Typically, I’m not much for keeping statistical track of things. There are a few things that I do keep a close watch on (blood pressure, cholesterol, that kind of stuff). So, several years ago when I started paying real close attention to the energy consumption and livability of both our home and office I decided it was the right time to measure a few things.
At home we started with an energy analysis, including blower door test, duct blaster test and in-depth inspection. The news was pretty discouraging. Our 60-year-old home was a disaster. I mean, it looked nice, but was a huge energy waster. But thanks to the guidance of two energy efficiency experts, Ray Dick of Comfort Solutions, and Roger Clearman of Air & Energy Products, they did an admirable job guiding and educating me about the right things to do to make the home more energy efficient and livable.
Then the work began: insulation blown in to attics, spray foam around the entire home where the walls and the sill plate of the foundation met, and batts of fiberglass insulation in any vertical wall we could access. We sealed every place the blower door indicated we were getting air infiltration, inside and outside the home.
Then we installed a geothermal system (it had been pre-planned). All this was completed by April, 2010. Working with historical energy usage figures provided by the utility, here’s how the energy consumption looked:
2009 (pre-energy upgrade) gas/electric combined: 94,589 kWh
2010 (4 months of upgrades) gas/electric combined: 71,328 kWh
2011 (a full year with upgrades) gas/electric combined: 43,041 kWh
The good news is that our old, 4600 square-foot mid-century modern home has shed more than 50% of its energy consumption. But there’s room for improvement. One thing we learned is in the winter, the back-up electricity would come on even when we didn’t feel a temperature drop. Our system service tech said the best way to conserve energy was to switch off the circuit breakers for the back-up electricity. We switched it off, and haven’t turned them back on yet. That should help some.
We also added pleated shades on windows, which is supposed to help add a little R value (I’m not so sure about how big a difference they make in the winter, but they do a pretty good job of blocking solar heat gain.)
Next project: lighting. We have plenty of CFLs, and the halogen lights are all on very low dimmer settings. We’re evaluating opportunities to switch to LEDs, which we already use on the exterior floodlights, but would like to use them on smaller yard lights and also on lamps inside the home. We have found that replacing a few at a time makes the sticker shock a little easier to manage.
Posted: 4/16/2012 7:38:40 PM by
Heather Wallace | with 0 comments
With Earth Day celebrations scheduled for later this month (April 22) it seems like an appropriate time to check on the sustainability/green movement and see what kind of shape it’s in. Here’s how I’m seeing it:
The developed countries are realizing that the rest of the world wants the economic lifestyle that we enjoy. And these countries – lead by China, India and Brazil – are also experiencing huge population growth. By mid-century our 7 billion people will have 2 billion more people to feed, clothe and shelter. Oh, and provide automobiles, consumer electronics, appliances...plus food and water.
If you think gas prices are volatile now, my guess is “we ain’t seen nothing yet” when it comes to energy of all kinds. Let’s not kid ourselves. The era of inexpensive carbon-based energy is over.
All the oil, natural gas and coal that is easy to extract is just about gone. That leaves us with deep-water drilling, tar sands extraction, fracking (hydraulic fracturing) for natural gas; and of course drilling in politically unstable and environmentally fragile parts of the world (Nigeria, Venezuela, Siberia, ANWAR, etc.). Add middle-east politics and the picture gets even uglier.
After the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami damaged several nuclear reactors, Germany took the bold step to phase out all of their nuclear power plants. Great news.
Closer to home, there is good news. As a society, even though half of Americans don’t believe in global warming, we are making real progress by developing hybrid and extreme fuel-efficient vehicles…a long way to go, but huge advances in the right direction.
Our homes are getting more energy efficient. So are our office buildings. Still lots of room for improvement, but the results are heartening and headed in the right direction. Let’s just speed things up a bit, though.
We have stalled a bit on solar and wind applications on individual buildings, but are managing to develop some pretty impressive large utility-grade wind and solar farms. Let’s keep it up. Hey, if the UK and Germany can make solar photovoltaic panels work in these traditionally cloudy countries, why can’t we get it together?
On the bad news side, the country’s water system is falling apart. It is estimated that old, broken and inefficient water systems waste enough every year to meet the needs of 60 million Americans. Ouch. My guess is that water will be the “oil crisis” of the second half of the 21st century.
In summary, my feeling is the green/sustainability movement isn’t running out of steam, but it sometimes feels like a game of “Whack-a-Mole.” Every time you feel you’ve made a little progress another nasty, moley problem pops up. But we’ll keep whacking, ‘em. Happy Earth Day.
Posted: 4/3/2012 11:44:42 PM by
Heather Wallace | with 0 comments