Published Saturday March 1, 2014:  Updated 3/15/2014

How to Easily Reduce Air Pollution

In the Northern Utah, we face a difficult challenge during the winter months. Our unique geography (a large valley surrounded on all sides by mountains) has the uncanny ability of trapping the air under an inversion layer and causing pollution levels to build up for weeks and months at a time. It is for this reason (and our urban, sprawling population) that require us to be even more diligent than other places in the country at mitigating air pollution.

While the oil refineries and mining/refining industries are an easy target at which to point fingers, (why we continue to refine oil in the middle of a large metropolis valley that suffers from unhealthy air pollution is beyond me), industry is actually only 11% of the pollution problem. Of the remaining lion’s share, 57% is caused by all the cars.  The other 32% is from all the houses and buildings.

In other words, the pollution problem is all of us. We are to blame for the air quality and it is a higher cause of health problems than second hand smoke. 

But we still have to live right? We still need to go places? What can be done? How can we do it cheaply, without destroying the economy and without, sacrificing convenience and luxury and without totally changing our way of life?

May I offer up a few suggestions. These could solve most of our air quality problems with minimal cost and effort.

Higher Building Standards and efficiency/renewable energy incentives:

It costs thousands less to build a house correctly the first time than to fix/retrofit it later.

The labor involved in running a conduit (or cable) before a wall is enclosed is much, much less than afterward and no demolition/remodeling needs to take place either.

  • Building codes for more insulation and better air sealing in homes and businesses. An extra $700 in insulation and $500 in labor spent building a home correctly will save tens of thousands of dollars in energy bills over the life of the home.

  • Rule that 30 amp (or higher) 240VAC be wired into every garage to allow for fast electric vehicle charging. This would cost less than $100 in wire and materials in most new homes and will allow an easy transition to driving an electric vehicle when that time comes. Oh and in case you are wondering, the time is now.

  • Incentives to help single parents/ poor families to make their homes more energy efficient.

  • Code or builders incentive that all new homes come with a basic, whole-house power monitoring system (for example, A TED5000 system costs about $250). Knowing that your house has an energy leak is key to fixing and stopping it.  It will save you money and prevent unnecessary pollution.  

  • Code or builders incentive to build homes with a ground-loop heat pump (Geothermal HVAC).

  • Code or builders incentive to build homes with solar PV installed.

  • Code or builders incentive to build homes with LED lighting installed.  

  • Better state incentives for home owners to install solar PV.

  • Code or builders incentive to include conduit or pre-wiring for future solar panels.

  • State LED light bulb incentives for home-owners.

  • Builders incentive for new homes to come with energy efficient appliances.

  • For older, existing housing, as the house is sold, its attic insulation must meet a determined minimum R-value (R-46 or higher).  There are already utility incentives in place for adding insulation so the cost would be minimal. 

  • No more open flue fire places for wood burning.  Any new wood burning fireplace installed should be a catalytic wood burning fireplace with a heat exchanger.

Zoning Laws:

  • Zoning or builders incentive for higher than code, home efficiency for new construction.

  • Zoning or builders incentive to allow for residential homes to not shade each other and allow for better passive solar heating.

  • Zoning or builders incentive for homes to be oriented for maximum winter time, passive solar heating.

  • Zoning or builders incentive for roof-lines and eves to allow for passive shading in the summer time.

  • Zoning or builders incentive for roof-lines to be conducive to mounting solar panels.

  • Zoning to protect small farms close to neighborhoods (more local food and reduced shipping costs).

  • Better land use planning to allow for more walking/biking through the neighborhood. (discourage long dead-end streets).  Each neighborhood developed should not be sequestered off from the adjacent one.

  • Schools and recreational centers to be within walking distances from homes.  Build multistory schools.

The State Government as an Example for adopting electric cars 

Service trucks do lots of starting and stopping. Regenerative braking in an EV is a perfect compliment for these energy wasting tasks.

  • Electric mail delivery trucks (start with at least 5-10 of them) with 240V fast charging station at each pilot post office.

  • Electric garbage trucks (start with 3-5 of them).

  • Electric police vehicles (start with 5-10 of them). Police have to idle more than any other vehicle on the road. An EV has better acceleration than a comparable gas car. The average city patrol car only drives about 50 miles a day, well within the range of an EV. Most of their time is spent patrolling and not driving. 

  • Electric vehicles to at least 10-20 government employees for commuting.

  • More public charging stations.

  • More state incentives to buy Electric vehicles.

Promote more efficient driving:

  • Lower freeway speed-limits (55 mph??) in air-shed-sensitive areas along the Wasatch front. Air resistance increases 8x for every doubling in speed; increased fuel consumption and pollution follows. If you drive 10 miles on the freeway to get to work, it will take you an extra 1 minute and 54 seconds to drive to work going 55 mph vs 75 mph. Yet your car will get 35% better fuel mileage and pollute that much less.
  • Excessive idling laws (already starting to happen).

  • All cars to display instantaneous and average fuel mileage.

  • Better traffic light synchronization.

  • Free public transportation for everyone along the Wasatch front during bad air periods (winter time and summer fire seasons).