Green Living Energy Savings

5 Steps to Making Your Old Home More Energy Efficient

We New Englanders love our squeaky old farm houses, Capes and captain’s houses. Making them energy efficient and reducing energy costs will make them all the more enjoyable.
front of large yellow home
Originally built in 1880's this home has undergone a number of renovations. Many windows still need replacing as well as upgrading the insulation.

We New Englanders love our squeaky old farm houses, Capes and captain’s houses, and taking care of our historic homes is nothing short of a labor of love. But it’s not just about the hard work. While the carbon footprint of maintaining and inhabiting an old home is less than building a new one, the expense of heating, cooling and lighting these beloved structures can be nothing short of menacing.

There is also our own, personal energy use to consider. All residential buildings in the US use more energy than all commercial buildings combined. While we love our drafty fireplaces and single pane windows, none of us are looking to guzzle up the resources often required to make a New England winter manageable. That said, building a new and tightly sealed home can emit up to ten times more C02e (carbon dioxide equivalent) during construction than rehabbing an old one. So, while cutting household emissions can clearly make an impact, if your goal is to be the best global citizen you can be, older is better.

Enter home performance. An energy efficient home isn’t just for new construction. There are many ways to keep the charm and originality of your historic home while also saving a little fuel, a little electricity and potentially a lot of money.

Historic Homes are Different

There are considerations to make before moving forward with creating new efficiencies in your old house. It is important to remember that your 1800s home was constructed using different techniques than what contractors practice today. For example, if your home is a pre-1850s structure, its bones are likely post and beam instead of the more modern balloon framing. This will be important to consider when updating your insulation.

Another major consideration is temperature regulation and moisture levels. Historic homes were not built with the same static, comfortable temperature expectation as today. If you were cold, you put on a sweater. If you were hot, you opened a window. Thicker walls provided some insulation, keeping the home warmer at night and cooler during the day, but in general, air was allowed to move more freely throughout the structure. Adding insulation to your old home without considering the house as a system can cause moisture to accumulate and mold and rot to form.

Thanks to south-west facing windows-the sun provides some warmth and added natural light.
Thanks to south-west facing windows-the sun provides some warmth and added natural light.

The best thing to understand about owning an old home is that you live in a structure that has served well for 100, 150 or even 200 years. The charm of your home is not only an aesthetic consideration, but also an environmental one.

Now, to improve your historic home’s energy efficiency

It is important to be considerate of your surroundings as you move towards retrofitting your home. Old homes were designed to utilize their natural surroundings for temperature control. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this project. Here are some first steps to having an energy efficient historic home:

  1. Get an energy audit. This is the first step to identifying leaks in your home. While many states offer free energy audits, it may be worth the expense of going to a professional when dealing with a 100 to 200 year old home. They will go beyond some of the more obvious energy upgrades and provide a complete roadmap for moving forward.
  2. Air seal. But not too tight! This is a one-step to significantly improving your home’s energy efficiency. Identifying and sealing the holes and cracks in your home’s exterior, doors, windows and even attic floor will make a huge difference. Sealing up these cracks can often be a DIY project. Energy Star offers a comprehensive DIY guide to get you through. During this project, keep the house-as-a-system approach in mind and work to strike a balance. The house still has to breath to avoid mold and rot.
  3. Keep it simple. Cut down on drafts by closing curtains, plasticing your windows in the winter, closing your fireplace damper and using door snakes. These methods may be simple, but they are cheap and surprisingly effective.
  4. Establish climate zones. Old homes are often comprised of many rooms. As winter approaches, identify which rooms you aren’t using regularly and consider shutting them down for the season. If you have an air-conditioned home, consider the same in the summer. Placing these rooms on separate thermostats will allow you to further control the climate.
  5. Consider a programmable thermostat. There are many options of varying cost out there, but the overall goal here is to decide what temperature your house should be at certain times during the day, and stick with it. The Nest thermostat seems to be getting the best reviews lately, but there are several options.

These are some basic, first steps you can take towards improving your historic home’s energy efficiency. Should you choose to get a professional energy audit, they will go deeper into your house’s needs and its possibilities, addressing big-ticket items like your furnace, windows, basement and attic, and even the possibility of purchasing renewable energy to power your home. There are a multitude of resources out there for homeowners with regard to sourcing contractors, DIY projects and even tax credits.

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Green Living Energy Savings

Beat The Heat-With Efficient A.C. use.

Did you know 2/3 of all U.S. Households have air conditioners? Here are some tips to keep cool and keep costs down

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Green Living Energy Savings

How Smart Appliances Can Cut Your Electricity Bills

Smart appliances ensure that your home is using energy as efficiently as possible. The best part is they do the thinking and make adjustments in energy use on your behalf, so you’ll hardly notice a difference.
Cutting energy costs can be as easy as getting smart(er) about household appliances.

Changing your thermostat a degree here or there can make a big impact on your power bill.  While that’s a great idea-it doesn’t address the notion that many of your appliances might be using too much energy.

Many people are switching to smart appliances that ensure that your home is using energy as efficiently as possible. The best part is they do the thinking and make adjustments in energy use on your behalf, so you’ll hardly notice a difference—except when it comes to your lower bill, that is.

While installing smart appliances and other technology in your home is an up-front investment, if you’re in the market for upgrades anyway, they are worth looking into for long-term savings. And besides, haven’t you always wanted to feel like one of the Jetsons? (Rosie the Robo-maid is on her way.)

Nest Thermostats

Remember that bit of advice about the savings you can get from turning down your heat one degree? The Nest Learning Thermostat actually figures out your family’s schedule so that it can program itself to warm up when you’re home, and cool down when the house is empty (and vice versa in the summer months). It can also be controlled from your mobile devices so you can make adjustments on the go, such as if you know you’ll be home later than usual. The company estimates that the average customer can save 20 percent on their heating and cooling bills.

nest-thermostat

Smart lighting

smart-lights

Hopefully by now you’ve already switched over to LED light bulbs, but here comes the next big innovation. Smart bulbs automatically adjust their brightness depending on how much natural light is coming into the room. Like the thermostats, you can also control smart lighting via an app, or you can set timers so lights shut off at a certain time. This is great for families who are sometimes forgetful about shutting their lights.

Smart power strips

You’ve probably heard that even appliances that are turned off can use up electricity in your home. But who has time to go around unplugging and plugging things in every day? Smart power strips can sense when appliances aren’t in use, and will cut off the power automatically. This is great for things like printers, televisions, and computers.

smart-strip

 

Smart grids in your area

For most of New England, the idea of smart grid technology is way off.  With the exception of “smart meters”  at homes and business in Central Maine Power territory (in Maine) and the New Hampshire Electric Co-op, very few New Englanders will have the opportunity to take advantage of time of use products.  This may include special price or conservation efforts during specific times of the day (or days of the week).

According to SmartGrid.gov, more than 15 million smart meters have been installed with funding from the Recovery Act, which give home owners a home energy management system (EMS) to work with.

As you continue to be proactive about keeping your energy costs in check, look into embracing some of these smart elements into your home to help automate and optimize the way you use energy. It will not only take the burden of unplugging, switching off, and scaling back off of you, but it can save you money over time while reducing your carbon footprint.

 

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Green Living Energy Savings

What you should know about “cool roofs”

Cool roofs are one of the leading green building technologies used today, and while it is not a new concept, cool roofs are working to solve a growing problem. Even with the cold and snow in New England cool roofs are an option.
Modern Wooden Home with Roof with Grass
The north tilt of the roof allows for expansive glazing on the south facade to balance the glazing present in the north and west facades, which face a pond (photo: http://briburn.com)

France is leading the “cool roof” movement.  All new buildings in commercial zones across the country must comply with new environmental legislation-they must be covered in plants or solar panels.

Cool roofs are one of the leading green building technologies used today, and while it is not a new concept, cool roofs are working to solve a growing problem. Think about how you’d dress on a hot August day. Do you wear all black? Generally not. You wear light, airy, heat reflective colors like white or blue or yellow. So why do we choose to disregard what builders in hot climates have been doing for hundreds of years, and cover our roofs with dark, non-reflective, heat-absorbing materials?

In densely populated areas like cities and suburbs, these choices have real-time consequences. These cities have been dubbed “heat islands” because of the huge variance in temperature caused by the built environment.

Chris Briley, Principal at BRIBURN, a reputed New England architecture firm dedicated to sustainable design, explains, “In the south, the heat island effect is very real. The city can be 5-10 degrees hotter than the surrounding suburbs and that’s because of dark pavement, dark roofs and a lack of respiring vegetation.” Something as simple and inexpensive as choosing a light color roof paint instead of black shingle or tar can immediately normalize surrounding air temperatures and help bring down the “heat island” effect.

Are cool roofs worth considering up north?

While New England’s cooler climate might not make “heat islands” a top concern, a creative twist on cool roofs help to solve a different problem here. Water quality. Enter the beautiful and functional “vegetated roof.”

A vegetated roof remembers technology that people have been using for centuries. By covering the roofs of both homes and office buildings with plants, we can greatly improve storm water conditions. The roof can absorb and hold the water of a 1” rainstorm, and any water that then runs off the roof and into streams, lakes, ponds and eventually the ocean has been preconditioned with sulphurs and phosphates and already neutralized.

The vegetated roof
The vegetated roof, planted with hardy alpine seedums, is designed to absorb one inch of storm water, and regulate the house’s temperature during the summer months. (photo: http://briburn.com)

“Imagine districts like Portland, Maine,” Briley positions, “with a direct watershed to Casco Bay and a combined sewer system. Every large storm is bad for Casco Bay because of the overflow and unconditioned runoff from our urban and suburban districts. If every roof were a vegetated roof, this negative effect would be greatly reduced.”

Plus, vegetated roofs are cool roofs in the traditional sense that when temperatures are hot, they cool the structure down. Briley explains that because as the plants respire, their heat gain in the summer is ZERO. That can have a huge effect on the cooling load and energy use of an air-conditioned building, as well as increase the comfort of a non air-conditioned building or home. The expense of air conditioning doesn’t make it worth it to most New Englanders, but there are summer months when all of us would appreciate a cooler interior temperature. Vegetated roofs provide that.

“This may seem like a small thing, but you are covering your roof with a natural material that will sequester carbon and release oxygen. And of course, they look beautiful.” – Chris Briley, Principal, BRIBURN

For all of the reasons outlined here, TideSmart Global, a marketing firm based in Falmouth, Maine, is working with BRIBURN on the design and installation of 5,000 ft2 of vegetated roof at their logistics center. The hope is that such a high profile and large-scale cool roof will likely bring attention to the vegetated roof as a viable New England construction feature.

Is a cool or vegetated roof right for you?

There are many more benefits to installing a cool roof at your home or office. Decreased utility bills, increased occupant comfort, extended roof life and even utility rebates in some locations are helping homeowners decide to make the switch. Because of New England’s cooler climate, vegetated roofs are becoming more popular, but there are many factors to take into consideration before deciding on the best cool roof material for you.

What about the snow loads we see here in the New England?  A leaky roof is independent of whether it’s green roof or traditional. It has to do with the installation and design specification of the structure. All roofs must have a proper waterproofing membrane, green roofs included.

There is no evidence to suggest that green roofs are more susceptible to leaking. In fact, some studies suggest that the longer life cycle of a green roof is due to the protection of the waterproof membrane from ultraviolet sunlight. The plants and substrate act as a natural barrier to weathering.

The Cool Roof Rating Council offers a multitude of resources to help guide you through building material options, rebate opportunities, and even reputable contractors.

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Save a buck and a tree. Think before printing at the office.

“Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.” The interesting thing is that while offices are quite adept at recycling, it’s vital to realize that recycling is actually the third best option, after reducing and reusing materials.
Image of man with head in copy machine
Out of all the waste that's being land filled, more than 40% of that waste is paper, which can pollute the environment.

Most school kids today learn a new version of the “3Rs” to accompany good old “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.” Today, they learn “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.” The interesting thing is that while most companies are quite adept at recycling, it’s vital to realize that recycling is actually the third best option, after reducing and reusing materials.

Paper waste, in particular, is staggering. Typical business offices generate about 1.5 pounds of waste paper per employee each day, and financial businesses generate more than two pounds per employee daily.

Here are a few ways businesses can incorporate the first two Rs, which means there is even less to recycle.

Reduce

  1. Think before you print. Encourage your staff to rely on electronic files, which save space as well as paper in the office. If you have proper computer backup, electronic files are even safer than paper documents that can be lost to fire, flood or theft.
  2. Change the settings on computers and printers. Make “double-sided” copies the default. Reduce margins and font size to maximize the paper that you use. Print in the lowest-grade possible for pieces that won’t be sent to clients. Use fonts like Times New Roman or Arial that use less ink and take up less space. The cumulative difference of these small actions can be substantial.
  3. Keep track of printouts and copies. Most people have no idea how much paper they are using, so see if you can set up a system to track what is being printed. You can also configure your copier to ask for a code prior to making copies, which can alert staff to when they are making more copies than they need. Measuring weekly totals is likely to inspire workers to minimize their personal paper usage.
  4. Use the “print preview” feature to see how the document will lay out so you don’t waste paper printing multiple copies to check formatting. If you want to proofread on your screen, temporarily increase the font size which helps illuminate typos and other errors.

Reuse

Have to print? Americans discard 4 million tons of office paper every year — enough to build a 12 foot high wall of paper from New York to California. Eliminating office paper from your waste may reduce your waste bill by as much as 50 percent. Here are some ways to make it easy to re-use your paper.

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Efficient and Economic Living In Tiny Houses

Oversize homes, oversize mortgages and oversize energy bills have been replaced by tiny homes. Living the high life and moving on up to the top while living in a tiny home.
Tiny Wooden House on Wheels
Tiny houses use less building material [...] which takes less energy to produce.

After the housing crisis of 2008, many homeowners grew disillusioned with the McMansions that had gotten them deep into debt. Aside from their super-sized mortgage, large homes typically also carry a large utility bill to heat, cool and light jumbo spaces. So, as Americans adopt a more minimalist lifestyle, it makes perfect sense that they’d also embrace tiny homes, with some as small as 196 square feet! We’re so fascinated with tiny homes that there are now reality TV shows like Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunters, blogs that discuss the ins and outs of tiny living and even a Tiny House Magazine.

On first glance, one might assume that tiny homes make sense for single people without much stuff. That’s one demographic that inhabits tiny homes, but believe it or not, families with children and dogs also share tiny homes. Some homeowners even use a tiny home as an in-law suite or guest cottage built on their land rather than building an addition to their home.

Tiny house interior
On first glance, one might assume that tiny homes make sense for single people without much stuff.

And while creative storage solutions and a willingness to pare down your belongings is essential, here’s a look at a few benefits offered by tiny homes:

  • Less environmental impact: Tiny houses use less building material (and oftentimes use recycled or repurposed material), which takes less energy to produce. Heating, cooling and lighting a tiny house also takes less of an environmental toll. Some tiny homes operate off the grid using a composting toilet and solar power or wind turbines. Others are connected to a water and electrical supply, but still wouldn’t draw as much water and electricity as a full-sized home.
  • Less space to clean: Dusting, vacuuming and otherwise cleaning a full-sized home can feel like a never-ending chore. But when you live in less than 200 square feet, there are fewer surfaces to keep clean and more time for other activities.
  • Less temptation to accumulate stuff: Some tiny homeowners have extra storage at a friend or relative’s place and rotate items seasonally. But without huge closets and a basement or attic right at their fingertips, most tiny homeowners don’t feel the need to buy tchotkes or other extra stuff they don’t need. Many people find it freeing when they reduce their possessions to just those items they love and use on a regular basis.
  • Less expensive to acquire and maintain: You can sometimes get a bank loan or manufacturer financing for a tiny home. However, many owners pay for a tiny home out of their own savings (often less than $100,000), which means there’s no ongoing mortgage (although they might need to pay rental fees on or purchase the land). With less money devoted to housing costs, tiny homeowners are able to prioritize other goals like paying for travel and experiences, paying down student debt or working less and spending more time with family.

Looking for a more information about tiny houses in New England?  Check out www.tinyhousenortheast.com. They have tiny homes for sale, designs/plans and tons more info about tiny living in New England.

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Just Another Reason to BBQ

No matter how old, your home appliances use a great deal of electricity. While they are more energy efficient than even 5 or 10 years ago. Even the most energy efficient appliances and electronics account for 20% of the average household energy bill. So, stop using them and fire up the grill.

We have finally shoveled our lawns, many are breaking out the BBQ.     If you haven’t…what are you waiting for? Baseball  and softball season is underway.  The days are  longer.  Do we really need another reason to BBQ?  How about saving money?

For every hour you use your oven  (at 350 degrees) it costs about  .20 cents.    Microwaving those steamed veggies for 2 minutes will add .07 cents to your power bill.     Boiling water on your electric stove top will set you back  .11 cents. By using the convection oven for 30 minutes will add a whopping .10 cents to your power bill.

No matter how old, your home appliances use a great deal of electricity. While they are more energy efficient than even 5 or 10 years ago.  Even the most energy efficient appliances and electronics account for 20% of the average household energy bill.

Get out of the kitchen and instead use the grill.     Unless you are a gourmet,  everything tastes better on the grill.  In addition even grilling is getting greener.

There has been considerable debate about which is “greener” charcoal or propane for grilling.      Energy efficient grills are all the rage.  Which ever your preference (charcoal or propane),  using  grills that retain the most heat will reduce how much fuel you have to use.    Consider  a ceramic grill-check out the Grilldome!

There are even a host of environmentally friendly  BBQ briquettes available.     Try coconut briquettes or natural wood briquettes.

What ever your  choice of fuel for grilling, after this long, cold winter, we deserve a good BBQ.  Our spring and summer is too short to not take advantage of  all the outside family time we can get.  So enjoy.

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