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Embodied Energy and Payback in Houses

by Mel Starrs on May 4, 2010

in Economics, Embodied Energy

Via Adam Tinworth, I’ve found this ace TED talk (a short one – less than 7 minutes) from Catherine Mohr on embodied energy. She starts with paper towels and finishes with her new build house in Silicon Valley. The best part for me is towards the end at around 5:10 where she looks at the payback of the embodied energy in demolishing and rebuilding a low embodied energy house versus remodelling the existing house.

For all the data she refers to in the video, there is a blog at www.301monroe.com which includes her spreadsheet in this entry.

The paybacks are:

  • new house vs old house – 6 years
  • new house vs remodelled house – 20 years
  • new house NOT paying attention to embodied energy vs old house – over 50 years!

Embodied energy is a tricky topic and many people shy away from it because it’s ‘difficult’ to quantify. I like this example as she doesn’t pretend to have found an answer, but uses the best information at her disposal to make sensible, informed comparisons (which is much better than moaning that the problem is too difficult to tackle).