Upfront Cost vs. Operation Cost

When doing home energy audits I have not been recommending the use of LED lights due to cost.  However we recently installed the first of what will be many LED light bulbs in our home, and after running some numbers it seems the price has dropped to the point that they are competitive with CFL lights.  Yes, they are more expensive than a CFL bulb, and much more expensive than a standard incandescent bulb.  However the way you need to look at is you are purchasing your light bulbs for the next 10 years with the purchase of one LED light.  If you take a look at the chart below, you can see based on costs I saw at my local Home Depot store, there is a good energy and monetary savings over the life of the LED bulb when you take into consideration how many times you would have to replace the other bulb types.  The savings is even greater in a commercial facility where you are paying someone to change out those bulbs.

Light Bulbs
Average life (hours)25,0008,0002,000
Electricity cost$0.11$0.11$0.11
Cost to operate (life span)$16.50$7.92$8.80
Total operating cost$26.47$31.75$118.25
LED & CFL bulbs are 40W Incandescent equivalents
Download Worksheet

Now it appears that with an electricity cost of $0.11 per kWh that if you can find a LED light for $15.50 or less, you will save money over a CFL through the life of the bulb.

Why not look into it yourself with this little calculator (here), just input the costs of the light bulbs you find at your local store along with their rated wattage and your local electric costs and see how much you can save.

Now this little light bulb exercise holds true with any upgrades in efficiency whether you are replacing light bulbs, a furnace and air conditioning unit, to making envelope upgrades to a new home or addition.  You pay a little more now for efficiency, but in the overall life of the project you end up saving money.

Potential Hazards of Conventional Water Heating

Beginning May 1st, 2013 80 AFUE, also known as induced draft atmospheric furnaces will not be installed in cold climates, such as here in Ohio (article) as determined by the US Department of Energy (DOE).  The new minimum AFUE requirement is 90 AFUE, which means the unit is a sealed combustion unit.  All combustion is contained inside of a sealed chamber and a powered vent fan is used to exhaust all of the combustion gases.  The DOE reason for the new change is to set a new higher minimum efficiency standard; however I like this new requirement for safety reasons.  It practically eliminates the potential of backdrafting.

I would like to see the same kind of requirement for water heaters.  In my professional opinion atmospheric water heaters do not belong in today’s homes, even the older ones that are getting weatherized.  New homes and even older ones that are getting sealed and insulated are getting tighter, and this could have a negative effect on the atmospheric water heater.  How do you ask?  Well as we tighten things up we have less air infiltration into the home which means fewer holes to allow air to replace the air that is being pulled out of the house by running bathroom or kitchen exhaust fans.  Because the adage is for every bit of air you pull out of the house, it has to be replaced.  Why does this mater, how does it affect your water heater?  Well your water heater has a 3-4”, sometimes larger hole to the outside known as the flue.  So when you turn on your exhaust fans or even use your fireplace, this is the path of least resistance and can be a harmful one pulling combustion gases and carbon monoxide back into the home.  Because when your water heater is running, it relies on the buoyancy of hot air to travel up the flue pipe to exit the home and it does not take much to pull that hot air back down the pipe along with the carbon monoxide.

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Poor Planning

Recently I went to perform a home energy audit for a homeowner that was looking to take advantage of rebates from the local gas utility program that I work for to do air sealing and insulation work for the home.  Now when I arrived, the furnace was sitting in the front yard and there were 3” holes on the interior of the home in every wall cavity in preparation for wall insulation to be installed.  Not to mention the large holes in the ceiling for the new duct work to be installed.

So what is the issue you may ask? They made my job easy right; I have a clear view into the wall and well, to the underside of the roof as well as a matter of fact.  However it is the fact that when I showed up to the home the entire interior was gutted; the old furnace that was sitting in the basement is now on the front yard with a new one in the attic and brand new flexible duct work ready to be installed throughout the attic.  This is poor planning on the homeowners’ part that is going to cost them over the life of the home now.  Yes, they are going to be reducing the utility bills of the 1920’s home by insulating the walls and attic.  However it is not going to be to the fullest potential.  First there was no plan to provide any air sealing work that could reduce any potential moisture problems with air infiltration.  Secondly, by moving the 80AFUE furnace from the basement to the attic, it is going to reduce the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the furnace, air conditioner and distribution system as it is all going to be sitting in unconditioned space and see the extreme hot and cold temperatures.

Now all of this work is being done with a short time table, and from my brief time in the home, it looks like there was no overall plan.  By working with an architect and even an energy auditor before knocking down the first wall, there would have been a clear plan and better final product.  So it pays to take a little extra time to have a clear and concise plan because in the long term, the home will not only perform better, but function better for your lifestyle.

Home Energy Spiderweb

With Halloween approaching and seeing all the spider web decorations, it has gotten me thinking of home performance and how tangled of a web your home actually is.  Then I read an article a couple weeks ago about how a dual flush toilet could save on your energy bills.  You read that correctly, not your water bill, you energy bill.  In the home performance industry, it is taught or known that the house is a system and it works together as a sum of all its parts.  And as home performance professionals we try to educate our customers and clients that by changing one thing in a home such as air sealing to close some of the air leaks will have a positive effect on your utility bills & reduce the potential for moisture issues, but could negatively affect the indoor air quality if sealed too much and is not addressed.

So I am going to dig a little deeper and not focus on the big energy savers such as air sealing and insulation.  But the little things in the home such as your ever running DVR or cable modem.  Did you know that the box sitting below your TV is affecting both your gas and electric usage when it comes to heating & cooling your home?  Most by now should know about vampire loads (the continuous use of energy even with the units off), and of course they vary by product.  But any devise in your home that uses electricity also generates a small amount of heat.

Even when off the DVR is drawing power & producing heat.

As you can see from this infrared image of a DVR and cable modem.  This unit is off and it is still at 90 degrees.  So it is warm to the touch.  Now this obviously benefits your home in the winter time as it heats your home, but in the summer time it is producing heat that needs to be removed from the home.  One of my design clients experienced this after renovating their upper level of their Cape Cod home (Pictures) when they super insulated the kneewalls and ceiling.  Their gas bills went down because it held the heated air in the home better, but their electric bill went up because it trapped the heated air in the home which needed to be removed.  WHAT!?

Now if you are a mechanical engineer working on commercial buildings, this is no surprise  There is a point where the primary cooling load on the building is not the actual conditions outside, but all of the equipment and people inside that are generating heat and moisture.  But this goes well beyond the DVR, think of your refrigerator.  In the winter when you typically lower the house temperature when leaving for work (Well you should be), it is reducing the temperature difference between the inside of the fridge and the interior of the home, so it runs less.  However it has the exact opposite affect in the summer time when we let the temperature rise in the house when we are not at home.  Because now the temperature difference is much higher, so the fridge runs more.  That is why the electric company does not like to see refrigerators in garages as they typically can’t keep up with the extra heat in the summer time, it is best to keep your extra fridge or freezer in the basement as it is typically cooler and at more of a constant temperature.  For you numbers geeks, check out this article on GreenBuildingAdvisor.com about seasonal electrical loads. Therefore if you go around your house you can find many items that generate heat such as incandescent light bulbs, phone chargers, TV’s & video game systems to name a few that provide small amounts of heat that can affect your heating and cooling bills.  And yes, your toilet can cool your home.

 However I am looking forward to the next couple of months in my house as it is a heavy baking/cooking season, so that extra heat to bake all those cookies and dinners, along with the extra bodies in the house for the holidays are going to help heat my home and reduce my gas bill.

Now I know, some of this is small and insignificant and quite random of a topic.  But that is the way my brain works and as I do energy models every day and watch my customers usage jump up and down as I plug in all the different systems my brain just starts wandering.  So I really just needed to share, because quite frankly I think my wife has already suffered from information overload, especially since she originally did not know what was involved with our application into the 1000 home challenge and we will be taking these loads into consideration as we move forward.  So thanks for listening!

Where do you get your advice from?

So a couple of weeks ago I saw a local lawn care company with a box truck in front a house in my neighborhood.  Didn’t think anything of it until I saw the employees suiting up in tyvek suits.  Well first thought was the product they were applying to the lawn was so toxic that they had to suite up to protect themselves.  But then I got closer & saw a hose extending through the front door and the side of the box truck said “Insulation Services”.  So the crew was suiting up to insulate the home owners’ attic.  Needless to say I took a double take and almost hit a parked car because my head spin around so fast to verify what I saw.  I meant to get online and check things online when I got home, but you know, life & family get in the way sometimes.

However I was reminded again of this lawn care company doing insulation work yesterday when I was performing a home energy audit for one of my customers.  When I asked them why they were interested in having a home energy audit they mentioned that they had a complimentary home energy audit from the lawn care company and even received an estimate to install additional insulation.  When I asked why she agreed to the “audit” from this company, she quickly replied it was free and only took an hour.  So not sure on the validity of what they we proposing, she contacted a local home performance company who did recommend insulation additional insulation, however they recommended that I come out and do a comprehensive home energy audit which goes beyond the visual inspection and includes combustion safety and blower door testing, along with calculated energy savings & paybacks.

So by now you may be asking yourself where is he going with this.  The point is do you trust the source of your information?  Sometimes the information comes from a reputable company, however do they necessarily have the expertise in the advice they are giving as mentioned in a recent blog post by one of my favorites, Energy Vanguard.  They recently criticized an extremely popular and reputable magazine for giving bogus advice when it comes to sizing an air conditioning unit, steering thousands of people in the wrong direction.  Now I am not going to summarize the article, I am going to let you read the article for yourself (Sex Advice, Diet Tips, Decorating Ideas, & HVAC Design).

Therefore you should look into a company’s reputation in the industry they are giving advice in.  Have they been doing the kind of job you are looking for them to do for some time, are the crews even experienced?  It is my opinion that the lawn care company is taking advantage of their existing customer base to build a new income stream which has been very profitable for some of the reputable insulation companies here in Ohio due to some of the utility companies incentive programs such as the one I work (Columbia Gas Home Performance Solutions), offering customers rebates to improve the energy efficiency of their home when it is considered to be cost effective.  If you take anything as a result of this post, do as my recent customer did and get estimates from multiple companies for any work you may do, and when it comes to energy efficiency, schedule a comprehensive home energy audit so people like me can steer you in the right direction and show you what financial paybacks for your investment may be.