Efficiency… what efficiency?
Hayden LePage shares his thoughts on the issues surrounding the inefficiencies of efficiency.
As an industry, we’ve been fooling ourselves for far too long and I’m surprised none of those consumer affairs TV shows have cottoned onto the con.
The culture of energy efficiency has been used by salesmen as a fashion accessory to provide an image of keeping up with society’s conscience and I think many people are quite happy to go along with it, as long as they can claim the moral high ground over the next guy.
The problem is, we honestly begin to believe our own rhetoric, whether it’s at the sharp end where we’re selling people into a 5, 6 or 7 star premises or renovating and using the latest and greatest aluminium double-glazed windows, so we can say that we’re a responsible green retailer. This is all aided at the planning and building end, where energy efficiency is another box to tick on the permits by remembering to put a draft stopper on the loo fan or using LED lighting – not that anyone believes the 100,000+ hours performance test and lifetime guarantees on the packaging.
It’s become fashion, as long as it’s cheap, easy and offers a promise.
If we were truly concerned about environmental performance, we’d take a more serious view of life-cycle assessment and the actual cost of energy and other inputs that go into making a product in the first place.
This is a subject that has kept the various material sector lobby groups in a job and everyone seems to have a great story to tell.
Without deliberately picking on anyone, take clay bricks for example. In my opinion, clay bricks are a non-renewable recourse mined from the earth, moulded and then baked in a kiln at temperatures over 1200°C for something like 24 hours. Think about how much energy it takes to power a kiln for 24 hours at 1200 degrees!
And do they add structural strength to the average brick veneer home? Do they insulate your home at all? Are they quick and easy to build? Are they easy to transport? I don’t think so. And the same goes for roof tiles, why on earth build a frame structure that needs to take an immense weight to carry tonnes of tiles, just to hold off the rain. I think there are far better alternatives.
I guess its tradition, we’re stuck in our ways, and as long as we’re okay with believing whatever comes out of a salesman’s mouth, we’ll be lagging behind in the energy stakes. And I reckon the rest of the developed world must be laughing at us!
At this point I don’t see any statutory bodies too concerned if I skimp on the insulation or have unacceptable gaps around windows and doors. In fact the client I’m building for generally doesn’t have a clue about the principles behind living in their new home efficiently, because the government seems happy to pretend to be seen as doing something – while in reality – no-one gives a hoot.
As with all revolutions, society will adjust once they’re educated but at this point in time, society’s idea of energy efficiency is choosing green suppliers and snappy builders and the problem with that is simple – no-one is keeping them in check and calling them out.
Energy efficiency ratings have nothing to do with how little energy is used, but rather how effectively we waste it!
I see proof of that argument every day.
It’s one thing for me to build an energy efficient house off my own bat and buy double glazed windows that are meant to be energy-rated to 5 star. But I’m an inquisitive guy and so I’ve looked at them with my thermal imaging camera on a cold night to find the inside and outside panes of glass being the same temperature. I’ve also found the one-piece aluminium frame to be heat sinking the internal heat straight outside.
Obviously the space in between the glass is neither vacuumed nor filled with an inert gas, after all, who is going to check that? But this is nothing compared to the design of the doors having a gaping 18mm gap underneath to be sealed with a bit of factory supplied brush seal which I can see through.
The reason this comes about is that too many suppliers are jumping on the band wagon of energy efficiency with all their marketing might, knowing full well that no one is going to check the results of their claims. After all, when was the last time you really checked a manufacturers’ claims?
My lack of faith in the performance of so many products led me some time ago to create my own ‘verification’ tool kit, to satisfy me and to prove to my customers that what I say is what they get.
Yes, it took some time to put the kit together but I regard it as a great investment that separates me from the next bloke who walks through my client’s door.
Thus, in the interests of lifting the overall standard of the industry, I’m pleased to share what’s inside the kit and what the contents and their applications reveal to my client and I.
1: SPL (SOUND PRESSURE LEVEL) METER: used for recording before and after sound levels or if you want to test sound penetration through party walls.
2: INSPECTION CAMERA: used for checking inside wall cavities for problems shown by the other equipment.
3: MOISTURE METER: once the infrared camera has picked up a cold spot in the corner of a room I’ll jab the moisture meter in there to test the percentage of moisture present.
4: FLIR THERMAL IMAGING CAMERA: This baby visualises surface temperature just like the Predator. It shows missing insulation, thermal bridges, damp spots, drafts, basically anywhere that energy is going to waste. Contact Bret Jones from ALSTOM MSc for more details: www.alstommsc.com.au
5: 4 CHANNEL DATA LOGGING THERMOMETER: I use this to evaluate energy loss in building elements. I’ll put one of each of the four thermocouples on the inside and outside of a double glazed window glass as well as the inside and outside environments and leave them over night to track how the thermal energy moves through the materials over a set period of time.
6: LIGHT METER: it is one thing to believe the manufacturers’ claims but to make sure you will comply with the minimum light levels required in commercial applications you need to make sure the lights are up to the task. Particularly handy to do before you purchase and install 400 of them.
7: ANEMOMETER: used for balancing air conditioning systems by measuring the output speed at each register or in a commercial environment to check the air speed out of an exhaust canopy duct system and/or fan.