My 2012 Project: Improving Energy Efficiency

You can't tell me these things don't look cool!

I am in the process of upgrading my own home to make it more energy efficient. I do this mainly as an exercise of faith and science, since my electric and gas bills are not currently all that expensive. But I just can’t countenance burning 10 times more electricity than I need to, even if I can afford it. It’s also an exercise in geekiness, since today’s lighting alternatives and appliances have an undeniable techno-cool factor about them.

Over the next few months, I will be reporting on my experience with the latest in LED light bulbs, switches, power meters, and appliances. This is a continuing exercise, so don’t expect a resolution anytime soon. But I think that my experience will help you decide where to upgrade, and where to hold off.

A Level Set

My home is a large American-style brick/stucco suburban single-family home in Northeast Ohio. It was built in 1996 by a local builder with reasonable but not exceptional insulation and energy efficiency in mind. It’s about 3,000 square feet and features four bedrooms on two levels, plus a finished basement which adds another 1,500 square feet or so.

The home has its original gas furnace with forced air for heat and A/C. I was forced to add electric in-wall heaters in the basement since the forced air just wasn’t cutting it down there and diverting heat from the main floor made the second-floor bedrooms unreasonably hot. It originally had two gas hot water heaters, but I removed one when it failed. We’ll have to replace both the furnace and remaining water heater in the next few years since they’re getting quite worn out.

I’m not at all satisfied with the wiring in the house. It appears to have been done by someone who didn’t know much about electricity (perhaps even an Amish craftsman) and the connections are poorly finished and oddly chosen. I’ve re-wired some of the house already, in addition to adding Cat-6 Ethernet cabling to many of the rooms.

There’s no use trying to take a baseline energy reading at this point, since we’ve lived here for 4 years and I’ve made continual improvements since the day I moved in. I will try to compare efficiency as I replace major items, however.

Stephen’s Stance

Increasing energy efficiency is a first world problem, but we all have responsibility to take it on. Anyone geeky enough to read my blog will probably appreciate the cool factor of LED lamps and hybrid water heaters, and these will save money in the long run as well. Watch this space as I dive into the subject.

Here are the articles in this series:

  • John Dias

    I’m very much looking forward to this.  I’m mainly concerned about the effects (mental and physical) of lighting alternatives and now that we’re being forced by rule of law to adopt these (as yet unproven) systems I want to make the right choice.  My own experience has been thoroughly negative, with fancy new bulbs not living up to life expectancy nor offering a pleasing glow.

    One thing that does interest me about this post – what are the benefits (economic and otherwise) of just building a new, more technically advanced home versus trying to retrofit an aging structure?  I’m faced with an even older home than you although I have updated the central A/C, furnace (not a big deal in the south, I’ll grant you) and water heater to more modern and efficient models.

    Also, I’ve been clinging DESPERATELY to the electric clothes dryer my wife and I bought over 20 years ago.  I’m just too cheap to  update it even though I know it’s a power hog.  Then again, I hate to throw out something that works.  You’d think the engineer in me would shoot for efficiency but I do appreciate a well made machine!

    Lots to think about!  As I said, really looking forward to this.

  • sfoskett

    What to do with outdated, inefficient bulbs, appliances, or even an entire house is a really interesting point. I guess the key question is whether we’re trying to benefit ourselves or the entire world. Leaving an old home or appliance to someone else just makes it their problem, and they might not be as interested in fixing things.

    I really like your point about the clothes dryer, though. If it works, it’s hard to justify replacing it. After all, it’s pretty wasteful to take a functioning appliance and just toss it somewhere to rot. The question is whether a new, more efficient model will make up for this waste on a macro perspective: it would have to be so efficient that it offsets the impact of construction, transportation, and disposal not just daily power consumption.

    This is a lot easier to accomplish with something simple like a lightbulb, since construction, transportation, and disposal is miniscule. But what about an appliance or an entire house? I have to believe that it would be better to retrofit a house to be more efficient, but an appliance fall somewhere in the middle.

    I don’t have the answer, but it’s a great point.

  • packetlevel

    I’m now very pleased with my daylight 5000degK CFLs –
    But – since replacing my furnace for $4500 would be a 20 year payback, I made some new parts out of whole clothe and with some 1500Deg epoxy just fixed it for about $200, and had a lot of fun. There’s a balance. And – I gave up on E’net wiring a decade ago, 2 WAPs work great, one just for me, and the other bandwidth limited ;>