How “Energy Efficient” is Your Home or Business?
Energy efficient solar systems (such as solar electric panels, solar thermal panels, and solar with battery storage) have a lot of sex appeal and can provide significant savings on your utility bills.
But for some, having systems like these installed could result in very high costs.
If you’re interested in saving money and on a budget like most of us, we usually recommend a different approach in reducing your energy consumption before installing additional solar technologies.
Below is a list of energy strategies we have used on our own homes and businesses and that we recommend for everyone.
They will increase your home’s or business’s comfort factor and self-knowledge of how you use energy; all while paying for themselves, decreasing your energy consumption and ultimately reducing or removing the cost barriers of installing solar electric, solar thermal, or solar with battery storage.
Where do I start?
Have you ever considered a remodel or redesign to your home or business? It can be a great way to increase your equity investment. And while you’re doing that remodel, it’s a great time to consider ways to increase your structure’s energy efficiency. It really is easy and less cost prohibitive than you may think.
But understanding different energy strategies can be overwhelming at times, and it is not always easy to determine what energy improvements you may need.
Things to consider would be:
- Which projects make the most sense?
- Which are worth the money?
- And if you can’t do all of them, where should you start?
Here are our recommendations …
Begin by monitoring your energy usage
Having instant information feedback provided to consumers is powerful. The greatest example of this we have seen in recent years is the fuel consumption readouts in your car. It’s sometimes amazing to realize that instant fuel consumption did not become standard until just over a decade ago. Did having that instant fuel consumption reading change the way you drive? Maybe it did and maybe it didn’t. But there have many studies showing a reduction of fuel consumption based solely on this instant feedback information.
With technology today, understanding how your home or business uses energy has never been easier. Many products can be installed with minimal effort that sync to your computer or smart phone. Examples would be a Sense Energy Monitor or Curb Energy Monitor to name a couple. They have a low initial investment, but the information they provide can guide you on where your current energy and power consumption is going and how to become more energy efficient. This will begin to shape how you are currently using energy and power.
Are you beginning to realize the power of having energy consumption data?
You can not only see exactly how much energy and power those new CFL bulbs are using, but what about that 12-year-old air conditioner rated at a 12SEER rating? This technology is so sensitive you can tell if your air conditioner filter is dirty just by turning it on. Wow … that is cool! Want to know how much your pool pump is using? Turn it on and see if you are a candidate for a new variable speed unit. When it comes to electrical devices plugged in, using monitoring devices like these will give you a window into exactly how and where your energy is being used.
Now, what about the structure itself?
Perform an Energy Audit
After doing an initial utility bill analysis, we always recommend people should get an Energy Audit. The cost of these audits is fairly inexpensive — from $100 and up, depending on the size of the structure you’re testing. An energy audit is essentially a very thorough examination of your home or business structure. They perform such tests as: Blower door test looking for whole structure leakage; HVAC ventilation testing on both supply and return sides looking for leakage and flow; Checking gas lines for any gas leakage, etc. They will also be evaluating proper insulation and R-value levels.
We recommend you always find a Building Performance Institute (BPI) certified auditor and talk directly with them to verify everything they will be looking at and testing. Some auditors do more than others. Just remember, when they are done you will receive a certified report of your structure’s strong and weak points. Think of it as a report card for your home or business.
Typically, they will also show you what corrective action or upgrades, if any, you can or should be taking. This is great information, especially when looking at the design phase of a solar only or solar with battery system. When someone chooses to reduce energy waste prior to installing a solar system, there is always a significant increase in the return-on-investment. At Southface Solar, we will use this energy audit report to analyze and design a system, based on your upgrade choices ranging from none to every upgrade recommended.
Before you upgrade, make these typical home energy improvements
Seal air leaks around floors, walls, ceilings, windows, doors, and any openings with caulking, spray foam, and/or weather stripping. Warm air leaking into your home during the summer and out of your home during the winter can waste a lot of your energy, which = money. The potential energy savings from reducing structure leakage may range from 2-5% to 20-30% a year. And the home or business is typically much more comfortable as well.
Add or replace insulation in the attic or crawl spaces. Exterior walls are important to consider in conjunction with air sealing to help keep your cool air in during the summer and warm air in during the winter. Increasing your structures R-value or insulation value is typically one of the fastest and most cost savings way to reduce energy waste.
Program or install programmable thermostats that save energy by automatically regulating your home or business’s temperature when you are home or away. Today’s programmable thermostats are not like they used to be. Think NEST with auto programming features that basically program themselves. You can potentially save as much as 10% a year on your cooling and heating bills by simply turning your thermostat back 10% to 15% for 8 hours.
Ensure A/C ducts are sealed, are straight and properly connected. Many duct systems are not insulated properly, or worse yet have gaps or holes where air is leaking into your attic space. You can potentially lose up to 60% of your cooled and heated air before it reaches the space its intended for. Stop cooling or heating your uninsulated attic!
Heating and cooling uses more energy than any other system in your home — typically, 65% of a home utility bill. By combining proper equipment and regular maintenance with the appropriate insulation, air sealing and thermostat settings, you can cut your heating and cooling energy use for from 65% to 45% — or sometimes even as much as 20%!
Install an energy-efficient hot water heater, such as an energy-efficient tank water heater or an on-demand tankless water heater. Water heating is another large energy expense, typically accounting for roughly 10%-25% of your utility bill. Also consider putting your recirculation pump on a timer. Do you really need instant hot water at 3 a.m.?
Upgrade household appliances to ENERGY STAR products. Appliances are another large user of energy. Especially that 15-year-old clothes dryer that you never want to move again.
There is a lot to choose from these days, so start updating. If you change 5 to 10 a month, it will take no time to have them all changed out. One 100Watt incandescent bulb of yesteryears is equal to ten LEDs of comparable Lumens and light. Food for thought.
Install more energy efficient windows, doors, and skylights by looking for ENERGY STAR products. Usually this replacement has more to do with the installation than the window itself. And, yes … dual pane is better than single and triple pane is better than dual. It could be argued that window replacements are over prescribed, but when it’s 110 degrees outside, there is a difference. Just always be aware of the price.
Consider all your options for energy savings upgrades
Too often the improvements with potential large benefits aren’t always obvious. Air barrier, insulation and sealing may not be overly sexy, but they can make a significant impact and a better return on your investment than higher priced improvements such as new windows or a solar plus storage system. Therefore, it’s best to start with where and how you use energy and power. Then you have a sure-fire way to measure the small incremental upgrades you will be making.
Remember that regardless of your budget, home energy upgrades can always be an ongoing process that will improve the comfort and quality of your indoor environment. Becoming “Energy Efficient” will produce a savings in energy consumption and, ultimately, money.