Archive for Energy Efficiency

Improve Your Home’s Energy Efficiency with Technology

Posted in Around Your Home, Electrical, Energy Efficiency, Home Maintenance, I Wish I'd Thought About That with tags , , , , on March 5, 2014 by Pat Hansen

Today’s home owners and buyers are looking for ways to incorporate home technologies that increase the long-term value of their house but also provide convenience, safety and comfort. Energy management is a highly-desired feature in both newly-built and existing homes, along with multi-zone heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems and lighting controls. Not only are these features easy-to-use, but they also provide energy-efficiency.

By incorporating the following technologies, home owners can save money on their utility bills:

  • Automated HVAC systems can maintain a more energy-efficient temperature while the home owners are away at work, but switch to a more comfortable temperature prior to their arrival home.  Zones can also be created to heat or cool only the areas most used by the occupants, keeping other areas, such as guest bedrooms, shut down until they are needed. They also can combat the problem of heat rising, keeping upper floors cooler in the summer without freezing the lower floors in a home. According to Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, programmable thermostats can save consumers about $180 per year in energy costs.Programmable Thermostat
  • Water heaters with a timer can be turned off when the occupants are traveling, then can turn on and begin heating the water in preparation for their return home. Tankless gas water heaters — which only activate when residents start to use hot water and immediately de-activate when they are done — are also a great option and can reduce water heating costs up to 35 percent annually.
  • Lighting can make up 10 to 20 percent of the total electrical usage of the home. Installing an automatic dimmer, which adjusts to the home owner’s needs based on time of day or occupancy, will lower electricity bills and increase the life expectancy of light bulbs.
  • Blinds and drapes can be programmed to close during the hottest part of the day to block out the sun; keeping the house cooler. In the colder winter months, they can open up to allow the sun in to warm the house, which helps regulate the room temperature.

By incorporating technologies that help make your home operate more efficiently, Energy Star estimates that home owners can save $200 to $400 annually on their energy bills.

This article is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders.

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Big Design Ideas for Small Homes

Posted in Around Your Home, Construction, Energy Efficiency, I Wish I'd Thought About That with tags , , , , , on January 29, 2014 by Pat Hansen

There are any number of reasons families might want to make better use of the space they have in their current or new home. As a family grows, their lifestyle changes, and space for storing toys or doing homework is at a premium. Multigenerational living, where elderly parents, grown children or other relatives all live under the same roof has become common. Or it may just be cosmetic, and the best way to keep clutter at a minimum.

Home builders and remodelers are responding to the demand by maximizing the utility of living spaces without sacrificing visual appeal. With creative storage and built-in features, dining rooms can become a home office or game room in minutes, living rooms can be used for family meals, and foyers can store much more than coats and umbrellas.

In new home construction, smaller-scale, walkable communities have become popular. To accommodate the size constraints of a skinny lot, homes are being designed with features like stacked garages where two cars can be housed trunk to hood instead of side by side. Using flexible walls, attractive flooring material and a roofless interior garage space, the area can easily be converted to a patio for entertaining.

Improved energy efficiency of windows and doors means homes now feature more indoor-outdoor connectivity. Moveable walls and outdoor spaces tucked within the home’s floor plan provide for better flexible use of the space, as well as improved privacy in densely populated areas.

The often-unused space under a stairwell can be engineered to accommodate filing cabinets or drawers, or even to create a sanctuary for the family pet complete with a bed and gates to close it off. Drawers built into stair risers are a great place to store small items such as gloves and hats or art supplies.

The trend extends to home furnishings as well. Murphy beds, where a piece of furniture conceals a bed that can be set up for sleeping in few minutes, have been around for many years. Modern murphy beds are hidden not only in armoires or bookcases, but new designs feature beds that lower from the ceiling electronically at the touch of a button, or fold out from inside a desk or counter.

Other creative, multi-purpose furniture designs include dining tables that convert to a billiard table, bookcases that contain fold-down chairs for when you’re entertaining more than the usual number of friends and family, and cocktail tables with trays that pull out for eating in front of the television.

This article is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders.

Use Your Fireplace Safely and Effectively This Winter

Posted in Around Your Home, Energy Efficiency, Home Safety, I Wish I'd Thought About That with tags , , , , on December 18, 2013 by Pat Hansen

During the winter months, many families gather around their home’s fireplace. A fire in the fireplace creates a warm and cozy atmosphere, but don’t expect it to add heat to your home. As little as 10 percent of the heat from a fire in an open masonry fireplace radiates into the house.

The National Association of Home Builders’ MyHome Press has published a handbook for home owners, “Home Maintenance Made Easy,” and the excerpt below contains helpful advice on how to safely build fires and maintain your fireplace.

Wood Burning Fireplaces

Your fireplace will add elegance and warmth if you use it safely and have it cleaned by a chimney cleaning professional at least once every five years (two years if you use it frequently). A wood-burning fireplace should be equipped with andirons (or a grate) and a well-fitting screen. It may have glass doors as well.

Gathering Room (Fairfield New Home), Clarkston, Michigan | Robert R. Jones Homes
If you are in a newer home
with a fresh air vent to supply the fireplace with combustion air, open it and the damper before you start a fire. Then remember to close both when you are not using the fireplace so warm air will not escape in the winter and cool air will not escape in the summer.

Build fires on the andirons or grate—not directly on the fireplace floor. Seasoned hardwood is the best fuel. Do not burn pine logs in your fireplace; they contain a tar that can start a fire in the chimney if it accumulates. Do not burn trash in the fireplace. Never use kerosene, gasoline, charcoal lighter fluid, or other highly flammable liquids to start a fire.

Begin with a small fire to allow the components of the fireplace to heat up slowly. Burn kindling and newspaper under the grate; stack two to three layers of logs with air space between them, placing the largest logs to the rear. You can burn one sheet of paper atop the stack to help the chimney start to draw.

If the fire is still burning but you are finished enjoying it, close the glass doors if you have them to prevent heated air from being drawn up the chimney (until you can close the damper). But don’t close glass doors over a roaring fire, especially if you are burning hardwoods like oak or hickory; the heat could break the glass. When you close the doors over a burning fire, open the mesh screens first. This prevents excessive heat buildup on the mesh, which might warp or discolor it. Be sure the fire is out each night before you go to bed.

Gas Fireplaces

A gas fireplace provides the comfort and style of a wood-burning unit, but requires far less maintenance. Many gas fireplaces are also far more efficient than wood-burning and as a result, produce less pollution.

Family Room (Galleria New Home), Clarkston, Michigan | Robert R. Jones HomesGas fireplaces may have a chimney or may vent exhaust gases (mainly water vapor and carbon dioxide) directly outside without a chimney. Others are ventless; there is no flue. If your gas fireplace is vented, the flue or vent should be closed when the fireplace is not in use. Use the same safety precautions with a gas fireplace that you would with any other gas appliance.

There will be a slight delay after turning the switch on before a flame ignites. Flames should ignite gently and silently. If you notice any deviation from this or any gas smell, immediately shut off the switch and report the problem to the gas company.

For more home maintenance advice, go to myhomepress.com for publications on current topics including social media, home design and more.

This article is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders.

Preparing Your Home for Winter

Posted in Around Your Home, Home Maintenance, Worth Repeating with tags , , on October 16, 2013 by Pat Hansen

Fall is the time of the year to start thinking about preparing your home for winter. As the temperatures drop, your home will require maintenance to keep it in tip-top shape throughout the winter. Here are some tips to help you prepare your home for winter:

Furnace Inspection:

  • Furnace FilterCall a HVAC professional to inspect your furnace and clean the ducts.
  • Stock up on furnace filters and change them monthly.
  • If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, consider getting one.
  • Set the humidifier to the winter setting.
  • Remove all flammable material from the area surrounding your furnace.

Get the Fireplace Ready:

  • Cap or screen the top of the chimney to keep out critters.
  • If the chimney hasn’t been cleaned for a while, call a chimney sweep to remove soot and creosote.
  • Buy firewood or chop wood. Store in a dry place away from the exterior of your home.
  • Inspect the fireplace damper for proper opening and closing.

Inspect the Roof, Gutters and Downspouts:

  • Adding extra insulation to the attic will prevent warm air from creeping to your roof and causing ice dams.
  • Check flashing to ensure that water cannot enter your home.
  • Replace worn shingles.
  • Clean out the gutters and use a hose to spray water down the downspouts to clear away debris.
  • Consider installing leaf guards on the gutters or extensions on the downspouts to direct water away from you home.

Shingles/Gutter
Check the Exterior:

  • Inspect exterior for crevice cracks and exposed entry points around pipes and seal them.
  • Replace cracked glass in windows. If you replace the entire window, prime and paint any exposed wood.
  • If you have older, non-insulated windows, install the storm windows.

Check the Foundation:

  • Rake away all debris and vegetation from the foundation.
  • Seal entry points to keep small animals from crawling under your home.
  • Tuck point or seal foundation cracks. Mice can slip through space as thin as a dime.
  • Inspect sill plates for dry rot or pest infestation.

Install Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors:

  • Smoke Alarm/Detector Buy smoke detector batteries and change them when daylight savings ends.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector near your furnace and water heater.
  • Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they work.

Prevent Plumbing Freezes:

  • Locate water main in the event you need to shut it off.
  • Drain all garden hoses. Turn off water to outside hose bibs.
  • Have your irrigation system blown out and shut off.
  • Insulate exposed plumbing pipes.
  • If you go on vacation, leave the heat on set to at least 55 degrees.

While these tips may seem like common sense and part of your fall routine, it is easy to become preoccupied with weekend football games and other fall activities; therefore, forgetting the necessary maintenance.

Easy Ways to Green Your Home

Posted in Green Building, New Homes, Renovation, Worth Repeating with tags , , , , on July 24, 2013 by Pat Hansen

Green building, where new homes are built using materials that conserve energy and environmental resources, is one of the fastest-growing segments of the home building industry today. But for the owners of the millions of existing homes in the United States, remodeling is the only way to incorporate green.

The National Association of Home Builders Remodelers offers the following suggestions to home owners who want to increase their home’s efficiency, decrease costs, and take advantage of the other benefits that green offers:

1. InInsulationstall maximum insulation. Forty percent of the energy consumed in a typical house goes to heating and cooling. Adding insulation is an easy way to increase efficiency. Insulation is rated by its ability to resist heat flow, known as “R-value.” The higher the R-value, the more effectively the insulation resists heat flow. Adding insulation will help save energy costs, increase comfort by better controlling temperature, and improve indoor air quality by eliminating gaps through which dirt, dust, and other impurities can enter.

2. Seal exterior penetrations. You can reduce cold air drafts and heat loss by inspecting your home from the inside and outside and plugging cracks or openings. Be sure to check the areas where window frames meet the structure or siding of the house. Use caulking to seal small cracks on non-moving surfaces and install weather stripping on windows, doors and other movable parts of the home.

3. Purchase ENERGY STAR-rated appliances. ENERGY STAR-rated appliances, ranging from dishwashers and refrigerators to computers and televisions, meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy. Qualified refrigerators, dishwashers and vent fans incorporate advanced technologies that use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models – more than making up for the slightly higher cost of these products.

4. Install low-flow water plumbing fixtures. In the average home, flushing toilets accounts for some 30 percent of water usage. By using low-flow plumbing fixtures such as toilets, faucet aerators and showerheads, you can save up to 25 percent of that water compared to conventional fixtures while providing the same utility.

5. Install high-efficiency windows. New-WindowOrdinary window glass transmits ultraviolet heat rays from the sun, which can increase your air conditioning bill dramatically. ENERGY STAR windows can help control this effect. These windows may have two or more panes of glass, warm-edge spacers between the panes, improved framing materials, and microscopically thin metal or metallic oxide layers deposited on windows to reduce radiative heat flow.

6. Upgrade to an ENERGY STAR-rated or tankless water heater. Tankless water heaters provide hot water on demand at a preset temperature rather than storing it. Replacing an electric water heater with a solar model can reduce costs by up to 80 percent a year. Over its 20-year lifespan, a solar heater will prevent more than 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. A low-cost option is to wrap insulation around your heater, which can reduce standby heat loss by 25 to 45 percent.

7. Purchase the highest efficiency HVAC system you can afford. Over a ten year period, the average home owner spends more than $10,000 for heating and cooling. Installing high efficiency HVAC equipment can reduce costs on average by 10 to 30 percent over minimum efficiency equipment. It also can improve home comfort with better heating and cooling and a quieter operation, and often features higher quality components that result in longer equipment life.

For more information on green remodeling, visit nahb.org/remodel
or RobertRJonesHomes.com/Remodeling.

This article is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders.

Reduce Winter Fuel Costs

Posted in Around Your Home, Energy Efficiency with tags , on December 12, 2012 by Pat Hansen

As temperatures drop during the winter, home fueling costs often increase for home owners. Fuel options for home owners largely depend on the region — in the Northeast, fuel oil or electricity are most prominent while in rural areas, propane and wood are often the main choices. But whatever your heating fuel options are, you have options to reduce your costs.

Reducing fuel costs can involve both short-term and long-term solutions and range from simple, inexpensive changes to major home modifications. Here are some ways that you can keep the cold out and the costs down this winter:

Reduce Air Leaks:

By caulking and sealing air leaks in a home, an average household can cut 10 percent of their monthly energy bill. Use caulk to seal any cracks or small openings on non-moving surfaces such as where window frames meet the house structure. Make sure your weather stripping in exterior door frames hasn’t deteriorated and cracked, if it has, replace it.

Exterior weather strippingSealing windows and doors will help, but the worst culprits are usually utility cut-throughs for pipes (plumping penetrations), gaps around chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. You can buy material that expands to fill the gaps and keep air from flowing through.

Use Energy Wisely:

Set the temperature of your water heater to the warm setting (120º F). If your water heater is older, get an insulating blanket to wrap around it and reduce heat loss. Newer heaters are much more energy efficient and a blanket won’t make a noticeable impact.

Lower the thermostat setting to 50 or 55 degrees when you are using your fireplace and the furnace is on. Some warmed air will still be lost, but the furnace won’t have to use as much fuel to keep the rest of the house at its usual temperature.

Programmable thermostatInstall a programmable smart thermostat that allows you to lower the heat during the workday or at night when you’re asleep, and automatically increase the setting before you get home or awake in the morning.

Install Energy-Efficient Products:

Upgrading to energy-efficient appliances and products such as new HVAC systems, high-performance windows and ENERGY-STAR rated appliances will also help lower your electricity bills. Windows with low-E glass may cost 10 to 30 percent more than conventional glass double-pane windows, but their effectiveness in keeping your wintertime heat indoors will make up for it with lower heat costs over time.

Compact fluorescent bulbReplacing incandescent lights with compact fluorescents can save home owners up to three-quarters of the electricity previously used by incandescents. The best targets are 60-100 watt bulbs used for several hours a day. Check the fixtures to ensure they will accommodate the slightly larger compact fluorescents.

The best way to reduce your home’s overall energy consumption is to hire a professional energy auditor to evaluate your home and identify all the inefficiencies. It may cost a couple hundred dollars, but will save you much more over the long run.

This article is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders.

When Is Duct Cleaning Appropriate?

Posted in Around Your Home, I Wish I'd Thought About That with tags , on November 29, 2012 by Pat Hansen

In recent years, ventilation duct cleaning has grown into a huge industry, in response to increasing public concern about indoor air pollution. The industry claims that cleaning ductwork can improve indoor air quality, control molds and other allergens, enhance heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system performance, and reduce energy costs. Yet there is little scientific evidence to support these claims and poor duct cleaning practices can actually cause or increase air quality complaints.

Latest Findings

Despite more than two decades of research, there is still not enough evidence to draw solid conclusions about duct cleaning benefits on indoor air quality, occupants’ health, HVAC system performance or energy savings (according to a 2010 review of scientific studies on duct cleaning). The review did find clear evidence that ductwork can be contaminated with dust and can act as a reservoir for microbial growth under normal operating conditions. Yet, even when duct cleaning was extremely efficient at removing contaminants within ducts, the effectiveness of reducing indoor air pollutants was highly variable, and in many cases, post-cleaning levels of contaminants were higher than pre-cleaning levels.

When is duct cleaning appropriate?Heat register/vent

Although the value of regular duct cleaning remains questionable, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and indoor air specialists agree that duct cleaning (or, in some cases, duct replacement) is appropriate in the following circumstances:

  • Permanent or persistent water damage in ducts.
  • Slime or microbial growth observed in ducts.
  • Debris build-up in ducts that restricts airflow.
  • Dust discharge from supply diffusers.
  • Offensive odors originating in ductwork of HVAC component.

In all cases, duct cleaning should be undertaken only after the source of the contaminant has been identified and controlled; otherwise, the problem will not go away. For instance, the water source causing mold growth must be identified and controlled or duct cleaning will be only a temporary fix.

Prevention of duct contamination is key to avoiding problems: Follow these recommendations to avoid the need for costly duct cleaning:

  • Perform routine preventative maintenance of HVAC systems by complying with manufacturer schedules for changing HVAC filters and cleaning coils and other components.
  • During building renovation, seal ductwork to prevent construction dust and debris from entering the HVAC system.
  • New ductwork often contains oil and debris. Before new ductwork is connected to the air handling system, it should be inspected for cleanliness and cleaned if necessary.
  • Maintain good housekeeping in occupied spaces.
  • Ensure that air intakes are located away from contaminant sources.
  • Consider routine inspections of ductwork. TheNational Air Duct Cleaning Association’s (NADCA) standard “Assessment, Cleaning and Restoration of HVAC Systems”recommends that HVAC systems be visually inspected for cleanliness at regular intervals.

If duct cleaning is determined to be the best option:

Hire a duct cleaning contractor who is a member in good standing of the NADCA.Duct cleaning companies must meet strict requirements to become NADCA members. Among those requirements, all NADCA members must have certified Air Systems Cleaning Specialist (ASCS) on staff that have taken and passed the NADCA Certification Examination.

Remember:

  • Duct cleaning should only be undertaken as a last resort, after other measures have been exhausted.
  • Duct cleaning should only be done after the problem has been thoroughly evaluated and the source has been identified and controlled.
  • Prevent dirt, water and other contaminants from entering the ducts in the first place by following good practices for preventive maintenance and housekeeping, as well as proper location of air intakes.
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