Category Archives: Home Energy Performance

Video

Cut your Energy Bills in Half

As you may know, we moved to 1000 N. Elm Street back in February. The house was built in 1920 and eventually turned into an office building. Before we moved in, the energy bills were high.

Watch this video to find out how we are saving 45% on our energy bills and how we can help you do the same in your home and office, whether it was built 1 year ago or 100 years ago.

Experiences as an Electrical Utility Energy Auditor

By Aaron Martin, ESG Energy Analyst 

It is no secret that energy efficiency is here to stay. From homeowners to building managers to public utilities, we strive to maximize comfort, increase productivity, and enhance generation and distribution while simultaneously decreasing energy usage. As energy prices continue to rise, efficiency will very likely become the new norm. To paraphrase the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the term “green” may very well disappear from the modern lexicon as we replace older, resource-intensive methods and materials with modern, efficient alternatives.

Near the forefront of these efforts are the public utilities. The corporations that provide us with the energy we need to work and play have a vested interest in increasing efficiency and reducing demand. Avoided costs create added profits, streamlined services for customers, and funds for research and development. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, the typical coal-fired power plant has capital costs of around $3,250 per kilowatt; given that such a facility has a capacity of approximately 500 megawatts, it goes without saying that your local utility would love to avoid building another power production plant.

Duke Energy is no exception in this regard. Their website has received an overhaul that emphasizes energy efficiency, containing graphical analyses and tailored data points for homeowners, and even features an energy efficient product shopping area. Over the past couple of years, residential customers may have noticed the promotion of more efficient lighting through the distribution of free compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Duke Energy representatives have taken the subject of energy efficiency to local schools; during his kindergarten year, my son  came home one day with an energy efficiency kit containing CFLs and high efficiency plumbing fixtures (but as the son of an energy geek, these items were well known to him). Finally, Duke’s Smart Saver program offers residential customers financial incentives for purchases of select energy efficient heating and air conditioning products as well as home air leakage reduction services and insulation upgrades.

Over the course of the past three weeks, I acted as an auditor for Duke Energy’s Home Energy House Call (HEHC) program, during which time I visited nearly fifty homes throughout the Piedmont. Free for Duke Energy customers that own their own home (more about the HEHC program can be found here), the program features a visit by an energy expert who performs an abbreviated energy audit, as well as the distribution of an energy efficiency kit and additional CFLs upon request. The typical house call takes between 45 and 60 minutes, with visual inspections of heating and cooling systems and insulation levels taking precedence. Homeowners are interviewed on their energy usage habits, and then receive a customized report that can be used to increase the comfort and efficiency of their home.

For someone who is more accustomed to residential new construction testing, the experience of face-to-face communication with homeowners in homes built between the years of 1920 and 2008 was as rewarding as it was diverse. The houses I visited ranged from 800 square foot bungalows to 7,200 square foot mansions. When asked about the prime reason for scheduling the house call,  I estimate that approximately 50% attributed the appointment to high bills, 25% to comfort-related issues, and the remaining 25% to the desire for a general discussion on energy efficiency.  Though time management was a bit tricky during the first three to five days, I soon developed a rhythm that allowed me to thoroughly answer questions and address concerns while still accomplishing all items on the to-do list.

The homeowners were as diverse as the homes that I visited. While some people declined the free CFLs (one cited the dangers of mercury as a prime factor), most were very excited to replace their incandescent bulbs and begin saving money immediately. I was very encouraged to see the overwhelming desire to reduce electrical consumption and the overall interest in residential energy efficiency. Indeed, several customers will most likely pursue advanced home performance  diagnostic testing (a comprehensive home energy audit or duct leakage testing) in the near future. It was extremely gratifying to assist people struggling with expensive bills; in one instance I discovered a very large leak in a supply duct in the homeowner’s crawl space, which, when sealed, will result in significant savings. I was also able to identify an air sealing point at another home with an attached garage that will lead to heightened levels of indoor air quality and health and safety for the occupants.

But most of all, I feel very grateful to have had such a tremendous learning experience, seeing various construction styles, materials, and heating and cooling systems that I had not seen before, while helping homeowners increase the comfort, durability, and energy efficiency of their homes. Humans often focus on the negative, and with respect to large companies or other entities, on the products or services they lack. Perhaps it’s time to celebrate the minor victories. When American homeowners get excited about saving money and reducing their carbon footprint, everyone wins, and if the public utility is a driving force in making this happen, then more power to them.

 Sources:

(1) http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/capitalcost/xls/table1.xls

(2) http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c01.html

Stretch Your Budget the Furthest

By Brad Fletcher, Energy Analyst 

When a homeowner engages in energy efficiency upgrades on their home, the list of possibilities can sometimes feel exhausting. Unlike a kitchen upgrade or the addition of a bedroom, a whole house energy efficiency plan may be designed and executed over an extended period of time. An energy professional will help homeowners find the incentives and/or rebates available for the upgrades they recommend. Homeowners, with the help of an energy professional, typically develop a hierarchy of upgrades based on the cost effectiveness of each improvement for the home. Here are a few to start with:

Air sealing and insulating the home is an investment ranging from $50-$2000. Keeping the heat in and the cold out makes practical sense and is often the upgrade that stretches the homeowner’s dollar furthest.

Replacing the lighting with higher efficiency bulbs such as Compact Fluorescent Lighting (CFL) or Light Emitting Diodes (LED) can cost between $5-$50 per fixture and result in a short payback period making this investment a no brainer.

In a typical home, the heating and air conditioning system(s) consume the most energy and cost the most to operate. Upgrades to the HVAC system can result in considerable savings. Improving the mechanical system can include duct sealing, thermostat replacement, cleaning and tuning or in some cases, replacement with a more efficient system.  These improvements can range from $50-$3000 depending on the size of the home and extent of improvements.

Replacing water fixtures may seem like an unlikely way to save energy, but installing low-water usage or aerated fixtures in your kitchen and bathroom will reduce the amount of hot water needing to be generated by a home’s water heating system. Improving the efficiency of faucets and shower heads can range from $2-$200 and save both energy and water.

Older kitchen appliances can consume much more energy than newer, Energy Star rated appliances. Replacing old appliances that have become one of your home’s largest energy hogs will not only cut your total energy cost, but improve the look of your kitchen as well! A combination of dishwasher and refrigerator replacement range from $1500-$3000.

While there are abundant opportunities to improve the efficiency of an existing home, there are even more possibilities that exist in new home construction. This is due to both the technology that can be applied during the construction process as well as the ‘blank slate’ approach where builders can utilize more stringent standards and design features to improve the energy efficiency of your house. When constructing a new home, be sure to speak with your builder about how they can help reduce the cost of operating the home.

If you’re building a new home or doing energy upgrades to your current home, an energy professional can work with contractors and homeowners to calculate which upgrades provide the homeowner with the biggest bang for their buck. Beautiful light fixtures and stunning floor coverings are amenities you are able to see every day while energy efficiency is an amenity you can also feel and see on your monthly utility bills. With a wide range of upfront investment possibilities, energy efficiency is the only investment that will pay you back!

Climate Change and Senate Bill 761

Written by Craig Whittaker

You have probably heard that the Obama administration recently drafted new energy policy concerning the reduction of climate change through more efficient power plants. While Obama has been carefully drafting energy policy that can be adopted without the approval of Congress, a little-known bill is coming before the Senate in July that also addresses climate change. The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013, known as Senate Bill 761, has broad bi-partisan support and the support of major business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This broad support makes this an energy bill with a future, and it’s easy to see why.

In a nutshell, S. 761 sets aside $250 million for states to help property owners retrofit buildings for greater energy efficiency and another $200 million for state and local governments that enact stricter environmentally-friendly building codes. The bill also requires that federal agencies cut the energy used by computers, data centers and vehicles. The bill therefore focuses on one of the best energy reduction strategies of all – that is, not using as much energy as we once used.

S. 761 is common sense legislation that provides incentives for the states to become creative with a relatively small pool of money that can yield huge energy & cost savings for years to come.   Let’s hope that the amendment mill doesn’t ruin the chances for Senate approval. If all goes well, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013 will become law in a few weeks and many more of the buildings that account for a large percentage of U.S. energy use will become more efficient.

Certified Green Homes

Originally posted on February 14, 2013 by Marla Esser at her HomeNav blog. HomeNav is a patent-pending interactive homeowners manual and resource guide.  As a National Association of Home Builders Research Center Green Approved Product, HomeNav contributes to the certification of a green home.  It also works well for homeowners of any existing home (homes for sale, homes to insure, homes to maintain) to inventory their homes and easily research products for remodeling and replacements.

A green home provides improved efficiencies in energy, water, resources/materials, indoor air quality, site design, and operation and maintenance (homeowners manual.)  Each of these factors affects not only the operational costs of your home, but improves the health and well-being for you and your family.

certified green home is independently verified to meet the requirements of a green home program. While many homes may have some of the elements of a green home, only a small percentage have gone through the process to be certified as a green home. This is changing though. As the number of green home buyers looking to capitalize on the benefits of owning a green home continues to rise, home builders are putting more emphasis on eco-friendly construction and design.

This series of posts will guide you through the green home certification process and give you a good idea of what it takes to build (or renovate) a certified green home.

What Are Certified Green Homes?

Certified green homes, like most certifications, must meet a defined set of practices and principles that are set and recognized by the industry.  There are two nationally recognized green home certification programs in the U.S. They are the National Green Building Certification Program from Home Innovators Research Lab (formerly known as NAHB Research Center) and USGBC’s LEED for Homes Program. Both provide stringent standards and practices to follow for certifying a green home building (or renovation) project and offer resources to help complete the certification process.

There are also many local, regional and specialty green home certification programs. To find additional information about green home certification programs, look under the Get Green Certified section of your HomeNav dashboard.

Green Home Certification Process

The process of building (or renovating)  a certified green home begins right from the start. While each program has specific guidelines, they follow a similar progression toward certifying a green home project. The list below is in very general terms and will be expanded upon throughout this series of Certified Green Homes posts.

  1. Choose a certification program.
  2. Select a green home builder and/or consultant.
  3. Set project goal and do an initial scoring run through.
  4. Register project with certifying organization.
  5. Conduct a rough inspection during construction.
  6. Assemble supporting documentation of the home for the verification process.
  7. Perform testing.
  8. Final verification and submittal of documentation to the green certification program.

These steps begin in the planning stages of the project and follow through to the completion. While there are elements that go into each of them, they may differ some depending on the specific guidelines of the certification the project is seeking.

 

 

Tiny Homes

Written by ESG Energy blog contributor and Warren Wilson College student Annie Pryor.

Over the winter break I spent hours searching for information on tiny, mobile houses that look like cabins, not bulky RV space-machines. What a dream, I thought, to drive cross-country with my home and all my goods in tow! I could live in whatever state I wanted and be a nomad of sorts. I was so enchanted with the woodworking, big windows, minute kitchen and lofted bed. And the best part of all? Some of these houses could fit into a parking space. The square footage for these mini-homes vary from 68 square feet to 170 feet.

While the idea sounded brilliant at first, I became disenchanted when my boyfriend pointed out, that lugging one such large square shack on the interstate would be extremely heavy, would use far more gas, and would require a beast of a vehicle. With all the air build-up between the assumed truck bed and porch, I’d waste copious amounts of gas and time, just trying to get from one home to the next. That’s not to mention, the blind spot on a house in tow is just an accident waiting to happen, for me anyways.

That’s not to say I’ve given up on living in a mobile home altogether, but I am reconsidering my options. My boss suggested I pitch in a few grand for an old RV and “deck it out” inside, which to him consists of: insulating the walls, and gutting the inside to make it more “homey” and energy efficient. So for now, I’ll stick with a bulky RV space-machine and maybe the permanently parked tiny cabin.

‘Tis the Season

Posted by Katie Bromley, a Guilford College senior who has an internship with ESG Energy this semester.

Well, it is that time of year again!  Everyone is so excited to bake cookies, watch their favorite holiday flicks, decorate for the holidays, and save energy…?  Typically we see a rise in energy usage and costs around this time of year, but I would like to share with you a few of my favorite energy saving tips…holiday style!

Christmas lights are more than likely the most obvious source of energy consumption during the holiday season.  This year consider decorating your Christmas tree and house with LED lights.  Typically these lights use around 4 watts per strand, or around .004 watts a bulb.  A regular strand of LED lights (let’s say with 100 bulbs per strand) typically uses around 34 watts per strand.  They will also stay around longer as well, because LED lights will last about 20 years, or 100,000 hours, whatever comes first.  While we are on the subject of Christmas lights we should remember to limit our use of them.  Not only is it hazardous to keep them lit all night long, it is also unnecessary.  When everyone is nestled all snug in their beds, they will have visions of sugar plums, not your decorative lights, in their heads.  We should also remember that less is more, unless of course you are Clark Griswald, and we need not light up the entire neighborhood with just our decorative lighting.

Creating a comfy and festive atmosphere is key to relaxing during the holidays and what better way to do that than with a warm and cozy fire.  This holiday season try creating the holiday ambiance with candles and a nice fire burning in the fireplace.  This will not only evoke the feeling of a classic old fashioned Christmas, but it will also allow you to use less energy with the heating as well as using less Christmas strand lighting.

Another great energy saving tip during the holidays is to try to consolidate your dishes when cooking, and by that I mean cook several dishes at once.  You may be surprised at how many dishes may fit in your oven at once.  You may not be aware but it takes the same amount of energy to heat a full oven as it does an empty oven.

There are several other minor ways in which we could all cut back on our energy usage during the holidays.  When we add all of these small savings together we will inevitably be pleased with the major savings that can occur.  We are not asking you to be a Grinch by cutting back your Christmas lights, but are in fact asking you to enjoy what may be a perfect holiday gift, which is using less energy and saving money during the holidays!  Happy holidays everyone, and may your days be merry and bright!