Homes and Other Buildings consume too Much energy and are uncomfortable
Our homes (and other buildings) consume a prodigious amount of energy. America’s buildings consume more than 70% of the electricity and around 35% of the natural gas used in the country. And they are the largest single contributor to CO2 and other harmful gas emissions.
The average household spends more than $2.000 per year in electricity and gas, in the USA. And that means more than $100.000 over 50 years. Or $200.000 or more in large houses, in cold climates.
But it hasn't to be so. If you are building or buying a new home, of if you intend to do a major renovation, consider carefully low-energy construction strategies. You can reduce your energy bills to a small fraction of the prevailing levels.
Low energy buildings do not mean privation or less comfort. On the contrary.
The Golden Rule for Home Energy Improvements
We don’t need super-smart homes to minimize energy waste. For significant and immediate results we need to focus our efforts in energy conservation, namely in insulation, air sealing, landscaping, design or size and shape of the house and its windows.
We can’t forget the most fundamental principle for home energy efficiency: it’s a lot easier and cheaper to save energy than to produce it. It’s a lot more advantageous - from an economical and environmental standpoint - to save energy by insulating your home, or by using low energy appliances and lighting systems, than by producing energy – even if the energy comes from renewable sources…
At a macroeconomic level, home energy improvements are a business of many millions of dollars, or even trillions. And the future of the energy sector, and the role of solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy, depends largely on low-energy buildings too.
The Golden Rule For Home Energy Improvements
30 Misconceptions about Home Energy Improvements
20 Commandments for Home Energy Improvements
Design, Architecture & Home Construction
Working and finding construction professionals
First Priorities When Building a New Home or Making a Big Renovation
Super-Efficient Buildings for Cold Climates
Super-efficient homes can use far less energy than common buildings. And the technology already exists…
If you are building a new home, and you live in a cold climate, consider low-energy houses like the passivehaus buildings.
See: Passive Solar Houses
Super-Insulation and Air-Tightness
Yes, that’s true... Home insulation and air sealing counts more for low energy consumption than anything else, at least in cold climates.
Millions and Millions of Inefficient Houses
Our building codes establish minimum standards for energy efficiency, but they are not high enough. Building codes have failed – and are still failing – to provide guidance on low-energy building.
Energy auditors often complain about homeowners: “We go back to the same buildings, and make the same recommendations that are never implemented” - a fact that shows how important can be your motivation and commitment on such an important issue.
Home Size and Design
If building a new home, plan carefully its orientation to the sun, wind and breezes. Pay attention to its siting and shape, and do not compromise.
Wrong decisions will make your home less comfortable and downright energy-inefficient. It will never be environmentally-friendly and you will pay dozens of thousands of dollars more in energy bills, over its lifetime.
Also consider carefully the size of the house. Homes should be modest in size to be low-energy ; large homes are difficult to heat and to cool, and will have high electricity and gas bills. If possible, keep the size of your home around 2000 square feet or less.
Cooling with Ventilation, Breezes and Sun Protection
If you live in a hot climate shade your windows, roof and walls, and the ground around your house. Use trees and shrubs and also devices like awnings, shades and pergolas.
Do not underestimate shading. Shade and natural ventilation are key elements for home energy savings.
Consider breezes and outside fresh air to cool your house. Open your windows to breezes and use ventilation fans and whole-house fans to bring outside fresh air into your house.
Ceiling Fans and Air Conditioners Can Work in Conjunction
Ceiling fans and air conditioners cool by distinctly different methods. But they can work in conjunction.
Each one degree increase (Fº) in your air conditioner thermostat setting can decrease your air conditioner bills by, say, 5%. And ceiling fans make that possible. Just turn your ceiling fan and raise the AC setting by 4ºF/3ºC or slightly more. You will not notice any loss of comfort.
You may use your air conditioner in conjunction with ceiling fans (or other circulating fans) to get energy savings.
Fans can be great for reducing cooling bills, and you should not underestimate that.
And do not forget whole house-fans (if you live in a hot climate with cool evenings); and small portable fans and window fans.
See: Ceiling Fans with AC
You May Not Need Air Conditioners
Central air conditioners are expensive to install and to run. But there are good alternatives to them, from an energy-improvement and environmental standpoint.
You can greatly reduce your cooling bills by using low-energy windows, metallic window films, shading devices (overhangs, porches; awnings, blinds, shades, shutters), tree-shade and reflective roofing materials...
Old Refrigerators Can Consume More Than $200 of Power per Year
Appliances and electronics consume about 40-50% of the average household electricity consumption. A lot, indeed!
But new efficient refrigerators and freezers can cut refrigeration costs by as much as 50% or more.
And the same is true for clothes dryers, dishwashers or clothes washers…
How Many Electronic Devices Have you in Your House in Standby and Idle Mode?
Top energy wasters in our homes may be hidden or go unnoticed. Many home appliances have surprisingly high energy costs. Be aware.
Pay attention to refrigerators, clothes washers and other domestic appliances. But do not forget vacuum cleaners, personal computers, printers, routers and mobile telephone chargers and telephone answering machines; or CD players, video game consoles, grills, electric ice-cream makers, electric bread makers, electric juice extractors, electric knifes, electric egg boilers, electric toasters, coffee machines, hair-dryers, electric toothbrushes, electric razors, electrically powered towel rails, electric blankets, electric and more, much more…
That’s just a part of a much larger list. And though they aren't energy-intensive their large number makes them an important element of electricity bills.
See: Home Electronics
50 Videos on Low-Energy Strategies and Illustrated Stories About Energy Improvement and Environment
We have edited 50 videos on Home Energy Improvement, in our YouTube channel. See a list of them here.
We have also dozens of illustrated stories and high quality images about low-energy and environmental issues that you can use freely on your site or blog. See their list here: Stories/Images List.
Heat Pumps: Electric Heating and Cooling
Heat pumps provide both heating and cooling at much lower prices that other electric equipment.
Depending on their type and features, they can produce 2, 3, 4... times more heat than the electricity they use, contrary to common electric-resistance heaters where this relation is 1 to 1.
They are a reliable technology, excellent for moderate climates. But which is their role in low-energy homes, and in cold climates?
See: Heat Pumps Guide
Boilers and Hot Water Space Heating
Many people love hot-water space heating and dislike furnaces and other forced-air heating systems, saying that they dry out the air and are a cause of drafts or air stratification.
And though it isn't exactly so - such symptoms are associated to problems like leaky homes, wrongly dimensioned furnaces, problems with the ducts and clogged filters - hydronic systems can in fact provide a very comfortable heating, difficult to match by furnaces or heat pumps.
But hydronic heating systems – including the widely praised radiant floor heating – are expensive and aren't a good choice for home energy improvement..
See: Hot-Water Heating
Furnaces Systems & Home energy Improvments
A small furnace, properly installed and with a short and straight duct system, can provide significant energy savings.
That's the best option in very cold climates, in very large homes, or homes with conventional levels of insulation and without the design and the features required by passive solar houses. That’s a compromise solution, below the standards of low-energy homes.
Be aware. The duct system should be short and straight, and located within the thermal envelope of the house; the supply registers should run along interior walls and the equipment should not be located in attics, crawl spaces, or garages.
Besides, before buying a furnace you should seal and insulate your home. Ideally, you should insulate and seal it to very high levels, to keep heat loss to a minimum.
See: Furnaces Guide
Fireplaces Are Unhealthy and 90% of the Heat Goes Up Through the Chimney
There are dozens of millions of homes with fireplaces worldwide. Unfortunately they heat too little (90% of the heat goes up through the chimney) and they emit dangerous pollutants.
As the American Lung Association puts it: "Burning wood emits harmful toxins and fine particles in the air that can worsen breathing problems and lead to heart and lung disease and even early death"
Windows & Skylights
Windows are a weak link in the thermal envelope of any house. They can be responsible for many thousands of dollars in energy costs, during their lifetime.
They are often the main responsible for high air conditioning costs in hot climates; and for a significant part of the energy loss in cold climates.
To prevent it, you have to choose the right type of windows, taking into account your climate, and to install them properly.
As to skylights, they can be great for natural lighting, but they can also increase your energy bills by several hundreds of dollars, every year. Don't be fooled by dreams of beautiful views at the top of your rooms.
Low-energy Lamps Can Provide Lighting Savings of About 75%
Lighting accounts for about 5%-10% of our energy bills. In the USA that amounts to $100-$200 per year/household...
But it's not difficult to reduce lighting consumption. New efficient light bulbs and fixtures combined with simple strategies, and timers, sensors and dimmers can easily cut home lighting bills in half or more.
What Can an Energy Auditor Do for You?
Building codes establish minimum standards for energy improvement. But for many years they were too low, and they still aren't strict enough. Building codes have failed – and are still failing – to provide guidance on building.
And the end result is well known: millions of homes with very low levels of comfort and wasting energy.
In America, for instance, the average homeowner spends about $2.200 a year in electricity and gas. And that’s too much. You can cut your energy bills in half or more. A reduction of just 20% in such bills means $17.600 over a period of 40 years.
And that’s where energy audits enter…
See: Home Energy Audits
Buying a New Home
Energy Star certified homes (EUA, Canada), 6-10 Star homes (Australia) and European homes with a A or B energy performance certification are a good choice for energy savings. But they fall short of the best.
See: Buying a Home
Electric vs. Gas Small Heaters
Gas is cheaper than electricity. The price of gas can be 1/2 or 1/3 of electricity, per unit of heat. Why then not use small gas heaters instead of small electric heaters?
One of the reasons is that unvented gas heaters are unsafe. On the other hand, electric heaters are cheaper to buy and to install.
That explains a lot. But vented wall gas heaters can be a great alternative to electric heaters, and since they have a larger capacity they can be used in other more ambitious heating strategies.
The Four Solar Families
Solar water heating is now part of millions of homes worldwide. On the other hand, much of the future of our planet relies largely on photovoltaic systems...
But residential solar powered systems are not just photovoltaic systems for electricity generation and solar water heating systems. They include also passive solar and solar space heating.
See: Home Solar Guide
Zoning: Room-By-Room Heating and Cooling
Temperature zoning means keeping different rooms or parts of the house at different temperatures, instead of heating or cooling the entire house.
Selecting a Water Heating System
Water heating bills amount to $300 to $450 per year in most households. Water heating is one of our biggest energy expenses.
There are several types of water heaters to choose from: 1) Solar… 2) Gas tankless (condensing and regular); 3) Gas storage (condensing and regular); 4) Electric; 5) Integrated heating-water systems.
See: Water Heating Guide
Install Low-Energy Exterior Doors
If you are going to install new exterior doors consider low-energy doors. They may cost you a bit more, but can save you hundreds of dollars over their lifetime.
Be careful with patio glass doors and glass doors. They are affordable and may look nice, but that comes at a high cost. They are a major source of heat loss and gains; there aren't such a thing as efficient glass doors.
See: Doors Guide
Be Aware of Leaky and Un-Insulated Ducts
That hidden and unnoticed network of tubes in the walls, ceilings or floors, carrying the air from your home’s furnace or heat pump or AC to the several rooms, can be a big energy waster.
Leaky and un-insulated ducts can add hundreds of dollars to the bills of homeowners.
See: Home Ducts Guide
Home Moisture Problems
Keep excess moisture out of your home. Moisture is responsible for structural damages in walls, floors and attics, and for higher energy bills and serious health hazards.
Excess moisture reduces energy-efficiency, by increasing energy consumption. Your heating and cooling system will have to work harder and to use more energy to dry out your house; and when moisture condenses in the insulation materials, heat will flow more easily through them.
See: Home Moisture Guide
Roofs and Attics
The key job of a roof is to keep water out.
But it should also be low-energy, which means that the roof should also keep the heat out of our homes. Yes: keep the heat out… even in cold climates.
Roofs can’t ever be a significant source of useful heat gains.
Walls need insulation. Without it, heat will flow to the outside through the materials they are made from. Wood, steel, concrete and other construction materials do not impede heat flow. That's why homes with thick solid wood or solid masonry walls can be so uncomfortable.
Floors & Flooring
When building or renovating a home, when it comes to floors, people generally think of floor coverings or radiant floor heating…
Even if there are many people complaining that their floors are uncomfortable and cold, most homeowners and builders do not recognize the importance of floors for low-energy consumption, and they end up with homes that are expensive to heat and cool.
Many basements are a source of problems. If you are building a new home, consider another type of foundation in soils with poor drainage and high water tables, or in areas that have a high risk of flooding. And avoid crawlspaces; they are too prone to problems.
See: Basements Guide
Do Not Forget your Yard and your Pool
A single gas-powered leaf blower can emit as much pollution in one hour as dozens of cars operating for the same period of time. And typical gas mowers are responsible for about 5% of the world’s pollution, which is awesome.
Pay attention to your yard equipment efficiency, and also to your pool, if you have one.
Many swimming pool owners keep their pool pumps running 24 hours per day, but limiting it to 3 hours per day can be enough.
Besides, the vast majority of the existing pool pumps are single-speed; they can’t change their flow rate; during most of the time they provide greater water circulation than necessary, wasting large amounts of energy.
And there are other conservation measures that can be implemented…
Thermostats can provide large energy savings in homes with low or conventional levels of insulation.
See: Thermostats Guide
energy improvements Are a Powerful Tool For Creating a Better Environment
Take the example of furnaces and their large environmental impact.
Each furnace emits on average 20.000-50.000 pounds of CO2 per year. Reducing such amounts by 30% - which is easy to get through conservation measures or by upgrading to a new multi-stage variable speed 90%+ AFUE furnace – equals to reduce the CO2 emissions by 90.000-100.000 pounds over the expected lifetime of the equipment (20 years or more).
And we can multiply the examples. Efficiency is a powerful means for creating a better environment and a better world.
Renewables & Sustainability
Solar water heating can provide energy savings of 80%, in hot and moderate climates. Photovoltaics can solve many of our environmental problems. Small wind powered systems can provide green electricity at low cost.
But in the short term, the most important from an economical and environmental standpoint is design, landscaping, insulation, sealing and high efficient appliances, windows, electronics and water heaters. Or tree shade, and overhangs and awnings, in the summer… Or solar passive gains in cold and moderate climates.
Passive solar techniques are often undervalued. Iconic technologies like solar photovoltaic systems are much more appealing. But that's wrong. Passive solar can provide exceptional results with very low or no costs (in new construction).
The landscape around your house is not just about privacy and good looks; it has also a great impact on your comfort and energy bills.
Trees and hedges can provide shade but also protection from winds, or drive cooling breezes towards your home, or block street noise... If you are building a new home, to fully benefit from your landscape, consider improving it.
Trees and shrubs can redirect the winds away from your home, or bring refreshing breezes into it, or shade your roofs, walls and windows, or block unwanted sunlight, making your home and your yard more comfortable, and all this for free or almost free...
Save Money... Find the best ways for Home Energy Improvements with us…