12-3. Upgrade for energy savings. - Electronic Edition
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On September 25, 2012 we had an energy contractor come into our home under a pilot rebate program from Questar Gas to reduce air infiltration. They did a blower door test and found that 7.2 air changes per hour were occurring in our house through leaks. The Questar target was 5.4 ACH. They performed several adaptations like foaming electrical outlets on outside walls and caulking along the base moldings and arrived at 5.1 ACH by the end of the day. The biggest change they made was to seal off our water heater closet so that it drew all of its combustion air from the crawlspace rather than the interior of the house. They put sweeps on the double doors to that closet and then increased the ventilation in the basement. This ensured that there was adequate air for the BTU output of the water heaters. Questar paid $720 for these adaptations, which were projected to save us $82 a year in natural gas charges.
Once you begin to upgrade features and systems in your house for energy savings you start to get a payoff as valuable as the reduction to your house payment that owner-building provides. Take a simple thing like compact fluorescent lights: We bought the latest compact fluorescents, standard bulb shaped, for only $1 each at the local membership discount store (Costco). They match up to a 60-watt bulb, providing 760 lumens, but only use 13 watts. Over the life (8,000 hours) of the bulb it saves $45 (at 12 cents per KWH). If you factor in the inevitable rise in electricity costs, that might be $60. If you add in the typical cost of regular bulb replacement during the period, you have $4 more. Minus the cost of the compact, you have a $70 savings per light. And we have about 75 bulbs in the house, so this is a potential $5,000 value in eight years for us. If you install compact fluorescents, you need more can lights than if you use powerful standard recessed lights. Allowing for the additional cans you’d put in, (maybe 15 more at $25 each = $375) you have $4,625 saved in eight years, or $17,344 in thirty years in current dollars. This assumes you use the lights three hours a day. One fridge/freezer could cost $15 more a month in energy use than another that costs only $250 more to purchase. And you may have it for 15 years or 180 months (average freezer life expectancy), a $2,700 difference. Get rid of that old freezer in your garage, it gobbles up juice and costs a fortune over time. Owner-builder Ted M. is planning an active solar house similar to that of his neighbor, Eric T., that saves Eric at least $150 a month in energy costs. That equals with energy cost increases, $1,800 a year, but maybe $25,000 for the decade. Then with cost increases and inflation, maybe $35,000 for the next decade. Then maybe $50,000 for the third decade. Thus, $110,000 for 30 years. Mostly by forethought with some outlay for special features and equipment. The same kind of economics applies to 16-plus SEER air conditioning compressors and energy saving versions of appliances like fridge, freezer, and dishwasher. Everything from whole-house fan, house orientation, extra insulation, water-saving toilets, housewrap, awnings or overhangs or window film against the sun, or trees for shade or windbreak, and windows facing south or west against the cold. The money you spend on energy constitutes a river of funds that could be altered to pay you for your forethought. In my case, I spend $140 a month on electricity and gas, or $1,700 a year, or with cost increases, $25,000 per ten years. Suppose I could save a part of that amount through planning. Maybe I could save half, or $12,500 in ten years, and with energy cost increases $100,000 of today’s dollars in fifty years. We talk about saving $100,000 or more in the construction of your custom home; here’s $100,000 just in the operation of the home, and that could be true of even a modest home. In a recent cataclysmic energy season, The Wall Street Journal reported on October 15, 2005 (“Homeowners stock up on goods that save energy”) “… the prices for natural gas, heating oil, and electricity are expected to stay high this winter amid strong demand and disruptions caused by the recent hurricanes that devastated energy infrastructure on the Gulf Coast. The Energy Information Administration estimates that the typical home in the Midwest and using natural gas – the heating source for 55 percent of U.S. homes – will see its heating bill rise 71 percent this winter from year-earlier costs. For the average home using heating oil, the dominant energy source in the northeast, costs are expected to jump 31 percent. Electricity prices too, may be affected – about 17 percent of the electricity in US is generated using natural gas. ‘This is the largest single-year increase (in heating prices) that folks have seen,’ says David Garman, undersecretary of Energy.” Writer Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan said home center stores “…are rushing to take advantage of the interest, pushing a range of the latest energy-saving products, such as ceiling fans with built-in heaters, programmable thermostats, light bulbs that use almost 80 percent less energy than regular versions, tankless water heaters, and special window caulking."