Editorial: Art Rosenfeld's Legacy

February 19, 2017
Spring 2017
A version of this article appears in the Spring 2017 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Art Rosenfeld, the father of modern energy efficiency, recently passed away. You may not have heard of Art, but he transformed the way you save energy.

So you want to design an energy-efficient home? You’ll need to simulate the home’s energy use with a model. Art pioneered the computer-based building simulation model and the procedures for estimating energy savings. These same models enabled states and regions to enact performance-based building codes, which are now used worldwide. Without these models you couldn’t be sure that the home would coast through the coldest night, and you couldn’t accurately size an air conditioner. Virtually every building simulation tool in existence can ultimately be traced back to Art and his research team at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Alan Meier (Yasushi Kato)

That efficient home will need efficient appliances. Art proposed the first minimum-efficiency standards for refrigerators and other major appliances. He tirelessly expounded their virtues in Sacramento, Washington, D.C., Beijing, Moscow, and other capitals around the world. You can credit Art for pushing manufacturers to build refrigerators that now use less than a quarter of the electricity that they used at the beginning of his career, despite being larger and having more-versatile features.

Art was early to recognize the importance of reducing air infiltration to save heating energy. But how do you know whether a house is leaky or tight? Enter the blower door. Art’s research program standardized the techniques for measuring air infiltration. But he quickly realized that overtight homes made for unhealthy indoor air quality. So he advocated a linked strategy of house tightening and controlled ventilation. He established an entire research program to ensure that tight homes could be healthy homes, too

Finally, efficient buildings need efficient lighting. Art recruited physicists and engineers to develop a new generation of energy-efficient lights. He’s one of the reasons that bulbs nowadays draw one-fifth the power of those old incandescent heaters. As for natural lighting, Art’s window research program helped develop superwindows that offer as much insulating value as opaque walls. Innovations like these allow us to have new, zero energy homes that don’t look like thermos bottles.

Art Rosenfeld transformed the field of energy efficiency from a research afterthought into a mainstream movement. (Berkeley Lab)

Art was a master at evoking unexpected and unforgettable perspectives on energy policy. How leaky were America’s windows? So leaky, he told us, that offsetting the heat lost through those windows required the entire output of the Alaskan oil pipeline. The electricity savings from shifting to more-efficient refrigerators he often expressed in units of avoided nuclear power plants (much to the consternation of utility executives).

Art took notice of early research showing that urban heat islands caused higher temperatures, more smog, and created the need for more power-guzzling air conditioners. In response, he and his collaborators developed new materials to reflect solar radiation. Now when you buy an Energy Star roof, it’s cooler—and your home uses less AC—because of Art.

We at Home Energy were grateful to Art for being one of our silent founders and supporters. He embedded our editorial offices in his research program on energy-efficient buildings. This enabled Home Energy staff to easily access the best building scientists (including Art).

I am personally grateful to Art because he shaped my career. Art was a professor, but more important, he was a mentor to legions of students, colleagues, and even strangers. He demonstrated that one can be both great and decent, treating everybody with respect while eagerly sharing his curiosity for all things. These are important lessons for all of us.

Will Art Rosenfeld’s legacy persist? Pessimists fear that little of it will endure. I disagree. Yes, there will be hiccups, but Art’s contributions will outlive temporary political shifts. And in the meantime, Americans everywhere will be saving energy and dollars, and enjoying healthier indoor and outdoor environments, all thanks to Art Rosenfeld.

Alan Meier is Senior Executive Editor of Home Energy.

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