Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

December 6, 2010

Step 2: Insulate, Step 1: Stop Drafts

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Fuel – Tom Harrison – 1:38 pm

Failed attempt to seal my whole house fan

My First Attempt: Failure (Blue = Bad)

A while back, I had an energy audit and found that my house leaked like a sieve — a condition that left our efforts to insulate, replace windows, replace the gas burner and so on all waiting for me to wake up and smell the … fresh outdoor air.

The audit pointed out where the drafts were. We sealed. We caulked. We foamed. We had all of the identified problems addressed, mostly. And then (as a favor) our energy auditor returned and did a re-test, and found places we had missed. By “we” I mean “I’.

Holey Hole, Batman!

Insulated and Sealed Better Second Time

B&D Thermal Leak Detector: 62 Degrees

The whole house fan was one big remaining hole that I proudly asserted having fixed for $20 — I had built a box out of insulating foam board. I had put a nice cover over the fan, box corners sealed with duct tape, and made a nice seal between the cover and the floor. But the follow-up blower-door test showed: it was still a big hole in the house. By that winter, I knew — I could put my hand up and feel the cool air tumbling down from the attic. For another $8 I fixed the rest of the problem this fall. (more…)

January 23, 2010

How Not To Make an Efficient House in 13 Years

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Fuel,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 10:46 pm

A while back, I had started a project of insulating the heating pipes that run through my basement — we have an old house that was designed for a gravity-fed hot water heating system — iron pipes and big old radiators.

Unlike a modern system, using copper pipe that run through baseboard radiators, we have a system that appears to be one step beyond the old steam-heat systems: big, heavy cast-iron radiators that take up a lot of space; and big, heavy cast-iron piping that runs through the basement and upon which I regularly knock my noggin.

Insulating my pipes was, to use an indelicate expression, like pissing in the wind. Or at least it was then. Today, I finished that job. But it took 13 years — insulating my heating pipes was probably the only thing I did that I should have done last. But I am getting ahead of myself. (more…)

January 22, 2010

Results of my Energy Audit: Before and After Pictures

Category: Conservation,Energy Audit,Household,Save Fuel,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 10:31 pm

In the Spring of 2009 I hired energy auditor Flemming Lund to do an energy audit on our house — I posted pictures and the full report — it was pretty amazing. I had some work done this summer (air sealing and insulation), and did some more on my own this fall — mostly caulking and stuff. Then I asked Flemming to come back and re-do the test. I told him he would have endless fame, fortune and that I would continue to refer customers to him, so he graciously waived the re-audit fee (thanks Flemming!)

And here are the results. Well, actually, the results are on Energy Circle — they have real editors and a wider audience than little ol’ Five Percent, and it was Energy Circle that helped me find Flemming and learn about a lot of this stuff from the start.

I hope you’ll take a minute to pop over and read my story. Our savings from the whole process, from an energy audit, air sealing, insulation, and good old caulk are pretty impressive, if I do say so myself. (more…)

January 18, 2010

Guest Post: 10 Simple Ways to Conserve Energy at Home

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Electricity,Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 11:50 am

A Beginner’s Guide to Home Energy Conservation

by Marcy Tate
Energy conservation is not only good for the planet, it’s also good for your pocket. It’s pretty simple to conserve energy at home and you’ll notice the savings right away. Still, changing your energy habits isn’t easy for every homeowner. Start by picking a few energy conservation techniques and gradually add a few more each month. As you go along, remind yourself how much of a help your efforts are for the planet and how much lower your utility bills will be. That should give you the inspiration to turn your energy conservation habits into a way of life. The tips below do not involve high investments. 

September 24, 2009

I Believed I Was Conserving, Until I Looked at the Facts

Category: Conservation,Energy Audit,Household,Save Fuel – Tom Harrison – 4:12 pm

As I have often mentioned in these pages, we had an energy audit last Spring. The audit was a seminal moment in my understanding of our household energy usage.

Mission Accomplished! (Or Is It?)

I talk to a lot of people about their energy conservation measures. Naturally, not wanting to look uncaring, people talk about how they have changed and are going green. Perhaps a light bulb or two changed to CFL. Perhaps they a jacket on their water heater. Some weatherstripping on their door? A programmable thermostat?

These changes sound fine, and they may actually make a difference. But there are two ways that just making changes alone doesn’t really change things.

Perhaps your two CFL bulbs reduce your electrical use a little, but isn’t it important to know how much? (For example, the oft-repeated water heater jacket is of almost no value if you have a relatively newer one). So it’s possible that your changes haven’t improved anything. And the second way changes alone are bad: you may feel like you have “gone green” … mission accomplished.

So to my great chagrin, I realized recently that I had very little clue what my heating usage was, or for that matter what it should be. I had made lots of great changes. Mission accomplished? Not so fast. (more…)

September 21, 2009

Insulate Your Whole House Fan for $20

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 10:13 am

In the summer, we use our whole house fan to stay cool — it draws cool, fresh evening air through the house making us comfortable enough that we never used an air conditioner this past summer. Our electricity bill was great.

But now that it’s fall, we might as well call it a “house hole” instead :-)

We have a 32″ square hole in our attic. We had an old mattress cover that was about the right size and we tossed it over the top every fall thinking, “close enough”. Then we had our energy audit last Spring, and this is what we found: the picture on the left is of the louvers that cover the fan opening when it’s not on; the picture on the right is an infrared photo of the same area taken (with our mattress cover installed). Blue is cold, and cold is bad.

House Hole (click for full size image)

Whole House Fan, or House Hole (click for full size image)

You can also see some un-insulated areas along the top of the window, as well as around the fan itself. But that dark blue area is right in the middle.

Blue is bad.

Since the energy audit, we have had the house insulation filled in where the first contractor messed up, and topped off the insulation in the attic. But I still needed to improve on the mattress cover. (more…)

July 31, 2009

Cool and Comfortable with No AC

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Electricity,Tips – Tom Harrison – 2:54 pm

air-conditionerIt has been hot and muggy here in the Boston area for the last week, with more to come, but we’re still not using our air conditioner.

We’re not martyrs, cheap, or holier than thou. OK, maybe cheap, but that’s really not it. We’re quite comfortable in our un-air-conditioned house, in fact.

[Update, August 23rd. We caved. It has been miserably humid, still, and hot and has been for a week or so. We both agreed on Sunday to put in one of our two window AC units. But it was too hot, so I didn’t. And then it cooled down a little. We survived.]

The main contributing factors to our comfort are:

  • Management of Sun
  • Management of Air
  • Our Recent Trip to Europe
  • Proper Attire

And these things have also worked in our office space. I am proud of my company and of my co-workers for embracing a few changes that make this possible, and seen how much nicer life is without A/C. (more…)

July 25, 2009

Review: Chimney Balloon Saves Money, Conserve Energy, Simply

Category: Companies,Energy Audit,Green Reviews,Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 4:48 pm

chimney-balloonAfter our recent energy audit found drafts in a number of places in our house, and even though the damper was closed, one of the biggest was the chimney — the auditor recommended a “chimney balloon“. It’s a good, simple product, and I can tell that it works beautifully. The maker claims that you can save almost twice it’s cost annually: a good way to reduce heating bills.

The chimney balloon is an inflatable bag, available in various sizes to fit inside your chimney. A tube and valve on the bottom allows you to inflate it so that it conforms to even the roughest, oddest shaped chimney interiors. The inflating tube is detachable, so there’s nothing visible when installed. The balloon is made of a tough, durable plastic. It can be easily removed as needed (but don’t forget to before lighting a fire!) and just as easily reinstalled. The cost is under $50, and their web site has a lot of great and helpful information on how to choose the right size.

I can tell that the chimney balloon works because it has solved an annoying problem for us already this summer (more…)

May 22, 2009

75% Credit for Insulating, from National Grid

Category: Companies,Cool Sites,Energy Audit,Household,Tips – Tom Harrison – 5:40 pm

new_insulationTo make a longer story short: our utility, NationalGrid is currently offering rebates for energy efficiency improvements. I will save $1,889, or 75% of the cost of fixing the insulation in our house. Other credits are available. Work must be done by July 31st. Update: as of August, the program has been extended. Here’s the special NationalGrid web site which provides the details.

After our energy audit, I started thinking about how I would get the things I needed done. I really didn’t know who should do the work, but I got a lead from the man who did our audit. His reference turned out to be a company that was defunct (or something), however I found this through searching the name he provided. The site I came across was called Service Magic, and they provide a referral service for contractors. I explained what I wanted, and they referred me to HomeWorks Energy, an insulation contractor in the Boston area. I called them, and Scott, the owner, told me that not only could he do the work, but that there was a great deal for NationalGrid gas customers doing insulating project using approved contractors in Massachusetts until the end of July — 75% off, up to $2,000.

(This kind of stuff never happens in real life, does it?) (more…)

May 19, 2009

Energy Audit: What We Learned

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Fuel,Take Actions,Tips – Tom Harrison – 12:27 pm

We recently had an energy audit for our house and learned a lot, including:

  • The most of the corners of the house were never insulated the first time
  • Our bulkhead door leaks like a sieve (maybe that’s why I can see light through it :-)
  • The attic door and whole house fan let in a lot of air
  • The chimney damper is pretty useless in terms of insulating
  • Air pours into our basement through the sill and old windows
  • Most of our windows still need to have caulking around the edges — air is getting in
  • All the leaks result in a complete air exchange about once every 70 minutes in winter

How the Audit Worked

There were two parts: a “blower door test” and an infrared camera inspection (the actual reports are linked below). (more…)