Cutting back on your energy usage is one of the best ways to bring down your electricity bill. But did you know that making simple changes to not just your wattage consumption but the way your home retains and expels air can dramatically transform the way you experience your spaces and use electricity? Joining us this week to share 5 Tips on how we can better green our homes is green visionary and sustainable pioneer David Johnston who focuses on easy changes you can make with your appliances, air exchange, insulation and even windows that will pave the way to dramatic savings. Undoubtedly an expert on all things energy, David shares his over 30 years of experience and gives us a snapshot of some of the best ways we can reduce our energy consumption by up to 50%!
Tip 1 – FOCUS ON SMALL STEPS
When your family’s energy bill is running high, there are a number of quick and easy changes that can be made that focus in on changing day to day habits. Every household should start noting how much energy is used per room per day, looking at how and how many rooms are being lit up at night, what appliances are running and the like. We’ve mentioned this here on Inhabitat before, but one of the easiest changes you can make is swapping out your energy hungry incandescent bulbs for green picks such as LEDs. These hogs are not only costly to run, but in the grand scheme are quite bad for the environment given their short life spans. The vast majority of people are also unaware of how many phantom loads are running throughout their homes. Phantom loads may seem like a small and pesky problem, but these loads can account for up to 15% of a house’s energy bill.
Unfortunately, the way the vast majority of appliances are designed today, they are built to run 24/7. You may not realize this, but because of it, day in and day out, you are using more energy than you think. One of the easiest things that you can do to alleviate this issue is to get a power strip and centralize where all your appliances draw their power. With a power strip you can easily shut things off when you are not using them. Experts say that 15-40% of energy consumption is behavior based, and the first move you should make is to think about what you can control right now.
TIP 2 – GET AN ENERGY AUDIT
Every house in America is under-insulated, and 120 million of these homes are in such a state that a thorough energy audit is warranted. Air leaks account for 25-30% of an average energy bill, and this is one of the most profound steps that you can make for the betterment your home’s comfort and reducing the amount of your monthly bill. Energy auditors are well-equipped with the right tools and knowledge to quickly pinpoint problem areas in your home. When your auditor does arrive at your doorstep, you should be sure to trail him or her like a shadow – walk with them throughout the process so that you can best understand the issues in your home that are causing problems.
The first thing your auditor will do is a “Blower Door” which is one of the most effective ways to determine a home’s overall leakiness as well as to pinpoint specific leaks. A blower pulls air out of the house, lowering the air pressure inside. The higher outside air pressure then flows in through all unsealed cracks and openings. While conducting this test, a smoke pencil or infrared camera may be used to illustrate the air leaks. These tests determine the air infiltration rate of a building, and give you an idea of where you need will need to start to add weather stripping, caulk or more insulation. You’ll likely be surprised to find that you have air leaks on places you wouldn’t even suspect.
The second thing your auditor will do is take an infrared camera and survey your spaces and detect air leakage within building envelopes. This step is best done on cold days, where the camera will reveal exactly where you have insulation voids. The infrared camera is essentially Superman vision for air leaks, and it will even do you one better by photographing those trouble spots so that you have a digital record on hand to quickly tend to these spaces.
The third step your auditor will undertake is called a “Duct Blast.” The Duct Blast will tell you where in your ducts air is leaking. In most homes. thermostats will be set up in rooms at the top of the house, and this is what is gauging and regulating the heat below. A lot can happen between the basement and top floor as air travels through your ducts, and air loss is one of them. Leaky ducts require your systems to work harder to regulate and provide the hot and cool air expelled throughout the house. In fact, anywhere a duct changes direction you are likely to find an air leak. Ducts can be sealed on your own, with duct-mastic available at any hardware store – just get ready to venture into some dusty spaces! Finally, an auditor will provide you with a standard visual inspection, evaluating the design of your spaces and providing you with thorough notes on the situation at hand, and you can start pursuing a contractor or begin making the upgrades yourself.
Tip 3 – DON´T BE AFRAID OF OVER-INSULATION
A common fear of those looking to upgrade their home is that if they tighten homes up too much, they will find themselves in a dangerous and unhealthy living environment. The reality is that anytime you burn something in a house, you need oxygen – this includes water heaters, stoves, furnaces and more. Given that every house will find air leaks one way or another, this shouldn’t be a concern for most. On average a new home will have a Natural Air Change Rate (NACR) of 2 hours, and for an existing/older home, a rate of 30 minutes. Specifically, the NACR is the amount of time it takes indoor air to clear out in place of fresh air from outside. Building codes in fact stipulate strict rules that require that any structure with a NACR of three hours or more must be ventilated mechanically. So unless you’ve sealed up you home like a vacuum, you shouldn’t have to worry about this issue.
A real concern does however lie with new homes with leaky duct work. Too many leaks can give way to negative pressure in a home and affect appliances that carry a lot of destructive weight. Negative pressure occurs when indoor air pressure is less than that of outdoor air pressure, drawing outside air into the home. When too much air is being sucked into the house, in turn carbon monoxide can easily start to be distributed through the house without anyone being the wiser. Most heating appliances will produce by-products of mainly water and carbon dioxide, but if the combustion from these processes aren’t provided with enough oxygen, carbon monoxide is formed. Carbon monoxide is well known as the silent killer, and as David tells us from his experience, just 10 years ago, one third of the homes in both Colorado and California were suffering from this problem. Ironically, those who have an older home in hand don’t have much to worry about – these houses are typically leaking so much air that their high NACR mitigates the issue completely.
TIP 4 – PRIORITIZE SEALING YOUR HOME
Sometimes it’s not within our budgets to take on a full upgrade that could cost upwards of $10,000. If you’re going to have to pick and choose, David suggests prioritizing what needs to be done like so:
STEP ONE: Sort out your air exchanges Make air exchange your number one priority. Reducing the intake and outtake will give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to cash savings and comfort in your home. If you can’t invest in a contractor, there are plenty of references out there that will arm you with exactly what you need to work on your own. David himself has published numerous publications focusing on how the everyday person can make the upgrades themselves with materials easily found at a local hardware store. Some excellent references authored by David include: Green from the Ground Up: Sustainable, Healthy, and Energy-Efficient Home Construction; Toward a Zero Energy Home; and Green Remodeling : Changing the World One Room at a Time .
STEP TWO: Clean out your attic Once you’ve gotten your issues with air exchange squared away, David recommends looking next towards your attic. You should clean out that entire space – and he means wipe away all that existing insulation so that you see the bare bones of the construction, specifically, the top of the ceiling that sits right under your feet. If you’re able to see what’s going on from overhead, you can spot the points of leakage, be it through gaps, recessed lighting fixtures, vents and more. After you’ve singled out all those trouble points seal them up tight! More insulation is key, and as David states “When it’s cold outside you put a hat on, and it’s basically the same idea when it comes to your house.” Your new insulation, in part to seal up cracks, should be at least one foot thick. Cellulose is a green, quick and easily available option that you can pour all over the ceiling without issue.
STEP THREE: Clean out your basement and crawl spaces The third thing everyone should be mindful of is the basement and crawl spaces. You should seek out all the crack, gaps and leaks and pack in as much insulation as you can in these spaces. Special attention should be given to sealing up all your air ducts. Duct-mastic is a readily available sealant that comes in a paint-like consistency and can be brushed on all of the joints of your ducts. There are also companies all across the country who will come to your home just to do this. Pipe insulate is another great way to reduce your energy costs. In fact, just these three steps alone can give way to up to a 30% energy reduction and will cost you just $1000.
TIP 5 – INVEST IN NEW WINDOWS
While windows are a much more expensive upgrade than some of the tips mentioned above, they can make a huge difference. If you live in an area that experiences the four seasons at full-blast, you may notice that during these times there are areas of the house you just don’t want to be. This is mainly because you are likely the owner of major air leaks originating from windows and doors, and it’s no surprise that a lot of discomfort can result from poorly insulated windows. The new technology being applied to windows is nothing short of amazing, and there are four types of windows that you should reference if and when you decide that this is the right choice for you: Single pane windows, Double pane windows, Low-E windows and our new favorite, Super Windows. In practice windows are each given an R rating signifying their level of insulation (note that wall insulation will carry a rating of between R19-R20).
Single Pane: Single pane windows are common in older homes and feature a single glaze. These windows are a poor choice if you live in an area with notable changes in temperature throughout the year. These windows carry an R1 rating.
Double Pane: Double pane windows will have two panes or glazes and carry an R2 rating
LOW-E Windows: LOW-E windows are a popular choice for those more concerned with energy consumption in cooling and heating. In the winter, the windows will reflect heat in ,and in the summer reflect the heat out. These windows register an R3 rating.
Super Windows: Super windows are the newest generation of windows that feature multiple layers of film between each glaze or pane. This solar regulating material is applied between each pane, and amazingly, these windows can have R ratings of between R7-R11. Marvin Windows now makes their own super window, a triple pane with a krypton/argon/air gas mix in between the panes, which ups the thermal performance significantly, reaching an unparalleled level of insulation that will knock hundreds of dollars off your energy bill.
MAKE YOUR HOME A COZY AND COMFORTABLE PLACE
Working in the business for decades, David will tell you that many of these alterations are a great way to save money in the long-run, but ultimately what most people are aiming for is to find a level of comfort that will maximize the happiness of those in their homes. All of these upgrades have the power to change the way a space is experienced phenomenally, and not only will you be able to recover dead areas of your home, but you may just find that several new cozy spots will be born anew!
Green Energy-Efficiency Expert – David Johnston
David Johnston is the founder and President of What’s Working, Inc. and is one of the pioneers of the sustainability movement in the US. For the last 30 years he has been working to transform the building industry to become greener and more sustainable. Recently, David received the SAM Sustainability Pioneer Award, which is considered the Nobel prize in the sustainability world and acknowledges personal excellence in implementing the principles of sustainability in the corporate sector. He sees the world as a whole system and develops strategies that deal with global climate change, resource conservation and energy efficiency. His vision of sustainability and publications are transforming how people think about home building and remodeling. To that end he has trained 1000s of building professionals over the past 17 years.
David is also the founding designer and consultant of the Build It Green program that stimulated market transformation programs in California and is at work to implement similar programs nationwide. In the mid-’90s he co-developed the Denver Metro Home Builders Association’s Built Green Program (the first private sector green building program) and the Boulder Green Points Program (the first green building code in the US). He was part of the development team for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) that has transformed the market for green commercial buildings in the US and also a co-director of the original LEED for homes development process in 2000, another national market transformation program.
ABOUT MARVIN WINDOWS AND DOORS
Some of America’s most energy-efficient LEED showcase homes feature the very same Marvin windows 150,000 window and door products that are ENERGY STAR certified. that you can buy for your own home. Marvin believes in building top performance into windows and doors with proven technology that are accessible to the average homeowner. And the proof is in the numbers: Marvin has more than More than 80 percent of the existing U.S. housing stock was built before 1990. Replacing old, inefficient windows and doors is one of the best ways to increase America’s overall energy efficiency. To see how beautiful, efficient Marvin windows and doors can become part of your home, sign up for Marvin’s online remodeling planner. This free planner helps you visualize space, track budgets and create an inspiration board.