Our homes still lack a simple, robust life support system.
Society has applied technology to so many aspects of our lives with huge, measurable results. Interconnected commuters and cellular radio technology reshaped the way we communicate. Medical technology has increased our lifespans.
We have addressed the surface of our homes, literally. Improved materials, energy efficient windows and attention to the air tightness of our homes have decreased our energy usage.
We have added entertainment technology and automation aimed at making our lives more entertaining and sometimes more convenient.
However, we have not applied technology to the core systems that make a structure a home.
Most homes in America are connected to antiquated electrical grid. That grid is solid 1920’s technology based on a few vulnerable distribution circuits, rotting wood poles and very limited ability to control the flow of energy. Anyone who lives in a region prone to high winds can tell you how reliable that grid has become.
I have inspected more than a few homes that are still heated by coal. It’s estimated 9.1 million people in the northeastern US heat their homes with propane, heating oil or coal. In addition to costing homeowners thousands of dollars a year to heat their homes, many of these older furnaces are literally killing their owners with soot and carbon monoxide.
Specifically hot water. Water heating accounts for over 50% of an average home’s electrical usage, or over 30% of a home’s gas usage.
As new building codes require homes to be more air-tight, the risk of pathogens and high CO2 levels increases dramatically. Most homes do not have a fresh air exchanger. Those that do often just have a simple bath fan that brings in fresh air…to the bathroom.
Electricity, Heat, Water, Air. Combined together, these are the components of a life support system, and most homes don’t have one.
Instead of they have a cobbled together smattering of appliances that depend on outdated technology.
You can improve each of these systems individually using separate specialized contractors. However, the total cost of solar energy, a battery backup system, high efficiency heating unit, on demand hot water and fresh air exchangers all together could be as high as $60,000.
Maybe this is why so many homebuilders choose to focus on surfaces of their homes and not the substance.
If we are going to start building homes with real life support system, we have to start putting in the same time, energy and engineering that we have put into surface level improvements. When we have as many companies focusing on life support as counter tops, we may find the cost of having healthy, efficient homes is not as expensive as we thought.
The average home costs an additional $463K to own over 25 years
Shelter. It was once a damp cool cave. Neanderthal humans dwelled in these spaces in Europe 100,000 years ago—until the advent of flat screen TVs. When it became apparent we couldn’t get cell phone service through a stone ceiling we started building wood homes in suburban cul de sacs. The modern day hunter now climbs into a SUV for a daily transit into the city, leaving behind a 2600 sq ft suburban home.
These modern shelters are failing us. They are failing us so profoundly the cave might warrant a second look.
The Census Bureau says the median cost of a single family home in the United State is $221,800. On a 30 year mortgage that home will actually cost over $350,000 with interest. That’s a chunk of change for most people, or a solid day’s work for Beyonce.
Unless you like the cave lifestyle, you’ll need to power and heat. That’s going to cost you $87,000* over 25 years. This number assumes the loving and benevolent utility companies don’t raise your rates over that time.
Finally, unless you enjoy the that 1950’s kitchen, missing shingles or cracked vinyl siding, you will spend over $80,000* on home remodeling and weekly maintenance.
Since the average suburban home is located half the distance to the moon from employment centers you’ll spend over $133,000* in vehicles, fuel, insurance.
All told, that perfect American suburban home with a picket fence will end up costing you $683,375 over 30 years.
It’s such a large number that it’s almost meaningless. It’s the kind of number that makes you raise your pinky to your lip when you say it.
It’s time for a new look at shelter. It can be warm, beautiful and inviting without the crushing financial weight.
It’s time to reshape what we expect in a home in terms of size, resiliency and efficiency.
It’s time to dream big and think small.
Note: This the start of regular posts about efforts across the nation to reshape the spaces in which we live.
by Ryan Wallace / Efficiency Enthusiast / Partner, Small Grid Homes
Median Home Cost: $221,800
2010 Census Bureau
3.4% over 30 Years
Natural Gas: 78960
2178 terms Annual Consumption, Starting Rate $0.943 per Therm
10,000 kWh Annual Consumption, Starting Rate $0.11 /kWh
4 Vehicle Purchases, Tax Title License, Fuel, Maintenance, Car Loan Interest
1 Kitchen Remodel, One Floor, 1 Re-Roof, 1 Residing, Replacement Windows
Energy Source: EIA.gov 2009 Report
Transportation Source: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cesan.nr0.htm