Lee Loftus and Cher Hanusiak: Save energy and the planet with mechanical insulation
Published in The Province newspaper, Sunday April 6, 2014
“Waste not, want not.” — Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790
With Earth Day coming up on April 22, we will hear about “greener” energy efficient buildings and alternative power sources like solar panels. But the simplest and most economical way of saving money and the planet isn’t new — it’s old.
The best way to save energy follows what Benjamin Franklin said — don’t waste it — and the way to do that is through mechanical insulation of pipes and other mechanical systems.
Properly installed mechanical insulation can reduce our carbon footprint, lower greenhouse gas emissions, use less energy, cut costs and pay for itself in a remarkably short period of time.
And with B.C. Hydro rates going up 28 per cent over five years and ever-rising bills for other heating fuel, it’s an opportune time to discuss how individuals and businesses alike can save money by cutting energy consumption — and how government can help too.
The Green Chamber of Commerce B.C., the B.C. Insulators union and the Mechanical Contractors Association of B.C. have come together to promote sustainable, environmentally sound approaches to the challenges businesses face today.
Growing a sustainable economy that embraces people, the planet and profit is the Green Chamber’s mission, while the B.C.
Insulators have helped construct energy-efficient buildings for more than 50 years.
Mechanical insulation is rightly called the one-per-cent solution because it amounts to only one per cent of the construction costs of a new building. When done correctly, mechanical insulation pays for itself in energy savings in record time.
For example, if appropriate mechanical insulation were utilized in a new 25-storey, electrically heated residential apartment building, the annual energy savings would be 320,000 kilowatt hours.
That’s 14 per cent of total energy consumption — an enormous amount in just one year!
And mechanical insulation would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions of carbon dioxide by an amazing 58.8 tonnes annually.
The best part is that the payback period for investing in proper mechanical insulation during construction is estimated at less than 2.7 years, based purely on energy cost savings.
A study by HB Lanarc Consultants commissioned by the B.C. Insulators documented these savings and showed how retrofitting older buildings with proper mechanical insulation also pays for itself in short order.
Energy savings for a four-storey, wood-frame residential building 20 to 40 years old would cover the cost of retrofitted mechanical insulation in less than four years.
There are still more benefits: reduced noise through properly insulated heating and cooling equipment; increased fire prevention and better protection of mechanical systems from fire damage; and eliminating condensation and resulting mould, avoiding expensive repairs.
Lower energy bills, significant greenhouse-gas reductions and a quick return on the costs — the only question is: Why isn’t this happening all over Canada? Fortunately, more people are getting the message, including many B.C. municipalities that have endorsed better mechanical insulation.
Unfortunately, too often corners get cut during construction to reduce the purchase price and as a result, mechanical insulation is often inadequate and improperly installed by untrained workers.
The goal of developers, architects and construction contractors is to sell units, not guarantee lower operating costs — but it’s the end user who would see the energy savings benefits.
What can be done to ensure mechanical insulation is more broadly used as a cost-effective solution?
Utility companies are already very interested and can offer rebates for energy-efficient buildings.
The provincial and federal governments should play a huge role by amending building codes to demand best practices and appropriate installation of effective mechanical insulation, while doing the same for their own buildings.
Homebuyers and businesses can still demand proper mechanical insulation in new buildings or look at retrofits to quickly cut energy costs. This Earth Day it’s the easiest and most economical way to go green every day.
Lee Loftus is business manager of the B.C. Insulators union, local 118. Cher Hanusiak is a director of the Green Chamber of Commerce of B.C.