Skip to Primary Navigation Skip to Primary Content Skip to Footer Navigation

Green New Deal and Buildings

By:
Edward A. Reid Jr.
Posted On:
Mar 5, 2019  at  at 7:00 AM
Category
Climate Change

The principal energy efficiency thrust of the “Green New Deal” is "upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification".

Building Green analyzedThe Challenge of Existing Homes: Retrofitting for Dramatic Energy Savings” several years ago. The residential sector includes approximately 125 million dwelling units, including approximately 85 million single family detached structures; and accounts for approximately 20% of US energy consumption.

Intelligent choices regarding building envelope characteristics, window and door choices, appliance and equipment choices can make large differences in building energy consumption, typically at relatively modest cost. Retrofitting existing buildings of any type is far more challenging and expensive.

Building retrofits are an exercise in “Broken Window Economics”, since functional components such as windows and doors, appliances and equipment are being removed and replaced with more efficient equipment before the ends of their useful lives. Improving the insulation in existing structures is also frequently very difficult and expensive. Additional attic insulation and installation of insulation over crawl spaces is relatively straightforward, as is adding insulation to uninsulated walls and replacing caulking and weather stripping. However, adding insulation to walls which are already insulated, though not optimally, can be both very expensive and relatively ineffective. Adding insulation to existing building slabs is typically prohibitive.

The intent of the GND is to accomplish what Building Green refers to as a major energy retrofit, which they estimated would incur an average cost of approximately $50,000 per dwelling unit. Accomplishing a major energy retrofit of 125 million dwelling units in the 10-year time horizon suggested by the GND would cost approximately $6 trillion, assuming the availability of sufficient building materials and sufficient skilled labor to complete the retrofits. The number of dwellings to be retrofitted each year would be an order of magnitude greater than the number of such retrofits being performed each year today.

There are approximately 5.6 million commercial buildings in the US, containing approximately 87 billion square feet of floor space. These buildings consume approximately 18% of all US energy. The average commercial building is approximately 7 times the area of the average residential dwelling.  Applying this ratio to the major energy retrofit cost for the average dwelling suggests that accomplishing a major energy retrofit for these buildings would cost approximately $2 trillion, again assuming the availability of sufficient materials and skilled labor to accomplish the retrofits.

Retrofits of industrial facilities could only be analyzed on an industry by industry basis, since the structures involved vary so greatly, as does the process equipment in use at these facilities. Such an analysis is beyond the scope of this commentary. However, US industry consumes approximately 33% of total US energy consumption, so major energy retrofits would be essential to achieving the energy consumption reduction goals of the GND. The costs could easily approach $10 trillion, assuming that the required alternative energy use technologies and equipment were even available for application.