Tag Archives: Energy information

5 tips to improve home energy efficiency

In honor of Earth Day next week (don’t even get me started on the Earth Day advertising pitches and products I’ve been getting), here is a short list of do-it-yourself tips to improve home energy consumption. The tips are courtesy of Gretchen Marks, vice president of marketing for Washington Energy Services.

  1. Seal the leaks around windows and exterior doors. This is easy to do, and will help your home
    U.S. EPA photo
    keep the heat in. Caulk, spray foam or use weather stripping and it will have an impact on improving your comfort and reducing utility bills. If you don’t want to fuss with this, contact a handyman, or a reputable window, insulation or painting company. Many of them provide this service.
  2. Fix your insulation situation. Insulation is typically the #1 way to save energy in your home. According to the Department of Energy (www.ornl.gov) “heating and cooling account for 50 to 70% of the energy used in the average American home. Inadequate insulation and air leakage are leading causes of energy waste in most homes.” And according to EnergyStar, you could “save up to 10% of your total annual energy bill” just by sealing and insulating.
  3. Clean and seal heating ducts. Almost 20% of the air that moves through your duct system is lost due to leaks and poorly sealed connections. Over time, ducts can sag or collapse. Vermin and other animals can chew holes in crawl space ductwork. Ducts can also come apart at the seams. When this happens, any air that should be going to the rooms in your home is instead being wasted by ending up in your attic, your walls, or under your house. If duct tape was used on your ductwork originally, it’s best to have it replaced with aluminum or foil tape. Traditional duct tape deteriorates quickly. Metal seams should be cleaned and then sealed with duct mastic, which doesn’t crack and creates a permanent seal.
  4. Let your equipment breathe. Your heating and cooling systems depend on a flow of air to maximize their efficiency. Homeowners can take easy steps to help change the furnace filter, and check for leaves/debris around an outside heat pump or air conditioner. A clogged air intake outside or dirty indoor furnace filter limits air flow to the equipment and causes it to function inefficiently. It can eventually lead to costly breakdowns and repairs. This is similar to changing the air filter in your car. Electronic filters typically need cleaning at least twice per year and paper filters need replacing. Check your product warranty for your manufacturer’s specific instructions.
  5. Open those registers. Many people close floor registers to push heat into certain parts of their house. Since about the late 60’s the products installed in homes have been forced air furnaces. These are designed for a specific amount of air to flow thru the furnace while operating. The ductwork is designed for this amount of air also. When air registers are closed it reduces the airflow and allows heat to buildup in the system. That heat has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is up the flue and out of your house. Closing 1 or 2 registers is fine in rooms that get too hot. Keep as many registers open as possible so your furnace can operate at maximum efficiency. This is the same for heat pumps and central air conditioning.

Not sure where to start to make your home energy efficient? Consider a home energy audit. A certified audit uses the latest technology to analyze your house, and show you how your home uses and wastes energy. This will also help you prioritize what you can do to get the most energy savings. Learn more about audits at www.bpi.org or look for audit providing companies in your local area.

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Is the smart grid the new smart phone?

Recently, a story of mine appeared in the DJC called “Smart grid experts say AEC firms should start getting ready.” It’s about the smart grid, and how it will likely affect many aspects of your life – from the space you live in, to the car you drive to the way you use energy.

If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. One of my sources, Mani Vadari, Battelle’s vice president of

The potential smart grid. Image courtesy GreenBeat.
electricity infrastructure, compares the smart grid to the smart phone. Even 5 years ago (2006) who’d have thought they would be so ubiquitous as they are today? At that point, I had just gotten my first iPod a year before and was still spellbound by it. I had a Razr (ugh). I think I knew one or two people that had Blackberries but they didn’t seem useful to me in the least.

Vadari said there’s a ton of money heading into this industry and the game changing technology, if it’s not already here, isn’t far off.

He said the idea of a green building will change from a minimal energy user to an energy producer. As more people get electric cars and pull energy from the grid through buildings, he said a structure that produces extra energy would be ahead of the curve.

“You’ve got to start thinking holistically because if you just lean more into the grid, you’re not helping your carbon footprint,” Vadari said.

Vadari said more thought will be given to combining technologies to save and produce energy, or to achieve multiple goals. For example, he said windows and roofs could become energy-producing solar cells, forcing changes in the market as no one will want traditional windows and roofs anymore.

We’re just at the beginning of the smart grid now, with regional demonstration projects funded by the stimulus in motion in all corners of the country. Regionally, Battelle is leading the $178 million Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project. Electric cars, like the Nissan Leaf, are just coming to market and charging stations are just beginning to be installed.

But the potential for the smart grid and its related technologies to change our lives is huge. There’s no telling now which direction will move quickest but changes could include market-priced energy with monitors that allow you to control when you purchase energy based on price; electric cars; and homes and buildings that produce energy and feed it back into the grid.

Is there anything — energy wise — that you’re excited about or looking forward to? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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Giuliani says clean tech is America’s next big market

This week, I interviewed former Mayor of New York and Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani on clean tech. The story is in the DJC here and nicely sums up our conversation. But if you’re interested in why

Rudy Giuliani. Photo By Katie Zemtseff
Giuliani is interested in clean tech or what he thinks the next big thing or heck, whether he likes Seattle or not, I suggest you view our discussion.

The discussion is split into three video interviews. Here they are:

Click here for part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmR1WlDAJ4o

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTNYT65chrU

Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwjH09FjsFU


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Redecorating windows in an energy efficient way

I recently received this blog post from Richard Moyle with Horizon Window Treatments in New York. For those of you considering new window treatments, I thought it provided a nice overview on redecorating windows. Here it is:

So you want to re-decorate your windows, but you want to do it the most energy-efficient way possible,

One window treatment
to not only lower your utility bills, but reduce your carbon footprint as well. Fortunately, it is very possible to do this. All you need to do is look for a couple of things when selecting window treatments.

First, you want to make sure that the treatments you are choosing are made from renewable materials. If you are going the wood treatment route, only buy wood that is Forest Stewardship Council certified. FSC accredited certifiers evaluate both forest management activities and tracking of forest products. If not using wood treatments, go with natural fabrics like cotton, silk or hemp for draperies. Buying local is also helpful when it comes to energy efficiency. The shorter distance the material has to travel, the less energy it takes to get to you.

All window treatments offer some insulation, but some will provide more than others. In order to determine how much insulation is provided by a specific window treatment, you want to look at what is called the R-Value. This rates the treatment’s effectiveness in averting heat loss. You also want to evaluate the treatment by its Shading Coefficient, which is the measurement of heat coming through the window. A window treatment with a high R-value and a low Shading Coefficient would make for the ideal selection.

Air quality is third and final characteristic to look for in a window treatment. Plastic and faux wood blinds might contain polyvinyl chloride which releases carcinogenic dioxin into the air during production and contains plasticizer called phthalates, which can set off respiratory problems and inhibit the body’s hormonal systems. Again, choosing treatments that are made of renewable materials can help you avoid these problems.

While it may be impossible to find a treatment that adheres to all of the specifications above, knowing what to look for can help you find the treatment that is best for you and the environment.

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Help some students out with 5 minutes of your time…

Recently, I received an e-mail from a senior studying business at Seattle Pacific University named Jamie. The student said they are part of a team writing a comprehensive business plan regarding a power strip that automatically shuts off power in stand-by mode. Turns out two of her teammates have created a working prototype, which will participate in a number of competitions.

The student, Jamie Durbin, sounds pretty excited: “We are super passionate about our product: it would save

Is this your home?
energy and save consumer(s) $100+ on their annual energy bills. We are seeking venture capital at the competitions to launch our product line and hopefully serve the environmentally-minded (smart) consumer.”

Basically, the device senses when something switches to idle mode and can turn it off, saving energy.

Sounds kinda cool, eh? Here’s where you can help: Jamie’s team needs 1,000 respondents to an online survey. If you click here and spend 5 minutes, you could really help them out.

Overall, the product seems pretty handy. Even though I have power strips, there are often times when I simply forget to switch them off. Having a device do that automatically would take care of those moments.

Here’s a description of the product:

The controlled outlets have four main functions.

1) Able to sense when an appliance switches to idle mode

2) Able to turn the appliance off after a period of time in idle mode.  To achieve this functionality, the device will monitor how long an appliance has been in an idle power state and remove power when it has been in the idle mode for a user specified period of time.

3) Able to restore power to each appliance once the user wants to use the appliances again.  When the power is cut, the device will use a motion sensor to determine if anyone is around the device. If the motion sensor is tripped then it will reconnect power to the appliance; when the user turns the appliance off the cycle will begin again.

4) MOST IMPORTANT, the device will reduce power consumption.  The maximum expected consumption of the power strip itself will be under 1 watt. It will completely eliminate the standby power for the controlled appliances.

What do you think? Are they on the right track? If you think they are, answer the survey and help ’em out.

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