Why Buildings Matter

If you, like me, hear the phrase “building envelope” and your eyes glaze over—well, let me try to convince you otherwise.

In cities, buildings account for nearly 75 percent of total energy consumption. That’s more than industry, more than even the transportation sector. And a lot of it goes to waste—like heat escaping out the window.

The envelope of a building protects against this kind of energy loss. It’s like its skin—the windows, walling, glazing. Building scientists like Chris Mathis say the envelope is really important, but he’s the first to admit it’s not a sexy topic. "I mean it’s hard to get people excited about insulation or caulk or weather strip or new glass. They’d much rather talk about photovoltaics or windmills or methane recovery from landfills or zero-emission vehicles—all those things are really sexy. But by comparison, improvement in our nation’s building envelope trumps all of those in terms of energy potential."

Mathis says an old building is like a gorilla in the corner that we tend to ignore. But to get serious on environmental issues like climate change, Mathis says these gorillas should be front and center.

Financially, Mathis says it’s a win-win for property owners who can see dramatically lower operating costs after a deep energy retrofit that installs stuff like energy efficient windows, better ventilation systems, sealants, and roof insulation.

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