Preacher of Housing Sustainability

The founder of Architecture 2030 talked to Professional Remodeler about the 2030 Challenge and the opportunities for remodelers as the government offers more incentives to homeowners for reducing energy consumption.

January 31, 2010

Edward Mazria

Author of what's known as the bible of solar design, "The Passive Solar Energy Book," internationally known architect Edward Mazria today devotes his time to preaching the gospel of sustainable design. The founder of Architecture 2030 talked to Professional Remodeler about the 2030 Challenge and the opportunities for remodelers as the government offers more incentives to homeowners for reducing energy consumption.

Q: You've been involved with green building design for more than 35 years. What are some of the most significant changes you've seen, particularly as they relate to design, materials and building codes?

A: In the late '60s, '70s and early '80s, because of the first energy crisis, we had an interest in developing buildings and systems that interacted with the natural environment to reduce energy consumption. You had a tremendous amount of research, development, simulation — all sorts of activity. It was very exciting, almost like exploring a new frontier. When energy prices dropped through the floor in the mid-80s, the government cut and disbanded most of that research and the country went back to business as usual. ... Now, you have some real issues that aren't likely to go away. We're seeing a resurgence of interest, with new product development, design development and new technologies being looked at and tried. We have the Department of Energy and labs with a lot more money and a mandate to reduce consumption, especially of foreign sources; a mandate from the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions; and international cooperation between countries.

Q: Give Professional Remodeler readers a good working definition of the 2030 Challenge.

A: The 2030 Challenge was issued in 2006. It basically called for a 50 percent reduction in the energy consumption of the average for a building type in an area. Beginning this year, we'd like to see a 60 percent reduction, all the way to 2030, when we're calling for new buildings and major renovations to move to carbon neutral.

We want building design to be as energy-efficient as possible. We can reduce energy consumption from 70 to 80 percent purely from design strategies. If you were going to do a major overhaul and gut a building, then we would say you have a great opportunity to implement conservation strategies to reduce your consumption by 50 percent.

When you're doing a new building or major renovation, it's relatively inexpensive because you could get huge reductions from just design strategies like shading windows in the summer, and appropriate use of materials and equipment.

Q: Do you think the goals of the 2030 Challenge are attainable in that time frame?

A: I don't see any physical or structural impediments. We have the technology to do carbon-neutral construction. Given that we have 20 years to get there, what you think about are the costs, and costs come down as they move into the marketplace.

Q: The impact of the existing housing stock on energy consumption can't be overstated. What role do you see remodelers playing in achieving the goals of Architecture 2030?

A: It's huge. The issues we're going through on a local and global scale — neither the economy nor climate change — can't be solved unless the building sector plays a leading role. They have a huge opportunity to shape the course of history and that's incredibly exciting. We see all sorts of innovation that makes this the most exciting of times. It puts people working in remodeling in a very special position of affecting change. Don't shy away from change, but embrace it. That's where the opportunity is.

Q: Let's talk about those opportunities.

A: Today, if we look at incentives, most of the incentives are for renovation rather than new construction. There are tax credits for all sorts of things, from efficient windows to insulation. There are credits for solar hot water heating, photovoltaics; there's an awful lot at this particular point in time for renovation. That's expected to increase dramatically in the next few months. ... Looking at the federal government, what we see being advocated is up to 50 percent tax credit on certain renovation and efficient products that you use in a renovation or remodel, from washing machines to windows and doors and insulation and high-efficiency boilers, hot water heaters, that kind of thing.

There are a lot of things being talked about to generate jobs. We're seeing this huge stock of housing that could be more efficient and trying to incentivize construction jobs, which is the hardest-hit industry. We have 1.8 million construction workers out of a job, and those are the ones we know about. If you look at our housing stock, there's a huge opportunity to put them back to work.

Q: If remodelers want to zero in on systems and components that will have the biggest impact to reduce their clients' energy consumption, where should they put their efforts?

A: First, look at design issues. Those are the easiest to accomplish. For example, if you have unshaded west glass and you're in a warm climate, your air conditioning bills will be huge. A simple awning, for example, could reduce energy costs and create more comfortable conditions inside the building. The second place to focus is cost trade-offs. Costs change daily for different products. Look at where the tax credits are and install more efficient equipment and products. You might look at better insulation, glazing with certain shading coefficient, low-e coatings that have high heat retention, and look at windows with thermal break, for instance.

Q: Educationally, what do remodelers need to be learning right now as it relates to sustainable building practices?

A: I think there's a slight misconception where the training emphasis needs to happen. If electricians are given drawings, they follow the drawings. Plumbers follow drawings, mechanical installers follow mechanical drawings. The folks we need to train are the designers, the auditors, the inspectors — that is where the training needs to be rather than someone who installs a roof.

For remodelers, they need to be learning about the fundamentals of energy consumption, passive heating and cooling systems, natural ventilation systems, window location, shading, materials — even color has a huge impact. They also need to understand the current pricing and what incentives are out there.

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