Author Topic: Energy Use Question  (Read 7068 times)

pbratt

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Energy Use Question
« on: February 28, 2014, 10:45:09 AM »
Folks:

I知 proud to have joined the Moustachian ranks officially earlier today. I壇 like to start off my post recounting my journey to whom I am today. I grew up in a household were money was always tight, but was never discussed or budgeted. I got married to my wife who came from a very financially savvy family, but we really didn稚 start being intentional about finances until 2007, when she was in a car accident while I was in graduate school. On that night, I had a spouse in the hospital, a totaled car, $30K in graduate student loans in both of our name, and about $2K in the bank with minimal assets. From that moment forth, we vowed to be frugal, try to do things ourselves, and to get rid of our debt.

Fast forward to seven years later. We paid off our graduate school debts quickly, bought a house in the market doldrums of early 2012, have a six month savings cushion in the bank, have maxed out on our Roth IRAs. We have furnished our house (a 1957 ranch house in Dallas, Texas) with craigslists specials, paying full price for only a few home improvement projects (doing foundation work just wasn稚 something I was interested in doing). As we enter our second year of homeownership, I知 trying find ways that we can further reduce some of our housing expenses, namely our electrical, gas, and water use.

The previous owners put in new energy efficient windows in the summer of 2011, while they also put on a new roof. They gave me data showing that energy bills for the house dropped at this time, but I only have the kilowatt use since August 2012. It is listed below.

Month   KW
August   1,260
September   970
October   893
November   488
December   356
January    254
February    256
March    208
April    193
May    266
June   486
July   786
August   1,235
September   1,158
October   1,044
November   345
December   228
January    304
February    261
March    270

We have an average of 511 kwh per month, and you can see the brutal Dallas heat in the summer really drives a great deal of the use. We have ceiling fans in four of the rooms (family room, and the three bedrooms) that we run continuously, but nothing in front formal dining/living room which has a south facing window. We run our dishwasher three times a week, our washer and dryer twice a week, and have the air conditioner set at 79 during the day and at 75 during the night, and the compressor was added in 2010 and has a SEER of 14  (we have a natural gas powered heating system, and have the heat set at 60 during the day and at nights, and at 65 when we are home during the evenings). We have loose insulation in the attic that provide R-19 insulation. Our appliances are all energy star (fridge, washer, dryer were all purchased in 2012, computer and tv in 2010 and are on anti-vampire power strips), and all our non-recessed lighting is CFL. We have two clock radios plugged in all day, but both use minimal energy.

I am trying to think of ways to improve our household energy efficiency and to reduce our energy bill. I had a free energy audit done back in December 2012, and the consultant recommended replacing the two entry doors, which are original to the house and obviously leak energy regardless of the season. I知 having the doors replaced by energy star versions at some point in may, and plan on installing them with my neighbor. We have 8 halogen recessed lights (70 W each) that I believe account for 34 khw per month (we have these lights on for two hours a day), meaning that it is about 10% of our total energy use when the AC isn稚 running. I知 replacing these with Philips LED bulbs in April, and they should use 5khw per month.  I知 also getting an outdoor clothline system so that we can reduce the number of dryer loads we do in the non-winter months. Finally, I知 going to use some of my birthday gift cards to buy a Nest thermostat to replace our 10 year old non-programmable thermostat.

However, I think that the biggest area of savings is in regards to the attic, and here is where I especially need some assistance. We have a pull down attic door that is not insulated, and you can feel the air flowing through the wood. The ladder is original to the house, and I知 thinking about replacing the ladder with the energy efficient Werner ladder that claims to reduce energy loss. However, I知 tempted just to create a DIY foam board 田offin to put above the attic door and to weather strip the ladder. I also have noticed how hot our front living/dining room gets in the summer, and I知 wondering if it is because we have no sofit vents for the roof over this room. We have two other sofits vents on the front of the house and four in the back (this is for a house with 1,550 square feet), and two gable vents each of about 30 square feet. Would it make sense to put in two sofit vents by the front living area?

If there are any other suggestions for reducing our energy use, I壇 love to hear it any advice. Thanks again, and my apologies for this long post.

Sincerely,
Peter

seattlecyclone

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2014, 11:19:58 AM »
Your electricity usage in the winter months is only around 250 kWh/month, while your yearly average is over 500. This tells me that half of your total electricity goes toward air conditioning. This is where you should focus most of your effort. Lights and stuff help, and there's no good reason not to improve them, but you can see that even replacing your least efficient lights only gets your usage down by about 30 kWh/month. Cooling is your big problem.

You mentioned a couple of good things to explore. Any leaking windows and doors should definitely be replaced. A programmable thermostat should make a big difference as well. If everyone in your family is out of the house during the day, you have no reason to keep the temp set to 79 for that time. With a Nest, the system will figure out how long your house takes to heat or cool, so you can schedule a really high temperature when you're never home anyway and it will get your house back to a habitable temperature by the time you usually get back.

I also think you should take a look at insulation. Are your walls insulated? If not, you should really think about adding some. This is a much bigger bang for your buck than energy-efficient windows.

Another easy thing to do, if you haven't already, is to get some thick curtains and keep them closed as much as possible when the sun is out. Less sunlight in the house means less heat which means your air conditioner doesn't need to run as much.

phred

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2014, 11:22:19 AM »
While two more soffit vents wouldn't hurt, the reason the living room gets so hot is that it faces south and has south facing glass (good in winter, not so good in summer).

If it were my house I would install a foldable canvas awning to provide summer shade.  I'd also plant some shade trees to eventually shade the roof from the summer sun.

b4u2

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2014, 11:31:38 AM »
R19 in the attic? I would go way higher on that. Plus it's cheap to do.

BlueHouse

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2014, 11:54:24 AM »
After reading different opinions on the use of ceiling fans, I still don't know whether they increase or decrease energy usage.  The latest I've read is that the cooling effect is almost all due to evaporation on our skin.  If that's true, then there is no point in running any ceiling fan, unless someone is in the room.  I would try switching them off unless needed and seeing if there is a difference in both cost and comfort of your home.  I hope one of you more learned, handy-types will correct me about the efficiency if I'm off-base. 

pbratt

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2014, 11:56:13 AM »
Dear fellow MMMers,

Thanks for the great comments-already you are giving me some good ideas.

Some further bits of information. We have a giant cedar tree that covers the back side of the house and gives it a lot of shade during the summer. In the front yard we just have a small tree that was planted two years ago that will eventually provide shade for the front two bedrooms, but not the living area. I have plantation shutters for the front window in this room, and they are shut during the day. Here is a photo of the house on the front side.



Our walls are not insulated, but the quote I got from the home auditor was $5K to do the whole house-didn't think that was a price I was willing to pay.

FrugalSpendthrift

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2014, 01:55:45 PM »
Regarding the south facing windows, you can try to size an awning, that will block the high summer sun, but allow the low winter sun.  Alternatively, you could install heavy curtains to keep closed during the day, so the air conditioner isn't competing against the sun all day long.

RetiredAt63

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #7 on: March 01, 2014, 09:39:44 AM »
I'm not sure about your weather parameters - here it is 12F and snowing, and in summer I think anything over 85F is torture.

That said - what are you night temperatures like?  I do have air-conditioning, as much to dry out the air as cool it down, but most summers I use it 8-15 days total.  Wonderful to have it for those 100%RH days when nights stay at 75.  I can get the house comfortable if the night temperatures are less than 70.  I just open lots of windows, get one fan blowing in and one out, to match wind direction.  If the house is 68-70 first thing in the morning, it won't heat up too much during the day.  Of course I also have all the curtains closed/blinds down on the east and south sides during the day, and the house is reasonably well insulated.

I would love to have an appropriate tree for afternoon shade, but the builders put the well right where a tree should go, so that isn't happening.

kimmarg

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #8 on: March 01, 2014, 10:02:39 AM »
Regarding the south facing windows, you can try to size an awning, that will block the high summer sun, but allow the low winter sun.  Alternatively, you could install heavy curtains to keep closed during the day, so the air conditioner isn't competing against the sun all day long.
I rented a third floor attic apartment with south facing windows in college. It was cheap and brutally hot.  At the hardware store you can buy the foil coated quilted insulation on a roll - same stuff you might put in your car window to block the sun. It's around $1/foot and 4ft tall. We bought enough to cover the windows (which were slightly taller than 4ft so we had a bit of light to see by). It made a HUGEdifference if we left them up when we were gone all day. Then when you are home and want light just roll them up.

Zaga

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2014, 10:06:17 AM »
We spent about the $5K you mentioned to get our outside walls (and attic) insulated, and our house is a similar 1950's brick ranch.  While it may not be immediately cost effective, the difference in the comfort level inside the house is outstanding!  I'm hoping that this coming summer or fall we will be able to replace our exterior doors like you are planning, they are our biggest remaining leak.

Regarding putting on foam board and weatherstripping to insulate your attic access, I think you should try to DIY that.  We did something very similar to our garage door, and it made a world of difference!  It's not attractive, but who cares?  It's inside the garage, which is in general a not attractive place!  For our entire garage door (1 1/2 car garage) it cost us just about $150 in materials, which I think is extremely cost effective for the comfort we gained (master bedroom is above garage, brrr!)

MayDay

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #10 on: March 01, 2014, 10:18:01 AM »
Regarding the south facing windows, you can try to size an awning, that will block the high summer sun, but allow the low winter sun.  Alternatively, you could install heavy curtains to keep closed during the day, so the air conditioner isn't competing against the sun all day long.
I rented a third floor attic apartment with south facing windows in college. It was cheap and brutally hot.  At the hardware store you can buy the foil coated quilted insulation on a roll - same stuff you might put in your car window to block the sun. It's around $1/foot and 4ft tall. We bought enough to cover the windows (which were slightly taller than 4ft so we had a bit of light to see by). It made a HUGEdifference if we left them up when we were gone all day. Then when you are home and want light just roll them up.

I spent my early years in grad student housing (ie, shit holes, although now they are all spruced up with central A/C!  My mom spent her early years in grad student housing with dirt floors, so all things considered I didn't have it too bad).  Anyway, my parents put straight aluminum foil on the south facing windows.  Windows were wide open every night to let in the breeze, and closed all day in the summer. 

phred

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #11 on: March 01, 2014, 01:07:15 PM »
  I'm hoping that this coming summer or fall we will be able to replace our exterior doors like you are planning, they are our biggest remaining leak.


It may also help to replace the framing around the door as well as what is there may have no insulation. 

phred

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #12 on: March 01, 2014, 01:17:26 PM »
We have a giant cedar tree that covers the back side of the house and gives it a lot of shade during the summer. In the front yard we just have a small tree that was planted two years ago that will eventually provide shade for the front two bedrooms, but not the living area. I have plantation shutters for the front window in this room, and they are shut during the day. Here is a photo of the house on the front side.
Since the back side of the house doesn't receive direct solar gain, the giant cedar will do little to solve the problem with the overheated living room.  The one tree in the front yard is a good start; plant two more that are a bit larger.
  I'm guessing the plantation shutters are on the inside of the windows?  It would be a lot better if the sun didn't reach the glass at all -- hence trees and awnings.
  It's too bad your nights don't seem to cool much.  A whole house fan would work wonders.  Ceiling fans don't do much unless either a person is actually in that room or you have really tall rooms..

Zaga

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2014, 07:59:09 AM »
  I'm hoping that this coming summer or fall we will be able to replace our exterior doors like you are planning, they are our biggest remaining leak.


It may also help to replace the framing around the door as well as what is there may have no insulation.
That is the plan, the frames are in pretty rough shape.  This might be a bit on the spendy side, since we will have to get custom sized doors.  The builder of this house was on crack, I swear!  Some of the stupid things we have had to fix...

pbratt

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #14 on: March 03, 2014, 12:17:11 PM »
Thanks again for the great comments over the weekend. It was nice to read all the messages over lunch today.

My game plan will be as follows over the next two months. First, I'm going to get a quote for purchasing some solar screens to put in the front windows during the summer months to reduce some of the heat gain, and hopefully can get these installed by early May. Secondly, I should have the entry doors replaced by the end of may as well, and will make sure to do some insulation around the frame. Third, I'm going to do a DIY attic door cover project that will hopefully reduce the amount of energy loss through the attic, and I will also put in two soffits above the front window to at least get some air flow in this part of the attic. Finally, I'm going to purchase a nest unit at the same time I purchase new LED bulbs with a discount coupon I have at Home Depot. I'll let you all know about what sort of impact this has on my electric bill this summer.

And yes, summers in Dallas are really a pain. My first year, i went for a run at 9:30pm on August 5 in hopes of it being in the mid 80s. When the temperature was listed at 92 degrees, I knew I was far away from my home state of Michigan.

CrochetStache

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #15 on: March 03, 2014, 04:28:04 PM »
Folks:  I知 also getting an outdoor clothline system so that we can reduce the number of dryer loads we do in the non-winter months.

In Dallas you should be able to hang your laundry out to dry year round.

Spork

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #16 on: March 03, 2014, 04:50:55 PM »
Folks:  I知 also getting an outdoor clothline system so that we can reduce the number of dryer loads we do in the non-winter months.

In Dallas you should be able to hang your laundry out to dry year round.

The temp was in the teens today.   It is hit and miss.  We are 100 miles away and hang our clothes most of the time... but not all the time.

zachd

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #17 on: March 03, 2014, 07:36:11 PM »
Regarding the south facing windows, you can try to size an awning, that will block the high summer sun, but allow the low winter sun.  Alternatively, you could install heavy curtains to keep closed during the day, so the air conditioner isn't competing against the sun all day long.
I rented a third floor attic apartment with south facing windows in college. It was cheap and brutally hot.  At the hardware store you can buy the foil coated quilted insulation on a roll - same stuff you might put in your car window to block the sun. It's around $1/foot and 4ft tall. We bought enough to cover the windows (which were slightly taller than 4ft so we had a bit of light to see by). It made a HUGEdifference if we left them up when we were gone all day. Then when you are home and want light just roll them up.

I spent my early years in grad student housing (ie, shit holes, although now they are all spruced up with central A/C!  My mom spent her early years in grad student housing with dirt floors, so all things considered I didn't have it too bad).  Anyway, my parents put straight aluminum foil on the south facing windows.  Windows were wide open every night to let in the breeze, and closed all day in the summer.


I sometimes wonder why this isn't done more often.. I mean it would look horrible and weird to put alum. foil up like but seems it would be really effective. 
Also consider similar treatment for roofs.  I saw an article about how painting a roof white with a reflective type paint reduces bills something like 40%. Of course people would worry about how it looked or their home value going down or something.  People have gotten used to getting rid of lawns in favor of xeroscaping, why not take the next step and really block the sun from heating up your house?

The OP said he was in Dallas.  If ya'll don't know it will be over 100 for probably 60 days of the summer if not more there and in many parts of Texas. 

I don't have any great recommendations but there are plenty of them here so far. I would say make a list of everything and rank each possibility with how much it might save per year and how much it will cost to implement, then pick the best cost to benefit and start there and see how it affects the bills.

Not sure if you have sun shades, I could recommend those.  We have them on 4 south facing windows, the previous owner put them on.  Sometimes I do think about going out there and putting something on top of the shades that would block ALL the sun (alum foil or something like that).  I really don't care what it looks like.  My neighbors might and my wife probably would. 


bacchi

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #18 on: March 03, 2014, 11:42:54 PM »
Yes to the solar screens. The 90% ones will make a huge difference. You can make your one with a kit, incidentally, and it's super easy and looks pretty good.

For the attic entry:

Make a box enclosure around the ladder - the box is around the hole and the ladder will fold into it. Cut plywood to sit on top of the box as a cap. Add insulation and weatherstripping to the plywood cap. When you go into the attic, the plywood cap just lifts to the side to sit on the attic "floor." If you really want to get fancy, you can add hinges. I can post pics if it'll help.


pbratt

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Re: Energy Use Question
« Reply #19 on: March 25, 2014, 10:06:16 AM »
Status report as of 3/25-just replaced the eight led lights, and successfully created an attic door seal. My wife vetoed installing solar screens, as she wants to try a summer of just shutting the plantation shutters on our front windows before buying solar screens. I'm planning on putting another 9 inches of blown insulation in the attic later this fall, as I need to save up some cash flow. Likewise, i'm starting to have second thoughts about getting a Nest Thermostat, as we turn off our wireless router at night when the computer turns off as a way to save energy. Would it be worth it to keep the router running over night?

I am installing two new entry doors in two weeks, and will also be creating two new sofits by the front windows to get some more air circulation. I'll keep everyone posted on how our energy use goes this summer. Thanks again for all your help.