The Home Front: Part 1

How energy efficient is your own home? Here's how to find out
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How energy efficient is your own home? Here's how to find out

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the Green House project, a get-together that brought journalists from all over the country here to Vermont to learn about local sustainability efforts. As part of this event, I stayed in a new green home designed and built by Rolf Kielman of Truex Cullins and Chuck Reiss of Reiss Building and Renovation. The house was built with all the latest and greatest green tech. The cellulose insulated walls are 2x8 with 1.5 inch strapping for extra weatherproofing. The standing seam metal roof has stick-on solar panels, and a raised solar system for hot water. An air-to-air heat exchanger brings fresh air in (the house is so tight, fresh air needs to be brought in when doors and windows are closed) while capturing about 80 percent of the heat from the old air. And a heat pump extracts five to seven degrees out of the water being pumped from the well, augmenting the solar hot water heater.

The house puts energy back into the grid--and will continue to do so as long as its new owner doesn't go overboard with the washer, dryer, dishwasher, and garage door opener. A couple of additional cool features of this house: a root cellar for storing vegetables that can last all winter, and communal farm land. In this six-home community, there is enough open farm land for neighbors to grow their own food if they want. Trees that grew on the land were milled into boards used in the house, and any wood that wasn't harvested on the land, like the hardwood flooring, was harvested within 50 miles of the house site.

As you can tell, I was impressed, but seeing this beautiful green-built house made me wonder: Can I do better with my existing house, built in 1981 by its then-owner? Chuck was able to point me in the right direction: Efficiency Vermont.

Efficiency Vermont is the nation's first statewide provider of energy efficiency services. It provides technical assistance and financial incentives to Vermont households and businesses, and helps them reduce their energy costs by utilizing energy-efficient equipment and lighting and with energy-efficient approaches to construction and renovation. They're funded by a charge on Vermonter's electric bill, added in 2000 by the Vermont legislature and the Vermont Public Service Board to help all Vermonters save energy, reduce energy costs, and protect Vermont's environment.

The state's energy-efficiency utility also works with Vermont businesses that provide energy-efficient products and services, such as retailers, architects, builders, and electricians.

Efficiency Vermont began operating in 2000 and has helped Vermonters reduce annual energy costs in their businesses and homes by a total of more than $31 million. In 2006 alone, Efficiency Vermont helped 38,655 Vermonters (more than 10 percent of the state's electric ratepayers) complete efficiency investments that resulted in:

  • $5.7 million in annual electric, fuel and water savings
  • 56,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of annual electric savings
  • A 10,000 kilowatt (kW) reduction in summer peak and a 9,000kW reduction in winter peak capacity requirements
  • A 415,300-ton reduction in greenhouse gases over the lifetime of the installed measures
  • A savings of 3 million gallons of propane, 218 million cubic feet of natural gas, 0.6 million gallons of oil, and 409 million gallons of water over the lifetime of the installed measures

Efficiency Vermont's work to-date will save Vermonters more than 10 million gallons of propane, 1504 million cubic feet of natural gas, 7 million gallons of oil, 2.3 billion gallons of water, and 2.65 million tons of carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the installed measures. Its efforts have provided reductions in air emissions that improve local air quality and lower our contribution to global climate change. Vermont businesses and homeowners who worked with Efficiency Vermont from 2000 to 2006 to make cost-effective efficiency investments saved more than 307 million kilowatt hours (kWh) in annual electric energy. Households and businesses are expected to see these savings continue for an average of 13 years.

And, since 2000, Efficiency Vermont has lowered Vermont's summer peak load by a total of over 43,000 kilowatts and winter peak load by over 51,000 kilowatts. These peak-demand savings increase the reliability of existing generation, transmission, and distribution facilities, while helping to postpone the need for costly upgrades and expansion.

huck also convinced me that investing in renewable energy in my own home makes good economic sense. So today I'll begin a series of posts where I determine my own efficiency and figure out the best ways to improve it. Follow along, and I'll show you how you can do it, too--even if you don't live in Vermont.

-Berne Broudy