There are many schools of thought around renewable energy. I am not an expert, but I am giving it a try to do my part. Whether or not this matters in the broader scheme of challenges, only time will tell. Many believe that only centralized systems, such as power plants and nuclear or huge wind or solar farms are the most efficient answer. They talk about economies of scale as the best and cheapest way to meet our growing energy needs.
However, I have chosen to try to get to zero net energy at our home, meaning our home produces as much energy as it uses. It is a big challenge because when our home was built, smart energy usage was not taken into consideration. It is a very inefficient home, including tall ceilings, poor insulation, too many windows on the north side, multiple inefficient furnaces, lots of light fixtures with different bulbs, a big Wolf stove of some sort, and frankly the biggest hog of energy, its just too big. Our home is about 2800 square feet on 1 floor below grade and 3 above. So 4 total floors, makes it a very vertical. In addition, we don’t share any exterior walls with any other buildings to reduce heat loss in the winter or heat gain in the summer.
The cheapest way to get started with Renewable Energy is to do whatever you can to reduce the amount of energy you use by deploying energy efficiency measures. This is just smart anyway, in that it saves money. As an example, if I buy an LED (light emitting diode) for about $25 to $50 to replace a $1.90 standard incandescent bulb, I will drop my usage by about 15 to 1. So meaning that a 60 Watt incandescent bulb will produce the same amount of light as a 4 Watt LED. That bulb, although expensive up front will pay for itself in about 2 to 3 years, depending on the usage of that light. And they can last for up to 50,000 hours, so if I had that light on for 3 hours a day, 365 days a year, that would equal about 48 years life of that bulb. There are a lot of opportunities like that through out our homes.
I have seen estimates that an average size single family home in the US (1600 – 2000 sqft) uses anywhere between 14,000 and 18,000 kwh’s (kilowatt hours) per year. We have gotten ours down to about 6,500 to 7,000 kwh’s over the past 12 months. I will post some other blogs regarding how we got that low, but one of the things is that we are super diligent about our energy usage and try to make sure we don’t waste it. That number doesn’t include the amount of natural gas that we use (more on that in a bit).
When thinking about energy efficiency, I put it into two buckets, that which uses electricity to power itself and that which uses natural gas to power itself. In our home it is roughly broken up like:
Electricity: Lighting, powering computers, tv, cable box, refrigerator, washing and drying machine, our oven, stove fan, ceiling and exhaust fans, alarm clocks, HVAC system, air conditioning, dish washer, kitchen appliances like mixer or food processor, some heating and any other household appliances like vacuum, irons, hair dryers,…
Natural Gas: Heating the hot water, space conditioning in the winter (home heating), creating the heat that drys the clothes that are in the dryer and cooking food on the stove.
I could get lost in the weeds on this post and talk about other forms of fuel like gas that powers our car or trucks that pick up our trash and recyclables, but I will leave that for other posts.
Ways we have reduced our electricity usage:
- Changed out just about every bulb in our home from incandescents to LEDs and occasionally CFL’s (compact florescent lights which are about 4 to 1, so that 60 watt bulb equivalent is about 15 watts).
- Are fanatical about turning off lights when we leave a room and using natural light as much as possible.
- Make sure we get rid of the Vampire loads, unplugging any electronics in our home that are not currently in use. Many electronics sit in standby when they are not in use, which uses electricity.
- I tend to try to use hand tools when doing work around the house and minimizing the use of power tools.
- We throw on an extra shirt in the winter so we minimize any electric heating.
- We use natural ventilation when cooling out house in the summer and will generally only put on the AC for a few minutes at night to cool our girls room and our room prior to bed.
- Any outdoor lighting is on motion sensors.
- Hang dry my clothes, although my wife and girls clothes still get dried in the dryer.
Ways we have reduced our natural gas usage:
- We have insulated the top floor.
- Replaced some leaky windows with super energy efficient windows.
- We replaced two inefficient HVAC systems with two zones to a single high efficiency system that has a zone for each floor, enabling us to only heat or cool floors we are on, when we are on them.
- Again, I hang dry my clothes which impacts both electricity and natural gas usage.
- We replaced our old breaking down fridge with an energy efficient fridge.
- We use a solar oven from time to time to heat my lunch and cook meals.
Anyway, we have a lot more to do, but those are some of the primary things we did to lower our energy usage. Once you lower your energy usage it gets easier to off set a larger percentage of our energy use.
This is a multi part series on Renewable Energy (1 of ?)
How else have you lowered your energy consumption and become more energy efficient?