Emerging Pathways to Upgrade the US Housing Stock: A Review of the Home Energy Upgrade Literature

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The residential buildings sector is responsible for about 20% of total US energy use. In order to achieve climate goals, we need ways to reduce carbon emissions and energy use in this sector. In addition, resiliency, electric grid stability, emergency survivability and other energy and building-related issues are becoming increasingly important challenges. New homes in most of the US meet various energy codes and are reasonably energy efficient. However, the vast majority of energy use is from existing homes that were not required to conform to energy performance requirements. It is becoming imperative to reach as many of these existing homes as possible and find ways to improve their energy-related performance. This must be done in such a way that it meets the needs and desires of homeowners and building occupants, as well as those of the contractors and design professionals engaged in doing the upgrades themselves.
Energy retrofits of homes started in the 1970’s in response to the energy crisis, however, these retrofits were very limited in scope and relatively few homes were upgraded. Those homes that have been upgraded generally still have much scope for improvement. A huge effort is needed to get to scale to address the energy use in housing. The target population is effectively every home in the country, whether a large suburban single-family home, or a small downtown apartment. In order to provide a framework for analysis and the basis for plans to get to large-scale retrofits of homes, this literature review summarizes the state-of-the art in the US buildings industry. It identifies where more research, engineering, or technology is needed, as well as relevant industry trends, such as electrification, one-stop shop program design and others. It also examines other key topics, such as availability of financing, minimizing household disruption, and engaging home owners and occupants. This literature review builds on a similar review from several years ago (Less and Walker, 2014). The current review focuses on efforts in the intervening years. This literature review is part of a larger DOE study of deep energy upgrades that includes industry surveys and development of cost-stack analyses.
For this review, we gathered data not just from the published literature, but also from practitioners in conjunction with other aspects of the larger DOE study. In some cases, we refer to comments from specific individuals or companies, or refer to specific products by name. This is not intended as an endorsement, but rather to provide clarity on sources of information and examples of relevant technologies.

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