Learning to Live Green

America is rethinking how it consumes energy. With escalating prices for electricity and petroleum products, people are looking for alternatives to minimize or even eliminate their dependency on utility companies. New technologies is making this more possible than ever! There are simple cost effective steps you can take to greatly increase the efficiency of your home and lower your utility bills by hundreds of dollars a month if not completely eliminate them.

The first area we must look at is how you heat and cool your home. Typically, this is the largest utility expense in the budget. Builders, except on upper end homes, will provide the minimum requirements for air-conditioner compressors (outside component) measured in SEER which as of 2006 is SEER 12. This number represents the efficiency of the air-cooled compressor itself. If you have an older home, the minimum SEER from 1992 - 2005 was SEER 10. And prior to 1992 was SEER 7. In 2008 SEER 19 equipment is available for standard air-cooled compressors which is almost triple the efficiency of older units. But we can still do much better.

Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems

Geothermal air conditioning and heating is quickly becoming the preferred method in American homes. An average yearly electric bill for a geothermal unit will most of the time be less than one monthly electric bill in the summer for a conventional air-cooled system. Now THAT is savings! These units use the constant temperature of the earth 6 feet below the surface to heat and cool your home. On a 20˚F winters night, the earth temperature at 6 feet below the surface is a steady 55˚F-70˚F depending on where you live. Let's say the geothermal temp in your area is 60˚F. That means that the fluid circulating through pipes in the ground warms your house up close to 60˚F, not a conventional heater. And that is free energy. The only electricity used is to pump the liquid through the pipes and run the air handler that delivers the warm air throughout the house. Should you want it warmer than 60˚F, then an auxiliary electric/gas/propane heater can warm the house up further. But it is warming the house as though it were only 60˚F outside, not 20˚F. The unit cools the house in much the same way. If it is 100˚F outside, the unit can cool the house down close to 60˚F without ever running a conventional compressor.

Geothermal comes in a variety of different configurations including using solar collectors to further heat them home in the winter without the need of an electric/gas/propane powered auxiliary heater. A nice byproduct of this is that you also have plenty of hot water for use in the home with the addition of a storage tank and a heat exchanger.

Solar Water and Radiant Heating

The next largest expense, next to water itself, is usually heating the water. We can use a device called a solar collector that absorbs the heat from the sun, even on a cloudy day, and transfers it to a fluid that runs through pipes in the collector. The fluid then carries its newly acquired heat to a storage tank to be used in radiant floor heating, radiant baseboard heating, hot water, pool heaters and auxiliary heating for geothermal or primary heating if using water-cooled air conditioners. These units require only enough electricity to run a small pump that circulates the fluid through the pipes thus nearly eliminating your heating and hot water bill. There are two type of technology for these collectors. The first is flat panel. This is what most people think of when they think of solar collector system - several rectangular black panels mounted on the roof or a rack. These are dependable and resilient, however, as the sun tracts across the sky, the panels lose a lot of their power to gather heat. They are most efficient when the sun is shining directly down on them. As the sun moves to the east or west a lot of the sun's rays bounce off the panels instead of being absorbed by them. There is a second type of collector called an evacuated tube collector that solves this problem. They are slightly more expensive, but collect far more heat for a much longer period of time during the day. This is by far the preferred method for a sustainable energy home.

Solar Photovoltaics

We have now reduced your utility bills to a fraction of their original amounts, but we can still do more. Why use electricity for the utilities at all when we can generate our own? Today more and more homeowners are becoming grid independent by utilizing solar panels (not to be confused with a solar collector) and wind generators. A solar panel or photo-voltaic panel is a flat panel mounted facing the sun that converts the sun's rays into electricity. This electricity can then be used to power the pumps and air handlers for heating and cooling, household appliances, lights, computers and all other accessories requiring electricity. What is not used during the day can be stored in batteries for later use at night or sold back to the utility company effectively reducing your electric bill to $0. With this addition, a home can become completely self sufficient not even requiring the utility companies at all if one chooses.

Energy Backup Systems

Now that we have shown you how to effectively reduce your utility bills to ZERO, there is one final step in the process: a backup generator. While this does not reduce your utility bill, it adds an immeasurable amount of security to your home. When the electricity to your home is cut off for any reason, a backup generator will sense the absence of power and automatically start a motor that can run on natural gas/propane or diesel fuel and generate electricity to power your house for as long as you need it - months if necessary. This insures peace of mind knowing that you and your family will never be without the safety and security of your very own home.