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Energy Efficiency and Your Home
written by Sascha Deri & M. Maguiraga

Using renewable energy to produce electricity and reduce your electric bill can be a sound long-term investment. Depending on the type of technology, you can expect a full return on your investment within 3 to 18 years. With financial or tax rebates from your utility company or state and national government, the payback period on your investment can be cut in half.

However, the very first step to considering any renewable energy system must be how to make your home or business more energy efficient. Generally, the basic rule is that for every $1 you spend on making your location more energy efficient, you save $3 to $5 on the cost of the renewable energy system. Let's go over some basic ways you can make your home more energy efficient.

One of the easiest things that you can do to reduce your electrical consumption is change out your regular incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). CFLs use 65 to 75% less energy than a normal light bulb that produces the same amount of light. By replacing a normal 100 watt incandescent light bulb with a 32 watt CFL, you will save $60 to $80 in electricity costs over the lifetime of that bulb (10,000 hours). Now imagine how much you would save if you changed out all of your light bulbs to CFLs!

The technology for these bulbs has quickly evolved and improved in the last few years. You'll find that there are CFLs that will now fit most light fixtures. So go out at your local department or hardware store and purchase CFLs for as many of your light fixtures as possible. The investment is well worth it.

Another alternative to traditional lights are tubular skylights. Tubular skylights look a little like shiny stove pipes that start with a transparent dome on top of the roof and come down into some room for day lighting. We frequently see customers using tubular skylights to bring daylight into hallways and closets. The light is, of course, entirely natural and provides as much illumination as a 100 watt incandescent light bulb. One of the biggest consumers of electricity in most households is the refrigerator. If your refrigerator is over 10 years old chances are it's electrically very inefficient. Consider replacing your current refrigerator with one that has a very good Energy Star rating. 

Remember just because a refrigerator may have come with a yellow Energy Star label doesn't mean it's particularly energy efficient. You need to select one that's a leader in energy efficiency (on the Energy Star label it will indicate that the refrigerator is one of the most efficient available for its type). An easy way to find out which refrigerators have the best energy efficiency rating is to contact us.

Also known as 'phantom loads', ghost loads are the quiet devices that constantly consume small amounts of electricity 24 hours a day. While each device in itself may not consume much electricity the combination of all of them within your household may easily consume the equivalent of two or three 60-watt incandescent light bulbs left on all day and all night. Over the course of a single year this adds up to over 1 Megawatt-hour, or, in other terms enough electricity to power an energy efficient home for 2 to 3 months.

What are these mysterious ghost loads? One of the most common sources of it are ever common AC adapters that charge our cell phones, charge our cordless drills, power answering machines, run radios, keep inkjet printers at the ready and many other devices in our home. While any one of these devices may only consume a small amount of power while in use (e.g. 7-20 watts), a dozen or so of them allowed to run simultaneously consumes a significant amount of electricity. What's worse is that even when your not charging your cell phone or the battery for your cordless drill that AC adapter continues to consume 7 to 15 watts just because it's plugged into the wall. Other well disguised ghost loads are those devices which have the 'instant on' feature, such as most modern television sets, VCRs, DVD players, many radios and even many computers. While all of these devices are supposedly turned off, they are actually consuming anywhere from 5 to 20 watts continuously.

How can you decrease the consumption of energy by these parasitic loads? One of the simplest solutions is to simply put these devices on a power strip which has an off/on switch. When you are done using the devices and shut it off normally, then just hit the off switch on the power strip. Many people make it part of their nightly routine to just shut off these power strips just before they go to bed. For AC power adapters that you use at night, like for charging a cell phone, put those on a separate power strip that you turn off during the day when you've taken you phone with you. Simple solutions like these could reduce your ghost electric loads by as much as 80%. In real dollars terms this means saving upwards of $120 per year in electricity costs, depending on your local electric utility rates and how dedicated you are to reducing your ghost loads.

A Special Note for People Who are Planning to Live Off-grid

If you're planning to use an off-grid solar, wind or hydro and plan to have a 12 or 24 volt battery bank, you will often be able to find devices and appliances that work directly with these DC voltages. The benefit to using the devices is that they will not need an AC power adapter which needlessly consumes electricity whether or not the device in use. After all, what an AC adapter plug does is convert normal AC household electricity to DC type of electricity to power the device, and it rarely does that conversion efficiently.

Energy Efficient Cooling 

During the summer (and in warmer climates) air conditioning is frequently the largest consumer of electricity. An inexpensive way to reduce the demand on your air conditioner is to keep your attic cooler with a solar attic fan. Powered by the sun, solar attic fans turn on when your attic warms up during the day. By venting the hot air out of your attic all day long, the floors below stay cooler and as a result your air conditioner runs significantly less.

Solar attic fans (price in bottom page) can be installed by good do-it-yourselfers or carpenters. They require no wiring. A hole needs to be cut in the roof, the attic fan is slipped in and the edges are sealed up well with roof caulking. The solar electric panel built into the fan unit is designed to last at least 25 years. A Solar attic fans is another wise investment that pays for itself very quickly.

For people who live in zones that are relatively dry but hot, evaporative coolers (also known as swamp coolers) are a cost effective and energy efficient alternative to traditional air conditioners. Evaporative coolers use about 25% the energy an air conditioner would need.

For the same zones our 24,000 BTu solar air conditioner reduces completely your home's air conditioning cost. For more information about it, click on Solar air conditioner page. 

Unfortunately, most people live in climates that when it's hot it is also relatively humid. In these conditions evaporative coolers won't work effectively.

Another simple and green method for reducing your home's air conditioning costs is to plant deciduous trees whose leaves will shade your home in the summer time and shed its leaves for more sunlight in the winter time. By shading your home it heats up less, and therefore requires less cooling by an air conditioner. Planting a tree in this scenario has double the environmental impact, you're reducing greenhouse gases by both using less electricity and because the tree itself absorbs carbon dioxide.

Energy Efficiency and Household AppliancesMany other appliances

throughout your household will have a newer and significantly more energy efficient version available. Here is a short list of other appliances you should consider replacing with higher efficiency versions: water heating tanks, air conditioners, dehumidifiers, dishwashers, telephones, VCRs and DVDs, ceiling fans, fax machines, computers and copiers. To see which brands and models have Energy Star certification and to figure which ones of those are the most efficient, visit Energy Star's website or contact us. To find out how much your appliances are really consuming, invest in an inexpensive power meter like the kill-a-watt meter.  

Heating Efficiency

For many households the biggest bill is the heating bill. Probably the quickest, least expensive and easiest way to reduce your heating bill is to buy a programmable thermostat. You can set these thermostats to turn off the heat automatically when you're not home and turn it on just before you arrive. You will easily recoup your small investment in the new thermostat within one winter by running your heating system less. See your local hardware store or HVAC company for pricing and availability of different models.

Another basic step to reducing your home heating bill is sealing air leaks and adding insulation. According to Energy Star sealing air leaks and adding insulation can reduce your heating bill by as much as 10%. For homes with attics, one of the easiest and most effective places to put down insulation is in the attic. Visit your local home improvement store to find out how much insulation in different areas of the home is recommended for your region.

In the last few years, the use of solar air heating systems has become more popular. Mounted on an exterior, southern-facing wall or on the roof, solar air heating collectors can reduce a home's or business' annual heating costs by as much as 30%. Costing far less than a new conventional heating system, solar air heating systems usually pay for themselves in 3-6 years. They'll typically last for 18 to 35 years and require minimal maintenance. Working in conjunction with your existing heating system, the solar air heating system simply reduces your heating demand whenever you have even partial sunlight. For more informations about solar air heating and solar water heating click on Solar air heating and Solar Hot Water page.

Energy Efficiency - Your First Step Towards Clean Energy and Energy Independence

The first step before purchasing a solar electric or wind power system to meet your electricity needs is to intelligently reduce those needs. Most homes can inexpensively reduce their electricity demands by 20 to 30% without ever having to make any adjustments in the lifestyles of the occupants. We provided you with many energy saving tips in this article, such as:

Replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones.

Upgrading your older appliances with EnergyStar star ones that have a very low annual energy consumption rating.

Minimize the many hidden phantom (ghost) loads in your house.

Insulate your home well for colder seasons.

Creatively use vegetation to keep your home cool in the summer and maximize sunshine entering the house in the winter.

Use solar heating technologies (not to be confused with solar electric technologies) to cost effectively reduce how much your traditional air or water heating systems have to work.

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