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Energy Efficient Homes (ISBN - 0470376023)

In this part . . .
Energy usage is becoming an increasingly important
aspect of our personal lives. Energy costs are rising,
a trend that will surely continue. Because of the political
ramifications of obtaining the energy we need, we all can
help mitigate the huge problems that our energy consump-
tion creates. The easiest, and often the cheapest, way for
each and every one of us to reduce energy consumption is
by being more efficient with the energy that we use.
In this part I explain general concepts about energy so
that you can make the decisions that let you reach your
own energy efficiency goals. I show you how to accurately
assess and measure how you use energy in your home so
that you can decide how to invest your own personal
energy and time in making improvements. I also give you
a simple way to analyze financial investments so that you
can get the most bang for your hard earned bucks.

EnergyEfficient Homes FORDUMmIES‰ by Rik DeGunther


EnergyEfficient Homes FORDUMmIES‰


EnergyEfficient Homes FORDUMmIES‰ by Rik DeGunther


Energy Efficient Homes For Dummies®Published byWiley Publishing, Inc.111 River St.Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774www.wiley.comCopyright © 2008 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, IndianaPublished simultaneously in CanadaNo part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any formor by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise, except aspermitted under Sections 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the priorwritten permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee tothe Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, 978-750-8400, fax 978-646-8600.Requests to the Publisher for permission should be addressed to the Legal Department, Wiley Publishing,Inc., 10475 Crosspoint Blvd., Indianapolis, IN 46256, 317-572-3447, fax 317-572-4355, or online at http://www.wiley.com/go/permissions.Trademarks: Wiley, the Wiley Publishing logo, For Dummies, the Dummies Man logo, A Reference for theRest of Us!, The Dummies Way, Dummies Daily, The Fun and Easy Way, Dummies.com and related tradedress are trademarks or registered trademarks of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the UnitedStates and other countries, and may not be used without written permission. All other trademarks are theproperty of their respective owners. Wiley Publishing, Inc., is not associated with any product or vendormentioned in this book. LIMIT OF LIABILITY/DISCLAIMER OF WARRANTY: THE PUBLISHER AND THE AUTHOR MAKE NO REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIES WITH RESPECT TO THE ACCURACY OR COMPLETENESS OF THE CONTENTS OF THIS WORK AND SPECIFICALLY DISCLAIM ALL WARRANTIES, INCLUDING WITH- OUT LIMITATION WARRANTIES OF FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. NO WARRANTY MAY BE CREATED OR EXTENDED BY SALES OR PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS. THE ADVICE AND STRATEGIES CONTAINED HEREIN MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR EVERY SITUATION. THIS WORK IS SOLD WITH THE UNDERSTANDING THAT THE PUBLISHER IS NOT ENGAGED IN RENDERING LEGAL, ACCOUNTING, OR OTHER PROFESSIONAL SERVICES. IF PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE IS REQUIRED, THE SERVICES OF A COMPETENT PROFESSIONAL PERSON SHOULD BE SOUGHT. NEITHER THE PUBLISHER NOR THE AUTHOR SHALL BE LIABLE FOR DAMAGES ARISING HEREFROM. THE FACT THAT AN ORGANIZA- TION OR WEBSITE IS REFERRED TO IN THIS WORK AS A CITATION AND/OR A POTENTIAL SOURCE OF FURTHER INFORMATION DOES NOT MEAN THAT THE AUTHOR OR THE PUBLISHER ENDORSES THE INFORMATION THE ORGANIZATION OR WEBSITE MAY PROVIDE OR RECOMMENDATIONS IT MAY MAKE. FURTHER, READERS SHOULD BE AWARE THAT INTERNET WEBSITES LISTED IN THIS WORK MAY HAVE CHANGED OR DISAPPEARED BETWEEN WHEN THIS WORK WAS WRITTEN AND WHEN IT IS READ.For general information on our other products and services, please contact our Customer CareDepartment within the U.S. at 800-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.For technical support, please visit www.wiley.com/techsupport.Wiley also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print maynot be available in electronic books.Library of Congress Control Number: 2008935263ISBN: 978-0-470-37602-7Manufactured in the United States of America. This book is printed on recycled paper.10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


About the Author Rik DeGunther attended the University of Illinois as an undergraduate and Stanford University as a graduate student, studying both applied physics and engineering economics (some of this education actually stuck). He holds several United States Patents and has designed a wide range of technical equipment including solar energy platforms, military grade radar jammers, weather measurement equipment, high-powered radar vacuum tubes, computerized production hardware, golf practice devices, digital and analog electronic circuits, unmanned aerial vehicles, guitars and amplifiers, microwave filters and mixers, automatic cabinet openers, strobe light communications systems, explosive devices (strictly on accident), cloud height sensors, fog sensors, furniture, houses, barns, rocket ships, dart throwers, flame throwers, eaves- dropping devices, escape routes, and you name it. He’s one of those nerdy guys who likes to take things apart to see how they work and then put them back together and try to figure out what the left over parts are for. Rik is CEO of Efficient Homes, an energy efficiency auditing firm in Northern California. He is actively engaged in designing and developing new solar equip- ment, including off-grid lighting systems and off-grid swimming pool heaters. He writes weekly op-ed columns for the Mountain Democrat, California’s oldest and most venerable newspaper. He has also written a highly acclaimed golf book (on putting) and spends most of his free time attempting to improve his relatively impressive but objectively droll golf handicap, usually to no avail. Sometimes the urge strikes him to play a very loud guitar, of which he owns a collection with far more intrinsic quality than the playing they receive. His hearing has been falter- ing the last few years, so he rebuilt his amplifier to go up to eleven.


Dedication Of course this book is dedicated to Katie, Erik, and Ally. Without them, the world would wobble inefficiently on its axis, and this work of art wouldn’t exist.


Author’s Acknowledgments Many thanks to all those who have contributed to the material in this book, whether wittingly or not. Dick and Betty DeGunther, Professor Mitchell Weissbluth, Professor AJ Fedro, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Leland Stanford, Mike Pearcy, Jordan Cobb, Eric Micko, Vikki Berenz, Connie Cowan, Betsy Sanders, Jim DeGunther, Sarah Nephew, Freddie Mercury, Dave and Perla DeGunther, Brad, Melinda, Samantha and Emily Schauer, Chuck Albertson, Tilly and Evonne Baldwin, Joe and Marcia Schauer, Kim and Gary Romano of Sierra Valley Farms. Thanks to Dr. Keith Kennedy and Watkins-Johnson Company for showing restraint above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks to John Steinbeck for making me understand what’s impor- tant and what’s not, and in the same vein, Derek Madsen. Thanks to the excellent crew at Wiley: Mike Baker, Tracy Barr, and Christy Pingleton, as well as the Technical Reviewer, Greg Raffio. Readers of this book will be amazed at how well it’s written; it’s not really my fault — I have the editors to thank for that. And thanks to Stephany Evans at FinePrint Agency for getting all the ducks in a row. Thanks to all the For Dummies fans out there who have made the series what it is today.


Publisher’s AcknowledgmentsWe’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registrationform located at www.dummies.com/register/.Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Composition ServicesDevelopment Project Editor: Tracy L. Barr Project Coordinator: Katie Key Acquisitions Editor: Mike Baker Copy Editor: Christy Pingleton Layout and Graphics: Stacie Brooks, Assistant Editor: Erin Calligan Mooney Reuben W. Davis, Melissa K. Jester, Technical Editor: Gregory Raffio Christin Swinford, Christine Williams Senior Editorial Manager: Jennifer Ehrlich Editorial Supervisor and Reprint Editor: Proofreaders: John Greenough, Caitie Kelly, Nancy L. Reinhardt Carmen Krikorian Editorial Assistants: Joe Niesen, Indexer: Christine Spina Karpeles Jennette ElNaggar Special Help Cover Photos: Somos© Alicia South Cartoons: Rich Tennant (www.the5thwave.com)Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies Ensley Eikenburg, Associate Publisher, Travel Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, TravelPublishing for Technology Dummies Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General UserComposition Services Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


Contents at a GlanceIntroduction ................................................................ 1Part I: Solving the World’s Problemsfrom Your Front Porch .................................................. 7Chapter 1: Defining Efficiency .......................................................................................... 9Chapter 2: Energy Sources and Sinks............................................................................ 17Chapter 3: Eliminating the Guesswork with Home Energy Audits ............................ 29Chapter 4: Financing Efficiency Improvements ........................................................... 51Chapter 5: Making Tradeoffs That Work for You......................................................... 62Part II: Reducing Inefficienciesthroughout Your Home ............................................... 73Chapter 6: Keeping Your Home Free from Contaminants .......................................... 75Chapter 7: Sealing and Insulating Your Home.............................................................. 89Chapter 8: Getting the Most Out of Your Heating and Air-Conditioning System...... 107Chapter 9: Lighting Your Home More Efficiently....................................................... 123Chapter 10: Watering Down Your Water Consumption ............................................ 137Chapter 11: Pigging Out on Power with Appliances.................................................. 155Chapter 12: Controlling Solar Exposures in Your Home........................................... 177Chapter 13: Breathing Homes: Ventilation, Fans, and Air Filters ............................ 193Chapter 14: Reusing and Recycling: Play It Again, Sam ............................................ 213Part III: Putting Alternative EnergySources to Work for You ........................................... 223Chapter 15: Burning Desires: Wood and Gas Stoves................................................. 225Chapter 16: Shining a Light on Solar Power for Your Home .................................... 243Chapter 17: Radiant Heating Systems ......................................................................... 263Chapter 18: Heating with Biomass Stoves .................................................................. 271Chapter 19: Geothermal Energy: Straight from Mother Nature ............................... 279Part IV: Considering Efficiency When YouBuy, Build, or Sell a Home ....................................... 289Chapter 20: Looking at Community Solutions to Energy Efficiency ....................... 291Chapter 21: Building an Energy-Efficient Home from the Ground Up..................... 301Chapter 22: Buying and Selling an Energy-Efficient Home ....................................... 313


Part V: The Part of Tens ........................................... 323Chapter 23: Ten Best Energy-Efficient Investments .................................................. 325Chapter 24: Ten Ridiculously Easy Energy-Saving Tips............................................ 331Chapter 25: Ten Best Solar Investments..................................................................... 335Index ...................................................................... 341


Table of ContentsIntroduction ................................................................. 1 About This Book .............................................................................................. 1 Conventions Used in This Book..................................................................... 2 What You’re Not to Read................................................................................ 3 Foolish Assumptions....................................................................................... 3 How This Book Is Organized .......................................................................... 4 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch.......... 4 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ................... 4 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You .......... 5 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home..................................................................................... 5 Part V: The Part of Tens........................................................................ 5 Icons Used in This Book ................................................................................. 5 Where to Go from Here................................................................................... 6Part I: Solving the World’s Problemsfrom Your Front Porch................................................... 7 Chapter 1: Defining Efficiency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9 Examining the Four Main Spokes of the Efficiency Wheel ......................... 9 Energy efficiency.................................................................................. 10 Financial efficiency .............................................................................. 11 Pollution efficiency .............................................................................. 11 Labor efficiency.................................................................................... 12 Analyzing efficiencies .......................................................................... 12 Opening Your Eyes to Inefficiency .............................................................. 13 Electrical grid inefficiencies ............................................................... 13 Transportation inefficiencies ............................................................. 14 Becoming More Efficient............................................................................... 15 Getting greater efficiency from your current systems.................... 15 Supplementing or replacing existing systems ................................. 15 Chapter 2: Energy Sources and Sinks. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17 Energizing North America ............................................................................ 18 Looking at Energy Costs: Raw and Otherwise ........................................... 21 Recognizing raw energy costs............................................................ 21 Looking at actual energy costs .......................................................... 22 Using It Up: Where Energy Goes .................................................................. 23 Turning Your Eye to Improved Energy Efficiency ..................................... 25 The big Kahuna: Electrical energy..................................................... 25 Renewable and sustainable energy sources .................................... 27 Invested energy and recycling ........................................................... 27


xiv Energy Efficient Homes For Dummies___________________________________ Chapter 3: Eliminating the Guesswork with Home Energy Audits . . .29 Getting a Handle on Your Energy Usage..................................................... 29 Energy use in a typical North American home ................................ 30 Focusing on your own home-sweet-home ........................................ 31 Other things to think about................................................................ 33 Paying Up: The Various Rate Structures .................................................... 33 Simple rate structure........................................................................... 34 Tiered structure................................................................................... 34 Time of use (TOU) structure .............................................................. 35 Combination structures ...................................................................... 35 Figuring Out What You Spend...................................................................... 35 Collecting the data............................................................................... 36 Plotting the details, month by month ............................................... 37 Keeping Up With the Joneses: A Real-Life Scenario .................................. 39 Looking at Bill’s resource costs ......................................................... 39 Calculating Your Own Carbon Footprint .................................................... 43 Auditing Your Home to Find Areas for Improvement ............................... 45 Grunting it out: The inspection.......................................................... 46 Hiring professional auditors............................................................... 49 Chapter 4: Financing Efficiency Improvements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51 Understanding the Different Types of Assistance..................................... 51 Rebates.................................................................................................. 52 Tax credits ............................................................................................ 53 Protection from property tax increases ........................................... 53 Home-operated business advantages ............................................... 53 Net metering ......................................................................................... 54 Manufacturers’ rebates....................................................................... 54 Tax-deductible home-equity loans .................................................... 55 Researching Your Subsidy Options ............................................................ 55 Financing through Loans .............................................................................. 56 Consumer loans ................................................................................... 56 Supplier loans....................................................................................... 57 Equity loans .......................................................................................... 57 Government-subsidized, energy-efficiency loans ............................ 57 Other sources of subsidized financing.............................................. 59 Leasing Energy-Efficient Equipment............................................................ 59 Working with Banks: Their Way or the Highway....................................... 60 Chapter 5: Making Tradeoffs That Work for You . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .61 Setting Efficiency Investment Goals ............................................................ 61 Analyzing Investments .................................................................................. 62 Considering the costs, financial and otherwise............................... 63 Estimating gains ................................................................................... 65 Setting a baseline for comparison: Bank accounts and stock market yields ................................................. 66


xvTable of Contents Looking at Real-World Investment Scenarios ............................................ 68 Supplementing an existing water heater with a solar system........ 68 Replacing broken equipment ............................................................. 70 Blowing hot air: A whole-house fan ................................................... 71 Investing in a full-scale solar PV system........................................... 71Part II: Reducing Inefficienciesthroughout Your Home ................................................ 73 Chapter 6: Keeping Your Home Free from Contaminants . . . . . . . . . . .75 Getting Started with General Guidelines .................................................... 75 Avoiding Some of the Worst Offenders ...................................................... 76 Fighting off formaldehyde................................................................... 77 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)................................................ 78 Asbestos................................................................................................ 81 Cigarette smoke ................................................................................... 83 Burning Up with Combustion Products...................................................... 83 Natural Hazards ............................................................................................. 84 Slipping through the cracks: Radon .................................................. 84 Operating in secret: Biological agents .............................................. 85 Final Decluttering Tips.................................................................................. 87 Chapter 7: Sealing and Insulating Your Home . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .89 Finding Leaks ................................................................................................. 89 Looking for cracks in your home ....................................................... 90 Performing a pressure test to find air leaks ..................................... 92 Finding attic air leaks .......................................................................... 93 Fixing the Leaks You Find............................................................................. 94 Weatherstripping ................................................................................. 95 Expandable foam sealant .................................................................... 95 Caulking your way to Nirvana ............................................................ 96 Inspecting and Repairing HVAC Ducts........................................................ 98 Insulating Your Home (Not Insulting It) ..................................................... 99 Types of insulation .............................................................................. 99 Checking and fixing your home’s insulation .................................. 101 Tips for applying insulation.............................................................. 103 Working with Windows............................................................................... 104 Simple, inexpensive solutions for problem windows.................... 104 Replacing windows ............................................................................ 105 Chapter 8: Getting the Most Out of Your Heating and Air-Conditioning System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .107 Understanding Human Comfort................................................................. 108 Getting air moving ............................................................................. 108 Helping or hindering: Humidity ....................................................... 108


xvi Energy Efficient Homes For Dummies___________________________________ Capitalizing on the chimney effect .................................................. 110 Going for the greenhouse effect....................................................... 111 Making more small changes for even bigger benefits................... 111 Solving Some of the Most Common Inefficiency Problems.................... 113 Restoring air flow............................................................................... 114 Repositioning the thermostat .......................................................... 115 When Your HVAC’s on the Blink................................................................ 115 What to check before you call a repairman ................................... 115 Symptoms that call for a pro............................................................ 116 Buying a New System or Supplementing the One You Have.................. 118 Hiring an HVAC Contractor ........................................................................ 119 Getting bids ........................................................................................ 120 Comparing bids.................................................................................. 120 Interviewing a contractor ................................................................. 121 Sealing the deal .................................................................................. 121 Working with a contractor once the job begins ............................ 121 Chapter 9: Lighting Your Home More Efficiently . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .123 Picking the Right Light: Your Options ...................................................... 124 Natural light........................................................................................ 124 Old-fashioned incandescent bulbs .................................................. 125 Halogen bulbs..................................................................................... 126 Flickering fluorescent bulbs ............................................................. 127 Light-emitting diodes......................................................................... 128 Going for Efficiency without Sacrificing Aesthetics ................................ 129 Calculating How Much You Can Save ....................................................... 131 Using Clever Switches to Reduce Your Bill .............................................. 133 Motion detectors ............................................................................... 133 Dimmer switches ............................................................................... 134 Whole-house lighting controllers .................................................... 135 Chapter 10: Watering Down Your Water Consumption. . . . . . . . . . . .137 Drinking to Your Health.............................................................................. 138 Wading through a flood of choices: Tap, well, bottled, and purified..................................................................................... 138 Getting the goods on suspicious water........................................... 140 Purifying your drinking water .......................................................... 141 Directing the Flow of Traffic with Faucets ............................................... 145 Leaks: Money and energy down the drain...................................... 145 A few more tips for using water wisely ........................................... 147 Savings in Showers and Baths ................................................................... 147 Wasting Water in the Toilet........................................................................ 149 Parts is parts ...................................................................................... 149 Easy ways to cut down on water usage .......................................... 150 What to do when your toilet runs.................................................... 150 Updated toilet designs ...................................................................... 151


xviiTable of Contents Watering Your Landscaping....................................................................... 152 Considering lawn alternatives.......................................................... 152 Picking the right sprinkler and watering at the right time ........... 153Chapter 11: Pigging Out on Power with Appliances . . . . . . . . . . . . . .155 Looking at Typical Appliance Consumption Numbers ........................... 155 Analyzing Appliance Consumption in Your Home .................................. 157 Keeping Water Heaters in Check ............................................................... 158 Paying attention to pipes.................................................................. 159 Staying on top of maintenance......................................................... 160 Finding more ways to save ............................................................... 161 Considering a solar or tankless water heater ................................ 162 Making the Most of Pools and Spas........................................................... 162 Making your pool energy-efficient ................................................... 163 Getting into hot water with a spa .................................................... 165 Washing and Drying without the Crying................................................... 166 Running hot or cold: Changing water temperature....................... 166 Adjusting load size, water level, and cycle..................................... 166 Saving drying costs............................................................................ 167 Keeping Your Cool with Refrigerators ...................................................... 169 It’s what’s on the inside that counts ............................................... 169 Close the door! ................................................................................... 170 One or two?......................................................................................... 170 Lessening the Load on Your Dishwasher ................................................. 170 Using less hot water .......................................................................... 170 Changing the way you rinse and load ............................................. 171 Eating Up Power with Stoves and Microwaves........................................ 172 Checking out efficient ovens ............................................................ 172 Altering your cooking techniques ................................................... 172 Enjoying the Fine Life with TVs and Computers ..................................... 173 Buying New Appliances .............................................................................. 174Chapter 12: Controlling Solar Exposures in Your Home . . . . . . . . . . .177 Lighting Your Home with Sunshine........................................................... 177 Planting a tree .................................................................................... 178 Making natural light more effective................................................. 178 Decorating to make the most of natural light ................................ 179 Installing skylights and solar tubes ................................................. 180 Heating Your Home with Sunlight — or Not ............................................ 182 Installing blinds and sunscreens ..................................................... 183 Covering your windows with exterior awnings ............................. 186 Installing outdoor window blinds.................................................... 188 Putting up radiant barriers............................................................... 188 Cutting out summertime sunlight with overhangs........................ 189


xviii Energy Efficient Homes For Dummies___________________________________ Garnering Sunlight with Greenhouses and Sunrooms............................ 190 Deciding between the different types of solar rooms................... 190 Building a solar room yourself......................................................... 191 Chapter 13: Breathing Homes: Ventilation, Fans, and Air Filters . . .193 Taking Advantage of Natural Air Movement ............................................ 193 Which way is the wind blowing?...................................................... 194 Up, up, and away: Chimney effect.................................................... 196 Getting Mother Nature on your side ............................................... 199 Getting the Air Moving with Fans .............................................................. 199 Fan efficiency and operation ............................................................ 200 Choosing the right kind of fan.......................................................... 202 I Need to Vent! Moving Air in Your Attic .................................................. 205 Adding attic vents for greater comfort ........................................... 205 Using attic vent fans .......................................................................... 205 Strategizing Your Ventilation Plan ............................................................ 207 Making the plan.................................................................................. 208 Accommodating seasonal variations .............................................. 209 Improving the Quality of Your Home’s Air............................................... 210 Air filters ............................................................................................. 210 Natural ways to improve air quality................................................ 212 Chapter 14: Reusing and Recycling: Play It Again, Sam . . . . . . . . . . .213 Keeping a Record of What You Throw Away ........................................... 213 Using Less of Everything ............................................................................ 214 Avoiding over-packaged products................................................... 215 Eliminating junk mail ......................................................................... 215 Trimming the paper mountain ......................................................... 216 Reusing Saves More Energy than Recycling ............................................ 217 Making use of old stuff ...................................................................... 217 Buying used ........................................................................................ 219 Avoiding disposable products ......................................................... 219 Donating to others............................................................................. 220 Fixing rather than throwing away.................................................... 220 Recycling the Right Way Saves Everybody Energy ................................. 221 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You ............................................ 223 Chapter 15: Burning Desires: Wood and Gas Stoves. . . . . . . . . . . . . .225 Open Fireplaces: The Granddaddy of Them All ...................................... 225 Surveying General Categories of Stoves ................................................... 227 Comparing open- and closed-vent systems.................................... 228 Looking at free-standing stoves and inserts................................... 229


xixTable of Contents Using a Wood-Burning Stove...................................................................... 230 Types of wood stoves........................................................................ 231 Burning the right wood ..................................................................... 233 Burning the wood right ..................................................................... 234 Maintaining your wood stove........................................................... 235 Heating with a Gas Stove ............................................................................ 236 Looking at Electric Fireplaces.................................................................... 237 Deciding Which Stove Is Right for You ..................................................... 238 How does the stove burn and heat?................................................ 238 How much area does the stove cover? ........................................... 239 Smoking out vents and chimneys .................................................... 240 Abiding by Safety Guidelines ..................................................................... 241Chapter 16: Shining a Light on Solar Power for Your Home. . . . . . . .243 Supplementing Your Domestic Hot Water Heater with Solar Energy... 243 An ICS batch system.......................................................................... 244 A drainback system ........................................................................... 246 A closed-loop anti-freeze system ..................................................... 247 Solar PV Systems: King of the Energy-Efficiency Hill .............................. 249 Seeing the advantages of a PV system ............................................ 249 Understanding the basic parts of every solar PV system............. 251 Getting the PV system installed ....................................................... 253 Powering Pumps and Motors Directly ...................................................... 255 Supplying water with a solar pump................................................. 255 Considering a solar pool pump........................................................ 256 Using Wind and Water for Solar Power .................................................... 256 Blowing with the wind....................................................................... 257 Using water for your power needs .................................................. 258 Heating Your Swimming Pool with a Solar System ................................. 259 Getting started with a simple setup ................................................ 259 Going the whole nine yards: A complete system........................... 261Chapter 17: Radiant Heating Systems. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .263 Radiating Heat with Radiant Heat Systems .............................................. 263 Old-Style Radiators...................................................................................... 264 Radiant Heat Floor Systems ....................................................................... 265 Types of radiant floor heaters: Electric or hydronic .................... 265 Installation tips .................................................................................. 266 Heating Up the Joint with Masonry Heaters ............................................ 267 Like a conventional wood stove — but not.................................... 268 Installing masonry heaters ............................................................... 269Chapter 18: Heating with Biomass Stoves. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .271 Using Biomass for Fuel................................................................................ 271 Getting the Lowdown on Biomass Stoves ................................................ 273 Burning Up with Pellet Stoves.................................................................... 274


xx Energy Efficient Homes For Dummies___________________________________ Burning, Not Popping, Corn ....................................................................... 276 The bright side of burning corn....................................................... 276 The downside of burning corn......................................................... 277 Other Biomass Uses You Probably Aren’t Interested In (For Good Reason)............................................................ 277 Chapter 19: Geothermal Energy: Straight from Mother Nature . . . . .279 The (Very) Basics of Geothermal Heating and Cooling .......................... 279 Seeing how geothermal energy works ............................................ 280 Looking at heat pumps...................................................................... 281 Considering cost and payback......................................................... 282 Deciding Whether an Air-Source Heat Pump Is Right for You ............... 283 Deciding Whether a Ground-Source Heat Pump Is Right for You ......... 284 Choosing a design.............................................................................. 287 Hiring a qualified installer ................................................................ 287 Getting a rundown of pros and cons ............................................... 288 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home.................................. 289 Chapter 20: Looking at Community Solutions to Energy Efficiency. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .291 Checking Out the Characteristics of Green Communities...................... 291 Air quality ........................................................................................... 292 Public transportation ........................................................................ 293 Utility structures................................................................................ 294 Recycling programs........................................................................... 294 Water supply ...................................................................................... 295 Housing designs ................................................................................. 295 Miscellaneous factors........................................................................ 296 Roughing It by Going Off-Grid .................................................................... 297 Understanding your off-grid options............................................... 297 Realizing the ramifications of going off-grid................................... 298 Chapter 21: Building an Energy-Efficient Home from the Ground Up. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .301 Picking a Spot for Your New Home ........................................................... 301 Evaluating local building codes and regulations ........................... 302 Measuring the energy-efficiency potential of a lot ........................ 303 Designing Your Home ................................................................................. 305 Size matters: The littler, the better ................................................. 305 Orienting the house on the lot ......................................................... 305 Figuring out a floor plan.................................................................... 306 Incorporating energy-efficient technology ..................................... 307


xxiTable of Contents Choosing Your Materials ............................................................................ 308 Construction materials ..................................................................... 308 Energy-efficient systems and appliances........................................ 310 A word about installing PV systems................................................ 311 Pounding Nails: What to Know When Construction Begins................... 312 Chapter 22: Buying and Selling an Energy-Efficient Home . . . . . . . .313 Buying an Existing Efficient Home............................................................. 314 Evaluating just how energy efficient a home is (or isn’t) ............. 314 Anticipating changes and repairs .................................................... 317 Determining the value of an existing efficient home..................... 318 Buying an Existing Home to Upgrade........................................................ 319 Selling Your Efficient Home for Big Bucks................................................ 321Part V: The Part of Tens............................................ 323 Chapter 23: Ten Best Energy-Efficient Investments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .325 Installing a Programmable Thermostat .................................................... 325 Sealing Your Home’s Envelope .................................................................. 326 Sealing the Ducts in Your HVAC System .................................................. 326 Installing a Flow Constrictor Shower Head .............................................. 327 Insulating Your Water Heater .................................................................... 328 Plugging In Fluorescents............................................................................. 328 Installing Motion Sensors ........................................................................... 329 Putting Insulating Sleeves on Hot Water Pipes........................................ 329 Changing HVAC Filters on a Routine Basis............................................... 329 Tuning Up Your HVAC System Regularly ................................................. 330 Chapter 24: Ten Ridiculously Easy Energy-Saving Tips . . . . . . . . . . .331 Turn Down the Thermostat........................................................................ 331 Close Doors and Dampers .......................................................................... 331 Lower the Temp on Your Water Heater ................................................... 332 Use Your Microwave ................................................................................... 332 Clear Kids’ Toys Out of Radiator Vents .................................................... 332 Use Warm or Cold Water instead of Hot .................................................. 332 Lock Closed Windows ................................................................................. 333 Do All Your Laundry at Once ..................................................................... 333 Skip the Dishwasher Drying Cycle............................................................. 334 Plant a Tree Where It Counts ..................................................................... 334 Chapter 25: Ten Best Solar Investments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .335 PV Systems ................................................................................................... 335 Solar Swimming Pool Heaters .................................................................... 336 Solar Water Heaters .................................................................................... 336


xxii Energy Efficient Homes For Dummies___________________________________ Solar Yard Lights ......................................................................................... 337 Window Blinds ............................................................................................. 337 Overhangs .................................................................................................... 338 Sunrooms...................................................................................................... 338 Swimming Pool Covers ............................................................................... 339 Solar Attic Vent Fans................................................................................... 339 Landscaping ................................................................................................. 340 Index ....................................................................... 341


Introduction A well-maintained home is integral to a comfortable, secure lifestyle. As long as you maintain your home’s integrity and promote its efficiency and harmony, it will nurture and comfort you in return. Energy Efficient Homes For Dummies can help you make changes in your household lifestyle to save money and energy and reduce pollution. Every single home can use this book. It doesn’t matter what kind of dwelling you live in (apartment, house, condo, geodesic dome, tent, you name it); nor does it matter whether you’re a renter or an owner. It doesn’t matter where you live or what your climate is. Everybody can benefit from seeking better efficiency. Regardless of whether you want to make small, incremental improvements, or grandiose, world-shaking changes, this book points you in the right direction. You don’t need to sacrifice your quality of life. Many of the tips and projects I show you in this book are easy and inexpensive. Many projects even make your lifestyle more comfortable and enjoyable. A theme you see running through this book is the idea of payback — how long it takes for an efficiency investment to begin saving you money. Well, here’s good news about the payback of this book: You can easily save ten times more money in your annual operating costs than the price you paid for this book (unless you stole it, which is about as efficient as you can get, although not recommended by either me or law enforcement).About This Book A number of energy-efficiency books are on the market, as you undoubtedly know already. So a lot of information is available: some of it scientific, some anecdotal, and some of it just plain wrong. In this book, I offer my years of experience in the subject of energy efficiency, but perhaps even more important, I condense all the myriad ideas, beliefs, and notions about energy efficiency into that which is the best and most helpful. You can find a lot more ways to make your home energy-efficient than what’s in this book, but in keeping with the For Dummies modus operandi, I give you the best ones. This book provides you with ample knowledge of energy- and cost-efficiency concepts to turn your home into a marvel of efficiency. You can do most of the projects and improvements I describe yourself. And when you need to hire a contractor, I tell you how best to go about the process.


2 Energy Efficient Homes For Dummies People have their own fundamental reasons for wanting to achieve efficiency. Some people simply want to lower their operating costs, particularly with regard to energy consumption. Some people want to minimize their pollution footprint on the environment and will pay extra money to do so. Others just want to simplify their complicated lifestyles. In this book, I present you with the tradeoffs. I make no judgments about how you should order your priorities. I simply tell you how best to proceed, given the various alternatives. In other words, in this book I present the pros and cons of every issue and let you decide what’s best for you. I leave the nagging to somebody else. In this book, you find information like ߜ What efficiency means and how you can put together your own efficiency plan ߜ What a home energy audit reveals about your household energy use and how you can perform an audit yourself ߜ How to seal your home against the weather, get better performance from your heating and air-conditioning systems for less cost, and other helpful suggestions and advice ߜ How to take advantage of Mother Nature and a few key tricks to maintain comfortable temperatures in your home ߜ How to reduce your waste by reusing and recycling ߜ The advantages and disadvantages of different energy alternatives — such as wood stoves, gas stoves, solar power, geothermal systems, and so on — which are becoming more common as the price of energy rises ߜ Your options for financing efficiency improvements Some readers look at the table of contents and skip straight to a particular section that addresses an immediate need. Others start in Chapter 1 and work their way diligently to Chapter 25. And either approach is just fine and dandy because all For Dummies books are structured so that you can jump in and out or read them straight through to get the information you need. Conventions Used in This Book For simplicity’s sake, this book follows a few conventions: ߜ Italicized terms are immediately followed by definitions. ߜ Bold indicates the action parts in numbered steps. It also emphasizes the keywords in a bulleted list.


Introduction 3ߜ Web site addresses show up in monofont.ߜ When this book was printed, some Web addresses may have needed to break across two lines of text. Rest assured that I haven’t put in any extra characters (such as hyphens) to indicate the break. Just type in exactly what you see in this book, pretending as though the line break didn’t exist.What You’re Not to Read I don’t flatter myself into thinking that you are interested in reading this entire book, although I do have to admit that it’s excellent reading, full of wit and humor which nicely complements the robust, energy-saving information. In the name of efficiency — in this regard, saving you time — let me tell you what you can safely skip: ߜ Material in sidebars: Sure, these are interesting. Some are fun. I like to think that all are helpful. But they contain info that you don’t absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt need to have to become more energy-efficient. ߜ Paragraphs marked with the Technical Stuff icon: Some people like details: the nuts and bolts of why or how things work; the statistics that back up a point; the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty esoterica that every topic — especially one like this — has. If you’re not one of these people, you can safely skip these paragraphs without missing any need-to-know info.Foolish Assumptions In writing this book, I made a few assumptions about you: ߜ You want to make your home more efficient, in a number of different ways. You have already decided to move forward, but aren’t sure which direction is the right one, or what speed to move at. You want to make the best decisions, and understand that those decisions are entirely yours to make. ߜ You have some handiwork skills. You can handle a screwdriver and per- haps a power drill, although this isn’t strictly necessary. You know a few basics about how to get things done, and you understand that with every project there are safety rules (I’ll help you out here, when appropriate).


4 Energy Efficient Homes For Dummies ߜ You want to get to the end product as sensibly and efficiently as possible. (Note I didn’t say quickly, because that inevitably leads to errors in both judgment and facilitation.) You don’t have an engineering degree, and you don’t want to know every technical detail concerning the various technologies. You simply want to get the job done, once you’ve made up your mind which job you want to do. ߜ You need working knowledge of a project so that you can hire professionals and discuss matters with them. You don’t plan on handling a major project yourself, but you want enough information to make informed decisions sensibly and efficiently. How This Book Is Organized This book is divided into parts, each one dealing with a particular topic related to energy efficiency. Each part contains chapters relating to the part topic. The following sections give you an overview of the content within each part. Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch The place to start when you want to become more energy efficient is to understand the very basics about energy — namely, where it comes from and where and how it’s used. The next step is to take a look at your own energy consumption so that you can decide where best to invest your time and efforts to improve the efficiency of your home. In addition to covering this information, Part I also reviews some financial options to make your invest- ments more affordable and provides practical information on how to make the decisions that are best for you from a financial point of view. Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home You’ll probably find this part one of the most productive because it deals with the biggest energy consumers in your home. Here you can find details on how to change your consumption habits as well as how to invest in new equipment to achieve better efficiency. If you’re interested only in getting moving, right now, go to this part first.


Introduction 5Part III: Putting Alternative EnergySources to Work for YouAs energy costs rise, the need for alternatives to the standard oil/utility energysources grows. You can cut yourself loose from the utilities by employingstoves or geothermal, solar, and other alternative sources in your home. Thispart lists the alternative energy options that are available and tells you aboutboth their advantages and disadvantages.Part IV: Considering Efficiency WhenYou Buy, Build, or Sell a HomeIf you’re in the market for a house or selling one, you can make energy effi-ciency one of the key features to look for or promote. If you’re a buyer, whatdo you look for? And if you’re a seller, what do you emphasize? This part hasthe answers. And because many folks have their homes built, this part alsoexplains how to build your own energy-efficient home from the ground up.Finally, because your environment dictates your options to a large degree, Itell you what to keep in mind as you pick a community to live in.Part V: The Part of TensLike every For Dummies book, this part includes quick resources that provideplenty of information and sage advice compacted into few words. Want a listof the best efficiency investments? How about efficiency projects you can doin an hour or less? This part offers this information and more.Icons Used in This Book This book uses several icons that make it easy for you to identify particular types of information: This icon highlights important information to store in your brain for quick recall at a later time.This icon indicates a nifty little shortcut or time-saver.


6 Energy Efficient Homes For Dummies Look out! Quicksand is afoot. You don’t want to skip over the warnings. They point out dangers to your health and well-being, your property, or your bank account. The Technical Stuff icon lets you know that some particularly nerdy informa- tion is coming up so that you can skip it if you want. (On the other hand, you may want to read it, and you don’t actually have to be a nerd. You only have to be able to read.) Where to Go from Here On your mark, get set, GO! “Where?” you ask. Any where you want. If you’re not sure where to begin, I suggest starting in Chapter 1 or glancing through the Table of Contents for a topic that interests you. Or you can go to the index to find a specific topic that you want to know more about. After that, get your tools out, tear open the boxes of stuff you delightedly bought, don your coveralls and safety glasses, and get to work. And have fun while you’re at it. Attitude is the one and only thing you have complete control over in your life. Projects rarely, if ever, go the way you envisioned as you were drawing up the plans. As a lifelong practitioner of projects big and small, I have learned to be patient and enjoy the road every bit as much as the destination. When you run into problems — which you will — smile, take a step back, and come up with a witty joke. The one thing I have learned over and over again (I always have to learn things more than once before they sink in) is that the harder a project is, the more rewarding it will be when it’s finished. I can pretty much guarantee that you’re going to find out precisely what I’m talking about. Above all else, remember this: Measure twice, cut once.


Part I Solving theWorld’s Problems from Your Front Porch


In this part . . .Energy usage is becoming an increasingly important aspect of our personal lives. Energy costs are rising,a trend that will surely continue. Because of the politicalramifications of obtaining the energy we need, we all canhelp mitigate the huge problems that our energy consump-tion creates. The easiest, and often the cheapest, way foreach and every one of us to reduce energy consumption isby being more efficient with the energy that we use.In this part I explain general concepts about energy sothat you can make the decisions that let you reach yourown energy efficiency goals. I show you how to accuratelyassess and measure how you use energy in your home sothat you can decide how to invest your own personalenergy and time in making improvements. I also give youa simple way to analyze financial investments so that youcan get the most bang for your hard earned bucks.


Chapter 1 Defining EfficiencyIn This Chapterᮣ Looking at four types of efficienciesᮣ Recognizing inefficienciesᮣ Finding ways to increase efficiency Efficiency is the production of a desired effect with a minimum amount of effort or waste. That’s the official definition, but you probably already have an intuitive sense of what energy efficiency means. Maybe to you it means using less. Maybe it means saving more. Believe it or not, those two goals don’t always mean the same thing. That’s because there are different kinds of effi- ciencies — energy, financial, pollution, and labor. (Yes, I know that the title of this book is Energy Efficiency Homes For Dummies, and that angle takes front and center, but it’s not the whole picture. I think it’s important to understand some of the tradeoffs that are inherent in most of your decisions.) To set and achieve your own efficiency goals, you need to be familiar with the different kinds of efficiencies, understand how these can be at cross-pur- poses, and get an idea of how you can begin to pursue your energy-efficiency goals. This chapter gives you the lowdown.Examining the Four Main Spokesof the Efficiency Wheel There are four different aspects of efficiency: ߜ Energy efficiency: Getting the most useful output from energy sources ߜ Financial efficiency: Getting the most for the least amount of money ߜ Pollution efficiency: Polluting as little as possible ߜ Labor efficiency: Spending the most time relaxing on the couch


10 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch To find the right balance among these different types of efficiencies, you need to ask yourself what you value the most. If you’re only interested in lowering your costs, financial efficiency is your sole criterion. If you’re interested in going green, living an efficient, energy-conserving lifestyle, you want to con- sider pollution and energy efficiency. An ultra-green lifestyle implies pollution efficiency more than energy efficiency or financial efficiency. And going green also requires more labor than a conventional lifestyle. But perhaps your only goal in life is to maximize the amount of time you spend at leisure (believe me, I’m empathetic). In this case, labor efficiency is your most important goal. In this section, I present some detailed examples of these different types of efficiencies, and in the process, set up the basic premise of this book: Making investment decisions for efficiency improvements in your home always involves tradeoffs. To determine where the energy inefficiencies are in your home, head to Chapter 3. Chapter 5 gives you advice on how to decide which tradeoffs are best for you. Energy efficiency The energy efficiency of a device is a comparison, or ratio, of the useful energy output to the total energy input. This ratio is always related to the particular situation (the season, timing, desired end result, and so on). For example, we want a light bulb to produce light. But we all know that a light bulb also produces heat — sometimes a great deal. In the summertime we don’t want the heat, so the process is inefficient. A typical incandescent bulb converts only 10 percent of input electrical energy into light energy; the rest goes into heat. Therefore, the efficiency is 10 percent, or very poor. If enough light bulbs are turned on at the same time, the air conditioner may have to be turned on, which means even more inefficiency. However, in the wintertime you can readily use that “inefficient” heat because it essentially decreases the load on your heating system. In this case, the efficiency may be close to 100 percent. You don’t have to turn on your inefficient heating system nearly as much, so using incandescent light bulbs in the winter is a highly energy-efficient process. Of course, outdoor incandescent light bulbs are just as inefficient in the winter as in the summer. And light bulbs in an unoccupied room are inefficient as well. As you evaluate where inefficiencies exist in your own home, consider all the factors that the come into play: the season, the desired outcome, and so on.


11Chapter 1: Defining EfficiencyConservation versus efficiencyConserving energy simply means using less. dark is conservation. The meanings overlap, butTurning all the lights off in your house is con- the distinction is useful. For instance, if you useservation. Efficiency, on the other hand, is using a programmable thermostat to turn your heaterless energy to achieve the same result. Plugging off during the day while you’re at work and thenin fluorescents is practicing energy efficiency. turn it back on right before you get home, you’reTurning off the light and stumbling around in the achieving better efficiency by conserving.Financial efficiencyThe financial efficiency of an appliance is the comparison, or ratio, of costsavings to the cost of the appliance (which includes the original equipmentcost plus installation costs and maintenance costs, including energy). Thebetter the ratio of cost savings to price, the more financially efficient aninvestment is. Another term for “financially efficient” is “cost effective.” I usethese terms interchangeably.Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, for example, are capable of saving costs ona power bill, and they have a well-defined initial price. Similarly, the cost ofa new, more efficient appliance can, over a relatively short time period, beearned back by the energy savings.Pollution efficiencyThe pollution efficiency of an appliance is a comparison, or ratio, of theuseful output work (the job that is being done) to the amount of pollution thatis generated in the process. Solar PV panels create impressive output powerwhile generating essentially zero pollution. Coal stoves create a lot of outputpower but also generate a lot of pollution. In evaluating pollution efficiency,you need to consider more than just how much pollution the appliance orsystem outputs. Solar panels, for example, create no pollution while they areoperating, but pollution is created in the process of manufacturing a solarpanel.As you weigh the costs and benefits of pollution efficiency, keep in mind thatthere are usually no easy answers because the values being compared aren’talways mathematically measurable. How much value, for example, do youattribute to helping the environment? Acceptable costs differ depending onyour viewpoint. Some people, for example, want only to go green, in whichcase they will accept poor financial efficiency in favor of good pollutionefficiency. Others try to balance financial and pollution efficiencies.


12 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Labor efficiency Labor efficiency is a comparison, or ratio, of how much work an appliance does to the amount of personal labor required to run and maintain it. A wood stove, for example, is labor inefficient because you have to stack wood, haul it inside, set it in the burn chamber, watch and stoke the fire as necessary, and then clean ashes. A gas stove, on the other hand, is very labor efficient — you only need to turn it off and on. Labor also includes pre-buy research, purchase hassles (like financing or delivery truck rental), installation (including cost of tools and hourly labor), and the maintenance and operational burdens over time. Analyzing efficiencies When analyzing efficiencies, be sure to consider the life expectancy of a particular investment. Answer these questions for every option you’re considering: ߜ How long will an appliance last? ߜ How does the pollution output vary over time? ߜ Will the energy efficiency decrease over time (the answer is almost always yes because parts wear out, friction increases, and so on) and if so how by how much? ߜ How much maintenance will be required over time, and will you be able to do the labor and maintenance, in years hence? ߜ How long is the warranty, and how much will unwarranted repairs cost? ߜ Who will be doing the service and where do parts come from? ߜ How will the future costs of energy affect the financial efficiencies? ߜ What are the financing costs and are there tax advantages now? Will there be tax advantages in the future that aren’t available now? To find out how to determine the payback of energy-efficient improvements you’re thinking about, go to Chapter 5.


13Chapter 1: Defining EfficiencyLooking at energy storage and efficiencySome forms of energy are easy to store. Solar energy, on the other hand, can’t be stored,Gasoline is a liquid that pours easily and can be so it must be converted into a different form intransported readily. It can sit in a sealed con- order to be stored. Solar power can be storedtainer for years. Wood pellets can be stored as heat, which is how a solar domestic hotfor years with little loss in potential. Corn, on water heater works. Or it can be converted intothe other hand, attracts rodents and can very electricity and fed into a battery, which thenquickly go from being fuel in your storage bin converts the electrical energy into chemicalto “food” that attracts large, furry assaults in energy. When the energy is to be used, later thatthe middle of the night. The heat from a fire night or the next morning, the chemical energycan be stored in the materials in a room, but it is then converted back into electrical energy,doesn’t last very long after the fire goes out. It’s which is fed into an appliance. This whole chainbeneficial to consider energy not as a go/no-go process is extremely inefficient because eachproposition, but as a continuum. step in the process is inefficient and the inef- ficiencies only multiply.Opening Your Eyes to Inefficiency Most people don’t understand just how inefficient energy-consuming processes are. If you’re only interested in cost effectiveness, you don’t really need to know how inefficient processes are because, for you, saving money is the bottom line. But if you’re interested in energy efficiency, and particularly pollution efficiency, you should understand just how utterly inefficient most energy consuming processes are. It would be impossible to define all the ways energy consumption processes are inefficient in a single book, much less a short introductory chapter, but it is important that you get a feel for the scope of the problem. The following sections offer two examples to illustrate. Electrical grid inefficiencies Most household appliances are powered by electricity, which is the least efficient method of consuming energy (more on this in Chapter 2). In many cases, it’s also the most polluting alternative, because a majority of electrical energy comes from coal-fired furnaces. In addition, electrical energy is trans- mitted via the power grid, which uses power lines and transformers to deliver the AC voltages to your home. There are line losses (lines heat up and lose energy in the process) in the power wires, sometimes as much as 50 percent if the distances are great. Every transformer and substation is inefficient as well.


14 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch As a general rule, electrical systems are only around 30 percent efficient. This means that the electricity that comes into your home is mostly wasted before you use it. And when you use it — even if you use it wisely — you’re wasting a good deal of it as well. Consider a vacuum cleaner. How much energy does it take to move a small pile of dust from your floor to the vacuum bag? Very little. But by the time you get done plugging your vacuum cleaner into the wall socket and turn- ing on a big, noisy electrical motor and swishing the wand across the floor, you’ve used hordes of energy. So vacuuming is maybe around 5 percent efficient. Compound this with the electrical inefficiencies from the utility grid and you come up with a net efficiency of less than 2 percent! This means that you’ve used 50 times more energy than you really needed to clean that dust up off your floor. At the same time, you’ve released 50 times more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. An alternative? Get out the broom and dustpan. Transportation inefficiencies Autos take a lot of energy to produce. Factories consume copious amounts of electrical power, and most factories have their own power substations with transformers and high-voltage lines. So before you even drive your new car off the lot, you’ve consumed nearly as much energy as your car will con- sume to transport you the first 30,000 miles. This is true for even the most fuel-efficient autos and trucks. And it’s certainly true for a hybrid auto, which consumes even more energy to produce than a conventional auto. Your car weighs around 30 times more than you, so the vast majority of energy it expends to transport you to work and back is actually dedicated to transporting itself back and forth. You represent just a small fraction of the total work expended. Now that’s inefficient! The big oil companies burn around two gallons of gasoline to get you a gallon at the pump. Energy is required for drilling the crude from the ground, and then transporting the raw crude to a refinery some distance away. The process of cracking (breaking down raw components so as to output refined products such as gasoline, heating oil, and so on) requires a great deal of energy. Then the refined products need to be transported, first to the regional hubs and from there to the local gas stations. Gas stations consume energy and resources so that they can operate and sell you the gas. All in all, your auto represents about 1 percent efficiency compared to a bicycle.


15Chapter 1: Defining EfficiencyBecoming More Efficient Efficiency is the cheapest and easiest way to save the world from the run- away effects of human consumption. A wide number of new technologies are coming onto the market with the express goal of reducing the amount of energy it takes to perform a particular task. A myriad of new devices purport to reduce pollution while doing the same essential work. But it’s a simple fact that the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to reduce pollution and energy usage is simply by using less energy with the equipment you already have. When you recycle, you are saving resources, energy, and landfill space. Go to Chapter 14 to find out how simply using less, reusing more, and recycling what’s left over can yield big efficiency benefits. Getting greater efficiency from your current systems You don’t need to invest in new equipment to achieve impressive results. For example, when you drive less, you use less gas. Two people in a large SUV use less gas per person than two people each in their own separate hybrids, so carpooling is much more effective than fuel-efficient autos. Similarly, when you turn your thermostat down in the winter and put on a sweater, you are immediately using less energy, and this is just one simple example. There are myriad other ways to reduce inefficiencies in nearly every aspect of your home: sealing leaks and beefing up your insulation, taking advantage of natural air movement, using your appliance more efficiently, and so on. Head to Part II for system-by-system solutions. Supplementing or replacing existing systems Sometimes the way to greater efficiency is to replace or supplement your existing systems with more-energy-efficient systems. When you replace an open fireplace with a high-efficiency wood or gas stove, for example, you not only eliminate the unbelievable amount of energy waste associated with open hearths, but you supplement your existing HVAC system, meaning you can use it less. Part III explains how these alternative energy sources and others — solar power, radiant heat, geothermal heating systems and so on — can enhance efficiency.


16 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Every contribution you make adds up. There are no “little” contributions. The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that if everybody were to pitch in, energy consumption could be reduced by up to 20 percent. That’s a major and immediate change in not only our dependence on foreign oil, but our contribution to greenhouse gases. If everybody were willing to pitch in not only by being more energy-efficient, but also by investing a few hundred dollars for improvements, energy consumption could be reduced by up to 30 percent. This would drop the cost of energy because demand would decrease, and the net effect would be more like a 40 percent reduction in cost for all of us.


Chapter 2 Energy Sources and SinksIn This Chapterᮣ Understanding where energy comes fromᮣ Looking into where energy goes in a typical householdᮣ Sustaining the environment through wise choices Richard Feynman, one of the most famous physics lecturers of all time, began his courses on energy by stating that nobody really understands what energy is. That being said, we all have an intuitive idea of what energy does, namely perform work. It takes energy to make something happen. This book is interested in making do with less energy consumption. If you are interested in jumping right in and saving energy, you may want to skip this chapter. But if you truly want to do the best you can, you need to understand a few basic ideas. When it comes to energy, it’s important to know the cur- rency as much as how to spend it. In this chapter, I present data on where energy comes from, and how and where it’s used on both a national and household level. Understanding the course that energy follows puts you in a better position to make good deci- sions on how to increase your own efficiencies. I present data on the typical household energy use in North America so that you can compare your own usage to see how it stacks up. (In Chapter 3, I get into a lot of detail on this subject, but I give you a rough idea here). I also discuss a number of ways that your own energy usage varies depending on where you live and what kind of home you occupy.


18 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Energizing North America A variety of energy sources are used in North America. You’ve probably already heard of many of them; others may be unfamiliar. The most common energy sources are ߜ Petroleum products: Petroleum products, which account for 39 percent of all the energy used in North America, are gasoline, propane and heat- ing oil. ߜ Natural gas: Natural gas is drilled from beneath the surface of the earth, just like petroleum, but it comes in gaseous form instead of liquid or solid, and it makes up 24 percent of total energy consumption. It burns cleaner than petroleum products and coal, and is generally favored by environmentalists. Transport is problematic; so is storage. ߜ Coal: Coal is mined from the ground and comes in a solid, blackish, oily form that’s easy to burn but very difficult to burn cleanly. Coal is the most common form of energy in North America because there’s so much of it, and compared to petroleum, it’s easy to extract from the ground. Around 23 percent of residential and commercial energy consumption is provided by coal. ߜ Nuclear: The same atom-splitting physics that provides us those won- derful nuclear weapons is used to heat water, which is then used to turn large electrical generating turbines. Nuclear energy is controversial, as the waste products are very difficult to deal with. But nuclear is coming back into favor because it doesn’t generate the carbon pollution blamed for global warming and other problems. Nuclear only comprises 8 per- cent of North American energy consumption. Look for this percentage to increase dramatically in the next couple decades. ߜ Hydropower (dams): Tremendous water pressure is built up at the bottom of large dams built on riverways, and this pressure is harnessed to turn turbines that generate electricity. The power is very clean, but the problem is that the river’s ecosystem is affected. Salmon runs are obliterated, and the natural beauty of the river is permanently altered, almost always for the worst (unless you like to water ski). Hydropower accounts for 3 percent of North American energy consumption, particu- larly in the American Pacific Northwest. ߜ Biomass (firewood and other stuff): Leaves falling from the trees in autumn are biomass, so are cow manure, horse manure, hay, weeds, corn husks, and so on. Firewood is the most common form of biomass used for energy. Total biomass energy production accounts for only 3 percent of North American energy usage. Because of its wide availabil- ity, biomass is seen as an excellent sustainable energy source.


19Chapter 2: Energy Sources and Sinksߜ Geothermal: The air you breathe and the ground beneath your feet provide the source for geothermal energy. The physics is complicated, but suffice to say that you can generate heating and cooling by using heat exchange mechanisms that move temperature differences from one place to another. If you want heat in your home, you take some from the air or the ground. Geothermal energy provides 0.3 percent of North American energy needs.ߜ Wind: Traditionally windmills have been used to pump water from the ground (you see them on old western movies at nearly every ranch and nearly every poster from Holland), but modern embodiments produce electrical power as well. Wind power is a form of solar power because wind is caused by thermal temperature differences between regions of the globe. Wind power only provides 0.11 percent of energy needs, but this is changing fast since wind is a very clean source. The problems are that windmills are unsightly, and they make noise. They also may kill wildlife, particularly birds.ߜ Import electricity: Our electrical grid is an extensive matrix of intercon- nected power wires that span borders. North America imports from nearby countries around 0.1 percent of its energy needs.ߜ Solar: The sun radiates a tremendous amount of energy — 37,000 times as much energy as humans use — onto the surface of the earth, pollution free. Unfortunately, tapping into this energy isn’t simple. Nevertheless, people have figured out ways to use solar energy to heat water and to produce electricity. There is a tremendous push to increase solar production, and many governments are subsidizing solar equipment in both residential and commercial settings. Right now solar power accounts for only 0.06 percent of energy production (if you don’t include all the natural light and heat the sun produces), but that’s changing fast.A word about global warmingI don’t take a position on global warming one in my view the overwhelming attention placedway or another in this book. My opinion is that on this one aspect of our environmental defa-it’s not really relevant in encouraging people mation does a disservice to the other aspects,to conserve and practice efficiency. The fact and the overall balance and harmony that weis, we use too many resources, and in the pro- should be striving for. What if it turns out thatcess we end up altering the planet in material there is no global warming? Should we then goways that will affect future generations in one right back to the old days of unlimited exploita-manner or another. Global warming is just one tion of resources? Of course not.way that we might be affecting the planet, and


20 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch The majority of our energy sources produce power through combustion processes (burning) that require a burning chamber, oxygen, and exhaus- tion capacities. From time immemorial, humans have burned wood for fires, and the process was simple; pile some wood, light it, hang around close to it. Modern combustion processes are engineered to be more efficient (modern wood burning stoves are around 100 times more efficient than open fires, for example), but the combustion processes, regardless of how efficient they are, are notorious pollution sources. Non-combustion processes, such as solar power and nuclear, don’t exhaust pollutants the same way that combustion processes do, but they have their own problems. For instance, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels require a lot of energy to manufacture, and most of this energy comes from electrical power which itself often comes from coal and combustion. So while solar is pollu- tion free in its implementation, it entails a lot of pollution in its manufacture. The point is there is no such thing as a free lunch. Every energy source has pros and cons, and trying to decide how best to provide the power an economy needs is a complex problem. Many believe that the current energy predicament will be solved when we wean ourselves away from petroleum consumption, but even as people develop new alternative sources, the prob- lems don’t go away; they simply change in nature. Energy use around the worldTo put the energy consumption of the United the fact that energy is relatively inexpensiveStates in perspective, take a look at how much in Canada. When this is the case, regardlessenergy is used (per capita) in different countries of where in the world it may be, there is littlearound the world: incentive to conserve or practice efficiency.Country Btu per person What’s more interesting is to compare American per year consumption with that of Western Europe. It would be very difficult to argue, as one can doCanada 418 when comparing the United States to China, that the large difference reflects quality of life-United States 339 style. Western Europeans, in many ways, enjoy better lifestyles than Americans. So why isWestern Europe 149 their per capita consumption so low? Because they’ve been inculcated by high energy pricesJapan 172 for so long that energy conservation and effi- ciency are ingrained into the very fabric of theirChina 33 societies.Canada is cold, so its citizens require a lot ofheat. But their high consumption also reflects


21Chapter 2: Energy Sources and SinksLooking at Energy Costs: Raw and Otherwise Not all energy costs the same. Some types of energy are more expensive than others. How costly an energy source is depends on what it takes to deliver the energy to your home (raw energy costs) and what it takes to convert the raw energy into fuel you can use (conversion costs). By understanding where a particular energy source falls on the cheap-to-dear scale in both of these areas, you can gain a better understanding of how you can plan and control your energy usage to attain better efficiency.Recognizing raw energy costsTaking a look at the relative costs of different types of raw energy is illumi-nating. (By raw, I mean the cost at delivery to your home; this doesn’t takeinto account how you may actually use the energy within your home, orhow much the equipment costs to convert the raw energy into usable form).Relatively speaking, electricity is the most costly, nuclear energy is thecheapest, and a bunch of other types of energy fall somewhere in between(see Table 2-1).Table 2-1 Cost (in $) per Million BtuComparing Raw Energy Costs $ 29.3 $ 18.54Type of Energy $ 15.19Electricity $ 11.11Liquid propane gas $ 10.82Gasoline $ 10.00Kerosene $ 9.52Heating oil $ 7.50Natural gas $ 0.00033CoalWoodUranium (nuclear)Btu stands for British thermal unit, a standard unit of energy equal to 754kWh, or kilowatt hours (one thousand watt hours). To put this into perspec-tive, a typical incandescent light bulb consumes around 75 watts, and so ina ten-hour evening consumes 750 Wh. Typically, large appliances like heat-ers and air-conditioners are rated in Btu, while smaller devices are rated inwatts. No technical abracadabra here, just tradition.


22 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch As Table 2-1 shows, electricity is by far the costliest energy source. This is because the power transmission grid, the huge matrix of power wires and transformers used to get the power from the utility generators to your home, is so big and unwieldy. Think of it this way: When you generate solar power on your roof, it’s created and used within a space of a hundred feet, maybe less. But when you use electricity from the grid, the production chain begins in a coal mine, then the coal must be transported to a power plant, and then power is generated in huge, expensive machines. This electrical power gets transmitted over long lengths of wire until it finally reaches your home. Several companies are involved — a coal mining company, a transport com- pany, and a utility company with linesmen, managers, secretaries, lobbyists, and lawyers — not to mention that a whole host of governmental regulations have to be met, and taxes and tariffs need to be paid. Even though electricity is the most expensive, it’s used almost exclusively in a majority of homes. Why? Because it’s the most convenient way to use power. All you have to do is plug in to a wall socket and voilà! You don’t need a storage tank (like you do with propane or fuel oil), and you don’t have to worry about the danger of explosions or flames (although you can get a shock without even trying too hard). You don’t need to go into the woods with a chainsaw and cut it down, and you don’t need to stack it on the side of your house and keep the spiders out of it. Best of all, the utility company is responsible for maintaining a continual flow into your home. Looking at actual energy costs Raw energy cost, explained in the preceding section, is only part of the pic- ture. Most energy sources need to be burned or combusted on-site in order to extract their potential energy. Some conversion methods are more efficient than others. The list in Table 2-2 shows the same fuels as those listed in Table 2-1, but this time with all the various production factors that come into play.The link between coal and electricityDue to its high carbon and sulfur content, burn- 90 percent of the coal produced in this coun-ing coal is extremely dirty. Coal byproducts are try is used to produce over 50 percent of ourthe leading contributor to global warming (nearly electricity, electrical power is generally a very1 billion tons of carbon dioxide are produced polluting source of energy. Reducing electri-each year in the United States alone; China has cal usage is always a good idea, especially ifsurpassed this). Mercury is another byproduct; you’re concerned about pollution and globalit pollutes air, land, and water. Because about warming.


Table 2-2 23Chapter 2: Energy Sources and SinksType of Energy Comparing Actual Energy CostsGasolineElectricity Cost (in $) per Million BtuLiquid propane $75.96Coal $29.30Kerosene $23.18Heating oil $15.87Wood $13.89Natural gas $13.52Uranium (nuclear) $12.50 $12.05 $0.024Using It Up: Where Energy GoesDifferent sources of energy may be used to provide different functions withina single home — for example, natural gas may be used for heating, electric-ity provides energy for lighting and the appliances, and fireplace wood pro-vides supplemental heating. So how does a typical North American home useenergy? The following table shows you. (Note: These percentages are aver-aged over the course of a year; month-to-month breakdowns vary quite a bit.)Function Percentage of total energy usedSpace heating 47%Water heating 21%Lighting 8%Space cooling 6%Refrigeration 5%Electronics 3%Cooking 4%Clothes washing/drying 3%Computers 1%Other 2%


24 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Of course this breakdown varies widely from home to home and region to region. For a clearer picture of how your own home uses energy, you can adapt these percentages to your specific scenario. Here are some things to consider: ߜ If you’re in a hot climate, you spend a lot more on cooling than heating. If you’re in a cold climate, you spend a lot more on heating than cool- ing. In Chapter 3, I show you ways to calculate your heating and cooling costs in detail, and I give you some pointers on how to do something about those costs in Chapter 8. The most productive way to improve household efficiency usually is to consider your heating and cooling systems first and foremost. If heating is your greatest expense, you can save the most money by reducing your heating bill. Then you want to take a look at how you use hot water, and so on down the line. Another factor to consider is how much equipment costs. In a home, HVAC equipment is usually the most expensive, closely followed by major appliances like washers, dryers, and refrigerators. In making decisions on how to become more efficient, both the cost of the energy being consumed and the cost of the equipment come into play. Head to the section “Turning Your Eye to Improved Energy Efficiency” for advice on how to approach this topic. ߜ If you’re in a moderate climate, you may not spend anywhere near as much on heating or cooling as somebody in Illinois, where the weather tends to all extremes. Your month-to-month fluctuations also vary less. ߜ If you have a well for water, you need to include that category in the list and figure the percentage based on how much water you use. Small working ranches with electrically pumped wells may spend up to 20 per- cent of their utility bill on pumping. ߜ If you use a wood stove and chop the wood yourself, your energy use percentages may be close to those in the preceding chart, but your costs will be skewed because you’re not paying for your heat at all. ߜ If you’re in an apartment, with common walls, your heating and cooling percentages will be lower because there will be less loss. If your neigh- bors set their thermostat high and you set yours low, you’re essentially using their heat because it migrates into your apartment. ߜ If you don’t have an air-conditioner, your cooling costs will be zero, or minimal if you use fans. ߜ If you take a lot of hot showers, your water heating percentage will be higher; take fewer (or cold) showers, and it will be lower.


25Chapter 2: Energy Sources and Sinks ߜ If you use energy to charge a golf cart, power a motor home sitting in your driveway, or power a workshop with heavy-duty tools, adjust your figures accordingly. These types of things take a lot of energy and may overshadow even the heating component. ߜ If you never open a single window in your home and your HVAC is on all the time, even when the weather is nice, heating and cooling will com- prise a larger percentage of the total. ߜ If you rarely use your HVAC at all, instead favoring thick sweaters in the winter and a lot of sweating in the summer, your heating and cooling will comprise a smaller percentage of the total.Turning Your Eye to Improved EnergyEfficiency The preceding sections are devoted to background information, but this book is about achieving tangible results. In this section, I present some gen- eralities that you should keep in mind — like how to reduce the amount of electricity you use, how to maximize your sustainable energy sources, and more — regardless of the details of your energy efficiency program. The big Kahuna: Electrical energy As stated earlier, a typical household uses more than one energy source. Of all the energy sources folks use in their homes, however, electrical energy is the most widely used, as well as the most convenient. And that’s why it’s the most important to think about when you think about energy efficiency. Electrical energy holds the most potential for efficiency improvements because the methods of making improvements are the most easily accessible and understood. Where electricity comes from Ben Franklin and his kite experiment aside, electrical energy doesn’t just drop from the sky. It’s generated through processes powered by other energy sources. For instance, coal is burned and water is boiled and the pres- sure is used to turn huge turbines that generate electrical power. In North America, electrical energy comes from these sources:


26 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front PorchSource Approximate Percentage of Total Electricity ProductionCoal 51%Nuclear 20%Natural gas 18%Hydro 7%Petroleum 2%Other renewables 2%Other gas 0.3%The problems with electrical energyAlthough electricity is typically considered clean and environmentallyfriendly, it is often generated through processes that rely on “dirty” energysources. Even those processes that use renewable energy sources have theirown problems. Bottom line: Electrical energy is subject to many commoninefficiencies and problems. Here are some of the biggest ones:ߜ Electrical energy, while clean once it reaches your home, has most likely been generated by a combustion process, so don’t kid yourself into thinking that electricity is environmentally benign. Many people believe that electrical cars that you charge up at home are the key to a green future, but if you consider just how inefficient the electrical system is, and how most electricity is generated by coal-fired plants, you come to a different conclusion.ߜ In the process of generating and using electricity, a lot of hot water is discharged — first into the river system and then into the ocean. This affects the ecosystem. For instance, some biological lifeforms require very specific water temperatures for breeding purposes; by warming the average river temperature, these species die out.ߜ Wind generators cover open hillsides with noisy, ugly windmills. Birds and bats get killed, sometimes in large numbers. Compared to the alter- natives, though, windmills are practically pristine.ߜ Hydroelectric generators dam up rivers and affect such diverse phenom- ena as salmon runs and the plants and animals that live along the river- side. Dams also create a lot of underwater decay in the upper reservoirs that doesn’t exist when water runs naturally; this decay releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and we all know what that means (global warming).ߜ Geothermal wells release arsenic into the environment.ߜ Power lines emit radiation, heat the air, buzz, and catch birds and planes. Their potential for danger is even greater when they’re downed.ߜ Nuclear power plants produce horrendous wastes, and people have yet to figure out a good way to get rid of these byproducts.


27Chapter 2: Energy Sources and SinksRenewable and sustainable energy sourcesThe words renewable and sustainable are being knocked around quite a bit.Both are inherently associated with energy conservation: ߜ Renewable forms of energy constantly replenish themselves with little or no human effort. Solar energy is just one example — no matter how much you use, the supply will never end (okay, it may end after bil- lions of years, but your using solar power won’t make the sun burn out any faster). Other examples of renewables include firewood, water (via hydroelectric dams), and wind power. The term renewable does not necessarily imply good environmentalism. Firewood, a renewable energy source, is notoriously polluting, and it has another potentially severe drawback: People go out into forests and cut down trees, often without much thought to the overall health of the forest (a good example of not seeing the forest for the trees). ߜ Sustainable forms of energy are not only renewable, but they also have the ability to keep the Earth’s ecosystem up and running in perpetuity. The basic notion behind sustainable energy sources is that by their use, society is not compromising future generations’ health and well-being, or their abil- ity to use their own sustainable resources to the same extent that we do now. Who can argue with this very fundamental version of the Golden Rule?To make sure that resources last, humans need to focus on renewable andsustainable energy sources. Energy sources that fail to meet these criteriacould eventually be depleted and thus cease to exist.Invested energy and recyclingInvested energy is the energy that’s used to manufacture a product (in the lit-erature, you may see this referred to as embodied energy, but it means essen-tially the same thing). Take solar panels, for example. When solar energy wasfirst conceived back in the 1960s as part of the space program, a solar paneltook over three times more energy to produce than it would ever generatein its lifetime. Bad economics, but satellites need energy sources, and solarpanels are the only practical source. Nowadays panels are far better, and thedisparity between the energy invested to make solar panels and the energythat the solar panels generate no longer exists.If you’re truly interested in reducing your energy consumption, you need toconsider invested energy when choosing products. Unfortunately, becausethe concept of invested energy has just begun to take root, the informationis not widely available (although an entire industry is dedicated to meetingthe burgeoning demand of “green” customers who want this information). Inthe future it will be more and more common for products to list their totalinvested energies alongside the current energy efficiency information.


28 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch If you’re intent on finding out invested energy levels, contact manufacturers and be prepared to exhibit robust patience. In many cases, manufacturers haven’t even considered invested energy and won’t even know how to answer your query. The best bet is to patronize manufacturers that publish their num- bers, for these will most likely be the ones trying to minimize those numbers. The point is, everything takes energy to manufacture, and when considering how much energy is used in your household, you need to consider invested energy as well as the energy you gobble up in your home. In fact, invested energy is a big force in favor of recycling. From an economic standpoint, recycling may not seem like such a great idea. It takes time on your part and requires you to set up systems and stick with them. But you’re not just saving money when you recycle; you’re saving invested energy, and all the pollution and environmental costs that go with it. Green homes are becoming more common, and one of the more important aspects of choosing materials is invested energy. Although recycled prod- ucts are popular, new materials that may cost a little more but use far less energy to produce and bring to the building site are also a good choice.Musing over manpowerSome people have asked me about connecting U.S. society is accustomed to, but that’s not toa turbine to their exercise equipment so that say that man is powerless to make a difference.they can turn their efforts into usable household Here’s some food for thought: Think of howenergy. It’s not worth it — not by a long shot. If much more energy the average American usesyou’re watching a TV while you’re working out, than do those in countries where electricity isthe TV is probably consuming more power than common and people make do without it. Ouryou’re generating. lives here in North America are surely much easier. But is the difference in the quality of ourA male human being, in good condition, can lives equal to the difference in the amount ofgenerate only 200 watts of power. One horse- energy we consume? Personally, I think not.power is equal to 746 watts, so it would takearound four strong men to equal the power of In fact, one could make a compelling argumenta single horse. It would take one physically fit in the other direction. Complexity is inefficient,man five hours on a treadmill to generate 1 kilo- and not just physically. Complexity inhibits aes-watt-hour, which is the same amount of energy thetic harmony, which may be the real reasonthe sun radiates onto a one square meter area for living. How many of you would like to tradein only one hour. in your hyper-driven lifestyles for something simpler? In this book, I help you simplify.Humans may not be able to generate enoughpower to produce the amount of energy that


Chapter 3 Eliminating the Guesswork with Home Energy AuditsIn This Chapterᮣ Weighing in on what determines your energy usageᮣ Understanding how energy companies structure their feesᮣ Looking into the details of your energy consumptionᮣ Considering your carbon contributionᮣ Performing energy audits in your home If you want to improve the energy efficiency of your home in an efficient manner, you need to first understand the economics of your overall con- sumption. When you make investments in either time or money, they should be focused and deliberate in order to ensure good payback (I get into pay- back in Chapter 5). Unfortunately, most people don’t have a good handle on the specifics of how and where they’re using energy and other resources in their homes. As the saying goes, “The devil is in the details.” In this chapter, I present a detailed system for analyzing your resource use (I leave the devil out of it, however).Getting a Handle on Your Energy Usage The ultimate goal is to deduce how much you’re paying for different sources of energy and then tackle those costs based on what your main objective is. For example, your primary goal may be cost reduction as you strive for efficiencies, or your main objective may be pollution mitigation or energy conservation. In any case, you need to first consider the total resource con- sumption in your home.


30 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Energy use in a typical North American home Looking at nationwide statistics gives you a baseline to which you can com- pare your energy usage. Does your own usage make sense, or can you make easy changes? Do you need to simply change your habits, or are you going to have to invest time and money in equipment improvements? Table 3-1 shows how a typical North American home uses energy (averaged over the course of a year). For the purposes of this data, a typical home has 1,600 square feet, two baths, three bedrooms, and 2.3 occupants in a region with moderate weather patterns.Table 3-1 Yearly Energy Use for a Typical HomePurpose or Use Percentage of Total Energy UsedSpace heating 47%Water heating 21%Lighting 8%Space cooling 6%Refrigeration 5%Cooking 4%Electronics 3%Clothes washing/drying 3%Computers 1%Other 2%These values represent total energy used, not how much that energy costs.The cost of different energy sources varies widely. For instance, if you heatyour home by chopping wood yourself and burning it in a wood stove, yourheating costs may be near zero, but that obviously doesn’t mean you are con-suming zero energy to heat your home. If you have a solar water heater onyour roof, your water heating cost may be zero, but 21 percent of your energyconsumption can still be attributed to heating water. The cost of equipmentalso factors into the equation. For instance, you had to buy that solar heater,and that’s not cheap. Refer to Chapter 2 for details on the costs associatedwith different types of energy.


31Chapter 3: Eliminating the Guesswork with Home Energy AuditsFocusing on your own home-sweet-homeObviously, if you don’t fit the typical profile described in the preceding section,your energy consumption will be different. To a large degree, personal lifestyledictates energy consumption. If you’re gone all day and the home is empty, forexample, you can lower your thermostat and save. If you’re diligent about turn-ing off unused lights, your lighting component will be less. If you tolerate heatand cold better than most, you can save on heating and cooling. And so on.As you evaluate how your home varies from the typical energy consumptionnumbers, spend some time going around your house, looking at all thedifferent ways you consume energy and resources. Just by paying moreattention, you can learn a lot.Where you live and the type of house you live inWhere you live has a big impact on how much energy you use. Folks sweatingthrough summers in the sunny Southwest don’t have the same heating andcooling needs as those shivering through winters in the Upper Peninsula ofMichigan. If you’re in a hot climate, you may need very little heat, but yourcooling bill is higher. If you’re in Alaska, your heating bill is much higher.Different home styles — whether you live in an apartment, a house, or acondo, for example — also make a difference. Apartments and many condoshave common walls, and the heat and cooling losses are less. Homes with alot of windows have poorer insulation, while those that are surrounded bytrees and natural windbreaks suffer less heat loss. And so on.The type of HVAC you haveHVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Most homes haveforced air systems, which means ducts and fans push air through the home.Some homes have radiant heat, and many homes have wood stoves or othercombustion appliances. Heating is the biggest single component of the utilitybudget in most homes, and it’s subject to the most variation in energyconsumption. Thus, it pays to know as much as you can about your home’sheating resources. Ask yourself these questions: ߜ What kind of heating source(s) do you use? A wood-burning stove, gas fireplace, electric heat pump, baseboard heater, free-standing heater, radi- ator, and so on? Figure out how much you spend on each source of heat. ߜ How old is your system, and what’s its expected lifetime? In general, the older the system, the less efficient it is — not because old technology is inferior, but because back in the day, people didn’t worry about energy efficiency as much as we do now, and paying more for an efficient system just wasn’t worth it.


32 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch ߜ Do you have a central air conditioner or window units? Do you use fans, an evaporative cooler, dehumidifiers, and so on? Include them in your assessment of your energy consumption. As you think about your own energy consumption, look at your neighbors and see how their consumption differs from yours. What is the most popular HVAC system in your area, for example, and what are new homes in your area being equipped with? The answers to these types of questions can give you valuable information about the kind of technologies that work best in your region. Heat pumps, for example, work well in moderate climates but not in extremely cold climates. If nobody in your area uses a heat pump, there’s probably a good reason. And if everybody is burning wood in a stove, it’s probably because the availability and cost of wood is advantageous. The people who live in your home Heating and cooling don’t depend on how large your family is, but on the ways that people in your family use energy. You may have to turn the thermostat lower in the summer and higher in the winter because of personal preference and potential health issues. If a member of your family has special needs, such as air filtration for asthma, you should factor that in. If your family is very sen- sitive to exposure to contaminants, you’re probably paying more for filters and cleaning services. Your water usage Where do you get your water from and how much do you use? If a well supplies your water, your electric bill will be larger, but your water bill will be nonexistent. If you take long, hot showers or if your family is large, your water heating component will be higher. If you have a solar water heater, this component may be costing you next to nothing on a monthly basis. And if you have kids, as any parent can tell you, you probably wash a lot of clothes. The type of amenities you have Be sure not to leave life’s little extras off your radar as you scope out things that consume energy around your home. For example, do you have a swimming pool or spa? Pool pumps consume a lot of electricity, especially in the summer. Spas consume a lot of power, especially in the winter. What about a massive home entertainment center? These can easily consume more energy than an old refrigerator, which is about the most inefficient appliance ever made. And if you’re charging a golf cart or powering a motor home in your driveway, keep in mind that they take a lot of power, too. Room full of aquariums? Giant gym? You get the point. Special situations If you’re running a business in your home, your lighting, heating, and cool- ing costs will be higher. Your power bill may also be higher if you’re running heavy equipment.


33Chapter 3: Eliminating the Guesswork with Home Energy Audits Other things to think about Many people who want to become more energy efficient do it for two reasons: to save money and to save the planet. If you’re one of the many people interested in polluting less, add the following to your list of possible areas for improvement: ߜ What kind of garbage service do you have? Are there alternatives? Does your trash collection agency offer recycling, for example, and if so, what kind of recycling? You can call the customer service number for answers. ߜ Do you have sewer service or are you using a septic tank? If you’re using a septic tank, how old is it and how long has it been since it was serviced? If you don’t stay on top of your septic system, you may incur extra costs when problems arise. ߜ How much carbon and other pollutions are you producing in the process of consuming energy in your home? If you have a cheap wood stove, your cost may be very low (if you cut your own wood), but your carbon footprint astronomical. Is this important to you? (See the section “Calculating Your Own Carbon Footprint,” later in this chapter, for details on how to do this.) Do you have equipment that you know is going to need replacement? Are you paying a lot of repair bills for a particular piece of equipment? Would you like to invest in improvement? Check to see whether government agencies in your area are offering subsidies for certain types of equipment. Your utility may offer subsidies, too. See Chapter 4 for more details.Paying Up: The Various Rate Structures To figure out what you spend on energy consumption, you need to know not only how much energy you use, but how you pay. Find out the answers to these questions: ߜ What, if any, utilities are bundled together? Are you charged separately for your sewer and the water you use, for example, or is your sewage bill part of your water bill? ߜ Do you pay flat rates for your utilities or are they metered? Municipalities that don’t use meters have very high rates of consumption, and some are experiencing political pressure to change to meters. If you’re on a flat rate for water or electricity, is your municipality one that’s considering the change to meters? If so, try to anticipate how such a change may affect what you pay. If you’re frugal (which you probably are because you’re reading this book), you could end up paying less with a meter.


34 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch ߜ When do you pay each of your utility bills? Most likely you write a monthly check, but you may be on a different program. If you use propane or oil, do you pay each time the tank is filled? How often is this, and what are the annual and seasonal totals? Most trash bills are fixed monthly, but you may have another structure. ߜ Have unit costs changed over the last few years for each of your resources? What’s the trend? (Natural gas fluctuates a lot in price, whereas solar never varies.) Ask yourself what you expect prices to do in the future, and evaluate how this would affect your household economy. This type of information is important because you can find ways to save money by simply changing a habit or two. For instance, if you’re on a TOU (time of use) rate structure, you can take showers in the morning or evening instead of the afternoon, when rates are at their peak. Utilities charge you in a wide range of ways, particularly for electric service. You should study your utility bills and determine which structures you’re operating under. The answer makes a big difference in terms of how you can best invest your money and time to make your home more efficient. The following sections outline the main rate structure options. Averaging, or amortizing, is common on power bills and sometimes on water bills. It’s a way the utility company allows you to even out the severe ups and downs in your bill. Some utilities average by simply reading your meter every three or four months and then charging you proportionally for those months. Another way is to average over an entire year, say the previous year’s consumption, and charge you the same amount for all 12 months. At the end of the year, you’re charged for any net surplus or shortage, and that amount gets amortized into the next year’s billing. Simple rate structure Under a simple rate structure, the same rate applies to every unit of energy you use, regardless of the amount of energy you use, when you use it, or any other factor. This type of rate structure is rare because it doesn’t discourage overconsumption. If your bill simply lists a single price for electricity, this is the type of structure you are on. Tiered structure A tiered structure is the most common. For example, an electric utility may charge 15 cents each for the first 300 kWh of electric energy you use in a given month. The next 300 kWh may cost 30 cents each. The next 300 kWh cost 45 cents each, and so on. By its progressively penal nature, this structure encourages efficiency and conservation.


35Chapter 3: Eliminating the Guesswork with Home Energy Audits Time of use (TOU) structure A time of use (TOU) structure charges depending on what time of day you use power (it requires a special meter with a clock function). The most difficult time for a utility to provide its customers with all the power they need is in the after- noon, when businesses are using the greatest amount of power. Utilities often have to buy power from other utilities in order to meet this peak demand, and this costs the utilities quite a bit more than the power they generate themselves. So they charge you more for it — usually a lot more. Generally, prices are at their highest between noon and 6 p.m. (referred to as peak time), although the hours may vary. This is a difficult rate schedule to work with if you need a lot of air conditioning in the summer, because it’s during this peak time that you want your air conditioner on. You probably won’t be able to ascertain whether you’re on this schedule by looking at a single power bill because seasonal variations in pricing are very common. You need to look at a power bill from the winter and compare it to one from the summer (summer is almost always more expensive, because of air-conditioning issues). Summer rates generally start in May and go through September or October. Combination structures Combination structures are the most common. In Northern California where I live, we have tiered, TOU, seasonal rate structures. Very difficult to under- stand, and it doesn’t help that most utility bills are virtually indecipherable. Your best bet is to take it one piece at a time. Understand the tiered nature on its own merits, then tackle the TOU structure, and so on. You can also call the customer service number and talk to a representative; in my experience, these people are very good, and patient, in explaining the details.Figuring Out What You Spend The best way to figure out what you spend — and where you potentially can cut back — is to dissect your utility bills. By doing this, you get good data on specifically where to look for the most rewarding investments in efficiency. This is basically a three-step process: Gather all your data, plot it month by month, and then analyze your results. The following sections give you the details.


36 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Collecting the data The first thing you need to do is collect a stack of utility bills. If you don’t already have them, call your utility companies (customer-service numbers are always listed on the bills) and have them send you copies of your bills for the past few years. Most utilities don’t charge for this service, and some even do data analysis for you (they graph the data, which is much nicer than a load of raw numbers; ask when you call). They may even offer other services, like a free home energy audit. In addition to your utility bills (water, electric, gas, trash, and sewer), you need to compile a list of all the expenses associated with the resources you use. Here’s a sampling of what you need, but you may have other items not on this list: ߜ Trash runs to the dump: If you take trash to the dump yourself, estimate the cost by including everything: gasoline for your truck, other transport expenses, costs at the landfill, and so on. ߜ Manufactured logs: If you use manufactured logs, you don’t need to come up with receipts; just estimate how many you use and how much they cost. Transport and storage may also be significant. ߜ Power generator: If you bought one, how much did it cost? If you rent one, include the rental cost. Also include the cost of the gasoline you use to run it. ߜ Firewood: If you use firewood, include costs for the chainsaw, saw blades, transportation for firewood, and rental (or purchase price) of a wood splitter. And if you broke your arm while cutting firewood, include the associated medical expenses, too. ߜ Wood pellets and bio-energy products of any kind: Include all costs associated with these. ߜ Propane or natural gas: If you use either of these, include not only the cost of the product, but also rental agreements, maintenance, and so on. A lot of people pay a yearly rental for their propane tank. ߜ Barbecue grill: Calculate how much you spend for charcoal, the pro- pane, and the tanks. How much did the grill itself cost? ߜ Lawn tools: Include any gasoline you buy for them, as well as the gas canister if you bought one. If you buy gas (and/or a gas canister) for a generator, include those costs, too. ߜ Kerosene: If you use kerosene for lanterns, cooking, or heating, include those costs. ߜ Space heaters, portable air conditioners, dehumidifiers, swamp coolers, and so on: If you bought any of these, include how much they cost and estimate how much they cost to run. Check their labels for power consumption; then estimate how much time they’re on, and when.


37Chapter 3: Eliminating the Guesswork with Home Energy Audits ߜ Candles and light bulbs: If you use them, add them to your list. ߜ Batteries and chargers: Batteries can be very expensive, and most people don’t consider them a part of their power consumption, but they definitely are. ߜ Maintenance and repair costs: These apply to energy equipment, such as a woodstove, HVAC filters, appliances, and so on. ߜ New equipment: If you bought a new water heater, new HVAC, or anything else along these lines, add the replacement costs to your list, as well as any delivery and installation charges. ߜ Insulation: If you insulated your pipes, the cost is directly related to your energy consumption. ߜ Loans to buy energy-creating equipment: If you took out a loan to buy something like a generator or woodstove, be sure to include the interest on the loan as you calculate your energy costs. ߜ Permits, fees, and taxes: Some additions require permits; some up your taxes. You may have to obtain a county permit for installing a wood or gas stove, for example. Or you may pay higher property taxes because of a sunroom addition. ߜ Bottled water: If you drink it, estimate how much and the cost.As you compile your list, you’re likely to find that you’re spending a lot morefor resources than you thought, and you may be surprised by some of thedetails. You’re already moving forward!Plotting the details, month by monthUltimately, you need to do some month-by-month estimations. The powercompany bill is the easiest, along with water and trash. Here are some rulesfor allocating other resource costs by month: ߜ If you have a propane tank that’s filled periodically by the propane company, you’ll have a tough time figuring out the monthly usage. Just get the yearly total and divide that up on a monthly basis. If you only use the propane for heat, allocate the cost to those months when you use heat. If you use some for hot water and some for heat, divvy it up as best you can. Make sure the total is right. ߜ Ditto with firewood and all the associated expenses. Most people buy a big stack once a year. How much did you use each month? Divvy up the costs as best you can and make sure the total is right. ߜ Servicing for equipment should be allocated according to the use of that equipment. If you serviced a heater, allocate the cost only to those months when you use heat.


38 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch ߜ Even if your water bill is fixed, estimate how much water you used on a monthly basis. If possible, you should try to divide your water usage according to the various functions for which you use it, such as sewer, laundry, dishwasher, and so on. Landscaping may be the biggest water consumer in your household, and this is important to know. To determine monthly costs of a piece of equipment, follow these steps: 1. Determine what you paid. Example: A gas fireplace costs $4,000 plus tax, plus another $200 for permits and inspection. The total is $4,480. 2. Estimate how much that equipment increased the value of your home. A gas fireplace may increase the value by $2,500. 3. Subtract how much the equipment increased the value of your home from its total cost to get the net cost. Subtract $2,500 from $4,480. The net cost of the fireplace is $1,980. 4. Estimate the lifetime of the equipment, in months. The fireplace should be usable for ten years, or 120 months. 5. Calculate the monthly depreciation (loss of value) by dividing the net value by the number of months in the equipment’s lifetime. Divide $1,980 by 120. The fireplace costs $16.50 per month. You can get fancy, if you want. Say the cost of the fireplace in the preceding example is better allocated to only the winter months. The cost would then be $33 over the six months from October through March. You may want to plot several years’ worth of graphs to get a comprehensive idea of your energy consumption. Individual years may be subject to strange weather patterns or one-time-only events, like a big wedding or a lot of relatives visiting at Christmas. You also want to watch out for isolated events on your bills. If, for instance, one of your monthly statements includes a one-time deduction as a result of your electric company settling a lawsuit with energy providers who charged too much, you need to factor this sort of thing out because it has no bearing on your habits.


39Chapter 3: Eliminating the Guesswork with Home Energy AuditsBig reasons for high energy billsDo you have a really high bill? One that sticks ߜ Hot water leaksout like a sore thumb? Here are the most likelyreasons: ߜ Use of appliances with large motors (pumps, compressors, air conditioners)ߜ The addition of occupants in your home ߜ Seasonal appliances — electric blankets,ߜ The addition of appliances, like a freezer in a dehumidifier, lots of shop lighting, power the garage toolsߜ Faulty appliances ߜ An estimated bill or one that reflects a higher time periodߜ High rates of outdoor air infiltration into your home (You may have a faulty weather ߜ A wedding or a big party seal on a door that needs fixing, or you may have a bad attic trap door.) ߜ Uncle Bill’s motor home parked in the drive- wayߜ The use of too much electrical resistance heatingKeeping Up With the Joneses:A Real-Life Scenario The best way to illustrate how to put all your data together is to use Bill Toomuch as an example. Bill and his small family live on a five-acre ranch in California in a 2,700-square-foot house. With the exception of a small gas fireplace in their great room, all their energy comes from the electric company. They have an above-ground swimming pool and a hot tub. Water is supplied by a well. Analyzing Bill’s energy consumption demonstrates by example how to go about systematically analyzing your own situation. Looking at Bill’s resource costs Bill lists his resource costs as follows: ߜ Bill called PG&E and got four years’ worth of history, broken down by month. Figure 3-1 shows one of Bill’s typical electric utility bills. The bill is for the period from 1/12/2007 to 2/12/2007. The total for the bill is $403.30. ߜ Because they have a well, Bill doesn’t have a water bill, but the cost of his water supply shows up on his electric bill because the well is powered by an electric pump.


40 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porchߜ The household fills a 64-gallon trash container every week. They also fill a 64-gallon container for recyclables every other week. Paper, cardboard, bottles, cans, and plastics are all placed into a single recycling bin. The cost is $32 per month.ߜ Bill uses three gallons of gasoline a month in lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and so on. That’s around $8 per month.ߜ Bill spends $15 per month in propane for a barbecue.ߜ The HVAC system broke down and cost $267 to fix, for a monthly total of $22.25.ߜ In the colder months, Bill burns liquid propane in the gas fireplace in the great room. His costs by month areMonth CostJanuary $242February $180March $65April $10October $142November $265December (Christmas cheer!) $342ߜ Bill’s wife loves candles; they cost around $28 per month.ߜ Bill spends $23 per month in batteries for remotes, flashlights, sprinkler controllers, and so forth.ߜ The house is on a septic tank, so there is no sewer. Every three years the tank must be pumped out (yuck. . . ) at a cost of $300, which is $100 per year, or $8 per month. Last year a repair was made (double yuck!) at a cost of $480, which is amortized over ten years at $48 per year.Bill Toomuch has a tiered, seasonal rate structure. The baseline usage ratefor the first 1,033 kWh is $0.11430. (I didn’t even know a thousandth of apenny existed.) For 101 to 130 percent of that baseline, the rate goes up to$0.12989, not much of an increase. For 131 to 200 percent of the baseline,usage costs $0.22944, and for 201 to 300 percent, the cost is $0.32146. Thislatter rate is nearly three times the base rate — quite a penalty! From aconservation standpoint, this means that if Bill can reduce his energyconsumption by a few kWh, he’ll save 32 cents per kWh because the uppertiers will be erased from the bill first.


41Chapter 3: Eliminating the Guesswork with Home Energy Audits Telephone Assistance ACCOUNT SUMMARY 1-800-743-5000 Assistance is available by Service Service Dates Service telephone 24 hours per day, Electric 01/12/2007 To 02/12/2007 $402.79 7 days per week. Energy Commission Tax 0.51 Local Office Address 4636 MISSOURI FLAT RD TOTAL CURRENT CHARGES $403.30 PLACERVILLE CA 95667 Previous Balance 560.58 01/23 Payment - Thank You 560.58 - Account Number TOTAL AMOUNT DUE $403.30 February 2007 DUE DATE - 03/05/2007 Rate Schedule : E1 SH Residential Service Billing Days : 32 days Rotating Prior Current Meter Serial Outage Blk Constant Meter # Meter Read Meter Read Difference Usage N J78867 1 2,311 kWh 45,435 47,746 2,311 Charges 1,033.60000 kWh $402.79 1,033.60000 kWh @ $0.11430 $402.79 01/12/2007 - 02/12/2007 Electric Charges 310.08000 kWh @ $0.12989 723.52000 kWh @ $0.22944 Baseline Quantity 843.80000 kWh @ $0.32146 Balance Usage 101-130% of Baseline 131-200% of Baseline 201-300% of Baseline Net Charges The net charges shown above include the following component(s). Please see definitions on Page 2 of the bill. Generation $190.05 Transmission 18.09 Distribution 142.04 Public Purpose Programs 18.38 Nuclear Decommissioning 0.69 Trust Transfer Amount (TTA) 14.60 DWR Bond Charge 10.84 Ongoing CTC 0.32 Energy Cost Recovery Amount 7.78 Taxes $0.51 Energy Commission Tax $403.30 TOTAL CHARGES Figure 3-1: Usage Comparison Days Billed kWh Billed kWh per Day Sample This Year 32 2,311 72.2electric util- Last Year 32 2,449 76.5 ity bill.


42 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch To get some meaning out of all this gobbledygook, Bill simply divides the total of his bill by the number of kWh used. The result: 17.5 cents per kWh. (Comparing this to some other parts of the country is instructive. In central Florida, the overall rate is around 11.6 cents per kWh. In Milwaukee it’s around 10.4 cents. As usual, California is leading the way into the future, which in this case is higher energy prices.) Plotting Bill’s energy expenditures Table 3-2 shows an example of annual energy expenditures plotted by month.Table 3-2 Monthly Energy Expenditures, Plotted by MonthMonth kWh used Charges Price/kWh Total Utility 2290 $380 $0.166 CostJanFeb $762MarApr 2449 $433 $0.177 $753MayJune 2452 $456 $0.186 $602JulyAug 2266 $407 $0.18 $547SepOct 1715 $290 $0.17 $430NovDec 1676 $325 $0.194 $465Total 1948 $404 $0.21 $544 1963 $443 $0.226 $583 1444 $267 $0.185 $407 1460 $267 $0.183 $549 1663 $312 $0.188 $717 2319 $406 $0.175 $888 $4,390 $0.186 $7,247 averageDo a little calculation, and you see that Bill uses, on average, 1,970 kWha month. For all his energe needs, he spends about $604 a month, $361 ofwhich is for electric only.Analyzing Bill’s energy costsIf you take a close look at Bill’s data, you’ll notice a few interesting — andenlightening — details: ߜ The heater is on a lot in the winter, and the air-conditioner is on a lot in the summer. The rates are higher in the summer than they are in the winter. Your data should look similar, unless you have unusual climate conditions. If you’re in a cold climate, the magnitudes of the data may be different, but the overall shape will be similar.


43Chapter 3: Eliminating the Guesswork with Home Energy Auditsߜ You can establish your baseline usage by looking at the months in which no heating or air-conditioning is used at all. April and October are the usual candidates. In the example, Bill’s approximate baseline electric usage is around 1,600 kWh. By subtracting each month’s total from the baseline, it’s possible to determine approximately how much Bill is spending on heating and air-conditioning:Month CostJan $368Feb $345Mar $183Apr $148May $37June $34July $94Aug $105Sep $0Oct $142Nov $295Dec $485ߜ The average American consumes around 20 kWh per day. Bill uses over three times that amount. His house is bigger, with a lot of extra goodies, but there still seems to be room for a lot of improvement.ߜ You can see how the kWh charge is higher in the summer on the sea- sonal rate structure.Calculating Your Own Carbon Footprint In addition to auditing your personal costs, taking a look at how much pollution you’re generating in your home is worthwhile, particularly if your main goal is pollution efficiency. A very common term these days is carbon footprint, which just means how much carbon you’re emitting into the atmo- sphere through your various energy consuming activities. Carbon (or more precisely, carbon dioxide) is important because it’s the main cause of global warming. Here’s a fact of physics: When you consume energy, it doesn’t simply go away; rather, it changes into some other form. Burning gasoline creates carbon dioxide and a thousand other pollutants. The chemical and atomic bonds between the molecules and atoms in the gasoline are broken down, and heat


44 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front PorchGreenhouse effect and global warmingThe best way to understand the phenomenon The earth’s atmosphere operates like a window.of global warming is to consider your own car It lets in sunlight very nicely, but it also hassitting in the hot sun. Window glass transmits insulation properties. When increased carbonsunlight so that it enters the interior of your dioxide is trapped in the atmosphere, sunlightcar. The sunlight then hits the seats, the floor, transmission is basically unaffected, but theand so on and is converted into heat. The heat insulation properties are increased, so morebegins to build up inside the car because the heat is trapped. Hence, our planet is gettingsame window glass that let the sunlight into the warmer for the same reason that your car getscar resists letting the heat back out. Windows warmer when it’s sitting in the sun. The phenom-are excellent transmitters of light, but very poor enon is called the greenhouse effect; it explainstransmitters of heat (good insulators, in other why greenhouses work so well in the winter-words). time (and may get too hot in the summer).is released in the process. To put things into perspective, consider that agallon of gasoline weighs only 6 pounds, but in the process of burning it inyour auto engine, 20 pounds of carbon dioxide is released. This is a higherweight than the original fuel because oxygen from the air is combined withthe liquid gasoline in the auto’s carburetor. So the pollution that comes fromburning gasoline weighs more than the original gasoline, and valuable oxygenis taken from the air and replaced with polluting CO2.Table 3-3 lists how much carbon pollution is released into the atmospheredue to the consumption of common energy sources.Table 3-3 Carbon Pollution of Common Energy SourcesEnergy Source Pounds CO2 / UnitOil 22.4/gallonNatural gas 12.1/British thermal unitLiquid propane 12.7/gallonKerosene 21.5/gallonGasoline 19.6/gallonCoal 4,166/tonElectricity 1.75/kilowatt hourWood 3,814/ton


45Chapter 3: Eliminating the Guesswork with Home Energy Audits As you digest the info from Table 3-3, keep these points in mind: ߜ The amount of carbon pollution generated by the production of electricity varies quite a bit depending on the type of generators being used. States with nuclear power can generate as little as 0.03 lb/kWh, while regions with coal plants may produce as much as 2.24. The national average is 1.75. ߜ Wood that is left on the forest floor emits the same amount of CO2 as it rots away as it does when it’s burned, so whether burning wood is really polluting the atmosphere is an interesting question. The same cannot be said for the other combustion sources, because if they’re left alone, there is no pollution at all. (Of course, it should also be mentioned that if you’re out in the woods working your tail off, you’re a lot healthier than the average couch potato, and that has its advantages.) Did you know that your home is probably emitting more CO2 than your car? Just because you can’t see it with your naked eye doesn’t mean it’s not there. Consider these tidbits: ߜ A typical midsized automobile that travels 12,000 miles annually emits around 13,000 pounds of CO2 per year. ߜ A typical home that uses 600 gallons of home heating oil emits around 13,500 pounds of CO2 per year. ߜ A typical North American home consumes around 700 kWh per month in electricity, for an emission of 14,700 pounds of CO2 per year. ߜ If you burn a cord of firewood for heat, you’re emitting around 3,814 pounds of CO2.Auditing Your Home to FindAreas for Improvement Once you’ve finished crunching the numbers, you’re ready for the next phase of your home audit. Now you need to go around and carefully inspect both the interior and exterior of your home and identify areas where you can make improvements. Most people find that a majority of improvements are simple and can be done by a do-it-yourselfer for less than a hundred dollars. Some projects, however, are big, and in Part II, I help you determine how to handle these. An audit of your home helps you accomplish five key objectives, listed here in order of importance:


46 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch ߜ Ensuring safety. Safety is the most important aspect of any home. If your home is not safe and free of contaminants, it doesn’t matter how efficient it is in other regards. ߜ Maximizing your house’s longevity and durability. The biggest detriment to a home’s lifetime is moisture problems, which only get worse when ignored. ߜ Enhancing your home’s livability. Air leaks affect both the livability of a home and the amount of energy it takes to heat and cool a home. ߜ Analyzing the costs and benefits of making improvements. The more you know, the better the decisions you make. ߜ Creating a game plan that enables you to make your home more efficient. Having a plan can save time and money and help you target the most important areas. If you have gas-burning equipment and, like most people, are not well-versed in the technology, hiring a professional auditor to inspect it is usually best. I do not give you instructions in this book on how to inspect or adjust gas-fired machinery because there are too many different kinds, and they’re too dangerous to be messing around with. Grunting it out: The inspection In this section, I explain how to systematically inspect your home. I get into a lot of detail in the bulk of this book on how to address problems when you find them. In this section, I just tell you where to look for problems. If you find one, look at the chapter that addresses that specific issue. For instance, if you find moisture under your washing machine, go to Chapter 11 on appliances. If you find an air leak, go to Chapter 7, which tells you how to seal your home. So put on your grungiest clothes, because you’re going to be climbing around in your basement and attic. First up: Go around your home and carefully look at everything. You’ve probably glanced around before, but now you’re going to sharpen your focus. The following sections take you through the various areas of your home and explain what to pay attention to. Foundation and structural elements The place to begin your inspection is outside and beneath your home. Although you live inside, what happens outside is of critical importance: ߜ Look up into all your eaves. Are there vents? Are they dirty? Are there bug nests? Moisture damage (look for spots and mildew)? Is wood rotting anywhere? How’s the paint job?


47Chapter 3: Eliminating the Guesswork with Home Energy Audits ߜ Inspect the foundation. Are there openings or gaps? Why? Are the gaps sealed where pipes feed through? Are there vents? Are they dirty? Are there cracks in concrete or masonry walls? Are pads secure and dry? ߜ Underneath your house, look for moisture issues. Where is the water coming from? Why? Does it stink? ߜ If you have a basement, go down there and look for water leaks and air leaks. Check to see if the pipes are insulated. Check for signs of pesky little rodents. ߜ Check out your roof (be very careful; falling off the roof is more common than you may think). Is it leaking anywhere that you know of? What’s the condition? At what point are you going to have to get a new roof? ߜ On the outside of your house, inspect wherever two different types of build- ing materials come together. Are these joints sealed? Is there leakage?AtticChecking for water leaks is your first order of business in the attic. Findingevidence of these may be difficult. If you do find evidence of a leak, you mayhave trouble tracing it up to the roof where it’s coming in, but it pays to try.You also want to pay attention to the insulation in your attic. Are theregaps in it? Are there voids around ceiling light fixtures? Is there evidence ofrodents or pests? Do you see a lot of spider webs? Are there vents to the out-side world? Are they dirty so that air has a difficult time passing through?Also check out your attic vent system (see Chapter 13 for more details).PlumbingIf you can, make a sketch of your plumbing system, including both hot andcold water pipes. Where do they go? Where are the feed-throughs? After youcomplete this schematic, look at the following things: ߜ Are there any leaks? Are the hot water pipes covered with insulation? Are the pipes adequately tacked down, or are they flopping around? Is the system old? Rusty? ߜ Are there any dripping faucets? Check both inside and out. Do the faucets work the way they should? ߜ Check for clogged drains (especially in a basement floor; these are incredible sources of microbes). ߜ Are you aware of any plumbing problems? Toilets that don’t work the way they should? Shower drains that are too slow? Unpleasant odors in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, garages? ߜ Check under all your sinks for leaks. They’ll usually stink, and the particle- board will be moldering and warped. Where’s the leak coming from? Maybe the disposal is leaking. You may have to turn the water on to find out.


48 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Heating and cooling Since heating and cooling costs are the biggest factor in most home’s energy use, it pays to check out heating and cooling systems on a periodic basis. ߜ Do certain parts of your house always seem too warm or too cold? Find out why; if you poke around, you may be able to unearth the cause. Is there a draft somewhere? If you have a difficult time, consult an HVAC professional. ߜ Is one heater vent always too hot compared to the others? Too cold? Check out the ductwork to find potential problems. In my experience, a majority of homes have gaps in the ductwork and don’t know it. These are easy and inexpensive to fix. (See Chapter 7 for instructions and suggestions.) To find leaks in a forced-air HVAC’s ductwork, turn your HVAC system on and get access to the ducts (this may be a real hassle in your attic or basement, requiring you to twist into odd pretzel shapes, but forge on for the good of humanity!). Dip your hand into a bowl of water (a wet hand makes air movement much easier to feel) and move your hand around the ducts, particularly where the joints are, and check for air leaks. Check where the ducts join up to the registers leading into your home. Insulation Can you find out what kind of insulation is in the walls and ceilings? How thick is it? You don’t need a numerical measurement, but you want to try to see whether it fills the voids. If you’re in an old house, you probably don’t have very good insulation. Also find out whether there’s insulation beneath your floors, particularly below the area where you spend the greatest amount of time (probably the family room). Windows Are your windows single-pane or double-pane? Do you have storm windows? Do you use them? Do you have blinds? Do you use them? How about solar screens for the summertime? If you have a window that gets condensation between the two panes of glass, you have a leak in the seal. It won’t affect the window’s net insulation very much, but the windows will sooner or later become permanently obscured. Filters Check out all the filters in your home. Furnace filters are located at the input vent; you should replace these regularly. If you don’t, they’ll become extremely dirty. Exhaust fans sometimes have filters that you may not even know about. Look up inside; take off the cover cowling if you need to. Dryers have lint filters. Faucets have filters that regularly collect crud. If your faucet is squirting around erratically, change the filter.


49Chapter 3: Eliminating the Guesswork with Home Energy AuditsOther places to investigateIn addition to the obvious places to look, here are some more candidates. ߜ Check out your fireplace. Is the damper working properly? (It should move so that it opens and closes easily.) Have you been operating it properly? Are any seals old and frayed? ߜ Check out your fuse box. Do you have problems with blown fuses for which you can’t seem to identify a reason? Are wires frayed? Is the box covered well? Trace some wires and try to get the gist of the overall layout of your home’s electrical system. ߜ Check under all appliances and sinks for moisture. Where is it coming from? ߜ Go through your home and check out the wattage of each light bulb. Note what type of bulb each is. You can probably get by with a lot less wattage, and in a lot of spots you could change to a fluorescent (see Chapter 9 for more details). ߜ Look for air leaks. In Chapter 7, I describe a method for finding air leaks in your home.Hiring professional auditorsIf you’re not up to the challenge of auditing your own home, simply don’twant to, or have gas-burning equipment, you may decide to go with aprofessional. Several sources are available.You can call your power company, which will probably do an audit for you.It may be a mail-in type of deal, in which case you may as well just strugglethrough it yourself because by the time you’re done compiling enoughinformation to make the mail-in audit worthwhile, you basically will havedone the job yourself. The same applies to Internet audits. Plus, onlineresources that offer energy audits will probably try to sell you something youdon’t need.Professional audit companies will impress you with all their cool stuff. Theyhave fancy gizmos that use invisible infrared light to measure the tempera-ture of your interior surfaces, and they use them to pinpoint leaks. They’llcheck out your furnace, which is worthwhile. They’ll inspect your ductworkand look for cracks in your foundation. They can tell you in precise math-ematical terms just how leaky your house is.But the fact is, the biggest inefficiencies are usually easy to detect, especiallyif you’ve never even tried before. I can tell you from experience doing auditsthat most houses have glaring problems that can usually be fixed for lessthan a few hundred dollars. The biggest culprit? Loose joints in the ductwork,


50 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch which result in untold hundreds of dollars of wasted energy costs per year. And you can fix them up with aluminum or duct tape for less than $10. If you do decide to hire an auditor, look here: ߜ Consult NAESCO (National Association of Energy Service Companies) at 202-822-0950 or www. naesco.org. ߜ In the phone book, look under “energy conservation services and products.” Locate utility companies under “electric service,” “utility providers,” or “gas utility companies.” ߜ Check out hes.lbl.gov for a free home energy audit and carbon footprint estimates. ߜ For a sample of an energy audit, look at www.pge.com/energysurvey/. As you check out different auditors, consider the following: ߜ Do you want to make a change or improvement in your home? Ask how this would fit in with the results of your audit and ask for some advice. Auditors have tons of experience, and they’re usually proud to expound. ߜ Ask about financing programs the company has for improvements the auditor suggests. ߜ Ask about guarantees for their work. If they tell you that you can achieve a certain cost reduction, how accurate do they warrant that claim to be? Tell the auditors before they come out to your home that you want them to tell you which jobs you can do yourself. If they balk, find somebody else. After you hire a professional auditor, you still need to do a bit of work your- self, which essentially requires amassing some info: ߜ Assemble all your electric and utility bills. Go back two or three years. ߜ Make a list of occupants’ habits regarding energy usage. Are you home all day every day (is anyone?), or are you home mainly during the eve- nings, for example? ߜ Note the thermostat setting in your house. Do you change it depending on the season or other factors? ߜ Make a list of questions you have. If something seems wrong with your house, write that down, too.


Chapter 4Financing Efficiency ImprovementsIn This Chapterᮣ Looking into the various incentives and assistance programs availableᮣ Using loans to finance your energy-efficiency projectsᮣ Working with banks and financial institutions A lot of government programs are geared toward helping consumers make efficiency improvements. These range from solar subsidies to Department of Energy programs designed to help you decide which appliances are the most energy-efficient. Not only can you get information, but you can also get free money in the form of subsidies, tax breaks, and rebates. I’d rather have free money, so I focus more on that aspect in this chapter. Utility companies also offer a range of programs, including free information as well as free money. The programs available are too numerous for me to list in detail, and they’re constantly changing, so I tell you how to research the ben- efits they offer on your own. Last but not least, you may want to consider financing your energy-efficiency improvements via a loan. I tell you the best way to go about doing so, and I give you some tips on how to work with banks.Understanding the DifferentTypes of Assistance Many different types of government assistance are available, and it pays to understand exactly how the various programs differ from each other. For those skeptics out there who are howling, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” I’m with you 100 percent. But if you take into account how much money you pay in taxes and utility bills, all you’re really doing here is getting some of it back, and that’s hardly a free lunch. It’s more like paying for somebody else’s lunch for three days in a row, and then having them pay for part of yours one day.


52 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Rebates Rebates are money that’s given back to a customer after a purchase is made. You’re probably familiar with rebates for consumer goods like appliances, and energy-efficiency rebates operate basically the same way. But being born of government, the latter are laden with details generally incomprehensible to the average layperson. The way solar rebates work in California serves as an example of the complexity involved. For a PV system, you can get up to 25 percent of the system’s cost in rebates, but the actual amount depends on the system’s productivity. (PV stands for photovoltaic, which is a solar electrical generat- ing apparatus.) The state has a very specific computer program that pre- dicts system performance. Inputs are ߜ Your geographical location: Data banks have been created with the statistical weather patterns in your area. ߜ The size and orientation of your solar collectors: The greatest solar exposure comes from a specific roof angle (depending on your latitude) and a specific azimuth angle — namely, true south. ߜ Whether your solar collectors are in full sunshine or not: If a tree or building shades your solar collectors, they collect less sunlight energy, which is a form of inefficiency. ߜ The efficiency of your system: This is also related to a system’s productivity. For a perfect solar location, the state will rebate 25 percent of the cost of your solar system. Most rebates come in at around 20 to 24 percent. When they come in much lower than that, your solar investment quickly loses allure and cost effectiveness declines. The rebate is paid directly to the professional solar contractor, so the customer does not need to finance the entire investment and then wait to get the rebate back. This is a good facet because it means you don’t have to front the money. A buy-down caveat complicates the matter even further. As time progresses, the rebates are scheduled to decrease, which encourages solar customers to buy now rather than later. Ideally, as the rebates diminish, prices will come down due to market forces so the net cost of a system won’t change over time. (Well, okay. But when do government programs ever work the way they’re supposed to? On the other hand, just be glad you don’t get all the government that you pay for.) As you can see, free government money comes with some complexity and many strings attached, and it pays to understand the details. But it’s free money, so what’s the beef?


53Chapter 4: Financing Efficiency ImprovementsTax creditsTax credits are an increasingly common form of subsidy. You must buya certain type of system to qualify, and the credit is taken on either yourstate or federal tax return. This means you must carry the cost until yourreturn is filed, and any refund comes back to you. This can take over ayear, depending on when you buy a system. Still, a tax credit is far betterthan a tax deduction, and here’s why: A tax deduction is subtracted fromyour income so that your tax burden is less. If you’re paying a marginal taxrate of 28 percent and you get a deduction for $1,000, you save $280. A taxcredit, on the other hand, is subtracted from your taxes. A $1,000 tax creditsaves you $1,000! Yee-ha!For example, the federal government allows a 30 percent tax credit for bothhydro turbine systems and solar water-heating systems, up to a maximum of$2,000 per year. If your solar water-heater costs $6,000 to install, you get $2,000off the price. If your hydro turbine costs $30,000, you only get $2,000 off theprice. This encourages smaller investments because you save a greaterpercentage. The way to game this strategy is to spread your investments outover time. Install a solar water heater this year, and a hydro turbine next. Andif possible, install two small systems instead of one big one.By understanding the precise details, you can achieve more benefit from theprograms.Protection from property tax increasesMany states have laws that prevent your property taxes from rising due tothe increase in value of your home from an efficiency investment. So if youinstall a $40,000 solar PV system, your county cannot reassess your propertyand charge you extra taxes for having a home that’s worth $40,000 more.Home-operated business advantagesIf you have a home business or office, you may qualify for the higher taxcredits and rebates that are offered as incentives for businesses to becomemore energy efficient. Businesses can also take advantage of accelerateddepreciation schedules for most energy-efficiency equipment.Why do businesses get bigger tax breaks and rebates? One reason is thatbusinesses use most of their energy in the middle of the afternoon when thegreatest burden is being shouldered by the utilities. Another is that the greenspirit that motivates many energy-efficiency investments does not exist forbusinesses.


54 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Taking advantage of these incentives can get complex; ask your tax preparer for the details. Net metering Net metering means that you can sell your solar generated power to the utilities by hooking up special equipment to your household electrical system. Utilities are not particularly enthusiastic about offering rebates, nor do they really want residential customers to hook solar equipment up to the grid (not because they’re grouchy, but because it diminishes their business base). Recognizing this, the 1978 federal Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) mandates local utilities to pay “avoided” or wholesale costs to entities that wish to sell it. In other words, the utilities must pay you exactly what it costs them to produce the power they would be providing; they can’t profit from your being hooked up to the grid. They may not pay you exactly what they sell you the power for, but they have to pay you exactly what it costs them. This is the basis for net metering, which makes solar PV investment viable (see Chapter 16 for details of the whys and wherefores). Without net metering, solar PV would be no more than a rare novelty (like good pop music). States often have even more stringent net metering rules. In California, the utilities must pay you the same rate that they charge for power (rather than the “avoided cost”). For instance, if you’re on a time of use (TOU) rate schedule, the utility must pay you the same rates it charges customers at different times of the day. This is a very strong incentive for installing solar systems because the highest power rates are always in the middle of the afternoon, which is also the time when solar PV systems are outputting at the maximum rate. So if you have a PV intertie system (intertie means you’re hooked up to the power grid), you can game your power consumption to leverage the exchange of energy (see Chapter 16 for the technical details). Manufacturers’ rebates Manufacturers’ rebates work the same for energy-efficiency improvements as they do for other products. You buy a system or component, and the manu- facturer either gives you an instant rebate or one that you send away for by mailing in proof of your purchase. These rebates are very common these days, especially for products that feature the Energy Star label (see Chapter 11 for more details on Energy Star).


55Chapter 4: Financing Efficiency Improvements Tax-deductible home-equity loans Although they may not be a direct subsidy of energy-efficiency improvements, tax-deductible home-equity loans are akin to government subsidies because you can write off the interest on such loans (writing it off means subtracting it from your taxable income, resulting in a smaller net tax burden). If you take out a second mortgage to pay for your energy-efficiency equipment, the government lets you deduct the interest on that loan. So if you’re making a monthly payment of, say, $300 for a second mortgage, your net cost may be only $200. It works exactly like a subsidy.Researching Your Subsidy Options Things are changing so fast, keeping up with all the different government programs is impossible. I can only point you in the right direction and give you a nudge. It’s up to you to poke around and get all the details for yourself. Here’s how to research the subject further: ߜ Talk to your tax preparer. This person should be well-versed in the details of tax credits and deductions. If not, he’ll be able to access the information sources that will be needed to process your rebates and tax credits. Many of these programs are relatively new; give your preparer a break if he doesn’t know the details upfront, but keep at him to find out. Expect to pay more for your tax preparation because more forms will be required (indecipherable to the average layperson, so if you’re thinking about preparing your own, be forewarned). ߜ Talk to energy-efficiency contractors. These people know all the subsidies because this knowledge helps them sell systems. PV contractors are experts at tax credits and rebates, and they will usually help you process them as well. Most stove stores know the ins and outs of local ordinances and whether utility rebates are available. ߜ Ask your utility company. Utilities don’t necessarily want to give you information, but they have to. So if you push a little, you can get all kinds of information, and it’s almost always free. Call the customer service number on your utility bill and go from there. Ask too many questions, even if they don’t seem appropriate. You’ll be surprised at how much you can find out this way. And be very nice; they’re not used to that, being what they are. If you’re nice, they may even go out of their way to be nice right back. Just don’t expect it.


56 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch ߜ Look online. The Internet is a great source of information. Use a search engine to look up key words like “solar energy tax incentives,” “energy efficiency rebates,” and so on. Here are some Web sites to consult for more details: • www.dsireusa.org • www.consumerenergycenter.org/renewables/estimator • www.energystar.gov/taxcredits • www.energytaxincentives.org • www.epa.gov When doing research, keep in mind that subsidies may be available for all kinds of systems. For instance, if you install an energy-efficient front door, you may qualify for a 10-percent tax credit. Gas fireplaces may get you a credit. Be expansive in your search, and you can find all sorts of little goodies. Financing through Loans Many energy-efficiency investments are large enough that you may need to take out a loan to implement them. There are several different types of loans you can pursue. This section gives you the lowdown. (For advice on securing your loan from a bank, see the section “Working with Banks: Their Way or the Highway” later in this chapter.) Consumer loans Consumer loans don’t require any collateral, so the risk is high. You can get a credit card with a $30,000 credit limit far easier than should ever be pos- sible. The reason it’s so easy? The interest rate is sky high; the bank expects a number of defaults, and lets the customers who don’t default cover the losses from the ones who do. Plus, you don’t get any sort of tax deduction on the interest, so the net result is that these loans are even costlier. These creditors are the modern version of loan sharks, although they no longer break your fingers when you default. If you’re a good credit risk, avoid con- sumer loans like the plague and get a loan that’s more beneficial to you.


57Chapter 4: Financing Efficiency ImprovementsSupplier loansSupplier loans are available from manufacturers and suppliers who provideenergy-efficiency equipment. They use the equipment itself as collateral.These loans are somewhat akin to automobile loans that are offered by cardealers to buyers who purchase a vehicle. The car is collateral, so if youdon’t make your loan payment, they come to your house late at night andtake back the car — perfectly legal. If you default on one of these loans foryour solar equipment, they may come in the middle of the night and grab thecollectors off your roof. You probably won’t mistake them for Santa Claus.Equity loansEquity loans are the most common option, and they’re also the best. In thoseparts of the country where real estate values are rising, homeowners enjoyequity, which is the difference between what is owed in mortgages on thehome and the home’s market value (or appraised value, which should be thesame but rarely is).You can use your equity to get a loan at a much lower interest rate becausethe bank’s risk is greatly reduced by using real estate as collateral. They don’tneed to come after the equipment you have financed (they generally don’tcare what you do with the money, so they may not even know about your newenergy-efficiency equipment) because they can go after the house itself. Theyknow that homeowners are going to pay off their debts long before they let abank take their home away.Furthermore, home-equity loans are generally tax deductible (consult yourtax preparer blah, blah, blah). If your combined state and federal marginaltax rate is 35 percent, $100 per month in interest payments only costs you$65.Government-subsidized,energy-efficiency loansThe government is interested in promoting energy efficiency, so it makes awide range of loan subsidies available. In essence, the government accepts partof the risk of the loan, and a bank therefore can offer you a lower interest rate.Looking into the various government programs is worth your while becauseyou can often get a loan for better terms.


58 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Home energy ratings A number of financing programs are available for energy-efficiency improvements (solar, in particular) to homes that qualify. In order to qualify, you need to have your home audited and rated by a licensed expert, who writes a report estimating annual energy use and costs. You can also expect some recommendations for improvements that may have to be implemented as a condition of loan approval. To get the best loan terms, you have to convince the financing institution that the improvements you intend to fund with the loan make sense in the grand scheme of things. That’s reasonable. If things look good, you can take advantage of special energy-efficient financing programs that offer lower interest rates than conventional loans. Keep in mind, however, that with these loans you’re required to pay for the energy audit and interface with government agencies. Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEMs) There are two types of Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEMs): one for existing homes and another for new ones. Here’s a quick breakdown of who’s providing what, but keep in mind that we’re talking about the government here, so terms and programs are subject to change at the whim of a congressperson from the boondocks: ߜ Fannie Mae, the Federal National Mortgage Association, encourages lenders to provide EEMs by establishing guidelines and certain types of incentives. Check out what’s available at www.fanniemae.com. ߜ Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Mortgage Loan Corporation, is basically the same as Fannie Mae, but is generally more interested in long-term loans. Check it out at www.freddiemac.com. ߜ Farmer Mac (part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) is for those of you who are down on the farm. Go to www.usda.gov. Here are some other potentially useful government agencies (I said potentially): ߜ Department of Energy (DOE): www.doe.gov. ߜ Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): www.hud. gov. ߜ State agencies: Often providers of subsidized loans in addition to federal agencies. Check out the prospects at www.naseo.org (National Association of State Energy Officials). ߜ Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET): A network of mortgage bankers, builders, and so forth. Check them out at www.natresnet.org.


59Chapter 4: Financing Efficiency Improvements Other sources of subsidized financing Utilities may provide subsidized financing as well. Not because they want to, but because they’re required to by law. You can find a customer- service number on your utility bill, and there may even be a particular branch dedicated to subsidized loans. Equipment vendors sometimes provide loans, just like car dealers. However, they generally sign up with an equity loan broker and simply act as a sales outlet for that broker’s loans. You could probably find slightly better interest rates by going directly to a bank, but the convenience may offset the cost. Or, a vendor may actually offer better terms because they have a strong incentive to close the sale, and making inexpensive financing available helps considerably.Leasing Energy-Efficient Equipment Here’s a new financing idea that’s taking hold: Companies install solar equipment on your roof, but they retain ownership of the equipment. You basically lease it from them for either a fixed monthly cost or a percentage of the system’s production. This works nicely if you save more on your power bill than the monthly cost of the lease. You don’t have to maintain the equipment because it’s not yours. Alternatively, you can use these programs to lock in the cost of your energy so that when it rises, you are securely hedged. You don’t have to have any cash up front, and this is a very popular way to finance a big purchase, as evidenced by how many autos are leased on the same basic principle. Ultimately, financing the equipment yourself — actually purchasing it rather than leasing it — is almost always a better investment from a return standpoint. But many people simply don’t have the cash, prefer to spend their money on something else, or don’t want to sign up for a loan because it will appear on a credit application. Be aware that, just as with cars, there is a residual value at the end of the lease, and if your equipment has decreased in value for some reason, you may have to pay a big chunk to get out of the lease.


60 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Working with Banks: Their Way or the Highway In my view, banks rank (and rank they are) right up there with governmental institutions for charm and affability. Regardless of which financial institution or bank you decide to work with, you’re better prepared if you know how banks work and what rules you need to (or should) follow. The reason people get so frustrated at bankers is that they have hordes of rules and regulations that come from above. This may seem onerous to you, the consumer, but it makes perfect sense from the bank’s standpoint because mistakes cost a lot of money and need to be avoided. When you approach a bank for a loan, keep these things in mind: ߜ Banks have very rigid rules and procedures. The people you will be talking to have absolutely no power to alter these. If you don’t package your programs, proposals, and ideas in the bank’s format, you’re wasting your time. ߜ You, the borrower, are not the bank’s customer. A bank’s customers are the people who give them money, not the people who borrow it. Banks make profits (capitalism’s central objective) by lending you money at higher rates than they have to pay their customers for their money. ߜ Banks are concerned with risk. They constantly strive to make loans at the lowest risk possible. When somebody defaults on a mortgage, especially a second one, it’s very costly for the bank. If you want to do business with a bank, your goal should be to present yourself as a low-risk proposition.


Chapter 5 Making Tradeoffs That Work for YouIn This Chapterᮣ Choosing investments wiselyᮣ Using a system for analyzing the optionsᮣ Real-life scenarios you can compare with your own investment decisions Not all investments in efficiency improvement take cash. You can do many things around your home that involve simply changing your consumption habits or changing the way you set your thermostat. But almost all investments require you to choose from among several alterna- tives. Having only a single choice on your hands is rare. Choosing wisely requires a system of balancing energy efficiency, financial efficiency, pollu- tion efficiency, and labor efficiency, and everybody prioritizes these criteria in their own way. In this chapter, I show you how to account for the various factors that come into play in your decision-making process.Setting Efficiency Investment Goals When you make investments — in time, money, or just sheer effort — to become more energy-efficient, the trick is to put together a strategy that works for you and helps you meet your own goals. Whereas one person’s goal may be solely to become more “green,” another person’s goal may be to reduce consumptions simply to save money. And quite a few people, no doubt, want to make gains in both areas: saving money and doing more to help the environment.


62 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Think of investments in energy efficiency as you would financial investments. There are more similarities than you may realize: ߜ Choosing options that work for you. Financial investment pros help their clients assemble a portfolio, or mixture, of investments from the many options available. You also have myriad options in investments for energy efficiency. One option is not to invest in energy efficiency at all. You can just leave your house the way it is. When something breaks, you don’t have to replace it with a new, improved version; you can just put the same thing back in. Alternatively, you can make small investments that garner small, but real, rewards. Examples include replacing incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs, caulking around your window frames to keep the draft out, or wrapping your furnace ducts in insulation to keep the warmth in. Maybe you’re into big changes: replacing the old double- furnace in your basement with a brand new energy-efficient model, or scrapping traditional heating systems altogether and going solar. The point is that you can take big steps or little steps, but all steps lead you in the right direction. ߜ Dealing with risk. An important factor to consider in building a financial portfolio is the risk profile. Some investments entail more risk than others and need to offer more of a chance for gain to offset the increased risk. The same is true with energy-efficiency investments: To justify the expense of a big-ticket item, you need to see a big return — whether in cost savings, energy efficiency, or feel-good factor. ߜ Shielding yourself from future price fluctuations. Hedging, paying a certain amount now to lock in prices in the future, reduces financial risk. If you invest in energy efficiency, you shield your utility bill from energy price fluctuations because when rates rise, you don’t feel the pinch nearly as much. If you put a solar system on your roof that reduces your energy bills to zero, that’s exactly where they will stay, even if the cost of energy quadruples. That’s a powerful form of hedging. Analyzing Investments In this section I present a system for analyzing investments. The goal is to compare different options and choose the best one. The idea is to compare costs to gains, with risk and other non-numerical factors moderating the results. Basically, you need to look at two things:


63Chapter 5: Making Tradeoffs That Work for You ߜ How long it’ll take to earn back the money invested, or payback. In the case of most energy-efficiency improvements, you have to invest cash before you see a single dime of savings. Payback is measured in months, or even years. Here’s an example. You invest $2,000 in an on-demand water heater, which saves $30 a month in electric costs. Dividing 2,000 by 30 equals 67 months, or about 51⁄2 years. As you think about payback, remember that good decisions aren’t just predicated on dollars and cents. You also need to consider the intangibles, like aesthetic beauty and pollution mitigation, among others. ߜ How energy-efficiency investments compare to other investments. This is a key issue for those who see the money savings as the key reason for becoming more energy efficient.Considering the costs, financialand otherwiseSo how much is any particular energy-efficiency investment going to costyou? You need to know before you can determine whether you can affordto implement it or, for that matter, given the potential savings that such aninvestment can bring, whether you can afford not to. When you think aboutany energy-efficiency investment, consider these potential costs: ߜ Equipment: How much will equipment cost, and when will you pay for it? Sometimes equipment costs are spread out over time. You need to specify the time line. For instance, if you are purchasing a new HVAC system on a credit card, the payments will be monthly until the balance is paid off. Chapter 3 tells you how to determine the annual costs associated with a big purchase. ߜ Installation costs: If you’re hiring a pro, how much will it cost and when are these funds due? If you’re going to do it yourself, figure in the cost of any tools or other equipment you need to buy. ߜ Refuse cost: Will you pay to have project trash hauled away? ߜ Lifetime and warranty: What is the likelihood that you will have to pay for servicing? How often? How much will it cost? Warranties are very important for big ticket items because they usually have big ticket costs associated with repairs. And some manufacturers are better at taking care of warranty issues than others. ߜ Taxes, permits, and fees: How much are they and when are they due? Will your property taxes go up as a result of an efficiency investment? This is rare, but you should find out whether it applies to you. ߜ Interest: Will you finance your equipment? If so, the interest is a cost.


64 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch ߜ Maintenance: The type of energy-efficiency equipment that’s designed to handle big jobs tends to be pretty complex. You need to understand how it works and perform periodic maintenance tasks to keep it working up to snuff. You won’t usually know when something’s gong to need fixing or how much it’s going to cost. ߜ Safety: When you install complex technical equipment, you’re introduc- ing dangers into your home. Electrical shocks. Scalding water. Falling off a roof. Discovering stepladder malfunctions. Smoke and ventilation issues. You get the point. ߜ Inexperience: If you design and install a system yourself, it may not perform as well as you thought it would. The experts know all the little tricks that you don’t. Savings can suffer, and you may have to pay an expert to come in and set things straight. Of course, financial costs aren’t the only ones you should consider. Most changes require readjustments. As you count costs, determine which of the following apply to the change you want to make and how willing you are to either accept them or make the necessary accommodations: ߜ Changing habits: With some energy-efficiency equipment, you have to change your consumption habits to take best advantage of the potential. For instance, if you install a solar hot water heater, taking showers in the late afternoon is better than taking them early in the morning. How willing are you to make the changes? Furthermore, with some energy-efficiency investments, the only requirement is to change habits; no cash is invested at all. An example of this is taking shorter showers. ߜ Inconvenience: Is your system going to require more work on your part? Wood stoves take a lot of maintenance and cleaning. Are you going to do it? How much is your time worth? Are some jobs more or less repulsive than others? ߜ The clutter factor: Do you sometimes feel as though your life is spinning out of control? There’s too much of this, too much of that, and too much clutter (not just physical, but emotional as well). Do you want to bite off even more? ߜ The how-it-looks factor: Sometimes equipment can be ugly. Do the pipes running up the side of your house look industrial? Do PV panels make your house look unearthly? Conversely, many projects make your home look much nicer. Given two projects with equal numbers, you’re more apt to choose the one that offers aesthetic beauty or pride in ownership. In fact, you may favor these types of projects enough to choose them even when the payback isn’t all that terrific. ߜ The how-it-smells factor: Yes, some energy-efficiency devices tend to stink, like biomass generators or compost toilets.


65Chapter 5: Making Tradeoffs That Work for YouEstimating gainsAfter you think about all the costs — financial, aesthetic, and otherwise — ofyour potential efficiency investment, you need to think about the ways theinvestment pays you back. So how can you make money from your investments?Let me count the ways.Lower monthly utility billsWith most energy-efficiency investments, saving money is the ultimate goal.You need to take a look at how much you’re paying now versus how muchyou’ll be paying after the investment. This may be very difficult to estimate,but it’s worth a try.When estimating cost reductions, always use the rate structures that applyboth before and after you finish the project. For instance, when you installa solar PV system, you’ll likely be getting a new power meter and a new ratestructure. You may be going from a tiered structure to a time-of-day structure,in which case you should estimate the new cost savings by the time-of-daystructure. (See Chapter 3 for more details on rate structures.)Sometimes you can save money by doing nothing more than changing ratestructures. For instance, if you’re away from home all afternoon and youchange your electric rate structure from simple (which just charges you thesame rate regardless of when you use the power) to TOU (time of use, whichcharges different rates at different times of day, you will probably save moneywithout doing anything else. Talk to your utility company to see whether thisis an option for you.AppreciationThe value of your home goes up when you make most improvements. Theamount of the appreciation depends on the following factors: ߜ How much it would cost a buyer to put in new equipment himself. Don’t expect to get much more than that. But if the cost of new equip- ment increases, the value of your equipment can also go up. For the most part, your home only increases in value by a percentage of what you put into investments. A kitchen remodel, for instance, nominally increases the value of your home by about 70 percent of what you spend (if you contract out the entire job). Installing a gas fireplace insert returns around 65 percent. ߜ How much documentation you can provide to verify the energy savings that are achieved with the equipment. If you can show (with documentation) that you’ve saved a certain amount of money, you’re in a stronger position to recoup your investment when you sell your home.


66 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch ߜ How much the cost of energy goes up. The more energy costs rise, the more your equipment is worth. This should be intuitive. The higher energy costs are, the more money you save from your efficiency investments. Plus, people get warier about future increases and will pay more to hedge against them. ߜ How trendy the improvement is in your neck of the woods. Some things sell because they’re a fad. This is very true of green products these days (the term for hyped environmental products is greenwashing), and in some parts of the country, an energy-efficient home is worth a lot more than the same model with conventional energy. Look for this trend to expand, especially if energy costs spike upward. Other plusses Appreciation and cheaper utility bills aren’t the only ways to recoup the cost of your investment. Following are other ways that efficiency changes can bolster your bottom line and/or your feel-good factor: ߜ Deductions: If you’re installing equipment for your business or office, you may be able to depreciate certain items and gain some tax deductions. ߜ Rebates and subsidies: These come from utilities, state and federal governments, manufacturers, and so on. See Chapter 4 for details. ߜ Aesthetics: If you invest in a maple tree, you’ll get shade performance, but the greater pleasure is having a nice tree near your house. When you invest in window coverings, you enjoy better insulation, but the greater gain is probably in the increased enjoyment you get from the improved appearance of your home. ߜ Footprints: When you invest in efficiency improvements, you’re saving a lot of carbon dioxide. In Chapter 3, I give a brief outline for calculating how much this might be. ߜ Money made from salvage: You may be able to sell some of the old equipment you will be taking out. Setting a baseline for comparison: Bank accounts and stock market yields You can always put your hard-earned cash into a bank account and draw simple interest. It’s the safest bet, one the Federal Government guarantees. Whenever you consider an investment, the proper starting point is always to consider how it compares to a bank account, so this is where I begin.


67Chapter 5: Making Tradeoffs That Work for YouValue today versus value tomorrowStrictly speaking, when doing payback calcula- In calculating payback, it works the other waytions, changes in the value of money over time around. For example, if you’re going to savemust be taken into account, which basically $100 a year from today, at 6 percent interest thatmeans that you should discount the value today $100 is worth only $94 right now. Saving $100 inof a dollar you expect to receive in the future. ten years is worth only $54 today.Suppose you have a choice between two For the most part, I ignore this effect in thealternatives: $1 today or $1 a year from now. calculations, and there will be technicalYou take the $1 today, of course. But how purists out there who cry out in indignation. Butmuch would you take today for a dollar in the I’m trying to keep things simple. A good way tofuture? To determine its future worth, you need factor in the value of money over time withoutto factor in the current interest rate or, even getting into weird math is simply to be liberallymore precisely, what the interest rate is going conservative (not conservatively liberal) in yourto be over the course of the next year. Say the estimates. The net effect will be the same.interest rate is 6 percent. You would then betrading $1.06 a year from now for $1 today.Say you put $1,000 in a savings account that earns 6 percent compoundedinterest. Twelve years after you make your original investment, you’ll have$1,000 in interest, so this is the payback period. At any point in time you canpull your money out of the bank with zero risk. So you’ve done nothing butmake money, right? Not exactly.You pay income tax on interest income, so your net gain is going to be lessthan 6 percent. If you make $100 in interest and you’re paying a 35 percentmarginal tax rate (combined state and fed), you’ll only net $65.When you save money by investing in energy efficiency, you rarely, if ever,will be called upon to pay taxes on the money you save. This could make asignificant difference in your investment decision, so you must always taketaxes into account.If you invest your money in the stock market and get a return of 12 percent,the payback period is only six years. Sounds good, but once again, you’llprobably be paying income taxes on the gains. In addition, depending on thetype of stocks you buy, the value of your stock could go down rather than up,maybe all the way to zero.


68 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Looking at Real-World Investment Scenarios The following examples give you a good idea of how to analyze your own investments. In some cases, you can just substitute your own numbers for the ones given. Other times, you may have to adjust the model to fit your exact situation. But the approach to each situation should be the same because the ultimate goal is to compare different investment scenarios; in order to do this, you have to analyze them under the same rules. Supplementing an existing water heater with a solar system Suppose you use 1,000 kWh of electricity per month. At 15 cents per kWh, your monthly cost is $150. An energy audit determines that water heating comprises 18 percent of your total electric bill, at a cost of $27 per month. Interested in saving money and reducing your carbon footprint, you look into a solar water heating system (one that works with your existing equipment). You do your research and discover that the solar water heating system costs $2,000, including parts and installation. A federal government tax credit of 30 percent is available, for a total of $600, making the net cost of the system $1,400. The system comes with a five-year warranty. Is this a good investment? The following sections take you through various scenarios that are tied to different goals so you can see how to determine the value of the investment in each instance. Goal: To lower your utility payment and save money In considering the solar water heating system, you do the calculations and realize that, using the data presented in the earlier example, it will take 52 months (the $1,400 net cost of the system divided by $27 in monthly savings) to recover your initial investment. The 60-month warranty ensures no maintenance costs in this time frame. However, say you live in the north, where there isn’t as much sunshine and the winters are colder. You might find that your cost savings in this case would be $13.50 per month, or half as much as those of your counterpart in the sunnier, warmer region, and the payback period would be twice as long — 104 months. This isn’t much different than what you’d get if you invested the money with a bank, where the risk would be nil. If you were making your decision solely on cost effectiveness, you’d decide this is a bad investment, and you’d look elsewhere (like maybe at a new gas fireplace).


69Chapter 5: Making Tradeoffs That Work for YouGoal: To reduce your carbon footprintHow much is reducing pollution worth to you? Ten dollars a month? Twenty?How much would you pay to completely eliminate your carbon footprintaltogether? $1,000 a year? This is difficult to estimate, but it gets to the verycore of the issue. It’s a fact that reducing pollution is going to cost everybodymoney; who will pay for it is subject to politics, and beyond the scope of thisbook. But in making everyday decisions, you must answer the question foryourself.Here’s how to proceed. The typical carbon footprint (for a 3-bedroom, 2-bathhome with 2.3 occupants — and don’t ask me how you get 2.3 occupants) isaround 40,000 pounds per year. The typical footprint from a water heater is3,000 pounds per year, or 7.5 percent of the total footprint. If you are willing tospend $1,000 a year on erasing your carbon footprint, you’ll spend 7.5 percentof this on heating water. That’s $75 per year, or $6.25 per month. Add this tothe savings column in the calculations and instead of only $13.50 per month,you’re really saving $19.75. This makes the payback 70 months, which is abetter proposition. If you’re willing to spend $2,000 a year eliminating pollu-tion, your total cost savings will be $26 per month, which leaves you with apayback of 53 months, almost identical to that in the original example. Nowthis is a good investment.Note that if you’re willing to spend $2,000 per year mitigating pollution, youdon’t actually end up spending this amount when you put the solar waterheater in. You only spend 7.5 percent of it. But the rationale remains useful incomparing alternatives, some of which will save more pollution than others.Goal: To offset the higher charges in a tiered rate billing systemIn a tiered rate structure, not all watts are created equal. Your energy usagein kWh is structured into tiers (not unlike income tax brackets), and the ratecharged per kWh increases from one tier to the next. So the more energy youuse, the more you pay. Energy efficiency savings come from the highest tierfirst, and therefore offer the greatest cost savings. Some tiered rate structuresare very punitive, with the highest rates three or four times the base rate.This strongly encourages efficiency investments.If your energy utility uses a tiered rate structure and you put in the solarwater heater, your cost savings can easily be twice as much. Payback istherefore half as long. The solar water heater example offsets 18 percent ofthe household energy use, but in a typical tiered rate system, this accountsfor closer to 35 percent of the total dollar cost in the utility bill.In a tiered rate structure, small- and medium-sized energy efficiency investmentsare more worthwhile — that’s the entire point. As the size of your investmentgrows, the payback gets worse because you get less and less return on yourinvestment. You may still want to make a large investment, if your main goal ispollution mitigation.


70 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch Goal: To hedge against rising energy costs Suppose that energy costs rise 12 percent per year instead of staying flat. If you put in the solar water heater, each year your savings grow. If you save $26 per month the first year, as in the earlier example, the next year your savings will grow to $30.24 per month ($27 × 1.12). Then $33.87 ($30.24 × 1.12), then $37.93, then $42.48, and so on. In this case, the payback is 44 months, down from 52 months. Regardless of how high energy costs go, the amount that you’ll spend on heating water is locked in at zero. This is a form of hedging. Here’s another form, not quite as tangible but still very real: You won’t have to take shorter showers or skimp on that bath, no matter how high energy costs may go. This may be translated into peace of mind. Goal: To increase your home’s value Suppose you’re planning to sell your house five years down the road. If you put in a solar water heating system, at that point in time the savings from the new system will be $48 per month, or $600 per year. A home buyer will pay more for the home when you sell it because of this built-in cost reduction. How much more? The following factors come into play: ߜ A lot of work is involved in installing a new system, and most buyers don’t want to do it themselves. ߜ Most home buyers take out a mortgage, and balancing monthly payments with a fixed income is the game. Energy cost savings of $48 per month translate into $48 that can be spent elsewhere. A buyer could get a larger mortgage, for instance. For $50 a month, after taxes, he may be able to borrow an additional $14,000. Look at it this way: A potential buyer looks at your energy-efficient home and the same home, minus the energy-efficient system, next door. Your home costs them $48 per month less. If you charge $5,000 more for your home, the buyer is still ahead of the game if he is using a mortgage. Giving a ballpark figure for how much appreciation you can expect is impossible. In the best case, you may double your original investment after five years. In the worst case, you may not get anything at all if the equipment is old and obsolete. The most likely case is you’ll get around the same as new equipment costs. Replacing broken equipment Doing nothing is not an option because now you have a broken washing machine, dryer, gas fireplace, you name it. Now you must spend money, and probably a good chunk of it. How much more do you have to spend for a new energy-efficient system? Probably not much. Now is really the time to go for it.


71Chapter 5: Making Tradeoffs That Work for YouFinancing investments with a home equity loanIf you play your cards right, saving more on An interest-only home-equity line of credit at 6energy costs than the payment on a mortgage percent tax-deductible interest for $1,400 is onlyequity loan used to purchase energy-efficiency $8 per month. That’s a net gain of $19 per month,equipment is common. You have no upfront cost making the payback period for this scenario 74when you finance an investment because you months (1,400 / 19 = 74).pay for the investment with the loan proceeds.From day one, you can often save more than At some point the loan must be repaid; mostyou pay. Your cash flow is in the black. likely this will happen when the house is sold or refinanced.Suppose you borrow for the solar water heatingsystem that promises $27 per month in savings.Blowing hot air: A whole-house fanThe investment: a whole-house fan. Equipment costs $350; installation takesthree hours and requires brains, ladders, and decent tools.An energy audit determines that the fan will save $25 per month in air-conditioning (AC) costs over a four-month summer period, while costingonly $10 per month to run. At $60 per year, the payback is around six years.A whole-house fan offers other benefits, too: The house is a lot morecomfortable on the days when it isn’t hot enough to turn the AC on. Andthere are more of these days, so the home is more comfortable most of thesummer. Plus the house smells better because whole-house fans ventilateso well.Investing in a full-scale solar PV systemSay you live in a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house with good roof exposure for solarequipment. Your home is all electric and your average monthly electric billis $260. Energy consumption is 1,600 kWh per month. You had your homeaudited and, through making smaller changes, you decreased the bill 15percent to 1,360 kWh per month, or $221.Now you decide to completely eliminate your electric utility bill and, in theprocess, reduce your home’s carbon footprint to nearly zero. You find a 5kWsystem that will do the job and costs $40,000 — a lot of money, for sure, butyou take into account the following:


72 Part I: Solving the World’s Problems from Your Front Porch ߜ Once the system is in place, a TOU (time of use) rate structure will apply. Plus, you believe you can use 90 percent of your electricity in off-peak, lower-rate hours, and will therefore be selling most of your solar production back to the utility at the top rate. ߜ The warranty on the panels is 20 years, less for some of the other equipment. Reliability is good on the brand chosen, which was not the cheapest. ߜ The state will give a rebate of $10,000 directly to the PV system contractor so it’s not even billed to you, the homeowner. All this brings your total out-of-pocket cost to $30,000. But you also qualify for these credits and deductions: ߜ The feds will give a $2,000 tax credit for the system, bringing the cost down further to only $28,000. ߜ You finance this with a tax-deductible equity loan at $140 per month. This means that you’re immediately saving the difference between the power bill you eliminated ($221) and the cost for the loan. In this case, that’s $141 per month after taxes. From day one, this deal is in the black. Using 7 percent as the energy inflation rate, the payback is 11 years, but this does not account for the fact that the value of the equipment is also rising. With this factor included in the equation, the payback goes down to 7 years. The potential savings in carbon footprint are 13,000 pounds per year.


Part II ReducingInefficiencies throughout Your Home


In this part . . .This part is the bread and butter of the book. Get your grungy clothes on, get out your tool box, and get towork. I show you how to go through your home and makea wide range of efficiency improvements guaranteed topay off in terms of lower utility bills. I show you how touse less water, less electricity, less gas, and less labor. Ialso show you how to make your home more comfortableand save money at the same time. Finally, I tell you thebest ways to recycle.You may want to skip directly to a chapter that most af-fects your own personal situation. Check the table of con-tents or the particular area you want to tackle, and then gofor it. Dummies books are all designed so that you canread from beginning to end, or skip around as you see fit.


Chapter 6 Keeping Your Home Free from ContaminantsIn This Chapterᮣ Steering clear of manmade contaminantsᮣ Detecting carbon monoxide in your homeᮣ Honing in on the hazards of Mother Nature Of course you want to keep your environment clean as efficiently as possible, and the best way to do that is to avoid pollution and toxins in the first place. You can control toxins and contaminants in your home by keeping them out whenever possible and by preventing them from multiply- ing when they do manage to invade. Fortunately, you can do this easily and effectively, but you must be armed with the necessary know-how. In this chapter, I review a number of the most common sources of home problems. I tell you how to detect them and what to do when trouble strikes. Know your enemy and it shall be vanquished.Getting Started with General Guidelines As the other sections in this chapter explain, maintaining a healthy environ- ment encompasses a lot of details, but some general rules are worth knowing for starters, and most of them are easy enough to follow: ߜ Get wise. Find out what kinds of things to avoid. Understand where nasty little critters like to live and breed (carpets, anyone?). Pay attention to things you can’t see with the naked eye. In particular, read the warnings on labels that spell out precisely what the dangers are.


76 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ Ensure proper ventilation. Ventilation is essential to health. Getting it can be tough sometimes, especially in the winter. But you don’t necessarily need to open windows to ventilate your home. Chapter 13 gives you the details. ߜ Store toxic materials away from the living quarters in your home. The best place to keep them is in your garage. Many people store toxins underneath the kitchen sink, but this is asking for trouble. Of course, the best bet is not to store toxic materials at all. Buy small containers and toss the empties out. This may be a little more expensive, but it makes sense, especially if you have kids. ߜ Pay attention to your cleaning products. A surprising number of household cleaners are unhealthy. When possible, use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies. Check out the following sources of green cleaning information and products: • Eco-Source: www.eco-source.com • Household Products Database: www.householdproducts.nlm. nih.gov • Natural Choices, Home Safe Products, LLC: www.oxyboost.com • Seventh Generation: www.seventhgen.com • Sun and Earth, Inc.: www.sunandearth.com Avoiding Some of the Worst Offenders We are surrounded by manmade chemicals, and most of them are quite benign. Pesticides and food additives have helped people tremendously (although insects and molds have a different opinion about this). Humans live longer than ever before, and it’s largely because of the profusion of modern chemicals in our diets and our medications. If you want to know just how prevalent chemicals are, read some food labels. They list things like butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) or butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). The thought of consuming both of these chemicals every single day may make you a little leery, but they’re actually making you healthier. On the other hand, a myriad of hazardous chemicals and contaminants can cause diseases, rashes, coughs, colds, and a long list of other maladies. The trick is to be efficient at sorting out the good from the bad. In this section, I review some of the worst home contaminants, and what to do about them.


77Chapter 6: Keeping Your Home Free from ContaminantsFighting off formaldehydeAround 10 to 20 percent of the population is highly sensitive to formaldehydegas, which evaporates (technically referred to as outgassing) from a widerange of common household materials, such as ߜ Particleboard used as subflooring and in shelving, cabinetry, and furniture ߜ Hardwood plywood paneling and decorative wall coverings ߜ Carpets, draperies, furniture fabrics, and permanent press clothes treated to resist mold and fire ߜ Paints, shellacs, waxes, polishes, oils, and other coating materials ߜ Glues and adhesives ߜ Molded plastics ߜ Insecticides, fumigants, disinfectants, deodorants, germicidal soaps, and embalming fluids ߜ Cosmetics, shampoos, nail hardeners, mouthwashes, and antiperspirants ߜ Household cleaning products ߜ Water heaters and gas ranges ߜ Old mobile homes and prefab-style housesExposure to formaldehyde results in cold-like symptoms: coughing, runnynose, sore throat, fatigue, vomiting, and nosebleeds. It can also causemenstrual disorders, chronic headaches, and periodic memory lapses. To testfor formaldehyde, obtain a simple testing monitor (they cost between $25 and$50; search for “formaldehyde monitor” on the Internet). You leave a vial opento your home’s interior air for a specified period of time, and then cap the vialand send it to a lab. The lab makes the appropriate measurements and thenmails you the results.To avoid formaldehyde: ߜ Paint over old plywood surfaces with a water-based sealant or polyurethane varnish. Old kitchen cabinets are good candidates for repainting, as are old paneling and particleboard. ߜ Check before you buy. You can usually find out how much formaldehyde a produce contains by consulting with the manufacturer, who is required to supply this information. ߜ Keep the air flowing. Formaldehyde is an airborne gas, so good ventilation can alleviate the problem to a great extent. Dangers are more acute in the winter months when homes are closed off.


78 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ If you’re buying composite wood or agrifiber products, get them with no added urea formaldehyde (look on the label, or call the manufacturer). Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) is the name given to a class of carbon- based gaseous contaminants emitted from a wide range of home products: ߜ Solvents used in lacquers, adhesives, waxes, cleaning agents, cosmetics, paints and paint removers, and leather finishes. Common names are benzene, xylene, methyl collosolve, ethyl collosolve, methyl ethyl ketone, and trichloroethylene (TCE). ߜ Phenols found in household disinfectants, antiseptics, perfumes, mouth- washes, polishes, waxes, glues and, ironically, air fresheners. Phenols are also a byproduct of combustion, so they’re more prevalent in winter, when the windows are closed. ߜ Aerosol sprays propelled by propane, butane, and nitrous oxide gases. ߜ Permanent press fabrics, polyesters, and most synthetic materials. ߜ Pesticides, disinfectants, pet collars, and plant food. Pesticides are by far the worst source of contaminants in a home, and the chemicals last for years. Particularly noxious are the chemicals used by pest control companies, which spray heavy concentrations all around the outside of a house and often right inside. These companies have an incentive to make sure that insects don’t appear, and the best way to do this is to use more than enough chemicals. ߜ Electrical equipment containing PCBs. This material is used because it is particularly fire-resistant. The problem is that when it’s exposed to fire, some of it burns off. That’s why whenever an electrical fire involves a utility company transformer, a special unit of the fire department is dispatched with high-tech equipment to protect the firemen. The same sort of contamination occurs in your home. Avoiding VOCs One of the easiest ways to avoid these chemicals is by not bringing them into your home. To do that, read the labels on the materials you buy. By law, manufacturers must list the contents of their products, particularly if potentially noxious chemicals are in the mix. Some prime culprits that you may want to include on your do-not-buy or be-careful-if-you-use list include ߜ Chlorine bleach: A component of most household cleansers. Many people use chlorine all the time without realizing it’s unhealthy. If you must use it, make sure to allow for ventilation.


79Chapter 6: Keeping Your Home Free from Contaminants ߜ Oven cleaners: Particularly bad news as they outgas for a long time. Buy an oven with a built-in cleaning feature, and when you’re using it, make sure the ventilation is adequate. If you do need to clean your oven, use a mixture of baking soda and water and spread it around the dirty spots. Wait until it dries; then wipe it away. ߜ Air fresheners: These don’t freshen air. They fool your nose into think- ing the room is fresher. They don’t remove the odor-causing problem; they simply overwhelm it with superior force. So now your room is com- pletely full of swirling chemicals. Use an air-filter instead, or, better yet, find out what’s causing the stink and get rid of it. Unless, of course, it’s Uncle Albert. ߜ Carpet: Particularly risky, especially if it’s old and dirty. In fact, carpet in general is a bad idea for people who are sensitive to chemical exposures of any kind. ߜ Aerosol sprays: Avoid these like the plague. Most household products that used to come in aerosol cans now come in misters, which are not quite as convenient and fun, but are much better for your family. ߜ Oil-based paints: Use latex paints instead. This makes life easier in a number of ways, in addition to health-wise. ߜ Art supplies: If you love to paint seascapes and gorgeous landscapes, find out what sorts of chemicals you’re breathing. You’re right over the work for extended periods, so even if the chemicals aren’t particularly strong, you’re dosing yourself up more than you would with just about any other hobby you can find. Make sure the area you work in is well ventilated. ߜ Ceramics: Especially ripe for airborne abuses. If you insist on making ceramic artwork, do a lot of research before you partake. ߜ Pesticides: Come on now, do you really need pesticides? Insects are ugly — some have thousands of legs and eyes and furry little tentacles. Many of them can sting and cause other problems, plus they fly around and distract you when you’re watching television. But the fact is, when you use pesticides you’re exposing yourself to the same chemicals that kill the insects. Do you think you’re any more immune to the assault than a bug? In fact, statistical studies have shown that the only differ- ence between you and a bug is that you are bigger, although this may not be true in Florida. ߜ Any product that doesn’t list its contents on the label: Products made outside the United States, for instance. Manufacturers in the United States are required by law to list the contents of their products, but manufacturers elsewhere may not have to follow the same rules.Minimizing the riskDespite your best efforts, chances are you won’t be able to purge your homeof all VOCs. In that case, you need to minimize the risk:


80 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ Ventilation is imperative. Many noxious chemicals evaporate quickly, so exposure is only temporary. Always use glues and solvents in adequate ventilation. If possible, paint outdoors and leave whatever you’re painting there until the paint is very dry. ߜ Store paint, fuel, and pesticides well away from human habitats. Or better yet, don’t store them at all. Buy what you need and no more. Even containers that are sealed can still leak poisons. And admit it; when you seal a paint can and store it, you rarely, if ever, end up using the remainder. Most likely it just sits on the shelf until you move. ߜ Wear protective clothing, safety goggles, and masks with appropriate filters when necessary. Most of the stores where you purchase potentially toxic chemicals carry the appropriate equipment and can advise you accordingly. Work outside whenever possible. ߜ Trust your nose; it’s smarter than your brain. In general, your nose will tell you when something is noxious. Trust your senses, and when in doubt, back off, read the label, open some windows, and start up some fans. You can also do the following: • If you have some item of indoor furniture that has a chemical smell, seal it with polyurethane varnish. • If your clothes smell really strong when you get them back from the cleaners, find a different cleaner.Alternatives to pesticidesTo avoid pesticides, find other solutions. from your home is tough because theyFollowing are some suggestions: create such a nice ambience, so take good care of them and pay attention. I’ve beenߜ Use steel wool to seal holes where insects in homes where the plants were literally come into your home. You can also use crawling away, and the owners didn’t even wood screws to cover holes. have a clue.ߜ Screen off openings and keep your doors ߜ Termiticides are the worst chemicals of all closed. (probably because termites are the worst bugs of all, except for spiders that suspendߜ Get used to the little buggers crawling themselves down from the ceiling right onto around all over the place. your forehead when you’re sleeping). Keep those inviting wood scraps away from yourߜ Traps work well for mice, and you can get house, especially underneath, near the humane ones that don’t even harm the little foundation. Keep firewood away from your beasts. Or you can use the standard type, house. Hire professionals to get rid of the which propel them into the next life lickety termites, and take a vacation while they’re split. at it.ߜ Houseplants are prime culprits for the growth of insect colonies. Banishing plants


81Chapter 6: Keeping Your Home Free from Contaminants ߜ Never eat food while working with chemicals. This just makes the ingestion ten times worse. Also, never eat chemicals while working with food — this is somewhat intuitive. ߜ Never use paint stripper indoors without ventilation. Never. You may just as well drink a gallon of gasoline while playing with matches to accomplish the same end.AsbestosAsbestos has been used to provide heating and acoustical insulation andfireproofing, to strengthen building materials and make them more durable,to enhance the aesthetic value of a product, and even to make it easier toclean. Unfortunately, it’s very toxic.Finding asbestosAround the home, asbestos fibers can be found ߜ In gypsum wallboard, textured paint, joint compounds, and spackling compounds in older homes (pre-1970). ߜ In older homes in insulation used around pipes, as well as in the paper wrapped around the pipe insulation. ߜ In a lot of old appliances, which use asbestos for insulation. In par- ticular, the seals around doors in old wood-burning stoves are almost always made of asbestos. As they get old and crumbly, they’re almost guaranteed to release fibers into the air. ߜ In siding shingles and sheet flooring, especially in older homes. ߜ In some kinds of floor tiles, particularly linoleum, which have asbestos backing. This is not a problem until you decide to remodel and remove the tiles. ߜ Sprayed onto walls and ceilings for both decoration and insulation. ߜ Spun or woven into textiles, blankets, curtains, ropes, and lamp wicks.How can you tell whether you have an asbestos issue? It’s not easy, but ifyou’re suspicious, finding out for sure may be worth the trouble. Consultan expert (look up “asbestos” in the phone book). Or check with the U.S.Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Center for Science in thePublic Interest.


82 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Solving your asbestos problem In the 1970s, asbestos was largely banned due to its correlation with certain types of cancer and other diseases. But fortunately, asbestos is only harmful when the fibers become airborne. Here’s what to do to make sure your asbestos stays grounded: ߜ Simply leave asbestos products alone. In particular, don’t gouge them or tear them apart. It’s the same as with mountain lions: Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. ߜ Cover them. This is often better than tearing them out and installing new materials. For instance, if you have a floor with asbestos, simply install a new floor over that. If you have asbestos siding, install new siding over it or paint it with a sealant type of paint (ask at your paint store; a number of options are available). If you have asbestos insulation on pipes and it’s starting to crumble, wrap it with a new coat of insula- tion and then paint that with latex. You’ll have much better insulation, and you’ll have squelched the problem. Removing asbestos If you have to remove old asbestos products, the best bet is to hire a pro. Find one from a local environmental protection agency. If you do the job yourself: ߜ Dress appropriately. Absolutely get an approved asbestos mask from your hardware store. Wear it more than you think you should. A hat is a good idea, as well as clothes that cover all your skin. Plan on throwing the clothes away when you’re finished. And use rubber gloves — this is a real hassle, as your hands will sweat and you’ll lose most of your sense of touch. Too bad; you just have to suck it up for safety’s sake. Don’t forget your shoes. If you step on asbestos dust and then walk into other parts of your house, you’ll spread contaminants for sure. Dedicate a pair of old, throw-away shoes for the job and take them off when you leave the work area. Once you’re done, throw them away. ߜ Seal off the entire area and make sure it’s well ventilated. Before you do anything with the asbestos, seal the area with a floor-to-ceiling plas- tic tarp and close the area off to other parts of your house. For ventila- tion in the work area, your best bet is to have a fan operating, which refreshes the area with new air as well as carrying the dust-laden air out, where it disperses and doesn’t present a problem. ߜ Dampen the surfaces. Get a good plant mister and spray asbestos surfaces down with water before you work. This prevents most of the fibers from flying up into the air. Add some dish or laundry soap to the water for an even more effective solution. ߜ Don’t tear materials, and do not use a power saw. Use tin snips and be gentle.


83Chapter 6: Keeping Your Home Free from Contaminants ߜ Clean up asbestos dust by using a mop and throwing the mop away when you’re done. An alternative is to use a vacuum with a special asbestos filter. Don’t sweep with a broom. ߜ Store discarded asbestos items in plastic bags and take it to a recycling center. Don’t discard them in your normal trash. You’ll have to pay extra to take it to a recycling center, but you should do it to avoid exposing the sanitation workers to the very materials that you’re so deathly afraid of. Cigarette smoke Cigarette smoke is full of hostile chemicals. If you smoke, you know exactly what you’re doing to yourself and everybody around you, and I am not going to nag like everybody else is doing these days. But consider this new angle (okay, so I’m nagging a little, but not like every- body else): From an efficiency standpoint, smoking is about the worst thing you can possibly do because not only are you introducing health hazards into your home and everywhere else you go, you’re paying a hefty price for cigarettes at the same time. What do you get out of smoking? (Okay, I used to smoke; it was cool, and that first buzz is kind of dreamy. But this doesn’t last long. And then it quickly turns into little more than an addiction.) At the very least, go outside and hide behind the garage or something.Burning Up with Combustion Products If you have a gas-burning furnace, a wood-burning fireplace or stove, a gas cooking stove, or gas water heaters (in other words, any type of combustion device) in your home, you need to take extra precautions. This is also true if you have an attached garage, where exhaust fumes may enter your home. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless gas that’s created by combustion (like carbon dioxide [CO2], its more newsworthy cousin). In a well-designed home, chimneys and vents carry these gases away. CO alarms are simple, inexpensive insurance policies to warn you if CO gas is building up in your home. They cost between $20 and $45, and work essentially the same as a smoke detector: They emit a high, shrill squeal when they detect high levels of the gas.


84 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Buy an alarm, or alarms, that are UL-approved. You can get a digital type that plugs into your home’s electrical outlet system and has a display that tells you what the concentrations are in your home. Even though the level in your home may be low enough for safety, you can see how the levels vary, and many times you can use this information to solve problems before they become extreme. The best locations for CO alarms are near sleeping rooms on each level of your home. Position them away from drafts and solvents, which can inadvertently trigger a response. If an alarm triggers, get everybody out of the house. Call your fire department and tell them what happened; then do what they tell you. Don’t ignore an alarm. Always find out why it went off, and solve the problem. Natural Hazards Unfortunately, manmade chemicals are not the only noxious chemicals you need to contend with in your home. Mother Nature has a few of her own dirty tricks. Slipping through the cracks: Radon Radon can penetrate into a home when uranium is present in nearby soil or rock, thereby introducing radioactivity into your home. Granite, shale, and phosphate bedrock are the prime culprits, as well as gravel derived from these materials. The hazards of radon are the same as with exposure to any radioactive materials. Cancer is the worst. Radon concentrates in basements where leaks through the foundation are common. The EPA did random tests across the entire country and found that up to 25 percent of all homes with basements are susceptible to radon poisons in potentially dangerous levels. Many states require radon tests to be performed when a home changes ownership. The only way to know if a home is contaminated is to test, and a number of inexpensive means are available, the two most common being charcoal detectors and alpha-track devices. ߜ Charcoal detectors: You can find these on the Internet by entering “radon testing” into your browser. You place a charcoal detector in a cool, dry spot in your basement for no more than a week. Then you seal the container and send it to a lab. You need to repeat the test twice to get a good result. The cost is around $10 to $25 apiece.


85Chapter 6: Keeping Your Home Free from Contaminants ߜ Alpha-track devices: These give better results than charcoal detectors, and are recommended if your home fails the charcoal test. A strip of special plastic material is exposed to the air in your basement; then you send the plastic to a lab for analysis. Alpha-track devices require a minimum of four weeks of exposure but cost little more than the charcoal devices.The good news is that, most of the time, radon infiltration can be containedrather easily. Two solutions exist: You can stop it from getting into the house,or you can dilute it once it gets in. When fresh air is imposed into a radon-contaminated region, the levels go down immediately. For ways to restrictradon entry, consult a professional or see Chapter 7 on sealing your home. Youcan also search the Internet for solutions. Enter “radon contamination” intoyour search engine. At the very least, if you have a radon-contaminatedbasement, seal the doorway between the basement and the ground floor ofyour home. This is a good idea in general, as you will also be preventing otherairborne biological agents (keep reading) from entering your living area.Operating in secret: Biological agentsNatural microscopic organisms include bacteria, viruses, fungi, molds,mildews, and mites. Pollen is a collector of spores from seed-bearing plants.All these can be either tracked in on shoes and clothing from the outdoors,or simply fly in on the wings of chance. And all multiply indoors and cancause irritations and illnesses.The greatest source of nutrition for indoor microbes is the three or four gramsof skin that flake off of the average human body once every day. (Did youknow that most of the dust in your home comes from human skin?)Symptoms of sensitivity include the usual retinue of allergic reactions: runnynose, sneezing, watery eyes, sore throat, coughing, and upper respiratorydiscomfort. Hives and rashes are also common. Flu-like symptoms can result,including fever, chills, malaise, muscle aches, and chest tightness.No easy-to-use kits are available to measure for microbe contamination. Ifyour family seems to suffer from any of the above ailments more commonlywhen the house is closed up (and wet or humid), you should do a bit ofinvestigating.The first place to look? Wherever there’s water. Face it, water can be a bigproblem. Especially when left standing or combined with just enough warmthto create an oozy stew. Microbes love damp places. That’s why the biggestfront in your war on biological agents is in the marshes — wherever there’swater. The following list tells you where to look and what to do to fix theproblems you may find:


86 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ Wet carpeting is a virtual breeding ground for all kinds of nasty little crit- ters. If you have carpet in your bathroom, replace it with vinyl or tile, and make sure to seal the joints and edges extremely well. No carpet in the laundry room or kitchen, either. If you have area rugs, wash them in hot water occasionally or take them to the cleaners for thorough cleaning. ߜ Clothes dryers are hot and wet, perfect for microbe propagation. Make sure your dryer is vented well to the outdoors. If you have a leaky washing machine, especially if it’s in your basement and it is perpetually wet underneath, you have a microbe farm. ߜ Clean all drains once a week with a strong disinfectant. Microbes love the filthy, wet environment down in a drain. If you have a drain in the basement that seldom sees water flushed into it, it’s a prime candidate for a science-fiction movie. ߜ Repair all leaks in the roof or plumbing system. Leaks generally result in rotting wood or sheetrock. Not only does this cause contamination, but it also depreciates the value of your home. ߜ Repair leaky faucets. Every drop splashes and humidifies far more than you’d guess. ߜ Wet insulation materials are very fertile. If you have a leak in your roof or siding, you probably have wet insulation, which doesn’t work very well and encourages rot, mold and infestations. ߜ If you have leaks in your grout, you have wet, oozing sheetrock somewhere beneath. You can fix leaks in grout very easily with silicon caulking. The clear stuff matches any decor. ߜ Never allow water to pool, especially in your basement. Find and fix whatever problem is causing the water to pool. ߜ Fix leaky toilets. These are just asking for it. Not to mention the fact that you’re going to pay a lot more than you need to when you have to fix the rotted subflooring. And fuzzy toilet seat covers are simply nuts, if you value your health. (I could make a number of good jokes here, but I better not.) ߜ Install a vent (See Chapter 13) or a window in your bathroom. An enclosed bathroom with no ventilation equals microbe nirvana. You need to let your bathroom dry out thoroughly. Failing a vent or window, use a fan and keep the bathroom door open when not in use. Make sure the joints and cracks are sealed well. Moisture is essential for microbe propagation. Reducing the humidity in your home is always a good idea if your family is sensitive to skin irritations. See Chapter 8 for more details on how to keep the humidity low in your house.


87Chapter 6: Keeping Your Home Free from ContaminantsFinal Decluttering Tips In an efficient home, there’s a place for everything, and everything is in its place. Keeping a home neat and trim is not too different from keeping your body neat and trim. The best results come from cutting down on excess consumption. Here are sundry tips to get you going in the right direction: ߜ Use the sun to clean and sanitize. Put cushions, sheets, rugs, clothes, and so forth out into the hot sun. To find out just how well this works, try putting a sweaty shirt in direct sunlight for a couple of hours. It’ll smell like new. ߜ Use stove vent fans. When grease mixes with dust in the air, it wafts around your kitchen and sticks. Over time, it makes a big mess. ߜ Avoid humidifiers, if possible. They encourage bugs and mildew. ߜ Make sure to keep a good-sized, rough mat at each door. When you come in, shed your shoes; put slippers by the door and change into them. ߜ Keep your plants healthy. Healthy plants clean the air. Fake plants are dust magnets, and they launch colonies. ߜ Seal the garage floor. This makes for a cleaner garage, with less dust buildup that would eventually make it into your home. ߜ Wax wood. Doing so keeps moisture from permeating into the grain and keeps the dust down. ߜ Use a battery-operated vacuum. It’s easy, lightweight, low-power, and you’ll use it more often because it’s less cumbersome. And make sure to change your vacuum cleaner bag. Full bags leak like crazy and waste a lot of energy to boot. ߜ Clean curtains without washing. Curtains don’t need to be washed. Instead, put them in a clothes dryer, turn the setting to no-heat, and tumble the dust out of them in a matter of minutes. ߜ Rent a high-pressure washer for exterior grime and dust. Your entire house, inside and out, will be cleaner.


88 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home


Chapter 7Sealing and Insulating Your HomeIn This Chapterᮣ Locating and putting a lid on air leaksᮣ Dealing with HVAC ductsᮣ Getting the lowdown on insulationᮣ Making the most of windows You probably spend more energy on heating and cooling than you do on all the other energy-consuming functions combined. This means the greatest potential for energy savings lies in finding ways to make your heating and cooling efforts more efficient. In Chapter 8, I get into details about how to make your heating and cooling equipment run better and how to choose better equipment if you’re in the mind-set to invest. But in this chapter, I show you how to seal and insulate your home. Here is where you can find the biggest energy-efficiency improvements for the least amount of cash and labor on your part. Most homes have problems that can be fixed for $100 or less — in fact, sometimes all you need to invest is a little time and labor.Finding Leaks By knowing where to look for heat loss, you can get a pretty good idea of where to find the problem spots in your own home. Table 7-1 lists the energy losses from heating and cooling equipment in a typical North American home. (Note: The first table entry refers to heat escaping or coming in through gaps. The other entries refer to heat moving through solid masses, like doors, walls, and so on.)


90 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your HomeTable 7-1 Energy Loss in a Typical North American HomeProblem Area Percentage of Total Energy LossAir leaks through gaps 35%Through doors and windows 18%Through floors and into basement 17%Through walls 13%Through ceiling 10%Table 7-1 gives you a rough idea of where to look for problems and the orderin which you should look for them. You can perform a leak test (as I describeshortly) to find the biggest and worst offenders: air leaks through holes insheetrock and through hatches or trapdoors that lead into your attic orbasement. The next logical place to look for leaks is in your doors andwindows, and so on down the list.Looking for cracks in your homeYou can find a majority of leaks by simply taking a flashlight around yourhome and looking with a keen eye. Here are some details: ߜ Look at faucets, pipes, electrical wiring, and electric outlets. Cracks often exist around the junctions where pipes fit through foundations and siding. You can fix these with caulk (see the later section “Caulking your way to Nirvana” for advice on caulking). ߜ Check all interfaces between two different building materials. For example, check where brick or siding meets the roof and the foundation. Check where all corners meet and around the molding strips that are commonly used in corners of walls and between walls and floors. And so on. Plug all holes and voids with caulk. Pay attention to where icicles develop. If they cluster around a particu- lar location at your house, you have a leak somewhere above that’s melting snow. It warms, drips down, then refreezes into icicles. These are usually pretty good-sized leaks. ߜ Look for cracks in mortar, foundations, siding, and so on. ߜ Check for cracks and voids around exterior doors and windows. ߜ Check storm windows for seal integrity. The interior window may be well-sealed, but the storm window will work better if it’s also sealed just as well. To work properly, storm windows must fit tightly into the brackets. The way to ensure a tight seal is to check the weather stripping materials commonly fit into the gaps.


91Chapter 7: Sealing and Insulating Your HomeHow heat movesHeat is a form of energy. When a substance remains static while the energy movesgets hotter, the molecules in that substance through it. This is the analogous to billiardare moving faster, with more energy. When a balls, where kinetic energy is transferredsubstance gets cooler, heat is moving out of from one ball to another, without moving theit into other nearby substances. The reason a balls themselves. Heat can move throughhot substance can burn your skin is that heat window glass via conduction. Windowmoves very quickly in some cases. frames are also prone to conduction heat loss (particularly aluminum or metalHeat moves out of your home in the winter and frames), as are metal doors. And metalinto it in the summer — exactly what you don’t pipes are great heat conductors, too.want. That’s why sealing your home is a goodway to improve your energy efficiency. So how ߜ Radiation: A hot object emits infrareddoes heat move from one spot to another? Via radiation, any form of light energy,the mechanisms explained in the following whether visible or not. The sun is a perfectsections. radiator. Fires radiate heat, some of which you can see (a very hot fire glows white, forߜ Convection: In convection, heat is either example, and as it cools down the color transferred between a surface and a changes to orange, and then red) and most moving fluid (be it liquid, gas, or even the air of which is invisible. When you can’t see itself), or it’s transferred by the movement the embers anymore but can still feel the of molecules from one point to another. heat, the radiation is entirely infrared. In As opposed to conduction (see the next fact, there is far more invisible radiation item), the hot molecules themselves move. than visible, but both versions are capable Convection causes hot air to rise while cold of heating. When you put blinds over your air gravitates downward. Most people have windows, you are keeping radiant heat from heard of convection ovens; these work entering your home. On the other hand, by using a fan inside the oven cavity to when you raise the blinds to let in winter move the air and cook food faster. Cold air sunshine, you’re inviting radiant heat. passing over a window removes heat from a home through convection. Wind in general Radiation is more of a problem in the causes a lot of convection loss. But all air is summer, when you want to keep your moving because the molecules are always home cool by keeping sunshine out than in moving, so even air that seems to be still is the winter when you’re trying to retain hot capable of a lot of convection. That’s why air (assuming you live in a climate where convection is the most common culprit of the temperature varies with the seasons). heat loss in your home. In the winter, you generally seek as much radiation heating as you can get.ߜ Conduction: In conduction, only the heat moves, not the molecules. The material


92 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Performing a pressure test to find air leaks You can perform a pressure test on your home in rudimentary fashion. As I state in Chapter 3, you can hire a pro to do an audit that includes a detailed leak test, but you can do an easy one that’s 80 percent as effective. The best time to do this test is when it’s cold outside and warm inside, although it will work under any conditions if you have patience and tenacity. To conduct a leak test, follow these steps: 1. Completely extinguish any fireplace fires. Close the fireplace damper as much as possible. 2. Turn off your HVAC system and any furnaces. If you have a gas water heater, turn that off, too. 3. Close all the windows and doors in your home. Also make sure to close any skylights or vents. 4. Turn on all the exhaust fans in your home. These are normally located in kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms. If you don’t have any exhaust fans, aim a portable fan out a single open window and turn it on. With the fans on, your house is depressurized, so any leaks will be readily apparent. 5. Go around the house with a bowl of water, dip your hand in the water, and move your wet hand around the area you’re testing. You’ll be able to feel a leak, especially if it’s cold outside. Another way to do this is with a stick of incense — when the smoke fluctuates, you’ve found a leak. Or you can use a candle — in this case, flickering of the flame indicates a leak. Test the following areas and make a list of all the areas where you find leaks: • Test your fireplace. If it’s leaky, you’ll be drawing in some stink. If so, turn the fans off and inspect your fireplace to find out why it’s so leaky. If you can, fix it. If not, forge ahead if the smell isn’t too bad. If the smell is really bad, call a fireplace specialist. Fixing air leaks around your fireplace is vitally important. You don’t want to pull in air from your fireplace because it contains a number of pollutants and volatile chemical compounds (see Chapter 6). • Test windows, doors, molding interfaces, attic hatches, basement hatches, and so forth. • Get a ladder or a chair and check for leaks in overhead lights. These are very common, but unfortunately a little more difficult to fix if you don’t have good attic access. • Check AC outlets and switch plates.


93Chapter 7: Sealing and Insulating Your Home 6. After you’ve tested all the areas of your house, turn the fans off, and then fix the leaks. I get into details on how to fix leaks in the section “Fixing the Leaks You Find” later in this chapter, but here’s an important safety tip that bears repeating: If you find a leak in an outlet or switch, flip the main circuit breaker off to turn the electricity off in the entire house before you fix it. You’ll have to reset your clocks, but you’ll be alive to do it, so don’t complain. 7. Once you’ve finished fixing leaks, turn the exhaust fans back on and repeat the wet-hand routine. Your house will be tighter now, and any remaining leaks will be even more obvious. 8. Repeat the whole process until you’re satisfied.Finding attic air leaksAttic air leaks are quite common. Following is a simple pressurization testthat helps you locate air leaks in your attic as well as other air leaks throughyour ceiling: 1. Completely extinguish any fireplace fires. Close the fireplace damper as much as possible. 2. Turn off your HVAC system, any furnaces, and if you have one, your gas water heater. 3. Close all the windows, doors, and any skylights or vents in your home. 4. Position a portable fan so that it aims into the house through an open window. Now your house is pressurized (as opposed to depressurized). 5. Go into the attic with a bowl of water, dip your hand in the water, and then move your hand around potential leak sites. With a wet hand, you’ll be able to easily feel the air pushing through from the inside of your house. Pay particular attention to these areas: • The hatch you climbed through to get to the attic. See the later section, “Weatherstripping,” for details on how to fix this. • Recessed lights in the rooms below. Simply turn the lights on and, from up in the attic space, look to see whether light is visible. If so, you have a leak. You can fix it by buying a special kit at your hardware store that fits over the light from the top and seals the space. • Around chimneys. If your chimney flue is not sealed, you likely have a leak here.


94 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home The good news is that most attic leaks are straightforward, if not easy, to fix. On the down side, most attics are a hassle to move around in, and some are just plain dangerous. If you climb into the attic to check for leaks or to fix things like leaks in your overhead light fixtures, you’ll find out what it’s like to be a human pretzel. Although you may not be able to avoid contorting yourself into all sorts of odd positions, you can take these steps to keep the mess down and make your trek up there more bearable and safe (attics are notoriously cold in winter and hot in summer): ߜ Do it in the morning when it’s cool. ߜ Wear a lightweight, disposable coverall (from the paint department). ߜ Wear a dust mask or particulate respirator. ߜ Wear knee pads, which you can get at any hardware store. ߜ Use a flashlight that clamps around your head and shines down onto your work. ߜ Plan ahead. Stage the job before you try it so you’ll know which tools you need, and take the right tools up with you. ߜ Be careful where you step. Otherwise, you may fall through the ceiling. Fixing the Leaks You Find When your windows are all open, your home is basically a part of Mother Nature’s fantastic domain. When you shut your windows and doors, it’s another matter entirely — unless your house isn’t well sealed. Some windows, for example, let in a lot of air, even when they’re closed. Same with doors. And electrical outlets can leak air as well, just as can the light fixtures in your ceiling. Therefore, you can improve energy efficiency just by closing up these gaps. In this section, I present some valuable tips on how best to fix leaks. There are basically three kinds of fixes: weatherstripping, caulking, and expandable foam. All three have their time and place. When sealing any home, be careful about indoor air pollution and combustion appliance back drafts. Back drafting occurs when the various combustion appli- ances and exhaust fans in a home have to compete for air because there simply isn’t enough to go around. An exhaust fan may pull combustion gases back into the living space, for example, in which case you want to make sure you are ventilating combustion gases into the great outdoors rather than your home’s interior. If your home burns fuel, you can avoid back drafts by making sure that the combustion system has an adequate air supply. (One way to tell whether your home is sealed too tightly is to note whether you get condensation on your windows during the winter. If so, you don’t have adequate ventilation.) Go to Chapter 13 for more information about how to adequately ventilate your home.


95Chapter 7: Sealing and Insulating Your HomeWeatherstrippingWeatherstripping works great around doors and windows and where sealscan’t be made permanent (as with caulking). The trick is to get the right stuff,and the best way to do this is to take a sample of the existing seal (if thereis one) to your local hardware store, where the salespeople will be able tosell you the appropriate new material. Foam and wrapped foam (a layer ofvinyl or plastic wrapped around a foam core) are usually best and cheapest.Whatever weatherstripping you buy, be sure to follow the directions on thelabel. Here are a few other suggestions to make weatherstripping a breeze: ߜ Make sure to measure how much length you need before you buy. And if you end up with too little, don’t stretch the material: It’ll pull back over time and come loose. ߜ If you can, buy a kit to seal a door or window straight from the manufacturer of that door or window. The biggest culprits for air leaks are double-wide sliding doors, and the seals for these usually are best purchased straight from the manufacturers because they’re very specific to a particular style of door. ߜ If you can’t buy the same type of weatherstripping (because it’s no longer available, for example), have no fear. Weatherstripping is pretty versatile stuff. You may need to use your imagination to figure out ways to cut it to fit into strange spaces, in which case you’ll find that a good, sharp box-cutting knife is just the thing. ߜ Sometimes shutting a door or window right after weatherstripping has been applied is difficult, but this usually tapers off in a week or two. If it doesn’t, give it another week or two. If that doesn’t do the trick, get out the ubiquitous box-cutter and hack away. ߜ Most garage doors have a rubber seal on the bottom called an astragal. These are expensive, but in some cases they can make a big difference in your home’s comfort. If your garage is well sealed from the home, you probably don’t have to worry about this seal. But if you get drafts or your garage is perpetually cold, changing the seal may be worth it.Expandable foam sealantExpandable foam sealant is great stuff and horrid stuff, all at once. Via a long,straw-like wand, you squirt a yellowish foamy liquid into tight spots wherethere are air and insulation gaps. The foam expands and fills in the gap, andthen it dries, hardens, and solidifies. Very effective. The problem is thatexpandable foam sealant sticks to everything, and nothing works very well toget it off. So a bit of a mess can easily turn into a big mess, accompanied bya lot of swearing and remorse (two things you want to avoid in the name ofefficiency).


96 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home If you’re going to use an expandable foam sealant, practice first out in your garage, a barn, or an outbuilding before you try to fix anything inside your house. You’ll quickly figure out how to work with it and how not to work, and you can also get the swearing part out of the way, which is especially wise if you have kids around. Foam sealant works best for: ߜ Leaks between jambs and wood: Remove the trim molding from around leaking windows and doors, and you’ll often find an air gap between the jamb and the frame wood. Squirt foam sealant in the gaps, wait until it dries, cut off the excess with a sharp knife, and then replace the trim molding. Many old houses benefit greatly from this simple, cheap fix. ߜ Plumbing feed-throughs: Squirt foam in the gaps around plumbing feed- throughs (where the plumbing goes through exterior walls to the outside world). ߜ Plumbing vent pipes: Squirt foam around plumbing vent pipes that pass through your attic. ߜ Small gaps in insulation: Squirt foam into any small gaps in insulation to stop air leaks. In general, if you can, use foam sealant instead of caulking because it pro- vides both a seal and insulation. Caulking your way to Nirvana Caulking is fun. Squirting beads of thick, sticky goo just seems to resonate with the human spirit. So get out your caulking gun, because caulk can be used in a lot of places: ߜ Around all exterior joints that may be in contact with water. ߜ Around doors, windows, decks, frames, and anywhere wind can push water in. ߜ On horizontal surfaces where water may pool and seep in over time. ߜ Wherever you think water can’t get in (because it can, and it will). ߜ Around your teenager’s bedroom door (because heaven knows the trouble a teen can get into when out of your sight). ߜ When in doubt, caulk. Why not? As fun as caulking may be, you still need to know a few fundamentals to make the job easier. I explain these in the following sections.


97Chapter 7: Sealing and Insulating Your HomeGetting the right toolsBuy a good caulking gun. A pro-style gun may cost $20, but it’s worth it,especially if you’re doing a lot of caulking. Look for larger handles, a smoothratcheting action, pressure relief, and a hook on the end to hang on ladderrungs or rafters. An attached wire that pokes a hole in the tube’s seal isespecially convenient.Use good-quality caulk. Three types are available: ߜ Acrylic (latex): Water-based and by far the most common. It skins over (dries on the surface) almost immediately, so you can paint it within minutes of applying (with latex paint, not oil-based). ߜ Silicon acrylic: More flexible (and expensive). Use this type if you’re caulking between two surfaces that may expand and contract with weather. Make sure to get the kind that you can paint, if that’s what you intend to do. ߜ Polyurethane: Performs better than latex but is much more difficult to work with and clean up. Use it between concrete, masonry, bricks, or on a surface that’s been painted by oil-based paints or varnish. Because it has better adhesion, you may also want to use it on surfaces, such as on roof lines, where a leak could be potentially costly.All caulk is rated by years, but don’t use the amount of time you want it to lastas a guide; instead, buy the best stuff you can afford. Fifty-year caulk worksbetter than 20-year over the course of its entire lifetime. If you must use thecheap stuff, use it where nobody will ever see it and where you need to simplybuild up mass to fill a space or void.Applying the caulkThe key to success is in the application. The idea is not to squirt as muchmaterial into a joint as possible, but to lay a nice smooth bead across a joint.Follow these steps: 1. Prepare the base by cleaning the surface to be caulked. Dig out any old caulk with a putty knife or a 5-in-1 tool (you can get these at a hardware store; ask the clerk in the paint department). If possible, work some paint primer (latex) into the groove where you’re going to squirt caulk. However, if you’re caulking surfaces such as concrete, brick, or any other masonries, use “self-priming” caulk instead. 2. Run a smooth ribbon of caulk along the joint you want to seal. Try to avoid laying down thick blobs of caulk, which tend to crack when they dry. 3. Run your finger along the caulk and press it gently down and into the joint; then wipe away the excess with a damp cloth. Don’t use paper towels because they tear and fray, and watch out for sharp little shards of paint or cracked materials that can cut your fingers.


98 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Here are some suggestions for getting a nice, smooth bead: ߜ If you’re a first-time caulker, practice in a place where mistakes can be tolerated. ߜ Cut the caulk tube ends at an angle to get a better beading action. You can also cut the tube ends of several tubes to squirt out different diameters of material, and then use the diameter which best suits the particular joint you’re working on. ߜ Don’t squirt a bunch of caulk into a wide gap because it simply won’t stick in there when it dries (caulk inevitably shrinks and cracks when it dries). Use foam backer rods (ask for these in your hardware store), which you can jam into wide gaps between materials. Then caulk over the backer rods. ߜ You can use painters’ masking tape to block off surfaces you don’t want to get any caulk on, as well as to make nice, crisp, even lines. ߜ To get into hard-to-reach corners and tight spots, tape a flexible drinking straw onto the tip of your caulking gun. Inspecting and Repairing HVAC Ducts Most of the HVAC ducts in your home send heated or cooled air into the house; one large duct is the return to the HVAC machine itself. All these ducts need to be tightly sealed. Yet in almost every home I’ve been in, especially older ones, the HVAC duct system has some big problems: shredded insulation, broken junctions, holes chewed through insulation and ducts by rats and mice, and so on. Leaks in the ductwork are worse than air leaks in your house because the ducts are pressurized, which magnifies the amount of air escaping through cracks and openings. Fortunately, duct problems are usually easy to find and fix (although gaining access may be tricky). It’s amazing how many problems you can find with just a flashlight and a quick glance. You can also turn the HVAC on, so that the ducts are pressurized, and find leaks with a wet hand (refer to the earlier section “Performing a pressure test to find leaks” for instructions). Follow these bits of advice: ߜ If the ducts aren’t well insulated, you can get a number of different kinds of insulation sealing kits at hardware stores to do the job. Tell your hardware clerk what kind of ducts you have (what they’re made of, how they’re suspended, and so on) and he’ll help you find the right kit. ߜ If the insulation around the ducts has any rips or tears, fix it. For this, duct tape works well but may be a real hassle. Once again, ask your hardware clerk what will work best.


99Chapter 7: Sealing and Insulating Your Home ߜ If the insulation is thin, you may want to build it up. You can add a new layer directly over the old. ߜ Many leaks occur at the junction between the ducts and the registers that feed the air into your home. You can seal these with caulk. When working with dusty ducts, wearing a good-quality dust mask is highly recommended. You can get one at your hardware store. Duct tape works wonders, but it doesn’t stick to dusty surfaces very well. If you’ve got a dust problem, wrap the duct tape around and around and just cover up the dust. It’s easier than trying to clean it off.Insulating Your Home (Not Insulting It) The previous sections in this chapter deal with things that are responsible for convection losses, where warm (or cool) air escapes from your home. The other way to experience unwanted heat loss is through conduction, and that’s where insulation comes into play. A well insulated house is comfortable and efficient, with just enough moisture in the air. If your insulation is less than three inches thick, it’s probably worth spending money to increase the R-value. If your insulation is over three inches, you should probably spend your money on some other efficiency improvement. Capacity to resist heat flow is called R-value. County building codes have minimum R-values for homes, and you can check with them to find out what’s right for your area. You can also get more information on insulation levels from your local utility, who may come out and do a home energy audit for you and check your insulation so that you don’t have to (they’ll usually do these audits for free, and they know what they’re doing). Insulation is generally an expensive fix that you should address only after you’ve taken care of air leaks. So if you haven’t tested your house for air leaks, refer to the earlier sections “Finding Air Leaks” and “Fixing the Leaks Your Find”; then come back to this section. Types of insulation There are dozens of different types of insulation schemes, but for most homes only a few are practical. The vast majority of homes use fiberglass insulation, and most people have a good idea of what this stuff looks like (cotton candy). In a distant second comes foam board, a type of insulation that is generally used when a home is being constructed. If you’re remodeling or improving existing insulation, you’ll probably use some form of fiberglass.


100 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home The best bet is to discuss your plans with the salespeople at your favorite hardware store and ask them what type of insulation is best for your application. Owens Corning is the leading manufacturer of insulation. Visit its Web site at www.owenscorning.com to determine the number of square feet of material you’ll need to insulate an attic or a wall in your home. Also check out www. certainteed.com. The following sections describe the most common types of insulation, along with the pros and cons of each. Fiberglass Fiberglass, which is made of glass fibers, comes in at an R-rating of R-3 to 3.8 per inch (thickness). Fiberglass is by far the most common type of insulation, and it is what you should use if you can. It’s readily available and comes in spun rolls which you can easily cut and lay into place. ߜ Pros: It’s low-cost, easy to install (once you get the hang of cutting and placing it into the gaps), and can be pressed into place without the use of glues or chemicals. It comes in standard widths and is available with kraft paper backing, which also provides a moisture seal. ߜ Cons: It’s very irritating to your skin and lungs and is susceptible to air gaps. When you get big plastic bags full of it, and cut the plastic packaging off, it expands to three or four times the size and is difficult to move around and place. Loose-fill insulation Loose fill insulation is chopped fiberglass material that is “blown” into place, as opposed to cut and fitted. It comes in at an R-rating of R-2.2 to R-4 per inch. ߜ Pros: It’s low-cost and gives much better coverage in irregular spaces where the one-piece fiberglass format doesn’t fit well. It can be poured or blown into walls and odd spaces, which makes working with it much easier than fiberglass. ߜ Cons: It’s messy, and the quality varies even within the same lot. It can shift or settle over time so that gaps may grow rather large. You can’t use it for under floors without a complex web of nets, which are not worth the hassle. Depending on the size of the job, you may need to rent a special blower. Extruded foam insulation Extruded foam insulation is solid, rigid material made of the same type of foam as a drinking cup. It comes in flat sheets, with an R-rating around R-5.2 per inch.


101Chapter 7: Sealing and Insulating Your Home ߜ Pros: It’s high-strength, easy to tack up, covers well, and works underground and in wet basements. It’s good for covering a house, then tacking up siding over it. ߜ Cons: It’s very expensive and needs to be covered up with siding.Sprayed urethane foamSprayed urethane foam is held in a metal container, under pressure, and thenforce sprayed onto walls where it sticks. It comes in at an R-value betweenR-6 and R-7.3 per inch. ߜ Pros: It forms a tough, seamless barrier that seals well over all types of surfaces, especially irregular ones. ߜ Cons: It must be professionally installed, and it needs to be covered up.Checking and fixing yourhome’s insulationVisually check insulation wherever you can. Most gaps will be readily evident.Also look for spots where water has damaged insulation or spots where theinsulation is very thin. Small problems, like gaps or voids in your insulation,usually occur around light fixtures and where somebody (like an electricianor plumber) has been working and pushed it aside. You can fix these voids byhand tucking some loose insulation into the gaps.If you find your insulation wholly inadequate, you’ve got a big decision onyour hands. Putting in new insulation is expensive — the payback time isgoing to be way out there. But if you don’t, you’ll continue to waste money andleave a big carbon footprint.If you’re on a limited budget and want to make the biggest difference for theleast cost, insulate your family room (or the room you spend the most timein) first. In particular, if you don’t have any insulation under your family roomfloor, adding insulation there is usually easy to do and doesn’t cost that much.You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck.The following sections outline the different areas to check and explain how toremedy the problems you may find.AtticInsulation makes the most difference in the attic simply because heat rises. Ifno heat can leak out of your home through the attic, your home will be verywell sealed.


102 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home The easiest thing to do is have the insulation in the attic thickened. You can do this yourself (use a dust mask at all times), or you can find a company to come in and spray loose fill insulation. Unfortunately, when the insulation in your attic is substandard, it’s most likely also substandard in the walls. See the next section. Completely seal up the attic for air leaks from the home before you apply insulation because once the insulation is in place, taking care of attic leaks is much more difficult. Walls Substandard insulation in your walls is not as easy to remedy as substandard insulation in your attic. The best bet may be to simply put new siding on the outside of your house. You can get good-looking siding with great insulation properties, and at least when you spend money like this, you can accomplish a visual remodel as well. Basement If you have a basement, check to see whether the ceiling is insulated. If not, putting insulation in is a relatively easy job, probably even easier than working in your attic. If you need to insulate a basement, it’s usually best to use foam sheets and then cover them with sheetrock. You can either glue the sheets directly onto the concrete basement walls, or build a wall up with 2 × 4s, which will make the room smaller.Insulating old homesIn some old homes, it pays to blow loose fill to go ahead, you’ll need to rent a blower, whichinsulation into the walls. Normally this works will come with detailed instructions. You’ll needwhen the existing insulation is so poor that air to cut a number of two- or three-inch-diametergaps are more common than insulation. Sound holes through your exterior siding so that theabsurd? It’s a lot more common than you think. blower head can get into each individual cavitySome homes have no insulation at all, like the between the beams.old homes back east. Energy was so cheap (ah,the good old days) that insulation was not cost- A better way may be to simply cover your homeeffective. with insulation sheets, and then cover that with new siding. This way, not only do you get theHaving a pro do an energy audit of your home to added insulation, but your home also gets aget a second opinion is a good idea. If you decide nice facelift.


103Chapter 7: Sealing and Insulating Your HomePipesHot water pipes should be well insulated. It’s easy to see when they’re not.You can also feel the pipes (after you’ve turned the hot water on in the housefor a minute or two) to determine which pipes are for hot water and whichones are for cold. A number of easy options work well for insulating pipes,the easiest being a three-foot-long foam section with a longitudinal slit. Yousimply slide the piece over the pipe, and you’re in business. Ask about youroptions at the hardware store.Tips for applying insulationPutting in insulation isn’t particularly difficult, but it can go more easily if youkeep a few things in mind. ߜ With fiberglass insulation, wear a one-piece jumpsuit, along with a face mask and gloves, and make sure ventilation is adequate before you begin. You don’t want to breathe a lot of fiberglass dust, and you don’t want to get it on your skin because you’ll be scratching up a storm. Also, in old attics, the dust that collects on insulation can be very nasty. Try not to disturb it, if possible. ߜ Fiberglass insulation is itchy. Some versions come with plastic covers to reduce the risk of itch – if you’re really sensitive, look for these. ߜ Apply insulation carefully and evenly. Fill entire cavities, but be careful not to cover up vents or other means for attics and basements to breathe. ߜ When you come across electrical wires, arrange half of the insulation in front of them, and half behind. You will have to tear the insulation open, but this works much better than leaving big air gaps without any material at all. If you leave a gap unfilled, you’re wasting money. Filling only 80 percent of a cavity prevents only 20 percent of the heat loss. ߜ Always buy the right width and thickness to fill spaces. You don’t want to piece insulation together to fit a space if you don’t have to, because you risk creating air gaps. Still, you can press fiberglass insulation tight into narrow gaps and cracks, and it will perform better than nothing at all even though it’s compressed a bit. (Using expandable foam is best, but this may not always be practical, and it’s not worth a lot of extra hassle.) Compressing insulation reduces its R-value. When you squeeze it down to make it fit into gaps, you’re accomplishing the opposite of what you intend. You’re actually reducing the effectiveness of the insulation. So press it down only when necessary.


104 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home You can get one-piece seals for plugs and switch outlets for about $4 a dozen at your hardware store. Simply remove the plastic cover, set a seal into place, and replace the cover. ߜ If you have moisture problems in your home, you may want vapor barrier facing on the insulation (it comes prefaced on some versions, so look for that type when you buy). It doesn’t cost much more, and it makes the insulation easier to work with to boot. Use hedge shears to cut insulation, not a knife. Working with Windows Of all the investments you can make in your home, windows have the potential to make the most impact. Not only do they provide insulation (and sealing), but they also affect the aesthetic ambient like nothing else in your home. But installing new windows is very expensive, maybe one of the most expensive projects you’ll ever take on. A typical residential window costs anywhere from $150 to $400, plus another $100 to $300 for professional installation. And you can easily spend a lot more than this. If you have very poor insulation in your home and you’re looking for the biggest bang for your buck, you’re better off improving the insulation before buying new windows. See the earlier section “Insulating Your Home (Not Insulting It)” for details on insulation. Do you really need to replace your windows? Answer these questions: ߜ Are your windows single pane? This may not matter, or it may be a huge factor in your energy bill. With homes in mild climates, the number of panes doesn’t matter much. However, if you’re living in extreme climates, single pane windows are almost always worth upgrading. Besides, single pane windows are always old, and you can buy some- thing better looking. ߜ Are your windows old? Old windows can be especially problematic. If they’re difficult to maneuver, you’re less apt to open and close them, and you lose out on some of the ventilation tricks I detail in Chapter 13. Simple, inexpensive solutions for problem windows If you have substandard windows (basically, any windows you don’t like or aren’t performing well for you), you can always use blinds to help solve the


105Chapter 7: Sealing and Insulating Your Homeproblem. In this way, you also get a nice aesthetic effect as well. See Chapter12 for more details on how to use sunlight to warm up a room.You don’t need to change all the windows in your house to make a significantimprovement. One single, large window in a family or living room may makea big difference in both energy efficiency and aesthetic beauty. Or maybe acouple rooms’ worth of windows, like the breakfast nook, the living room, andthe family room, will do the trick. You can also put up heat-sealing clothbarriers in the summer or storm windows in the winter, and both of thesesolutions are much cheaper than changing windows.Replacing windowsBefore you replace windows, take your time researching all the options. Visitsome window stores and check out the different types, like wood, plastic,fiber, and so forth (you’ll probably be confounded by the variety), and get anumber of bids. In particular, pay attention to the following: ߜ Glass: Ask about different types. Some glass selectively filters sunlight for UV; some has low-E coating and argon gas between panes. ߜ Appearance: Does the style blend in well with your existing home decor? Do the colors match your home, or are you going to be painting? You can get windows that require paint so that they’ll match anything, but you don’t want to because every five years you’ll have a big, tedious job. (Painting windows is very time-consuming. You can’t just roller — or even spray — it on). ߜ Cleaning: Are they easy to maneuver so that you can clean them? A lot of new window designs enable you to clean from the inside. This is par- ticularly handy for second-story windows. ߜ Operation: Are the windows smooth and easy to open and close? It pays to invest in quality bearings and movements. No one wants to have to remember a complicated schematic just to let in a little summer breeze. ߜ Maintenance: Where are you going to get parts when you need them? ߜ Warranties: The seal between double-pane glass inevitably gives out, so make sure you understand who is going to pay for this expensive repair.


106 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home


Chapter 8 Getting the Most Out of Your Heating and Air-Conditioning SystemIn This Chapterᮣ Seeing what contributes to your comfortᮣ Reducing your energy requirements the easy, cheap wayᮣ Getting the most out of your existing systemᮣ Determining when it’s time to get new equipment Most homes have both heating and cooling systems. Together, these account for a large portion of your total energy use. (To find out just how much of your energy consumption is devoted to heating and cooling your home, do a home energy audit. Refer to Chapter 3 for details.) In Chapter 7, I show how to seal and insulate your house so that when you turn on your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, you can maintain a comfortable environment with less energy. In this chapter, I give you general advice about how to use your equipment more efficiently. Note: This chapter doesn’t present specific details on how to tune up your existing equipment for several reasons: ߜ Far too many different types of systems are available — so many that this book doesn’t have enough room to include even the most common ones. ߜ Many adjustments involve quite a bit of technology and require the expertise of a pro. ߜ Combustion systems are inherently dangerous, and you don’t want to mess around with them. Call a pro instead.


108 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Understanding Human Comfort Human comfort is not simply determined by room temperature, but by a variety of other factors as well, such as air movement, humidity level, and so on. Yet most people still erroneously think that the best way to make a room more livable is to set the desired room temperature on the thermostat. You can do much better than this, of course, if you’re willing to learn some tricks and change a few habits. This section explains the factors that affect how comfortable a room feels and offers a few pointers on how to exploit these factors so that you can use your HVAC less frequently and still maintain — or even enhance — the comfort level in your home. Getting air moving In the summer, people like the feel of air moving over their skin. Just the phrase “summer breeze” generates a cool sensation. Even a warm breeze on a hot day can cool things down. That’s because it’s not air temperature that’s important, but the actual temperature of your skin. Moving air removes heat, so skin temperature goes down. Essentially, a breeze cools you by convec- tion (see Chapter 7). Fans move air and, in the process, cool you down. They don’t change the air temperature (if anything, they make the air hotter), but their effect is still pronounced. Fans, like breezes, cool by convection. You can make a room more comfortable just by installing fans to improve the ventilation (see Chapter 13 for details). Don’t use fans when no humans are present, because all fans do then is heat up the air. Fans do not cool a room; they just make the people in it feel cooler — there’s a difference. Helping or hindering: Humidity On humid days, people feel much hotter than they do on less humid days, even if the temperature is the same on both days. Why? Because humid air doesn’t carry heat away from your skin nearly as well as dry air does. For this reason, equipping your home with a dehumidifier that you use in the summer can make the air feel much cooler. As an added bonus — and one that’s particularly relevant to this book — dehumidifiers are much cheaper to operate than air conditioners, so they save money. Conversely, in the winter you want humid air because your skin can draw heat more readily from it than from dry air. In the winter, people don’t want to feel moving air from fans because that removes heat.


109Chapter 8: Getting the Most Out of Your Heating and Air-Conditioning SystemThe lowdown on portable heatersPortable heaters are heaters you can move purpose (to generate warmth) and their designaround to wherever you like. You see them (the inclusion of the fan, which cools you down).underneath people’s desks at work whenthe boss is a miser. If your HVAC system isn’t The best bet is to use a radiative type of heater,working consistently from room to room, a which uses parabolic reflectors with a heatingportable heater may be just the thing. element at the focal point, or something akin to this. These heaters spread heat by radiatingBut here’s what’s quirky about most of them: it rather than by convection, which is the wayThey come with fans that move air over a a portable heater with a fan works. Radiationresistance coil. If the fan wasn’t moving the air, heaters are also more efficient, and they feelthe coil would get really, truly hot and probably more natural because they’re supplying heatburn up, which is clearly not something you the same way the sun does; through radiation.want in your home (unless you want to collecton your fire insurance). The fan also tends to Remember, though: Either type of heater is dan-make you feel a lot cooler. So with traditional gerous if used incorrectly, and in no case shouldportable heaters, a conflict exists between their a portable heater be used around children.Sweating is your body’s way of eliminating heat and cooling itself down. Manypeople think the evaporation of sweat is the key, but that’s only a small partof it. The truth is, water holds much more heat than air does; sweating is yourbody’s way of expelling this hot water. In other words, the sweat itself coolsyou down — if you can get it off your body (otherwise, sweating just movesthe hot water from in you to on you). That’s where evaporation comes in andwhy humid days feel hotter than dry ones. When it’s humid, the air is alreadyfull of water and simply can’t hold any more, so sweat doesn’t evaporate. Itjust hangs around, making you feel sticky and hot. Contrary to the way it mayfeel, you don’t actually sweat more on humid days.The following sections tell you how to keep humidity levels comfortablethroughout the year.In the summerUse a dehumidifier in the summer. Keep the filter clean and try placing it indifferent rooms to get the maximum effect. The best bet is to place it in yourfamily room (or wherever your family congregates the most). Other things tokeep in mind include: ߜ Clothes dryers absolutely must be vented to the outside world. This is the single biggest source of humidity in a home. If you use a clothesline to dry things (like delicate garments) and you can’t put it outdoors for some reason, put it in the garage, not inside the house.


110 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ Install exhaust fans vented to the outside in all bathrooms, the kitchen, and the laundry room. Use them when you’re showering or cooking to get rid of humidity in the summer. You can even install a humidistat to turn the vent fans on when humidity levels exceed a certain threshold. When you use a vent fan with the whole-house air conditioner on, crack a window near the vent fan. The fan will draw its air from that location instead of the cool air from the house. ߜ Don’t put carpet in the bathrooms. It sucks up moisture and then releases it all day long, producing a musty smell through the entire house — which may be a good thing if you want fewer houseguests. ߜ Don’t allow water to pool in your basement. Use a sump pump or find another way to get rid of it. ߜ Ventilate your attic and basement. This lets fresh air in and reduces humidity. In the winter Use a humidifier in the winter. This lets you decrease the load on your heat- ing system (you don’t need to turn the heat on nearly as much to maintain comfort levels). You can make a humidifier by simply hanging clothes to dry in your bathroom (keep the door open). In the winter, don’t use vent fans in the kitchen. You want both the humidity and the heat that you generate when you cook. Capitalizing on the chimney effect Heat rises. That’s why your house doesn’t fill with smoke when you’re burn- ing wood in the fireplace. When a fire is burning in your fireplace, cool air from the room is drawn in and the oxygen combines with the biomass in the firewood to create a flame. The heat from the flame moves up into the flue and out the chimney (unless something is preventing it, like a home that is too tightly sealed or a closed damper). Hence, the term chimney effect. In the same way, hot air rises within the confines of a single room. The tem- perature of the air near the ceiling is always higher than that at the floor. If you live in a two-story house, you may notice that the upstairs gets hotter than the downstairs — that’s due to the chimney effect. Heat rising is a passive effect; you don’t need a fan to make this air move. Passive effects are the absolute best when you’re looking to maximize effi- ciency because they’re essentially free. To take advantage of them, you just need to exploit physics. So how do you take advantage of the chimney effect? In any of these ways:


111Chapter 8: Getting the Most Out of Your Heating and Air-Conditioning System ߜ Install ceiling fans. Depending on whether the blades push air up or down, ceiling fans can move heat either up into the ceiling, thereby making the ground level cooler, or move heat down (in the winter). By using them to move the air in a room around, you can maximize the comfort level (see Chapter 13 for more details on fans and ventilation). ߜ Adjust your registers. During the winter, adjust the registers in your home so that much more heat enters the downstairs than the upstairs. Due to the chimney effect, the home will even out very nicely. During the summer, do just the opposite: Open the upstairs registers and let the majority of cool air enter there. Over the course of the day it will gravitate down to the lower floors. Going for the greenhouse effect Why does a greenhouse get so hot when the sun is shining? The answer is found in the greenhouse effect. Essentially, sunlight transmits through the greenhouse’s glass walls and is converted into heat on the interior surfaces of the greenhouse. The same glass that transmitted the radiation into the greenhouse now serves to insulate that heat from getting back out into the great outdoors. The same effect causes cars to get hot when they’re sitting in harsh summertime sunshine. To take advantage of the greenhouse affect, follow these suggestions: ߜ Open all your blinds when you want to heat your home and the sun is shining. Blinds prevent sunlight from entering, so you can’t exploit the greenhouse effect when they’re drawn. ߜ Blinds work very well for insulating, so close them whenever you need to retain heat or cool air. In general, closing your blinds at night is always a good idea. Close them on cold winter days, when the sun is dull, to make your heater work more efficiently (by increasing the insulation of your home). Making more small changes for even bigger benefits One of the best ways to reduce your energy costs is with a programmable thermostat. This is a great do-it-yourself project, and it costs less than $100, in most cases. Find a unit compatible with the equipment you have in your house. Consult your owner’s manual to find out what types are compatible, call a heating and air specialist, or ask at your hardware store. Make sure to get one with easy-to-understand instructions. Avoid thermostats that seem complex to operate because that’s an indicator that the design just isn’t a good one.


112 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Available options on programmable thermostats include the following: ߜ A reminder when it’s time to change the filter ߜ The ability to automatically change programs between heating and cooling seasons ߜ A low-battery indicator You can get as complex as you want, but in my book simplicity is always a premium. Most homes don’t need every room to be maintained at the same temperature. In general, rooms where you don’t spend a lot of time or that tend to warm up or cool down quickly (because of size or design) are good candidates for blocking off. Bathrooms, for example, don’t need HVAC very much at all, nor do laundry rooms. The following list shares advice on how to vary the tem- perature of different rooms: ߜ To block off rooms, close the registers and the door. You can further seal the room off from the rest of the house by laying an old towel across the threshold at the bottom of the door. (Note, however, that the thermostat that controls your system needs to be in a room that isn’t blocked off!) ߜ Use window air conditioners to cool rooms individually. A portable air conditioner is much cheaper to run than a big, whole-house unit. Perhaps you only need to cool your family room or a single bedroom upstairs so that your sleep will be more comfortable. ߜ You can easily heat a single room using portable heaters. If you set up a couple portable heaters in your family room, for example, you may not need to turn your whole-house system on at all. Here are a couple other ways you can reduce your energy costs while maxi- mizing your comfort: ߜ Use your grill more. If possible, do all your summertime cooking outdoors. Gas barbecues are the most efficient and convenient, which may motivate you to cook outdoors more often. ߜ Adjust the lighting. The human mind is subliminally sensitive to certain sensory effects, one of which is lighting tone. A harshly lit room (bright, silver, or yellow light) makes people feel hotter. A shady, dull room makes people feel cooler. Candlelight makes people feel warmer. And so on. I get into more lighting details in Chapter 9.


113Chapter 8: Getting the Most Out of Your Heating and Air-Conditioning SystemSolving Some of the Most CommonInefficiency Problems In order for any system to be efficient, it needs to be running well and smoothly. Sometimes, though, problems creep up that can decrease the performance of the system. This is certainly true of HVAC systems. If your existing HVAC equipment isn’t working the way you think it should, here are some of the most common problems that you can solve yourself. If you have a combustion system, I recommend you have an HVAC pro inspect and tune your equipment every few years. It pays, believe me, as these systems are prone to carbon buildups and other soot issues that can drastically affect their performance. Heat pumps can work nicely for a decade without being serviced, as can solar water heaters, space heaters, and so on.Window air conditioners for a single roomIf you’re buying a window air conditioner, get Fortunately, you can easily do the maintenanceone with a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating yourself:(SEER) between 10 and 17. The higher the rating,the more efficient the air conditioner is. Check ߜ Clean the fins, evaporator coil, fan,with your utility company to see whether they condenser fins, and tubes. Be sure to unplugoffer rebates for units with high SEER numbers. it first, and don’t make a big mess. You canThey may have a list of recommended units you use a jet spray to clean out the fins.can get at a discount. ߜ Air conditioners also have filters thatYou can also buy a stand-alone unit that sits on get clogged. You can replace thesewheels and move it around your home as you inexpensively, or you may be able tosee fit. You can use it in the family room during vacuum the dust and debris from the filterthe evening hours, and then push it into your material.bedroom when you sleep. ߜ Buy a cheap fan comb to straighten bentWhen you install your air conditioner, put it in fins. Using the comb to straighten the finsthe shade. The cooler it is, the more efficiently out can make a big difference in the unit’sit will run. efficiency.


114 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Restoring air flow To work at their peak efficiency, HVACs need adequate air flow. That means that the filters must be clean, and the airflow path must be unobstructed. When air flow is obstructed, the machine basically uses up the same amount of power but does less work for that power, and so it has to be on longer to get the same job done. You waste energy, and your house is noisier to boot. Following are some of the most common problems impeding air flow: ߜ Blockage in the air ducts: Construction debris sometimes falls into the ducts, as do kids’ toys, carpet segments or pads, and so on. Small items are easy to remove (perhaps with the help of a small hand — the same one that’s responsible for that Barbie doll being in there in the first place). Larger items can be more of a problem; you may need to pull the duct from the register either from underneath the floor, or from the other side of the wall. ߜ Blocked registers: Something may be sitting over a register, like curtains, drapes, furniture, or decorations. You may not even realize that the register is closed off. Or maybe the air is flowing freely, but it’s headed in the wrong direction. You may be able to add a plastic reflector to aim the air better into the living quarters. ߜ Loose joints: To repair joints, use aluminum tape rather than duct tape. Wear a face mask to protect you from the dust, or you’ll be sorry about an hour later. ߜ Dirty coils, fins, and filters: You can take the outer cover off of your condenser unit and jet spray the fins to remove debris and crud buildup. If you’re still not sure whether enough air is passing through, get your system inspected. ߜ A blocked return air path. A forced-air system can’t heat a closed- off room. You must crack the door open or cut an inch or two off the bottom of the door so the air has a gap to move through. Louvers work, but they’re difficult to use and neither cheap nor easy to install. If you absolutely need to close off a room, look into a portable heating or air-conditioning unit for that room. ߜ Too many bends in the ductwork. When this is the case, air has a difficult time passing through. Not only are you not getting much air through the maze-like ductwork, but the air you are getting is expensive (because the machine has to work harder to push the air through all the turns). If you can’t change the ductwork, consider installing a portable heater or air conditioner and simply closing off the inefficient ductwork entirely.


115Chapter 8: Getting the Most Out of Your Heating and Air-Conditioning System Repositioning the thermostat Your system’s performance is governed by the location of the thermostat. The temperature you set is maintained wherever the thermostat is located. Sometimes systems work poorly because direct sunshine hits the thermostat, resulting in a temperature reading that doesn’t accurately reflect the actual temperature of the room. If the thermostat is located directly over a heating duct or in a remote corner of the house, its temperature is not indicative of the house in general. A well-designed system will have the thermostat near the center of the home, usually near the air intake vent. You can have your controller moved, and sometimes doing so is cheap and easy. Or you may be able to find one that uses a remotely located temperature sensor. This works well unless your kid takes it to school for show-and-tell.When Your HVAC’s on the Blink Something’s wrong. Your house isn’t staying as warm or as cool as it should, even though you’ve taken steps to maximize your HVAC system’s efficiency. What do you do? Well, if you’re like many people, you curse the Fates (because these things tend to break down on either the coldest day of the winter or the most searing day of the summer) and then call in the HVAC repair pros. But before you do, make sure you really need their expertise. Although some problems definitely need the attention of an HVAC expert, other problems are relatively easy to fix yourself. What to check before you call a repairman You know that your wallet is going to take a hit as soon as you call in a pro. So when your system is down, check out these things first. If you’re lucky, you may just solve your own HVAC problem: ߜ Check the thermostat and make sure it’s on. Fiddle with it, moving the temperature up and down. Give it a little time, like an hour or so, because sometimes there are fail-safes (timers, clocks, and so on) that go off. ߜ Check breakers at your main panel. Often when servicemen are called out, it’s not the HVAC that’s down, but the circuit panel, in which case you’ve wasted money on a call. Many furnaces also have an on-off switch somewhere on the chassis. Somebody (kids . . . ) may have flipped it off, so check to make sure it’s on.


116 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ Change the filter. HVACs need flowing air to work properly. It’s amazing how many times servicemen are called out only to discover that the filter is totally clogged up. They don’t mind; they love to charge $80 to change your filter. But you can do it for much less. ߜ Make sure the gas is on. (Or if you have a tank, make sure it’s not empty). Check all the valves by closing them and opening them back up. This may not seem like it makes any sense, but valves can stick and by opening and closing them you may be able to get the fuel flowing again. ߜ Check to see whether the chimney exhaust flue is clear. This may or may not be an easy thing to ascertain because many chimneys meander back and forth, like an accordion. In other cases, you just plain can’t see up into that dirty, black hole. If in doubt, call for service. ߜ Make sure the line that drains water isn’t clogged. Many furnaces drain off several gallons of water per day in heating season. If the line becomes clogged and the water can’t drain properly, the furnace shuts down due to a fail-safe switch. If the drain hose looks dirty, remove it, fill it with a mixture of bleach and water (30 percent bleach to 70 percent water), wait 15 minutes, and flush it. ߜ Look for blocked or leaking ducts. The big ones going into the furnace from the house/filter port are especially problematic. If you can get to the ducts, you can usually fix them yourselves (see Chapter 7). Or you may need to contact an HVAC pro (if you do, have them do a complete inspection). ߜ Clean the outdoor equipment. Remove debris like leaves and twigs from fins or intake and exhaust ports. Symptoms that call for a pro If your HVAC is exhibiting any of the following symptoms, you need the help of a professional HVAC repairperson: ߜ Short cycling, or going off and on a lot: When the thermostat is out of adjustment or the internals are out of balance, a fail-safe shuts the system off. Turn it off and get it repaired. ߜ Irregular flame from the burners: This indicates a problem with dirty burners or a cracked heat exchanger. The flame should be nice and even over the entire burner surface. Many times you can tell at a glance whether your burners are running optimally.


117Chapter 8: Getting the Most Out of Your Heating and Air-Conditioning SystemDifferent kinds of HVAC filtersThe most expensive problem you can encounter ߜ Pleated paper filters have smaller porositywith your HVAC system happens when either (so they filter smaller particles), as well asthe filter or the fins get clogged up, in which much greater surface area so they don’t getcase your machine runs, but little or no air clogged as fast. Use these if you only wantpasses through. Changing filters prevents both to change the filter every three months orfilter and fins from clogging. When buying filters, so. They’re worth twice the cost, if youkeep these things in mind: change them one third as often.ߜ Fiberglass filters are woven and often blue, ߜ Electrostatic filters get rid of smoke and they’re the cheapest filters you can residues, allergens, and asthma-causing get. If you buy them in bulk, they’re even agents ($20 to $45 and up). Be aware, cheaper, and you’ll change them more however, that simply installing these often as a result. These only screen out does not remove all particles from the air. debris that could damage your unit. Large You need to use your system a lot to get dust gets through, as well as mold, mildew, the effect. You also need supplementary toxins, and so forth. This may or may not systems like air purifiers (see Chapter 13 for matter to you. If you open your windows more on ventilation). a lot, a high-tech filter on your HVAC input isn’t going to change the average air quality in your home enough to merit the extra cost.ߜ Strange sounds like rumbling, clicking, and so on: These are okay in hot-water or steam-heating systems, but in a furnace with a forced-air system, they’re a sign of trouble.ߜ Inexplicable illness in your family: You may have a combustion leak somewhere in the system. Call a pro right away. Get a carbon monoxide alarm right now and use it. Check out Chapter 6 for more on carbon monoxide poisoning, or better yet, check with your doctor.ߜ Sooty accumulations: Deposits usually appear near where the flame is burning. A good clean burn leaves very little residue, and it appears more brown than black. Sooty black grunge, on the other hand, is a sign of incomplete burning — you’re not getting all the heat you could be out of your fuel — and you’re paying for the inefficiency. Plus, you’re going to have to clean the soot out of the system, which can be costly.


118 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Buying a New System or Supplementing the One You Have If your HVAC system is old, it’s probably inefficient compared to newer technology. You’re likely to be disappointed with your system’s performance. Maybe it doesn’t cool the house well enough in the summer, or it’s on all the time in the winter and the air isn’t hot enough when it comes out. Or perhaps you’re getting tired of the twice-a-year service call, in which case you need to add these costs to the payback analysis. Either way, if you’re like most people, you may be considering changing your HVAC equipment. If you’re thinking about replacing your current HVAC system, your best bet is to call an HVAC service company and have them come out and analyze your equipment. They can tell you how much better new equipment will perform (although you should keep in mind that their motive is to sell new equipment). Armed with this information, you’ll have a payback decision on your hands. You’ll be saving a certain amount of energy per year, which you can translate into cost by using your rate structure (see Chapter 3). What you’ll probably discover is that, because HVAC equipment is expensive, you’re not likely to get a payback in less than 20 years, which is a dubious investment. Before you spend the big bucks, first try all the little things I present in this chapter and in Chapter 7. If you still decide to change, take your time. Do your research, and get at least three quotes. Rather than replacing your existing HVAC, you can install supplemental heating and cooling equipment. You can do this in all sorts of ways: ߜ Take advantage of the sun. You can use the sun to heat your home, and prevent it from doing so when you want to stay cool. Details are in Chapter 12. ߜ Improve ventilation: This chapter has all sorts of little tips about getting the air moving in your house, and Chapter 13 offers much more detail. ߜ Incorporate alternative energy sources: A number of energy sources — solar, stoves, biomass, and others — can supplement your current HVAC system. All these are explained in detail in Part III. Before deciding that you want to change your existing equipment, take a quick stroll through this information. You may decide that you can solve your problem one step at a time and save a lot of money.


119Chapter 8: Getting the Most Out of Your Heating and Air-Conditioning System One of the best bets is to install a stove in your family room or living room. You can use the stove to heat the room locally, which means you won’t be heating your entire home. This is inevitably cheaper, as long as you install the right type of stove and use it appropriately. I did this in my home: I installed a gas fireplace in the family room and it actually heats the entire home so well that most of the time I don’t have to turn the whole-house system on at all. To be honest, I can’t say that I saved a whole lot of money considering how much the equipment and installation cost, but the home is a lot friendlier because a fireplace flame is burning almost constantly in the most-used room in the house. The aesthetics are much better, and the gas fireplace is a cinch to operate. All it takes is the press of a button on the remote controller.Hiring an HVAC Contractor Whether you decide to replace your existing HVAC system with a brand-new one or supplement the one you have with additional heating and cooling equipment, you need to hire a contractor. Every contractor uses a standard contract and follows approved practices. Contractors can ߜ Obtain permits ߜ Manage the schedule and get the parts when they’re needed ߜ Deal with all the inspections, and assume responsibility for a failed inspection ߜ Solve problems quickly and efficiently To find potential contractors, your best bet is to ask friends who have the same kind of system you want to install for referrals (or warnings to stay away, as the case may be). You can look contractors up with the Better Business Bureau, or you can get information from state regulatory agencies. The Internet contains a lot of referral sites, but beware — these may be paid for by the contractors themselves. Enter the name of your city or county and the kind of project you want to do. Never use a family member or friend. You may think they’ll give you a better price (they’ll probably be thinking they can charge you more since there won’t be competitive bids) and better service (they’ll be thinking they can work your job when it’s convenient because you won’t fire them), but the reality is you’ll (both) probably regret it.


120 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Getting bids When hiring an HVAC contractor, always, always, always get multiple bids. There’s a possibility that you may only be able to find a single contractor who can do the job you have in mind. In this case, try to get some information about how much the job costs in other areas so you’ll have something to compare your bids against. Always let contractors know you’re going out for competitive bids. Never make a commitment of any kind when they first visit. Comparing bids After you get the bids, the problem becomes one of comparing apples to apples. Choosing the contractor comes down to three things: ߜ Cost: This may seem very important, but ultimately it may be the least significant factor. Why? Many things can go wrong, and problems generally add up to more cost. If you get a bid that’s much lower than the other ones, beware. Your contractor probably doesn’t understand what he’s doing, either technically or competitively. Or maybe you’re getting a contractor with a much lower overhead rate. Why? Does he not carry insurance? Is he working out of his truck, or off of his bicycle? Will he be around in three months to provide warranty coverage? ߜ Craftsmanship: Get referrals. Although this may not seem important, it reveals experience and efficiency. How long has the contractor been in the business? ߜ Compatibility: Let’s face it. Some contractors are just dubious characters, and some are living in a different universe than you and I. Having a good relationship matters — a lot. Not only does it foster cooperation and increase the likelihood that problems will be ironed out quickly and effectively, but a contractor who doesn’t like you is simply not going to go the extra mile for you (that’s right — it can go both ways). You may get the work done as per spec, but extra time won’t be spent to get the pipe joints just right. Or your phone calls won’t be returned until it can’t be put off any longer. The bottom line is that you want a contractor who is happy to answer the phone when he sees your phone number on his Caller ID. Make sure to ask about workmanship warranties. If the contractor is only offering the warranty that comes from the manufacturer, beware. Ask about bonding, insurance, licenses, and so forth too. If your contractor doesn’t like these questions, beware. Good contractors are glad to hear these questions — it means their shady competitors are being weeded out.


121Chapter 8: Getting the Most Out of Your Heating and Air-Conditioning System Interviewing a contractor All the contractors you contact want the job, for the most money they can get. Here’s how to wade through the quicksand: ߜ Let the contractors do the talking during the interviews. If you’re talking, you’re not getting information. ߜ Ask the same questions of each contractor. ߜ Ask them what problems they foresee. ߜ Ask them whether they get their supplies from multiple sources. If they’re stuck on a single system supplier, ask them why. ߜ Ask them what conditions would merit the contract being tossed out. You always have the right to negotiate, and they always have the right to refuse. Sealing the deal A contract should include prices as well as a schedule of events that can be easily established and approved between the two of you. You also need to specify the cash flow: when payment is due and how much it will be. Never pay a contractor until the work is finished. The best bet is not to make any payments at all until the entire job is finished. Get everything in writing. Make it clear that throughout the entire project you expect everything to be in writing. Any decisions or changes made will be in writing only. E-mails are okay, but print them out and keep them in a file folder. I shall repeat: Get everything in writing. It’s not that people are to be dis- trusted; it’s that verbal communication is like that children’s game Telephone, where the message gets garbled each time it’s spoken. Writing forces clear articulation (although some readers of this book might argue that point). Working with a contractor once the job begins Once you’re on the go, you need to work with your contractor as effectively as possible. Now is not the time to express doubt about your contractor’s abilities. Now is the time to follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


122 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ Always be completely square and decisive. You may not want to express disappointment about how a job is turning out, but you should do so if that’s what you’re feeling. ߜ Be friendly no matter what. Don’t get emotional. Problems happen. Be cool when they do, and your contractor will be more honest with you about everything. ߜ Offer cold drinks. Make a cooler available. Go the extra mile. ߜ Don’t forget the need for a restroom. Make it nice and easy, and keep it clean.


Chapter 9 Lighting Your Home More EfficientlyIn This Chapterᮣ Understanding the differences between various types of light bulbsᮣ Considering the aesthetics of your lighting schemesᮣ Calculating cost savings that you can achieveᮣ Maximizing your efficiency with special light switches The typical North American home spends between 8 and 10 percent of its energy budget on lighting (not including the bulbs and equipment). In any given night, the average home uses 32 light bulbs, including not only lighting for rooms, but lighting inside refrigerators, ovens, and microwaves. Most of these light bulbs are the standard, 50-cent, screw-base style using a technology that has been around for over a hundred years. People have spent the vast majority of their lives with Thomas Edison’s original brain- storm. But things are changing. A number of choices are available now that, while more expensive, provide much better economics and performance over the lifetime of the product. They also offer lower pollution, which is very important to many people. In this chapter, I show you how to review your lighting arrangements and make sensible changes geared toward realizing payback. New lighting technologies can be very expensive, and you may be better off spending the money on other efficiency improvements. I show you how to make the right decisions. If you’re interested in exploiting the sun for some of your home-lighting needs, head to Chapter 12, where I tell you how to let the sun shine in!


124 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Picking the Right Light: Your Options When you think of lighting, you may automatically think of Thomas Edison and his incandescent bulb. In fact, you may be reading this very book by the light of a bulb not too different from the one Edison first invented. But lighting options have evolved over time, from natural light to firelight to candles to incandescent bulbs to the energy-efficient products of today. Each has its plusses and minuses when it comes to ambience and energy efficiency. In this section, I review the most common light alternatives in use today. The prevailing question is whether, by reducing the lighting component of your utility bill, you can actually achieve better overall efficiencies. This depends largely on why you’re using lighting and what sort of climate you live in. There’s a fundamental notion that lighting is inherently inefficient, but the story is not so simple. If your main energy issue is heating your home, for example, burning inefficient light bulbs will simply mean that your furnace is on less, so the process is not really as inefficient as it may first appear. In fact, you could conceivably heat your entire home exclusively with old-fashioned, inexpensive light bulbs. Plus, incandescent bulbs shed a nice, warm color that has the psychological effect of making you feel warmer. The point is, you need to understand how and when the new technologies should be used because they’re not universal solutions, as some would have you believe. Visit a good-quality lighting store to see all kinds of lighting options. Stores dedicated to lighting have better displays and a broader range of products than big hardware stores. The sales staff is also able to explain energy-efficient products better. Natural light Natural light includes sunlight, firelight, and candlelight. Sunlight has been around a lot longer than humanity, and it provides the overwhelming bulk of our lighting needs. Sunlight has a very broad spectrum, or many wavelengths of light — what most people think of as “color” (think of the colors of the rainbow and you get the idea). Sunlight’s spectrum goes from ultra-violet, which we can’t see, through the visible range (the rainbow colors), and on into the infrared and far infrared, which are also invisible to the human eye. Sunlight gets filtered as it transmits through the atmosphere, and that’s why it can look very red in the morning and evenings. But mostly sunlight is white and bright, creating a jaunty mood that people associate with the best of Mother Nature. Candlelight and firelight preceded all our fancy, electrical light bulb schemes. Flames cast a rich tone of reddish hues and make people’s skin tone appear deep and attractive. Candles are popular because of the benign, tawny tint they cast on a room.


125Chapter 9: Lighting Your Home More EfficientlyYou can increase the lighting efficiency in your home by taking advantage ofthese natural light sources. Following are some ideas: ߜ Sunlight is the most efficient way to light your home because it’s free and creates zero pollution. Sunlight also creates a specific mood, which can’t be beat by manmade artifices. I go into a lot of detail on how to get sunlight into your home in Chapter 12. ߜ Candles don’t require any utility power. If you want to light your whole house with candlelight, use natural beeswax candles with minimal scent and lead-free wicks, and try to find the long-burning style, which translates into less crud outgassed into the air in your home. Candles of this type can light your house very nicely and save a lot of money. (You don’t want to use regular candles to light your whole house. Doing so can become very expensive, not to mention polluting.) Don’t blow your candles out when you’re finished with them; use a snuffer (a long handle with a cone shape on one end) unless, of course, you like the look of wax-spray on your walls. Blowing out candles also causes more pollution in the air than a snuffer because you’re blasting the wick with oxygen (the snuffer is much gentler). Notice how much less smoke a snuffer creates and you’ll get the picture. ߜ If you want to light your home with firelight, let the kids play with matches in the living room. Be sure to have the fire department, your insurance company, Child Protective Services, and a good lawyer on stand-by.Old-fashioned incandescent bulbsStandard-style (incandescent) light bulbs work by using electricity to heatup a narrow, high-resistance filament until it glows very bright. The filamentis enclosed in a vacuum-drawn envelope (called the bulb) so that whenthe filament glows, it doesn’t burn up from being combined with oxygen.Incandescent bulbs cast a warm, reddish tint, especially when a dimmer isused. You can get them in a thousand different configurations, and they’reinexpensive and widely available. Their widespread use is not going todiminish anytime soon, but the trend is toward other lighting sources simplybecause incandescent bulbs are so inefficient (at least in terms of lighting;they do make great heaters).An important specification for a light bulb is how much light it puts outdivided by the amount of energy it consumes (an efficiency standard).Incandescent bulbs are the worst of all lighting options in this regard: Most ofthe energy an incandescent bulb gobbles up is converted into heat — nearly90 percent. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t use incandescentbulbs more efficiently.


126 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home When considering light bulb efficiency, pay attention to the bulb’s intensity and spatial focus. A round light bulb emits its spectrum pretty much in all directions at once, while a laser beam, for example, is extremely focused on a specific spot. A 10-watt gooseneck lamp with a highly focused reflector can cast enough light onto the page of a book to make reading easy and comfortable on the eyes. A 100-watt light bulb in a broadly emitting lamp, on the other hand, may be so diffuse that nothing shows up clearly. So when you choose incandescent bulbs, remember that higher wattage doesn’t necessarily mean brighter light. Rather than buy the highest wattage you can find, buy the bulb that’s labeled a floodlight. These are usually conically shaped and have some reflective material on the inside of the glass envelope. Halogen bulbs Halogen light bulbs operate almost the same as incandescent bulbs, but with a few small differences. Inside a halogen bulb is a peanut-sized glass envelope that contains a tungsten filament and halogen gas (essentially, it’s a light bulb inside of a light bulb). As the tungsten filament burns (the same way an incandescent does), the halogen gas catches the tungsten molecules and redeposits them back onto the filament, yielding a longer lifetime and better lighting uniformity. Halogen bulbs also emit a whiter, brighter, and more easily focused light, comparable to sunshine itself (this may or may not be a goal you have in mind, but in my book it sounds like a good idea). Halogen bulbs are good for reading because they’re easier on your eyes (due to color, intensity, and so on). They’re also good for store displays or for art- work illumination where you want the light to have a color-neutral affect (and let the artwork do its own talking). They work well outdoors because the light is more noticeable. Although they may yield the same lumen output (a measure of how much light a bulb emits) as an incandescent, the light works better with the human eye, so the spectrum is more efficient. Halogen bulbs burn hotter than regular incandescent bulbs, so you need to be more careful how you handle them. If you use one for a reading light, you may not like having the intense heat source next to your head. Or you may love the heat source, if it’s a cold, winter night. Like incandescent bulbs, the overall efficiency of halogen bulbs depends on whether you want heat. Halogen bulbs can be much more efficient than incandescent bulbs because they last twice as long. Use them in locations that are hard to reach, and you won’t have to reach so far so often. You can also use them in locations where you’re looking for more heat. Perhaps the most important advantage of halogen bulbs, however, is their benign appearance, particularly when dimmed. Having each bulb appear exactly the same may also be important in track lighting. Incandescent bulbs tend to change over their lifetimes, while halogen bulbs are very uniform (unlike you and me).


127Chapter 9: Lighting Your Home More EfficientlyFlickering fluorescent bulbsThe wave of the future, fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use a gas-filled tubeand a ballast with electronics. A high-voltage signal excites phosphors onthe inside surface of the bulb, which, in turn, emit light. The main differencebetween CFLs and incandescent or halogen bulbs is that CFLs are far moreefficient because they don’t put out a lot of heat. A typical 15-watt CFL putsout as much light as a 60-watt incandescent light bulb, meaning CFLs are fourtimes as efficient.If you plan to replace an incandescent bulb with an equivalent fluorescentbulb, in general, you can divide the wattage of an incandescent by four to getthe wattage needed for an equivalent CFL. But the best bet is to compare thelumens, an actual measure of the light output (wattage is simply the inputpower the bulb will take). Almost all light-bulb packages now include lumensin addition to wattages.CFLs are more expensive, although the gap is closing due to the fact that somany more fluorescent bulbs are now being manufactured. The typical lifetimeof a CFL is around four times that of an incandescent bulb, and herein lies theirreal benefit: They don’t need to be changed nearly as often, so the lifetimecosts are actually less than incandescent bulbs, making them cheaper in thelong term. One caveat: You should only use CFLs in fixtures that you use atleast two hours per day; otherwise, the extra cost and diminished appearanceprobably isn’t worth it.The fact that CFLs have much longer lifetimes makes them useful in hard-to-reach places because you don’t have to change them nearly as often. If youhave a bulb that’s on a lot and hard to get to, use a fluorescent bulb.CFLs aren’t without drawbacks. The chief one is that they tend to flicker likea strobe light (this may or may not be noticeable). Plus, their light spectrum(the color they broadcast) is often a bluish tint, which does not tend toflatter skin tone or food appearance. However, new technologies that solvethese problems are becoming more common. Here are some other things tobe aware of about CFLs: ߜ They can be dimmed, but only if you buy the right dimmers, and these are not cheap. Plus, some people don’t like the pronounced flickering that dimmers create. ߜ CFLs don’t like very hot environments, where their lifetimes are drasti- cally reduced. Don’t use them in enclosed spaces without ventilation because they’ll heat up and grow old quickly, thereby negating the longevity advantage. ߜ CFLs often take a few minutes to reach maximum brightness. If you’re shopping for a bulb and sampling the possibilities, allow some time for it to warm up before you decide whether you like it or not.


128 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Around 5 milligrams of mercury are contained in each CFL light bulb (big bulbs have more, of course). Mercury is a very poisonous substance, although 5 milligrams isn’t much at all (about as much as the tip of a fine-point pencil). The fact that CFLs contain mercury means you have to be particularly careful when disposing of and handling these bulbs: ߜ In most municipalities, you can’t simply throw a CFL into the trash; you must handle it with special care. This boils down to an even higher cost, which must be weighed against the efficiency gains you may realize. Some options for disposing of CFLs include hazardous waste sites (most accept CFLs, but some don’t) and stores that sell CFLs (many take back old, used ones; IKEA, in particular, has gone out of its way to be environmentally friendly). To find a suitable disposal option, contact the U.S. Environmental Recycling Hotline (877-327-8491) or check out www.lamprecycle.org. ߜ Never send a CFL product to an incinerator, as the mercury becomes airborne when the bulb burns. ߜ Never use a vacuum to clean up a broken bulb; the mercury is aerated into your home environment through the vacuum filter, which is too porous to catch the molecules. Use a wet paper towel, and stick both the bulb parts and the paper towel in a sealed, plastic bag. Light-emitting diodes Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are extremely efficient — even more so than CFLS — and they have incredibly long lifetimes. However, they’re much more expensive than other lighting sources. At present, LEDs are used where ultra-high efficiency or ultra-long lifetime are required, for instance, in off-grid homes that run off of batteries or remote cabins that run off of generators. In these applications, LEDs are actually cheaper in the long run, despite their high cost, because they enable smaller batteries. (In off-grid homes, the battery banks are the fundamental power source. Batteries are very expensive, so smaller batteries are economically desirable). LEDs are also used in stoplights (due to their ultra-high reliability) and in auto taillights. Portable devices that use batteries also benefit from using LEDs. The availability of LED flashlights and camping lanterns, as well as boat and RV lighting systems, is increasing. You can buy LED-based light modules that interchangeably plug right into existing screw-type light fixtures, but they cost over $25. Furthermore, the light is thin and silvery, which is not the friendliest hue. Before you buy LEDs, check them out at a lighting store because light bulbs, like kids, are not returnable items if you’re not happy with their performance.


129Chapter 9: Lighting Your Home More EfficientlyGoing for Efficiency withoutSacrificing Aesthetics Lighting does more than illuminate. It also creates mood, or ambience. While one type of light produces a warm, cozy glow, another type produces a harsh glare. Either can be just the type of light you need or want, depending on your lighting needs, the area you want to illuminate, and the mood you want to create. Most lighting is not for “seeing,” but for mood and for making your home feel homier. By being imaginative — moving your lights around in different setups and trying different light bulbs — you can probably find an optimum configuration that takes less energy than you’re using right now without sacrificing a thing. Here are some ideas for your consideration: ߜ Find a style of lamp that creates the mood you want. The lamp is usually more influential than the type of light bulb in creating a mood. Lamps with dimmers are always good, and a lamp that focuses light lets you use a smaller light bulb and attain the same effect. You can find a lot of very interesting lamps at garage sales, often for less than a dollar apiece. Be on the lookout for such a find. It can save you money twice: on the purchase price and on the energy costs. The best finds are gooseneck lamps with dimmers so you can focus the light on your work and turn the intensity up and down as desired. ߜ Avoid metal or heavy paper lampshades. Lampshades are very important in terms of focusing and directing light. Many of them cut off most of the light from a bulb. Look for ones that have the effect you want, but allow most of the light through. Diaphanous films are best. ߜ Vary the intensity of lighting as much as you can. Vary light bulb intensities to create texture and depth in a room. Disperse the lights around your house to highlight the good and ignore the not-so-good. ߜ Vary wattage where you can: The higher the wattage, the colder the light (bluish light “feels” colder than red; it’s a human perception thing); the lower the wattage, the redder the light, and the friendlier the tone. The wattage you choose depends on what you’re trying to achieve. A number of smaller light bulbs distributed around a room makes for a soft color and even lighting. Plus, lower-wattage bulbs have longer lifetimes simply because they’re not being so stressed by heat. Always use the smallest wattage possible. Experiment instead of just plugging in what you have on hand. You’ll probably find that you can use smaller bulbs in most instances. For example, a gooseneck lamp in the bathroom that focuses in on your face gives you the lighting you need and keeps wattage down.


130 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ Use lights creatively. For example, vary the lights on tracks; they don’t all have to be the same type or wattage, nor do they all have to be focused on the fireplace. A small spotlight on your favorite picture will bring those colors into play in the room. A small, 10-watt picture light can completely change a room for the better. ߜ Try candles. Use them alone or in combination with electric lights. You’ll get hooked, and you’ll save money if you do it right (see the earlier section “Natural light” for details on what makes candles energy efficient). ߜ Lower the lights before bed. Too much light right before bed creates a bad sleeping mood. Start to dim the lights or turn them off well before you retire. You’ll find yourself gently relaxing into sleep mode. ߜ Use night lights. Having strategically placed night lights relieves you of the need to flip every light switch on when you get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or nursery. Besides, blasting yourself with light in the bathroom in the middle of the night wakes you up, and it’s a proven fact that it takes you longer to get back to sleep than if you simply use a very dim night light. ߜ Make your lights do double duty where (and when) possible. CFLs have a reputation for being more efficient than incandescent bulbs, but in certain situations that’s not the case. In the winter, for example, incandescent bulbs are more efficient than CFLs because they’re cheap and they help heat your home (because of the heat they emit). In fact, they heat more uniformly and also cast a warmer mood. They may be more efficient at heating your home than your central heater or your stove.Creating an outdoor “room” with lightHere’s a great way to leverage your lighting Establish the room’s boundaries with lights:investment to the hilt. Create a “room” in your Shine them on bushes or trees and that’s whereyard by strategically placing outdoor lights. your eye will subliminally see a “wall.” HighlightYou can use solar lights, which can be moved features like fountains, flower beds, furniture,wherever you want, or you can use low-volt- and so on. Use colored lights to vary the textureage lighting systems available at any hardware and create moods and aesthetic spaces.store. (Low-voltages are safe, so anybody cando the project without the need for an electri- By doing this, you can achieve an effect thatcian.) You can also use torchlights, which are makes your home seem larger, more spacious,like big candles. and certainly more in tune with Mother Nature.


131Chapter 9: Lighting Your Home More EfficientlyCalculating How Much You Can Save To make a long story short, your potential cost savings (and the payback of installing a more expensive technology) are entirely dependent on how much you use a light (the average number of hours per day). Obviously, the easiest way to save money is to simply use less lighting; you don’t need to invest in new bulbs. The minimum lighting you need to function is one light bulb turned on per person in your home at any given time. (I don’t mean this to be a lifestyle guide; I simply want to make a point.) Of course, most people don’t restrict themselves to turning on one light per person. In most homes, some light bulbs are literally on all the time, particularly outside lights or garage lights. And someone who likes a bright room may have every table lamp on as well as the book light he’s reading by. Consider the lights you use. Do you really need all of them? You’d probably answer no if you knew how much each one costs. Fortunately, lighting costs are easy to calculate. Here’s how to determine how much you’re spending on a particular light each month: 1. Figure out how many watt hours (Wh) the bulb is on per day by multiplying the wattage by the number of hours the light’s on daily. You can read the wattage from the light bulb. The value is expressed in watts; 60-watts is very common. Then ask yourself how many hours you typically use that light per day. Two hours? All day (24 hours)? 2. Multiply the total daily Wh by 30 to get the total Wh per month. 3. Divide the total Wh per month by 1,000 to get the total kWh. Why are kWh important? Because your utility bill is calculated based on kWh. 4. To get your monthly cost, multiply your kWh by the amount the electric company charges you per kWh. Look at your electric bill to find out how much you’re being charged for electricity. Fifteen cents per kWh is typical, but your rate may be a lot higher. (See Chapter 3 for more details. In particular, if you’re on a tiered rate structure, use the highest rate.)


132 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Here are some examples of calculations and the cost savings you may be able to achieve by changing your lighting schemes. ߜ A 60-watt bulb left on for an hour consumes 60 Wh, or .06 kWh per day. Ten 60-watt bulbs in recessed lighting in your ceiling turned on for four hours consume 2.4 kWh per day. At a rate of 15 cents per kWh, this costs 36 cents a day. For a month, the total comes to $10.80, or $130 per year. Add to that the cost of new bulbs, and you may be spending over $150 a year to leave those overhead lights on every night. Is it worth it? Calculations like this can be surprising. ߜ A 15-watt CFL costs around $4, while a comparable 60-watt incandescent bulb costs around 75 cents. For a light fixture that is turned on four hours per day, at a cost of 15 cents per kWh, the CFL costs $3.24 per year to operate. The incandescent costs $12.96 per year, for a difference of $9.72. Going with the initially more expensive CFL is actually more cost-efficient, easily paying you back the difference in original equipment cost and saving around 130 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution. ߜ Do you have an outside light that burns all night? If it’s 600 watts, it’s costing you: 0.600 kW ×10 hours/day × 30 days/month × $.15/kWh = $9 per month, or $108 per year. You could add a motion detector, which turns the light on only when something moves through the viewing area, and save $100 per year while still having light whenever you really need it. (See the next section for more on motion detectors.) ߜ A 15-watt CFL bulb costs $3.00, whereas a 60-watt incandescent bulb costs 50 cents. In a garage where the light is on all the time, a CFL costs around $20 per year to operate, whereas an incandescent bulb costs $80. However, if the CFL is put into a bathroom light socket that’s only used for an hour a day, the annual cost difference is only $2.50, which is the difference in the prices of the bulbs. (Plus, in the bathroom, the hue of the CFL light is not very flattering.) To calculate the savings you can achieve by installing a smaller bulb or a different type of bulb, do this: 1. Figure out the wattage difference between the replaced bulb and the new bulb. Simply subtract the wattages: If you replace a 60-watt bulb with a 40-watt bulb, take 40 away from 60. Keep in mind that you may not be getting the same amount of light, or lumens, when you change bulbs, but the cost on your utility bill depends only on the wattage. 2. Figure out how many hours per year the light is on. Multiply the number of hours the light’s on daily by 365.


133Chapter 9: Lighting Your Home More Efficiently 3. Multiply the yearly value (Step 2) by the wattage difference (Step 1) and then divide by 1,000 to get the annual kWh. 4. Multiply what you got in Step 3 by your electricity cost, in $ per kWh. 5. Compare this to the difference in cost of the bulbs. Also take into account the expected lifetime of the bulb. For an easier way to calculate how much you’ll save if you plug in different types of light bulbs, go to www.getenergysmart.com. For an online catalog of energy-saving lighting options, go to www.energyfederation.org.Using Clever Switches toReduce Your Bill As earlier sections explain, you can use different types of light bulbs to increase your energy efficiency, but a better option may be to use clever switching systems that simply and automatically turn your lights off when you don’t need them. Motion detectors Motion detectors are devices that switch light bulbs off and on when they detect something moving in their field-of-view, basically the area where the motion detector is set up to “look.” Motion detectors are the exact same technology used in burglar alarms, except that they don’t trigger an alarm; they simply turn on the light. Most motion detectors are integrated with a timing switch, so when motion is detected and a light is switched on, it goes off after a set amount of time (a couple minutes is typical — most devices are adjustable for time delay). Motion detectors offer all sorts of benefits, some relating to efficiency and some relating to safety, but all relating to convenience. Burglars, for example, hate being suddenly illuminated while they’re sneaking around. When a light is simply left on, a burglar doesn’t mind so much; it’s when things suddenly change that they get nervous and decide to vamoose. Mount a motion detector light over a porch or on the side of your house where a burglar is most apt to approach (like a dark garage side). Motion detectors aren’t valuable just for their “gotcha!” effect, though. They turn on when anyone is there, which can be helpful when a neighbor comes up to your porch for a friendly visit, you pull into the driveway at night, and so on.


134 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home You get the best return on investment when you combine motion detectors with high-wattage lights, which are usually the kind employed outdoors. Here are some options to consider: ߜ Solar-powered outdoor floodlights with motion detectors: You can mount them anywhere so you get light exactly where you want it, and you don’t need an electrical outlet so you avoid the cost of outlet installation. The unit includes a battery that is charged during high intensity solar hours, and so the amount of available energy is limited. At around $65, the potential exists for huge cost savings if you need light in a remote location. Plus, you can move the lights around at will, which you can’t do with a standard hard-wired light fixture. ߜ One-piece outdoor systems: These include one or more motion detectors along with light fixtures in one complete package. These come in flood, decorative, and remote arrangements. ߜ Motion detector switches: These fit right into the standard switch socket you already have in your home. Whenever somebody walks into the field of view, the light goes on for about 30 seconds. These are great for utility rooms where your hands may be full of clothes or groceries, and flipping a switch is inconvenient. They’re also good for basements and attics. ߜ Screw-base-style motion detectors. You install these between a light bulb and the socket that the bulb would normally be screwed into. At around $40 they’re not cheap and the payback isn’t very good, but they may be just the ticket for a utility room or laundry room where your arms are full of groceries or clothes and you can’t grapple around for the switch. Go to www.sportys.com/shoptool to see a number of popular arrangements. Before you buy a motion detector, pay attention to the field of view, which is the area over which the motion detector operates. With some units, you can adjust the field of view; with others, it’s fixed. Getting one with an adjustable sensitivity is best; you don’t necessarily want your lights to go on when a cat crosses your yard (then again, maybe you do). When in doubt, save the packing materials and receipt, and be prepared to buy something else. Dimmer switches Light dimmers are used for decreasing and increasing a light’s intensity. Although they aren’t particularly efficient, the net effect of using them is that you do use less energy. There’s another benefit as well: The bulbs on dimmer switches last longer because they’re operating at lower temperatures. In general, you get a friendlier, richer color, and you can vary the mood in a room like nothing else.


135Chapter 9: Lighting Your Home More EfficientlyYou can change almost any light switch in your house to a dimmer switch, butbeware: You need to know a few basic rudiments about electricity before youstart poking around inside your electrical junction boxes. You need to under-stand the difference between the white wire, the black wire, and the green (orbare) wire. The task isn’t difficult, but explaining everything you need to knowabout electrical wiring is beyond the scope of this book. If you’re motivatedand want to give it a go yourself, keep the following advice in mind: ߜ Before you do anything, the safest bet is to simply turn the main breaker switch off in your house. You’ll have to do your work during daylight hours or with a flashlight, but you won’t be able to shock your- self. After you do the work, make sure you cover the dimmer switch with the faceplate. If you turn the main breaker back on and a circuit breaker trips, you’ve messed up somewhere, at which point I recommend you call in an electrician to find out what’s wrong and do the job right. ߜ Ask for instructions and guidelines at your hardware store. Someone there can probably tell you how to install a switch and show you the actual hardware to use. When you’re getting instructions, make sure you understand how to maintain the proper grounding scheme, which is very important. You may need to be aware of local electrical codes, so ask your hardware store clerk about those as well. Another option is to refer to How To Fix Everything For Dummies by Gary Hedstrom, Peg Hedstrom, and Judy Ondria Tremore (Wiley) for general information and instructions on common electrical wiring jobs.If you have aluminum wiring in your house (it’s shiny or dull gray, instead ofthe usual coppery or orange color), don’t wire a dimmer yourself becausethere are technical problems you don’t want to deal with. (Specifically, whentwo dissimilar metals come into contact, the potential for corrosion exists.) Sowhen working with aluminum wires, call in a pro.Whole-house lighting controllersWhole-house lighting control systems basically switch all your home lightsoff and on from a central console. For instance, you can turn off all yourlights from one location when you go to bed. Or when you enter your house,you can turn on a certain preset number of lights so you don’t have to goaround and individually activate each light. Some can be turned off and on bya timer. You can even get a system that you can call from a remote location(though why you’d want to, I haven’t figured out).If you program one of these contraptions for efficiency, you can achieve somesignificant cost savings. For instance, you could turn all your lights off at a cer-tain time of night. You could also turn lights on and off according to a clock sothat you capture exactly the right mood at different times of the evening.


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Chapter 10 Watering Down Your Water ConsumptionIn This Chapterᮣ Figuring out what type of water to drinkᮣ Deciding whether your water is soft enoughᮣ Getting a fix on faucetsᮣ Using less water in the bathroomᮣ Landscaping your way to savings The minimum human requirement for water is only around four gallons per day, and that’s for both consumption and cleaning. So how much does a typical family (2 adults, 2 kids) use? Between 200 and 350 gallons of water a day. That’s 73,000 to 128,000 gallons per year. Landscaping, swimming pools, and spas take even more water. A small, working ranch may use over 270,000 gallons per year. Bluntly put, that’s a well of a lot of water. In most homes, water has four main destinations: faucets, showers (baths), dishwashers, and washing machines. In each case, water heating may be required, which consumes around 20 percent of a typical home’s energy costs. Other uses of water include outdoor irrigation, pools, spas, fountains, and so on. This chapter tells you how to save in these areas. The vast majority of homes get their water from the local utility, some with metered rate structures, some not. If you’re not operating off of a water meter, your water utility may give you a better monthly rate if you voluntarily go to a metered rate structure. The utility will come out and install a meter, usually free of charge. If you’re frugal, you can save money, and by having a meter you’ll be more conscious of how much water you’re using.


138 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Drinking to Your Health Most of the water used in a home isn’t consumed. Instead, it’s used for tasks like cleaning, watering, and so on. Yet many people today spend much more money for water they drink than on water they use for these other purposes. Why? Because our society is fixated on bottled and/or purified drinking water, which is almost always a waste of money and resources, and generates far more pollution than is necessary. In fact, evidence increasingly indicates that drinking purified water may lead to health problems. So what’s the deal? To help you sort out what you need to know about your water supply and to give you ideas for reducing the amount of money you spend on drinking water, I offer the following sections. Wading through a flood of choices: Tap, well, bottled, and purified Most homes have a number of choices for their water sources. In this section, I review the most common choices. Your best bet is to use the cheapest source for each of your various applications. Most of the time, this is very easy; simply use tap water. Tap water Most homes get their water from local utilities, which have stringent quality requirements. In fact, federal standards for tap water are actually higher than those for bottled water. In addition, most tap water already contains minerals important to your health — minerals that some purveyors of purifier systems and bottled water deliberately add to their products and charge you more for. Bottom line: The government provides you with safe, healthy water, without the hassle and expense of bottled water. Local utilities are required to make public their testing process and results. If you want to know exactly what’s in your water, call the customer-service number on your utility bill and ask to be sent the data. There shouldn’t be a charge for this.


139Chapter 10: Watering Down Your Water ConsumptionWell waterSome homes get their water from wells. Although these sources aregenerally very good, they may not be the best source for drinking waterbecause contaminants do make their way into wells, and you may haveto pay for testing. Well water is especially prone to change over time. Ifyou have a well, you’re very likely getting the requisite minerals and othernatural components. But you may also be getting pollution and othercontaminants like dumped pesticides or other chemicals.If you have a well, test it at least once a year; if your well fails a test, test moreoften. Look in the yellow pages under “Water Well Drilling.”Bottled waterBottled water costs 240 to 10,000 times more than tap water. The costsshow up in bottling, packaging, shipping, retail, sales, advertising, and soon. If you’re paying this price for bottled water simply because you think it’scleaner, you may want to consider these facts: ߜ Quality isn’t guaranteed. Unlike the water provided by utilities, the quality of bottled water isn’t regulated by the federal government. That means when you buy bottled water you have no guarantee that you’re even getting water that’s as good as your home supply. ߜ “Enriched” may not provide enrichment. Some bottled water is advertised as “oxygen enriched.” Absolutely no evidence exists to support the notion that this does anything whatsoever to help you. ߜ Transporting water is costly. Bottled water takes a great deal of energy to transport to your store shelf. Think how far that water from the Italian mountain lake has come, and then think of the pollution generated in the process. It doesn’t matter that the water is cheap; the cost of pollution is not reflected in the cost of a product (although this is rapidly changing). America’s appetite for bottled water gobbles up more than 47 million gallons of oil and produces one billion pounds of carbon dioxide per year (that’s right — billion!). ߜ Plastic bottles stick around for a very long time. It takes 1,000 years for a plastic bottle to degrade in a landfill. You can recycle the bottles (see Chapter 14), but if you don’t need them in the first place, recycling isn’t the best answer. Not using them is. If you want to use bottles of water because they’re convenient, use reusable bottles. You can fill these up with tap water. Alternatively, buy purified water at a grocery store that lets you bring in and fill up your own bottles and charges you by the gallon.


140 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Purified water Many people use water purifiers, systems that in most cases remove impurities but in some cases add minerals and other positive substances. We humans don’t necessarily need perfect water. In fact, evidence suggests that a pristine lifestyle leads to increased immune deficiency. Certain types of minerals and bacteria are required by the human body to enable digestion. And recent studies indicate that children raised on purified water are statistically more likely to suffer from childhood diseases than those brought up on tap water. The reason? The immune system needs to be constantly exercised in order to achieve optimum conditioning (just like muscles). Humans that live in sanitized, pristine environments don’t get the necessary exposure. Having said that, sometimes having a water purifying system is a good idea. The next section explains how to tell when your water supply is problematic and what you can do about it. Getting the goods on suspicious water In rare cases, you may actually have good reason to be suspicious of your water source. Potential contaminants include pernicious bacteria, cysts (parasites with protective coverings that make them very tenacious), heavy metals, chlorine, sediment, poisons, and many more. Signs of a potential problems Signs that your water supply may be contaminated include ߜ Age of your pipes: In old plumbing systems, some contaminants reside right in the pipes and are very difficult to get out. If your city water supply is pristine but you have an old home, you may still have a problem because you’re running clear water through contaminated pipes. ߜ Clarity: Although unclear water is not a sure indicator of contamination, you should find out what the cause is. Most of the time it’s only minerals, which isn’t a problem. ߜ Poor taste: Bad tasting water may be a sign of a contaminant. But determining whether the bad taste indicates a real problem or just tastes different than you’re used to is difficult (it’s very common to go into other cities and find that the water tastes poor, even though it’s just fine). If in doubt, get your water tested. ߜ Smell: The human nose is very sensitive. If your water smells bad, get it tested (although a bad smell isn’t necessarily an indicator that it’s unhealthy).


141Chapter 10: Watering Down Your Water ConsumptionTesting optionsIf you’re suspicious about the quality of your water, the best bet is to getyour water tested. Here are your options: ߜ Have your water tested by an independent company. Check the Internet or your phone book for “Water Testing.” For around $100, you can get a detailed analysis. (They send you a sterilized container; you fill it and send it back.) You need to do every testing sequence twice, at different times of the year, to get reliable results. ߜ Have your water tested by a not-so-objective company. You can get tests done by water purification companies (probably for free). But beware: Their goal is to sell you water purification equipment or services. They probably won’t tell you that humans do better with impurities in their water supply. And — surprise, surprise — every water company that I’ve ever talked to has assured me that their water is the best. ߜ Test your water yourself. Although you can buy your own equipment and test your water yourself, I don’t recommend it. First, it’s expensive. Second, and more importantly, you probably don’t have the expertise to interpret the results sufficiently. It’s best to trust the experts.Purifying your drinking waterSo you’ve decided to improve your drinking water. Two types of home-basedequipment are widely available: ߜ Distilleries: Distilled water is boiled, and, in the process, the water separates from the impurities. This type of purification is expensive and energy-intensive, but it’s very thorough. ߜ Filtration systems: Filtering involves forcing the water through some kind of porous device that removes the impurities. Aerator filters that attach to faucets are the simplest type of filter.As you consider your water purifying options, look for a system that onlytreats the water you plan to consume. After all, it makes no sense to filterwater for your shower or your dishwasher. In addition, make sure the systemtargets the impurities you want targeted. Some systems only improve thewater’s taste and color. Others get rid of contaminants. Make sure you knowwhat your system does.


142 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home It makes no sense to invest in purification equipment if you haven’t had your water tested. Simply buying a filter because it sounds good is a waste of money, although most filters are purchased for this very reason. Purification equipment targets very specific types of contamination. Before you make an investment, make sure the equipment you’re getting is designed to remove the contaminant you’re interested in removing. All systems take effort and maintenance. If you don’t want to hassle with water purification, consider one of these alternatives: ߜ Contract with a bottled water company. A bottled water company will rent you a dispenser and come out twice a month to refill it with a big jug of distilled or filtered water and do the regular maintenance. The cost is around $8 per month. You can get dispensers that will heat the water, which is more efficient than using your water heater but less efficient than using your microwave. ߜ Get a bottle with a built-in filter. This is the cheapest way to go, and you only use this system when you need it. Fill the bottle with water from your tap, screw the filter/lid on, and, when you drink, the water is filtered. Three micron porosity is good for removing bacteria and giardiasis. This simple scheme will satisfy most people’s desire to filter their water. Mechanical filtration Mechanical filtration occurs when water is forced through a porous medium, like a screen or a chunk of carbon. These strainers use mesh with particular hole sizes. The size of the holes determines the strainer’s porosity, which is usually specified in terms of microns (a micron is one millionth of a liter, on the order of size of mineral chunks). As you would expect, strainers with finer porosity remove smaller-sized contaminants than strainers with higher porosity. To get an idea about what type of porosity you need, you have to determine what type of contaminant you’re trying to remove. Sediment filters, for example, remove smaller particles like suspended dirt, sand, rust, and scale (known as turbidity). Once again, filters are always very specific to the type of material you are attempting to filter. Look on the filter label (or get on the Internet and research a particular filter’s specifications) to see which types of contaminants it’s good at filtering. If you need a filter with a very fine porosity, it’s generally a good idea to remove the biggest impurities by using a higher porosity filter first. Larger porosity filters are generally much cheaper than smaller porosity filters (and easier to clean), so by catching the big stuff first, your overall filter expenses will be less.


143Chapter 10: Watering Down Your Water Consumption Making your own solar water purifierHere’s a great project for the do-it-yourselfer. ߜ You can make your system as cheap orIf salty or contaminated water is left in an open as expensive as you want. You don’t needcontainer, the water evaporates, leaving the glazed glass; you can use plain old windowcontaminants behind. If the water is heated, glass. You can get pieces of discarded glassthe process speeds up considerably (this is from window shops for nothing but a smile.the basis for a distillery). Here’s a simple solarwater purifier you can build for next to nothing, ߜ Reflection is easily accomplished withif you’re clever and good with tools. aluminum foil, shiny side out. South ߜ Use sheet metal (the best option) or wood for the enclosure. If you want to get Sunlight Transparent imaginative, find a good metal box and cut Glazing a hole for the glaze cover. Reflective ߜ Paint the box black to enhance absorption. Surface ߜ A system the size of a small stove can yieldCatch Tray with up to three gallons of purified water on aTrough contaminated sunny day. water; black or other The first few times you use this device the water absorptive may taste a little odd. Let the system “sweat” for quality a few weeks and the bad taste will go away. Insulation Here’s a little tip: When designing your unit, make it convenient to fill the inner tray withWhen the water evaporates, it condenses on water. Position it by a hose, for instance. Thenthe glass window and drips down into the catch you won’t have to carry water to your system.trough. Tilt the catch trough just slightly and put Configure some kind of funnel through thea bottle or other container underneath the low sidewall so you can pour the water right into theend, and voilà! Purified water. (Large, efficient tray without spilling. Make it so you can removeversions of this device capable of purifying the glazing top and clean out the tray, becausehundreds of gallons a day are used in third- the contaminants are going to remain behind.world countries.) You’ll get a good idea of how mineralized your tap water is when you see what’s left in the tray over a period of time. Activated carbon filtration Carbon absorption filters are the most widely used because they offer high performance at a low price. They remove many types of contaminants as well as chlorine, but they don’t affect water hardness. Few carbon systems work with lead, asbestos, VOCs (dissolved organics), cysts, and coliform, so if these are your issues, carbon filters aren’t recommended. In fact, most of the impurities that carbon filters remove are not the impurities that you are targeting. In addition, carbon filters need to be changed frequently, and this can be very costly.


144 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your HomeWeighing in on water softenersSome water is very high in mineral content. $5 apiece and are widely available in groceryThis is termed hard water. Minerals can cause stores. You’ll need a strong back to dump the 45scaling and buildups of white crud within pound bags into your water softener — teenageplumbing systems. Some people are also boys are excellent sources for strong backs.)sensitive to hard water. In particular, you canfeel the sediments in your hair when you’re Water softeners are expensive. Plus the back-done with a shower. With hard water, you washing of water softeners wastes a lot ofget a sense that you’re never really all that water, and you need to have some means ofclean. But hard water doesn’t pose any health getting the backwashed liquid to go to a drainproblems, so installing a water softener is (this results in salt buildup there, which can bealways discretionary. People generally do a problem in its own right).it only when the scaly buildup gets out ofhand — for instance, when valves begin to You can install a water softener yourself, butfail and kitchen equipment gets so scaly that only if you’re competent with tools. Look fornothing shines anymore. features that make the periodic maintenance easier, like a low hopper for feeding salt andWater softening systems simply remove mineral easy-to-understand digital programmingdeposits from the water by passing it through a instructions. Also consider connecting thefiltering mechanism. The vast majority of water softener to certain faucets only, such as thosesofteners incorporate a filter self-cleaning in the kitchen and bath. You certainly don’t needcycle that uses salt pellets that you refill on a softened water outdoors or in your garage.periodic basis. (Bags of salt pellets cost aroundReverse osmosis (ultrafiltration)This method uses pressure to force water through a selective, semipermeablemembrane that separates contaminants from the water. Reverse osmosissystems are very good at removing turbidity, asbestos, lead and other heavymetals, radium and VOCs. But keep these things in mind: ߜ Membranes are costly to replace. Most are capable of having the membrane washed out (backwashing), but the membranes do eventually need to be replaced, and this isn’t cheap. ߜ They waste a lot of water. They use 3 to 9 gallons of water to get one pure gallon. This is a dubious way to achieve efficiency.Virustat filtersVirustat filters eliminate viruses from water sources in foreign cities or wildstreams. For the most part, these viruses don’t affect local folks because theyare used to them and have built up a tolerance.


145Chapter 10: Watering Down Your Water Consumption Caring for your filters As the filter cruds up, its effectiveness diminishes, so when reading specs, always remember that you need to change filters as often as the manufacturer recommends or you may not achieve the required performance. Also, as the filter gets older it traps impurities of all kinds, so it may actually become a breeding ground for nasty little critters invisible to the naked eye, making the problem worse, not better.Directing the Flow of Traffic withFaucets The typical home has six indoor faucets, and another four or five outdoors. That gives you a lot of opportunities for improved efficiency. Just by making a few changes in your faucets, you can use water more efficiently. Some relatively easy changes you can make include ߜ Using a two-valve faucet. A two-valve faucet is more efficient than a single-valve type (where you move the lever around until you get the right temperature). The latter inevitably wastes hot water. ߜ Using aerator filters in the faucets. These filters add air and keep up the pressure while reducing flow volume. Most of the time, people are looking for greater pressure, not flow volume, from a faucet. In fact, many building codes now require low-flow faucets because they make so much sense (they save water without being inconvenient). Of course, dealing with leaks is a great way to not only increase how efficiently you use water but also to offset some other problems as well. Read on to find out more. Leaks: Money and energy down the drain Leaky faucets waste water. A faucet dripping once per second can waste 2,000 gallons per year. Beyond just the waste factor, leaking faucets can also cause increased health issues because mold and mildew just love damp environments (see Chapter 6 for details).


146 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home In addition, a dripping faucet can humidify your entire house. In the summer, higher humidity means less comfort. Do not underestimate this effect — it’s much more pronounced than you may think (see Chapter 8 for more on how to control the humidity in your home). So not only are you wasting water, but also your house is uncomfortable and your air-conditioner is running more (which means wasted utility costs). The largest cost is the heat being wasted when hot water is drawn from your water heater. If a faucet is dripping, it may be drawing hot water. If it’s dripping very slowly, you may not even know it’s dripping hot water because by the time that water has come all the way from your water heater through the pipes to your faucet, it has cooled down. But heat is still being wasted. If your water pressure is high, you probably experience dripping faucets, especially outdoors where leaks are more likely to go unnoticed. High pressure basically means higher force, which can push through questionable seals. You can have a pressure regulator installed on your water system, but it’s probably not worth the hassle. If you have high water pressure, you need to be sure to provide adequate maintenance for your seals and gaskets. Outdoor faucets are more prone to leakage than indoor ones because they’re generally cheaper, plus they get beat up by the weather (constantly changing temperature is hard on metals). Replace outdoor faucets that leak. This is much easier than replacing indoor faucets, and anybody can do it with the right wrench and patience level. Obviously, the only way to deal with a leaking faucet is to fix it. Before you tackle the job, though, keep these suggestions in mind: ߜ Shut off all the water. Shut-off valves are generally found below sinks and the like, but simply shutting the water off in your entire home when doing plumbing jobs is a good idea. You can find a whole house shutoff valve in the utility box either in front of your home or in your basement (most of the time it’ll be right next to your water meter, if you have one). Many homes also have an underground container near the roadway (watch out for spiders when you stick your hand in). ߜ Be careful to get it right. Make sure you understand what you’re doing before you start, and make sure you have the right tools (and good ones). To find out how to fix leaky faucets, ask at your local hardware store. They have tons of experience with dripping faucets and usually know the types used in your community. You can also find instructions for fixing dripping faucets in How to Fix Everything For Dummies by Gary and Pam Hedstrom and Judy Ondrla Tremore (Wiley). Almost anybody can do plumbing, but if you don’t do it exactly right, you have to do it over until you do get it exactly right.


147Chapter 10: Watering Down Your Water Consumption ߜ Take a picture before you start. Whenever you take a plumbing system apart for repairs or maintenance, use a digital camera to snap shots once in awhile so that if you forget where things go, you can look back at the pictures. Once the job is done, delete the pictures (unless you want to add them to your family collection). Don’t feel up to the job? Then hire a plumber and watch him fix the leak. Then next time you encounter a leaky tap, you can do the job yourself. (Of course, watching a plumber work, you may decide you never, ever want to do plumbing. Either lesson is worth the money.) A few more tips for using water wisely Beyond fiddling with the faucets and fixing leaks, you can do a few other things to use water more efficiently: ߜ Avoid using your garbage disposal. It requires a lot of water to run and ends up filling the septic or sewer system far more than is needed. Get a composter and start a little garden, or toss the waste into your garbage. See Chapter 14 for more details. ߜ Don’t waste cold water waiting for the hot. When you need hot water, you generally run water down the drain until it shows up. Instead, put a pot, bowl, or other container under the faucet while you’re waiting for the water to get hot, and then use the cold water you collect for cooking, ice cubes, or whatever. Just don’t waste it. ߜ Don’t leave the tap running while you’re doing something else. Whether you’re brushing your teeth or cleaning off the countertop, turn the water off. It’s an easy habit to break, and you’d be surprised how much difference it can make.Savings in Showers and Baths When you’re thinking about water consumption, you need to factor in two things: heat and water. Heating water accounts for around 20 percent of the power bill in a home, and showers and baths use 37 percent of that. That means that around 6 percent of your power bill is dedicated to heating water for your shower and baths. You can save in both areas.


148 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ Forget baths. They’ll become a thing of the past when energy rates get high enough. You simply can’t take an economical bath. ߜ Double up. Put the kids (appropriately aged, of course) into the shower together. Or take a shower with your partner (I could make some wise comments here, but I suspect I don’t really need to). ߜ Use handheld showerheads. These focus better, allowing much less water to do the job (if you think about it, most of the water flowing from a showerhead is wasted). The downside is you have to hold them. ߜ Avoid showerheads that “mist” the water. They humidify your home more than anything, and the mist does no good at all. This is especially inefficient in the summer. ߜ Take shorter showers. Lingering in the heat is nice, but it wastes energy because all you get out of it is, well, lingering in the heat. Find something else to linger in. Avoid things that make your shower a pleasant living quarters, like radios, TVs, nice views, and so on. In order to be truly efficient, a shower should be strictly functional. ߜ Install a “greywater” recycle system on your shower and bath drain. These systems basically recycle your home’s water. A tank is connected to certain drains (usually everything but the toilet) and then a chemical sanitizing process is performed that brings the water up to cleanliness standards suitable for landscaping and even washing. The best systems can clean water well enough to be consumed. Not only does greywater offset the demand for treating water to the highest potable standard, but it also may actually be beneficial to plants as it’s likely to contain nitrogen and phosphorous. Installing one of these systems when building a new house is a lot more economically efficient than retrofitting an existing house. Water-wise, baths take 20 gallons or more of water, but a five-minute shower takes around 10 gallons, making baths about twice as expensive as showers. On the other hand, a shower can consume more water if you have an old-style showerhead, which typically delivers 4 to 5 gallons per minute — quite a rich and wasteful flow of water. To address this issue, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 set maximum water flow rates at 2.5 gallons per minute, so new houses and new showerheads are almost always at or below this number. New showerheads are designed to use less water and create more water pressure so you aren’t aware that you’re getting less. You can easily measure the flow of your showerhead. Simply get a pitcher with gallons marked on the side. While you count one-Mississippi, two- Mississippi, and so on, run your showerhead into the pitcher until you’ve got one gallon. Divide 60 by your Mississippi count and you have your flow rate in gallons per minute. As mentioned previously, 2.5 is the current standard, but you can do better than this without sacrificing much quality.


149Chapter 10: Watering Down Your Water ConsumptionSolar showeringFor fifteen bucks you can get a solar shower and you also need good weather, with plenty ofthat works great. You fill a dark-colored plastic sunshine. But they work great after workoutsbag with water, hang it in the sun for an hour or or by the swimming pool or spa. Once you tryso, and then hang it up in a tree or whatever’s it a few times you can easily get hooked justconvenient. You open the little valve and get a because they’re so natural. If you’re into green,nice, gentle flow of hot water, au naturel. this is a great option.Of course, these are for particular locations And you can use one as a giant water bottle.(outdoors mostly, although not necessarily — Very soothing.you can heat one up outside and bring it inside),Wasting Water in the Toilet Toilets consume (a bad word, I agree) 45 percent of indoor water use, or around 32,000 gallons per year for a family of four. A running toilet (one that makes a constant hissing noise — you know what I mean), can waste up to 4,000 gallons of water per year. Fortunately, you can solve these problems, if you’re willing to do a little dirty work. Parts is parts Many people hate the idea of working on a toilet because, well, it’s a toilet. But if you’re going to work on your toilet, you need to know the difference between one part and another. Trust me. Here’s how it all breaks down: ߜ The tank: This is the part above the throne (uh yes, it’s called the throne). The tank is perfectly clean. (In fact, the water in the toilet tank is as clean as the tap water that’s filling it.) Fortunately, that’s where the working parts are. ߜ The water pipes that feed the tank: These come from the wall and there’s always a valve which will shut off the water flow to the toilet. ߜ The toilet bowl thingee: The throne itself, fit for a king, queen, prince, princess, or toilet-trained house cat, as the case may be. ߜ The plumbing system: This is the part that takes away whatever gets flushed down. Obviously, this is the part that you don’t want to work on.


150 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Easy ways to cut down on water usage Following are a few tips for saving on toilet water: ߜ At least for number one (man, I love euphemisms), don’t use the toilet at all — go outside instead. You think I’m jesting? The birds and the bees do it; are you better than them? (I remember a bumper sticker that was common in California back in the 1980s during a particularly tenacious water shortage: “If it’s yellow, be mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.”) ߜ Don’t use the toilet as a trash can; it’s very expensive compared to a waste basket. Toilets are for butts, not cigarette butts. ߜ If you put a couple quart bottles filled with water in the tank, each flush will use that much less water. Bricks or rocks also work. What to do when your toilet runs If you’re toilet is running, you need to chase, er . . . I mean fix it. Fortunately, finding the problem is almost always simple. The most common problem in a running toilet is the flapper, which is a rubber disk that covers the hole where the water enters the toilet bowl. These are so ridiculously easy to change that anybody can do it. Go to your hardware store and ask the clerk to show you how (they must sell a thousand of these things a day). Every single hardware store on the face of the earth has toilet parts because, well, every single home has a toilet or two. Some homes even have ten toilets. Your hardware store clerk will be more than happy to explain in great detail exactly how your toilet works and show you the parts. You can touch them and play with them to your heart’s content. There are even clubs you can join. You can completely rebuild the workings of most toilets with new parts that will probably work better than the old for less than $60. A plumber will charge a lot more than that, maybe on the order of hundreds of dollars. If you have to work on the mechanisms in the toilet tank, first drain the tank by turning off the shut-off valve (all toilets have a shut-off valve where the water source comes out of the wall) and flushing. The tank will empty down to an inch or two. Now you can work on the working parts.


151Chapter 10: Watering Down Your Water ConsumptionUpdated toilet designsNothing is worse than flushing a toilet and looking back down to find thatit wasn’t 100 percent effective. (Okay, one thing is worse — when the toiletclogs up and overflows all over the bathroom floor, especially when you’re insomebody else’s house.)The old standard technology in toilets simply uses gravity feed to rush thewater down into the bowl and carry away the waste products and any residueleft clinging to the toilet walls. This works well enough most of the time, but ituses a lot of water, so less wasteful designs that accomplished the same thingcame into being.Pressure-assist toiletsPressure-assist toilets use much less water per flush and actually work better.The water is held in the tank under pressure, and when you trigger the flushlever it explodes down into the toilet bowl, thereby removing residue that mayotherwise cling. These toilets are costly ($250 apiece) and hard to fix, plusthey’re very loud so everybody in the house is going to know what you just did.Most public facilities use pressure-assist toilets. If you’re considering a pressureassist toilet, you can decide firsthand if you want this loud noise in your ownhome by going into almost any public facility and sampling the wares.Vacuum-assist toiletsVacuum assist toilets suck waste right out of the bowl (which is sort of theopposite of the pressure-assist method of blasting it out). They’re cheaperthan their pressure-assist counterparts and easier to fix. But the very idea isalso much ickier! Imagine being a vacuum-assist toilet.Compost toiletsCompost toilets don’t flush at all. Hmm. You need to be a hearty soul toconsider these devices, but they’re very earth-friendly. They basically allowthe waste products to decompose in a specially designed chamber. At somepoint, you can take the “materials” out of the “finishing drawer” and toyour landscaping (probably not your vegetable garden, unless you’re reallyhearty).


152 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Watering Your Landscaping Ah, the great outdoors. Most people have some form of landscaping, and many people have extensive landscaping, including a lawn, which is the most water- and energy-intense form of landscaping you can imagine. In a yard, you can conserve water through your landscaping choices and through your choice of sprinkler. The following sections tell you how to use less water and energy in your yard. For green landscaping supplies, check out the following sources: ߜ Composters.com (www.composters.com) ߜ Hobbs and Hopkins, Ltd. (www.protimelawnseed.com) ߜ No Mow Grass (www.nomowgrass.com) ߜ TerraCycle (www.terracycle.net) Considering lawn alternatives The one thing you can do to conserve the most water and energy is to get rid of your lawn. Replace it with drought-resistant plants, and don’t water them much (create a drought of your own!). You can also replace your lawn with native plants that grow and thrive in your climate without need for additional watering (above and beyond what Mother Nature provides). Barring that, you can ߜ Set the height levers on your lawn mower an inch higher. Less heat will hit the dirt beneath the grass, thereby allowing you to water less. And longer grass chokes out the weeds much better than short grass, so you won’t have to use herbicides. ߜ Use a mulching mower, which helps fertilize the grass.Taking energy efficiency to the limitA toilet style finding widespread use in coun- When you flush the toilet, it’s not clean, pristinetries where water is scarce features a little water, but it hardly matters. This makes a lotsink on top of the toilet tank. You wash your of sense because it’s so simple and effective.hands and other sundry items in the sink, and Look to see more of these in the future.that water then drains down into the toilet tank.


153Chapter 10: Watering Down Your Water ConsumptionPicking the right sprinkler and wateringat the right timeIf you need to water your lawn, all sprinklers are not created equal. Somewaste more water than they apply to the plants. And you can also control thetime of day or night you do your watering to gain better efficiency. ߜ If you need to water an large area, use rotary sprinklers, which work the best. Avoid misting sprinklers because all they do is mist water into the air where it blows away into the neighbor’s yard. That may be efficient for them, but that’s not really what this book is about. ߜ Use drippers instead of broadcast sprinklers for isolated plants, particularly when they’re surrounded by bark or other ground cover that doesn’t need any watering at all. You may have to spend more money up front on hardware, but you’ll save a lot of water and your plants will be much healthier because they’re getting water right where they want it — in their root systems. Plus, they’re fun do-it- yourself projects because you get to play with all these little parts that go very well together — at least in theory. A drip system needs to be maintained. Check it once in awhile by turning it on manually and making sure all the drippers are working. ߜ Water at night or early in the morning. The sunshine will be less likely to evaporate most of the water before it gets to where it’s used. ߜ Use battery-operated valves. They save water by regulating the amount that’s delivered. If you turn your system off and on manually, you’ll forget about it. Battery valves can be set to open for a predetermined period of time. These generally fit right onto the faucet for a good mechanically rigid mount. You can get small, cheap valves that you set for a number of gallons instead of time. These work very well for gardens and when your water pressure varies. ߜ Use barrels under downspouts to catch rainwater. You can then use the rainwater for other purposes. If you can, position the barrel in an elevated position (for instance, set it up on some concrete blocks); then simply use gravity feed when you need water.


154 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home


Chapter 11 Pigging Out on Power with AppliancesIn This Chapterᮣ Comparing your appliance usage and costs to those of a typical householdᮣ Cutting back on the cost of heating waterᮣ Finding major ways to save with major appliances, both in and out of the houseᮣ Looking at Energy Star labels on new appliances Including your domestic water heater, around 40 percent of your power bill is consumed by your appliances, big and small. And just because an appliance is small in stature doesn’t mean it’s small in energy consumption. Understanding how much power your appliances consume is the first step toward recovering from the rampant disease of appliancism. You can lower your power bills by using your appliances more sensibly — or even better, by not using your appliances at all. For instance, a great way to lower your power bill is to set up a clothesline. As with all energy efficiency investments, you need to take the bull by the horns.Looking at Typical ApplianceConsumption Numbers Aside from your HVAC system (which I cover in detail in Chapter 8), appliances consume the lion’s share of power in your home. Some of the biggest culprits in most homes are water heaters, washers and dryers, and refrigerators, which are on all the time. There are exceptions, of course. Some homes have aquariums that collectively steal the spotlight. Other homes have an old freezer in the garage that cranks the kilowatts 24/7. Increasingly common are homes with large entertainment centers, and these can gobble kilowatts with the biggest and baddest of energy pigs.


156 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home So what does the typical home spend per year on various electrical appliances? Table 11-1 shows you how many kilowatts per hour (kWh) the average home uses in a year and the annual cost (based on an electric rate of 15 cents per kWh, which is pretty typical). You can determine your own annual usage and cost by gathering your electric bills, which show kWh used and your rate (see the next section for details). If your rate is higher or lower than 15 cents, adjust it accordingly. If you use gas or propane for your dryer, water heater, or stove, the annual cost will be around the same as for electric.Table 11-1 Annual kWh of Usage and Costs for Various AppliancesAppliance kWh Used per Year Annual Cost (RoundedDomestic water heater 5,400 to Nearest Dollar)Spa (pump and heater)Pool pump $810RefrigeratorWashing machine 2,230 $335Waterbed heater 1,430 $215Clothes dryer 1,200 $180Freezer 900 $135Electric cooking 850 $128Dishwasher 845 $127Aquarium/terrarium 750 $113Well water pumpDehumidifier 680 $102Microwave oven 600 $90Television 570 $86Home computerElectric blanket 500 $75 357 $54 150 $23 140 $21 107 $16 98 $15Note: When calculating how much you can save by cutting back on the usageof your appliances, use your top tiered rate, not your average. Why: Becausewhen you cut back, the top tiered rate applies first.


157Chapter 11: Pigging Out on Power with AppliancesKill-A-WattThe best way to determine an appliance’s Simply plug it into your wall outlet and plug anenergy consumption is to make a precise appliance into it, and it will digitally monitor themeasurement, and the best device I’ve seen appliance’s power usage. It outputs the numberfor measuring appliance power usage is the of kWh used in a given number of hours.Kill-A-Watt, made by the P3 Company (www.realgoodscatalog.com; around $30). Unfortunately, the device doesn’t work for 220VAC appliances or for hard-wired appliances like water heaters.Analyzing Appliance Consumptionin Your Home To find out how much an appliance costs per month to run, first estimate how much time it’s on per day. Then determine how much power it consumes. You can usually find this information on the label, but you may have to consult the instruction manual or go to the manufacturer’s Web site. Use this formula to estimate your monthly cost to run an appliance: Wattage ÷ 1,000 × hours on per day × cost per kWh × 30days = total cost per month Say you want to know how much it costs you to run your washer, dryer, and iron (assume that your rate is 15 cents per kWh): Washer: You run your 900-watt washing machine for six hours a week. (Figure your daily usage by dividing the number of hours the washer is on by the number of days in a week: 6 ÷ 7 = .86). Here’s what you spend: 900 ÷ 1,000 × .86 × .15 × 30 = $3.48 per month Dryer: Your clothes dryer uses 5,570 watts (that’s a whole lot). If you dry clothes for six hours a week, you spend this much to dry your clothes: 5,570 ÷ 1,000 × .86 × .15 × 30 = $21.56 per month


158 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Iron: If you iron clothes with a 1,200-watt iron each morning for 15 minutes, it’s costing you: 1,200 ÷ 1,000 × .25 × .15 × 30 = $1.35 per month Add up these numbers and you can see that for the appliances you use to keep your clothing clean and pressed, you spend a total of $26.40 per month. If you put up a clothesline, you would save $21.56 per month (and around 1,748 pounds per year of carbon dioxide emissions). Plus, your clothes would smell better and you could pat yourself on the back for doing your part to save the planet Earth. You can work this number stuff to death, but what you really want to do is simply make sensible improvements in your efficiency. Start with your biggest appliances and work your way down. Some appliances are easy to use less often; others are harder to do without. It also makes sense to start with the appliances you use the most. Just do your part where you can, and you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes. You can find out how much your old appliances are costing by visiting www. energystar.gov. Click on Home Appliances and enter the year, size, and other data for your old appliance. A calculator tells you how much your current unit is costing, as well as how much you could save if you switched to a new, energy-efficient model. Keeping Water Heaters in Check The water heater accounts for about 20 percent of the typical home’s power budget. Dishwashers and washing machines use up to 80 percent of their energy on heating water, and only 20 percent running the mechanical equipment. The cost of taking showers and baths is almost entirely in the cost of heating water. Unfortunately, the typical domestic water heater is wasteful. It holds a considerable amount of hot water, and when it’s not being used, heat seeps out of the tank, which is sheer inefficiency. The best water heaters have thick insulation, but some heat is still lost. So what can you do to save on water heating costs? Follow the advice in the following sections.


159Chapter 11: Pigging Out on Power with AppliancesMaking time stand stillHere’s an educational project. Try to get your biggest switches (those with the biggestpower meter to stand still. Find your meter numbers, such as 30 or 50) are for your HVACand note the spinning wheel and the numbers. system and your clothes dryer. You may also(These are kWh. When the utility people come have a swimming pool pump or spa that’s onto read your meter, they read this number, then a large circuit.subtract the number they read last month to getyour monthly consumption). As you switch the individual breakers on, you can see how much power each of theFirst, turn off the main breaker on your circuit individual circuits consumes. (Make sure eachpanel. If your meter is still spinning, you have appliance you check is turned on so that it’sa ground fault, and you’re paying for electricity drawing current).that’s basically going through the earth beneathyour feet. This should not to be misconstrued as Here’s where things get interesting. You’llgenerosity; have your utility company come out probably find a circuit that draws current evenand fix this right away. when nothing is turned on in that room. In particular, note that TVs, computers, DVDs, andIf that checks out, turn the main breaker back other digital devices draw current even whenon and check to see how fast it’s spinning. Now they’re turned off.switch off every one of the individual breakersin your box; the spinning should stop, once You can take this a step further by pluggingagain. in various small appliances like hair dryers, portable fans and heaters, electronic games,Now start switching the individual breakers and so forth. You can see how fast the meterback on, one at a time, and see what happens. spins for each of these. Some of these littleThe panel should have a well-articulated legend gadgets can make the meter look like thethat tells you what each breaker is for: HVAC, Tasmanian Devil.laundry room, upstairs lights, and so on. ThePaying attention to pipesWhen you use hot water, not only do you drain the water you use from thehot water tank, but all the intervening plumbing fills with hot water as well.The amount of hot water trapped in your pipes can be significant, dependingon how you’re using the water and how far away the faucet or tap is from thetank.If you’re taking a bath, the amount of water in the pipes is small comparedto the amount in the tub, so you’re not wasting a lot of hot water (aside fromthe fact that taking a bath is inherently wasteful compared to a shower). Butif you’re simply filling a cup with hot water, you’re leaving a heck of a lotmore hot water in the pipes than you’re actually using. You’re almost alwaysbetter off heating water in the microwave oven than drawing it from a tap.


160 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your HomeHow much hot water are you wasting?Here’s a little experiment you can easily perform water sitting in your pipes, which is a big wasteto demonstrate just how much hot water you because all it will do is cool down and releasewaste when you turn on your hot water faucet. the heat into your home’s environment.Get a large pitcher with measurement grada-tions. Hold it below your faucet and turn the hot A number of high-efficiency dishwashers heatwater on. Now measure how much water fills their own water for this very reason. Heatingthe pitcher before you start getting hot water locally is almost always more efficient. In addi-from the tap. You may be surprised to find up to tion, machines that heat their own water worktwo gallons or more have flowed through. This better because they can maintain the specificmeans that there are now two gallons of hot temperature that they need.Staying on top of maintenanceRegular maintenance goes a long way toward maximizing the efficiencyof your hot water heater. Like your HVAC system, you should have yourdomestic water heater tuned up periodically (the gas version gets especiallygummed up). The following sections outline areas to pay attention to.Draining the tankEvery four months or so, drain a quart of water from your tank. There’s avalve near the bottom of the unit for this very purpose. Before you begin,consider where the drained water is going to go. If the heater is in yourgarage, you can broom the water outdoors. Otherwise, you may need a drainbucket. Be sure the bucket is shallow enough to accommodate the valve.The water you drain from your water heater’s tank can be very hot, so becareful.Draining a quart of water directly from your water heater’s tank preventssediment buildup, which affects efficiency. If you haven’t tackled this task inyears, you’ll be shocked at how much crud comes out.Changing the heating elementsChange the heating elements in your electric water heater every few years(most of them have two elements, one on top and one on bottom). Use astainless steel heater element if your old one is corroded. This makes the unitoperate more efficiently and avoids untimely failures.


161Chapter 11: Pigging Out on Power with AppliancesWhen you buy the heater element, be sure to buy a special wrench headthat fits the element; ask the hardware store clerk to help you find the rightwrench. (You may be able to borrow one from a friend and save some money.And if you don’t return it, you can save even more.) Note that sometimesvery old heating elements get stuck into place, in which case you can useWD-40: just spray it on, wait a day and then give it another try.Finding more ways to saveBeyond regular maintenance, you can do several things to make your waterheater more efficient. Temperature, timing, and insulation are all factors thatcome into play.Setting the water temperature lowerMost domestic water heaters are set at too high a temperature. Scaldingwater is too hot. For each 10°F reduction in water heater temperature, youcan expect to lower your heating cost by 3 to 5 percent. You may find your-self dialing more hot water in your shower to get to the same comfort level,but so what? The most common problem you may encounter if you lower thetemperature is that your dishwasher may not clean as well. You can usuallyremedy this by changing to a detergent that requires a lower temperature(read the label). See the section “Lessening the Load on Your Dishwasher”for more information.Using timersHot water heaters consume a lot of energy when they’re on. Most of themaren’t on all that much, but when they are, they gobble power up. Use a timerto turn off your hot water heater at night and during the day when you’regone. Specialty hardware stores sell special units for this purpose. Thesalespeople can tell you how to install them.When you’re away from home for extended periods, turn the hot water heateroff before you go. Either flip off the appropriate circuit breaker in your fusebox or turn off the gas valve (in which case you’ll have to relight the pilot).You may also be able to turn the temperature all the way down to minimumand then turn it back up when you return.Adding insulationInsulate the storage tank with a specially-made blanket. Your utility companymay give you one free (call the customer-service number and ask). Or youcan buy one for $10 to $20 at most hardware stores. A tank that’s warm to thetouch is a clear sign that you’re losing heat and can save money and increaseefficiency by adding insulation.


162 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Insulating your hot water pipes is easy, and a number of options are available. The best is a long, cylindrical piece of foam with a slit lengthwise — you just slide it over a pipe and you’re done. Don’t worry about corners and inaccessible pipes — whatever you can cover helps increase efficiency. Another option is a fiberglass wrap that you roll around and around the pipe and then cover with a plastic tape material. This covers the pipe more completely than the slit foam, but it’s a lot harder to install, especially if the pipe is close to a wall. Considering a solar or tankless water heater Most North Americans (almost 55 percent) heat their water with natural gas. About 38 percent heat water with electricity. (The few others heat with oil and liquid petro gas.) However, two types of water heaters are increasingly being used for their energy efficiency: solar and tankless water heaters. ߜ Solar water heaters are the best from an energy-efficiency standpoint, but the economics vary greatly from region to region and depend on your power rates and rate structure. From a pollution perspective, you can’t do better than solar. See Chapter 16 for details. ߜ Tankless water heaters have no storage tank; they heat water as it is being used. They are generally gas-powered because of the need for very high, instantaneous power. They’re more expensive than conventional water heaters, but if you don’t use much hot water, you can save big in the long run. Smaller units only work with a single tap or faucet at one time, so if you’re interested in taking a bath while you’re doing the dishes, forget it. Large-capacity units cost around $1,000 (a conventional unit costs only $300). Units can save the typical family $100 per year, so the payback in extra investment cost is around 7 years. Tankless water heaters are especially good if you have a cabin or second home that you don’t use that often. In this case, you won’t be continu- ously heating a big tank full of water while you’re gone. (And although you could turn your water heater off if you’re going away for a long time, if you’re like most people, you’ll forget. With a tankless water heater, you don’t have to remember.) Making the Most of Pools and Spas Pools and spas can be very big expenses. They both require chemicals and filters. By definition, a spa — a hot tub with a whirlpool device — requires a heater. Many pool owners like to heat their pools, too. The following sections tell you how to save money on these energy hogs.


163Chapter 11: Pigging Out on Power with AppliancesMaking your pool energy-efficientIf you own either an above ground or an in-ground pool, there are a variety ofways to you can achieve the same performance at far less cost in energy aswell as chemical consumption. In my experience, most pool owners can do afew very simple things and save big.Optimizing operationsOne way to increase how efficiently your pool runs is to do routine maintenanceand make a few changes for optimal operation: ߜ Make sure all valves are working properly. If you have gate valves (the kind that lets you dial in the amount of water flow you want), replace them with ball valves, which are more efficient (ball valves are either on or off, and when they’re on they impede water flow much less than a gate valve). Make sure all ball valves are completely open or closed; it doesn’t make any sense to adjust one to half open. ߜ Keep the filter clean. A dirty filter loads the pump, which costs a lot more in terms of power. If your filter is old, replace it. Cartridge filters are much better than diatomaceious earth, which use a big cartridge full of loose sediment filter material that’s difficult to work with and expensive as well. ߜ Run your filter pump less. Most people run their pool pumps much longer than necessary. Try running yours half as long as you do now and see what happens. If you calculate how much it costs to run the average pool pump, the hair on the back of your neck will stand on end. ߜ Drain your pool in the off-season, and turn your pump off. If you can’t drain your pool, you’ll have to leave the pump on because the water will get so filthy you’ll need to drain it and change it. But you can’t drain it. ߜ Install windbreaks around your pool. Convection losses from wind can increase water evaporation 300 percent or more, which wastes not only water, but heat as well. Windbreaks keep your pool warmer with less evaporation.Sealing in the heat: Solar pool coversDespite the fact that the surface area of most swimming pools is large, verylittle sunlight is converted into heat. Pool water is transparent (hopefully),so sunlight simply passes right through. In addition, during the night, a poolloses a lot of whatever heat it manages to store up during the day.The cheapest and most effective solar heating system for your swimming poolis a solar cover. A cover converts sunlight into heat, which then transfers intowater. Some covers are black for this very reason. But the most widely usedare made of inexpensive clear plastic that looks like bubble wrap. The air bubbleswork as insulation: Heat that goes in can’t get out. You can get a cover foraround 30 cents a square foot ($130 for an average-size pool).


164 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Why do these covers work so well? Because they do the following: ߜ Prevent heat from escaping from your pool at night, when the air is cooler than the swimming pool. You can easily lose four or five degrees in temperature over the course of a cool night. If you use a heater to heat you water, it doesn’t need to work as hard to maintain (or return to) the set temperature. If you don’t use a heater, the retained heat just make the water that much warmer. ߜ Limit evaporation and retain heat. Each gallon of evaporated 80°F water removes about 8,000 Btu (2.34 kWh) from the pool. ߜ Reduce chemical depletion, which reduces cost and may be considered a form of energy conservation. ߜ Increase the temperature of an in-ground pool by 5°F for each 12 hours of coverage. You can extend your swim season a couple months just by using a plastic cover. For example, in the Midwest you may be able to swim in a covered pool from mid-April until mid-October, whereas a completely unheated pool would only be usable from mid-May until mid-September. You don’t need to cover your pool during the hottest months, which is when people want to swim the most. Just fold the cover up and store it whenever it’s not in use. You don’t need to cover your entire pool to reap the benefits. If you have a kidney-shaped pool, floating a rectangular cover over the pool will still help considerably. Covers have to be placed on and removed from the water. Many kinds of sys- tems are available to assist you in this process, some manual, some automatic: ߜ Manual systems cost around $300. These roll up the cover, much like a window blind. But you still have to pull the cover back out over the pool, and you may have to get into the water first. In either case, cranking the handle is not easy; women and children may have a hard time. ߜ Automatic systems can cost over $1,000, and the installation is a bear. But all you have to do is press a switch and voilà! The cover moves back and forth of its own volition — at least in theory — all mechanical systems are prone to failures. As beneficial as pool covers are, they do pose certain problems: ߜ Plastic pool covers: When plastic bubble wrap covers get old, they fray. Plastic shards can get into the filter and may even cut the filter paper, necessitating a new, expensive filter. Storing these covers in the sunlight (when they’re not wet) also causes the plastic to degrade.


165Chapter 11: Pigging Out on Power with Appliances ߜ Any pool cover: Any pool cover can be dangerous! Anyone (particularly a child) who falls into a plastic pool cover will get “wrapped” by the cover, and getting out of this situation can be very difficult. Even automatic covers, which extend across the water surface and are secured by tracks, don’t entirely eliminate the risk of drowning. These fill with water when it rains, and children have been known to fall onto the cover and drown in the standing water.Using a solar swimming pool heaterCertain energy expenditures, like driving, heating in the winter, lighting and soon, are just plain necessary (although you can still reduce them). Other energyexpenditures — like heating a swimming pool — are entirely discretionary.Strictly speaking, you don’t need to heat your pool — at least not in the summer.You can even swim in the middle of winter without heat (talk about putting hairon your chest!).If you want to become more energy efficient, not only to reduce your costsbut also to reduce greenhouse gases, one of the best solutions is to use solarenergy to heat your pool. It’s the only solution that is completely free ofpollution. See Chapter 16 for details on solar swimming pool heaters.There are other options for heating your pool, like natural gas heaters (theseare common) or electric. But these are so expensive that they shouldn’t evenbe mentioned in a book on energy efficiency. You can save up-front moneyon an electric or gas heater, granted. But the steroid-bound utility bills theyguarantee will quickly make your initial frugality seem foolish.Getting into hot water with a spaSpas are energy pigs, and you can’t do much about it. Old spas are far worsethan the new versions, which have excellent insulation and good covers. Ifyou’ve got an old redwood spa without a cover, throw it away now and buya new spa. Other than that, here are some tips for making your current spamore efficient: ߜ Always use a cover. You can waste 80 percent of the heat without a cover. Covers are cheap if you buy an off-the-shelf size — you just have to tolerate a little slop over the edges. ߜ Insulate your spa. You can use a box of expandable foam insulation or you can stuff batt insulation into the crevices. Either one makes a big difference. You can often get old insulation for free. Contractors who remodel houses may let you scavenge their work sites to your heart’s content. Who cares if it’s cruddy old stuff? It’s going outdoors, and nobody’s going to see it anyway.


166 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ Run your filter less. You can probably run your filter cycle less often than you think without sacrificing much quality. The vast majority of pool owners could halve their filter on time, without apparent loss of water quality. Give it a try. You may even be able to reduce it more. ߜ Turn it off when you’re away. When you’re on vacation, empty your spa and turn it off. If you time it right, you can make your vacation coincide with water-changing time. ߜ Turn the temperature down in the summer. Better yet, turn the heater off entirely. Washing and Drying without the Crying The average washing machine wastes more energy than any other appliance in the home. With due diligence, most households can save 50 percent on operating costs and use 50 percent less water (including hot water, which costs a lot more than cold) just by changing the way they do laundry. Following are some practical tips. Running hot or cold: Changing water temperature A great way to save energy doing laundry is to use hot water only when you need to. Eighty-five percent of the energy used in washing is consumed by heating the water. A lot of people simply run their machines on hot all the time. You can easily save 25 percent on your washing costs by using cold water most of the time — in particular, for the rinse cycle. Look on the label of your detergent for the best ways to use cold water. You can also effectively wash in cold water if you use detergent made for cold water. Check your detergent label to find its temperature requirement. Another way to save energy is to make every member of the household responsible for cleaning his or her own clothes. You’ll see an instant decrease in wash-load quantity, especially if you have kids. Adjusting load size, water level, and cycle When you wash clothes, use as little water as necessary to get the job done. To that end, only wash full loads — it’s much more efficient, per item of clothing, than partial loads. Always adjust the water level to the lowest possible setting for the load size. For the smallest loads, use a mini-basket insert that fits over the agitator.


167Chapter 11: Pigging Out on Power with AppliancesYou can also take advantage of the cycles your washer offers. If yours has apre-soak cycle, use it. Presoaking cycles save energy. They take more time,but so what? Some washers also let you choose the speed of the spin cycle.Faster spin speeds remove more water, resulting in less dryer time. If you’reusing a clothesline, faster, longer spins make your life much easier becausethe clothes weigh less and pull the line down less.Don’t use too much detergent. Contrary to what you may think, more is notnecessarily better, especially if it doesn’t get completely rinsed out. Themore detergent you use, the more you have to rinse.Saving drying costsDryers use more power than every appliance save the washing machine andrefrigerator. Saving money with your dryer is easy.Avoiding the dryer altogetherThe best way to save money on drying costs is to use a clothesline — youknow, that thing in the backyard that your mother used when you weregrowing up so long ago. Clothes dried outdoors smell much better, particularlyif they’re in direct sunlight.The best clothesline style for most users is an “umbrella” arrangement (trueto its name, it folds up like an umbrella). You mount it into the ground and itrotates, so you can set your laundry basket down and move the line aroundas you pin clothes up. It features the most length of line for the least amountof space, due to its spiraling structure. Retractable mechanisms are great.I have a clothesline on my back porch, and when it’s not in use, the lineretracts so you can’t even see it.To determine the best location for your clothesline, consider the following: ߜ Convenience counts. If getting to the clothesline is a hassle, you’ll be less apt to use it. Garages work well, and they’re usually right next to the laundry. Open the garage door if you can. Otherwise, your garage will get humid. ߜ Air movement is helpful. A breezy spot with direct sunshine is ideal.Not convinced fresh air can freshen clothes? Try this experiment: Take somesweaty, smelly workout clothes and simply hang them up in direct sunshine.Check them out a couple hours later — they may feel and smell better thanclothes you run through the washing machine.


168 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Another way to avoid using the dryer is to hang clothes to dry indoors. A quick, easy way to dry small loads is to simply hang them over your shower curtain rod while you’re at work. You need some ventilation in your bathroom or you’ll humidify your home, but maybe that’s what you want to do. Timing is everything If you time the use of your dryer just right, you can take the best possible advantage of the heat it puts out. Consider the following tips to decrease your drying costs: ߜ Over-drying is hard on clothes, and it wastes energy. Like pasta, clothes should be dried al dente (just enough). ߜ Moisture sensors are much better than timed drying cycles (using a timer makes no sense at all, if you think about it). ߜ Cool-down cycles are the most efficient because the dryer heater gradually shuts off and the residual heat finishes the cycle. ߜ Dry two or more loads in a row, thereby taking advantage of the dryer’s retained heat. Taking care of your dryer’s ductwork Dryers have vented pipes (around 4 inches in diameter) that lead outdoors. The purpose of these pipes is to vent the hot air to the outside environment (take that, Mother Nature!). To work most efficiently, this vent pipe needs to be free of obstruction. ߜ Clean the removable filter every time you use the dryer. Keep a small waste bin by the machine so you can toss the coagulated lint into it. ߜ Check your dryer ductwork. It may be clogged with years’ worth of accreted crud, which causes inefficiency. New ductwork is cheap. You can find it at any hardware store; ask the clerk for help. ߜ Where your ductwork ends outside you’ll find a vent, often with a flapping door that opens and closes when the dryer is on and off (to keep birds and rodents out of the line). These often get dented and smashed, thereby restricting flow and wasting money. If possible, just get rid of the vent. Or replace the one you have with a better-working model. ߜ You can buy a duct cleaner — a long, snaking wand with a big, bushy brush head that you cram down the duct line — but for the cost, you’re probably better off simply rebuilding the ductwork, assuming you have easy access. Many ducts are built into walls, in which case you’re stuck with cleaning. ߜ Use the straightest, shortest duct possible. Ninety-degree bends cause your dryer to work harder and longer to accomplish the same task. In fact, most ductwork can be rebuilt to good advantage.


169Chapter 11: Pigging Out on Power with AppliancesKeeping Your Cool with Refrigerators The number-one way to save money with your refrigerator is to keep the coils clean. On either the bottom or the back of your unit is a meandering line of narrow tubing. Air is drawn over this tubing, and, over time, dust accumu- lates and clogs the flow, decreasing your refrigerator’s efficiency. You can get special brushes that enable you to brush the collected dust off the tubes, or you can simply use your vacuum cleaner. Coils on the bottom of a refrigerator are harder to get to than those on the back, although for the latter, you have to move your refrigerator out. You’re likely to be shocked at how much dirt and crud accumulate behind your refrigerator. This stuff causes health problems. If your refrigerator is 15 years old or more, buying a new one is undoubtedly cost-effective. Look for a top-bottom model rather than a side-by-side. The top-bottom refrigerator arrangements use around 10 percent less energy than their side-by-side counterparts. The payback on a new energy-efficient refrigerator is less than five years. Beyond buying a new refrigerator, you can do other things to make the refrigerator you have run more efficiently. The following sections explain. It’s what’s on the inside that counts How you arrange your food, the temperature settings you select, and how much ice buildup you have in the freezer all contribute to how well or poorly your refrigerator works. Some advice: ߜ Check the temperature. If your refrigerator allows different tempera- ture settings for different zones, adjust the temperatures accordingly. Recommended temperatures are 37–40°F for the refrigerator, and 5°F for the freezer. Long-term freezer storage (deep freezers) should be set at 0°F. Place a cheap thermometer in a glass of water in the center of the refrigerator. In the freezer, place the thermometer between a couple frozen packages. You can then check temperatures in different locations and see how they compare. ߜ Defrost the freezer. Ice buildup makes for inefficiency. ߜ Eliminate overcrowding. When the air inside a compartment can’t move, the machinery has to work harder. ߜ Cover all foods in the compartments. Uncovered foods release a lot of moisture and make the compressor work harder. Besides, if you don’t cover the food, it’ll taste weird.


170 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Close the door! Keep your refrigerator’s doors closed as much as possible — an obvious piece of advice, perhaps, but worth stating anyway. Of course, if you have kids like mine, this admonition goes in one ear and out the other. Tight seals are a must. If they’re tattered and leaking, you’re wasting up to 25 percent of the refrigerator’s energy (even more if your home is hot). If you can’t change the seal, use some silicon sealant instead (the same kind you buy for bathtubs and sinks works just fine). Follow these steps: 1. Spray Pam over the metal frame surface of the refrigerator where the seal should be located. 2. Squirt the silicon over the seal. 3. Close the door and let the material dry. One or two? Operating one large refrigerator is much more efficient than operating two smaller units. A lot of people have a refrigerator in their garage — usually the one that used to be in the kitchen. You may not want to throw it away, but old reefers cost a lot of money. That unit in your garage is costing you a lot more than the new one. Is it worth it? What do you have in there, anyway? Drinks for the kids? A whole pig? You can surely live without two refrigerators. Lessening the Load on Your Dishwasher Dishwashers use as much energy as clothes washers and dryers. Around 80 percent of this energy is consumed by heating the water — which means that one way to maximize your energy efficiency is to reduce the amount of hot water your dishwasher uses. Another way to save energy is to modify the way you rinse your dishes and load the dishwasher. The following sections explain. Using less hot water New dishwashers heat their own water, which is far more efficient than drawing hot water from the water heater the way older models do. Keep this feature in mind if you’re in the market for a new dishwasher.


171Chapter 11: Pigging Out on Power with AppliancesWashing dishes by hand?Believe it or not, a detailed scientific study was automatic dishwasher used only 4 gallons andperformed to determine whether hand washing 1.5kWh of electricity. Not only that, but impartialor machine washing dishes is more efficient. judges determined the dishes from the machineHand washing a complete 12-piece setting of were much cleaner. Hmm. Sounds like my kidsdishes in a sink used around 30 gallons of water were doing the hand washing.and 2.5 kWh of electricity for water heating. AnIn addition, dishwashers get warm and heat your kitchen. In the winter, thisis fine. In the summer, it makes your air conditioner work harder. Duringwarm months, use the no-heat dry option. If your machine doesn’t have ano-heat option, simply stop it after the rinse cycle, open the door, and let thedishes dry that way.In the summer, the dishwasher humidifies your house quite a bit. Get someventilation going to get that humidity out of the house, and you’ll feel cooler.The temperature of the water from your domestic heater may affect the qualityof your dishwasher’s performance. If the water isn’t hot enough, your machinewill have a hard time doing the job. However, some detergents are rated for alower water temperature. (For more information on water heaters, refer to theearlier section “Keeping Water Heaters in Check.”)Changing the way you rinse and loadThe key here is to minimize how much water you use. Here are some suggestionsto help you do that: ߜ Rinse dishes as little as possible. In fact, just scraping off large chunks of food without rinsing at all is often sufficient. Most dishwashers do a good job of getting rid of caked-on, hard stuff. New models have special cycles that steam-heat the crud and loosen it up. ߜ Always run a full load. Your dishwasher uses just as much water to wash a few dishes as a full load, so make the most of the water you use. ߜ Try skipping the pre-rinse cycle on your dishwasher and using the economy wash cycle. You probably won’t be able to tell the difference.


172 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Eating Up Power with Stoves and Microwaves Depending on how much you cook in your home, energy costs for your stove and microwave can be significant. There are a number of easy things you can do to save costs, and in this section, I describe the best and easiest candidates. Checking out efficient ovens Some ovens (both microwave and conventional) are just plain more efficient than others. Some have features that offer extra efficiency, and some are more efficient even without the extra features. ߜ Self-cleaning ovens: These ovens are more efficient because they have higher insulation levels. What this means is that less heat is lost to the outside ambient while you’re cooking. ߜ Gas ovens with pilotless ignition: One of these ovens saves you 30 percent over its lifetime, and the air in your home will be cleaner. With pilot lights, some gas is always being burned (you can usually see the little blue flame wavering near the burner). With a pilotless gas stove, a spark plug type device ignites the gas each time the burner is turned on. ߜ Convection ovens: Convection ovens incorporate a small, high-temperature fan that moves the internal air in the oven compartment thereby bringing more heat into contact with the food being baked. Convection ovens are very efficient because they allow you to bake in less time, with less energy. Use your convection feature if you have one. Altering your cooking techniques You don’t have to use a conventional oven to cook a hot meal. Sometimes the following appliances can do the job more efficiently: ߜ Toaster ovens: Use a toaster oven for small jobs. Small toaster ovens (the kind that sit on your countertop) take much less energy than big conventional ovens. And if you know how to use them properly, you can get great browning effects. They don’t cost much, but you’re better off getting a good one with an automatic timer and temperature controls.


173Chapter 11: Pigging Out on Power with Appliances ߜ Barbeque grills: Use your barbecue as much as possible in the summer. From an efficiency standpoint, gas models are the best. Charcoal grills waste a lot of energy (you can’t turn them off and on, as needed), plus they put out far more pollution. Small propane barbecues work very well and, contrary to what some people claim, they don’t make the food stink. Burning petro-based charcoal is no different than burning petro- based natural gas. ߜ Crock pots and portable pressure cookers: In the summer, put them outdoors to save air-conditioning costs and lower humidity. Even when nothing but a conventional oven will do, you can employ energy- saving strategies like the following: ߜ Bake dishes simultaneously. Try to fill your oven with a number of dishes at the same time. This will lower the per-item cooking cost. If different items call for different temperatures, relax; there’s wiggle room. Put the items that need higher temperatures on the top rack, and items that need lower temperatures on the lower rack (that’s easy to remember). ߜ Don’t preheat. Let your food warm up with the oven. And turn your stove off a few minutes before the allotted cooking time — the residual heat will finish the process. ߜ Don’t lay foil on racks. Foil obstructs the natural flow of heat. ߜ Use glass or ceramic pans in the oven. The food cooks more efficiently, and the texture is better. ߜ Match the pan to the size of the heating element. This way, no heat escapes around the edges. ߜ Contain heat in the summer. Putting a lid on that boiling pot reduces the amount of heat and humidity that’s released into the air. Rinse pans out as soon as practical to cool them down. ߜ Release heat in the winter. In cold weather, let hot pots and pans release their heat into your home. Don’t rinse them out because that washes the heat right down the drain.Enjoying the Fine Life withTVs and Computers Although the new flat-screen televisions reduce power consumption, the trend toward gigantic screens drives consumption right back up. Combine a big screen with a big sound system, and your entertainment center may be costing you an arm and a leg. Computers and their various components and accessories constitute a similar category of common household energy- eaters. What’s a modern man to do?


174 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home For starters, be aware that “off” doesn’t always mean what it implies. Even when your TV, entertainment system, computer, monitor, DVD player, and so on are sitting idle, they’re still drawing power. (Check out the earlier sidebar “Making time stand still” to see this for yourself.) You can put a halt to this energy drain by plugging these appliances into a power strip and turning the power strip off when you’re not using them. In the same vein, always use the power down feature on your computer, and turn your computer off at night and on weekends. Remember, even in the sleep mode, power is being wasted. Don’t forget to turn your printer off when it’s not in use, too. Some processors use a lot more juice than others. Do you really need all that speed and power? Probably not, although computers have now taken over the role that big muscle cars used to play for macho hard guys. Laptop com- puters use a lot less power than desktops, so if you can, opt for a laptop. Old CRT monitors draw considerably more power than the new, flat-screen ver- sions. They also put out a lot of extra heat, requiring more air conditioning in the summer. So you may want to update (unless, of course, you’re looking for heat in your home office, in which case you may want to keep your old CRT). Buying New Appliances Most of the time you don’t have a choice over whether to buy a new appliance. The old one breaks, it can’t be repaired, and you come to the difficult conclusion that it’s time for a funeral. Many people also decide that upgrading to a more energy-efficient model is worth the investment. Fortunately, the government has made your decision process easy for you with the Energy Star program (yes, a government program that actually works the way it’s supposed to — take advantage of this rare opportunity!). The Energy Star is only awarded to appliances that significantly exceed the minimum national efficiency standards, typically by 20 percent, and by as much as 110 percent. Energy Star ratings apply to all major appliances, plus HVAC systems, natural gas and oil systems, programmable thermostats, and so on. Even windows are certified with Energy Star. You can easily find the Energy Star Label on those products to which the standard applies (see Figure 11-1).


Refrigeration-Freezer 175Chapter 11: Pigging Out on Power with Appliances Capacity: 23 Cubic Feet (Name of Corporation) Model(s) AH503, AH504, AH507 Type of Defrost: Full Automatic Estimates on the scale are based Only models with 22.5 to 24.4 on a national average electric rate cubic feet are compared in of 7.9¢ per kilowatt hour. the scale. Model with $145 Model with lowest highest energy cost energy cost $108 $210 THIS MODEL Estimated yearly energy cost Your cost will vary depending on your local energy rate and how you use the product. This energy cost is based on U.S. Government standard tests. How much will this model cost you to run yearly? Cost per Yearly cost kilowatt hour Estimated yearly $ cost shown below 2¢ $36 4¢ $73 6¢ $109 8¢ $146 10¢ $182 12¢ $218 Ask your salesperson or local utility for the energy rate (cost per kilowatt hour) in your area. Room Air Conditioner (Name of Corporation) Capacity: 5400 BTU/hr Models 000XXX Models with the most efficient Models with 5300 to 5799 energy rating number use less BTU’s cool about the same energy and cost less to operate space Least Efficient 9.0 Most Efficient model model 6.3 9.0 Energy Efficiency Rating (EER) This energy rating is based on U.S. Government Standard Tests. How much will this model cost you to run yearly? Yearly hours 250 750 1000 2000 3000 of use Estimated yearly $ cost shown below 2¢ $ 3 $ 9 $12 $ 24 $ 36 Cost per 4¢ $ 6 $18 $24 $ 48 $ 72 kilowatt 6¢ $ 9 $27 $36 $ 72 $108 hour 8¢ $12 $36 $48 $ 96 $144 10¢ $15 $45 $60 $120 $180Figure 11-1: 12¢ $18 $54 $72 $144 $216 An Energy Star label. Ask your salesperson or local utility for the energy rate (cost per kilowatt hour) in your area. Your cost will vary depending on your local area rate and how you use the product.


176 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home The Energy Star label shows the product’s annual power consumption. Even better, note the annual cost estimates based on different utility rates. On these labels, the highest rate is 12 cents, which is somewhat anachronistic in light of rising energy rates. But multiplying the costs based on your own rates is easy enough. For instance, if you’re paying 16 cents, simply multiply the result based on 8 cents by two. You can easily compare different models of appliances using the Energy Star labels. Simply compare the estimated annual costs. You can then compare the difference in price with the difference in costs. If you want to buy an energy-efficient appliance, buy one with an Energy Star certification; it’s that simple. You can get super-duper-efficient models, but they tend to cost a lot more than they’re worth. These are generally for the off-grid crowd or those willing to pay any price to go green. For the most part, if you buy an Energy Star model and use it efficiently, you’re doing very well. Now if only the government would come out with an income tax form that made as much sense as Energy Star. . . .Playing it safe with combustion appliancesNearly a third of water heaters and stoves (and ߜ Yellow flames always indicate that the gasmany refrigerators) use natural gas. These units is being burned inefficiently, which causesrequire a few extra precautions that are worth soot buildup, as well as wasted money.noting: If you see yellow flames, get a service technician to tune up your system.ߜ All combustion equipment should be installed and maintained by knowledge- ߜ Combustion equipment always requires able personnel. Electrical equipment appropriate ventilation (the reasons are is inherently safer, and, as a result, it’s too complex for the scope of this book, but cheaper because you can do most of the trust me on this one). Read the instruction maintenance yourself. With combustion manuals, and make sure that a qualified equipment, you assume some extra risks. service person not only installs the equip- ment, but also maintains it. If in doubt, optߜ Install a carbon monoxide detector near the for the service call — your family’s life may equipment. be on the line.ߜ Make sure your smoke detectors are working correctly.


Chapter 12 Controlling Solar Exposures in Your HomeIn This Chapterᮣ Taking advantage of sunlight to light and heat your homeᮣ Using inside and outside blinds for insulation and light controlᮣ Installing overhangs, awnings, and outdoor shadesᮣ Adding on greenhouses and sunrooms Sunshine is free (at least until the government comes up with a way to tax it). And sunshine is natural and amiable, so it should be used as much as possible. In fact, most people do use sunshine, but not nearly as effectively as they could. Using sunshine effectively isn’t as simple as just letting the sun shine in. Obviously, in the winter, you want both the sunshine and its heat in your home as much as possible. In the summer, you want the sun’s light but not the heat — two goals that are almost always at odds. In this chapter, I show you how to heat your home in the winter and avoid doing so in the summer. I show you how to light your home with sunshine, and how to plan and build sunrooms that increase the value of your home and provide increased living area at an efficient cost. (For much greater detail on this subject, check out Solar Power Your Home For Dummies, also authored by yours truly and published by Wiley.)Lighting Your Home with Sunshine The more you use sunshine to light your home, the less you need to rely on artificial lighting. Using sunshine to your advantage also creates a kinder, more inviting atmosphere. The following sections outline a variety of ways to manipulate sunlight and reap all the benefits it has to offer. (For details on how to deal with the heat factor, head to the later section “Heating Your Home with Sunlight — Or Not.”)


178 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Planting a tree By far the best way to control sunlight in your home is to strategically locate deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves in the winter) around your home’s exterior. If you plant a single deciduous tree outside a southern- exposed window, particularly a large window, you benefit in many ways. In the summer, the leaves block most of the sunlight, leaving the room with diffused, subtle, cool light. On a hot summer day, harsh sunlight makes you feel even hotter, but shade creates a sense of calm and well-being, not to mention relief. In the winter, with the leaves gone, direct sunlight enters the room, casting the interior with warmth (due to the greenhouse effect), as well as a bright, yellow tint that feels warm. Making natural light more effective You can make the most of whatever natural light is available to you. Here are a number of clever ways to increase the effectiveness of sunlight in your home’s interior spaces. Putting up mirrors to enhance existing light Position your mirrors in corners to broadcast light around the entire room. In essence, mirrors magnify light. Two mirrors positioned catty-corner on opposing walls work even better and make the room seem much larger. Before you nail a mirror up permanently, try it out at different times of the day to gauge its effect. If you want more effect in the morning than the evening, put the mirror on an eastern-facing wall. Also keep in mind that mirrored closet doors often work wonders to light a bedroom and increase its perceived size. Using glass bricks to let light in Cut some high holes through the solid walls of a dark hallway (it doesn’t matter whether the walls lead to other rooms or outdoors) and put glass bricks into the spaces so that light enters the hallway. Doing so not only spreads light but also makes the hallway seem larger and less restrictive. In fact, your entire home will feel friendlier and more open. Installing glass bricks is a relatively straightforward and inexpensive do-it-yourself project (ask for more details at your hardware store). Using windowed doors Instead of the usual solid wood doors, install French doors between rooms. You can get French doors from most any building supply stores. Even if you use curtains for privacy, the light will still shine through, and your home will seem more spacious. You’re likely to find one location in your home that’s a perfect candidate for a French door.


179Chapter 12: Controlling Solar Exposures in Your HomeDon’t forget the front door. Glass panels can lighten up your entryway, andguests will find them more inviting than a solid, impersonal mass of heavywood staring them in the face. Then again, maybe you don’t want toencourage guests.Getting rid of overgrowthIf vegetation is crowding the light through one of your windows, cut it back.This is especially important with windows facing east, because morningsunlight works much better than coffee, and it’s not a laxative.Cleaning or tinting your windowsSpotless windows make a huge difference in the way a room feels. Cleaningmay not matter much in terms of the quantity of light coming in, but itdefinitely enhances the quality, which may be even more important.If your problem is that a room gets too much sunshine (or you want toobscure a view to the outside without using blinds), apply window tinting.Tinting comes in sheet tape form, and anybody can put it up (well, prettymuch anybody — it helps if you don’t have ten thumbs).Decorating to make themost of natural lightDecorating a room with light-colored carpeting and walls makes it seem likethere’s a lot more sunshine. Placing the right kinds of trinkets in the rightspots can also make a difference. Here are a few tips: ߜ Hang stained-glass window decorations to create a splashy mood. The decorations dominate the room when the sun shines in directly, adding color, verve, and even some dynamics for a very low cost. You can also use sparkling crystals and ceramic art pieces for the same effect. Sunny breakfast nooks are ideal for spectral trinkets. ߜ Whitewash dark trim molding. This simple trick makes a big difference. Even in a room painted all white, dark molding can dominate. ߜ Mount glass shelves on sunny windows and fill them with knick- knacks. This has the subtle effect of making the room seem much lighter. Glass shelves in a window can also block an undesirable view so you don’t have to close the blinds. Your eye stops at the glass shelves instead of the view beyond.


180 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Installing skylights and solar tubes For those of you with more advanced ambitions, skylights and solar tubes can make a big difference in your home’s lighting for a relatively small investment. Traditional skylights are big, expansive channelers of sunlight, and the large openings in your home’s ceiling will make a room bigger and airier, both literally and figuratively. If you’re interested in skylights, consult with a contractor unless you’re really good with tools and projects. You can find remodel books that detail the tasks, as well as the parts, tools, and skills required. Skylights are very expensive to install. If you want multiple skylights, consider doing them all at the same time. Installing three or four skylights at one time takes around twice as much time and money (rather than three or four times as much) — food for thought when you’re deciding how many skylights to install. Solar light tubes, also known as tubular skylights, are a less expensive alternative. These let in natural light that varies with the clouds and the weather. Solar tubes, which can be installed by just about anybody in half a day for around $250, can have just as much effect as a traditional skylight for around one tenth of the cost. (The typical price, uninstalled, is $200 for a four-foot-long pipe. Extensions cost an additional $20 per foot.) Here’s how a solar light tube system works: Sunlight is collected up on the roof and transmitted down a shiny, silver pipe into a diffuser, which broadcasts the light into the room below (see Figure 12-1). Light Collector Waterproof Flange Roof Solar Light Tube Ceiling Diffuser Figure 12-1: Interior RoomA solar lighttube system.


181Chapter 12: Controlling Solar Exposures in Your HomeIf you’re interested in solar tubes, keep these points in mind: ߜ You can make most rooms bright enough to work in during daylight hours, even in the winter. Large-diameter units (12 inches and more) can output as much light as a dozen 100-watt light bulbs, at one tenth the heat. Because they don’t produce as much heat you can use your air-conditioner much less. One of the best locations for a solar tube is a dark corner in the family room, where the light will be well-used and have a dramatic effect. Solar light tubes are also good for dark, isolated bathrooms. The natural light is comforting, and you never have to flip a light switch during the day. If you have a dark kitchen, a solar tube may be the perfect solution, especially if a lot of people come and go during the day. The light switch won’t be constantly flipped off and on. ߜ The intensity of light changes quite a bit because solar light varies with the clouds and weather. On a partly cloudy day, you can get a lot of fluctuation as clouds move across the sun, making you much more conscious of the outdoors. ߜ The tubes themselves can drastically change the way decor looks. Be prepared for a drastically different room because lighting is very influential in terms of how a room “feels.” (I installed one in a bathroom and had to start a big remodel the next week because the change in tone simply made the old paint and tile colors look old and drab — okay, I didn’t really have to, but my wife made me and she wears the pants.) Also, the silver color imparts a certain “cool” mood. Some types of solar light tubes come with filters for creating moods, but the filters cut out light as well. ߜ Installation isn’t easy (you have to go up into your attic space), but it’s doable. When deciding where to install solar light tubes, always keep the installation itself in mind. Just forget about installing these tubes in locations where you can’t easily go: like shallow attic spaces or near the edges of the attic. If you plan to install solar tubes yourself, heed this advice: • Don’t try to buy separate parts. Get a complete kit, with however many extension tubes you think you need. Get an extra extension, and leave it in the box for return if you don’t use it. • The hardest part of the job is working in the attic space. Plan your route up and over to where the work is going to be done, and figure out how you’ll sit and stand once you get there. Also determine what tools you’ll need. • Cutting through a typical roof takes more than a toy saw. Composite shingles eat jigsaw blades, so get extras. And take precautions to seal against the weather on the rooftop. Solar tubes come with detailed instructions for sealing; follow these instructions carefully or you’ll be sorry. If there’s any possible way for water to get in, it will.


182 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Heating Your Home with Sunlight — or Not In addition to being a great light source, sunlight is a great source of heat — which is wonderful when you want heat, but not so wonderful when you want to stay cool. Fortunately, you can regulate how much heat the sun generates in your home. First, you need to understand the greenhouse effect. The best way to describe how sunshine heats a home is to explain how a greenhouse works. Sunlight enters the enclosed space through the glazing, or window material, and then gets absorbed and turned into heat. The heat stays in the enclosed space thanks to the glazing’s insulation properties (see Figure 12-2). Sunlight Sealed SpaceFigure 12-2: Glazing: The Glass, Plastic, Fiberglass, etc.greenhouse effect. Thermal Mass: Rocks, Concrete, Water, etc. You can enhance the greenhouse effect — and make your home warmer — by increasing the transmissibility of the window and maximizing its insulation. Double-pane glass works well for this, and a number of window coatings and other optical tricks can also be used to good effect. Inexpensive plastic materials that work well are available, although they tend to blur the view. To maximize the heat generated, the space must be well-sealed to prevent air leakage, although the greenhouse effect is often powerful enough to work well even in relatively leaky environments. In fact, sometimes it works so well that the heat is intolerable. (The greenhouse effect explains why your car gets so hot when it sits out in the summer sunshine.)


183Chapter 12: Controlling Solar Exposures in Your HomeSo how do you reduce the greenhouse effect when you don’t want all thatheat? Easy. By controlling the amount of sunshine that enters your home.Installing blinds and sunscreensWhen you install blinds or shades, you control the amount of sunlight that entersyour home. An added benefit is that these things can also increase the beauty ofyour home and, if you’re really smart (of course you are — you’re reading thisbook), you can use blinds and shades to insulate, or maintain heat storage, as well.Bare glass lets the sun enter freely. Using blinds or sunshades (and evencurtains) restricts the amount of sunlight that enters and, depending on howthey’re hung (whether on the inside or outside of the window, and how farfrom the window), affects the insulation properties, as Table 12-1 outlines.You can see your hanging options in Figure 12-3.Bare Glass: Blind on theSun enters freely, inside:modest insulation Absorbs sun on the inside Cuts off light Creates insulation layer Sunscreen tacked Blind hung outside outside window: with an air gap: Stops most Most sunlight is sunlight outside stopped Creates insulation No insulation layer layer outside at window Darker insideFigure 12-3:Differencesin the ways to cover a window.


184 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your HomeTable 12-1 Window Covering OptionsType of Covering Sun InsulationBare glassBlind on the inside Sun enters freely Minimal insulationSunscreen tacked out- Absorbs sun on the Creates excellentside of window inside; controls light- insulation layer inside — ing and enhances good for cold climatesBlind hung outside with decorative qualities and winteran air gap in the room; may also completely block view and light Stops most sunlight out- Creates insulation side; darker inside but layer outside; heat is doesn’t obscure view stopped outside so that the interior of the room is cooler; best for hot climates Stops most sunlight No insulation layer at outside, but doesn’t window; maximum cool- obscure view ing effect, especially in breezy locationsHanging blinds: Inside or out?When you hang blinds on the inside of windows, the sunshine comes inthrough the window, strikes the blind, and gets converted into heat. The heatis trapped in the air gap between the blind and the window and can get veryhot because of the greenhouse effect. Of course, heat is only desirable inthe winter. In the summer, you may have a cooler room if you just leave thewindow uncovered and let the sun and air in. ߜ To warm a room in winter: Contrary to what you may think, the best way to heat a room with sunshine in the winter is not to open the blinds, but to use special blinds that capture sunlight and insulate at the same time. You can get interior blinds made to do just that. ߜ To keep a room cool in summer: Interior blinds made for summer reflect a lot of light back out the window. They are usually shiny and white, at least on the exterior-facing surface.


185Chapter 12: Controlling Solar Exposures in Your HomeInfrared filtering glassYou can get special glass that filters infra- the difference in the view because it transmitsred light out before it gets into your home. In visible light as well as a conventional window.fact, most of the sunlight’s heat comes from Solar screens and other sunlight-inhibitinglight that is invisible to the human eye. Some processes inhibit the view, and you may notanimals can see infrared light (like owls and want this if your window is a centerpiece to anocturnal hunters) but humans can’t see home that features lavish views.it. Infrared filtering glass rejects up to 70percent of the heat of sunlight, yet you can’t tell You’ll pay more for infrared glass, but it may be just the thing. To get the best cooling effect, allow for some ventilation between an outside blind and the open window it covers. If you can’t do that, use an outside blind that has a shiny, metallic exterior surface that simply reflects all sunlight and doesn’t let any heat into the room at all. The room will be completely dark, but this is desirable on a burning hot day. ߜ To maximize the efficiency of an air conditioner: When your air conditioner is on, it’s best to hang blinds so that they create as much insulation as possible and banish sunlight. You can achieve this by closing your interior blinds all the way. If you have outside shades, all the better. The best scheme for a sunny home that uses a lot of air conditioning is both solar screens (see the next section, “Putting up sunscreens”) and interior blinds. The home will be very dark, but it will also be much cooler.Putting up sunscreensSunscreens, also called solar screens, are an inexpensive and effective way tocool your home in the summer. They reflect a lot of sunlight — up to 90percent — plus they create an insulation barrier on the outside. Most aredark, heavy-duty, fabric screens with a tacky surface. Some are a flexible,tinted plastic film. You can get sunscreens up to 8 feet wide, with unlimitedlength.Only windows that get more than a few hours of direct sunlight a day areworth sun screening. The best candidates are tall windows facing south, buteast and west exposures can also get very hot. With a solar screen tacked upon the outside of a window, most of the sunlight is reflected before it evengets to the window. The screen gets hot and an insulation barrier keeps thatheat trapped, but it’s all outside the window.


186 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home You don’t want sunscreens in the winter, which means you need to mount them in such a way that you can bring them down in the winter. Your options: ߜ Use removable frames: You can buy frames for sun screens. Most are aluminum. You can get them either preloaded with screens, or you can load them yourself. They come in a range of colors. ߜ Tack them up. The fastest and cheapest way to cover a window is to tack the screen right onto the window frame. You don’t need anything more than tacks, a hammer or a stapler, and scissors or a box cutter. Just cut the screen down to a few inches bigger than what you need, tack it up, and then trim it with scissors or a box cutter. In the winter, just pull the screen down. ߜ Roll them up like blinds. You can get automatic, electric controllers so that, with the push of a single button, you can command every solar screen in your home. Sunscreens are easy to put up, and most people can do it themselves. Call a screen shop direct for tools, materials, and installation advice. Easy-to-use mounting hardware is essential. (For automatic sunscreens, you’ll need a professional installation.) Before you go the do-it-yourself route, ask the shop what they would charge to install sunscreens for you. They can do a window in a few minutes, and their bid for the entire job may not be much more than what you’ll pay for the material alone. You can expect at least a three-year lifetime with quality sunscreen, at around 75 cents per square foot. For a 3-foot × 6-foot window, if a screen lasts five years, the cost is only $2 per year (with the cheapest installation method). If your climate is hot and sunny, there’s no question you’ll get good payback on this small investment. Cheap screen bleaches out and looks perpetually dirty — avoid it unless you like cheap and perpetually dirty. Covering your windows with exterior awnings Awnings are great light shades because you can configure them in different geometrical relationships and control the light over the course of a day. They also drastically change the appearance of your home for the better. They add shape and break up monotonous flat surfaces, and complement the color scheme of your home’s exterior. Two common awning styles are the Venetian awning and the hood awning (see Figure 12-4):


187Chapter 12: Controlling Solar Exposures in Your Homeߜ Venetian awnings allow sunlight in the winter, when the sun is low in the sky, and block sunlight in the summer, when the sun is high. Venetians also allow you to see out of the top of your window, and the effect is much more open than that of hood awnings.ߜ Hood awnings are more decorative. They can be made of nice fabrics that match or complement the house. They work better in rainy climates because they keep cold water off your windows. (You can lose a lot of heat by water-based convection from rain.)Side ViewsFigure 12-4: Hood Awning Venetian and hood awnings. Venetian AwningDo-it-yourselfers can build very nice-looking wood slat awnings that can beattached to most surfaces. You can buy designs over the Internet, but designingthem yourself is even more fun. You can paint them to match your house, andyou can use materials that last a long time. You can even devise an adjustmentscheme that allows you to raise or lower the pitch, depending on conditions.


188 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Installing outdoor window blinds Outdoor blinds, which are designed to cover windows from the outside, stop the heat on the outside of the home. Plus in the winter, these blinds can act as insulators. Outdoor blinds are usually made of vinyl. Some are prettier than others, which may or may not matter to you. Import shops stock different sizes of roll-up bamboo shades, often priced as low as $5 apiece. You’ll probably have to throw these cheapies out after a single season, but so what — they’re cheapies. These blinds are also commonly used overhead for patios and porches where late afternoon and evening sunlight can prevent you from using the area. In this case, leave them up all day or your floor will heat up (concrete or tile floors hold heat for a long time). Most outdoor blinds have cords that you pull different ways, but if you don’t want to raise and lower the blinds manually, you can find outdoor blinds that retract automatically. Automatic retractable shades are available from specialty suppliers. You can even find solar-powered retractors that work with a hand-held remote controller. Putting up radiant barriers A radiant barrier is a sheet of thin material that looks like reinforced aluminum foil. It’s tacked up beneath your roof joists or simply laid over the insulation on your attic floor. It keeps a lot of heat out of your home, but it doesn’t prevent your attic from getting warm in the winter (in the wintertime, heat rises from your home, and it’s composed mostly of convective heat so radiant barriers don’t have any affect at all). The material itself costs around 20 cents per square foot. For a 2,000-square- foot house, the material costs $400, and the payback can be very impressive. In hot climates, radiant barriers cool the home down more than enough to pay for themselves in less than a couple years. To install a radiant barrier, you simply staple it into place, regardless of whether you mount it overhead or lay it on the floor. (Make sure you have a good quality stapler.) The design of your roof impacts how easy installation will be. Open rafters are the best candidates; if you have complex trusses, forget it. Installation is also a snap if your attic floor is open and easily accessible. Even if you can only cover a portion of the rafters or floor, it’s worth it. Try to cover an entire small area, rather than isolated spots in a number of different areas.


189Chapter 12: Controlling Solar Exposures in Your Home Attics can roast you fast. They’ll heat to over 130°F, easy. Don’t kid yourself; if it feels real hot, it can be dangerous. One way to stay safe is to work in the morning, when things are cooler. Cutting out summertime sunlight with overhangs Overhangs, which are solid constructions built over windows, can provide both financial gain and aesthetic beauty. You can design an overhang to visually complement your home’s roofline. Here’s how overhangs work (see Figure 12-5): In the winter, sunlight can enter the home because the sun is lower in the sky. If you have high thermal mass floors (like concrete or tile), your home will heat up nicely. In the summertime, when the sun is higher in the sky, the overhang stops any direct sunlight from entering the home. Summer Sun 3 Winter Sun 2 All 3 positions will work. 1 Position 3 also makes for a nice porch roof. HouseFigure 12-5: Floor Light Colored ReflectorOverhangs Sliding Glass Door control (or Window) sunshineyear-round.


190 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Be sure the overhang you install changes your home’s appearance for the better (the best looking overhangs mimic the pitch of your roof and use the same materials). Before you nail an overhang up and make it permanent, try to arrange it where it’s going to go and see what it looks like. Alternatively, take a digital photo of the window and use a computer program to play around with different ideas. You can find overhang designs in home plan books. Garnering Sunlight with Greenhouses and Sunrooms There are two types of solar rooms: greenhouses and sunrooms. Green- houses, which are either connected to your home or separate from it, can help warm your home as well as provide inexpensive, delicious, highly nutri- tious food or beautiful and soothing decorative plants. Sunrooms, which are always part of your home, add living space and square footage for a relatively low cost, increase the efficiency of your heating and cooling efforts, and brighten up your home’s ambience and decor. A well-designed solar room can provide up to 60 percent of a home’s heating in the winter, depending on the amount of sunlight available. Even in very cold climates, a solar room can work efficiently. And particularly in a cold climate, a sunroom can provide needed relief from the gray doldrums of winter. Most home additions cost more than your property value increases due to the improvement. But with solar rooms, the variety of designs and the reduced building restrictions make it possible to enjoy profitable appreciations, especially if you do it yourself. Deciding between the different types of solar rooms So which type of solar room is better: greenhouse or sunroom? That depends on what you want to achieve and which type of room you prefer. Greenhouses invite the maximum amount of sunlight and generally require a glass ceiling or sloping glass walls. They are also very functional. They need a water supply, their temperatures need to be regulated (the difference between the hottest and coldest temperatures needs to be kept to a mini- mum, as dictated by the type of plants), they need adequate ventilation to provide oxygen for the plants, and they need floors that can withstand water leaks and mud spillage.


191Chapter 12: Controlling Solar Exposures in Your HomeSunrooms, on the other hand, are designed as extensions of your home’sliving space. You can leave them partially open to the outdoors, or you cancompletely enclose them and put in carpeting and fine furniture. Because toomuch sunlight is uncomfortable and sunrooms are meant to be inviting, theygenerally have water-tight, solid roofs. They may or may not containskylights and vents, but both increase the livability factor.In both types of solar rooms, most of the southern wall space is taken up bywindows or some other suitable glazing material. In addition, both green-houses and sunrooms can increase a home’s privacy by providing a bufferbetween the outside world and the interior spaces.Building a solar room yourselfA do-it-yourselfer can design and build a sunroom or greenhouse at arelatively low cost with relatively low risk. These rooms can be separate fromthe house and, as such, don’t need electrical wiring or plumbing and don’trequire that you obey all the building code requirements that are unavoidableinside of a home.If you don’t want to have to apply for building permits or have the propertyvalue reappraised (with the commensurate increase in property taxes), buildthe sunroom against a house, but don’t actually nail the frame elements to thehome — in this case, it’s just a free-standing porch. (Keep in mind, though,that if you ever sell your house, you can’t advertise your solar room as part ofyour house’s square footage.)If you plan to add a solar room to your home, kits are the best bets for do-it-yourselfers. (Greenhouse kits made of plastic sheets instead of windows areeasy, cheap, and effective.) Fortunately, an entire industry is dedicated tomanufacturing and selling prefab kits that cost anywhere from a few hundreddollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can see samples in show-rooms. It’s always best to touch things before you buy; photos are oftenmisleading and rarely reflect reality the way you expect them to.Alternatively you can build your own custom design and use the samematerials (windows, framing, trim) as the rest of your house. If you have agood imagination, you can find very cheap materials, particularly glasswindows and heavy beams. As much as a well-designed solar room canenhance your home’s aesthetics, a poorly designed one can make your houselook awkward and uninviting. The following sections offer some practical tipsfor creating a solar room you can be proud of and happy with.


192 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ Make very good drawings done to scale before you begin building (use gridded paper and let one square foot equal one grid). Consider all the angles and, if you can, draw some perspectives (from the street, for instance). The more thought you give to the room’s appearance before you start, the better the odds that your solar room will increase the value of your home. ߜ In cold climates, use between 0.65 and 1.5 square feet of double-pane glass for each square foot of building floor area. In temperate climates, use between 0.3 to 0.9 square feet for each square foot of building floor area. Even if you can’t achieve these ratios, any amount of glass will work to your advantage. Solar rooms are usually compromises between the best physics and the best aesthetics and cost. In general, aesthetics should win for sunrooms, while physics should win for greenhouses. ߜ Always build your sunroom on a southern front. Put the absorbers and thermal mass on the north side. Otherwise, your room won’t work to maximum advantage. Also, try to use as many of your home’s existing walls as possible, preferably on both the east and west ends of the sunroom. These walls are already insulated, and they match the house. ߜ The best location in your house is adjacent to the kitchen for attached greenhouses, and adjacent to the living room or family room for solar rooms. These locations afford not only the most efficient use, but also the most use in general. Leaving the doors and windows open between your house and sunroom lends a sense of increased floor space and size to your home. (Building a solar room off your family room is the cheapest way to increase the square footage of your home.) ߜ Plant deciduous trees at the same time you build of your solar room. They’ll cut back the sun in the summer and allow it all in during the winter. Plus, the room will be much prettier with a view of some nice trees. Partnering with Mother Nature brings a benign continuity to the entire project. ߜ Use the same materials that your home is made of, if you can. Otherwise, don’t try to match at all — just do something that’s complementary but totally disparate. Nothing mismatches more than an attempt at matching that doesn’t quite cut it. For example, blue and orange match up much better than orange and a slightly different shade of orange, which just ends up looking cheap and classless. Easy and straightforward candidates for solar rooms are existing porches and decks that already have the basic support structures and flooring in place. All you need to do is build up and around them.


Chapter 13 Breathing Homes: Ventilation, Fans, and Air FiltersIn This Chapterᮣ Taking advantage of natural air movementᮣ Using fans to move air wiselyᮣ Cleaning up the air you breathe Unless you live in a perfect climate where it’s never too hot or too cold, heating and air conditioning make up the largest component of your power bill. If you rely solely on your heater and your air conditioner to keep you comfortable, then you’re missing a big opportunity for energy efficiency. The key to comfort is air movement. By moving air appropriately through your home, you can achieve a much higher level of comfort and save money by using your HVAC system less, particularly in the summer. This chapter tells you how.Taking Advantage of NaturalAir Movement A small amount of air movement increases convective cooling quite a bit, which is why people like fans blowing when it’s hot in the summer. A fan can make a room feel 5°F cooler, even though the temperature has not changed. In the winter, winds make air seem much colder, an effect known as the wind chill factor. People seek breezes in the summer and avoid it in the winter, not because air movement changes the actual temperature, but because it increases the rate of convective cooling. (Refer to Chapter 7 for a discussion on how convection heating and cooling works.) That’s why ventilation is so important to your comfort.


194 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Each house has a natural ventilation scheme, which is influenced by the following factors: ߜ The prevailing winds, as determined by the weather patterns in the climate in which you live ߜ The chimney effect, which dictates that hot air naturally rises while cool air settles ߜ The vent patterns of your home, as determined by the location of windows, doors, vents, and other openings in your home Methods of heating and cooling that take advantage of these factors to increase energy efficiency are known as passive methods. The most efficient ways to move air always complement the natural ventilation scheme rather than work against it. By understanding your house’s ventilation scheme, you can exploit the prevailing winds and the chimney effect and optimize air movement through your home’s vents. You can passively cool your house well enough to avoid using your air conditioner on all but the hottest days. Which way is the wind blowing? Prevailing winds are the winds that are most common in your area. Wind has both a speed and a direction, and both are important. Some areas have very consistent prevailing winds, while other areas experience changes almost daily. You probably already have a good idea what the prevailing winds are where you live, but you can refine your understanding by paying more attention. In particular, how do the winds change over the course of a day? Over the seasons? (Typically, prevailing winds come from the southwest in the summer, and the northwest in the winter.) Prevailing winds dictate the arrangement of fans and window openings that will work best in your house. Basically, you want to create a situation in which you take most advantage of natural air movement as possible because this comes entirely free of charge. Figure 13-1 shows a typical situation. If all four windows are closed, there’s no breeze in the house. If only one of the windows is opened, there’s very little air movement in the house because air can neither enter nor leave. If only windows 2 and 4 are opened, there is very little air movement because the two open windows are at the same air pressure; the movement of the


195Chapter 13: Breathing Homes: Ventilation, Fans, and Air Filters breeze is precisely the same at each window. However, if windows 1 and 3 are both open, a good breeze moves through the house, entering window 1 and exiting window 3. If all four windows are open, you’ll get much the same breeze as you do when only 1 and 3 are open. Window 4Figure 13-1:Prevailing Window Window winds 1 3dictate thenaturalmovementof air in yourhome. Window 2 Prevailing Wind You can use a fan to work with or against the prevailing winds, as Figure 13-2 shows. A window fan aiming into the house at window 3 works directly against the natural ventilation scheme, and you may end up with no air movement at all. But aim the fan out at window 3, and you enhance the natural scheme. The same results can be achieved by mounting a fan in window 1 and aiming it either inward or outward. If you set a fan in the middle of the room with windows 1 and 3 open and with the fan facing window 3, you enhance the natural scheme somewhat, but you can enhance it even more by placing the fan right in the window. The environment outside of the windows can affect the temperature of the air. If a particular window has a nice big tree overhead and lawn beneath it, the air being drawn into the house through that window will be cooler than that which comes through a window situated over concrete in the direct sunshine. In Figure 13-2, for example, a big tree over window 1 would have a cooling impact on the breeze entering the house.


196 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home 4 Open Wind 1 Fan 3 Open 2 This destroys the natural ventilation scheme 4 Open Closed Wind 1 Fan 3Figure 13-2: Open Closed Locating fans to 2 enhancethe natural ventilation scheme. This fan location enhances the natural ventilation scheme Up, up, and away: Chimney effect The chimney effect accounts for the way hot air rises. In a closed room, the temperature at the ceiling is always higher than that on the floor. The differential in air temperature between the two areas can be over 15°F. You can achieve cooling, without any prevailing breezes at all, by arranging vents in your house to take advantage of the chimney effect (see Figure 13-3).


197Chapter 13: Breathing Homes: Ventilation, Fans, and Air FiltersMany different types of vents are used in houses, as shown in Figure 13-4.Your home may or may not have these types of vents, but you can probablyadd them if you see the need: ߜ Ridge vent: Ridge vents work very well to ventilate your attic space because they make maximum use of the chimney effect while also exploiting prevailing winds. If you’re in a hot climate, these types of vents are very efficient. ߜ Roof vent: Whether roof vents are efficient or not depends entirely on where you locate them on your roof. In general, you want to place a roof vent on the downwind side of your home’s roof, as near the apex as possible to exploit the chimney effect. These vents are easy to install (ask a clerk at a large hardware store or building supply store about your options), but you do need to rain-proof them. ߜ Gable vent: Gable vents are simple to install. You can mount a big fan inside the gable vent and push a lot of air (make sure to work in conjunction with the natural air ventilation scheme, not against it). These vents are usually much better than roof vents when it comes to keeping rain out of your attic space. Plus you don’t need to leak seal them with anywhere near the same integrity as a roof vent. ߜ Soffit vent: These vents are common in almost all residential constructions. The best way to ventilate your attic space using only passive (non-powered) means is with a number of soffit vents with a few strategically placed roof vents (or a ridge vent). Soffit vents don’t need to be waterproofed because rain doesn’t get to them. ߜ Whole house vent (with fan): These are the best way to ventilate a house, providing the HVAC system isn’t on. Not only do you ventilate your entire home, but you also ventilate your attic space with a whole house vent. They make a lot of noise, but for the energy dollar you easily get the most bang for the buck. If you’re reasonably skilled with tools and projects, you can install one yourself (aside from electrical connections, which may need to be done by a licensed contractor). ߜ Kitchen and bathroom exhaust vents: These vents get rid of humidity right at the worst sources in your home. In the summer, when you’re cooking, always use a kitchen exhaust fan with a nearby window opened (even if you’re running an air conditioner). If you take a shower in the summer, always use a bathroom exhaust fan to get rid of the humidity; otherwise, you’ll feel hotter and run your air conditioner more.


198 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Roof Vent Hot Air Ceiling VentFigure 13-3: Air Movement The Open chimney Window effect moves air Open through Windowyour house. Ridge Vent Roof Vent Whole House Vent Kitchen and (with Fan) Bathroom Exhaust Vents Gable Vents Soffit VentsFigure 13-4: WindowsUsing vents and Doorsto move air naturally throughyour home.


199Chapter 13: Breathing Homes: Ventilation, Fans, and Air Filters Getting Mother Nature on your side Here are some tips on how to open and close your doors and windows in order to optimize the use of breezes to cool your home: ߜ Leave interior doors open whenever possible. This allows for better air circulation in your home. Even if you don’t end up increasing air circulation, you still benefit because closed-off rooms are much more prone to wet spots and microorganism breeding. ߜ Whenever possible, open your windows. Surprisingly, many people simply don’t think to open their windows. If you have multiple stories, opening windows on different floors can increase the flow of breezes. Experiment to see what works best. Unfortunately, what works best for one wind direction won’t necessarily work for a different direction. But most locales have prevailing winds that don’t often deviate. When you want breezes through your home, open windows and doors only on the windward and leeward sides of the house, and try to balance the openings. Don’t just open every window you can. Experiment a little. ߜ Add screen doors whenever possible. Then open your doors, just like your windows. ߜ Whenever you remodel, add some ventilation ports. Remove interior walls whenever possible. Add skylights. Provide adequate clearance beneath doors so that air can move out of a room. To gain the most advantage in moving air, you need to manage solar radiation entry into your home by using blinds and window coverings in conjunction with opening and closing windows. Chapter 12 addresses sunscreens, window blinds, awnings, and other shading methods.Getting the Air Moving with Fans Most homes don’t do a great job when it comes to ventilation. Most people simply open windows and aim fans without rhyme or reason. A better idea is to strategically place fans so that you achieve the desired effect in both summer and winter. Some fans are better than others. What you want is to achieve the highest efficiency at the lowest cost (including both operating and equipment costs). Unfortunately, achieving optimal ventilation year-round is a little tricky because requirements in winter are usually diametrically opposed to those in the summer. In the winter, you want to invite heat in and retain it as much as possible, whereas in the summer you seek to banish heat. Most homes are designed to optimize one season only, which creates problems in the other seasons.


200 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home A wide range of methods are available for moving air. Passive methods, such as exploiting prevailing winds and the chimney effect to cool your home, are the subject of the earlier section, “Taking Advantage of Natural Air Movement.” In this section, I look at active methods, including ceiling fans, whole-house fans, and more. The next section, “I Need to Vent! Moving Air in Your Attic,” delves into how improving ventilation in your attic can improve air movement throughout your house. If you operate a fan without sufficient outside ventilation, you may draw combustion products, like smoke and carbon monoxide, into the living space of your home. Gas heaters and water heaters put out carbon monoxide. Always pay attention to where that gas is going. You may want to invest in a carbon monoxide alarm. Fan efficiency and operation The efficiency of a fan is determined by calculating the amount of air it moves divided by the power it consumes. Fans are rated for how much air they can move in a given amount of time. The most common spec is cubic feet per minute (cf/min). To find the proper size fan, calculate how many cubic feet are in the area you want to cool (just multiply length × width × height), be it your entire house, a room or the attic. Then buy a fan that’s about 20 percent bigger than your calculations suggest. To maximize a fan’s efficiency, you must set it up properly. Consider the following: ߜ The air route: You need to consider the entirety of the airflow path, and make it as straight and clear as possible. Long, meandering hallways impede air flow much more than it may seem. Other efficiency-busters include the following: aiming a fan directly at a wall, setting a fan near a window that is only cracked open, and aiming a fan through a grate that is coated with dust (but I didn’t really need to tell you that, right?) ߜ A cowling: The most efficient movement of air occurs when a fan has a cowling because a cowling, the metal ring around the outer diameter of the fan blades, directs airflow (see Figure 13-5). If all you’re after is some air movement in a closed room, a cowling isn’t so important. But if you’re interested in moving a large quantity of air through your house, it’s very important. Most heavy-duty work fans come with cowlings. All fans are heaters. They dissipate power, which is given off as heat. If you put a fan in a closed room, the air temperature rises — it’s a fact of physics. The room may feel cooler because of convective cooling, but the temperature goes up nevertheless. Fans used solely to stir air for convective cooling should never be turned on when no humans are present. Leaving an oscillating fan on all day long while you’re at work only heats your house.


201Chapter 13: Breathing Homes: Ventilation, Fans, and Air Filters A fan without a cowling loses A cowling prevents the efficiency when air loops around looping — moves much more the outer edges air for the same powerFigure 13-5: An enclosed window A fan with with a cowling is thea cowling is most efficient more efficient than one without. Thermostats are switches that open or close at a set temperature. They come in handy when you set up a fan in a remote location, such as an attic. When the attic reaches a certain temperature, the fan activates. When it’s hot in the summer, you get ventilation. In the winter, the fan doesn’t turn on.


202 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Choosing the right kind of fan A wide range of fans are available at a wide range of prices. Choosing the right unit for your needs will ensure you get the proper effect you’re looking for. The most effective fans in your entire house are your bathroom and kitchen vent fans. They remove tons of humidity, if used properly. Use them when- ever you’re cooking or taking a shower in the summer. Crack open a small window nearby and the fans will be very efficient, even if you’re running an air conditioner. (Humidity in the summer is a back-breaker. It causes you to turn the air conditioner on, and when that doesn’t feel like it’s working, you run it even more. See Chapter 8 for details.) Following are the most common types of household fans. Box fans Box fans are portable units you can move around as needed. Most have some kind of cowling. Blade design also determines efficiency of air flow. You can find fans that are impressively efficient, but keep in mind that paying extra for a good fan may not be as worthwhile as simply using a smaller, cheaper fan the right way in the first place. The noise a fan makes is an important consideration. Cheap fans are loud and clunky. Good ones make a smooth, even sound that may even be pleasing. The larger the blades (not power, blade size) the slower the blades can move to produce the same amount of air. If you have room, a large, lower-powered fan is better than a small brutish one. Window fans Window fans come with a sheet metal mounting arrangement that fits right into an open window and seals around the edges (a perfect cowling). Most of these are very efficient. The best way to move air in your house is by using a good window fan mounted into the most appropriate window, probably upstairs on the down- wind side of your house (aim the fan out the window). One small window fan mounted properly can do the same work as a number of large fans scattered about the house. Exhaust fans Exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens are important, but to ensure efficiency you need to make sure you use them correctly. If you turn on a bathroom fan without a bathroom window open, the exhausted air will be drawn from the house, and outside air will be drawn into the house through whatever openings are available (leaks in the insulation, open windows, and so on). Also, you shouldn’t use exhaust fans when the HVAC system is running, but if you do, open a small window nearby to control air movement.


203Chapter 13: Breathing Homes: Ventilation, Fans, and Air Filters Oscillating fans Oscillating fans move back and forth and are used for convective cooling only, a job they don’t do very well. To get the most convective cooling for the least cost, get a small, stationary fan and aim it directly onto your uncovered body. Position it close, so you get the most benefit from the air movement. A big oscillating fan on the other side of the room is inefficient and may even make things worse by stirring up hot air near the ceiling. Ceiling fans Ceiling fans can accomplish two things: convective cooling and reversing or enhancing the chimney effect (see Figure 13-6). They may or may not bring outside air into the house, depending on how your vents are set up. Closed room: Enhances chimney effect Vent Vent Venting to achieve maximum coolingFigure 13-6: Winter: Pulls heat fromCeiling fans ceiling, into room move air inside of a room.


204 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Ceiling fans work best when the fan blades are 7 to 9 feet above the floor and 10 to 12 inches below the ceiling. You may need several in a large room. Aesthetics are likely to dictate the size you choose, but keep in mind that the bigger blades are quieter because they move more slowly and achieve the same airflow. The maxim “You get what you pay for” is especially true for ceiling fans. Cheap ones make noise, are inefficient, and don’t last long because they have shoddy bearings. In other words, cheap ceiling fans are very expensive, particularly if you factor in the time and effort it takes to install one. Whole-house fans Whole-house fans are mounted in the ceiling between a high point in your house and the attic. They draw air through open windows, exhaust it up through the roof, and cool the attic space at the same time. Whole-house fans are never run with the HVAC on at the same time, and they’re rarely run in the wintertime. But in the summer, when the outside air temperature cools down at night, a whole-house fan works better than any other air movement scheme. With a whole-house fan, you can open any window in the house and get air movement in that room. Before you run out and buy one, here are a few tidbits to consider: ߜ In the winter, you need to cover a whole-house fan with some kind of insulation or you’ll lose a lot of heat up into the attic. Some house fans come with metal vents that automatically open or close when the fan is on or off, but the insulation properties of these are very poor, and they generally leak a lot as well. You can buy covers over the Internet, or you can make a very effective cover yourself. (Cover your fan from the attic side rather than the house side, where aesthetics are important.) Alternatively, unplug your whole-house fan in the off season and simply cover the whole unit (on top) with a thick, old blanket from a thrift store. ߜ In the summer, turn the fan on when the sun goes down and leave it on all night. When the sun comes up, turn the fan off and close all the windows and drapes in the house to keep as much heat out as possible. Rule of thumb: Use a whole-house fan only when the outside air is below 85°F. ߜ Whole-house fans make a lot of noise because they’re big and powerful; because they’re mounted in a central location, you can hear the noise throughout the house. To reduce the noise, mount your whole-house fan on rubber gaskets noise. They also bring in a lot of dust and humidity. ߜ If your attic is not vented well, a whole house fan will move very little air for the amount of power it consumes. Go up into your attic and check to make sure there are plenty of vents. If not, either make some or don’t use a whole-house fan because it won’t be worth it.


205Chapter 13: Breathing Homes: Ventilation, Fans, and Air FiltersI Need to Vent! Moving Air in Your Attic Attics can get to be over 160°F in the hot summer sun. This heat migrates down through your ceiling into your house. Even in the middle of the night, a poorly ventilated attic stays very hot. If you can somehow manage to continuously purge the air in your attic with outside air, your entire house will be much cooler. This is especially true of old houses with poor insulation. The following sections give you ways to move air out of your attic. (You can also purge the hot air out the attic with a whole-house fan; see the preceding section for details.) Adding attic vents for greater comfort Attics need to breathe properly. They’re usually built with vent systems either right through the roof or up in the walls below the eaves. When working properly, these vents let the hot air inside your attic escape. The most efficient of the attic vents is the rooftop vent (refer to Figure 13-4). It can be located right at the apex of the roof where the most heat collects due to the chimney effect. Unfortunately, attic vents can get completely clogged with dust. Dirty vents cause your attic to get much hotter in the summer. The solution? Clean them out periodically. If you only have a few vents and they’re in spots that don’t enhance prevailing winds or the chimney effect, putting in a few more vents may be the answer. Most houses, in fact, could use a vent or two near the top of the roof to enhance the chimney effect. You can get inexpensive ones from most hard- ware stores, and they’re relatively easy to install. Consider what the vents will look like from the street. You may want to locate roof vents so they won’t be visible from the street level. Using attic vent fans Attic vent fans move air in your attic space only (as opposed to a whole house fan, which moves air through both your home’s interior and the attic). You can install an attic vent fan in a roof vent and move air through that vent. Or you can install one in a gable vent, which is the most common configuration. Many attic vent fans are activated via a thermostat switch. When the attic gets hot enough, the fan comes on. In addition, most attic vent fans are covered up in the winter to prevent natural ventilation and keep heat trapped in the attic space. Installing an attic vent fan can be very expensive because you have to hire an electrician to provide the requisite 120VAC power to the fan’s location and install a switch where it can be easily accessed. Additionally, accessing the attic


206 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home space where the fan should be installed may be very difficult. Most electricians are not monkeys, so you’ll pay if your attic space is a tough nut to crack. A solar attic vent fan, on the other hand, can be installed anywhere and requires no county permits or electrician labor. The fan will run whenever the sun shines on the PV modules; this makes perfect sense because you want the most air pumping when the sun is the brightest. To determine where to put an attic vent fan if you decide you need one, follow these steps: 1. Figure out your attic’s natural ventilation scheme. Go up into your attic. Make a rough drawing of the attic’s layout, including all vents and openings designed for ventilation vents. 2. Pick the best location for the fan. In keeping with the rule to always enhance the natural ventilation scheme, the most logical spot to put a vent fan is in the roof, with a cowling around the fan. Also, always try to locate a fan downwind in order to equalize ventilation throughout the attic. 3. Select the type of fan and size for your application. Attic vent fans come in two forms, one-piece units and distributed units, as described in the following sections. One-piece unit A one-piece unit (see Figure 13-7) costs around $270. Installation is very simple; you don’t even need to go into the attic space. Simply cut a round hole in your roof, pull the shingles back, slide the unit up under the shingles and drop it into the hole. Seal for weatherproofing and you’re done. Rain Cover PV Module Air MovementFigure 13-7: Roof One-piece attic vent Fan Tfan units arevery easy to Air Thermostat Switch install. ATTIC SPACE The unit will only come on when the set temperature is reached. However, in the winter, air will escape through the unit and cool the attic space. It’s best to cover the unit with a plastic tarp or something similar over the course of the winter.


207Chapter 13: Breathing Homes: Ventilation, Fans, and Air Filters A potential problem: The solar modules are fixed in place on the unit, and it may be that the best location for your vent fan is not the best location for collecting sunlight (if your solar modules aren’t getting good sun, the fan won’t pump good air quantities). In this case, you need to go with a distributed system. A distributed unit Buying separate components for a distributed unit, as shown in Figure 13-8, costs much less than a one-piece unit — you can buy a separate 12VDC fan powerful enough to do the job for around $100, and a PV module to run it for another $130 — but the installation is more expensive and difficult. You will need a hood of some kind over the fan to prevent rain from getting into the attic or soaking the fan itself. You could potentially install the fan on a horizontal surface, behind a grate, and avoid a lot of installation problems, like cutting through a roof (which always entails the risk of leaks). PV Modules Air Blows Out DC Fan T Thermostat Switch Inside AtticFigure 13-8:A solar attic vent fan. Vents You can get better performance by tilting the modules to the west, because you want the most air movement in the afternoon. Tilt the modules to peak at around 2 p.m.Strategizing Your Ventilation Plan When opening windows, directing and installing fans, and installing or opening and closing vents, always work with the natural ventilation scheme, never against it. For instance, if you install a whole-house fan in the attic (refer to Figure 13-4), you need to direct the air up into the attic, never back into the house.


208 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Making the plan To determine the best way to direct air through your house, follow these steps: 1. Draw a rough floor plan of your house. Be sure to include all the windows, doors, sunlights, vents, fans, and so forth. Draw your attic, with all the vents and openings. 2. Figure out what the natural ventilation scheme is for both inside the house and the attic. Use what you know about prevailing winds in your area and the chimney effect. See the earlier section “Taking Advantage of Natural Air Movement” for details. 3. On paper, note different combinations of doors, windows, and vents. Determine how best to complement the natural ventilation to achieve comfort without the use of active devices. As you devise your plan, keep these tips in mind (see the earlier section “Getting Mother Nature on your side” for more advice on how to enhance airflow): • Use smaller openings for the inlets and larger openings for the outlets; this increases the speed of the breezes. • Make the air move over as long a path as possible. Windows a few feet apart don’t do much, nor does opening all the windows at the same time. • Air from cooler outside areas is best, but may not be practical due to prevailing winds. Try to get air intake on the north side of your home. If possible, get air intake from a shaded area — under a tree, for instance. • Not all windows should be opened or closed concurrently; determining the best strategy ultimately boils down to trial and error. • Determine a daily routine. What works best in the morning is rarely what works best in the afternoon or at night. 4. Add fans to your plan to forcibly move air. Imagine where one single fan would work the best, in conjunction with windows and doors. How big does that one fan need to be? One small fan in the right location can easily produce more comfort than a huge fan in the wrong spot. 5. Put your plan into action.


209Chapter 13: Breathing Homes: Ventilation, Fans, and Air FiltersAccommodating seasonal variationsWhat works in the summer for cooling is almost always diametricallyopposed to what works in the winter for warming. In the summer you wantyour attic vented as much as possible. But in the winter, you want your atticto retain as much heat as possible. Some means of opening or closing vents isneeded to optimize for both seasons.For instance, you may have a roof vent for purging hot air in the summer. Butin the winter, you’ll want to cover this vent up. Using a heavy plastic garbagebag with duct tape works well, but the neighbors may start a petition, so useyour common sense.Look into installing a thermofor. A thermofor is a compact, mechanical, heat-activated device that opens windows, skylights, greenhouse vents, and so onat a certain temperature, adjustable by the user. No electricity or power isrequired, so it can be mounted anywhere. Multiple units can be configuredto open heavy windows and vents. These are very handy for attic vents andwindows where one single opening makes a big difference in the entire house.And you don’t have to make special arrangements for winter versus summerbecause it’s all automatic.Venting in summerIn the summer, without the AC on, windows and vents can be opened andclosed at will. You want maximum, cool breeze through the house, hopefullyfrom a window that’s under a big tree so that the air is cooler. You also want tomaximize the breeze in your attic, which is usually accomplished by locating avent at the highest point in the attic (to capitalize on the chimney effect).In the summer, when the AC is on, you must close all windows. The best betis to close all window coverings as well, to increase insulation and preventsolar heat from entering the house. But you also want to consider how heatwill move in your house when the air conditioner is on. If you can arrange afan to blow air over your body while the AC is on, you can turn the temperatureof the AC down and get the same comfort effect, so small fans are always agood idea in an air-conditioned house.Holding heat in during winterIn the winter, close all windows. Prevailing wind is not a factor inside thehome, although it still is in the attic. You want to direct the heat to where youlive in the house the most, probably the kitchen and family room. You alsowant to close off the attic space in order to retain heat up there.


210 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your HomeEvaporative coolersIn the western United States where humidity air out through open windows. Portable room-levels are low, evaporative coolers offer very sized units start at $100.economical performance. They use aroundone-fourth the energy of a conventional air- Perhaps the best bet is to buy a PV-poweredconditioning unit, and don’t require toxic chlo- unit that operates only when the sun is hottest inrofluorocarbons (CFCs) or other refrigerants. the sky. These don’t cost a dime of utility powerThey cool air by drawing warm outside air over (nor emit an ounce of pollution), and they’rea wet filter pad (they need a source of water). easy to connect because you don’t need to tapThe water evaporates from the pad to reduce into your home’s electrical system. They workthe air’s temperature. A fan circulates the hardest when you need them to work hardestmoist, cool air into the room and pushes warm (there’s a certain poetic justice in this).Improving the Quality ofYour Home’s Air Getting the air going in the right direction isn’t the only goal. You also want to make sure that the air your family breathes is clean and healthy. For the most part, Mother Nature will take care of the details for you. But in some rare cases, you may need to filter your air. You need to understand exactly what you’re trying to accomplish in order to filter your air efficiently. See Chapter 6 on indoor pollution sources. Many of these relate to air quality. If your family is having health issues, you may find the culprit and a solution there. Air filters The notion that the way to clean indoor air is to close windows and use an air filter is wholly mistaken. Once again, Mother Nature is far wiser than man and his meager inventions. The best way to condition your home’s air is to keep a fresh supply of outside air moving through. But if you can’t open your windows, or if it’s simply too cold or too hot for good ventilation, an air filter is the only solution. Active air filters work on much the same principle as water filters: they filter the air as it comes into your home. They are also very specific to the type of substances that you need to filter. For instance, if you need to eliminate pollens, you use a filter specifically designed to filter pollen. If you need to eliminate cigarette smoke, there are filters made for this specific purpose.


211Chapter 13: Breathing Homes: Ventilation, Fans, and Air FiltersFiltering through the optionsThere are three types of active filters in use: ߜ Mechanical filtration methods use filters and move air by means of fans. Very simple. Filters can be made of anything from paper to tightly- packed fibers. You can put different types of filters on your HVAC input port. ߜ Electrostatic precipitation transfer filters (whew) impart an electrical charge to particles in the air. The air then passes over an electrically- charged plate that works somewhat like a magnet to pull pollution from the air. Hmm. Sounds good, but unfortunately it doesn’t work as well as it sounds. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, the problem here is discrimination. Some particles simply don’t want to be charged up. ߜ Negative ion generators form a high voltage field across air, thereby ionizing it (I could write an entire book on this, but let’s just leave it at that). Charged particles then attract airborne particulates. In theory this sounds viable because of all the big words, but in practice, these generators don’t work very well, so don’t waste your money unless you like science fiction movies an awful lot. Negative Ion Generators Run Amok!Consumer Reports (a very reliable information source in print and online atwww.consumerreports.org) recommends mechanical filtration with HEPA(high efficiency particle arresting) filters. No, these don’t pull particles over,read them their rights, and then haul them off to jail. They punch them in thegut and leave them to rot.Pollen, which causes hay fever, is the most common airborne irritant.Unfortunately, active air filters do very little to prevent pollen in a home (not-withstanding the elaborate claims you hear on infomercials). So don’t wasteyour money on filters for pollen. Take hay fever medicine instead.A word about sizeIn general, the larger devices are more effective because they move more airand have larger filter surfaces. If air doesn’t enter the filter, it isn’t filtered.Puny little things like ionizers and plug-in style electric devices should be lefton the store shelves where they will do just as much good, withoutconsuming energy in the process. And those little devices sold in grocerystores called air fresheners? They do just the opposite; they load your airwith synthesized chemicals that make your air smell a certain way.Getting the most from your air filterIf you find yourself in the market for an air filter, keep these tips in mind:


212 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ Get a filter that’s quiet. No matter how good it may be, if it sounds like a garbage truck coming up the street, it won’t get turned on. ߜ You absolutely have to change filters, and they generally aren’t cheap. Old filters may even make your air worse because they can serve as breeding grounds for all kinds of insidious microbes. Imagine what an air filter is holding after it has been on for awhile — it catches everything in a room’s air. Not only does it capture microbes, but it also captures microbe food. ߜ Air filters are often hard to find. Look for them at a surgical supply house or medical supply store. ߜ If your doctor prescribes a filter for you, you may be able to get your insurance company to pony up. Good luck with that. Natural ways to improve air quality You can do a number of things to keep the air in your home clean. Most of them don’t require much, if any, effort at all. Grow houseplants Houseplants are by far and away the best way to filter indoor air. Spider plants, for example, love to gobble up carbon monoxide and dioxide, and they’re easy to grow. In fact, they’re so prolific you’ll have a thousand little baby spider plants in no time, whether you like it or not. And elephant ears and heartleaf philodendrons absorb formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide. Not only can some types of plants reduce certain forms of airborne contaminants, but they can also convert carbon dioxide back into oxygen. Be aware, however, that poorly maintained plants can provide excellent breeding grounds for bugs and nasty little critters so small you can’t even see them. If you want plants, be prepared to take care of them. Change vacuum cleaner bags Change your vacuum bags often; old ones leak, making a real mess of your air. You may be sucking up crap from the floor, but a leaky or full bag just redistributes it around your home. The best vacuum is a whole-house unit where the filter is located in your garage. Keep in mind, though, that these things are energy pigs, so you need to decide which goal — energy efficiency or clean air — is more important to you.


Chapter 14 Reusing and Recycling: Play It Again, SamIn This Chapterᮣ Using less of everythingᮣ Reusing materials and containersᮣ Recycling when all else fails Reusing and recycling may not be strictly cost effective because both require extra labor and time on your part, and you don’t often get anything in return aside from the knowledge that you’ve helped the environ- ment. Nevertheless, recycling makes sense for our society as a whole, and that should be enough motivation. For the most part, your recycling regimen will be dictated by what’s available in your community. Some cities have no recycling at all. Some have extensive programs that include free containers (often these are different colors for different materials, like cans, bottles, newspapers, and so on.) You’ll need to do some research to find out what kind of recycling your utility system offers. But regardless of your community’s standards, you can make an impact on your own, and that’s what I get into in this chapter.Keeping a Record of WhatYou Throw Away If you haven’t already done it, the best way to begin your endeavor is to keep a detailed record of exactly what you throw away. You don’t need to do this for more than a week or two, because it’s not the details that you’re inter- ested in as much as a general idea of how much, and what, you throw away. Most people are surprised and somewhat dismayed at the results.


214 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Get a few sheets of paper or a binder, and keep records in the following categories: ߜ Aluminum cans ߜ Glass bottles ߜ Plastic bottles ߜ Food and scraps ߜ Mail ߜ Newspapers ߜ Grocery bags and other store bags ߜ Plastic bags and wrapping materials ߜ Everything else, including the kitchen sink You don’t need to weigh these items, and you don’t need to be precise in terms of quantities. The point is to simply pay critical attention to what you’re tossing out. You want the big picture, not the details of each paint color. After you’re done, consider how much of this stuff you really needed to throw out. How much could have been reused or recycled? Even more to the point, why did you buy it in the first place? Do you like garbage? As you put together your waste-reduction game plan, remember that the most effective solution is three-fold. You want to tackle things in this order: ߜ Reduce the amount of “future” trash you bring in or buy. ߜ Reuse as much as you possibly can. ߜ Recycle whatever is left over. The following sections examine each of these strategies in more detail. Using Less of Everything When you’re trying to cut down on waste, the first order of business is simply to use less of everything from the get-go. If you don’t buy those popular kids’ lunches of prepackaged crackers-bologna-cheese-and-snack, for example, you won’t have all that packaging to throw away. The most important way to decrease the amount of trash you throw away is not to bring it into your home in the first place. You can decrease the amount of trash you generate by


215Chapter 14: Reusing and Recycling: Play It Again, Sam ߜ Being aware of the packaging of the things you buy. Less is more. ߜ Stopping trash — read, junk mail — from finding you. ߜ Opting for non-paper items when possibleThe following sections offer some practical tips on how to use less of every-thing around your home.When you recycle and reuse, you’ve already conceded. After all, you havetrash you have to get rid of. When you don’t use at all, you’ve won the game.Avoiding over-packaged productsWe live in a world where packaging is, unfortunately, largely dictated by a needto prevent shoplifting. How exasperating when it takes five minutes to removea simple little gadget from layers and layers of protective wear. You can insiston buying products that are minimally packaged. If enough people did that,market forces would work to convince manufacturers to hold things down.You can also buy in bulk, and bring your own packaging materials with you.When you go to the grocery store, take along the bags that you took homelast time. When you buy vegetables, get them from roadside stands and useyour own bags, or don’t use any bag at all.Eliminating junk mailIf you’re like most people, nearly every day you receive junk mail: solicita-tions and flyers for products and services you have no interest in. You tossthem into the trash immediately after opening them, if you open them at all. Ifyou want to minimize the junk mail you get, you can stop it by writing a letterto the following address, stating that you don’t want to receive any junk mail: Mail Preference Service Direct Marketing Association P.O. Box 643 Carmel, NY 10512 212-768-7277Or, for a few bucks, you can take care of the matter online at www.the-dma.org.This service is similar to the “Don’t call” registry that prevents phone solici-tors from bothering you at home, only it affects junk mailers. After you con-tact the registry, your mailbox will be much lonelier, and you’ll be tossing outa lot less junk.


216 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your HomeBugzookaTo set the tone for this section and demonstrate sucked (well, okay — I wouldn’t want to behow to think outside of the box, here’s a curve- sucked into a plastic chamber like this, but I’mball for you. The Bugzooka is a humane way to not a bug) into an enclosed chamber. You canget rid of pesky bugs in your home. It looks and study his feelers and thousand little eyes oncesounds like a kid’s toy, but it’s very efficient, and he’s in there, although you probably won’t wantfun to boot. You push a big plunger into a plastic to. Then you free the lucky little bugger outsidetube and a spring is activated. You aim the end where he can mingle and breed with like kind.of the plastic tube near an insect, and when Let this be a metaphor. (Get a Bugzooka fromyou pull the trigger, the offending pest is gently www.realgoods.com).Here are other ways to reduce the amount of junk mail you receive: ߜ Don’t list your address in the telephone book. A lot of junk mailers get their data from this source. ߜ Don’t deal with book, DVD, CD, or similar clubs. They send way too much junk mail. If you find a particular mailer loading you down, write to them and tell them to stop.Trimming the paper mountainJunk mail, discussed in the preceding section, is only a part (albeit a large one)of the paper problem most people have. Newspapers, bills, grocery bags —you can reduce the amount of trash by cutting down on these things, too. ߜ Read the newspaper online. All you have to do is look at how much newspaper you discard each week to see how much paper waste you can eliminate simply by adapting this habit. If you need a paper version of your newspaper (I admit it: I don’t want to read my newspaper online; I want to spread it out over the kitchen table in the morning and sip a cup of coffee while I wince at all the bad news), then share it with a like-minded neighbor or two. Whoever gets it last tosses it into the recycle bin. ߜ Pay your bills online. If your bills still come in the regular mail, pay online to save envelopes and stamps. Even better, request that your bills be sent to you online. Many companies offer this service, and it eliminates the paper waste entirely. ߜ Use only one credit card instead of many. You’ll save paper (think of all the bills and offers you can avoid), and you’ll also keep yourself out of trouble.


217Chapter 14: Reusing and Recycling: Play It Again, Sam ߜ Use fabric grocery bags and bring them with you to the store. No more tossed out grocery bags. Look for them at www.realgoods.com, or many grocery stores now sell them at the checkout lanes. If you do need to use the bags from the grocery store, ask for paper, because plastic bags take a hundred years to degrade in a landfill. Some communities are banning plastic bags outright for this reason. ߜ Use a digital camera, store your photos on disk, and view them online. Save the prints for those that you want to display or put in a scrapbook. (The photo process uses a lot of chemicals, not to mention paper.) ߜ Don’t use disposable diapers. The number of diapers in landfills is truly amazing. Buy cloth. You can clean and reuse them yourself (parents have been doing it for thousands of years), or you can hire a service that will come to your home to pick up “used” diapers and drop off fresh ones. Either option is cheaper than buying disposables; both are also a lot better for the environment. (And, yes, it’s also a lot ickier, but take my word for it: Things are going to get a lot worse when the kids hit 13.) ߜ Use cloth towels instead of paper ones and durable plastic containers instead of plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or other disposable sealants. A lot of trash comes from meal prep and storage.Reusing Saves More Energythan Recycling Okay, you can’t always avoid using something in the first place, so the next best thing is to reuse whatever you can. If you can’t reuse it, making it avail- able to others is just as good. The following sections list some helpful guide- lines on how to extend the usefulness of items. Making use of old stuff Who says something has to be new to be good or useful? A lot of items can be reused, either for the same purpose for which they were originally intended or a slightly (or drastically) different purpose. Here are some examples: ߜ Glass jars: The glass jars you get food in can be reused to store other foods in place of plastic containers. You don’t throw the jars away, and you don’t have to buy containers at all; it’s a twofer deal. Make sure to save the lids.


218 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ Packing pellets: You know those really irritating little peanut-shaped pack- ing pellets that you get whenever the UPS truck comes by? Store them somewhere, and then when you send a package, reuse them. They don’t weigh much, but they last a million years in a landfill. Whoever invented these things should have to eat some for lunch. ߜ Paint: Nobody ever uses all the paint for a project. When you have four or five odd gallon containers that are half full, mix them together and use the result to paint closets, garages, basements, barns, kids’ rooms, and so forth. Paint is a real landfill nightmare, so why not use it up this way instead? Think of it as an adventure. ߜ Old towels: Cut old bath towels into smaller towels for use with messes in the kitchen and elsewhere. These are good for lots of cleaning tasks and dirty jobs: polishing shoes, drying off pets, washing cars, and so on. You can do the same with old T-shirts and old cloth diapers, too. ߜ Table scraps: By composting the food you didn’t eat, you eliminate the need for fertilizers and expensive soil treatments, and you save a lot of unnecessary landfill. You can buy composters which work very well and make the job clean. Or you can compost in a hole in your backyard, which is the best way to go for sheer quality. Dig a hole, and toss your food scraps into the hole (avoid fats, but most everything else is fine). Get some slack lime and toss in a cup once in awhile. Stir occasionally. Within a couple months, you’ll have good, loamy potting soil for your landscaping needs. Finally, one incredibly cost-effective way to reuse most anything is to “borrow” it from your neighbors. This is best done at night, and you should probably wear a mask or something in case they wake up and catch you in the act. Run away, but don’t let them see you going back into your own home.Composting toilets — for the die-hard composterComposting toilets don’t flush. They use a or ornamental plants (to be perfectly honest, if Iprocess called “rapid aerobic decomposi- found out somebody was using this on their fruittion.” They feature a “holding” tank where the trees, I would politely refuse a dinner invitation,wastes go to decompose. Around 95 percent of but that’s just me).the “material” that goes into a compost toiletends up venting out as water vapor or gases. If you’re in an apartment, forget it. If you’reThat’s good to know, isn’t it? But relax; these squeamish, forget it. In fact, you must be a dedi-toilets don’t smell, or they shouldn’t if they’re cated advocate of the green philosophy or youworking right. can just forget it. For some reason, once I have produced “waste products,” I wish for themAfter the process is complete, you’re left with to exit the premises as quickly as possible. I’ma dry, fluffy, odorless material in the “finishing sure I’m not alone in this irrational phobia.drawer.” You can put this stuff on your fruit trees


219Chapter 14: Reusing and Recycling: Play It Again, SamBuying usedYou can find a lot of good deals — and a few steals — by shopping for usedgoods. Consider these things: ߜ Clothing: Buy your clothes used. You can find a lot of new clothes in used clothing stores. Many people buy clothes that they fully intend to wear, but never do. Eventually these clothes find their way to a charity because the owners simply can’t throw away new clothing. And even if the clothes have been worn a few times, so what? In the same vein, donate your obsolete clothes to charities or sell them to resale stores so that somebody else can benefit. ߜ Building materials: You can reuse a lot of old building materials. Look at places like demolition sites and old dumps. Ask a remodeler for bath- tubs, sinks, and such. Some contractors are delighted to have you come and haul this stuff away for them. I once found a guy who was about to pay $500 dollars to have a big, demolished redwood porch hauled away. I took $200, and for the next couple years, I had more wood to build out- buildings than I knew what to do with. I saved thousands of dollars, not to mention some nice, healthy trees. ߜ Sports equipment: Play It Again Sports has over 300 stores across the coun- try. They’ve been very successful selling used sports equipment for a lot less than the new stuff, and most people don’t even notice the difference. Face it; that new set of golf clubs you paid $1,000 for turned into a used set after your first round of golf. And it didn’t even improve your game like you told your wife it would when you were trying to justify the big bucks.Great places to find used but useable items are garage sales and swap meets(otherwise known as flea markets, where hundreds of vendors gather to sellused stuff). Many times you can find new stuff that sat on somebody’s shelf foryears before they decided to sell it for $5. You can find good household appli-ances, tools that are usually in great shape, clothing, kids’ toys, books, and more.Avoiding disposable productsMany things are manufactured to be disposable: razors, batteries, cleaningbrushes, dinnerware, and more. A great way to eliminate all the waste pro-duced by using something only once or a few times before tossing it in thetrash is to use things that are meant to be reusable. Many items fall into thiscategory (regular dinnerware, for example, instead of paper plates, and clothdishrags rather than paper towels), but a few things deserve special mention: ߜ Rechargeable batteries: They may cost more initially, but they save you (and the environment) in the long run. Here are the economics: Alkaline batteries cost around $1.00 apiece (for good ones) and they produce around 2,000 mAh (milliamp hours) apiece. Then you toss them out.


220 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home Rechargeable batteries cost around $12 apiece, and a good charger costs around $35, but you can charge a battery 2,000 times. The conclu- sion: non-rechargeables cost around 22 times as much. And this doesn’t even take into account the environmental impact of discarded batteries. The best bet of all is to get a solar recharger, in which case you’re get- ting all your battery power from the sun. ߜ Reusable coffee filters: You can get reusable coffee filters that are easy to use. (An added bonus? Coffee grinds are perfect for composting.) ߜ Reusable furnace filters: You simply wash them out when they get filled with dust. They cost more upfront, but they’re a lot cheaper in the long run. ߜ Christmas trees: Here’s one of my favorites. Don’t kill a tree this holiday season. If you buy a live tree, plant it when the season ends — in your yard, or maybe even in a public park so everybody can benefit. Or buy an artificial tree — no sap, no danger of burning the house down, and no cost (after the first year). They’re better than you may think. Donating to others If you no longer need something and can’t think of a creative way to reuse it, pass it along to someone who can. Donate old furniture to charities. Most will come to your home and pick it up. You can probably save some tax dollars if you write this stuff off, but get a receipt and don’t push it too far, or you’ll get audited and indicted (in America, these are often one and the same in the finest tradition of capital- ism). Your best bet is to take some digital photos of your donations and store them on your computer, just in case the IRS questions your magnificent sense of benevolence. Lions Club International collects old prescription glasses and distributes them in third-world countries. Imagine if you didn’t have your glasses at all; now imagine how somebody in a third-world country will feel if they’re given a pair. Let there be light! Fixing rather than throwing away When something goes on the blink, don’t toss it and buy new. Instead, fix it whenever possible to cut down on your consumption and reduce waste. Check out How To Fix Everything For Dummies by Gary and Pam Hedstrom and Judy Ondrla Tremore (Wiley). If you can’t fix it yourself, take it to a repair shop or hire a professional. Better yet, keep your equipment in good shape and you won’t have to fix it as often.


221Chapter 14: Reusing and Recycling: Play It Again, Sam Household surfaces that have seen better days can be given a new life, too. You can resurface bathtubs, old stoves, and countertops so that they look brand new.Recycling the Right Way SavesEverybody Energy In 2005, over 80 million tons of paper were recycled, but that’s only a small fraction of all the paper that gets used. Americans also go through 4 million single-use plastic bottles every hour, yet only one in four gets recycled. So what stops folks from recycling? Mainly inconvenience. Thus, the best way to make recycling a reality is to set up a system that’s convenient and easy to use. For everyday recyclables (paper, plastics, glass, and so on), put bins in the kitchen, if you can. You’re more likely to use a handy receptacle than an out- of-the-way one. Break down boxes and crush aluminum cans so that you don’t build up a pile that takes a lot of room. You can get a can crusher that makes the job a lot easier than squashing them under your boots (or on your forehead), although the latter may be more fun. Aside from the more obvious candidates for recycling, here are some impor- tant items to recycle: ߜ Laser toner cartridges: These are full of resins and poisons, plus they take a lot of energy to manufacture. Insist on recharged cartridges when you buy, and hand your old ones in at the same time. Look in the yellow pages under “Computer Supplies” to find a store that sells recycled car- tridges and takes in old ones. ߜ Appliances: These can almost always be recycled. Call your trash collec- tors and they may pick them up right at your door. Or you can donate them when the new equipment is delivered (most appliance stores have active recycling programs — they get some money for the old stuff, but more power to them). ߜ Old batteries: Even the rechargeable ones can be recycled, which makes a lot of sense. For information on recycling batteries, including those from laptops, cellphones, camcorders, and the like, visit Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation at www.rbrc.org. A number of large national stores serve as battery drop-off sites, including Lowe’s, Sears, Best Buy, Home Depot, Radio Shack, Office Depot, Target, and Wal-Mart.


222 Part II: Reducing Inefficiencies throughout Your Home ߜ Books: You can recycle old books, especially the trashy novels without any redeeming literary features (these are the ones that people want, which gives you a good indication of where our society is headed). You can also recycle For Dummies books, but in my view, people should always buy brand-new ones. In fact, people should buy five or six, just in case they run out. For more information on recycling options, check out The Freecycle Network at www.freecycle.org.


Part IIIPutting AlternativeEnergy Sources to Work for You


In this part . . .Most people use utility-provided power for their homes. This includes electrical as well as gas(such as propane, natural gas, methane, and so on). Yetthere are a lot of alternative energy sources that you cantake advantage of. Do it right and you can save money andmake your home more comfortable at the same time.In this part, I show you how to choose a wood stove, helpyou decide what types of wood to burn, and tell you howto burn them. I tell you all about solar power, which is avery good alternative energy source that’s becoming moreand more common as the costs come down. Radiant heat-ing systems, biomass heating systems, and geothermalalso provide excellent opportunities that you may want toconsider. They’re covered here, too.


Chapter 15 Burning Desires: Wood and Gas StovesIn This Chapterᮣ Looking at the various types of stovesᮣ Maximizing heat circulationᮣ Maintaining a safe environment when using stoves Your HVAC system is your home’s biggest consumer of energy. Most HVAC systems don’t operate very efficiently, even if their workload is minimized. HVACs are big machines, and they take a lot of power. All is not lost, however. By using a stove, you can minimize the HVAC system’s “on” time and utilize energy in your home more efficiently. (Because of the energy drain of most HVAC systems, however, remember that a 50 percent efficiency improvement is about the best you can expect.) Some stoves are better than others, of course, in terms of energy efficiency and/or pollution. In this chapter, I take you through the various stove options and present their pros and cons. Most of the heat that you generate with a whole-house furnace is wasted on empty rooms and spaces. Which means that heating just the part of your home that you and your family spend the most time in is more efficient than whole-house heating. If you heat without using electric utility power for blow- ers and air movement, you’re operating even more efficiently. Stoves provide for localized heating, and if you design your system the right way and use it properly, a good stove can heat an entire home as well.Open Fireplaces: The Granddaddyof Them All When many people think of heating with fireplaces, they picture a fire crack- ling in an open hearth. They should also be picturing a huge waste of energy


226 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You and money. Open fireplaces are absolutely the worst choice for efficient heating. Why? Because they draw cold air into the home to feed themselves and, due to the chimney effect (refer to Chapter 8), most of the hot air they generate goes right out the chimney. Here’s how, in a grim nutshell, these fireplaces work (see Figure 15-1): 1. You start the fire. This process usually entails kindling, matches, and some “blowing” to get things going. 2. You open the damper. If a cooking vent or bathroom vent is on in your home, or if the HVAC system is on, cold air may rush down the chimney, creating a backdraft and causing smoke to waft out into your living space. 3. As the chimney effect kicks in, the smoke begins to rise up the chimney, and the fire grows hotter and brighter. Orange flames, the norm, mean the wood isn’t burning very efficiently. In fact, flames of any kind are inef- ficient because the wood is not burning very thoroughly. (Efficiency is in direct contradiction to romantic ambient, when it comes to a fireplace.) 4. Because fire needs fresh oxygen, the fire in your fireplace is now pull- ing up to 500 cubic feet per minute through windows and air leaks in your home. If somebody opens a door to the outside, cold air will rush in because the pressure in your home is less than it is outside (if not, the chimney effect wouldn’t be working). This air ends up going up the chimney once it’s heated in the fire. Smoke exhaust ChimneyFigure 15-1: Cold air drawn in An open Hearth fireplace.


227Chapter 15: Burning Desires: Wood and Gas Stoves The end result is that your home is actually getting colder, not hotter. The only part of the home that’s getting hotter is right in front of the fire, and this is exactly why people like fires so much. There’s no denying the romantic ele- ment. But at what price? If you just can’t live without the romantic open flames or you’re stuck with what you’ve got, you can achieve better efficiency with these tips: ߜ When lighting your fireplace, open a door or window nearby so that the rush of air a fire takes before it settles down to a more static state will only move through a small portion of your home. Once the fire settles down, close the door or window. ߜ Burn hot, blazing fires because the combustion is more thorough. Don’t burn little fires (although at some point your fire will need to burn out, so you’ll end up with a little fire anyway). ߜ Use andirons to lift the logs above the floor so that during the burn cycle the hot cinders fall down onto a bed of coals and burn better and more thoroughly. ߜ Glass doors limit the amount of air being pulled through the home, but they also limit the amount of heat radiating back into the room, so they’re pretty much a wash in terms of efficiency. ߜ Close the damper as much as possible. When you’re not burning a fire, close it completely. This is a hassle, granted, but it makes a big difference. When the damper is open, air will be drawn down the chimney whenever a vent fan or the HVAC system in your home is turned on. Not only does this result in cold air, but it could also mean a big stink and unhealthy air.Surveying General Categories of Stoves In this section, I move from open fireplaces to what is referred to as a “stove.” These differ by being enclosed in a specially designed burn chamber so that you can achieve much more efficient combustion (by controlling the burn temperature) plus much more efficient dispersion of the heat into your living space. Stoves are made to burn a wide variety of fuels, and the type that homeowners choose depends mostly on availability and cost. Free-standing stoves simply sit in a corner of your room, without walls or bricks surrounding them. An insert fits into an existing open fireplace slot (a very good way to go from poor efficiency to good efficiency while still using the expensive decorative elements of your existing fireplace).


228 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Before deciding what type of stove you want to install in your home, check with your county building department for requirements, specifications, and so forth. These may make a big difference in your decision on which type is best for your particular application. Also, check with your insurance company; they probably have some dictates you need to follow as well. Comparing open- and closed-vent systems There are two important types of venting systems: closed vents and open vents. With an open-vent system, shown in Figure 15-2, air is drawn from the room and used for combustion, and then the exhaust is vented up the chimney. An open-vent system (see Figure 15-3) is always less efficient than a closed- vent system, because the air used in combustion is inevitably drawn from the great outdoors through cracks and leaks in your home’s envelope (thereby making the home colder). In a closed-vent system, air is drawn from the out- side and vented back to the outside. ExhaustFigure 15-2: Air draw from room An open- vent stove system.


229Chapter 15: Burning Desires: Wood and Gas Stoves Exhaust Air draw from outside DoorFigure 15-3: A closed- vent stove system. Closed-vent systems are safer than open ones. Naturally, you want to seal your home to a high degree in order to make your heating efforts more effi- cient (see Chapter 7). However, in doing so, you may cause a carbon monox- ide or carbon dioxide hazard with an open-vent system. Or you may cause oxygen depletion, because the fire is competing with the human inhabitants for oxygen, and the fire is generally greedier. This problem is particularly dangerous because people don’t know when they’re being starved of oxygen; they just pass out. If you have a stove that draws room air for combustion, crack open a window nearby. Instead of having cold air drawn through your entire home, the com- bustion air will come from that open window. Radiant heat will still work its way throughout the room in which the stove is located. Looking at free-standing stoves and inserts Aside from open- and closed-vent systems (see the preceding section), stove types sport another distinction: They can be either free-standing or inserts. A free-standing stove sits in the room proper, whereas an insert is made to fit into an existing fireplace slot.


230 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Free-standing stoves are inherently more efficient than inserts because, all else being equal, more of the generated heat makes it into the living space. Depending on the space they are mounted into, some inserts are completely surrounded by brick and mortar and do a very poor job of getting heat into the living space. Most of it goes up the chimney. Still, an insert is much more efficient than an open fireplace, and if you have an open fireplace, you’re not likely to be installing a free-standing stove because then you’ll have a big, unused fireplace. If you’re starting from scratch, installing a free-standing stove with a vent system is a lot cheaper than building a fireplace, not to mention the efficiency advan- tages. On the other hand, free-standing stoves take up more of your home’s square footage, are an eyesore, and are more likely to cause burns. In the summer, they’re just plain superfluous sitting there looking black and bulky. Using a Wood-Burning Stove Wood-burning stoves are the most common stove simply because wood is available virtually everywhere. Because the supply of wood is self-replenishing, it has the further advantage of being renewable. Wood-burning certainly has the most tradition on its side, so more equipment is available, as well as a wider range of raw wood resources to choose from. Burning wood to heat your home has several pros: ߜ The operating costs are fairly low if you have a ready source of fire- wood. In fact, the out-of-pocket expense can be zero, aside from the expense of whatever you use to chop down trees. With little more than an axe and some elbow grease, you’re in business. ߜ A wide variety of heating appliances are available at literally any price you can pay. You can find old stoves for next to nothing, and they work well enough. ߜ No electricity is required. Fans are an exception, but they’re always optional. ߜ The fuel supply is sustainable. And if burned properly, the impact on the environment is very low. Trees convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, so a live tree actually mitigates global warming. But a dead tree left to rot on the forest floor releases as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as a wood stove that burns the same amount of wood. (The difference is that wood left to rot on the forest floor does so slowly, releasing its carbon over a period of years, and from day to day the outgas level doesn’t change much.) The upshot is that if you burn wood from a downed tree, you’re not contributing to global warming at all. Still, burning wood does cause a lot of smoke, and some communities ban wood-burning altogether, particularly when pollution levels are high.


231Chapter 15: Burning Desires: Wood and Gas StovesIf pollution is your concern, insist on burning either dead trees or doomedtrees (those that have been removed for building developments or other simi-lar reasons). Don’t use trees that have simply been cut down for burning. Ifyou do, insist that a new tree be planted in its place.Of course, using a wood stove to heat your home has cons as well as pros.On the downside are the following considerations: ߜ Wood-burning stoves can be very dangerous if they’re not installed properly. ߜ You need a lot of dedicated storage space to store the wood you intend to burn. ߜ Heavy physical labor is required in chopping, transporting, and stacking wood. And whenever you need wood indoors, you have to tote it in and place it very carefully into the burn chamber. ߜ Wood stoves create a dirty home environment, with dust and stink. There are a lot of ashes to clean up, and this is a dirty, stinky process that inevitably makes a mess of your home. ߜ Burning wood properly (to get the most efficiency) requires you to pay attention to the process and continually manipulate the wood stack as well as the damping levels. ߜ Wood stoves require chimney maintenance. Burning wood creates creosote gunk on your vent or chimney liner, and this can catch on fire if you’re not diligent. Softwoods are much worse in this regard than hardwoods. ߜ The potential for pollution is high if you don’t use your wood stove properly (you don’t maintain the proper burning temperatures, for example, or you don’t keep the stove cleaned out). ߜ Use of a wood stove may increase your fire insurance premiums. You must tell your homeowner’s insurance agent that you have a stove (they’ll probably ask). In many cases, they’ll come to your home to inspect the installation. If things aren’t as they should be, your insurance company may refuse you or give you a set amount of time to get it up to code.Wood-burning stoves are banned in some areas. In other areas, burning isbanned on particularly dirty air days. In these areas, utilities generally offerrebates and subsidies to convert to cleaner systems. Check with your local airresources board.Types of wood stovesIn producing new clean-burning stoves, manufacturers have taken one of tworoutes: one that uses a catalytic combustor and one that causes more com-plete combustion.


232 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Older wood stoves had efficiency ratings of 40 to 50 percent, but today’s cer- tified stoves boast efficiencies of 70 to 80 percent. As the efficiency goes up, the pollution a stove creates generally goes down (for one thing, when effi- ciency is high you burn less fuel; for another, when you burn fuel much more completely, there are fewer pollution byproducts). If you’ve got a leaky, old stove, it’s always a good investment to upgrade. Check the efficiency ratings of the stoves you’re considering, because they may vary quite a bit. Some wood stoves incorporate a catalytic converter (see Figure 15-4), which burns off smoke and fumes that would otherwise exhaust or drift up a chimney. The catalytic converter consists of a honeycomb-shaped substrate coated with a catalyst, usually a precious metal such as platinum or palladium. When the smoke passes through the honeycomb, the catalyst lowers the smoke’s burning temperature, causing it to ignite. The result is a more efficient burn, less smoke up the chimney, and less pollution. Most stove manufacturers now offer catalytic models in which the combustor is an integral part of the stove. It is also possible to retrofit some older stoves with converters. Catalyst combustion. Bypass baffleFigure 15-4: The catalytic stovecombustion process.


233Chapter 15: Burning Desires: Wood and Gas StovesStarting a fire in a catalytic stove is more involved than doing so with a con-ventional stove. You have to open a bypass damper when you either start orreload a fire. The damper directs the combustion gases directly up the flue(bypassing the catalytic element) until the temperature is high enough (350°Fto 600°F) to get the combustor kicked into gear. This process is referred toas lighting off. A catalyst temperature monitor is normally included to let youknow when to move the damper.Catalytic stoves require a lot more maintenance than their conventionalcounterparts. The catalytic convertor needs to be changed periodically.Otherwise, you could actually end up with a very inefficient fire. These typesof stoves are more expensive, and probably not worth the cost unless youput a very high premium on pollution.Burning the right woodThe efficient use of a woodstove is almost always predicated on your sourceof wood. If you have your own trees that you can cut down and process,great. Or maybe you live in a wooded area and a ready supply of cut firewoodis available from local vendors. Very rarely is transporting wood a long dis-tance cost effective, which means you’re limited to the types of wood thatare indigenous to the area you live in.Some types of woods are better than others for burning. Two factors deter-mine the suitability of a given wood: whether it burns well and generatesheat, and what kind of mess it makes in the process.Hardwoods are almost always better than softwoods for burning because youget a lot more Btu per unit weight and volume, which means a lot less workon your part per Btu generated. Hardwoods also deposit less creosote in yourchimney and vent system, making them safer and cleaner for the environment.Some people are suckers for the fact that softwoods are so much cheaper thanhardwoods, but in fact, hardwoods are much more cost effective. Check outwww.hearth.com/fuelcalc/woodvalues.html for a calculator on differ-ent types of firewood and the Btu you can expect from them.Any wood you burn must be properly seasoned, or dried out (wet woodsmokes a lot, won’t burn at a hot temperature, hisses and pops and may bedangerous, and puts a lot of crud into your vent system). To season wood,split logs as soon as possible into the size that will fit into your stove andstack them in a dry spot for 6 to 18 months. Pile the wood so that air can cir-culate. Hardwoods take longer to dry than softwoods do. Humidity and tem-perature also affect drying times.


234 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Although burning hardwood is better than burning softwood, the latter isn’t out of the question. Some things, on the other hand, should never be burned in a wood stove: ߜ Green wood: Green wood is freshly cut from a live tree. It will smoke like crazy and stink and probably won’t burn very thoroughly. Plus, a lot of water will steam out of it, resulting in sparks when you open the door to the burn chamber. How can you tell whether wood is green? See whether it’s brittle — if so, it’s not green. Although you shouldn’t burn green wood, you can buy green wood in late spring, when prices are very low because demand is down. It will dry over the hot summer months and you’ll save money. In fact, if you can, buy a whole gob of green firewood at the same time and you’ll get a great discount. ߜ Garbage, plastic, foil, or any kind of chemically treated or painted wood: They all produce noxious fumes, which are dangerous and pollut- ing. If you have a catalytic stove, the residue from burning plastics may clog the catalytic combustor. ߜ Trash (paper or plastic): Paper wastes tend to make a very hot fire for a short period of time, encouraging the ignition of any creosote deposits in your stovepipe. And synthetic wastes, such as plastic wrappers, pro- duce acids when they burn. Acids make for a very short stove lifetime. ߜ Manufactured logs (like Duraflame): This is extremely dangerous. They burn too hot and can cause a fire when you open the door. I am an expert on this warning; one of the most startling things I’ve ever expe- rienced in my life occurred when I opened a woodstove door while a manufactured log was burning, and the flames literally shot out into the room. I feel lucky to have only paid for this stupidity with my eyebrows. Burning the wood right The actual burning process inside your stove represents the biggest factor in safety, efficiency, and convenience. ߜ In the firebox, avoid placing pieces of wood in parallel directions, where they may stack too closely. Always try to get some air movement between pieces of wood. Adjust the burning embers periodically with a poker to keep your fire burning properly. Unfortunately, there are no rigid guidelines; learning to use your stove optimally takes practice. Just play around with it. ߜ If you’re looking for the most heat fast, vary the position of the wood to maximize the exposed surface area of each piece of wood. If you’re after a long-term burn (overnight, unattended) minimize the space between the pieces.


235Chapter 15: Burning Desires: Wood and Gas Stoves ߜ Only use wood properly sized for your stove’s fire chamber. Smaller pieces burn faster and hotter. ߜ Always keep the door closed when attending to the fire — when the door is open, too much oxygen enters the burn chamber.A good technique for producing a relatively clean, long burn (overnight) isto load your stove with a mixture of partially seasoned and well-dried woodabout half an hour before bedtime. Leave the damper open to give the fire agood start; then damp the strongly burning blaze down for the night.Maintaining your wood stoveMaintaining a wood stove means having the chimney swept. This entailsgoing up onto the roof (or wherever the vent terminates at the top) and forc-ing special brushes down that clean away the built up creosote and tar.Buying woodIf you don’t have your own supply of wood, either ordering the wood cut slightly smaller. Thisfrom your own trees or a friend or relative who’s doesn’t work because the workers cutting thehappy to let you have firewood in exchange for wood don’t measure it (they aren’t making aclearing the dead trees from their land, you’ll whole lot of money off this deal, and it’s hardneed to buy your firewood. Fortunately, you can work, so cut them some slack). You’ll getfind it just about anywhere. Unfortunately, you pieces that are too big, and then what are youhave to watch out for a few things: going to do with those? So allow a margin of about 20 percent when you order the wood.ߜ Firewood is usually sold in cords. A cord is a nice, even stack 8’ high x 4’ wide x 4’ deep, ߜ Don’t buy firewood that’s been sitting on the or a volume of 128 cubic feet. Only thing is, bottom of a huge pile for a couple months it’s never stacked nice and neat so you can or more (especially in bad weather). It’ll be rarely tell just how much firewood you’re covered in mud because the rain washes all actually getting. You often see filled pickup the dirt and dust off the wood piled above it. trucks sitting in grocery store parking lots Your burn chamber will then fill with dirt and with a sign advertising the cord price. You mud, in addition to the usual ashes. This is agree to buy, they follow you home and dump heavy, stinky, and inefficient. the wood in your yard, and you stack it and find it’s not really a cord at all. So now what? Here’s a little tip: A good way to save money in You want to pick a fight with Paul Bunyan? what you spend on firewood is to split the logs The best bet is to buy from a reputable sup- yourself. Then you can buy about any size logs plier; get a reference, if possible. you want (and save a lot of money to boot). You can get special splitting tools (most tool rentalߜ The length of the wood is important. Many places have them available), or you can work people make the mistake of measuring the your butt off with an old-fashioned axe. opening of their wood stove’s door and then


236 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You A stove that is not damped excessively (and that has a well-designed chimney of factory-built, insulated pipe) may not need a sweep for an entire season. On the other hand, even a comparatively well-installed system could need cleaning as often as every two weeks. Your stove’s instruction manual will provide explicit instructions on how to tell when cleaning is needed and the best way to go about it. After installing a new stove, be sure to check the stovepipe for creosoting every two weeks until you become accustomed to the heater’s behavior. (Any deposits over 1/4-inch thick indicate that the pipe needs attention.) You can monitor the accumulation of creosote and other deposits in your stovepipe by tapping on the sections with a metal object. Once you’re used to the ringing sound that a clean pipe makes, the dull thud of a dirty one will be distinctive. It’s a good idea to have your stove system inspected by a pro at the begin- ning of each burn season. To monitor the operation of your wood stove, check the exhaust coming out of the chimney. You should see the transparent white steam of evaporating water only — darker, opaque smoke will be just slightly visible. The darker the color of the exhaust, the less efficiently your stove is operating. Heating with a Gas Stove Many homes have propane or natural gas supplies for cooking and heat- ing both ambient air and domestic water. This is a safe and consistent form of energy, and it’s cheaper than electricity, though not nearly as cheap as wood-burning. You can use propane or natural gas to power a stove, and the results can be very rewarding. For the most part, the safety, installation, and chimney/vent maintenance details are the same as with wood stoves. You don’t need to worry about creosote buildup nearly as much, because gas burns more efficiently and consistently than wood. When your gas stove is installed, it will be fine-tuned to burn according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Here are the pros of using natural gas stoves. Many people are switching from wood to gas for all these reasons: ߜ All you do is flip a switch and you’re generating heat. No logs to tote, no fires to start. ߜ You can maintain temperature with a thermostat-controlled switching system, so you can achieve much better consistency than you can with a wood stove. In addition, gas stoves usually come with very effective blower systems for distributing hot air.


237Chapter 15: Burning Desires: Wood and Gas Stoves ߜ The gas company (or utility) delivers the gas to your home. In most cases, you contract with a supply company and they come to your home periodically and fill up your tank. You don’t worry about a thing (except paying the bill). ߜ Cleanup is much easier: You don’t have any ashes to sweep up and hardly any creosote builds up in the vent system. ߜ The pollution numbers are very good compared to wood stoves. In regions where wood stoves are banned, gas stoves are almost always acceptable. ߜ You can get either open flame style units, which look quite a bit like a real fire with the new aesthetic improvements in logs and ashes, or you can get completely enclosed units that offer better efficiencies and more utility. ߜ Most units can be used without electricity, which means that, if you lose power, your stove is still good to go. Of course, as with anything, using a gas stove also has some cons: ߜ Some units need electricity. Blowers always do. ߜ Gas stoves aren’t cheap compared to other alternatives in terms of both fuel expense and installation costs (in fact, they’re usually more costly to install), and gas may go way up in price, making this option even more expensive. ߜ The flame, although real, doesn’t seem as real as that of a wood stove. If you feel a fire just isn’t a fire without the smell, sound, and changing flames, then you’ll probably be disappointed with a gas. ߜ Enclosed units prevent roasting marshmallows.Looking at Electric Fireplaces Electric fireplaces and inserts are mostly for show, and they can do a pretty good job of that, if you can buy into the concept and suspend your disbelief. They’re inexpensive (no plumbing, no vents, no hassles — just plug and play), and you can get a complete unit that you simply set against a wall, plug in, and voilà. Who’s to begrudge a little romance to those in apartments and condos? Most electric fireplaces come with heaters and a fan so that you can also get them to heat a room for about the same price as an electric space heater. But keep in mind that you’re using a lot of electricity to do little more than put on a show, and if your utility is providing you with coal-fired electricity, you’re also creating pollution.


238 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Although many people truly like their units, you may get tired of yours long before its lifetime has expired. So before you talk yourself into an electric fire- place as a substitute for the real thing, visit somebody who already has one and check out the way it looks and works. Electric fireplaces offer the following plusses: ߜ They have zero emissions (at least locally; the power company is still spewing forth to provide your electricity). ߜ They can be installed anywhere. ߜ New technologies make the fire look somewhat real. ߜ They’re movable. You can move one from room to room, and take it with you if you move to a new home. You can even sell it in a garage sale. On the negative side, you have the following: ߜ Fake-looking fires. ߜ No electricity, no bananas; when utility power is out, you’re shivering. ߜ Fuel costs are very high — $45 per M/Btu. Deciding Which Stove Is Right for You As the earlier sections make clear, when you make the decision to supplement or replace your home’s heating with a stove, you have these choices: a wood stove, a gas stove, or an electric fireplace. Each has its advantages and disad- vantages. Before you make your decision, however, you should consider what factors determine the efficiency of any stove: things like how the stove gener- ates heat, the amount of space it’s capable of heating (and how you can extend that if necessary), and how you can use your existing chimney or vent system, if you have one, with your new stove or, if you don’t have an existing chimney, what it would take to build the necessary venting apparatus. How does the stove burn and heat? In gas stoves, combustion can be tuned to a high degree, and the stove will always work the same way because it’s a closed process that doesn’t require intervention (plus the fuel is very consistent). On the opposite extreme are wood stoves, which vary in performance for a number of reasons: ߜ The wood composition and quality varies quite a bit. Even if you buy the same species, such as oak, and the wood is cut from trees in the same forest, the variations are tremendous.


239Chapter 15: Burning Desires: Wood and Gas Stoves ߜ Wood is often piled high, and the stuff on the bottom gets muddy. This affects combustion quite a bit, not to mention the mess it makes. ߜ Stoves vary. The same wood burned in different stoves will combust differently. ߜ Over the course of the burn cycle, raw wood turns to ashes. Ashes build up and change the dynamics of the combustion process. ߜ Weather can affect how a stove burns by changing the way the chimney draws. If your home is oriented just right, you may experience severe back drafts on windy days.Once the heat is generated in the stove, the next issue to contend with is howthe stove gets the heat into the room. With some stoves, most of the heat islost up the chimney. Other types of stoves are very efficient at channeling theheat into a room.After the heat is in the room, how that heat is utilized makes a big differencein your comfort (Chapter 8 has more details on comfort). Heat rises, so ina large, open room the ceiling will be much warmer than the floor. This is awaste, unless the occupants are living near the ceiling (for instance, if you areliving in an inverted gravity zone where things fall up instead of down).How much area does the stove cover?In deciding which type of stove is best for your needs, your first order of busi-ness is to decide how much of your home you want to heat with a stove. If allyou want to heat is a single room, your options are simple because you don’tneed to move air in a complicated fashion and you can buy a small stove. Ifyou’re planning on heating a number of rooms or an entire home, you need tofigure out how you’re going to move the warm air from the stove to the adjoin-ing rooms. When it comes to moving air, you have several options: ߜ Ceiling fans: These are a cost-effective way to reduce fuel bills and even out temperature variations. If your home has high ceilings or an open loft, most of the heat will rise to those areas and eventually migrate out through the roof. A well-placed fan will move this hot air back down into your living spaces (Chapter 13 offers more suggestions on how to move air through your home). ߜ Ecofans: Ecofans offer a very efficient and effective way to move the hot air your stove is generating. An Ecofan (check out www.realgoods.com or enter “Ecofan” in your search engine) exploits the simple laws of ther- modynamics to move a fan blade without the use of electricity or exter- nal power. You set the fan on top of your stove and after it gets hot, the blade spins and moves up to 150 cubic feet minute (cfm) of air. Ecofans cost over $100, but over the long term they’re a lot cheaper than using ceiling fans, and they can make your wood stove up to 30 percent more effective (I said effective, not efficient) by distributing the hot air.


240 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You ߜ Your HVAC fan system: Most HVAC furnaces (the kind that use forced air) have a switch setting that allows the blower to run without having the heat on (Fan Only is a common label). If you run your HVAC system in this mode, it will distribute the heat generated by your stove through- out your entire home. Smoking out vents and chimneys You may or may not have a fireplace in your home. If you don’t, you’ll have to install a chimney or vent system from scratch. If you have an existing fire- place, it may or may not be suitable for the stove option you want to install. The best bet, of course, is to alter the existing infrastructure as little as pos- sible, but this may not be practical or safe. A properly designed chimney (or vent system) is a prerequisite for any safe stove installation. For example, the flue must be made of a suitable heat- resistant material and it must be separated from combustibles by a specified distance (see county codes and installation specifications for a particular stove). Rules regarding masonry chimneys used to vent a stove state that they must be lined — usually with clay flue tiles, which should be mortared at the joints with refractory cement and separated from the stone, brick, or block work. The interior surface shouldn’t show signs of chipping. Likewise, the exterior masonry and joints should be sound. Unfortunately, the likelihood of an exist- ing chimney meeting all these criteria is not very good (if you’re in doubt, have an expert come in and take a look). If the chimney is deficient because it’s too large, lacks a liner, or is in poor repair, you have these options: ߜ Bring it up to snuff (relining and so forth). If you choose this option, letting a pro do the job is highly recommended. ߜ Abandon it. For about the same cost as relining, you can install a fac- tory-built, insulated metal chimney. This is a good idea because technol- ogy has improved quite a bit, and you’ll be getting better performance along with better safety. ߜ Install a new stovepipe in an existing chimney. This is probably the best option of all because not only does it eliminate the problem of the deficient chimney, but it also gives you the option to look into a closed system (a stove, in other words). When using a fireplace chimney for stove exhaust, the entry to the fireplace must be sealed, or, if the connector joins the flue above the fireplace, the chimney must be plugged below the point of junction. This precaution not only prevents burning embers from cascading down into your fireplace (and onto your floor), but also maintains the proper draft.


241Chapter 15: Burning Desires: Wood and Gas Stoves Most county regulations prohibit the passage of stovepipe through any floor, ceiling, or fire wall without special feed-throughs. You may, however, pass your pipe through either a wall or a floor/ceiling if you use a factory-built insulated chimney. If you don’t have a suitable masonry chimney, this expen- sive venting option is your only choice.Abiding by Safety Guidelines Stoves obviously pose a lot of dangers. With any type of stove, you can start a fire, create smoke hazards, or get burned badly. To avoid potential danger and the legal liabilities that may come with it: ߜ Make sure you know and follow the safety and operation guidelines out- lined in your stove’s instruction manual. If you don’t have an instruction manual, get one online or contact the stove’s manufacturer. ߜ Contact your county building department to find out what the applicable codes and guidelines are in your area. If you don’t follow code and you cause a fire or other danger, you could have an insurance claim denied or even find yourself in legal limbo if there’s collateral damage. ߜ Call your homeowners insurance company and ask them what type of requirements they have for stoves. Many insurance companies will insist on coming out to your home so they can inspect your stove firsthand. (So many stoves have been installed inadequately that they can’t just take your word for it.) Sometimes the insurance company’s standards are stricter than the county’s, and you may find your insurance canceled or your rates increased if you don’t mind your p’s and q’s. ߜ If you’re buying a home with a stove, have it inspected by a pro before you take possession of the home (or before you make an offer). If it’s substandard, deal with this problem upfront. Ask the sellers to make things right. They’ll have a hard time refusing because they’ll take on a lot of liability if they do. Have the chimney inspected as well. It may be coated with creosote, or it may not be up to standards. ߜ Don’t install any type of stove yourself. A whole host of details go into the installation of a stove, and failure to pay attention to any one of them can lead to a safety problem. For that reason, I don’t include instal- lation instructions for stoves in this chapter, and I strongly recommend that you hire a pro. Although it’s true that many novices install stoves themselves, the reality is that if you do have a problem, the conse- quences could be huge. You may pay big time, or even worse, somebody could die. Nothing is worth that risk. I’m one of the most qualified do-it- yourselfers on the planet, and when I needed a gas stove installed, I had nothing to do with it aside from watching and learning.


242 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You ߜ Keep in mind that the fuel you burn in your stove is just as combustible while it’s in storage as it is when it’s in the combustion chamber. If you have a gas tank, it could literally blow up if abused. If you have a wood pile, it’ll burn very hot and fast if you’re not careful. Always consider fuel storage while you’re designing your stove system. ߜ Always make sure to have adequate smoke alarm coverage in your home, and make sure to keep the batteries fresh in every smoke alarm. You should also consider installing a carbon monoxide alarm. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.


Chapter 16 Shining a Light on Solar Power for Your HomeIn This Chapterᮣ Using the sun to power your water heaterᮣ Getting the lowdown on PV systemsᮣ Powering pumps and motors with solar energy From a pollution standpoint, solar power is the most energy-efficient invest- ment you can make, hands down. Sunshine will always be free. Solar power equipment, however, can be expensive and isn’t suitable for climates that don’t get enough sunshine. Government subsidies play a big role in solar power, but they vary with the political winds. The most definitive factor in determining the viability of solar power is local utility rates; if yours are high, solar energy may be just what you’re looking for because the financial efficiency is good. When all the factors are working for you, an investment in solar energy can be much better than an investment in the stock market. In this chapter, I cover the most popular solar investments, and I present some guidelines on when and where solar power is a worthwhile investment. For more details, consult my book Solar Power Your Home For Dummies (Wiley).Supplementing Your Domestic Hot WaterHeater with Solar Energy Around 20 percent of the typical home’s energy budget goes toward heating water. With a solar water heater, you can offset around 70 percent of this cost. You can’t offset the entire water heating function, because solar energy is unavailable at night and in bad weather conditions. Thus, a backup source for heat is a necessity.


244 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Over 20 different types of water heating systems are available, but some are just too expensive (high-tech evacuated tube systems work well but cost too much, although that’s bound to change because they are the best technology), and others are too cheap — they don’t offer enough performance to overcome the sacrifices. The following sections outline the most common types of systems. Before you invest in any system, make sure you understand the factors that dic- tate which type of system is best for use in your home. These factors include ߜ Climate, in particular, freezing weather and exceptionally hot weather. If you live in a cold climate, you know about water freezing and bursting pipes. But did you know that too much heat can be every bit as damaging as too much cold? Boiled pipes burst just like frozen ones. If you live in a cold climate, make sure the system you get is one that mini- mizes the potential for freezing pipes. If you live in a very sunny climate, make sure the system you pick can deal with the heat. ߜ Desired water temperature. How hot is the water you are looking for and what time of day do you need it? Some systems take longer to heat water than others (any system without a secondary reservoir takes longer to heat). Those that include backup heating (electrical or gas powered) will always have hot water on hand, but your utility costs may be more. ߜ Quantity of hot water produced. How much hot water does your family use, and when do they use it? To calculate how much hot water you need, measure flow and multiply it by the amount of time you and your family spend in the shower. If you also use a lot of hot water for laundry and dishes, add about ten gallons per load. (See Chapter 2 for details on measuring your water flow.) An ICS batch system An Integral Collector System (ICS), as shown in Figure 16-1, is the simplest and cheapest, although its suitability is limited to mild climates (with very little freezing and not too much hot weather). This type of system is passive — it doesn’t involve any pumps — and is normally plumbed directly between the cold water supply and the water heater, making the plumbing job easy and straightforward. An ICS batch system provides a simple and effective way to preheat water for your existing domestic water heater. Because you’re putting hot water into your standard domestic hot water heater, you hot water heater doesn’t have to work so hard. (If the water in the ICS system isn’t heated, the domestic heater does what it would normally do.) A 3' x 8' ICS unit holds 30 gallons of water. Collected Btu (the amount of heat that the collector actually captures and converts to heat in the water) are 22,000 for an average day in North America. (The average household uses around 10,000 to 15,000 Btu per person per day.) Larger units are also avail- able: A 4' x 8' unit holds 50 gallons of water and can collect 30,000 Btu per day.


245Chapter 16: Shining a Light on Solar Power for Your Home Batch Collector Output Insulated Supply Pipes to Roof Water SupplyFigure 16-1: Tempering Bypass Drain Valve ValveA batch Valve Residentialwater Hot Water Water Heater Supply Tank heatersupplemen-tary system. For the smaller unit, expect to pay around $1,700 for the collector, plus the cost of pipes, hardware, and labor for installation — around $2,400 is typical. The larger unit costs around $1,900, plus installation. Complete kits are available that include all the valves plus the collector and its associated mounting hardware. If you’re willing to change your habits, the use of an ICS batch system can reduce the energy workload on your conventional water heater to around ten percent. For instance, if each member of the family showers at a differ- ent time of day, the batch collector can heat up again between showers. If you take your shower in the afternoon, when the midday sun has heated the water in the tank, your residential heater will have very little work to do. You can run your dishwasher in the late afternoon instead of in the morning, too. But before you run out and buy an ICS batch system, consider these things: ߜ Freezing is a big problem because the collector holds the water being heated (although big batch collectors can withstand longer freezing conditions than less bulky systems). The system has manual drain valves that you can use to drain the water when freezing is a possibility for more than a day or so. You use the bypass valve to bypass the solar collector and revert to normal operation. ߜ Too much heat can be a problem. The collector can burst if the water gets too hot. It’s best to drain the system when conditions are extremely hot and sunny.


246 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Drain valves need to be located outside (where there is safe drainage), and they may look exactly like hose faucets. You may want to consider some kind of locking valve that requires a key to open. Whatever you do, make sure children can’t open them and get scalded. ߜ The tempering valve, which prevents scalding water from entering your household plumbing system, is critical. It mixes cold water with the heated water from the collector when the collector water exceeds a cer- tain temperature. You can always find out how hot the water in the collector is by sam- pling from the downstream drain valve. Another good idea is to install an in-line thermometer. ߜ A full collector can weigh upwards of 500 pounds. Even empty, it weighs a lot. So give some serious consideration to how you will lift the collec- tor up onto your roof or wherever you plan on mounting it. (Roofing companies have cranes for lifting heavy weights; you may need to hire one for an hour.) And make sure your roof can support the weight when the collector is full. You don’t want to find out the hard way that it can’t. A drainback system A drainback system is an indirect, active, closed-loop system. It’s indirect in that the liquid being heated in the collector is not the water that you actually use in your home; the heat is transferred via a heat exchanger that moves the heat from the collector liquid to the household water supply. It’s active in that it includes an in-line pump. Figure 16-2 illustrates this type of system. Although much more expensive to install than ICS systems, drainback sys- tems are an excellent choice for most climates, except those that receive a lot of snow and get very cold. They’re the best choice in hot climates. The advantage is that the danger of freezing is minimal. Drainback systems are designed so that the fluid drains by force of gravity. Sometimes pipes sag and the low points retain some water, which can burst the pipes during freezing weather. To avoid such a scenario, make sure to adhere to the installation guidelines. In a drainback system, a controller reads the two temperature sensors and then determines when fluid should be pumped through the collector. When the pump is turned off, the fluid in the collector and feeder pipes drains back into the drainback tank (such a clever name).


247Chapter 16: Shining a Light on Solar Power for Your Home Solar Thermal Panel Hot Water Load Drainback Heat Cold Water Tank Exchanger Supply Figure 16-2: Back-upA drainback- Water Heater style solarwater heater system. Solar Storage Tank Most manufacturers offer complete kits that tell you everything you need to know about these systems and that work very well — if you stick with the plan. Following are a few facts worth knowing about drainback systems: ߜ You can use fluids other than water in the closed-loop heat exchanger circuit, but water is best because it’s cheap and doesn’t degrade when it gets hot. ߜ To eliminate the risk of freezing pipes, you must mount the pipes so that they all have a slope and mount the collector so that it drains com- pletely, too. ߜ Copper pipe with a minimum diameter of 3⁄4" works best. ߜ The pumps consume energy, thereby decreasing efficiency. However, if you use a PV cell (see the later section “Solar PV Systems: King of the Energy-Efficiency Hill” for details), this isn’t an issue. A closed-loop anti-freeze system Closed-loop anti-freeze systems, shown in Figure 16-3, are far and away the most widely distributed type of system in the world because they work in almost any climate. Most new solar homes features closed-loop anti-freeze systems because they’re low risk and very effective. I would recommend them for most applications. Keep in mind, though, that they’re expensive and not entirely problem-free.


248 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Solar Thermal PV Panel Panel Hot Water LoadFigure 16-3: Heat Exchanger Cold Water A closed- Solar Storage Tank Supply loopanti-freeze Back-up Water Heatersolar water heating system. A special water heater tank incorporating a heat exchanger is used with one or more flat plate, roof-mounted collectors. Glycol, or some equivalent anti- freeze fluid, fills the collector and routing pipes. A controller measures the temperature in the collector fluid, as well as the temperature in the hot water tank. When heat is available for transfer, pumps are activated to move the collector fluid. A typical system costs around $5,500 installed (see Chapter 4 for details on the type of tax breaks and rebates you may qualify for), and complete kits are available. Although installation of the parts is no more difficult than for other systems, charging the closed loop can be tricky. If you don’t do it right, you can damage the system and get inefficient performance. If you’re considering a closed-loop system, keep these things in mind: ߜ You can mount the flat plate collectors in almost any configuration. The closed loop is always full of fluid, so the pump pressure requirements are much less finicky than those of a drainback system (explained in the preceding section). In addition, the collector can be mounted at a great distance from the exchanger. ߜ The pump can be very small, with very little head pressure, translating to lower power and better efficiency. Running these types of pumps off a PV panel increases efficiency even more. (At night, when there’s no sun- light to power the PV panel, there’s no hot water to be pumped anyway.)


249Chapter 16: Shining a Light on Solar Power for Your Home ߜ The major limitation is the tendency of the anti-freeze fluid to degrade over time, resulting in inefficiency and the buildup of deposits on the interior walls of the pipes and collector. Periodic servicing of the fluid is a must. Because injecting new fluid into the system has to be done just right, it usually needs to be done by a qualified serviceperson. ߜ The best way to prevent the fluid from overheating is to make sure the closed loop is circulating at all times when it’s sunny out. You can get scalding hot water in your domestic tank, and a tempering valve is critical. ߜ You need to use copper pipe because it’s the only material that can withstand very high temperatures. Make sure the copper pipe is well insulated if there’s a chance that chil- dren might touch it. The pipe can get extremely hot.Solar PV Systems: King of theEnergy-Efficiency Hill In one fell swoop you can completely offset your electric utility bill and gen- erate zero pollution. Millions of photovoltaic (PV) systems are being installed all over the world, and the costs are decreasing due to economies of scale. But PV systems are not for everybody because they require a considerable upfront investment. There are two basic types of systems: intertie, which work in conjunction with the utility grid, and stand-alone, which require batteries and other spe- cial support hardware. Here, I focus on the intertie systems because they comprise the vast majority of installations. Seeing the advantages of a PV system The two biggest advantages of having a PV system are reducing pollution — you can literally erase over 40,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year by going with a solar PV system — and saving money. Net metering and why it’s sooo good Net metering means that you can sell your excess power back to the utility company. Under most net-metering laws, utility companies must pay you the same retail rate they charge their own customers for power.


250 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Net metering is great for PV system economics because every solar system, whether PV, water heating, or another type, has a certain maximum capacity. Maximum capacity depends on a number of things: the size of the system, the orientation and location of the solar collectors, and how much sunlight is available. On a cloudy day, system capacity is much less than on a sunny day. On a hot summer day, the capacity can be very large. The point is, solar systems don’t put out consistent power from minute to minute, day to day, or season to season. Some days you get way more than you need; other days, not so much. With a PV system tied in to the grid (as opposed to a stand-alone system), you can use as much power as you need, and your PV system merely contrib- utes whenever it can. Picture it like a bank. You put money in during the day, when the sun is shining, and then later on you can make withdrawals. What you don’t use is all sold back to the utility. In some regions, solar PV is even more advantageous because the utilities have what’s called time-of-use (TOU) rate scheduling, where electricity rates are highest during peak usage time (from noon until 6 p.m.). The rate during this period can be over three times the rate at off-peak times. The timing is perfect for solar PV systems because they generate a majority of their power during peak time (remember, by law, the utilities must pay you the same rate they charge for power, so at peak time they must pay you peak rates). Solar PV is an investment tool, but you must change your power usage habits in order to capitalize on the advantage. The harder you work your investment, the better it pays off. Government subsidies Government has a vested interest in promoting solar power because of its overwhelmingly positive environmental impact, as well as the desirable political impact of energy independence. The best way to promote solar power is to get more people to invest in it, and the best way to do that is to subsidize it. Subsidies, rebates, and tax breaks are widespread and becoming more prevalent with each passing day. In some parts of the country, the total discount on a system can be over 50 percent. Protecting yourself against future rate increases All investments require you to predict the future. If you think energy costs are going to rise quite a bit, solar energy is a very wise option. Your power bills won’t increase no matter how much energy costs rise. This is a very powerful form of portfolio management called hedging, where you not only get a good return on your investment but also ensure that regardless of what happens in the future, your investment will still pay off. In fact, the more energy costs rise, the better your original investment in solar will turn out to be.


251Chapter 16: Shining a Light on Solar Power for Your HomeWhen energy costs rise, those with solar power will still be able to use thesame amount of energy. Those without will be scrambling to conserve or tobuy solar equipment (which makes yours more valuable). You ensure notonly financial security but also lifestyle security when you invest in solarenergy.Increasing property valuesYour property value can increase by more than the cost of your original solarPV investment. Not only will you save on monthly power bills, but you’ll seean almost immediate appreciation in your home, in many cases, equal to orgreater than the cost of your equipment.Understanding the basic partsof every solar PV systemAn intertie solar PV system, shown in Figure 16-4, is actually very simple,despite its high cost. The collectors collect sunlight and convert it into a rawelectrical signal. Wires transmit this signal down to the inverter, which con-verts (why it isn’t called a converter is beyond me) the power to 110VAC thatis useable in your home. The meter is used so the power company can dingyou, of course. And switches are there for safety purposes. The followingsections explain the important parts of a solar PV system. PV Modules DC Wiring Inverter Switch AC VoltageFigure 16-4: Main Grid A solar House Fusebox intertie PV Utility system. Meter


252 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Ground-mounted systems are more expensive than roof-mounted systems because they require concrete posts and special frames. On the other hand, you can orient the panels any way you want, so the extra cost may be offset by increased production. Install a smaller system than you think you need, and allow for the possibil- ity of future expansion by buying an inverter big enough to accommodate the panels you may add in the future. PV panels PV panels, which comprise about 60 percent of the system’s cost, are the single biggest expense. They take up the most space as well. For most users, finding the space for the panels is the hardest part of the investment because it’s critical that they get a lot of sunshine. This depends quite a bit on the ori- entation of your roof. Different types of panels are finding their way onto the market. The technolo- gies aren’t important to you, but the configurations may be. Some panels are flexible, and some can be mounted directly over tiled roofs. Some panels are being made into roofing shingles. Most of the new technologies are going to need some maturation to compete with the tried-and-true flat panels. It’s best to avoid new technologies until they’ve proven themselves. Be sure to check the warranty and the manufacturer’s reputation and longev- ity. Most PV panel warranties are for 20 years, but beware: Panels degrade over time. System warranties specify a percentage of original power output over time, say, 80 percent after 20 years. Inevitably, your system will put out less and less energy. Inverters Inverters are the next biggest expense. Inverters take the low-voltage, high- current signals from the PV panels and invert them into 120VAC, which is directly compatible with grid power. Inverters cost around 50 cents per watt, or around $2,500 for a typical installation. Options include monitoring func- tions, safety features, expandability ports, and so on. The most popular fea- ture is a digital display that tells you exactly how much power your system is producing. Disconnect switches and more Disconnect switches are of critical importance and need to be mounted within easy reach. Every member of your family should know exactly how to turn the PV system off for safety reasons. Power meters are usually pro- vided by the utility company when they come to your house to inspect your system and connect it to the grid. Wiring, conduit, and connections


253Chapter 16: Shining a Light on Solar Power for Your Hometo your household’s main fuse box are minor expenses, but comprise a bigchunk of the labor for installation. You want the installers to hide the con-duits, if they can.Getting the PV system installedThe installation of a PV system involves the following steps: 1. Perform an energy audit. Some states require an energy audit before you can buy a solar system. California is making this a requirement if you want to collect their siz- able rebate. Why? It’s not really in the interest of your contractor to help you reduce your power consumption before you buy a PV system because that means they’ll be selling you a smaller system. But the pay- back is much better if you save money by conserving prior to buying a big PV system. The cheapest energy is that which you never use. Plus, using as little power as possible is in society’s best interest. 2. Decide on a PV system and how to finance it. You must collect cost and performance estimates for PV systems, including the following: • PV system costs, lifetimes, expansion potentials, warranty, and so on. The best bet is to call contractors and have a preliminary conversation about these issues. They’re familiar with all the rebates, subsidies, and tax credits available because they help them sell systems. • The physical setup. How much roof space will a system take up? Do you have a suitable roof, facing approximately south? What condition is your roof in? Will any work need to be done before you install the system? • Rate structures. Find out which structures you qualify for once the equipment is in place. Your current structure may not be appli- cable anymore, and you may have options to choose from. Can you change structures later, if you don’t like the one you’re in? Can your utility company change structures on you later? You could find yourself in a real bind if you install a system under a certain rate structure, only to get a nice letter from your utility informing you that they’re changing your status. • What is the payment schedule for the investment? You usually have to make a down payment (typically $1,000) at contract signing. Then you pay approximately half the remaining balance at the beginning of the installation, and the other half after the system is in place. • What are your financing options and costs?


254 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You 3. Choose a contractor. Talk to as many contractors as you can. Get them to come to your home and look at your situation in some detail (they can’t give you an accu- rate quote until they do; any phone quotes are only approximations). 4. Review the contract. After you choose the contractor, a contract will be written up. Be sure to pay attention to the following: • What guarantees are included in the contract? • Exactly what are you buying? A pile of installed hardware, or a system guarantee? • Under what conditions is the contract voided? • Can you pull out? You usually have three days to change your mind — if they don’t tell you this, ask. 5. Wait for approvals from the county building department and any sub- sidizing agencies to begin installation. Expect this to take up to six weeks or more. 6. Have the system installed (and inspected). Installations typically take a couple of days. The county inspectors will look at your system and certify it. The utility company is very concerned with your system because you will be feeding potentially dangerous power back into their grid. If utility employees are working on the grid nearby and your system isn’t working properly, they could get a nasty shock. 7. Have the utility company come out with a meter and connect you to the grid. When everything is ready, the utility company will install a new power meter and officially hook you up. Now you’re in the power-generating business, and you can brag to all your friends. 8. Bone up on how to operate your system. Your contractor needs to walk you through the entire system and explain the hazards and proper operation. You should be aware of potential problems and how to identify them. At this point, you can watch the display on your inverter cranking out numbers. Your contrac- tor should explain exactly what the numbers mean. 9. Submit paperwork for final rebate payments, if necessary. Rebates are not payable until the system is in place and working properly. If your contractor is receiving the rebate directly, you don’t need to do anything. If you’re receiving it, you will want to get it as fast as you can.


255Chapter 16: Shining a Light on Solar Power for Your HomePowering Pumps and Motors Directly PV panels can be used to directly power DC electrical motors (no batteries required). If you don’t have access to electricity, this can be very useful. If you simply want to cut back on pollution, this is a good way to make a contribution. Supplying water with a solar pump Solar water pumps can be located anywhere sunshine is available. All water pumping systems include a few basic components (see Figure 16-5): ߜ A reservoir: If you want to run water to your house, the storage reser- voir should be located above the house so that when a tap is opened, gravity provides the water pressure to the faucets. ߜ A faucet: Crank the handle, get water. ߜ A switch: To turn the system off and on. If there is no water to be pumped, you don’t want to run the pump dry or it will burn up. ߜ A submersible DC pump: A submersible pump goes down into the water supply and has the advantage that it is always primed, that is full of water. (Without the water, the pump would burn out.) ߜ A water supply: The water supply can be a well or a creek/river, lake, or other body of water. PV Modules Faucet Switch Figure 16-5: Reservoir Water Supply Pumping Submersible water with DC Pumpsolar power.


256 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You In order to specify system size, you need to make the following calculations: ߜ Daily water usage, in gallons. Calculate both average and maximum usage. ߜ Available sunshine, in average hours per day. If having water avail- able at all times isn’t critical (that is, if you can tolerate a few days of drought), the reservoir may be smaller. If you need water all the time and sunshine is inconsistent, you need a larger reservoir, along with larger PV modules so you can fill the reservoir on sunny days. ߜ Difference in vertical height between the top level of the water source and the output end of the pump hose. This number is called the pump’s head pressure. Considering a solar pool pump Swimming pool solar-powered pumps are expensive upfront, but once installed, you never have to pay another cent to power your pool pump. Conventional pool pumps, on the other hand, are relatively inexpensive upfront, but they cost a lot to run. In particular, if you have a solar swim- ming pool heating system and a large-scale solar PV system on a TOU rate structure, running a conventional pump system in the afternoon, when the sunlight is available for heat (you have to run a pool heating system in the afternoon; otherwise, it won’t provide any heat), is very expensive. In the long term, you’re better off with a solar pump system. The more sunshine you get, the more the pool pump runs. This works nicely because pool utilization hours are usually determined by the amount of sun- shine as well. Using Wind and Water for Solar Power Like solar collectors, windmills and hydropower generators are powered by the sun, but in an indirect manner. Windmills and hydropower generators both generate voltages with spinning turbines. The concept is very simple. When you apply a power source to an electric motor, the shaft spins. If you manually spin the shaft of an electric motor, on the other hand, its two wires will output power. The physics work in either direction. Turbines are simply electric motors run backwards. Inverters are required (just as with solar PV panels) to convert the raw voltages from the rotors into usable power. Wind and water may be available at any time of day or night. Wind, however, can come and go from minute to minute. Water resources generally don’t vary much over the course of a day but they can vary over seasons. They’re also subject to droughts when no power may be available at all for extended


257Chapter 16: Shining a Light on Solar Power for Your Home periods. The good news is that you can get rebates and subsidies for wind and water power just as you can for PV systems and water heating systems. They’re all solar power and are grouped together in this regard. Blowing with the wind A wind turbine, shown in Figure 16-6, looks like a small airplane with a huge propeller, which is basically what it is. Blades Alternator (Rotors) Vane Wires Rotating Joint Tower GuyFigure 16-6: Wires A wind turbine. The pros and cons of wind power Wind power has several advantages. It can be generated anytime, day or night. Wind is available almost everywhere, in all climates. In many of the worst cli- mates, it’s very powerful. In some locations, wind is virtually a constant (magni- tudes may vary, but output is always available). Because wind speeds vary over terrain, you can find locations on your property that provide maximum poten- tial. Ridge lines, coastlines, and the tops of barren hills are the best candidates. Wind power has its disadvantages, too: ߜ Extremely high wind conditions may destroy or damage a unit (turbines need a minimum amount of wind to begin working, but they don’t need a tornado). ߜ Obstructions like trees, houses, barns, and so on all affect wind speed. And because wind direction varies, obstructions in one direction may or may not be important in other directions. The best bet is to stay well away from all obstructions, although this may not be possible. And finally, precisely because wind is variable, you definitely need batteries.


258 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You ߜ Mounting is a bear. In general, the higher the unit, the more capacity it will output. A height of 100' is considered optimum, and that’s a long way up there. The mounting must have a tremendous amount of integ- rity because of the torques that need to be withstood. The installation is the tricky part. Hire a pro. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could literally be killed trying to install a wind turbine. ߜ Rotors are noisy and obtrusive when they’re spinning. The bigger the blades, the more power they generate and the noisier they are. They also attract a lot of visual attention and may clutter up a placid environment. Available sizes and cost The smallest turbines (6' rotors) sell for around $1,000, not including instal- lation (tower building and raising, wiring, and so on). They output 400 watts of power at 28 mph (this is a pretty good wind) and can withstand winds up to 110 mph. You can use these numbers to get an idea of how many kWh per day you can expect, on average; then you can devise a battery bank accord- ingly. A turbine with a 15' rotor produces 3.2 kW at 28 mph for around $8,000, including installation. Tower costs vary depending on height, but a typical tower kit for a small tur- bine with a height of 50' runs around $700. The higher up, the more effective; but the higher up, the more expensive as well. Using water for your power needs A hydropower system is basically the same as a wind system, except the tur- bine is spun by water pressure instead of air movement. There are two basic kinds of hydropower systems; submersible systems, which are inserted down into moving water such as a river or a creek, and stationary systems, which use water pressure. Hydropower dams are all stationary systems; the deeper the dam, the higher the pressure and the more power available). Consider these things if you’re interested in water power: ߜ You don’t need batteries (although they do make the system work better). You can assume your hydro generator output will be pretty constant, at least from hour to hour. Over the course of a year, you may have major variations. ߜ You can install a water system of virtually any size power output if your water source is big enough. If your water source is small, power outputs will fluctuate quite a bit and may be zero for extended periods or during droughts.


259Chapter 16: Shining a Light on Solar Power for Your Home ߜ You can generate power day or night, in any weather (freezing may cause problems, but the right design can usually prevent this). ߜ Hydro systems have very long lives, are relatively trouble-free, and require very little maintenance. But the upfront costs are expensive, par- ticularly for stationary water systems. ߜ Complex electrical system designs and mounting schemes are difficult with water pressures pushing all the time. This is not a trivial system design to tackle, although do-it-yourselfers can safely do it if they’re patient and willing to make multiple adjustments until the best arrange- ment is finalized.Heating Your Swimming Poolwith a Solar System Swimming pool heating is one of the most common uses of solar energy. The idea is simple: A solar collector is set out in the sunshine and the swimming pool filter pump system is used to move water through the collector and into the swimming pool. A minimal system can cost less than a few hundred dol- lars and works reasonably well. The cost for an average full-up system (roof- mounted) runs around $4,000. That’s a lot of money, but compared to using electricity or gas it’s a good investment because the energy is free, not to mention environmentally friendly. Getting started with a simple setup The simplest system for heating your swimming pool uses a single solar panel (see Figure 16-7). If you use a pool cover in conjunction with the solar panel, you can raise the pool temperature up to 15 degrees. Your pool system already includes the pump, controller, and filter, along with PVC pipes that route the water flow. You simply break into the PVC line after the filter (never before), and run a couple of flex hoses (or PVC, if you prefer) to the solar collector panel, which can be laid out on the ground or set against a hill (or other support) to achieve some angular tilt toward the sun. Solar collector panels are sold at most pool supply stores. You can get a 4' x 20' panel for around $200. Flex hoses cost around $15 apiece. Adaptors are sometimes necessary.


260 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Solar Panel Swimming PoolFigure 16-7: Pump Valve A simple Controller Filter swimming pool solar heating system. Direction of Flow Here are some tips to run the system for best results: ߜ Place the solar panel where it will get the most sunlight when the pool pump is running. The more sunshine, the more heat into the pool. ߜ Adjust the pump run time to match maximum sunlight conditions. Running the pump longer will result in more heat in the pool. ߜ You can use two or more solar panels. The best bet is to configure them in parallel, as shown in Figure 16-8. This configuration offers the water multiple channels, reducing the overall water pressure while heating the same amount of water.Figure 16-8: Output Parallel- ganged Vacuum solar Input Breaker collectors.


261Chapter 16: Shining a Light on Solar Power for Your Home Going the whole nine yards: A complete system The entire system for a typical swimming pool solar system, shown in Figure 16-9, includes quite a bit more than the simple starter system described in the preceding section. In addition to the parts that come standard with tra- ditional pools (pump, filter, the pool itself, a bunch of screaming kids, and so on), it also has collectors to collect sunlight and convert it into heat, valves to control the flow of water and determine whether the pool system is using the solar heating components or is simply in bypass mode, and a motor valve that measures the temperature of the pool water and determines whether heat is needed or not (if the day is cloudy and cold, or it’s raining, it’s hardly worth expending the extra energy it takes to run the solar heater). Vacuum Breaker Roof Through–Flange Drain Motor Valve Controller Drain Valve Valve Figure 16-9: Pump Filter A complete swimming Check Valve Swimmingpool system. Valve Pool


262 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You For these systems, the solar collectors are almost always mounted on your roof. A slight downward tilt is necessary to facilitate draining during the purge cycle. When the controller deactivates the motor valve, the vacuum breaker allows the system to purge itself of liquid. This is important for two reasons: ߜ You don’t want water in the collectors at night because it will cool down, and when you first activate the collectors the next day, you’ll dump cool water into your pool. This is obviously at odds with your goal. ߜ Purging the water ensures it won’t freeze up and burst the pipes or collector. Manual drain valves are used to deactivate the system in off seasons or during maintenance. The check valve prevents water from flowing backwards through the pump and filter. You can buy a complete kit if you want to install one of these systems your- self. (Kits are always highly recommended, even if they cost a little more.)


Chapter 17 Radiant Heating SystemsIn This Chapterᮣ Understanding how radiant heat worksᮣ Radiating heat through your floor for maximum comfortᮣ Working with masonry heaters Radiant heating can be much more efficient than conventional heating means, like forced air and stoves. Radiant implies not so much a method of generating heat as distributing that heat. You can use an electric heater, a gas heater, or geothermal or solar methods to equal effect with radiant heat systems. In this chapter, I go through the basics of radiant heating methods. The most prevalent way to use radiant heating is through coils embedded into the floor. These can be either electric heating coils or narrow diameter tubes for the transmission of water or other liquids. The upfront costs of these systems are higher than conventional heating means, but the operating efficiency pays back in both increased comfort levels and lower energy costs. Masonry heaters, which are very similar to stoves, have very high thermal masses, and their combustion chambers (usually for wood fuels) are very carefully controlled to achieve up to 90 percent efficiency. They work on the radiant heating premise, and I touch briefly on the pros and cons of heating your home with these heaters in this chapter as well.Radiating Heat with RadiantHeat Systems Radiant heat works by warming the surfaces in your home, as opposed to simply warming the air (as conventional heating systems do). The result is a much more stable and comfortable ambient: ߜ Radiant heat doesn’t use moving air, which has a cooling effect (see Chapter 8), to warm things up. For that reason, you feel warmer in a radiant heated room at the same temperature as a forced air heated room. Radiant heat is also more efficient because it doesn’t use big blowers (motors always take a lot of energy to run).


264 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You ߜ Radiant heat doesn’t dry out the air. In fact, it doesn’t change the humidity of a home’s air. (Humid air feels warmer; dry air feels cooler.) ߜ The chimney effect isn’t as pronounced with radiant heat as it is with other forms of heat. A radiant heater generally releases heat near the floor (most new systems are actually installed in the floor), so the heat naturally rises up to the people in the room. ߜ Radiant heaters tend to heat everything in a room. When they’re installed in a floor, you can literally walk barefoot on a tile floor in the middle of the coldest winter day and still feel perfectly comfortable. Radiant heating is much more comfortable in general. People who have lived with radiant heat never want to go back, and they notice the dif- ference in comfort quite a bit when they visit hotels or other people’s homes where forced air systems are operating. ߜ Radiant heat systems can achieve a greater warming effect with less energy than forced air heaters because the thermostat can be set lower. If you have a forced air heater, you have to offset the cooling effect of moving air by setting your thermostat a few degrees higher. This effect is real, not just a matter of perceived comfort. A radiant room can actually be a few degrees cooler and feel better at the same time. Obviously, this means you use less energy. ߜ With a radiant heat system, each room can have its own separate tem- perature controller. You can shut entire portions of your home off from heat or turn unused rooms way down for big savings. And the tempera- tures that you set in individual rooms will be very well maintained, in spite of weather conditions or any other variations. ߜ Radiant systems provide cleaner air quality, and they don’t use filters. They don’t blow air around and stir up dust. The drawback of a radiant system is that it takes much more time to heat a room (by the same token, once the room is warmed it takes a lot longer to cool off). By contrast, when you come into a cold house and turn on your forced air system, you get immediate hot air. If you want, you can stand over the vent and warm yourself very quickly. Not so with radiant heat. Old-Style Radiators Many old buildings use radiators set up in the corner of each room. These are big, bulky, heavy metal grids through which hot water or steam is pumped. They get very hot, and they’re very noisy (clicking, sighing, groan- ing, sizzling, and spitting). A big water boiler is located in the basement, and tons of pipes and plumbing components are required. Old time radiators are vestiges of the past and inefficient to boot because pipes always leak heat into the surrounding air.


265Chapter 17: Radiant Heating SystemsThermal mass in the sunshineYou can effect radiant heat with solar power space. The effect can be very dramatic, and ifby building a sunroom or greenhouse. See you combine this with the fact that you also getChapter 16 for more information, or check out some aesthetics, it’s worth looking into.Solar Power Your Home For Dummies (anotherWiley book authored by yours truly) for a lot Overhangs (structures built over windows tomore details. control the amount of sunshine that enters at different times of the year) are particularlyThe idea is simple: Let the sun heat a thermal useful for modulating this effect. See Chaptermass (like a concrete floor or a heavy barrel 12 for more details about overhangs and otherfilled with water) during the day, and then at solar exposure controls.night let that heat radiate out into your living A number of outdoor boiler systems are very popular in remote areas that work well with these types of radiators, and they’re a cinch to install. I merely point out here that these systems are still available, and if you want to use them, you can get the equipment very cheaply (used, especially) and they work well. Note that I didn’t say great. If you’re really serious about using radiant heat, radiant heat floor systems are much better.Radiant Heat Floor Systems Radiant heat floor systems are probably the most common form of radiant heat used nowadays, for a number of good reasons. The idea is very simple. You heat your floor with a grid of coils installed underneath the floor (see Figure 17-1). Types of radiant floor heaters: Electric or hydronic Radiant heat floor systems can use either electric or hydronic (liquid) heat- ing elements: ߜ Electric systems: Electric systems are not as efficient as hydronic ones, but they’re still more efficient than forced air electrical systems. Plus, a radiant heat electric system is much easier to install and maintain. ߜ Hydronic systems: With a hydronic system, you can use any number of sources for the heat. The most common source is a water heater that’s essentially the same as a domestic water heater. But solar heaters are also common, as are geothermal ones.


266 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Output lineFigure 17-1: A radiantheating grid under the floor. Input line The more thermal mass in the floor, the better these systems work. So tile (or a similar product) is the best floor covering material. You can also use vinyl (make sure it’s rated for the application) and laminates. If you use wood, you need to be careful how it’s installed because the heating and cooling cycles will make the wood expand and contract. Float floors are the best bet for wood. Carpet also works, but it’s not as efficient at transferring the heat into the room, and you need to make sure that the carpet is rated for the applica- tion (be sure to get the proper backing material). Installation tips Basically, a radiant heat floor system goes beneath the floor surface. You can build one up on an existing floor and then add a new layer of floor above the radiant elements, or you can remove the existing floor surface and start at the subfloor level. Not all floor surfaces are conducive to radiant heating, so make sure to check at your floor dealer. Tile works the best, and vinyl is a no-no. Wood floors are alright, but they tend to expand and contract over time and this may cause warping. Most manufacturers will specify whether their floor surface works with radiant heating.


267Chapter 17: Radiant Heating Systems If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, installing an electric system is much easier than installing a hydronic one. Not a lot can go wrong with an electric system, and if something does go wrong, it’s pretty easy to fix. With a hydronic system, a lot more can go wrong, and it’s often a bear to repair. Also, with a hydronic system, if you put the floor covering in place and something goes wrong, you’ve got a potential disaster on your hand when the liquid seeps out. This can be a real mess. Not so with an electric system. If you’re remodeling and need a heater in a basement or an add-on room, using electric radiant heat in the floor can be very inexpensive compared to other options. When you’re adding space to your home’s interior that needs to be heated, you generally can’t just tap into the existing whole-house HVAC system because it was designed with a specific capacity in mind, namely the size of your existing home. Tapping in could render the whole-house system incapable of doing the job adequately. Your HVAC system may not be able to keep up on the coldest winter days, despite being perpetually on. You can install a radiant floor system without tapping into your existing HVAC and have a more comfortable, efficient room to boot.Heating Up the Jointwith Masonry Heaters Masonry heaters are designed for very hot fires in their combustion chambers (typically over 1,300°F). The heat passes through a series of baffled chambers called heat exchangers, which draw the heat from the air and transfer it into a dense, solid material. The heat is then radiated slowly and passively into the living space of your home. The heat is just as slowly absorbed into the walls, floors, ceiling, furniture, and, eventually, into the people in the room. The ambi- ence is very comfortable, and nearly everybody who has ever experienced a masonry heater’s effects swears by them. Masonry heaters have a tremendous amount of mass, which in practical terms translates into very consistent, even performance. Even when doors are momentarily opened to the outdoors on a cold day, the home does not feel much different because it’s not so much the air that’s warm, but the entire home. Although the initial costs of masonry heaters are high — expect a minimum of around $8,000, not including what it takes to beef up your foundation or chimney work — they’re very efficient. Efficiencies of masonry heaters can be up to 90 percent, which is truly impressive. The following sections explain what you need to know about masonry heaters.


268 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Like a conventional wood stove — but not In some ways, masonry heaters are like wood stoves in that they burn wood and radiate heat. But there are important differences: ߜ Masonry heaters need to have their combustion cycle more carefully controlled than wood stoves do because the fire is so much hotter. Opening and closing doors is more critical. Except during fueling, the doors remain closed with most units. Some allow for the door to be open, but then the fire is more like a conventional fireplace and the effi- ciency is diminished. ߜ The amount of heat a masonry heater generates is controlled by the amount of wood burned (not the amount of oxygen added to the burn chamber, as with conventional stoves). The burn temperature needs to be highly controlled, and varying the oxygen varies the temperature. ߜ You can use most any wood to good benefit — and less of it than you’d use in conventional stoves — because masonry heaters extract Btu extremely efficiently from the wood. (The fuel used in masonry heaters is thinner in diameter because more air circulation is needed between the pieces of wood). ߜ A masonry heater takes a long time to heat up to its steady state oper- ating temperature. With conventional stoves, the heating effects take hold in just 15 minutes. But with a masonry heater, you need to plan ahead. If you come home from a few days away, your home won’t heat up for hours. On the other hand, you can go to bed at night when your masonry heater is working full bore, and when you wake up in the morn- ing your home will be nearly the same temperature. ߜ Masonry heaters can be used in many locales where other types of stoves are banned due to air pollution. Because they burn wood so thor- oughly, the pollution impact is minimal. Despite all the ways masonry stoves differ from conventional stoves, they do share a few of the more irksome characteristics: ߜ You need a source of firewood (although some masonry heaters are coming onto the market now that use other fuel sources). ߜ Burning wood is labor intensive, regardless of how efficiently you do it. ߜ They tend to be dirty to operate. Around the unit you may notice a coat- ing of soot (true with all wood stoves!)


269Chapter 17: Radiant Heating SystemsInstalling masonry heatersThe biggest issue with masonry heater installation is the weight. These heat-ers are too heavy for a single person to move into place. In fact, the largerunits may take a forklift, which is why they should be installed while thehome is being built. Some units come disassembled, which makes installa-tion much easier (if you know how to assemble things, that is). In general,installing masonry heaters is similar to installing a heavy wood stove. Referto Chapter 15 for more details on installing wood stoves, in particular, thechimney and venting requirements.The biggest factor in terms of a masonry heater’s effectiveness is its location.It should be in the center of your home, preferably in a large room. If it’s not,you’re sacrificing potential efficiency. Masonry heaters work best in homeswith open floor plans, where the heat can spread throughout the entire livingspace, slowly and evenly. In fact, most masonry heaters are installed in newhome construction, where the home design is centered on the masonryheater.You can’t put one on a floor unless it’s built to support a lot of weight.Masonry heaters have a tremendous amount of thermal mass, which trans-lates into a lot of mass, period. Your existing fireplace pad may not be suitablefor a masonry heater. Although you can install a masonry heater yourself, Iwouldn’t advise it. Better to hire a contractor who knows all the ins and outs.For more information about masonry heaters, go to the Masonry HeaterAssociation’s Web site at www.mha-net.org. You can get kits, or you canfind contractors who will do the whole job for you.


270 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You


Chapter 18 Heating with Biomass StovesIn This Chapterᮣ Understanding the pros and cons of burning biomassᮣ Checking out the various stove and fuel optionsᮣ Plunging into the use of animal poop Biomass is a generic term for many different types of materials provided by Mother Nature. Strictly speaking, wood is biomass, and if you really want to get nitpicky, oil is probably biomass. For our purposes, I restrict the discussion to corn, wood pellets, leaves, and poop. These are the most common biomass products simply because the supply of raw materials are the most prevalent. You may find local biomass products that are cost effec- tive in your own area, and not in others. Don’t despair, however. You can still get a good idea of the basic pros and cons of using biomass fuel by reading this chapter.Using Biomass for Fuel In a nutshell, biomass is organic material (plants and animal waste) used for fuel. Examples of commonly used biomass fuels are corn, wood pellets, straw, certain types of grasses, and autumn leaves. And, not to put too fine a point on it, poop is biomass, too. Strictly speaking, wood is biomass. But in this book, I separate wood from other biomass products because most other sources treat wood and biomass as distinct entities, even though they aren’t. To help you avoid any confusion, I’m going to stick to that convention.


272 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for YouCompost piles: Biomass at workA compost pile is an example of biomass at work. your landscaping and burning in a stove. ForYou throw garbage and any old organics you that matter, burning autumn leaves is a biomasshave lying around into a special hopper, and the combustion process (although it’s probably bestdecomposition process creates heat by break- to just call it “burning leaves” if you don’t wanting down the materials. You can use the final people to think you’re a nerd).product any number of ways, including fertilizingHere’s what you need to know about burning biomass: ߜ Biomass can be a very clean-burning fuel or a very dirty-burning fuel. Knowing what you’re doing is the key to success. Do it right, and you can burn biomass more cleanly than you can burn wood and most other options as well. Do it wrong, and burning biomass can create a lot more pollution than most other options. ߜ The market for biomass is completely different than the market for firewood. The decision on whether to burn wood or not is predicated largely on whether you have access to firewood (and on which types of wood supplies are in your area mainly because wood is expensive to transport across large distances). Many biomass products, on the other hand, are commonly transported long distances, so this same restriction doesn’t apply. Wood pellets, for example, come in compact bags that can be stacked on pallets and moved easily. Also, because the energy density is high, you get more bang for the buck. ߜ Biomass products, like wood pellets, are processed and bagged, and you generally take delivery of pallets with a forklift setting them down neatly into your storage area (unlike wood, which is usually quite a tangled mess; see Chapter 15). As a result of the processing and bagging, the energy density of most biomass products is much greater than wood, so you need less storage space.Biomass is generally easier to work with than wood in terms of carrying thefuel from storage to the stove and loading your stove’s combustion chamber.Wood is usually very dirty to deal with, but biomass rarely is (unless you’redealing with poop, which goes into a dimension beyond dirty).


273Chapter 18: Heating with Biomass StovesGetting the Lowdown on Biomass Stoves Biomass stoves and furnaces are designed to burn biomass fuels. In appear- ance, biomass stoves are similar to wood stoves, and they transfer heat the same way. But biomass stoves are set up to burn at different temperatures and may require more or less oxygen in order to gain the highest efficiencies. Biomass stoves also come with hoppers that feed the raw materials into the fire; you can’t simply stack a pile of wood pellets and burn it the way you’d stack wood in a wood stove. Biomass stoves are generally more efficient than wood-burning stoves because they take much less labor, and biomass combustion processes are well-controlled (like masonry heaters — see Chapter 17). Very little babysit- ting is involved. These stoves have automatic augers that feed the fuel into the burn chamber. You simply load a very big hopper, and the fuel feeds down into the fire only as needed. You can control the feed rate by means of a thermostatically-controlled switch, and you can mount the thermostat either by the stove or in a remote location. Just as with wood stoves, there are a large variety of biomass stove types, too many to cover in a single chapter, in fact. Your best bet is to research your local area to see what works best for your particular needs. Ask at stove shops, and if possible, find somebody who has a stove and ask about it (you’ll probably get a more honest answer this way than at the stove store). Your decision on which type of biomass to use is generally dependent upon which types of biomass are available in your area. The Midwest favorite seems to be corn stoves. In the Northwest, you find a lot of pellet stoves (pel- lets are made of byproducts of lumber processing, like bark, sawdust, twigs, and so forth). Economics of both equipment and fuel cost are the deciding factors. If you’re concerned with the environment, keep in mind that biomass is sustainable and less polluting than both electric power and fossil fuel power, so it’s a wise choice even if the cost is the same. At some point, there will be more biomass stoves than wood stoves simply because the supply of good wood is going to dwindle, whereas biomass (espe- cially poop) is literally everywhere. Processed biomass products can be made of so many different raw products, in virtually any state of quality, that they will overtake wood as the number one means of stove combustion. You can buy a very cheap biomass-burning stove and get inefficient perfor- mance, or you can spend a lot and get excellent convenience and efficiency. Regardless, burning biomass is almost always safer than burning firewood.


274 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You You can heat your entire home with a biomass furnace installed in your base- ment. Or you can heat a single room. How you plan to use your stove deter- mines the size and operation of your equipment. Well before you buy any stove, ask at the stove shop what your options are and then go home and con- sider the details, as well as how you’ll implement them once you get going. Burning Up with Pellet Stoves The main operational advantage of pellet stoves is that they’re very easy to use. You fill the hopper with manufactured pellets and the rest of the process is largely automatic. A thermostat keeps the temperature at a preset point, and an auger feeds material into the combustion chamber so that you don’t have to worry about it. You can fill the hopper once a day or even less often if it’s not too cold out, and your home will stay at the set temperature. Pellet stoves can usually burn different types of materials as well, such as corn, coir fiber (from coconut husks), and nutshells. With very little work, you can get an even, consistent heat source. Many types of pellets are made from byproducts of other lumber processing ventures, like sawdust and ground wood chips. Some pellets are even made from corn stalks (usually wasted since they have no nutritive value) and nut hulls, or from other crops like switchgrass. (Too bad they can’t make pellets out of politi- cians, other purportedly organic entities with little or no intrinsic value.) Pellets are like recycled products, and even better for the environment because of it.Outdoor boilers: The next worst thingOutdoor boilers are a species of combustor although you can only imagine what the smokeappliances. As their name implies, these are might smell like. But the real question is howpositioned outside of your home and, as such, efficient outdoor boilers are and how much theyare exempt from Environmental Protection pollute. The simple fact that they work doesn’tAgency (EPA) emission standards. When used mean they’re a good idea.properly, they work well. They’re inherentlysafer than stoves and other heating appliances The efficiency and cleanliness of any combus-that are located inside because if something tion process is a function of temperature andgoes wrong (either a fire or smoke hazard), it’s other controlled parameters, such as oxygenoutdoors where it won’t matter (okay, maybe it supply. Although an outdoor boiler may burnwill, but not as much, and maybe it will be the just about anything, as advertised, a jack ofneighbor’s problem, not yours). all trades is always a master of none. These devices rarely offer any kind of precision com-Outdoor boilers are advertised as capable of bustion, so they take up far more fuel thanburning nearly any kind of fuel, and that’s true. they’re worth. You may save some money onYou can even toss in some poop and it’ll burn, upfront costs, but in the long run you’ll pay.


275Chapter 18: Heating with Biomass StovesGrowing trees the fast and furious wayCertain species of trees grow very fast, such strongest or heartiest, so there’s a certain anti-as poplars and mulberries. In the future, there Darwinian undertone in all this. Of course, thewill be large farms and cooperatives that plant same may be said for the hyper-expansion ofnothing but these types of trees and other fast- human presence enabled by vaccines andgrowing biomass sources for use in heating. other technological advances. Perhaps when Mother Nature decides to eradicate the peskyThis is an interesting environmental issue human infestation she’ll also get rid of our bio-because Mother Nature doesn’t often favor engineered monstrosities as well.the fastest-growing plants. They are not theIn a nutshell, here are the advantages of burning pellets for heat: ߜ The operating costs are low. Pellets have a high energy density, and the stoves take very little power to run. ߜ Pellets are renewable and produce the lowest emissions of any solid fuel. Wood pellets, like wood (see Chapter 15), are neutral in terms of their effect on global warming because wood left to rot on the forest floor creates as much carbon dioxide as wood burned in a stove. And pellet combustion in a biomass stove is controlled much more accu- rately than wood combustion in a wood stove, so the combustion is more thorough and the efficiencies are much better. In addition, most of the industrial companies that manufacture pellets replenish the trees they cut down to make pellets. ߜ If burned properly, pellets can be very clean and efficient. Smoke is minimal, and the burn is clean enough with pellet stoves that you often don’t need to vent the exhaust all the way up the chimney, so installa- tion is easier and cheaper. There is also less creosote, which is safer for the home and cleaner for the environment. (No matter how cleanly pel- lets burn, though, cleaning out the ashes is a filthy job.) ߜ Pellets are easy to store and handle. Pellet storage requires only around a third of the space that wood requires, so if you’re space is limited you may want to consider this option. Bags come in 40-pound sizes (and up, but you need to be burly enough to lift them). Another plus is stored pellets don’t attract the spiders that firewood does. ߜ Venting is easier with a pellet stove than with most other stove types. You need only a stainless steel vent pipe run to the great outdoors.


276 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Of course, pellet stoves also have a few disadvantages: ߜ Most stoves require electricity, although you can get battery-operated versions. ߜ Combustion gases pose a danger, as is the case with any burning process. ߜ Your insurance rates may increase when you install a stove of any kind in a preexisting home. Make sure to call and find out. Burning, Not Popping, Corn Corn is the second most popular biomass fuel because it’s so readily avail- able in many parts of the country. To be effective in combustion, corn must be very dry (unlike the stuff you eat). Corn can also be very cheap and clean, if you have a ready supply of quality product. Prices fluctuate across the country, and, as you would expect, corn is cheap- est in the Midwest where it’s grown the most. (I grew up in the middle of Illinois, and corn was not only a fact of life, but in the late summer it was pretty much all of life.) You can buy dried corn directly from a farmer, or you can buy processed sacks of it that are easier and cleaner to handle (and a lot more expensive as well). If you’re a corn farmer, you can heat your home for nothing at all. And if you like to eat small rodents, you can get plenty of free meat in the deal. Other grains also work in essentially the same fashion as corn. Wheat, barley, rye, sorghum, and soybeans can be dried and burned at low cost and with low environmental impact. As with corn, this is really a question of access. People in cities don’t burn soybeans simply because they can’t store soy- beans and don’t have a ready supply. The bright side of burning corn Like other types of fuel burned in biomass stoves, corn can be a very consis- tent heating source because the stoves use automatic feeds and large hop- pers. It’s also very clean burning and low on the pollution scale. Burning corn and other grains offers these advantages as well: ߜ It’s the cheapest renewable fuel (at least for the time being). However, with the price of ethanol (which is made of corn) increasing, the cost of raw corn also increases. ߜ Its environmental impact is very minimal. Corn grows fast and furious and is perhaps the best renewable energy source on the planet.


277Chapter 18: Heating with Biomass Stoves ߜ Simple venting requirements allow for inexpensive installations. A short stainless steel pipe run is sufficient, and this makes corn burning pos- sible in many applications where wood burning is impossible. ߜ You can make whiskey out of the same corn that heats your home, and that has warming properties all its own. The downside of burning corn Burning corn creates some unique problems that non-corn burning home- owners don’t face. If corn weren’t so cheap, not nearly as many homes would use it for heating, all things considered: ߜ Storing corn takes up more room than storing wood pellets because the energy content of corn isn’t quite as good as that of wood pellets. In other words, you have to burn more corn to get the same amount of heat that you’d get from pellets. ߜ Corn has a limited lifetime, unlike other fuels. It may rot, or rats may eat it before you can burn it — a problem you have to address proac- tively or risk being overrun. Talk to somebody who has a corn stove or burns corn before you decide to take the leap. What you’ll hear is that, although you may be able to control the problem, you can never really eliminate it. ߜ Your home will have a sweet smell, not unlike popcorn. Whether this sounds like a good thing or a bad thing to you, people with corn stoves get used to the smell and seem to like it. (An alternative that avoids this olfactory dilemma is a big furnace in the basement, rather than a stove in the living space.) ߜ You have to buy a stove entirely dedicated to burning corn. In some regions, these stoves are very rare, and servicing can be hard to find.Other Biomass Uses You Probably Aren’tInterested In (For Good Reason) Horses and cows each produce from 10 to 16 metric tons of manure per year, depending upon pasture conditions and the amount of organic litter used for bedding. That’s a lot of manure. You can stack it clear up to the sky, if you’re so inclined. Compost a delectable stew by tossing in some garbage, waste straw, cane stalks, and pretty much any other organic material you can find, and what do you have? A rich mixture of dense fuel. In other words: Poop is biomass fuel. If you burn it right, you can get a lot of heat (this is not too dif- ferent from the way English burn peat).


278 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for YouThe joy of cooking: Making your own methaneYou can convert cow manure into a very carbon dioxide. The odor is similar to rottenenergy-dense gas by building a special fer- eggs. The gas inflates a large plastic stor-mentation processor. The malodorous raw age bellows. Methane is drawn off into amaterial is pumped into a digester silo where combustion-powered generator to produceit is heated to 95°F, at which point fermenta- electricity, which can be used to power nearlytion is activated. Anaerobic microorganisms anything. All you need is a big pile of cow poop,break down the organic matter to produce a but that’s not hard if you have a bunch of cows.gas that’s two-thirds methane and one-third In fact, it’s unavoidable.I do not include details on burning manure in this book, but I will tell you thatyou need a special burn chamber, and it needs to be stationed outside. Youneed heat exchangers and other equipment to bring the heat (and not thepotential smell) into your home.You also need processed poop (although, if push comes to shove, you canjust toss some poop into an open fireplace and it’ll burn pretty well).


Chapter 19 Geothermal Energy: Straight from Mother NatureIn This Chapterᮣ Understanding the pros and cons of geothermal heat pumpsᮣ Evaluating air-source and ground-source heat pumps One of the cleanest and most efficient heating and cooling solutions comes straight from good old Mother Earth herself. You can use air, ground, and water as sources of heat rather than burning fuels or using elec- tricity (which almost always derives from burning fossil fuels). Electricity is, in fact, dirtier than other energy sources because it’s so inefficient. In this chapter, I give you a lowdown on how heat exchangers and heat pumps work; then I take you on a brief tour of how and why you may want to exploit geothermal sources of energy. In a nutshell, they’re one of the more expensive energy options in terms of initial investment, but in the long run, they’re cheaper because their operating costs are so low. At the very least, they pollute less compared to other options.The (Very) Basics of GeothermalHeating and Cooling The majority of heating in the modern world is done by means of combus- tion. Gas heaters are combustion-driven, as are stoves of all kinds. Electrical power is used to drive a lot of HVAC systems, but ultimately that power is usually derived from fossil fuel combustion (although some electric power is nuclear, some is hydro, and so on, a majority is derived from combus- tion). Geothermal energy, on the other hand, uses pumps and compressors to move heat from here to there. No combustion takes place, and no internal


280 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You components get really hot, as opposed to electric furnaces, in which very hot grids transfer heat to the air moving over the grids. In addition, geothermal systems can save you between 30 and 70 percent on your monthly utility bills. Seeing how geothermal energy works Here’s how a geothermal system works: The temperatures three to four feet below ground stay pretty much the same all year long, unlike outdoor air temperatures, which can fluctuate a great deal. The temperature remains stable at this depth for a couple of reasons: First, the earth absorbs nearly half of all the heat energy that hits it from the sun. Second, heat from the earth’s core works its way toward the surface. The good news for you is that you can take advantage of this phenomenon with a geothermal ground-based system. Geothermal ground-based systems circulate a water-based solution through a loop system that’s buried underground. With one piece of equipment (admit- tedly complex) you can heat and cool your home and provide some or all your home’s hot water, too. A geothermal air system, on the other hand, takes advantages of the fact that air, regardless of its temperature, still contains some heat. A “heat pump” simply moves heat from the outside environment into your home, or vice versa. This works in both directions; you can both heat and cool a home, using a geothermal system. ߜ During a heating cycle: In either ground- or air-based systems, the fluid circulates through the loop, extracting heat from the ground or air. Then this heat is sent to the geothermal unit, where it’s compressed and deliv- ered to your home via your normal duct work or through a radiant heat- ing system. ߜ During a cooling cycle: In a ground-based system, the heating process (explained in the preceding bulleted paragraph) is simply reversed: The unit removes heat from the home, circulates it through the ground where it’s cooled by the ground temperatures. For an air-based geother- mal system, the unit exchanges the heat in your home for the lack of heat in the air, thus cooling things down. The air expelled from an air- based heat pump can be much hotter than the ambient, outside air. Don’t worry about where the heat comes from in the first place. The answer to the question “How do you get heat and cold where there is apparently none?” is pretty complicated, and to understand it, you need to know quite a bit about thermodynamics, a branch of physics that deals with the interaction between energy and work, and the laws associated with them. Even people


281Chapter 19: Geothermal Energy: Straight from Mother Naturewho are really smart in physics and study it in the best colleges in the countrydon’t completely understand it, so don’t feel bad that you don’t either.Looking at heat pumpsAt the heart of geothermal processes are heat pumps, which basically moveheat from one location to another. When you use a heat pump to generateheat, you move heat into the region where you want it (namely your home).When you use a heat pump to cool your home, you’re basically just movingthe heat out of your home, into the great outdoors. Moving heat out is thesame as cooling.There are two distinct types of heat pumps: air-source and ground-source.They use the same basic equipment, but have different means of effecting theheat exchange. As a result, their practical operations are markedly different: ߜ Air-source heat pumps are the kind you see in stand-alone HVAC sys- tems. They use ambient air to heat or cool a refrigerant contained in a compressor system. They are especially suitable in moderate climates, as they perform both heating and cooling functions with reasonably good efficiency. ߜ Ground-source heat pumps are very similar to air-source heat pumps, except they use the earth as their heat exchange medium. They are more efficient than air-source pumps because the earth is much more consistent in terms of temperature. Note: Geo-exchange is the common name for ground-source heat pumps. It’s just a matter of terminology, but you’ll see both terms (geo-exchange and ground-source heat pumps) in use. Look at the GeoExchange Web site: www.geoexchange.org for installers, equipment, and so on.Water (lakes, streams, and so forth) can also be used as the exchangemedium, but this is rare because water temperature changes more and wateris harder to access than earth (plus very few people have a ready access toa suitable supply). Therefore, I don’t bother including information on water-source heat pumps here.The beauty of both air- and ground-source heat pumps is that they can workin reverse. They are capable of both heating and cooling because the processis essentially the same, except backwards. This makes for a more financiallyefficient investment in equipment.Advantages of heat pumpsHeat pumps have their share of pros and cons. On the plus side, heat pumpstout the following characteristics:


282 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You ߜ They offer steady, even heat and cooling. Fluctuations in temperature are fewer compared to traditional combustion equipment, and this increases comfort. ߜ They take up less space than traditional combustion equipment because of their two-for-one advantage (they can both heat and cool). Plus, there’s no need for a chimney or venting system because there’s no combustion (they still may use ductwork to distribute the heat, but radiant systems are more common because they are a natural partner). There aren’t any fuel storage requirements, either. ߜ They’re safer and cleaner than other options. They don’t create on-site air pollutants like smoke, carbon monoxide, and so forth. Nor do they create ashes or creosote. No combustion occurs, and none of the com- ponents become extremely hot. Disadvantages of heat pumps On the downside, the following cons apply to heat pumps: ߜ They require more maintenance than some other options. Systems require a number of parts, and heat pumps are more complex that com- bustion systems. If you look inside an air-source heat pump, you’ll see what looks like the space shuttle. ߜ They require electricity — sometimes a lot. This not only affects energy efficiency, depending on how you’re getting your electricity (nuclear source, combustion source, and so on) but it also means that in a power outage, you’re stuck. ߜ They’re slow to respond. They work best in steady-state conditions. If you come into a cold home and turn a heat pump on, it will take awhile for the house to heat up. ߜ Absolutely no romantic element is involved. Unless, of course, you love the high-tech complexity of the space shuttle. Considering cost and payback Heat pumps offer lower operating costs than most other options, and they can operate at efficiencies greater than 400 percent. This simply means that for each Btu of energy expended on moving heat from either land or air, four times more heat energy is extracted. This does not mean that the heat is free, however, and cost efficiency is the real question. Nor does it mean that pollu- tion efficiency is better than it is with most other options.


283Chapter 19: Geothermal Energy: Straight from Mother Nature After running the compressors and pumps and accounting for all the other inefficiencies that heat pumps entail, the overall efficiency is better than most heating processes, and this is why heat pumps are attractive. But the equipment is very expensive. Heat pumps are complex pieces of equipment with many more options for Murphy to exploit (unlike, say, fireplaces).Deciding Whether an Air-SourceHeat Pump Is Right for You Air-source heat pumps are widely used in mild climates where the units don’t have to work inordinately hard. In very cold climates, you probably want a combustion heater that can crank out hordes of Btu in a short time. But if you’re in a mild climate, an air-source heat pump is probably one of your best choices. They connect to the existing ductwork, like any other heater or air-conditioner, and they accomplish both heating and cooling in the same package (refer to the earlier section “The (Very) Basics of Geothermal Heating and Cooling” for details). It’s rarely the case that an air-source heat pump is used with a radiant heating system, but it can be done if you decide it’s worth the extra cost (which it may very well be; see Chapter 17 for more details on radiant systems). As you consider an air-source heat pump, keep these things in mind: ߜ The heat source, which is air, is free and limitless. No increase in energy costs will ever raise the price of air. ߜ Although air-source heat pumps require an expensive upfront invest- ment in equipment, they’re the least expensive type of heat pump to install. And because installation is relatively easy, you can get a wider variety of qualified installers to give you a bid. Competition is always a good thing. Air-source heat pumps for a residential home cost more than other options for heating and cooling. The payback comes in terms of lower power bills. ߜ The technology is mature and getting better all the time. You can rest assured that if you get new equipment, the quality will be good in terms of both design and implementation. ߜ Air-source heat pumps are better for some climates than for others. If you live in a climate that requires heating and cooling in approximately equal amounts, an air-source heat pump is a viable option. If you need a lot more heating than cooling, a stove system is a better bet (with porta- ble air conditioners, if need be). In moist, cold weather, air-source heat


284 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You pumps don’t do very well and the efficiency suffers. You may need some backup heating means if the temperature is less than 10°F for more than eight hours. The best bet is to use a gas stove in conjunction with an air-source heat pump. The heating cycle of a heat pump is less efficient than the cool- ing cycle, and a gas stove (or other type of stove) has the advantage of allowing you to heat locally. This is inherently more efficient than a heat pump that powers your entire home. ߜ Air-source heat pumps can be very noisy — fans make noise with most HVAC systems, but when you add the compressor you get some real rock ’n’ roll. ߜ Air-source heat pumps need abundant electricity. If your power goes off, you’re not heating or cooling. Deciding Whether a Ground-Source Heat Pump Is Right for You The effects of the seasons are nonexistent about six feet underground (I suppose this has some interesting implications for cemeteries). In northern states the ground stays at a consistent temperature of around 50°F, which is a lot warmer than the air aboveground in the winter months. In hotter cli- mates, the ground can be as warm as 70°F year-round. Ground-source heat pumps take advantage of the constant temperature within the earth to heat and cool your home. But the capability comes at a price: Expect your system to cost $8,000 to $15,000, and a lot more if your ground situation isn’t conducive. (By comparison, a conventional forced-air system costs around $7,000 for a typical home). Ground-source heat pumps are very expensive because they require exten- sive piping systems. These systems allow maximum contact with the earth that’s used for the heat exchange. You need some land to work with, and you need to be able to dig some complex wells or trenches. The most common options are open- and closed-loop piping systems and ver- tical and horizontal piping systems:


285Chapter 19: Geothermal Energy: Straight from Mother Nature ߜ Open- and closed-loop piping systems: An open-loop system, shown in Figure 19-1, uses existing ground water, while a closed-loop system has its own dedicated fluids and the heat is moved via exchange. Your con- tractor can tell you which system is best for your area. In many areas, the ground water is pretty crummy (because of mud, minerals, salt, and other reasons) and therefore unsuitable for open-loop systems. Discharge pipeFigure 19-1: Open-loop piping system. Well water ߜ Vertical and horizontal piping loop systems (shown in Figures 19-2 and 19-3): Horizontal systems are easier to install but don’t work as well as vertical systems, which require deep holes very similar to those used for water wells. Horizontal systems also require a lot more land; if you’re pinched for space, you need to go vertical. In general, the economics of using a ground-source heat pump are not good unless you use a lot of heating and cooling. If you’re in a climate that requires a lot of heating in the winter and a lot of cooling in the summer, then the amount you’ll save on your power bills will eventually pay back the very high initial cost of installing a system.


286 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You Figure 19-2: Vertical- loop piping system. Figure 19-3: Horizontal piping loop system.


287Chapter 19: Geothermal Energy: Straight from Mother NatureChoosing a designThe design and installation of the ground-source heat pump are very impor-tant. The ground has to be suitable and the system itself has to conformto the availability of heat — you may need a much bigger system if yourground is not at the optimum temperature. Your main criterion for selectinga manufacturer and specific type of system should be performance. Lookfor the Energy Star seal, in particular. Also look for the Air-Conditioning andRefrigeration Institute (ARI) seal of approval.Shy away from a new system that has not proven itself over time. It may soundgreat in theory, but then so did New Coke. There are already too many risksinherent in the proposition to bite into another that you don’t have to.Ground-source heat pumps are better for new homes than existing homes.The systems are so extensive that retrofits are difficult, and you may end upmaking compromises that you don’t want to make.Hiring a qualified installerNot very many contractors are capable of installing these systems. So when itcomes to hiring a contractor, make sure your contractor knows exactly whathe or she is doing. If you can, use a contractor certified by the InternationalGround Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA — www.igshpa.okstate.edu). And get references. Let me state this in stronger terms: If you have aproblem with an air-source heat pump, it’s right there where you can get toit to work on; it can be worked on or even exchanged if things go really awry.The same can’t be said of an ground-source heat pump. With a ground-sourcesystem, once it’s in the ground, it’s nearly impossible to get to. If something goeswrong with your piping and the contractor who installed it has vamoosed,you’re in for a world of hurt.If you don’t have some competition in your area, watch out because you mayend up paying not just a lot (the normal amount) but a whole heck of a lot.You may also end up with an unreliable source of servicing and maintenance.Many ground-source heat pump customers complain that they can’t getprompt service. If you don’t have a backup system for heating, this could bevery problematic.If your climate is very cold in the winter and mild in the summer, using aground-sourced heat pump with a radiant heating system in your floor isa great combination because you can simply heat water directly, and thisheated water is then pumped through the floor grid of the radiant system. Youcan also use that hot water generated by the ground-source heat pump in yourdomestic supply, thereby killing two birds with one stone (although killingbirds is probably not strictly in sync with the green mantra). Radiant heat is


288 Part III: Putting Alternative Energy Sources to Work for You very quiet, and in combination with the quiet ground-source heat pump, your home will be virtually silent and without moving air. (Note: If you use a forced- air duct system, you need extra equipment — which costs more — to convert the hot water into hot air, as well as to move the hot air through the ducts.) Be aware, however, that using radiant heat in your floor doesn’t work very well for cooling in the summer. Getting a rundown of pros and cons While ground-source heat pumps offer some advantages, there are also quite a few disadvantages. Keep both in mind as you decide whether investing in one is right for you: ߜ The ground is always available as a heat source. It’s even more consis- tent than air. But — and this is a biggie — ground-source heat pumps require specific ground characteristics, including water content, mineral content, iron content, and so on. A neighbor may have a ground-source heat pump in operation, but that doesn’t automatically mean you can do the same. ߜ Ground-source heat pumps are just as good at providing you with domestic hot water as providing you with heating and cooling. Most installations are a combination of functions, and this is smart efficiency planning. ߜ A ground-source heat pump is very expensive upfront, but once the system is installed and running, the operating costs are extremely low. In fact, ground-source heat pumps offer the lowest life-cycle cost of any heat- ing system options, and this includes the expensive upfront investment. ߜ Pollution is extremely low, as is environmental impact. An added bonus is that ground-source systems make hardly any noise at all. ߜ If you want to completely ignore your system (a viable sentiment, so don’t deny it if you feel that way), you may want to look elsewhere. A ground-source heat pump needs routine maintenance, and you need to keep an eye on how your system is working because problems are usu- ally subtle rather than catastrophic, at least initially. If you totally ignore your foundering system, it’ll get to the catastrophic point, and then you may as well just sign over your firstborn. If something goes wrong with your piping system after it’s in place, find- ing the problem will be very difficult and very expensive to fix. And at the end of its life, the underground piping system basically needs to be torn out and redone in its entirety. This ain’t cheap. ߜ Ground-source heat pumps need electricity to operate. No electricity, no heating or cooling.


Part IV ConsideringEfficiency WhenYou Buy, Build, or Sell a Home


In this part . . .If you don’t live in an energy efficient home already but want to, you have a three options: buy one, build one,or convert one. Any of these options requires you to makewise decisions because you can’t rely on anybody else tomake them for you. This is especially true when manyenergy efficiency technologies are unproven.In this part, I show you how to decide between buying anexisting energy efficiency home or buying a conventionalhome to convert into an efficient home. For those of youinclined to build an energy efficient home from the groundup, I show you what to look for in potential home sitesand tell you what you need to know about energy efficientdesign and orientation.


Chapter 20 Looking at Community Solutions to Energy EfficiencyIn This Chapterᮣ Seeing what constitutes a green communityᮣ Gauging the advantages of energy-efficient communitiesᮣ Taking a back-to-nature approach Different types of communities have different attributes that can make becoming energy efficient more or less accessible. With the interest in green living on the upsurge, many cities and states have taken steps to make themselves havens for environmentally conscious citizens. But maybe you don’t want to live in a community at all. Perhaps you want to join a commune or you’re interested in going off-grid, or back to nature. Each situation has its pros and cons, though more cons are associated with going it completely alone. The best communities are those that dedicate their fundamental philoso- phies to going green, and more and more of these are cropping up all the time. In this chapter, I review the ways that you can benefit from different types of community structures.Checking Out the Characteristicsof Green Communities Green cities promote environmental policies geared toward making it easier for their citizens to be kind to Mother Nature. Public transportation is readily available, in order to reduce pollution, for example. In addition, subsidies and tax advantages are easy to get from cooperative city councils, and building departments demand certain energy efficiency features to be built into new homes and retrofits.


292 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home So how can you distinguish between truly green cities and posers? The char- acteristics outlined in the following sections are indicators of municipalities that take energy efficiency and pollution reduction seriously. Most newspapers are now available on the Internet. You can quickly check out a community by reviewing the real estate ads in its newspapers. If you find no mention whatsoever of parks, rivers, energy efficiency, and the like, you can conclude that the community in question doesn’t place much emphasis on green living. You can also get a good feel for how much homes are going for and how much you’ll have to pay each month to live in the community. Find out whether a good number of solar and/or energy-efficient homes exist in the community, and check out the difference in prices between these homes and conventional ones. Air quality In an effort to improve air quality, over 250 cities have committed to con- forming to the Climate Protection Agreement, which encourages cities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent from 1990 levels. (For some cities, the reduction would be a lot more than 7 percent from current levels because the levels have been rising since 1990.) Some of the best cities include the following: ߜ San Francisco, California: California is one of the best states, with more conservation measures and actual mandated environmental standards than any other state in the country. San Francisco epitomizes how these measures can be implemented in a community. ߜ Portland, Oregon: Portland is very green. The city has a tremendous number of trees and supports energy-efficiency efforts at the household level. Community spirit is active, which helps a lot. ߜ Austin, Texas: The capitol city of Texas, Austin supports heightened awareness of green initiatives. ߜ Boulder, Colorado: Boulder has long been a leader in the green move- ment, and the city’s historically environment-friendly infrastructure gives it a head start over most cities. Public transportation is very easy to access. ߜ Cincinnati, Ohio: Cincinnati has significant property tax abatements for all LEED certified buildings (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a very important licensing agency for building design). This encourages sustainable development.


293Chapter 20: Looking at Community Solutions to Energy EfficiencyOther cities that have outstanding records for encouraging clean air andwater and widely available public parks and open areas are Eugene, Oregon;Chicago, Illinois; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Honolulu, Hawaii.A list of the top 10 green cities is put out annually by National Geographic’sThe Green Guide, which affords consumers information about a wide range ofgreen issues. Check out www.thegreenguide.com.The EPA maintains an Air Quality Index (www.airnow.gov) that assigns rela-tive scores for ozone and particulate matter. Take these scores with a grainof salt, not because they don’t matter, but because they don’t give the wholestory. Some cities with poor scores are endeavoring to improve their air qual-ity with widespread public programs; focusing only on the score and not thedirection the city is going can give you an incomplete picture. In fact, citieswith poor air scores have more incentive to fund and sponsor improvements,so you may find that they offer more subsidies and support.My hometown of Sacramento, California, has some of the worst air qualityscores in the nation, yet California is the best state (at this writing) for pro-moting and funding energy-efficiency investments, and Sacramento is hometo an impressive number of energy-efficiency and solar companies.Air quality is more important to some people than it is to others, and it variesover the course of a year. So use your judgment when reading the Air QualityIndex numbers.Public transportationCommuting is a big factor in finding an energy-efficient community. An auto-mobile driven 12,000 miles can easily emit more carbon dioxide per year thana comfortable home. In general, cities that take green living seriously providegood public transportation, which enables citizens to save a lot of energy ontransport costs. Public transportation is also much less polluting than havingthousands of cars on the road, so everybody’s air quality benefits.Some cities, like Chicago, make public transportation easy and convenientacross the board. You can literally go anywhere in Chicago by way of bus,train, or subway. But cities like Los Angeles have relatively nonexistentpublic transportation networks (aside from their world-famous cacophony ofcrowded freeways). You may or may not want to use public transportation,but the fact that it exists in a workable state says a lot about a city’s generalattitude. Check a city’s public transportation by using it — or trying to, as thecase may be.


294 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home Utility structures When you check a city’s utility structures, take the following into consideration: ߜ Where does the city get its energy? Is it nuclear? Derived from coal plants? Driven by hydropower? ߜ How much pollution per kWh does the city’s utility generate? The average number of pounds of carbon dioxide per kWh is 2. Anything less is good. Any community that gets power from a nuclear reactor will be way below the average. ߜ How much does power cost? The fact that power is expensive may be a good thing, even though it costs more. Expensive power means that efficiency investments are more cost-effective, and efficient homes are worth more because they’re cheaper to live in. And when power rates are high, the community is likely to be cleaner because less power is used. ߜ Is a tiered rate structure utilized? Tiered rate structures allow residents to use as much or as little power as they want, but the rates penalize profligacy. At any rate, power rates are going to be rising for everybody, and there’s no telling how much. It’s impossible to get information on how utility rates may move in the future, but you can find out how much rates have risen in the past. If they’ve been consistently going up 10 percent per year, you can safely bet that they’ll keep moving the same way. On the other hand, if they haven’t risen at all, a massive increase may be in store. Check out a community’s utility rates by going online to the Web sites of the various utilities. You can check the online yellow pages under “utilities” to find the names — and sometimes even the Web addresses — of a communi- ty’s utilities. You can also check out www.sustainlane.us and www.eere. energy.gov/greenpower for lists of cities that promote and subsidize the use of alternative energy. Recycling programs Check out a community’s recycling programs. Recycling is possible for any household, but it helps if your community has set up a formal regimen whereby recycling is centralized and encouraged. When this is the case, the costs of transportation and processing are borne equally by all citizens through utility bills. Recycling that makes financial sense is a much better bet.


295Chapter 20: Looking at Community Solutions to Energy EfficiencyThe better communities provide recycling containers that you set out on thestreet with your regular trash. The best provide different containers for dif-ferent types of recycled materials — for instance, aluminum and metal, plas-tics, newspapers, and boxes. Some communities even remove lawn clippingsand organic refuse.Water supplyA city’s water supply is critically important for a number of reasons. First, itmust be pristine and clean. Otherwise, you’ll have to buy drinking water or afilter system. Some cities have grungy-tasting water, and even though it maynot be harmful to your health, it still makes you feel grungy.Second, some cities simply don’t have enough water. You can conserve, butif too many hands are reaching into the pie, costs are likely to rise, as is theamount of pressure to reduce usage even more. Consider whether a city is acandidate for severe droughts (most western cities are). Find out what hap-pens when a drought occurs. If the city forbids watering lawns, for instance,you may have an expensive problem on your hands.Find out whether the community has installed water meters. If so, home-owners are a lot more likely to use less water. In communities where watermeters don’t exist, the people have absolutely no incentive to use less water.Unfortunately, politics can enter into the equation. In California’s centralvalley, there is a constant tug of war between farmers and cities over whogets water rights. These water wars affect development, and the cost ofhomes rises because supply can’t meet demand.Housing designsHome designs in green communities are ultra-efficient, with solar exposuresand strategically planted deciduous trees. Homes feature thick insulation,double-pane windows, window coverings, automatic awnings for hot summerdays, solar attic vent systems to purge hot air from attic spaces, whole-housefans, and solar light tubes in all kitchens. Skylights are used as much as pos-sible, along with passive solar heating and cooling arrangements.Some communities specifically demand sustainable housing designs. The U.S.Green Building Council (USGBD) runs a program called Leadership in Energyand Environmental Design (LEED) that sets criteria for what constitutesgreen building. These criteria include things like


296 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home ߜ Insulation properties in the walls and ceilings. ߜ The design and placement of windows in a building (called fenestration), which affects not only the insulation properties but also the availability of solar lighting and heating. ߜ The type and operation of any HVAC systems. ߜ Use of water resources and on-site means for conserving water. ߜ Installation of any solar energy systems. Visit www.energystar.gov (the ubiquitous Energy Star!) for a list of build- ers familiar with the LEED tenets. Miscellaneous factors Check out a city’s parks by visiting them. Are they well maintained, indicating a laudable degree of civic pride? Or are they crime-ridden and dirty? Parks may very well be a metaphor for a city’s civic stance. In Chapter 4, I address government incentives for energy-efficiency invest- ments, which include rebates, subsidies, and tax deductions. Check state and local government’s Web sites for information regarding energy-efficiency issues. Most municipalities at least pay lip service to environmental issues, and some of them actually mean what they say.This old houseOne of the best ways to practice efficiency is The problem with a lot of older homes is thatto buy an old home and refurbish it. This takes they have poor insulation (most have single-far fewer resources than building a new home pane glass windows) and failing plumbingfrom scratch, and it saves a lot of infrastructure and electrical systems. You may need to com-costs as well. Many cities are experiencing a pletely gut an old home in order to make itrenaissance in their older neighborhoods as more energy-efficient. On the other hand, mostyounger families move into dilapidated homes older homes have open fireplaces, and you canand invest both time and money in refurbishing. install a newer, energy-efficient insert cheaplyOlder architecture seems to offer a lot more and easily. See Green Building & Remodelingcharacter and charm than the newer, mass- For Dummies by Eric Corey Freed (Wiley) forproduced style of buildings. Nothing is as cool more details.as an old brick wall in your living room.


297Chapter 20: Looking at Community Solutions to Energy EfficiencyUrban sprawl: The bugaboo of modern society or the answer to mankind’s dreams?Urban sprawl fragments wildlife and Mother no opportunity for landscaping and the waterNature’s natural designs. Low-density hous- usage that goes along with it. Communitying developments take far more resources per housing structures have common walls, sodwelling than high-density city habitats. And the energy used per resident is lower. Water,the public transportation options are severely sewer, and trash require fewer resources perlimited, meaning most people own cars and resident. The list goes on.use them quite a bit. Infrastructure systems suchas water, sewer, trash, and electricity all have The reality, however, is that people are con-to be stretched out, meaning more resources stantly leaving the dense housing of the citiesare required to deliver these services to for the more spacious lifestyles of the suburbs.customers. The quality of life is often much better, and the elbow room is essential for certain types ofCities easily provide more opportunities for mental health.energy efficiency. High-rise housing affordsRoughing It by Going Off-Grid Being off-grid means not being connected to a public utility for your electrical power. This also usually means that you’re not connected to gas, water, and sewer utilities. If you’re thinking about going off-grid, keep these things in mind: ߜ The cost of bringing utility power in is prohibitive. If you’re off the beaten path, you can usually get the utility company to bring power in, but you have to pay for the long line lengths and poles, trenches, and so on. This can sometimes cost over $100,000. ߜ You don’t have any utility power available, period. Going off-grid seems to be a romantic notion, but it’s not necessarily the most efficient way to go. If you don’t get much sunshine or have enough wind or water to make alternative energy sources viable, being efficient and pollution- wise off-grid is very difficult. Understanding your off-grid options You have choices when you go off-grid. If you want to rough it, you can use propane. It works well for heating, cooking, and refrigeration. Wood stoves


298 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home are popular for remote houses and cabins because a supply of firewood is usually readily available. But at some point you’re going to want to plug in your television, and then your choices are more limited. Gasoline- or natural gas-powered generators Gasoline- or natural gas-powered generators are inexpensive and can put out a lot of power, when needed. But they’re noisy, cumbersome, and smelly, and they pollute quite a bit. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere, a gas genera- tor is inherently contradictory to the peaceful coexistence you have chosen. Off-grid solar power systems Off-grid solar power systems (including hydropower, wind power, and PV systems) provide electrical power, but it’s relatively expensive. Using PV electrical generating systems connected to the grid (intertie) enables you to sell your excess generating capacity back to the utility and therefore use 100 percent of your system’s productive capacity (Chapter 16 has the details). Conversely, when you install an off-grid solar PV system, you don’t get anywhere near 100 percent utilization, plus you need batteries, charge controllers, and more. All this extra equipment is expensive and maintenance intensive. From a pollution standpoint, using an intertie PV system does the world more good because more usable power is generated. Each kWh of energy you gen- erate with an intertie system offsets that much energy from the grid — it’s a one-to-one relationship. This is not true of an off-grid system. A lot of the potential energy generation is wasted because it’s not used (if you’re on vacation, generating capacity is completely wasted). And batteries are inef- ficient, so you waste energy in that regard as well. Stand-alone systems are generally subject to rebates and subsidies, just like intertie PV systems and hot water systems. See Chapter 4 for details on how to research this subject. Realizing the ramifications of going off-grid Going off-grid takes commitment and knowledge. You need to understand what you’re doing with an off-grid system; you can’t just plug and play. So before you sign on, give careful consideration to the following facts:


299Chapter 20: Looking at Community Solutions to Energy Efficiencyߜ Going off-grid takes work. It means you have to take care of batteries, monitor system performance, and adjust your habits on a daily basis, depending on how much power your system is generating.ߜ Going off-grid is expensive. In general, off-grid PV systems cost at least twice as much per kWh as intertie systems and take ten times more attention on your part.ߜ You have to deal with the spent batteries. No big deal, you think? Think again. Batteries are disposable waste nightmares because they’re so full of nasty chemicals. Carbon dioxide is an important pollution culprit these days, but it’s not the only one. Ground water pollution is a grow- ing problem. Waste management is expensive and increases everybody’s tax burden. If you aren’t very savvy with your batteries, their lifetimes can be atrocious. So the pollution problem is increased not only by the mere use of batteries, but even more so by ignorant use of batteries.ߜ Conservation measures are required with off-grid systems. Although conservation is integral to the beginning of any efficient lifestyle, it’s even more important with off-grid systems because the economics dic- tate it. The best way to start is by building an energy-conserving house, with maximization of solar potential (see Chapter 21). Efficient appli- ances and personal habits are also a must.ߜ Most banks will not touch an off-grid home. You may not be able to get a first mortgage, and second mortgages are even more prohibitive. If you ever want to sell your house, being off-grid will drive away 99 percent of potential buyers, and the higher cost of a mortgage, if one is even avail- able, will be reflected in a lower selling price. If you have a choice, being off-grid is not an investment at all — it’s a discretionary luxury.


300 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home


Chapter 21 Building an Energy-Efficient Home from the Ground UpIn This Chapterᮣ Finding the right lot for your energy-efficient homeᮣ Drumming up your new home’s designᮣ Getting into the specifics of materialsᮣ Biting the bullet and getting started If you can do it, starting from scratch is the best possible way to go with an energy-efficient home. You have the world at your fingertips, and you can design your new home to your heart’s content. You can buy energy-efficient appliances and light fixtures, and you can install an energy-efficient HVAC system, including geothermal or solar power. If you think you can’t afford it, keep in mind that building an energy-efficient home costs no more than building a conventional home. Add the fact that your energy bills will be dramatically lower, and a “green” home can actually costs less on a monthly cash-flow basis. But building from scratch is also a demanding process, full of unanticipated surprises — some good, some bad. (To get an idea of the difficulties as well as the rewards, read Building Your Own Home For Dummies, by Kevin Daum, Janice Brewster and Peter Economy [Wiley].) This chapter gives you the basic information about building an energy-efficient home from the ground up so that you know what to look for, what to think about, and what to expect.Picking a Spot for Your New Home Perhaps the most fun part of building your own home is choosing a building lot. You probably already know the region or city you’re going to be building in. You may even have narrowed it down to a particular neighborhood. As


302 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home you scope out possible home sites for your energy-efficient home, remember that location means more than just a nice neighborhood. All the things you’d consider if you were building a traditional home still apply — neighborhood, landscaping, size of lot, and so on — but you need to be aware of a few other factors, too, as the following sections explain. Evaluating local building codes and regulations As you consider various locations for building an energy-efficient home, you need to find out whether the local building codes support such a project in the first place. Unfortunately, some communities are behind the times and don’t have laws and codes that are accommodating. Here’s how to get the information you need. Contacting the local building department Contact the local building department at the county headquarters and dis- cuss your plans with a representative to find out exactly where this com- munity stands. Some go out of their way to be supportive and charge smaller fees for energy-efficient homes; some can supply you with the names of local builders that can help you out; and some even subsidize energy-efficient homes. While you’re at it, get a feel for how onerous and expensive the building pro- cess is going to be: ߜ Ask whether energy-efficient homes have been built in your area and in your particular neighborhood. ߜ Ask how much fees and permits will cost — you may be shocked to hear the answer. Some communities want to restrict growth, and one of the ways they do this is by charging astronomical fees for new homes. If this is the case, you may want to consider another community or consider buying an existing home and converting it into an energy-efficient home. Contacting the local homeowners’ association Contact the local homeowners’ association or read through its charter. Many local association bylaws contain bans against solar panels because they’re ugly. Even though these restrictions are probably illegal, you may want to abide by rules against having solar panels in public view by orienting your house so that the panels face south but are not visible from the street. This requires the front of your home to face north.


303Chapter 21: Building an Energy-Efficient Home from the Ground UpI know of one installation where the homeowners decided to put the solarpanels off to the side of their house so that they wouldn’t be able to seethem, but their neighbors could. A neighbor sued and was joined by thehomeowners’ association on the general grounds of violating the “visualappearance” clause. The association won because the judge found that thehomeowner himself was declaring the panels visual blights by the mere factthat he didn’t want to look at them. Everybody lost a lot of money — even thewinners — and that’s the bottom line. When it comes to rules, work withinthem, and don’t be stubborn.Talking to experienced local contractors and other homeownersFind local contractors with experience building energy-efficient homes.They’ll be able to answer a lot of your questions very accurately and may beable to show you energy-efficient homes that they’ve built, giving you goodideas for your own home. You may also be able to talk to the homeowners.Real-life experience is ten times better than anybody’s theory.Measuring the energy-efficiencypotential of a lotA key characteristic of energy-efficient homes is that they use solar power(which also encompasses water power, wind power, breezes, landscaping,thermal mass, and so on) as much as possible, particularly the passive com-ponents like lighting and ventilation. You have to be a lot fussier about yourlot when you build a solar home, not only because you may use domestic hotwater supplements (refer to Chapter 16), but also because the solar philoso-phy relies heavily on natural lighting and heating capacities. (See my bookSolar Power Your Home For Dummies, published by Wiley, for more details.)With solar power, orientation becomes a critical factor. You want to choosea building site that lets you orient your house with a good southern exposurefor PV panels and water heating collectors, as well as for windows, sunrooms,and living spaces. On some lots, this is very difficult because of the street ori-entation and the location of trees and other shade-makers.As you scope out building sites, ask yourself the questions posed in the fol-lowing sections. The answers let you get to the heart of just how appropriatea particular lot is for your energy-efficient building plans.Keep notes on how each possible building site stacks up. For each site youevaluate, jot down the answers to the questions outlined in the following sec-tions. If you keep your comparative analyses of the various location optionsconsistent, you’ll have an easy reference to help you make your final decision.


304 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home What are your solar exposures? Solar exposure is key to energy-efficient construction. What latitude are you in? What is the sun’s path over the course of a year at that latitude? For each site, stand in the middle of the lot and plot the sun’s course. (You may have to do some guesswork about what the situation will be from a roof- top or a porch that hasn’t been built yet.) Different spots on a lot have differ- ent solar exposures and different shading issues. Look for deciduous trees and try to envision your house with those trees on the southern exposure, but not shading solar collectors on the roof. Try to avoid cutting down trees. Although you can plant trees, they won’t rival natural, healthy, indigenous trees for a long time. What are the prevailing winds like? Prevailing winds are critical (see Chapter 13 for ventilation and cooling issues). Natural breezes are absolutely free and can make a major difference in the comfort of a home. Look for locations where breezes are magnified in the summer by hills and terrain. In the winter, you want natural brush and landscaping to diminish cold winds from the north. What’s the water situation? Water rights and drainage are important. Try to find out whether any water problems exist; check with the county building department or the local water utility. The last thing you need is to move into your home and discover that the water supply is foundering. If city water isn’t available, do you need a well? If your neighbors have wells, are they producing? A well can be good or bad: You won’t have a water bill, but you’ll need expensive equipment, and you may need to filter the water. You also need to determine the natural drainage of the property. Some loca- tions for a home simply won’t work unless you radically alter the property’s contour (which goes against the green mantra). How much water will your property require? Are you going to landscape? How much water will that require, and will it affect drainage? Pay attention to the landscaping of the neighbors. If you scrimp on water- devouring landscaping, your neighbors may frown upon your maverick ways. Better to know now than to find out too late. What are the future plans for the area? Don’t forget to determine what may happen in the future. Is a shopping mall planned next door five years hence? How about a freeway? Or an airport? To find out about these kinds of things, ask your realtor and your county build- ing department. For that matter, hang around the local coffee shop and see


305Chapter 21: Building an Energy-Efficient Home from the Ground Up what’s what. Make friends with the waitress by giving a nice big tip. Next time you go in, ask for some local gossip. It could save you a lot of money and aggravation in the long run.Designing Your Home When most people build their own homes, they follow these two steps: First, they look through books of home designs and find one they like. Second, they go out and find a lot. When you build an energy-efficient home, you reverse these two steps, finding a lot first and then designing your house. Why? Because each lot will support a different style house, with a layout that maxi- mizes views, breezes, landscaping, and so on. So your house design should be a function of the lot. Don’t commit to a particular house design and then insist on finding a lot that will bear it out. Design your home on a twelve-month basis. Consider all the different seasons. Size matters: The littler, the better The smaller the home, the better the potential for energy efficiency. A smaller house uses less building materials, is cheaper to maintain, requires less HVAC capacity, and uses less energy. When you build an efficient house, keep it small and appoint it well. If you think bigger is always better, remember that large houses can seem small, and small houses can seem large. The key is the design. You can make a small house every bit as spacious as a large house by doing the following: ߜ Avoid long, wide hallways. ߜ Combine utility functions like laundry and storage. ߜ Put in less bathroom space (make bathrooms tall rather than wide for a spacious effect). ߜ Combine the living room and family room into one central great room. ߜ Add a nice sunroom off the living area. ߜ Place windows where you can get good, unimpeded views to the outdoors. Orienting the house on the lot When it comes to plotting out where and how your house will sit on the lot, keep these points in mind:


306 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home ߜ Make sure the long axis of the house runs east to west. This creates the greatest southern exposure. The front of the house can face either south or north. Up to 20 degrees off true south works well enough. ߜ Ensure that the roof has maximum sun exposure. Roof exposure is critical for locating solar collectors, although you can plan on ground mounting if you have enough room. Mounting on the roof is usually best because it gives you better immunity from shadows. Plus, the panels can be hidden more easily by means of clever design. Ground mounting requires wire runs (trenches dug where long lengths of thick gauge wire will be buried — an expensive component), and hiding the panels usu- ally entails shading issues, making the process more difficult. You do not need to locate all your solar panels on one expanse of roof, although visually this is usually more tenable. ߜ Deciduous trees work well on the western and southern exposures. A house often feels much nicer in the morning with direct sunshine, so try to keep eastern shading to a minimum. Eastern kitchens are more conge- nial because you avoid hot afternoon exposures, while ensuring a bright morning wake-up call. A southeastern breakfast nook is ideal. ߜ Hillsides work very well for providing insulation via earth berms and half basements. Hillsides facing south are the best bet because you can get two floors’ worth of good sun exposure while enjoying northern insulation. Figuring out a floor plan The floor plan of a home can impact its energy-efficiency capabilities. Whether you build a large or a small house, a few general design principles apply: ߜ Go with a central design. Central designs, in which the home is oriented around a central nucleus, work much better than houses with wings, which are difficult to heat and cool and require more maintenance. ߜ Design your house with heat movement in mind. Open airways, for example, make a house seem more spacious, as well as ensuring natural air movement. Avoid long, meandering hallways and rooms with odd angles and high, unventilated ceilings. Basically, you want to exploit the chimney and greenhouse effects, and optimize the movement of natural breezes by venting appropriately (all of which are explained in detail in Chapter 13). ߜ Place rooms in such a way as to maximize the positives and camou- flage the negatives. For example, a western exposure is typically hot and uncomfortable in the late afternoons and evenings, so putting the garage on that side of the house creates a buffer. Or perhaps the view from one side of the house is unattractive, in which case the garage should go there. You can also achieve a buffer from cold winter winds


307Chapter 21: Building an Energy-Efficient Home from the Ground Up by placing the garage on the windward side of the house. Likewise, family rooms generally work best on a southern exposure because that’s where your family is likely to spend the most time and get the most ben- efit from solar potential. Use screened-in porches to shade windows on the east and west sides of the house. Consider time of day versus room usage in your layout. Are you in a home office all day? Do you want to wake up in the sunshine? A kitchen on the eastern front is nice. A master bedroom on the northern front stays cooler, quieter, and darker. ߜ Arrange your windows strategically. Sunrooms and windows are always best on the south side, where they can take advantage of the sun exposure. By contrast, the light on the northern side of the structure is cold and dull; windows on that side don’t allow any heat from the sun in but do let heat escape out. So put closets, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and other such rooms, which can tolerate poor lighting and smaller windows, on the north side. By reducing windows on the northern expo- sure, you can increase insulation. ߜ Use overhangs deliberately. Energy-efficient houses always have well- designed overhangs over the windows, porches, and doorways, particu- larly in the family room.Incorporating energy-efficient technologyWhen you build a home from the ground up, you have the perfect opportunityto incorporate not only building designs that increase your energy efficiency,but you can also include energy efficient appliances and other add-ons: ߜ Non-electrical lighting: Use solar tubes, reflectors, orientations of windows to maximize sunlight entry, and so on. Celestories (windows located high up in a room, generally facing southward) can provide both heating and lighting over the course of the year. ߜ PV panels and solar water heaters: Go to Chapter 16 for details on solar panels and Chapter 11 for info on solar water heaters. ߜ A gas, wood, or other type of stove: Put it in the family room where you can use it to provide the vast majority of your heating needs (par- ticularly is your home is centrally designed). Most of the time you don’t need to heat your entire house. In the same vein, portable room heaters and air conditioners are much cheaper to operate than a whole-house HVAC system. ߜ Features with more thermal mass. The more thermal mass, the more consistent the temperatures in the house. Slab floors are best for this reason. Solar rooms with concrete floors and masonry walls work well. Big stone fireplaces with winter exposures to sunlight also work well in conjunction with overhangs.


308 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a HomeGoing beyond conventional stylesYou can use nontraditional home construc- ߜ Cob: A method by which you can create oddtion methods. Check out Green Building & shapes and contours with natural elements.Remodeling For Dummies by Eric Corey Freed Good insulation, inexpensive, kind of zany.(Wiley) for a range of home building stylesthat can offer far greater energy efficiency ߜ Pneumatically impacted stabilized earth: Athan conventional styles. Here are some of the method that uses good old Mother Earth foroptions you may want to consider: insulation and stability.ߜ Straw bales: Just like it sounds, a house ߜ Structural insulated panels: Prefab panels made of straw bales (like that of the three made of Styrofoam sandwiched between little pigs, although I’m not trying to imply plywood. You can build a very solid, well- anything here). Features excellent insulation insulated home from these panels at low properties and inexpensive construction. cost. Look to see a lot more of these in You’ll probably have a tough time finding a the future because they take less invested contractor who knows the ins and out. energy, which is the amount of energy con- sumed in the manufacturing process.ߜ Adobe: Sun-dried bricks; inexpensive, low energy to make. ߜ Insulated concrete forms: Thick walls with incredible insulation levels. The homeߜ Rammed earth: A technique that uses earth, stays very comfortable in both hot and cold or dirt, to create incredible insulation levels. weather, and the utility bills are low. But You will probably have a tough time finding the cost of construction is high because a contractor; look on the Internet. the method is so new.Choosing Your Materials After you define the general design of your house, it’s time to specify par- ticular materials and equipment. When choosing equipment, always pay attention to the lifetime of the product, not just the initial cost and energy consumption. Having to replace the equipment in a few years is hardly efficient. Construction materials In this book, the context of energy efficiency is geared predominantly toward the consumption end of things — in other words, the energy it takes to make your home work. But energy is also required in the building process and in the manufacture of the building materials that go into your home. Consider the following ways of minimizing your energy usage:


309Chapter 21: Building an Energy-Efficient Home from the Ground UpMaking your own lumberJust like your distant forebears, you can cut barn. Talk about character! He built not only adown your own trees and make your own functional barn but also a lasting legacy.lumber. Fortunately, the process has drasticallyimproved since the Paul Bunyan axe technique. An alternative is to hire somebody to turn yourNow you can buy special rack and rail systems trees into lumber at a cost that’s competitivethat let you fell a tree, set up your equipment with commodity lumber. If you have a numberright there on the ground next to the tree, and of trees on your lot that you need to fell, thiscut precise depths and widths of lumber. You may be a very cool option. Imagine living inneed to dry the wood properly in a kiln, but your home knowing that the lumber came fromthat’s not difficult. that very spot. If you’ve got an old maple or oak tree that needs to come down anyway, you canA neighbor of mine cut some oaks down and have it turned into lumber and make some reallyhand-carved them with a chain saw. He used classy furniture out of it.them to construct the big frame members for aߜ Use recycled building materials whenever possible. Many, especially recycled wood products, are available.ߜ Use products manufactured near your construction site. Doing so mini- mizes transportation costs.ߜ Don’t use solid woods. Laminates and veneers save rain forests and look like solid woods. The synthetics are made of recycled plastic con- tainers (like milk containers) and last much longer than real wood. Plus, you don’t need to paint them with nasty chemicals, and they won’t warp or chip.ߜ Use indigenous materials whenever possible. This includes using rocks from your own property for landscaping purposes, if feasible.ߜ Use roofing shingles that are reflective and provide good insulation. Unless, of course, you’re looking for a hot attic in the winter more than cooling in the summer. In either case, consider how you’re going to vent your attic in both the summer and winter. Radiant barriers in the attic space, for example, are much easier to put up during a home’s construc- tion than after the fact. And the material is relatively inexpensive consid- ering the potential benefit. (For details on these barriers and other ways to insulate your attic, head to Chapter 7.)ߜ Avoid aluminum framed windows, which conduct too much heat, and, at the very least, specify double-pane windows. You can get triple-pane windows, as well as special windows with gas insulation between the panes, but the cost goes up markedly.


310 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home The aesthetic quality of your windows determines the value of your house to a large degree. Spend some extra money for nice-looking frames, grids, and special functional features. At the very least, you want windows that are easy to operate because you’ll be opening and closing them a lot. Energy-efficient systems and appliances Obviously, an energy-efficient home is tricked out with energy-efficient appli- ances and systems. Following are the highlights of interior appointments of an energy-efficient home. You can find out more about these by going to the respective chapters within this book: ߜ Window blinds, awnings, and sunscreens: These provide visual appeal while providing insulation and preventing sunshine when you don’t want it. After all you’ve been through, don’t skimp here because these have a huge impact on how efficient your home is. They can literally make or break the ambience of a house. See Chapter 12 for the lowdown. ߜ Flooring: Tiles have more thermal mass than wood, which means they hold much more heat energy (if left in the sun, they will stay warm long after the sunlight is gone). They also cost less, last longer, and require less maintenance. Both tile and wood are infinitely better than carpeting for a variety of reasons, as explained in Chapter 6. ߜ Insulation: A well-insulated house is a more energy-efficient house. That’s why your insulation should be as thick as you can afford. ߜ Heating and cooling: To make your HVAC as efficient as possible, use the smallest HVAC system you can and, if necessary, supplement or replace it with energy-efficient alternatives. Chapter 8 discusses ways to maximize an existing HVAC system; Part III has a whole host of ways to supplement it. ߜ Ventilation options: How well air moves through a house has a lot to do with how comfortable that home is. Think about installing ceiling fans, an attic vent fan controlled by a thermostat switch, and/or a whole- house fan. You can find information on all of these in Chapter 13. ߜ Appliances: If you’re building a home, chances are you’re buying heat- ing and cooling equipment, lighting, and at least some new appliances. Always opt for the most energy-efficient models you can afford. See Chapter 11 for more info. ߜ Plumbing: Use as few sinks as possible, and keep the piping runs as short as you can. (Head to Chapter 10 for ways to decrease you water consumption.)


311Chapter 21: Building an Energy-Efficient Home from the Ground Up ߜ Swimming pool pump: If you’re building a swimming pool, consider a solar-powered pump. It’s expensive upfront, but you’ll never have to pay a cent for pump power. A solar pump can provide even greater effi- ciency if your house is in a region with time of use (TOU) metering. See Chapter 16 for the lowdown on solar systems for swimming pools.A word about installing PV systemsWhen you decide to use a PV system, you have to determine whether toinstall it during construction or after.Your initial thought may be to install it during construction, but that may notbe the smartest move. Why? You can’t know how much energy your houserequires until you’ve lived in it for a year or so because your energy con-sumption will depend on your personal habits and how the house interactswith weather patterns. ߜ Installing it during construction: If you install a PV system during con- struction, you run the risk of getting more power than you use. If your system is intertie (connected to the grid, which the vast majority of sys- tems are), which it definitely should be if you have the option, you won’t get anything back from the utility if you provide them more power than you use (see Chapter 16 for more details on intertie systems). In other words, you’ll be spending more than you need to and getting no benefits for the additional expense. ߜ Installing it later: The problem with waiting is that it prevents you from financing the PV system as part of your new house. You may be able to get an equity loan, but the terms won’t be as favorable as if you simply wrap the PV financing into the original home loan.Your best bet is to wait a year or so before you install your PV system. Designthe layout so that you can install your system easily when it’s time: Leaveroom near the fuse box for an inverter and switches. Make the roof pitch andconstruction optimum for PV panels.If you decide to install the system during construction, estimate your energyneeds and install a system that’s smaller than you think you will ultimatelyneed. You can buy an oversized inverter (the part that changes the raw elec-trical signals from the panels on your roof into useable household power) sothat, after a year or two when you know more precisely how much energy youneed, you can simply put in a few more solar panels. (Chapter 16 has moredetails on PV systems.)


312 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home Pounding Nails: What to Know When Construction Begins So construction is set to begin. You’ll be happy to know that building an energy-efficient house isn’t much different from building a conventional one. You don’t need a contractor who has built energy-efficient homes before. The passive aspects of good energy-efficient design are part of the architectural plans, so any contractor should be able to do the job properly. The construc- tion process is the same, too. Installing energy-efficient equipment isn’t any dif- ferent from installing other equipment. Any competent contractor can do it. As you watch your home grow from the ground up, keep these general points in mind: ߜ Be patient. Building a home is a major project, probably the biggest one you’ll ever undertake. Expect the whole project to take at least a couple years. Don’t count on your home being completed by a certain date because it probably won’t be. It will take on a life of its own, just like your kids. You think you can program them the way you want, but they outgrow your controls and become their own beings. ߜ Be prepared to compromise. Insisting on perfection is impractical and unnecessary. You can make design adjustments to accommodate inevi- table compromises. ߜ Hire a good general contractor. In most states you can be your own general contractor without a license, but going this route isn’t a good idea, even if you know what you’re doing and have the time and orga- nizational skills to pull it off. (Many people who have decided to go it alone have regretted it simply because the project takes so much time and energy.) Building homes is the livelihood of contractors and, as a result, they’re very conservative about committing to big jobs. They have all, unfor- tunately, seen potential jobs go away at the drop of a hat, and they’ve been left in a lurch. So never treat your new home project casually. Your decisions can have major consequences for others, and you have a responsibility to proceed with respect for the magnitude of how you are influencing other people’s lives.


Chapter 22 Buying and Selling an Energy-Efficient HomeIn This Chapterᮣ Appraising and buying existing energy-efficient homesᮣ Looking for a conventional home to transform into an efficient homeᮣ Selling your energy-efficient home for the most profit The bulk of this book is dedicated to defining energy-efficiency projects you can do in or around your home. But perhaps you’re interested in moving into an existing efficient home where everything has already been done for you. Or perhaps you want to move into a conventional home suit- able for energy-efficiency updates that you plan on either installing yourself or contracting out for. Maybe you’re looking to sell your energy-efficient home. Whether buying or selling, your goal is always to get the best deal you can. With conventional homes, maneuvering for the best deal is a well-defined game played by the buyer, the seller, and both agents. But things gets a little trickier with an energy-efficient home because the market is relatively untested, and things are changing fast. You need to understand how energy- efficiency technology, like solar technology, the price of homes in your area and how different stoves and heating and cooling systems play with the market in general. If you’re selling an energy-efficient home, your tasks include educating potential sellers. Finally, because energy-efficient homes generally cost more than conventional homes, you need to understand how to put a number on this difference. In this chapter, I give you all the informa- tion you need.


314 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home Buying an Existing Efficient Home If you want an energy-efficient home, you can build your own (Chapter 21 explains how), but that’s a long, arduous task. An easier and generally less time-consuming solution is to buy an existing efficient home. Unfortunately, not a lot of energy-efficient homes are out there — at least not today. This situation will change quite a bit in the coming years, but for now, if you want an efficient home, you’re going to have to look hard for one, and you may be disappointed with what you find. Restricting yourself to buying an existing efficient home will probably mean making some big compromises on the type and style of home you want. When looking for existing energy-efficient homes, heed the maxim “Let the buyer beware.” If you find an energy-efficient home that you’re interested in, you need to make sure the equipment is sound and does what it’s supposed to do. The following sections tell you how to evaluate an energy-efficient home. If you live in an area where solar communities are springing up, count your lucky stars and head there to take a look. These communities are designed for energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. All the homes, designed by professionals who know how to make solar systems work to their fullest potential, feature both passive and active solar power. Energy-efficient equip- ment like HVAC, water heating, and so on is standard fare. In addition, most of these communities include special recycling centers to ensure minimal envi- ronmental impact. In most states, real estate law clearly states that if a piece of equipment is attached to a house, it’s part of the house. Doors are part of a house, whereas refrigerators are not. In theory, all solar equipment is part of the house, but this is often misunderstood, particularly with regard to swimming pool sys- tems, which sometimes end up going with the seller to his new house. If you buy a home with energy-efficient equipment already installed, make sure to get in writing exactly what equipment is staying or going. Otherwise, you may be in for a nasty surprise on moving day. Evaluating just how energy efficient a home is (or isn’t) In addition to the usual pest, roof, and other inspections normally done for a real estate transaction, you need to have energy audits and solar potential inspections if you’re thinking about buying an already existing energy-efficient home. Specifically, you need to evaluate how energy-efficient the home is,


315Chapter 22: Buying and Selling an Energy-Efficient Homeidentify the kind of energy-efficiency (especially solar) equipment it has, anddetermine the condition of that equipment.Energy-efficiency equipment increases the maintenance responsibility ofany house. You need to know what you’re doing and how to use the equip-ment, even if it’s all in perfect working order. Unfortunately, because energy-efficiency concepts are relatively new, most realtors and market professionalsdon’t thoroughly understand the ins and outs. So it’s up to you to arm yourselfwith the information you need to understand exactly what you’re getting into.Taking a quick lookA relatively quick look-see can tell you quite a bit about how effective theenergy-efficiency features of a home are: ߜ Look at the home’s orientation and landscaping. Is it situated in such a way as to maximize the solar exposure? Are deciduous trees in the right spots? Refer to Chapter 21 for information on the importance of orienta- tion and landscaping. ߜ Check out the home’s electrical, HVAC, and water heating systems. What type of HVAC does it have and how old is it? (If it’s old, over fifteen years, you’ll probably have to replace it.) ߜ Check the major appliances. A central vacuum (in which the vacuum is located in the garage and special PVC pipes run through the house so that all you have to do is plug in the wand to vacuum wherever you are in the house) is a plus. ߜ Evaluate the home’s layout. Some designs are more conducive to energy efficiency than others (refer to Chapter 21 for details). ߜ Pay attention to the windows. Check for overhangs and awnings over windows. Are the blinds strictly decorative, or do they also have functionality? ߜ Check for thermal masses. Thermal masses are things like concrete floors and walls, tile floors — any mass that holds a lot of heat. Are they arranged so that they catch sunlight during the day, which results in better heating efficiency at night? Are they being used effectively both inside and outside the house?In addition to your quick look-through, you also may want to conduct anenergy-efficiency audit — not just for the energy-efficient equipment, but forthe entire house. (Chapter 3 gives more details on energy audits) You canhave this done as part of the usual due diligence, or you may want to pay forit upfront before you start getting serious about the house.


316 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home Perusing the power bills Ask to see the power bills for the past year. If the seller doesn’t have them, he can easily get them from the utility company. If you can’t get any power bills, something is wrong. The vast majority of efficient home owners are proud to show off their power bills. If, in examining the bills, you notice that some monthly bills are unusually high, it could mean that the efficiency equipment was broken at that time. Ask why the bill blipped, and take warning if the answer doesn’t jibe with the seller’s claims of how often the equipment went down. Looking closely at the efficiency equipment Look for energy-efficient technology. For example, are solar tubes showing on the roof? Skylights? Solar panels? Do they look new or old? Once you know the type of equipment, get the following information: ߜ Where the equipment was purchased and who installed it: Are these companies still in business, and if not, why not? If it’s a do-it-yourself job, have it checked out by a pro, or, if you’re a do-it-yourselfer and know what to look for, check it yourself. ߜ Whether local building department permits were obtained for the equipment: If not, why not? A permit implies that a building inspection was performed, which ensures that the work was done to code. Without a permit, the work may be substandard, although not necessarily. The point is, the risk becomes yours. You may want to insist on the seller getting the necessary permits, although they’re going to balk because it’s a big hassle. ߜ Warranty information and records regarding system performance and maintenance: How much time is left on the warranty? Ask whether the warranty is transferable (this is important). Have any warranty repairs been done? If so, pay attention to what went wrong. If several warranty repairs have been done, beware — especially if the warranty is about to expire. ߜ Manuals: You want the original manuals that came with the equipment. You may be able to get these on the Internet, but a conscientious owner (the kind you want) should have them. Read through the manuals, and you’ll understand the equipment and what it’s going to need by way of maintenance and repair. ߜ System use vs. system capacity: Determine how much equipment is being used versus its maximum capacity. If there’s a solar water heater, how much of its capacity is being used to offset the current power bill? If


317Chapter 22: Buying and Selling an Energy-Efficient Home the solar water heater is capable of outputting twice as much energy as it currently is, is this important to you? If your family is bigger, you’ll use more hot water, and you’ll probably use more energy in general. This may or may not be reflected in higher energy bills. Personal habits enter into these calculations, so temper what you find with a consideration of how the seller’s energy usage may differ from your own.You can easily check a PV system by looking at the power output on a sunnyday near solar noon. First, check the panels and see how far off the optimumangle they are. Then simply read the digital meter on the face of the inverter.This will be the maximum amount of power you can expect to get out of thesystem.Anticipating changes and repairsBefore you reject or accept an existing energy-efficient home, you need todetermine what kinds of changes you’d want to make to improve the home’senergy efficiency and what kinds of repairs may be just around the corner.Then you can decide whether these tasks are ones you’re willing to take on.Some questions to ask include: ߜ Can the systems be expanded? For instance, is the inverter larger than its current output power? If so, PV panels can be added. A hot water system can usually be expanded by adding more collectors. ߜ Could you get more out of the equipment by making a few changes? Are there trees shading the collectors that you could cut down to get more productivity? Are the collectors dirty and unkept? Are vicious little creatures like raccoons nested somewhere, jealously guarding their domicile? ߜ Does the roof need to be replaced? You’ll get a roof inspection as a matter of routine. If the roof needs to be replaced and it contains solar equipment, you’ll have to pay to get the equipment dismantled first, and then reassembled after the new roof is in place. Solar power won’t be produced during this period, either. ߜ If there’s a net metering agreement, does it carry over? What is the rate structure going to be? If it’s not going to be the same as the one in place the last few years, the utility bills that you get are going to be dif- ferent. Can you change the rate structure if you want?


318 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home Determining the value of an existing efficient home If you like the home and everything seems to be on the up and up, you’re ready to make an offer. An energy-efficient home costs more than a compa- rable conventional home, most of the time. To determine what’s reasonable, you need to know what a comparable conventional home would cost and then add the value associated with the energy-efficiency equipment. You should be able to get an accurate estimate on how much a conventional home is worth from your realtor. The tricky part is determining the value of the efficiency equipment. Why? Because to do so, you really have to deter- mine two values: the value to you (what you’re willing to offer for the house) and what a bank will value the property at. Some banks are completely igno- rant of energy efficiency and may not add any value at all for efficiency equip- ment, while others understand its value (see Chapter 4 for more on financial issues). Here are some things to do and consider as you try to determine the value of an energy-efficient home: ߜ Try to get what realtors call “comps” — the recent sales prices of com- parable homes in the same local area. Gauging a home’s value this way may not be completely accurate, but it’s the best place to start. At the very least, you’ll find out how buyers are operating. If no value seems to be placed on energy-efficiency equipment, you’re in luck as a buyer (though this is bad when you’re selling). ߜ Figure out how much it would cost to have a contractor come in and install all the energy-efficiency equipment that is already in place: Be sure to include not only the equipment but the installation labor and any other costs as well. A solar home’s equipment should never be worth more than this amount, although buzz can sometimes send values higher. Plus, do-it-yourself projects are more difficult and a lot of people simply don’t want to do them, so they’ll pay more for equipment that’s already in place. ߜ Compare energy bills for the efficient home versus a comparable conventional home. How much less are the energy bills? View this as a monthly payment on a second mortgage, and then determine the loan balance that would result in that monthly payment. Realize that you can buy more house when you don’t have a monthly utility bill. The key to an energy-efficient home is having more money each month to do things other than pay utility bills.


319Chapter 22: Buying and Selling an Energy-Efficient Home If you think power rates are going to go through the roof in the future, an efficient home is worth more. Keep in mind that past records are fine and dandy, but it’s the future that counts. Energy-efficient homes not only cost you less in energy bills, but they will also see less increase when rates go up. When you buy into energy efficiency, you’re insuring your future against severe cost jolts. This is worth something, although it’s very hard to enumerate. ߜ Determine how much it’s worth to you to mitigate pollution. See Chapter 5 for a method of enumerating this rather intangible issue. The bottom line is that we’re all going to be paying to accomplish this laud- able goal. ߜ Call your homeowner’s insurance agent and ask about solar equip- ment and how it might affect your insurance rates and terms. If the equipment has not been inspected and permitted by the local building department, bring this up. Ask about any odd construction techniques, like rammed earth. Some insurance companies won’t insure this kind of dwelling because state law mandates them to build an identical house in the event of a claim. It may be impossible to get an identical house if the one you’re looking at is an oddball (geodesic domes, watch out!). ߜ As you would with any house, think about how long you anticipate living there. If you’re going to be staying for a long time, you don’t need to worry about selling a home, only about buying it. If you’re going to be living in the area for a short time, you should be as concerned about selling as you are about buying. Maybe the most important question to ask yourself is whether you would buy this house if it were exactly the same structure, but without any efficiency equipment. How much you would pay for it then? How much you’re willing to pay comes down to how much you want the house. That’s the bottom line. Your realtor is going to have to help you come up with a competitive offer, which is far beyond the scope of this book.Buying an Existing Home to Upgrade There are good reasons for buying an existing conventional home and install- ing energy-efficiency equipment yourself, as opposed to buying a completed efficient home: ߜ You have a lot more options. In some areas, efficient homes are a real rarity and you may not even be able to find one that’s for sale. ߜ Your equipment will be brand new with a full warranty. Because hom- eowners rarely install expensive equipment right before they sell, the


320 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home equipment on existing efficient homes is usually older, which can mean more maintenance and less efficiency. New equipment is always better than old because technology is always improving. Plus, your improvements may qualify for subsidies or tax incentives; see Chapter 4 for details. ߜ If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you can install equipment for much less than a professional contractor. That means the value you place on some types of efficiency equipment will be less than what a seller is probably going to demand for a completed home. You will know the equipment better, and you won’t have to trust a seller’s claims of perfor- mance. Keep in mind, though, that you may be able to get a guarantee of performance when you buy an efficient home. When you do the installs yourself, there are no guarantees of any kind, or at the very least, they are hazy. ߜ You can install equipment as the need arises, timing your efficiency improvements in ways that most benefit you. This is especially impor- tant if you finance the purchase of your home with a first mortgage, which won’t include your equipment improvements. This means you’ll have to find another way to pay for your upgrades. Doing them a little at a time is one option. Another is getting an equity loan, but ultimately this will cost you more (in monthly payments) than simply buying a completed energy-efficient home and wrapping all the extra value into one first mortgage. You may be able to demand that some improvements be done before you buy an existing home. Perhaps you can get a seller to install some solar or other energy-efficiency equipment as a condition of sale. If a water heater is shot, perhaps you can demand a solar water heating system be put in its place, for example. If you’re going to buy an existing conventional home and install your own efficiency equipment, you need to carefully and accurately evaluate its suit- ability. Here’s a checklist: ߜ Read Chapter 21 on designing and building an efficient home from scratch. When you’re looking at a prospective home, compare its fea- tures with the ideals expressed in Chapter 21. ߜ Make a list of all the efficiency investments that will work in your new home; then estimate the costs for doing each project, based on the construction and layout of the house. This is relatively easy for active solar energy, like PV and hot water, and for installing things like fireplaces and stoves, where you can get a good idea of the cost by simply talking to a local retailer. But it’s going to be tougher for passive features, those built right into the home’s design, such as skylights and


321Chapter 22: Buying and Selling an Energy-Efficient Home window orientation. You’ll probably find that moving walls and cutting into ceilings isn’t really worth the cost, given the potential savings on your power bills. Passive solar is much easier to design and build into a home than it is to modify a home for. To figure out where the most egregious energy sinks are so that you know what you’re facing and can prioritize your improvements, get a professional energy audit, if possible. A seller may let you do one, but it’s a tough request to make before an offer is on the table. Inspections are normally done once an offer is made and accepted. ߜ Evaluate existing energy equipment for potential improvements. Is the HVAC old? Perhaps you can demand that a new one be installed. How about wood stoves or gas stoves? Attic vents? Installing energy-efficient equipment on any home usually entails tearing out some existing equipment and forking over the money for new equipment. You should have a good idea of what you want to do in your new home, and some idea of the price of the upgrades.Selling Your EfficientHome for Big Bucks You want the most you can get for your efficient home, of course. To get top dollar, you need to know what buyers look for when they’re in the market for an existing energy-efficient home. The first section in this chapter, “Buying an Existing Efficient Home,” goes into detail on what buyers should look for. As a seller, here’s what you need to know: ߜ Keep good records of everything. If you can’t validate your energy- efficiency claims, your systems may be worthless. Or even more detrimental to your cause, you may cast yourself as untrustworthy in general — why else would you be making claims that you can’t back up? ߜ Find a realtor who knows efficient houses, and how best to offer them for sale to the market. You want to capitalize on “buzz” — in this regard, some market strategies work and some don’t. The right realtor will let the right buyers know you’ve got an efficient home for sale. ߜ Target the right market. At present, most people have no clear idea what energy efficiency means, beyond the fact that utility bills will (or should) be lower. These people are not likely to pay you more for your energy-efficient home than they would pay for a conventional home. As energy rates rise, this will change, out of necessity. But one thing is


322 Part IV: Considering Efficiency When You Buy, Build, or Sell a Home always true of marketing: You need to reach the right buyers to get the best price. Shotgun approaches (blasting at the whole world and hoping you’ll hit something) is almost always unproductive. ߜ Price the house correctly. You’re going to price your energy-efficient home higher than a conventional home, and rightly so. But if you don’t reach the right market, your home won’t sell, and then you’ll have a reputation in local realtor circles for trying to sell an overpriced home. Realtors see overpriced homes as a waste of time, and they don’t bother showing them. The initial entry of a home onto a market is the most important time because realtors lose interest in a house that doesn’t sell. Even if you subsequently lower your price, they still won’t get as enthused as they will with a house that’s new on the market and priced correctly. The bottom line: Always be square with everybody all the time. People know when you’re playing games.


Part VThe Part of Tens


In this part . . .Every handy, good looking, information-packed For Dummies book ends with quick reference lists to helpyou along. The lists here are packed with information onsome of the best and easiest ways to become more energyefficient.And because this is the last part of the book, I’ve allowedmyself the liberty of letting loose — a tendency my editordid her darnedest to keep in check. If you don’t find thispart as entertaining as I do, blame her: She ruined all myjokes.


Chapter 23Ten Best Energy-Efficient InvestmentsIn This Chapterᮣ Getting the greatest effect for the least moolahᮣ Creating a more comfortable home environmentI don’t like work, even when somebody else does it. — Mark TwainA penny saved is a penny earned. — Benjamin FranklinThese twin sentiments pretty much sum up this chapter. The best energy- efficiency tips are those that are easy to do and give you the best pay-back. The crème de la crème is achieving both.Installing a Programmable Thermostat For $40 to $150, you can install a programmable thermostat to automatically control the temperature of your home. (Some thermostats can also control the humidity — a good option if you want to ensure a comfortable environ- ment.) The trick with a programmable thermostat is to minimize the amount of time the system is turned on when you’re not home. If you’re at work all day, you can turn off your HVAC system, or at least raise the temperature in the summer and lower it in the winter, while you’re away and then program it to turn back on a short time before you’re due home. If you’re on a peak rate schedule, a programmable thermostat can save you even more because you can avoid using your HVAC during peak hours.


326 Part V: The Part of Tens Payback of your original investment only takes six months to two years. You would be hard-pressed to find any other type of energy-efficient investment that works so well. Chapter 8 has lots more information on what you can do to save money on your HVAC system. Sealing Your Home’s Envelope Most leaks in ductwork and heating and cooling vents are very easy to fix and take little more than a few twists of your wrists. Some, like the ones in your attic or basement, are very difficult to get at. The worst culprits are leaks around windows. But every leak costs a lot because it allows cold air to enter your home in the winter and hot air to enter in the summer. To fix leaks, you generally need nothing more than caulk and weatherstrip- ping, two of the least expensive fix-it products made. Some window leaks may require that you buy special seals, but these are generally harder to find than they are expensive. If you spend less than $100 on materials like caulk and weatherstripping, you can easily save this much in one year’s time. Plus your home will be more comfortable, with fewer drafts and temperature fluctuations from room to room. Another way to seal your home’s envelope is fill in the gaps in your insula- tion. This investment takes an initial cash outlay, but you’ll unquestionably save on heating and cooling bills, and your home will be more comfortable to boot. Most insulation investments pay back in around two years. Your home will also be worth more because you can show a prospective buyer your smaller utility bills, and they’ll factor this into their offering price. Go to Chapter 7 for more on insulating your home against drafts. Sealing the Ducts in Your HVAC System If the ducts in your HVAC system aren’t properly sealed, you’re wasting a lot of hot or cold air that could be better spent warming or cooling your home. Although sealing these ducts can be a hassle — you may have to climb into the attic, crawl around underneath your ground floor, climb ladders, or twist yourself into the shape of a pretzel — you won’t spend much money, and you’ll get an incredible return on the money you do have to spend.


327Chapter 23: Ten Best Energy-Efficient Investments The first thing to do is survey what needs to be done. Inspect all the duct- work: Turn your HVAC on first because a lot of the leaks will be very obvious with a simple glance. Check for smaller leaks by using the wet hand tech- nique described in Chapter 7. To fix leaks in the ductwork, tape them where you can. If insulation is falling off (a very common problem), tape it back up. Given how cheap and effective this fix is, the payback can be less than a month. Always wear a dust mask when working with ducts (say that fast, five times).Installing a Flow ConstrictorShower Head A flow constrictor is very simple: It’s just a washer with a hole of a preset size that you install inside the shower head. The smaller the hole, the lower the flow, and bigger the hole, the greater the flow. For a measly $15 and up, you can easily save that much in a couple months just by installing a low-flow showerhead (or as it’s so fashionable to say these days, a Lo Flo shower- head). You don’t need to sacrifice the quality of your showers, either. You save tons of water, but even better, you save tons of heat energy, and that costs a lot more than water these days. Lo Flo heads are simple to install: 1. Unscrew the old head. You may actually need pliers for this, but go ahead and give it a try before you trudge all the way down to the garage. 2. Take the old head with you to the hardware store and buy a good- quality, Lo Flo head that you like the looks of. Take the old head because there are different sizes of mounting threads, or different types of mounting schemes. Also, get one that can be adjusted. If you have problems with mineral deposits in your water, buy a cheap head because it won’t be long before it gets all gummed up with crud. 3. Screw the new head on. You don’t have to trudge all the way down to the garage for pliers because if you use the rubber gasket that’s provided, you don’t have to screw the darn thing on very tight in order to get a good seal.


328 Part V: The Part of Tens Note: If you have a solar water heater, you don’t have much incentive to save hot water. You’re better off watching an old movie on the telly. For more ways you can reduce your water consumption, go to Chapter 10. Insulating Your Water Heater Feel your water heater. If it feels warm to the touch, that means heat is leach- ing out, and instead of warming your water, it’s warming the air — uselessly. So wrap an insulating blanket around your water heater. The payback will be around two years. Insulating blankets, which cost around $20 to $30, are easy to install (just read the instructions that come with the blanket) and easy to find (they’re about as common as thumbtacks). Measure the dimensions (diameter and height) before you go to the hardware store. (You may want to call before you go and make sure they have them.) Wear gloves and a long-sleeved shirt because insulation can make you itch a lot, and that takes more energy than you want to expend. Head to Chapter 11 for other things you can do to increase the efficiency of your water heater and a plethora of other home appliances. Plugging In Fluorescents Traditional incandescent bulbs give off a lot of heat as well as light. In the summer, or when it’s warm, you don’t want the heat because it just makes your air-conditioner work harder. So in warm climates fluorescents are more efficient than incandescents. Installing a fluorescent bulb in place of any light bulb in your home that’s on for more than a couple hours a day will pay back in around one year. Unless the light fixture is on a high ceiling, screwing in a fluorescent light bulb should be easy. Plugging in fluorescents is also a good idea for fixtures that are hard to reach. You’ll save labor and aggravation in the long run because fluorescents last a lot longer than incandescent light bulbs, so you won’t have to climb that ladder nearly as often. Go to Chapter 9 for more on lighting your home more efficiently.


329Chapter 23: Ten Best Energy-Efficient InvestmentsInstalling Motion Sensors Install motion sensors (described in Chapter 9) in your garage or in closets and basements. You won’t have to reach your arm up and flip the switch (which saves a lot of effort, especially if your arm is very large). And when you leave the space, the light will go off by itself. It’s always good when things happen by themselves — that way not only do you not have to expend energy, but you don’t have to think about it, either. Motion sensors are also a great idea for outdoor security lights, which other- wise tend to be on all night long. With a motion sensor, the light comes on when something trips the sensor and goes off again automatically.Putting Insulating Sleeveson Hot Water Pipes You may have to reach over your head or go down into your basement or crawl space, but fitting elongated sleeves of foam insulation over hot water pipes makes a big difference. First, measure the diameter of your pipes, then approximate the length you will need. At the hardware store, they’ll fix you up for cheap. Fitting this stuff around the pipes is actually kind of fun because nothing can go wrong. You don’t even have to cover the entire pipe; any little bit will help. There are very few things you can do in this life where nothing can go wrong, but this is one of them. Well, I guess you could put the insulation on cold water pipes. But it’s still fun.Changing HVAC Filterson a Routine Basis If your HVAC filters are dirty, the machinery has to work much harder, and your utility bill goes up very quickly. So change the filter whenever it gets clogged with dust. How can you tell? Most of the time all you have to do is listen. A dirty filter sounds like it’s whistling.


330 Part V: The Part of Tens If you buy filters in bulk, you can get them for less than $5 apiece. Also, when you buy them in bulk, you’ll have them handy and you’ll be more apt to change them when it’s time. The expensive filters, usually advertised as electrostatic, aren’t worth the extra money you pay unless you’ve got some health issues that require you to buy these more expensive filters. Tuning Up Your HVAC System Regularly Properly maintained mechanical systems work better and more efficiently than systems that haven’t been maintained. So tune up your HVAC system every few years. You can pay a pro to do this — it’s worth the hundred dol- lars or so it costs because a pro knows how to get things working as effi- ciently as possible. (Be wary, however, of being sold something you don’t need, in which case the payback will be dubious.) Alternatively, you can tune up your system yourself if you have an instruction manual. If you’ve got a combustion system, I don’t recommend tackling this task your- self unless you’re an experienced do-it-yourselfer. Combustion systems are tricky to adjust, and they carry the potential of explosion if you do something drastically wrong. If you’ve got an electric system, the job is a lot easier and safer.


Chapter 24 Ten Ridiculously Easy Energy-Saving TipsIn This Chapterᮣ Getting a free lunch after all (sort of)ᮣ Impressing your spouse for the least amount of effortᮣ Taking the easy route to energy efficiency Some energy-saving solutions are ridiculously easy — so easy, in fact, that you may not have thought of them. Or if you did think of them, you may have thought that easy is the equivalent of ineffective. Au contraire. This chapter offers ways you can become more energy-efficient with very little work and little, if any, cost.Turn Down the Thermostat Lower the temperature in your home in the winter and raise it in the summer. Consider that most humans who have lived on Earth throughout the course of history have not even had access to air-conditioning, and heating was spotty at best. They survived just fine. So can you.Close Doors and Dampers Close the fireplace damper when the fireplace is not in use. If you don’t, the warm air (which you’ve paid for in your heating bills) just gets sucked out the chimney. It’s amazing how many people don’t do this, and it’s easy. Just make it a habit.


332 Part V: The Part of Tens You can also close off unused rooms and unused ducts. At a minimum, close the doors — even better, close the register. Lower the Temp on Your Water Heater You can save a lot of money by simply lowering the temperature on your domestic water heater. Most homes have the temperature set too high; 113°F is hot enough. See Chapter 10 for more details. Use Your Microwave If you need hot water, use your microwave oven instead of using the stove or letting the water run from the tap until it’s hot enough to satisfy you. The microwave uses a lot less energy than the stove, and filling the water pipes with hot water from heater to tap just to get a cup doesn’t make much sense. The microwave is a more efficient alternative for most cooking chores, too. Steaming vegetables, warming leftovers — even boiling water — takes less energy in a microwave than it does on a stove top or in an oven. Using the microwave also reduces the amount of heat that gets released into the room — definitely a consideration during the hot months when you’re trying to stay cool. Clear Kids’ Toys Out of Radiator Vents Many radiator vents have obstructions on the inside. Kids drop their toys; animals drop their toys; that remote controller you can’t find has fallen down in there. Or maybe a chunk of carpet fell in when you were remodeling. All you have to do is pull the vent cover off, get a flashlight, bend over, and look down inside. Removing obstructions makes a huge difference in the efficiency of the HVAC operation, and makes the room much more comfortable to boot. Use Warm or Cold Water instead of Hot By simply using warm or cold water instead of hot, you can increase your energy efficiency and save money:


333Chapter 24: Ten Ridiculously Easy Energy-Saving Tips ߜ Wash clothes in cold water. Using warm or cold water in your washing machine can save quite a bit of energy. About 75 percent of the time you don’t need hot water. Although this may not work for the dirtiest loads, it works just fine for most. Detergents especially made for cold-water washing help, too. So give it a try, and see what comes of it. The worst that can happen is you have to run the clothes through again on a hotter cycle. But you’ll probably find that most of the time it doesn’t matter. ߜ Flush the garbage disposer with cold rather than hot water. The prob- lem here is that most of the time when you turn your hot water on, you have to wait awhile for the hot water to arrive from the water heater. During this time, hot water is actually filling up the pipes between the heater and your disposer. This heat is then wasted. Even worse, in the summertime it ends up warming your home. If your air conditioner is on, it has to work harder. You lose in every way.Lock Closed Windows Leaks in your home’s envelope are one of the biggest causes of inefficien- cies, and can cost quite a bit of money in terms of energy bills. If you simply lock your windows and doors when you close them, you’ll improve the seal. Granted, this isn’t a real big deal, but every little bit helps.Do All Your Laundry at Once Never do a partial load of laundry; it wastes energy. Fill up the machine. Even if the machine has a switch that adjusts for smaller loads, it isn’t nearly as energy-efficient as washing a full load. Always dry loads consecutively in your clothes dryer to take advantage of residual heat. When your dryer is cold, it takes a considerable amount of heat just to warm the machine up. Clean the dryer filter before every load. Doing so is easy and makes a huge dif- ference in terms of energy consumption.


334 Part V: The Part of Tens Skip the Dishwasher Drying Cycle Believe it or not, you don’t have to use the drying cycle on your dishwasher. Your clean dishes will dry very nicely, thank you, if you simply open the machine up, especially in the summer. When it’s very hot, use a fan to exhaust the humidity out of a nearby open window. Aim the fan out the window so that the humidity is sucked right out as soon as possible. Plant a Tree Where It Counts For around $30, you can buy a small deciduous tree in healthy, vigorous con- dition. Plant it in front of your big picture window so that it shades the sum- mertime sun and allows for sunshine in the winter. Depending on how fast the tree grows, payback is between five and ten years, which may not be rapid but is one of the best ways to increase your energy efficiency. You can’t do any better than planting a tree in your yard.


Chapter 25 Ten Best Solar InvestmentsIn This Chapterᮣ Identifying the best money-making propositions in solar powerᮣ Making your house look a lot betterᮣ Creating a more comfortable home environment In my estimation, solar power is the best way to invest in energy efficiency. Your personal situation dictates the type of solar investment that’s best for your own home, but there are some projects that stand out for being sen- sible and practical, in both monetary and aesthetic terms. In this chapter, I give you my list of the ten best solar investments, based on my own personal experience, as well as feedback from many others who have worked with solar energy. Using solar energy to increase efficiency doesn’t always require solar technol- ogy or equipment. Many times, it just requires that you take advantage of the sunshine that comes naturally into your home and yard.PV Systems Photovoltaic (PV) systems are the grande dame of solar investments and are going to experience hyper growth over the coming years. You can get a feel for just how much humans impact the environment when you realize that, on average, economically active Americans are responsible for nearly 40,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per capita. You don’t need to be a politically active environmentalist to come to the conclusion that we need to do a lot better. Nor do you need to believe in global warming. PV systems offset the most carbon pollution because so much inefficiency is inherent in our electrical power grid. For each kWh of energy you create with a PV system, you are saving five or six times that much utility-generated power, most of which comes from coal-fired plants in North America. PV systems allow for tremendous environmental leverage, and that will never change.


336 Part V: The Part of Tens Strictly from a monetary standpoint, PV systems are becoming increasingly competitive, and as energy rates rise, they will eventually become extremely good investments. For more information on PV systems, head to Chapter 16. Solar Swimming Pool Heaters The average swimming pool costs around $20,000 to install. It takes up a big chunk of your back yard, and requires a lot of maintenance. Swimming pool chemicals are expensive, and you have to measure the water all the time for chemical balances. Chlorine and sunshine tend to eat pool equipment, particularly the plastics that are so common, so equipment lifetimes are lim- ited. You need to clean the filter periodically, and occasionally you need to empty the pool out and start over, which makes a big impact on your water bill. The bottom line is, a swimming pool is quite a luxury item, probably the most expensive luxury you will ever purchase. If you’re going to put this much time and energy into a pool, one of your goals is likely to be extending the swim season as much as you can, and that means using a pool heater. When you install a heating system on your swimming pool, simply put, you can use your pool three or four times more than with- out a heater. The water will be much more comfortable, and you’ll be able to swim over a longer season. Of the kinds of heaters available — propane, electric, and solar — go for the solar heater. From a pollution standpoint, a solar heater is ideal (zero pol- lution) compared to the sinful alternatives (propane and electric). After the initial investment, solar heaters are also less costly to operate: Try nothing compared to what you have to pay to power a propane or electric heater. And although you can extend your swim season with a non-solar heater, keep in mind that the cost of heating the water will rise as the temperature falls. Solar Water Heaters Solar water heaters, when properly designed and installed, are great invest- ments. Most people can afford a few thousand dollars for a solar water heater system without taking out loans. You can find do-it-yourself kits that work with existing water heaters, so you can keep your investment down in that way as well. You can install a very simple batch-type system. Kits are available that allow you not only to do the installation yourself, but also to build the collector yourself. Alternatively, you can find designs for nominal fees and build the entire system completely from scratch for less than a few hundred dollars.


337Chapter 25: Ten Best Solar Investments A big benefit of a solar water heater is that you never need to conserve on hot water, regardless of how high energy rates go. From a pollution stand- point, water heating typically comprises around 18 percent of your power bill, so you can save exactly that much from your carbon footprint. If you are on a tiered rate structure, a solar water heater cuts into the most expensive part of your power bill first. For example, if you save 18 percent of the electrical energy you use, you may be able to save closer to 30 percent of your total power bill (see Chapter 5 for more details). PV systems are more popular than solar water heaters, but new plastics have been developed that are going to change this. Look for new technologies, and you’ll find one that is ideal for your own application.Solar Yard Lights For very little cost, you can put a whole range of fun and interesting lights around your yard. They charge during the daylight hours, and they come on at night. You’ll be surprised at how little sunlight they need, given the amount of light they put out. Unlike low-voltage systems, which require very thick gauge wires that you need to run around your yard, solar lighting is as simple as one, two, three. And if you don’t like the way things look, changing the layout is as simple as four, five, six. Try both the static lights and the little, changing-color decorative lights. You can get a whole range of different mounting schemes, so you can put them anywhere. My experience is that solar yard lights don’t need to be in any direct sunlight at all. Put them under a tree and they’ll work. And you can get a light that has a PV panel connected to the light itself by means of a wire, so you can put the PV panel in direct sunlight, and the light under your porch roof.Window Blinds Windows are a major source of heat transfer. In the summer, windows let in too much heat energy. In the winter, windows allow a lot of heat to escape. Your house would be much more energy efficient if there were no windows at all. But this is absurd. After all, windows attract a lot of attention (they break up walls, which are monotonous) and they’re a source of natural sunlight.


338 Part V: The Part of Tens The eye is naturally drawn to a window, particularly a big window in your family room or living room. The solution? Put in window blinds that have good insulation. Window blinds make a big difference in the overall tone of your home. With the right blinds, you can significantly reduce heat transfer as well as reflect most incident sunlight. The functional effect is dramatic. The aesthetic effect is even more so, if you choose the right ones. The best candidates for window blinds are large windows in family rooms and living rooms. They’ll give you the most bang for the buck. Go to Chapter 12 for details on how to use blinds and other window covering for energy efficiency. Overhangs By judiciously using overhangs, described in Chapter 12, you can make your home more comfortable and save on your power bill at the same time. By shading your southern windows appropriately, you can increase the natural lighting in your home in the winter, when you want as much light as possible, and decrease it in the summer (lots of light makes you feel warmer). A well-designed overhang over a porch or sunroom minimizes temperature variations. Nobody likes a home where the temperature swings wildly over the course of a day. And temperature variations tend to make materials swell and shrink, which causes cracking and premature wear. Overhangs are very reasonable do-it-yourself projects. You don’t need elec- trical or plumbing experience. Rarely do extraordinary weight requirements entail the use of a professional engineer. And if you keep things modest, you don’t need to get a county building permit or permission from a neighbor- hood association design committee (who would probably love your pro- posed project anyway). Sunrooms Sunrooms let you increase the usable square footage of your house cheaply, with maximum functional effect. They also allow you to use the natural heat from the sun to heat your home, which is very energy efficient. A sunroom can be added onto an existing home for far less cost than a conventional room. You can put in nearly any size room you want, and do-it-yourself kits are straightforward and well-designed. You can build one out of aluminum,


339Chapter 25: Ten Best Solar Investments wood, or even plastic corrugated materials that cost very little. You can also put in any number of windows you want. You can install a wall of windows, or just a few. You can incorporate a concrete floor (for maximum thermal mass) or you can use an existing wooden or synthetic deck. If you do it right, you can build a sunroom without getting a building permit (forego electric power and don’t connect it rigidly to your house). If you insu- late it well, you’ll have a family room for about one-fifth the cost of adding a conventional room to your house. Go to Chapter 12 for details.Swimming Pool Covers Okay, I can hear the howls of indignation over this one. Swimming pool covers are a big hassle. But for the amount they cost compared to what they can save, they’re actually a great deal. Swimming pool covers basically accomplish the same thing that solar pool heaters do (see the earlier section “Solar Swimming Pool Heaters”) but cost about 3 percent as much. If you’re in a climate where you don’t need a pool heater over the course of the summer, you can extend your swimming season a month or so at both the beginning and end of the season by using a cover then and only then. Retracting mechanisms are available that work well enough to prevent you from hating your cover because you have to fold it up by hand every time you want to use the pool. The cheapest manual retractors cost around $300. You can install an electric retractor, but then you’re starting to talk about the kind of money you spend on solar water heaters, so you may as well put in a solar water heater instead.Solar Attic Vent Fans Solar attic vent fans are an easy do-it-yourself project with potentially big results. If you’ve ever gone into your attic space on a hot summer day, you know what real heat is all about. It can get so hot that it’s dangerous. Temperatures over 160°F are not uncommon. All that heat stays up there all night, and it tries to go through the insulation in your ceiling, down into your house. Most homes have passive, natural venting schemes designed into the attic space, but older homes didn’t really give it much thought, and newer homes tend to solve the problem with increased R-values of insulation. Imagine getting that heat out of the attic.


340 Part V: The Part of Tens A properly designed solar attic vent fan can move a lot of air (see Chapter 13) over the course of a day. The system works hardest when you want it to, when there’s a lot of hot sunshine. You don’t need to run expensive house- hold electrical power up to the fan’s location (the electricity comes from a low voltage PV panel instead), which means you can install one just about anywhere you want, and without worrying about codes or inspections or building permits. As a do-it-yourself solar project, installing a solar attic vent fan is ideal because you get to use some PV panels, which is fun (if your definition of fun is cool hardware). You won’t get any electrical shocks from the low voltages that PV panels provide (compared to the high voltages used in conventional house wiring), and the tools required are minimal. You can do a project in a single day, and you can learn a lot about your house by studying the layout and functionality of your attic. For a few hundred bucks, you can do something really nifty and make a big difference. Landscaping Okay, landscaping isn’t strictly solar, if what you’re looking for is technology that grabs sunlight and makes it go to work in a constructive way. But we don’t always need to grab photons and train them to get the most benefit out of the sun. Landscaping is the hands-down winner as the best solar project because you get so much in return: ߜ Planting hearty, healthy, happy, deciduous trees in the right locations around your house gives you cooler summers and warmer winters, but most of all, you can look out your windows and be reminded of why you care so much about the planet Earth. ߜ Planting bushes, shrubs, and trees as windbreaks allows you to enjoy natural breezes in your home, without the sound of whirring fan blades to remind you of technology. ߜ Plants create oxygen out of carbon dioxide, the modern bugaboo of envi- ronmentalism. If there were enough trees in this world, global warming would not be such an imposing issue. ߜ Putting in landscaping yourself gets you outdoors and exercising. There’s a certain simplicity to digging a hole. It’s about as close to nature as you can get, and that in itself is justification.


Index•A• computers, 173–174 cost of running, calculating, 157–158acrylic (latex) caulk, 97 dishwashers, 170–171activated carbon filtration, 143 dryers, 167–168actual energy costs, 22–23 Energy Star program, 174–176adobe homes, 308 materials for an energy-efficient home, 310aerator filters in faucets, 145 ovens, 172–173aerosol sprays, 79 overview, 155–156aesthetics, 66 pools and spas, 162–166air circulation, 108 recycling, 221air filters refrigerators, 169–170 televisions, 173–174 electrostatic precipitation transfer washing machines, 166–167 filters, 211 water heaters, 158–162 appreciation, 65–66 mechanical filtration, 211 art supplies, 79 negative ion generators, 211 asbestos optimizing, 211–212 finding, 81 overview, 210 overview, 81 size of, 211 removing, 82–83air fresheners, 79 astragal, 95air movement attic vent fans in attics, 205–207 distributed unit, 207 evaporative coolers, 210 location for, 206 with fans, 199–204 one-piece unit, 206–207 flow, restoring, 114 overview, 205–206 natural air movement, 193–199 attics ventilation plan, 207–209 air leaks, finding, 93–94 vents, 197 home energy audit, 47air quality insulation, 101–102 air filters used to improve, 210–212 vents in, 205 in green communities, 292–293 attitude, importance of, 6 houseplants used to improve, 212 Austin, Texas, 292 natural ways to improve, 212 awnings vacuum cleaner bags changed to improve, hood awnings, 187 overview, 186 212 Venetian awnings, 187Air Quality Index, 293air route of fans, 200 •B•air-source heat pumps, 281, 283–284alpha-track devices used to test for radon, 84 back drafting, 94amenities and energy usage, 32 bank accounts, energy efficiency investmentsanalyzing efficiency, 12appliances compared with, 66–67 buying new, 174–176 combustion appliances, safety for, 176


342 Energy Efficient Homes For Dummiesbanks building an energy-efficient home borrowers not customers of, 60 designing your home, 305–308 overview, 60 location, choosing a, 301–305 risk, concern with, 60 materials, choosing your, 308–311 rules and procedures for, 60 tips for, 312barbecue grills, 36, 173 building department, contacting thebasement insulation, 102 local, 302bathroom exhaust vent, 197baths, 147–149 building materials, buying used, 219batteries Building Your Own Home For Dummies disposal of, 299 (Daum, Brewster, & Economy), 301 overview, 37 butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), 76 recycling, 221 butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), 76battery chargers, 37 buying a conventional home to upgrade,bends in ductwork, checking for too 319–321 many, 114 buying a new HVAC system, 118BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), 76 buying an existing efficient homeBHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), 76bids for HVAC contractor, 120 changes and repairs, anticipating, 317bio-energy products, 36 equipment, looking over, 316–317biological agents, 85–86 evaluating energy-efficiency of home,biomass, 18, 271–272biomass stoves 314–317 overview, 314 corn, burning, 276–277 power bills, looking over, 316 manure, burning, 277–278 value of home, determining, 318–319 overview, 273–274 visual inspection, 315 pellet stoves, 274–276 buying new appliances, 174–176 wood stoves compared, 273 buying used items, 219blinds and greenhouse effect, 111 •C• outdoor blinds, 188 overview, 183–184, 310 Canada, energy use by, 20 as solar investment, 337–338 candles, 37, 124–125, 130 where to hang, 184–185 carbon footprint, 43–45blockage in air ducts, checking for, 114 carbon monoxide (CO), 83–84blocked or leaking ducts, checking for, 116 carpets, 79blocked registers, checking for, 114 caulkingblocked return air path, checking for, 114books, recycling, 222 acrylic (latex) caulk, 97borrowers not customers of banks, 60 applying, 97–98bottled water, 37, 139 overview, 96Boulder, Colorado, 292 polyurethane caulk, 97box fans, 202 silicon acrylic caulk, 97breakers at main panel, checking, 115 tools for, 97Brewster, Janice (Building Your Own Home types of, 97 ceiling fans For Dummies), 301 and chimney effect, 111British thermal unit (Btu), 21 overview, 203–204broken equipment, replacing, 70 used with stoves, 239Bugzooka, 216 ceramics, 79 CFLs (fluorescent light bulbs), 127–128 changes and repairs, anticipating, 317


Index 343charcoal detectors used to test for radon, 84 contract with HVAC contractor, importancechimney effect, 110–111, 196–198 of, 121chimney exhaust flue, checking, 116chimney options for stoves, 240–241 contractor, hiring a, 312China, energy use by, 20 convection, 91chlorine bleach, 78 convection ovens, 172Christmas trees, reusing, 220 corn, burning, 276–277cigarette smoke, 83 cost of energy usageCincinnati, Ohio, 292cleaning products, using safe, 76 data on, collecting, 36–37cleaning windows, 105, 179 example for, 39–43closed-loop anti-freeze system, 247–249 month-by-month estimations, 37–38closed-loop piping system, 285 rate structures, 33–35closed-vent stove system, 229 costsclothes dryers as source of humidity, 109 of electricity, 21–22clothing, buying used, 219 equipment, 63clutter factor, 64 fees, 63CO (carbon monoxide), 83–84 inexperience, 64coal, 18, 22 installation, 63cob homes, 308 interest, 63coffee filters, reusable, 220 of lighting, 131–133combination rate structures, 35 maintenance, 64combustion appliances, safety for, 176 of off-grid living, 299combustion processes, 20 permits, 63combustion products, 83–84 refuse, 63comfort. See human comfort of running appliances, 157–158compost piles, 272 safety, 64compost toilets, 151, 218 taxes, 63composting, 218 warranties, 63computers, 173–174 for wind power, 258conduction, 91 costs (nonfinancial)conservation, efficiency compared, 11 clutter factor, 64construction materials, 308–310 habits, changing, 64consumer loans, 56 how-it-looks factor, 64contaminants how-it-smells factor, 64 inconvenience, 64 asbestos, 81–83 cowlings, 200 biological agents, 85–86 cracking, 14 carbon monoxide (CO), 83–84 cracks in your home, finding, 90 cigarette smoke, 83 creative use of lighting, 130 combustion products, 83–84 credit card, using only one, 216 formaldehyde, 77–78 crock pots, 173 microbe contamination, 85–86 current systems, getting greater efficiency natural hazards, 84–86 overview, 76 from your, 15 radon, 84–85 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), 78–81 •D•contaminated watersigns of, 140 damper, closing fireplace, 331 testing for, 141 data on cost of energy usage, collecting, 36–37 Daum, Kevin (Building Your Own Home For Dummies), 301


344 Energy Efficient Homes For Dummiesdecluttering, tips for, 87 •E•decorating to enhance natural light, 179deductions, 66 ecofans used with stoves, 239DeGunther, Rik (Solar Power Your Home For Economy, Peter (Building Your Own Home For Dummies), 177, 243, 265, 303 Dummies), 301dehumidifiers, 36, 108, 109 EEMs (Energy Efficient Mortgages), 58Department of Energy (DOE), 58 effectiveness of sunlight, increasing the,Department of Housing and Urban 178–179 Development (HUD), 58 efficiencydesigning your home analyzing, 12 floor plan, 306–307 becoming more efficient, 15–16 nontraditional home construction methods, conservation compared, 11 current systems, getting greater efficiency 308 orientation of home, 305–306 from your, 15 overview, 305 defined, 9 size of home, 305 financial efficiency, 9–10, 11 technology, incorporating energy-efficient, labor efficiency, 9–10, 12 overview, 9–10 307 pollution efficiency, 9–10, 11digital cameras, 217 replacing existing systems for greater,dimmer switches, 134–135dimming lighting, 130 15–16dirty coils, fins, filters, checking for, 114 supplementing existing systems for greater,disconnect switches, 252dishwashers 15–16 electric fireplaces, 237–238 drying cycle, skipping, 334 electric radiant heat floor systems, 265 hot water, using less, 170–171 electrical cars, 26 loading, 171 electrical energy overview, 170 rinsing dishes, 171 coal used in production of, 22disposable diapers, 217 cost of, 21–22disposable items, avoiding, 219–220 disadvantages of, 26disposal of CFLs, 128 improving efficiency of, 25–26distilleries, 141 sources for, 25–26documentation to verify energy savings, 65 electrical grid inefficiencies, 13–14DOE (Department of Energy), 58 electrostatic filters, 117donations, 220 electrostatic precipitation transfer filters, 211doors embodied energy, 27 closing, 332 energy costs opening interior, 199 actual energy costs, 22–23 refrigerator door, keeping closed, 170 overview, 21double duty use of lighting, 130 raw energy costs, 21–22drainback system, 246–247 energy efficiencydryers defined, 9 avoiding using, 167–168 overview, 10 ductwork for, 168 energy efficiency investments length of time for drying clothes, 168 analyzing, 62–67 overview, 167–168 bank accounts, comparison with, 66–67ducts in HVAC system, sealing, 326–327 costs, 63–64ductwork for dryers, 168 future price fluctuations, shielding yourself from, 62


Index 345 gains, estimating, 65–66 equipment options that work for you, choosing, 62 costs, 63 overview, 61 in existing efficient home, 316–317 payback, determining time needed for, 63 monthly cost of, determining, 38 real-world investment scenarios, 68–72 value of, 65 risk, dealing with, 62 setting, 61–62 equipment vendors, financing through loans stock market, comparison with, 67 by, 59 time, value of money over, 67Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEMs), 58 equity loans, 57Energy Policy Act of 1992, 148 evaluating energy efficiency of home, 314–317energy sources evaporative coolers, 210 biomass, 18 exhaust fans, 110, 202 coal, 18 expandable foam sealant, 95–96 combustion processes, 20 experienced local contractors, talking to, 303 geothermal energy, 19 extruded foam insulation, 100–101 hydropower, 18 import electricity, 19 •F• natural gas, 18 non-combustion processes, 20 fabric grocery bags, 217 nuclear energy, 18 Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage overview, 18–20 petroleum products, 18 Association), 58 solar power, 19 fans wind power, 19Energy Star program, 174–176, 296 air route of, 200energy storage, 13 box fans, 202energy usage ceiling fans, 203–204 amenities and, 32 choosing, 202–204 cost of your, 33–38 cowlings, 200 overview, 23–25, 30 efficiency of, maximizing, 200–201 in typical North American home, 30 exhaust fans, 202 in your home, 31–32 oscillating fans, 203energy-efficiency contractors, researching overview, 199–200 types of, 202–204 your subsidy options with, 55 whole-house fans, 69, 204energy-saving tips window fans, 202 Farmer Mac, 58 damper, closing fireplace, 331 faucets dishwasher drying cycle, skipping, 334 aerator filters in, 145 doors, closing, 332 leaks in, 145–147 hot water, using warm or cold water instead overview, 145 tips for efficiency, 147 of, 332–333 two-valve faucet, 145 laundry, doing full load of, 333 fees, 63 locking closed windows, 333 Feynman, Richard (physics lecturer), 17 microwave, using your, 332 fiberglass filters, 117 radiator vents, clearing obstructions from, fiberglass insulation, 100, 103 filters. See also purifying your water 332 air filters, 210–212 temperature on water heater, lowering, 332 caring for, 145 thermostat, turning down, 331 changing, 116, 329–330 trees, planting, 334 dirty filters, checking for, 114


346 Energy Efficient Homes For Dummiesfilters (continued) lower monthly utility bills, 65 home energy audit, 48 overview, 65 mechanical filtration, 142–145, 211 rebates, 66 salvage, selling, 66filtration systems, 141 subsidies, 66financial efficiency garbage junk mail, eliminating, 215–216 defined, 9–10 over-packaged products, avoiding, 215 overview, 11 paper products, cutting back on, 216–217financing through loans recording what you throw away, 213–214 consumer loans, 56 using less of everything, 214–217 by equipment vendors, 59 garbage disposal, avoid using, 147 equity loans, 57 garbage service, 33 government-subsidized energy-efficiency gas is on, checking that the, 116 gas ovens with pilotless ignition, 172 loans, 57–58 gas stoves, 236–237 supplier loans, 57 gasoline-powered generator, using a, 298 by utility companies, 59 geothermal energyfinding leaks, 89–94 in cooling cycle, 280firelight, 124–125 cost of, 282fireplace as energy source, 19 electric fireplaces, 237–238 heat pumps, 281–282, 283–288 home energy audit, 49 in heating cycle, 280 open fireplaces, 225–227 how it works, 280–281firewood, 27, 36 overview, 279–281fixing items, 220–221 payback from, 282–283fixing leaks, 94–98 geothermal wells, 26flat rates, 33 glass bricks in hallways used to enhancefloor pan, 306–307flooring, 310 sunlight, 178fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), 127–128, 328 glass jars, reusing, 217formaldehyde, 77–78 glass windows, 105foundation and structural elements, 46–47 global warming, 19, 44Freddie Mac (Federal Home Mortgage Loan government assistance Corporation), 58 home-operated business advantages, 53–54Freed, Eric Corey (Green Building & manufacturers’ rebates, 54 net metering, 54 Remodeling For Dummies), 296, 308 overview, 51free-standing stoves, 229–230 property tax increases, protection from, 53full-scale solar PV system, investing in a, rebates, 52 researching, 55–56 71–72 subsidies for PV (photovoltaic) systems,furnace filters, reusable, 220fuse box, 49 250future plans for area, 304–305 tax credits, 53future price fluctuations, shielding yourself tax-deductible home-equity loans, 55 types of, 52–55 from, 62 government-subsidized energy-efficiency•G• loans Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEMs), 58gable vent, 197 financing through loans, 57–58gains home energy ratings, 58 overview, 57 aesthetics, 66 appreciation, 65–66 deductions as, 66 footprints, 66


Green Building & Remodeling For Dummies Index 347 (Freed), 296, 308 disadvantages of, 282green communities ground-source heat pumps, 281, 284–288 air quality in, 292–293 overview, 281 housing designs in, 295–296 heating elements, changing, 160–161 overview, 291–292 heating, ventilation and air conditioning parks in, 296 public transportation in, 293 system. See HVAC system recycling programs in, 294–295 Hedstrom, Gary (How to Fix Everything For utility structures in, 294 water supply in, 295 Dummies), 135, 146, 220 Hedstrom, Pam (How to Fix Everything Forgreenhouse effect, 44, 111, 182greenhouses, 190–192 Dummies), 135, 146, 220greenwashing, 66 high energy bills, reasons for, 39greywater recycle system, 148 hiring a HVAC contractor, 119–122ground-source heat pumps home energy audit advantages of, 288 attic, 47 choosing design of, 287 filters, 48 closed-loop piping system, 285 fireplace, 49 described, 281 foundation and structural elements, 46–47 disadvantages of, 288 fuse box, 49 horizontal piping loop system, 285, 286 heating and cooling system, 48 installation, 287–288 inspection for, 46–49 open-loop piping system, 285, 286 insulation, 48 overview, 284–286 overview, 45–46 vertical piping loop system, 285 plumbing, 47 professional audit, 49–50•H• windows, 48 home energy ratings, 58habits, changing, 64 home equity loan, financing investmentshalogen light bulbs, 126hard water, 144 with a, 71healthy environment home-operated business advantages, 53–54 homeowners’ association, contacting the cleaning products, using safe, 76 contaminants, 76–86 local, 302–303 decluttering, tips for, 87 homeowners in area, talking to, 303 guidelines for, 75–76 hood awnings, 187 toxic materials, storing, 76 horizontal piping loop system, 285, 286 ventilation, ensuring proper, 76 hot waterheat chimney effect, 110–111 in dishwashers, 170–171 how heat moves, 91 using warm or cold water instead of, portable heaters, 109 from stoves, 239–240 332–333 from sunlight, 182 wasting water while waiting for, 147heat exchangers, 267 hot water pipes, fitting insulating sleevesheat pumps advantages of, 281–282 on, 329 air-source heat pumps, 281, 283–284 houseplants used to improve air quality, 212 housing designs in green communities, 295–296 How to Fix Everything For Dummies (Hedstrom, Hedstrom, & Tremore), 135, 146, 220 how-it-looks factor, 64 how-it-smells factor, 64


348 Energy Efficient Homes For DummiesHUD (Department of Housing and Urban irregular flames from burners, calling a Development), 58 repairman for, 116human comfort loose joints, checking for, 114 air circulation, 108 materials for an energy-efficient chimney effect, 110–111 greenhouse effect, 111 home, 310 humidity, 108–110 outdoor equipment, cleaning, 116 overview, 108 overview, 31–32 portable heaters, 109 pleated paper filters, 117 programmable thermostats, 111–112 repairman, calling, 116–117 varying temperature in different repairman, what to check before calling, rooms, 112 115–116humidity short cycling, calling a repairman for, 116 clothes dryers as source of, 109 sooty accumulations, calling a repairman dehumidifiers, 108, 109 exhaust fans used to remove, 110 for, 117 overview, 108–109 strange sounds, calling a repairman in the summer, 109–110 in the winter, 110 for, 117 supplementing your existing, 118–119HVAC contractor thermostat, checking, 115 bids for, comparing, 120 thermostat, repositioning, 115 bids for, getting, 120 troubleshooting, 113–117 contract with, importance of, 121 tuning your, 330 hiring a, 119–122 water line is clear, checking, 116 interviewing, 121 window air conditioners for single overview, 119 working with, 121–122 room, 113 hydroelectric generators, 26HVAC (heating, ventilation and air hydronic systems, 265 conditioning) system hydropower air flow, restoring, 114 advantages of, 258–259 bends in ductwork, checking for too overview, 18, 256–257 many, 114 •I• blockage in air ducts, checking for, 114 blocked or leaking ducts, checking for, 116 ICS (Integral Collector System) batch system, blocked registers, checking for, 114 244–246 blocked return air path, checking for, 114 breakers at main panel, checking, 115 illness in family, calling a HVAC system buying a new, 118 repairman for, 117 chimney exhaust flue is clear, checking, 116 dirty coils, fins, filters, checking for, 114 import electricity as energy source, 19 ducts, inspecting and repairing, 98–99 improving energy efficiency electrostatic filters, 117 fan system used with stoves, 240 with electrical energy, 25–26 fiberglass filters, 117 with invested energy, 27–28 filters, changing, 116, 329–330 with renewable forms of energy, 27 gas is on, checking that the, 116 with sustainable forms of energy, 27 illness in family, calling a repairman incandescent light bulbs, 125–126 inconvenience, 64 for, 117 inefficiency inefficiency problems, solving common, electrical grid inefficiencies, 13–14 HVAC system, 113–115 113–115 overview, 13 transportation inefficiencies, 14 inexperience, 64


Index 349infrared filtering glass, 185 motion sensors, 329inserts, 229–230 programmable thermostat, 325–326inspection for home energy audit, 46–49 irregular flames from burners, calling ainstallation repairman for, 116 costs, 63 ground-source heat pumps, 287–288 •J• masonry heaters, 269 PV (photovoltaic) systems, 253–254 Japan, energy use by, 20 radiant heat floor systems, 266–267 junk mail, eliminating, 215–216insulated concrete form homes, 308insulation •K• applying, 103–104 in attic, 101–102 kerosene, 36 in basement, 102 Kill-a-Watt (P3 Company), 157 checking, 101–103 kilowatt hours (kWh), 21 extruded foam insulation, 100–101 kitchen exhaust vent, 197 fiberglass, 100, 103 filling in gaps in, 326 •L• home energy audit, 48 loose-fill insulation, 100 labor efficiency materials for an energy-efficient defined, 9–10 overview, 12 home, 310 in old homes, 102 lamp style, 129 overview, 37, 99 lampshades, 129 in pipes, 103 landscaping for pools and spas, 165 R-value, increasing your, 99 lawns, alternatives to, 152 sprayed urethane foam, 101 overview, 38, 152, 340 types of, 99–101 sprinklers, 153 in walls, 102 time of day for watering, 153 water heaters, 161–162 laser toner cartridges, 221 and windows, 104–105 laundry, doing full load of, 333Integral Collector System (ICS) batch system, lawn tools, 36 lawns, alternatives to, 152 244–246 Leadership in Energy and Environmentalintensity of lighting, 129interest, 63 Design (LEED), 295–296Internet, researching your subsidy options leaks on the, 56 attic air leaks, finding, 93–94interviewing HVAC contractor, 121 caulking used to fix, 96–98inverters, 252 cracks in your home, finding, 90invested energy, 27–28 expandable foam sealant used to fix, 95–96investments in faucets, 145–147 finding, 89–94 ducts in HVAC system, sealing, 326–327 fixing, 94–98 fluorescents, 328 overview, 89–90 hot water pipes, fitting insulating sleeves pressure test used to find, 92–93 sealing, 326 on, 329 weatherstripping used to fix, 95 HVAC filters, changing, 329–330 leasing energy-efficient equipment, 59 HVAC system, tuning your, 330 less of everything, using, 214–217 insulation, filling in gaps in, 326 leaks, sealing, 326 low-flow showerheads, 327–328


350 Energy Efficient Homes For Dummieslight bulbs, 37 locking closed windows, 333light-emitting diodes (LEDs), 128 loose joints, checking for, 114lighting loose-fill insulation, 100 low-flow showerheads, 327–328 candles, 124–125, 130 lumber, making your own, 309 cost of, calculating, 131–133 creative use of, 130 •M• dimmer switches, 134–135 dimming, 130 maintenance double duty use of, 130 costs, 37, 64 firelight, 124–125 pools and spas, 163, 165–166 fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), 127–128 water heaters, 160–161 halogen light bulbs, 126 windows, 105 incandescent light bulbs, 125–126 intensity of, 129 manpower, 28 lamp style, 129 manufactured logs, 36 lampshades, 129 manufacturers’ rebates, 54 light-emitting diodes (LEDs), 128 manure, burning, 277–278 motion detectors, 133–134 masonry heaters natural light, 124–125 night lights, 130 installation of, 269 options for, 124–128 overview, 267 outdoor room created with, 130 wood stoves compared, 268 overview, 123–124 materials for an energy-efficient home reducing cost of, 133–135 appliances, 310 sunlight, 124–125, 177–181 construction materials, 308–310 wattage, 129 flooring, 310 whole-house lighting control systems, 135 HVAC system, 310line losses, 13 insulation, 310load size for washing machines, overview, 308 plumbing, 310 adjusting, 166 PV system, installing a, 311loading dishwashers, 171 swimming pool pump, 311loans to buy energy-creating equipment, 37 ventilation options, 310local building codes and regulations, 302–303 window blinds, awnings, andlocation for your energy-efficient home sunscreens, 310 building department, contacting the measuring the energy-efficiency potential of a local, 302 lot, 303–305 experienced local contractors, mechanical filtration talking to, 303 activated carbon filtration, 143 future plans for area, 304–305 filters, caring for, 145 homeowners’ association, contacting the overview, 142, 211 reverse osmosis (ultrafiltration), 144 local, 302–303 virustat filters, 144 homeowners in area, talking to, 303 metered rates, 33 local building codes and regulations for, methane, 278 microbe contamination, 85–86 302–303 microwave, using your, 332 measuring the energy-efficiency potential of mirrors used to enhance sunlight, 178 month-by-month estimations of a lot, 303–305 overview, 301–302 energy usage, 37–38 prevailing winds, 304 monthly cost of equipment, determining, 38 solar exposures, 304 water rights and drainage, 304


Index 351mortgages for off-grid living, 299 old-style radiators, 264–265motion detectors, 133–134 online bill payments, 216motion sensors, 329 online newspapers, 216multiple refrigerators, 170 open fireplaces, 225–227 open-loop piping system, 285, 286•N• open-vent stove system, 228 operating windows, 105NAESCO (National Association of Energy orientation of home, 305–306 Service Companies), 50 oscillating fans, 203 outdoor blinds, 188National Association of State Energy outdoor boilers, 274 Officials, 58 outdoor equipment, cleaning, 116 outdoor room created with lighting, 130natural air movement outgassing, 77 chimney effect, 196–198 output work, 11 optimizing, 199 oven cleaners, 79 overview, 193–194 ovens. See stoves prevailing winds, 194–195 overgrowth, cutting back, 179 overhangs, 189–190, 338natural gas over-packaged products, avoiding, 215 cost of, determining, 36 as energy source, 18 •P•natural gas-powered generator, using a, 298 packing pellets, 218natural hazards, 84–86 paint, 218natural light, 124–125 paper products, cutting back on, 216–217natural ways to improve air quality, 212 parks in green communities, 296negative ion generators, 211 payback, 1, 63net metering, 54, 249–250 pellet stovesnew equipment costs, determining, 37night lights, 130 advantages of, 275non-combustion processes, 20 disadvantages of, 276nontraditional home construction methods, overview, 274 permits, 37, 63 308 pesticides, 79, 80North American home, energy usage in, 30 petroleum products as energy source, 18nuclear energy as energy source, 18 photovoltaic systems. See PV (photovoltaic)nuclear power plants, 26 systems•O• pipesoff-grid living amount of water in, 159 batteries, disposal of, 299 insulation, 103 cost of, 299 pleated paper filters, 117 gasoline-powered generator, using a, 298 plumbing mortgages for, 299 home energy audit, 47 natural gas-powered generator, using a, 298 materials for an energy-efficient home, 310 options for, 297–298 pneumatically impacted stabilized earth overview, 297 ramifications of, 298–299 homes, 308 solar power systems, 298 pollution efficiencyoil-based paints, 79 defined, 9–10old homes overview, 11 polyurethane caulk, 97 insulation, 102 refurbishing, 296


352 Energy Efficient Homes For Dummiespools and spas •R• insulation for, 165 maintenance for, 163, 165–166 radiant barriers, 188–189 overview, 162 radiant heat floor systems solar pool covers, 163–165 solar swimming pool heater, 165 electric systems, 265 hydronic systems, 265portable air conditioners, 36 installation of, 266–267portable heaters, 109 overview, 265Portland, Oregon, 292 types of, 265–266power bills, looking over, 316 radiant heating systemspower generator, 36 advantages of, 263–264power lines, 26 masonry heaters, 267–269power meter, 159 old-style radiators, 264–265power transmission grid, 22 overview, 263–264pressure cookers, 173 radiant heat floor systems, 265–267pressure test used to find leaks, 92–93 radiation, 91pressure-assist toilets, 151 radiator vents, clearing obstructionsprevailing winds, 194–195, 304professional audit, 49–50 from, 332programmable thermostats, 111–112, 325–326 radonpropane, 36property tax increases, protection from, 53 alpha-track devices used to test for, 84property values, increasing, 251 charcoal detectors used to test for, 84public transportation in green overview, 84 testing for, 84–85 communities, 293 rammed earth homes, 308purified water, 140 rate increases, protecting yourself againstpurifying your drinking water future, 250–251 distilleries, 141 rate structures filtration systems, 141 mechanical filtration, 142–145 changing, 65 overview, 141–142 combination structures, 35 solar water purifier, 143 cost of energy usage, 33–35PV panels, 252 flat rates, 33PV (photovoltaic) systems metered rates, 33 advantages of, 249–251 overview, 33–34 disconnect switches, 252 simple rate structure, 34 government subsidies for, 250 tiered structure, 34 installation, 253–254, 311 time of payment, 34 inverters, 252 time of use (TOU) structure, 35 net metering, 249–250 unit costs, changes in, 34 overview, 249, 335–336 raw energy costs, 21–22 parts of, 251–253 real-world investment scenarios property values, increasing, 251 broken equipment, replacing, 70 PV panels, 252 full-scale solar PV system, investing in a, 71–72 home equity loan, financing investments with a, 71 overview, 68


Index 353 solar system, supplementing an existing ridge vent, 197 water heater with a, 68–70 rinsing dishes, 171 risk, 60, 62, 79–81 whole-house fan, 71 roof vent, 197rebates, 52, 66 rules and procedures for banks, 60rechargeable batteries, 219–220 running toilet, fixing a, 150recording what you throw away, 213–214 R-value, increasing your, 99recycling •S• appliances, 221 batteries, 221 Sacramento, California, 293 books, 222 safety, 64, 241–242 laser toner cartridges, 221 salvage, selling, 66 overview, 221–222 San Francisco, California, 292 programs in green communities, 294–295 screen doors, 199reducing cost of lighting, 133–135 sealing your homerefrigerators door closed, keeping the, 170 caulking, 96–98 multiple refrigerators, 170 expandable foam sealant, 95–96 overview, 169 HVAC ducts, inspecting and repairing, 98–99 temperature settings for, 169 leaks, finding, 89–94refuse, 63 leaks, fixing, 94–98registers and chimney effect, 111 weatherstripping, 95renewable forms of energy, 27 self-cleaning ovens, 172repair costs, 37 selling your energy-efficient home, 321–322repairman septic tanks, 33 calling a, 116–117 sewer service, 33 what to check before calling a, 115–116 short cycling, calling a repairman for, 116replacing existing systems for greater showers and baths, 147–149 silicon acrylic caulk, 97 efficiency, 15–16 simple rate structure, 34replacing windows, 104–105 single pane windows, 104Residential Energy Services Network sink-topped toilets, 152 size of home, 305 (RESNET), 58 skylights, installing, 180reusing items soffit vent, 197 solar attic vent fans, 339–340 building materials, buying used, 219 solar exposures, 304 buying used items, 219 solar investments Christmas trees, 220 landscaping, 340 clothing, buying used, 219 overhangs, 338 coffee filters, reusable, 220 PV systems, 335–336 disposable items, avoiding, 219–220 solar attic vent fans, 339–340 donations, 220 solar swimming pool heaters, 336 fixing items, 220–221 solar water heaters, 336–337 furnace filters, reusable, 220 solar yard lights, 337 glass jars, 217 sunrooms, 338–339 packing pellets, 218 swimming pool covers, 339 paint, 218 window blinds, 337–338 rechargeable batteries, 219–220 sports equipment, buying used, 219 table scraps, 218 towels, old, 218reverse osmosis (ultrafiltration), 144


354 Energy Efficient Homes For Dummiessolar light tubes, installing, 180–181 stock market, energy efficiency investmentssolar panels, 11, 27 compared with, 67solar pool covers, 163–165solar pool pumps, 256 stovessolar power alternatives to, 172–173 ceiling fans used with, 239 off-grid living, 298 chimney options for, 240–241 overview, 19 choosing, 238–241solar power used to supplement hot water closed-vent stove system, 229 convection ovens, 172 heater ecofans used with, 239 closed-loop anti-freeze system, 247–249 free-standing stoves, 229–230 drainback system, 246–247 gas ovens with pilotless ignition, 172 ICS (Integral Collector System) batch gas stoves, 236–237 heating with, 239–240 system, 244–246 HVAC fan system used with, 240 overview, 243–244 inserts, 229–230Solar Power Your Home For Dummies open-vent stove system, 228 overview, 172, 227–228 (DeGunther), 177, 243, 265, 303 safety guidelines for, 241–242solar PV systems. See PV (photovoltaic) self-cleaning ovens, 172 tips for saving energy with, 173 systems venting systems for, 228–229solar screens. See sunscreens wood-burning stoves, 230–236solar showering, 149solar swimming pool heaters, 165, 336 strange sounds, calling a repairman for, 117solar system straw bale homes, 308 structural insulated panel homes, 308 to hedge against rising energy costs, 70 subsidies, 66 to increase your home’s value, 70 summer to offset higher charges in a tiered rate blinds used to cool a room in, 184–185 billing system, 69 humidity, 109–110 to reduce your carbon footprint, 69 ventilation plan for, 209 to save money, 68 whole-house fans used in, 204 water heater, supplementing an existing, sunlight awnings used to cover windows, 186–187 68–70 blinds, 183–185, 188solar system for swimming pool cleaning windows to enhance, 179 decorating to enhance natural light, 179 complete system, 261–262 effectiveness of, increasing the, 178–179 overview, 259 glass bricks in hallways used to simple setup for, 259–260 tips for, 260 enhance, 178solar water heaters, 162, 336–337 greenhouse effect, 182solar water pumps, 255–256 greenhouses, 190–192solar water purifier, 143 heating your home with, 182solar yard lights, 337 infrared filtering glass, 185sooty accumulations, calling a lighting your home with, 177–181 mirrors used to enhance, 178 repairman for, 117 overgrowth, cutting back, 179space heaters, 36 overhangs used to block, 189–190spas. See pools and spasspectrum, 124sports equipment, buying used, 219sprayed urethane foam, 101sprinklers, 153state agencies, 58


Index 355 overview, 124–125, 177 tiered rate structure, 34 radiant barriers, 188–189 time, value of money over, 67 skylights, installing, 180 time of day for watering landscaping, 153 solar light tubes, installing, 180–181 time of payment, 34 sunroom, 190–192, 338–339 time of use (TOU) rate structure, 35 sunscreens, 183–186 timers for water heaters, 161 tinting windows to reduce, 179 tinting windows to reduce sunlight, 179 trees used to control, 178 tips for saving energy. See energy-saving tips windowed doors used to enhance, 178–179 toaster ovens, 172sunrooms, 190–192, 338–339 toiletssunscreens overview, 183–184 compost toilets, 151 putting up, 185–186 overview, 149supplementing existing systems for greater parts of, 149 pressure-assist toilets, 151 efficiency, 15–16 running toilet, fixing a, 150supplementing your existing HVAC system, sink-topped toilets, 152 updated designs for, 151 118–119 vacuum-assist toilets, 151supplier loans, 57 water usage, tips for decreasing, 150sustainable forms of energy, 27 tools for caulking, 97swamp coolers, 36 towels, reusing old, 218swimming pool covers, 339 toxic materials, storing, 76swimming pool pump, 311 transportation inefficiencies, 14 trash runs to dump, 36•T• trees, 178, 334 Tremore, Judy Ondria (How to Fix Everythingtable scraps, 218tank, draining the water heater, 160 For Dummies), 135, 146, 220tankless water heaters, 162 troubleshooting HVAC system, 113–117tap running, not leaving the, 147 two-valve faucet, 145tap water, 138tax credits, 53 •U•tax preparer, researching your subsidy ultrafiltration, 144 options with, 55 unit costs, changes in, 34tax-deductible home-equity loans, 55 United States, energy use by, 20taxes, 37, 63 updated designs for toilets, 151technology, incorporating urban sprawl, 297 utility bills, 35–38, 65 energy-efficient, 307 utility companiestelevisions, 173–174temperature on water heater, lowering, 332 financing through loans by, 59tempera