Private Sector Solution

Posted on February 13, 2015
Posted By: Rick Barnett

Another chapter of the global climate effort recently concluded in Lima, Peru, as a warm-up for a more-targeted meeting in Paris, June, 2015.  Climate action advocates show subdued optimism for Paris:  although political goals are more visible, no action plan is on the table, that would buffer rising global carbon and launch a critical downward trend.

The polarization over carbon is evident with Keystone.  Just months after the highly publicized “Climate March” against the pipeline, a federal bill to approve Keystone will shift the discussion. 

Political disagreement appears detached from expanding scientific and economic messages: cut emissions as soon as possible. Separate from mitigation, adaptation, resilience, and preparedness are now included in the climate agenda and budget.

The difficulty of using public policy to advance environmental progress is evident by tracking the 1970 Clean Air Act ( ), intended to buffer increasing pollution emitted into the air.  More than 40 years later, the most targeted air pollutant is increasingly emitted, yet EPA’s Power Plant Regulations face an uncertain future.

The need for emission reduction drives countless conservation-oriented agencies and organizations.  Deployed with a public service and educational mission since the 1970’s, NGO and government programs have broadly disseminated messages about saving energy and being efficient.

Homeowners to this day are barraged with efficiency incentives and energy-saving tips through outreach programs via every form of communication and marketing.  Despite this long-standing investment, residential energy demand has not been curbed. 

Existing federal efficiency programs are characterized by rulemaking, reports, pilot projects, data collection and further study.  The public is paying for more bureaucracy and less insulation. Sometimes called “carpet bombing”, federal efficiency dollars are spread wide but thin, unable to counter rising demand.     

Another shortcoming of residential efficiency programs is the minimal effort to address the largest piece of residential energy demand, space conditioning.  This consumption is controlled by the effectiveness of the thermal shell, the insulating layer that separates inside from outside.  Although “save energy” is an old message, too much energy is wasted to maintain comfort in our homes.

Energy retrofits still rely on fiberglass to seal homes from outside air, despite technology that creates significantly higher performance. By merging the thermal shell and the structural shell, a home’s thermal performance can be optimized.  A “rigid wrap” retrofit thoroughly separates inside from outside:  space conditioning energy is pushed to its lowest level.  Without affecting occupant consumption patterns, a home’s energy demand is measurably reduced. 

After 40 years, we should be looking to step around the sluggish progress by employing private sector skills to improve residential efficiency.

Utilities could collaborate with the construction industry to address wasted space conditioning energy.  An example of such a private sector conservation effort can be found in the 1970’s recycling industry.  The waste hauling industry adjusted a historical disinterest in conservation and began collecting household recycling, as a new service for customers.  Home collection became a common practice by private haulers. 

The utility and construction industries have a similar opportunity.  My “Thermal Optimization” plan describes how this private sector collaboration could implement a thermal retrofit program.  Thermal Optimization has been introduced through several articles, available at    

This efficiency option allows the private sector boost the economy without tax dollars, and help homeowners capture an untapped energy asset.  The task may seem large, but the value would increase over the life of the home. 

Through this private sector solution, local economies would experience an immediate jolt.  Nothing can be outsourced.  Thermal Optimization is a practical way to prepare our homes for the 21st century.

For the Economy

  • - Builds the local economy
  • - Improves home value
  • - Does not involve tax dollars

For Utilities

  • - Value in meeting peak demand and emission limits
  • - Measured rather than calculated efficiency
  • - Potential to secure customers via long term connection to the meter

For Homeowners

  • - Improved comfort and resilience
  • - Affordable through long term financing
  • - No need for technology or behavioral changes

For Emission Reduction

  • - Targets the largest source of residential emissions
  • - Eliminates emissions, rather than using a speculative calculation
  • - An innovative climate change response
Authored By:
Rick Barnett has a B.A. in psychology (UCSB) and an Interdisciplinary Master’s in Environmental Management (Oregon State University, 1981).  Before becoming a builder, Rick introduced the Oregon waste management industry to recycling in 1976, and over the next few years convinced many to offer recycling as a service.  Oregon has been a national leader in recycling ever since.Rick started Green Builder in 1996, and was recognized in 1998 by Sustainable

Other Posts by: Rick Barnett

Efficiency Gap - March 07, 2016
Energy Asset - January 21, 2016
After Weatherization - September 25, 2015
Energy Customers - April 08, 2015


February, 20 2015

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Interesting article Rick. I have some observations and personal experiences that may answer part of the reason why homeowners have not embraced energy efficiency despite the bombardment of government programs and NGO's. It is generally not economic for most people and if it is a choice between a shiny new car in the driveway or another foot of insulation blown in the attic you know what people will (and do) choose. In Canada a highly efficient house construction protocol known as R2000 homes was introduced but given the choice between a heavily insulated low energy cost home and having a larger and less efficient home people have overwhelmingly chosen the latter. As a psychologist I would be interested in your views as to why that is. Another reason I think is that people do not believe that being more efficient at the household level makes any difference when they see coal and gas plants that emit more CO2 per hour than their house produces in a lifetime. Yet another reason is that Governments are largely distrusted. That means any Government program generates instant suspicion. People know that Governments generally do not do things in the interests of the general population except when it comes time to gather electoral votes. Politicians of course use the do as I tell not do as I do approach. Hard to believe that Pres. Obama is really serious about energy conservation when he flies around in helicopters guzzling gallons a minute of fuel. Perhaps the biggest reason is that promised cost savings rarely materialize and most people (including me) do not see the returns on investment promised. A good example to illustrate is the use of miniature fluorescent light bulbs. A typical incandescent bulb costs around 25c in Canada for a 2000 hour bulb. Mini fluorescent bulbs cost 10 times that but promised greater longevity (10 years) and reduced energy costs. The energy savings were supposed to cover the additional expense of the new bulbs over their (supposedly longer) lifetime. In my house I can safely say that not a single halogen bulb has lasted more than two years and there is a negative payback (loss) for the installation. The reason is simple. Incandescent bulbs can be switched on and off repeatedly with little impact on bulb life....this of course being the typical household application. Halogen bulbs are not designed for brief on and off use and the electronics generally fails prematurely when used like this. So the promise of energy efficiency from these heavily promoted bulbs has singularly failed to meet expectations. While I do not suggest that your idea of wrapping a house in an energy blanket is necessarily a bad idea I do think it will meet with great scepticism.

Perhaps a private sector approach of install it for free and pay back with the energy saved might work but asking people to fork out thousands of dollars on a promise is not going to work.

Finally, my greatest energy cost savings were achieved when a gas line was installed in our area. I replaced an electric furnace, electric range, electric dryer and electric hot water heater with gas powered equivalents. It dropped my energy costs in half and the appliances have paid for themselves many times over. Gas prices have been very low for years. Unfortunately the result is likely to have increased CO2 emissions as most electricity in Ontario is produced by non fossil sources (nuclear, hydroelectric mainly).

Which brings me to my last point which is that people see no link between their production of CO2 and the climate. Who can blame them really when we are told repeatedly that the world is getting warmer yet we are having one of the coldest winters on record. These observations do not add up for most people. It is minus 17 degrees centigrade in Canada as I write this going down to minus 23 centigrade tomorrow. Hardly a sign of a warming trend now is it. Can you really blame people fr not believing a word of what they are told.


February, 24 2015

Richard Vesel says


You did the right thing in replacing all of your electrical heating devices with gas-fired ones, at least for now. Using electricity to heat is horribly inefficient, as you leave at least 2/3 of the energy released by burning coal AT THE POWER PLANT, with another 10% or so lost in the T&D system. All to re-release those high-quality Btu's back as ordinary heat for your home, hot water, and cooking. Using gas releases 100% of its energy right where you need it, and releases about 20% of the CO2 that you were responsible for in those coal-fired electrical Btu's. Even if your electricity came from gas-fired combined cycle power stations, you are STILL ahead in the energy and CO2 budget by burning it locally, if you are using that energy for heat.

As far as this cold winter is concerned - that is a myopic view. Yes, we are freezing here too in Ohio. However, for the western half of the United States, Jan 2015 was the warmest on record, and the second warmest on record for the globe. The point of AGW is the overall global averages are going up, destructively, and not at all about what happened this week in your local weather. Not sure why the continuing unscientific silliness over a serious issue?


February, 27 2015

Rick Barnett says

Malcolm it appears I was not clear on an important point: the homeowner doesn't pay anything for the thermal upgrade. This is similar to the a lighting upgrade where the investment is paid over time through projected energy savings. I cast this as a private sector solution for reasons you note: it doesn't involve the government, and the homeowner doesn't need any particular philosophy. Since utilities typically want to continue providing power to homes, thermal optimization can be used to secure long term customers. Rick

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