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Energy Conservation and Efficiencies

Posted by Jared Diamond

Oct 11, 2012 10:55:00 AM

Homeowner Steps To Reduce Consumption and Lower Costs

Although the average homeowner is well aware of worldwide concerns about our dependency on nonrenewable energy resources like coal, natural gas and oil, his immediate and much more personal concern is more likely to be the $64,000 question: Is there anything I can do to lower my utility bills? And the answer is an emphatic YES! Some options call for professional expertise and installation so they cost more money but pay big dividends over time but others are smaller do-it-yourself projects which provide immediate results at relatively modest expense.

The best time to decide on measures to conserve energy and maximize efficiencies is in the planning stage of home construction or renovation but there are many things homeowners can do in older existing homes. There are two pathways to lowering residential energy costs. Energy conservation is reducing the amount of energy we use and energy efficiency is maximizing the effects of the energy we must use to provide the lifestyle, convenience, and comfort levels we want. Both of these pathways will result in cost reductions.

The first step is to audit the home's energy profile. Energy-savings gameplan and timetable components have many variables depending on geographic location, construction materials, floorplan and age of the house, the size of the family, existing appliances and their age, type of hot water heater, and the condition of heating and air conditioning units. What are the greediest energy guzzlers in the average home? Heating and air conditioning account for 50% share of usage, followed by major appliances with 27%, lighting 12% and all the others 11%.

Since heating and cooling the home accounts for such a large chunk of energy expense, it is important to keep it in good repair. Just as an annual physical monitors the homeowner's health status, a yearly tune-up of HVAC equipment will improve its efficiency, lower the operating cost, increase comfort levels and extend its life cycle. Change the filters once a month so the unit does not have to work as hard or run so long. Keep the thermostat on a constant 78 degrees in summertime and 68 degrees in the winter. Each degree up or down increases energy costs by 6%-8%. Keep yard debris and high grass away from outside condensers. Use trees or fencing as a shield to block direct sunshine.

Major appliances have wide variations in their longevity and range from 10 years for dish washers and microwaves to 19 years for a gas cooking stove. New appliances on the market currently are reported to be 50% more efficient than those available ten years ago.

Owner's operating manuals provide useful information on reducing energy costs.

Thomas Edison's invention has been lighting up the world for a very long time but research has shown those old-fashioned light bulbs to be very inefficient. Only about 10% if the electricity they produce is converted to light while the other 90% generates heat. In some places in the world, those incandescent light bulbs have been banned altogether. In the United States, their phaseout is scheduled for 2014 after which time only energy efficient bulbs such as halogen, compact fluorescent (CFL), and light- emitting diode (LED) bulbs will be available. There are still some positives and negatives being weighed on each of these, however. CFL's contain mercury so there are some health concerns for which a lot of research is being done. LED's have an advantage because they have instant on and off with no warmup period but, even though they have a longer lifespan, they are not as bright as other bulb products.

There is renewed interest in tinted window film to conserve energy. Heat penetration is reduced by up to 93% so energy costs go down and the home is also made more comfortable. These products are put on the outside of glazed windows to keep the sun's heat out in the summer and they are put on the inside of the window to keep the heat inside in wintertime. After the window is thoroughly cleaned, the film sheet is cut to size and pressed onto the glass. A squeegee is used to get the air and water out.

Installing window film is rated to be an easy-to-medium do-it-yourself project for homeowners. DIY film pays for itself in savings over two or three summers. Many vendors will pre-cut the film to specified measurements. Professional installers use a top quality film costing between $2.25 and $3.00 per sq ft with labor charges ranging from $5.00 to $7.00. The increased cost of professional installations is recouped over 4-6 summers.

A side benefit of these films is that they block out harmful UV rays which fade draperies, carpeting and upholstery. There is also an opaque product which provides privacy when installed in bathroom windows or on sliding glass doors. Traditional window treatments like blinds, shades and drapes do increase energy efficiency by absorbing heat from sunlight but they do not stop air leaks.

Weather stripping and caulking around door and window frames is an important part of the energy audit. Experts recommend getting a professional evaluation in determining if air is leaking in or out and where the leaks are located. The professionals will also give advice on the best way to correct a problem.

If your windows are very old, the bottom line is that it might make more sense to replace them. New windows are extremely energy efficient and will usually pay for themselves over a few years of energy savings.

Last but by no means least, inadequate insulation up in the attic may translate to 40% loss of cool air in the summertime and as much as 60% heat loss in winter. The average 10-15 years old house was originally fitted with R-11 to R-15 insulation but today the standard is R-30 so many older homes need at least another 5-10 inches. The new batting should be placed perpendicular to the ceiling joists.

Some homeowners are going the extra energy-mile and using solar energy to heat water. These systems are costly because they use silicon crystals. These crystals are becoming in short supply since they are being used in many more applications and this means their prices have risen. Alternative materials are being developed which have the potential to substantially lower future costs.

Energy conservation and improved efficiencies for the homeowner begin with a series of small steps in the search for doing more with less! When we start with our own small personal spaces, we are better prepared to meet and support the challenges of universal energy problems.

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