Read My Lips: Energy Efficiency is Here to Stay

This week we are featuring a blog from guest blogger John Mesenbrink.  John is the Editorial Director for Phc News & Plumbing Engineer magazine. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Madison, John has been involved in the publishing industry for the past 15 years, covering such topics as Plumbing and HVACR, Corporate Security, Home Improvement and Energy Efficiency.  You can read more from John at


Living vicariously through my own memories as college student at the University of Wisconsin — Madison, I remember the late-80s, walking to my Geography class, blasting “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by GNR through my new Sony Discman.  I was young, eager to learn, and had just been assigned a 25-page term paper due before the winter holiday break. I had chosen acid rain because, well, it was topical. I was on a mission to rid the world, or reduce at least, these giant sulfur dioxide emitting, coal-burning power plants and their emissions, which were suspected of killing the forests in the Northeast.

It was the late-80s and the army of young minds was positioning the world to become environmentally friendly: Solar energy was still in the social consciousness, the push to reduce fossil fuel burning buildings and cars was gaining momentum, and a general feeling of environmentalism was pervasive.

Fast-forward 20 years and you have that same efficient systems groundswell of support rejuvenated. Terms like “green” and “carbon footprint” have littered this industry’s landscape — in a good way.

Commercial building has USGBC’s LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) program to guide specifiers, builders, designers and contractors in the environmentally friendly direction. What about the homeowner? Where is the residential building’s guide to the green galaxy and environmental bliss? The EPA’s ENERGY STAR and WaterSense programs are great reference points for efficient and water saving products for the home.

It’s not too uncommon to read about commercial LEED projects or large, 4000-sq.-ft.+ residences that are investing in energy efficient systems. But do these systems relate to us and transcend average homeowners? Perhaps not. But let’s take Walmart, for example. They are changing the culture of how department stores think about energy use. In 2005, Walmart announced three broad sustainability goals: to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy; to create zero waste; and to sell products that sustain people and the environment. Earlier this year, the company announced another major step toward its sustainability mission. Walmart CEO Mike Duke announced the company’s goal to eliminate 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the life cycle of products Walmart sells around the world by 2015. This represents one and a half times the carbon growth over the next five years. To understand the scale, 20 million tons is equal to what 3.4 million cars emit in greenhouse gases over one year. Each store includes innovations such as light-activated lavatory systems, solar and wind applications, a fabric duct system and energy efficient HVAC systems, which assist in the reduction of its individual carbon footprint. If Walmart continues to show it is a steward of the environment, then perhaps its customers will follow suit. On a much smaller scale, of course.

My career, and my job in particular, has taken me smack dab in the middle of the energy efficiency push, focusing heavily on mechanical room upgrades and retrofits. It has been estimated that one quarter of all U.S. carbon emissions are related to the residential sector. Relying on a coal-fired power plant to generate electricity is a big chunk of that equation. Do me a favor, go down to your basement — or wherever your mechanical room is situated — and take a peek. You might be amazed that what lies behind those doors could be stunting your green growth, and energy savings.  Some relatively simple upgrades:

  • Furnaces with high AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) ratings
  • ENERGY STAR rated tank & tankless water heaters
  • Energy efficient pumps & circulators with intelligent controls
  • Solar domestic hot water (SDHW) systems
  • Geothermal heating & cooling

I think the perceived downside to green and energy efficient systems is the price tag and the thought of sacrificing comfort. Many homeowners need to be reassured that their initial investment will be substantiated relatively quickly with the ROI. Contractor/homewoner relationships are crucial, and I believe that the contractor has a huge stake in this — to be educated, trained and willing to sell the customer on energy efficiency. It’s here for the taking.

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