A lively group came together at Imagine Nation on Thursday for our monthly meet-up on Green Building and Energy Efficiency. The group spanned the fields of architecture, real estate, finance, concerned citizens, and some Lord of the Rings aficionados that dropped some references (which this author didn’t fully understand).Green building can sometimes be seen as a daunting and overwhelming topic, especially considering its potential for emissions reductions. Residential and commercial buildings comprise 52% of our community carbon footprint; the opportunity is massive, but it can be difficult to understand which point of intervention will be the most impactful.
Where are the “pinch points,” we asked? What changes can we make that will ripple outwards and push the built environment towards a net zero future? The conversation was wide ranging, but ultimately we coalesced around the following ideas because of their potential to drive change in the building industry:
What if when every home was posted on the market, it included a transparent, easy-to-read label that told you about the home’s energy usage, the materials used to build the home, and what you would need to do if you wanted to make your new home more energy efficient? If you were selling a home, how would knowing your efficiency score change what you did before you listed your property? Conversely, if you were looking to buy a home, how would a label factor into your consideration of multiple properties? The group was very excited by the potential of this idea to create market-driven change, starting from a point of voluntary disclosure and possibly moving towards a requirement to include a label in every sale, as is the case in Portland, Oregon.
The creation of a label program spoke to Thursday’s broader discussion of which sector of the building stock we should focus our efforts. While Missoula is certainly growing and new houses are being built, older structures (pre-1980) make up a much greater percentage of our energy usage, and they are also ripe for cost-effective, energy efficiency improvements that could make a big difference. As a community, we’re getting better at educating homeowners and renters so that they are aware of the potential for energy efficiency and motivated to take action, but we’re lacking a robust workforce to evaluate, advise, and implement the steps needed to move an older home away from “energy hog” status. A few programs that we love from across the country include Oregon Energy Trust and Efficiency Vermont, both of which benefit from strong support from their state government and utility.
Finally, we can’t forget that energy efficiency is also a social justice issue and that green buildings do not exist in a vacuum. Low-income renters and owners are more likely to find themselves in older, more affordable units (often considered naturally occurring affordable housing or NOAH). Older housing is abundant in Missoula, but it often brings cold drafts in the winter, hot air in the summer, and high utility bills throughout the year. These higher bills can lead to energy insecurity, a situation when a household has received a utility shut-off notice for failure to pay bills, foregone a basic necessity like food or medicine in order to pay utility bills, or opted to keep their home at an unhealthy temperature in order to reduce energy bills.
Reducing emissions in our building stock has major implications for human health, job creation, and creating a more equitable Missoula. If you want to join the conversation, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.