10 Energy Habits for Daily Life

ihd

Energy costs are rising and the industry is changing rapidly. One thing remains the same- the best way to reduce your bill is to use less electricity and gas. Here are 10 quick tips.

  1. Turn off the lights, the ceiling fan etc if you are leaving the room.
  2. Don’t leave TVs on when nobody is watching them.
  3. Turn off all those energy using appliances at the wall when not in use. If you want to know how much power they use on standby, borrow a powermate through your local library or get an In Home Display that will show your current power use.
  4. Use relaxed set points on your heating and cooling system. That means setting the thermostat at a point that makes the machine work less hard but still reach a comfortable temperature for you ie 25 or 26 deg in summer and 19-20deg in winter.
  5. Replace your shower head with a low flow version so you use less hot water and need to spend less on the energy to heat it. The newer showerheads are much better than the initial offerings so if you were put off them years ago it’s time to try again.
  6. Keep the flick mixer tap set to the cold position when washing hands so you don’t draw water from the hot side which isn’t going to heat up in the time you are there.
  7. Install some kind of adjustable external shading device on your east and west facing windows. Stopping hot summer sun entering the house makes an enormous difference as does allowing the warm winter sun in. North facing windows can have a fixed width eave or shade that will function well if designed correctly.
  8. Check the seals on your fridge and freezer and replace them if faulty. They should have no visible gap and hold a $5 note snugly all the way around.
  9. Replace your heating, cooling, hot water systems with efficient electric heat pump systems (for southern Victoria). Then kick the gas habit completely by replacing gas stoves with induction cooktops. They will save you energy and money with a reasonable pay back time (less than 5 yrs usually) and you no longer need to pay a second supply charge for the gas and you are protected from rising gas prices.
  10. Last but not least- seal up those gaps that are causing too much air leakage.

For a thorough home assessment contact us here.

 

Advertisements

Energy makeover- retrofit case #2

sprayfoam

This 2 bedroom unit is undergoing an energy makeover along the lines of a previous post on “energy freedom”. The previous tenant was spending $1300 a year on electricity and gas. We’ll have to wait awhile before we get new figures to compare the before and after effect.

Lights have been changed to LED except in the kitchen where there is a strip fluoro which has been retained, and some rooms that have compact fluoros.

A blower door test prior to any work showed a result of 18ACH50 which is indicative that a lot of energy was being wasted through air leaks. To address this, fixed vents in the ceiling of the kitchen and laundry were removed and the holes repaired, caulking was done around the architraves and windows, draftstoppas were installed over the exhaust fans in the bathroom and kitchen, compression seals were fitted to the doors as well as bottom seals and the holes in the walls left over after the removal of gas heaters were filled with expanding foam. A repeat blower door test showed 9ACH50 – half what it was.

The unit is on a concrete slab so no floor insulation was possible. It is a brick veneer with one hardiplank wall in the garage- pictured above. Sprayfoam has been injected into the wall cavity through holes in the brickwork, or after removal of two boards in the garage.

sprayfoam brickwork

The holes are filled with mortar afterwards- seen in the middle of the picture above. The ceiling had existing fibreglass batts which are probably R2 but there were a few areas with no coverage at all. The gaps were filled then another layer of R3.5 earthwool roll was placed over the top, running perpendicular to the batts and covering the ceiling joists.

As mentioned before, an old gas wall furnace that was no longer in use was removed. It was just an eyesore as well as a source of air leaks. The newer gas heater was also removed, as were the gas hot water service that was aged and the gas cooktop and oven unit. With no gas appliances left, the meter was disconnected.

Efficient electric appliances have replaced all those gas ones- a Sanden heat pump HWS, new electric oven with induction cooktop and a heat pump space heater/ cooler.

The unit already had a solar PV system installed some years previously.

The windows are single glazed in cheap, non thermally broken, aluminium frames and are of the sliding type. In other words, they couldn’t be worse from an energy efficiency point of view. They are still in place and the plan for now is to install heavy curtains and pelmets.

The next tenant should notice their energy bills are almost wiped out- but we’ll have to wait and see.

Making best use of your rooftop solar PV

ihd

It’s 11am which is into the peak generation time for our solar PV and now we (in Victoria) are off the transitional feed in tariff, it makes most sense and cents to use electricity while we are producing it. The photo shows our Watts Clever In Home Display. The top reading is what we are importing from the grid- nothing. The next one is the total we have used today, since midnight- 1.21 Kwh. The bars below that represent the total used each day for the last few days and you can scroll back using the buttons at the bottom. At the moment we have the washing machine going and some berries boiling away on the induction cooktop to make jam so the solar system is producing enough to cover that use and more. Our biggest energy guzzling appliance is our electric car. Prior to December 31st we used to just charge it whenever it suited us but now we try to do it during the day as much as possible.

One disadvantage of the Watts Clever display is that it does not show the solar production. I do like that it is so visible all the time though. Some products rely on opening up the display on your phone or computer which I don’t think is as useful. Energy researchers have found that people who use these IHDs typically reduce their electricity consumption by about 10%, just by being more diligent in turning things off. For most consumers that means a payback time of a year or so.

Another thing to consider is the feed in tariff that your retailer is prepared to pay you and how that relates to the total package of other rates and supply charges. You can compare retail offers at Victorian Energy Compare.

As batteries reduce in price and arrangements to sell your stored energy at times of high wholesale prices emerge, exciting changes in how our electricity market operates are going to happen. Reposit, Greensync, Sonnen and others are worth keeping an eye on.

Retrofit case #1

valve-cosy

Mr C is an older man who is living alone in his home, with ducted gas and air conditioning which he finds he is using more as he gets older. The ceiling had blow in cellulose insulation which he topped up with R3.5 fibreglass batts a few years ago, as well as rigid foam board under floor insulation. Just like my parents, he does not want to spend a lot of money retrofitting his home given that he reckons he won’t be around too much longer and whoever lives in his house next is likely to make alterations.

At the initial assessment with the blower door we found he had 10.37 ACH@50Pa which is lower than the average Australian home but is still way too leaky to be considered energy efficient. There was a large ventilation hole above his fridge and microwave which led straight into the roof space, a floor drain that led straight under the house, gaps around his doors and pipe penetrations as well as a few around architraves, skirting boards (felt through the carpet even), cavity sliding doors and electrical sockets. His gas storage heater had the short section of hot water pipe leading into the house unlagged and the PTR valve was exposed and toasty warm- wasting heat 24 hrs a day. His energy use has been  higher than average for a single person dwelling in Victoria, mainly due to the gas heating.

Given his desire for a minimalist retrofit we agreed on some simple draught proofing and installation of pipe lagging and a valve cosy. The valve cosy is pictured above- simple to install and relatively cheap. It is easily popped apart to activate the PTR valve as needed.

weatherstripping

His leaky back door was fitted with a bottom door seal

door-seal-strip

and good quality compression door seals in a hardwood strip around the sides and top. The front door just needed the compression seals.

floorwaste

This is the floor waste in the laundry with the plastic grill insert removed, showing that it leads to the void under the floor with no more plumbing. You can also see the polystyrene sub floor insulation. We will go back and install a u-bend which he will need to occasionally fill with water as it evaporates, to create an air seal. Some extra plastic fittings required!

The biggest air leak was, of course, the hole into the roof space above the fridge. There was plenty of room around the fridge so the extra ventilation really is not necessary and is a big source of escape of wanted heat or coolth. We closed that off with a piece of unwanted corflute signage and sealed it with caulking, then covered it with insulation. Lastly was some general caulking around pipe penetrations, sealing up a leak in his dryer duct work and then recheck the blower door test to see how we’d done.

ccpostpressuregauge

This shows the pressure gauge indicating the blower door is keeping the pressure difference between inside and outside at 50Pa and the air changes per hour (ACH) is at 8.196. That is quite a bit better than baseline and we still have the floor drain to fix. Blocking it temporarily brought the ACH down to 7.9. Is this getting to a level of air tightness that is problematic for adequate ventilation? Not even close. We’d have to get the ACH well under 5@50Pa before he would even have to start to think about it.

Mr C should notice that he doesn’t need to run his heater or cooler quite as much and that his bills go down, down, down! We’ll check back with him in a year and compare his spending on gas and electricity. Our total cost for the assessment (which covered all the areas of the Energy Freedom Home), report and this bit of retrofitting was around $500 which he should get back in energy savings over a year or two. There’s a link to the BBSN website with contact details here.

Home retrofits in the Latrobe Valley

hazelwood

The Latrobe Valley Authority has announced a new program to help soften the blow of the closure of Hazelwood power station at the end of March. The home energy retrofit program will provide up to $4,500 per home for 1000 homes of disadvantaged people in the Baw Baw, Latrobe and Wellington shires. If you have an existing health care care, pension card or have a concession arrangement with your energy provider, you may be eligible to apply. You can register your interest in participating here. Baw Baw Sustainability Network have registered our interest in being a provider of the energy audits and look forward to being involved.

Across the 3 local council districts there are over 60,000 homes. According to previous surveys of Victorian homes, most of these are in need of very significant retrofitting to make them more comfortable and more energy efficient. The average cost of the works required is around $30,000 per home but many gains in comfort and efficiency are possible with much less than that. So, the amount of potential work to be done is enormous. We hope people in the Latrobe Valley and wider area see and grab the potential in this project- it will lead to ongoing savings for the homes, reducing the cost of living difficulties currently being faced, at the same time as making homes more comfortable and even alleviating health problems associated with leaky or mouldy buildings.

You can visit our website to read more about our home sustainability assessment service here.

An Energy Freedom Home

efh_cover_423x600

Beyond Zero Emissions is a Melbourne based group doing research and producing reports on various topics with the aim of providing a road map to living without producing greenhouse gas emissions. One of their publications is called The Energy Freedom Home which is an excellent, concise guide to making your home more comfortable at the same time as wiping out COMPLETELY, your energy bills. It is possible!

It’s a nine step process which you can do in any order, though it makes sense to leave the solar PV until you have made other changes, in order to size the system correctly. Briefly, here are those steps:

  • Lighting. Upgrade your incandescent or halogen bulbs to LED. Replace CFLs as they fail with LEDs.
  • Draught proofing. Seal up those gaps. See another post on this topic here.
  • Insulation. Upgrade the ceiling insulation to R6, walls to R2.5 and floor to R2.5. It is not commonly understood that any “holes” in the insulation layer make a huge difference to the overall performance. Attention to detail while installing is crucial.
  • Windows. These are the weakest performing area in the building envelope as even double glazed windows can’t insulate as much as a wall. Improving windows by adding secondary glazing, curtains and pelmets or replacing the whole window unit with good quality, double glazed, thermally broken framed ones are all good options.
  • Appliances and cooking. When buying appliances, don’t buy larger than you need and go for the most energy efficient model. www.energyrating.gov.au can help. Changing your cooktop to an induction type means you will be reducing energy use while retaining the same or better functionality as gas. You do need to have iron containing  bases in pots and pans for this to work. I have not met anyone who does not love their induction cooktop.
  • Heating and cooling. Reverse cycle air conditioners or heat pumps are the most efficient way to heat and cool. It sounds incredible but they are up to 600% efficient. That means for 1 unit of electrical energy input, they output 6 units of heat (or cool). They do this by gathering up the heat energy in the air and moving this into (or out of) your home whereas a gas heater can’t even turn 1 unit of gas energy into 1 unit of heat because there are losses in the flue waste, ducting and so on. Electric bar heaters similarly only produce 1 unit of heat from 1 unit of power.
  • Hot water. In our part of the world,  the research shows that the most practical choice of HW is the heat pump. Solar is great but requires back up energy in winter months and when you add up the total required over the year, the heat pump wins. As you move further north, solar becomes the best choice. There are a number of companies who can provide heat pump HW units. You can tell which is the most energy efficient by the number of STCs (Small scale generation certificates) offered. My understanding is that Sanden are leaders. Siddons make a “Bolt on” model that will attach to your existing tank and is portable enough that renters could buy it and take it with them when they move out. Earthworker in Morwell is a retailer of these.
  • Energy monitoring and control. Having your real time energy use visible on a little monitor in the main living of your home has been shown to reduce energy use by about 10%. It’s easy to see how as the natural inclination is to try to reduce it. It’s easier to see if someone has left the lights on in the shed, equipment on stand by gets turned off, boiling only enough water as you need in the kettle are all small changes but together make a large difference. There are a few models that range in price from about $60 to $200. You can also take advantage of the internet based feedback you can get from your energy distributor or retailer in some cases. They can provide graphs and charts of your electricity use in blocks of 30min. The disadvantage is that this is not “in your face” as the in home display models are.
  • Solar power. Once you have made all these other changes and reduced your overall power use you can now get a solar system of the right size to cover your energy needs. I haven’t specifically mentioned it up to now but the process involves getting rid of all your gas appliances. Kick the gas habit! There is no form of renewable gas (unless perhaps you have a home biogas digester). At the moment, the only way to be 100% renewable at the household level is to be an all electric home. There’s a facebook page dedicated to this.

This has been a very simple run through of the concepts. You can buy the book, borrow it from the library or consider having our experienced home assessment team come to you to work through any or all of these steps with you.

Simple draught proofing measures

draft-stoppa

As mentioned in a previous post about air infiltration testing with a blower door, draught proofing is probably the most cost effective place to start to improve the performance and comfort of your home. But where to start?

There is a bit of science behind it, the stack  and wind effect ,which informs us where to look  but essentially it is about plugging the biggest holes first. Common sites are exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms which can have a Draft Stoppa (pictured) popped over them. You do need to be careful not to use them without an adequate spacer if using them over the fan/heater combos common in bathrooms and the wiring needs to be changed so the fan operates if the heater lamps are turned on. Similarly, a draft stoppa can be used over the rangehood exhaust from the kitchen. Plumbing penetrations through the building envelope tend to be the largest- check around the pipe penetrations at the toilet, laundry, kitchen etc.

The sum of all the leaks around doors and windows can also add up to a big area so using a draught sealing strip of some sort is very beneficial. We use a timber strip with a compression seal applied to the door frame. It looks good, is long lasting and effective. Door bottom seals come in lots of varieties and are needed too. It is very common to find, even in new homes, that air leaks around the door and window frames at the architrave. It is a sign that the required sealing of the door/ window frame join to the house frame has been inadequate or has broken down. You can apply caulking as needed around the architrave. Fullers Ultraclear is a product that goes on white but dries clear so is well suited to this application. Use gap filler for spots that are out of sight, or colour match as needed.

While the blower door is operating it is easy to feel the air coming in through the electrical sockets and switches. It moves into the wall cavity through the wiring penetrations in the top plate of the wall frame and is then free to move through any hole in the wall sheeting. In general this is a relatively minor source of air leaks but if you are in the roof space doing the other jobs outlined, sealing up those holes around the wiring with caulking or expanding foam is a very inexpensive thing to do.

Other areas to consider are cavity sliding doors, chimneys, fixed wall vents and floor drains all of which can be very significant sources of unwanted draughts. Doing the work with the blower door operating helps inform you how you are going but is certainly not necessary.It is very unlikely you will be able to seal the house so much that you run into problems with ventilation, say under 3- 5 ACH@50Pa but if you do, at least then you will be in control by opening and closing windows as required rather than having air movement when you don’t want or need it.

Our home assessment team can help you diagnose the extent of the problem and pinpoint the sources of air leaks.