10 ways to make your home more energy efficient

10 Ways to Increase Energy Efficiency

What is Energy Efficiency?

We talk a lot about energy efficiency around here. It’s one of our core values because we can’t reach net zero without it. But, what is energy efficiency? What does it even mean?

Energy efficiency is doing the same things you always do, but using less energy to do them. Remember when you were a kid and you’d leave the front (or back) door open and mom would yell at you and ask if you were raised in a barn? The next thing out her mouth would be something about heating (or cooling) the outdoors. Yeah, well when you heating or cooling the outdoors you are not making the best use of your energy.

Energy efficiency means that you are optimally using the energy in your home and not wasting it. You don’t have air leaking out windows, you aren’t leaving doors open, and you don’t have cold air seeping into the house through wall sockets and unsealed duct work. When your home is energy-efficient you aren’t wasting money on your electric bill, you are using exactly what you need and no more.

Before we can bother with doing things like installing solar, we’ve got to make sure the building is energy-efficient. It’s a huge waste to install solar when so much of the energy you are creating is escaping the building it’s being created for.

Ever since ENERGY STAR became such a big deal it seems like most people think that that’s the core of energy efficiency, and yes ENERGY STAR appliances are much more efficient than their counterparts. But, the truth is that energy efficiency is so much simpler. There are ton of small ways that we can improve the energy efficiency in our homes and commercial buildings.

10 Ways to Increase Energy Efficiency

  1. Seal your duct work. Buy a tub of duct sealant and make sure that your duct work is sealed, this includes the ducts under your home as well as where they come into your home (the vents). While it may not seem like a big deal, a lot of air can escape through those tiny cracks between the floor and the ducts.
  2. Check your faucets for leaks. A leak left unattended can cost you big time on your water bill. Too often we don’t even realize that there is a leak until it’s too late, and often months have passed with increased electric bills. Keep an eye on your electric bill if you notice a large increase in water or electric usage there may be a problem.
  3. Insulate your water heater and pipes. If you are like many of us your water heater is in your uninsulated garage, but you don’t have to insulate your entire garage to insulate your water heater. You can purchase a water heater jacket for a minimal price and install it yourself, not only reducing the energy the unit has to use to heat your water, but it will decrease the time it takes for hot water to reach other areas of your home.
  4. Install a programmable thermostat. Whether you go with a basic unit or one of the new fancy thermostats that programs itself based on your actions, a programmable thermostat will not only save you money but will keep your home much more comfortable.
  5. Wash your laundry in cold water. Your clothes will be just as clean, but you’ll save a ton of energy that is wasted just to heat the water.
  6. Swap out light bulbs. I bet if you take a look around your house you will find that you still have some old incandescent bulbs stealing energy. Swap those old bulbs out for new LED and CFL bulbs. These bulbs use as little as 1/10 of the energy of the old bulbs and put as just as much (or more) light.
  7. Replace appliances before they die. Chances are your appliances are close to 10 years old. If you are still using old non-Energy Star appliances consider replacing them with more efficient appliances before they die. You’ll not only save energy (and money) in the long-term but you’ll save yourself from the short-term headache of having to rush out and replace a dead unit.
  8. Clean and replace filters. Check your air filters and replace them on a regular schedule.
  9. Check the humidity. If you struggle with keeping your home cool enough in the warmer months you may want to check the humidity. A $10 humidistat will allow you to see the indoor humidity. If it’s too high you’ll want to purchase and install a dehumidifier. Doing this will reduce your cooling bills and make your home much more comfortable.
  10. Caulk leaky windows – use rope caulk to caulk those leaky windows. Did you know you are losing a ton of energy to leaky windows (even if they are new)? Those little cracks can equate to having a window (or even two) open as wide as they will go.

 

It doesn’t seem like much, and these are just a few of the many easy things you can do around your house to save energy and save money.  Feel free to leave a comment and tell us what you’ve done to improve energy efficiency around your home or office.

Sun Saves Money for Alabama Chicken Farmer

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace. To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue. To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside.”

~Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

 

 

Powering chicken coops with solarRicky McGee of Fyffe, Alabama is a poultry farmer. When I visited his business on an overcast day in October his coops were empty and clean, awaiting the next batch of chicks.


The roof of that same coop, however, was anything but empty. It was being outfitted with 161 solar panels by Tennessee Tennessee Solar Solutions of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 

 

 

 

Putting solar on a chicken coop

 

Why put solar on a chicken coops?

Ricky McGee is a pioneer among his peers as the first poultry farmer in Northern Alabama to tap into the sun to offset enormous electrical costs associated with poultry farming.

 

“I’m a guinea pig, that’s what I am,” Ricky says good-naturedly.

Heating and cooling chickens can cost a lot. The birds are very susceptible to temperature change, especially in the summer months.

 

Pictured (L-R):  Tennessee Solar Solutions: Josh Hood, Installer; Anthony Roden, President; Rod Harrison, Sales Manager; Brandon Carter, Vice President.
Bottom:  Ricky McGee

Chicken farmers going solar

 

 

 

 

 

 

“They run huge water coolers in here to keep it cooled…they have utility bills that could be well over $1,000 a month.” – Rod Harrison of Tennessee Solar Solutions

Solar SolutionsThe biggest cost is the initial installation but that investment would be higher if not for two factors on Ricky’s side: the project is both agricultural and rural. That makes farmers eligible for a special USDA grant called REAP. The grant pays one quarter of the install costs. And, as a commercial operation, Ricky will be eligible for a 30% federal tax credit.

Ricky won’t use the solar directly. Instead, he sells it back to Sand Mountain Authority. “He feeds back into the grid and they offset his bill by the amount of energy he generated. It’s a credit and debit transaction,” says Rod Harrison.  If all goes as planned, the sun’s energy could cover 75% of the farmer’s electrical costs.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

 

 

Tennessee Solar Solutions ranks 319 out of more than 10,000 solar installation companies in the nation and this project is their first poultry farm. They hope others will soon follow, spreading sunny savings throughout the southeast states of Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia.

 

ALCSE Giving Tuesday

#GivingTuesday. T-Minus 1 Month.

December 1st is Giving Tuesday.  That’s just one short month away.  ALCSE Giving TuesdayWe’re working hard for sustainable energy throughout Alabama. But we need YOU!

EDUCATING

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We’re hard at work to bring more sustainable energy and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) into local classrooms.

PRODUCING

We encourage and support locally-produced, renewable energy.

We encourage and support locally-produced, renewable energy.

MOVING

Did you know that gas would need to go below $1 per gallon before electric cars didn't make economic sense?

Did you know that gas would need to go below $1 per gallon before electric cars didn’t make economic sense?

ENCOURAGING

Support Sustainable Energy Alabama

We celebrate entrepreneurial efforts that use new technology.

So what can you do?

  • Sign up for a Thunderclap that will happen at 9:00 AM on Tuesday December 1st. Sign up here: https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/33882-i-m-solarizing-alabama
    • A Thunderclap is a tool that allows our supporters to simultaneously post on the same message on their social media networks. It will help us make a big splash to start #GivingTuesday
    • Please sign up for the Thunderclap using all the social media accounts you have!
  • Forward this blog post to family and friends and ask them to sign up for the Thunderclap.
  • Give on #GivingTuesday (Dec. 1st). Even $1 will make a big difference.
  • Using that same link, you can start your own fundraising page to help us if you are so inclined. Set your own goal and try to help us fundraise!
HVAC Hypermiling

2 Steps to HVAC Hypermiling

Heating and cooling costs typically account for more than half of your utility bill, according to the Department of Energy. If you ask us, that is just crazy. So what can you do about it? How about “HVAC Hypermiling”?

What is Hypermiling?

The term hypermiling was originally used in automotive circles to describe people who drove intelligently to achieve significantly higher fuel economy than rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The practice involves well-known methods like coasting down hills or slowly accelerating from a stop, but hypermilers go to far more radical ends to decrease their fuel consumption.

So What is HVAC Hypermiling?

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) hypermiling is the process by which you take any means necessary to reduce the amount of time your HVAC runs, thereby reducing the amount of money you pay for heating and cooling. HVAC hypermiling can be achieved through a variety of methods but here are two ways to make it work for you.

1. Seal Everything. Insulate.

This is one of the most simple and cost effective things you can do. Most houses in North Alabama have about 30% duct leakage. This means when you pay for $100 of cool air in the summer, only about $70 of it actually enters your house. Not cool. (Pun intended.)

Most North Alabama houses also have significant amounts of air leakage and are poorly insulated. You can do this stuff on your own with the right materials. And patience. Here is a short little guide from ENERGY STAR: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_seal_insulate

Of course you could pay a professional contractor to knock this out for you. It would set you back a few hundred bucks and a few hours. If you have a larger than average home, the cost may be a little over $1000. Even so, you’ll make your money back almost immediately.

2. Squeeze the Seasons

OK, this is the fun part. My wife and I play this game each year. Really it is just me and she is along for the ride. When her frown gets a little too big I know it is time to give in and turn on the HVAC. Here’s what I do.

I try to turn the HVAC off as early in the spring as possible and leave it off for as long as possible. I do the exact opposite in the fall. I’ll turn it off as early as possible and hold out until maybe early November. The better your home is air sealed and insulated, the better you will do.

When we have cool nights in the house we use blankets and extra clothing to stay warm. The house will warm up during the day so the objective is to endure a few hours of colder than normal temperatures to keep the HVAC from coming on. If the house is still cool and it has warmed up outside, the windows come open. Fans are used to circulate air and cool the house if it gets too hot. I refuse to turn the HVAC on until the temperature gets to 78°F in the Spring or 66° in the Fall.

Ready to push your HVAC hypermiling a little further? Sometimes you’ll have a spike or a drop in temperature. Sometimes you’ll feel the humidity creep up a little too high. No worries. Run the HVAC. Then shut it off and hold out again.

Here’s an example. Let’s say it is Spring and the temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the house and you can feel a little humidity. You know that the next few days will be cool but just need to make it through this warm spell. Turn the HVAC on and cool your house below what you normally would. Say 70°F. Once the temperature hits 70°, shut of the HVAC. This will allow you a few degrees of warming once the HVAC turns off and before the sun sets. Once you make it though this specific day you know you have a few good days ahead again. The key is to use the HVAC system sparingly just to re-balance of sort. 

One last note… Make sure to track your humidity as well. The last thing you want is to save a few bucks on HVAC costs only to let the humidity get so high your floors buckle.

Have fun saving and let us know some of your results!

-Daniel

Sustainable Energy Superstar: Bronwen Murray

Meet Bronwen Murray: Journalist, Marketing Maven, and Sunshine Grabber. Bronwen lives in a solar-powered home.

SunsetHOME FACTS

  • FACT: Solar energy provides 100% electrical power
  • FACT: Solar system completed July 2015
  • FACT: System consists of 18 solar panels
  • FACT: 16 storage batteries
  • FACT: Average total installation costs: 20K
  • FACT: Home age: 100+ years
  • FACT: Square footage: 1200 square feet

 

I met Bronwen outside her family home, as the sun sank into the fields, creating a peachy glow from the front porch steps.

Bronwen is inspired by her 83-year-old Grandmother and beloved mentor to live sustainably. Her dedication is evidenced by the 18 solar panels on the roof of the small bungalow where she resides.

 

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“This is an over 100-year-old house. It belonged to my great grandmother. This is also the Humphrey farm which has been in my family for about seven generations.”

When the family discussed adding solar power, Bronwen resolved to maintain the integrity of the original home, with its rustic character and small footprint. At just 1200 square feet and one bedroom, it is the perfect size for a single woman.

“I like the idea of making something of what you already have.”

tankless water heater

One feature Bronwen added was an on-demand water heater. As faucets pull water into the house, the system very quickly heats it to the 140 degree range. It is powered by propane (think ubiquitous silver bullet-shaped tank hugging the ground).

 

As the panels draw solar into the home, the sunshine is converted into DC (direct current) electricity through a method called photovoltaics (PV).  An inverter changes the DC power into AC (alternating current).

 

And off it goes, into a box that Bronwen calls the “heart” of the system. That system ferries current where needed. Any unused energy is stored in big battery packs. During overcast, rainy time periods, the “brain” pulls power from the batteries. If necessary, the system can toggle over to Bronwen’s public electrical source.

“The ‘Midnight Classic’ system is really kind of like the brains of what makes this guy work.”

BronwenBrain (1)

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But that’s not all.  Inside her home, Bronwen uses energy-efficient appliances. She even purchased an energy efficient washer/dryer combination. But there was a downside: it took almost five hours to do one load of laundry. I’m not kidding.

Sometimes, convenience trumps sustainability.

“So I had to get rid of it and then this one didn’t fit in the space. So, it’s going back. Hopefully, something else is coming that will let me do laundry,” says Brownwen.

With the light from that magical orb long disappeared from the sky, we moved conversation indoors where we talked for several hours gathered around a very different kind of light.

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