Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ultra-efficient retrofits: the next frontier

I used to commute downtown to work, and would get on the El next to a freight line.  On that line every morning ran trains with car after coal car full of coal.  They were probably heading for the State Line Generation Plant, built in the '20's under order of Sam Insull.  That old plant, allegedly impossible to retrofit with advanced pollution control technology, would burn that coal to send us power, along with sulfur dioxide and airborne mercury, not to mention the devastation it wrought on Lake Michigan.  It hurt to think of my son and daughter breathing and swimming in the poison.  Then my commute took me through Chicago's West Side, full of old uninsulated masonry buildings.

You know where this is headed:  I was traveling through a huge opportunity that would have direct results on the health of my children and our local habitat.   And this isn't limited to impoverished sections of the West Side--Oak Park is full of uninsulated houses as well.  Every old suburb or city is.  We have three impediments to rapid efficiency improvements: public education (think of how active the window replacement companies are--we need that for insulation and air sealing), a depressed housing market (little equity to draw on), and lack of financial incentives.

I have three projects (last year's, this year's, and next year's) to share in upcoming posts: a retrofit/addition in Geneva, which went from a HERS 175 (approx.) to 62; a retrofit/addition in Oak Park which will get to a HERS of about 53; and a Passive House retrofit in Chicago (HERS not yet calculated, probably around 25).