Saturday, March 7, 2009
Enough construction is complete that we can finally move in. This is the low point in the client-contractor relationship because the mess isn't all gone, largest bills are due (the finishes), and the true cost in money and time has sunk in. But enough of that, let's talk about taking care of all those little nit-picking details to get the house to be energy efficient.
It is January, temperatures outside are in the 40F-55F range, and the gas usage (for heating) is higher than I would like.
Job Site Wastes Energy
The first obvious egregious waste of energy is the construction project itself. Heat is necessary to keep the inside floors at a reasonable temperature because they are still relatively new, yet the electricians, painters and wall finishers etc. are still busy going in and out of doors, so doors get left open a lot with the heating on. Jsutgettingthe work completed and workmen out seemed like the best way deal with this.
Our thermostat (set through the boiler) was set too high. Fortunately this was easy to cross off the list.
I was trying to figure out why the family room was consistently cold. It turns out that the fireplace flue damper was open in that room. The chimney in the family room is shorter than the chimney in the living room. Cold air was coming down the family room flue, then warms up flowing through the house, and finally this warm air goes up the family room chimney, which is longer. I had to close the flues, and discovered that there was construction debris (loose cement) preventing them from closing tight. Digging this out allowedthe flue damper to seal shut,and things warmed up a lot.
It turns out that the rain had prevented the contractor from completing the door weatherstipping. There was air obviously coming in around afew doors. As weather permitted, weatherstripping was added, it got a lot better, but there was still cold air being drawn into the house.
In the course of doing house wiring, the summer ventilation fans for the house were wired straight to the circuit breakers,and when activated, one of these fans draws air out from the second floor andvents it to the outside. With the Earthtube fan not engaged, the result is that cold air gets sucked in through doors and windows. Finding this was not easy, since the only way I found it was one very quiet night I heard the quiet rushing sound of air where there shouldn't have been any sound at all. A bit of checking and it turned out to be the summer ventilation fan. The summer ventilation fan was then turned off and the house felt even warmer.
New Power Meter
After our final electrical inspection prior to move-in, the electric company installed a new meter. What they didn't do was check the initial reading on this new meter. Our first electric bill was for several thousand dollars. I complained, they fixed the bill.
It turns out several lights (in crawlspaces) and some ventialtion fans were wired direct to breakers. This was done because somewher ealong the path we hadn't specified how these were to be controlled (on-off switch, relay, ...). Setting all the breakers to ON engaged a bunch of loads we couldn't directly see, but they consumed electricity. Asking the electricians some questions and checking house power consumption helped get these under control.
We now have a small electric oven, and it gets used often for breakfast and sometimes at dinner. Unfortunately, it has as a very tiny"on"light. As a result, we forget to turn it off. It has stayed on all day or all night several times. I suspect a timer attachment will eliminate this problem. A rainy day project.
TV, CableBox, DVR
With the move, we broke down and bought a new TV, and got cable TV service and TIVO. I wasn't prepared for the power-wasting electronics that came with it. The CableBox and the TIVO are on 7x24, but they appear to have no power-down mode. They produce heat all the time [XXX Watts], even though most of the time they are doing nothing. To think that there are millions of these units in homesacrossthe country. This is a gross waste of electricity, an entire power generation plant. We can make desktop computers go to sleep to save electricity, Cable boxes and TIVOs ought to be an easier problem. Something needs to be done!
Incandescent Light Bulbs
As much as we've tried to use LED and flourescent lights, sconces and chandeliers make beautiful light sources, and there aren't good low energy options for these types of lights yet, with one exception. Marine lighting.
It turns out that eyeball inspection of things is just not good enough. I still don't know why my house is using as much power as the utility powermeter says it is. To make matters worse, the new electric meter (per city code) is at the street, so I can't just turn something off and check the immediate result in 5 seconds- I have to go to the street! I need Google's Powermeter or some other tools to help track andnail down all the remaining unknowns. Stay tuned.