Friday, May 29, 2015

E-Conservation Home Retrofit; Save Energy = Save Money

Green Living is the Life For Me!

This past week, I had an e-conservation home retrofit. This retrofit was a follow up to the class I attended on home energy conservation at NC State. The visit normally would cost around $700, but as part of the e-conservation program, I only paid $100 (difference was subsidized by the NC Department of Energy). The entire process took about three hours and included following:

  • A quick tour of my home with discussion about my concerns
  • Sealing exterior wall outlets and switches
    Wall switch before insulation

Wall switch that has been caulked for insulation

Wall switch with insulation added
Sealing exterior wall electrical outlet with insulation

  • Installing a low flow shower head

Low flow shower head

  • Insulating pipes

Pipes before insulation

Pipes after insulation
  • Sealing gaps in the floor register vents
Floor vent before insulation

Floor vent after insulation

Duct Sealant used on vents

  • Craw space inspection
  • Dryer vent cleaning

  •  HVAC and duct work inspection
  • Attic insulation inspection
Checking insulation in attic

  • Ceiling hatch gap sealing

Ceiling hatch to attic before sealing

Ceiling hatch with insulating foam

Ceiling hatch with insulation

Weather stripping to create better seal

Insulation foam sealant

  • Exterior door trim installation
Adding trim on exterior door

  • Cleaning of refrigerator system 
Cleaning off dust and lint under the refrigerator

  •  Turning off pilot light on our gas fireplace
Gas insert fireplace

Gas line and pilot light ignitor

Next Steps

The insulation in the attic is R20 and the current standard for insulation is R38. Adding more insulation would add to efficiency, but it isn't something we have to do.

I asked about putting a blanket around the water heater in the garage to save energy. Because there is an open flame, ERS does not recommend doing this.

One of the small things Matt and Tracey mentioned to me was that they learned child electrical outlet safety covers help reduce air leakage / energy loss. So I need to go out and buy quite a few now.

During the craw space inspection, it was noted that we need to create a vapor barrier to trap moisture and create a better seal under our house.  Matt recommended a black 6 mm plastic with taped seams using Typar tape.  Cost should be around $100.

Finally, I have signed up for an online program call Resispeak that will track and analyze my gas and electric usage both before the retrofit and for at least the next two years.  Hopefully the data gathered will both demonstrate the success of this retrofit as well show how we are saving money.

Screen shot from Resispeak of gas usage


While it's too soon to know whether the e-conservation home retrofit will pay for itself in savings, it already feels like our HVAC is working more efficiently. Additionally, I feel like I know my home and it's features better. For example, I now know where the gas line / pilot light for my fireplace is located. I recommend having these improvements done in every home that is at least 10 years old and await the data to justify my assumptions.  

Many thanks to Matt and Tracey from Energy Reduction Specialists of NC!

Matt and Tracey from Energy Reduction Specialists of NC

Websites for more information:

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@apexgardner (Twitter)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Save Energy, Save Money insights from Home Energy Workshop

Green Living is the Life For Me!

This past week, I attended at Home Energy Conservation Workshop taught by Laura Langham and offered by NC State’s Cooperative Extension Office with funding from the North Carolina Department of Energy.  
In less than two hours, Langham reviewed energy saving tips and facts that add up to big takeaways from making small changes...

Laura Langham

Biggest “Takeaways” from the Presentation
  • “Saving energy is saving money!”
  • “Find an energy diet that works for you.”
  • “This is your chance for you to get to know your house.” It is an opportunity to build your own skills and learn more about your house.
The typical house in the U.S. spends around $2000 a year on utility bills. If you can save 10% by making small changes, that’s $200 or more in your pocket. 
  • Lower utilities
  • Healthier home
  • Helping the environment by using less energy
  • “Saving energy is saving money!”
Air leakage is the biggest energy hog in your house and the most important thing you should consider addressing in your energy conservation.
On average in North Carolina, space heating or cooling is 45% of all utility costs. Water heating is next at 18%. Lighting is only 6%.
  • Is your HVAC right sized? If so, it’s more efficient.  Check your user’s manual for your HVAC system. If you can’t find it, many of them are now on line electronically.
  • Change your filters regularly. Put it on your calendar so you don’t forget.
  • Tune up your HVAC system
  • Make sure nothing is blocking your HVAC system (ie. bushes) 
  • Consider placing a fence or trellis a few feet away from the system to keep it shaded during the hottest times of the day
  • Make sure your condensation line is not blocked
  • Install a programmable thermostat. It’s the equivalent of cruise control for your car. If you are on a regular schedule, it works great.
  • Consider setting thermostat at 60 degrees  in the winter at night and sleeping with bigger blankets on your bed. During the winter, If your spend most of your time in the living room at night, consider keeping an electric blanket on the couch of your living room.
“Find an energy diet that works for you.”

Programmable thermostat
  • Do full loads of laundry
  • Clean at back of dryer
  • Clean out dryer hose
  • Clean vent flap where dryer exhaust / moisture leaves the house
  • Do your laundry in cold water.  90% of the energy used in washing laundry is heating the water
  • When doing your laundry, do loads in a row as the dryer will be more efficient
  • Keep a drying rack in your laundry room or air dry your laundry (if your home owner’s association will allow it. If they don’t, consider advocating clothes lines for your neighborhood.)
Dirty dryer vent flap outside of house
Water Heater
  • Lower the temperature on your water heater (120 degrees is ideal). Wrap your water heater (especially if it is located in your garage).  
  • Consider a programmable thermostat for your water heater
  • If you have a long distance from the water heater to your bathroom or kitchen, consider a “on demand” system to save water
Water heater thermostat
Attic Hatch
The attic hatch is a very common place to lose energy. Make sure it is closed and sealed properly after every use. Try this test...Turn on your attic light, close hatch door, turn off lights below.  If you can see light through the hatch door, you are losing energy (hot or cold air).

Attic hatch
  • Have less grass (Grass is the biggest energy hog in your yard)
  • Plant native plants
  • Use drip irrigation and rain barrels for watering
  • Use garden hoses less
Rain barrel


Other Tips

  • When you go to purchase a new appliance, don’t just think about purchase price. Thank about the operating cost. Total cost = Purchase price plus operating price. 
  • Purchase Energy Star appliances.
  • Turn off ceiling fans when no one is in the room.
  • Address phantom energy consumption.  This is power used by your cell phone to recharge a phone that has already reached 100% capacity. Or it’s the power consumed by the TV in the off position.
  • Seal your fireplace when its not in use (but leave yourself a note to remind you that your fireplace is blocked!)
Turn off ceiling fans when no one is in the room
Websites / Resources

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@apexgardner (Twitter)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The New Elio | Takeaways from the SE Alternative Fuel Conference and Expo

Green Living is the Life For Me!

The Elio

The Elio, a three wheeled auto-cycle by Elio Motors

A few weeks ago, I was attending the Southeast Alternative Fuel Conference and Expo and while there I met and interviewed Joel Sheltrown, VP of Governmental Affairs at Elio Motors about their new auto-cycle. 

The vehicle is American made, 84 MPG highway, seats two in tandem, has a $6800 price tag.  Safety ratings are pending however it has been designed with highest safety standards. Elio Motors is now taking reservations and ramping up for production in Louisiana. 

I was impressed by the aerodynamic design, it's price and practical nature.  Currently several states including North Carolina would still require a helmet for operating an auto-cycle so this and getting official safety ratings are part of Elio Motors current challenges.

Alternate Fuel Vehicle Ride-and-Drive
On the second day of the conference there was a very cool ride-and-drive event featuring the latest in alternate fuel vehicles. Here are just a few of the vehicles:

Propane powered pickup truck

Propane storage tank on pickup truck

DME (dimethyl ether) Volvo Truck

DME storage tank

BMW i8 Hybrid (Gas and Electric)

Interior of BMW i-8
Electric 3 wheel Segway
Propane powered law enforcement vehicle
Propane storage tank
Engine of propane powered vehicle
BMW i3 Hybrid (Gas and Electric)
Interior of BMW i3
Zymobile Biodiesel Flex Fuel Dodge Charger
ELF transport - Electric and/or pedal power

Take Aways from the Conference

The development of alternate fuels is a critical part of our nation's security and our future.

Telemetrics can help fleet managers make small changes that make a big difference in fuel usage. NC State's Clean Energy and Technology Center offers a eco-driving training program that boasts a 19% average improvement in miles per gallon and utilizes Scan Gauge to help the driver get constant feedback on their driving habits (speeding, idling over three minutes and traveling outside set boundaries).

Electric vehicles, hybrids, CNG (Compressed Natural Gas), DME (dimethyl ether), propane and bio-diesel vehicles are here now and already making an impact with cleaner, quieter transportation and decreasing our dependence on imported oil.

Large and heavy vehicles such as semi tractor trailers, buses and garbage trucks known for lots of emissions and lots of fuel usage are now using electric and CNG on a bigger scale with success and substantial savings for the owners. As Don Hayden, owner of M&M Cartage Co., summed it up..."Make green by being green."

There is currently a movement to cut down fuel loss due to idling. This is a low hanging fruit for both cost savings, lowering emissions and the consumption of fuel.

One the greatest concerns of the average individual utlizing an alternate fuel vehicle is "range anxiety." This is a fear of being stranded without fuel or power to reach the next destination and/or next fueling or charging station.

The decisions today's fleet managers are making will have impact for the next 20 years.

Website resources

Elio Motors
NC State Clean Energy and Technology Center
IdleBox Toolkit
Scan Guage
BMW i8
BMW i3
Organic Transit
Zymobile US

Thanks for checking out my blog and clicking on my sponsors!

@apexgardner (Twitter)