18 Replies Latest reply on Apr 24, 2015 5:13 AM by JerryD

    Energy Efficiency

    Lyn Swett Miller

      Has anyone spent time assessing the cost-benefit of investing in energy efficiency upgrades to their homes?  In terms of the 'greater good,' there can be enormous benefits to ourselves and society when we conserve energy. 

       

      We installed a solar hot water system five years ago, for example, and have almost recouped our investment.  We now use between 300 and 500 fewer gallons of propane each year, which has saved us between $900 and $1500 dollars (assuming $3/gallon) while also reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. 

       

      I would love to hear other people's stories about energy efficiency upgrades.  Were you mainly motivated by environmental or financial concerns?  What questions do you have about these kinds of decisions?  I have spent a decade considering these questions and wonder what is on other people's minds.

        • Re: Energy Efficiency
          W2W Community Mgr

          Lyn Swett Miller, thanks for starting a discussion thread! This is a great topic!

            • Re: Energy Efficiency
              Lyn Swett Miller

              Thank you!  I am really passionate about this topic and wonder how to engage more people in the question of balancing life - money - energy in a more holistic way…It takes all kinds of energy to manage our lives and our money.  There is actual physical energy embedded in our actions.  Most of us are unaware of the unintended consequences of our decisions, especially those of us born between 1960 and 1975 - Our young career lives and coming of age occurred during times of financial prosperity - We have never really been asked to make sacrifices...

            • Re: Energy Efficiency
              JerryD

              The spouse covers the house with night lights for safety and security. Here is a night light with automatic on/off! LED's that uses 10 cents worth of power a year that our electric co-op found! One coming with USB charger soon!

               

              http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/man-invents-light-for-home-outlets/article_966e7462-05a8-57a2-8389-bc785721677d.html

               

               

              Snap Power night light install

               

               

              Snap Power Outlet Lights

               

              What is it

               

              Select Guidelight

               

               

               

               

               

              :-)))))

              • Re: Energy Efficiency
                jkom51

                California leads the US in energy saving initiatives, so when we bought and gutted our home in 1989 it was given full insulation, double pane windows, and water-saving/energy-efficient appliances. Out here electricity is more expensive than natural gas; we switched to CFLs in 90% of the light fixtures decades ago.

                 

                Since then we have upgraded the toilets even further: one has the new dual-flush; the other a high-efficiency 1-gall flush. CFLs are being replaced slowly by LED bulbs. Biggest investment has been the purchase of 14 solar panels tied to the local utility grid. We went 'on line' officially in mid-December 2014.

                 

                We do not expect to recoup the cost of the system before we eventually decide to sell (this is not a home where we can age in place). However, it is a huge selling point in our neighborhood; resale is extremely important to us.

                  • Re: Energy Efficiency
                    Lyn Swett Miller

                    We are in the same situation.  We will need to move before we fully recoup our solar electric investment, but it is an increasingly popular addition to have made!  California certainly has been on the forefront.  Sometimes having direct experience with the realities of climate change (no water) can inspire greater action and more effective policies.

                  • Re: Energy Efficiency
                    Susanna144

                    Energy efficiency is one of our interests.  I think this is partly because my husband is an atmospheric scientist, and partly because we are very concerned about global warming.  We bought an off-the-grid solar powered and heated house in 2005, and I think it has already paid for itself.  Our house is of a conventional design but the basement is special, it acts as passive sun space with active controls.  We wrote it up in a website http://strike.colorado.edu/solar/.  When considering the financial benefits of energy conservation, it's important to realize that it frees you from concerns about inflation in fossil fuels as well as guilt about driving the planet into a very uncomfortable new climate.  Both considerations are very important to us.

                      • Re: Energy Efficiency
                        Lyn Swett Miller

                        Susanna - So true.  It is reassuring to not have to worry about extreme price fluctuations with electricity or heating fuels.  While the price for propane has gone down this year, the price for electricity in our state has gone up by almost 50%.  We feel somewhat impervious to these changes.  Love the sound of your house.  Passive solar is incredible.

                        • Re: Energy Efficiency
                          W2W Community Mgr

                          Susanna144, do you have any pictures of your house? It sounds really cool!

                            • Re: Energy Efficiency
                              Lyn Swett Miller

                              Yes!  Here are the solar hot water panels on our roof.  We live in an updated 1950's colonial.  These are on the sunroom/master bedroom addition.

                              Solar Hot water.jpg

                              Here are our Solar Electric panels.  We live in a suburban neighborhood with just under two acres.  We are trying to balance having traditional gardens and lawn with developing a biodiverse environment for birds, bees and butterflies.    It's a slow process, but each year we make progress toward our goal of reducing our lawn and increasing ground cover and productive plants for food...

                              Miller Solar Spring.jpg

                              • Re: Energy Efficiency
                                Susanna144

                                house4.jpg

                                This photo shows all 3 solar systems, PV panels for electricity, hot water panels on the roof, and our solar basement.  If you would like to learn more, follow the link http://strike.colorado.edu/solar/

                                  • Re: Energy Efficiency
                                    Lyn Swett Miller

                                    Thank you for sharing this!  I would love to see what others are doing as well. 

                                     

                                    I am interested in the full spectrum of off the grid living and the on-the-grid in-town suburban options.  How can we take what people have learned from living off the grid and apply it on a more regular basis to life 'in town'? 

                                     

                                    I am actually starting a coaching business for people who accept climate change, are worried about its consequences and want to take action.  Visit http://www.OurHybridLives.com if you are interested in what it is all about!  I am in the early stages and would love feedback and support.  This conversation inspires me to keep going.

                              • Re: Energy Efficiency
                                jkom51

                                We have 14 solar panels on our roof, just installed Dec 2014. They've cut our electricity bill by about 55%, depending on the amt of sun available. They were purchased and are hooked to the public utility grid in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA. Cost of the panels is not much; it's mostly a labor cost.

                                 

                                These are high-efficiency Hyundai/Korea panels, about $300 apiece retail and when installed, just shy of $1K/per panel. 10 Yr warranty; we can extend warranty to 20 yrs for another $700. We plan to do this because the inverter units are generally only good for 10 yrs before needing replacement, and it's currently $700 to replace one. This way we can pay for a 20 yr, fully transferable warranty, and have the cost of a replacement inverter covered. We won't need to worry about what an inverter costs with inflation 10 yrs from now.

                                 

                                The company maintains and monitors the system during the warranty period. Very useful as one of their service guys stopped by because of a last-minute system correction needed for the permit sign-off. He had to turn the system off to do the correction but forgot to turn it back on again! After a week the solar company called me to ask if we had turned it off for some reason. I said no, so they walked me through rebooting the system as we talked on the phone; very easy.

                                 

                                We bought them as they add to the salability of our starter home. There's tremendous interest in solar in our area but few homeowners have made the investment so far.

                                 

                                I ran across this very interesting article in the NYTimes, and some of you may be interested. It has some very good advice from a couple who have actually lived with their zero-net energy home since 2007, and the lessons they learned. I believe the NYT still allows a limited # of free articles to non-subscribers:

                                 

                                Exhausted By a House That Saves Energy

                                Was It Too Soon to Be Sustainable?

                                Dec 3, 2014 New York Times

                                http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/it-too-soon-to-be-sustainable?

                                 

                                (Excerpt) Warren, Vt. — Dotty Kyle and Eric Brattstrom had an ambitious vision for the home they would build when they sold their bed-and-breakfast here seven years ago and retired.

                                 

                                They were environmental and community advocates, so they wanted it to be as sustainable as possible — ideally net-zero, producing as much energy as it used. And because they would be living on a modest fixed income, they needed to make sure it was inexpensive to maintain.

                                  • Re: Energy Efficiency
                                    Susanna144

                                    I read that NYT article with interest too.  I think those home-owners went overboard and got too complicated.  Our place is so easy to deal with by comparison!  But we do have our backup fossil fuel powered systems for those few occasions when our solar systems fall too far behind.

                                    • Re: Energy Efficiency
                                      JerryD

                                      So, about a $14,700 cost for 20 years usage. I know that CA has very high electric rates but are you on track to save 14,700/20 = $735/year or more?

                                        • Re: Energy Efficiency
                                          jkom51

                                          Jerry, electricity rates in CA are tiered. They have gone up steadily in the 25 yrs we've owned our home, and since PG&E just got fined $1 billion (yes, BILLION) by the state PUC, you can guess who will be making up that amount to PG&E shareholders. Yup, the ratepayers, meaning people like us.

                                           

                                          Currently, the tiers look like this (just in my area; rates differ per county although there are only two utilities in the entire state):

                                          Tier 1: $0.15293 per kWh

                                          Tier 2: $0.17614 per kWh

                                          Tier 3: $0.26445 per kWh

                                          Tier 4: $0.32445 per kWh

                                           

                                          We use natural gas for cooking, heating, clothes dryer, and water heater. Electricity is for lights, electronics, and appliances only. No AC. Over the last 12 months, our electricity bill has gone up into Tier 4 rates all 12 months. It was averaging over $100/month.

                                           

                                          The solar panels went operative in mid-December. Dec was rainy, January sunny except for 10 days. Feb/March sunny. PG&E bills only once a year for electricity on solar systems, but gives the homeowner a "running total" of electricity costs above what the solar system covered; e.g., what will be owed on the annual billing.

                                           

                                          So far our bill for 3 winter months totals $79, instead of over $300. When I wrote my earlier post in March, it was based on the Dec/Jan electricity bill. With the high # of rainy days, our electricity cost was $60. But the Feb & March electricity costs sank to $14 and $5 respectively, due to the sunny (dry) weather. Winter is our rainy season; we will now see no rain until mid- to late October 2015. So, nothing but uninterrupted sun on those panels for the next six months!

                                           

                                          The $5 minimum charge, btw, is a monthly charge for being connected to the utility grid. We were actually net zero on electricity in March and I would expect that to be true for the entire summer.

                                           

                                          Also the 30% Federal rebate was very helpful. We received about $3600 back as a tax refund - because we bought the system on impulse so late in the year, I never adjusted our withholding to compensate (Yes, the $3600 is the amount directly attributed to the Federal tax rebate, per our tax advisor). So the system cost dropped to $10K, plus the $700 we are going to add for a 20-yr maintenance plan instead of the standard 10 yrs.

                                           

                                          Again, it's the salability of the home overall we are concerned with. Solar pre-installed is a HUGE positive in an already very hot RE market. Ours is a starter or childless couple home; everything we do is aimed at attracting those buyer segments.

                                            • Re: Energy Efficiency
                                              W2W Community Mgr

                                              Happy Earth Day! Today would be a great day to rejuvenate this discussion. Does anyone else have any plans for making your home more energy efficient?

                                              • Re: Energy Efficiency
                                                JerryD

                                                Jkom51, your electric rates are scary! I just looked at the average cost per KWH here and, minus the customer charge of $18/month, it is 10 cents/KWH, including all taxes and other usage-related charges. That's better than a 1/3 less than your cheapest rate! Of course, the EPA plans to make us pay more than others to offset their new proposed emissions rates since we use a lot of coal, some nuclear and some hydro. The state is fighting the new EPA rules since we have a lot of poorer residents.

                                                 

                                                This great discrepancy is electric rates was brought home to me when I was back home and an old schoolmate wanted me to look at his electric bill. He has a house that is probably 1/2 the size of ours, he uses no A/C (although his furnace probably goes literally 7-9 months a year) and he lives alone. His bill was about twice the KWH charge and it was up at the level of ours which included A/C usage! Ain't fair, is it?