What's in a name? The Department of Energy is considering new ones for green building

Insulated header
Screen capture What is this anyway? Looks like an insulated header to me.

TreeHugger is a terrible name for a website. Over the years advertisers and others all thought that we were all going to be a gang of leftwing raging hippies, when really it was all supposed to be ironic. There have been many times that renaming it was discussed but there is just too much invested in it. Similarly Passive House is a terrible name for a building standard. It's a poor translation of the German Passivhaus chosen out of fear that Americans won't accept anything unless, as Sarah Palin notes, you speak American. But we're stuck with TreeHugger and Passive House because enough people know what they are and what they mean that changing them would be counterproductive. Sometimes a terrible but established name can tell you more than a new improved one.

Over at the Department of Energy's Building Technologies Office, Sam Rashkin is trying out new names for green building terms, and has published a Building Science Translator to provide "a glossary of "power words" that builders can use to reinforce the value of high-performance homes." Builder Online as compiled a list of the most interesting ones, with my emphases:

OLD TERMNEW POWER TERM
High-R WindowHigh-Efficiency Window
Sealed and Flashed WindowPremium-Installed Window
High-R InsulationHigh-Efficiency or Super- Insulation
Fully Aligned Air BarriersPremium-Installed Draft Barrier
Reduced Thermal BridgingThermal Buffer Construction
Raised Heel TrussEnergy Saving Attic Edge Insulation
Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)Energy Saving SIP Wall/Roof Thermal Buffer
Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs)Energy Saving ICF Wall Thermal Buffer
Double-Wall FramingEnergy Saving Double-Wall Thermal Buffer
2-Stud Corner with Drywall ClipsEnergy Saving Corner Framing
Insulated HeadersEnergy Saving Window Framing
Radiant BarrierEnergy Saving Sun Control Layer
Proper Sizing HVAC SystemEngineered Comfort System Sizing
Proper Duct InstallationPremium-Installed Comfort Delivery Ducts
Tight Duct SealingPremium-Sealed Comfort Delivery Ducts
Pressure Balancing BedroomsComfort Balanced Rooms
Ducted ReturnsOptimized Air Flow Comfort Delivery
DehumidificationWhole-House Moisture Control System
HVAC System Diagnostics New HomesComfort System Certified Performance
Ductless Mini- Split Heat PumpAdvanced Ductless Heat Pump Technology
High-Efficiency Gas FurnaceAdvanced Furnace Technology
Variable Speed HVAC SystemAdvanced Comfort Flow Technology
Storage Water HeaterAdvanced Water Heating Technology
Heat Pump Water HeaterAdvanced Heat Pump Water Heating Technology
Solar Hot WaterFree Hot Water Solar System
High-Efficiency AppliancesAdvanced Appliance Technology
High-Efficiency LightingAdvanced Lighting Technology

I think there is so much wrong with this. It's all about adjectives; Premium, Advanced, Energy-Saving that don't tell you much at all. I love how "Proper duct installation" becomes "premium-installed comfort delivery ducts"- in almost every case Premium here just means it is done right; a sealed and flashed window, which every window should be, suddenly is premium.

And take Advanced. Please. Everything is now advanced without saying anymore what everything is. So a high efficiency gas furnace, which is pretty self-explanatory, is now Advanced Furnace Technology, whatever that is. Or an insulated header, (shown in the photo at top) which is exactly what it says, now becomes Energy Saving Window Framing.

In almost every single case the new term tells you less in more words, primarily meaningless adjectives. Sam Rashkin explains that this will make it an easier sell; according to Jennifer Goodman in Builder Online,

For example, he said, it's difficult to sell buyers on items like transfer grilles and ventilation systems but by rewording the language, most consumers would likely be interested in products called comfort vents and fresh air systems. "You use a phrase that consumers will connect with, not that will turn them off," he said. "Nobody wants to be audited so why use the term ‘energy audit?' A ‘home checkup' sounds so much nicer."

I am not so sure; to me, an audit implies thoroughness and professionalism. My auto mechanic does checkups. But that is the least of my objections. In the end, all they seem to be doing is adding adjectives: premium, advanced, energy-saving. As a writer and an editor, I quote Mark Twain: " When you catch an adjective, kill it." Voltaire said "Adjectives are frequently the greatest enemy of the substantive." Stephen King: "The road to hell is paved with adjectives." E.B. White: "The adjective has not been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place." Hemingway: "[I was taught] to distrust adjectives as I would later learn to distrust certain people in certain situations.

Putting somewhat descriptive but ultimately meaningless adjectives in front of confusing descriptions doesn't make green products and techniques sound friendlier or sexier, it makes them sound silly and wishy-washy. If you read these again without the adjectives, what have you got? Nothing. Instead of an "insulated header", you have "window framing."

It's tough, trying to promote green building and energy conservation. Crappy names don't help. But are these any better? I am not so sure.

Tags: Energy Efficiency | Green Building

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