Posts Tagged ‘energy costs’

WSJ clip: Small Fixes Lead to Big Savings

March 24, 2009

The Wall Street Journal posted this video to their site.  It gives a good sense of what a home energy audit entails in a short clip, with some blower door footage. 

GreenHomes gets a nice mention, and that’s our Senior Advisor, John Scipione, with the infrared camera.



February 24, 2009

Jay Romano wrote a great column in his New York Times home improvement series, “The Fix” last week addressing ice dam solutions. I think it only goes half way, though, since the article offers roof shoveling and heat tape as partial solutions. The truth is, only with a well-sealed and well-insulated attic can you reliably and permanently control the expensive damage wrought by ice dams and avoid unnecessarily high utility bills.

Here’s the thing about raking snow—it’s only potentially effective if you decide that you have an ice-damming problem the day of a big snowstorm.  You can do it yourself by buying a snow rake, or hire someone to do it for you each time you get a snowfall. But do you really want to add shoveling the roof to your existing shoveling chores, or add to your current snow removal bills? And just shoveling the snow off the first two or three feet of the roof isn’t going to do it: the show further up the roof can melt down and create dams.

Ditto with heat tape, which not only costs $300-600 according to Mr. Romano, but must then be installed and can be very expensive to run.  (Set an electric heater outside and then tell me about your electric bill!)  Electric heat tape requires fasteners, which penetrate the shingles to hold it in place, and can damage shingles.  And unfortunately, many people let heat tape run even when not needed – when there is no snow on the roof (or, yikes, all summer long!), for example – causing even higher bills.

The rigid foam method Tom Silva recommends, in which the attic is insulated all the way up to the peak, between the rafters, can work—but air sealing along with it is critical, and probably beyond what most homeowners can tackle solo. For twice the price of the materials, which are expensive in and of themselves, a homeowner could have closed cell polyurethane insulation installed (that is, with all labor included) to an equivalent depth, which will do the trick. But many homeowners don’t use the attic as living space. If you rarely venture up there, you can insulate just as well, if not better, for a fraction of the cost.  A well-sealed and well-insulated flat attic, with good attic ventilation—of the kind we do every day—will outperform Mr. Silva’s approach. (Again—it depends on whether and how you’re using the attic—mine is conditioned living space so the flat attic treatment was out.)

Now, go outside, and take that heat tape off!  (And then call someone to insulate and air-seal your attic!)
Stay warm,

Shedding Light on Solar Hot Water

September 12, 2008

At the ACEEE conference, there was attention given to solar hot water—a technology that is big in Europe and now even required in Hawaii.  Using the sun to heat your water is great for the environment and for your wallet! Especially with today’s skyrocketing energy costs! You can save up to 75% on water heating costs with a professionally installed solar system.

You don‘t have to live in sunny Arizona to benefit from solar. Even in cloudier locations like Syracuse or Seattle or Canada, a solar hot water system can help meet your hot water needs!

Another myth among homeowners is that solar hot water systems are too expensive to install. For example, in New York, there are currently generous tax credits and incentives that can put 65% or more of the system cost back in your pocket! Depending on what you use now to heat your water (gas, oil, electric), how much you‘re paying for that fuel, and how much hot water you use (and if like me you have teenage daughters, the answer is A LOT!), you can recoup the cost of the system in as little 3 to 5 years. After that, it‘s money in your pocket!

So how does it work? Solar hot water systems are usually used to heat water for basic household needs such as laundry, bathing, dishwashing, and cooking. These systems use solar energy – gathered from solar collectors usually mounted on your roof – to preheat water coming into a standard water heater. The warmer the water from the solar heater, the less conventional fuel is needed to provide for the household‘s hot water demands.

During the summer, a properly sized solar hot water system can provide up to 100% of a household‘s needs! In the winter, it will be less in snowy climates. On average, however, solar hot water systems meet between 60% to 70% of a home‘s annual load.

Solar systems not only save you money on your energy bills, they also increase your energy independence and decrease your environmental impact.   Visit the GreenHomes site to see if solar hot water is right for your home.


Energy-Efficiency and The Cost of Home Ownership

August 6, 2008

Mortgage crisis?  Interest rates?  Housing affordability?  When lenders look at the cost of owning a home, the big four expenses they look at are PITI—Principal, Interest, Taxes (as in property taxes), and Insurance. The real cost of home ownership is more than this, though.  And they really ought to look at a fifth expense, one that like taxes can be significant and tends to go up rather than down.  You should be looking at it, too.

What is this mysterious fifth expense?  Utility costs.  The costs to heat, cool, and provide electricity to your home can be significant.   These costs are almost always more than insurance.  They’re often more than property taxes.  For some, monthly payments for gas (or oil or propane) and electricity can be $300, $400 per month, or more.  And trends are that utility costs are going up, up, and up.

Unlike your property taxes or your insurance costs, however, you can have a big impact on the utility bills you pay. You can ignore them, and they’ll climb.  Or you can take control, increase the energy-efficiency of your home, and reign in those costs.  Relatively easily, you can make improvements to cut your total energy use by 25% (GreenHomes guarantees savings of at least 25%). With more effort you can cut them by 50%, 60%, or more.  Add renewables like solar, and push toward a zero-energy home and maybe even sell energy back to the electric country.  Less than zero?  Try that with your property taxes!

While you slash your utility costs, you can make your home more comfortable.  You can increase our energy independence.  You can reduce carbon emissions.  You can show that you’re smarter than the lenders who pretty much ignore utility costs.  And with the crisis we’re in right now, acting smarter than some of the more slippery mortgage lenders looks like a pretty good thing.


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