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Published on February 20, 2019

Torcellini: ‘Buildings Mortgage the Energy Futures of the World’

Paul Torcellini home

Paul Torcellini, endowed chair of sustainable energy studies and professor of environmental earth science, kicked off the Spring Faculty Scholars Forum on Feb. 13 with a fascinating presentation on “Living at Zero: Experiences in Moving Towards an All Renewable Energy Lifestyle.”

Torcellini, who has been researching energy efficiency since he was in high school, said buildings that use electricity and natural gas to stay warm, cool and lighted are the largest consumer of energy in America. Unfortunately, the growth of new facilities is taking place more quickly than measures to impact energy efficiency. “Buildings mortgage the energy futures of the world,” said Torcellini. 

He used the construction of his own family home to encourage others to strive to live at what he called “net zero or zero net.” For sure, it is net positive. He described the process as “building on a diet.” Together, he and his family decided to evaluate and examine the cost and value of how they would light, heat the space, use hot water, appliances and electronics in their new home.

The family started building the home in 2014 and finished in 2016. Through a series of measures including a great deal of insulation, heat pumps, energy efficient windows and efficient LED lighting, the house uses so little energy that solar photovoltaic panels generate enough electricity to cover all the loads. The solar panels also produce enough electricity to partially power a new electric vehicle.

In addition, the construction of the house minimized the introduction of chemicals that outgas during the life of the house.  Mineral-based paints, linoleum with cork backing and tongue oil on native wood floors were used. 

Another sustainability measure is the Torcellini family’s commitment to raising much of their own food, including organically fed meat from turkeys, chickens, sheep and pigs, as well as producing eggs.

 

Written by Dwight Bachman