Friday, January 9, 2009

Eliminate the Losers in Your Home!

January: Sealing the Cracks and Purchasing Window Coverings

Before your husband takes offense at the title of this blog, tell him to hear you out! You're not talking about him, but about the most common "losers" of energy in your home brought to you from yours truly. Because my personal plan for this year, with Betty's help, is to increase the energy efficiency in our home and to elimate the losers! This is the first in a series of blogs, which will appear in the first week of each month in '09 regarding home energy use. Hints, thoughts, strategies for solutions. Of course, the first place to start, Betty's events page because CCDC and Spark! have some great Energy Saving ideas and programs going on, especially this month.

Here is a nice breakdown of Home Energy Use, from my latest Mother Earth Mag:

44% heating and cooling
33% lighting/cooking appliances/plug ins
14% water heating
9% fridge

Step one in this process for me:

Eliminate the things I CANNOT fix, change what I can, hire out what I can't, and have the wisdom to know the difference (I think I read that somewhere :-).

*Windows: Here we need a stop gap measure because, as you may know already, windows are probably the most expensive thing to replace in your home, especially the ones I want (certified wood, low-e, etc). Our windows are TERRIBLE - not the windows themselves but the surrounding frames. There are gaps. Air is flowing. Not good. So this will have to be done piecemeal.

*Big-Ass (sorry about my language) Fridge: Two years ago My husband and I replaced our two small fridges (turns out nearly 20% of Americans have two fridges), for one big-ass (excuse my language), energy-star rating one. The only thing to do there is to keep it at 40 degrees and push it away from the wall once or twice a year to get rid of the dust bunnies, making sure it runs as efficiently as possible.

*Lighting: We've already replaced all lights with CFL bulbs. On the whole I am happy with them; however I have had TWO burn out within a year (so I have to cart those to McIntire Recycling on account of the trace amount of mercury in them). I hope that is not a trend

*Old appliances: Unfortunately we inherited a very inefficient washer/dryer here, so we are due. I will focus on that in March. In the meantime, I use Nellie's dryer balls in winter, planning a nifty clothesline production in our screened in porch for April, let rugs and sweater air dry on counters and banisters. We have NO plugged in appliances on the kitchen counter, thereby eliminating "phantom loads:" the small amount of energy drawn from appliances that remain plugged in. Cell phone users: don't leave your charger plugged into the wall, Betty humbly pleaded.

*Owning a home that is bigger than we need: Though we are four people and three pets, and my husband requires elbow room (he came from a family of 15 kids in a four-bedroom home - but that's a whole nother blog/website), we could do with a smaller home, but it would be futile to try to sell in this market. So will do what we can to our current home, given the current recession, and save money and help reduce our emissions while we're at it (besides, it's excellent blog fodder).

*Water heating: I have insulated my water heater. Also I wash ALL clothes on the cold water setting. I have two young boys (equal grass stained knees) and I can get clothes clean, no worries. (Make sure your water heater is set no higher than 120 degrees). Limit showers to 3-5 minutes. But if you want to take a big step this year, consider a solar hot water heater, which would elminiate 2.5 tons of CO2 emissions per year AND pay for itself (quoting National Geographic's True Green book guide here) within 5 years. I will be opting NOT to do that this year, instead prioritzing the big energy loser in our home: windows will top the list.

*Which brings me to heating and cooling. A hurdle for us on this our living room has a high ceiling. That's an energy drain. Short of building a mid-air loft, which would be fun for my sons (they could hang a rope and Indiana Jones there way to a more energy efficient living space), it's staying.

Currently, we keep the thermostat at 60-62 degrees. Needless to say, we wear sweaters. [note: I put off getting a programmable thermostat because I hear conflicting reports about moving around the thermostat. Unless you are moving it 10 degrees, you don't need one. Hmmm. It would still be nice to have automatic temperature change capability. The city offers a rebate for this up to $100.00 (check the green city page of the Charlottesville website)].

But the other thing you can do to help with heating and cooling is to SEAL YOUR HOME of all cracks and leaks. Sounds like a good start to me, so this week...

Feeling all empowered, I headed to the local hardware store (Martin's on Preston is my favorite) and bought V-seal for the doors and Rope Caulk for the windows as an excellent stop gap for window leaks. I haven't gone Bob Vila on them yet, but I can't wait to this weekend! (I'll take some pictures for you). The word on the green street is that you can use this handy dandy stuff on your windows to seal cracks (sealing the envelop of your home is tres important!) and it WON'T dry up and harden, so that I can then remove it in the spring and fall (and some summer evenings) to open my windows to cool and even REUSE it next winter.

Another 14% savings can be gained from installing blinds/lined drapes, so after hemming and hawing for years, I happily ordered some lined, natural woven blinds from Smith+Noble made from sustainable materials (bamboos, reeds, and grasses) and some organic cotton drapes from the same company. (Sadly I could not find any local vendors selling eco-friendly window covering solutions)

Good luck eliminating the losers in your home!
Best, BWB


elder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
elder arnaudin said...

I recently saw a post about CFLs burning out on the Patagonia blog. Apparently “the life of a CFL is significantly shorter if it is only turned on for a few minutes at a time: In the case of a 5-minute on/off cycle, the lifespan of a CFL can be up to 85% shorter, reducing its lifespan to the level of an incandescent lamp. The U.S. Energy Star program says to leave them on at least 15 minutes at a time to mitigate this problem.”

Edit: See the original post at:

BWB said...

Thanks for this informative and thoughtful response!