Energy Efficient Homes

○ The ideal energy efficient building retains the best environment for living while minimizing the consumption and waste of energy. © Crook 2006. ○ The biggest source of clean cheap energy is energy not used. R. Muller, Foreign Policy, Nov 2008. ○ If you don’t understand energy efficient technology it’s probably because it’s based on principles of thermodynamics, physics, and rocket science. © Crook 2010. ○ When you install an alternative energy system without first reducing your building’s demand for energy you ‘re still wasting energy and foregoing comfort--You've put the cart before the horse. © Crook 2011. ○ An energy efficient building is always "Green" but a green buildings isn't always energy efficient. © Crook 2009. ○ "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction", Sir Isaac Newton's "Action-Reaction Law", 1687. ○ The transfer of heat between objects can never be stopped: it can only be slowed down. © Crook 2008. ○ It's always easier to get into something than it is to get out. Clean coal refers to coal with less particulants/pollutants. ○ Clean coal when burned, unless SEQUESTRATED spews CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) into the atmosphere causing pollution. What does "clean coal" and "pork the other white meat have in common? Both are half-truths and both have the propensity to make you sick.


What makes us energy efficiency industry leaders?


I can trace my interest in energy efficiency back to my father. An engineer with Maytag Corporation in Newton, Iowa, it was his life’s work to find the easiest, least costly, most effective way to build appliances.  It would be a fair guess to say that over the years, he saved the company millions of dollars in labor and materials.  My dad did not leave his job at the office: all of my life, he taught me to look for efficiency in everything I did.

That lesson rang true when I started my career in building. As a teenager, my first job was with a home improvement and insulation company.  I liked this first job, because it seemed that we really made a difference to the homeowners who bought our products.  Although this was well before any energy crisis, Iowa winters are cold…and long.   It was not hard to sell homeowners something that kept them warmer during winter, while cutting their heating costs. Although energy efficiency was not an issue in Iowa in the 1970’s, comfort and economy were.

In a few years I began working for a building contractor. I couldn’t help but notice the difference in the attitude between my former and new employer. The builder took shortcuts without thinking—or caring—about the consequences to the homeowners.  Those corners he cut to save five percent off of his cost were going to end up costing the homeowner a bundle in energy costs.  In all fairness, insulation didn’t sell homes in those days.  Buyers then, not unlike today, wanted the lipstick features: fancy woodwork and cabinetry, large picture windows, and brass fixtures.  A fancy counter in the kitchen would make a home easier to sell, but it didn’t keep the family warm during those long Iowa winters.

Restless with life in my hometown, I struck out in search of bigger and better things. When I arrived in Philadelphia in 1978, I thought attitudes and building practices might be different in this region of the country.   However, I ended up being frustrated by the indifference of union and nonunion builders to including basic elements that would make a building comfortable and more affordable for new owners.  By the end of the decade, two significant things happened that would change the rest of my life. I met and married Siti, and we started our family.   At the same time, our nation was in the midst of its first oil crisis. It was also at this time that some scientists began to raise questions about the impact that pollution was having on the environment.  Under President Jimmy Carter, the energy crisis and environmental issues became national concerns. Suddenly everything I had been saying about housing was being recognized by policy makers in Washington.

As a builder and commercial union master carpenter, I knew it was my moral responsibility to consider the impact my work would have on the world’s climate. I also felt it was my duty to provide security and comfort for the families who made my houses their home. Fortunately, under President Carter, there was a wealth of research done on energy efficiency and alternative energy sources all categorized as solar studies.  I studied as much of this information as I could find, and used my business as a laboratory to experiment with some of my own theories.  In 1985, I had the chance to share with the public what I’d learned from my research and experiments. I built a small housing development in Philadelphia’s historic Overbrook Farms community.  The location itself was ironic: the homes were built on the site of the first commercial steam heat plant in the U.S. that provided an efficient heat source to buildings in the neighborhood well into the twentieth century.  The original design for the “Lewis Jones” Steam Heat plant was based on a blueprint and model from the 1876 Philadelphia World’s Fair.  The idea was to use the steam plant to heat an entire neighborhood using underground pipes that ran along the streets and sidewalks. In the same innovative vein, I wanted to create an energy-efficient home development of single-family houses on the site of this earlier technology.

Using methods that I had been researching, I built houses with a high level of energy efficiency: the new owners enjoyed very low costs to heat and cool their home environment. They were known as “Energy Homes.” The design was based on structures built from and documented by the Carter Administration’s solar energy studies. I chose the best of the “least energy needed” plans. However, unlike some of the experimental homes that came out of the research of the 1970’s, my houses looked like those in any other development. I met my goal of building commercially viable, energy efficient housing.  Both city officials and Channel Six News took notice.

By the time I finished the development, gas prices had dropped and the public stopped paying attention to energy concerns. Once again, energy efficiency took a back seat to cosmetic features.  Still, I was convinced that energy would be an ongoing concern but consumers wanted to talk about woodwork, and not insulation.  Frustrated, I made a decision that would take me and my family on a long and interesting journey.  It started out by packing up our family and moving back home to Iowa.

My first goal on this journey was to finish my college degree. As an adult student at the University of Iowa (ISU), I was able to tailor my studies to fit my professional needs. I began studying ergonomics—one of my goals was to build accessible housing. Although not enacted as law until 1991, the details of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were debated throughout the 1980s’.  I believed this law would have a profound impact on the building industry, and wanted to be prepared for its requirements.

I wanted my college education to formalize and extend my knowledge of energy efficiency. Because the topic was still not emphasized by our government and education systems, I was excited at the opportunity to study abroad.  In 1995, I enrolled in ISU’s exchange program with the University of Wales, Swansea, Wales, and United Kingdom in their European Business Management School.  At the University of Wales, I conducted studies and surveys on their green building mindset and practices. With four children and Siti, my wife accompanying me, I was certainly not a traditional student!  Although England was ahead in automotive energy efficiency, they fell behind U.S. developments in home energy efficiency.  After two years, I returned home, armed with new knowledge and reinvigorated.

By this time, energy efficiency had become more than a career choice. It was a personal mission. The public, businesses and policy makers were slowly accepting the long term impact of pollution and our irresponsible consumption of energy.  However, it was going to be a race to see if Americans, and the political leadership, would make changes in time to correct our energy and environmental mistakes.

As we settled our family back home, Siti and I discussed the direction we needed to take with our business. We were both passionate about making an impact—and armed with research, experience and education in energy efficiency, we decided that in addition to making a difference as an energy efficient building contractor we needed to share our knowledge through training and consulting.  I have returned to my roots, using those basic principals that sold insulation in Iowa—comfort and economy.  Those are the immediate, tangible results available to all building owners.

While Siti was developing a business plan around our new goals, I went back to the drawing board. Like always, my family had to be my guinea pigs as I tested new building techniques.  In keeping with trends, I “repurposed” a 150-year-old hand-hewn post and beam barn into the frame of our home. (It’s interesting how this concept has evolved.  I have always recycled materials…I used to be considered frugal. Suddenly, I am trendy and “green”!) We dismantled the old frame, moved it by truck from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and incorporated it into a new modular foundation. We then built an energy efficient structure around the antique frame skeleton. With radiant floor heat and high velocity air conditioning, we are comfortable year-round.

My reason for constructing such a home from the ground up was so I could teach my then thirteen-year-old son, Abraham, how to build an entire structure. At the same time, I wanted to pass on all of my energy saving building secrets to him. Of course, savings on utility bills for my family was also uppermost.

Our 4163 square foot home with an 18 foot ceiling


has been my laboratory for further development of energy efficiency systems. Like any laboratory, there have been successes and failures.  My biggest claim to success is our average annual LP gas consumption for heating at 70° in the Eastern part of the United States of just 500 gallons. It is quite conceivable that our annual heating bill could be even smaller or none at all if we used alternative energy sources, such as a geothermal ground source heat pump with solar PV to power the pumps. By the time construction was complete, I had a developed an even greater advanced system of proven energy saving techniques that reduce, or eliminate, utility bills.  We call this system “EcoBuilt™”. It is the basis of our residential/commercial construction, training and consulting modules.

There is a footnote to this story: a funny thing happened on my way to this business structure. Others began to realize the benefits of energy efficiency.  Builders, home improvement contractors, engineers, architects, window and furnace manufacturers now talk about energy efficiency.  As gasoline, heating and electricity prices rise, building owners no longer have a choice: they have to pay attention to what they are going to have to pay for their utility bills.  A new economy is springing up around the term “green”.

And that is good news. Because every little step we take to reduce energy consumption will make a difference. However, like anything else, the more knowledge you have, the better the outcome.  This is where we are different than others, who are looking at one piece of the puzzle.  A house or building is a whole system made up of many smaller systems that give you heat, light, fresh air and moisture all within the package of the whole system, the “thermal package”.  Make a change in any one of these systems, and you are going to see a reaction in the others.  You have to understand how the systems in your home and work environment interrelate before you can get optimum energy efficiency.  We are committed to energy efficient living and assisting you with implementing change, saving money and increasing comfortable.

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