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Beyond the Savings

We can all relate to the feeling of sitting next to an old window in winter. Despite the furnace roaring, and heat brushing your ankles, you cannot help but feel chilled. Comfort depends upon the combination of all the temperatures around you.

If your old window is cold, the same 35 degrees as it is outside. The furnace is blowing hot air in an attempt to keep everything at an even 68 degrees, but the air is donating heat to the uninsulated walls, the windows, and the holes you cannot see. Heat flows like a liquid and unfortunately for many homes in Portland, it’s like living in a leaky bucket.

The same home has an alternative destiny.

Air seal the perimeters and insulate the ceiling, walls, and floors. All of a sudden, that same heat has a change of heart. You can relax in comfort because everything is the same temperature. The air is cold outside but there is a built-in resistance, and the heat will stay inside instead of trying to warm your yard too.

Comfort is one of many non-energy benefits of having an energy efficient home. Putting a price on comfort is challenging, but at the very least it deserves more attention. Furthermore, comfort can quickly escalate to safety concerns for vulnerable populations who may be sensitive to extreme temperatures. Energy efficiency has long been beholden to “cost-effective” shackles. The benefits to tenants beyond reductions in utility bills are too often overlooked when investments in energy efficiency are evaluated, not to mention contributions to reducing climate change contributing carbon emissions.

The belief that everyone deserves a safe, healthy, and efficient home is core to our work at Community Energy Project, because we’ve seen first-hand the benefits to our clients. Increased comfort is the number one improvement our clients cite after upgrades to their homes. The house stays warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

We need to distance ourselves from the dogma that we will only insulate if it pays itself back in energy savings alone. Instead, it is time to focus on comfort, health, safety, and carbon. Oregon’s electricity comes from a mix of energy sources including over over 30% from coal*. In order to meet climate change and decarbonization targets, efficiency is a necessary component to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Households have huge technical potential for energy savings. The results of over 8,000 Home Energy Scores in Portland in 2018 reveal that on average, our homes waste 30% of their energy usage on inefficiencies. The right combination of improvements would reduce energy demand and thus result in fewer carbon emissions, lower utility rates, and better air quality for everyone.

Author: Peter Kernan, Program Director



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