From your neighbor’s spiffy hybrid automobile to Leonardo DiCaprio’s “célèbre-green” status, it’s clear that increased attention to the environment is both vitally important and in vogue. It is also clear that there is huge savings potential in increasing energy efficiency. But what to do and how to do it is a little less clear. From basements to rooftops, here are a few ideas for bringing your building from light green to dark green.
Start With a Plan
From low-flow faucets to high-efficiency boilers, there are so many options that it is easy to get overwhelmed. Joel Travis of Andelman and Lelak Engineering in Norwood, Massachusetts, suggests a good first step is to identify the areas with the greatest need by studying energy and water usage. Large items like boilers, central air conditioners, and lighting systems can often be big energy wasters. If examining the various systems of the entire building is too complex, companies like Andelman and Lelak can help. According to Travis, the company builds what is in essence a virtual model of larger scale building in order to facilitate the cost/benefit analysis of many upgrades.
Once the major areas are identified, it can be helpful to create a plan that moves systematically through the major fixes before fine-tuning the building for optimum energy and water savings. For example, the energy savings from upgrading the boiler may help pay for converting the entire building to low-flow faucets; the water savings may provide money for replacing windows, and so on.
Let the Light Shine
However many factors influence the creation of a plan, most experts agree on the first, best, and easiest step. Replacing all incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs is, as Travis says, “a no-brainer.” CFL bulbs use one-third of the electricity of incandescent bulbs, are reasonably priced, and provide excellent light. While CFL bulbs used to be available only in limited sizes and wattages and took forever to light up, increasing demand has changed all that. Now, most retailers carry a variety of sizes, shapes, and wattages at reasonable prices. And the prices will continue to drop.
Another major area to examine is the HVAC system. As Travis points out, in many homes and condominiums, the heating/air conditioning systems are major energy draws and there is often great savings potential in updating or upgrading out-of-date systems. Allen Rathey of the Healthy House Institute in Boise, Idaho, even goes a step further, pointing out that HVAC systems are “one of the primary ways of cleaning the air.” However, many systems are extremely inefficient in either warming or cooling the air flowing into a house. Rathey suggests Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRVs) or Energy RecoveryVentilators (ERVs), which circulate through energy exchangers. These energy exchangers transfer either the heat or coolness of the outgoing air to the incoming air, greatly reducing the energy needed to bring the air coming into the home to the right temperature.