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Home Efficiency Overview

Why Home Efficiency?

  • Homes Built in the Last Century Consume Lots of Energy.

    The average American home uses more than 11,000 kilo watt hours (KWH) per year. That's 11 million watt hours. The primary source of that energy mostly comes from coal and natural gas. Here's a chart published by the Department of Energy that shows average monthly consumption in KWH as well as the average monthly electric bill compiled for all American states.
  • Global Warming.

    Today we define global warming as the trend of average temperatures rising due to human activity. The chief proponents of global warming are Chuck Hansen of NASA, writer Bill McKibben, actor Ed Begley Jr., and former vice president Al Gore. Dr. Chuck Hansen spent most of his career collect data on planetary climate trends. He sounded the alarm many years ago, that we are forcing the earth's temperature rise by our industrious oil and gas powered activities. Bill McKibben grew up near very natural beautiful scenery, that he felt was being threatened. This motivated him to write the first book on global climate change, titled "The End of Nature". Ed Begley Jr. began conserving energy and recycling in the early 1970s. He later became an activist and produced several books and a TV series on home efficiency. Mr. Al Gore had a professor in college that warned of the correlation of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had with increasing temperatures. These are the most publicly recognized people advocating policy change in favour of stricter emissions laws.

    However, there are thousands of scientists who have concluded from the data they have collected all over the planet, that we are in trouble if we don't change our ways. This Climate Assessment Document is composed of many independent studies done around the world arrives at generally the same conclusion: the planet is warming.

  • Save Money.

    Mostly energy efficient home improvements have a finite payback period of between 5 and 10 years. Meaning that once a solar array or geo-thermal heat pump is installed, your utility bill will be reduced. The reduction is just like a pay check you receive in the mail every month. This is because that is money you used to pay out every month to the utility companies. Eventually that virtual payment will pay-off the cost of your investment in the renewable replacement.
  • Boost the Economy.

    About 99% of homes in America today need to be retrofitted to make them much more efficient than they are today. That would mean millions of good paying jobs as well as thousands of small business opportunities for entrepreneurs. However, we need to get started in a big way with incentives and law changes from our government. When we made slavery against the law, the industrial revolution started. When laws change in favor of green companies and against dirty carbon producing companies, so many great ideas will come to bare.

    Today's transportation industry is a six Trillion dollar business. There are a billion cars on the road that need to be replaced with carbon free technology.

  • Future Generations.

    At the rate we are polluting the air in the name of economic expansion and progress, the natural systems that sustain us, such fertile fields for food growth, will not exist within this century. We've ignored or rejected proposals to making changes to the way we live and move around for the last thirty years. Now time is running out. It's like a class project that gets assigned at the beginning of the semester. The teacher told us we can not pass the class without completing this project and getting a good score on it. However, most humans will wait until the last week of class to get started on it. Some will finish and others will not. If you hadn't started on the project until the last week, it's a stressful period, often termed anxiety. We're in the last week of the climate change class now. Some are still debating whether there is a project assignment due. If we don't complete the assignment and make big changes from the highest levels of government, industry, and corporations to families in industrialised and developing nations, our children and grandchildren will not have the same quality of life we enjoy today.
  • Government Incentives.

    The many government incentives now available help to greatly reduce the payback period for your home efficiency upgrade.

Home Energy Efficiency Check-List

  • Determining Your Energy Consumption from Past Utility Bills

    Dig out your water, electric, and heating bills for the last twelve months. If you didn't keep your bills, most utility companies make them available through their website in PDF format that can be downloaded and printed out. Add the monthly total usage for each utility type to get the annual usage. For example, for your electric bills, add the total kilowatt hours (KWH) of each month to get the total annual KWH. These figures are used for several things. You can calculate the average monthly usage to get a baseline for improvement. They are used by you and installers to size a new system.

  • Other Ways of Determining Your Consumption

    There are some new devices available that monitor energy consumption in your home. Listed from simplest to complex, they are plug-in energy monitor, whole house electricity monitor, and smart meters. A plug-in energy monitor is simply a multi-meter that goes between an electric load device, such as a radio, and your wall outlet. It not gives voltage and current readings, but with cost per kilo-watt hour (kwh) entered, it tells you how much you are paying to power the device.

  • Energy Plan (Setting Goals)

    There are many considerations when attempting to improve your home's efficiency. You must consider time and money as well as what needs to be done. It is best to start with an evaluation of what needs to be done. This can be done with an energy audit or using the tips given in this web site. Once you have a list, you can prioritize it according to your budget and return on investment (ROI) of time and money. It is suggested to "pick the low hanging fruit" first. In other words, implement those upgrades that give you "the most bang for the buck". These improvements are quick, easy, inexpensive, and provide the greatest savings of energy. These would include such things as changing light bulbs and sealing air leaks in your walls.

    Then, consider upgrades that are a bit more difficult in terms of task performance or cost. Decide which tasks you can learn to do yourself or with a small volunteer team and which tasks must be performed by qualified experts.

    Finally, for expensive projects, requiring licensed contractors, plan a budget that may include financing or setting aside an amount from your monthly income until you have enough funds to get the job done. Typically, the contractor can help you arrange financing for the project.

    Typical goals you should strive for are as follows:

    • The home should be air tight and extremely well insulated.
    • The home should have small or alternative heating and cooling systems.
    • The home should have windows that allow solar heat into the house in the winter and deflect it in the summer.
    • The home should have lighting and appliances that are the most efficient available.
    • The home may have solar or other renewable energy source to generate electricity.
  • Energy Survey (Audit, Test)

    An energy audit is a many part test done on your home by a licensed expert that results in recommendations for improvement in home efficiency. There are three levels of testing that are similar to you getting a health examination.
  • Tackle the Easy Ones First

    If you are on a tight budget there are many things you can do to save energy in the home. Start by replacing your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights (CFL). CFLs are screw into the same socket as regular light bulbs and use a fraction of the energy.
  • Lighting and Appliances

    Evaluate your lighting and appliances. Determine if any need repair or updating. Consider installing a home automation system to control lighting, home entertainment, and security systems automatically according to your lifestyle. Consider replacing appliance that are more than 10 years old. Today's Energy Star rated appliances are much more efficient.
  • Water Heating

    In addition to assuring your traditional water is operating most efficiently, there are several cost effective alternatives that can heat your water just as well using less energy.
  • Simple Steps Improving Heating and Cooling Efficiency

    Here are some step you can take now to making your heating and cooling systems more efficient.
    • Change your air filter regularly. Your central heating and cooling system work less with clean filters.
    • Recondition your furnace and air conditioner at least once per year. Any dust build up that impedes air flow causes your system to work harder. Simply keeping your fins and dust free of dust build up can save money and extend the life of your system.
    • Install a programmable thermostat. This allows you to set schedules on a daily and weekly basis according to how your family moves around and in and out of the house.
    • Seal your heating and cooling ducts. Air leakage, especially in the vented attic or basement is a huge energy loss, and can save you lots of money if kept air tight.
    • Consider installing ENERGY STAR qualified heating and cooling equipment. The tax incentives greatly reduce the cost of such upgrades.
    • Ask about Proper Installation of your new equipment. Be sure to hire qualified lobar for the installation. Ask for references.
  • Landscaping

    Two motivations here. We'll talk about designing your landscape to cool your house in the summer and keep it warmer in the winter. The second issue is designing the landscape to conserve water. Both are big topics and will be discussed in their own separate sections of this web site.
  • Finding and Sealing Leaks

    Is there a room in your house that is always colder in the winter and hotter in the summer? Do your windows or doors whistle when its windy? These are good areas to look for air leaks and seal them. We'll show what materials to use.
  • Insulation

    Most heat loss in the winter occurs through the attic. It is open to the outside for ventilation purposes. This are is more accessible than between your walls, so there is great opportunity to add several layers of insulation material that could save you money.
  • Windows and Doors

    Make sure your windows are at least double pane. Some home owners install triple pane windows or windows that are extra thick to reduce thermal losses. You can also use your south facing windows for heating in the winter and stop unwanted sun from coming in during the summer months by shutting the blinds. Exterior doors should be heavy and fit snugly into the door threshold.
  • Cooling Systems

    The cost of running an air conditioner can be huge, accounting for the largest electrical expense for many households in hot regions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 1/7 of all electricity generated in the U.S. is used to cool buildings. The good news is that you can reduce or eliminate your use of air-conditioning by implementing the alternative low-energy cooling methods we describe on this web site.
  • Heating Systems

    The cost of heating is the biggest expense for many families. Heating your home has a large environmental impact also. If you heat with natural gas, propane, or oil, your chimney emits and average of 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and other pollutants in a year. Most home-owners can reduce this by 10-50% through a combination of maintenance, repairs, and upgrades.
  • Renewable Energy Considerations

    Photovoltaic systems produce electricity from sunlight. This electricity can be used to operate lights, appliances, and electronics in your home that normally consume electricity from the power grid. Photovoltaic (PV) systems have been used in homes and businesses for decades, but the industry is in it's infancy, and is just now starting to take off. The increased demand stems from several factors: improved technology allows higher efficiency solar panels, government financial incentives, and rising utility costs, and environmental realisations.
  • Moisture Management and Ventilation

    When excess moisture accumulates in your home, it can cause health problems, deteriorate building materials, and increase your energy consumption. Most homes are ventilated by air leakage, with help from kitchen and bath exhaust fans. However, air leakage isn;t a reliable or efficient way to control moisture. The best way to maintain good indoor air quality is with a whole-house ventilation system that provides fresh air when and where it's needed.
  • Buying or Building a New Home

    In the near future local governments will require home sellers to disclose what they have done to make the home more efficient. For example, if you have installed a circulating floor heater under your carpet or dug in a geothermal heat pump in your back yard, you will be required to disclose these items to the buyer of your property. This obviously will have a positive effect on your home value. If you are in the market for buying a home, you should ask what has been done to improve energy efficiency. If you are building a new home, consider using alternative building materials, rather than stucco and studs. Some of the alternative building materials are concrete insulated walls, straw-bale, rammed earth, papercrete, bamboo flooring, and preformed Styrofoam walls.
  • Transportation

    Keep your car tuned up and make sure the tires have adequate air pressure. Low tires and dirty spark plugs waste gas. When it's time to buy or lease a new car, there are many incentives to getting one that is hybrid or totally electric. The federal government ran a cash for clunkers program awhile back and may run it again. You could trade in your car for one that is more efficient and get thousands of dollar credit towards the new car. The old car gets taken off the roads permanently and the metal gets recycled for another application. In addition, if you buy a new car that uses alternative fuels such as electric or biogas, tax credits may be available.
  • Home Computers and Peripherals

    Personal computers (PC) and their associated peripherals can use quite a bit of electricity. The PC itself can use 60 to 200 watts when in use. When idle it can still use up to 6 watts. In addition, displays, printers, speakers, and other devices connected to the PC also use power, even when not in use.

    Trickle Saver reduces vampire voltages
    Trickle Saver Reduces Vampire Voltages

    Here's a device, Tricklestar PC TrickleSaver, that can save electricity by turning off all your extra devices when the PC is turned off. It just plugs into one of your USB ports and also between your wall outlet and your power strip. It detects when the PC is turned off, then disconnects the power to your power strip, thereby turning off all your devices at once. When the PC is turned on again, Tricklestar PC TrickleSaver powers up all of your peripherals also.

What Government Incentives are Available?

Government tax incentives vary with the economy. When tax incentives are given, the most prominent motive is the affect it will have on the economy. Many of the the stimulus packages for cars given in early 2009 were instituted to hold off collapse of the economy, with a secondary motivation to improve the environment. Most of those new car tax credits have expired once the Federal money ran out. The same holds true for state home improvement programs; there is only a limited amount of money available, and credits are given until the money runs out. Future incentives will certainly be available after congress decides what's it's priorities are.

  • Federal

    On the Federal level, there is a 30% up to $1500 tax credit given for many home improvement projects and upgrades. This credit is good until 2016. President Obama on December 17 signed a bill that temporarily extends through 2011 various energy efficiency and renewable energy provisions, including Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provides cash assistance to energy producers in place of tax credits. Under this program, the federal government provides a cash payment in lieu of a tax credit totalling 30% of the qualifying cost of the project. The measure, passed by the U.S. House and U.S. Senate and hailed by renewable energy industry associations, extends for one year the start-of-construction deadline for projects such as wind and solar power that are eligible under Section 1603.
  • State

    Generally there are many state incentives for installing solar water heaters, solar electric, geo-thermal heat pumps, and other high efficiency home improvements. However, the money comes and goes with allotments. Most of the credits are managed by the utility authority. So, check with your utility company to see what is currently available.

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Home Efficiency Tips