Monday, July 12, 2010

A New Beginning

Green Energy (Energie verte)Image by gilderic via Flickr

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand how to make a building more energy efficient. Perhaps a Nobel Prize winning physicist, yes. That's why when the folks at the Energy Coordinating Agency (the Philly green jobs training center) announced recently that US Energy Secretary Steven Chu would be dropping in for a visit, everyone in the local sustainability sphere was ecstatic.

The US Department of Energy, and specifically Dr. Chu's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office, EERE, has spawned several critical projects nationwide to assist homeowners and residents combat the alarming challenges of utility rate hikes and to fight continued adverse effects on the environment and depletion of our natural resources. In essence, it's the beginning of a substantial nationwide push to make our homes greener and cleaner energy systems.

Spearheading these projects in Philadelphia is the DOE's Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which seeks to help retrofit lower income households for energy efficiency - an issue that could impact on the mortgage crisis and economy in general as energy rates soar. Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemical, and a few other corporations are funding similar weatherization programs for the market sector. Many of them are being administrated by the ECA and the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation.

Infrared camera image used to detect hot/cold air leakage
The Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook has the home energy auditor listed as one of the fastest growing careers in an otherwise sluggish economy, especially compared to other occupations in the home-building trades. Much funding is being invested in this field in both public and private sectors. Programs for energy auditors, renewable energy installers, building retrofit experts, and more are in place throughout the nation.

While many advanced environmentalists are allured by exciting new developments in green-building such as green-roofing, solar power, and other alternative energy sources, it should be noted that the key to moving toward a net-zero home and sustainable housing is in energy efficiency and "sealing the envelope of the home." And that all starts with the home energy audit.

An auditor tests appliances
Utilizing a vast array of specialized diagnostic tools and imagery equipment, energy auditors and analysts are able to detect issues such as heating and cooling loss through air leaks, reduced efficiency of existing heat appliances due to incomplete combustion in the furnace, and problems with proper disbursement of home distribution systems. They also are knowledgeable in efficiency ratings of various household appliances and possess an overall expert understanding of the physics of energy and airflow in buildings.

Once the audit is conducted, a crew of technicians and installers can go to work on making recommended adjustments, or homeowners can choose to do the work themselves. The DOE does offer do-it-yourself home energy calculators on its website, which are helpful, but having an audit done from a Building Performance Institute (BPI) certified professional auditor is likely to give best results in terms of savings recouped as well as safety for the home. BPI auditors are trained to look for potential home environmental safety issues such as carbon monoxide threats, an important concern as the building envelope is tightened. In the WAP program, auditors are trained to check for lead safety levels.

Diagrams of traditional home energy distribution systems.

Below are some useful tips from Fresh Home on ways to save energy costs this summer while also giving a little back to Mother Nature:

ELECTRICITY: Between air conditioning, fans, and swamp coolers – all of these run on electricity.  In the summer months these appliances use up large quantities of energy, and later to money out of your pocket.  Consider using darkening window treatments in rooms that have a lot of heat gain in the summer.  These treatments will keep your home cooler, and will help you save electricity. If you own blinds or shutters, close them so they face towards the ceiling.  This will keep heat levels lower, and will help slow fading of your furniture upholstery and carpet.  When using air conditioning set it at the warmest temperature you can feel comfortable inside your home.  While some would think 80 degrees is warm – it’s a lot cooler than 103 outside your home!

WATER: If you have a lawn irrigation system, set the timer to water in early morning.  Grass that is not stressed from the day’s heat will absorb less water, and it will help it grow stronger. There are several green irrigation practices you can follow for watering your landscaping. Consider using drip or rain water collection systems to water your plants.  Inside your home, conserve water by taking short showers over long bathtub soaks. Another water saving tip,  install low flow shower heads and save money. These shower heads are especially good for renters, because they are removable and can go to your next home.

ENERGY AUDIT: Your local electricity provider offers energy audits of your home.  Schedule for a representative to visit your home and walk through tips for saving energy. Tips can range from changing incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) to washing clothes in cold water in the laundry room.  Energy audits are usually a free service, and will help you learn about your home, and saving money.

SEAL OUT AIR: Make sure your attic in your home has ample insulation. You can save 20-25% off your energy bill, and your home will feel cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.   Check windows and doors for air leaks around them.  Caulk around windows, and use weather stripping to help your home keep its cool temperatures. Think of the money you will save if the hot summer air isn’t trickling in!

ACTIVITIES: Want to really save money during the summer in your home? Get out of the house! Participate in activities outside of your home – movie theaters, shopping centers, libraries, etc…  For a few hours, it will help you forget about the heat, and your wallet can have a break too!

Unfortunately, many people know little about the home science of energy efficiency and the roll-out of this new industry, one that strives help people save money, increase the comfort of their homes, safety, and perhaps do some good for the planet as a result. Whether you're a weatherization professional, or simply a curious do-it-yourself homeowner, the aim of this blog is provide some clear information about this great new clean energy efficient frontier--D.A. DeMers

Enhanced by Zemanta

1 comment:

  1. Doug - I am very impressed by your work here. I am a 'green architect' of the past 15+ years, before which I was a senior hospital / lab / university / school architect, pretty much 99% since BArch in 1970.

    I wonder if we could talk or meet for coffee etc. to see if there is a place to share knowledge, job info, etc.
    Bill Marston, LEED-AP & Green Advantage Certificate holder and Training Faculty
    215-557-9445 weekdays
    267-304-4193 weekends
    skypename = bill_m_one
    Suite 3C   209 S. 24th St.
    Philadelphia, PA 19103