Invited to present at WREN (World Renewable Energy Network) conference

The WREN Conference invitation came because I was invited to write a chapter in a book on Sustainable Buildings back in 2012. The book (Sustainability, Energy and Architecture: Case Studies in Realizing Green Buildings) was published last year ( The chapter I wrote was ‘Deep Green and Comfortable’, focussing on energy savings to be had by carrying out deep energy retrofits on existing houses.
The paper I’m writing for the conference expands somewhat on that idea, and looks at the missing part in many discussions that I’ve had in the field, with clients, renovators, lenders and other stakeholders: proving the value of deep energy retrofits. Not just for the current homeowner, but for future homeowners and for the municipality/community.
The idea came out of one particularly frustrating discussion with a potential contractor for one of my renovation clients. Note that this was a contractor who was bidding on a job that had already been specified. The client wanted to stay in the 100 year old house (location was spectacular, structure was sound, a phased deep energy retrofit was completely reasonable option). We were recapping the details of phase 1, when the contractor put down his pen and calmly told (my) client that renovating was not the right option. That the cost was likely to be more than 30% of the appraised value of the house, and therefore not a good economic decision.
Then he continued, telling (my) client that their best bet was to go out to the suburbs and buy/build new.
This, I thought, was not cool. The client’s preference — to stay in the house, and the strategy we had landed on — to phase the retrofit over 5 years, was clearly articulated, with modelled energy reductions, projected fuel costs (they were on oil, we were looking at a heat pump after major envelope work) and rough order costings showing payback and ROI. Apparently that didn’t make much of a dint in the contractor’s view, even though he had been briefed on the project and asked to review the design program and ask me any questions before the meeting.
I wondered where he pulled the 30% figure from, politely. It was a ‘rule of thumb’, he told me. I didn’t ask where his thumb had been, but I did ask him to back up the rule of thumb with some concrete information, which never came — neither did the quote.
So then I started thinking about the inherent value of established neighbourhoods with infrastructure vs the cost of greenfield development, and then I started mashing that together with the value of the resources tied up in an existing house, and the cost of retrofit vs. the cost of new construction and I got all jumped up about research and proving the case for deep energy retrofits.
For your entertainment, I’ll be blogging bits and pieces on this over the next few months…WREN conference is in August.