Energy Efficiency

In a Nutshell

"Energy Efficiency is the Key" - Amory Lovins(RMI). In looking at the complex issues of air pollution, water pollution, climate change, and national security, Amory Lovins posited many years ago that the cheapest, most efficient, and least risky solution to those and other problems was Energy Efficiency. A major amount of energy is wasted by our society, and that can be addessed directly.

Investing in improved energy efficiency is a good way for local governments to save money. 

Practical Solution

The “How To”The “How To”

Buildings constitute approximately 50% of all energy expended in the US. Homes by themselves are a major portion of that, and according to the US DOE, over 30% of all energy entering homes is wasted. Drafty buildings, poor heating and air conditioning systems, old wasteful hot water heaters, little or no insulation, and "phantom" or "vampire" energy are typical in almost all homes.

Most commercial spaces waste massive amounts of energy as well. Old lighting systems, poorly maintained mechanical systems, little or no insulation, and other big items rob the buildings of energy, money, and comfort and personal safety. The US Department of Energy has a number of good sites to visit and learn from. A major one is the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) website -

Planning & ZoningPlanning & Zoning

Energy Efficiency is a matter that has been moving slowly from a codes standpoint, but now is gaining momentum. While Missouri is one of the few states that do not have a state building code, most communities have adopted the commercial and residential codes from the International Code Council, and specifically IECC 2009 or IECC 2012.

These have specific language concerning what is considered minimum for various climate zones. These include insulation levels, fenestration(windows and other glass), mechanical systems (HVAC and ventilation), ducting, air tightness, lighting, and other items. They are in general aimed at new construction, where the best combination of energy efficiency and cost can be achieved, but also address rehab work. When properly implemented by local code officials, these building codes can significantly contribute to the improvement of energy efficiency both in individual buildings and in the community.


Dollars & CentsDollars & Cents

See the Case Histories for several actual examples. In all cases, just trying to do something because you read it or saw it on TV is the wrong thing to do, and could easily not only cost too much but may be the wrong way to go. One good example is exterior windows. While we like the idea of replacing old leaky bad windows with new good ones, that is almost always the least valuable from a cost to value ratio, and in many cases is actually NOT justified. Old windows with good seals and tight fitting storm windows have close to the energy value of new windows at a fraction of the cost.

In both commercial and home spaces, the most cost effective item is usually a combination of insulation and building sealing. The return on investment for insulation is usually less than 2 years and many times less than one year. Where else do you find a legitimate investment with 50 to 100% ROI?

Many consulting firms will provide an audit to identify priorities for investment. The audit will usually provide an estimated payback time. Some companies will provide the necessary improvements, and guarantee results by enabling local governments to pay for the work through the savings in their energy bills.

Measuring SuccessMeasuring Success

Individual buildings can and should be audited, analyzed, improved, and tested to ensure that the recommendations were both installed properly and that they achieved the expected result, When executed over a community, major results can occur quickly.

According to the US Energy Information Agency (USEIA), there were NO fossil fuel additions to the national power grid in January of this year. 1.2GW of renewable energy was brought online, but much of that was replacement for old fossil plants.

Formal energy reduction programs can show significant results. New York City is the most energy efficient city in the US as a result of strong energy building codes.

Case StudiesCase Studies

Local Century Home

  • Contact

    Gary Steps
    Energy Consultant
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    A Century Home was purchased by a young couple. They hired Butterfly Energy Works, LLC to analyze the building and create a work plan to radically improve its energy efficiency. This included new mechanical systems (heating, air conditioning, hot water, etc), insulation, lighting, windows, and other items.

    When complete, the home was far more energy efficient, comfortable, and consumed a fraction of the energy from before the project.


    The total project cost was about $18,000. The utility bills dropped from $5,700 a year to around $2,100, an annual savings of $3,600. This is a total payback of 5 years, with a simple rate of return of 20%.

    Lessons Learned

    It was much easier to analyze what needed to be done and implement them after the previous family moved out and before the new family moved in. Opportunities that would have been difficult or not feasible were easy and straightforward. One example was that we found that the bathtub had been installed against an outside wall with no air sealing or insulation. Not only did that make for an unpleasant bath in the winter time, but the tub itself became a heat exchanger for the home, sucking out heat in the winter and beaming in heat in the summer. The house also had had an old whole house fan installed in the main stairwell. It leaked badly and had no insulation associated with it.

Steps House

  • Contact

    Gary Steps
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    427 S Park Avenue - Webster Groves, MO


    When the owner moved in 1976, the brick house had no insulation in the walls, a small amount of vermiculite in the attic, and an open crawl space with no insulation. Over the years, the owner dug out the crawl space to a full basement, insulated the ceiling to R30, had the back of the house pulled off and 1100 ft2 added, along with 2X6 walls insulated to R19 with new fixed double pane windows replacing leaky old double hungs, and replaced the original furnace/air conditioner with a high efficiency condensing furnace and high efficiency air conditioner. The total utility bills dropped by about 30%, after adding 40% to the size of the home. Later additions included replacing the furnace/AC with a ground source heat pump and a solar PV array, along with targeted landscaping. The house now has no incandescent lights - mostly fluorescent but moving rapidly to all LED.


    The original upgrades cost around $23,000. The ground source heat pump cost $18,000, for a total of $41,000. The total savings have been around $46,000, with the value going up as the cost of electricity continues to go up. The owner is saving almost 90% from the original total energy load. He has saved approximately 460 Negawatts during his time in the home. A Negawatt is defined as a megawatt that never had to be generated.

    Lessons Learned

    This project was completed over a number of years, with each portion carefully planned. Basically, each upgrade created money saved that was invested in the next money saving upgrade. After the original upgrades paid for themselves in energy savings (not $), the owner then purchased the ground source heat pump. As noted above, all of those investments have paid for themselves in real dollars as well as energy savings. The solar panels were installed before any of the current tax credits and rebates existed, so the original cost of that is still being paid off.

Discover MoreDiscover More

There are many places to look for valuable information. As noted above, the US Department of Energy has many good sites, including EERE and the Energy Star website. Many excellent books also exist, and the Rocky Mountain Institute has a lot of good information and pointers to other sources of information.

Finally, get in contact with local green building organizations. Here in St Louis, they include the local chapter of the US Green Builders Council and the local chapter of the Passive House Alliance US - they can be reached via the national website -