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2013 Energy Use Wrap-Up

 
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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I like to keep figures on my electrical use across years to see what things I've done actually seem to make a difference to my bill/usage. Here's the stats from 2011, 2012 and 2013 complete with ROI from "improvements" and plans for 2014.

General background on my house:
-1,100 square feet
-Single story
-Built in 1939 out of bricks laid in a Flemish bond pattern
-One human occupant, two cats
-Central air conditioning (heat is gas)

The numbers

-2011 is the baseline year: 6,813 kWh used - highest usage is in summer with the A/C running.

-In March, 2012, I had additional insulation blown into the attic to bring it up to code - R38 - and 5 roof vents put in.
--Project cost: $1700
--Energy savings over 2011: 407 kWh
--Cost savings over 2011: $52
--Amount of time to see return on investment: 33 years

-In May, 2013 dad put up three cheapo exterior blinds from Home Depot across my front porch which faces west. It's also the side of the house with my biggest windows - ugh! I also started paying meticulous attention to my daily energy use by checking my account on aps.com. I am on their 7PM to noon plan whereby energy is less expensive during those hours and more expensive during peak usage times from noon to 7 PM. I found that by keeping the thermostat at 86 F during peak times and 84 F during the other times in the hottest months actually saved me money over trying to sweat it out with NO A/C during the hottest part of the day and suffering through indoor temperatures often in excess of 92 F.
--Project cost: $40
--Energy savings over 2012: 1536 kWh
--Cost savings over 2012: $115
--Amount of time to see return on investment: Immediate!



So the winner by a long shot is "exterior shades and paying attention to thermostat settings"!

I'm glad I insulated and vented the attic too - don't get me wrong. I can feel the difference the insulation has made especially in the really hot months when the heat build-up in the attic would make my interior walls warm to the touch. That doesn't happen anymore.

I'm still working on strategies to keep even more heat off my house in the summer to stop the bricks (thermal mass) from heating up. Here's one of my strategies from a few years ago - use summer vines to shade the porch. This worked pretty well and had the added benefits of being pretty and green and also, being a plant, transpiring a little, thus adding a tiny bit of cooling. But it wasn't solid shade like the blind, and there was no way of covering the middle bay of the porch which leads to the front door.



Here's the front of the house with the blinds - notice that all three porch bays have a blind on them. They did an amazing job shading this western side of my house, especially in the evening when the sun was low enough to slide under my tree canopy.



Plans for more energy savings in 2014

With our intense summer heat and with my biggest windows on the HOTTEST side of my house (West), I’m investing in a "hedge fund". What’s that you say? Yes - a hedge fund - basically some tall shrubs placed strategically along the inside of the fence surrounding the front of my property. These shrubs will ultimately grow to a height where they will act to block that low, setting sun in the summer, thus acting as another "solar baffle" to keep the heat off my house.



Basic SketchUp model of the west side of my house at 6 PM on June 22nd without tall "solar baffle" shrubs. Note the low sun angle in the evening allows the sun to shine right under my tree canopy and hit my house - including my windows.



Basic SketchUp model of the west side of my house at 6 PM on June 22nd WITH an example of a tall "solar baffle" shrub. Note the shadow of this shrub (6 ft) now blocks out that low sun angle and shades my front porch. The idea is to plant a variety of "solar baffle" taller shrubs in the yard that will serve as another layer to protect against that low summer setting sun while simultaneously making the air around my house cooler with their evapotranspiration.


 
steward
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Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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Awesome progress!

Background: my mother lives in Phoenix. We have tried to get her to flee, but she refuses.

I have often thought that a swamp cooler at her place, operated in the wee morning hours when the temp is below 95, could get her a bank of cold air to shut into the house by mid morning. The other benefit to a swamp cooler is that you run them with the windows open to encourage flow, at least where you want it, so you don't have to be shut in for months at a time. Swamp coolers are pretty useless over 95 and during the monsoon high humidity, but if you could get to below 80 by early morning, you could really dial back the evaporative system in the afternoon. It'd be another system to maintain, and not fancy enough for her neighborhood, but the numbers might crunch pretty well.

We had a swamp cooler in SLC, really didn't draw much power at all. Here we don't need much except more shade plants, in the works.
 
pollinator
Posts: 3738
Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:... I’m investing in a "hedge fund". What’s that you say? Yes - a hedge fund - basically some tall shrubs placed strategically along the inside of the fence surrounding the front of my property.



I hope it's really a Fedge Jen! You could keep the fun term by calling a "F@!%ing Hedge fund"

But really, have you picked your species yet?
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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Cj Verde wrote:But really, have you picked your species yet?



Because this area is my western exposure (hottest by far!) and because I'm trying to keep to my "water budget" as closely as possible (rainwater + greywater + dark grey water) - the plants on this side of my house will be natives. I'll still get tons of "yield" from this area, including:

--additional shade
--insect/bird forage (the birds are currently a nuisance to the 25 fruit trees already on my property)
--they'll humidify the air (so critical in the desert)
--they'll build the soil - so many of our natives are nitrogen-fixers - in Geoff's PDC, when he was talking about what food forests looked like in different climates, he indicated that the mix of support species to food species changes due to climate. In the hot deserts it was 75% support/25% food. I've also found this to be true with my own experiments. I've tried doing the usual veggie beds and fruit trees with few support species - it worked OK for about 2-3 years then the soil started to get recompacted (keep in mind that I'm constantly adding compost and worm juice) and plants started to show nutrient deficiencies.
--most of them will survive the intense heat and sun exposure on this side of my house. Last year we had one day when it got to 122 degrees - we also had 23 days of 110-118 degrees and another 70+ days of 100-109 degrees. In the middle of town where I am - all that heat shimmers off hard surfaces - roads, sidewalks, etc. - which makes it seem even MORE oppressive. These plants need to kick some serious ass to survive! Unbelievably we have plants that will not only survive, but thrive in those conditions.

So that's the plan for the moment. The fruit trees, vines, veggie beds - they're all on the eastern side of the house (morning sun) or southern side (fruit tree hedge).

002-(2).JPG
[Thumbnail for 002-(2).JPG]
Fruit tree hedge on south side
Backyard-with-solar-cooker.JPG
[Thumbnail for Backyard-with-solar-cooker.JPG]
Backyard veggies and solar cooker in FEB
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
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Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:Last year we had one day when it got to 122 degrees - we also had 23 days of 110-118 degrees and another 70+ days of 100-109 degrees.



I'm trying to hold that thought as I am stuck at home, again:


We had 10" of snow (more precip then you get all year???) and below 0°F temps the other day and now it's raining! Rain + ice = stuck at home. I think I'll update my project thread.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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Cj Verde wrote:We had 10" of snow (more precip then you get all year?) and below 0°F temps the other day and now it's raining! Rain + ice = stuck at home. I think I'll update my project thread.



Yeah.....I've lived in MI and went to college in WI - so NOT my weather preference (I fear few things but one of them is ICE!). Snow's pretty to look at...on a Christmas card! I remember walking 6 blocks to a Chinese restaurant one time when the temp was -39 and the wind chill was -60. Seriously thought I was going to DIE! You had to keep blinking otherwise your eyes would freeze over.

Just think of all that moisture seeping down into your soil. You can mock me with your lovely property is lush and green and I'm a crispy critter frying eggs on my sidewalk in June
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Ann Torrence wrote:Awesome progress!

Background: my mother lives in Phoenix. We have tried to get her to flee, but she refuses.

I have often thought that a swamp cooler at her place, operated in the wee morning hours when the temp is below 95, could get her a bank of cold air to shut into the house by mid morning. The other benefit to a swamp cooler is that you run them with the windows open to encourage flow, at least where you want it, so you don't have to be shut in for months at a time. Swamp coolers are pretty useless over 95 and during the monsoon high humidity, but if you could get to below 80 by early morning, you could really dial back the evaporative system in the afternoon. It'd be another system to maintain, and not fancy enough for her neighborhood, but the numbers might crunch pretty well.

We had a swamp cooler in SLC, really didn't draw much power at all. Here we don't need much except more shade plants, in the works.



Ann - getting a swamp cooler is something I've considered too. And it's a matter of $$ right now. Swamp coolers are pretty effective here except in July/Aug when (if) we get the monsoons. I do open my windows at night to capture the cool and then shut the house up to retain that coolness during the day. I'm also thinking of putting in a couple of solar chimneys as well. One of the reasons why I want to work with Geoff on his Jordan site is that they'll be implementing solar chimneys there - this is an old time dryland technique and it basically works the same way a swamp cooler does and has the same limitations once the humidity rises.
 
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Taylor&Zach’s Bootcamp Journey
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