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We presume you're reading this book with the intention of improving the energy efficiency of your home. We hope to help you do that and more.
Improvements to your home's efficiency are among the best financial investments available. The projects described here yield returns in utility cost savings that range from five to fifty percent annually, exceeding the interest yielded by many traditional investments. These economic returns will only improve as energy prices increase.
Most of the projects described here also offer benefits beyond energy efficiency. Many will increase your home's comfort, safety, and durability. And the resale value of efficient homes continues to climb in comparison to homes with high utility costs.
The best time to start improving your home's energy efficiency is now. Your savings won't begin until you take time to analyze your energy consumption, formulate your own solutions, and upgrade your home.
ENERGY CONSUMPTION VERSUS CARBON EMISSIONS
Your consumption of energy has an effect on the planet, which varies widely depending upon the amount and type of energy you use. The primary environmental factor we evaluate in this book isthe emission of carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]), a normal byproduct of the combustion process that is released when you burn hydrocarbon fuels such as coal, oil, or natural gas. Combustion takes place within your home heating equipment, and at the central power plants that produce most of our electricity. When carbon dioxide is released, it traps heat in the atmosphere through the process called the greenhouse effect. When you improve the efficiency of your home, you produce less carbon dioxide and other pollutants, saving money and reducing your environmental impact.
Comparing Emissions of Various Energy Sources
It's not difficult to estimate the amount of C[O.sub.2] released by the natural gas, propane, or oil you consume in your home. Your utility bill shows you how much fuel you consume. Burning that fuel releases predictable amounts of C[O.sub.2] up the chimney of your heating system.
It's more difficult to evaluate the carbon emissions that result from your electricity consumption because electricity is produced by a variety of methods. The fuel most commonly used to generate electricity in North America is coal, though natural gas and fuel oil are also used. These are burned to produce steam that spins electric generators. The combustion of these fuels, for both heat and electricity, accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions that we produce.
Hydroelectric plants use falling water to generate electricity. Hydropower emits no carbon directly, though the associated construction and maintenance of dams, generators and transmission lines do incur a large environmental cost.
Even nuclear power can be described as "carbon neutral," since nuclear reactors don't burn fossil fuels and so don't release C[O.sub.2]. Yet the operation of nuclear power plants and the disposal of their waste incurs large environmental and economic costs. Carbon emissions are not the only way to measure the desirability of potential energy sources.
One of the most promising ways to generate electricity today is with photovoltaic (PV) systems. You may have seen banks of PV solar panels on the roofs of buildings, or even in large arrays operated by utility companies. PV systems convert sunlight to electricity. But even this is not a perfect technology: PV systems are still relatively expensive and their manufacturing process consumes energy and incurs other environmental costs. Wind power and other renewable energy sources are also becoming a part of the mix as we develop sustainable energy systems.
When it comes to generating electricity, there is no perfect solution. The improvement of existing buildings, to make them more efficient, still produces a better economic return than the construction of almost any type of power plant. That's why using less energy is the best way to save money and trim your carbon footprint.
EMBODIED ENERGY AND DURABILITY
Your home leaves an environmental footprint beyond its carbon emissions from daily energy consumption. Two other factors carry great weight: the embodied energy in its materials, and the durability of the structure.
Embodied energy is the sum of energy inputs a material requires over its lifetime. Several organizations have proposed indexes of embodied energy that allow comparison among building materials. Not everyone agrees on what inputs should be included in these indexes, making comparisons difficult. But most such indexes account for the energy consumed in some or all of these activities.
Mining or harvesting the raw materials
Shipping the raw materials to the manufacturing facility
Processing the raw materials into building products
Shipping the materials to the job site
Installing the building materials
Performing needed maintenance over the material's lifetime
Disposing of or recycling the material when it is replaced or the building is demolished
Other considerations may affect embodied energy, making a reliable estimate difficult to calculate. For example, should embodied energy include the energy required to build the manufacturing facility? Should it include the energy required to build the vehicle used to transport the material? What about the energy used by housebuilders to commute to the job where the material is installed?
The longevity of a material must also be considered when assessing its environmental impact. For example, PVC plastic roof gutters that last for ten years or less cannot be compared pound-for-pound to PVC plastic plumbing that remains functional for fifty years or more. And if a material is recycled when the building is demolished-common for aluminum in today's market but not for concrete-then some or its embodied energy is reclaimed by recycling.
You can minimize the embodied energy in your home by following these general guidelines:
Build small. It's best to use less of any building material. Smaller homes have less impact on the environment both during their construction and throughout their lifetimes.
Remodel your home rather than building a new one. You'll avoid the cost and environmental impact of buying an entire houseful of new materials. Focus your efforts on improving the efficiency of an existing building instead.
Choose long-lived high-quality building materials. Materials with a long lifespan have less environmental impact than those that wear out quickly, plus they require less maintenance.
But remember that embodied energy is only part of the picture. Your home's operational energy-the electricity, gas, and other fuels used year after year to operate and maintain your home-are still your biggest concern. This is a simple matter of scale. Most research that compares the embodied energy and operational energy of homes shows that embodied energy accounts for only ten to twenty percent of the total energy consumed by the building over the years. Operational energy consumes the other eighty to ninety percent. The goal of this book is to help you control that ongoing energy consumption.
DEVELOPING A PLAN
The first step in crafting a home improvement plan is to decide how to improve your home. The characteristics of efficient homes vary from one region to another, depending on climate, the type of construction, the kinds of fuel that are available, and many other factors. But the best homes share these common traits:
They have building shells that are airtight and extremely well insulated.
They have small heating and cooling systems.
Their windows are oriented to collect solar heat in winter and reject it in summer.
They have appliances and lighting that are the most energy efficient available.
They may use solar power to generate electricity (photovoltaic systems), or to produce hot water (solar thermal systems).
Your existing home may already include some of these traits. As you work your way through this book, you'll gain an idea of how your home compares to the ideal home. But don't be discouraged by your home's shortcomings. The best time to start any investment program-whether opening a savings account or starting home efficiency projects-is right now. There are plenty of small projects in this book that you can accomplish right away.
BIG VERSUS SMALL IMPROVEMENTS
As you review the projects in this book, you'll see that they cover a large range of cost and complexity. You could probably save a hundred dollars a year, for example, by installing compact fluorescent light bulbs in your home this weekend. But you could benefit from even more impressive savings by stripping the siding off your home, applying two inches of foam insulation, and installing new siding, windows, and doors. Though this big project would require advance planning and an investment of tens of thousands of dollars, it could be an equally wise investment in your future, especially considering both the improvement to your comfort and the economic benefits. We take this view of these large projects: the current energy crunch will likely become permanent, and home improvements of this magnitude will be needed to bring our existing housing stock up to modern standards.
We suggest that you get started on some small energy improvement projects right away. At the end of this chapter we've outlined ten of the simplest ways to save energy without spending too much money. But do not neglect the big projects. We've found that these major undertakings produce the best package of overall benefits when you consider reduced utility expenses, lowered carbon emissions, improvement in comfort, and increase in home resale value. These biggest and most important projects usually include improvements to your home's shell-the walls, ceiling, floors, doors and windows. These major projects are worth the effort because most heating and cooling energy waste occurs through these areas.
Moreover, neglecting shell issues because they are too difficult will likely make other efforts less productive. It often doesn't make sense to replace your heating or cooling system, for example, without making major improvements in the building shell. That's because improvements in the shell will result in the need for far less heating and cooling capacity. Once you've made shell improvements, your new heating and cooling system can be smaller, and so will be less expensive to purchase, install, and operate. Over the lifespan of your home, reduced utility costs could easily pay for the upgrades you performed to the building shell.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
We recommend that you develop a written energy upgrade plan for your home. This can be as simple or complex as you'd like, but it will be worth the effort to gather your ideas on paper.
Take time to review this book. You could read it all at once or just a chapter at a time, but you'll want to return to it occasionally when you start a specific project.
When you read about a project that could be relevant to your home, make an entry in your written plan.
Do some additional research. You may want to search the Internet for additional information, or ask questions of the service staff at your favorite hardware store. Get prices for materials, and enter them in your written plan.
Consider how much money you want to invest in your home. For many of us, home maintenance is already a major expense, though we may be spending our money on cosmetic improvements. Consider how to piggyback energy upgrades onto cosmetic projects. Could you seal your ductwork, for example, before installing new drywall on your basement ceiling?
Once you have assembled a wish list of projects, consider which ones would be most efficiently performed as a group. If you need to upgrade both your attic and floor insulation, for example, it makes good sense to get bids for both and to have them done at the same time.
Identify projects that conflict with one another, so you don't spend money now on improvements that won't be needed once you complete future projects. You wouldn't want to spend money sealing ductwork, for example, that might be replaced when you upgrade to a high-efficiency furnace.
Prioritize your assembled projects. Decide which ones you can perform with confidence yourself. Get written proposals from experts for those you don't plan to do personally. Budget money for the big improvements, and develop a savings plan, if necessary, that will allow you to do the big projects sometime in the future. Ask your lender about Energy Efficiency Mortgages that can be applied to a refinance.
Identify the small improvements that you can make right away, and get started on them.
If you have big improvements on the list, decide which one you'd like to start with. If you'll work with contractors on the project, inquire about schedule and budget. Make a commitment by marking your projects on your calendar.
The process of improving your home's efficiency will never be complete. Just like maintaining your home with tasks such as repainting or replacing a roof, you cannot afford to ignore your home's energy efficiency. At this point in history, our relationship to energy is changing, too, driven by the cost of fuel, climate change, and shifting housing markets. The sooner each of us gets started on the projects outlined in this book, the sooner we can each reclaim control of our energy costs and our housing. We wish you luck in this endeavor.
ANALYZING YOUR ENERGY CONSUMPTION
The first challenge you face in setting goals for reducing your energy consumption is to understand your current energy usage. With this knowledge in hand, you'll be prepared to analyze the potential savings you can reap from your home improvement efforts. You'll also be able to estimate your emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
The best way to analyze your consumption is by reviewing your utility bills. The utility bill analysis we describe in Analyzing Your Utility Bill on page 8 will take an hour or two, but will be well worth your time. You could complete all of the tasks described in this book without performing that analysis, but your work will be more successful if you know where to apply your efforts. If you choose to skip this procedure for now, be sure to review Ten Sure-Fire Ways to Improve Your Home's Efficiency on page 16, near the end of this chapter.
You may receive one utility bill that includes both gas and electric accounts, or you may receive separate bills for each of these types of energy. If you live within reach of the nationwide grid of underground gas lines, you probably use natural gas in your home. If you live in a rural area, you may use propane instead (propane is a type of liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG). In some regions, fuel oil is still widely used for heating. And some all-electric homes use electricity for both heat and appliances.
Measuring Electrical Consumption
Electrical energy is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). One kilowatt-hour is the amount of electricity consumed by a 100-watt bulb in 10 hours of operation.
If you inspect your electric bill, you may see this unit of measurement written variously as kilowatt hour, kilowatt-hour, kWh, or kwh. These terms all refer to the same measurement.
The cost to the consumer of a kilowatt-hour of electricity typically ranges from 10 to 20 cents (2008).
The average family in the U.S. uses about 11,000 kWh of electricity per year. Those with electric heat use more, those with gas or oil heat use less.
We refer to electric consumption in kilowatt hours throughout this book. Though your rate will vary depending upon your region, time of year, and in some cases time of day, we have chosen to use an average current electrical rate of 15 cents per kilowatt-hour (2008).
Measuring Natural Gas Consumption
All measurements of heating fuels - natural gas, propane, and fuel oil - are ultimately based upon the British thermal unit (BTU). A BTU is a measure of heat, and is approximately equal to the heat released when burning a common stick match.
There are several different quantities of BTUs used by utility companies. Inspect your gas bill to see which is used by yours.
The most common units for measuring natural gas are therms (100,000 BTUs) and decatherms (1,000,000 BTUs, abbreviated dkt). Some utility companies also use the designation MMBTU (a thousand thousand, or 1,000,000 BTUs, the same as a decatherm).
Many utilities sell natural gas by the cubic foot. This the unit of volume actually measured by your gas meter. These bills don't show BTUs or therms, but rather 100s of cubic feet (100 cubic feet is abbreviated CCF). Since 100 cubic feet of natural gas produces approximately 100,000 BTUs when burned, 100 CCF equals 1 therm.
The cost of a therm of energy to a North American consumer usually ranges, with a few exceptions, from $1.00 to $1.80 (2008).
The average household in the U.S. uses about 920 therms of gas per year. Those who live in cold regions use the most.
<%TOC%>Contents Introduction Chapter 1 Developing a Plan for Your Home Energy Consumption versus Carbon Emissions....................3
Excerpted from The Homeowner's Handbook to ENERGY EFFICIENCY by John Krigger Chris Dorsi
Copyright © 2008 by Saturn Resource Management, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted April 20, 2009
The book explains realistic projects to increase efficiencies of modern stick built homes. Many good ideas about building new homes, and references to other books for the specific interests that are not detailed in this book.
The book is a relatively easy read and can help the average homeowner reduce utility bills. The book can give enough ideas to keep you busy for years of weekend work. Many easy projects and some more difficult ones you may want to hire out, but at least you will be educated enough to manage it. The authors are well known in this field, they wrote this for the average homeowner. If you want more technical descriptions they do have other books on the market.
Good luck and happy energy (and money) saving.
Posted February 5, 2010
No text was provided for this review.