Even if you haven’t been paying a lot of attention to all the recent talk about sustainability and climate change, it’s likely, especially as the colder weather sets in, that you’ve been thinking about the benefits of a more energy-efficient home. Lower heating costs and a warmer house, for starters. (Or a cooler home during the summer months!)
Sustainable Edmonds kicked off its 2009 fall series on home and business energy efficiency with a presentation Oct. 22 by two speakers who have substantial experience in analyzing how efficient your home is (or isn’t) and what you can do to reduce energy use.
The first speaker, Fred Mitchell of Energy Ecostrategies Inc., said that the main areas homeowners should be concerned about are properly air sealing and insulating the house to reduce drafts and upgrading the home’s heating system if it’s more than 10 years old.
The progress being made in HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) technology is “amazing,” in terms of increasing energy efficiency, Mitchell said.
When he conducts a home energy audit, Mitchell said he lays out a four-step process for homeowners:
- Understanding your climate and terrain, including factors such as wind and sun, the presence of trees, and high and low temperature swings.
- Conducting a traditional energy audit to determine what types of energy loads the home has and how they can be reduced.
- Examining options for using “free”energy; for example, passive solar for heating and natural ventilation for cooling.
- Using the most efficient technology.
While there are some basic things a homeowner can do on his or her own, “there is a nuance to air sealing,” so it might be worthwhile to hire a professional to do that task, Mitchell said.
The second speaker, Wayne Apostolik of the home remodeling firm Northwest Homecrafters, noted that achieving maximum energy efficiency does require a financial investment by the homeowner. “We can easily achieve a 40-percent energy drop in a home, but it also costs money to do these things,” he said.
He suggested that those interested in reducing their home’s energy use take a closer look at permaculture design options, which Apostolik described as “using nature first to solve your problems.” To illustrate, he cited an approach to cooling a factory in Phoenix, Ariz., that involved growing vegetation on the sides of the building, planting grape vines so workers could pick fruit as they left for the day, and replacing black asphalt with trees. By using nature, the factory owner reduced his heating costs significantly, he said.
Other energy-efficient options involving permaculture include:
- Converting a yard into an edible landscape and planting by zones so that what you eat most often is readily available (for example, planting salad fixings along the driveway so you can pick them on the way in the door from work).
- Using vegetation such as deciduous trees to cool the house in summer and, when leaves fall in the winter, the sun gets through to provide extra warmth.
- Harvesting rainwater for irrigation and to flush toilets.
Additional tips offered during the seminar included:
- Find a way to minimize water use by installing low-flow showers and water-saving toilets.
- Install a heat pump, which can slash your electric bill by two-thirds. These work best with an electric furnace, because they can be incorporated into the furnace’s existing forced-air system.
- Rely on natural air circulation for cooling, such as well-placed windows that can be opened in the summertime.
The second seminar in the Sustainable Edmonds fall series will be Thursday, Nov. 5 and will focus on lighting, appliances, electrical load reduction, insulation and air sealing, with speakers from Snohomish County PUD and Puget Sound Energy. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Port of Edmonds conference room, 326 Admiral Way.