Nonprofit Cofounder Discusses Building Efficiency Through Smart Design

Cofounder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute Amory Lovins believes efficiency means doing more and better with less energy and money.

Lovins models this belief in his super-efficient home in the mountains near Aspen, Colorado. When the home was built in the early 1980s and remodeled in the 2000s, the primary challenge was heating. A furnace did not need to be installed because super insulation and thicker than average walls were used. Eliminating the heating system more than paid up front for the efficiency that displaced it.

The home also has “super-windows” which prevent heat exchange but let in light. The windows and skylights provide natural sunlight so lights are not needed during the day. The rounded shape of the walls distributes the light more effectively than a typical home full of right angles.

Solar thermal and photovoltaic panels provide energy and heat water. The solar thermal panels send warm water around the house through extra wide pipes that turn at gentle angles to minimize the electricity needed to move the water.

In an Oct. 17 talk to the California Energy Commission, Lovins said his home is part of integrative design, which maximizes energy use throughout the whole system instead of each part.

“Energy savings doesn’t rely on adding more and better widgets but artfully combining sequencing and timing with fewer widgets to achieve bigger savings and more side effects of lower costs,” he said. “Resources are limited, energy efficiency isn’t.”

Lovins cited examples, like his home, that use existing technologies to get better results, but said design methods should also be addressed through building codes.

“State policies can move integrative design from rare to commonplace,” Lovins continued.

The Energy Commission’s energy efficiency division develops energy appliance standards and new and retrofitted building standards. The standards are designed to save consumers money and reduce energy use. The Energy Commission, which updates the building standards every three years, is working on the 2019 standards.

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California Energy Commission

The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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