Can one house foster systemic change?

A lot needs to change in order to retrofit single-family homes at scale. Contractors must be trained on new ways of doing things. Products need to become more readily available, or available in new geographies. Local policies need to support (rather than hinder) the effort. The real estate market needs to learn how to value — and communicate — energy efficiency. The public needs to be educated on what’s possible.

Here are a few of the ways I hope to utilize this project to foster larger, systemic changes:

  1. Build capacity. There’s nobody doing this type of retrofit in Cincinnati right now. But there are companies who want to learn — who see a market opportunity here. There are contractors willing to be the first to install a new product or system. I would love to work with them and use this project to build their knowledge and capacity. These are future evangelists.
  2. Increase product availability. Some of the products I’m considering are not available locally — whether through-wall ERVs or Passive House windows. I intend to talk with local suppliers about developing relationships with manufacturers.
  3. Improve local policy. The local code needs to change to make this type of retrofit easier. For example, it should allow exterior insulation at the lot line without changes to the property boundary — a change that other cities, like Chicago and New York, have already pioneered. My initial discussions with city officials are unlikely to bear fruit in time for this project, but they may make future projects more practical.
  4. Shift real estate practices. Similarly, I’ve started discussions locally about adopting an “MPG for homes” — a consistent energy rating that would allow prospective homeowners to compare the performance of homes in the same way they can compare cars or appliances. Again, this conversation will take some time, but this project can be a catalyst and real-world example that helps move the discussion forward.
  5. Educate the public. I plan to maximize the educational potential of this retrofit. This blog is part of that effort. I also intend to participate in green home tours and explore publication opportunities.
  6. Educate practitioners (current and future). Other practitioners also need to know what’s possible and how it’s done. I plan to work with local professional organizations and universities to involve other professionals and students.

I welcome other ideas of how this project could be catalytic of deeper, more systemic changes. Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Published by Carl Sterner

Carl is the Director of Design & Sustainability at Sol Design + Consulting. His work is an effort to create an ecologically sustainable, livable, joyous, and humane world.

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