The case for green retrofits in 2009- A call to action


Homeowners have been remodeling their homes to:

  • improve the aesthetics
  • increase space
  • make the home more kid-friendly
  • or to raise their quality of life.

The 1970s were a wake up call that the US was becoming too dependent on foreign oil. As long as the oil embargo lasted Americans were interested in reducing their energy use and retrofitting their homes. The US Department of Energy created a solar program and researched how to reduce building energy use. I was privileged to be part of that process. We knew then how to reduce energy in homes to the extent that if we had kept building more energy efficient and solar homes we would have saved the equivalent of the amount of oil we import from the middle east by today.

Alas, as oil prices came down and life returned to “normal” the interest in energy efficient homes went away. In 1985 the tax credits for solar expired and the solar industry withered on the vine. The Europeans and the Japanese took up the cause and continued to reduce energy use in all sectors and are the global leaders today. We are just waking up again.

Fossil Fuel Cannot Power Our Lifestyle

As a society we now find ourselves at the same crossroad only it is much more real this time. The oil companies are telling us we have already used ½ of the known oil reserves on the planet. The second half is deeper underground, further out to sea or more chemically complex like the tar sands in Alberta. All that adds up to inevitably more expensive oil. We will never run out, it will just become too expensive to burn. Oil is just the bell weather. All other fossil fuels follow the price of oil. We are now a net importer of natural gas and the global demand for coal, especially from the Chinese, is driving the price up. Once we account for climate change impacts from burning fossil fuels, globally we will realize that we can’t bet our futures on fossil fuels to power our lifestyles.

Our country made a decision in November 2008 that it was time for a change. We have placed great hope in Obama and his administration to help us get out of the myriad problems we face globally. At the center of this challenge is energy. There is a lot of talk about the new “green” economy. Whether it is renewable energy, green jobs, green buildings or recycled content paper, there is a new imperative to turn to the road less taken at this particular cross road. That means all of us.

All Politics is Local

I lived in Washington DC for 16 years. That is long enough to know that Washington doesn’t change things. WE change things. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is a daily decision by each American. This is particularly true for our homes. We know how to reduce our energy use by 50% in each home without spending and arm and a leg. We have 120 million homes to retrofit to become more energy efficient while reducing our monthly cost of living. I call this “futureproofing” your home.

Only by retrofitting our homes, one at a time, will we start to stem the hemorrhaging of $700 billion per year we are sending to foreign counties to feed our oil addiction. One house at a time turns into one neighborhood at a time. Neighborhood by neighborhood we turn our communities around and begin to disengage from the lost tax revenue that spending money on energy creates. A dollar not spent on energy gets spent on books, dinners out, our kid’s supplies and toys. This in turn becomes sales tax revenue for our communities and pays for firemen, policemen and the civil servants that make our lives possible. As each community starts to get healthier again, community by community we improve our state’s self-reliance. State by state we change our nation. This is the only way change happens.

Washington DC can inspire and pump borrowed money into the economy, but it is us and our families that make change sustainable. Within a year of entering World War II, 40% of America’s produce was grown in “Victory Gardens”. Families across the country turned their yards into gardens and it is what kept America fed. There was no federal program mandating people to do that. It was just the right thing to do and American spirit and ingenuity allowed our parent’s generation to endure the war. We turned auto plants into tank and aircraft factories and became the supplier to the allied forces for hardware and equipment. We know as a country how to make rapid changes. Our parents and grand parents remember. It is literally in our genes.

Now is the time to take on this new green initiative. If we each do something, as small as it may seem, and millions of us do it, we can start to turn the tide. It emboldens others to do the same and supports Washington’s initiatives to get this country back on its feet. There is no time to lose and each month that goes by makes it harder to accomplish this monumental feat of weaning ourselves off of our fossil fuel addiction.

Come explore our website to find out how to take your first steps into energy independence.

David Johnston