Posts Tagged ‘home heating’

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!


“Amish Heaters”: Hogwash in a box

October 28, 2011

Mike’s mentioned those “Amish Heaters” lately. Here’s a video clip from a few years back from Consumers Reports, an unbiased source. Nothing wrong with these heaters per se, but you have to read pretty carefully not to be mislead.  I do have to say they are awfully expensive for what they do.  You might be better off with a $20 dollar electric space heater.  As the video points out, you won’t save any money unless you turn the heat down in the rest of the house.  Hmmm, sounds uncomfortable. 

Vodpod videos no longer available.

posted with vodpod

Stay warm, 


Home Heating Options

January 7, 2011

It is usually around this time of year that people start to realize that they need to do something about their home heating system. You have probably already received your first major heating bill of the year, and are no doubt conscious of the fact that things are only going to get worse in the months to come. So what are your options?

Many people are surprised to find that a well-qualified and equipped HVAC contractor can successfully complete work on your house in the dead of winter. If your wallet is already feeling the strain of the heating season the first thing to do is to have a home energy audit.   And contractors who use IR technology to complete energy efficiency audits are actually happy to do this in winter because the high contrast in in-door to out-door temperature (generally) leads to high quality IR images.

In many cases increasing insulation in your attic and walls, and sealing cracks and gaps that allow hot air to escape and cold air to enter, will have the most bang for your buck, and can lower your bills more than replacing the heating system in your house.  There are some cases, however, when forking out the dough for a new heating system is the best bet.

Choosing a heating system is not nearly as easy as it sounds—especially since many homes have systems that weren’t properly spec-ed, sized, or installed. The local climate, the architecture and existing infrastructure of your house, the cost of the system, and the cost and availability of different fuels will all come into play in your decision. The many choices available and the long-term nature of your decision is why it is important to have a professional guiding you through the process.

Even if you are a competent handy-person and have done your research in order to choose the best system for your house, it is advisable to have a professional install the unit, or at the very least do a comprehensive check of your work to ensure the safety of your home. Carbon Monoxide in the home is extremely dangerous and not something worth risking.

If you need a new heating system for your home you might be a bit baffled by all options available to you. In the next few week I’ll explain some of the more common heating systems available to you.

Maintain Your Appliances!

October 14, 2010

When you turn on your shower faucet hot water comes out. When you turn the thermostat up it gets warmer in your house. Your clothes go into the clothes drier wet and come out dry, the same way your food goes into the oven raw and comes out cooked. So long as these rules hold true most of us never give a second thought to our gas (or oil or propane)-fired appliances, but we should.

The simple truth is that, if not properly maintained, your appliances could turn into the most dangerous things in your home. Forget sharp knives, poison oak or your killer doberman, if you don’t maintain your appliances they can cause you a world of pain, or even death through fire, explosion or carbon monoxide poisoning (see Combustion Safety Week articles 1 and 2).

So what should you do?

Most importantly, have a licensed contractor do an inspection of your gas piping, gas appliances and heating system every year. You wouldn’t drive your car around for a year with out having a qualified mechanic inspect it, and your home appliances are no different. A well-qualified professional can detect problems before they become dangerous and advise you on the best course of action.

There is more that you can do in the period between check-ups. Run kitchen exhaust fans when gas appliances are used and make sure CO detectors in the home have fresh batteries. Also, be aware of your appliances. Take notice of changes in how well they function, strange smells and noises. Call a licensed contractor immediately if you notice any of the following red flags (courtesy of Vermont Gas):

  • Gas flames that appear pale or wavy
  • Gaps, rust or blocks in vents, or vents that do not lead outdoors
  • Strange smells
  • Appliances that are rusted or are covered in thick dust
  • Problems with furnace air filters, such as clogs, excessive dirt or the complete absence of filters.
  • Appliance valves that are missing, or improperly installed
  • The absence of a fire door on a gas appliance
  • Soot near burners or vents
  • Gas burners in a garage installed less than 18 inches above the floor
  • Venting that does not conform to the manufacturers recommendations
  • Discoloration around burners, access doors or vent area
  • Noisy appliances
  • Water/flood damaged appliances

Important Tip: Never store flammable liquids such as paint thinners or gasoline near appliances, and never hang things on gas piping or vents, even rags or clothes.

Volatile Oil Prices Cause Uncertainly

July 6, 2009

A NY Times story today talks about the volatility in oil prices, including the impact rollercoastering oil prices have on consumers’ and businesses’ abilities to predict costs.  Whether in their homes, or in their businesses, people like to know what to expect.  Oil moving between $50 and $150 per barrel makes that difficult.  But there is a way to rein that uncertainity in–and get bigger returns for doing it, standing the risk/return tradeoff on its head.  And as goes oil, so goes gas and electricity, even if those changes get smoothed out a bit be utility regulatory processes.

Let’s say you heat with oil (could be gas–or we could be taking about electricity and A/C).   If you spend $1,500 per year at “normal” prices, but that could double to $2,500 per year, you’re looking at a large swing–up to an additional $1,000.  Now let’s say you improve the efficiency of your home by 50%, reducing your “normal” costs to $750.  If prices spike, your bill goes up to $1,250–still less than you’re paying now, and $1,750 less than you’d spend on energy in your current inefficient house!  And if prices don’t spike, you save $750/year.

You cannot control wars in the Middle East, bickering between Russia and Europe over natural gas pipelines, oil price speculation, or hurricanes that disrupt production.   You cannot control the price of oil, gas, or electricity.  But you can have an enormous impact on how these prices affect you.  The choice is to ride the stormy seas and risk getting sunk–or protect yourself from changing prices.  It’s better than insurance though, because you save if energy prices go up, and you save if they don’t!  That’s just plain smart.

So how does reducing your home energy use by 50% sound?


A national energy efficiency program — at last, legislation is pending!

March 18, 2009


Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Mike Rogers unveil REEP program

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Mike Rogers unveil REEP program

On Monday I had the privilege of joining Vermont’s only Congressman, Peter Welch, in unveiling his proposal of a National Energy Efficiency Program that will retrofit millions of American homes and buildings. The goal of the legislation is to deliver a 20% increase in energy efficiency, and he plans to introduce the bill later this week.

Obviously I’m a huge fan of this legislation, more on that in a bit, but here’s how Rep. Welch’s press release describes the bill:

 “The Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) program would fund state and municipal investments of up to half the cost of retrofitting the nation’s existing homes and buildings, which account for 10 percent of global carbon emissions. Welch’s bill would direct the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop guidelines and manage financing for the national energy efficiency program. Homeowners and businesses could qualify for direct cash incentives, interest rate subsidies and credit support based on the percentage increase in efficiency they achieve.

Funding of the program would go to the states through the existing State Energy Program formula.”

 This would bring the rest of the company up to the type of programs that already exist—and that we already work in—in New York and New Jersey.

It’s high time for this legislation and I thank Congressman Welch for what he’s doing—I believe this is one of the most important issues we face.  Now you’ve heard this referred to as a climate change bill.  And it is.  With the news out of Copenhagen this week, that climate change is real, it’s worse than we thought, and it’s happening faster than we thought, this is important. 

 But Congressman Welch is doing is much more than that.  Forget about climate change for a moment. What Rep. Welch is doing with this bill is actually going to be an enormous boost for the U.S. economy.  It’s going to increase our energy security and make us less dependent on foreign oil.  It’s going to help keep our money at home, in our local communities.  Homeowners can save real money by reducing their utility costs.  This bill will help homeowners insulate themselves against price increases and volatility in the energy markets, and keep more of their monthly income for things putting like food on the table and saving for college rather that burning money and sending it out the chimney.

 And, this bill will create jobs in local communities.  For example, at GreenHomes, we know that for every dozen homes we improve, we create a job at our company.  The bill that Congressman Welch is introducing can help us, and companies like us, fix thousands of homes a year in even a small state like Vermont.  In larger states, the job creation effect is a magnitude of order larger.

 It’s also important to note that these are high-quality jobs that can’t be outsourced overseas. Unlike many contracting industry jobs, these are year-round positions.  At GreenHomes, we offer comprehensive benefits, including medical, dental, 401K, generous paid holidays and vacation.

 Lastly, there’s the multiplier effect.  As these companies invest and grow, we’ll see double the number of jobs rippling through our communities as they generate commerce with local: 

  • Vehicles dealers
  • Auto mechanics
  • Material manufacturers and suppliers
  • Marketing and advertising – newspaper, cable, network, radio, etc.
  • Uniform suppliers
  • Restaurants
  • Convenience stores – as their people grab their coffee and snacks in the morning
  • Office material stores (e.g., Staples and smaller businesses.)
  • And on and on and on.

I’m excited about this bill, and I’ll close with the most direct evidence I have of what it can mean for everyday homeowners: I live in a 90-year old house in Vermont that costs us less than $400 a year to heat—that’s $400 a year—less than some people paid last month.

[see update, House Passes Historic Climate and Energy Bill, June 26, 2009]


Cold Winter Predicted!

August 27, 2008

If you were banking on a warm winter to save you this year, you might be in trouble. On the radio yesterday, I heard that the Farmers’ Almanac is predicting colder than average temperatures for most regions of the U.S.  Cold temperatures combined with high-energy costs could spell big trouble for a lot of homeowners.  
Now, I don’t know how sophisticated or accurate the Almanac’s predictions are—on their website, they state “People who follow our forecasts claim our accuracy rate is about 80–85%.” I suspect there’s a good deal of vagueness surrounding the accuracy rate, and I’d take the prediction with a grain of salt.
But what if it pans out, and it is a cold winter?  Even “warm” winters are usually cold in most parts of the country.  Some people could be facing heating bills more the twice what they were a year ago.  Some could be spending literally thousands of dollars.  That’s scary.
The word on the street from some oil users is they’ve filled their tanks, and they have enough cash to make it into January, but other that, they’re not sure how they’ll afford to heat their homes.  That’s scarier.
I know I’m beating the same drum, but that’s because it’s giving the right message.  Energy-efficiency is the best hedge against both rising energy prices and the weather.  I wouldn’t want to bet my economic future on being able to predict either.  And I certainly don’t want to be completely at the mercy of either.  I don’t have to be.  And neither do you.  By making your home more energy efficient, you’re less susceptible to the price of oil coming out of the Middle East or flowing through a pipeline that Russia and Georgia might be fighting over.  You’re less susceptible to cold winters or hot summers (or even power outages—we need to talk about “passive survivability” soon).

Whatever the Almanac, the National Weather Service, or Uncle Elmer are predicting in terms of weather, I predict those who take action to make their homes more energy-efficient will win big in the coming years.  And the earlier they start, the bigger they’ll win.


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