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How to revamp an existing home to achieve as much energy conservation as possible? (Phase 1)  RSS feed

 
Posts: 24
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We have a 3200 sq ft home that is exceptionally inefficient. The home is 1/2 a prefab home (a step quality wise above doublewide) and the other 1/2 is a construction added to the house. I have about a $600 a month electric bill and it is causing me about to lose my mind. I'm exceptionally time negative right now without a lot of time to research the "what's" and "why's" of what direction I should take in this situation so I thought it may be best to get some input from the community. We do have several children, so keeping the various rooms throughout the home warm / cool is important to us.

My first thought has been to perhaps replace the heating coils and water heater with a rocket mass heater just out the back door that pipes a radiator style heating arrangement into the 2 furnaces within the house and perhaps some kind of water heater arrangement. Next, I thought perhaps there would be some way of similarly getting cooler water into the radiator arrangement during warmer temperatures so as to cool the home with natural ground temperatures.

Additionally the home has a hill that blocks the morning sun until about 11:00 or noon on the east of it and is fairly open to the west, even though there is a large hill as well, it is far enough back that the residence is beaten down by the sun in the afternoon. There are very few trees on this western side, while the hill behind it is thickly forested. It is also fairly open, but with trees on the north and south sides of the area. It sits about 100 feet off of an interstate and there is a creek directly behind it that usually runs fairly well during spring, fall and winter, but dries up during summer. The ground is fairly easily saturated with water and frequently the area to the south of the house becomes overly saturated with a little standing water during heavy rains.

Additionally, the home was poorly designed as there are lot of open spaces for the rooms thus leaving a lot of open air to warm. Further, there is one fireplace that is incredibly inefficient in the center of the house (in both directs, leaving it so that you cannot directly access the back of it without accessing it within the all-season room that has a lot of windows.

Additionally, there is a home office in it that operates a large number of computers and thus has quite a power draw, but it is not nearly the main draw for the power bill and actually is only about 1/15th of the electric bill. The machines, do, though generate a lot of heat such that they warm about an 800 square foot open air room roughly 10-15º F.

Obviously I probably need to work on insulation, but the walls are not terribly thick to start with. I'd like to use this as a preparatory / learning starting point for an underground home that we plan on building within the next few years. We're not opposed to using ferrocement and cobb as well creatively.

Any ideas to open up this dialogue and offer thoughts / ideas about what direction to take would be greatly appreciated. Obviously we want to be a little cautious so as to not make a hideous mess, but we're definitely open to creative efforts and really digging into quickly bringing the efficiency way up.
 
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How much of the home do you really need? Seal off part of it and live in a smaller home, concentrate on insulating windows and doors in that area, and seal off all heat and air vents in the other part.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1457
Location: northern California
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We've been in a similar situation with an old double-wide. A rocket mass heater will take a LOT of time to make, unless perhaps you can schedule some sort of workshop or blitz. Do you have access to plenty of firewood? If so you might consider an insert or woodstove venting up the existing central fireplace chimney. This will be easier than adding an additional chimney, unless you replace a window with some metal and route the stovepipe out that way. As stated above, try to close off little-used parts of the house for the winter and/or at night. Have thick curtains on all the windows that are closed at night and/or staple plastic over the inside windowframes. If your windows are old single-pane with metal frames they are a big heat loss. Weatherstrip doors and anywhere else you feel a draft.
Remember that using electricity to change something's temperature is inherently profligate. It is more efficient, and usually cheaper, to burn a fuel directly. The problem is the cost of replacing the infrastructure. As budget allows, consider switching an electric stove for gas, same for water heater. Connect both to propane tanks just outside the house rather than go to the expense of getting a big tank placed, if need be to save $. A microwave uses less power than an electric oven for a given mass of food....you are only heating the food rather than the whole space. If you do the wood stove, get one with removable pan "eyes" to cook on, or just put pots directly on it. Have a big pot for hot water. Get some cast iron pots and learn to cook on the embers. If you are in a dry climate, consider an evaporative cooler ("swamp cooler") instead of or to supplement AC.
 
Dave Jackson
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David Mcgowan Hicks wrote:How much of the home do you really need? Seal off part of it and live in a smaller home, concentrate on insulating windows and doors in that area, and seal off all heat and air vents in the other part.



Unfortunately, yes, we do need 100% of the home with the size of our family and the rooms are quite large and therefore do not facilitate this. I've thought a bit about this before as well.
 
Dave Jackson
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Alder Burns wrote:We've been in a similar situation with an old double-wide. A rocket mass heater will take a LOT of time to make, unless perhaps you can schedule some sort of workshop or blitz. Do you have access to plenty of firewood? If so you might consider an insert or woodstove venting up the existing central fireplace chimney. This will be easier than adding an additional chimney, unless you replace a window with some metal and route the stovepipe out that way. As stated above, try to close off little-used parts of the house for the winter and/or at night. Have thick curtains on all the windows that are closed at night and/or staple plastic over the inside windowframes. If your windows are old single-pane with metal frames they are a big heat loss. Weatherstrip doors and anywhere else you feel a draft.
Remember that using electricity to change something's temperature is inherently profligate. It is more efficient, and usually cheaper, to burn a fuel directly. The problem is the cost of replacing the infrastructure. As budget allows, consider switching an electric stove for gas, same for water heater. Connect both to propane tanks just outside the house rather than go to the expense of getting a big tank placed, if need be to save $. A microwave uses less power than an electric oven for a given mass of food....you are only heating the food rather than the whole space. If you do the wood stove, get one with removable pan "eyes" to cook on, or just put pots directly on it. Have a big pot for hot water. Get some cast iron pots and learn to cook on the embers. If you are in a dry climate, consider an evaporative cooler ("swamp cooler") instead of or to supplement AC.



1) I think we could build a rocket mass heater within a few hours from what I've seen of them. My wife and I would enjoy doing this rather soon here as it does not seem overly complex and my wife particularly likes to build things like this.

2) We do have a lot of firewood (forests all around).

3) We have thought about putting the rocket mass heater just outside the house and routing the heat back in perhaps through heated water pipes / radiator arrangement.

4) We do already have thick curtains in place over the windows. I think more than anything it is poor insulation / wall thickness. Windows are double pane newer windows from about 2005.

5) Unfortunately there are no real "drafts" per se that we can find.

6) We already use the electric oven very little and rely on a microwave, so that is not an energy sink.

7) We are in Appalachia with semi-high humidity levels (think: West Virginia / Kentucky / Ohio).
 
Posts: 3366
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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do you have a basement? If you do, you can either live in the basement through the worst of the heat or pump air through the basement to pull as much cool as possible from it. A couple floor vents and a fan will do a lot more than you think.

Are you building on the same site or selling the house and moving? It changes how you think about recouping your money. You can add rolled insulation to the attic and re-roll and move it to the new place (get the natural fiber or the encapsulated stuff if you do). If you are selling it, get the blow-in insulation everywhere you can. You want that power bill as low as possible for listing the home.

It does not take much of a woodstove to heat your house if it is an open plan. Any woodstove beats a fireplace.

Outdoor kitchens help if you cook or bake a lot. It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive to get the heat out of the house.

Think about putting an exhaust fan in the computer room. It may be cheaper to exhaust it than cool it.

Shade cloth window screens help a LOT. Whole shade cloths hung from the eaves outside do even more if you can get away with it.

Running a sprinkler on the roof also helps an AMAZING amount.

ETA: You posted answers while I was typing questions....

You can earthen plaster the walls to add a lot of mass and seal some of the air leaks, helps with humidity as well.
 
Dave Jackson
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R Scott wrote:do you have a basement? If you do, you can either live in the basement through the worst of the heat or pump air through the basement to pull as much cool as possible from it. A couple floor vents and a fan will do a lot more than you think.

Are you building on the same site or selling the house and moving? It changes how you think about recouping your money. You can add rolled insulation to the attic and re-roll and move it to the new place (get the natural fiber or the encapsulated stuff if you do). If you are selling it, get the blow-in insulation everywhere you can. You want that power bill as low as possible for listing the home.

It does not take much of a woodstove to heat your house if it is an open plan. Any woodstove beats a fireplace.

Outdoor kitchens help if you cook or bake a lot. It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive to get the heat out of the house.

Think about putting an exhaust fan in the computer room. It may be cheaper to exhaust it than cool it.

Shade cloth window screens help a LOT. Whole shade cloths hung from the eaves outside do even more if you can get away with it.

Running a sprinkler on the roof also helps an AMAZING amount.

ETA: You posted answers while I was typing questions....

You can earthen plaster the walls to add a lot of mass and seal some of the air leaks, helps with humidity as well.



Unfortunately we don't have a basement as the water level did / does not permit such an arrangement very readily. It'd take some innovative effort and contractors not traditionally willing to look at such an arrangement to do that.

Right now we have to build and work on this site. In a few years we'll be going to another location much more conducive to an underground home. Yes, we probably will be blowing in quite a lot of insulation here soon as it's a bit on the thin side up in the attic.

We don't do a lot of baking presently, but an outdoor arrangement with a rocket mass heater and such would be exceptionally useful, particularly for long term power outages (Keeping my handy FlareAware.com alerts handy for the big solar junk coming as of course the other "frequent" power outages that seem to happen once or twice a year).

Interesting thought about venting the office. Really good point as it has a 1/2 vaulted ceiling where heat rises to a long edge that could be vented or sucked out of the house.

The outdoor shade cloths are interesting. We've been wanting to landscape and work on the outside structure a bit. Had though of ivy lattice structures and such since they are deciduous and generally attractive.

Interesting on the sprinkler! Definitely have to keep that in mind as it may be possible to run a creative arrangement on the rooftop... Hmmm.

Great ideas, love the community here.
 
Posts: 23
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I think you can definitely cut that bill by a LARGE percentage.

I was in the same situation... House about 3000 sq ft. Electric bill was through the roof. I've cut my bill by 50% or more, and I really haven't sacrificed much at all.

It is important to take into consideration not only the house itself, but also the humans living in the house... Their habits... The times the house is occupied... etc.
It is important to get the people in the house to be on your team with the concept of saving money \ energy. If they don't go along with it you will fail in reducing your bill. You will have to educate everyone on how to turn off lights, and how to deal with slight differences in their routines \ ways of life.

Heating a house of that size is a costly endeavor with electric heat. While some here might recommend a rocket mass heater, I would personally recommend a free-standing wood stove. I actually built and installed a rocket mass heater in my home, but I later removed the stove (kids needed the room) and I put a free standing wood stove in another room. (http://streetjesus.blogspot.com/2010/12/rocket-mass-heater-project.html) The rocket stove heated up the room it was in well, but it wasn't quite enough to heat the whole house. It required frequent feeding.

We moved kids into the room where the rocket stove was... No more rocket stove. We installed a free standing wood stove in our den. Man, the heat is just outstanding!! The burn times are great, and it will heat the whole house. (You can run the fans if you have a centralized AC and it will circulate the heat.) I'm lucky because I have a lot of land and free firewood. Here is the link to my wood stove install project (http://streetjesus.blogspot.com/2011/12/heating-with-wood-simply-best.html). It wasn't until I installed this wood stove that there was happiness in my home in the winter months. When we were running the heat pump we paid through the nose every month... and we were still cold. No more! We stay warm now and our bill is low.

In the winter turn our heat pumps OFF. In the summer we set our thermstats to about 78 and use ceiling fans, or we open in the windows.

Another thing... Use a clothesline if you can. An Electric Dryer is an evil thing.

With an electric bill of 600 bucks a month it would also do you some good to determine where its all going. I recommend going room to room and check out all of your devices. Put them on timers, turn them OFF, or use power saving modes where possible.

Hope this helps. Keep us posted! I look forward to hearing how you are saving!
 
Dave Jackson
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Thanks Brent for the reply, links and advice. I wish our house was not organized such that, to add a wood burning stove like yours, we would be required knock out a wall to get heat to the most needed rooms.

We really do need to take inventory of our power usage, what's using it and when. This has been something I have wanted to do for some time now, however those with whom I've consulted and were involved when the house was built, are convinced the draw is nearly all heating and cooling. From what I have heard from others this seems to be a likely scenario due to the house's virtually nonexistent insulation and insufficient heating systems where, like you had mentioned, we are still cold and warm air doesn't even seem to reach some rooms. Knowing all this, heating and cooling the house is likely a big draw, if not our entire problem, but yes, we still intend to measure our usage to do what we can to minimize what we use however we can.

The only real problem here that causes me to doubt that it is the heating / cooling system is that even during spring and fall when we use very little heating and cooling, the power bills exhibit very little difference and that makes me think there is some kind of an electrical "leak" somewhere.

As for the families habits, I'm at a loss as to where we can shave off energy as we are all on board (save the smaller children who don't understand of course) and are great at keeping lights, tvs, computers and such turned off when not needed and even helping the little ones to remember. We hardly use the oven once a week, crockpot, the electric stove for a short time 3-4 days a week and the microwave most often as we cook big meals that can keep us going with left overs for several days to save time. The laundry is almost always set to cold except for really soiled loads but it is going quite often due to a handful children. We unfortunately can not give up the electric dryer at this time due to my wife’s terrible allergies. We can’t hang all our fabrics up in the house as the humidity is a hazard to our electronics (a dehumidifier is a huge power drain we discovered) and hanging our clothes outside as pollen magnets would be death to my wife. We have enough trouble just opening the windows in the summer as it is and practically all antihistamines hit her pretty hard where the drowsiness is excessive to say the least.

As I admitted before, we have several computers in the home office for us, however these are on fairly rigourous sleep schedules and we've found, again, even during times that they've been off for prolonged periods it does not diminish the power bill as they are very efficient machines. We have attempted to block off parts of the house, however, again, there is very appreciable difference.

Since my wife and I are almost always home working in the office (which is integrated into the house) so there is the aspect of a continual power usage due to this but we both work in the office and as this is where 90% of our waking time is spent, save meal prep, sleep and everyday chores, we use little more electricity than one person and we basically only need to keep one room lit and warm or cool aside from our bedroom. This arrangement has also shown us that, even in the summer when our children are here most of the time, the whole house is in use, lights on and off, more cooking and cleaning, our power bill is only slightly higher. This narrows down our power usage to either heating/cooling or some sort of wiring error causing an electrical drain we can’t pin point.

One other point we have considered, thanks to your notes, is to perhaps build a greenhouse in front of our house that would accept the sunlight while allowing us to shield the front of the home from the extra light. This seems that it might be a great solution, IF we can make it attractive. That is the real key as we must maintain property value due to property covenants. A greenhouse arrangement would be permitted, but yes, it has to look really nice. So we probably need to dwell on this point of building a spectacular greenhouse arrangement that is about 90 feet long and no more than 10 to 15 feet wide.

We have also considered growing trees, however utility lines preclude tall trees in the front yard. Thus the house-high option seems viable. Perhaps also some kind of a natural water sprinkling system on the roof would help that would filter water down the roof and then down on into the greenhouse as we generally have a bit of rain.




As you can see from this illustration there is little, to nothing, shading or shielding the house from the elements, save the heavily forested area very near the rear of the house. This gives us plenty of shade until near midday when we are on our own as far as the front of our house being directly pounded by the summer sun. There is also a several foot high rise leading sharply down from the road and leveling out at the house that is not apparent in the image. Nice breezes generally don't do much for us in this mini valley as most winds hit us length wise rather than head on through the biggest windows. Strong storm winds do occasionally pass through however thunderstorms are obviously not a prime opportunity to open all the windows. This image is from the road and from the most exposed vantage point and angle to convey what we've got to work with.
 
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Hi Dave
My initial thought is insulate the ceiling, ( although you didnt say how much insulation there was) and that your fireplace is a problem, either its letting cold air in while you don't use it , and that it Sucks cold air in while you do, ( unless you already have a fresh air intake) otherwise its always pulling fresh air in through any place it can to keep the fire going. Another option could be to enclose the entryway, adding an airlock to the entrance! Plastic over the windows ,in the winter time. ( depends on your venting through the attic, soffit vents with a ridge vent is the best and lots of insulation, in the ceiling/attic,) if the are gable vents on each side this is a big problem and if you do instal the ridge vents make sure you close the gable vents of permenently, so the air flows from the soffits up through the ridge vents, and of course metal roofing is much better at reflecting the suns rays then asphault shingles , which hold the heat all day long!
Have you tried a pressure test on the house to find out where its drawing air? (a cheap way is to use inscense after allowing the air currents to settle down.) Caulk And insulate all window/door seams( behind the trim) Check all the electrical outlets that are on outside walls , thats usally a big air leak in poorly insulated houses, And if you can rent a infrared digital camera and scan your house. You will be amazed at what you find. And look everywhere, in side and out. Both night and day! Extremely helpful tool. Which I believe you should start with first, to take All of the guessing out of the equation!
Best of luck
Jon
( one last thought by adding some solid material close to the , im guessing baseboard heaters you can heat those instead of just the air, some mass of some sort to help hold the heat you do have from the heaters, and another thought would be (IF) your front side is south facing to add solar window heaters you have made to the front of the house, ( these are pretty cheap and can add alot of free heat to your home, ( free after intial expense) they can be used with the windows or through the stud walls Or placed outside away from the house, dependent on your design, ( google them! theres alot of designs out there)!
Lol after rereading your initial statement ( revamp ) sticks out so tear off the siding /and sheathing (after thermal scanning entire house) and reinsulate with foam! You might invest iin a pellet stove instead of a woodburning stove and take it with you when you leave or build your new inground home. Check with your state and local electric to see if there are any grants/loans as well as tax credits for improvements on your house!
If your going to do it do it well and improve the property value at the same time!
Sorry im tired and not quite organized! I woke up way to early!
 
Brent Rickenbacker
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Dave,

One thing that could help you pinpoint the energy hog... About two years ago I bought a Black and Decker energy monitor... It comes with a sensor that mounts on your electric meter. A handheld unit monitors the sensor output and gives you real-time energy usage... It also does a great job of forecasting what your bill will be based on current\average usage.

I got mine from Amazon:
http://streetjesus.blogspot.com/2011/05/review-black-and-decker-em100b-energy.html

This thing really helped us figure out what things in our house were energy hogs. Our heat pump system was definitely killing us. I found a few things that were just sitting there eating current. The good thing about this monitoring device is that it is a whole house monitor... It enables you to get the big picture on overall usage, yet you can also use it to see the effect of turning on or off different devices \ appliances. It has definitely paid off.

Cheers!
Brent


 
Posts: 137
Location: Ottawa, Canada -- Zone 4b/5a
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In my experience insulation (attic and wall) and windows/door are often the main issue with high heating billing. One option which has not been mention here or very often on the forum is geothermal for for heating/cooling.

Kris
 
Posts: 143
Location: Zone 5 Brimfield, MA
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the biggest energy hog where i live was an old style water heater. the new electric heaters are smaller than our old one and use heat from the air to heat the water saving big bucks. they also have vacation modes where they are easily turned off and on automatically and was subsidized by the state so most of the cost was installation. its paying itself off in a few years and it would do it even quicker if we used more hot water.
 
Posts: 135
Location: Springdale, WA USA - Cold Mediterranean Climate
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I would definitely go with the energy monitoring equipment. Knowing what is using how much when if the first step to knowing what needs attention. Anything that uses electricity to directly heat stuff, should get replaced by something that burns something. Gas clothes dryers instead of electric, gas hot water instead of electric, etc. Electricity BTU's are much more expensive than gas BTU's.

Putting watter coild in the mass portion of a RMH should be ok as long as you give the water somewhere to expand. I saw another guy used a car radiator on top of his RMH bell and pumped it directly into a fish pool which allowed for water expansion and he did ok. Putting water coils directly inside the bell apparently leads to steam explosions, so don't do that. I'm currently getting ready to add a RMH on the outside of our house building a straw wall around it, and pump the air into the house. Not the best solution, but it should turn this ice box section of the house into the warm part of the house.

Since you are going to be moving in a couple of years, don't spend too much on improvements. Make sure it's actually possible to recoup the expense in the time frame you will live there.
 
Posts: 484
Location: Englehart, Ontario, Canada
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Finding where the energy goes is certainly the 1st step. Talk to your local fire Dept. Often they have FLIR camera's and are willing to either lend it or take photo's of your house. Do this on a cold day and you will see where the heat is escaping then you can target those area's.
 
Posts: 14
Location: S.W. France
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Insulation, insulation, insulation

Though this is an old post, it seems an important subject.
Congratutlations to Dave on getting your house and on your project to make it more energy efficient ! Congratulations also to anyone elso who's looking at this post for answers on renovation.

Energy conservation and efficiency is the way to go to reduce calorie consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and insulation is the mainstay of conservation. We need to retrofit old houses or knock 'em down, and knocking 'em down is not generally carbon effcient. Also not everyone has the financial possibility to build new - even with cheap and energy efficient building methods, you still need to buy the land and pay rent whilst building. For physically limited people, self-building is not really an option.

So my reply is a general one for anyone who might be thnking of working from an existing house, not especially personalised for Dave's house, but I still think it's relevant to Dave, especially if you've been as slow as us (would love to hear an update on your project).

As in Dave's house, space heating and cooling is usually by far the biggest energy drain, whatever your house, so it stands to reason we need to spend more time, money and ressources on insulation than anything else. It makes sense to produce negaWatts before producing MegaWatts, and insuation also usually has the fastest payback compared to any other energy efficiency investment. Finaly, how can anyone calculate their heating needs before they've insulated ? Investing in oversized or unneccesary heating (or cooling) equipement is a waste of money and ressources.

I honestly don't think it can be done without spending time on research, as Dave ended up doing. And there is no "one size fits all". In our 1950's/60's breeze block built house, we have so far reduced our energy consumption by 2/3, and are intending to go a lot further.

For me, the first step is seeing what can be insulated and how, studying the alternatives, and doing some work to find the best balance between :
- greatest heat loss priority - start where there is the greatest heat loss (usually the roof) then get more detailed as the effect diminishes
- efficiency of each insulation material (for cold / heat insulation, for the part of the house you're thinking about insulating, for the type of build of the original house), in R and/or lambda
- local availabilty
- other caracteristics of the material you're thinking of like air and water permeability (for example I have a concrete block house so the quality of permeability in the wall insulation is not an issue)
- financial cost (is there cheaper or or free local insulation available ?), when you're going to be able to invest, and time of return on investment
- carbon cost and ecological footprint
- workload and possibility of sharing / paying for help
- durability / longevity (or when it will have to be renewed, if ever)
- calories saved for each option (start with the greatest savings, the return on those will enable you to take the next step)
- timescale - how long is it going to take to acheive your final goal and what temporary measures can be taken to start saving calories in the meantime (eg we reduced our energy consumption by 1/3 in the first year (before insulating) just by filling gaps in the door and window frames, padding the inefficient gas boiler, etc., whereas we haven't yet gathered the money, energy and time to insulate the walls externally, though it is planned, and needs to be done before we are too old and tired to do the job)
- how other building improvement jobs (energy-saving or not) are going to fit in with the plannned work

All of that balancing to be seen in the light of your final objective - how much energy do you want to save, what are your final technical choices going to be, what is a realistic goal and does it satisfy your ideals ? (insulation normally accounts for more than half of all energy savings, usually a lot more than 1/2).

During that time, reading the metres every month, on the 1st of the month and at as near as possible ethe same time, is a really simple and great way of keeping track of energy spending and savings. It helps to understand where the energy is going. And you can use those simple figures to do all sorts of calculations and groovy graphs.

Then comes the question of free, passive calories from the sun (heating windows principally, as that's the easiest and least technical option), and mass and thermal inertia, summer shading and so on. Studying and understanding the way heat behaves and then learning about mass and inertia in different materials is a big job, but I'm not sure I can get away with saying I'm not going to do it. Still grappling with it, but I'm getting there. For example, it took me a while to understand why earthships or earth-sunken homes work better in hot climates than in cool climates. And research needs to be done into ventilation options, which are going to be determinant in your insulation and air-proofing choices.

The thing is, that research may need to have progressed before you do much insulating. For example, if you insulate walls, are some windows going to be suppressed and others built ? Is a solarium or a trombe wall likely to be built at some stage ? If you put in new windows (like we did before we were ready, to benefit from a government aid scheme), do they need to be positioned flush with the outer part of the wall if you're planning external insulation - doesn't apply to a house like yurs, but we regret having positioned ours wrong.) If flooring is going to be changed, is floor insulation a realistic option throughout the house or in part of it ? To what extent can living spaces be reorganised to use the winter sun to the maximum ? Is there likely to be extensive earthworks in the garden which woud justify the laying of earth pipes for natural cooling /warming of ventilation air ?

More specifically, it does sound as though in Dave's case, there is some sort of electrical fault in the office, which I hope has been looked into since. For clothes drying, sounds like some sort of greenhouse-outhouse arrangement would be needed. Given his wife's problems with pollen, an earth pipe geothermal echange system (Canadian well) might be worth the investment. And for summer shade, climbers are very effective where there is no room for trees. If heat from an efficient wood burning device (mass heater or not) cannot reach some parts of the house, heat can be transferred from the wood burner to the farthest spaces via water as well as air.

This may seem a bit of a theoretical reply, when other contributors have given very concrete ones, but I think it's an essential step, like design in a permaculture garden is : you don't design without doing your homework first.

So to resume, for me : 1) insulalation is the name of the game, followed by passive heating and cooling, before looking elsewhere and 2) personal research is necessary.
 
Alder Burns
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Another energy hog to investigate if you are in a rural area is your water system, especially the well pump and tank. Here in CA where we do a lot of irrigation, it is our biggest energy user. The creative redesign is to have a smaller well pump, perhaps on direct solar, that fills a large tank or cistern. Ideally this is on a hill or tower from which the water can feed into the house and garden by gravity, or, lacking this, a small pump and pressure tank that runs at need but without having to bring the water all the way up out of the well every cycle.
 
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I had to deal with something similar. GIANT heating and cooling bills.

First, I started in the attic. I scrounged styrofoam sheets. I cut the styrofoam sheets in pushed it between the rafters in my ceilings to a thickness of 3". Then I pushed the blown in insulation back over top of the styrofoam.

Second, I started building walls. I framed up walls against my existing walls using 2x3 lumbers. I placed 1" of styrofoam against the existing wall and then framed to where the new studs would hold the styrofoam in place. Then I filled the void with insulation (that I scrounged up for free from construction dumpsters). Then I simply installed sheetrock and finished the wall. Doing this allowed me to add approx. R20 of ADDITIONAL weatherproofing to the interior walls.

Third, I installed a wood stove and upgraded to a more robust blower. I get my kindling wood FREE construction dumpsters. I have the wood delivered to my house FREE by simply calling local tree companies and giving them a place to dump their wood.

Those steps did a great job. Better than chopped my bill by 2/3.


I attended a seminar where they told us that ONE load from the dryer will completely suck out ALL of the air from a 2600 square foot home. When we use a dryer, we're taking air that we've PAID to heat or cool, and sucking it in and blowing most of it outside!!! SEAL your dryer (there are inlet vents for fresh air). Seal your dryer and run a fresh air pipe straight up into your attic. Now, when you run your dryer, you're not sucking all the air out of your house. You're using makeup air from the attic. Also, in the summer, the attic is hot. So not only are you using pre-heated air (ie, less energy heat the dryer air), you're also taking advantage of the fact that you're REMOVING warm air from the space overhead (also reducing radiant heat).


Solar air heaters will use the sun to warm air in your house. I don't rely on solar air heaters to heat my house. I use them as a supplement to the furnace. The more BTU's I can steal from the sun, the less fuel I have to burn to keep the place warm.






 
Sonya Noum
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Same goes for a woodstove. If you can get external air in through a pipe to feed your woodstove it burns more efficiently and doesn't use up paid-for, heated air. (If you have room outside, and not too many kids, a clothesline, if necessary within in a solar heated and ventilated space saves on drying).
 
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