Worldwatch study: insulation sellers thrive as energy leaks cost more

Gas-guzzling houses must go! That hammering down the' block may be your neighbor insulating. Does your attic have a "thermal leak?" Sale of insulating fiber is one of the fastest growing businesses in the country today.

These and others are conclusions in a 60-page pamphlet issued by Worldwatch Institute here noting spectacular activity since builders and owners realized that homes and offices built when oil was $2 a barrel will be standing when oil hits $50 a barrel.The world is in the midst of an unprecedented housing boom, says Christopher Flavin, author of "Energy and Architecture" ($2, Worldwatch Institute), and 80 percent of today's buildings will still be around in the year 2000. Most of them leak energy.

Socrates noted that a house looking south gets the sunlight, and Mr. Flavin notes today that because houses and offices often face the wrong way, and because they aren't insulated, because they have structural defects, "the world's buildings consume billions of dollars worth of fuel unnecessarily each year which fairly simple design changes could have eliminated."

Suddenly, skyrocketing oil prices have made climate-sensitive architecture cost effective, and an extraordinary takeoff of building redesign appears to be under way. With little extra expenditure at the start, says the study, the new models can often reduce fuel bills 50 percent:

"For instance, a south-facing window costs no more than one that faces north, and a concrete floor that can store heat is cost-competitive with a wooden one. Options such as using 2-by-6 inch wall studs rather than 2-by-4s to allow space for extra insulation, or employing triple-glazed windows or night shades add only marginally to building costs."

In the US today, the study records, there are only 20,000 "passive solar houses" (meaning most of the heating, cooling, and lighting requirements are supplied by sunlight, shading, and natural ventilation). A reasonable goal would be 5 million such climate-sensitive structures in place by 1990. This would save the nation 5 million barrels of oil a day and would help replace structures in the cities "that will simply be too expensive to use in 20 year's time."

It is the theme of the study that the revulsion against gasguzzling cars that is revolutionizing America's auto industry is beginning in the building industry.

Fuel requirements of buildings in Sweden, the report says, are 25 percent lower than in North America despite a harsher winter.

Even the Pilgrim fathers, the study says, knew the value of solar heating. "The early setters in New England built 'salt box' houses that were carefully oriented to face the south. They were two-storied dwellings with most of the windows on the front, and a long, sloping roof on the north to provide protection from winter winds. It is an astonishingly sensible design for very cold climates and has been undergoing a revival in the '70s."

Heating, cooling, and lighting of the world's building uses one-fourth of the world's energy, the study estimates, but socalled "passive solar design" (windows and overhangs on the south side to catch sun in winter and shade in summer) and similar architectural devices could cut that use by one- quarter.

The new study is a compendium of what's going on across the nation from "the first modern solar house" in Chicago in the 1930s to the forthcoming Solar Energy and Conservation Bank. Starting in 1981, the bank will channel low-interest loans to consumers for purchase of energy-saving homes, solar collectors, and so-called retrofit measures.

Office buildings come in for conservationists' scorn with "glass facades and mechanical climate-control systems in use every day of the year. It is not uncommon to have to turn on a quarter-acre of lights to work at a few square feet of desk in these buildings. . . . The sealed window is one feature of modern office buildings that is ripe for elimination; windows that open would provide cooling breezes on many days when air conditioning is not required."

Demand for renovation by owners is currently so great, the study finds, that in some areas there is near-hysteria to get scarce, competent, architectural advisers. Financial benefits are steadily growing.

"Conservation measures that have been taken in millions of residences in Europe and North America since 1975 have commonly resulted in a reduction of fuel bills by 10 percent or more," the report maintains. "These programs usually include weather stripping, storm windows, insulation of the walls if there is suitable space, and additional insulation of the attic." Savings sometimes reached 30 to 50 percent, a study in West Germany reported.

Does your house need a solar greenhouse? It can be attached to the south side often without replacing existing walls and acts as a heat trap with a fan to circulate the captured winter heat. "In the US, solar greenhouse have become one of the most popular forms of home improvement," says the report. Firms market them prefabricated, "making it possible to solarize a house for $2,000 to

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