Holistic View of Energy Use in the Household-Part 1

Today we’re going to talk about a holistic view of energy use in the household.

This is not going to be specifically about solar energy any of the things that I’m going to talk about today are things that it could definitely be be used on a household that is on the grid off the grid on the grid with grid solar or it doesn’t really matter. It’s not a solar specific podcast it’s about evaluating your energy usage identifying ways to potentially reduce that usage and conserve your cash. Because in most situations the more energy you use the more cash outflow you have to pay for it. And that energy may be in the form of firewood and maybe in the form of a propane or natural gas or might be electricity. So you’re some of the things that we’re going to talk about in no specific order. We’re going to talk about heating and cooling and talk about Limiting water usage. Talk a little bit about appliances consumer appliances things like that. Want to talk a little bit about insulation windows things that you can do to keep your money inside after you’ve spent it. And anything else that may pop up as we go along. So. The first thing and this makes a whole lot of sense because it is the place where most of the energy usage in any household exists is conditioning the space whether that be cooling or heating it. And in some areas the humidified that’s going to be your biggest annual spend and that’s pretty common for just about everyone in the U.S.

If you live in the South you may not be as much in the winter but you’re cooling a lot more during the summer and vice versa if you’re in North now as someone that lives off grid. I can tell you that I would much prefer to live in a cooler climate because it’s much easier for me to go out and pick up and cut up deadwood from my own property and burn that in the winter or even pay someone if someone’s got cheap firewood in my area pay someone for firewood and then burn that for heat in the house. That’s much easier for me to do. What’s more cost effective for me. Than it is to try to keep my house cool in the heat of the summer. We do a pretty good job. We have some systems in place that allow us to cool and stay cool and stay comfortable at night without spending a lot of money that we don’t want to spend. But in terms of overall usage it’s actually typically cheaper in the south because electricity is cheaper compared to some of the other things like propane and heating fuel diesel and things like that. Some of the other things that people that don’t heat with wood with up in the north their winter bills are way more expensive than the highest.

Several bills in the south unless you’ve just got some crazy bad insulation or inefficient system going on. So one of the options that someone could use and we’ll start with cooling would be to take a look at basically three different strategies. One is evaluate the system that you’re using for cooling. There’s something called a seasonal energy effectiveness rating or sear. That. Rating. Really is I mean one number change is going to have a pretty decent impact on what you’re going to spend to cool air space over the course of a year or over the course of several years or even decades. So take a look at what you’ve got in place and making sure if you’re in a position where you can change or in a position where you have to change your system without getting those higher efficiency ratings may cost more upfront with that money is absolutely going to pay for itself over time many times over the next thing is and I’m sure you’ve heard it before but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it but set your thermostat to reasonable levels if you live in Texas and you’re getting 110 degree days you shouldn’t have to have your system set up 68 degrees to feel comfortable in the house. Honestly where we live we don’t even get that high and we’re typically if we can keep the house in the high 70s to even up to maybe 82 83 we’re comfortable especially if you put something like a ceiling fan or a box fan on you or even an oscillating fan on you maybe when you’re going to bed because people like to be cool when they’re going to bed.

That’s an excellent strategy and the difference between 78 and 68 in terms of the amount of energy you’re going to use to cool that that house is going to be huge. The other option and this is another one that we use in part is instead of using the central AC. Use a room sized air conditioner. And so for example maybe you set your house a seat at 81 but you like your bedroom nice and cool when you go to bed. Maybe put a window unit in that bedroom or one of those standalone units with the exhaust duct that runs outside and use that to drop that bedroom temperature down to something that’s more reasonable. It’s very inefficient for you to be using let’s say 150 square foot of your house at any one time but cooling the whole 2000 square feet. It’s a waste of it’s a waste of money it’s a waste of wear and tear on your unit. Some small decisions a couple degrees here and there can really make a big impact not only like I say on the on the spend itself for the electricity but on the wear and tear.

I mean if you have a unit that can work it has to cycle on its cycle off 25 percent less over the course of a day. Well then you know you should get 25 percent more life out of that system in terms of the number of cycles before something starts to break. If you’re using 25 percent less and it’s going to break at say 10000 cycles and I know that’s not a binary it’s going to always break many cycles but the more you use it and the harder you use it the less the less it’s going that less time it’s going to take. Well for some that goes bad or you have to spend money on a repair order placed unit. So those really are the big three things you could look at doing. And we I highly recommend the fan option. It’s amazing how you can walk into a room. That is not comfortable. Does not feel good. And put a fan on you and you feel just fine you’re perfectly comfortable. Here’s the thing that you could do is use the air conditioning function of a window unit to dehumidifier. So if you’re in a house maybe you don’t have central AC but you are using the central units not even dropping the temperature that much maybe drop in the temperature three degrees below ambient in the house but that demystification effect that removing all of the water from the air has a huge impact on how warm you actually feel.

So we went on to hate. I tell everyone this. Half the people believe me and the other half you know say maybe that’s a good idea. Maybe it’s not. But do everything in your power to heat with wood. Wood is a renewable resource. It is solar energy stored solar energy through the process of photosynthesis. And I’m telling you not only in my opinion is it the most comfortable way to heat a house but it’s a cheap a lot of times it’s nearly free. We live on 10 acres and about 70 that is would it. And if I had that time to go out and collect 100 percent of our firewood from our woodlot and use dead wood only I could absolutely do that. Now the reality is with the other obligations that I have and the fact that I don’t want to do it and don’t have to from a financial standpoint you know to me it makes more sense to pay someone for a little bit of firewood or if I’ve got a tree you know close to the house that’s gone down or a tree that I need to take down for some reason.

Yeah that’s absolutely going to become firewood that birds in the house. But walking up and down the hills collecting you know two cords of firewood. I don’t think we only typically use around one for a year but I don’t want to have at least to put up if we did that then that’s a lot of time that I get spent with my family that I could spend working on this podcast that I could spend helping other people that want to go off the grid but may not fully understand everything or want help with the site or people that want to do energy audits so that they can save 100 bucks a month for seven months out of the year. Those things are way more important to me than making sure I’m not spending any money on what I’ll tell you what we don’t do. We don’t convert electricity into heat. It’s the least effective way the least efficient way to do it. Because electricity is so cheap in most parts of the country

It’s not a huge issue in terms of asking me to take a drink there.

It’s not a huge issue in terms of cost except for when it’s really really cold or if you’re in a situation where maybe you don’t have great insulation in areas and you’ve got to put space heaters on top of maybe a central furnace or you’ve got to put pipe tape on pipes. It’s electric to make sure that your pipes don’t freeze. That stuff is very inefficient and it’s a very inefficient costly way to use electricity. Wood is a great way to eat. Here’s another one of a solar thermal about. Most of the year. You could utilize at least a portion of that free Sunlight that’s hitting your house with something as simple as a 200 dollar four by eight triple screen solar thermal collector and a 20 dollar computer fan to pull Hot air into the house. Hot air. That’s maybe your pulling air from blower in the house running it through this collector and then blow pulling it back into the house that van. And when the sun goes down you just unplug the fan and push a damper closed to keep that flow from work and back the other way. That’s a very easy very cost effective way to utilize some of that free solar energy this fall on your house.

I’ve seen people do whole walls with solar thermal panels. I see people put them up on their roof. This year we’re actually going to build one and put it on our we’ve got a covered porch off the side of the house that’s fully enclosed now with Windows. Windows are a horrible insulator so that air is not going to pick up a whole lot of heat retain it from the house. But if we put a couple of those solar thermal collectors in there I bet it will be nice and cozy. I’m not saying I’m going to go out there with short sleeves and shorts on. Absolutely not. But it’s going to be a lot more comfortable sitting out on my front porch. It’s exposed to the elements. So heating with wood heating with. The power of the sun the radio power of the sun that were given for free. Another option would be space heating with propane or natural gas. It’s still not very cost effective. But it’s you know it’s better than heating the whole house with electricity. Put it that way. Another thing that you could look into I’ve seen people do this.

I’ve never done it myself but if you’ve got the wood burning stove and you you’ve got this hot stove pipe that does radiate a little bit of heat into the house. But you know a lot of that heat is going out through the chimney. I’ve seen people wrap that with some pipe and then use that as a radio for heating system. Again I’ve never seen it in person I’ve only seen some youtube videos of it that seems like a really interesting way to heat the house heat rises so if you’re heating the floor you know not only is that comfortable for your feet but then on top of that that’s going to rise up into the rest of the House and maybe reduce by a little bit the amount of look you’ve got to earn to keep that house for. Another option which this very site specific a lot of places you can’t do this because of the weight. But I’m a big believer in rocket mass heaters. If you could build a rocket stove and run that exhaust through a mass where instead of all that heat escaping through the chimney a lot of it is picked up and then radiated back into the room. That’s great. And we can if we focus on heating the person rather than eating the space that’s a much more efficient and efficient way to do it. Well those rocket mass heaters you can sit on it.

You can Literally you can sleep on it. And now you’re getting the benefit of that you know kind of like a heating blanket which are a horrible use of electricity and electric heating blanket. Some people need and want them. Yes and I totally get that. But in terms of being an effective way to spend dollars on energy it’s not very effective.

I completely understand why people have them. It’s a matter of fact at one point in my life I had a couple of so I’m not talking down to anyone that have. I’m just letting you know they’re not an efficient way and not a cost effective way to generate heat. That being said you know they’re probably better than eating the whole house of electricity if you get keep the house colder and then heat yourself when you go to bed with that electric blanket that might be. I haven’t done the math on it but that might be a more effective use of your money. So I think we’ve hit on you know from the primary strategies there for the heat and cold if if you if you’re 100 percent electric heat right now. I highly recommend you at least take a look at what he. Take a look. Is there a way that you could heat something with wood those stoves in the end and running the stove pipe is not as expensive as a lot of people think they might be. And if that’s not an option for you take a look at solar thermal again those if it’s sited properly. Just about anywhere with a decent heating load in the winter you’re going to pay you’re going to more than pay back the price of an appetite specifically talking about the triple screen collect there that triple screen collector and you can find videos all over YouTube. That thing the cost of what it what it makes versus the to use it puts out if it’s sited properly it pays its self back in less than 1 season. All right. I’ll talk a little bit about lightning. I was at a energy conference recently down in Birmingham. This other company was putting on and one of the guys that was there speaking was talking about the reduction in load that they’ve had in baseload and talking about the fact that that reduction is almost entirely a result of light bulbs that reduction in baseload load is almost entirely a result of people going from

Incandescent you know what are we but you remember what those squiggly guys recall that you haven’t used one in so long.

But the mini fluorescence. And then on down to the al east

And because of that because so many people are doing it the cost of an LED bulb is ridiculously low. The first lady that I put in in 2012 and we moved here was forty four dollars forty four dollars for a light bulb. That same bulb or its equivalent I can get for four dollars. Now there is no reason not to have LED in your house if you don’t like the blue light. You want something that’s lower on the Kelvin scale. There’s options all the way all the way across that scale. Personally we use primarily the soft white which had a camera rolling as 4000 Kelvin or something like that. We do have a bluer light in the living room. We have a big light lit room so when we want to play board games or things like that play cards in the living room we do have a blue or light there but the rest of the lights in the House are are that on the yellow spectrum which they say is better for you. I won’t say any more about lighting other than get LEDs from an appliance standpoint.

There is a lot of appliances out there that are being made more energy efficiently. They have energy star ratings on your bigger appliances. I definitely would encourage you to take a look at your refrigerator and freezer and things like that. There’s a yellow card that will tell you about what it costs to run that thing per year. You may pay a little bit more up front. But if they’re telling you that there a 25 to 30 dollar a year difference in the cost of operating it and you know and it’s one hundred fifty maybe 200 hours more expensive to buy the unit or the life of that thing.

If they’re telling you that that that’s big there’s that big of a difference. There’s probably a bigger one. It’s going to pay itself back and the thing is is those costs are all based on today’s electricity rates we know electricity rates on average raises on average 4 percent per year and has for as long as they’ve been tracking it. That also doesn’t talk about the cost of the value time value of money and and what spending a little bit more now and then spending less every month for the foreseeable future will do for you long term. I’m not going to go into any of that. What’s that phrase I’m not I’m not a financial adviser and like financial advice should be taken with a grain of salt or whatever. But in any case yet take a look at those from a you know we use a lot I think about 9 percent of the average household’s energy usage is as much as 70 percent of electricity usage is entertainment. So TVs video games DVD players DirecTV Vox’s cable boxes stereos all that stuff. I would posit that a vast majority of the electricity is used when those devices are not on

What are the easiest things you can do and one of the least cost you know the things that cost the least to actually do is put those appliances on a power strip surge protector and really they should be on a surge protector. Anyways those are typically dollar systems you don’t want to search to cut through and blow that stuff out. But turn it off when it’s not being used. We have basically three different cortical entertainment areas in the house. We’ve got one upstairs our bedroom and the living room and everything on in all three of those areas are on a power strip that gets turned off every night and it doesn’t get turned on until it’s being used. And if we’re walking away from the TV for 10 minutes we may not turn. The box off

Because we don’t have to reload the satellite and we turn it back on. Well we’ll turn the TV off. It’s going to be much longer than that we’ll turn them we’ll flip the switch and turn the whole system off and turn it back on. We want to watch it again. That saves so much electricity. There is so much electricity wasted on stuff being left on but then there’s that other big piece that gets wasted when stuff is actually eating electricity when it’s off and it’s primarily those those entertainment areas because there’s you know five or six or eight things plugged in there that all are they’re all waiting for something to be told.

You know wait for him to do something. Maybe there’s a DVR if you’ve got a DVR and you want to leave that on while the rest of stuff is turned off to record your shows. So you can watch them later. I get that. But none of the other stuff has to be on or for the DVR to record moving on.

You know microwaves are another big one that clock in the microwave is useless. You know there’s no reason for you to be spending that much electricity to have a fourth clock you know in your kitchen because you probably have one on your stove which most of the time it makes sense to leave your stove plugged in. You might have one on the wall you might have one on your wrist when you’re in there and you almost definitely have one on your phone when you’re in the kitchen so walking into the kitchen and looking over that microwave to see the clock on it as it’s just a waste of electricity.

So that’s a big one. There’s there have been some studies there. There was a study that said the study was a piece of crap but there was a study that came out that said over its lifetime old microwave will actually use more electricity when it’s not eating stuff than it will when it is so again. Take any of those statistics with a grain of salt but just from a logical standpoint if we’re not using it we don’t need it. Let’s turn it off. Does it make any sense to keep that thing on. When I’m running a little bit long today so I’m going to cut it off there.

We’re going to pick this topic back up on another podcast and walk through some of the things that may not be as front forward as appliances heating and cooling and light bulbs. Thanks for joining us. If you’ve got questions or if there’s anything specific you’d like to talk about I hope whether it relates to this topic or anything else shoot me an email. Shawn@hackmysolar.com. You can hit us up on our Facebook page or at the Web site hackmysolar.com. Each podcast has its own blog post so feel free to go there and shoot us a message. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you.

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