Expert: Building green Maine’s best bet to save cash

Posted Jan. 26, 2009, at 9:59 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine could become the country’s leader in green building if it adopts innovative materials and emphasizes energy conservation.

Dr. Joe Lstiburek told the more than 150 architects, energy efficiency consultants and contractors attending Monday’s Built Energy Forum 2009 at the Augusta Civic Center that Maine needs to focus on energy conservation for both new and old residences.

“If you want to save energy, fix buildings,” Lstiburek said. “Maine can do this. And then the rest of the country can say, ‘Let’s do Maine.’”

In his keynote speech to the forum, Lstiburek said that with 40 percent of the energy consumed in the country used to heat and cool buildings, Maine needs to reduce its use because energy stocks are dwindling and “because it’s cold” here.

Lstiburek said commercial buildings with their steel superstructures and glass facades waste huge amounts of energy. He said a stone building erected in Ireland 1,000 years ago had an R2 insulation factor. A so-called “green” office tower built in 2005 had the same R2 factor. Glass is the most expensive material used in home construction, he said, and it’s also the most inefficient. Using fewer and better windows not only would reduce construction costs, it also would conserve energy.

“If you want inefficient and expensive, use glass,” Lstiburek said. “I don’t need to do an energy audit. All I need to do is stand on the sidewalk, see all windows and say, ‘Now that’s stupid.’”

Lstiburek is a principal of the Massachusetts-based Building Science Corp. He is a well-known building scientist who investigates building failures and is internationally recognized as an authority on moisture-related building problems and indoor air quality. Lstiburek is the author of numerous books and technical papers on building construction and is an authority on energy efficient construction.

The conference was sponsored by Build Green Maine in partnership with Midcoast Magnet and the Newforest Institute, located in Brooks. Panel discussions were conducted throughout the day by architects, builders, renewable energy suppliers, contractors, suppliers, energy auditors and building performance contractors.

Maine is the most oil-dependent state in the nation, which makes it particularly vulnerable to changes in the cost or disruptions in the supply, according to a press release from the Newforest Institute. Coupled with an aging, inefficient housing stock, it is estimated that the state wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on fuel each year.

Using humor and sarcasm and a slide show to get his points across, Lstiburek had the gathering laughing, nodding in agreement and groaning over his comments. He stressed that energy conservation is the key to energy independence. Lstiburek said it’s possible to reduce energy consumption by half by building more efficient buildings. What would people prefer, he asked, homes 50 percent smaller or homes 50 percent more efficient?

“Make them 50 percent better and we don’t have to change our lifestyle,” he said. “The key to green is conserving energy.”

He added that transportation and housing consume the bulk of the country’s energy and when it comes time for both to compete for shrinking supplies, transportation will come out on top. He said that as the battery hybrid cars of the future demand more electricity, the price for homeowners will rise accordingly.

“The transportation sector will compete with the building community for the same energy,” he said. “Conservation is the key to the good life.”

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