‘Gimme Shelter’ with Daniel Gehman: Conviction, Part 2

The state of mind to which I am referring when I mention “conviction” in this blog space is that “of being convinced,” according to my World Book dictionary. To take a position on something that may seem edgy, counter-cultural, annoying, or whatever the counter-intuitive flavor of the week happens to

The state of mind to which I am referring when I mention “conviction” in this blog space is that “of being convinced,” according to my World Book dictionary. To take a position on something that may seem edgy, counter-cultural, annoying, or whatever the counter-intuitive flavor of the week happens to be, requires more than a casual commitment. To stand in the face of opposition, baby, you gotta’ believe!
 
Last week I regaled you with my story of finding a way to take the office kitchen wastes home on the train. Hopefully that struck as many of you as being “inspirationally renegade” as it did being “unimaginably loopy.” Well, it’s where I’m at; and it’s because of conviction—I am absolutely persuaded that what I’m doing is the right thing to do, even if it seems odd to many people.

For the same reason that compels me to take the refuse home on public transit, I also continually seek to learn about the latest developments in design, systems and practices that can help the multifamily and mixed-use projects I work on to do more with less—and on a real practical level, where it is easy to see the benefits.

“Sustainability” is not quite a religion, though it is often presented almost as such. The early adapters have infiltrated the halls of government, and the result is an impending juggernaut of legislation that will convert the unbelieving by the sword, as it were.

This leaves true believers to shoulder the burden of persuading, convincing, enticing and cajoling the greater market that resource-sensitive planning and execution of projects is a really good idea—both in the short run AND the long run. We must use every tool at our disposal to do this, of course, but the most obvious one is the economic argument.

I’ll use my own home as an illustration. Among the services I purchase on a “pay-for-what-you-use” basis are electricity (more on that later), gas and water. My trash pick-up is a flat fee. I will best serve my own cash flow and bottom line if I reduce my consumption of those items. This is pretty “no-brainer” territory. Once I’m motivated, I will be sure all my appliances are the highest efficiency possible, my light bulbs are CFLs or on dimmers, I keep my house at more modest temperature settings—you know the drill.

But I chose to go a bit beyond that. Just over two years ago, I installed a photo-voltaic array on my house that was designed to provide up to 90% of my annual average electricity use. The metrics show it has replaced 85%, which is pretty darn close. When I committed, the pay-back period was about 15 years . . . without factoring in increasing electricity costs. As it turns out, I am averting the contribution of about a half-ton a month of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. (And yes, I’m still looking for someone to purchase this from me as an offset!)

Now, with California in a drought, I’m looking more closely at my water use, and I’m proud to say I just schlepped home my first ultra-low flush replacement toilet for my house. Granted, I needed to replace a 40-year old fixture, but still—my heart was in the right place. It will be interesting to measure, after its installation, how much of an impact it has on my water bill.
OK, enough with the pedagogical basics. The simple truth is that there are reasonable measures that can be taken so that dwellings consume less of the things that are in limited supply, and are, hence, expensive. We want to find every way to take advantage of savings in these categories, for the good old reliable reason that it will save our owners money and help their bottom line.

That it might be actually helping the planet? Secondary. But let’s take one thing at a time. Building performance is not a zero sum game. It is possible to be zealous and patient in the same instance. They have a word for this: “conviction.”

(Daniel Gehman is principal at Thomas Cox Architects. He can be reached at DanielG@tca-arch.com)