Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


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…)

August 20, 2009

A Simple Call You Can Make To Support Climate Change Legislation

Category: Climate Change,Political,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 7:58 pm

repower-america-logoThe Repower America campaign (“We Campaign”) has put up a toll free number that you can call to leave a voice message supporting climate change legislation that will be heard by your Senators: call 1-877-973-7693 (1-877-9REPOWER). Punch in your zip code and leave a voice mail message supporting comprehensive climate change legislation.

I think this is a great idea. I am a big believer in the email campaigns, and all the other great grass-roots stuff that progressive and Internet-savvy organizations are doing. But in the end, there’s nothing like the voice of an actual constituent to make Senators do the right thing. I just made my call. Will you?

We know the climate change bill is going to face stiff resistance in the Senate. Every voice counts, and the voices being heard today are mostly just the ones the oil companies are paying to have heard.

Call now, and write a comment when you’re done.

Free, Blue-line PowerCost Monitor For Best Comment

Special promotion, this post only: I will non-randomly select my favorite comment about why we need a climate change law now and send a free Blue Line Powercost Monitor (used) — this is the one I have been using for almost a year now, and have written about — it’s awesome, and has saved us hundreds of dollars (no kidding). But I got a little present in the mail today that I’ll be writing about soon, so I want to pass the PowerCost Monitor along to someone who cares and could take advantage of it.

Please note: this is not a contest, and I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV. I make no money from this site. So what I just said is probably filled with the opportunity for me to get in trouble. Look, I just want you to make a call and support climate change legislation. No promises. And no lawsuits, please?

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…)

May 11, 2009

The Story of Stuff: Got 20 Minutes? How about 3?

Category: Cool Sites,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 9:27 pm

If you have 20 minutes, please use them to watch this video. If you don’t, please take 3 minutes to skim this article about it, after which I suspect you’ll find another 20 to watch.

April 24, 2009

Frontline’s “Poisoned Waters” — Bottled Still Not Better

Category: Conservation,Sustainability,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 8:45 am

100 (Billion) Bottles of Beer On the Wall

100 (Billion) Bottles of Beer On the Wall

PBS’s Frontline aired a program called Poisoned Waters this week — it’s an excellent program, discussing how coastal waters and estuaries are still polluted, despite several areas of progress caused by the EPA enforcing regulations of the Clear Air Act in the 1970s. And while sewerage is no longer being dumped into rivers, other industrial effluents are.

In particular, they mentioned agricultural waste — animal manure, but also industrial waste, harder problems because the sources are dispersed and tend to leech into the groundwater system, rather than be poured directly from the end of a pipe, as in the case of sewerage treatment plants.

One frightening aspect of the show focused on how new chemicals that mess with our endocrine systems are in the water, but not being taken out of public drinking water supplies … partly because scientists cannot yet quantify theirs effects. Thus, there are no regulations or standards for these chemicals, yet ample evidence to suggest they are harmful not only for the numerous fish turning up dead in the water, but for people. And chemicals we know are harmful are still around, like PCBs. One person working at the Washington, DC water supply said she would not drink the water out of the tap.

It occurred to me that information like this could cause people to say “see, it’s a good thing I am drinking bottled water”. (more…)

March 28, 2009

The Last 200W Identified During Earth Hour

Category: Save Electricity,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 10:42 pm

0.0 kW by Candle Light

0.0 kW by Candle Light

Earth Hour is over. Across the world, people switched off lights, in a symbolic gesture. We did, too.

Last year, we hit the main breaker in the house and enjoyed the silence and darkness. This year, we tried something a little different.

This year we searched, and found the 200 Watts that our house uses every hour of every day, even when it’s night and all the lights, fridge, dishwasher, dryer and anything we are actually using is off.

If you have followed my blog, you’ll know that we have rather effectively reduced our electricity usage — less than 1/2 what we used a couple years ago. After making all of the obvious changes, and some of the less obvious ones, we had made some great progress.

Then, last summer, we bought a PowerCost Meter, which gives you a real-time readout of your electrical use. We found a lot of other small culprits. In the end, we are regularly able to go to bed using a mere 200 Watts.

But 200 Watts of … what?

So tonight instead of flipping the power main, we started unplugging things. (more…)

March 17, 2009

Arc Renewable Energy: Green Jobs in Action

Category: Companies,Cool Sites,Household,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 11:58 am

Also Available in White

Also Available in White

I got a call from a long-time business associate yesterday. He was excited. He should be, as he’s working with a new company that distributes “Mag-Wind” roof-mounted wind turbines that claim to be about twice as efficient as others of similar design. They figured out how to design a very low-friction bearing using the same principles as “mag-lev” trains. The product has been in development and testing for ten years by Enviro Energies.

Their primary market is commercial real estate, corporate installations, and agriculture, but if your house is in even an ok location, it sounds like ROI could be pretty quick. Ed Begley (Living with Ed) is putting one on his house. Based on what I understand, the cost outlay for a house is pretty modest.

So if you are thinking about something for your house, or business, property (or billboard!) check them out: Arc Renewable Energies. (more…)

March 6, 2009

EarthHour: Last Saturday of March — New Idea for This Year

Category: Save Electricity,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 8:00 pm

Black is Beautiful

Black is Beautiful

Turn out the lights for an hour on March 28th at 8:30, local time, and send a message.

We did it last year, and it was fun. I flipped the main breaker and we did our thing as a family for an hour. Last year we noticed several of our neighbors’ houses were also dark and thought they were participating, but then realized it was a Friday evening, and those neighbors were Jews observing Shabbat. Hey, whatever works :-)

This year, I have a new idea for EarthHour. With out power monitor, we now can see how much electrical power we’re using at a given moment. We have found that our “baseline” usage — the electricity we use when the lights are out, the fridge isn’t running, and everything is “off” — is still 200 Watts. I can account for some from: the TiVo (45W), the router (12W), the cable modem (?) and the aquarium filter (?), but 200 Watts seems like more than those things should draw.

So, this year, after all the lights go out, we’re going to leave the main power on and then start unplugging things, one by one, and find out where that 200 Watts is actually going. I’ll bet most of it is going to standby power. And once we know that, we should be able to either get SmartStrip power strips or maybe put some stuff that doesn’t really need to run all the time on a timer-switch. I’ll bet we can get down to less than 100W.

And if we reduce our full-time usage by 100 Watts, we’ll save about $190 a year.

Seems like a pretty good way to spend an hour to me. But then some of the things the Jews do on Shabbat is enjoy family, eat good food, and have marital relations.

February 26, 2009

Heat and Hot Water Energy Usage for My House

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Electricity,Save Fuel,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 5:50 pm

money-from-chimneyI have spent a lot of time and thought on how to save electricity, but not as much on how to save natural gas. I got a lot of information right from the bills, but I used a cool measuring device to get to some important details.

I have a gas furnace and water heater, and also a gas stove. Sure, I can see how much gas I use from the bill. But what do I do with that information (other than pay the bill?)

I wonder how our gas and electrical usage compare? They are both in dollars, but how does that translate to energy? To get that I need to read the bills and convert to a single unit of energy. Following the excellent model of WattzOn … sort of — they measure power, in Watts — how much power you are using now, and at every moment (watts measures power, which has the time factor, or rate built in).

But here I am looking at the energy that I use over some period of time, like a day, or a month or an hour. So I have decided to measure energy. And so we can compare, I can convert to a standard measure: kilowatt-hours (think: 10 old-fashioned 100W light-bulbs, all on for one hour). When you’re talking about things that use energy like water heaters, furnaces, lights, refrigerators, and so on it’s more important to think of how much you use them in a given day (or week, or moth, or year). I’ll pick “day”.

Read Your Gas and Oil Bills

According to our utility bills from the most recent billing cycle:

  • Electricity: 616 kWh in the 33 day billing cycle, or 18.6 kWh/day
  • Gas: 180 therms in the 25 day billing cycle, or 7.2 therms/day, and 1 therm = 29.3 kWh, so 5274 kWh, or 211 kWh/day

Wow! I used more than 11 times more energy in gas than in electricity. (Maybe I should spend more time focusing on that, especially in the winter!). Ok, how about relative price? (more…)