Climate change is real.
Listening to Janet Mills’ inauguration speech, I felt a wave of happiness when she prioritized fighting climate change. This issue is on my mind as an architect practicing in Maine. In the minds of some of my fellow Mainers, climate change may be a hoax, or uncertain, or debatable. For me, that ship has sailed. Just look at tick migration into Maine from the south. Ticks do not move north because they heard about climate change. They move where conditions let them.
There are ways to help
I am pleased Governor Janet Mills made fighting climate change a priority in her inauguration speech. I am glad she is taking the issue seriously. Certainly making electric vehicles easier to own in Maine will help. Certainly making heat pumps easier to own in Maine will also help. Maine is heavily dependent on fossil fuels for transportation and for building heating. Switching from fossil fuels in the transportation and home heating sectors will reduce Maine’s carbon footprint, and therefor our contribution to climate change.
Maine’s building industry is spotty at best in helping
There is another way to help, by attacking climate change from the demand side. We use fossil fuels to heat our buildings because they get cold. They get cold because it gets cold outside, and that cold sucks the heat out of the inside. If that sucking was minimized, our need to burn fossil fuels would go down. We have profligate fossil fuel use because our buildings are bad at stopping heat flows: they are energy inefficient.
Making buildings more energy efficient is the issue I want to champion. We need to design, build, and inhabit more energy efficient buildings. The design and construction industry has not been doing a good job building energy efficient buildings.
This is not true across the board. There are individual firms in both design and construction who have taken it upon themselves to design the most energy efficient buildings they can. There is a small but growing grassroots effort to improve the quality of the built environment. I have recently joined a group of people in central Maine who meet monthly to discuss building science. The effort is to share best practices in making energy efficient, durable buildings. The meetings generally focus on the residential market, but the discussion is relevant to the commercial market as well.
Grassroots is important, but legislation is probably easier
These grassroots efforts are good, and important. They remind me of middle ages guilds. They are self-policing industry groups who recognize the importance in sharing knowledge and best practices. However, the grassroots effort is not enough, nor is it the only tool.
If the Mills administration wants to be serious about climate change, updating Maine’s building codes has to be on the table. Most of Maine does not even use an energy code. The State does not enforce an energy code. The energy code required of large municipalities in Maine was written in 2007. Modern codes have gradually raised the bar on energy efficiency. For instance, the ASHRAE 2018 version of their Standard 90.1 Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential prescribe energy efficiencies that are about three times less energy intensive than the average commercial building. Were Maine to adopt this latest standard, new commercial buildings would use one third the energy of the current stock. That would make a big difference.