Energy Efficiency: The New Normal
Walking around the neighborhood (35 foot zoning height limit, mostly 2 & 3 story houses and small apartment buildings) the other day, I saw four home improvement/energy efficiency projects within six blocks—one window replacement crew and three trucks blowing insulation into walls.
From a political angle, this is another of the nearly invisible effects of the Obama administration’s policies—and in particular, the Recovery Act which was (as Republicans are still fond of saying) chock-full of pent-up Democratic policy ideas. In this case, tucked away in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), was about $11 billion in tax credits for residential energy efficiency projects. In some places (like ours), states and cities supplemented this with their own tax credits or subsidies, making it even more enticing. (We insulated the walls of our 115 year old house last year, and the difference last winter was noticeable—and not just in the heating bill.)
In a neighborhood like ours, with lots of 1-4 unit buildings, that means that the decision-making structure for these projects is highly decentralized—basically, lots of individual homeowners and small landlords looking at their budgets and deciding whether this is the year for a particular “capital improvement” project.
In addition to whatever monetary calculations people make, there’s also the subtle-but-no-less-real impact of what the neighbors are doing. My guess is that there have been enough such projects over the last 3 years stimulated by the Recovery Act that we may have reached a tipping point where energy efficiency has become better than “trendy”; it’s become normal.