Archive for November, 2014

Holiday Energy Saving Tips

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Energy Saving Tips for the HolidaysThe holidays bring friends and families together, which often finds us spending more time in the kitchen. If you’re like us, you’re interested in good tips on how to put together a cozy winter meal while keeping energy bills reasonable. Energy costs in the kitchen can total up to 15% of total home energy use, so it’s worth a bit of effort to learn how to be more efficient.

Here are some tips to help keep your energy costs down:

  • Keep the oven door closed. It’s tempting to open the door to check on the progress of a dish. But because the hot air that is contained in the oven is an important part of the appliance’s cooking process, frequent peeking is self-defeating. Every time the oven door is opened, the temperature inside is reduced by as much as 25 degrees, forcing the oven to work even harder (and use more energy) to get back to the proper cooking temperature, and increasing the cooking time. So try to use the oven window instead.
  • Clean your burners. If you’ve got an electric range, one great way to keep your stovetop cooking efficiently is to keep the reflectors under your burners grime-free. They can be a pain to clean, but regular maintenance can go a long way. You can also invest in some better reflectors that can decrease your stovetop cooking times, which will save you energy (and money!) over time.
  • Don’t neglect your crock-pot… or your microwave, toaster oven, or warming plate. Putting your small kitchen appliances to work instead of the oven or stovetop can mean significant energy savings. The average toaster oven can use up to half the energy of the average electric stove over the same cooking time.  And microwave ovens draw less than half the power of your regular oven, and they cook for a much shorter period of time
  • Make contact. We’ve all got one in our kitchen—those warped and rounded pans that wobble when you set them on the stovetop. If you have a gas range, you can cook with warped pans to your heart’s content; those of us with electric ranges aren’t so lucky. Electric stovetops can only transmit heat to pans they are in direct contact with; the less contact your pan has with the burner, the more energy the stovetop will have to expend to heat the pan (and its contents).
  • Cool it. Allow hot foods and liquids to cool before putting them in the refrigerator. Uncovered, hot food and liquids give off vapors that make the refrigerator work harder. Use a lid or plastic wrap to cover the food and place in the refrigerator after cooling.
  • Use your dishwasher. It saves energy and water. Only hand-wash things that aren’t dishwasher-safe, and wait until you’ve got a full load before starting the dishwasher. Be sure to stop the appliance before the heated dry cycle – just open the door and let your dishes air-dry.
  • Turn down the heat. Spending all day in the kitchen? If you’ve got the oven running and soup on the stove, you can probably turn the heat down a bit. The heat from your oven, not to mention dinner guests, should keep your home warmer than usual, and your furnace won’t have to work as hard.

One more tip… Be festive & frugal with your holiday lights. Did you know that those large, traditional colored bulbs you unpack year after year could be costing you a bundle? Consider buying new miniature lights or LED strings, which use 7 to 10 times less energy and last much longer than the larger bulbs.

To avoid accidentally leaving your lights on and running up your electric bill, think about using an automatic timer, both indoors and out. Timers remove the burden of turning the lights on and off…or forgetting to do it! Just make sure that the timer you use is rated to handle the total wattage of your lights.

Enjoy a safe, efficient and happy holiday!

Big Savings on Heat Pump Water Heaters

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Water heaters are one of the biggest sources of energy consumption, second only to energy used to heat your home or business.  Over the past few years, a new type of water heater, using Heat Pump technology, cuts water heating energy use by about 60% compared to standard electric storage water heaters.

If you’re thinking about replacing your water heater, or want to reduce your energy usage, now’s the time to consider a heat pump water heater.  Now through December 3rd, 2014, you can save a total of $700 on the price of a new GE GeoSpring Hybrid Heat Pump water heater.  This includes a $400 instant rebate at the time of purchase and a $300 rebate from OPALCO after installation.

A conventional electric water heater costs about $440 a year to heat water for a typical home.  It can cost even more, depending on the size of home and family and water use habits (baths versus showers, etc.).  In the same home, with a heat pump water heater,  it would only use $167 in electricity – a savings of $272 per year, or over $3,000 over the lifetime of a typical water heater. If your water heater uses propane, the savings should be even greater.

To find out if a heat pump water heater is right for you, click here for helpful tools and resources.  To learn more about the rebates, see information on the OPALCO rebate and the GE rebate, then check out the water heaters at Sears, Lowes, or any of these dealers.  Make your best deal, and once installed, fill out and submit the OPALCO rebate form to receive $300 cash back.

Check out the GeoSpring water heater website to learn more about how heat pump water heaters work, locate a dealer, and calculate savings.  Here’s a helpful video that explains how the GeoSpring water heater works.

What’s More Important, Air-Sealing or Insulation?

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Infrared image showing heat leaking from a house

Infrared image showing heat leaking from a house

A recent analysis of San Juan County homes and businesses showed that most can substantially reduce their energy bills and wasted energy by improving their energy efficiency. Air sealing and insulation are two of the best ways to make your home or business more comfortable, durable, and energy efficient.

To our question – What’s more important, air sealing or insulation? ­– Green Building Advisor (GBA) senior editor Martin Holladay says the answer is clear, “Air sealing always comes first.”

Air Leaks Waste Energy and Rot Houses

GBA estimates a whopping one third of the energy you pay for probably leaks through holes in your house. Air leaks can also cause moisture and indoor air quality problems. Stopping unwanted airflow is an important job of a building enclosure. Air leaks through walls, roofs and floors can have the biggest effect on the durability of a house. Uncontrolled air flow through the shell not only carries moisture into framing cavities, causing mold and rot, it can account for a huge portion of a home’s energy use and cause indoor air quality problems as well.

Doug Poole

Doug Poole

Doug Poole of Sage Building on Lopez Island agrees. He explains, “Air enters and leaves the home through stack effect and wind pressure.  Stack effect turns your house into a chimney and is constantly drawing air from the low points of the home and sending it out through the high points. This is called infiltration and exfiltration.”

Poole lists the benefits of air sealing a home as:

  • Savings on energy costs
  • Improved comfort through reducing drafty areas of the home
  • Better indoor air quality by reducing the air entering the home through the crawlspace
  • Lower threat of mold growth in the attic
air sealing your home

How a leaky building wastes energy. (click to enlarge)

Plugging the Leak

As winter approaches we are more likely to notice our home’s air leaks or “drafts,” especially when the winter winds are raging. Often these drafts are around windows and doors and we think these leaks are our major source of wasted energy. Experts agree however, that in most homes, the most significant air leaks are hidden in the attic and basement. These are the leaks that significantly raise your energy bill and make your house uncomfortable. As Poole said, in cold weather, warm air rises in your house, just like it does in a chimney. This air, which you have paid to heat, is wasted as it rises up into the attic and sucks cold air in all around your home—around windows, doors, and through holes into the basement.

Hand in hand with air sealing comes proper ventilation.  Poole says, “This can be as simple as a bath fan on a timer, or as complicated as a Heat Recovery Ventilator for super tight or high performing homes.  The tightness of the home can be tested with a Blower Door and then the appropriate home ventilation system should be installed.

A popular Home Performance slogan is:  “Seal tight, ventilate right!”  Poole’s own well sealed home has a bath fan that is always on at a low speed so its constantly bringing in fresh air from outside and getting rid of stale, moisture-laden air.  Opening windows high and low in the house can work too, but that wastes a lot of energy and it puts Mother Nature in charge of how much fresh air we get.

Caulking and weather-stripping are two simple and effective air-sealing techniques that offer quick returns on investment, often one year or less. Caulk is generally used for cracks and openings between stationary house components such as around door and window frames, and weather-stripping is used to seal components that move, such as doors and operable windows.  For some good information and tips on how to air seal you home or business, see Energy Star’s excellent A Do-It-Yourself Guide To Sealing And Insulating With Energy Star.  It’s loaded with good how-to information and illustrations.

Pressurizing the House

Blower Door

Blower Door

Poole agrees that door seals can sometimes be a big air leak in a home, and that properly sealing dampers on dryer vents, bath fans and kitchen hoods is good to do as well. That said, Poole finds the biggest culprits tend to be in the dark places. As a Home Performance contractor, his focus is on the high and low leaks in the house.

Donning protective gear and heading into the crawlspace to seal gaps around pipes and wires, under tubs, duct penetrations, etc. will improve air quality, save energy and reduce drafts.”

The attic is a little more technical.  We typically use the Blower Door to pressurize the house and help us find the air leaks in an attic.  These include the plumbing and electrical penetrations, as well as interior wall tops and drop soffits.  If you have a vaulted ceiling with no attic access, then looking for dusty cobwebs in cracks around beam ends, at blocking, etc… can yield results.  Air sealing high in the home saves energy and takes the stress off roof venting, reducing concerns around creating mold conditions on the underside of the roof-deck.

To check the energy efficiency of your house, the Home Energy Snapshot Assessment from OPALCO is a great place to start.  At $25 it is an excellent value, and includes 2-3 hours of consultation with a Building Performance Institute (BPI) certified contractor (Doug Poole or David Meiland of Bailer Hill Construction on San Juan Island), free energy efficient light bulbs and low-flow shower heads. To learn more about the Home Energy Snapshot, energy saving, rebates, or to schedule an Energy Snapshot appointment check out the links below.

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