Even if you reject the hysterical claims that burning fossil fuels for our energy needs will inevitably and imminently cause sudden catastrophic climate change, it makes a great deal of sense to consider the advantages of modifying your own behaviour. Now that energy costs have become the second largest item in most family budgets, the first and best reason to use a lot less energy is to save money that you could enjoy using in some other more pleasurable, but still economically useful way. By “economically useful”, I mean spending it on things that you will enjoy and that will help to keep the wheels of industry turning, which means almost any activity except tucking your savings away under the mattress, or burying gold bars in your garden.
If you drive a car or heat your home with oil or gas, you will be aware that the cost of petroleum products only ever goes up. Nothing now seems to halt the rise in price of oil, so dependant have we become on it. Even global recession seems to have no effect on bringing the price significantly down. That’s because oil and gas production is in the hands of a few enormously rich individuals and organisations, and they can afford to simply turn off the tap when there’s any suggestion that an excess of supply over demand might lead to lower prices. You can’t really blame them for this. It makes perfect economic sense for the owner of a scarce and finite commodity to maintain a high price by limiting supply. After all, when the day comes that it’s all gone, they’re going to have to work for a living, or hope that the investments they’ve made with their oil fortunes will sustain them. In the meantime, by buying Ferraris, huge yachts, gold bath taps, and football clubs, and by building palaces and golf courses in the desert, they are at least helping to keep a lot of other people in employment.
How a Passive House works. (Passiv Haus Institute, Germany)
In France, the government, like others in Europe, is anxious to be seen to be making efforts to keep to their Kyoto Convention commitments, even if the cost to consumers and taxpayers is out of all proportion to any small and meaningless reduction in CO2 gas emissions. Starting from 2013, therefore, all new houses built here will be required to conform with the “Batiment Basse Consommation” (BBC) standard. This calls for buildings that are sufficiently well insulated to require no more than 50 kWh per square metre a year (kWh/(m2a) to heat.
However, if you are considering building a new home, you might be well-advised to think about going for the more stringent German “Passivhaus” (Passive House) standard, which calls for much lower heating energy needs – less than 15kWh/(m2a). The standard has been named “Passive House” because the passive heat inputs delivered externally by solar irradiation through the windows and provided internally by the heat emissions of appliances and occupants, suffice to keep the building at comfortable indoor temperatures throughout the heating period. In other words no heating bills at all. The Passivhaus standard is so energy efficient that houses built to it in Germany, Holland and Scandinavia are usually completed without any conventional heating system.
A Passive House by Hanse Haus, Germany
France intends to catch up with the Germans, though. From 2020 French law will require newly-built homes to comply with the French BEPOS standard – homes that deliver positive energy. In other words, houses that are so bristling with solar panels and wind generators, that they can generate more energy than they use.
Be warned! The technical equipment to meet the BEPOS standard is likely to be expensive to install and complicated and costly to maintain. So, if you are considering selling up at some time in the foreseeable future and building a new home, you should think about building to the Passive House standard, and doing it before 2020, when the Kyoto-inspred building legislation becomes energy positive – or positively barmy, depending on your point of view.