Home Energy Performance: Acting for the Future

Reader Contribution by Tim Snyder

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This saying has been used many times and with many variations since 1905, when it first appeared in a book written by George Santayana. The Spanish poet’s warning is as true today as it was over a century ago, and this saying is worth dusting off and applying to our current state of affairs. Consider the following details which will one day be part of our past history.

Extreme winter. We may not all agree on the issue of climate change, but there’s no doubt about the devastating effects of the extreme winter weather we’ve been enduring. Whether you live in Brooklyn, N.Y., or Bowling Green, Ohio, you’ve struggled with heavy snowfalls, frigid temperatures and the unanticipated extra cost of staying warm. For many households, the good news about surviving this arctic-grade winter (“Thank God we’ve got heating fuel!”) goes right along with the bad (“We can’t afford to keep burning fuel at this rate.”). Before another winter arrives, we need to improve insulation levels and upgrade heating systems so that we’re better prepared. 

Uncertain fuel supplies. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, we import 50 to 60 percent of the oil that we use every day. Some of our oil suppliers (Canada, for example) are friendly countries with stable governments. But the same can’t be said for oil-rich countries in Africa and the Middle East who account for nearly 40 percent of total oil imports. In these parts of the world, political stability (and friendliness) are diminishing steadily. It’s clear that our well-being as a nation depends on reducing the amount of foreign fossil fuel we consume. It’s an issue that impacts every family’s financial security as well as our national security.

Climbing oil prices. We all know the math: As political instability in oil-producing countries increases, so does the price of oil. But there’s another factor that’s driving oil prices up: increased demand. China’s rapid industrial development, followed closely by that of India, puts increasing pressure on global oil supplies. More than ever, the U.S. is competing with other nations for fossil fuels. It’s no longer a question of “if” oil prices will climb to $150 per barrel and higher; it’s just a matter of when. 

The good news is that we can work our way out of this risky situation. We know that heating, cooling and operating our buildings is responsible for 40 percent of total energy expenditures in this country. That’s a huge percentage. But we also know how to test, evaluate and improve buildings so that energy use can be cut dramatically. Our future depends a great deal on what we are able to learn from our past. Improving home energy performance is one of the smartest investments any family can make. And if we multiply the impact of these improvements across the country, we’ll be a lot stronger and more secure in the face of climate change, price increases and political upheavals.