The Energizer Money
Picture this, if you will: London, mid-winter. Only a few scattered souls brave the frozen streets. Snow coats the rooftops, and smoke curls up from a thousand Peter-Pan-esque chimneys peppered across the tops of every building in sight. Well, every building except that one with the weird rainbow-colored propeller-ish things planted along its ridgepole, like so many aliens lining up for lunch. Maybe they ate the chimneys, you speculate. Actually, they did. This is BedZED, aka the Beddington Zero Energy Development – a building that is so energy efficient, its residents have no need for heaters. Yes, you heard that right. The people who live in this thing almost never use heaters. In London. In the middle of winter. Their utility bills are so low, the extra cash they save more than offsets the difference in rent they pay for their super-sustainable flats. Come on. You know you want a piece of this. Granted, the technology used in BedZED is probably a little more top-notch than what you’re likely to find in your average, run-of-the-mill house hunt. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few goodies to dig up if you know who to ask and what to look for. Here are 7 energy-friendly insider tips to get you started.
Windows: “Single-glazed” might sound like a pretty name for a window, but beware: it’s out to get you. Save the glaze for those delectable mini-doughnuts from that bakery down the street from your office. For your house, you want the heavy duty stuff: storm windows. Storm windows have double the insulation of single-glazed ones, which reduces air-leakage big time. They’re also more durable when it comes to resisting sun and water damage, and they can reduce noise from outside … just in case your neighbors happen to own twelve hyperactive Chihuahuas and enjoy hosting Metallica parties in their garage at 4:30 a.m. on weekday mornings.
Lights and appliances: Maybe it’s stating the obvious to note that old-school lights and appliances take more energy to run than their more modern, energy-conscious counterparts. But it’s possible that these Edison-era dinosaurs are delivering a double whammy to your electric bill right under your nose. Get this: 90% of the energy used to run an incandescent lightbulb becomes heat. Maybe that’s no big deal in the winter, but it’s going to add a pretty penny to your cooling costs in summer. The solution? See if the home you’re looking at has been fitted out with LED or fluorescent lights. Since lighting alone makes up 20% of the average person’s electric bill, you stand to save a lot of dough here.
Insulation: While most people are familiar with insulation, not everyone knows that there are a few different varieties to choose from. You’ve got your blown fiberglass insulation (which, like “single-glazed windows,” sounds prettier than it is – friendly tip: keep the blown glass limited to your Italian vase collection). You’ve got your cellulose insulation (decidedly less appealingly named than blown fiberglass and therefore easier to avoid – huzzah). And then you’ve got your foam insulation. As usual, Door Number Three is your best bet here. Foam insulation costs more up front, but it is much more airtight than its rivals. Ask your real estate agent what kind of insulation your prospective house has, or (shudder) if it has any at all, before you buy.
Low-flow: We’ve all been lectured on the water-saving drill at some time or another. Turn off the faucet while you’re brushing your teeth. Cut down a bit on those three-and-a-half-hour showers. But did you know that you can save water without sprinting your way through the shower just by having a low-flow showerhead? ‘Tis true: a good low-flow showerhead only goes through 1.5 gallons of water per minute – which is a full gallon per minute less than the lawful maximum of 2.5 gallons. Similarly, low-flow toilets only use 1.6 gallons per flush vs. the old-school versions’ 3.5 gallons. That’s a lot of water saved for doing … well, for doing stuff you were going to have to do anyway.
Sun: Here’s a fun tip: while house-hunting, count how many windows are built into the south side of your potential new home. What nonsense is this, you ask? Well, as it turns out, those of us in the northern hemisphere stand to save a lot on heating in the winter by inviting as much sun in as possible, and it so happens that during the chilly months, the sun shines on us from the south. You can capitalize on the earth’s natural heater from around nine in the morning to three in the afternoon during the winter months. Which, of course, will end up saving you cash on your less-uplifting manmade heating bills.
Tankless water heaters: If you are like most of us, then you know that there is a huge metal-bellied monster lurking in some shady corner of your building, boiling water and biding its time, just waiting … for you to turn on the shower. Some of us know this creature as the Great Energy Guzzler of Doom. Others just call it a traditional water heater. But hark, for its dastardly reign may nigh be at an end. Tankless water heaters have arrived, and they are just what you need to joust those Energy Guzzlers into extinction. Unlike the traditional models, tankless water heaters only heat the water you need, and only when you need it. So sally forth and save yourself 30% on water heating costs, not to mention 50% on water-heater energy consumption.
Cool roof: Last but not least, if you live in a climate where it’s a lot more common to see the neighbors baking eggs on the sidewalk than it is to find them shoveling snow out of the driveway, then cool roofing is definitely something for you to look into. Cool roofing reflects the sun’s rays off of your house rather than letting them sink into it – an excellent perk for those who haven’t yet fully embraced the trend of living room saunas. Often made of tile, metal, or asphalt, cool roofs do cost more than traditional roofs up front, but your air conditioning bill will thank you for splurging on one. You can spend the extra cash you save in the long run on an extra carton of eggs for the next neighborhood Sidewalk Bakeoff. Just don’t forget the salt. (Or the antibiotics.)