REDUCING ENERGY CONSUMPTION
There are a number of things that all homeowners can do to make significant reductions in their energy consumption, whether or not they are embarking on a major home construction or remodeling project. These include the following steps that the owners of this house have taken to reduce their energy use and that in turn contribute to the overall energy efficiency of the house.
1. Monitor Energy Consumption.
Just as keeping a record of the foods eaten each day can help people eat less and lose weight, so can keeping track of the amount of energy used help homeowners reduce their energy consumption and their energy bills.
The owners of this house had always considered themselves to be pretty savvy about using energy efficiently but discovered that they could do a lot better when they began monitoring their actual energy consumption in their former home. They experimented with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) in a few fixtures and saw the impact immediately in lower electric bills. They gradually replaced most of the incandescent bulbs in the house with CFLs, ultimately reducing their electrical consumption by 30 percent.
Electrical consumption in the new house is roughly 70 percent lower than it was in the former home. Big contributors to this high performance include wide use of CFLs, of course, as well as the selection of a super-efficient clothes washer and a super-efficient dish washer, and reliance on ceiling fans in the main living areas rather than air conditioning on all but the hottest days.
Daily monitoring of energy usage continues and has led to further adjustments. Consumption is lower in year two, for example, because the owners turned off the small basement refrigerator during the winter months and discontinued the use of the (unnecessary) air handling system.
2. Replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs or LEDs.
Most of the energy consumed by a standard incandescent bulb is wasted; 90 percent is given off as heat while only 10 percent is converted into light. CFLs and LEDs are much more efficient, using roughly one-fourth of the electricity an incandescent bulb consumes to give off the same amount of light. CFLs cost somewhat more initially, but they last ten times longer and easily pay back their higher purchase price through lower utility bills. LEDs are more costly still, but they are getting cheaper and more energy efficient each year. They have the potential to last up to 22 years and save 75 percent or more in energy costs. An ENERGY STAR label on the packaging means the light bulbs meet strict criteria set by the EPA for both energy efficiency and quality.
Halogen lights use slightly less energy than standard incandescent bulbs, but they put out a great deal of heat. This can be dangerous (especially in the case of halogen torchieres) and can also add to the cooling load of a home during hot weather. By comparison, CFLs are nearly three times as efficient and produce far less heat.
CFLs are now available in hundreds of different styles and a range of colors, including "warm" colors comparable to incandescent lamps. The color that a light bulb will emit is indicated by its Correlated Color Temperature (CCT), which is measured in degrees Kelvin. Incandescent lamps have a CCT of 2700 as do the residential CFL models typically found in retail stores. CFLs with higher numbers (and correspondingly "cooler" colors) are also available, from a warm white (3000 degrees K) to a cool white (4100 degrees K), and even higher. Lamps in a shared space will look best if they are all of the same color temperature.
CFLs are used almost exclusively in the new house. (LED technology and product choice were not well developed in 2002-03 when the house was built.) Exterior landscape lighting is solar-powered.
3. Choose ENERGY STAR appliances
ENERGY STAR-labeled appliances meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. The label helps consumers easily identify products that use less energy, reduce home utility bills, and help protect the environment. The savings can be significant: a home that is fully equipped with ENERGY STAR-qualified products will operate on about 30 percent less energy than a house with standard products and will save the homeowner about $450 per year.
A companion program--the Super-Efficient Home Appliances Initiative of the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE)--promotes a subset of "super-efficient" ENERGY STAR appliances. As part of this initiative, CEE has developed performance specifications for super-efficient clothes washers, dishwashers, refrigerators and room air conditioners and endorses appliances that are generally in the top 25 percent of efficiency.
A third resource for consumers is the yellow-and-black EnergyGuide label that manufacturers of most major home appliances are required to attach to their products. Appliances covered by the Federal Trade Commission's Appliance Labeling Rule include refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers, televisions, window and central air conditioners, water heaters, furnaces, boilers, heat pumps and pool heaters. The label provides an estimate of that appliance's annual energy use, together with estimates for similar models, as well as an estimate of the annual operating cost for the appliance.
Fresh, clean water is scarce and getting more so. Reducing the demand for water can help to save rivers and wetlands, maintain aquatic habitats, and protect groundwater supplies. Moreover, conserving water is an important means of saving energy as it helps reduce the amount of electricity needed to treat and move potable water through municipal water systems.
In addition to making water efficiency a criterion when selecting appliances (as described above), installing water-efficient plumbing fixtures can go a long way towards protecting this valuable natural resource.
5. Use window treatments to control heat loss and heat gain.
The owners have installed Hunter Douglas duette shades on all the windows of this house and use them conscientiously--at night in the winter months to retain heat and on sunny days in the summer to block unwanted heat gain.
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