Category Archives: Efficiency

Advantages of Solar Energy

Solar energy offers considerable advantages over conventional energy systems by nullifying flaws in those systems long considered to be unchangeable. Solar power for home energy production has its flaws, too, which are outlined in another article, but they’re dwarfed by the advantages listed below.

The following are advantages of solar energy:

  • Raw materials are renewable and unlimited. The amount of available solar energy is staggering — roughly 10,000 times that currently required by humans — and it’s constantly replaced. A mere 0.02% of incoming sunlight, if captured correctly, would be sufficient to replace every other fuel source currently used.
    Granted, the Earth does need much of this solar energy to drive its weather, so let’s look only at the unused portion of sunlight that is reflected back into space, known as the albedo. Earth’s average albedo is around 30%, meaning that roughly 52 petawatts of energy is reflected by the Earth and lost into space every year. Compare this number with global energy-consumption statistics.  Annually, the energy lost to space is the combined equivalent of 400 hurricanes, 1 million Hoover Dams, Great Britain’s energy requirement for 250,000 years, worldwide oil, gas and coal production for 387 years, 75 million cars, and 50 million 747s running perpetually for one year (not to mention 1 million fictional DeLorean time machines!).

(read full article on InterNACHI)

Water stoves

Water stoves, also known as outdoor wood-burning stoves and outdoor wood boilers (OWBs), are freestanding heating units used to heat homes and domestic hot water, hot tubs, swimming pools and greenhouses. Situated outside the building envelope, they typically consist of a water reservoir and firebox, appearing together like a small tool shed with a smokestack. Air is heated in the firebox and passed through channels in the water reservoir, which is heated and pumped underground through insulated pipes to the house. A thermostat that monitors the temperature of the water in the reservoir controls the furnace draft.

(read full article on InterNACHI)

Lighting Quality

Efforts to enhance home energy efficiency have spurred a growth in a variety of alternative lighting sources that use less energy than conventional incandescent bulbs. With this improvement comes a greater variety of light quality, although this latter property has become obscured amidst the excitement generated by energy savings. How well do these new, “green” lighting sources actually render color to the human eye? They can illuminate a room at a lower cost, but is it necessary to forfeit the ability to tell whether your clothes match just to save money and energy? Many consumers and inspectors should be aware of a metric designed to quantify this aspect, known as the color rendering index, known as CRI. CRI is a measure of how well light sources render the colors of the things they illuminate, such as skin tones and fabrics…(read full article on InterNACHI)

Easy ways to save money and energy at home

According to Energy Star, a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), which costs only a few dollars, will save about $30 over its lifespan and will pay for itself in just six months. In addition, CFLs actually reduce mercury emissions around the world, because they lessen the need for electricity from power plants that emit mercury. Coal-fired power generation accounts for 51 percent of the mercury emissions in the U.S. But CFL bulbs contain mercury, so some people prefer not to use them due to safety concerns if a bulb brakes. LED light bulbs (light-emitting diodes) cost more upfront but last even longer than CFLs, consume less energy and they contain no mercury.
What are some other easy ways to save energy and money? How about getting rid of the phantom of the office? Desktop computers and laptops continue to use power in sleep mode if they are plugged in. There are similar phantoms-phantom electrical loads-that can be found throughout the home. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that 75 percent of electricity used to power home electronics is actually consumed while the products are turned off. Some people feel it is not convenient to turn multiple appliances and electronics on and off, but a power strip allows multiple devices to be turned off with one switch. Conserving water is becoming a fact of life. Using less water will lower the overall water bill, and using less hot water will save on the electric or gas bill. Lowering the hot water temperature to 120° saves energy and is hot enough for showers and use in clothes washers and dish­washers. Water-efficient fixtures, including showerheads, faucets and toilets are available, and appliances should be upgraded to those labeled with the Energy Star designation as they are replaced. Demand-type water heaters (tankless) provide hot water only where it is needed and do not produce the standby energy losses associated with traditional storage water heaters. Creating a drought-resistant landscaping can also cut down on water usage outdoors.
When the air-conditioner is on, another way to reduce energy consumption is by raising the temperature. For every degree higher it is set, cooling costs are reduced between seven and ten percent. Periodically replace air filters when running the heating or cooling system and it will operate more efficiently. Ceiling and whole-house fans can also play a large role in keeping inside temperatures manageable while reducing cooling and heating costs.
With more than fifty percent of a home’s energy use going towards heating and cooling, slowing the flow of air between inside and out can make it easier to control temperature. Adding insulation in the ceiling is one way to reduce that air flow. Measuring the current level of insulation is easy and can be done using a yardstick to measure the thickness of the insulation, and then multiplying the thickness by the R-value (resistance to heat flow) of the insulation material. The R-value ratings of a variety of attic insulations can be found on the Department of Energy website. The site also lists the appropriate R-value ratings for various parts of the country. Adding insulation to an attic is often one of the most cost-effective methods of improving a home’s energy performance.
Sealing areas where air leaks may occur will save energy and lower energy costs. Some common areas to check include weather-stripping around doors, caulk around window frames and any unsealed spaces around pipes; check for air leaks in the attic hatch, around fireplace dampers, mail slots, and wall- or window-mounted air conditioners.

It’s filter replacement time!

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Most of us remember to check and change the filters in our heating and air conditioning systems regularly (and we help by reminding you to do so), but as they say on infomercials, “Wait, there’s more!” Most range vents and vent hoods have changeable filters as do many bathroom exhaust and heating fans. Home water filters (drinking water, pitcher, countertop/faucet, under counter drinking water or refrigerator water/icemaker filters) also need to be changed on a regular basis; so do shower and whole house water filtration filters. In general, a larger unit will have a special compartment, which contains a cartridge-style filter. Saving the packaging from the filter will give you detailed instructions about removal, replacement and proper intervals for future filter changes. While you are at it don’t forget to check and clean or replace the little filters in your aerated faucets.

Energy efficiency: Attic insulation upgrade issues

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We all want our homes to be more energy efficient.  And, with attractive rebate incentives from local utility providers to improve attic insulation, there’s little reason to not jump on board.  In fact, priority #1 should be to air seal and insulate the attic.  Why?  Because hot air rises.  You want to keep it in the house.

A few issues I commonly run into when inspecting older homes that have recently installed attic insulation are concerning.  The most common is for insulation to be blown in around everything, including furnace flues.  Clearance requirements vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but at least one (1) inch, free-and-clear, is required of all.  Insulation in contact with the chimney flue is a safety hazard and is all too commonly discovered.  The second issue I discover is blown-in insulation completely restricting the roof’s soffit vents.  By restricting attic ventilation, you run the risk of elevated moisture and humidity in the attic area.  This can lead to moisture and insect related issues, together with the real possibility of structural problems down the line.  The insulation contractor should install baffles (typically card board or styrofoam), designed to keep insulation away from the underlying soffit vents, and allow for free and unrestricted ventilation of the roof system.

So, yes, please have your attics insulated and brought up to prescriptive levels (typically R38).  But, ensure that your contractor does it right and keeps your home safe.  The simple installation of a sheet metal protective shroud around the chimney flues and soffit baffles will keep your home safe and properly functioning.  Plus, you’ll enjoy substantially reduced heating bills from the increased insulation!

Top Stealth Home Energy Hogs!

Front view of network wired routerIn Forbes magazine, William Pentland says, “The relentless rise of electricity prices over the past decade has made many consumers more conscientious about how they use electric power. Many of those conscientious people may find it frustrating – to put it mildly – that their daily or even hourly efforts to turn off devices they’re not using hasn’t delivered the results they’d expected. The blame belongs to the growing number of “vampire” or “phantom” electronic products that populate today’s typical home. An alarmingly large number of electrical products cannot be truly turned off without being unplugged. These “vampire” products draw power 24 hours a day, whether on or off. See the article for a list of 26 electrical products that consume the most juice while they’re off.

Could occupancy sensors help save you money?

Light bulb with dollarIndoor lighting occupancy sensors detect activity within an area. They turn lights on automatically when someone enters a room. They reduce lighting energy use by turning lights off soon after the last occupant has left the room. The sensors must be located where they will detect occupants or activity in all parts of the room.

There are two types of occupancy sensors: Ultrasonic sensors detect sound, while infrared sensors detect heat and motion. In addition to controlling ambient lighting in a room, they are useful for task lighting applications, such as over kitchen counters. In such applications, task lights are turned on by the motion of a person washing dishes, for instance, and automatically turn off a few minutes after the person stops.

Both are readily available online and at retail stores.

How to keep second floors warmer!

StaircaseDo your feet get cold on your upstairs floor in the winter? Does the downstairs roast while the upstairs chills? Are there big vaulted ceilings that restrict air movement? You’ve probably checked the furnace filter, but did you (or a professional) check the ducting for leaks, obstructions, proper sizing and number? Are your ceiling fans set for winter circulation? Is the insulation sufficient? All of these are factors are common heating issues in modern two-story homes. Here are some good suggestions from eHow for how to improve second-floor heating. If you continue to have problems after you’ve done all the common-sense things within your abilities, we suggest you find a qualified professional to check the system.