This article was originally published in the November/December 1993 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.
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Home Energy Magazine Online November/December 1993
The Floods and the Feds
The Mississippi and its tributaries have receded, but the flood's damage is still being calculated. One of the unknowns is the impact of the flood on energy efficiency. The initial reports are grim.
Wet insulation may be the most expensive and frustrating sort of damage to repair. Most insulation acts as a wick, drawing moisture up to heights that escaped flooding. Fiberglass, cellulose, and rock wool insulation provide almost no insulation value when wet and retain moisture long after flood waters have subsided. Even after it dries, the material is often clumped, settled, and rearranged so as to permanently reduce its insulation value. Unfortunately, moisture damage is not confined to the insulation. By retaining moisture long after the flood has receded, wet insulation can exacerbate damage to walls and other building components. The only solution--removal, drying, careful inspection for other damaged materials, and re-insulation--may be more expensive than starting over.
Major appliances must also be replaced because extended immersion in dirty water destroys key components of furnaces, water heaters, and refrigerators. Again, the cost of these replacements is enormous. There is some benefit here, however, because the replacement appliances are likely to be much more efficient than the originals. Homeowners may be staggering from the costs of repairing their homes, but at least their utility bills will be lower.
Major natural disasters occur regularly in the United States, yet we were surprised to find that there is no central source of information on how to restore energy efficiency in damaged buildings. If energy-efficiency measures are not incorporated into reconstruction, they won't happen except at a much higher cost later on. This is where the federal government can play a role. We expected (somewhat naively) that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would have this responsibility.
Natural disasters--including floods--happen several times a year in various places across the country. It is easy to imagine training videos, and perhaps even diagnostic techniques and equipment, which could be used by local builders and FEMA offices. Similar packages could be prepared for communities hit by earthquakes, hurricanes or fires. This information would assist in energy-efficient reconstruction. Unfortunately, FEMA has its hands full just feeding and clothing the disaster victims, so other institutions will have to take on this responsibility. These include the affected utilities, state energy offices, and the Department of Energy.
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