Some practical ways to improve energy efficiency in your home is to simply use less, like turning off lights when you don’t need them, taking shorter showers, hand-washing dishes, using less air conditioning (your house doesn’t have to be fridgid in the summer), etc. In the winter, you should seal and insulate your windows to make sure your not losing heat through cracks or drafts. The majority of energy in homes is used on heating.
There are other ways to increase energy efficiency in your home, like using a geothermal or ground-source heat pump for heating and cooling your house. Geothermal heat pumps save you quite a bit of money in energy costs, and will pay for itself in this sense after a few years. For other renewable energy sources for the home check out: http://www.energysavers.gov/renewable_energy/
There are many ways you can make your home more energy efficient, but only if you take the time to do it. It is in your best interest to make your home more energy efficient not only because it saves you money, but many of the measures you can take actually help make your home healthier to live in as well. One important thing you can do is ensure that the inside and outside of your home is well insulated. Not only does it help your home retain heat in the winter, and retain cool air in the summer but it also helps make your house more resistant to water and air leakage that can lead to mold buildup. Some types of mold are toxic, so it is really worth the time and money to make sure your home is well insulated. You will be surprised to see how much energy it helps you save as well. Another thing you can do is to buy Energy Star appliances, as well as making sure you clean your refridgerator coils and air conditioner coils (and filter). This will make these appliances run more efficiently, and in the long run, save you a little bit of money to boot. Make it into a fun project: because you can monitor your own energy use by reading your electric meter, keep a log of how many kilowatts you use each week. Once you start taking measures to make your home more energy efficient (refer to the link below), check to see how much fewer kilwatts you are using each week, and compare it to your energy bills. When you see your savings, and how cozy and clean your home will be, that will certainly be something to brag about!
Because retrofitting is expensive and very limited, the best way to make your home energy efficient is to build it correctly the first time applying passive solar energy concepts. With these, your home could even become a net PRODUCER of energy!
These concepts include, but are not limited to, true-south orientation; insulating windows; passive ventilation; proper roof overhangs; thermal mass; and insulation.
In a climate with annual cold temperatures, a home should be orientated along the east-west axis in order to have its longest side facing true south. The southern side should be highly glazed (i.e., have lots of windows) and the northern, eastern, and western sides almost none at all, except what’s needed for indoor lighting. This is because northern windows will simply suck heat from your house, and western and eastern ones could heat it up too much. With tall windows letting in solar energy along the southern wall, and a heavy source of thermal mass (e.g., stone slab floors, brick, planters, etc.) absorbing energy all along them, you could have a house sufficiently warm even when it’s 20 below outside – without using any input other than the sun!
Of course, that also means applying proper insulation techniques. High-performance windows can exceed single-pane window insulation value by more than ten times. The choice of building materials and location are important, too. Experimental buildings, such as earthships (built partly into the ground) and straw-bale structures (amazing insulation value, highly fire retardant), are just some examples. These structures can thrive in places where winter temperatures reach well below zero, but their pipes never freeze and their owners don’t have to spend a dime on heating costs!
In hot climates, the same principles can be applied, with some modifications, to achieve passive cooling. Most earthships stay very cool in the summer time, and very warm in the winter time, in places with extereme temperatures.
Perhaps the best way to maintain stable temperatures and clean air quality in your home is to incorporate a greenhouse. Homes with greenhouses inside are built to maintain air flow and have so much thermal mass that temperatures cannot vary greatly (see The Food and Heat Producing Solar Greenhouse: Design, Construction, Operation, 1980, by Rick Fisher and Bill Yanda). Home Power Magazine is a great resource for learning passive heating and cooling techniques, as well as about home energy use in general.
Google has developed a free software application called Google PowerMeter that tracks household’s energy usage in real time. It records spikes and baselines in electricity consumption so accurately that you can see how much power it takes to turn on a lightbulb or run a refridgerator overtime. It also approximates the annual power bill for your household based on your average energy consumption, which might prompt you to change your usage habits. Check the links below to see if your utility company is working in conjunction with the Google PowerMeter project.
Highland, Denver SCIP Home: Structural Concrete Insulated Panel I always thought, earthship, in the ground or straw bale was the only way to get an energy efficient home.
Then I built my first SCIP Structural Concrete Insulated Panel home.
The house was built through the winter in Colorado so cold and snowy days were not uncommon.
When we shot the interior of the house (the out side was shot already) my heating fuel consumption dropped by 70%
Further more I know this is not scientific but I turned off the temporary heater when the heat pump was installed.
The interior temperature was 68 degrees so I set the heat at 55 degrees and did not turn on for three weeks as the passive solar and thermal kept the interior above 60 degrees.
( The heat was turned on for a short time twice for building inspections)
This was still during construction and the only time the temperature dropped below 60 was when we removed a 25 sq. ft. window to replace it. Unfortunately the installer broke the replacement window and extra time was incurred closing the opening back up.
The following day the exterior doors were removed and permanent door bottoms were installed on all three levels dropping the temperature to the low 50s
During the three weeks the average interior temperature on the walls was in the 60s and where the sun hit the interior the temperature was in the 70s to 80s. This higher temperature radiated through out the house.
The night time lows ranged from 7 to 36 degrees with day time highs from 20s to 50.
Having been in and worked on SIP and ICF homes in the past the only significant change was the thermal mass.
One paragraph taken Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Thermal mass / Conclusions .
Comparative analysis of sixteen different material configurations showed that the most effective wall assembly was the wall with thermal mass (concrete) applied in good contact with the interior of the building. Walls where the insulation material was concentrated on the interior side, performed much worse. Wall configurations with the concrete wall core and insulation placed on both sides of the wall performed slightly better, however, their performance was significantly worse than walls containing foam core and concrete shells on both sides.
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