Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts

Hi Everyone - first time poster

What a great forum. I was "sucked" in a few days ago and have been reading threads ever since. There is so much to learn. I bought a bunch of books over the last few months, on the subject of going green.

I will say right up front that I am not a big believer in man-made global warming. I do, however, feel that it is the right thing to do when one makes the choice to move towards a greener living solution.

I am downsizing from a 6000 square foot house to a 2800-3000 square foot house. No basement. Two story. It is actually my old farm that I bought back (lost during the 1980s farm crisis. So I am happy to be returning to my roots.

I am having geo-thermal put in (does anyone have any experience with this type of system for a house the size mentioned above?). I am also leaning towards a solar hot water heater through this company:
http://www.mortonenergy.com/

I was considering using wind power - the SkyStream. I have read all of the negative threads on this forum and welllll it doesn't look so nice. The house would be on a hill (southern tip of Illinois) but the area is rated for 9 mph winds (give or take 1 mph).

If wind isn't the way to go then I was thinking solar panels. A system large enough to at least take several rooms off the grid. I could then add on to the system over the coming years (as prices come down, hopefully).

I will likely put insulation in that is rated 50% higher than my recommended local area. Attic fans will be easy to do. I have kicked around the idea of one or two solar tubes (my contractor would rather not go that way - risks of leaks in the roofs and problems such as that).

I have a hot tub. Does anyone have experience in dealing with the solar hot water tub heaters?

Not sure on passive solar. I don't know a lot about it. There will be a lot of south facing windows though (but some decks and porches).

I am open to new ideas and suggestions. I know that a lot of small "projects" can contribute a lot to the process.

A friend bought me a kill-a-watt device last week. I am embarrassed to say that my average household usage has been around 5000 (and much higher some months). Terrible - terrible. I want to get that down to something closer to 1800-2000. I do have a large computer system for emergency management activities. This certainly doesn't help my cause when it comes to power.

Looking for suggestions and thoughts.

Thanks

B

Comments

  • BrockBrock Solar Expert Posts: 633 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts

    Shadow did I see you over on
    http://www.greenbuildingtalk.com/
    If not there is a lot of great info on geothermal setups and what works and doesn't work.

    We have geothermal heating an indoor pool & hot tub and domestic hot water with the ability to cool or heat the house as well. We also have a small solar setup; it started as backup but it just keeps growing.

    The least expensive way to go is grid tied solar, that will run about $.30 a kw and solar with batteries can range from $.60 to $1.00 / kw to generate. So grid tied is often the way to go. Installation is in the $5 / kw to $10 / kw for a battery based syste. If you have need of backup power you might want to go with batteries though.
    3kw solar PV, 8 L16's, xw 5548, Honda eu2000i, iota DLS-54-13, Leaf EV, 4 ton horizontal geothermal, grid tied - Green Bay, WI
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,708 admin
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts

    B,

    Glad to hear that you recovered (somewhat) from the farm crisis of the 1980's--that was a sad time.

    Regarding suggestions; subscribe and read the back issues of:

    http://www.homepower.com/

    Good magazine with lots of suggestions... Not all may be practical for you.

    Regarding power usage--conservation is the first place to address. The kill-a-watt meter will help.

    And identify your large consumers of power... If you are using 5,000 kWhrs per month, placing your cell phone chargers on a power strip so you can turn them off when you are not charging your phone is just ridiculous in the big picture (and can drive your spouse and kids nuts).

    5,000 kWhrs per month is:

    5,000kWhr per month (30days*24hours per day) = 6.94 kWatts running 24x7...

    A good energy star fridge/freezer is 100 watts, a washer maybe 250 watts, etc... You have something(s) that is drawing huge amounts of power...

    Sometimes, these things are additive... For example (not saying this is you), a large computer, a couple monitors, a couple laser printers, an maybe a 1/2 kW of room and work space lighting, all on 24x7, and you need A/C to keep the room cool, so you have that cranked on too--first you make the heat because of excessive computer power requirements, then you have to pay to get rid of the heat too.

    So--your are probably looking for 2-6 things that are on much of the day and use large amounts of power.

    There may be some things you can't change (a water pumping system--already efficient motor/pump--need pressure for spray as opposed to ditch type irrigation)... I can't tell much from here--but if you can first identify the 80% of your power usage and figure out how much it costs to run them vs to replace them with newer/more efficient items--and/or replace those functions entirely (i.e., put large computer equipment in own room and let it run warmer than the home to save AC costs, use smaller, much more power efficient laptop type computers with more efficient use of software/hardware resource, turning off laser printers when not used, change irrigation practices--hey--I am not a farmer--etc.)...

    Anyway, once you have our power usage under control--then using alternate sources (like solar) will make much more sense and be more cost effective.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • icarusicarus Solar Expert Posts: 5,351 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts

    Conservation, conservation, conservation. It doesn't have to come at the expense of "living in a cave" . Insulation, proper task lighting, Hi-ef appliances. Domestic hot water would be a good cost effective way to start. I would shy away from small scale wind. Look at the wind forum here if you want confirmation of the problems with small scale wind.

    Read all you can, and try to avoid the "ready, fire, aim" syndrome. Time spent thinking projects through will pay off big dividends later on. Perhaps most importantly, be careful of your preconceived ideas. I've seen a lot of people get stuck on their initial ideas.

    Good luck,

    Tony
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts

    Hi

    Thanks. I will check some of these links/magazines out.

    At this house (the one I am selling):

    2 electric hot water heaters
    1 swimming pool (fairly large in size)
    1 hot tub
    one room has seven computers and monitors (not always on) - at least four computers are/were always running
    2 refrigerators (one upstairs and one downstairs kitchen)

    I am going to assume, from what I heard, that the pool constantly running is a huge draw on electrical. I am not sure how much it is using though. It is currently closed (I closed it when I put the house up for sale). Closed basically means that it isn't running all of the time.

    I am fairly certain the "media/weather" room is a huge draw on the electrical. I need to use this kill-a-watt and figure up what is going out and where.

    So far, here is my list of how to change lifestyles

    1. figure out how to conserve
    a. buy energy star products
    b. see if we can cut down on the number of computers or at least not have them running all the time
    c. better insulation

    2. geo-thermal (defin doing this)

    3. Solar hot water heater (defin going with this at the new place)

    Beyond that, no decisions have been made. I am REALLY wanting to do wind or solar. I guess I am leaning solar now. At least "start" the process and then become addicted to it. Add on over the years. :) I can see how one could become obsessed with the whole process. I want to be careful and not be OCD about the subject.

    I was disappointed to read all of negative comments about SkyStream. I was excited about those prospects. Not so much now, though.

    I will keep reading the board and keep you updated on our progress away from being energy hogs.

    B
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts

    I don't recall being on the forum you mentioned (the one below)
    http://www.greenbuildingtalk.com/

    I will check it out though. Thanks.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,708 admin
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts

    We don't use GeoThermal out here--but it apparently is a "ton" of money to install...

    So, with any of these things--make sure you spread sheet it out and make sure the "savings" are not eaten by the installation and ongoing maintenance costs--or that you and your family hate them so much, that nobody wants to follow them (turning stuff off, house too hot/cold, etc.).

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts

    part of that conservation will be going with those compact flourescent lights or cfls as these will cut usage greatly. you may also find many of those gadgets you may have have constant loads or as otherwise known as phantom loads. some of these could be placed onto a power strip and switched off if not needing to be on. example: entertainment center with tv, stereo, and maybe satelite receiver/cable box. all have to be on to enable remote control to turn it on/off, but they are always on in order to do that. not everything you may want to switch off as maybe you have something that'll need the time and date reprogrammed into it or those emergency management radios as they need to be on. some items that may be hard wired you won't be able to check the power usage with the killawatt meter, but you can check on the specs for such items and assume the worst when those items are on until proven otherwise. keep in mind it is also how long power is used as it will be in watt hours or kilowatt hours (1000 watt hours) and is power measured over time. 1000w for 1 hour is 1kwh and 200w for 5 hours is also 1 kwh.
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts
    niel wrote: »
    part of that conservation will be going with those compact flourescent lights or cfls as these will cut usage greatly. you may also find many of those gadgets you may have have constant loads or as otherwise known as phantom loads. some of these could be placed onto a power strip and switched off if not needing to be on. example: entertainment center with tv, stereo, and maybe satelite receiver/cable box. all have to be on to enable remote control to turn it on/off, but they are always on in order to do that. not everything you may want to switch off as maybe you have something that'll need the time and date reprogrammed into it or those emergency management radios as they need to be on. some items that may be hard wired you won't be able to check the power usage with the killawatt meter, but you can check on the specs for such items and assume the worst when those items are on until proven otherwise. keep in mind it is also how long power is used as it will be in watt hours or kilowatt hours (1000 watt hours) and is power measured over time. 1000w for 1 hour is 1kwh and 200w for 5 hours is also 1 kwh.

    I actually have the light bulbs in the old house. I am sure they help. I am anxious to try some new LED technology. It doesn't seem to be there yet. I have tried a few bulbs but little "real" success.

    I am starting to hunt down the phantom power loads. I have a lot of electronic equipment and surely it adds up over time.

    I have thought about using the "green switch". I watched "Living With Ed" and thought it looked like an interesting investment. Anyone have experience with that device? Basically it shuts everything off in your house when you leave or go to bed. You can pick and choose which outlets go dead.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,708 admin
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts

    I am sure Mr. Begley is a very nice guy and committed to saving the world...

    However, the few items I have seen him lend his name to have not been (one product is vertical wind turbines in Los Angeles mounted on homes and power poles), IMHO, anything much more than green marketing scams...

    Assuming that I have the correct website (GreenSwitch.tv) I am not sure that this is anymore than a MLS marketing scam...

    No product listed, no price lists, a big

    Dealer/Distributor Opportunities

    link, no technical specs., etc... Feels like another CitizenRE cominig up.

    You can do pretty much the same thing with an X10 system (don't know if they have a thermostat setback option or not)...

    But, the X10 itself has issues... One of the big ones is that each module took something like 5-10 watts (at least the old system--don't know about newer product--could never find the specs.). Put 10 modules out there and you may be burning upwards of a 100 watts...

    100w x 24 hours x 30 days = 72 kWhrs per month

    When I was really trying to see how low I could cut my power down--I got down to ~175 kWhrs per month... Just using a reasonably sized x10 system would have added 40% to my power bill--or I would have had to figure out how to cut another 41% from my current bill just to break even.

    In the end, if this product can save money/power--should be fine... I just don't like what I have seen so far.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts
    BB. wrote: »
    I am sure Mr. Begley is a very nice guy and committed to saving the world...

    However, the few items I have seen him lend his name to have not been (one product is vertical wind turbines in Los Angeles mounted on homes and power poles), IMHO, anything much more than green marketing scams...

    Assuming that I have the correct website (GreenSwtich.tv) I am not sure that this is anymore than a MLS marketing scam...

    No product listed, no price lists, a big
    Dealer/Distributor Opportunities

    link, no technical specs., etc... Feels like another CitizenRE cominig up.

    You can do pretty much the same thing with an X10 system (don't know if they have a thermostat setback option or not)...

    But, the X10 itself has issues... One of the big ones is that each module took something like 5-10 watts (at least the old system--don't know about newer product--could never find the specs.). Put 10 modules out there and you may be burning upwards of a 100 watts...

    100w x 24 hours x 30 days = 72 kWhrs per month

    When I was really trying to see how low I could cut my power down--I got down to ~175 kWhrs per month... Just using a reasonably sized x10 system would have added 40% to my power bill--or I would have had to figure out how to cut another 41% from my current bill just to break even.

    In the end, if this product can save money/power--should be fine... I just don't like what I have seen so far.

    -Bill

    Hi Bill

    I was hoping someone would comment on the GreenSwitch. I noticed the same things you did. So I was wondering. Sounds like it might be best to go with some other option.

    One item I would like to try is a motion sensor for lights. When I was in Germany, last year, I stayed at a little hotel that had these fixtures. When you walked in and out of the hallway the light would go on and off. It was great. I never had to worry about leaving lights on. I could see some benefit to using these sensors.
  • icarusicarus Solar Expert Posts: 5,351 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts

    RE: Ed Begley, see also CitizenRe! http://www.citizenre.com/web/index.php
    They haven't had a news release in almost a year.

    Can you spell Ponzie scheme?

    As far a shutting everything off, "just do it!" Outlet strips on the electronics, battery (rechargable) on the clocks. Over night the fridge and the freezer run as they need to. Why is this so hard?

    Tony
  • JDR*energyJDR*energy Solar Expert Posts: 30
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts
    BB. wrote: »
    You can do pretty much the same thing with an X10 system (don't know if they have a thermostat setback option or not)...

    But, the X10 itself has issues... One of the big ones is that each module took something like 5-10 watts (at least the old system--don't know about newer product--could never find the specs.). Put 10 modules out there and you may be burning upwards of a 100 watts...

    I use X10 to control all of my phantom loads. I use all "appliance" modules which have the relay in them (you hear the clunk). My Kill-a-watt meter shows "0" watts on the appliance module.

    I use the X10 mini timer & clock to set all of my loads on timers. This timer draws 2 watts. From all of my calculations I am definitely saving KWH using X10.

    ShadowAngel,
    One thing I can recommend to get a handle on your KWH usage is the TED. http://www.theenergydetective.com/

    I had a good handle on things using the kill-a-watt meter, but I wanted more details on things I couldn't plug in.. like electric water heater, stoves, boiler, radon fan, dishwasher etc.. The TED can monitor your entire house, and you can walk around and power something on and look at TED and the KWH usage jumps instantly.

    A few things I've discovered with my TED:
    1 dishwasher cycle = 1 KWH
    1 clothes dryer cycle = 3.6 KWH (after high speed spin w/front load washer)
    Electric water heater = 4,250 Watts when heating, can be 10 KWH per day
    Radon Fan = 65 watts continuous, 1.56 KWH per day

    I think I became more depressed when I got the TED. Watching a few KWH click by for something as simple as cooking some brownies in the oven for a half hour seems crazy.

    It made me realize all of my hard work saving 5 or 10 watts here and there with CFL's and phantom loads was a drop in the bucket compared to the large appliances.
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts
    JDR*energy wrote: »
    I use X10 to control all of my phantom loads. I use all "appliance" modules which have the relay in them (you hear the clunk). My Kill-a-watt meter shows "0" watts on the appliance module.

    I use the X10 mini timer & clock to set all of my loads on timers. This timer draws 2 watts. From all of my calculations I am definitely saving KWH using X10.

    ShadowAngel,
    One thing I can recommend to get a handle on your KWH usage is the TED. http://www.theenergydetective.com/

    I had a good handle on things using the kill-a-watt meter, but I wanted more details on things I couldn't plug in.. like electric water heater, stoves, boiler, radon fan, dishwasher etc.. The TED can monitor your entire house, and you can walk around and power something on and look at TED and the KWH usage jumps instantly.

    A few things I've discovered with my TED:
    1 dishwasher cycle = 1 KWH
    1 clothes dryer cycle = 3.6 KWH (after high speed spin w/front load washer)
    Electric water heater = 4,250 Watts when heating, can be 10 KWH per day
    Radon Fan = 65 watts continuous, 1.56 KWH per day

    I think I became more depressed when I got the TED. Watching a few KWH click by for something as simple as cooking some brownies in the oven for a half hour seems crazy.

    It made me realize all of my hard work saving 5 or 10 watts here and there with CFL's and phantom loads was a drop in the bucket compared to the large appliances.
    That is interesting. I knew the electric water heater was a big one. I had heard that the clothes dryer was another biggy.

    Living in the country means I can hang clothes out to dry. Fresh air. :) I am going to get a solar hot water heater - crossing my fingers that the product will drastically reduce/cut that energy.

    I am not familiar with the x10 product.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,708 admin
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts

    I am glad to hear that the current X10's don't burn too much power any more (at least vs what I recall some years ago)...

    Yea--don't get too wrapped up in the small stuff until you have addressed the 80%'ers that are burning most of your power.

    If you have a standard meter installation, I think, you can simply time the rotor and use the Kt constant to calculate the power rate on your major loads... (add: Kt should be on the front of your power meter--if you bill shows a shunt or load rating ie. 200kWhrs * xx = YYYY kWhrs, then your meter only measures a portion of the load and you will have to multiply your xx times the Kt rating--mostly applies to much larger business users).

    For example, my Kt is 12... and took ~28 seconds for 1 rotation, which should be 12 watt*hours (per rotation).

    0.012 kWhr per rotation * 3,600 seconds per hour / 28 second rotation = 1.54 kWhrs per hour (or 1,540 watt load--which is what my meter's kW meter also read).

    For a 240 VAC split phase meter (standard household type), Kt will probably be between 0.3 to 60 Watt*Hours per rotation (smaller meters/service towards 0.3-4, and larger services in the 4.5 to 60 kWhr per rotation range).

    Shadow Angle, you can simply cut all of your breakers and power each major energy consumer on one at a time and time your meter rotations to measure power usage... And pay attention to those that are 24x7 vs those that just run for a few minutes...

    For example, a 1kW microwave running 10 minutes per day will consume just (1 kW * 10 min / 60 minperhour=)0.166 kWHrs per day--1/2 that of a normal load in a cloths washer...

    That computer/printer sucking 300 watts all day will be (0.3kW * 24 hrs)=7.2 kWhrs per day...

    At $0.10 per kWhr, the microwave is less than $0.02 per day... The computer/printer would be $0.72 per day or $21.60 per month.

    But all of these are small potatoes compared to your loads...

    A water heater can take 2,400 to 4,800 kWatts... But since most of the energy is heating your water--its total on-time per day will be highly variable--depending on how much hot water your family uses.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • JDR*energyJDR*energy Solar Expert Posts: 30
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts
    BB. wrote: »
    If you have a standard meter installation, I think, you can simply time the rotor and use the Kt constant to calculate the power rate on your major loads... (add: Kt should be on the front of your power meter--if you bill shows a shunt or load rating ie. 200kWhrs * xx = YYYY kWhrs, then your meter only measures a portion of the load and you will have to multiply your xx times the Kt rating--mostly applies to much larger business users).

    For example, my Kt is 12... and took ~28 seconds for 1 rotation, which should be 12 watt*hours (per rotation).

    0.012 kWhr per rotation * 3,600 seconds per hour / 28 second rotation = 1.54 kWhrs per hour (or 1,540 watt load--which is what my meter's kW meter also read).

    Yeah I used the meter method before getting the TED. I guess it depends on your meter & utiltiy company, but my Kh value is 7.2

    Calculating wattage from electric meter P = 3600 × Kh / t
    One full rotation of the disc = 7.2 watt hours of energy
  • BrockBrock Solar Expert Posts: 633 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts

    Are you going to have a pool at the new place? If so get a two speed pump. We have an indoor pool and time of use electric rates. We only run the circulation pump off peak (controlled by the meter) and in low speed. It takes 2200 watts in "normal" or high speed and moves 120 gpm. In low speed it draws 360 watts and moves 40 gpm. Also running slower actually filters the water better; you just have to make sure you get the total turn over during the day. And talk about less noise in the house ;)

    The killer for me on x-10 was the wall switch modules, I can't remember exactly, but I want to say it was 2-3 watts. They do have some newer ones for fluorescents, basically the appliance in a wall switch, so on or off no dimming, very little phantom draw. I still use X-10 on some things, mostly appliance switches; I really like the "all off" feature.
    3kw solar PV, 8 L16's, xw 5548, Honda eu2000i, iota DLS-54-13, Leaf EV, 4 ton horizontal geothermal, grid tied - Green Bay, WI
  • TelcoTelco Solar Expert Posts: 201 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Building a house...trying to save energy - suggestions/thoughts

    This is my favorite link on hot water, and I want to duplicate this guy's setup. He gets all his hot water from the sun year round. Planning to do a ginormous water tank that will provide all my heat with solar heated water year round living somewhere snow is measured in feet. Of course, you'd want a wood fired boiler for a backup.

    Since the house is being built from scratch, you could avoid the whole power strip thing by having all the electrical sockets wired to wall switches. You can either do an individual wall switch over each socket, an individual switch for each socket at a central location, or a combo where each one has its own switch over the socket with a single master at the door that shuts them all off. This means more wiring in the beginning, and more expense, but it also means no unsightly power strips laying about the house. Over time power strips go bad and have to be replaced, so this should be factored into the expense of building it in vs power strips.
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