Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Location Efficiency

How much money do you spend on cars, gas, and maintenance every year?

Green Building Advisor is a great website for researching and vetting green strategies for your home. I came across a piece on the site today and wanted to share some of the info written by ALLISON A. BAILES III, PHD, GBA ADVISOR :

Putting transportation costs in perspective

At the 2010 RESNET conference, I heard David Goldstein speak on some of the issues he'd written about in his book, Invisible Energy. Goldstein is the Energy Program Co-Director at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and past-president of RESNET, and in one part of his talk, he threw out some numbers that floored me.
He was discussing the mortgage crisis that has gripped the US since 2008 and wanted to put the cost of buying a house in perspective. At the time he wrote the book, the median price of an existing home in the US was around $175,000. If the buyer put down 20% and financed $140,000 over 30 years, here's about what they'd pay over the life of the mortgage:
  • $350,000 in loan payments (PITI)*
  • $300,000 commuting from suburbia
  • $75,000 for utilities
I don't know about you, but that middle number is shocking to me. I knew that those folks who were spending hours a day driving were paying with more than just time and frustration, but for the cost of commuting to be nearly as much as they're paying for the house stunned me.
Also, I'd never really thought about these numbers before, so if he'd have asked the audience that day, I think I would've guessed that utilities would add up to more than the cost of commuting. Now that I've thought about it, though, it makes perfect sense. Cars are dang expensive, and the more you drive 'em, the more expensive they are.
This is an example of how cheap and plentiful oil over the past century and a half has reduced our location efficiency. Those who do long commutes from the suburbs to the city are impoverishing themselves, but they've done it for what seemed like a good reason: The further outside the big city you go, the less expensive the housing gets. There's even a name for this: the drive-till-you-qualify housing market.

Here is a link to the entire piece. So much of what energy efficiency and sustainability planning is all about has to do with a holistic approach to understanding the impacts of our decision making processes. Some of it can be a little daunting and there are always trade-offs, but engagement in the work will yield many benefits to wallet and climate.
My family has lived in the same neighborhood for almost 30 years. It has always been close to my wife's work place and now it is also close to mine. For many years work required me drive from jobsite to jobsite and I regularly put on 35k plus miles on my truck every year. This year, stationed in an office less than 2 miles from home, I drove less than 8500 miles and I ride my bike to work on occasion as well. I can no longer imagine spending so much time behind the wheel. I know I am fortunate with this change; more of my time is my own and it has made a difference in many ways.