Linda Wigington of Affordable Comfort, Inc. spoke at the recent 3rd North American Passive House Conference about something she calls “Deep Energy Reduction Retrofits”. A Deep Energy Reduction Retrofit project includes all the measures needed to cut 70%+ of a building’s energy consumption.

Most people in the sustainable building industry now agree that we need these kinds of energy goals in order to curb the energy use-related environmental pollution and CO2 emissions from the building sector significantly enough to achieve true sustainability.

Deep Energy Reduction Retrofit projects will typically include more insulation, better windows and doors, and likely a new or enhanced mechanical system. While that may seem like a lot, it can potentially be done without changing the layout or interior finishes much at all, therefore keeping cost to a minimum. If you start with a building that needs new siding and windows, you can essentially eliminate this cost from the deep energy retrofit budget, as it is part of the ongoing maintenance the building needs anyways. This is when Deep Energy Reduction is most affordable. In other words, you buy or own a house with obsolete mechanical system, shot siding (roofing) and windows, and you are in the optimal position to do an affordable Deep Energy Reduction Project. I am starting to advise people to consider this when purchasing a used home.

You may notice that I have not mentioned embodied energy, green building materials, or improved indoor environmental quality at all. It is my assumption that a best practice management approach goes along with any Deep Energy Reduction Retrofit project. The designer should be aware of both the energy consumption potential, as well as the necessary “greening” potential. I find that a lot of the discussion in the industry is still focused around what I call “surface greening”—meaning putting in more earth-friendly materials. In the greater scheme of things, and while this is a proper approach, green building materials and finishes alone cannot help overome the energy challenge we are facing today. It is therefore imperative to analyze each building’s potential, and put together a package that offers true sustainability and long-term value to the client. Anything short of that will likely result in a “sunk investment”, that will effectively prevent the current owner, or future owners from giving the building the make-over it needs to overcome energy obsolescence.

The duty of a building designer is not just to the client, it is also to the society as a whole.

Deep Energy Reduction Retrofits do not require Passive House standard. As a Passive House Consultant however, I will likely use tools and ideas derived from Passive House for your Deep Energy Reduction Retrofit project, which means that you will benefit from the knowledge of the arguably best building energy standard today, even if you are not building a house from scratch.

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