What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Energy Conservation Plans for Our New Home

We have practiced energy conservation ever since we rented our first apartment as newlyweds.  Although utilities were included we paid extra each month to be able to have an air conditioner in the summer months.  Once we bought our first house, paying all of our own utilities including using AC and a pool in the summer months, energy conservation went into high gear.  As a young couple with a growing family, keeping the utility bills down was a matter of being able to afford living in our own home.  It was that first house (a duplex) that I experimented with solar heat banks, made quilted insulated window shades, learned to heat with wood and perfected using a caulk gun.   We have come a long way since that house!

We bought a vacation home in March of 2010 and we moved into our new home, our sixth purchased permanent residence in September of this year.  The primary focus of every home we have owned including the two we currently own is getting the house as energy efficient as possible as quickly as possible.  Now it is not a matter of not being able to afford higher utility bills but rather reducing our consumption to become more eco-friendly. 

I estimate it takes a good three years to achieve that goal in a house we just move into but this house likely won't take much more than six months to a year.  It's a newer home that was built in 1994 so has good insulation and a good lot position that takes advantage of the south and west walls for passive solar gain.  The biggest problem we are facing is the house is too new to warrant higher energy savers like replacement windows or new furnace and AC as the energy savings would be too low, creating a high pay back period.  In other words we would likely end up replacing what we replace ten years down the road without it ever paying for itself.  The house is too new to take advantage of the Energy Audit for grants covering a portion of any updates like windows, doors, and HVAC system.  The furnace is original but considerably newer than our old furnace and it has a heat recovery ventilation system for higher energy savings.  The windows are fairly large to take advantage of natural lighting reducing the need for indoor lighting during the day but that can mean thermal loss on cloudy days and overnight.  Our best course of action to reduce our energy usage in our new home will be considerably less expensive than in any of the other homes we have owned!

Here are a few things we have done and plan to do to conserve energy in our new home:

  • sealing - The caulk gun is loaded and ready for action as leaks are detected indoors and where I see the need outdoors.  I've sealed all leaks I've found so far and will continue doing this as the need arises.  I use a paintable 20 or 25 year acrylic caulk for sealing unless silicone is warranted.  A rule of thumb is if you see a spider web there is an air leak nearby as spiders spin their web in cooler locations to keep the egg sac cool.
  • insulating - We insulated all of the outside wall electrical outlets and receptacles using foam insulators and child safety plugs.  There is very little need for additional insulation in the walls or attic however, we are considering adding a bit more insulation in the attic as it may save a little money and it is a rather easy, low cost DIY project.
  • lighting - We added solar lighting outside and changed most of the incandescent light bulbs indoors and outdoors to CFL bulbs.  There are a couple of outdoor fixtures that need the bulbs changed or the fixture replaced to accommodate the CFL bulbs.  I'm using timers on our energy efficient Christmas trees and will be working on our X-10 home automation system during the winter.  I plan on adding more solar lighting outdoors including a solar powered, motion activated security light.  A few of the indoor windows lend themselves nicely to using solar powered lighting as well and we are planning to install a solar tube in the main bathroom.
  • heating - We are heating with natural gas using the energy efficient furnace installed when the house was built.  It has a HRV system for further savings.  On sunny days there is a gorgeous passive solar gain through the windows on the south wall.  I'm taking advantage of that.  There is also nice passive solar gain in the kitchen that faces east.  More importantly, the kitchen floor (marble) and entrance floor (ceramic tile) act as heat sinks absorbing heat from the sun's rays then releasing it back into the rooms once the sun is off the windows and patio doors.  The partial ceramic floor on the lower level creates a smaller heat sink.  I've been working on sealing any duct work I can reach using aluminum foil tape that will reduce heating and cooling loss through the ducts.
  • water - When we moved in, both toilets were leaking as was the main bathroom faucet.  We repaired all three water leaks immediately.  We know our water usage will increase with a pool but feel we can be frugal with this aspect as well.  Surprisingly, many will spend more watering their yards and gardens than we will operating the pool.  We are installing two DIY rainwater fed, gravity activated water storage units for the gardens and yard, possibly three.  I'm working on a great DIY gravity fed irrigation system for the vegetable gardens as well.  
  • cooking - My husband and I are very much foodies who enjoy home cooked meals the majority of the time.  That is not going to change.  We did however switch from cooking with hydro (indoors) and natural gas (outdoors) to cooking with natural gas (indoors) and propane/charcoal (outdoors).  Natural gas is one third the price of hydro here.  There is better control for the burners so less energy is needed and preliminary results have shown foods cooked with natural gas cook faster further reducing the energy needed.  This house is ideal for experimenting using solar power so I already have a couple of projects lined up involving solar power. 
  • windows - We are taking the maximal advantage of our windows for daytime solar gain but at night we cover them to prevent thermal loss.  We have two half circle windows and two side windows that are a bit problematic.  I'm making quilted insulating shades for the north windows and adding insulated panels to the large living/dining room window.

Garden Gnome