Ideas For Home Energy Efficiency
Pacific Gas & Electric Company
Number 3 child says to me this afternoon, "Mom, sitting on the washer last night; I smelled gas". It is 3:15pm (Amazingly it's business hours). I called Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) immediately. I just needed someone to agree they smelled gas I had been smelling it for awhile, but nobody else smelled what I smelled. First ring and the operator gives you an option for reporting a gas leak. The call was answered immediately.. The young man confirming my address and account information finishes the conversations with;
"Please do not to turn on or off any switches. I will disconnect this call from my end. Someone will be there within the hour. Please evacuate everyone from the area".
Whoa! Until this man told me not to turn off or on electrical devices I was fine. After that my mind races. Nobody else is at home and I almost turned the fan in the garage off. We are a time bomb waiting to happen. Electrical devices have a electromagnetic field that could ignite a gas leak.
Chills run through me and the dogs and I go sit in front of the house.
The dogs and I sit waiting outside...about 15 minutes.
Before this happened P.G.&E had been sending us letters saying we are using more electricity than homeowners of similar size homes. These letters started after PG.&E.installed a Smart Meter on my house.. Last month the score was 92. This month, after one of the kids moved out, the score dropped to 86. An energy super efficient home would be 1. Every other month I get these surveys and I fume. The figures don't add up. Why do we ranked so badly. Number 2 kid, tired of my ranting, reads the report closely then says, "Mom, this says our score is based on a house 400 square feet smaller than our house". Oh!
Hours have been spent making our home energy efficient. Fourteen years ago we did an addition. Energy efficiency would have to be good, or we couldn't afford to live in a house that was 1,600 square feet.
Living in an area that may be 90 degrees at 4pm and 55 degrees by 7pm during the summer and fall makes energy efficiency convenient. Sometimes we have warm evenings, almost always by 10pm we are hovering around 60 degrees or less. Memphis in-laws call our nights,"Good sleeping weather". On the rare evenings when we stay warm we get creative. Some of us sleep with ice bags, some pull out cushions and sleep in the family room with the window air conditioner, and some of us are just cranky. Energy efficiency is part of my life. I was raised that way.
We have a friend who is a P.G.& E regional manager. When we asked what his house square footage was and if the energy survey matched the actual house size. He replied, "The square footage is withing 40 square feet and the efficiency "95". He was pleased with that score. My kid said,"Ours is 86 and the square footage is 400 off." He replied,"An addition, Uh"?
That made me feel better. My hard work has paid off in amazing savings on electricity and this is how I did it. When my neighbors are paying $300,00/month during the summer my bill for gas and electricity is $150.00 or less.
Here are some of the ways we conserve energy.
Potatoe Vine Eastern Exposure
One of the least expensive ways to make a home energy efficient is landscaping using native plants. Plant trees and scrubs that have thick foliage during the heat of the summer and little foliage during the winter. These plants allow light when you need it and protection from the sun when it is hot.
The largest exposed part of our house is the eastern side. The early morning sun beats on that wall. The exterior walls we demolished during the addition had some insulation, but not enough to fend off the 90 degree morning sun during the summer.
Potato vines were my first choice.. They grow tall and have lovely purple flowers. During the winter I cut them back after they lose their leaves.
Conifers make good insulators as well. They are deciduous and work nicely on eastern or western exposures The more area of the outside wall you cover the greater insulation you achieve regardless of the season. Conifers don't allow as much light in during the winter. In some areas the amount of light entering the house during the winter is important for mental health.
Insulation is inexpensive, but labor intensive. Insulation holds heat in during the winter and cool during the summer. The building code required the use heavy insulation in the attic and walls. We shot insulation, using a blower from Home Depot, into parts of the attic that were not easily accessible. The rest of the insulation was fiber glass sheeting. Except in the new areas we didn't add insulation to the walls because blowing in wall insulation is more complicated, so I recommend you get professional help for this job.
Window coverings are high on my list of energy efficient ideas. Thermal window coverings can be relatively inexpensive and can make solid returns on cooling and heating. They do require some work. In the summer you need to keep them closed. This is especially true in the areas where direct sunlight is entering your home. If you need more light in a room during the summer open the blinds and let a little sunlight in instead of turning on a light that will use energy and heat your area. Open your in the evening after the sun goes down to allow air circulation, During the winter, window coverings need to be open when the sun is directly shining into your if there is any heat outside at all. Keeping curtains closed at night to keeps heat in. window coverings
Ceiling fans work nicely to move air. This is most important for rooms with high ceilings and cold spots. During the winter the goal is to move warm air from the ceiling peak to living areas. The reverse is true in summer.
Ceiling fans have switches to change blade direction.
Note to people who don't like noisy ceiling fans, aka:me, cleaning the vents on the fans when they get noisy makes them much quieter.
Whole House Fan
Whole house attic fans bring the cool outside air into the attic. Warm air rises, so when the attic is cooled the hot air from the house also raised. We are fortunate, when ocean breezes come over the hill, we turn our attic fan on for an hour or two. This is the icing on the cake for cooling our house. When we get an inversion and no ocean breeze, we are still cooler than we would be without all are energy saving equipment. .
Winter Room Arrangement
We have four thermal masses in and around our home. A cement patio, driveway, fireplace, and 700 square feet of ceramic tile flooring on a slab foundation. By far the fireplace and tile flooring were the most expensive and labor intensive. The floor is really the star of the house for energy efficiency. You who say "burr cold, I can't have that much bare floor in the winter." This part of California rarely freezes during the winter, when it does usually only at night. To address this issue twice a year my house gets an extreme makeover. During cool weather there are cheery bright area rugs throughout the tiled rooms. The colors in the rugs make you feel warmer. Hot summers find our tiled room without rugs which opens the tiled rooms. Open areas tend to make you feel cooler.
During the summer when it has been very hot washing the tile, which needs to be done anyway, helps cool as the water evaporates, the ceiling fan helps cool the air as it dries the floor..
Summer Room Arrangement
Patios and driveways hold immense heat. To have a truly energy efficient home you need to address these thermal masses. As with our large eastern exposure landscaping was helpful.
I also like pergolas and atios can be cooled during the summer with a minimum of creativity. A large cement area with a narrow strip of planter can be a wonderful place to plant melons. I was tired of fighting snails in my melon patch; I planted melons in the narrow strip of dirt behind the garage. Melons require a lot of space, but not soil. Melons will grow out over the cement. Water is conserved because only the plants are watered, The melons loved spreading out on the lovely warm cement and the snails and other bugs didn't like the cement as much as cool moist soil. It's not so easy for bugs to burrow under the fruit either. The greenery reduced the amount of heat the patio absorbed during the summer and was gone during the winter to absorb what heat the sun produces. awnings, p
Driveways are more difficult to adequately address. You can't cover them but an adjacent lawn may help reduce the heat of a driveway.
Some houses around here have replaced traditional cement driveways with light colored pavers, which may be a solution eventually.
Planter boxes and potted plants also help reduce the heat the patio and driveways hold.
Fireplaces by nature are solid concrete, rock, or brick which makes them amazing thermal masses. The catch here is a perfectly good fireplace will be cold in the winter unless you use it regularly. If you don't use your fireplace, be sure to close the flume to prevent heat from escaping.
*If you live in California make sure you check to see if you can burn in your fireplace on any given night. We have spare the air days and you will get a hefty fine if you are turned in for burnings any solid or wood fuel.
Increase the efficiency of older appliances by simply keeping the vents, fans, and the area around the appliances clutter and dirt free. Clutter and dust blocking air vents cause motors to run hot which increases the amount of electricity used. Appliances with poor ventilation will heat a room and use more electricity.
A few months ago we had a power outage. Usually we unplug everything during an outage. This was an usual outage in because we had 110volts AC power in half the house, with only 40 volts AC in the other. We had enough power to run the lights on the stove, but not enough power to run the electric oven. What happened was half the transformer down the street blew, but not the whole thing. Long story short, our 25 year old box freezer was fried. We immediately replaced it and our electric bill dropped forty dollars. If you have an old, old appliance, get rid of it. I paid $200 for the freezer and at a savings of $40 dollars a month will save about $480 dollars in electricity during the next 12 months.
For not so old appliances clean gaskets around refrigerator doors make the seals tighter, reducing the amount of cold air seepage, which will shorten the amount of time the motor will run, thus saving electricity.
Laundry is a huge energy drain when you have athletes who train two times a day. Multiply that by four and how you do laundry really makes a big difference. Hand washing clothing like hand washing dishes isn't necessarily energy efficient, how you dry your clothing is however.
A clothes line pays for itself after a couple of loads of laundry during the summer. Light weight fabrics are dry in minutes on a hot summer day with low humidity. On a 100 degree day even jeans and towels dry fast. This saves energy regardless of the type of dryer you have.(gas/electric) You will notice a big difference in your utility bill when you line dry if you have an electric dryer.
Making sure your lint filter and dryer vents are clean to increase energy efficiency and prevent fire hazards.
Store small appliances, like toasters unplugged to avoid phantom electrical usage.
Many people don't realize that their electronics use a lot of electricity. Phone chargers don't use a lot of electricity. At the camp in Alaska I was at last summer everything is run by generator. When I mentioned how many phone chargers there were plugged in we did an experiment with of voltage meter. Five phone chargers didn't read on our meter. But computer chargers, televisions, power strips, refrigerators, stoves, coffee maker, electric cars etc lots of electricity is used. There are easy things you can do to reduce power usage.
Turn your computer off when you are going be be away from it for a long time. There are a couple of reasons for this. Older computers use a tremendous amount of electricity. When you turn your computer off you can't get virus' either. When you restart a computer your virus scanner will automatically search for updates which will add protection to your computer.
Four years ago number 3 child was home schooled via K12 virtual academy. It was only a year, but our computers were on day and night. Someone was always using a computer,watching videos, or listening to music or all of the above. One day I got tired of paying for electricity and decided to do a little experiment. I turned all the electronics in the house off and gradually added the different appliances and technology back on-line. The older TV's and the older computers were the biggest users after the stove and dryer. When my homeschooled student went back to brick and mortar school the next year electricity bill dropped significantly about $20.00 a month.
You will extend the life of your lap top battery if you unplug it when the charge is full. You can also remove the battery when it is plugged in to save electricity and prolong the life of your battery.
When it's hot outside use the burner on your BBQ for one skillet dinners. This avoids heating your kitchen. Make sure you use camping skillet or cast iron to avoid blackening your pots.
Why The Smart Meter Was Not So Smart
Mystery solved. The square footage was wrong because the county records were wrong. The county shows we added a bedroom, then increased our taxes, but didn't change the square footage or note there was a permit for the addition. That is a story for a different time. While I have my peeves with the utility company they really did come through for us the day I smelled the gas leak.
Pacific Gas & Electric
P.G. & E. had a serviceman here in 17 minutes. He was very nonchalant. I opened the garage door manually. The serviceman started spraying something as soon as he entered the garage. I showed him the water heater next to the washer. He sprayed some more stuff, then said "Yep you have a leak" As I was ready to ask "Who do I called to get it fixed" he said "It should only take me a minute to fix this". He tightened the loose attachment. I signed a slip and he was gone. I will rest nicely on our vacation knowing our children and house won't explode while we are gone.
Take being energy efficiency seriously, but sometimes its O.K. if you pamper yourself. You may have noticed there were conservations areas that I didn't mention. That was on purpose. I conserve water to the best of my ability, but there are times when I have to shower longer just to get the conditioner out of my hair. If you have any other ideas be sure to let me know. I am always looking to be more efficient.
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