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Energy-Efficient Trend is Here to Stay
Remodeling trends come and go, which is a good thing if you’re talking about shag carpet or avocado-colored Formica. But some trends have both staying power and universal appeal, such as the strengthening movement toward homes that are more energy efficient and eco-friendly.
Upgrading a few key systems can help homeowners involved in remodeling projects improve their homes’ energy efficiency and operate their households in a more environmentally conscious way. If you’re planning some remodeling, keep these “green” points in mind:
Energy-efficient appliances: Household appliances account for nearly 35 percent of a home’s energy consumption, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey. Reducing the amount of energy appliances consume can help homeowners lower utility bills and save hundreds of dollars over the lifetime of an appliance. The federal ENERGY STAR program provides consumers with a valuable reference when shopping for energy efficient appliances.
Solar options: Currently, the most common uses for solar power in homes are in heating water and generating electricity. Installing rooftop solar panels can help save money on energy bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. After the initial installation investment, solar panels can quickly recoup their costs when used to generate electricity for a home. Many homeowners find that their solar panels not only supply all the electricity their homes need, but also generate an excess that homeowners can then sell back to the local electricity company, for additional cost savings.
More efficient cooling: Air conditioning accounts for more than 41 percent of the energy a home consumes, according to the Energy Information Administration. Fortunately, innovative options have emerged to help cool homes more efficiently, using less energy to produce better results. The Art Cool Gallery, for example, is a wall-mounted unit with a picture frame for customized artwork — a duct-free way to deliver cool air to a room.
When Will Consumers Realize the 60-Cent Light Bulb Wasn't a Bargain?
The deadline is approaching slowly, stealthily. You may not even realize it until the shelves of your local hardware store are void of 40-, 60-, 75- and 100-watt standard incandescent light bulbs.
Congress ordered them phased out in 2007, and manufacturers stopped making them as of Dec. 31, so when they run out depends on your store's inventory and the continuing allure of Thomas Edison's 135-year-old invention.
What will be different is the incorporation of costlier energy-efficient light bulbs into the showcase. At Home Depot, for example, their prices will run from $2.19 for a 60-watt-equivalent compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) to $64.98 for a 40-watt-equivalent light-emitting diode (LED).
In 2006, property managers at Boathouse Row in Philadelphia converted from incandescent bulbs to this fancy LED lighting system, including flexible strands that contained more than 12,000 full-color LED nodes. Annual electricity savings and labor savings in replacing bulbs come to $57,000 a year. Photos courtesy of Philips N.V.
Now comes the math: Although the $64.98 LED is 100 times the price of the modern version of Edison's bulb, the new bulbs are still a bargain for the consumer, the United States and the climate.
As Kyle Pitsor, vice president for government relations at the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, explains, CFLs are 75 percent more efficient and LEDs 85 percent more efficient than a traditional incandescent light bulb. Lighting in residential homes is about 12 to 15 percent of an average home electrical bill, so the electricity savings to consumers are not trivial.
Moreover, power-saving bulbs last longer, so you will not have to make as many trips to the store. According to University of Kentucky lighting design professor and American Lighting Association consultant Joe Rey-Barreau, standard incandescent bulbs last an average of 1,000 hours, whereas CFLs last 10,000 hours and LEDs an astonishing 25,000 to 100,000 hours.
"We actually have a going joke in the lighting industry that, if you buy one of these LED bulbs and you put it in your house when you have a baby, when they're coming back from college you might want to replace it," said Philips spokeswoman Silvie Casanova.Source: Environment and Energy Publishing
Energy Efficiency Can Reduce Home Heating Costs
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Jan. 7, 2014) – With a blast of Arctic air covering the state, the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) says consumers can limit the impact on their home heating bills by taking steps to reduce energy consumption.
“As temperatures plummet, energy usage and home heating bills inevitably rise,” PSC Chairman David Armstrong said. “But a few simple steps can help limit the effect.”
thermostatSince weather – not price – is the dominant factor in determining energy usage, the best weapon consumers have to manage their energy costs is to take steps to reduce consumption, he said. Those measures can be as simple as turning down the thermostat a few degrees, Armstrong said.
“It’s also never too late to seal leaks around windows, door and other openings, to cover windows with plastic sheeting, and to take other low-cost steps to keep cold air out and warm air in,” Armstrong said.
He also emphasized that programs are available to help consumers who may be struggling to pay their heating bill. Heating assistance is available from local community action agencies and from utility companies, but funds are limited and sometimes run out during the heating season, he said.
“Do not allow a difficulty in paying a utility bill to become a crisis,” Armstrong said. “Now is the time to take the necessary steps if you think that you may need assistance in paying your heating bill this winter.”
Coping with home heating costs
Kentucky consumers can take a number of steps to reduce energy usage or to soften the impact of heating costs. They include:
Budget billing: This option allows customers to pay the same amount each month, based on their average monthly usage during the year. Customers should contact their utility for more information.
Energy conservation measures: Simple steps such as turning down thermostats on furnaces (most people are comfortable at 68 degrees) and water heaters (120 degrees is hot enough for nearly all uses) can be big energy savers.
Energy audits: Many local utilities offer home energy audits at little or no cost to consumers. These audits can identify energy-wasting trouble spots and provide information on how to correct the problems. Utilities often include a package of energy-saving devices with an audit.
Weatherization: Consumers can do a number of things to reduce inflows of cold air and leakage of warm air, particularly around windows and doors. Some basic weatherization steps include:
Use caulk or weatherstripping to seal cracks around windows, doors, pipes, electric outlets on exterior walls, and other points where cold air can enter the home. This alone can reduce heating costs by 10 percent or more.
Install energy-efficient doors and windows. (Read More)
Energy Audits Can Offer Big Paybacks
Furnaces and boilers worked overtime this month, and the next set of energy bills to arrive in mailboxes will show just how expensive a brutal cold spell can be for homeowners, particularly in the older homes that populate the Chicago area.
An energy audit can help homeowners and owners of multifamily buildings determine how to better keep a property warm in the winter and cool in the summer by tightening the building's envelope. The fixes typically cost a few thousand dollars, and area utility companies offer rebates tied to the work.
From July 2012 to last September, CNT Energy, a division of the nonprofit, Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology, helped almost 3,700 homeowners tackle energy-efficiency projects in their homes. Clarinda Valentine is one of them.
Valentine, who has owned a two-flat in Chicago's Austin neighborhood for 30 years, already had undertaken several projects to make the building more energy efficient, such as installing new windows and exterior doors. She still felt a draft on certain days.
"I was still getting air," Valentine said. "Depending on what direction the wind was coming from, I could feel air on my legs."
Diagnostic test. After hearing about CNT Energy from a friend, she called the group, and an energy audit was performed on the building. The auditor tested the furnace and hot water heater, and performed a blower door test to see just how leaky her home was.
That diagnostic test involves mounting a temporary panel with a powerful fan to an exterior door frame. As the fan pulls the air out of the home, lowering the air pressure inside the building, the higher air pressure outside is drawn into the house, showing where the leaks are.
As a result of the findings, Valentine hired a company in November to add 18 inches of blown-in insulation to the space between the second-floor ceilings and the building's flat roof. Adjustments were made to the windows, and weatherstripping was installed around doors that led into heated rooms. Because the gas fireplaces on each floor were rarely used, workers shut them off and added a foam seal to prevent air from coming down the chimney.
The $4,713 project's cost was offset by a Peoples Gas rebate of $942 and a CNT grant of $1,800 (that is no longer available). Diagnostic tests performed after the work showed that air leaks in the building had been cut in half.
‘Baby, it’s cold outside!’
Last summer’s hot temperatures and this winter’s Polar Vortex are unwelcomed reminders that homeowners are using a lot of energy to stay comfortable in their homes. Living energy efficiently is not a trend; it is a way of life. Even energy companies are initiating conservation programs, because it is more cost effective to help customers use energy more wisely than it is to build new and bigger energy plants to meet the growing need.
The building industry is leading the way by designing and building energy-efficient homes as standard practice. “Every home we build is certified by both Green Built Homes and Focus on Energy,” said Paul Bielinski of Bielinski Homes. “There is no additional cost to our customer into the base price of the home.”
The 21st century home is about energy efficiency and air quality, Bielinski said. “We use Tyvek to seal the home preventing water seepage and holding conditioned air in the home,” he said. Bielinski uses high-efficiency Carrier furnaces that run on 95.5% fuel efficiency. The high-efficient air conditioning unit uses ozone friendly coolant. “The Rheem hot water unit that we use is gas-powered and power-vented, which provides more hot water while improving the air quality in the home,” Bielinski said.
Box sills, where the foundation meets the framing, can be the site of the biggest heat loss in the home. “We use closed-cell spray foam insulation,” Bielinski said. “This practice reduces heat loss considerably.”
With a tightly built structure, Bielinski said, homeowners need to ventilate the home. “Ventilation is important to keep air quality high,” he said. Bielinski suggests running the bathroom vent fan for an hour after showering, using a dehumidifier in the lower level and running the furnace fan constantly.
Focus on Energy has energy-saving measures for homeowners in existing, older homes as well. “We have programs that cost nothing or very little. We have small and substantial ways to conserve,” said Sarah Platt, director of marketing and communications at Focus on Energy. “We like to suggest starting with an on-site energy audit. This is a great way for residents to really see where they are using energy and where they could be saving money.”
Energy Star has a do-it-yourself audit. All a person needs is his or her utility bills from the past 12 months and some basic information on the home to complete the online audit. Visit energystar.gov.
As a result of the energy audit, changes, big and small, can:
Improve the comfort of a home in temperature and air quality
Increase the long-term value of the home
Reduce the annual energy bill by approximately 30%
Help homeowners be eligible for huge savings when improving air sealing and insulation
Allow homeowners to receive free energy-saving products and installationSource: Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel