The effects of climate change are becoming ever more real: a study finds that an ‘extreme heat belt’ will impact over 100 million Americans in the next 30 years. The area, stretching from Texas to the Great Lakes, will experience temperatures above 125 degrees (52 degrees Celsius) during the hottest stretches of the year, according to the study by the climate research group First Street Foundation.
What can homeowners living in this heat belt do to increase the energy efficiency of their homes so that they can be comfortable without going broke?
“There are important upgrades, and they are not as expensive as people think,” says Mark Rayfield, CEO of Saint-Gobain North America and CertainTeed, which has helped shape the building products industry for more than 110 years and is North America’s leading brand of exterior and interior building products, including roofing, siding, fence, decking, railing, trim, insulation, gypsum and ceilings. Saint-Gobain is one of the world’s largest and oldest building products companies, and its North American subsidiary CertainTeed is committed to sustainable building science.
“New homes should have great energy efficiency,” says Lucas Hamilton, manager of Applied Building Science at CertainTeed. “But even if you live in an older house, you can add insulation and it will pay for itself.”
“It’s a big misconception that a zero energy house is more expensive and less good-looking,” Rayfield says. “And, in terms of energy conservation, as well as cost savings, if you work towards making your house energy efficient, you do more for the environment and you save more money than if you trade your six-cylinder car in for an electric vehicle. Sustainability brings a better payback, and you will not have to sacrifice aesthetics.”
He and Hamilton acknowledge that, in the past, sustainability and aesthetics were sometimes at odds. Owners of beautiful old houses with single-pane windows resist replacing them with modern replacements for functional and aesthetic reasons; Rayfield points to modern options both functional and aesthetic.
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“Now we apply window film to ultra-thin glass in a custom-made frame installed on the interior: it allows you to keep the original windows, while acting like advanced double glazing.”
“New polymer sidings look natural and not artificial,” Hamilton adds. “Solar shingles are more efficient than ever and, in many cases, look better than rack mounted solar panels. Much of what you can do is simply not difficult or cost-prohibitive. If you are re-siding, for instance, add an air barrier behind the new insulated siding. And, if you do nothing else, put insulation in the attic: it costs very little and makes an enormous difference.”
Rayfield points out that we are not only in a crisis of global warming, but also in a labor crisis.
“There is a critical shortage of construction labor, so these new materials have to be easy to install.”
He points to labor-saving innovations like interior lap-sided gypsum panels that eliminate the need for fitting, cutting, taping and painting traditional gypsum board.
They agree that the vast differences in state and municipal building codes can leave the homeowner without clear guidance.
“You should be looking for higher standards than local building codes,” says Lucas Hamilton. “LEED Certification and Energy Star are just two nationally recognized certifications that can help you make your house energy efficient, whether it is old or new.”
“Guides to these programs, educational materials and product information are on the CertainTeed website,” Rayfield adds. “We find that consumers are more aware and are looking for eco-friendly products and processes. We all want to save money, we all want to make our houses more efficient and comfortable. Most of all, we want to make the world a better home.”