How Can I Make My New Home More Eco-Friendly?

In summary, one of the things you can do to make your home more "green" is to get a tankless water heater.
  • #1
Hepth
Gold Member
464
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Making your home more "green"?

So we're closing on a house in about a week though we don't plan on moving in until the beginning of January. It was built in 1986 so it's not that old. The windows are fine (Except one in the garage), and we have to put more insulation in the attic.
2 -Story Cape Cod (3 bed 2 bath, 1500sqft) located in Michigan (so it gets cold and snowy in the winter, and hot in the summer (high 90's, possibly over 100).

As we're buying all new appliances, etc. I was wondering it there are any things I can do to make the home more "Green" while its basically gutted.

One big thing is some sites recommend a tankless water heater. As it happens, the water heater tank needs to be replaced, but I'm worried that an in-line or whatever it is called wouldn't be able to put out as hot of water as a tank would. I don't need water to be blazing hot, but nor do I want to be forced to take luke-warm showers. Does anyone have any experience with tankless hot water heaters?

I plan on getting a VERY good home thermostat. Or possibly building one myself. I figure it can't be that difficult, and I could probably save money as the better ones are $300+ while an arduino set is much cheaper and I've actually programmed thermo-controls both in Assem. and LabVIEW before.

I plan on replacing MOST bulbs with CFL (though there are rooms where I like incandescent as having anything with a dimmer switch and CFL creates a horrible buzzing sound below 100% current)


I've oft wondered about modifications such as adding light switches to control the actual outlets used in the house. There's no reason that when I'm at work the cable-box/TV/microwave/etc. need to be plugged into an actual current source and pull ANYTHING. Especially for things with DC converters, sometimes i forget to unplug this reading lamp i have and it has a transformer that just burns even when its off. I'm surprised most new houses don't do this.

Obviously solar power is an option, but more expensive than what I'm willing to do right away.

I'm going to put a bit of research into the Refrigerator to find an efficient one I like.
Are there pros/cons to gas ranges vs electric vs inductive stoves etc?

We also have a gas fireplace, though I wonder if it'd be better to make it into a natural one. Wood is readily available in Michigan and cheap.

While I know that most of these things I could just look up online, I feel PF is a great place to gather some unique and unconventional ideas, even if they're do-it-yourself. We do not lack in skill for pretty much anything. My girlfriend has a MS in Electrical Engineering, I was a EE as well though now I am a theoretical physicist. We can both program in MANY languages. So nothing is "too difficult" merely "too expensive" :)

Thanks!
 
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  • #2


Good luck, Hepth. Your problems are probably incremental, not systematic, so you have to hunt them down and slay them one at a time. This little log house is pretty tight, but we still find ways to tighten up and save.
 
  • #3


Im just trying to find some unique ideas I could try and implement and I figure PF has some bright people who maybe just aren't in a situation to try it themselves. For example my idea of having a control panel for outlets in a room (perhaps hidden in a closet, similar to the breaker box, but more accessible and more exact in its on/off options).

Or making my own thermostat.
 
  • #4


Insulation, insulation, insulation. More More More. Insulated window blinds, double batting in the attic, You can't have too much. If the house is gutted anyway, try to get a vapor barrier throughout the house. It should always be on the warm side of the insulation, otherwise your house will rot. If you can't get plastic put in, you can buy vapor barrier primer paint. But not too too much vapor barrier; if you can spare having a cold basement, or crawl space, leave it porous. A fully sealed off house will get toxic unless you have a controlled heat-exchange ventilation system to bring in fresh air.

You know the vapor barrier is working if you have puddles of condensation below your windows every morning. Dry them every day with towels. Green is hard work.

Wood is nice, but (gasp) natural gas is still the cleanest, and despite the frackers, the greenest heat (IMHO). I just got kicked out of the Green Party :(

Our next door neighbors have a tankless water heater for a family of four. No problems.
You can get a few inches greener still if you put a smaller tankless near the point of use; a tankless near the bath/showers, a tankless near kitchen/laundry.
I would go that way myself except I need a tank for my Solar water heat.

Do that thermostat thing, it sounds cool as a DIY. A programmable thermostat really saves a lot. With good blankets and quilts, we let the temperature go down to 55 at night, then oil kicks in at 5AM to bring it to 60. Then it's a race at 6 AM: I have to get the wood fire going before the thermostat kicks it up to 68.
 
  • #5


Chi Meson said:
Insulation, insulation, insulation. More More More.
Yes, yes, yes.
 
  • #6


Is your air conditioner new/are you replacing it?
 
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Likes mheslep
  • #7


You guys might think I am crazy, but when I go #1 I always pee on the houseplants. I don't know if its better for them or not, but they seem to be doing fine (Jerry gets a few dead leaves, Frank just stays the same all the time). Fresh water (in the US) is a scarcer resource than people think.

EDIT: Sorry, I spoke too soon, I didn't realize you were specifically asking about efficiency of the house. One thing a lot of people don't consider is that refrigerators are generally less efficient the more buried they are (up against the wall and other appliances, etc). Though, you probably don't want it sitting in your living room either.

The second thing in regard to electricity: you can easily find contact switches which, when off, use air as an insulator with about 1/8" spacing, so they are really about the same as unplugging an appliance completely. You can also buy power strips with physical switches to disconnect each outlet.

IMO, to be truly 'green' you have to consider the effects of your purchasing decisions too. For example, if you buy a particular power strip to save a few joules of energy over the course of a year, you've also (generally speaking) caused another to get made, so raw materials like petroleum and copper are also used up as a result of your action.
 
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  • #8


Hepth said:
One big thing is some sites recommend a tankless water heater. As it happens, the water heater tank needs to be replaced, but I'm worried that an in-line or whatever it is called wouldn't be able to put out as hot of water as a tank would. I don't need water to be blazing hot, but nor do I want to be forced to take luke-warm showers. Does anyone have any experience with tankless hot water heaters?
Tankless water heaters aren't anything special -- a water heater doesn't use a very large fraction of your energy and being tankless doesn't save a very large fraction of that. They seem like a fad to me.
I've oft wondered about modifications such as adding light switches to control the actual outlets used in the house. There's no reason that when I'm at work the cable-box/TV/microwave/etc. need to be plugged into an actual current source and pull ANYTHING. Especially for things with DC converters, sometimes i forget to unplug this reading lamp i have and it has a transformer that just burns even when its off. I'm surprised most new houses don't do this.
It costs a little more than a switch, but it'll save you wiring if you just use a timer or remote. They sell radio controlled plug-in switches at most hardware stores.
I'm going to put a bit of research into the Refrigerator to find an efficient one I like.
I'm not sure efficiency is much of an issue anymore. Pretty much everything is energystar rated and they all use half as much power as they did 20 years ago. There's probably not much left to be saved by getting one over another.
Are there pros/cons to gas ranges vs electric vs inductive stoves etc?
Not much - use whatever you already have available. Electric will be more efficient because it is in contact with what you are heating, but then that's only at the use point -- it isn't really more efficient overall.
We also have a gas fireplace, though I wonder if it'd be better to make it into a natural one. Wood is readily available in Michigan and cheap.
"Natural" does not equal better. Wood fireplaces are nice for ambiance, but don't get one if you are doing these things for the environment -- they are an environmental disaster.
 
  • #9


KingNothing said:
You guys might think I am crazy, but when I go #1 I always pee on the houseplants.
Yes. Yes, that's crazy.
Fresh water (in the US) is a scarcer resource than people think.
Meh - it falls from the sky. I'm not that concerned about it.
 
  • #10


I can tell you a little bit about a tankless heater, as we use one. There were three of us before, now Junior moved out, so there are two of us only. It was always enough but we have one bathroom only.

Disclaimer: my terminology will be off, if you are not sure what I mean, ask.

Initially we used a switchable power heater (11 kW and 21 kW). It was often difficult to get the correct water temperature for shower, as opening cold water tap not only changes mixing, but also flow through the heater, so temperature of hot water getting to the tap changes - but it takes several second before new equilibrium is reached.

It started to leak after several years (I am not saying they always do, it just happened) and after some problems with repair I decided to switch to the one with a thermostatted output. 21 kW total power. No problems with getting required water temperature, we rarely use cold/hot tap combinations now. At the highest setting (60 deg C) it is not able to heat the water in the winter to the full - we open the tap just partially when we need hot water to add to the tub (if you never read in the hot tub, you may not need it).

The most irritating thing is that our model (some Siemens) has kind of a security timer, which sometimes doesn't let it start immediately after the tap is opened. That means when I am brushing my teeth I open the tap and wait till water gets warm (say 20 seconds) to get started, close the tap, brush my teeth, open the tap - and I have several seconds of warm water now, followed by 20 second of cold one, then warm again. Waiting is irritating, so I never close the tap completely - which means I am wasting warm water. Idiocy by design.
 
  • #11


russ_watters said:
Tankless water heaters aren't anything special -- a water heater doesn't use a very large fraction of your energy
Depends on the situation: Our family of 5 here is using 1/4 to 1/3 less electricity here when the thermal panels were installed. If we had natural gas in this area, I would have gone that way though. I'm crossing my fingers that the erstwhile fracking methods are fixed, because I really, really believe in Natural Gas.

and being tankless doesn't save a very large fraction of that.
well, that's true.
Wood fireplaces are nice for ambiance, but don't get one if you are doing these things for the environment -- they are an environmental disaster.
I "wood" not say disaster, necessarily. I talked with a chainsaw dealer who boasted about how he cuts and burns 7 cords of wood a year. I bought my new saw elsewhere. The wood furnaces they are selling these days are an abomination, as are the cheap Chinese quick sale stoves at Costco, etc; but I'll put my Quadra-fire, which burns 1.5 cords a year of locally cut wood, up against any of the other options available to me (note: natural gas is not available to me)
 
  • #12


Back to tankless: If you are replacing the heater anyway, and if you have natural gas, and if you have a few spare $100 bills, and you want convenience, and if they fit, then what I would strongly consider...[how many couches can one fit into a sentence?]...

Natural gas, tankless water heaters, perhaps 2 of them, placed close to points of use.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003UHURXA/?tag=pfamazon01-20Cost is comparable to a high quality big-tank heater, and heating by electricity is the worst-case scenario when it comes to "greenanity" (since about 20% of the burning coal's energy actually makes to the heating coil). Did I mention my preference for NG?
 
  • #13


And wood heat is not a disaster, by any means. By the time my firewood is in the woodshed, it has already spent a whole year outside under tarps (in a nice outside woodshed after this year) and it is as dry as a bone. I can start a fire in the firebrick-lined stove and head out to take Duke for a walk or some other activity and see NO smoke coming out of the chimney, just a shimmer from the heat-plume.

I have never had to clean out my chimney, because every fire I start is hot enough to knock down any build-up that might have formed previously. A couple of times a year, I trundle down to the cellar and open the clean-out at the base of the chimney, scoop out maybe a bucket of waste and stick in a mirror to look up through the chimney - I can see every tile and every mortar-joint quite clearly. People that don't know how to season and burn wood properly may think it's "dirty" fuel. It's not. And it is renewable fuel. It grows back! When my wife and I bought this place about 6 years ago, we filled the oil tank. It is still almost 1/2 full.
 
  • #14


Seasoned or not, I am not that sure wood is that clean. Just because you don't see a smoke doesn't mean anything. Exhaust doesn't have to be visible to contain CO and teratogenic hydrocarbons.
 
  • #15


Borek said:
Seasoned or not, I am not that sure wood is that clean. Just because you don't see a smoke doesn't mean anything. Exhaust doesn't have to be visible to contain CO and teratogenic hydrocarbons.
You might be right, but there are reasons to be leery of fossil fuels. My uncle is an HVAC specialist (mostly commercial, but he'll do some residential work) so he'll come around and keep our furnace burner tuned up for a nominal fee. It is so rarely used, that he asks that I flip it on sometimes just to cycle all the components, and put some fuel-preservative in the tank from time to time to keep things from gumming up.

These fuels are not pure or stable, so that they can degrade over time. Of course, we could try to heat with electricity, in which case we'd be supporting the big coal-fired generators in the mid-west. The ones that are acidifying lakes and ponds in our remote state, providing us with rolling ozone alerts each summer, and making the state fish and game department warn children and women of child-bearing age not to eat wild-caught fish from our rivers (mercury) and not to eat liver from deer or moose (cadmium). I'll burn wood instead. It seems a whole lot safer for all of us.
 
  • #16


I know you said solar power is too expensive, but that's not true for solar powered hot water preheaters. They're probably the most overlooked cheap and effective use of solar power today and pay for themselves in a few years at most.
 
  • #17


wuliheron said:
I know you said solar power is too expensive, but that's not true for solar powered hot water preheaters. They're probably the most overlooked cheap and effective use of solar power today and pay for themselves in a few years at most.

Depends on where you live. Estimates for Warsaw are around 30 years, I doubt I will live that long.
 
  • #18


My water heat has already paid for itself, less than 5 years along. I did the installation myself, plumbing, electrical, all of it, so that would have added another 3 years.
 
  • #19


Why is wood burning bad?
 
  • #20


KingNothing said:
Why is wood burning bad?

Pros and cons to everything.
Population density is probably one of the aspects on the con side. Too many wood burning stoves in too many houses too close together and you get a certain type of smoginess in the air ( remember , of course you don't, London at the epic of coal being used in fireplaces and stoves - chimeny sweeps )
There is a lot of unburnt hydrocarbons that go up the chiminey by burning wood, especially before the chiminey is hot, and if i recall correctly some is carcinogenic.

As for pros on the green side, wood is a renewable resource. Wood also warms you twice - once when you cut, split and stack, and the second time when you do the actual burning.
 
  • #21


Borek said:
Depends on where you live. Estimates for Warsaw are around 30 years, I doubt I will live that long.

That sounds a bit like an exaggeration promoted by the local electric company but, yeah, I wouldn't recommend it to someone living in Nome Alaska.
 
  • #22
Borek said:
Depends on where you live. Estimates for Warsaw are around 30 years, I doubt I will live that long.

I think you misread.

solar powered hot water preheaters

These run from $1200 for http://www.discountpv.com/solar_water_heating/asw-58c.htm, to $45 for ones you make from junk in the back yard.
 
  • #23


256bits said:
Wood also warms you twice - once when you cut, split and stack, and the second time when you do the actual burning.

So true. One of my friends has a house deep in MN woods, and I used to go and help him split wood. We would often spend two or more days cutting and around a week burning what we cut - and this was in a massive fire pit outside the house. We had to cut constantly just because the trees were so thick they were constantly encroaching on the house (and safety of residents).

Here's a picture of the jacket I would wear cutting wood with -10F wind chill:
http://www.weeklynames.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Basic_Plain_White_T_Shirt.jpg
 
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  • #24


wuliheron said:
That sounds a bit like an exaggeration promoted by the local electric company but, yeah, I wouldn't recommend it to someone living in Nome Alaska.

I checked. This is information provided by a Polish governmental organization that promotes solar water heating: in the case of family of three solar heating pays off in 10 years if you replace electric heating, 18 years if you replace oil heating, 26 in the case of Earth gas and 36 in the case of coal (on average in Poland).

Remember it depends on the local situation and this information is based on Polish prices and Polish weather conditions.
 
  • #25


Borek said:
I checked. This is information provided by a Polish governmental organization that promotes solar water heating: in the case of family of three solar heating pays off in 10 years if you replace electric heating, 18 years if you replace oil heating, 26 in the case of Earth gas and 36 in the case of coal (on average in Poland).

Remember it depends on the local situation and this information is based on Polish prices and Polish weather conditions.

I was going to say: a lot of Europe still burns coal (or coke) in their homes; burning coal in-house is far more efficient, greener, and cheaper compared to electric heating where the electricity is created by burning coal. So if your hot water comes cheaply, then going for solar hot water can be a poor investment if one lives in a freezing climate (much better investment to rip of all the interior walls and add additional insulation).

There are new heat collectors that do not depend on copper (evacuated tubes), so costs will still be dropping, but I can totally believe Borek's claim.
 
  • #26


KingNothing said:
Why is wood burning bad?

[soapbox]
Not bad, per se, but also not as benign as some people claim. I do not believe nor care whether or not I am "saving the planet" by being "green." That shouldn't be the point.

I cut, split, and burn wood for 80% of my heat because that is my choice. I prefer to understand and appreciate the value of the resource. I think this is a conservative value, not liberal, by its very definition: our culture is too blithe about our comfort. My children will not think that warmth comes from a button on the wall.

I also choose to deny the oil companies the pleasure of expecting that they should profit from every aspect of our lives. Maybe that part is "liberal" but I really don't care what label others choose to give it.

When I burn wood, I am polluting the air. That fact must be recognized, and I choose to pollute the air as little as I possible can. Compared to other options wood-burning is the least expensive on my part, and the least invasive on others. It is also a "hobby," and that value can be compared against folks who think that snow-mobiles and Jet-skis are hobbies.

Ask any wood-burning New Englander (and Mid-Westerner) about their wood stack.
[/soapbox]
 
  • #27


So much good info! Thanks. If the improvements of the in-line water heaters aren't that great then it's really not worth my time to install them. And I'll probably just fix the gas fireplace as well rather than down-converting. Natural gas is a lot easier and cheap. (though wood is basically free for me).

As for the AC, the unit is VERY old, probably doesn't work. We were thinking about replacing it but since we're so close to the water, and I really don't care THAT much about air conditioning, we were considering just removing it and dealing with the heat. Our house has an attic fan which is great, but no basement (too close to the water). So I think we can regulate the humidity and temperature in the summer without AC. But I guess we'll find out in 6 months. Since the bedrooms are upstairs I'm not sure how how they get.
 
  • #28


Borek said:
I checked. This is information provided by a Polish governmental organization that promotes solar water heating: in the case of family of three solar heating pays off in 10 years if you replace electric heating, 18 years if you replace oil heating, 26 in the case of Earth gas and 36 in the case of coal (on average in Poland).

Remember it depends on the local situation and this information is based on Polish prices and Polish weather conditions.

Solar hot water preheaters don't replace alternatives. Its merely a preheater that helps to save a little money by warming the water a little before its sent to the main heater.
 
  • #29


wuliheron said:
Solar hot water preheaters don't replace alternatives. Its merely a preheater that helps to save a little money by warming the water a little before its sent to the main heater.

I know, sorry for being unclear.
 
  • #30


Good lord! Although I cannot answer your query, I am impressed with the combination of your gf and your intelligences.
 
  • #31


me said:
Ask any wood-burning New Englander (and Mid-Westerner) about their wood stack.
[/soapbox]
That goes for Canadians too, of course...and pretty much anyone who has ever wanted a pair of Sorels for Christmas.
 

Related to How Can I Make My New Home More Eco-Friendly?

What are some simple ways to make my home more green?

Some simple ways to make your home more green include using energy-efficient light bulbs, turning off lights and electronics when not in use, and using natural cleaning products.

How can I reduce my energy consumption at home?

You can reduce your energy consumption at home by using a programmable thermostat, unplugging electronics when not in use, and properly insulating your home.

What are some eco-friendly materials I can use in my home?

Some eco-friendly materials you can use in your home include bamboo flooring, recycled glass countertops, and low VOC paint.

How can I save water in my home?

You can save water in your home by fixing any leaks, installing low-flow toilets and showerheads, and collecting rainwater for outdoor use.

What are the benefits of making my home more green?

The benefits of making your home more green include reducing your carbon footprint, saving money on utility bills, and creating a healthier living environment for you and your family.

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