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Energy Efficiency Highlights


Common Problems Found In Homes Today

Stick built houses, which comprises 99% of American single family homes, are probably the most energy consumptive structures for living. Even if all the air gaps around your doors and windows are sealed, you still have a thermal path through the dry wall, the fiber glass insulation and the exterior siding. Homes built with 2x4s and plaster board are unable to prevent the penetration of elevated outside temperatures into the living space. Aside from that, the dried wood between the walls and the rafters in the ceiling are very flammable. Other building materials such as adobe, cob, papercrete, rammed earth, poured earth, strawbale, and bamboo that are much better at isolating outside and indoor temperatures. Why do most of us live in stick built houses? Because the building suppliers such as lumber companies are very large corporations that pay lot of money to lobbyists to make it very difficult for building codes to change in favor of alternative construction techniques.

However, we got stuck with a stick built house and that's what we have to work with; to try to make it more efficient. And there are many techniques and ideas to help us do that. We've listed common problems by the resource that gets wasted.

  • Natural Gas or Heating Oil
    1. Air leaks in doors and windows
    2. Air leaks in walls and ceilings
    3. Improper insulation in walls, basement, and attic
    4. Inefficient or outdated heater
    5. Outdated thermostat
    6. Air leaks through fireplace
    7. Air leaks through bathroom and kitchen overhead fans
  • Electricity
    1. All of above and ...
    2. Inadequate attic ventilation
    3. Improperly sized air conditioner
    4. Attached un-insulated garage
    5. Thermostat set too low.
    6. No renewable energy sources
    7. Inefficient or outdated appliances
    8. Bad Habits using Electronics and Computers
  • Water
    1. Leaky plumbing
    2. Leaky faucets
    3. Hot water to faucet delay
    4. Water use habits
    5. Landscaping

Financing Home Improvements

There are many financing options available today. Some banks even have loans tailored to home efficiency projects.

However, most home improvement loans are home equity loans, meaning you must have equity in your home to qualify for the loan. With the housing crash of 2008, most of us owe more on the house than it is worth. This is the reason there are so many foreclosures in today's housing market. Only those who bought their house back in the 60s and 70s very cheaply and/or have paid off the loan on the house, have equity in the house. If you bought within the past 10 years, your house is not worth what you paid. In Las Vegas, Nevada, most homes are worth only ONE THIRD what they were in 2004.

So that means you need to use your own savings to improve your home efficiency, or go slow and do it yourself.

Scaling Upgrades to Fit Your Budget

So if you have equity in your house, obtaining a home improvement loan is fairly easy. However, if you are like most home owners, you need to plan your improvements according to your budget and free time. If you are on a tight budget, consider picking the low hanging fruit. That is, do the things that get you the most bang for your buck. For example, operating your air conditioner a couple a degrees higher than normal can really make a difference on your electric bill. In the winter, turn the thermostat down as much as feasible when leaving the home. These are the kind of suggestions that will be most numerous on this site. Most of today's home owners are sons and daughters of the Great Depression generation. We need to re-awaken the survival techniques used by those folks.

Energy Efficiency Definitions

We see home energy efficiency as a path towards, but never reaching, perfection. You can always strive for a 100% efficient home, but will never get, just because of the physics of the materials used in home construction. However, you can have lots of fun doing projects that will get you closer to a perfect home. There is satisfaction in not only completing an efficiency project, but also in knowing you are going to be saving some money and reducing you carbon foot print. Here are some terms commonly used when discussing home efficiency.

  • Energy Efficiency

    Making your home use less imported energy thus saving on your utility bills and reducing your carbon footprint.
  • Energy Audit, Survey

    Energy auditing professionals take measurements of all the inflows and outflows of energy through your home and recommend improvements. They may use specialized equipment such as blower doors and/or infra-red scanners. The auditor may be independent or may work for a company that will do the upgrade work. At the end of the audit, the auditor will issue a report and will explain the areas that most need to be addressed.
  • Carbon Footprint

    Carbon footprint is an estimated measure of the amount of carbon produced by your family during the normal course of daily activities. It includes the amount of carbon produced by such things as heating and cooling your home and place of work, the type of vehicle you drive, the number of miles or kilometers driven per period, the type of food you eat, how often you use electric appliances and electronics in your home, and even where your waste goes. The total carbon used by your household is meaningful when comparing it to similar households in other states and countries. For example, the average American household of one person emits 27 tons of carbon dioxide per year. If you can keep your carbon output below this, you are ahead of the game. However, depending on the climate you are in, such as a desert climate where air conditioning use is very high, it may be difficult to stay within the national average without some major appliance changes. If you drive a large SUV, like a Chevy Suburban, and drive an average 10,000 per year, you are contributing more than 8 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

    A carbon calculator showing individual results, national and world averages.
    Nature Conservancy Carbon Calculator Results
  • Appliance Efficiency

    Comparing USA standards of living with other, less advanced countries, the amount of carbon we produce to maintain the high level of comfort that we do, could be reduced greatly just by going back to the basics. For example, most water heaters in America hold large amounts of water in a tank, which must be constantly heated by natural gas or electricity. In most other countries, water is heated on demand with tank-less water heaters.

    Appliance efficiency can be achieved in two ways: reducing the use of existing appliances and replacing old appliances with new ones that are much more efficient.

  • Energy Star

    Energy Star is a government rating and testing method that certifies appliances, electronics, and heating and cooling systems. Choosing and Energy Star rated equipment assures that you are getting top efficiency available in the American market.

  • Energy Conversion Efficiency

    Energy conversion efficiency is the ratio of useful energy output as it relates to the amount of energy put into a device. It is measured in percent. The output energy can never be more than the input energy because energy can only be converted from one source to another. If an output energy is less then 100%, then energy is lost or converted to some other non-useful by-product such as heat. The most illustrative example is an incandescent light. Only 5% of the input electricity is converted to light. The other 95% is wasted as heat.

    Efficiencies of common energy conversion devices

    Energy Conversion DeviceEnergy ConversionConversion %
    Electric HeaterElectricity → Thermal100%
    Hair DrierElectricity → Thermal100%
    Electric GeneratorMechanical → Electric95%
    Large Electric MotorElectric → Mechanical90%
    Dry Cell BatteryChemical → Electricity90
    Steam BoilerChemical → Thermal85
    Home Gas FurnaceChemical → Thermal85
    Home Oil FurnaceChemical → Thermal65
    Small Electric MotorElectric → Mechanical65
    Home Coal FurnaceChemical → Thermal55
    Steam TurbineThermal → Mechanical45
    Air Craft Gas TurbineChemical → Mechanical35
    Industrial Gas TurbineChemical → Mechanical30
    Car EngineChemical → Mechanical25
    Fluorescent LightElectric → Light20
    Silicon Solar CellSolar → Electric15
    Steam LocomotiveChemical → Mechanical10
    Incandescent LightElectric → Light5

    Source: Penn State University

Energy Efficiency Awareness

Energy efficiency awareness happens on several levels. Once corporations with large offices and factories realize that there is a benefit both to the environment and to their bottom line, they usually act very quickly in converting their properties to more energy friendly sites. They also become more involved in their supply chain, making sure that their vendors are acting responsibly also. When the media tells the general public that there is a severe environmental problem that needs to be fixed, then the public generally makes the right decisions to act and to tell their government representatives to pass laws making home efficiency more viable. When individuals ascertain that there is a problem that needs to be fixed, they tend organize into groups, typically, to make the public more aware, and to encourage government action. Some of those organizations are listed below.

Al Gore

As many of you know, Al Gore has been involved in energy efficiency for decades. However, when he released his book and movie, "An Inconvenient Truth" in 2006, it made many aware that there is a problem with the way we treat the earth. The movie stirred much controversy among believers and non-believers. The important point, though, is that it opened the discussion to the mainstream. And now, there is not a country on earth that is not at least considering ways that they can lesson or offset their carbon output. And now there is actually a race between countries to see who can become the most efficient, carbon neutral nation. Germany, Israel, Denmark, and China are the front runners, making heavy investments in renewable energy. Thanks Mr. Gore.

Mr. Al Gore has also started or is involved in several activists groups with the intent of pressuring governments around the world for environmental legislation and public awareness. Some of these groups are Repower America, The Climate Project

Governmental and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs)

  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
  • Bureau of Energy Efficiency
  • Consortium for Energy Efficiency
  • American Solar Energy Society (ASES)
  • Energy Star
  • More Comprehensive List Here

Do It Yourself Activists

Do it yourselfers (DIY) is a growing group of people who like to take on home improvement projects without professional help. Some do it because they need a hobby. Other do it because, financially, it's the only way the task is going to get done. And some are hybrids. For example, a home owner wants to install their own solar panels to save money. He makes an agreement with an electrician for the home owner to do the manual low skilled work, while the skilled electrician makes sure the wiring is up to code.

Energy Efficiency Tax Credits, Rebates, Grants, Incentives, Loans


Federal Level

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 totaling 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 Level

State tax breaks for home efficiency can be split into two categories: renewable energy and energy efficiency. Renewable energy could be something like adding solar electric generating system to your house, while energy efficiency would be new insulation in your attic or new higher efficiency refrigerator and freezer. Most states and even many local governments have some sort of tax break for these types of items. These state tax incentives can be used in along with federal tax breaks for energy. State programs are very specific and can differ widely, but state tax breaks usually come in three main types: sales tax exemptions, income tax credits or deductions, and property tax rebates or exemptions. Incentives offered through state utility commissions are also very common.

Most Friendly Energy Efficiency Countries

Energy Efficiency Lighting

  • Background For more than 100 years we have used 95% inefficient incandescent light bulbs. When electricity was cheap, this was okay. Now the costs of producing electricity from fossil fuels is rising quickly. There are many great alternatives available today that are much more efficient. As production volume of alternative lighting increases, that costs to the home-owner comes down. However, regardless of how much you pay to replace your old light bulbs, you will earn the money back by saving on your electric bill.
  • Alternatives to incandescent lighting Switching to more efficient lighting is so important that we devoted two sections of this web site to it. Home Lighting contains information on halogen, fluorescent, and LED lighting. Our Light Bulbs page contains information on fluorescent, infra-red, and LED lighting.

Energy Efficiency Audits

An energy efficiency audit is method of assessing the potential improvements that could be made to your home to make it more efficient. The types of audits that are available are similar to the kinds of health exams available from you doctor.

  1. Level 1 Energy Efficiency Audit This kind of audit is a form you fill out answering basic questions about your home, your family's habits, and your desires. When you visit a doctor's office for the first time, they always have you fill out a questionnaire detailing your medical history. When the doctor scans the form, it gives him a general idea about your background and any prior problems the you had that she should consider in making a diagnosis. A level 1 energy audit makes a similar assessment. It doesn't make specific recommendations, only some generalities about which direction to proceed to the next step.
  2. Level 2 Energy Efficiency Audit This level is similar to going to do a physical exam at the doctor's office. The doctor is a family doctor, not a specialist. He or she will perform a range of tests that are standardized, meaning they perform the same tests for everyone. The nurse may check your blood pressure, pulse, draw blood, check cholesterol and weight. This type of efficiency audit covers blower door tests, infra-red tests, combustion safety testing, and visual inspections. However, the tests are standard. These tests may produce some recommendations that you could taken action on. You can take the test results to a contractor who can give estimates on the work that needs to be done. However, if these standard tests reveal some major problems, a third specialist level of testing may need to be performed on specific areas.

    In addition to checking for energy leaks, the audit may include safety areas such as air quality, and water issues such as faulty plumbing.

  3. Level 3 Energy Efficiency Audit This kind of audit will focus on specific areas of your home that were uncovered during a level 2 home audit. This efficiency plus audit examines a particular area of the house that might need further attention. For example, one room in your house always seems to be hotter in the summer and colder in the winter than the other rooms. This may require a specialist examination.

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