Monthly Archives: May 2011

What Will an Energy Audit Do?

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With costs constantly on the rise, homeowners are looking for new ways to save money on their energy bills, such as conserving electricity, using less heat and exploring alternative energy sources. One great way to see how you and your family can use energy more efficiently is to get a home energy audit.

The goal of an energy audit is determine how energy is being used in the home in order to identify and correct any inefficiency. By finding ways to use energy more efficiently, you can reduce the energy used in your home without sacrificing comfort. Efficient use of energy reduces costs and environmental impact.

How It Works

To conduct an energy audit, a professional will use special instruments to inspect various aspects affecting energy use in your home, including construction, occupancy, appliance use, number of windows and doors, and so on. In this way, you can see how well your home is retaining heat and note any places where inside air may be escaping, making your home cooler or warmer than desired. For example, since a lot of heat can be lost through them, upgrading windows and skylights is an inexpensive way to gain a lot in terms of efficiency. Making sure windows are properly sealed, repairing worn weather stripping, and installing new windows with energy efficient certifications (such as LEED or Energy Star) are simple but effective first steps to making your home more affordable and eco-friendly.

Another aspect of energy audits includes prioritizing energy needs in order of importance, in order to reduce the use of energy on less critical functions. This may include collecting data on the local climate and past energy use. This data can be analyzed in order to identify and predict times when higher usage may be necessary, so that you and your family can prioritize according to your budget. For example, if the results of your energy audit show that July is historically the hottest month of the year and the month when you use the most electricity, you can make up for increased cooling costs by using other electrical appliances less. This way you can stay cool without going outside your utility budget.

Other solutions stemming from your energy audit may include installing insulated curtains, unplugging “vampire devices” like cell phone chargers, and avoiding the use of large appliances during warmer times of the day.

If you are one of the many interested in cutting energy costs, while helping the environment, a home energy audit is the first step.

Energy Performance Ratings for Windows, Doors, Skylights

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When you are picking out windows, doors or skylights for your home, you will have a lot of factors to take into consideration. Not the least of these is how well or poorly the product in question will transfer heat into your home or help to block it out. Luckily, there are actually energy performance ratings listed on most windows, doors and skylights so that you can make the most informed decision possible about which product is best for you.

But what do these ratings actually measure? There are actually several categories that are reflected on the energy performance label, and understanding what these various statistics mean will help you pick out the best product for you.

For instance, the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) is something that reflects how well the window transfers heat from the sun into your home. A low SHGC means that the window lets in very little heat, while a high SHGC indicates a product that allows a great deal of heat to pass through into your home. The right one for you, however, depends on your own particular needs.

If you live in an area with a mild summer but a harsh winter, you may be interested in allowing the sunlight to help heating your home in the winter. And if the summers are not that extreme, you might not mind the heat coming in at that time of year.

The opposite would be true if you live somewhere that has very hot summers, though. In that case you might want to keep out as much heat from the sun as possible and be content to heat the house all on your own in the winter. So the ideal SHGC for you can vary depending on your own particular circumstances.

Other elements taken into account when the energy performance of windows, doors and skylights is measured are the amount of visible light the product lets in, how well it insulates your house, how much air is allowed to leak out through joints in the structure of the product and how resistant it is to allowing condensation to develop.

All of these elements will impact how well you are able to maintain a comfortable indoor environment all year round and how much it costs you to do so. Because of this, it can be worth paying a bit more for a door, window or skylight if it means that you will save on your heating or cooling bills every month because of that product.

LEED Accreditation – What Is It, and How Can I Get It for my Home?

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LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally-recognized green building rating system based on standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

The LEED system is voluntary and offers homebuyers third-party verification that a home is sustainable, water efficient, and energy-saving; is designed to conserve construction materials and reduce pollution; and has clean indoor air.

Homes that are candidates for LEED accreditation are rated on a 100-point scale. The home must satisfy all minimum requirements and earn a minimum number of total points. Key areas of evaluation include:

  • Sustainability of Building Site. The home’s impact on ecosystems and waterways must be minimized, as must erosion, light pollution, and construction-related pollution.
  • Water Efficiency. The home must have water-efficient appliances and fixtures and regionally appropriate landscaping.
  • Energy and Atmosphere. The home must have energy-efficient design, appliances, systems, and lighting. More points are awarded for use of clean and renewable energy and other innovative strategies.
  • Materials and Resources. The home must use sustainable materials, and construction and operating waste must be minimized.
  • Indoor Environmental Quality. The home must have high indoor air quality, good indoor acoustics, and access to natural daylight and views.
  • Locations and Linkages. The LEED standard promotes building in previously-developed, “infill”, or “brownfield” sites and away from undeveloped and/or environmentally-sensitive sites. Points are also awarded for building near existing retail and transit infrastructure and outdoor recreation areas.
  • Awareness and Education. Home builders are encouraged to teach new homeowners about the green features of their home so that they can be maximally utilized.
  • Innovation in Design. Points are awarded for home design that is innovative and goes “above and beyond” existing LEED requirements, and for including a LEED certified professional on the design team.
  • Regional Priority. Bonus points are awarded for taking into account the regional environmental concerns that have been identified by USGBC’s regional councils.

LEED accreditation doesn’t just make sense from an environmental standpoint. It also makes good financial sense:

  • LEED accreditation offers great ROI for new construction – some studies have shown that an upfront investment of 2% in green building design can result in long term savings of 20% on total construction costs.
  • LEED-certified homes generally have lower operating costs.
  • LEED-certified homes are more attractive to buyers and renters (according to studies, commercial LEED-certified buildings have higher occupancy rates, higher rent-per-square foot, and higher per-square-foot sale prices than comparable non-LEED buildings).
  • LEED certification may provide some protection against indoor air quality lawsuits.

LEED accreditation can only be granted to new construction or major remodeling projects. To apply for LEED accreditation, contact a LEED for Homes Provider organization in your area. The LEED for Homes Provider organization will work with your builder to ensure that your home qualifies and will guide you through the accreditation process.

How to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

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When we think of air pollution we often think of outdoor “smog”, but the air in your home or office may also be polluted, even if it looks clean. Sources of indoor pollution include

  • Mold
  • Pollen
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Household cleaners
  • Household décor and furnishings (like rugs and paint)
  • Household pesticides (like rodent or ant-killers, or plant sprays)
  • Radon
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Building materials (like asbestos and lead)

Indoor air quality is of particular concern in newer, better-insulated homes, or in older homes that have been recently weatherized. The “tightness” of modern houses means that any pollutants that get into the home stay there – and perhaps even increase in concentration over time if the source of the pollution is inside the house.

Indoor air quality problems can cause discomfort and even serious disease, especially in children. The good news, though, is that there are many effective ways to improve indoor air quality.

There are three basic strategies for improving indoor air quality:

  • Air purification. Air cleaners range from small tabletop models to full-house models that are part of the central heating and cooling system. Small air purifiers are typically not very useful, but central air filters can be very effective at removing airborne contaminants. If your heating and cooling system does not include central air filtration, you should consider an upgrade to a new system.It is important to note that air purification will not remove gases like carbon monoxide or radon from your home. Gas pollution must be remedied by professionals.
  • Ventilation. Many forced-air heating and cooling systems do not bring outdoor air into the home. Kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans and attic ventilation fans (when weather permits) can be very important in promoting the circulation of air. Also, opening windows is very important, especially when doing short-term activities such as painting that increase the number of pollutants in the air.You should also consider upgrading to one of the newer central heating and cooling systems that bring outdoor air into the home.
  • Source control. This is the most important indoor air quality strategy, and in many cases, the simplest one. Source control is definitely the most cost-effective strategy for improving indoor air quality, because purification and ventilation both require a constant use of energy.Switch to all-natural household cleaners, buy household furnishings made of natural fibers (instead of synthetic fibers that can “off-gas” volatile organic compounds). When painting, use VOC-free paint. Quit smoking, if you haven’t already.In some cases, source control must be done by a certified contractor. Asbestos should be sealed or enclosed (asbestos is not a hazard unless it is disturbed, at which point it can release a dangerous dust). Radon gas should be mitigated whenever possible by sealing cracks in the foundation where the gas enters, or by filtering the water supply if water is the source. Gas stoves can be adjusted to decrease the amount of emissions. Lead paint can be scraped off or covered with modern, lead-free paint (this is not a DIY job and requires EPA training).And, don’t forget to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home, ideally next to the sleeping areas.

Green House Gasses and Air Conditioners

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There’s simply no way around it: the air conditioner you probably depend on all summer is emitting a constant stream of greenhouse gasses contributing to the warming of the Earth. While it’s true that the coolants used today, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), are much less damaging than the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) initially used in air conditioning, they are still harmful to the environment.

Environmentally Friendly Coolants

Recently, research has led to the development of more environmentally friendly coolants. One in particular, HFO-1234yf, is scheduled to be introduced for use in the air conditioning systems of all GM cars beginning with the 2013 models. This is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to address this growing problem before it’s too late.

Electricity and Carbon Dioxide

The use of environmentally friendly coolants will only go so far towards curbing the environmental impact of air conditioning. That’s because air conditioners are universally powered by electricity, and electricity is almost universally produced by the burning of fossil fuels like coal. When coal is burned, it generates a great deal of carbon dioxide, a substantial pollutant on its own.

An Intensifying Cycle

Of course, the more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are introduced into the atmosphere, the hotter the planet will become. And as the average temperature rises, air conditioning will be used more and more to combat these effects. This is a cycle that could quickly spiral out of control if something is not done to disrupt it.

What You Can Do

There are several things you can do if you’re concerned about how your air conditioning usage impacts the environment. First of all, make the switch as quickly as possible to HFO-1234yf or a similarly environmentally-friendly coolant when it becomes available. And remember that the air conditioning in your car counts too.

You can also go a long way towards reducing your contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by keeping your overall energy consumption down. Try relying on other, natural methods of cooling your home as much as possible. And when you do turn on your air conditioner, make sure you use all of the energy being consumed as efficiently as possible.

That means keeping your unit in good shape to maintain its energy efficiency and making sure that your home is properly sealed and insulated so your air conditioner doesn’t have to work overtime maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature.

Portable Air Conditioners

If you’re in the market for an air conditioner, you’re probably familiar with central and window air conditioning units. But did you know there was another option? While they’re not perfect for every situation, portable air conditioners can provide reliable, even cooling for many homes.

Advantages of Portable Units

Of course, the main reason to buy a portable air conditioner is that it’s, well, portable. With one of these units, you don’t have to worry about which room to put the air conditioner in. Instead, you can simply take it with you wherever you go in the house.

Many people like to keep a portable air conditioner in their bedroom to take the edge off at night without dropping the temperature as much as a window unit might. And most portable air conditioners are quieter to operate than common window units. Portable air conditioners also come in a wide variety of sizes, so you can easily find one that matches your needs.

Disadvantages of Portable Units

Unlike window air conditioners that are automatically installed to vent and drain outside of a building, a portable air conditioner requires special setup. That means that every time you move your unit, you’ll have to find somewhere to place the exhaust hose so that fumes don’t accumulate in the room. This also means that portable air conditioners can’t be used in rooms without access to windows or air vents.

The cooling power of most portable air conditioners is not quite on par with equivalent window units either. You’ll want to choose a portable unit with slightly more BTUs than if you were buying a window unit to take care of the same sized room. As a result, the portable unit may cost slightly more to operate during peak cooling months.

Extras to Look For

Of course, while the cost may go up slightly, there are a lot of benefits to owning a portable air conditioner. For instance, many portable air conditioners can be used independently to dehumidify a room without cooling. This is often helpful (and can save energy) when the temperature would be bearable if not for the humidity level.

You also want to make sure that your portable air conditioner really is portable. That means finding a model with wheels and handles or some other mechanism that makes it easy to move it from place to place.

Different Types of Room Air Conditioners

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If you are like most people, you probably picture the air conditioner hanging out of the window when you think of room air conditioners. However, while these are by far the most popular type of room air conditioners, they are not the only option. When you are shopping for a room air conditioner, it is a good idea to explore all of your options before you make a purchase.

The traditional window mounted air conditioners have plenty of advantages, and that has helped to keep them at the top of the room air conditioner market for a long time. These types of units can be installed in windows of multiple sizes and you can just about always get them in yourself. These units are available in a wide variety of sizes too, so you will be able to match the unit to the size of the space you need to cool.

No matter what type of air conditioner you get, it is very important to make sure it is the right size for the task you have laid out for it. Bigger is not always better and you do not want an air conditioner that is too powerful for the space any more than you want one that is too small. Also, be sure to check the energy efficiency rating of the air conditioner you are considering before making your purchase. That can save you a lot of money over time as well.

Another type of room air conditioner to take a look at is a wall mounted unit. Many of the window mounted units can actually be used in this way as well, but the installation involves actually making a hole in the outer wall of your home so you will most likely need some professional help to get it in place.

Just like window mounted units, wall mounted air conditioners come in all sizes and with all different energy efficiency ratings. Always take care to check out the specifics of the model before you buy it to make sure it is the right choice for your home.

Portable air conditioners are a third option in the room air conditioner category. They typically have wheels so that they can be easily moved from one room to another and they have an exhaust hose that must be hooked up to a window to ensure adequate ventilation. These types of room air conditioners are usually more expensive than wall or window mounted units, but it is definitely convenient to be able to move them from one place to another.

Energy Efficient Home Cooling Tips

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Having an energy efficient air conditioning system in place is a great way to keep cool in the summer for less. But that is far from the only thing you can do to help reduce your energy bills throughout the hottest months of the year. In fact, there are several simple steps you can take to start cutting down on your cooling costs right now and lighten the cooling load that your air conditioning system has to bear.

One of the main things to remember when you are trying to keep your house cool is that every door and window is potentially letting in warmer air from outside and letting the cooler indoor air escape. You can cut down on this considerably if you simply take the time to seal up these access points and any others you are able to find.

Putting up plastic over unused doors and windows and checking all areas of the house for drafts and adequate insulation will dramatically reduce the cost of keeping your house cool in the summer. Also, you can keep the sun from warming up your indoor air by drawing the blinds, particularly on those windows that let in the hot afternoon sun.

Putting up light colored siding and reflective roofing will also do a great deal to keep your overall cooling costs down. That is because these materials are able to direct the heat of the sun away from your house rather than letting it be absorbed so that it can heat up the inside. The vast majority of the heat that your air conditioning system has to remove from your house comes in through your roof and walls, so blocking this access point is extremely helpful in keeping your overall cooling costs down.

All of these are steps you can take to reduce the total cooling load that your air conditioning system has to deal with. But if you want your system to continue to function at peak energy efficiency, you will have to take care of it as well.

This typically means having someone come in once a year to perform a thorough inspection of your air conditioning system and to clean out any debris that may have accumulated over time. Having this done will make it possible for your air conditioner to continue to function at the highest possible levels of energy efficiency for years to come.