I just purchased a new home, completing my relocation from Massachusetts to Texas. As an energy engineer, one of my principal concerns while house-hunting was getting a handle on residential energy utilization. Purchasing an energy-efficient home is extremely important in North Texas owing to the long summer and need to air condition continuously to mitigate intense daytime heat. It is a major change from Boston where winter heating is King.
The sellers of this new home shared that their summer energy bills usually exceeded $300 per month. Then they joked that in Texas summer runs from March to October. Yikes! One could almost pay the mortgage on an additional property for what these people were paying in utility bills.
In my job, I am very conscious about energy consumption, and it is hard to imagine that others are not alert to this issue. However, taking ownership of this house made it clear to me that Joe America remains uneducated about even the simplest residential energy reduction measures. Performing an informal energy audit of my new home illuminated why this house was hemorrhaging energy.
First, the previous owners failed to switch from incandescent to fluorescent bulbs. A simple lighting retrofit would bring the double benefits of reduced energy consumption as well as reduced heat load on the air conditioners (see my post, “Energy Technology is NOT a Bubble”). In addition, the house has no dimmers or automatic light shut-offs. So illumination levels cannot be adjusted nor is the house smart enough to automatically turn off lights in unused rooms.
Second, the air conditioning zones were all wrong. With three installed AC zones, it should have been possible to isolate the bedrooms from the rest of the house and put the formal areas on their own separate AC unit. This arrangement would allow focused cooling were it is needed: the living areas by day, the bedrooms at night, and the formal spaces for special occasions. The previous owners had plumbed the AC in such a way that all three zones had to be engaged continuously to cool the house.
Third, the house employs no day-lighting strategies and has no overhangs to protect the windows from direct summer sun. To keep the sun out, the previous owners simply pulled all the blinds and left the internal lights blazing during the day. While this strategy keeps the sun’s infrared heat out, shaded windows would provide a superior solution by enabling passive illumination with diffuse daylight while keeping heat out.
Finally, this house is full of skylights. In addition to problems with water leakage, skylights cannot be shaded against the summer sun (see “Sunlight Direct’s Optical Fibers Enable Piping of Natural Light Through Buildings”). While they do provide day-lighting, skylights also allow heat to enter the home during the summer, which must then be lifted by the AC system. Shaded, south-facing windows are always better than skylights.
I hope to have some interesting home improvement projects to report over the next few months as I get my new home’s energy efficiency in shape. I look forward to sharing lowered energy consumption and reduced utility bills akin to what John Dodge reported in his recent post, “I cut my electric bill in half”.
I am also anticipating receipt of good suggestions and feedback from blog readers concerning cost-effective residential energy projects I can undertake to get my new home up to par.