For our country to achieve the carbon emission reductions necessary to avoid a planetary catastrophe, many experts contend that almost every house in the country will need to have retrofit work that achieves deep cuts in energy use.
There’s a major stumbling block, however: deep energy retrofits are frighteningly expensive —in the range of $80,000 to $250,000 per house. With costs so high, many homeowners are asking: how long is the payback period for a deep-energy retrofit?
A new high-R skin
A deep-energy retrofit is a remodeling project that aims to reduce a home’s energy use by 50% to 75%. In cold climates, these retrofits specify R-40 walls, R-60 roofs, and triple-glazed windows. This usually requires the removal and demolition of the home’s existing siding and roofing.
Once the walls and roof have been covered with a thick layer of rigid foam, new siding and roofing are installed, along with new triple-glazed windows.
Only the wealthiest Americans — or those with easy access to credit — can afford a deep-energy retrofit:
Is that much insulation cost effective?
When skeptics question the cost-effectiveness of these expensive retrofits, superinsulation advocates point to the flawed logic behind cost-effectiveness calculations based on current energy prices.
As building scientist John Straube often explains, “The rate of inflation for energy, depending on whether you’re talking electric, natural gas, or oil, is on the order of 8% per year.” In the future, energy prices may escalate even more rapidly, so these retrofit jobs will eventually pay for themselves. Yet even Straube admits that “deep energy retrofits do not pencil out (from a strict cost-accounting perspective) on energy savings alone.”
An upper limit to energy prices
While it’s true that energy prices are likely to rise in the future, there is an upper limit to future energy prices: namely, the current…