Category Archives: Green

Medical Study Shows Green Homes Decrease Illness

One of the benefits of buying and living in a green home has always been health related. Energy Efficient and sustainable builders have always taken care to keep water out and to seal up air leaks.  One of the effects is to lower your energy bills. Another is to improve the health of those living in the home.

No Flashing Window

The picture above is a window that was not flashed properly. Water was going into the wall. When you have water and wood together, you get mold.  Many new homes do not have this feature. Remember, there is no legal requirement to install insulation or other healthy features in a home in Wichita or Sedgwick County.

Now, US News and World Report’s Health Day column, written by Amy Norton covers a study in Boston.  She covered the research report in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Researchers found that children living in Boston’s newer, greener public housing had fewer asthma attacks, hospital visits and missed school days, compared with their peers in standard public housing. 

Adults, meanwhile, were less likely to report symptoms consistent with a condition called “sick building syndrome” — which include dizziness, headaches, nausea and eye irritation.”

Buying a home that has green features, such as Water Management Details, Air Sealing, and a Planned Fresh Air system is a big part of the Green Home that creates these benefits. You can find green homes, featuring these benefits, in and around Wichita. Some builder’s choose to have their homes certified to a Voluntary Standard such as Energy Star or Zero Energy Ready or or NAHB Green, or Eco Select.  A certified homes have these features verified by someone other than the builder.

So as the New Home market is growing in the Wichita Area, ask your builder about these features.  Don’t accept the answer that it is not needed, or this is what everyone else does. This is about the health of your family.

Read the entire article

 

Be Proactive for a Green Appraisal

greenlightbulbWhen it comes to getting an accurate appraisal for a high-performance home, it’s easier and more practical to take the right steps up front than to try to get a low appraisal revised after the fact.

Appraisal expert Sandra Adromatis, a featured speaker at the High Performance Building Zone during the recent International Builders’ Show, offered advice for securing an accurate appraisal of a high-performance home.

First and most important is documentation, especially of features behind the walls and other items that aren’t immediately obvious.

A good place to start is by taking a close look at the Appraisal Institute’s Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum. This is particularly important if the home is built to a nationally recognized program like the ICC-700 National Green Building Standard or includes additional high-performance features that should be documented within the appraisal.

This article appeared on the NAHB Blog.

For the complete article

Ms. Adomatis also presented at the RESNET Conference after the IBS Show. I furnish the Energy portion of the AI Energy Efficient and Green Addendum for every new home rating I do for a builder.  If you would like to see one or see how it would help your building plans, give me a call.

NAHB and Greening the MLS

I receive an email news letter each Friday as a member of Wichita Area Builders Association and NAHB, the local and national Builders Trade Groups.  This is titled Monday Morning Briefing.  There are usually 8 to 10 concise articles of interest to the residential building industry. NAHB has an outstanding Research Arm.  Every time they post something they have researched, I learn something.

Some of these posts are self-promotional.  I don’t blame them. They work hard and deserve to put that hard work out for everyone to know about.

In this case, the article that caught my attention relates to work the NAHB has done with other industry trade groups to advance the shared knowledge for builders, buyers, real estate agents, appraisers and others.  Everyone in the home sales transaction benefits from common, verified sources of information about specific homes.

Here is the actual article.  Thank You! NAHB!

NAHB_MLS

Ductless Mini Split Heating and Cooling – Is it any good?

I’ve had the concept of a Ductless Mini Split HVAC unit brought up recently. I’m out doing a home energy audit, I’ve been asked on Twitter and in other contexts several times.  A discussion on a Professional Linked In group and my follow up comment has resulted in this post.

First – What is a Ductless Mini-Split?  The simple answer is ‘One type of residential HVAC equipment’.  Other common types of residential equipment are Single Package Unit and a Split Package System. An example of a Mini Split on the right by LG Electronics USA Commercial Air Conditioning. The top image is what you see inside. The bottom two views are of the outside unit. LG is one of many mini-split manufacturers.

If you are building to Energy Star, your HVAC contractor must perform various calculations to figure the size of the units, set up the duct work and select the unit. These calculations are specified by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) an industry trade group. Known as Manuals J (size) D (ducts) N (equipment selection).

If the process and calculations, especially Manual N will show a Ductless Mini Split as fitting the need, great! An example of a Single Package Unit on the right. Outside both summer and winter.

If you are not building the Energy Star – the 2012 recommended Energy Code requires the same process.

If your jurisdiction has not adopted the 2009 or 2012 Energy Code, the prior Residential Mechanical Codes require ACCA calculations or similar. The outside condenser of a Split System on the Left.

Heating and Cooling equipment is routinely oversized in existing homes and in new construction. This approach avoids the math and fits the American image of ‘bigger is better’. It also avoids after hours service calls concerned with the home not heating up or cooling down fast enough.

HVAC equipment, just like your car, operate most efficiently traveling at a constant speed. For your car a highway speed without starting or stopping in city traffic is the efficient speed. Note the Fuel Economy Numbers show the best and the worst MPG figures for each model. At the right is an example of the inside unit of a split system.

Due to the variations in climate from South, with little heating and lots of AC; to the North with a lot of heating and no AC; ACCA uses a design temperature in the calculations. Essentially you can figure the design temperature for your area. The National Weather Service publishes the daily highs, lows and average temperatures for each weather station. The report you want is monthly and is referred to as a J6.

How to figure that is a little much for this post.

A properly designed HVAC unit, like your car will run constantly at or in excess of the design temperature. So these hot summer days, most of us are above the design summer temperature; your AC is OK if it runs all the time. Preventive Maintenance is needed for the HVAC equipment, not sleep.

All that aside; a ductless mini-split is a great choice for a smaller space. My experience with specifying these for Homeowners is that HVAC manufacturers and contractors dearly love them. They are priced accordingly. At the left, the outside duct of a Single Package Unit, typically with no insulation.

 

The Mini Split gets away from the use of ductwork to distribute the conditioned air. That is the strength. Most ductwork in our homes is not designed correctly, it leaks and requires too much fan capacity to distribute the conditioned air. In the right sized space, going without ducts has many advantages.

A Twitter Conversation – Moving Along, Part 2

Previous Info on the Conversation

OK!  Since I posted Thursday night, things are moving.  People are talking to each other and it is becoming evident that a few more are involved that were not listed originally.  Also, not being from Derby, CT – where they have 200 – 300 year old houses, with much historical value to preserve – I am finding that I don’t know as much as I thought – or that I don’t know how to apply what I do know.

Additional Players that have been brought forth are:

  • Martin Holladay:  In the Twitterverse he is known as the Energy Nerd.  His blog is full of interesting stories and tidbits of knowledge.
  • Carl Seville:  His blog and in Twitterverse he is the Green Curmudgeon. He has his own outlook on all things Green and brings a wealth of info to the table from his experience as a builder.
  • Then there is JB.  Hailing all of us from Baltimore, JB is in construction and remodeling.  Since Baltimore has been around since before the night when ‘Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,’ was observed and recorded; they, like Derby, CT have some of those 200 – 300 year old homes to work with!  JB has a blog,  Building Moxie.

Welcome to the > 140 Convo.

Since Thursday

John P.  left a comment on Sean’s Blog Post regarding some of his concerns.

  • The stereotype carried by some that DER requires extreme measures.
  • Not destroying historic fabric
  • Reversible
  • The concept of ‘the house is a system’ means that houses built 300 years ago, may work well as their own system, but when a new construction method for current housing is introduced, then the law of unintended consequences intervenes.
  • Work on Energy Efficiency should be staged and completed over a number of phases and years.

He also discussed the definition of ‘Deep’, countering my proposed use of the Wiki definition at 30% reduction. John offered some additional criteria. Primarily he is proposing to include climate in the definition of Deep.

Updating the Conversation

I want to pose some questions and try to clarify where we are going and where we need to go. I also want to respond to John’s ideas on refining the definition of Deep.

John’s first point was stereotypes.  That is my word, and I chose it specifically because when people deal with what they assume about another they are creating a stereotype. I believe the best way to deal with those is to get to know the other person or position and thus my participation in this conversation.

The second point he makes is not destroying the Historic Fabric of the home.   I can agree to this one.  I don’t like changing the looks of a home, just to improve energy efficiency.

  1. It is usually not cost effective.
  2. It can become a distraction from the original intent.
  3. If you don’t like the looks of an old historic property, what are you doing working on one?

I believe his third and fourth points are inter-related.  If you cause a problem with a change in how the home works, you need to be able to undo the change.  Therefore, changing the exterior, by removing siding to install rigid foam insulation and then re-installing the original siding might be reversible. That would depend on how you treated the windows and doors due to the increased thickness of the walls.  In the end, I think most of these types of improvements will not be cost effective in energy savings.

In my first post is had a couple of points that I believe must be kept in mind.

Significant Savings from the improvements

  • Savings from improvements are probably best considered significant over a 15 – 25 year period. At the end of that time, a different property owner may be present, new methods of improvements may be available, increased prices of energy make a revision of the cost effectiveness calculations essential.

Work that is Safety Related may not have a dollar savings.

  • How do you calculate the savings in replacing Knob and tube wiring with modern wiring?
  • What about reductions in water presence anywhere in the building that it is not designed to be? What about comfort of the building occupants? When people are uncomfortable, they do many things. Electric resistance space heaters are expensive to operate and are unsafe.
  • Other items related to Building Code issues.

Defining a Deep Energy Retrofit. #DER

The closest I have worked to one of Derby, CT’s older houses is a 92 year old home in Wichita.  I wrote about that audit and the following upgrades in ‘What Good is an Energy Audit?’  The cost effectiveness I think should considered is illustrated here by the proposed improvement to the uninsulated walls. It took 99 years. Doing it for less would have involved drilling the brick exterior and leaving an obvious patch.

With the exception of the exposed insulation on the basement walls and weatherstripping on one door, none of the energy efficient improvements were visible. The total cost of  improvements will be returned to the homeowner in 14 years, assuming no increase in electric or natural gas rates.

In percentage terms, this plan mets the definition of 30% or more. If you look at energy cost reduction, it figures at 36%; if you look at peak power reduction (summer) it is 41%; if you look at CarbonDioxide reduction it is 34%.

The insulation contractor on this project was Northstar Comfort Systems. @Nstarcomfort They did a good job, the home owner is very pleased and the project verification was achieved on the first visit.

John has suggested adding climate into the definition of deep. I think it is already there.  If you moved this house from Wichita to Maine, the pre-improvment costs would be higher, due to weather and cost of energy. Weather is obvious, cost of electricity in KS is about 10 cents per KWH and in Maine about 17 cents.  The reduction in use of BTU would be at least what it was here in Wichita.

I don’t think climate needs to be added because it is already there. The idea of savings has to be based on what the house is already spending.  Weather is part of that calculation.

I think a simple percentage is adequate to define Deep. It works, it accounts for all variables and it follows the KISS principle. It works for several different metrics, dollars, BTU or your favorite energy measure, or environmental like carbon.

Comfort and Safety

I think the ideas of safety should be self evident and I would also include durability in them.  If a home is aged in centuries, it must have been durable.  If a home is aged in decades, it must have been durable. It is up to every homeowner to continue to maintain and improve on durability.  That is why we look at a new roof or repainting our homes periodically.

Comfort is a different issue, that really doesn’t have a price tag. I have found that people living in a home they think is uncomfortable do many things to obtain comfort. They continually adjust the thermostat, they add electric space heaters, or window air conditioners.  These are expensive. They sell the home and then the next owner can be uncomfortable.

The first example of comfort came when I was doing my due diligence in starting my career in Energy Efficiency. I attended a seminar at a local home show on Energy Efficiency. The presenter related one of his experiences with comfort instead of purely cost reductions.

He had done some duct leakage testing in his own home and found the duct leakage was a major contributor to the cold bedroom of his daughter.  This led to an easy fix of sealing the accessible duct work. For this example, I would thank Jeff Boone @JFBoone of Northstar Comfort Systems.

Information I Need

John points out a, new to me take, on the house is a system. Building Science has always considered the house to be one system. If you change an item, something else will probably change.  The corollary to this is ‘First, do no harm!’. If you make or recommend a change, you should look at what else may change and take steps to ensure the reactions to your first change are positive for the house and the occupants, not negative. Examples would include:

  • Adding insulation to one side or the other of an exterior wall could change how the wall dries. That change could cause mold and decrease the quality of indoor air quality.
  • Doing air sealing work can make significant energy savings. Decreasing the ventilation through infiltration could create a dangerous situation, if the decreased amount of fresh air will not support the needs of the hot water heater and furnace.

John expands on this by adding the concept that a house as a system can be specific to a type of construction. A house built with techniques in common use in 1800 would have the system effected if the improvement used some technique that is in common use today. This is something I need to know more about.

  • How different do the original construction techniques need to be for this to become significant?
  • Is it something that that only happens in a 200 year swing of construction techniques?
  • Is it something that occurs in applying today’s techniques to a ballon framed Victorian?

Conclusions

The goal of this post was to advance the conversation #DER with some basis and examples of the proposed definition of Deep and to set out that energy efficiency improvements are never a goal in and of themselves.

It is not a good idea to do an improvement that will not last. It is not a good idea to ignore comfort issues. We must protect the occupants of the home from hidden dangers, such as carbon monoxide, or water damage. When improving the energy efficiency of a home, it is very easy to improve the durability of the improvement with choosing the right material, and including the protective installation, for example flashing or a drainage plane around insulation.

I look forward to following the #DER conversation in more than 140 char bites.

 

Thinking About Adding a Solar Panel to your Home?

Last weekend, I spent some time at the Wichita Area Builders Association Home Show at Century II.  I had been invited by Nick King of King’s Solar Wind Plumbing to help out and answer questions about Home Energy Audits.  I got to visit with a lot of interesting people coming through the Home Show. I also got to listen to Nick, Mark, Lee, Tom, Nelson, and Ellsworth about Solar Power for residential and other uses.

I went in with a lot of questions and got the answers.  For this post I decided to take what I learned and put it in a Q/A format for the readers of the blog.  So pull up a chair and read through the questions and the answers.  Then think about the potential of adding solar on your home or business.

Q: What type of energy do Solar Panels provide?

A:  Some panels use the heat from the sun to warm air. This can be circulated into the house; it can be stored in a thermal mass.  This would be a Solar Thermal type panel.

Some panels use the heat from the sun to heat water. The water can provide hydronic (water based) heat or hot water or both. This would also be a Solar Thermal type panel.

Some panels use the heat from the sun to generate electricity. This would be a photovoltaic  (PV) solar panel.

Q: How long does a Solar Panel last?

A:  Many existing solar panels were installed 30 years ago or more. These panels provided hot water or hot air.  Many are still in use and are expected to continue with minimal maintenance for years to come. There are no moving parts on a solar panel.

Q: There are Hail Storms in Kansas!  What happens to my expensive solar system when it gets hit by hail.

A: The solar panels are made of tempered glass. They are rated and tested for a one inch hail stone.  A couple of years ago, a commercial solar array in Texas was hit with a hail storm and stones the size of tennis balls.  A total of 600 panels on this system had only 2 panels damaged.

Q: How do you take care of the batteries, so you don’t have to pay the electric utility?

A: Actually, you want to stay hooked up the to electric utility so you can use them for your battery.  That means no replacements, maintenance expense or other cost.  Kansas Law now requires a 1:1 exchange. When you generate more than you use, the two-way meter, sends it out to your electric utility to deliver to someone else. When you need one, it trades one back.  The planning key is to know what time period your utility uses. Some run the trades for a month and then each month starts with a clean slate.  Some Utility Companies use a different length period, which could be as long one year. Other states may have very different requirements, so check first!

Q: Would my home be worth considering solar?

A: It depends on the solar conditions on your property.  A house with a small yard is best set up for solar by having a south sloping roof.  The sun lower in the winter, a south slope on the roof, helps maximize your solar generation. The other solar condition to consider is shade.  Some parts of your roof may be shaded by parts of your house or by nearby trees.

Q: Do you put one big solar panel or a lot of little ones on the roof?

A:  Most residential PV panels are 39×65 inches.  A typical installation may be 10 to 30+ panels. The actual number depends on your utility usage and your goals.

Q:  How do you figure out how many panels to put on a house?

A: How much electricity do you use? Then how much of the existing electricity that you have been paying for, can you eliminate through efficiency improvements? In this way, you can buy a smaller more efficient system.

Q:  What type of improvements that are energy efficient do you recommend?

A:  Efficient Energy Star appliances are a good place to start. You can look at your refrigerator, deep freeze, the garage refrigerator, and others.  You can look at your vampire loads and look at ways to drop these ineffective or wasteful uses.  The larger savings may be in having your home ready for solar by installing enough insulation or sealing up all the air leaks, and choosing the HVAC system that best matches your needs to efficiency.

Q:  What is the best way to make these determinations about the existing efficiencies of my home?

A:  We recommend a comprehensive Home Energy Audit!  It should include a Blower Door Test with an Infrared Camera testing for air infiltration.  Your auditor should computer model the energy usage on your home as it stands now, and demonstrate the savings of various improvements.

This video from the Department of Energy describes a good Home Energy Audit.

Q: How do I find a good energy auditor?

A: You can check with your Electric Utility Company. You can check with the Kansas Energy Office. You can also check in Kansas and nationally for an auditor with RESNET. If you don’t live in Kansas you can check with your state’s Energy Office.

Q:  I am renting right now and will start building a new home in about 6 months.  How do I make sure my new home is ready for solar?

A:  To start with you should begin planning your home to meet Energy Star Standards.   This would require an Independent Third Party to first review the plans for the home and then to inspect at various times during construction to verify the plans are being followed. As of January 2012, no city, county or other code enforcement authority, in Kansas, has adopted any Energy Code.  If they do in the future, a code requirement for energy would be a minimum requirement, and many of the better builders prefer to build a house that is better than the code minimums.

You can exceed Energy Star Standards to build a new home by having your contractor meet the requirements of the Department of Energy’s ‘Builder’s Challenge Program’!

Q: What if my roof is not the best candidate to mount solar panels on the roof?

A:  You can do a ground mounted system.  It depends on having ground around your home that is not shaded from trees or buildings. You can also calculate the amount of reduction in Solar Efficiency the shading causes, then you can determine if you wish to go ahead.

Q: How many volts does each panel generate?

A: Solar panels are becoming standardized by most manufacturers. A 39×65 inch panel, usually will provide 235 watts of power. You buy electricity from your Electric Utility by the Kilowatt Hour. That is 1000 watts over 1 hour. That means that 5 panels will generate about 1 Kilowatt Hour of electricity each hour the sun shines at peak value.

Q: Why do you say about?  Isn’t it exact?

A: The electricity generated by the solar panel is direct current.  It must be changed, with an inverter, to alternating current to match the electric set up in your home.  The efficiency of the inverter can vary by manufacturer.  The efficiency can be as low as 75% or as efficient as 92%.  I use a 92% efficient inverter.

Q:  Why do you say peak value?

A:  The solar panel generates the maximum power when everything works together.  At 9:30 the sun shines on the panel more directly then when it first started shining on the panel and thus the panel generates more electricity.

Peak Value or Power is also affected by clouds and shade from trees or buildings.  Ten years after you install your solar panels, the neighbor’s trees will grow and perhaps are casting a shadow on your panel. This will change over time.

Q: If a tree is shading my panel part of the day, how much would that really help in the winter after the leaves are gone?

A: The branches would average about 50% of the summer shade value in the winter. The exact amount would depend on the type of tree, how far away it is, and how large it is.

Q;  What is ‘Net Zero’ ?

A:  ‘Net Zero’ is a term that shows your home takes no energy from the utility grid over a period of time, usually a year.  It allows you to trade KWH back and forth, with the end result of no net purchases.

‘Net Zero’ does not mean you are not hooked up to the grid.  That would be termed ‘Off Grid’.

Planning for your home to be ‘Off Grid’ or to become ‘Net Zero’ is the same process with quite different approaches, efficiency parameters, costs and results.  ‘Off Grid is an approach that would appeal to a much smaller number of families than ‘Net Zero’. ‘Net Zero’ is much more affordable at this time than ‘Off Grid’!

Q: Do you have to have an All Electric home to achieve a “Net Zero” status?

A:  No, you can calculate how much extra electricity that your panels produce over your electric needs to offset the natural gas or propane used.

In Kansas, you only get credit for the number of KWH that you trade in and then take back out. Generating more KWH and sending to the grid is a nice thing; but to do this your array is more expensive and thus you have a ‘green payoff’ instead of a ‘cash payoff’!

 Q: Where are solar panels made?  Overseas, like everything else?

A:  You can buy Solar Panels made overseas.  You can also buy panels made in New Mexico or California. Those made here in the US are of the same quality as the imports and the same of better cost.  Also, the energy used to transport them to your home is much less, because they are closer to start with.

Q:  What do I get from adding Solar to my home?

A:  Take your pick!  Save Money!  Go Green! Cut the carbon footprint? It is the right thing to do!

What you get is up to you. You may choose to add Solar for one of these or another reason. The value is for you to appreciate.

For an additional view on Solar, here is a Blog post from Martin Holladay, blogging as ‘The Energy Nerd’.

What is that I smell? Indoor Air Quality!

 

Improvement of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is of interest to many of the people that are pursuing an Energy Audit.  Over the last 40 years, many of the worst outdoor air pollutants have been controlled, reduced or eliminated as a problem.  New understanding of air pollution, new technology and new approaches have all had roles in these improvements.

As the improvement has been happening outside, people have begun to take a stronger look at what is happening inside their homes. Again new understanding of how a home works, new technology, and new approaches to handing indoor air have a role in improving IAQ.

In building a new home, following the Indoor Air Plus specifications, part of the Energy Star program, provides for long term Indoor Air Quality basics.  Following many of these specifications gives each homeowner a guideline to apply to improvements in an existing home.  It is easier and less expensive to build a home with these features. It is also possible to incorporate many of them into an existing home.

The list and discussion below provide information to homeowners about those improvements that are cost effective to implement and can be done over time or immediately. These are all improvements that will improve or maintain the indoor air quality and at the same time will improve the durability of the home.

 

Radon Control

Air Infiltration

Moisture Control

Pest Control

Heating and Air Conditioning System

  • Ducts are sealed in all accessible areas.
  • Pressure Balance Supply to each room and Return from each room. Use Jump or transfer ducts as needed to maintain balance.
  • Install a whole house type ventilation system to meet ASHRAE 62.2.2010 specifications.
  •  Spot exhaust fans in bathrooms, kitchen, laundry, dryer, central vacuum systems are exhausted to the outside, not into the area between floors or the attic. Use the specifications of ASHRAE 62.2.2010 here as well.
  • Adjust HVAC to maximize dehumidification in the summer.
  • Do not run HVAC blower on ‘On’ or circulate; use the Auto setting.

Combustion Pollutant Sources

  • Change furnace to sealed combustion unit
  • Vent Fireplaces outside and have them checked to verify they meet emission standards.
  • Install a Carbon Monoxide Alarm in each sleeping zone and in any room with a standard gas hot water heater or gas range.
  • Consider changing conventional atmospherically drafted hot water heater to electric or Tankless Demand with sealed combustion.

The Attached Garage

  • Air seal all common walls and ceilings in the garage. Maintain the air barrier by repairing holes, cracks in the drywall.
  • Install an automatic door closer on any doors into the home, from the garage.  A spring loaded hinge will meet this item. Do not prop the door to the garage open or use this opening to bring fresh air into the home during spring or fall.
  • Consider installing a ventilation fan to the outside, rated at 70 cfm in continuous use. Provide make up air source with this improvement.

Materials used in any Future Remodels

  • Certified low-formaldehyde pressed wood materials (plywood, OSB, MDF, cabinetry.
  • Certified low-VAC or no-VOC interior paints and finishes used.
  • Carpet, adhesives, and cushion quality for CRI Green Label Plus or Green Label testing Program

Air Filtration

The last step in any Indoor Air Quality program is filtering the air.

Most people start with this step.  It is really the last step.  If you keep stuff from getting in, you don’t need to filter it out.  Somewhat like closing the barn door after the cow is gone.

Duct Cleaning Services

Due to the varied construction of heating and air ducts, the heavily advertised duct cleaning service presents unique problems. The use of panned body cavities within walls and floors means ducts are not smooth inside. Flex Duct with increased friction losses, possible tight bends and up and down runs also creates issues.  The EPA advice is without compelling visual evidence of an extreme problem, duct cleaning is not advised. You may view the entire EPA Web Page http://epa.gov/iaq/pubs/airduct.html

Where Do I Start?

Get some Professional Advice.  This should involve a complete review of your home. It can be done by someone that is selling a service.  The assessment can be done by someone that doesn’t not have a financial interest in a product or service that may be recommended after the assessment. It is your home, it is your choice!

Efficient Energy Savers can do this assessment. It can be done stand alone, or with a comprehensive Home Energy Audit.  Call or e-mail for more information.

The Energy Triangle


I attended a 3 Day Preservation, Sustainability and Energy Conference and Fair held last week in Wichita. Sponsored by Green Wichita .  It was interesting, I met a lot of neat people and got the inspiration for this blog entry.

I had one young lady, Nikki Gartner from Emporia, stop by our booth.  She is with Energy Innovators, a lighting firm.  They handle consolation, design and replacement of your lighting with new efficient and  practical solutions.  Later I stopped by her booth and visited some more.  She had on display an interesting diagram, which she called the Energy Triangle (link opens a PDF for you). She discussed the concept and her inspiration for the design, coming from the USDA Food Pyramid and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs .

These concepts also apply to Energy Consumption and plans to reduce the use through Conservation, Efficiency and addition of renewable energy sources to a property.

Conservation can be defined as ‘Changing the way People Work’.  Changing your habits! So energy measures such as turning the thermostat down one degree and putting on a sweater; or remembering to turn off lights are examples of conservation.

Efficiency can be defined as ‘Changing the way Things Work’.  The advantage to this is you don’t have to change habits of people or have them remember to do something. Energy measures such as adding insulation, installing an occupancy sensor to a light, or air sealing your home would be efficiency measures.

When you combine Conservation with Efficiency, you achieve a synergy that can drastically reduce the energy use of a building. This can be a home or it can be a commercial building.  These two approaches can, in a residential setting, decrease the energy usage by 30 – 50 percent each year. In a commercial building the dynamics are somewhat different from a residential building, the end result remains the same.  Obtain a significant decrease the energy consumption of the building.

The concept of Nikki’s Energy Triangle is helpful as people in their homes or at work, develop and implement various methods of reducing the cost of energy.  If you reduce the amount of energy used, you can reduce the cost in dollars.  The question most people have is: “what do I do first? Where do I get the biggest bang for my dollar?”  Conservation is the low cost, high motivation approach. Efficiency is a higher cost, lower motivation approach.  Like most good things on this earth, it takes some of both, not all of one or all of the other.

How do you answer the question “What do I do first? Where do I get the biggest bang for my dollar?” That starts with an assessment.  At home, some type of Home Energy Audit.  You can begin with a Self Audit, this one is from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.  You can then move to a full comprehensive Energy Audit. In the Wichita area Efficient Energy Savers – that is us – do those. If you are not in this area you can check here or here for a list of auditors in your area.  There are all types of Energy Audits with prices from Free to lots of dollars.  My friend Sean of Alabama Green Building Services wrote about the differences on Building Moxie’s Blog.

The report of the Energy Auditor will provide you with a prioritized list of things you can do. Implement them at your pace, all at once or as you can get to them.  Many times the issue is cost. The important thing is to do them in order for two reasons.

  • The low cost – high return items provide savings in Energy costs to pay for future improvements.
  • Some improvements need to be done prior to others for technical reasons. For example, sealing holes before you add insulation.

After you have achieved the best for your building that conservation and efficiency can offer in lowering energy usage, then you have a good usage to plan for renewables.

In the end, the journey you take along the road of saving energy will be yours; it may be similar to mine or very different.  What does not change is the basics.  Save some by changing how you work. Then save some more by changing how things work.  Finally think about adding some type of renewable energy source to your property.

I would be interested in hearing your comments and ideas about saving energy, so please comment. If you like the Energy Triangle give Nikki a Thanks in the comments.

Thermographic Imaging

If you’ve been reading about Home Energy Audits, you’ve probably seen a thermographic picture of a home. These color pictures show temperature differences. The windows show up as white or red, the walls show a darker color. They’ve even been part of some TV Commercials.

Earlier this month the National Standard for Thermographic Imaging was published. The purpose of a national standard is to enable two different energy auditors to obtain valid results with the camera on the same building.

The use of a difference in temperature to show where a house is loosing energy is very interesting. It can be skewed, if the picture is not, taken with a proper understanding of the limitations and potential external causes of temperature changes. Wind can cause a change in the temperature difference. Is the wind blowing from the East and you are taking a picture of the North wall, so some of the temperature difference is blown away. If the wind is from the south, is the difference increased?

The answers to these and other questions will be revealed for me this week. I will be in Manhattan at the Kansas Building Science Institute, working on my certification as a Level 1 Thermographer.

I will try to post some information during the class, so you can follow along my journey.

Energy Efficiency from Around the Country – Crayola to knowledge

The Crayola solar farm became fully operational this week. Ten children from around the country, known as the “Crayola Green Team,” helped dedicate the newest addition to the Easton, Pa.-plant.

“This year, it’s the greenest back-to-school ever,” says Stacy Gabrielle of Crayola. The 107 year-old company is tapping into the sun’s energy to make 1 billion crayons using power from the 1.9 MW solar farm behind its Easton, Pa., plant.
About 26,000 “thin-film” solar panels — manufactured by First Solar in Perrysburg, Ohio — are providing enough power to make a third of the 3 billion crayons the plant pumps out per year, representing 10 percent of the facility’s total energy consumption.  Greenhouse gas emissions are being cut by 1,900 tons annually.

City officials in Glendale, Ariz. had a problem.

Citizens were constantly asking them for information on how to reduce home energy consumption, but they did not have a staff member to answer the questions. That changed in June 2009, when the city hired Nancy Schwab to be the official energy education specialist. “We had so much demand for information that we could no longer afford to ignore it,” says Jo Miller, Glendale’s environmental program manager.

Fulton County, Georgia is an example of how large-scale energy upgrades can save local governments millions of dollars and develop a new green workforce. Under the program, more than a dozen county facilities are being upgraded with equipment such as occupancy sensors, digital thermostats and LED exit signs.  County workers will also be trained on how to conduct the upgrades and keep buildings energy efficient.

One such worker is Robyn McNeil-English, a plumber who enrolled in Gwinnet Technical College’s green program to learn about topics such as geothermal technology and energy efficiency.  The course provided a bonus for McNeil-English. “It also has helped me with my own energy efficiency at home and how to conserve and save money,” she says in the video.