Category Archives: Saving Money

I’ll Give You the Title to my Car for Some Heat!

It is cold here is Maine, there is snow on the ground and more is coming. My house is old and fuel oil is high.  I’ve had two loads this winter and my tank is dry. I’m using the oven with the door open and the dryer for heat to cut down on the amount the boiler runs. I have disconnected the dryer vent so the heat comes into the house. My wife is disabled and cold. Our Social Security doesn’t cover food and drugs and heat.  So, …. I’ll give you the title to my car for some heat!

That was the story in last Sunday’s NY Times article by Dan Berry.

Let’s bring this to Kansas.  This couple has started through the winter with an unpaid heating bill of $700.  It is not uncommon in that part of the country for homes to cost $2,000 to heat with fuel oil.  Most homes in Kansas heat with natural gas, their typical cost for heating the home and water heating is between $550 and 700 per year.  The cost of fuel oil has risen 18% from January 2011 to January of 2012.  The cost of natural gas is about the same, perhaps down slightly.  If you have propane instead of natural gas, the price range might be in the $700 – 1,200 range.

This is Tuesday night.  The Hartford’s situation has been pinging around some corners of the internet.  Energy Auditors, Insulation Contractors and others that work with improving home performance and lowering energy bills have not only been reading and discussing this story.  They have taken some action.

The first update is from Energy Circle and Peter Troast.

Wonderful news and potential progress for the 60 hours since we started reading the story.  I reading through this I see several takeaway points:

  • This couple will use less heat next year because their house will have additional insulation and air sealing of leaks.  That means it will cost less.
  • The generosity of some people across this country will provide payment for some outrageous heating bills for others that are unable to pay in that community.
  • Other homes need insulation and air sealing so they also can use significantly less heat.

There are some other articles out there.  Read what others are saying.

An Elderly Couple in Maine Offers to Trade Their Car for Fuel Oil, by Allison Bailes, PhD on the excellent Energy Vanguard Blog.

‘America has a heartbeat:’ Donations pour in for home heat, by Erin Cox, Sun Journal

Maine Freezes While Washington Snoozes, by Raymond J. Learsy, Huffington Post

This is the situation Tuesday Evening.  Future updates will be posted below.

 A Letter to the Editor NY Times from the Governor of Maine  Did he really say ‘Don’t blame me or the government?’

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.

My Nest Labs Thermostat – Week 1 Ends


 Last Saturday, I installed my new Nest Thermostat. You can read how that went   at .  It is billed as a “Learning Thermostat’, so I promised to let you know how the first week went.

Saturday and Sunday we just watched, as related in the previous link. On Monday night, we noticed the schedule had been filled in to some extent. The Nest was learning from our use over the weekend.



From the web interface here is the schedule the Nest thought we were following after two days of use.

Here is the schedule after I tweaked it a little. I filled in a few blanks and evened out some times.

My wife is somewhat more comfortable with the system.  She is checking it on her phone and even showing it to her friends. Last night she told me the wall unit is displaying some type of message. When I checked it today, the message said learning at home had started “Push Continue”. The next message said “Ready to Learn Away Schedule”, I pushed and the Nest will do it’s thing.  I’ll have to check regularly to see what it does next.

What have I learned so far?  The iPad or the Web Interface is the easiest for me to use to set and view the schedule. The phone is very handy to check the setting, to watch the outside temperature and to keep an eye on things.  On the smaller screen of the phone, turn from portrait to landscape view to see additional controls other than just temperature settings.  Under Settings – Technical, it will give you a reading of the interior Relative Humidity Level.

Monday through Thursday, we watched the settings change as scheduled.  The Nest was learning the settings for its ‘Away’ function.  Two times this week we have come home and found the Away setting triggered.  My wife is on my case. I need more info about exactly what that away function is.  I have the idea it should be like a vacation mode.  I am beginning to think it is more of a ‘not at home for a while’ mode. After reading a few other posts, I am wondering if it has to do with the function that turns the wall unit on, when you approach it?

Got up early Saturday morning.  I thought Tori might knock on the door selling those Wonderful Girl Scout Cookies! This is the weekend that Girl Scout Cookies can be sold! Headed out the door to see my dad and head for Woodturning Club.  Checked the Nest on the iPhone.  It is in away mode again!  So just 2 clicks and the temperature is set where I expected it.  LOML is still having a slow start Saturday.  Especially nice after her Fast Start Friday!  About 10:00 am from Turning Club, I checked the Nest and the temperature is up a degree.  LOML is up and around.

I just listened to the video on the Nest Site about the Learning Mode.  Away is when the Nest thinks the home is unoccupied.  During set up, you were asked to put in a Hi and a Lo.  So that is what is being used.

Following up on the video, I looked at the actual Nest!  The video went through doing everything from the thermostat, not from a remote device.  There are some differences in the interface, the ease of use was amazing.  You either turn the dial either way, or you push to click.  No double clicks.  The turning is not all that sensitive.  I actually under turned for a couple of tries. This is where you can change the Away Settings, not from a remote device. Right is a shot of the Nest with one click showing the menu.



One of the sub menus under Settings is Energy.  Here are two different shots of the Nest under the Energy Tab.

Sunday Morning, we were at church and the Nest went into away mode.  Nice to be able to control this on the phone.  The other blip was Sunday afternoon, the Nest lost the Wifi Connection. I ended up resetting the router. Nice to watch the Nest work as a regular non-Wifi thermostat also.

This is a thermostat that one week after installation, could be left with a parent living alone and a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. In this case they could still run the ‘stat’ and see what they were doing.  You could observe from a distance, if you hooked up the wifi connection. Your parent could also control their thermostat. Here is the schedule that has been set from the tweaked schedule shown earlier. (These three images are from Laptop Screen Shots.) Also an image of the schedule on the iPhone.


I still like this item!  It is learning! It is easy to see the schedule on multiple interfaces.  It is not the small buttons with clumsy fingers, or a screen that is hard to read.  It is fairly intuitive.  If you do Time Share vacations, and come across one, it will not be a problem.

I have a few further thoughts on improvements, but those will wait and see if I can find some others. It also makes for another post.

And last but far from least, my neighbor Tori will get here!  I will get some Girl Scout Cookies.  Then I can show her my Nest Thermostat!

A Cold and Frosty Morning: What might an Energy Auditor Do?

Energy Auditing uses observation and science to determine what is happening in a home related to Energy Usage.  Necessary tools are a good flashlight, a blower door, and some way to record the observations for later analysis.

Optional tools, well – Energy Auditors can be come “Tool Junkies”.  Digital Dual Channel Thermometers, Spot Radiometers, Infrared Cameras, Computers, Software, Digital Cameras, Smart Phones, iPads, you name it, an Energy Auditor could probably find a use for it.  Then along comes a Cold and Frosty Morning and you are driving to your next audit. How do you make the most of your drive?

You could look at the roof of various homes as you drive.  On a couple of recent morning drives, I was doing just that. I stopped and shot a few pictures of different homes.  All of these homes were built between 1960 and 2000.  So here they are with comments. I have cropped the images to show just the roof, in most cases this will allow the home to remain one of many.

I have not audited any of these houses, and have only been inside two of them.


This frosty roof shows no frost along the roof line, directly above the exterior wall.  Note how it turns the corner on the hip of the roof.  I have outlined interesting points.   The vertical bar marks the point of the electric service, note the service line.  The lack of frost directly above this area is telling.


The issue here is that heat is being lost into the wall, and then through the top plate into the attic and then out the roof.  If you look at the area where the electrical service enters from inside the attic, you will find some type of holes in the top plate.  Perhaps a larger hole then necessary to allow the electric wiring.  A little caulk could go along way here.



Again the top plate of the exterior wall shows leakage.  Also in this image, an interior wall shows leakage in the upper roof area.

Heat loss occurs in interior and exterior walls.  Just caulking the outside of your home is not the best bang for you effort in sealing air leakage

This is interesting.  Without knowing the inside plan of the upper floor I am uncertain about the cause.  I would look for an attic access hatch, a furnace located in the attic, or perhaps some type of missing insulation along with a unique floor plan.

This picture shows the heavier frost over the eves of the home and less frost over the entire attic.

I would expect to find little insulation in this home, and what is there would be deteriorated in terms of effectiveness.  I would expect to find insulation moved or non-existent in several places.  I would also not be surprised to record a high leakage result from the blower door test.

Another picture of the top plate in an exterior wall.


This is an infrared image of the home with Frost pattern above.  I took this image at a different time then the exterior picture.  Both images are as is, no Blower Door going to exaggerate the air movement. It was also taken in the summer, so the heat coming in from the top plate leakage matches the heat escaping in the Frost Image.

Preliminary Conclusions:

Are these pictures definitive?  No, like most items on an Energy Audit, you need to look at several things to make a firm determination. Picture two is an interior wall, my knowledge of the homes interior, assists with this determination, even though I haven’t audited the home.

These are not necessarily a single look.  At least three of the homes, I have different pictures of different frost patterns.  What might make the difference?

  • Outside temperature and dew point differences.
  • Inside temperature differences.
  • Weather conditions; calm with little wind VS a steady wind of 20 mph or more during the 6 hours before and during the frost buildup.
  • Exposure:  These images have a western, or northern exposure. There may be differences.

What if I look at my house and do not see a pattern?  Look on another day, preferably several days.  The different conditions, may present different patterns.

Does a pattern like this cost me a lot of money?  Perhaps yes!  Perhaps no!  It depends.  To get more details get your Home Energy Audit. Each home is as unique as each person is.

Images like these only paint a picture.  We cannot determine how good or bad the heat loss is from the picture.  It provides a place to look, or not look.

If you take a picture of your Frost Pattern, upload it and put the link in a comment.  Let’s see what readers come up with.

Here are a few more with minimal comments.


Neat image with the Geese flying over.

This is a  most interesting pattern.  I have no idea what is causing this pattern. I would look for high air leakage, patterns on the ceiling with the IR during the Blower Door testing, and it would be interesting to look around the attic in this house.



Insulation: Properly Installing Fiberglass Batts

The last two posts have concerned issues of properly installing Fiberglass Batt type insulation.  That discussion revolved around newly installed insulation.  Inspections were done after the insulation was there and before the drywall was installed.

In this post, I would like to address some of the problems I see after the home has been in use.  The Batts in these cases were installed anywhere from 10 years ago to 40 years ago.  We all have experienced the issues of time. What changes does time bring to a Fiberglass batt?  This leads to ‘Why proper installation is so important.”

I have audited home that were built more than 100 years ago.  My friend Bud, has discussed auditing homes that are much older, 150 – 250 years. A home lasts a long time.  Every month the home gets Energy Bills.  Are the Energy Efficient Features of the home keeping those bills at the level they were planned?  If a feature was improperly installed, probably not.

Best Practices for installing Fiberglass Batt type insulation include:

The insulation must be in contact with the Air Barrier.  In our Climate Zone the Inside wall is the Air Barrier.

This means the batts must be stapled to the face of the framing material; not to the side.  If you have the batts stapled that way, then they are not in contact with the air barrier.  This is illustrated in the Infared picture. Note the cooler colors near the top that are rounded and follow the framing down the wall, and the dark hole in the top of one wall cavity.


Batts showing air movement, not in contact

Batts not incontact with Air Barrier

A Fiberglass Batt must be covered on each of the 6 sides.

This one seems simple, in an exterior wall, the top plate, the bottom plate, the drywall, the exterior sheathing, and the framing constitute all 6 sides of the batt.  Now think about the wall that is formed between the end of the vaulted ceiling and the attic?  OK;  Drywall, Yes!; Bottom Plate, Yes; Top Plate, not usually; Framing, sort of; exterior sheathing, usually nothing.  So, we have 2.5 on these types of walls. Below is a picture of the end of two knee walls with no framing on a corner of a vaulted ceiling.

Knee wall from Attic Side

Solutions on Knee Walls:  Cover the top, back and the sides of the batts at the corners with an encapsulating material.  House wrap installed according to manufacturers directions is a good choice for an existing home.  Easy to get into the area and then apply.

A Batt should not be compressed.

OK!  Think about all the things running in walls.  Electric wires, pipes, CAT 5 cable; phone lines, cable TV, security system cables.

Poorly installed Batt Insulation

Poorly installed Batt Insulation

First, you have the installs that are done before the insulation is installed; typically the electric and plumbing.  The insulator can deal with these easily. The batt can be sliced, partly through, to allow the obstruction to pass through the middle, instead of stuffing the batt behind or pushing the batt into place on top the wire or pipe. It can be carefully cut to allow an electrical box.

Good Installation of Fiberglass Batts

Good Installation of Fiberglass Batts

For those tradesmen that follow the insulator, everyone else on the list above, it is not quite so easy. If they come before the drywall is up, then you may find holes in the kraft paper, and wires compressing the batt as it runs from 2x to 2x; or you may find something else. If they come after the drywall, your guess is as good as mine as to what the wall will actually be.

The infrared image below shows air infiltrating around improperly installed fiberglass batts on the other side.

Infrared Image Infiltration in Knee Wall


If you are renovating a wall in your house, and you choose to insulate; fantastic!  It will save you money.  Lots of insulation choices available, if you choose Fiberglass Batts, follow these concepts and you will maximize the effectiveness of your insulation.


The only other item you should do, when renovating and insulating is to air seal and stop those cold drafts. That is a subject of another post!

Insulation: How To Do Business with Customer Service in Mind Part II

Last Sunday I wrote a post about the Lawyers being sent to my friend and fellow Building Science Blogger Allison Bailes regarding a post on his blog.…ervice-in-mind/ ?

I received a copy of the letter from the President of Guardian Insulation to Allison late yesterday.  Allison provides the letter and his comments in his post today.

I am happy to see that Guardian Insulation can look at a situation and resolve it in terms of Good Customer Service.  Mr. Ziessler strongly indicated that Guardian would like to “engage the broader discussion with Allison and his readers about how to improve energy efficiency in homes and  the quality of installation across the spectrum of building products.”

I look forward to this join effort to improve the state of quality installs on any type of insulation.

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 Efficient Mortgages

Ray Hall has been doing efficient energy work in California for many years. Here is a link to his video on Energy Efficient Mortgages.

These can be FHA, VA or Conventional types. They allow the cost, of qualified energy improvements, such as additional insulation, other improvements to the building shell and newer more efficient heating and cooling systems, to the mortgage amount. This applies to your first loan on the property or a refinancing loan. The concept of a qualified energy improvement is one that shows enough cost savings to support the additional cost of the mortgage payment.

If you qualify for a loan, you probably qualify for an Energy Efficient Mortgage.

See what Ray Hall has to say in the video. Ask your mortgage lender about an Energy Efficient Mortgage. Efficient Energy Savers can provide the audit and the calculations for the EEM.

Here is the link to

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.

The Unglamorous Conservationist

This article is a Guest Posting. I read this yesterday and thought it was very timely and appropriate with our current heat wave!

Originally Published: August 13, 2010 by kathrynkfletcher

Going green is trendy. Everyone is doing it. ‘Green collared’ jobs are the way of the future. Even oil companies are spending millions to convince us that they are green at heart. So we should all jump on the bandwagon, right?


But Scott’s post last Friday (Pruis vs. Home Energy Retrofit) brings to light an important issue – the best ways to go green are not necessarily the sexiest ways. Sure it is cool to drive around in a shiny, sleek new hybrid vehicle, but if you haven’t done the basics around your house it just doesn’t make sense. Which brings me to the unfortunate paradox when it comes to energy and water efficiency…

Even though it is fashionable to be environmentally friendly, some of the friendliest things you can do for the environment aren’t fashionable.

You can’t show off the new insulation in your attic to your friends, and I’m guessing that your neighbors aren’t going to find your on-demand water heater a particularly fascinating topic of conversation. Unfortunately, unplugging electrical devices when they’re not in use isn’t going to help your public image one iota, but all of these examples are very green… unglamorous, but green.

But there is an up side to energy efficiency that flies under the social radar … $ in your pocket, and I’ve never heard anyone argue that money isn’t sexy!

Dr. Kathryn Fletcher is with GreenHomes America [], a leading home energy retrofit company.