Author Archive

What’s all the hubbub about the “green button”?

January 20, 2012

White House PGE announce the Green ButtonThe White House announced that PG&E, and San Diego Gas & Electric have launched the “green button”, an online tool that allows customers to download their own energy data.

[Watch California utilities PG&E, and San Diego Gas & Electric in the video of the Green Button launch.]

That is certainly good news.  We’ve long used a good look an utility bill history and energy usage to help figure out what going on in a home.  Something that makes it easier for a homeowner to track down that history is a good thing.  And we look forward to a host of third-party aps that can help consumers save energy and money.

But from the hoopla, you’d think our energy woes are over.

Not so fast.  Access to household energy use data is really important.  And Facebook aps might be fun.  But when it’s 105 degrees out and you have a poorly insulated house, with south- and west-facing glass, and an old air-conditioner, are you going to be able to stay comfortable without paying a lot of money to the utilities?  No.  Good information helps, but it doesn’t change physics.  To make your home more comfortable and not break the bank with utility bills, you’ve got to make actual improvements!

And the fundamentals still apply.  You need good insulation and air-sealing, tight duct work, efficient heating and cooling equipment, efficient lighting.  And you also need to know if your water heater, furnace, or any other combustion appliance in your home is operating safely and efficiently.  The green button won’t don’t that for you.

Energy Upgrade CaliforniaFortunately, for California residents, the statewide Energy Upgrade California (EUC) program can provide up to $4,000 in rebates to help make smart improvements (some cities and counties are offering even more in matching rebates).  And certified contractors can give you access to these incentives. GreenHomes America partners have BPI-certified staff, and can provide access to the EUC incentives.

The best way to find out what you might qualify for is to have a real home energy audit conducted by a participating contractor—and then get the rebate by having the contractor make the improvements.  You can contact participating experts in the following areas to learn more:

So bring the green button on.  Check it out.  Easier access to utility information is great (after all, we’re paying the bills, aren’t we—shouldn’t we be able to get the information?)  Kudos to PG&E and SDGE for stepping up to lead the nation with this.  The rest of the country?  Well, a handful of additional uttilies have said they’re interested, so stay tuned.  And if GreenHomes has a location near you, we’ll help you find applicable rebates, incentives, and loans.

But if you want a more comfortable, healthier, and more energy-efficiency home, data alone won’t do it.  A good home assessment followed by the right, professionally installed, measures, will.

Cheers,
Mike

“Can’t seem to face up to the facts.” Those goofy heater ads are driving me crazy!

December 8, 2011

Somewhere high on my list of favorite songs is Psycho Killer by the Talking Heads [and I really enjoyed the Modern Day Saints frenzied live version of the song from the Illinois bar scene in the late 1980s]. One of the lines from the song goes “you’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything”. And that gets me to today’s partial dissection of that full page Heat Surge HT ad that is staring me in the face right now. It has lots of words. Yes, it does have THAT going for it.  I would NOT buy the product, however.

Portion of the Heat Surge HT ad

Murkier than Fiction!

I will point out some of my “favorite” portions of the ad that might be worth a careful read so you can make sure you understand what they’re saying, and what they’re not.

  • Amazing technology! Or, I think, not so amazing after all. “Hybrid-Thermic heat technology is an engineering genius so advanced it actually uses a micro-furnace from the Coast of China and a thermal heat exchanger to perform its miracles.” Hmmm…I’m not saying that there aren’t fine products coming out of China, but I would hardly call this genius. And “a micro-furnace from the Coast of China”? Sounds rather pedestrian. Although I do suspect they’re able to have it manufactured less cheaply in China than in the U.S. Ah, maybe THAT is the genius part—they can make it for less, sell it for more, and make more money??
  • The unit “produces up to an amazing 4,606 British Thermal Units (BTU’s) on the high setting”. OK, let me see, 1 watt-hour of electricity produces 3.413 BTUs. If the high setting is 1500 watts (or 1.5 kilowatts), over an hour it would optimally produce…wait for it…5,120 BTUs!!!  This amazing technology is able to convert electricity to heat at a lower rate than some of the $30 heaters from the big box store! (Some of the electricity is used to create than nifty flameless fire glow, not heat.)  Thank goodness for the Coast of China engineering genius!
  • An infographic tells us that if we have the home thermostat set at 59 degrees, the room temperature might be, get this, 59 degrees! Well, yeah, because that’s what you set the thermostat at! Could a 4,606 BTU/hour raise the temperature of the room to 74 degrees? Yes. Doesn’t take a miracle to do that, though. The $30 space heater will do it, too. And, as we’ve discussed before, while space heaters (including super-dooper, amazing, miracle, trademarked Hybrid-Thermic space heaters) can be used for raising the temps of trouble spots, lowering your house temperature can create it’s own problems—frozen pipes, anyone? Condensation in cold rooms? Be careful, even if simple infographics don’t warn you of this.
  • The ad states the product is a “Consumer ‘Best Buy’ ” on the HeatReport.com website. Hmmmm…I can’t speak to the copywriter’s intent here, but this I did find it a bit confusing at first glance. On closer examination, this claim, citing reviews on a website that sure looks like its run by the Heat Surge folks, shouldn’t be confused with “Consumers Digest” or “Consumer Reports”. In fact, Consumer Reports had a nifty review of their previously named Heat Surge product—and the Heat Surge “Fireless Flame (registered mark)” aside, I wouldn’t call it a glowing report from Consumer Reports. Speaking of recommendations, this product actually makes my “Don’t Buy” list because I just don’t think it’s worth it?  It seems MSNBC’s Consumer Man came to a similar conclusion–and was worried about the potential for people to be misled by these ads.  Go figure!
  • How about that map!? It doesn’t mirror the DOE climate zone map. Or the more detailed maps I’ve seen other experts use. But that Heat Surge map did teach me a couple of things. For example, Phoenix is in the “Cold Zone”, the same as Boone, North Carolina. Miami is in the “Frost Zone”. Burlington, VT is in the same zone as Norfolk, VA and Seattle, WA. Go figure. We prefer to look at actual local weather patterns and “heating degree days” when consider the heating needs of a house. But then, I guess this map is to stagger calling—never mind that no time zone considerations come into play. Seems awfully complicated! Maybe an astute reader can give a better explanation!

I’ll wrap it up with a quote from the ad “if it does not have the Heat Surge name on it, you are getting ripped off.” I would have to disagree. In my opinion, exactly the opposite is true—unless you really like the aesthetics of that Amish mantle. It’s your money, though. You get to decide! Caveat emptor!

If you want to be more comfortable and save energy in your home, you’re generally better off getting the right home energy audit, and doing things like air-sealing and insulating properly.

You’ve probably seen the ads. Do you have a favorite part? How about any doozies from the Bob Vila Eden Pure ads? Or the Heat Surge’s equally lame cousin, the Cool Surge?  It’s an election year—I wonder if these guys write campaign speeches, too? Let us know what you think (Or just share your favorite Talking Heads song!)

Cheers,
Mike

Connecticut “House of the Year”–More Energy Efficient

November 28, 2011

One of the reasons GreenHomes has been staying so busy is that so many homes weren’t built well to begin with.  A splash of granite here, a whirlpool tub (that never gets used) there.  But no attention to the pesky details that really make a home comfortable and efficient in the long-term.  You know, those boring things we keep talking about like insulation & air-sealing, efficient heating & cooling, high performance windows, LED lighting, and so on.

From the NY Times, the Connecticut "House of the Year" is Greener

Eventually, a lot of people get frustrated with drafts, rooms that are too hot or too cold, mildew smells, ice-dams in the Northeast, stinky crawlspaces in the South, $800 air-conditioning bills in California, and so on.  So they call us to fix the problems.  And we can.  That’s good business for us, but it’s unfortunate for homeowners, especially in newer homes.  Forget the bamboo floors or the fiber cement siding.  If the house doesn’t work, it’s not green.  And you aren’t as likely to be as comfortable as you should be.

It’s much easier to make a home perform well by building it right the first time.  And less expensive, too!  It’s encouraging to see builders moving to more efficient practices, as mentioned in this story from Connecticut about the “House of the Year”.  Meanwhile, though, we’ve got a lot of houses to fix.  Most homes could use performance improvements.  And 70% of the homes that will be standing in 2050 are already built today.  Let’s change and start building all new homes the right way—and let’s fix the homes that we’re living in already.

Thanks,
Mike

Can Google Heat Your Home?

November 28, 2011

Looking down the road with our sister companies at The Linc Group, and Linc Lighting & Electrical, GreenHomes is already exploring how a shift toward electric vehicles will impact home energy use and the need for home energy efficiency.  There are some big ideas being experimented with.

And another interesting idea was discussed over the weekend in a NY Times article on “data furnaces”.  Very timely given the “Cyber Monday” heat we anticipate today.  The basic premise is to use the tremendous amount of heat generated in data centers—from the servers that run Google, Netflix, and the rest of the internet world—to heat homes.  It’s not so far fetched.  We have examples of co-generation heat in this county dating back more than a century.  While this used to be centered around industrial heat sources, high tech is part of that industrial base.  Further, there are intriguing benefits of distributed capacity on both the energy and the internet sides.

Don’t look for Google to be asking to install servers in your basement this year.  But don’t be shocked if the opportunity comes soon.  Just one of the exciting things we’re working on!

Thanks,
Mike

Don’t wait for Congress. Start SAVE-ing now.

November 8, 2011

Earlier this year, we featured a post from Laura Stukel on the total cost of home ownership.  Historically in the mortgage industry, this has included—or I should say been limited to—“PITI”, Principal, Interest, Taxes and Insurance.  Laura wisely argues that misses several costs, including the non-trivial cost of utilities.  While the average homeowner may pay $2,000 in utility costs, some people pay 2-3 times that amount, and those electric, gas, or oil bills can take a huge chunk out of the family budget.

As Consumer Reports highlighted yesterday, a new bill introduced in the Senate would change the underwriting and appraisal guidelines used by the mortgage industry to add to PITI the cost of heating and cooling a home.  (Maybe we’ll call it PITIU?).  This would help prospective buyers avoid budget-busting homes where they’ve get into trouble and have to choose between mortgage, utilities, or food on the table.  It would also reward more efficient homes.

Of course, readers here know that you don’t have to wait for an act of Congress to more your home more comfortable and energy efficient.  You can start today with a good energy audit, make the improvements that make sense for you, and start SAVE-ing right now.  Go figure!

Cheers,
Mike

Does Daylight Savings Time Save Energy?

November 5, 2011

Tonight (or Sunday morning at 2am if you happen to be up then) Daylight Saving Time ends, and we turn our clocks back an hour.  (I still have to repeat “Spring forward, fall back” to remember which way it goes.)

Ostensibly, we use DST to save energy.  Some will cite a U.S. DOE study that suggests DST saves 0.5% electricity.  As this Scientific American article says, though, the studies are decidedly mixed.  Some studies conclude that DST actually increases energy consumption, exactly the opposite of its intended affect.  Does anyone have a coin to toss so we can settle this?

We do know a few things, though.  Farmers tend not to like it because it messes with their schedule.  I surely do NOT like it in the Spring which I lose an hour of sleep.  On the other hand, it’s been a very busy couple of months, and I’m very much looking forward to the extra hour of sleep tomorrow morning.  I’ll probably dream of air-sealing during that time.  Ah, relaxation!

Sleep well!
Mike

Interesting LEDs from Cooper Lighting and Commercial Electric

November 1, 2011

There are a couple of interesting LED recessed (or sort of recessed!) lighting fixtures that we’ve tested recently that are worth sharing.  I wouldn’t consider either one the CREE-killer (the CREE CR6 is still my head & shoulders above the rest favorite residential LED fixture).  But each might be a workable option in some situations.

First is Cooper Lighting’s ALL-PRO LED.  This product provides another options for “wet” locations, and at a lower price point than the HALO fixture previously reviewed here.  The dimming seems to work.

Cooper Lighting All-Pro LED Fixture

A couple things I don’t like are the 3000K rating which means it’s in the very white (some say blue) color range.  For comparison the CREE CR6 is a much warmer looking 2700K.  The other big downside for me is the 81 “color rendition index” compared to the CREE 90.  A higher number means things look truer to their natural color to the human eye.   At a rated 14.6 watts, it’s very efficient, but not as good as the CREE.

Price wise, this is comparable to the CREE and cheaper than the HALO.  If you need a wet-rated fixture, this is a worthy choice.

Next up is the Commercial Electric Light Disk.  The light quality is similar to the above product at 3000K and a CRI of 80.  OK, but not on par with the CREE CR6.  However, it does have two big advantages going for it.  It is brighter that either the CREE or the Cooper products.  Not hugely so, but brighter.  Commercial Electric  LED Disk Light

And the big feature in it’s flexibility is the ability to fix in either 5″ or 6″ cans or, uniquely surface mounted right on a 4″ junction box–a surface mounted fixture with a recessed light look.  There might be some very useful applications for this, from closets to simple retrofits would you want a sleeker modern look to replace a clunky looking surface fixture. 

We’ll keep evaluating and reviewing as the technology evolves, and we’ll keep you posted on anything interesting.

Cheers,
Mike

Occupy…St. Louis?

October 28, 2011

We all know that energy-efficiency is a way to shrink utility bills.  Aggregated, energy-efficiency means we don’t have to pay for as money power plants or as costly distribution upgrades (oddly enough, power lines aren’t free—we pay for them).  The rub is that utilities make money selling electricity, and generally they don’t make money selling less electricity.

And thus, it’s not surprising, although it’s surely disappointing, to read that Ameren Missouri is slashing its efficiency spending by 70%.  Better for them to build more power plants that they charge us for, and sell us more electricity.  We get whacked twice, with higher rates and the same or higher usage.  People and companies deserve to profit from their investments–but it sure smells better when someone else benefits, too. 

Saving energy at home saves you money at home.  When a lot of us do it together, we save even more, because we avoid the costs of new power plants and power lines (and dirty air and dirty water).  Unfortunately, as individuals, we don’t get to decide who the public good is protected from Ameren’s short-sighted behavior.  We need our elected officials to make smart decisions there (someone should start an office pool on that one!).  But we can take steps to insulate ourselves from activities like Ameren’s in Missouri.  We can slash our own utility bills, and invest in our homes and our futures instead of Ameren’s.  That we can start doing today.  The rest, well, we may have to wait until election day…although I do wonder what a tent would like on Ameren’s front lawn. 

Thanks,
Mike

“Amish” Heaters: Trick or Treat?

October 20, 2011

OK, one sign of halloween, as made clear from his zombie post yesterday, is that Jason has been watching (too many!) horror movies.

Example of an Amish Heater Ad

The ads are different this year, but the advice is the same--don't waste your money on the so-called "Amish" heater.

But the other sign, all too predictable over recent years, is that those darned full-page “Amish” heater (the Heat Surge…or it is the Heat Scurge?) ads are running again.  Miracle?  No.  But predictable and scary, maybe even scarier than one of those Zombie movies.  And from the ad, it looks like Sears has joined the game.

And although they’re now advertising the ” Heat Surge HT” with their trademarked “Hybrid-Thermic” technology, it doesn’t change what we’ve talked before (see reviews and commentary here, and here, and here, for example).  I won’t spend a lot of time on the retread except to warn people NOT to waste their money.  A lot of hype, expensive ads, and a tremendously overpriced product.  This gets my “Don’t Buy” recommendation once again.

In some circumstances, space heaters can help, but in most homes it’s usually less expensive to heat your whole house with gas or oil than it is to run even a couple electric heaters.  And even then, you can find units that will deliver the same heat at a much lower price (albeit without the goofy ad).  Save your money.  Make your home more comfortable and save energy with both simple tips and more extensive–and  smarter–home improvements like insulating and air-sealing.

Thanks,
Mike

Time Running Out for Home Energy Efficiency Tax Credit

October 13, 2011

We’ve provided the details on the federal home energy-efficiency tax credit a few times this year—for efficient furnaces, air-conditioners, windows, insulation, and the like. You’ve have access to the federal tax credit for existing homes for almost six years, in some form or another, including a bump up in the credit amount for two years as part of ARRA and then ratcheting back down this year.

But the time is running out. These federal credits disappear at the end of the year. To be eligible, qualified products must be “placed in service” (installed) by December 31, 2011. If you know you’re going to be doing something that qualifies, now is the time. I’m not betting that Congress will pull together and agree on much of anything, let alone pass something like an extension of this tax credit. So right now, it looks like before the end of the year, or kiss it goodbye.

Of course, if the time isn’t right for you, we always help our customers find any other incentives out there. Call us when you’re ready.

Thanks, Mike


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