Buildings are the largest users of energy in the United States. As a result, it is imperative that they be energy efficient and rely on clean and renewable sources of power. The use of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels for powering buildings can lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.
The first step to achieving greater energy efficiency and clean power generation for buildings is to ask: “What can we do with what we already have?” While developing new sources of renewable energy is critical—and on-site technologies such as solar panels often cost more than people realize, particularly if they haven’t done the math (more on that later)—one must remember that the real energy savings potential lies in improving our use of what we already have.
A great example is a building’s window, which typically loses 40 to 50 percent of its heat through conduction and radiation. This means that more than half of a building’s empty space heating demand can be eliminated simply by upgrading glazing and improving building insulation to prevent that energy from escaping.