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Energy Efficient Changes Pay for Themselves

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  • Energy Efficient Changes Pay for Themselves

    Last summer I made several improvements and modifications on my home to increase energy efficiency. Wanted to report on how it turned out.

    My home is a 1985 model 54'x14' manufactured home (please don't call it a "trailer"). The air conditioner/heat pump is outside at the east end, with ducts running under the floor. The kitchen and living room are at the west end. That end of the house is the hottest in the summer for several reasons: the brutal afternoon sun, cold air from the A/C has the farthest to travel, and the gas oven and old refrigerator gave off heat constantly.

    SRP averages out my electricity usage so the bill is the same every month. Five years ago we were paying $130/month. My late husband painted the house white and coated the roof with white elastomeric roof coat. A few months before he died he replaced the big west-facing kitchen window with a super insulated double-pane window.

    Electronic devices draw power all the time, even when not in use. All the devices in my entertainment center (TV, stereo receiver, DVD player) are plugged into a surge protecter, which is switched OFF when not in use. These changes reduced our bill to $120/month, but the kitchen still got HOT.

    Two years ago I replaced the 60-watt incandescent bulbs with 12-watt LEDs. When my dog ate the remote for my old TV, I replaced it (the TV, not the dog) with a 26" LED LCD TV. Reduced the bill to $115/month.

    Last May, I remodeled the kitchen to hopefully cool it off and make it easier on my back. For my back, I put in IKEA drawers under the counter instead of cabinets. Got rid of the gas range and oven. I've never needed four burners simultaneously in my entire life, and only used the oven rarely, so out it went. This gave me a lot more usable countertop and storage space, with no more pilot light heating the room all the time.

    I now use a portable induction cooktop for cooking. Induction heats as fast as gas, uses about 90% less electricity than regular electric coils, and produces no extraneous heat. I love it! I replaced the oven with a Calphalon countertop convection oven. I chose the Calphalon because reviewers said it didn't make their kitchen hot. They were right. It's the only countertop oven I've ever used that doesn't get scalding hot on the outside. And it bakes very well.

    My old refrigerator had coils all up and down the back. Those coils produced more heat than the oven did. I replaced it with a refurbished side-by-side without an ice maker. It looks brand new. Sans ice maker, it has a lot of room in the freezer, is very quiet and produces almost no heat.

    SRP paid me $100 for my old refrigerator. The new refrigerator cost $285. The induction cooktop is a $200 model that I got on Craigslist for $25. The Calphalon oven cost $200. Electric bill went down to $105/month.

    Last June, just after the kitchen was finished, a leaking water pipe from my hot water heater caused a lot of damage to my bedroom. The house needed a full repipe. Working under the house, my plumber discovered that a lot of the insulation had fallen down and there was a leaking air duct that was losing about 40% of my cold and heated air.

    My handyman sealed the air duct. An insulation company repaired the insulation, replacing sections of it as necessary. This insulated my new water pipes. Then they installed a clean new belly board under the entire house. I covered the hot water heater with a blanket. This cost approx $1000. All these changes took place last September/October.

    A grapevine I planted on the west end of the house has finally grown large enough to shade most of the west wall and kitchen window. All these things combined, the kitchen is now comfortable even on the hottest afternoons, and my A/C isn't having to work as hard to keep the house cool.

    This July was hotter than last July. My energy use is way down. Starting next month my electric bill is only going to be $60 per month! All these energy improvements will pay for themselves within a few years. Plus, now that it doesn't have to work so hard, my A/C will hopefully last longer before needing to be replaced.

    So, check your insulation and your ducts. Switch to LED lighting. Consider switching to induction cooking. Plug your electronic appliances into surge protectors, and keep them switched off when not in use. It all adds up.


    Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

  • #2
    Re: Energy Efficient Changes Pay for Themselves

    Thanks for the report, shiny.

    It is a good illustration on just how much various improvements actually impact energy use.


    • #3
      Re: Energy Efficient Changes Pay for Themselves

      Good stuff Shiny!

      We've done some similar things around our place.

      We took a lot of inspiration from this episode of Grand Designs:

      And we purchased an existing home that used a near identical building system, although slightly smaller than the one shown in the video, down the beach from our old home.

      We have also switched to eco bulbs throughout the house, installed a solar hot water heating system, and replaced the log burner with a new model that includes wet back(logburner heats out hot water cylinder), as well as a heat pump.

      We only have to turn our hot water cylinder on occasionally throughout the year to ensure it gets over 60C.

      Solar hot water has paid for itself VERY quickly for us, although we managed to purchase a new system at a fraction of retail cost due to it being an unwanted prize.

      Solar hot water it pretty popular in many places globally, and the Chinese have considerable experience with it, but I'd still caution anyone to look hard at build quality and durability which is why we waited to find a very high quality system for use seaside. Salt air, hail, high winds, etc can do a lot of damage.

      While we can't install any additional insulation in the walls (due to the construction system), it already outperforms most traditional/common building methods, we did wrap our water cylinder as well as install a significant amount of underfloor insulation. 2 layers of stuff that's a bit like fleece.

      Having seen some really high performance windows in Europe(no other way to describe them other than "Porsche of windows") that were triple glazed and opened like magic every which way....we are looking to replace all of our windows and doors with high performance insulated windows/doors in the next 12 months.

      We already shaved our electric bill by 35+% for the year on average with those changes.

      12-24 months we are looking at a kitchen/bathroom remodel and have already started looking at 4-5 energy star kitchen appliances and options for cooking(likely dual electric/bottled gas).

      A new fridge/freezer combo first and an eventual switch from plasma to LED TVs would likely see a further reduction of 10-15%.

      Just as importantly, we went with a house footprint that suits our family without being cramped or on the other end of the scale...outsized with the associated costs of running the home equivalent of a Hummer SUV.

      I'm heading up to visit the US for work and to visit family/friends.

      Quite a few family/friends have McMansions with lots of "great room" empty void space matched with less than stellar insulation/windows/doors.

      Like Hummers getting 5mpg.

      "Total Cost of Home Ownership" is a lot more than the home purchase price, taxes, and any monthly association fees.

      I can imagine a time later this decade when realtors start to market average monthly utility bills for energy efficient homes.


      • #4
        Re: Energy Efficient Changes Pay for Themselves

        Thanks, c1ue.

        Very interesting, lakedaemonian. You're lucky to have solar hot water. It makes perfect sense, but for some reason it's just horribly expensive here. And this is a perfect climate for it. My hot water heater is gas- it's my only gas appliance.

        Wolf makes dual-fuel gas + induction cooktops. You can also get combination radiant electric + induction ranges. I don't recommend the latter, though, because everyone who has them ends up only using the induction burners. Gas ranges come in handy if the electricity goes out. Bar-b-q grills and solar ovens work in that situation, too.

        Induction is as responsive as gas. The only downside of induction is if you like to char things over a flame or do high-flame wok cooking. That, and the pots and pans have to be able to attract a magnet. Aluminum and copper clad bottoms won't work. But cast iron, carbon steel, le Crueset type enamelware, and most modern stainless sets will work. Fissler cookware is especially nice! Place a refrigerator magnet on the bottom of your pots and pans to see if they will work. Take a magnet with you if you go shopping for cookware.

        I like my portable cooktop. It's 1200 watts. A built-in cooktop would push much more juice, but I really don't need it. With my portable, I can just put it in a drawer when it's not in use. People come into my house for the first time, don't see a stove and wonder how I cook. At first they think I've gone mad, but then they realize my kitchen makes a lot of sense, because they never use all 4 burners on their stove, either.

        When PCO is in everyone's faces, those McMansions will be abandoned just like the giant SUVs. There's going to be a rush for small homes that are more economical to heat and cool, and multiple generations crowding together under one roof again. That'll be good for families, IMO.

        Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.


        • #5
          Re: Energy Efficient Changes Pay for Themselves

          its amazing, isnt it ms shiny! - how the simplest/cheapest of changes can have such dramatic results?

          likely the broken/disconnected/un-insulated a/c ductwork was the main culprit, eh?

          another a/c issue gets to be the refrigerant charge (the amount of gas/liquid) in the system - a pretty good/reliable indicator of this is to check the temperature drop across the evaporator coil (the inside coil, in cooling mode) - to do this, you need a fast-reacting digital thermometer - turn it on and set it someplace that doesnt have supply air blowing directly onto it, or near it - wait a few minutes til it reaches the lowest/ambient temp - then place or hold it at the outflow of a supply duct/register - you should see a 20degF (appx) temp drop 'across the coil' from the ambient in the room (this assumes the compressor/blower has been running for at least several minutes) - as long as you are seeing appx 20deg drop, you can assume there's sufficient charge in the system

          low charge = more run time = wasted KWH (and likely not cool enough in the accomodation spaces)

          if you've got a 20deg drop and you still dont feel comfy or cant seem to get the temp down to where you'd like it, the system hasnt enough capacity.

          the other thing to consider (re: ops cost) is how old the system is - since the newest systems are using r-410a (vs r-22, which is in phase-out mode, epa mandated and has already begun to skyrocket in price) and since they run at higher pressures, they use less compressor/kwh's to do the equiv cooling - would only be worth considering tho if what you have is getting close to crapping out (would say rusting out, but thats not likely an issue there) - as my motto on stuff like this is:
          run it til it croaks, unless you've got 'extra' money to 'invest' in ops cost reduction (or sitting there in <1% savings acct and you think you can do better by cutting costs or want more comfortable interior)

          and i'm with ya on the cooktop - made the mistake of buying a gas(LP) range a few years back - mostly in an effort to eliminate the need for 240ac power, so could run entirely on battery/inverter backup, if the grid went down - and/or run entire house (incl a 9kbtu heatpump, r-410a unit) on a 2000w honda genset (with heatpump started via inverter, as that small a genset wont start it, but will run it) - but have reached the conclusion that using a gas stove in hawaii is nuts, since we get gouged on propane and because at the elevation my place is at, the humidity is a major problem, esp with a gas stove, as it puts out almost as much moisture as it does heat - that and the fact that the newer gas ovens use a 400watt elec heating element to open the main gas valve and end up costing more to run than a straight elec oven (?!!!!! - for 'safety' - only GE could come up with that one, but they all do it now, i'm told) - if you are concerned about the grid going down and want a great backup option - get yerself a coleman propane camp stove - the cheapest ones are the best (the green box units, about 50bux) and some 1lb propane cylinders (1 of em will cook a bunch of meals) and/or a 5gal bottle, plus the adapter and hose to connect it to the stove (a months-long supply)

          the other thing i do, esp in the summer time - is cook outdoors as much as possible - using a toaster-oven and gas grill with a side burner - this helps keep as much heat outside as possible and is actually more fun/enjoyable that being stuck in a hot kitchen ;)

          and using a power strip to shutoff 'phantom' loads is another simple/cheap/effective solution - the offgrid/solarPV lifestyle demands these changes (else ya spend more on pv/batts etc, just to keep stuff energized, even when it isnt doing anything for ya..)

          but good job!
          cutting the KWH's by that margin is very impressive, commendable.
          it still amazes me that (some) people in the US (west, esp, still) seem almost hostile to merely changing out their incandescent lightbulbs ?? - we just had a garage built (slc) and the elec contractor put in the ole energy-hog heatbulbs! (???) - when the cfl's cost less than a buck these daze and even where elec is CHEAP, they'll payback before they fail (i'll buy led's when they drop to the price of cfl's, since they(led's) dont use any less power but still cost 5-10x cfl's - and have yet to have any of them fail, since 2009... altho i have broken a couple - i dont have any urge to huff the fumes when that happens ;)

          if everyone in The US did same, we could cut significant amouts of waste that would likely create a bunch of jobs in the process.
          (and without the need for massive gov subsidies) - never mind reduce atmospheric/oceanic pollution.

          sez this small-r type, former NH yankee
          Last edited by lektrode; 08-09-13, 01:51 PM.


          • #6
            Re: Energy Efficient Changes Pay for Themselves

            Thanks, lektrode. I think you'd like induction cooking. Makes you feel like you're in a science fiction movie!

            We replaced the A/C system only 3 years ago, so it's pretty efficient. Hopefully my home is in good shape for the foreseeable future...

            Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.