Posts Tagged ‘saving energy’

Staying Cool…How to Save Energy in the Kitchen this Summer

May 31, 2011

We had seven visitors this Memorial Day weekend for what’s become an annual rite—my wife’s family runs in the Burlington Marathon.  With the extra people, and the need to keep them fed, including with the pre-race, pasta-fueled, carbo-loading, I found myself thinking how to stay cool in the kitchen.  And how to save energy.  [If I can brag a bit on my daughter, this is also now an issue since she has embraced baking and is doing amazing things.  Her baking is also impacting my waist size!]

Even in the heat of the summer, you can cook, stay cool, and minimize the fighting the air-conditioner has to do.  There are a few simple strategies.  Reduce the heat you produce.  Remove the heat you do produce.  And chip away at the other energy-savings via efficient lights, appliances, and behaviors as you would elsewhere in the home.

Don’t generate as much heat in the first place.

If you don’t heat up the kitchen, you don’t have to cool it down.  Here are some things you can do, none of them hard, all of them useful.

  • Grill outside.  People love this!  And if keeps you from heating the stove, oven, and room!
  • Try to limit pre-heating the oven.  You can’t do this which some baked goods where rising might be impacted.  However, you make find that getting the oven up to temperate doesn’t take as long as the recipes might suggest.  And if you’re cooking that baked macaroni and cheese, you don’t really need to wait for the oven to heat all the way up—although you may have to leave it in a couple minutes longer.
  • Don’t “peek” if you don’t need to.  Opening the oven door dumps heat into the room, drops the oven temperature, and increases cooking time.
  • Shut the oven off a few minutes early.  An oven will retain the heat for a while after you shut it off, and the food will continue to cook.
  • Check the oven door seal, and clean it with a bit of degreaser if needed.  A good seal keeps the heat where it should be.
  • Boiling water for that pre-race pasta?  Keep the cover on!  And as tempting as it is, the don’t peek rule applies here.  The water will boil faster AND you’ll reduce the amount of steam and hot water vapor you dump into your house.  Speaking of pasta, you may be able to get good results reducing the amount of water you use, as suggested in the NY Times article.  Some folks even suggest turning the heat off after adding the pasta and returning it to a boil.  I’ve done this with rice with good success.
  • On the stove top, match the pan to the element.  Don’t use a small pan on a large element because much of the heat just goes into the room.  (Induction stove users—you’ve got an advantage here!)
  • Sometimes a small toaster oven will do as well as a large oven—and require less energy and dump less heat in the process.

Evacuate any extra heat if you can.

  • Here’s where an exhaust fan with a good range hood comes in handy.  If it is vented to the outside—as it absolutely should be if you have a gas stove or oven—you can remove the heat and cooking-related moisture from the house.  Remember, as you suck air out of the house, you’re bringing in air elsewhere, and you don’t want to do that if the air is hotter and more humid that you like.  In this case, though, it’s well worth the trade.  [BTW, this same principle applies in the shower—get the steam out rather than using your A/C to cool in and remove the humidity.]
  • Safety first.  Any time we’re talking about exhaust fans, I like to remind people that they be vented outside and NOT into the attic.  And you should make sure you test your combustion equipment (including water heater and furnace) to make sure the exhaust fan doesn’t impact proper venting.

Other smart things–they add up.

  • Kitchens often have a lot of lighting, including recessed lights and track lighting.  Incandescent, including halogen lighting, actually use most of their energy creating heat, not light.  A kitchen full of mini-space heaters disguised as lights will be harder to keep cool.   Switching this to CFL or LED lighting (see previous posts on the CREE CR6, for example!) can move a huge difference.
  • Run your dishwasher only when it’s full, and don’t use the “Rinse/Hold” feature for just a few dirty.  It uses several gallons of hot water each time you use it.
  • Do the dollar bill test—the seal on your refrigerator door should snug hold a dollar bill in place when closed.  If not, the seal may need to be replaced.
  • Mom was right.  Don’t stand with the refrigerator door open FOREVER.  Minimize the time with the door open and the number of times you open it.  This saves energy in its own right.  And remember, refrigerators don’t magically create “cool”.  They remove heat from inside the compartment, and dump it—and waste heat—outside, which just happens to in your kitchen.
  • You probably don’t have a lot of flexibility with your current appliance locations, be it generally makes sense to keep the refrigerator out of bright sunlight and away from the stove—remember, you’re trying to keep it cool.   Keep it in mind if you’re remodeling, though.
  • And at new appliance time, think Energy Star!

You can also explore more general cooling tips for not just the kitchen, but your whole house.

And to really find the trouble spots in your home — and to be sure they’re addressed with the right solutions, we recommend that you get a comprehensive home energy audit.

The Feds on Air-Sealing

October 23, 2010

This Spring, DOE released a guide “Retrofit Techniques & Technologies: Air Sealing” that explains the practices used along with some related considerations.  It dives into the weeds, but it’s a good resource for anyone who wants to understand more about one of the common things we at GreenHomes do to improve homes–and why. 

As they point out, the air leaks in many homes can add up and have the same effect as leaving a window wide open all year long.  And thus, it’s no surprise that

By sealing uncontrolled air leaks, you can expect to see savings of 10% to 20% on your heating and cooling bills, and even more if you have an older or especially leaky house.

For those considering taking a stab at climbing up into the attic and taking care of air leaks on their own, definitely reread Kathryn’s post on “DIY Insulation” from last month.  In it you’ll also see mentioned the ENERGY STAR “Do-It-Yourself Guide to Sealing and Insulating“.  It gets into a lot of the important details critical to safe and effective air-sealing with some additional illustrations and photos.

Neither publication covers everything, but they do hit on some of the important basics.  And both point to some important health and safety considerations.  The DOE guide does a better job explaining the importance of combustion safety and ventilation–and how a good “test-in/test-out” approach helps address these issues.

If you’re thinking about insulating your home, remember, you should air-seal first.  The guides help explain how and why.  Both are worth a read.

Thanks,
Mike

Chu: Saving Energy Saves Money

October 31, 2009

OK, perhaps a bit obvious. But Energy Secretary Steven Chu blogs in yesterday’s Huffington Post:   “Energy efficiency is simply good economics. It will save you money. It will create jobs. It is a way for you to personally decrease your carbon emissions and help save our planet.”

Thanks,
Mike

Tips to Save Energy This Winter

October 14, 2009

The leaves are changing and despite the mild summer in the Northeast, my body wasn’t quite prepared for the cold temperatures that are starting, and furnaces are turning on.  (OK, the southern half of the country doesn’t know what I’m talking about—but winter is on the way for you, too.) 

A home energy audit can help you find the right solutions and prioritize--but get the right audit!

A home energy audit can help you find the right solutions and prioritize--but get the right audit!

In the spirit of recycling, I’m pull out an old post on some of the high impact things you can do to stay warm and comfortable this winter and reduce you heating bills, too!  These are general recommendations.  To find out what’s most appropriate for you and your home, you should start with a good home energy audit to help find hidden issues, prioritize your improvements, and make sure your home is operating safely and efficiently.  (See a short video on what’s included in a good audit.)  [Note, below you won’t see bogus claims for overpriced “miracle” cures with or without Amish mantles or for $20 ceramic heaters price at $200 to pay for full-page newspaper ads.  Stay away from these things!]

  1. The attic is a great place to start.  Air leaks from rooms below into the attic can be one of the biggest drains on energy and your bank account.  Sealing attic air leaks can have a huge impact.
  2. Use caulk or foam to seal around the plumbing stack vent, where it goes through floors. This is a pipe (PVC, or cast iron in older homes) that runs from the basement sewer pipe up through every floor, and out through the roof.   Holes for electric wiring, and around chimneys, are also problem areas worth addressing.
  3. Insulate and air-seal your attic hatch. Often, builders overlook the hatch when they insulate the attic.
  4. Many homes today have recessed ceiling lights, also called can lights. These fixtures look great, but are a notorious source of heat leaks into the attic, and between floors.  You can install new air-tight fixtures, use air-tight baffles, or build air-tight boxes around them in the attic.  With existing fixtures, check with an electrician first to make sure the fixtures you have are “IC” rated so it’s safe to put insulation against them.

    Leaky ducts rob your home of air you've paid to heat (and cool).

    Leaky ducts rob your home of air you've paid to heat (and cool).

  5. Only after you’ve done air-sealing, put an extra layer of insulation on the attic floor, on top of the insulation you currently have there.  Sixteen to 24-inches is not excessive in cold climates—and it will keep you cooler in the summer too!
  6. Vents to the outside of your home are pipelines for cold air leaking in, and warm air leaking out.  Install one-way baffles on your kitchen fan vent, dryer vent, and bathroom fan vents.
  7. Keep your boiler and furnace tuned up.   If they’re reaching the end of their lifespan, consider replacing with a high-efficiency unit, one that at least qualifies for Energy Star®.   
  8. Install and use a programmable thermostat—this ensures that you don’t forget to turn the heat down at night or while you’re away at work.
  9. 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 heat (or cool in the summer) can escape outside through leaky ducts.
  10. Replacing appliances? Look for Energy Star qualified models of dishwashers, refrigerators, light fixtures, and compact fluorescent bulbs.

BONUS:  The ARRA (Stimulus) federal tax credits can help you pay for these home energy improvements.

Your water heater doesn't have to look this bad to be spilling dangerous carbon monoxide into your home.  Get it checked.

Your water heater doesn't have to look this bad to be spilling dangerous carbon monoxide into your home. Get it checked.

With some advice from your local home center, over four or five free weekends and with a willingness to crawl through dirty, itchy insulation, a handy homeowner can tackle many of these projects. The energy savings, and effect on comfort, are cumulative, so do as many as you can. If you don’t relish the idea of strapping on a tool belt, consider a contractor that specializes in home energy solutions. GreenHomes can complete the entire scope of work in a few days. Our whole-home solutions guarantee a minimum 25% reduction in energy consumption, with most customers seeing much higher reductions, often up to 40, 50 and 60 percent.

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.

Thanks,
Mike

Home Energy Audits

May 7, 2009

We’ve seen a big increase in interest in home energy “audits” over the last couple of months (of course, we approach every house this way—prescription and treatment without diagnosis is malpractice!).   As such, it’s probaA blower door is used to measure and locate air-leakage in a homebly worth pointing folks back to some previous posts.  Home assessments make a lot of sense—in fact they’re important—if they’re done right.  I thought I’d take the opportunity to revisit that topic and highlight some additional related information.

Thanks,
Mike

Icicles aren’t cool!

December 5, 2008

Up in Snow Country, many places have been hit with the first (or second or third!) snow storm of the year.  And with snow, some people need to worry about ice on the roof.  As young Carrick pointed out in the video from my last post,  frost and snow patterns on roofs can help give us clues about how a house is working.  And you should be concerned if you ever have large icicles, water spots forming in your ceiling, damp attics or related problems.  Ice and ice damming can wreck your roof and can expensive damage to you house and furnishings. Roof Ice is a Problem

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.  Having hunkered down with family for the holiday, I’m back in full swing now.

 

What is Ice Damming?

Ice dams are typically caused by poor or missing insulation and air leakage from your house into your attic.  In the winter, this warms the roof and causes the snow to melt. The melting snow then moves down the roof slope until it reaches the cold overhang, where it refreezes.

 

The process forms icicles and can actually create a dam that eventually forces the water to back up under the shingles and sometimes into the ceiling or wall inside the home. In addition to roof and water damage, ice dams can cause structural decay and mold and mildew to form in attics and on wall surfaces.

 

The Fix

Fortunately, you can dramatically reduce damage from ice damming by sealing the holes connecting your heated living space and the attic, as well as properly insulating your attic. There are different techniques to stop air leaking through recessed lights, leaky heating ducts, attic access doors, and plumbing and electrical penetrations. Sealing these leaks keeps warm air in your house were it belongs. Together, with adequate levels of insulation, this greatly reduces the chance of ice damming and large icicles.  You do NOT just want to add more insulation before sealing the air leaks—this can actually create additional problems that can also damage your roof.  You can’t eliminate icicles completely.  Small icicles are normal.  And some roof architecture–especially big valleys draining to a small corner–are especially challenging.  But if you have long icicles or thick heavy ice you should act quickly to prevent damage.  (And this means preventing the ice from forming in the first place, not risk life, limb, and your roof trying to chip off ice that’s there.)

 

Do it right.  Find the important leakage points and seal them up.  Then add a lot of insulation.  And afterwards, as with any time you change the way your house works, have your combustion appliances tested to make sure they’re operating safely and efficiently.

 

An added benefit to this, of course, is you’ll save energy, save money, and be more comfortable in your home, too!

 

Stay warm.

 

-Mike


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