Conference Addresses the Changing Climate
(Business and Political, That Is)
Now in its ninth year, Affordable Comfort, the premier conference on residential energy efficiency, continues to grow. This March, a record 1,100 people attended the conference held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which included 70 tutorial sessions and nearly 100 workshops. From energy-efficient mortgages to leaky duct diagnostics and air sealing techniques, virtually every imaginable facet of residential energy conservation was covered.
With utility-funded energy conservation programs on the chopping block, however, and with Congress contemplating vast cuts in spending for energy efficiency, Affordable Comfort for the first time included sessions devoted to politics. Amid talk of industry competition, many conference participants seemed focused on switching their emphasis away from not-for-profit and towards for-profit ventures.
Most individuals attending the conference appeared to believe that demand-side management (DSM) programs are undergoing a temporary down cycle and that they will recover. In a session entitled DSM: Dead or Alive, for example, Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commissioner John Hanger predicted that DSM will become a marketing tool to help utilities differentiate themselves from competitors. Utilities will use DSM to create brand loyalty the way airlines promote frequent flier programs, Hanger predicted, citing a study showing that customers are less likely to switch fuels after they receive DSM services. Hanger pointed out that with captive ratepayers there has been little innovation by utilities in their residential DSM programs, a state of affairs that may change in a competitive environment.
As usual, most of the emphasis at Affordable Comfort was on the practical: how to tune up a boiler, how to insulate a wall, and so forth. Perhaps the hottest topic at the conference was air sealing in multifamily buildings. Research is ongoing, but practitioners are beginning to understand better how air moves in multifamily buildings. Proctor Engineering Group of San Rafael, California, for instance, is working to develop a protocol for using blower doors in multifamily buildings. Researchers with Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory are also conducting work in this area.
The conference also featured an increased focus on water conservation. Water rates are skyrocketing in some areas of the country, making water a more significant factor for low-income households (see Water Rates: An Affordable Housing Issue? p.37).
Combustion safety also dominated the conference agenda again this year. A special evening session was devoted to carbon monoxide (CO) safety and the latest technical developments in CO detectors; it included a discussion of Chicago's experience mandating the installation of CO detectors in residential buildings (see Combustion Safety Checks: How Not to Kill Your Clients, HE Mar/Apr '95, p. 19).
This year Affordable Comfort also featured a particularly strong emphasis on energy- and resource-efficient new construction. In a keynote speech, John Hoffman, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Global Climate Change Division, announced that his agency is developing an Energy Star program for residential new construction. The voluntary program will entice builders to build energy-efficient housing in order to differentiate themselves from competitors and realize higher profits (there's a big emphasis on profit). Hoffman said that the EPA will provide options and technical advice on how to make builders' most popular homes 30%-50% more energy efficient. The agency will probably use the Home Energy Rating Systems Council guidelines linking home energy rating systems with energy-efficient mortgages (see Making Energy Mortgages Work, HE May/June '95, p. 27). EPA's Energy Star computers and Green Lights programs have been quite successful so far (see Energy Star Insomniacs, HE Sep/Oct '94, p.11).
Audiotapes of conference sessions are available for $10 each from Affordable Comfort Incorporated, 309 Davis, Evanston, Illinois, 60201. Tel: (708)864-5651; Fax: (708)864-7535. The 1996 Affordable Comfort will be held at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, March 17-22.
West Coast Regional Conference Coming!
The second Affordable Comfort Regional Conference is scheduled to be held in mid-October in Southern California. The conference will blend some of the highlights of the March conference with region-specific topics like water conservation and cooling. The first Western regional conference was held last October at Pacific Gas and Electric Company's Learning Center in San Ramon, California, near San Francisco (see Affordable Comfort Heads West, HE Jan/Feb '95, p.8).