So you’ve realized that you are having energy problems which are costing you money, and now you want to solve these problems cost effectively. But what are the most cost effective and logical means of solving these problems?
Well the first step is usually awareness. Energy only costs you money when you use it. So don’t use energy when you don’t need it.
For instance turning off lights that don’t need to be on is free and simple. Turning down thermostats for areas that aren’t occupied or don’t need to be room temperature in the winter (such as in the middle of the night when people are sleeping) is also simple with a programmable thermostat. You can get even more saving by using a learning thermostat such as the NEST model.
During warmer months, closing windows when air conditioners are running is a common way to make the air conditioning less efficient. This is mostly applicable during the hot summer days.
During cool summer nights you can take advantage of free cooling by opening windows and using fans instead of air conditioning.
The Systematic Energy Problems in Your Home
Most people and even many professionals don’t think of a home as a system. Without that understanding, it makes sense that many homes and buildings are built with these problems built in.
So what are the systemic energy problems within your home? This is a very difficult question to answer as every home and design are different. The most simple way to answer this question and solve these problems is by following some general rules:
1) REDUCE usage – This article is specifically about a couple of common ways to do that concerning energy. You can also reduce water usage and save money.
2) REUSE the resource – Through technologies such as energy recovery ventilators, drain water heat recovery, grey water technologies.
3) GENERATE energy – Through renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal (ground source heat pumps).
Below are some thermal graphic images of two very common problems that can potentially be solved with the same low-cost solution, namely a can of low expanding spray foam. The cost of this solution is approximately $10 per can and some of your time. Not a bad investment for what is likely a permanent money saving and comfort creating solution.
1) Windows not properly sealed around the frame
The photos below are of the same window. This ordinary looking window has a small insulation gap between the frame of the window and the framing that holds the window in place. A small insulation gap is causing a draft to creep down the wall and into the room. The thermal image shows that this area is only about 9.2°C. This is cooling not only the air, but also the wall. As a result the room is cooler than in could be if this gap was sealed properly. This slight defect is wasting energy and causing discomfort for the occupant.
2) Electrical boxes not insulated around the boxes
The electrical box and cable connection box shown in the photos below both are missing insulation around the box. Note that this is only potentially a problem on perimeter walls (walls on the exterior of a building). As you can see, the areas around the electrical boxes are only around 9.6°C. This is likely because the electrician or installer was careless about ensuring the insulation was installed tight around the box. As a result the area around the electrical box is much colder than necessary. Again this is constantly cooling the area around each box which causes discomfort and wastes energy and money.
Simple Low Cost Solutions:
In both cases the problem can be solved by reducing the need for energy by plugging the gaps where the problem is occurring. To do this you will need to:
1) Verify that there is a draft or air leak. You can do this by feeling the area in question with you hand (on very cold days), using incense on a windy day to see where the draft is, purchase a laser temperature sensor to test the areas (noting that your readings are only approximate) or hire a thermographer to find these problems for you.
2) Remove the window frame or electrical cover plate to apply low expanding foam. Only use low expanding foam that is rated for the application that you intend. Here is a detailed description of how to do this for windows. When applying around windows, be very careful not to damage the trim around the frame when removing it. Or have a professional do the work for you.
3) Have a good understanding of what you are doing. This article is simply to inform you of potential problems and possible solutions. Here is an article with more information that can help you find other applications for sealing using spray foam.
APPLY THE FOAM ACCORDING TO INSTRUCTIONS. FOAM CAN EXPAND RAPIDLY AND COME OUT OF THE APPLICATION ZONE TO FORM ON THE WALLS OR ON UNDESIRABLE AREAS. THIS CAN DAMAGE THE AESTHETICS OF THE AREA IF NOT DEALT WITH PROPERLY AND IMMEDIATELY.
In electrical applications it’s safest to disconnect the power by turning off the appropriate breaker. Ensure that the power is off before applying foam. Do not fill the electrical box itself, only the area around it and potentially the wall cavity surrounding the box.
Air leakage is the biggest problem:
There are so many potential problems which can lead to inefficiency. I’ve put together a post using information from “How to Future Proof Your Home” here that will help you cost effectively solve many of the energy issues within your home.
Proper Understanding is the Ultimate Solution:
The only way to solve problems is to first understand where they come from and the principles behind the solution. You may have heard the saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Rather than give a fish, you can learn to fish yourself though a simplified understanding of building science. You can then apply this understanding to your particular problem. This is the intent behind “How to Future Proof Your Home: A Guide to Building with Energy Intelligence in Cold Climates.” Buy a copy of it here.
With a small investment, your understanding in this area can potentially save you thousands of dollars.
Let’s build better homes for ourselves and a better world for our children.