Gulf Coast Upgrade

Affordable and efficient can co-exist — even after a disaster

July 01, 2011
July/August 2011
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2011 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Unless you’ve experienced it yourself, it’s hard to imagine the many ways in which postdisaster reality completely alters the conventional patterns of daily life. This is especially true in the wake of severely damaging natural disasters that affect an entire region. In the case of hurricanes Katrina and Rita—which wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas in late August and late September 2005—individual lives, whole communities, and local businesses experienced personal and professional chaos, dislocation, and loss. This dramatically transformed operating landscapes and posed humbling challenges on a scale, and for a period of time, that would have been previously unimaginable for everyone involved.

ECT DepartmentLaney energy efficiency students practice duct sealing. (David Hanks)

In the city of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, for example, 80% of the city sat under 3–12 feet of water for three weeks, resulting in the damage or destruction of more than 70% of all housing units. In the Gulf Coast region as a whole, the combined effects of both hurricanes left more than three million people without electricity, displaced more than one million people, and damaged or destroyed more than one million housing units.

In these, as in all disasters, there is only one constant: The crisis at hand will become a marker for change. In the case of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, this helps account for a remarkable wave of social visionaries, rebuilding experts, and urban planners that flooded the city within months of the storm.

No matter their reason for being there, all of the people that came to the affected cities had the same understanding: The fact that nothing will ever be the same again presents an opportunity to influence events that will help define the future for the better. This was precisely what researchers from the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) at the University of Central Florida had in mind when they made their first visit to the Gulf Coast region in December 2006.

The FSEC houses the Building America Industrialized Housing Partnership (BAIHP), one of five DOE-sponsored Building America teams nationally, and the only university-based team competitively funded by both the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and the Renewable Energy-Building Technologies program. Focusing on improving the energy efficiency, durability, and indoor air quality (IAQ) of manufactured homes since its inception in September 1999, the BAIHP program estimates that it has helped improve construction in more than 230,000 homes and has encouraged energy efficiency improvements that are currently saving more than $23 million a year.



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