Thursday, January 27, 2011

Energy Efficiency could solve the worlds problems.

World Energy Use Could Be Reduced 73% By Energy Efficiency Alone

by Matthew McDermott, New York, NY on 01.27.11

All hail the power of using energy more efficiently! Study after study after study (after study... ... ...) has shown that, along with energy conservation, energy efficiency is probably the most important component of getting a handle on humanity's growing energy use and the environmental damage that currently entails. A new one from the University of Cambridge really lays it bare. Julian Allwood's team found that 73% of global energy use could be saved through energy efficiency improvements.
Some of these are easy and possible today, such as in the building sector, while some of the more radical energy efficiency improvements in vehicle design require bigger changes--Allwood recognizes that ultra-lightweight automobiles will loose out to a Hummer in a crash.
And let's remember that when it comes to personal mobility, the bicycle is probably the most energy efficient vehicle out there...
Article continues: World Energy Use Could Be Reduced 73% By Energy Efficiency Alone

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

MPGs for Homes

Everyone knows how many miles per gallon their car is expected to get when they buy it. This reduces the idea of efficiency into a single number, something you don't have to be a mechanic to understand. If you want to buy a vehicle that conserves fuel, it isn't difficult. Having the MPGs prominently displayed helps the consumer.

A home's energy use is arguably more complicated than a car's energy use, and so there is no real equivalent to MPGs - no one number that everyone knows and understands. Buying an efficient home is not as simple as buying an efficient car.

To that end, here is a list of some of the home ratings systems that are available.

The Department of Energy is introducing a new rating system - the Home Energy Score, a simple 10  point scale.

Acting Under-Secretary Cathy Zoi explains:

The program is being tried in a few communities across the nation and will be fully implemented this summer.

More information can be found at the Department of Energy site.

This program is separate from the ENERGY STAR program that is also partially ran through the Department of Energy. Similar to the ENERGY STAR rating for appliances, a certified home will be 20-30% more efficient than an average new home, although the requirements for ENERGY STAR certification are becoming more strict. More information can be found here.

Another existing rating system is the HERS rating system, explained here.

The HERS system has been around since the 1990s, and operates similar to a golf score - lower is better. Your average new home would be scaled at around 100, older homer would be higher, and a net-zero home would have a HERS index of 0.

It has been developed by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). HERS compares a home to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) standards for 2006.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Old Dogs and New Tricks

If your home is energy efficient, it will soon be in good company:

Yes, what was once the tallest building in the world is getting a tune-up.

The Empire State Building was built in 1931, when energy costs were not the concern that they are now. The building was not designed to conserve energy. For example, the space behind the radiators was not insulated, meaning that the building leaks lots of heat.

All that will soon change. Insulation will be installed behind the radiators, the windows will be improved, and other areas, mostly involving lighting and heating / cooling, will be seeing some fix-ups.

All told, the repairs are expected to reduce energy use by as much as 38% per year, saving $4.4 million per year. The project is expected to pay for itself three years after completion. Anthony Malkin, the President of the firm that supervises the building, wants to show the financial benefits of performance retrofits (quote from the New York Times):

“People associate greening with expense and compromise,” Mr. Malkin said. “We’re trying to prove: no compromise and payback.”
 After the retrofit is finished, the building is expected to be among the top 10% of ENERGY STAR office buildings.

For more information on the changes they are making to this New York City landmark, and why, click here

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

GE Challenges consumers to come up with the idea of tomorrow... And they want to fund it.

Building & Design

GE launches challenge for ‘eco home of the future’

GE has launched a global challenge looking for the new ideas for the ‘eco home of the future’.
The new phase of the company’s $200 million ecomagination Challenge: Powering the Grid, which was launched last summer, is seeking innovations to improve home energy efficiency and make use of wind, solar, hydro and biomass power.
     “We launched the Challenge to spur innovation that will help transform how we create, connect and use power, and the number of passionate and innovative people who got involved to collaborate on global energy solutions has been a real eye-opener for GE,” says Beth Comstock, chief marketing officer and senior vice president.
Comstock explains that of the 4000+ ideas submitted to the ‘Powering the Grid’ challenge, over 1100 were in the category of home energy use.
     “The volume of ideas in this area sparked us to take a new look at consumer energy usage and focus on innovation… that can help harness and improve energy efficiency at home,” she adds.
The ‘powering your home’ challenge will open for new ideas from technologists, entrepreneurs and start-ups on January 18 and will run until March 1, 2011.
     The ideas already submitted will also be re-examined and the five most exciting concepts, as judged by a panel of GE executives, academics and technologists, will be awarded $100,000.
Successful entrants could also be rewarded with a commercial relationship with GE, potentially working with the company’s research and development centres and extensive distribution networks.
     For further information:

Small Houses: Is it a Trend Stemming from Energy Efficiency?

Small Houses: Is it a trend stemming from energy efficiency?  

Well, the short answer is: I do not know. However, with less square footage, I think it is safe to say that more money can be spent on high insulation values, or the best low-e window.   Even air sealing becomes a ten minute task.

What Does It Take To Live in 300 Square Feet? It Takes A Town

by Lloyd Alter, Toronto on 01.17.11
Ben Brown of PlaceMakers has been talking about living in smaller spaces and cottage neighborhoods for years, but recently got to practice what he preaches, living for three months in the original 308 square foot Katrina Cottage designed by Marianne Cusato, now part of a cottage community in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. He learned that designing a small cottage is only one part of the problem; there has to be a critical mass.

Dropped randomly into acre-lot subdivisions and diminished by surrounding McMansions, they look eccentric and experimental. They need small-lot site-planning and the company of friends. Here's the second lesson confirmed by my life in 300 square feet: The space has to be beautifully designed and the construction detailed perfectly. Otherwise you've got exactly what Katrina Cottage critics warned against - a tricked-out trailer.

Quality and design does matter.

When you compress the volume, the first thing to go is wiggle room for sloppy decision-making. Compromise on design and construction quality, including material choices, and you're off to the race to the bottom. That's why Cusato, Tolar, Steve Mouzon and others fight so tenaciously against cheaping out on ceiling heights, window selections, flooring, roofing, and trim details.
That's bad news for workforce housing advocates committed to driving prices per square foot down. Better to achieve the savings by intelligently compacting the space, as opposed to competing with production builders who amortize prices per square foot over thousands of under-performing square feet.

But the key takeaway is that if one is going to live in small spaces, you have to be part of a larger community. His stay in the cottage worked because he could hop on his bike and go places. That's why people can survive in 400 square foot apartments in New York; the city is your living room.
No problem feeding the private, nesting impulse with cottage living; but the smaller the nest, the bigger the balancing need for community. Big community. Bigger than a greenfield new town or village.
Article borrowed from:

Monday, January 17, 2011

In the Money

We know that improving the performance of your home can be an investment that pays off over time. But how much time?

The Building Codes Assistance Project - an initiative from the National Resources Defense Council, the Alliance to Save Energy, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy - recently released some fact sheets on just that issue.

While they were looking at the costs of building a home to 2009 IECC standards rather than ENERGY STAR, the same principle applies. A certain amount (depending on the state) is added to the cost of the home to bring it up to more efficient standards, and savings on utility bills are also estimated.

The skinny of it for 28 different states can be found here -

A more detailed fact sheet for North Carolina is also available -

The break-even point - when your savings are greater than expenses - is only 8 months. Every year, the homeowner is saving an average of $221. And as electricity prices rise, the savings will too.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Double Panes

Funny Video Promoting Energy Efficiency.

Passive House Standards you can see with a Thermal Imaging Camera

passivhaus thermogram 174 grand street photo

A Picture Worth TEN Thousand Words: A Passivhaus in New York

by Lloyd Alter, Toronto on 01.11.11
Really, one could go on for hours explaining the benefits of Passivhaus design, but it is all right here in this thermogram (thermograph?) of Loadingdock5's 174 Grand Street in New York City. It's neighbours just glow with red, representing lost heat; the building in the middle barely registers. In fact the high performance windows are even darker than the building itself.

Here it is in the daytime. Perhaps the building is lighter than the windows because it was holding some residual heat, given its dark colour.
But the story of the Passivhaus is clear as can be: most Passivhaus are detached so you don't see them smack up against other buildings. You don't normally see how the neighbours are paying to heat the streets of New York, while nobody is paying to heat 174 Grand, because it barely needs any. And we are not talking about putting in solar panels or groundsource heat pumps or green gizmos; just thick layers of insulation, careful detailing and controlled amounts of high quality glazing.
I really wonder why anyone would build any other way any more; the picture says it all.

Full Article and links can be found at: TreeHugger -