Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

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Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Darby on March 24th, 2015, 6:04 pm 

Thought I'd kick off a thread for people to post and discuss energy efficiency and/or carbon reduction improvements they've made in their daily lives. Linkage to new innovative products encouraged.

I bought a house several years ago, and I've made a lot of efficiency improvements since then:

* Lighting: Replaced older flourescent troffer lights with newer generation replacements. Replaced all remaining incandescent lights and outdoor floods with CFLs. Overall, I think I cut my power use for lighting by almost 2/3rds (most of our electric use is AC & dehumidification).

* I replaced/upgraded my main electrical panel (100A --> 200A), and added whole-house surge suppression. Still waiting for the local utility to upgrade us to smart metering. Did my own wiring map, and replaced/secured a lot of loose and/or miswired outlets. Added LED lighted switches to all bathrooms and entrances, and to the garage.

* Replaced front and rear doors (worn out & drafty wood) with new insulated doors.

* Replaced all the analog thermostats w/digitally programmable ones ... helps save on heating costs.

* Finally got upgraded to wireless gas metering ... no efficiency gain, but at least the gas company can do driveby readings without having to ring the doorbell.

* Replaced an old dinosaur of a through-the-wall AC with a stronger, quieter and more efficient newer model.

* I measured all the standby power use on all my household electronics and appliances, and disconnected those that use too much on standby. I've since replaced or retired the worst offenders (ex: plug in clock radios have been rendered obsolete by smart phones).

* Replaced the driver box on my ancient boiler with one having more accurate thermal probes, as well as the burner. I also shut it off in the off season instead of letting it idle year round.

* I phased out all old battery systems in favor of state of the art rechargeables ... they pay for themselves in just a few recharges.

* I have about 100-120 AH of banked reserve power, and an inverter, for medical equipment & small appliances ... enough for 4-5 days of conservative use.

I have to replace my domestic hot water and heating system this year, but since there are no economically viable Micro-CHP fuel cell systems available in my area yet, I'll probably have to go with a new gas system. However, counter-intuitively, I will pass on a new high efficiency indirect system for a variety of well considered reasons (happy to discuss the logic of why with anyone interested). I'll definitely rig a bypass circuit though, so I can use a wheeled generator (or a future all electric car) to run same during a blackout.

Just a guesstimate, but I probably cut my overall electric & oil use (both) by at least 15-20%. I'll probably get another 20% on top of that when we get smart metering (with off peak pricing incentives) and replace the old boiler.

Anyone else ?
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Re: Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Braininvat on March 24th, 2015, 9:59 pm 

Am a renovation fiend who's been known to spot a loose floorboard and end up replacing joists, subfloor, T&G, and - once- in old bathroom, the entire drainage system, supply lines, all fixtures, and some grotty knob/post wiring ca. 1910. So I will probably find a few tales to tell of joule cutting. In my new (to me) Black Hills retreat, built 1903, it's been mainly about air infiltration and decayed fenestration, so far. There is no AC, which at 4000 ft. in the far western section of SD is kind of an optional thing. Our basement walls are 2 ft. thick, composed of field stone, and it is never above 60 down there even on a hot August day. Just running the blower makes passable AC. Or open windows at night, then close them around 9 am, Roman -style. Will report back later, when I finish designing a greywater system for the kitchen. Semi-arid climate, so any water recovery/reuse is a desirable thing.

Zetreque will likely join the party, IIRC he's got an off-grid cabin in the works. I think there's a thread somewhere hereabouts.
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Re: Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Braininvat on March 24th, 2015, 10:03 pm 

BTW, I really like your bit about checking standby usage on electronics etc. Those things can really suck the watts in a sneaky way.
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Re: Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Darby on March 24th, 2015, 10:22 pm 

Braininvat » March 24th, 2015, 10:03 pm wrote:BTW, I really like your bit about checking standby usage on electronics etc. Those things can really suck the watts in a sneaky way.


I bought a kill a watt meter when they first came out ... pretty useful. The price has dropped a lot on them. Very affordable now (under $20 USD).

Image

Anyway, I've taken care of all the proverbial low hanging fruit regarding energy savings on my house ... next up are the bigger ticket items, which I'll tackle as opportunities and funds permit.
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Re: Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Darby on April 1st, 2015, 7:24 am 

Oh, and some years back I also bought an 1850w countertop induction plate ... something I highly recommend to anyone whose kitchen has one of those electrostatic recirculators over their gas range instead of a proper exhaust vent to outside. Although not much good for high temp saute & wokking (re: you cant lift and flip the pan), they're great for rapidly and efficiently heating water for things like stock, soup, sauces, pilafs, tea, etc. Big improvement on indoor air quality (less gas fumes).
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Re: Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Darby on April 12th, 2015, 12:32 am 

Magnetocaloric cooling: this looks like a promising advance that's poised to improve air conditioning and food refrigeration with magnetism alone, without the need for noisy and inefficient gas compressors. Should improve device lifespan too.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 165224.htm
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Re: Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Braininvat on April 12th, 2015, 9:57 am 

Wow, seems a lot more efficient. Lowered weight would also be good for domestic fridge...easier to clean under it. Ditto a window AC unit. And "refrigerator magnet" would have a second meaning...
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Re: Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Darby on May 3rd, 2015, 10:11 pm 

Elon Musk dropped a bombshell 2 days ago by introducing a whole-house battery backup system in 7 & 10 kwh modules that are not only stackable, but will be priced at $3,000-3,500 USD (that's installer cost ... end user cost will be higher, but that's still a game changing price point).

http://www.cnet.com/uk/news/teslas-elon ... up-system/

I dont know what the internal voltage of the system is, but since it sounds similar to what's used in the Tesla S, let's assume 12v DC (which gets inverted into 110v AC for household use), which yields ...

7000 kWh / 12v = 583 AH (amp hours)

... or roughly 10-12 heavy duty car batteries, and which recharges itself during lower-cost off peak hours, or from solar panels or your Micro-CHP system (if you have one).

Sounds very cool. I want one ... but only after they release more detailed specs, and it gets a few expert reviews on things like power management, switchover speed, lifespan, replacement costs, etc. For example, how many charge cycles is the system good for ?
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Re: whole-house battery backup

Postby Faradave on May 4th, 2015, 12:29 am 

One of the opportunities with these is to store off-peak energy from the grid, then sell it back during peak hours. The system should eventually pay for itself from the differential. Backup then becomes a beneficial side effect.

However, if either supply shifting or backup is truly worth it at the household level, then a more centralized community effort should be more efficient. Since power companies already have locally distributed transformer stations, one would imagine they would be at the best locations for community energy storage centers. The power companies should be eager to do this. So far I'm only aware of an Alaskan town which does this (with lead acid!) If power companies aren't interested, either they are poorly managed or we might be missing something in our value assessment.

I tend to feel the same way about solar panels. If it is really worth it for me to install these on my own roof, so I can sell power to the grid, why hasn't the power company already contacted me with an offer to do the installation at their own cost and simply rent my roof space to do so.

Generally speaking, what's profitable on the household scale, ought to be more profitable in a more organized, uniform and grander scale.
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Re: Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Darby on May 4th, 2015, 7:38 am 

I tend to feel the same way about solar panels. If it is really worth it for me to install these on my own roof, so I can sell power to the grid, why hasn't the power company already contacted me with an offer to do the installation at their own cost and simply rent my roof space to do so.


There are third party outfits in my area that are doing something similar ... they install the solar panels on your roof and pocket the federal and state rebates, and then you buy the power from them at a greatly reduced cost. No installation fee.
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Re: Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Faradave on May 5th, 2015, 9:31 pm 

I wrote:...if either supply shifting or backup is truly worth it at the household level, then a more centralized community effort should be more efficient. Since power companies already have locally distributed transformer stations, one would imagine they would be at the best locations for community energy storage centers. The power companies should be eager to do this.

It appears that Elon Musk is bringing out a version of his PowerWall batteries for small businesses and utilities. That is both visionary and promising in that he also believes it will be worth while for them to use these.

"The utility version comes in 100 kWh blocks that can be grouped together. Musk said one utility company is already interested in a 250-gigawatt installation of Powerpack systems alone."
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Re: Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Darby on June 20th, 2015, 1:07 pm 

Interesting tech advance on the horizon, for Solar Energy Storage ...

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 103601.htm
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Re: Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Serpent on June 21st, 2015, 1:10 pm 

That's interesting - and a vindication. The traditional base-load brigade is always harping on "What if the sun isn't shining, huh?" and I keep telling them, "Install it and they will come up with better ideas."

We have solar panels and batteries (reconditioned ones, quite cheap) that serve most of our requirements, most of the time. Couldn't afford a really comprehensive array, unfortunately. Still use Hydro backup when there aren't enough sunlight hours - then we charge up automatically, at night when it's cheapest. We pay about $4 - 15 a month for electricity and $40+ for delivery, taxes and incidentals.

The first thing we did was buy a kill-a-watt, to figure out how much electricity we were using, and where. Astonishing how much was being wasted. Got rid of the guzzler appliances - like the big microwave that was drawing (all the time, on or off!) way more watts than it was putting out. Then we plugged all the small appliances, computers and entertainment equipment into power bars that we turn off when not in use. (Except, the satellite box kept forgetting its settings, and it was such a pain to keep re-programming, so we leave it plugged in all the time now. And the clocks.)

Replaced the fridge and double door stand-up freezer with smaller, high efficiency models. Got rid of the dryer and installed a rack over the bathtub. (There was already an outdoor clothes line for summer.) Got used to wrinkled clothes, until they're gradually replaced by fabrics that don't need ironing. It turns out the energy star washing machine wasn't a good idea: what it saves on is water. We have a more than adequate well, and were already washing in cold and discarding into a tile bed, where phosphate wouldn't matter, so all that happens is, we have do pre-wash, use more expensive liquid detergent that comes in plastic jugs, and do extra rinse to get the clothes clean. The programming is too complex, sometimes malfunctions; the locking mechanism is inconvenient and unnecessary. So, if you're shopping, check before you spend an extra $200 on bells and whistles.

For hot water, we have a propane on-demand wall heater. Very compact and reliable; we've been using it daily for 15 years and had only one service call. We also cook with propane, and heat with wood. It's a biggish house - long, single story - and quite old, so we have to insulate the many doors and windows: the ones we don't really need to open, we seal for winter with plastic sheets on the outside. Closed porches front an back, plus workshop and woodshed against the north wall, are helpful in reducing heat loss. These are options in the country that most city people don't have.


I don't like the idea of selling power back to Hydro, partly because such a contract reduces one's autonomy in future decisions, but mostly because I think the grid itself is a stupid arrangement. Hugely wasteful - expensive, inefficient, error-prone, vulnerable to weather and accident, difficult and dangerous to repair, in need of constant maintenance.... not to mention cutting down all those trees just to make an ugly network of wires over the road, for trucks to knock down. All power production should be local and take advantage of whatever local sources are available. Most of the settlements in North America (probably the world) are on rivers; every small town used to have its own mill; many are still standing - each a potential hydro plant. All those barn roofs, going un-solar-panelled! All those river mouths without tide-generators. All those windy plains and hilltops with no turbines on them. (Little ones! I hate the big commercial turbines connected to the grid: that's a travesty: a good idea harnessed to a bad system.)
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Re: Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Darby on August 16th, 2015, 3:46 pm 

Ok, soapbox mode ...

My fridge/freezer's compressor failed last night, and despite being able to arrange for replacing the compressor on a Sunday morning (no small feat in itself), it's taking FOREVER to return to proper safe temps, which has led me to the realization that most MFRs have cheated their customers by pulling a fast one with energy star compliance.

How you ask ?

Simple ... rather than giving us more efficient cooling, what most brands appear to have done is simply up the R-value of the insulation, and install smaller motors that draw less power, so yes they're more efficient, but because they're resorting to increasingly tiny motors the thermal recovery of modern refrigerators TOTALLY SUCKS, and is actually MUCH WORSE than older 1960's models, to the point where the repair techs say it takes 24 hrs (!!) for a typical fridge to re-attain optimal temp from a standing stop.

Case in point ... despite running 5 hrs, my freezer half has only reached 37F, and my fridge only reached 57F before the compressor cycled down (probably a thermal protection cutoff). In other words, everything is STILL THAWING and STILL SPOILING, even when running normally.

That's bad design. The Energy Star system should be modified to set minimums (or at least full product label disclosure of) not just for energy efficiency but also THERMAL RECOVERY, because the latter is a food safety issue. I'll be writing to consumer reports about it, and if they corroborate my theory perhaps in a few years we'll see some improvements. I'll never again use energy star compliance as criteria for a fridge ... only thermal recovery and ergonomics ... it's not worth skimping on.

/end rant
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Re: Household Energy Efficiency Improvements

Postby Serpent on August 16th, 2015, 10:28 pm 

Can't take your eye off the ball for a second! Somebody always wants to cut corners.

We have the cheapest, simplest little Danby fridge that cools down pretty fast (Only when it's being cleaned, since it's on solar and not prone to power outages.) If its predecessor is anything to go by, will last a long time. Its only drawback is that it piddles on the floor. Inside, too; if you push the shelf too far back, your egg carton might be soggy.

It has no freezer compartment; we opted for a chest freezer. Holds a lot of food; no problems over the seven years we've had it - except, lately it started icing up around the rim as the rubber pad loses resiliency. Wipe both surfaces dry and apply generous layer of petroleum jelly once a month or so. (At some point, i'll have to replace the gasket.) Pain in the ass to find things in - I bought cheap plastic bins and put wire handles on for easy removal when I have to lift out the top three to get to the one i need... which usually turns out to be at the bottom of the other stack. I move stuff around to fit in more containers and forget. Needs defrosting and cleaning about twice a year.
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