As I See It

Getting to the guy who writes the checks

How do we get to substantial energy and water efficiency? Do we force it with laws and regulations or should we just sell it?

Recently we met with friends of Green Mechanical Contractor and, so as to not be partisan, I’ll just say they are in the pump business. Our friends have a couple different takes on energy efficiency and laws and regulations. Because they sell products in Europe, they are subject to a host of mandatory energy efficiency standards. They are proud to say that their products today not only meet the regulations slated to take effect in 2013, they already meet the standards for 2015.

They see the practicality and, sometimes, the necessity of international standards. As one of our friends pointed out, most people in the United States would not have switched to 1.6-gpf toilets voluntarily. It required a change in the law.

Another example is minimum SEER ratings for residential air conditioning, which served several purposes. The main object was to save energy but, just as important, it created certainty for manufacturers who wouldn’t have to deal with differing state standards. Like 1.6-gpf toilets, a 13.0 SEER efficiency rating for residential air conditioning forced homeowners to buy units that save energy rather than buying the cheapest thing out there.

Minimum standards also creep in through the codes, such as the constant stiffening of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating & Air-conditioning Engineers Standard 90.1, or the International Code Council’s International Green Construction Code or the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials Green Code Supplement. At some point some jurisdictions will pick up these codes and standards and incorporate them into the local building codes.

We get a certain amount of pushback here that runs along the lines of, “Nobody will ever pay for that.” Minimum standards make them pay for that.

There’s still a lot of resistance out there, much of it coming from a few lawmakers. Plain-speaking homebuilder Ron Jones recently trashed Congress’, “tantrum de jour, H.R. 2417, AKA the infamous ‘Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act,’ a childish, snotty and (frankly) not-so-bright piece of misbehavior which has manifested itself into a proposed congressional act calling for the repeal of light bulb energy standards that are part of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in 2007.”

I’m usually pretty tough on homebuilders because they often mistreat my readers, but I love Ron Jones. Ron Jones is the co-founder and president of Green Builder Media and he’s not afraid to go after what he calls the ranchers of sacred cows, including fellow homebuilders and the National Association of Home Builders.

Jones’ brilliant post, “Introducing the BUTT Act,” which stands for Better Use of Time and Talent, can be read at www.greenbuildermag.com or at http://bit.ly/n8l1GB.

It’s an entirely different question, however, to get consumers to pay for the highest efficiency cooling, around 26.0 SEER, or 1.0- or 1.28-gpf high efficiency toilets. Then there’s the expensive stuff, like geothermal heat pumps and solar. That requires some selling skill. We believe that even the most expensive water and energy saving products can be sold through methods such as Pennsylvania contractor Dave Yates’ Energy Conservation Value formula. You can find out how Dave sells high-end equipment by reading his April 2011 column at www.contractormag.com here http://bit.ly/oR1n8s.

But, getting back to our friends the pump manufacturers, they’ve had great success in the commercial/institutional market where they can talk directly to the buyers. “You have to get to the guy writing the check,” they say. If they get to whoever is running the military installation for the Department of Defense or to the university facilities manager or to the guy running the treatment plants for the water utility, they can show that their really expensive pump saves a really colossal amount of electricity.

Energy conservation becomes attractive in a free market because the results can be shown in dollars and cents.

What do you think is the path to increased energy and water efficiency? Is it laws and regulations or an open market where practitioners convince customers that efficiency pays dividends? I want to hear your opinions. Email me at [email protected]

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