Eco-Friendly Energy Savings

I’ve written in the past about easy ways to save money while saving the planet, so I read with great interest David Bach’s recent article outlining eco-friendly ways to cut energy costs. What follows is Bach’s list of suggestions accompanied by my own thoughts on each.

1. Get a home energy audit. We’ve actually never had one of these done at our house, but if I could get one done for free, then it might be worth the trouble. In our case, I definitely wouldn’t pay to have an audit done, as we’re already very conscientious about our energy usage, and are constantly coming up with new tricks improve.

2. Seal up air leaks. This is a great tip. One way I like to illustrate the importance of seemingly small air gaps is to consider the effects of a 1/4 inch gap along the bottom of your front door (typically 36 inches wide). This works out to 9 square inches of air space! Consider a 3 x 3 inch hole in your wall. You’d seal that up, wouldn’t you? So why not do the same with the gap beneath your door (or wherever else you might have leaks).

3. Tune up your air conditioning. We’re in a reasonably new house, so our A/C is pretty efficient. However, it recently stopped cooling the house due to low refrigerant. After having it recharged, I’ve noticed that it runs a good bit less because it can get the house down to the desired temperature more quickly. Less running = less electricity, which is all good in my book. Now we just need to find the leak that caused the problem in the first place…

4. Supplement air conditioning with an attic fan. This just isn’t do-able in our climate, as we live in the fairly deep in the southeast, and the humidity precludes the comfortable use of an attic fan for most of the year (at least during the hotter months).

5. Unplug appliances before you go on vacation. I often unplug or TVs, computers, and other electronics before travelling, but it’s more to protect against power surges in case of any wicked storms that might pass through in our absence. The energy savings is just an added bonus.

6. Save with smart landscaping. This is a huge one for me. Planting trees in smart locations around your house is a great investment, as it not only improves your curb appeal and overall property value, but as the trees grow their shade will translate into major savings when it comes to keeping your house cool.

7. Use water wisely. This is a tough one for us, as we have four kids… Thus, our family does a lot of bathing, dish washing, and laundry. But we do cut back where we can. We water the lawn relatively infrequently (and fairly deeply) to improve drought tolerance — if you water frequently for short periods of time, your lawn may look nice, but you’re encourage shallow root growth. We’ve also been working to create some ‘green spaces’ on our property with drought-tolerant groundcover.

To read a dozen of my own tips (only some of which overlap with this list) be sure to check out “12 Simple Ways to Save Money on Utilities (and the Planet).”

13 Responses to “Eco-Friendly Energy Savings”

  1. Anonymous

    Have you noticed any difference in energy bills by making the changes mentioned?
    I’m trying to reduce the cost of utilities and have started with the saving water point. I also unplug electrical appliances as suggested. It’s difficult to see if this impacts on the bills as any savings are more than outweighed by inflation.

  2. Anonymous

    Data point FYI:
    I have a whole house fan in my 70s cape. We live in New England. Last spring we used it quite a bit, trying to avoid using the AC for as long into the summer as possible. A couple of months later when looking at our electric bills I noticed that our power usage went down quite a bit around the time we started using the AC. So be careful, those big fans draw quite a bit of power!

    I’ve gotten to the point now where if it’s not more then 10 degrees cooler outside then inside I wont run the fan and will just turn on the AC, it actually costs less. If the temperature isn’t more then 10 degrees different then the fan can run for quite a long time without making very much difference to the inside temperature. Despite all that, there are days when the temperature drops as soon as the sun sets when you can turn it on for an hour or so and cool down the house a good deal, or in the morning for 20 minutes before it starts to warm up outside to give the AC a head-start on keeping the house cool for the day.

  3. Anonymous

    From an eco-friendly viewpoint, you should find your refrigerant leak as soon as possible. Commonly used air conditioning refrigerants are much much worse than CO2 from a global warming perspective. From a monetary viewpoint, having a small leak in your system will negate the energy saving effects of the system recharge over a short period of time.

  4. Anonymous

    I get the feeling that everyone is still hung up on the whole house fan vs. attic fan thing. A whole house fan is in the ceiling of your house. An attic fan would be up in the attic in the gable (pointed section) of the roof and would circulate air through the attic itself. If you don’t have adequate ventilation in your attic, you might consider an attic fan. Properly built homes have openings in the soffits (beneath the gutters) and vents in the roof so that hot air can escape. If you don’t have adequate ventilation (which many older homes don’t) this can lead to things like reduced life of shingles and etc. the heat buildup can actually “cook” the shingles on the top of the house. Also, if any of your attic space surrounds an upstairs room, it will be harder to cool. Improper ventialation will also cause higher cooling bills. I wouldn’t recommend an attic fan unless you have an expert tell you that your attic isn’t properly ventilated.

  5. Anonymous

    We actually had an energy audit done on our home, and the results came back that our attic/whole house fan was hurting us. In a house that isn’t properly sealed (very few are – houses are supposed to only have something like 8 square inches of air loss or something similarly small), yes, the attic fan is moving air, so your temperature might get a little better. However, as the fan sucks hot air out of the attic, it’s also sucking hot air into the home through all the little leaks, causing your A/C to work harder. The specialist said this is a fairly recent finding that a lot of heating/cooling specialists refuse to believe (possibly because they sell whole house fans?).

    Either way, I can’t recommend the audit enough. They found a lot of things that were causing us to waste a ton of energy and, while fixing them did require quite a bit of cash outlay, we’re already seeing tons of energy savings.

  6. Nickel

    Elizabeth: Good point, expect that Bach is referring to “attic fans (also known as whole house fans)”…

    I don’t see much use for a true attic fan. First off, your ceiling is (or should be) insulated. Second, heat rises, so have hot air overhead isn’t going to do much to your interior temps.

    Conversely, in the case of a room above an uninsulated garage, the heat in the garage can make it tough to keep the room above cool.

  7. Anonymous

    I think folks might be confusing attic fans and whole-house fans. An attic fan just moves air through your attic. There’s no break in the insulation between the attic and your living space, you’re just lessening the oven-like atmosphere that would otherwise be sitting on top of your house by replacing heated air with air that’s at the outside temperature. I suppose the better your insulation between your attic and your house, the less important this might be. Use of an attic fan shouldn’t be prevented by a humid climate as far as I know — we have one here in DC which is plenty humid.

    A whole-house fan was a common pre-air-conditioning way to cool the whole house down. At night when it is cooler outside you’d use a whole house fan to pull the hot air at the top of your house into the attic — this in turn creates enough low pressure to suck lots of cool air in through open windows. Then during the day you close everything up to keep the cool air in. If it keeps you from running the A/C it’s a big energy saver. However if you live somewhere where even nighttime temperatures (or humidity levels) are not comfortable to you, you may not like this option.

  8. Anonymous

    Great list of action items to save energy.

    If your shade trees were fruit trees, they would provide shade, oxygen, pleasent smelling flowers and food while using up carbon dioxide.

    Birney Summers

  9. Anonymous

    The only article I could find that was not written by someone trying to sell you an attic fan was here:

    “a properly insulated ceiling assembly under an attic does not need a vented space above it to control interior temperatures”

    In addition, we have an AC unit that is less than 2 years old and the ducts themselves are so well insulated I do not know if they would really be affected by high attic heat.

    I’d be very interested in seeing a good unbiased source of data for this though.

  10. Anonymous

    Can you provide more information about that? We had great luck with an attic fan in an older house and have been thinking seriously about getting one for our 1960’s one-storey house because it doesn’t move air very well with just the windows open.

  11. Anonymous

    In modern houses, attic fans have not been shown to provide much benefit. One attic tip I know of is to check all of your insulation and see if you need to reinsulate the attic or fill in some bare areas.

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