Making your home more green ?

  1. Hepth

    Hepth 525
    Gold Member

    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 in to 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!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. turbo

    turbo 7,366
    Gold Member

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.
     
  4. Hepth

    Hepth 525
    Gold Member

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.
     
  5. Chi Meson

    Chi Meson 1,772
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.
     
  6. dlgoff

    dlgoff 3,151
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2014 Award

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    Yes, yes, yes.
     
  7. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    Is your air conditioner new/are you replacing it?
     
  8. Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2011
  9. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.
    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 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.
    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.
    "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.
     
  10. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    Yes. Yes, that's crazy.
    Meh - it falls from the sky. I'm not that concerned about it.
     
  11. Borek

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.
     
  12. Chi Meson

    Chi Meson 1,772
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.

    well, that's true.
    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)
     
  13. Chi Meson

    Chi Meson 1,772
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.
    http://www.amazon.com/Rheem-RTG-64XN-Outdoor-Natural-Tankless/dp/B003UHURXA


    Cost 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?
     
  14. turbo

    turbo 7,366
    Gold Member

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.
     
  15. Borek

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.
     
  16. turbo

    turbo 7,366
    Gold Member

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.
     
  17. Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.
     
  18. Borek

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    Depends on where you live. Estimates for Warsaw are around 30 years, I doubt I will live that long.
     
  19. Chi Meson

    Chi Meson 1,772
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    Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.
     
  20. Re: Making your home more "green"?

    Why is wood burning bad?
     
  21. Re: Making your home more "green"?

    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.
     
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