water. A kilowatt-hour or gallon of heating oil saved is usually cheaper than one that is consumed even with the highest efficiency.
-- Implement passive solutions. When it comes to house design, rely on passive solar design, passive cooling strategies (such as overhangs to shade windows), and natural daylighting strategies to reduce the daytime needs for electric lighting.
-- Install high-efficiency equipment. Once loads have been reduced and passive systems have been incorporated to the extent possible, install high-efficiency mechanical systems (furnaces, boilers, water heaters, lighting equipment, appliances), water-conserving plumbing fixtures (low-flow showerheads can dramatically reduce water heating costs), and consider fuel economy with your next car purchase.
-- Rely on renewable energy. Most renewable energy systems are still fairly expensive, so it makes sense to practice conservation first. But then, by all means, look to solar-electric (photovoltaic) modules for your electricity. Wind energy only makes economic sense on a larger scale -- usually with off-shore or ridge-top installations of multiple, large turbines -- but in the right location wind power is the most cost-effective renewable power-generation option we have today. On-farm methane generation, biomass co-generation systems, and technologies like tidal power and wave power should all be considered in our efforts to move away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels.
It has been a lot of fun to write this column, and maybe I’ll be back at it after a while. But, meanwhile, those interested in following my musings and articles can either sign up to get e-mail notices when I post articles on ResilientDesign.org, or sign up for my Twitter feed (where I let followers know about articles I’ve published or posted). Archives of most of my columns can be found as the Energy Solutions blog on BuildingGreen.com or GreenBuildingAdvisor.com.
Alex Wilson is the founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and the Resilient Design Institute (www.resilientdesign.org), both based in Brattleboro. Send comments or suggestions for future columns to firstname.lastname@example.org.