The way some people are chasing energy efficiency retrofits you’d think there was a pot of gold at the end of the net-zero rainbow. Too bad the pursuit’s just as foolish as chasing rainbows.

Blasphemy, some might say. How can an environmentalist not throw himself on the energy retrofit bandwagon? Easy. I follow the four laws of ecology: 1. Everything is connected, 2. Everything goes somewhere, 3. There is no free lunch, and 4. Nature knows best. Understanding that the home is a system within a system within a system that operates under more complex lines of impact than BTUs consumed, I understand the danger of strapping blinders on and pursuing a single-minded goal without considering the systemic implications of such actions.

In focusing our conversation on BTUs and watts saved, we may be making the situation worse. We already know that trying to show ROI with dollars for anything other than the most basic of operations is a losing proposition.

What is needed is a systems approach to reducing emissions that measures greenhouse gas (GHG) released as well as total environmental impact of the fuel source. The data isn’t hard to find, but it doesn’t allow for a one-size-fits-all policy for the country and it points an ugly finger at some states, which would be politically unpopular.

Speaking of data, according to the Department of Energy, buildings consume roughly 40% of the energy in this country and homes account for roughly 50% of that use. If most of housing’s energy use is electricity, and the majority of homes that have a heavy heating demand are using a fuel source other than electricity to provide that heat, what’s the value of increasing insulation?

The hard truth is that we can reduce GHG emissions from homes by 40% without spending a dime, rotting out homes, or creating dangerous indoor environments by simply changing our behavior toward electricity consumption.

—Michael Anschel is owner and principal of Otogawa-Anschel Design Build, serves on the board of Minnesota Greenstar, and is CEO of Verified Green. He can be reached at michael@verifiedgreen.org.

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