5 green techniques you can use now
With so many ways to make your house green, it can be hard to figure out where to start. Here are five techniques you can use to improve energy efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint of your home.
Install energy-efficient lighting
Although lighting typically makes up only about 9 percent of the average household’s energy use, any changes to more efficient lighting typically pay off in less than a year. With the scheduled demise of the incandescent bulb in 2012, homeowners have several options to upgrade the lighting in their homes.
CFL: An Energy Star-qualified compact fluorescent light can save more than $40 in electricity costs over its lifetime, uses about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and lasts up to 10 times longer. The spiral bulbs do contain a small amount of mercury, so recycle burned out units rather than throwing them in the trash. If a CFL breaks, do not touch the mercury with bare skin.
Halogen: A type of incandescent light, screw-in halogens are most often used as floodlights, under counter lights and other spots where highlights are needed. They typically put out a bright white light. The Halogena line from Phillips fits standard fixtures in overhead lighting and lamps. Halogens use less energy than standard incandescent but more than CFLs.
LED:Affordable LED light bulbs are beginning to show up in the marketplace, with standard screw-in bulbs available from around $10 to $40. LEDs use 75 percent less energy than a standard incandescent bulb, produce very little heat and offer very long life – manufacturers estimate 22,000 to 50,000 hours vs. 2,000 hours for an incandescent. Some models offer dimming capabilities as well. LEDs are also available in floodlights, spotlights and other accent lighting.
Solar energy for the home
New financing options put pollution-free power within reach. A homeowner can buy a photovoltaic energy system out right and finance it however they wish, and take advantage of current tax incentives. However, the cost of $20,000 or more is daunting for many families.
Two new options in the marketplace make it easier to start generating pollution-free electricity.
- Solar leasing programs offer a system at little or no downpayment, for a lease term, often 10 to 15 years. You do not pay for power produced by the system. But you do pay the electric utility for any power in excess of what is produced by the solar panels. If the system produces more power than you need, the utility company pays for it. Instead of an electric bill, there’s a monthly lease fee, which is usually less than the standard bill. The fee will rise at a predetermined rate over the term of the lease. At the end of the lease the homeowner can exit the program or buy the system at a pre-determined price. The leasing company may or may not offer maintenance.
- Purchase Power Agreement (PPA) is a contract to purchase the power from a photovoltaic system installed on the home. The upfront cost is low, and the homeowner pays for the electricity generated by the solar panels and any electricity provided by the utility company. Maintenance is typically included over the life of the agreement, usually 15 to 18 years. At the end of the agreement you can end the program or buy the panels.
Seal your home’s envelope
Stopping air leaks in your home may not seem glamorous, but it’s one of the best ways to reduce energy usage. The Natural Resources Defense Councilsays the gaps around the windows and doors in an average American house are the equivalent of a 3-by-3-foot hole in the wall. Caulk and weather-strip to seal off these air leaks. Also:
- Put a sweep or shoe under doors to stop air flow.
- Use caulk or putty to seal gaps around loose window panes and frames.
- Cover bare floors with padded rugs for added insulation.
- Seal other accesible air leaks, such as those around plumbing penetrations or ceiling-mounted lighting fixtures. Spray foam can be handy here.
If you want to do more, consider new windows and doors that offer federal tax credits.
Turn off electrical devices
It’s called vampire power, and it's the electricity that devices use even when they’re turned off. The red lights on the TV? Vampires. The green light on the phone charger? Vampire. Save energy by unplugging electrical devices that suck power even when they’re not being used. Plug devices into a power strip that you can turn off easily. New smart power strips sense when a device is not being used and shut off the juice. Energy Star-rated devices typically use less power.
Monitor home electricity use
Install a home-energy meter to monitor electricity usage. Homeowners can see where and when they use electricity and change their habits accordingly. A simple outlet meter such as the Kill-A-Watt measures the usage from one device at a time. You can move it around your home to find the energy hogs.
A whole house meter like The Energy Detective tracks overall energy usage. It monitors up to five appliances individually and stores data for 10 years. It’s installed in the circuit breaker box and communicates via the home network to see results on any computer, or via an LCD screen. You can view data from anywhere or via a smartphone. Different versions also work with photovoltaic solar power systems.
Some utility companies are installing smart meters that provide much of the same information to homeowners.
With a monitor, homeowners see ways to cut waste and shift usage to non-peak times to save money.
Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.www