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Owner Behavior and Building Technology: Can the Best Plans Come to Very Little?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012  by tday

The carefully documented energy consumption of two homeowners in Massachusetts in recently constructed homes incorporating the very latest in advanced building technologies reveals an important truth. No matter how excellent building technology may be, the energy saved or consumed in buildings ultimately depends on the habits of the occupants.

One of the homes, a 1,152 square feet home constructed on a slab, was highly insulated with R-100 ceiling insulation and triple glazed windows, a photovoltaic array for electrical power, and high efficiency appliances. It had won awards as a “zero energy” home. During the period of monitoring, its occupants used only 1,959 kWh of energy, substantially less than the 4,892 kWh generated by their photovoltaic array. Motivated by competition for a $35,000 prize, the homeowners, among other things, kept their thermostat at 60 degrees when home and shut off all heat when away. As a result of measures most contemporary homeowners would consider extreme, albeit technically feasible in such a well-insulated house even in a cold climate, the occupants generated more electrical power – in New England, no less – than they consumed.

The second Massachusetts home was a larger home, 3,399 square feet, that relied on passive solar design as an energy saving strategy.  It was the first Passivhaus to be certified in Massachusetts. Passive solar design is highly applicable to circumstances where sunlight is uneven and less intense. Compared with the first home, the levels of insulation were 25 to 30 percent higher; and solar energy was used directly only to heat hot water. Both houses were tight with fresh air ventilation systems that preserved conditioning of air during air exchanges.

Notwithstanding the care in design of the second home, its energy consumption significantly exceeded design expectations. The owners, it turned out, were using a large inefficient freezer in their basement, were running two large plasma TVs and peripherals an average of 6 hours per day, and seemed never to turn out their lights.  While concerned about energy use and conservation, the concern of the second homeowners was not reflected in their behavior.

Even when the most advanced building technologies are deployed, design objectives may not be met.  In other cases, in older homes where deep retrofits are not cost-effective to compensate for deficiencies in the original design and construction, homeowners may still make marginal improvements to conserve energy and may, as importantly, adopt better habits.

For additional detail: Occupant Behavior Makes a Difference | GreenBuildingAdvisor.com



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Greening a “Sixties-Era” Sanctuary: Priorities and Constraints

Monday, January 9, 2012  by tday

John Gass, A.I.A., LEED Certified, and a member of the Committee, recently offered the following general guidance regarding priorities for retrofits to improve the energy efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint of church sanctuaries constructed during the Fifties and Sixties, an era when energy efficiency was not a salient consideration in architectural practice. 

As a number of churches in the Diocese with sanctuaries built in that era relied on similar construction techniques, this posting makes John’s observations more generally available in response to the need of churches for practical starting points.

  • Roof and wall insulation:

The roofing system in sanctuaries of the era often consists of tongue and groove board with only the R‑value of the wood. Means are now available to improve roof insulation when a roof is replaced by installing additional nailable vented insulation under the roof boards.  The R-Value of such insulation is limited, but may increase R-value to R‑25 or slightly better, depending on the product.

Insulating the walls in sanctuaries of the era is ordinarily difficult.  Unless there are voids in stud walls that can be foamed in place, there is not much to be done short of constructing new insulated, interior walls in the sanctuary.

  • Lighting

Improvements to lighting are a cheap means to reduce energy consumption in a Sixties-era sanctuary.  The newer efficient lamps, either CFL, halogen, or preferably LED, will save energy dollars faster than insulating walls.

An extra advantage to LEDs is a lifespan 20X that of incandescents. Because most sanctuary lighting is mounted high, retrofitting with LEDs should increase safety as well as reduce maintenance costs. Ladders and lifts for changing bulbs are dangerous as well as expensive.

  • Heating and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

Obviously, HVAC equipment older than 10 years can be upgraded for efficiency gains.  However, a “commissioning” process can produce savings that do not entail replacing existing equipment.  During commissioning, HVAC experts test, assess, and evaluate whether the systems are functioning at peak design intent, without changing any of the physical equipment.

The process also has an operations component, as lots of church personnel do not really know how to operate their HVAC systems well. An example might be a system programmed to continue heating the building after a service, or even during the last half of a service. The people in a congregation generate some heat, and it takes a while for the sanctuary to cool off.

  • Water

Reducing water usage will also reduce a church’s carbon footprint because the water supplier will save energy that would otherwise be consumed in purifying and pumping water for use by the Church.  Replacing older toilets with the dual flush toilets now available is re one means to reduce water use inside church structures. Waterless urinals, however, would not be a good idea in any area where urinals are not frequently used because of odor.

Most water consumed by residences and churches, however, is used outdoors or, if stormwater, is a source of pollution as stormwater runoff.  Reducing grass lawn area by planting trees and shrubs, and resurfacing walks and paths with permeable materials are accordingly further means to reduce water demand, a church’s carbon footprint, and environmental pollution.

While sanctuaries in general receive only intermittent use and those of the Sixties-era cannot readily be insulated to current building code standards or better, there are steps that can be taken at reasonable cost to improve the efficiency of these sanctuaries and the comfort of their congregations.

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Winter Energy Efficiency Tips from Energy Star

Thursday, November 3, 2011  by tday

U.S. Government statistics indicate that the average family spends $2,200 a year on energy bills, nearly half of which goes to heating and cooling. With winter approaching and Americans heading indoors, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program is offering easy energy saving tips that increase household efficiency while helping Americans save money and stay warm.

The Energy Star program recommends taking the following steps this winter to save on energy costs:

  • Maintain your heating equipment. Dirt and neglect are the top causes of heating system failure. If your heating equipment is more than 10 years old, now is a good time to schedule a pre-season checkup with a licensed contractor to make sure your system is operating at peak performance.
  • Check your system’s air filter every month and when it is dirty, change it. At a minimum, change it every three months.
  • Use a programmable thermostat. Control your home’s temperature while you’re away or asleep by using one of the pre-programmed settings. When used properly, programmable thermostats can save up to $180 every year in energy costs.
  • Seal air leaks in your home. If rooms are too hot/cold or you have noticed humidity or excessive dust problems you should consider taking action to seal air leaks. Sealing air leaks with caulk, spray foam, or weather stripping will have a significant impact on improving your comfort and reducing energy bills.
  • If you are adding insulation to your home, be sure to seal air leaks first, to ensure you get the best performance from your insulation.

Utilize the Energy Star website. Use Energy Star’s Home Energy Yardstick to compare your home's energy use to similar homes across the country and see how your home measures up. Energy Star’s Home Energy Advisor can give recommendations for energy-saving home improvements for typical homes in your area.

Look for Energy Star qualified products. Whether you are replacing light bulbs or appliances in your home, Energy Star qualified products can help you save energy and reduce energy bills. The label can be found on more than 60 types of products ranging from heating and cooling equipment to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). More than 20,000 organizations are Energy Star partners, committed to improving energy-efficiency in homes, products, and businesses.

For additional information from the on cutting energy costs this winter:  http://www.energystar.gov/heatingtips

For additional Information on other ways to save energy year round: http://www.energystar.gov/changetheworld

 For a compendium of water conservation tips compiled by the committee on Stewardship of Creation:  Water Conservation Tips 

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