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A Parallel World of

Home Weatherization & Insulation

Challenge
Plug air leaks to tighten up your home, cut energy costs and improve comfort.

  • Tighten up of windows and doors (weather stripping)
  • Tighten up of walls and foundation (caulking)

Then add insulation where feasible for greater efficiency, comfort and cost savings.

These measures save the most energy but are largely invisible.

History 

Weatherization

Weatherization is a smart first-step in cost effectively cutting energy use in homes.  Since 1976, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has provided funds helping over 6 million low-income families reduce their energy bills an average of 35%. By the 1990s, the program employed professionals and used diagnostic tools to determine the most effective weatherization approach for a particular home. DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program is managed by states, territories and Indian tribes, which has created a national network of trained weatherization professionals. More recently, DOE produced guidelines for Home Energy Professionals who can now be certified in auditing, installation, and inspections.

Insulation

As energy costs increased, recommended insulation levels have also increased.  Over the same period, a variety of improved performance insulation materials has entered the market.  States adopted building energy codes, which set minimum levels of insulation appropriate for the region.  The code is the minimum legal level, not the recommended level that is always greater.

Weatherization

Air sealing is often the most cost-effective way to lower your energy bill while improving your home’s comfort. Many products are available to fill air gaps and plug leaks, such as caulk, weather-stripping, rope caulk (flexible foam rope), and window film. Some products are custom-made for specific applications such as exterior doors, garage doors, windows, electrical outlets, etc.  Weatherization products are low cost and installation is often easy although it can be time-consuming.  Find an array of products as well as installers from A Parallel World’s Marketplace.

Poor ductwork is responsible for a significant amount of energy loss in a home, so duct sealing is important. Insulating ducts also reduces noise and improves interior comfort by delivering forced air at the intended temperature.

Insulation

Properly installed insulation reduces heating and cooling costs by cutting the heat gain in summer and heat loss in winter through the roof, walls and floor. There are three ways to increase the insulation values – 1) greater thickness of insulation material, 2) greater insulation value per inch, and 3) better coverage. All of these choices and the myriad of products available and installation techniques make the decision difficult.  Other factors will influence your decision as well. These include the temperature variations in your region, the limitations to add thicknesses of insulation in your roof or walls, and the overall costs. Get help from A Parallel World – find an insulation company that represents a variety of products and provides installation.

Fiberglass batt insulation used to be the staple.  It is available in a variety of thicknesses to accommodate various construction practices.  It is also available in upgraded efficiency levels per inch.  However, this material is the hardest to install without gaps, so there are practical limits.

Insulation is not just about fiberglass batt anymore.  Spray foam insulations offer greater sealing properties and trap air particles for greater insulation from heat and cold.  Cellulose is a loose-fill material that is blown-in for full coverage. Compared to fiberglass batt, it has a higher insulating value.  Rigid exterior insulation such as sheets of foam forms a continual barrier and insulation over walls including the studs that otherwise loses heat.

Adding attic insulation is very effective and affordable, where feasible. Insulating a finished exterior wall may seem impossible, but it is often done.  Small holes are drilled to access the wall cavity and fill it with dense-packed blown-in insulation – it is very cost-effective.

Cold floors can add up to 20% to heating costs. For framed floors, insulation can be added in the basement or crawl space. For homes built on cement slab, a barrier of ridged foam around the foundation can reduce heat loss.

All insulation is green in the sense that it reduces energy use.  Cellulose is considered the greenest as it is made from recycled newsprint and other paper sources that might otherwise end up in the landfill.

Insulation is not limited to walls and ceilings. Adding storm windows and doors increases the insulating value for openings. Start with the roof, then the openings, and finally, the walls.

Insulation Recommendation:

R-values indicate the effectiveness of the insulation to resist heat flow.  The higher R-value, the better the insulation. Where feasible, A Parallel World recommends the following insulation levels:

Roof: R-50

Walls: R-26

Floors: R-14

See ENERGY STAR’s recommended insulation levels (by regions of the country) to upgrade existing homes and the U.S. Department of Energy’s recommended insulation levels customized (by zip code and construction factors). Both resources base the recommended insulation levels on cost-effectiveness for the local climate.

Weatherization & Insulation Services 

In general the most cost effective order for weatherization and insulation is:

  • Tighten up of windows and doors (weather stripping)
  • Tighten up of walls and foundation (caulking)
  • Add insulation at ceiling, walls and foundation (add insulation, ceiling first)
  • Upgrade to smart thermostats (computerized programmable thermostats)

Each home is different, built in different eras and in different areas. We depend on Weatherization contractors to take the most cost efficient steps on behalf of the APW Member. A certified Home Energy Professional will audit your home to identify and prioritize the most cost-effective weatherization and insulation improvements.  They find leaks by pressurizing the house, forcing air to stream-in at the cracks and gaps, often finding leaks that are not apparent.  Applying appropriate materials and techniques, your home energy expert will seal the source of leaks in the building envelope as well as the ducts. Insulation comes next to blanket the home where practical. (Warning: Sealing a house can reduce fresh air and combustion air for your furnace. Have a heating expert check your utility room for proper venting before sealing your house).

Find your Home Energy Professional:

—Linda Smith has a master’s degree in building energy engineering and has won numerous awards and commendations, including the “Governor’s STAR” award for exemplary achievement, “Innovation in Energy Management” award from the U.S. Department of Energy, and “Green Thought Leader” recognition from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. She is president of an energy efficiency consulting company, 9Kft Strategies in Energy. She was a Sr. Program Manager at the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office for over 17 years.


A Parallel World of

Appliances

The Challenge

When you are in the market for a new kitchen or laundry appliance, add efficiency to your list of desired features. Look for the ENERGY STAR label. Also, be sure to read the yellow Energy Guide. Your new appliance will save you money year after year.

History

Self-contained electric or gas-powered appliances are a uniquely American innovation that emerged in the twentieth century, as described by Wikipedia . Appliances account for nearly 20 percent of the average household’s energy use, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Manufacturers have been producing increasingly efficient appliances, spurred by technological advances, consumer demand and federal government regulations.

Cost Considerations

Every appliance comes with two price tags – what it costs to take it home and what it costs to operate. You will be paying on that second price tag through your monthly utility bill for the lifetime of the appliance. This works out to about 12 years for a refrigerator and 11 years for a clothes washer.

Utility Rebates

Before you start shopping, check with your electric utility. Many utilities offer cash rebates on certain energy-efficient appliances. This could put energy efficient models back in your price range.

Look for the ENERGY STAR Label

“ENERGY STAR qualified appliances incorporate advanced technologies and use 10 to 50 percent less energy than standard appliances, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A package of ENERGY STAR qualified appliances can save up to $80 a year in energy costs compared to standard appliances,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

An ENERGY STAR label means that the appliance uses less energy in a year than others of the same size and type. Its purpose is help consumers find energy-saving products without sacrificing performance, features, and comfort. See the list of ENERGY STAR qualified refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, dehumidifiers, clothes washers and dryers and air purifiers.

See more information.

energy-star
NOTE: Logo is from http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/tips-shopping-appliances

Compare the Yellow Energy Guide Labels

The U.S. Department of Energy requires most appliances to display the yellow Energy Guide label. It gives you the energy use information you need to compare models with similar features. The information on this label provides you with energy usage, cost of operating. The cost is based on the national average energy rates. In addition, the label indicates the range of operating costs for comparable models. The label also notes if the appliance is ENERGY STAR qualified.

energy-guide
NOTE: Label is copied from http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/tips-shopping-appliances

Operate Your Appliances Efficiently

To keep that second price tag as low as possible, operate your appliances efficiently. See tips for kitchen appliances and laundry appliances.

—Linda Smith has a master’s degree in building energy engineering and has won numerous awards and commendations, including the “Governor’s STAR” award for exemplary achievement, “Innovation in Energy Management” award from the U.S. Department of Energy, and “Green Thought Leader” recognition from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. She is president of an energy efficiency consulting company, 9Kft Strategies in Energy. She was a Sr. Program Manager at the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office for over 17 years.


A Parallel World of

Lighting

The Challenge
Next time you make a trip to the home improvement store, check out the lighting aisle. Make the switch to LEDs or CFLs. Your electric bill will reward you every month.

History

The traditional incandescent light bulb is very inefficient. Only 10% of the energy it uses is converted to light while the remaining 90% is given off as heat. This results in you wasting your money every time you turn on the light.  The good news is that all new lighting products are achieving greater efficiency. This is due to new federal lighting standards as well as substantial and proven advancements in lighting technology.

Lighting accounts for about 12% of your home energy use, according to ENERGY STAR. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest places to start saving energy. “If every American home replaced their 5 most frequently used bulbs with ones that have earned the ENERGY STAR, we would save close to $9 billion each year in energy costs, and together we’d prevent the greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions from nearly 10 million cars (based on the replacement of 9 bulbs in 5 high-use fixtures).” (https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=products.pr_save_energy_at_home)

Choose LEDs or CFLs

You will find a dizzying array of light bulb products at any home improvement store, extending the entire length of the aisle. Look for LEDs or CFLs. LEDs are the most energy-efficient and cost-effective over their long lives, with CFLs a close second. Both LEDs or CFLs are excellent choices for A Parallel World lifestyle. Avoid the “energy-efficient” halogen incandescents, which come in a distant third place in energy-efficiency and lifetime cost-effectiveness.

Cost Considerations

Light bulbs cost money in three ways. The initial purchase, the electricity cost that shows up on your electric bill every month, and the future bulb replacement cost. Looking at the big picture saves sticker shock from the initial cost of an LED or CFL. A more expensive light bulb, such as an LED, saves you money every month on your electric bill. In addition, it will last many times longer, saving you on future replacement costs. You recover your up-front cost very quickly – it pays for itself early on and then keeps on saving.

LEDs

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, ”ENERGY STAR-qualified LEDs use only 20%–25% of the energy (75-80% less energy) and last up to 25 times longer than the traditional incandescent bulbs they replace” (http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/lighting-choices-save-you-money).

LEDs carry a higher price tag but the cost has dropped to from $8 to $11 per standard bulb. This trend will likely continue to drop. Over its lifetime the LED costs less than other bulb types, factoring in purchase price, electricity cost, and replacement cost.

LEDs contain no lead or mercury for easy and environmentally safe disposal.

CFLs

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “an ENERGY STAR-qualified CFL uses about one-fourth the energy (75% less) and lasts ten times longer than a comparable traditional incandescent bulb that puts out the same amount of light.”

CFLs cost less to purchase at a very affordable $1.20 per standard bulb. You would need to buy 2.5 bulbs to equal the operating hours of an LED. Combining purchase price, operating cost and replacement costs, a CFL quickly pays for itself and continues to save you money. It is an excellent value but does not beat the LED.

CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, and should always be recycled at the end of their lifespan. Many retailers recycle CFLs for free.

Shopping Tips

  • Check the wattage of the incandescent you intend to replace. If it is 60 watts, look for the product label of “60-watt equivalent,” to get the same brightness.
  • Do not go brighter than needed – more is not better and can cause glare and discomfort while wasting energy.
  • Consider other features you need and read the labels: dimming, 3-way switch operation, outdoor use, use in enclosed fixtures, light distribution (flood light, down light, multi-directional), base type (standard screw-in, candelabra, other) and physical size for the fixture.
  • Look for the ENERGY STAR Qualified label
  • Buy one and try it before buying more, because you will have it for many years. Keep the label so you know what to buy next time.

Get More Value: Turn off lights when not needed!

Day lighting with Skylights

Another way to offset your daytime lighting needs is to let in the sunshine. A small tubular skylight is perfect for interior rooms with flat ceilings. These include bathrooms, hallways, laundry rooms and closets. Note that heating and cooling are somewhat compromised, so look for one with an ENERGY STAR rating.

—Linda Smith has a master’s degree in building energy engineering and has won numerous awards and commendations, including the “Governor’s STAR” award for exemplary achievement, “Innovation in Energy Management” award from the U.S. Department of Energy, and “Green Thought Leader” recognition from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. She is president of an energy efficiency consulting company, 9Kft Strategies in Energy. She was a Sr. Program Manager at the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office for over 17 years.


 

A Parallel World of

Solar Equipment Installed

The Challenge

Get your energy from the sun to heat your home, power your electrical systems, or heat your water. Then, take it another step to solar-charge your electric car.

History

Solar Electricity (Photovoltaics – PV)

PV systems – converting sunlight to electricity – grew rapidly in the 1970s to early 1980s. This growth came with the help of federal educational and incentive programs. Since the late 1990s, PV development has accelerated because of improved economic benefit, and concerns about energy supply issues. In addition, there were financial incentives offered at the federal, state and utility levels.

Many electric utilities encourage solar systems as a way to avoid new power plants. As wel006C`11, many state governments regulate utilities, requiring them to encourage solar by providing incentives to pass on to customers.

Solar Water Heating

Solar water heating sales grew by 33% per year from 1974 – 1981, then dramatically dropped off. There has been a slow resurgence ever since.

Solar Electricity (Photovoltaics – PV)

Harness the power of the sun through photovoltaic (PV) panels that generate electricity.

Grid-tied PV systems connect to your home’s utility line, using electricity produced by your PV system or the utility’s power plant. Your meter will run backwards when your system is producing energy! Through net metering, you only pay for electricity you use beyond what your PV system produces. If your system produces more than you use, the utility company pays you for the overage. Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) represent the amount of solar-generated electricity produced. RECs carry a monetary value to utilities that may be passed on to you. State regulations and utility processes vary in the amount paid for production and the amount credited through net metering.

PV panels (or modules) face southward, tilted toward the sun, in an unshaded area on your roof or yard. They are usually fixed in place, as this is more affordable. A pole-mounted tracking system follows the sun’s path. This system costs more but takes less space so may be a viable option. An inverter, installed near the electrical panel, converts the PV-generated power from direct current (DC) to alternative current (AC). This enables your system to feed energy to the utility line. A grid-tied system will not provide electricity when the power goes out.

The investment is substantial, but systems usually pay for themselves in 8-12 years. The installed cost is now as low as $3.50 per Watt. Systems are typically sized with enough panels to meet the customer’s electricity needs for a year. Alternatively, they can be sized based on the maximum desired cost. A 3-kilowatt system, common for a home, costs at least $10,500. Federal, state and utility incentives may bring the cost down to $6,000. Utility bill savings and REC payments may total about $1,000 each year. These savings can help pay for the system in just over 10 years. Panels deliver savings through their warranted 25 years.

Your installer will do the math to present your projected financial return. Find a qualified installer through A Parallel World.

Off-grid systems are stand-alone systems to fully power your home. Electricity is generated while the sun is out and is used as needed.  Any excess energy is stored in batteries for use when there is no sun.  Off-grid systems are typically used in rural areas with no nearby utility access. When paying the electric company to extend power would be cost-prohibitive, off-grid makes the most sense.  The battery bank and annual maintenance add cost to the panels. Home occupants need to avoid turning on everything at one time to keep the electricity draw within the system’s capacity.

Your local installer will work with you to design the system to meet your critical needs. With no back up utility line, operating your electricity-consuming appliances conservatively is important. This will prevent exceeding the amount of electricity produced and stored.

Solar “farms” offer a more convenient way to invest in renewable energy, if available in your area. You buy grid-tied panels located elsewhere and receive the financial benefit of what your panels at the “farm” produce. Find companies offering this service through A Parallel World.

Plan for the expansion of your system as costs continue to decrease, and you can add more modules at a future date. When you buy your plug-in electric car, your system can recharge it. Then you will be driving on the sun’s energy rather than using increasingly expensive and polluting fossil fuels.

The industry is very sound with reputable and stable locally owned companies. The National American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certifies professionals. See A Parallel World for a listing of companies near you. Your local installer will meet with you, provide a free assessment for a system to suit your needs and budget.

PV-generated electricity has many environmental benefits. It emits no pollutants, produces no greenhouse gases and uses no finite fossil fuels. It even saves water that would otherwise be used to generate the electricity from a power plant.

Solar Water Heating

Solar water heaters make use of the sun to pre-heat water before it enters a conventional water heater. This solar system can be used for domestic hot water use as well as space heating.

An antifreeze mixture circulates through the solar collector where it is heated by the sun. The sun-heated fluid travels through a heat exchanger coil inside the water storage tank, transferring the heat to the water. This process is similar to a conventional water heater. The water heater further heats the water if needed. Water is pumped, so electricity is used in the process.

Most systems come with a five to ten-year warranty and require little maintenance. Cost-effectiveness varies throughout the country based on current fuel prices, type of fuel, and the amount of sunlight.

Find a solar installer through A Parallel World to do an economic assessment of the cost-benefit. Alternatively, you may wish to install it yourself. Find an equipment supplier with training opportunities through A Parallel World.

Solar water heating is green, reduces the use of fossil fuels and eliminates the associated greenhouse gases.

Paying for Solar Systems

Finance the cost and pay through your savings

No budget, no problem. Do not let the cost of the system keep you from being green. Financing options are available to pay for the up-front cost of your system with little or no money down. Then set up a payment plan based on your projected savings.

You may only want short-term financing to pay the amount you will receive in tax incentives or rebates. Financing companies also offer this option.

Your local solar installer will provide guidance. A performance guarantee is also offered to help ensure your system delivers the savings as designed.

Tax incentive and rebates

For PV systems, a federal tax credit is now available for 30% of the total cost! Some states and electric utilities offer additional incentives. Now is the time to buy your PV system. Incentives may be available for solar water heating as well.

—Linda Smith has a master’s degree in building energy engineering and has won numerous awards and commendations, including the “Governor’s STAR” award for exemplary achievement, “Innovation in Energy Management” award from the U.S. Department of Energy, and “Green Thought Leader” recognition from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. She is president of an energy efficiency consulting company, 9Kft Strategies in Energy. She was a Sr. Program Manager at the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office for over 17 years.


 

A Parallel World of

Solar Equipment Shipped

The Challenge

Buy on-line to switch to renewable energy now without breaking the bank.  Get your energy from the sun to heat your home, power your electric systems, or heat your water. Take it another step to solar-charge your electric car.  Take action now.

History

The history of PV systems is described in above in “Solar Equipment Installed.” Support for DIY installers cropped up as soon as systems came on the market. Training courses and hands-on workshops helped to empower them. There are many success stories.  Now, because of advances in technology, the entrepreneur can tackle PV system installation.

Solar Electricity (Photovoltaic – PV)

There are now Do-it-yourself opportunities to harness the power of the sun through photovoltaic (PV) panels that generate electricity.  PV systems – grid-tied and stand-alone systems – are generally described in “Solar Equipment Installed.”

Know the whole process before you begin your project. However, no worries – retailers will help guide you through the process. There are a number of design decisions for you to make. First and foremost, consider the economics. Assess your electrical needs and weigh the cost-benefit, including any available financial incentives. Size the system to meet your electrical needs. Site the system to achieve optimum performance. Select equipment from a reputable company through A Parallel World. Many companies offer guidance and training. Get permits and install it following equipment installation specifications and training guides available from your supplier. Regularly monitor its performance.

System Sizing.

For a stand-alone system, sizing needs to match your electricity needs at any given time. For a grid-tied system, sizing is more about how much you want to spend on your system. The utility company will supply any remaining needs so size is not a critical matter.

Reduce your energy use as a smart first step, as A Parallel World recommends (link). You could easily reduce your electricity need by 10 percent or more (even up to 50 percent). Change a few habits, tighten up your home (especially if it is electrically heated), and replace lighting and appliances. You will need fewer panels and the renewable energy you produce will not be wasted.

Equipment Components

An inverter converts the direct current (DC) produced by your panel array to alternating current (AC) for compatibility with the utility line.  A single inverter connects the panels in a series string (also called a string inverter). Wiring is easy. A new alternative on the market is for each panel to have its own micro-inverter. Each panel works on its own for optimum efficiency. Panels are modular so future expansion is easy. Micro-inverters make installation somewhat easier for the DIY installer.

Panels (modules) need to be compatible with the selected inverter and vice versa. There are many good panel choices. Panels account for over 50% of the system cost. Important consideration include efficiency in converting sunlight into electricity, and a UL label in order to tie to the grid. Other aspects to consider are wattage for sizing the array, physical size and weight, quality of the warranty, and cost. Modules can withstand extreme heat, cold and hail. Most carry 25-year performance warranties.

Mounting is typically on the roof, either flush or tilted. Penetrating standoffs are considered the best approach. Another option is a ballasted (weighted) system. A structural engineer can confirm that your roof will handle the weight for either system or propose how to reinforce the roof if needed. Ground mounting requires an additional structure in the absence of a supporting roof. Pole mounting is another option.  A racking system supports the array of panels.

Your electrical panel box will need to accommodate another breaker for the inverter. In addition, your utility company will upgrade your meter for the net-metering of electricity flowing in both directions. The utility may also install a REC meter to measure production of your system. Renewable Energy Certificates (REC’s) are used to determine any potential reimbursement you may receive for producing renewable energy.

Batteries are necessary for off-grid systems. Ideally, the battery bank is sized to store power for five days. The commonly used Lead-acid batteries offer the best capacity per dollar.

Your equipment retailer will provide information to help you design your system, select the components and embark on your project. Find viable products, retailers and training tools at A Parallel World.

Cost Considerations and Comparisons

You can cut the cost of a system by 50% by buying on-line and handling the installation yourself, with guidance from your retailer. This also cuts the payback time in half, to about 4-6 years, so you begin pocketing the savings earlier.

You can comparison shop for each component. Alternatively, you can select a package for a complete system.

Over 1,000 different companies manufacture solar panels worldwide, with 73 companies in the U.S., according to the ENF directory. Be sure to consider American-made products to support the local economy and reduce the energy and environmental impact of overseas shipping.

A good indicator of cost-effectiveness for panels is the cost of production – dollars (cost of the solar panel) per Watt (rated wattage output). The cost of panels has fallen drastically to an affordable range. Currently (as of March 2015), the low-end cost is less than $0.45 per Watt and higher for US-made products (based on on-line quoted prices). Discounts are offered for pallets (for 20 or more panels).

Several on-line wholesale sites carry many different product lines, making it easy to compare features and prices. They also offer informational resources and support including design services, financing and referrals for installers.

—Linda Smith has a master’s degree in building energy engineering and has won numerous awards and commendations, including the “Governor’s STAR” award for exemplary achievement, “Innovation in Energy Management” award from the U.S. Department of Energy, and “Green Thought Leader” recognition from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. She is president of an energy efficiency consulting company, 9Kft Strategies in Energy. She was a Sr. Program Manager at the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office for over 17 years.


 

A Parallel World of

Wind Energy Providers

The Challenge

Over ninety-three percent of the world’s energy consumption comes from fossil fuels and nuclear power. These non-renewable, polluting resources will someday be no longer available. As long as the wind blows, the energy it produces can be converted to electricity. Onsite wind turbines are a viable, cost-effective, sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.

A Short History of Wind Energy

Humans have been using wind power for thousands of years. Man figured out how to make wind propel boats through the resistance of sails. Then, wind energy was harnessed to pump water and crush grains. By the late 1800s, in addition to pumping water for farmers and ranchers, windmills were generating electricity for homes and businesses. Toward the end of the 19th century, more than six million windmills were erected throughout the American countryside.

In the 1940s, Vermont boasted “the largest wind turbine” in the nation, feeding electric power to the local utility network. Wind turbines fell into disuse by the 1950s once most farms had become tied to the electrical grid. However, when the price of oil skyrocketed in the 1970s, a renewed interest and research in wind energy began anew.

By 1978, the US Congress passed the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act. This Act requires companies to buy a certain amount of electricity from renewable energy sources. In 1990, California installed more than 2,200 megawatts of wind energy, representing more than half of the world’s wind power.

The United States was producing enough wind energy in 2012 to power 15 million homes, making wind the number-one source of renewable energy. As of 2013, the U.S. ranked second in the world (China was first.) for installed wind capacity. That was equal to about 4.5 percent of America’s total electrical demand.

Is Wind Energy a Good Fit for My Home?

When considering using the wind to generate electricity for your home, there are a number of things to consider. First, the U.S. Department of Energy advises that your home lot should be a minimum of one acre. Wide-open spaces, far from windbreaks such as buildings and trees allow for a higher average wind speed.

To make your investment worthwhile, the DOE recommends a ten-mile an hour average wind speed to generate enough electricity. You can find out an average wind speed in your area by calling the nearest airport. However, before buying a wind turbine, consult with the dealer in your area. Reputable suppliers will always take precise measurements to access the suitability of a wind turbine installation site.

Research Local Regulations

Assuming you do have a lot with enough average wind speed, does your property have zoning restrictions? Or, do you live in a housing association with covenants prohibiting wind turbines? Besides electricity, wind turbines generate a noticeable noise and their towers are very visible, averaging 80-100 tall. The taller the tower the more electricity your turbine will produce.

To Grid-Tie or Not?

Just as with solar electric systems, there are three basic choices of installing wind turbines.

Choice one Stand-alone off-grid gives you complete independence from any utility company. You will never again be subjected to terms, policies or rate increases. However, you will need storage batteries for times of low input or high usage. And of course, batteries will add to your initial installation and ongoing maintenance costs.

For off-grid homes, a hybrid wind and solar energy system is a great choice. At night when you solar panels are not producing electricity, your wind turbine can be. During the day, this scenario is reversed. The result is more secure battery storage.

Choice two Battery-based grid-tie also requires batteries for storage. However, since these systems are connected to the utility grid they can use utility electricity when needed. During times of excess electricity production, they are sending it into the grid and your meter is running backwards!

Choice three — Battery-less grid-tie systems are the simplest of these systems. They also have no backup and in the event the grid goes down so does your system. Fortunately, the grid does not go down very often. When you are tied to it, you essentially are tied into a giant battery that you do not have to maintain. Depending on your local utility company, feeding your excess electricity back into the grid can get you a monetary rebate.

Installing a grid-tied system will have lower upfront costs, especially if you are not adding a bank of batteries. Knowing that the grid is available if you need it can give you certain peace of mind. However, that peace of mind can turn into complacency in that you will has less incentive to conserve energy. You can make the most of your wind turbine investment if you can think “off-grid” while still being “grid-tied.”

You also want to be aware that being grid-tied also means a certain amount of corporate “red tape.” Depending on your local utility regulators and the utility itself, this can range from yards and yards to a few feet of it. If there are already a large number of grid-tied systems in your area the bureaucratic maze will probably be minimal. However, if you are the “first on your block” to install a wind system, you may encounter a certain amount of resistance.

Possible Choice Four — Due to government legislation, utility companies are mandated to invest heavily in renewable energy like wind. In order to help offset those costs, utilities companies have created voluntary programs that allow customers to pay higher rates for their electricity. This helps the utility companies meet the new renewable standards and move into the future.

New Mexico’s PNM “Sky Blue Sky” is typical of such programs, offering several options to customers who want to support “renewables.” “Option 1” allows a customer to purchase 100 kilowatt hour “blocks” of electricity. Each PNM Sky Blue 100 kWh block is priced at $1.70 per month above the customer’s electricity cost. “Option 2” allows the customer to purchase any percentage between 1% and 85% of their monthly electric usage. Each PNM Sky Blue kilowatt-hour is then priced at $0.017 per month above the normal electricity cost.

Resources:

http://www.offgridquest.com/energy/818-kohilo-vortex

—Gershon Siegel landed his first paid writing gig in 1978 at the once-great late Berkeley Barb. In that tradition, for twelve years he published and edited the small, feisty Sun Monthly based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a long-time observer of the individual’s struggle to find its proper place within society. As a result, he is more than ready to participate in reconciling Karl Marx and Ayn Rand. He is the editor for A Parallel World News.

 

A Parallel World of

Eco-Realtors

The Challenge

Heating, cooling and lighting buildings consume 47.6% of all US energy. This makes buildings the largest contributor to climate disruption. By 2030 all new buildings could be carbon-neutral. This would be made possible by implementing sustainable design strategies, generating on-site renewable power and purchasing renewable energy.

With state of the art conservation and solar energy systems, a home or business can attain zero energy cost. This is achievable for the same initial price as a conventional custom home or commercial building.

History of Green Certified Real Estate Brokers

Peter Van Dresser and Karen Terry were passive solar homes pioneers in the early 70s. These small, independent builders used simple orientation and insulation values to create energy efficient homes. Such homes allow sunlight to enter and heat the floors. At night, floors release the heat stored during the day. Such designs reduce heating costs 65% to 90% with minimal additional building costs as compared to a well-built house.

In the early 2000s, the cost of solar equipment began to drop as the market expanded and we started to pick up the “economy of scale.” Today, roof top solar power is cheaper than coal, nuclear and gas power. Active solar or devices that collect the sun’s power are reliable, affordable and available.

Beginning in the 70s, Realtors began advocating for energy efficient, healthy homes. By 2001 an industry education standard for green real estate practices was established.

Founded in 2001, EcoBroker is the first and largest green real estate training and communications program in the world. With members in all 50 United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and New Zealand, EcoBroker and its members serve real estate consumers, communities, and the environment with an unparalleled level of care, commitment, and follow-up. With the benefit of oversight from the Association of Energy and Environmental Real Estate Professionals, EcoBroker’s green designation training and communications provide professionals with the resources to be constructive green ambassadors in an ever-changing business and consumer world.

In 2008 the National Association of Realtors and EcoGreen Real Estate Agent Certification Program had been formed. In doing so, the NAR acknowledged that…

Green is not just a trend; it is a movement. The National Association of REALTORS® believes that every step toward a greener, more sustainable environment is a step in the right direction. Whether you are looking to green your home, your business or your life, and NAR Green Designee can help.

A lot of people today are greenwashing, or falsely claiming to be green. To help you distinguish fact from fiction, the Green REsource Council provides NAR Green Designees with up-to-date resources and ongoing education about:

  • Green materials
  • Energy-efficient technology
  • Green ratings
  • Green design
  • Green incentives
  • Green living
  • And more!

If you’re ready to buy, sell or build green, use the APW directory to find an NAR Green Designee in your market.

—Alan Hoffman is the founder of A Parallel World.


 

A Parallel World of

Green Contractors

The Challenge

Architecture 2030,” a non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization, was established in response to the climate change crisis. It reports that in the US 44.6% of all carbon emissions emanates from residential and commercial buildings. Buildings consume 74.9% of the electricity in the US.

A Short History of Green Building

Green building has come a long way in the last 20 years. In 1993 representatives from 60 for-profit and nonprofit organizations met to rethink how buildings are built. Since that time, more improvements and innovations have been added to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building method. By adding solar panels to a LEED constructed building, a “net zero energy cost” home is now possible.

A building achieves “net zero energy cost” by producing as much energy as it uses over the course of a year. The last 6 years has seen more than a 60% drop in cost for photovoltaic systems. No longer just a great savings to own, the ZEC (Zero Energy Cost) home is now affordable to build.

Construction

Many innovators have experimented with alternative building materials like straw bales and air entrapped cement blocks. However, it appears that advanced framing techniques still provide the best performance and cost. Engineered to use less lumber, advanced framing saves money while reducing heat loss. Properly built, advanced framing is stronger and provides more resistance to climate challenges like tornadoes and hurricanes. Advanced framing is also tighter, creating a near airtight home.

Insulation

As the cost of heating and cooling a home has risen, so has the recommended amount of insulation. In the 1970s, walls were usually insulated with fiberglass rated at R-19 (Resistance to heat loss) and roofs at R-32. However, because of flaws in the installation material, the actual “R” factor value of the house was often much less.

The real world result was massive heat escaping from the house in winter and creeping back in during summer. Modern green building seals all walls with foam and “blown” cellulose insulation made from recycled paper. This method fills every crack and crevice and results in a true R-26 wall and R-50 roof. The modern green home also has insulation under the floor and around the foundation to complete the insulation envelope.

Windows and Doors

Along with roofs and walls, doors and windows have also seen R-value improvement. New, highly insulated doors and windows are now on the market. Today, the best windows and doors are Energy-Star certified, boasting an R-value of around R-6. This is quite an improvement when compared to the R-1 or R-2 values on old windows.

Besides air-to-air heat loss, windows lose heat in other ways. Low frequency infrared radiant loss through the glass is another heat robber. Modern windows are covered with a Low E (low emissivity) film that reflects radiant heat back into the room. This makes the house easier to keep warm in the winter months. In the summer Low E film helps keep the house cooler by reducing the amount of entering sunlight.

Ventilation

As the modern green home has become more air tight, indoor air pollution has become a problem. In the winter when the house is closed tight, cooking and cleaning odors are trapped inside. Besides making a less than pleasant smelling home environment, it can also be a health hazard. To alleviate this problem, the modern green home is equipped with a whole house Heat Exchanging Ventilator (HEV). In the winter, this small appliance draws cold air in from the outside. At the same time, it pulls in the house’s heated polluted air, drawing them through a heat exchanger.

Inside the heat exchanger, heat from the stale air is passed to the fresh air. Stale air is expelled while the warmed fresh air is distributed throughout the home. The house is kept fresh and clean smelling. In addition, the HEV contains a filter, removing dust and pollen, making the inside healthier all around.

Appliances

Energy Star is a federal certification administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Energy Star is mandated to rate windows, lighting, heaters and appliances based on their efficiency and reduction of energy use. Energy Star appliances are available in all stores offering these products. In addition to the saved operating costs, many states offer tax credits on the purchase price of Energy Star appliances.

State-of-the art in heaters, boilers and air conditioners save significant operating costs. Units are available today that combine the functions of a gas air and water heater. These “modulating condensing heaters” are rated near 93% efficient compared to old heaters in the 80% range. Add this efficiency to the modern insulated envelope and heating costs are reduced by over 50%.

—Alan Hoffman is the founder of A Parallel World.


 

FINANCING These Options

Once a moderate sized home home is upgraded for energy efficiency it may require two to four kilowatts of grid-tied solar panels to attain around zero energy cost. At today’s prices, the average homeowner will pay from $10,000 to $17,000 for that solar electric system. Remember, this estimation is before state and federal tax credits that start at 30%.

Credit unions and local banks offer affordable home improvement loans. These types of loans help you tighten up and insulate your home as well as finance your solar electric system. For those with less than perfect credit, nonprofits organizations around the country are another source of these types of loans. (Homewise.org for example)

Admiral’s Bank and GreenSky Credit offer nationwide “zero down” loan programs for energy efficiency and energy generation. These unique loans do not increase the payments paid by the homeowner. Instead, they replace your electric bill with a loan payment for the installation of these improvements and solar electric equipment.

Admiral’s Bank “zero down” loan based on your federal tax credit. At closing you begin to pay interest and payments on just 70% of the loan amount. When you receive your tax credit you pay that 30% to Admiral’s Bank as a delayed down payment. The rest of the loan is then paid on a monthly basis. Admiral’s loans are for 5 to 20 years with interest rates from 4.95% to 9.95%, depending on credit.

Greensky Credit has a number of zero down loan programs and work with approved solar installers and contractors. Their loans are for 7 to 10 years and have interest rates from 0% to 26.99% interest.

Here’s an “out of the box” possibility — In the past, common wisdom said never touch your retirement savings account. When banks still paid a decent interest on savings accounts that practice made sense. Today, your 401K is getting very little interest and it might make sense to pay for your solar energy system by taking the cost out of your 401K even with the 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

By installing a solar system you save $1,000 to $1,700 a year you were paying the electric company. That savings equals a 7% to 15% return on that same money previously earning about nothing in a bank.

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