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Prioritizing Your Energy Efficiency Upgrades

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Have you ever heard someone say, “My car got a flat tire the other day, so I replaced the engine.” Let’s all hope that you haven’t (or at least you don’t know the person who went down that road…).

What about this one, “I want my house to be more energy efficient so I bought solar panels.” Now the latter does seem more reasonable, but the underlying message behind each scenario really isn’t that much different; engines don’t fix flat tires just as much as solar panels don’t help a home become more efficient.

Just to be clear, I think renewable energy is fascinating and I fully support its implementation, however, such technologies should be reserved for appropriate applications. In a consumerist economy, it is easy to look for shiny new products that will make old problems “go away.” The truth is that an inefficient machine runs poorly, regardless of fuel source.

Now lets face it; there is no ‘WOW’ factor behind insulation and air-sealing. No one invites their friends over to take a walk though the attic, but that wind turbine in the front yard will stop cars off the street for a quick photo shoot. Basically, the point I m really trying to drive home is that there are many simple (and much cheaper!) steps to increasing the efficiency of a house before renewable energy is effective. Key word here is prioritizing.

Mother Earth News did a brief article about green remodeling strategies. Although important, the article did not focused on paints, particle boards, flooring, and other typical remodeling-type products, but rather a prioritized approach to increasing the efficiency of your home. Now it should be noted that every home is different, and there is no prescriptive method for fixing ALL homes, but the sequence of events outlined in the article is pretty well laid out.

Let’s take a quick look at what this figure is trying to tell us:

A: Sealing air leaks and adding insulation. Often the best opportunity for improvement in any home. It pays itself off, and it increases comfort. In short; stop unwanted heat loss.

B: Improving heating and cooling systems. This measure can drift a bit around on this list, however, it is important. Nevertheless, it should ALWAYS be considered after step A. It should be noted that ‘improving’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘replacing.’ I have found 50+ year old boilers that have been well maintained and operate just fine with minimal improvements.

C: Sealing ductwork. This is very important. Yes, I may be fairly young and naive when it comes to certain aspects of home performance, but I do not hesitate to say that I am baffled by the quality of the HVAC work that I have seen in the field. Ducts have a single job: transport conditioned air to specific locations. If ducts lose a large majority of that air (DOE estimates up to 30% in some cases!), then they are not doing there job.

D: Upgrading lighting, appliances, and water heating equipment. These items are grouped together, and in many parts of the U.S., so is the fuel source for them. Sometimes this group is the ‘low hanging fruit’ of reducing consumption, but in the big picture, they have a small percentage of overall consumption. These upgrades are easy and relatively cheap, and can pay themselves off over the life of the appliance.

E: Installing renewable energy systems. Now we’re ready! Well, there is still a lot that can be done prior to this step, but you get the point. Basically, these systems will make a much larger impact if the home is ‘renewable ready.’

I think the above steps are great starting point for considering efficiency upgrades. Remember that a house is a system and that individual components alone can’t solve problems. As a last thought, take a peek at the pie chart below that breaks out typical consumption percentages in a home. Now look again at the steps outlined above. Did we tackle the biggest chunks first?


John Bergman
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Posted In: Building Performance, Residential Buildings, Sales & Marketing

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