Are building owners leaving money on the energy efficiency table?

Editor's Note: To learn more about energy-efficient buildings, check out VERGE@Greenbuild, November 12-13, in San Francisco.

In the hot summer of 2012, why would it still be necessary to convince anyone that saving energy is a good idea? With energy security and climate change concerns converging on energy efficiency as a key adaptive opportunity, it seems entirely self-evident from many perspectives. New buildings are increasingly designed and constructed with energy in mind, as building codes have increasingly required new buildings to meet higher efficiency standards. In some real estate market segments, such as high-end office properties, certifications that buildings exceed the standards imposed by code (e.g., EnergyStar or LEED) increasingly represent a market norm.

But the existing building stock presents a conundrum. Buildings are made to last -- and buildings constructed in accordance with the prevailing norms of another era may not meet today's (or tomorrow's) expectations with respect to energy. Since wasted energy = wasted money, we often tell ourselves that ending energy waste is a no-brainer -- we only need to get the word out, and some portion of the problem will take care of itself. If there is a $20 bill lying on the table, surely building owners will pick it up. Right?

Well, yes and no. Of course building owners don't like to leave money on the table. But it is by no means clear that they are ignoring their self-interest when they do not perform energy upgrades that are expected to be "cost-effective."

Photo of home and money provided by Vorobyeva via Shutterstock

Next page: Barriers to "cost effective" energy upgrades