Posts Tagged ‘home economics’

Avoid Portable Heater Confusion, “Amish”, Miracle or Pure Malarky

October 25, 2009

It must be that time of year.  The leaves are turning, the temperature is dropping, and misleading advertisements for miracle heaters are starting to fill the papers and the weekend supplements.  We’ve covered this elsewhere:  Don’t buy the Amish Mantle heater with the “miracle” technology from China (and don’t buy the Cool Surge Portable Air Cooler).  And making my “don’t buy” list this year is also the Eden Pure Heater, even if Bob Vila is “interviewed” in their big ads (here’s what Consumer Reports has to say about Eden Pure).   Generally, you should be very skeptical about ads for products that would seem to defy the laws of physics, tout miracles that they (and only they) have somehow tapped into, or that use a lot a scientific jargon and confusing units to try to make you think that’s the case.  If you want to save energy and save money (and be more comfortable), you’ll have to keep the heat in and produce it more efficiently.  You might be able to close of the entire house and only heat one room as a last ditch measure–but even that isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Often that room wasn’t engineered on all sides to keep the heat in.  And turning off heat in other areas of you home can lead to problems with plumbing, with furniture, and with the building structure.  It’s not as simple as plugging in an overpriced electric heater.   

Stay warm.  Stay safe.  Our winter tips can help.

And offer your thoughts–what can we do to help people not waste their money on over-hyped stuff like this?


White House Releases “Recovery through Retrofit” report

October 19, 2009

On the White House Live today, Vice President Biden held an event releasing a new report Recovery Through Retrofit Report, that contains an action plan speeding up the adoption of home retrofits nationally and jump start a jobs recovery.   This plan is to address barriers without new money and by using authority the federal government already has.  Essentially, they’re trying to promote the type of retrofits that GreenHomes does today in New York, New Jersey, and Southern California to a wider audience through education, training and certification, and financing options.    They talked about home assessments using the latest tools and skills, and effective improvements. 

The announcement event can be watched on the White House You Tube channel.  You can also read more on the White House blog post

In today’s economy, people want to make their homes safer, more comfortable, and more energy-efficient, and crawling through attics and basements and air-sealing, duct-sealing, insulating, and installing high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment creates jobs right now, jobs that can’t be exported, and jobs that improve home economics and national energy security.  An idea whose time has surely come.


Retrofitting Buildings to Save

September 14, 2009

The NY Times yesterday reported on something that regular visitors to this blog should know:  retrofitting buildings is a great way to meet broader energy and climate goals (while also making good sense for homeowners!).

The article states:

“To anyone who has ever avoided a drafty window in winter, donned a sweater in midsummer while working in an overchilled office, or otherwise watched heat, light, water and other resources squandered for want of architectural forethought, the statistics should come as no surprise.

More than one-third of all global energy is consumed by, or in, buildings, which in turn account for about 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions….”

No need to overpay utilities or shiver in the dark.  Energy-efficiency retrofits can make you more comfortable, safer, and let you invest in your home rather than the utility.

The article was prompted by a Green Jobs/Green New York bill that just passed out of the legislature.  It probably means loans to help pay for improvements—but we’ll have to see how this gets implemented down the road.


The Water/Energy Connection

August 3, 2009

Green home or regular home, water efficiency and energy efficiency are tied to each other in many ways, started at the source.  It takes energy to pump and move water.  It takes water to make electricity (in the case of cooling towers, for example).  And many significant energy users in the home are tied to water use.

For example, inefficient clothes washers, dishwashers, and high flow shower heads all use a lot of hot water.  The more hot water, the more energy used to make  the hot water.   Moving to more efficient water-using appliances can save you twice.  In some places like Atlanta, Phoenix, and much of California, the water itself is a big issue.  California is moving in the direction of water rationing with graduated tariffs based on volume usage—and high use can mean expensive water bills.

As I just alluded to, it doesn’t stop there.  Water heating can be one of the largest uses of energy in a home.  And needlessly throwing hundreds of gallons of water you just paid to heat down the drain just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So what can you do?  I’ll start at the high level, and we can pursue this thread further in the coming weeks and months.  But here’s a quick and dirty version: 

  1. Fix leaks!  Dripping faucets can leaks dozens of gallons a day. 
  2. Install new water saving fixtures and appliances.  New designs really work.  ENERGY STAR can point you to clothes washers and dishwashers.   (I do like our Bosch Nexxt Washer.)  And the new WaterSense program at EPA can give you direction on fixtures.
  3. Smart plumbing—hot water that has to travel hundreds of feet to get to your sink or shower means a lot of water that you once heated but that got cold while it sat in the pipes goes down the drain, wasting the water and the energy you’d used to heat it.  Shorten the distance!  With new water heating and plumbing technology, this is possible.
  4. Speaking of those pipes, insulate them!
  5. Look into drain water heat recovery.  (I’ll post pictures when I install one in a few weeks.)
  6. Look into solar hot water.  This technology is vastly different from the not-always-ready-for prime time systems of the 70s and 80s.
  7. No water heating involved, but move toward less water intensive landscaping.

 It’s possible to save water and save energy and money at the same time!


Energy Myths: Cooling

July 10, 2009

A recent conversation at the grocery store gave me an idea for a new thread—debunking some energy and energy-efficiency myths.  Despite the Spring-like conditions in the Northeast, it really is summer, and I’ll start off with a few cooling myths.

MYTH:  Using a programmable thermostat—or adjusting manually—and ratcheting back your heating or cooling where no one is home doesn’t really save energy.  Quite simply, yes it does!   The longer your house stays at a higher temperature when in cooling mode (or at a lower temperature when heating), the more energy and money you will save. This is because heating and cooling cost depends mostly on the difference between indoor and outdoor temperature—the closer the temperatures indoors and out, the less energy you use.  Depending on usage, on how far you change the setting while you’re gone, and how efficient your home is, you could expect to save 5 to15%.  A programmable thermostat can adjust temperatures automatically for you.   (Caveat:  in areas with variable rates—peak summer rates are often late afternoon.  You’ll use less energy back turning off the A/C while you’re gone—but you may pay more.  The answer here is to make your house as efficient as possible to get the cool air in and keep the heat out!)

MYTH:  Turning off the A/C, but leaving the fan on to mix the air saves energy.  Nope.  First, you’re actually using energy—and creating heat—with the fan.  Second, most duct systems leak air to the outside—keeping the fan on actually increases this leakage, so you may lose the cool air even faster. 

MYTH: The lower you set your thermostat, the faster you’re A/C will cool your house.
False.  You should set the thermostat at the temperature you want–it will reach that point just as quickly as if you set it lower.  Setting it lower means you’re likely to forget or to “catch” it at the right time, making the room colder and wasting energy.

A lot more home energy misconceptions out there—and I’ll try to hit some them in the coming months.


Energy Independence

July 3, 2009

You’ll hear “energy independence” batted around.  Some folks will undoubtedly be tying it to Independence Day, the 4th of July, in the U.S.  And it is a great aspirational goal. 

Let’s blow away the smoke, though.  Energy independence for the U.S. will not happen overnight.  It won’t happen in a decade.  It may never happen completely as it may always make more sense for the Northeastern U.S. to get some of electricity from hydroelectric plants in Canada.  And we may find it makes sense to continue to import some “energy” from Mexico and Canada for raw energy or for products where petroleum or natural gas is the best feedstock.

Let’s also be clear that real energy independence is not about drilling for more oil in this country.  We simply don’t have enough to quench our current thirst.  It’s not about switching more to coal—we already generate more than half our electricity from coal, and we simply cannot afford the damage to our air, mountains, streams, and lakes.  But nor is it just about building massive wind farms in Texas or massive solar farms in Nevada.  We cannot generate enough that way to meet our current demands in the next decade, and even if we could, we would have to think about how to move electricity from Texas to Chicago and beyond.

But I’m very optimistic about a cleaner energy future.  Not only is it urgently needed, but it also makes a lot of sense for economic, security, and environment reasons.

The place to start of course, is energy-efficiency.  The McKinsey cost curve (here, as depicted in National Geographic) illustrates this perfectly.  It’s almost one of those “duh” observations—but an observation that we unfortunately haven’t embraced yet.   The “increased cost” argument is a red herring on the efficiency side.  Wasting less energy—wasting less, period—saving us money!   As DOE Secretary Chu put it, “Energy efficiency is not just low-hanging fruit; it is fruit lying on the ground.”    If we make the efforts to do more, do it better, and do it with less, we win.  And if we decrease our need for energy, the supply side of the equation becomes more simpler.  We don’t need as much, electricity, gas, oil, ethanol, etc.   The scale of our wind farms and PV arrays can be smaller.  We don’t have to worry as much about massive energy distribution infrastructure.   Energy-efficiency is the critical first step, and it makes the next steps more achievable.  Once we start making significant inroads there, we can tackle more manage supply issues, especially including renewables.

The good news is that this creates economic opportunity.  “Green” jobs are certainly a big part of this.  These jobs are for the most part very local.  They cannot be exported our outsourced.  The ensure that money that was formerly sent overseas stays in our communities.  And obviously good jobs give the economy a boost.  It doesn’t stop there, though.  As businesses save energy, they save money.  Money that formerly went up a chimney, flue, or smokestack can be reinvested in the core business, creating new and better widgets, improved services, and stronger competitiveness.  In short, the less businesses waste, the easier it is for us to maintain a leadership role. 

This same principal holds at the household level.  These less money we spend on energy, the more we have to send our kids to school, pay our mortgages, and protect ourselves from the ups and downs of a global market and global energy costs.

There are upfront costs for energy-efficiency.  But they are actually less than the costs to build and maintain new power plants, new power lines and gas pipelines, and the fossil-fuels needed to run them. 

Total energy independence may be a far-off dream.   There is absolutely no good reason, though, we shouldn’t begin running in that direction, and saving money and increasing our resilience, right now.  With energy-efficiency first.


Ten Tips for Keeping Cool

June 29, 2009

Now that summer is officially here, let’s get to those cooling tips I promised earlier.  Some of the tips are simple things you can do yourself.  Some are more involved are likely are best handled by a contractor.

  1. Keep the heat out!  During the day, if it’s cooler inside than outside, keep windows shut.  And keep window shades down to block out direct sunlight.  Open the windows at night if it’s cooler outside than in.  Solar shades can help.  And the more ambitious project, new low-e windows with a low “solar heat gain coefficient” (SHGC) can block the heat from the sun.
  2. Ceiling fans (and other fans) help you stay comfortable—but only while you’re in the room.  The fan motors actually generate heat, so turn them off when you’re not there.
  3. Use a bath fan vented to the outside to remove the heat and moisture created by showering.  If you don’t have a bath fan, install one.
  4. Similarly, use a kitchen exhaust fan to remove heat and moisture created by cooking.  This has the added benefit of removing pollutants, especially if you cook with gas.
  5. Use efficient lighting and appliances.  Incandescent and halogen lights actually use most of their energy creating heat instead of light.  Not only does this means you’re overpaying for lighting, but in the summer you’re creating a lot of unwanted heat in the rooms you’re trying to keep cool.  Compact florescent light bulbs have improved greatly over the past several years.  The humming, slow starts, and ghoulish colors of years past are gone.  With lighting or appliances, look for ENERGY STAR models.
  6. Do you have a forced air heating or cooling system? If so, make sure to seal and insulate the ductwork in attics and crawl spaces.  As much as 30% of the air you cool can escape outside through leaky ducts.
  7. Insulate and air-seal your attic.  In the summer, temperatures in the attic often climb to more than 140o.    Proper insulation can keep this heat from conducting down into your home, but first…  Remember that your insulation only works if air isn’t moving through it.  Seal around chimneys, flues, plumbing penetrations, and recessed lighting, for example.   See my previous post Insulate to Stay Cool (Tax credits may apply)
  8. If you have a central air-conditioner, keep it tuned up.   If it’s more than 10 years old, consider replacing with a high-efficiency unit, one that at least qualifies for ENERGY STAR.  If your buying a window air-conditioner or dehumidifier, look for the ENERGY STAR, too.  (Tax credits may apply)
  9. Planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides of a house can help keep your home cool in the summer.  In many parts of the country, maples, oaks, and birches are good trees to consider.  Because they drop their leaves in the fall, they let sunlight through to help warm your house in the winter.
  10. To really find the trouble spots in your home, and to be sure that they’re addressed properly, get a comprehensive home assessment like those recommended in the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program.  GreenHomes America can provide this, and GreenHomes trained and certified crews can even install your improvements.

And whether you do the work yourself or you have it done by a contractor, after you tighten the house you should have any combustion equipment like furnaces and water heaters tested to make sure they’re running safely and efficiently.  GreenHomes does this testing on every project it completes.


Replacement Windows–For the Right Reasons!

June 25, 2009
Click to learn some benefits of replacement windows

Click to learn some benefits of replacement windows

When people think about saving energy in their homes, replacing windows is often one of the first things that comes to mind.  The reality is that replacement windows by themselves are using one of the least cost-effective things you can do to save energy.  Insulation, air-sealing, duct-sealing and lighting usually provide a lot more bang for the buck.  Most window installers probably won’t clue you in on that tibbit!

Having said that, replacing your windows does have a lot of benefits.  Newer windows can boost comfort, reduce maintenance hassle and expense, address lead paint issues, reduce fading of upholstery and carpets, eliminate the need for swapping storm windows and screens twice a year, and the list goes on.  And if you’re replacing you’re windows for any reason, choosing the right energy-efficient window AND installing them properly will help you save energy, too!   Also, windows can certainly be part of a comprehensive energy retrofit.

 [Check out a short video on the subject at]


Oil Prices Expected to Continue Climb

June 16, 2009

From CNN Money/Fortune today:

NEW YORK (Fortune) — Ask a group of oil analysts about the recent surge in crude costs and here’s the consensus answer you’ll get: Prices have run up too far, too fast and they aren’t supported by the fundamentals.

Ask them about where prices will be two years from now, however, and the majority will offer this prediction: A lot higher.

“We’re concerned about oil prices rising so rapidly in the near-term,” says Hussein Allidina, head of commodities research at Morgan Stanley. “But the bet in the long-term is one way, and that’s just up.”

In the long term, as the economy recovers, demand is growing faster than supply.  This means prices will climb, speculators or not.  And it will happen sooner and faster than most people are prepared for.

$1,500 Home Energy Tax Credit Summary and FAQ

June 16, 2009

tax credit imageWe continue to get a lot of questions about the federal home energy-efficiency tax credits.  GreenHomes has collected the most common questions and a summary of eligible measures and criteria in an FAQ page on our website.  Hope this helps.  Of course, feel free to contact us for more info.


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