Rational home conservation decisions

The American Solar Energy Society had a great article in their March 2009 issue regarding how homeowners make their energy conservation and efficiency decisions.  Do residents really pick the low-hanging fruit that delivers the most bang for the buck?

The article really stresses the need for the public to be educated on how they tackle saving energy.  It also points out that while the main incentive for homeowners is cost savings on heating/cooling costs, other advantages to tackling home conservation/efficiency include:

  • reducing the negative effects on the environment
  • increasing home comfort
  • increased resale value

In regards to resale value, the article states:

When deciding what energy improvements to make to an existing house, homeowners need to take into account increased resale value — often cited as up to $20 for every $1 reduction in annual utility costs.

Whether this monetary value is accurate or not, I dont think anyone could argue that efficiency improvements you make to your home wont increase the resale value (unless your rip out your furnace and decide to just build a big fire pit -sustainably harvestsed firewood only- in the living room).

The Mapawatt blog is all about making smart, educated decisions that not only save money, energy and water immediately, but also for the long term.  This article is a great demonstration of what this blog is about!

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Double glazing is a great way to save energy help increase your homes value, and save costs on your energy bills. However when purchasing quality double glazed windows and doors, you also need quality installers to feel the full benefits of increased energy saving and not forgetting they must be cosmetically pleasing. Double glazing window costs vary depending on their quality and energy rating. Energy conservation starts at home; It could simply be slightly reducing the temperature of a washing machine, turning down the temperature on your central heating system by a few degrees, or turning off the lights in vacant rooms. Saving energy doesn't have to be costly
I've had fun building solar panels out of broken cells which then power my tv and fridge, and I agree that conservation decisions are going to be an important part of our future. I'm using solar power to generate energy, and energy star rated appliances for example to conserve energy. <strong>(*editors note to readers: diy solar panels is trying to promote Earth4Energy, which I've covered on the blog and is very scammish. I approved his/her comment because I want to demonstrate how these people operate. Each person starts their own website and is responsible for promoting it, then each time they sell "plans to build your own solar panels" they get a kick back)</strong>
Dear diy solar panels, I visited the site you listed and noticed you are just trying to promote Earth4Energy. You'll be happy to see my comments about your product here: As far as your solar generating system, please show me pictures of this because I believe this is b.s.
Re the 60K for windows, these were architectural grade. Even if they weren't it still would have been easily 40-45K for this home. Performance wise, they were no better than other similarly rated Energy Star windows.
Janice, 60 k for windows? What about the window glazing? I know a local guy whose business is to come out and put a coating on the windows (like tinting for your car) that blocks out UV rays and keeps in heat. This way, you dont have to replace the windows and only costs a few grand.
Oh, windows.... As independent third party consultants, we tell people that the problem is almost never the windows. And even if you pinpoint the discomfort at the window, it is often the poor installation- not the window itself that accounts for the leakage. Or maybe convective looping (use drapes at night). The payback on replacing a window -even with a cheap double glazed one- can be up to 30 years depending upon climate and price. For example, we just completed the test out and energy modeling for a 4000sf renovation in the DC area. All windows were replaced due to design decisions and I estimate the cost of those windows, which were Energy Star rated, to be upwards of 60K. The model showed that the old windows accounted for just $350 worth of heating expense annually. As modeled, the replacements brought that down to about $150/yr. Go ahead and calculate the payback on that. I've spoken with limited income homeowners living in small, inefficient homes who, after buying a houseful of new windows in hopes of escaping high bills, are really no better off than before. On the other hand, a less expensive outlay for a really great insulating and airsealing job will have a much more dramatic effect on your utility bills, paying back in just a few seasons. The only time we ever recommend a window replacement is if it is broken or single pane. Even for single panes, I might be inclined to recommend an interior or exterior storm window for income sensitive clients. For otherwise good windows, I have even recommended that the trim be removed and reinsulated properly with spray foam. Some window companies distort data and guarantee savings or they'll give you the difference back often know that is exactly what they'll be doing. But for a few hundred dollars, paid for only one season, they have made a sale worth many thousands, and have squandered a homeowner's efficiency budget. It's heartbreaking, really.
I have seen glazing films used effectively to prevent fading of fabrics and finishes, as well as to deflect heat gain. I'm not as sure that it would mitigate heat loss. You can also purchase DIY kits cheaply. Even so, if you had a few grand to spend on energy efficiency, I wouldn't necessarily spend it there. Instead, I would begin with a professional energy audit. This would tell you the smartest way to spend the rest of the cash. Odds are, air sealing and insulation upgrades would yield the biggest bang for the buck. If you didn't want to get a professional audit, then opt for a blower door directed air sealing job, followed by insulation upgrades. Using the blower door, leakage reduction can be quantified and you will know whether they have done the job right.
I agree with increasing the home comfort or improving it to save heating energy. One way is to use double glazing windows or doors. In Rochdale there are a lot of suppliers that offer cheap installation of double glazing windows and doors. The benefits of double glazing includes warmer in winter, cooler in summer, reduces condensation problems, conserves energy, reduces costly energy bills, replaces thermal drapes, reduces noise, minimal maintenance, and improves security for better home comfort.
I agree that conservation has the most dramatic effect on global warming, pollution, and energy costs. Unfortunately there are few of us researching the most cost effective ways to conserve energy. Very little changes and investments can produce big results. The most cost effective is reasonable changes in our habits. For example, combining errands, using lists, etc. can save tremendous amounts of gasoline. Both minor changes to our cars and improved driving habits can improve our gas mileage. Of course everyone can avoid jackrabbit starts and driving over the speed limit, but do you realize that if we covered our fake mag wheels with something resembling the old baby moon hubcaps would add maybe 1 mpg or more. Habits are even more important in our homes, shutting doors quickly in winter, opening drapes on sunny days, turning down our water heater to the temperature we like will save both heat energy and water. When we invest in simple saving measures we get very quick paybacks. In warm climates simple foil can dramatically reduce heat entering our ceilings from the attic and reduce our need for air conditioning. Even household aluminum foil works and it does not need to be airtight. Using that same foil over a double glazed window increases its r value by 3.4 and saves 65% over double glazing alone. Two foil layers separated by a 1/2 inch airspace adds r 5 saving even more at minimal cost. Sure, you say, but you cannot see thru aluminum foil. You do not look out of some windows in the winter- probably including your bedroom and bath windows, because it is dark when you leave and reenter the repective room. You all know about those stretched polyethylene clear plastic kits, but do you realize that there is a much clearer, much longer lasting, and less expensive material -clear mylar. It is so inexpensive and probably will outlast the outgassing of our fancy double glazed windows. It just makes sense to use 2,3, 4 or more layers, depending how much clarity we desire. Of course neither foil nor mylar is always the best choice and you have to decide where each should be used for yourself. But the point is either can be used inexpensively saving 100%, 200% and more of their cost everyear for many years compared to those easy to use, expensive throwaway commercial kits. There are literally thousands of inexpensive common sense ways to save energy and protect and even clean our environment. We need to individually do smart frugal things, The interesting thing is that while helping the environment we are also helping save our money. Who should object to that? Oil companies, utility plants, coal companies, and even to a great degree the windmill and solar photovoltaic industries are all against real frugal innovations. Why would any thinking person buy watersource heat pumps rather than invest $8000 more in his insulation to make his home superinsulated. Why would anyone invest in photovoltaics for lighting when he can wire together solar garden LED lights and switch them on at night after well planned inexpensive daylighting is ineffective. Why would one purchase an expensive gas instant waterheater without first considering insulating pipes, reducing temperatures, turning off the heater several hours a day,replacing copper pipe with PEX and reusing the copper pipes in a home built low cost solar water heater, such as the one illustrated on The answers to our problems must first be addressed frugally and until that is done, these high tech solutions only serve to reduce our investments in simple innovations which are good for us financially and for our environment. We must make cost effectiveness the status quo if we want to save the environment and help ourselves and others.
Ed, All good points. You really hit the nail on the head with what this blog is trying to achieve: common sense, practical ways we can help the environment and save money at the same time. We're trying to prove to people that there are little changes we can make in our daily lives that ARE NOT hard or DO NOT cost a lot of money. They are extremely simple, but like you said, people just have to make them habits. The majority of Americans take energy and water for granted because they are so ridiculously cheap! We need to value that which we wish to conserve!

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