Wintertime brings good and bad news

Posted Oct. 22, 2010, at 10:05 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:47 p.m.

Winter is coming and there is some good news:

• The concept of superinsulation is becoming more pervasive. Finally, builders and developers realize that energy costs are really an issue. We will be seeing many more homes that offer net-zero energy costs that will cost no more than conventional homes.

• The cost of solar electricity has reached a point where it will be part of net-zero homes. There are many manufacturers that are offering solar photovoltaics at costs that are around a dollar a watt. At this cost, it will be impossible to ignore the advantages.

• Energy audits are becoming readily available to most Mainers. There is no reason to have an older home that is an energy hog.

• Mathews Brothers in Belfast is gearing up to manufacture a new window that will be rated R-6 to R-7.5. This will not be an inexpensive window, but will be more competitively priced than similar high performance windows today. It is great to see such innovation in our backyard.

• New IBC building and energy codes will push these issues into the mainstream.

• Shawnee Steps has an option of a built-in electric snowmelt system — BRAVO!! It is about time.

Of course, there is still some bad news:

• There seem to be more weird energy scams out there than ever — from special paint that saves energy (no, it doesn’t) to electric radiant heaters that are being touted by TV home improvement guys who use carefully chosen words to confuse the issue. (They are no better than a standard electric heater.)

• Green building and green everything has me seeing red. We have seen everything but SUVs being touted as green. And I am sure someone will do it soon. Common sense should be the new green.

• I frequent a lot of energy-related websites and forums. It is a never-ending amazement to me how many experts have appeared on the scene in the past few years. Question who you are listening to and what they are spouting — even me!

• I get nervous when the company that does an energy audit is also the company that will do the energy retrofit work. This is extremely convenient for the consumer, but where is the oversight in the equation? If you use an all-in-one enterprise, I think it is appropriate to ask for another audit with a blower door fan and thermal imaging to compare the before and after results. It still seems prudent to get competitive pricing. And a follow-up audit seems like a good selling point. This protects the consumer and is great reassurance.

• We seem to have an ever-expanding list of biomass and wood-based fuels coming into the marketplace. Many of these fuels are like processed cheese to me. They are marginally tasty but are perhaps needlessly overprocessed. I still wonder why we are not seeing some savvy entrepreneur developing the chunked wood business. Fist-sized wood pieces that are produced from stick wood would be simpler to handle and dry, and they would burn better. Maybe this is just a fantasy on my part, but it seems like a very simple way to make stick wood more manageable.

And in conclusion, perhaps the best news is that the firewood is dry and I avoided painting the outside of the house for another year.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329.

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