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CardInAustin Donating Member (102 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:17 AM
Original message
How to maximize household energy efficiency....
Ok, my wife and I are hoping to do some renovation on our 95 year old house in the next few years. We live in Kentucky, so we enjoy all four seasons and need a/c and heat.

I was curious if anyone had any advice on websites and/or projects for ideas. We were thinking about new a/c unit, new hot water heater, limited solar(??), etc. Money most certainly is an object (unless I win the $340MM lottery tonight!!!!).

Ideas? Websites? Personal experiences??
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skids Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:20 AM
Response to Original message
1. Tons of links in my dKos diary.

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/10/13/182220/73

Well, ok, not tons of links there. But it links to tons of links. :-)
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Tommy_J Donating Member (668 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:44 AM
Response to Reply #1
16. Wow! Thanks

I looked around and found that interesting and informative

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back2basics909 Donating Member (438 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:59 AM
Response to Reply #1
19. I missed this!
Thanks for reposting, what a great diary!
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Canuckistanian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:20 AM
Response to Original message
2. #1 - Get rid of your clothes dryer
We've been without one for 6 years and don't miss it. And the electricity savings alone have been big. Probably enough to afford a front-load washer, which saves even MORE energy.
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electropop Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:37 AM
Response to Reply #2
10. Or at least run it more cleverly.
In the winter, I vent my dryer inside the house (with a water-trap to catch lint). This makes the whole house unbelievably more comfortable, boosting both heat and humidity.

In the summer, if you can, let the dryer inhale outdoor air (and blow it back to the outdoors) so you are not taking expensive cooled air, then heating it up and throwing it away.
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Boomer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-21-05 07:02 AM
Response to Reply #10
42. What a great idea!
As it happens, that's exactly the arrangement we have right now because our dryer hose clogged up somewhere. The washer repairman suggested venting the hot air into a water bucket until we could crawl under the house and unclog the vent hose.

Not a pleasant prospect, frankly. Given your suggestion, we can just leave the hose repair until Spring! (I'm always in favor of justified procrastination.)
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Digit Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 04:15 PM
Response to Reply #2
26. Are you the one who takes the clothes out to hang them?
Just curious...
;-)
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Sequoia Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-24-05 05:50 PM
Response to Reply #26
46. I do that. The sun dries them quickly.
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Kolesar Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:21 AM
Response to Original message
3. Try the green building cookbook
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FloridaPat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:23 AM
Response to Original message
4. There are units that make instant hot water you can use instead of
a water heater. They are big in Europe.
New windows and caulking. Insulation in the walls if you can. Don't get totally carried away with stopping all leaks if you have a fireplace. A house that can't "breathe" can kill you if you have a fireplace in use. If you have a fireplace - a fireplace insert or even a pot-bellied stove. There are people who have a a large area of stones. In the summer hot air is put into this and taken out in the winter. As hot air is taken out, cold air is put in and is used in the summer. And of course solar. If you don't get enough sun, think of wind energy.
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electropop Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:39 AM
Response to Reply #4
12. Fireplaces are usually a net LOSS of heat.
Unless you really do it right: it has to be a system completely separated from the house air: inhale and exhale outdoors.
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Canuckistanian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 12:07 PM
Response to Reply #12
20. There's a debate about that point
Read this:
http://www.woodheat.org/outdoorair/outdoorair.htm

And there have been some studies that suggest that extremely cold air from outside would lower fireplace efiiciencies, thus negating any envisioned savings.
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FloridaPat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 03:27 PM
Response to Reply #12
25. Fireplaces with fireplace inserts are great. I heated a whole house
with one. Fireplace by themselves heat only the side of your body that is facing the fireplace.
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kestrel91316 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 11:26 PM
Response to Reply #12
41. Hmmmmmmmm - with a fireplace insert, my parents were able to
pretty much heat their entire suburban tri-level in Colorado Springs, CO in the winter.

Plain fireplaces waste heat. Fireplace inserts and woodburning stoves are GREAT for heating a house.

INSULATION is extremely important in retrofitting an old place.
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WhiteTara Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:50 AM
Response to Reply #4
17. I had one and the best brand is
Aquastar. You can get them for electric or nat gas or propane.
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CardInAustin Donating Member (102 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 01:01 PM
Response to Reply #4
22. Solar versus Tankless
First off, thanks to everybody for the great responses!!!! It is much appreciated.

So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of solar and tankless? Why would I pick one over the other?? Do solar hot water heater systems truly eliminate your need for natural gas heating? Or do they just reduce your dependence on it?
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skids Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 10:44 AM
Response to Reply #22
31. There's no versus.
Though you could technically get 100% of your hot water from solar, you'd have to install much more than the ordinary number of collectors to do it, and a huge tank. (Though that may be viable if your intent is to supplement space heating with any extra solar heat beyond the amount needed for water.) There's a point of diminishing returns, price-wise.

They are best used in combination -- solar stores water in a preheat tank, then the tankless is used to top up the water to desired temperatures if it is not already there. Once the solar system gets to the size where the preheat tank is almost always piping hot, though, and top-up heat is only neccessary once in a great while, you might be better off with a few electric point-of-use systems (they go under the sink and near the shower vertical run.) Gas systems are generally inefficient if you try to eek amounts of heat much smaller than their max load from them -- not so with electric (and electric has cheap unit cost.)

The best situation is when you are upgrading, and you can keep your old hot water tank to use for the solar preheat storage.

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CardInAustin Donating Member (102 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 03:11 PM
Response to Reply #31
37. Few more questions....
Thanks for the info....a few more questions though:

1) Can my current hot water heater (maybe 10-15 years old) be retrofitted for solar?
2) If I use tankless, I assume that would take the place of the gas heater on the tank (figuratively, not literally)
3) Does the tankless check the temperature of the water coming in to see if it needs to be heated or not? How can this be accomplished so quickly at the point of delivery (just under the sink)
4) If I were to install such a system, I would only need to install tankless systems at each of the sinks....right? I would not need the single large tankless system that is capable of providing 2 showers worth of hot water. Correct??

Thanks!!!!
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skids Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 04:48 PM
Response to Reply #37
38. Well, I'm no plumber...
...but to answer the best I can...

1) Probably. If it is a heat-exchanger tank no retrofit is neccessary -- the solar plugs into the closed system part of the tank and the street water goes through the coil before hitting the gas heater. If it has no coil, you might be able to retrofit it with a Solar Wand http://www.thesolar.biz/Solar%20Wand%20Heat%20Exchanger...

2) Yes. You could install tankless and completely remove the whole tank and furnace.

3) Not quite clear -- it probably varies depending on the product -- but I think usually the heater just heats the water when it senses flow and then the hot water is mixed down with cold water through an anti-scald valve. For this part I'd ask an expert. The point-of-use systems are usually electric and monitor the outgoing water temperature and adjust the amount of current they use electronically.

4) There are both varieties -- tankless gas and electrics that heat for a whole house, and point-of-use units which are usually electric. If you were willing to live without a hot shower during times when the solar was not collecting much heat, you could get away with two point-of-use systems just for the sinks. The point-of-use systems are popular because the pipes between where the heater would normally be in the basement and the sink don't have to warm up, so the hot water comes on much faster.

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Digit Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 10:13 PM
Response to Reply #38
40. Had heating techs out to my house today
I have a boiler of sorts mounted on the back of my home which is gas fired and provides all the domestic hot water and space heating for my home. There is an air handler with water coils and the air blows over the coils giving me forced air heat through the ductwork.
A company replaced my water tank (stores the hot water but does not heat it) two years ago completely hosing my system. They did not charge me since I had to have the gas company come and fix everything.
Ever since that time, when my home calls for heating, I lose hot water.
I guess some check valves are not working correctly and they said there would be no charge if they could not fix it.
I asked them about adding some way to use solar for pre-heating the water. He agreed my house faces the perfect direction, but did not know how to add it with the pumps on my system.
This one tech is an engineer and I told him this was a great opportunity to explore the possibility. I let him know that more and more people would be asking for this sort of thing and he could have them come look at my system when he was done.
He laughed and said he had a book on solar and would check it out.
My fingers are crossed!
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Verve Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:26 AM
Response to Original message
5. Hot water heaters are a pretty easy do it yourself project
if you read directions. My husband has replaced two and he is not a "handyman" per se. If you do it yourself, you'll save a bundle and it should cost under $200, depending on the model you choose.

Another inexpensive do it yourself project in an old home is to caulk around windows and doors. We used to live in an 80+ year old home and this saved us a bundle on heating costs. (It'll only cost you a few dollars for the caulk.)

A more expensive project would be to replace some of the older windows. This will definitely bring down your energy costs!

P.S. good luck on the lotto.
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Frustratedlady Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:39 AM
Response to Reply #5
11. Another way to stop drafts
from under old windows is to open the window, place a strip of foam carpet padding beneath, close and lock the window. NO air will come in from that area. You can also push foam stripping into the crack at the top of a sash (where the lock is). Use a table knife to poke it in and it will instantly stop the flow of air. We did this until we could replace the windows. Doesn't cost a penny, except for time.
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Vinnie From Indy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 12:08 PM
Response to Reply #5
21. I would be very careful before having an amatuer construct a water heater
Without things like pressure relief valves being properly installed, you could easily blow your house up. If the house doesn't blow, the heating unit could shoot through two or three floors, through th eroof and down the block. It used to be a quite frequent occurance before pressure relief valves were standardized. There is also the issue of testing the unit for problems that an amatuer may not be able to complete adequately. There is also the issue of carbon monoxide if the unit isn't vented properly. Be careful!
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Verve Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 01:20 PM
Response to Reply #21
24. That is why you have to buy a "new" water heater.
"It used to be a quite frequent occurrence "

Fortunately, new heaters have better safety standards and if the directions are followed correctly can be installed simply and safely by an amateur. Ask any local hardware employee and they can help with questions.

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goclark Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:28 AM
Response to Original message
6. What is the good and bad about Soft Water Tanks?
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skids Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 05:13 PM
Response to Reply #6
27. I wouldn't know.

I like my water hard. I hate soft water. It makes the soap take forever to come off in the shower. I don't know why people get so bent out of shape over a little calcium.

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goclark Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 07:30 PM
Response to Reply #27
28. Thanks for the info
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skids Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 11:03 AM
Response to Reply #28
32. I should have noted...
...rather than just making a quip... that there is a legitimate concern about hard water -- it negatively affects heat exchange in water heaters due to scaling in the pipes. How the costs of softening balance with this I don't know. It might be cheaper just to figure out how to detach and clean the exchanger once every few years. In addition if you run a humidifier deposits will build up there very quickly.

(There's also the permanant magnet softener concept, but it is poorly understood from a scientific perpective so many of the products sold to do it don't actually work. Caveat emptor. More on that here. Given the low cost of broken hard drives, it probably wouldn't be entirely daft to take some hard drive voice coil magnets and rig one up, but I wouldn't buy one at > $10 cost. It's a gamble.)


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goclark Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 11:59 AM
Response to Reply #32
33. Thanks, that helps me

We had a Salt water softener for 30 years.

Culligan came and showed us the really fancy update. I signed to rent it.

When the installer came he looked at the plumbing and told me that the soft water would only be running to my kitchen area! In order to connect it to the rest of the house, it would cost about $500 for them to repipe!

I called another company and they gave me a price of $5000 because the house is on a slab etc.!

I called Culligan back and told them they need to come back out here and explain to me why I have not been getting soft water for all this time in the back of the house.

I am so frustrated.
I have another consultant coming today.
My shower is very nice right now, I didn't even realize I didn't have salt water !
We drink bottled water and have a refrigerator with a filter.

I'm 90% sure I am going to tell them to come and get their salt asap.

I can use some fancy soft soap and IF the pipes give me problems I can deal with that later.

What do you think?

Thanks for listening.
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skids Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 01:57 PM
Response to Reply #33
36. Well I'm about out of input...

...that's about all I know. Here we have a signifigant amount of calcium in the water, and no softening system has ever been installed.
Never had to use any special soap.

I'd say it doesn't bother the heating, but the furnace is so old and decrepit I'm not sure I'd notice if it did. I wish the landlord was interested in renovations, but I think he's putting all that off till he retires and kicks us out to live here.


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goclark Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 05:01 PM
Response to Reply #36
39. Thanks so much for the input
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Nihil Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 12:09 PM
Response to Reply #32
34. "My hard drive told me to do it!"
> Given the low cost of broken hard drives, it probably wouldn't be
> entirely daft to take some hard drive voice coil magnets and rig
> one up

You've got a voice coil in your hard drive? :crazy:

(I understood you really but it just made me snigger!)
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skids Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 01:52 PM
Response to Reply #34
35. That's what they call them.

Not my choice of terms. :-)

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Boomer Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-21-05 07:08 AM
Response to Reply #27
43. It destroys your plumbing system
Hard water leaves mineral deposits in pipes, which over time start slowing the flow action through the system.

We have very hard water in our city and the result is a build up of scale wherever there is accumulating water. The coffee machine, the floor around the dog bowl, the dog bowl itself, toilet bowls, sinks if there is a constant drip, deposits around the faucet, etc etc etc.

Even with a softener system, we fight scale constantly. Can't imagine what we would do without it.
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back2basics909 Donating Member (438 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:30 AM
Response to Original message
7. Solar..
.. Illinois offer up to 6K in grants for solar. Have a look to see if your area offers something similar. Also most electricity companies will actually pay you for any access you generate.
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Mind_your_head Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:42 AM
Response to Reply #7
15. Do you know where I can find out more info about this?
Never heard of it before, but I'd be interested.
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back2basics909 Donating Member (438 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:58 AM
Response to Reply #15
18. In Illinois?
Or elsewhere?

Let me know and i will post some links.

I have looked in to it, and for our house it would cost around 10K to get solar fitted. So quiet a substantial amount is funded by the state.

It's a GREAT idea, more states (if they do not already) should do this.
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Mind_your_head Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 01:16 PM
Response to Reply #18
23. In Illinois please
I tried googling it up, but only found 'large' programs for non-profit schools, etc.....also found a grant program, but it had expired already. (I'm not the best 'googler' in the world though)

Any info for private home owner grants would be great...I really would love to do something like this if possible.
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GumboYaYa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-21-05 12:04 PM
Response to Reply #23
44. Illinois provides a tax credit for one-third of the cost of solar
installation. I thik it is capped at $6,000. There are a few other states with similar programs.

Some states have laws that require power companies to buy back electricity you generate, but the buy-back price is frequently the generation price not the distribution price, meaning you pay more for what you buy from them than you get paid for what you generate. Nevertheless, it is a benefit.

$10,000 is not very expensive for a home solar generation system. Is that grid tied? How much capacity? I bet the cost goes up when you start putting all the components together and going through the costs of installing the surge protectors that the power company is going to require.
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BR_Parkway Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-24-05 01:12 PM
Response to Reply #15
45. Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE)
http://www.dsireusa.org /

Just click on the state link, then other links to any programs that they know about.
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electropop Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:34 AM
Response to Original message
8. The most critical thing is insulation/weather sealing.
Obviously you're going to have to prioritize your investments, and that's where you start. I don't know what kind of structure you have or how drastic you want to get. If you are removing either inner or ourter surfaces of walls, you want to fill them with fiberglas (oldie but goodie I think). While you're in there, use plenty of sealing foam on all gaps, gracks, and holes. put a vapor barrier on the inside of the insulation, and a Tyvek wind barrier on the outside of the sheathing. If you can add a layer of styrofoam (or other insulating board) between sheathing and facing (e.g. siding), you get the benefit of covering the studs, which are unfortunately good conductors of heat, compared to fiberglas.

Critically important, if you have original windows, they have to go. Leaky single-pane windows are a disaster and will completely negate your careful insulation job. Look for low-E glass and a good thick gap between the glass layers.

Inquire into geothermal heat pumps. This is like a traditional heat pump (revesible air conditioner; I assume you have those in KY as we do in VA). This type though, doesn't have an outdoor air to refrigerant heat exchanger; it transfers heat to the soil or to ground water. It requires either a pair of wells or a "field" with a pipe laid underground in a zigzag pattern. I believe it costs about twice as much as a conventional unit, but pays for itself in a couple of years.

Overall, think of these improvements this way: If you invest carefully, each improvement adds maybe $X to your monthly payments on a construction loan. If it saves you $2X on your utility bills, you come out ahead, plus your house is more comfortable.

One other little tip: use CF light bulbs throughout the house. Each saves 3 ways: (1) It lasts 10X as long, so you buy fewer bulbs. This alone almost covers the cost difference. (2) You pay less for electricity to run the bulb. (3) Each watt of electricity saved, also saves another 1/2 watt in cooling cost in the summer.
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ayeshahaqqiqa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:36 AM
Response to Original message
9. Insulation
is a key, because it can help keep your house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I don't know how your house is configured, but if you have a door that leads directly from the house to outside, consider building a small screened in porch. In the winter, you can cover the screens with plastic. This creates a dead air space, and keeps your cool/heat from escaping directly outside. Since your house is so old, the liklihood is that you have porches. If they aren't screened in, you might consider doing that.

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INdemo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:39 AM
Response to Original message
13. Heat Pump
When we had central air installed in our older house we bought the Heat Pump/AC unit. For heat it takes the outside air BTUs and converts to heat. It works well until about 30 degrees. Then we use our gas furnace.. The key to maximize energy efficiency of any system is too insulate walls, foundation and attic...
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sui generis Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:41 AM
Response to Original message
14. Simplest things first
Insulation insulation insulation. Are you slab / pier & beam / basement? Can you get into your crawlspaces and attic? Can you shade your western exposures (awnings, trees/bushes) in summer and cover your windows when not at home? Seal your fireplace when not in use, all seasons. A folding glass screen is sufficient, but a flue alone is not. Window replacement or insulating curtains, door and door seal replacement are two other big savers, and basically doing whatever you can to preserve the season's comfort temperature inside the house. Change your clothing habits - in the winter, wear more layers and in the summer take it off, enjoy your shorts & t-shirts and light fabrics.

I'd start with all those pieces - roll out new insulation or scatter cellulose (if code permits) in hard to reach areas.

Next: insulate your water heater and wrap your pipes. Lower your water heater temperature a notch or two if it's set on max. Change out your thermostat for a programmable one and program comfort for the times of day when you are at home and awake; use energy-saver recommendations for your away and asleep times. Also, buy a NEW oscillating floor fan for large rooms and use it on low setting - it helps circulate air and keep room temperatures constant. Where feasible, use new or good quality ceiling fans with reversible switches - DOWN for winter and UP for summer.

All of these are very affordable quick fixes.

Next - replace energy inefficient appliances - look for your SEER ratings on AC and other appliances and upgrade as you find good deals. Bargain new is always better than bargain second hand if you can go that route for replacement appliances. Old refrigerators and old deep freezers are enery pigs - you will do better in the long run to replace anything you have that's older than 7 - 10 years as you are able to.

Finally, don't run dishwasher daily - a quick handwash & stack as you go for light dinners throughout the week is MUCH more efficient than running dishwasher daily, and rinse first and use your quick cycle and "air dry" settings on dishwasher when you do use it. For clothes, always do full loads, drip dry whatever you can when/if feasible, or else damp dry heavy loads like jeans and comforters and let them finish dry over bathroom shower rod or on hangers.

My partner and I live in a 55 year old house that we've updated and generally don't have income worries, however, we still take care not to use more energy than necessary out of principle.

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Massacure Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:27 PM
Response to Original message
29. Converting electricity to heat is wasteful.
Natural gas appliances are better than electric.
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skids Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 12:03 AM
Response to Reply #29
30. Converting any high concentration energy to heat is wasteful.

If you're going for gas as primary and not just top-up heat, a micro-cogen CHP unit might be in order.



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