Thursday, August 7, 2008

Taking steps to make your home more energy efficient

I just spent a very nice hour with some energy efficiency guys that came over to discuss what next steps I should be taking to make my home more energy efficient and treehugger-y. It was quite an enlightening experience!

But first things first. They said that absolutely the first steps you should take are:

1. Buy CFL (or LED) bulbs and replace your incandescent bulbs.
2. Buy power strips and put your electronics on the power strip and turn it off when you are not using it. Or, you know, unplug them. No more "standby" mode sucking power constantly.

The green frugalista has already done both of those. The TV/DVD and the wireless internet thingie are both hooked up to power strips that go off when not in use. Most of the bulbs are already CFL, although I have some recessed lighting in the kitchen that I had not switched because I didn't see any similar bulbs for sale. The energy guys assured me that I would be able to find them if I looked, so that is my next mission.

Both of these are cheap steps, so if you haven't done anything because you are paralyzed with indecision or think that things will be expensive, that's where you should concentrate your first efforts. There are also "usage" steps where you don't need to buy anything, you just need to use things less/more efficiently - like using cold water to do laundry, not using the dryer on a sunny day but instead hanging your clothes to dry, turning the thermostat up (or down, depending on the season) a degree or two. I also try to do as many of these as possible.

The next step up has been stumping me for a long time, though. Being frugal, I want bang for my buck. I don't want to spend a lot of money on a solar power system only to have it not save me much in terms of electricity usage. So I was never sure whether to replace the windows, put more insulation in the attic, have a solar or tankless hot water heater, have the a/c unit upgraded or what.

And what I found out was that the answer of what the next step should be depends completely on your home type, your household and where you live (as in, do you live in a hot or cold climate and need more cooling than heating or vice versa). No wonder I was confused, as I kept coming across seemingly contradictory advice because the advice varies so much. So the answer is...the next step is to:

3. Get some energy guys in, and have them check out and audit your home and your energy usage. You can either get your power company to come and do an audit, or a separate green energy consultancy/contractor. Get out your old power bills, and sit down and talk with them about your usage. It is either free or quite low cost to have someone come out.

Surprisingly, my next steps as recommended by my energy guys are not what I thought they would be. I am already frugal on the hot water front (cold water is now my laundry friend) so a solar water heater or tankless heater would not bring me large savings. It would be different if I had a larger family with hot showers being constantly taken and a bazillion loads of laundry being done a week. Similarly, my windows are fairly new and would cost far more to upgrade than I would save. However, because I live in a hot part of the world, my biggest costs and energy usage goes to air conditioning, so that's where we need to focus our effort, mainly in insulation and duct work improvements.

So my next steps (remember - your mileage may vary) involve:
4. Installing a UV-blocking film on one or two of the windows that need it and don't already have it. The energy guys recommended doing this myself, using a kit I can pick up from Home Depot or somewhere similar. I'd already done the south facing windows but they said to do west facing windows too.
5. Having the power company come and check for a/c duct work and window leaks. Have the leaks sealed. The power company will come and do this check for a mere $35. Window leaks can be sealed by the homeowner cheaply, using a sealant you can pick up at most hardware/DIY stores. For the ductwork I'll need to get an a/c company in and it might cost a few hundred dollars.
6. After the ductwork is nicely sealed, install more insulation, on the underside of the roof (I already have it on the floor of the attic, but as the a/c ducts run above that insulation, the energy guys recommended having insulation added above the duct work so that the ducts aren't sitting in a hot attic). They recommended Icynene which will be a few thousand but hopefully will have a quick payback in terms of lower cooling costs.
7. Think about solar power. Eek! This may be more than the green frugalista's budget can stand, but the energy guys are going to look into costs and financing. In fact, they said they could work out an entire 10-year plan for me on what I should be thinking about doing, and when, based on the age of the a/c system and windows and all that jazz. So I told them to knock themselves out with a plan and we'll go from there - hey, I figure even just having a plan is going to be valuable, either for myself or for the next owner.

I hope this helps someone out there. I'm pretty pleased I had these guys come out, as now I am not left flopping about with indecision. Get some energy guys! I found mine by Googling.


orodemniades said...

What's the purpose of UV films over your windows? And won't plants in windows die?

Solitaire said...

It doesn't cut out all UV radiation, but might cut it down from say 90% transmission with a clear window to 35% transmission. It is supposed to reduce heat transmission, helping to keep the house cooler, and UV transmission, preventing your soft furnishings from fading. My plants seem fine - they still get some light.

Lori said...

I listened to Talk of the Nation on NPR this spring...probably Science Friday.........about CFLs...

You don't have to put them in your recessed or "can" lighting. They don't last very much longer than incandescents. It was something about how hot the cans got.

Made me feel better as I hate CFLs.