In Latin America and the Caribbean, women often responsible for taking care of the home and raising children. In the region, millions of women stay at home to take care of the housework and children. What does this have to do with energy? A lot.
Since women and children spend more time at home, they will mostly benefit if the family can afford higher thermal quality housing, i.e. a house where the temperature inside is comfortable, whether it is hot or cold outside.
If the house is not properly designed (in terms of the orientation of the house, appropriate building elements, ventilation rates, etc.), it will not be able to maintain a comfortable temperature inside – usually between 18 and 26 Celsius. When temperatures at home move outside of that range, families are “outside the comfort range” and seek alternative strategies to overcome the problem. They do this either through the use of fans and/or air conditioners in hot weather and/or heating when it’s cold. The use of this equipment has, however, increases the cost of energy and that is an added cost that families sometimes cannot afford.
What do families do when they cannot pay for the energy they need? They use other strategies that negatively impact their quality of life, especially that of women and children. For example, overcrowding (“sleeping all in a room”) or the use of an inefficient and polluting alternative to home heating equipment (using the stove and/or charcoal/kerosene). For example, in an interview in Mexicali, Mexico a woman in an uninsulated house explained that, “The paraffin is bad for my son, but we had no choice, because it was easier to use.”
Several countries have implemented programs to improve energy efficiency in homes, which in turn improves the quality of life of people. The United States offers grants and technical assistance to implement energy efficiency measures in the homes of vulnerable families. In Germany, there is a program that combines loans and grants to finance energy efficiency measures for families. In Latin America, the Chilean government provides subsidies to the most vulnerable to improve the thermal quality of housing in which they live, and in Mexico, the ECOCASA program is an initiative to improve the construction standards for new low cost housing. These programs seek to reduce energy consumption and focus on improving insulation in homes, which impacts the quality of life for many families.
Improving an existing home or influencing future decisions related to construction is not easy. It is a process that requires the participation of many people: engineers and architects must be able to incorporate these concepts into home design and technicians must ensure the quality of facilities while developers of real estate projects must have appropriate rules and incentives to build new homes or improve existing ones. State involvement along the chain of activities is essential: training, awareness, monitoring, and evaluation are key issues.
When all actors work together they can achieve not only the transformation of our homes into energy efficient spaces, but also allow many families to permanently improve their quality of life.
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