Academic journal article Human Ecology Forum

Teaching the Efficiencies of Housing Construction at Home and Abroad

Academic journal article Human Ecology Forum

Teaching the Efficiencies of Housing Construction at Home and Abroad

Article excerpt

Governments in Europe and Asia have been turning to Associate Professor Joseph Laquatra as a partner in bringing energy-saving innovations and cost-saving efficiencies to their home construction industries.

As a Cornell Ph.D. candidate back in 1984, Joe Laquatra conducted one of the first studies showing that energy efficiency is converted into the value of a house. In the intervening 15 years, Americans have caught on to the idea that energy efficiency counts as much as extra bathrooms or pretty kitchen cabinets or a good school district. It's a feature they're willing to pay for up front, for if not they'll surely pay later.

"This is a concept that only now is catching hold in some other parts of the world," says Laquatra, an associate professor of design and environmental analysis; he is referring to the fact that energy efficient housing contributes as much to an individual's long-term financial health as do investments and pension plans.

So, too, energy efficiency is central to the economies of entire countries. For example, in the United States, one-third of the nation's energy consumption goes into heating (or cooling) homes. As governments around the world anticipate a future dwindling of energy resources, some have been turning to Laquatra as a partner in bringing energy-saving innovations to their home-building industries. The first country in line was Poland.

When Laquatra was invited to Gdansk in 1993, the Polish economy was bleeding at a rate of one billion U.S. dollars per year because of energy inefficiencies in its residential housing. Traditional Polish construction methods for single-family dwellings consisted of concrete blocks or ceramic brick walls and precast concrete panelized floors. Multiple-family dwellings were built in the same fashion from room-sized concrete panels or blocks. Windows often did not shut tightly, heating systems were obsolete, and insulation was nearly unheard-of.

"For the Poles, the question wasn't what kind of insulation to use and where; rather, it was, What is insulation and why do we need it?" Laquatra recalls the days when Poland was beginning its transition from membership in the planned economies of the Communist bloc to becoming an independent free-market society.

"Energy had been cheap because it had been subsidized by the Soviet Union," Laquatra explains. "So their understanding of energy efficiency was at a very basic level[middle dot]"

Laquatra visited Poland twice, first for a three-week lecture tour in the fall of 1993. He was asked to return in January 1994 to spend 23 weeks as the first scholar-in-residence at the American-Polish Home Builders Institute.

While teaching a course at Gdansk Polytechnic University, Laquatra toured the country, lecturing to students, builders, architects, engineers, and government officials. The most sought-after topic dealt with the techniques of energy efficient construction, although he covered other issues such as indoor air quality and housing affordability.

For audiences of government officials, Laquatra described the policies the United States government uses to promote energy efficient construction - including programs in the secondary mortgage market that encourage banks to make preferential loans to buyers of homes that exceed energy efficiency code requirements. Of interest also were the government-sponsored consumer education campaigns offered to Americans through the Department of Energy and the national Cooperative Extension System.

"A principle of microeconomics is that markets work well when there is an informed marketplace," Laquatra points out. "So educating people about the options and how to get the best deal is a valid function of government."

The next year Laquatra traveled to Russia and China to give presentations on energy efficient construction to industry and government officials. The topics leaned heavily on the policy side. …

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