With oil and natural gas prices rocketing, stoking terror of long, cold and and expensive winters, a renewed interest in keeping heating costs under control has has been sparked. Homeowner’s have an ignited passion in understanding energy saving methods. If you’re in this boat, stuck in cold waters, here are some tips for energy saving tricks of the trade.
If you’re living in a home with a furnace that’s more than 20 years old, you may have already attempted the “buy a sweater” method of keeping warm. This is certainly one approach, but these days upgrading your home’s conditioning system is a much better option, and will bode well for you in the here and now, and in the long term, should you decide sell your home. More and more, homebuyers are looking for homes with energy efficient systems already in place. So, think of these upgrades as a long term investment in the resale value of your home, as well a cost efficient and green alternative to your current conditioning system.
Now, with that old choker of a furnace huffin’ and puffin’ away, guaranteed it’s not as efficient as it could be, no matter what fuel type it uses. The newer gas furnaces are mid-efficiency (78-82%) or high efficiency (89-96%). Although the higher efficiency products can cost up to $1000 more than the mid-efficiency products, extra costs will be re-couped in a couple years, as they will burn less fuel. And, you’ll be the greenest frog on the block, sending less harmful emissions out into the atmosphere. “It’s so easy being green”, murmured Kermit, once he upgraded his furnace.
With oil furnaces, there are again, much more efficient products on the market as of late. But, a oil furnace does need to partner with a good chimney, and so this may be an additional cost to keep in mind
Take note, it’s still the case that electric heat is more expensive than oil and gas, although a smart combination of central woodstove heat, supplemented by electric heat can be cost efficient.
Let it Flow: Change Your Filters!
Whether disposable or washable, all forced-air heating/cooling systems use filters. And, these filters need to be maintained and changed. Some filters require monthly changes while other last up to three months, and much depends on the conditions within your home. A dirty filter will restrict air flow and with clogged filters you’re blocking heat that would otherwise be keeping you toasty warm. Do yourself a favor and keep on top of the regular changing of your heat filters. This is a pretty easy way to boost your energy efficiency and cut costs.
Pump it up: Install a Heat Pump
Air source heat pumps are the most common and they are generally used with a back-up heating system. In terms of function a heat pump works by extracting heat from the outside and bringing it in, (in heat mode), and by removing heat from the inside of the house and releasing it outside. ( in cooling mode).
The king of heat pumps, though, are ground and watersource, or geothermal. And while the initial investment may be great, the saving will be substantial in the long run. These pumps will use 25-50% less energy than conventional conditioning systems.
At the end of the day, another simple method to help with soaring heat bills, is to keep an eye on the set temperature levels in your house, What is normally described as room temperature is around 68 Fahrenheit (20 degrees celsius). Of course, only you can decide where to set the dial. But, if you’d rather avoid the ” put on a sweater” method of winter energy conservation, you might consider investing in an improved conditioning system that’ll bring you warmth today, and will be a smart investment in the re-sale value of your home.
The pressure is on to adopt green building practices. However, green building might seem overwhelming if you associate it with unfamiliar building methods, new technology, and higher costs. You might wonder where to start.
Breathe a sigh of relief, because green building doesn’t require dramatic changes immediately. What it does require is a commitment to better building and greater attention to installation. With a few easy strategies, you can begin building greener homes that are more energy-efficient, durable, and healthier for homeowners. For instance, consider upgrading your insulation and air sealing, installing a vapor barrier under the slab, and installing fluorescent light fixtures. These steps will help you improve the energy efficiency, durability, and indoor air quality of your homes. As a starting point, begin implementing the easy green building practices below.
Insulation: A simple way to boost energy efficiency
The green benefits: Insulation reduces heat loss from a home, contributing to a more comfortable indoor environment. Insulation that’s installed correctly can have a significant impact on the home’s energy efficiency.
Installation: The more insulation, the better. Insulation should be installed at the correct depth and density to be effective at resisting heat flow. Batts shouldn’t be compressed or installed with gaps; instead, they should be flush with the framing. Similarly, blown-in insulation should be installed with consistent coverage and depth and fit completely around wires and electrical boxes.
Vapor barrier under the slab: Durability and IAQ benefits abound
The green benefits: A vapor barrier under the slab mitigates moisture related problems, such as mold growth under carpets, grout staining, and wood flooring de-lamination. These problems impair the home’s durability and indoor air quality.
Installation: Use a 10-mil polyethylene vapor barrier to fully cover the foundation footprint. For basements, extend the vapor barrier 2″ to 4″ up the foundation wall, and fix it to the wall with construction tape or adhesive. Overlap the seams 12″, and seal them with construction tape. For slab-on-grade foundations, lay down the vapor barrier on top of the gravel, and extend it into the footer, continuing the vapor barrier 12″ up the formwork.
Fluorescent light fixtures: An easy way to cut energy usage
The green benefits: Fluorescent lighting is the most practical energy-efficient lighting option available to residential builders. Fluorescent lights reduce the home’s overall energy usage; in turn, the environment benefits from fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Installation: Install Energy Star high efficiency light fixtures and hardwired fixtures that are designed for use with fluorescent lamps in locations where lights remain on for extended periods of time: kitchens, living areas, and outdoors. Incorporate efficient task lighting into kitchens and bathrooms.
Air sealing: A strong step to energy efficiency
The green benefits: Air sealing is another critical component of an energy efficient home. It ensures the effectiveness of insulation; therefore, ensuring healthy indoor air. Without air sealing, cold air, moisture, and pollutants can leak into a home through cracks and penetrations.
Installation: Seal all gaps with low-expanding foam, foam strips, weatherstripping, weatherproof tape, and caulks. Make sure that no leaks remain at each step of the construction process. Conduct a blower door test to determine leakage paths.
OVE framing techniques: Green building at the frame
The green benefits: Optimum Value Engineering (OVE) framing techniques reduce the amount of wood needed to build a home. Framing members are placed only where they’re absolutely needed, reducing the amount of wood waste. OVE framed walls also provide more room for insulation.
Installation: OVE typically involves framing 24″ on center (o.c.) as opposed to 16″ o.c., and using 2×6 studs as opposed to 2×4 studs. If you’re not ready to adopt these changes, start integrating open corners and ladder panels into homes. Orienting the studs at a corner horizontally can allow you to install more insulation there. When framing a partition wall, rotate the stud to create a ladder panel, which helps accommodate more insulation.
If we are really serious about building greener homes then we also should perhaps consider the carbon footprint of cement, that’s right, the concrete under your feet, inside your home, the walkways around it and the deck by the pool too? What about the drive way and sidewalks in front of the house, yep, all that is concrete too. But you ask, I thought concrete was inert, how can it put out CO2?
Interesting you should ask that, as the building industry was shocked too, when it learned that 5-10% of all the CO2 emitted comes from the making of concrete, did you know that? I didn’t and was blown away by that figure when I read it is in the Christian Science Monitor the other day. But when you think about it, well, it makes perfect sense. You see, the concrete is made of limestone, silt or sand and chemicals. That means there are tractors, conveyors, rock crushers, cement trucks, and some of the sand comes from the Middle East on ships too.
Think of all the concrete in our civilizations, we have roads, freeways, parking lots, sidewalks, storm drain pipes, damns, and even sides of buildings “tilt-ups” are made of concrete. Yes, just think of all that concrete under our feet, inside and around your home. It all has a carbon-footprint.
Well, do not worry because the building industry is looking into solving these problems and reducing the amount of cement used in the foundations, and in Europe, it is reported that they use a lot of carbon eating concrete. Maybe someday they can mix carbon nano-tube coatings to increase the strength of the concrete, reducing the amount used and making it much stronger in the process too?