When Energy Saving Becomes an Emergency

led_fancyness_extremePretty much since I learned to walk, I have had an unusual disdain for waste. I noted the inefficient route of the school bus and wondered why it couldn’t just pick us up at a few centralized locations. Tracked my allowance with multi-year forecasts and kept the dollar bills organized in a photo album. Always cast a fiery eye towards a fridge or a front door left open, a car left idling, or a credit card bill left unpaid.

This odd condition has proved to be profitable over the years, as I have naturally sought out ways to use less energy and waste less money, with very positive side effects like getting to spend more time outside and retiring from work relatively early.

This is the reason the concepts of money and energy efficiency mingle so freely on this supposedly-financial blog: you can look at your energy consumption as a very close measure of the wastefulness of your life. The ideal life, even a very modern one, will require you to spend very little of your earnings buying energy. This is a contrarian opinion for me to hold in this world of Peak Oil and energy shocks, but check out the evidence:

Transportation: The Mustache family uses less than 3 gallons of gasoline per month for most of the year. This changes for special occasions like family roadtrips, but by following the basic principles of avoiding commuting and car clown local driving, and using the bikes for errands like groceries, driving is cut by almost 90%. Savings: about $10,000 per year compared to an average family.

Electricity: Although our current 2600 square foot house is oversized for three people, we manage to run it these days on 243 kWh per month, which costs about $25.00 even when offsetting 100% of the use with more expensive wind energy from the local utility. This is done by being reasonable with the air conditioning, letting our bodies toughen a bit as the seasons change, line-drying the clothes, and using CFL and LED light bulbs*.  Savings: About $1000 per year

Heating: I have upgraded some of the insulation in this house, added some South-facing windows and plenty of thermal mass, and seal the curtains and shutters up tightly on winter nights while the programmable thermostat keeps the house at 62F during the nights, 67 during the day. The water heater is in an insulation blanket and we use a low-flow showerhead. Because of this our spending on natural gas averages out to $25 per month ($300 per year), which includes all heating, hot water for showers and dishwashing, and cooking. In contrast, the average US house spends $400 on water heating and another $960 on heat, meaning we enjoy Savings of $1060 per year.

When your bills are this low, it becomes a bit difficult to save money on energy by buying high-tech upgrades. I could get a Nissan Leaf electric car, but it would sit unused in the driveway just as much as the Scion xA currently does. Could replace my 80% efficiency furnace with a 95% efficient one for $4000, but the payback period would be decades. Better to just add $100 more insulation or get a nice pair of slippers to drop the existing furnace use even more. We spend about $5 per year on electricity running the air conditioner – I’d sooner remove it altogether than upgrade it.  I can’t even upgrade my city bicycle, which cost $300 brand-new in 2008 and has over 4000 miles of errands on it, because it still works perfectly and gets me around very quickly. This whole picture is an example of a Non-Emergency Energy Situation. Spending is minimal and further optimization is difficult, so energy use fades into the background where it should be.

So when does energy use become an emergency? There is no single fixed rule, but the following are some warning signals:

When energy is unusually expensive: While living in Hawaii last winter, I noticed that their electricity is generated by burning tankerloads of imported oil, which is reflected in the 30 cent/kWh price (300% of what I pay here). And all the water is electrically heated – furiously expensive. To compensate, we took many of our showers just by jumping into the turquoise-blue ocean and outfitted the Vacation Suite project with GU10 LED bulbs in its track lighting system, which use 85% less power than halogens. People who live in the Northeastern US who rely on heating oil are in a similar situation for heat.

When more than 5% of your income is on spent on energy and gasoline: Bumping up your savings rate by 5%, for example from 10% to 15% of income will slice 8 years off of your working career. Is worth working 8 more years just to stand at the gas pump?

When you have a rattly almond-colored fridge with fake woodgrain handles:
Last year I ran some tests on an old fridge that a friend still had in operation. It was burning 110 kWh per month, or  $135 of electricity every year. For $300 he replaced it with a nearly-new fridge from Craigslist and I measured it again. This one used 62% less energy, saving him $83 per year, which is a spectacular 28% annual return on investment! When you do the math, many of the lower-cost energy upgrades described in this article will return even more than the stock market over time.

When you find yourself driving around regularly in a car that gets worse than 35MPG:  Imagine that your only vehicle was an 84-foot double-trailer Walmart semi, stuck in first gear with no muffler and a bed of nails for the driver’s seat. Would you take it down to the drive-through? Probably not. This is how ANY sub-35MPG vehicle should feel in your mind to drive regularly. It’s an emergency! Sell it! Replace it with a reasonable car!

My own Plan for Energy Efficiency


The latest sketchup model is fully detailed, and structural engineering is almost done too.(Thanks Mike B and Chris G!)

The latest sketchup model is fully detailed, and structural engineering is almost done too.(Thanks Mike B and Chris G!)

Because energy consumption is one of the biggest issues affecting humanity these days, I’ve decided to go just slightly overboard when renovating the new house. It presents an ideal blank slate for this experiment because in its current condition, it is an energy emergency. It came with almost completely uninsulated walls and ceilings, and a drafty crawlspace that lets winter air blow directly in from the outside. I found it both ridiculous and amazing that the house has existed in this condition, wasting energy for almost 60 years.

But through this blog, I had the good fortune of hearing from a reader/energy expert named Roch Naleway who manages a department of GP Conservation products. Born in Germany and having lived in the Netherlands and now Portland, Oregon, you can imagine the strict views this man has on energy efficiency. And he has been lecturing me to take my own own game to the next level on this project.

Insulation:  The new insulation will be a combination of sprayed-on foam insulation, rigid foamboard with foil backing, and standard batts. The roof, all-important in a wide flat house like this one, will be insulated to R-50.

Free Solar Heat: The amount of South-facing glass in the house should provide more than enough to heat the entire structure for most of the cool season, since my region gets over 300 sunny days per year.

Supplemental Heat: The house currently has an old gas furnace with creaky mouse-filled ducts. This will be replaced with a 95%-efficiency gas boiler and radiant under-floor heat installed between the ducts from the crawlspace side. Although it will hopefully not be used much, it will be a luxurious and efficient way to warm the house, and an excuse for me to learn how to install a multi-zone boiler heat system. Also nicely compatible with roof-mounted solar water heating panels in the future.

Electricity: I will be installing a very fancy clothesline overlooking the park, and no air conditioning system at all. With LED lighting throughout, our bills should be even lower than they are today. With usage this low and a local utility that discourages grid-tied solar installations, solar panels are not practical at this time, but I will probably do some off-the grid experiments in the future – stay tuned.

Water Heating: Either a tankless natural gas heater or an electric heat pump water heater will get the job done here. I will supplement it in the summer with a Hawaiian-style outdoor shower that gets its heat entirely from a simple coil of black irrigation pipe mounted on the roof.

As the final bit of this energy efficiency experiment, I just ordered a fine new tool which should come in handy for both the blogging and construction “businesses” : an 8-foot-long bike trailer from Bikes at work that can carry huge items up to 300 pounds. With my new house only 1.7 miles from the Home Depot, I plan to use this to haul most of the construction materials, eliminating countless trips in the van and giving me some serious leg training in the process.


 Energy Efficiency Shopping: If you find this field as interesting as I do, I recommend browsing around GP Conservation’s site. If you have questions about the field, ask them in the comments and I’ll try to get Roch to spend an entire workday answering them for us.

Further Reading: Wired Magazine comments on how we’ll all be using almost entirely clean energy by 2050 – I sure hope so.


* I recently upgraded the last frontier – the kitchen – with higher-end LEDs from GE. These were the first LED bulbs I found with a sufficently good “color rendering index” to make the food look tasty, and thus they finally allowed me to remove the power-hungry halogens.

  • Anner October 15, 2013, 3:59 pm

    Kept your dollar bills in a photo album?!? Hilarious!

  • Brandon Curtis October 15, 2013, 4:03 pm

    Definitely an advantage of living in the Bay Area—the higher cost of living is (at least somewhat) offset by a yearly heating and cooling budget of ~$0!

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 15, 2013, 4:12 pm

      True, the West Coast wins the climate contest by a long shot.

      But if I can make an approximately-zero heat/cool house here in Colorado without cheating and spending a million dollars on exotic gizmos and materials, it should change the minds of a few people who spend $5k on their own heating and cooling in the same ‘hood.

      • Da55id October 16, 2013, 9:11 am

        I have extensive experience with tankless water heaters. My first recommendation is to ensure that ALL hot water lines are insulated before they are put behind walls. This will reduce the heat wasted in the pipes while waiting for the next hot water demand pull. Most hot water use is very peaky in the morning and dinnertime, so any heat you save in the pipes can be reused on the next pull. Further, there is less water wasted waiting for the water to heat up. Finally, waste heat from uninsulated pipes will infiltrate the living space in summer which nobody wants eh?

        although this is a bit controversial, while we were building our house from scratch, I opted to use 12 gauge copper wire instead of 14 gauge (code) on the idea that less resistance and better voltage pressure would reduce usage and waste heat. It would also result in slightly brighter bulbs and more powerful compressor action in fridges et al. I suggest that the payback for this will be less than one year, but documentation is hard to come by. The key though is that once the copper is run – it’s too late to change your mind.

        Also, consider double wrapping your house as air infiltration is the first enemy. We used Dow Weathermate plus which was designed to eliminate air infiltration while allowing normal “breathing”. We focused on preventing air infiltration and since it is so cheap to do, we double wrapped and it was just a rounding error in the construction cost. We’ve been in the house for 8 years with no problem and no regrets…and as a side (major) benefit, we have zero bug problems :-)

        I’m sure you’re aware of this, but be sure to put foam insulation on the outside of all of the studs, window, door headers. Approximately 25% of all walls are wood, and wood is R1 per inch which stinks. So, if you put R25 insulation between the studs, but don’t prevent the heat short circuit AT the studs, 25% of your 2X6″ wall will be R6. It wasn’t available when we did our house, but now, a 1-1/2 in. of Thermasheath 3 Insulation on the outside of the studs etc gives you R9.4 rating!

        For fun, you might want to try the IR-Blue – Thermal Imaging Smartphone Accessory that was a successful Kickstarter.com project. This allows you to see the thermal image of your house inexpensively – find the leaks as you build, and kill ’em dead before they can hide behind siding and drywall.

        The next stage of energy savings will come from dynamic temperature adaptive clothing. It makes no sense to heat and cool cubic meters of air when it’s bodies that want the comfort.

        If any of the above was useful, ask me about how to prevent illness by controlling humidity to “operating room theater” standards to prevent flu and colds. Since making this change, NO One in our house has had a cold or the flu for 4 years.

        • mike October 16, 2013, 10:36 am

          My wife and I live in a large home with a 50 gallon water heater. I installed a tankless water heater and now our gas bills are ~$10/month.

          We only use the TWH in the morning when we take a shower. I wash our dishes in cold water. So instead of having a 50 gallon tank constantly being heated to 125 degrees F and a 24/7 standing pilot, the gas comes on only when called for. And I can set the temp to within 1 degree and never run out of hot water.

        • Tara October 16, 2013, 2:07 pm

          Okay, I’ll bite – what is the correct humidity level to prevent flu and colds? A google search shows results of 20% to 70% for operating room standards.

          • Da55id October 16, 2013, 3:35 pm

            50% – it works!

            Here’s why:


            Indirect health effects of relative humidity in indoor environments.
            A V Arundel, E M Sterling, J H Biggin, and T D Sterling
            Copyright and License information ►
            This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.

            A review of the health effects of relative humidity in indoor environments suggests that relative humidity can affect the incidence of respiratory infections and allergies. Experimental studies on airborne-transmitted infectious bacteria and viruses have shown that the survival or infectivity of these organisms is minimized by exposure to relative humidities between 40 and 70%. Nine epidemiological studies examined the relationship between the number of respiratory infections or absenteeism and the relative humidity of the office, residence, or school. The incidence of absenteeism or respiratory infections was found to be lower among people working or living in environments with mid-range versus low or high relative humidities. The indoor size of allergenic mite and fungal populations is directly dependent upon the relative humidity. Mite populations are minimized when the relative humidity is below 50% and reach a maximum size at 80% relative humidity. Most species of fungi cannot grow unless the relative humidity exceeds 60%. Relative humidity also affects the rate of offgassing of formaldehyde from indoor building materials, the rate of formation of acids and salts from sulfur and nitrogen dioxide, and the rate of formation of ozone. The influence of relative humidity on the abundance of allergens, pathogens, and noxious chemicals suggests that indoor relative humidity levels should be considered as a factor of indoor air quality. The majority of adverse health effects caused by relative humidity would be minimized by maintaining indoor levels between 40 and 60%. This would require humidification during winter in areas with cold winter climates. Humidification should preferably use evaporative or steam humidifiers, as cool mist humidifiers can disseminate aerosols contaminated with allergens.

            • Jack October 19, 2013, 6:59 am

              Alright, so how do we get humidity to 50% with reasonable efficiency? I live in the humid southeast, and when I bought a dehumidifier two months ago (to dry my basement down from 90%+ to 65%), my electric bill TRIPLED. (And this was during an unusually cool year, where I was using my AC — which, before you ask, does not condition the basement — a lot less than usual)

            • Da55id October 19, 2013, 8:57 pm

              the best approach in your situation might be to focus the humidity control to areas where you spend most of your time. You spend 8 hours a night in the bedroom probably so that’s a good place to start.

            • Roch Naleway October 19, 2013, 11:10 pm

              You could install a so called ERV….an Energy Recovery Ventilator. It supplies fresh air into your home…It will pre-heat/pre-cool your fresh air supply + adjust your humidity level at the same time.

              Right now you have a passive air supply….leaks in your home let the outside humid air enter your home….so you are constantly having to condition the space to your desired temperature and humidity levels….this is why your energy bill has tripled….the dehumidifier keeps on running, because you have new humid air coming from the exterior all the time.

              Your biggest money saver will be to air seal your home. Secondly, seal up your basement walls and floors (assuming it is unfinished), so that humidity from the ground does not enter your home. Then think about getting ERV.

              Home performance contractors use the Panasonic FV-04VE1. The equipment sells for roughly $380 retail. It is about 1/2 the cost of quality Honeywell equipment.

              The equipment is robust and built to run 24/7 without noise and low energy use.

            • Stephane June 2, 2014, 12:56 pm

              The thing is basements are humid because they are cold because they are usually not insulated properly; wall insulation and floor insulation (there’s foam insultation that can be walked on with a plywood on top) make a huge difference in this. It’s Mike Holmes’ recommendation and it works for my house.
              The other is to make sure the dehumidifier is not set to on all the time, but only when it’s too humid.

        • Franco October 17, 2013, 2:15 pm

          I wish I had seen this comment before I built my house four years ago. We keep our total energy bills at $50 a month and we’re a family of five – but our house could be more comfortable. We lose more heat on winter nights than I expected we would. We have R-30 in the roof, R-19 in the walls. (I do know I need to build shutters or some some sort of indoor window coverings – we have a lot of glazing. That would probably help quite a bit.)

          However, insulating the studs would have been smart too. I can see the patterns of heat-loss on the exterior siding – no mold grows on the house where the studs and top and bottom plates are.

          RE: Air flow – just how tight should a house be? Afterall, regardless of how tight you seal the house, code requires that we put humongous 6 inch vents straight to the wild outdoors from the kitchen anyway, plus another smaller one in the bathroom.

          I’ve wondered for some time how much air exchange you really need in a house to have good breathing air.

          • Da55id October 17, 2013, 7:12 pm

            Our house is extremely “tight”, but we don’t have any specific air exchange. As you mentioned, there are lots of holes where bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans are installed. We just keep the windows and doors closed until the weather is awesome and then we open everything up. in the meantime we scrupulously keep the humidity between 45 and 55%. We also made certain that no fuels were used in cooking and heating which of course minimized the CO2 and carbon monoxide concerns.

            • Roch Naleway October 18, 2013, 3:40 pm

              I recommend at considering some active devices allowing for airflow and air exchanges if you home is extremely tight. Swapping out your bathroom fan for a proper fan will do the job. You’ll notice the improved air quality and comfort, too.

        • Mary-Ellen August 29, 2015, 6:34 am

          I would love to hear about the humidity balancing to prevent illness. I have been sick much more often since living in a med high humidity city then i was living in a less humid town a hourdred miles or so north od here. I just blamed it on the whole city = pollution idea, but maybe it has more to do with humidity!

      • smiley October 16, 2013, 1:03 pm

        Try as we may we can’t get bellow 600 KWH a month. We are really conscious of it. However my house full of teenagers may not be as conscious as we are when we are not home.

        Our gas usage is about the same in the warmer months as yours but 20 of the $25 is fees not usage. In the winter thought it goes way up. We do 60 at night and 67 during the day. It’s those darn subzero temps.

        We set up to burn some wood this year while someone is here. That should help a lot for this winter.

        • JN2 October 18, 2013, 3:44 pm

          Hi Smiley, my annual electricity is 800 kWh per year. Lights, stereo, computer, cooking, refrigerator, kitchen heating. UK, only a few dozen days below 32F.

      • David R October 16, 2013, 1:09 pm

        I’m in. My wife and I live in Colorado too and we also have an older home (built in 1960). I have been putting some serious thought on how to take this home with good bones into the high efficiency age. I can’t wait to see more of your ideas.

      • Dean November 27, 2013, 10:07 am

        I just got ‘turned on’ to your blog so I have not been able to go through all the posts just yet. Maybe you can help by describing what have you done so far to your own house? Which has worked the best for you, which would you not tackle again?

        Thanks so much.

    • Miss Growing Green October 15, 2013, 4:13 pm

      Good point! We are thinking about moving to Stanford area and were dreading the higher cost of living… But up here in Montana we can pay up to $150/month for heating during the winter. That’s a cost we won’t incur in the SF Bay area…

      • Leslie October 21, 2013, 1:07 pm

        The median housing price in Palo Alto (near Stanford) is 1.8 million.
        The good news is that Palo Alto has its own electricity grid using carbon neutral energy sources. It also does not go down when P .G. and E. has roving black-outs.


    • Evan Lynch October 20, 2013, 4:13 am

      Except that in the SF Bay Area, the cost of housing is so insane that the savings is essentially a loss, you come out behind even over someone who has lives in a place that necessitates heating / AC use.

      I’ll use myself as an example: I used to live in Chico, a place that gets into the 100’s every summer, but has relatively inexpensive rent costs. I was renting an apartment literally a block from downtown a few years ago for $700 / month. Most months, my PG&E bill was in the $20 range. In the summers, at worst, that jumped to about $50 for AC use. I wasn’t running the AC 24/7, I worked 40 hours / week, and didn’t have pets, so I left it off and let my apartment get hot during the workday, and turned the AC on when I got back from work.

      So if you want to live in a house instead of a one bedroom apartment like I did, maybe triple that cost at first to $150 / month during the summer months since there’s a lot more space to heat. That’s maybe $600 / year in AC costs, assuming no toughening that MMM advocates. Ultimately, it’s $520 more on the energy bill per year for that kind of space. But even still, anyone living in Chico or a similar place in need of AC in summer, would still come out way ahead financially over anyone in the Bay Area because of the insane cost of living there.

      This may not be true, however, for places like the Northeastern US where they have to pay $2,000 / month for heating oil in the winter.

      • David July 4, 2016, 6:56 pm

        Almost nobody in the Northeast ever paid $2,000/month for heating oil. Because of delivery costs to my remote area of Maine oil is more expensiove here than most of new England. Heating oil peaked at about $3.50/gallon. Few homes burn more than 200 gallons a month and 100 gallons is more common. When oil was my sole heat source I used 65 gallons/month in mid winter.I don’t know where you got the $2,000/month number but you need better sources.

  • Miss Growing Green October 15, 2013, 4:11 pm

    **Love** this post! Your family is saving nearly $14,000 a year because of your eco-conscious choices!

    Good luck with the new house- make sure you fully investigate tax credits and rebates when investing in insulation, appliances, water heaters, etc. Sometimes you can get the ultra-efficient $2,000 model for less than the cheap-o $400 one.

    For example, in Colorado, Xcel Energy offers a $450 rebate for an electric heat pump water heater, and the federal government offers rebates up to $500, I believe. I’m sure you’ll do your research :)

    • Roch Naleway October 15, 2013, 4:30 pm

      Yes. Good point. Always check with your local electric utility for rebates. There are some states that also offer Residential Energy Tax Credits (Oregon for instance). The federal tax credit for ENERGY STAR qualified heat pump water heaters is $300 in 2013 (www.energystar.gov).

    • Mrs. PoP October 15, 2013, 5:43 pm

      There are also rebates and bill credits you can get without upgrading appliances, too! We’re in the process of joining FPL’s On Call program, where we’ll enable FPL to cycle our larger appliances (pool pump, water heater, AC, heater) off for a few hours if there is a specific load need in our area. Even if they never actually use this ability, we’ll still get credits that equate to about 10% of our current yearly electric cost – which we’ll get year after year.

      • Roch Naleway October 15, 2013, 10:36 pm

        Yes, this falls under the term demand response programs. Very few utilities offer it for their residential customers. It is awesome that your utility has a program up and running that you get to participate in. Utilities often choose to run demand response programs for air conditioners or water heaters. There is enough load that can be turned on and off to make a difference on the grid.

        The important thing to mention: energy efficiency programs are not about depriving customers of their need for heating, cooling, lights or the use of appliances. It is about getting the same amount of user benefit, but with elimination of a whole lot of wasted “electricity” in the process.

        Demand response programs are a little different. They are about shifting loads at times when power is very expensive to generate (peak demand) or when system emergencies occur (power outage). Residential users usually do not have to sacrifice a whole lot. The utilities usually never let people run out of hot water. They may cycle an air conditioner off and on for 10, 20, 30 minutes at a time letting the temperature rise by 1-2 degrees before turning it back on. Most folks do not notice it at all. It is usually done voluntarily, There are good money savings, because utilities shift loads that otherwise would have needed to be generated at an extremely high cost.

      • ShavenLlama October 18, 2013, 1:43 pm

        I put my house on SoCal Edison’s AC cycling program, and I have been enjoying electric bills to the tune of $10/month this summer. My lowest bill was $8.24!!!!
        t’s fun to post a shot of my ridiculously cheap bill for people to scoff at. “Well, I am CERTAINLY not going to sweat! We NEED our AC!” Yeah? Then quit whining about $300 bills!
        I didn’t even turn my AC on the entire summer. It got warm, we went to the pool.

        Another program SCE runs is they will text, email, and run commercials on a “Flex Power Day.” On these days they charge a higher rate for the electricity in the afternoon. Since we’re working during that timeframe, it works out great.

        • Christine October 18, 2013, 1:48 pm

          So is this the Demand response program that Roch is speaking of? Very interesting. I don’t think we have anything like that here in Canada.

          • Roch Naleway October 18, 2013, 3:38 pm

            Yes, this is a demand response program.

            • Diane C October 18, 2013, 7:36 pm

              We participate in a similar program from PG&E in NorCal. No breaks on rates, alas. We look at as a “greater good” kind of thing. We never use the A/C anyway.

  • Brenden October 15, 2013, 4:15 pm

    My electric bill is half fixed costs (even with the surcharge for 100% renewable energy). Good to see you are taking an energy wasting house and fixing it. Think of how much has been wasted over the decades.

    • judith October 16, 2013, 10:41 am

      Yes, the fixed costs seem insane here in Alberta, and very discouraging for someone conservation minded.

      My bill for last January where I used 8.55 GJ (billable units) was $89.34. This was for natural gas to heat my 780 sq ft house, and also heat my hot water (an old appliance that needs to be replaced) for hand washing dishes and showering (about 5 days out of 7)). The cost for gas in that January bill was 24.41.

      In August, when I had the pilot light off on the furnace the bill was 66.08.
      $3.56 was the gas cost on that bill.

      Last winter I kept the thermostat usually between 17 and 19 in the day and 15 when I was in bed. But I have to admit sometimes I was chilly in the house in the evening. An additional $24 to heat in the winter and be chilly, or an additional … $30, $35 to be comfortable more often…. would mean another 6 -$10 per winter month …. and this is with -25C and a wind of 100km sometimes here in southern Alberta. You know, it is hard to not spend that extra $10.

      But sadly…. when burning about 10GJ instead of just 1.5GJ. there is only a difference of $30 on a $100 bill !!! You can see why people don’t conserve this precious resource.

    • judith October 16, 2013, 11:03 am

      I just called about a new water heater. The cost of a tankless is $2500 and the cost of a standard 40 gallon one is $750. There would have to be major changes in the way I am billed for natural gas for that tankless one to ever see any payback on that $2500!

      • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 3:56 pm

        Consider a high efficiency gas storage tank heater. We carry Rheem XR-90 water heaters that can deliver 83 gallons of hot water per hour. It has very low standby-losses and is ENERGY STAR Phase II compliant – this means it has an energy factor of EF 0.71. In other words they are 71% efficient. You regular old gas water heaters are only 58% efficient.

        They cost in the $700-$750 range and install just like any other old natural vented water heater. They are only 29-gallon in size, but carry a lot of power. A smaller size means less standby-losses and you still get what you need.

  • Señor CookieDuster October 15, 2013, 4:23 pm

    Great tips….really enjoyed the visual of MMM being a true conservationist and tighter than a snare drum as young, pencil-thin/milk Mustachioed one.

  • Christine October 15, 2013, 4:30 pm

    That’s great! I need to slowly learn how to make my place more energy efficient. Luckily some of the work is done.. (good insulation, no air conditioning, LED bulbs). You mention some interesting things like using a coil to heat water on the roof? All that is new to me!

    • Roch Naleway October 15, 2013, 5:16 pm

      I recommend to start out with changing out some light bulbs. It is a manageable investment and gets the whole process started.

      Here is a rule of thumb:

      Take a look at your incandescent lamps (old Edison lamps), write down the Watts for the lamp that you want to replace, divide the Watts by 4 (or 5). This will give you a rough idea about how many Watts your replacement lamp should have.

      Here is more exact information:

      A 40W replacement should have 500 lumens or more
      A 60W replacement should have 850 lumens or more
      A 75W replacement should have 1,200 lumens or more
      A 100W replacement should have 1,700 lumens or more

      Unfortunately, manufacturers often mislabel lamps and sell consumers products that are not providing the same level of light output. Take a look a the product label and use the information above.

      Good luck!

  • Kurt October 15, 2013, 4:31 pm

    Mr. MM, just wondering if you have carsharing in your area. Given how little you drive, you could save a load of cash by abandoning car ownership entirely and carsharing instead. Just a thought. :)

    • CL October 15, 2013, 4:59 pm

      I thought the same thing! I used Zipcar in college and I liked it. It looks like Zipcar is not yet in Boulder, though it is in Denver, and I found a 2008 article on using Boulder CarShare: http://carfreeinboulder.blogspot.com/2008/07/boulder-carshare.html. It looksl ike the eGo CarShare is still alive and well in the Boulder-Denver metro. http://carshare.org/locations/

      Thanks for being the inspiration I needed to sign up for the renewable energy option available when I moved to Madison. :)

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 15, 2013, 8:11 pm

      We could definitely save some cash by ditching one or both of our cars. Although there is no Zipcar in this area yet, I could simply pay a friend or two to have occasional access to their car fleets.

      The only reason we don’t do this is that we are lazy and decadent consumers who choose to continue our current $25,000 lifestyle even though it could be optimized much further :-)

      However, the fancy Bikes at Work trailer described in the article is a step towards selling my van. The van will still see heavy use during the construction phase of the new house, because I’m using it to carry huge and heavy things almost every day right now. But once this project is done, I’ll probably be ready to let the Honda go and be back down to one little xA (who will probably then get a trailer hitch).

      • chris October 15, 2013, 8:53 pm

        I’ve got a trailer hitch on both my Prius and the Jetta TDI. Love the looks I get when hauling with the cargo carrier on the Prius. Harbor Freight foldup trailer for the Jetta. Used them both extensively on our recent foreclosure project.

      • Sarah Thompson November 6, 2013, 7:04 pm


        Check out this elf bike. A friend of mine recently got one because she has the need to get around faster than she can on her bike (she bakes organic bread and delivers it on her bike). She is also able to use the back of it as a stand at the local farmers market – thus removing the need for hauling a stand with her. Maybe this would eliminate your need for the van because you could carry tools more easily.

        It also might solve some safety concerns.

        • Mr. Money Mustache November 6, 2013, 9:26 pm

          Looks like a nice invention! That thing doesn’t look like it would carry much more than my existing bike trailer, but I’ve got the problem solved with the NEW bike trailer that we just assembled today. 8 feet long with a 300 pound capacity, handles like a dream. I will definitely share some pictures of the thing in action.

          • Andres November 6, 2013, 11:08 pm

            I like my Cetma (a bakfiet-style bike) for hauling stuff (including kids). http://cetmacargo.com/pages/bikes

            It’s not cheap, but much cheaper than a car. When my wife and I had our kid, we decided to get that instead of a car.

            Xtracycles are another super-popular cargo hauler. The local bike shop here has been constantly sold out of their newly released Edgerunners.

  • Done by Forty October 15, 2013, 4:32 pm

    Our home isn’t terribly energy efficient. And we’ve been focusing mostly on cutting down consumption than upgrading the house’s windows or general lack of insulation, due to the fact that we’ll be moving in about three or four years. And our utility bills are split with our renter. This may not be the best approach as our bills (pre-split) add up to about $150 per month ($100/mo for electricity, maybe $20/mo for gas, and $30/mo for water consumption).

    For now we’re focusing on demand management, but perhaps upgrades would see a positive ROI?

    I’d love to get insulation for the roof but our home has no crawl space or access to the space between our ceiling and roof (very odd home style, built in 1950) — only about 12-18″ between the roof and the ceiling.

    • Stephen October 15, 2013, 5:10 pm

      I think we are in the same boat. The house we purchased was the opposite of energy efficient. We did end up insulating the attic and putting in a few new windows. Our house is relativity small ~850sf but we still spend almost $80/month just on electricity alone. We don’t plan on staying here forever and we would get very little return on ee upgrades as a rental so we’ll probably just work to manage the demand side as well.

      • Roch Naleway October 15, 2013, 7:49 pm

        You can always buy some items on a budget that you can move along wherever you go. Get some LED lamps – take them with you when you leave. Get a good quality shower head. Consider smart plug strips that shut the power off (for your television) when it is not in use. Some plasma televisions use as much as $50 worth of energy per year just to be in standby mode. Many of these items pay for themselves in less than a year.

        • Mr. Money Mustache October 15, 2013, 8:17 pm

          I find it is also helpful to replace a plasma/LED television with a library card. It reduces power consumption by 100% and returns time and knowledge worth thousands or millions per year!

        • Keith Brawner October 17, 2013, 3:53 pm

          Despite the snark from MMM himself, I have found this comment to be helpful. This is good, as it was likely directed to me specifically:
          – a reader of MMM
          – a conserver of power (LEDs, insulation, & solar panels)
          – concerned about ‘dark power’ draw
          – a lover of reading
          – still has a big screen TV, a video game system, and a fancy computer with multiple monitors

          I have taken the liberty of ordering 2 such ‘smart power’ strips at significant discount. I expect that they should recoup their cost within 3 months.

          Thank you for your insights, as they are likely to have direct monetary value.

          • Roch Naleway October 18, 2013, 12:02 pm

            The utilities in the Pacific Northwest are estimating the savings from these power strips to average between 300-400kWh per year. We carry BITS LIMITED, but are looking at bringing in some Tricklestar devices. I think that the smart power strips are going to become the new normal. They also come with build-in surge protection, which is a nice feature for expensive electronic devices.

        • Kris October 18, 2013, 11:46 am

          Thanks for the heads up about the power smart strips. I hadn’t heard of them before but was looking for an alternative to unplugging things when not in use. Based Roch’s comment alone, I just ordered a smart power strip and individual smart switches for outlets powering solitary lamps. Thanks!

          • Roch Naleway October 18, 2013, 3:42 pm

            Great. It is an easy project to start off with.

    • PawPrint October 16, 2013, 10:06 am

      My father’s house that we lived in for a while had a flat roof with no attic and no insulation. We were told we could get insulated panels to put on the ceilings, which were relatively high. If you had low ceilings, that probably wouldn’t be an option. We sold the house and left the insulating to the new owners.

  • FRP October 15, 2013, 4:49 pm

    Just a note as I’ve seen MMM mention both hybrids and electric cars on this site a few times: They’re a disaster for his usage patterns. He could buy an Insight* or a Leaf, drive it once or twice a month and enjoy a very large paperweight of a battery in just a few short years instead of getting the full 10-15 year service life of a regularly used battery. A Chevy Suburban makes more sense to short-trip once or twice a month than a hybrid or electric; everyone should consider this if they’re adopting such driving habits.

    *This does not apply to the wise choice of buying an old Insight with a failed battery for a couple grand and enjoying the 70mpg it returns with no hybrid stuff to worry about.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 15, 2013, 8:20 pm

      You are totally right FRP and this is the only reason I still have a gas-powered car. New hybrids are ideal for taxi drivers or other people stuck in lives that require a lot of driving. Older hybrids are good for people in more average situations.

      But once you have your life set up to not depend on driving too much, it doesn’t make sense to have one of these high-tech cars, just because you have the happy problem of not needing it any more.

      • Amicable Skeptic October 16, 2013, 7:35 am

        If you do want to experiment with going off-grid in the future an electric car like a leaf could become a good choice. It’s 24 kwh battery could power your current house for 3 days without sun at your current usage (and if you cut that usage in the new house to a totally do-able 100 kwh/month you could get a whole week out of it). Since you aren’t a usual car clown you could live with it being depleted to power your house on cloudy days. Sure you could just buy industrial batteries instead of the car and get 24 kwh for around $4500 so it isn’t a total slam dunk, but definitely something cool to think about.

        The other thing to think about if you’re gutting the house right now is to consider switching all or some of the house to use DC current instead of AC. If you’re already bought AC bulbs and stuff this might not be an option, but if not it could help you save more energy and make switching to solar later easier.

        Love the heat pump water heater idea, was just reading about them the other day and they are definitely exciting. Can’t wait to hear how the renovation goes!

    • chris October 15, 2013, 8:57 pm

      70 mpg on an old Insight with a failed battery? How do you figure? With an operable battery the numbers I’ve researched are more like 55mpg?

      • phred October 16, 2013, 2:31 pm

        70 mpg is the highway mileage for the early Insights. If you take out all the dead batteries it will make the car a lot lighter. Acceleration will be terrible, though

      • FRP October 16, 2013, 9:59 pm


        http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/203/0325131401.jpg/ My old work commute. 50/50 mix of city and highway.

        A properly driven first gen Insight is a 80-100mpg car. If someone is getting 55mpg with one it’s either intentional or they simply have horrible driving habits. See MMM’s article:


        For what it’s worth, I recently concluded a road trip with a ~85mph (the vehicles highest unassisted speed) trip across east Texas which netted me my worst mileage of the trip: 50mpg.

        When I experimented with driving without the hybrid system enabled my work commute dropped from 90-100mpg to 70-80mpg. A big aspect of the hybrid motor is to augment the power of the gasoline engine. Honda wanted the car to feel similar to an economy car with a 1.5L engine and in some ways it does. Sadly if you do not have the assist from the electric motor the gearing is ill suited for the engine. Steady state driving is completely unaffected by the absense of the hybrid system. FWIW my long trip highway mileage is generally 75mpg or so.

        Personally I think the same car weighing 150-200 pounds less (conviently just a bit more than the weight of the hybrid system) with a properly geared 5 or 6 speed transmission without all the hybrid stuff would be far better overall.

        Regardless, a first gen Insight is an easy $0.08-0.10/mile vehicle including the battery cost. Take that, Prius!

        • Chris October 17, 2013, 8:24 pm

          Great response! Hat tip to you kind Sir.

  • Roch Naleway October 15, 2013, 4:50 pm

    From a budget perspective you could consider upgrading your showerhead first. It will save about $100 between your water heating bill (gas or electric), as well as water & sewer bill. Makes for $300-$400 in total savings.

    Lighting has a really good ROI, too. If you choose LEDs you could decide to take the lamps with you as you move. LEDs are a good mid-term investement.

    • Da55id October 16, 2013, 1:49 pm

      We are installing Cree LEDs gradually in a most used to least used fashion. We’ve replaced the lights that stay on most/much of the day such as in the kitchen since even at $11 a bulb the payback is 2 years or less (and we longer need to recool the heated air the incandescents were generating). Now that these high use area bulbs have been replaced, we are patiently waiting for the bulb prices to go down by half and/or other bulbs to fail in order to keep the 2 year payback criteria effective.

    • Sir Osis of deLiver October 20, 2013, 5:39 pm

      Are you aware of any high-quality dimmable LED bulbs? Most of the lights in my house are on dimmers and so far my admittedly limited research has not turned up much that looks promising.

  • Micro October 15, 2013, 4:51 pm

    I really like the fact that utilizing new technology, being energy efficient, and being frugal all seem to mesh up fairly well. I know whenever I finally get to the point of house hunting, solar panels are going to be a big goal of mine. I’m going to be looking at zoning laws to make sure I can put some up and make use of the big yellow ball in the sky.

  • tallgirl1204 October 15, 2013, 5:04 pm

    Are you considering trombe walls on your south-facing exposure as well? We have them here in Flagstaff, which has a similar climate to Longmont, and they seem to work really well– Good luck with your project!

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 15, 2013, 8:24 pm

      For those not familiar, the Trombe wall is a heavy structure you put right inside of your windows to absorb heat during the day and distribute it through the night. The downside is it blocks most of the sunlight.

      So in my house where I need both light and heat, we’re having the windows shine right in, and the heat will get soaked up by the stone fireplace, the concrete floor, the extensive tilework, and other heavy stuff. Hopefully it will work just as well, as we do the same stuff in the current house.

      • Mark October 17, 2013, 2:46 pm

        Great reading – I look forward to hearing how it all works out for you.

        “we’re having the windows shine right in” – do you ever worry about ‘bleaching’ of internal furnishings from the sunlight? I’ve seen many a carpet turn white from constant Sun exposure. Would be a shame for you to decorate so nicely and then have it spoilt?

    • Plastic Kiwi May 2, 2017, 3:43 am

      Cheapo version: we collected nice smooth round rocks from the beach and line them up on the windowsills. We also cover our hearth in nice looking rounded rocks.

      Rocks are a great heat sink!

      We live in NZ where homes are draughty and without double glazing or central heating. We just have the log burner for heat but we’re fully insulated (loft, walls and underfloor), but we don’t seal up the house – you need a bit of air through to keep it dry.

      We have a massive immersion hot water tank that I’d like to replace with gas on demand but both the system and the gas tanks are prohibitively expensive here. There’s no reticulated gas.

      We use about 12 to 15kwh per day year round at 25c/kwh+ plus $1 daily charge. No gas. We’re on rain water/septic tank here so no water costs either. We spend about $400 for 3 cord of wood – enough for one season.

      We want to add solar pv soon…

  • Peter October 15, 2013, 5:25 pm

    Ana White did a good write up on radiant floor heat with multiple zone boiler setup. If you are considering it, her posts on the subject might be worth a read.


  • Matt October 15, 2013, 5:33 pm

    have you checked out thermal solar panels? They work great for warm water but also for heating your home with a floor heating systems. Especially in your sunny region they should be more than sufficient year round.

  • JJ October 15, 2013, 5:43 pm

    Hi MMM,

    You may want to investigate reliability of heat pump HWS – they have a terrible reputation in some parts of the world. The compressor seems to die silently and it reverts back to standard element type heating. The first thing you know about it is a whopping big power bill. Amazon reviews for the model you link to certainly seem to point to reliability issues and over here in Oz the Rheem heat pump offerings have a similar reputation.

    • Roch Naleway October 15, 2013, 8:06 pm

      Good point. It all comes down to the right climate, the number of people living in a home, water consumption patterns, and the product itself. The best installations happen in people’s garages and unfinished basements. Heat pump water heaters work by transferring heat from the air and using it to heat water. Heat is relative….most heat pump water heaters operate properly down to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Some heat pump water heaters operate down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the energy efficient heat pump mode. The lower the ambient temperature the more reduced the energy efficiency benefit.

      The GE GeoSpring heat pump water heater is the easiest most trouble free heat pump water heater to install with 85% market share in the United States. We have sold a lot of them to contractors and home owners. It can do the job for a 3-4 person household. It comes with a 10 year GE warranty and they have their own service staff if stuff goes wrong.

      If you have a larger household or live in a cold climate we recommend using AirGenerate water heaters. They have been developed with the support of Northwest electric utilities. They operate all the way down to 20 degrees temperature, too. A 66-gallon model will take care of a 3-4 people household. They have one 80-gallon model that can take care of households with up to 6 people. It is possible to attach ducts for air intake and air exhaust to these system. It can be installed inside of conditioned space if desired.

      I definitely hear you loud and clear….some product quality is questionable. We recommend sticking to a select for manufacturers and models. It is also highly recommended to check in with a professional on this topic. Many issues are caused by plumbers or home owners not selecting the correct product for their home.

      • ChoicesChoices October 18, 2013, 10:42 am

        Hi Roch, you say that heat pump water heaters transfer heat from air to water, so wouldn’t a great place to put it be in an attic. It is always warm there in the winter. Why basements that are ususally the colder places in the house? thanks!

        • Roch Naleway October 18, 2013, 3:46 pm

          The attic works if you live in a warm climate that stays above 45 degrees all year long. The warmer the better as long as it does not impact conditioned space in your house too much. The attic is outside of you living space…can be a good place.

          We like basements in Northern climates. They never get too cold to operate due to the dirt that acts as thermal mass.

  • Steve A. October 15, 2013, 5:44 pm

    If your plan calls for building an energy efficient home, I’d consider going an all-heatpump route. A heat-pump water heater in an insulated (but non-conditioned) garage, and a mini-split/ductless heat pump for the main area of the house.

    I’ve renovated my smaller home in this manner and am currently overseeing the construction of my brother’s house. My electric bill (on an all-electric house) is in the $9 to $50 range, depending on the month. The 3.6 KW PV array does most of the heavy lifting. Considering I keep the house about 72 degrees year round, drive an electric car, use an electric clothes dryer and take long, hot showers, that isn’t bad.

    The annual $1,400 check from my utility for my PV power, helps a lot too. I deposited that baby yesterday!

    • Roch Naleway October 15, 2013, 8:11 pm

      Brilliant. You are doing a super-efficient all electric home. It is probably the most environmentally friendly solution that you have described. No onsite for offsite carbon emissions if that is important to you and 100% clean. We see a lot of retrofits for baseboard heated homes that go your exact route: ductless mini-split heat pump, heat pump water heater, and solar PVs.

  • Ross October 15, 2013, 6:03 pm

    MMM, you’ve done it again! I’m an energy efficiency consultant and I’m excited to hear the stories from your new project. I’ve never actually heard of a solar thermal outdoor shower, but it makes a ton of sense. I’m guessing you just run a water line to the roof, through the exchanger, and then back down to the shower. That’s smart.

    One concept I’d love to see residentially is district heating. It sounds like your home will be close enough to a passiv house that it wouldn’t actually make sense, but if there was anyone who could rally a neighborhood together in the the name of energy efficiency, it’d be you.

    • Martin October 16, 2013, 12:49 pm

      Back in the 70’s for a short time I lived in a neighborhood in Warsaw Poland that was heated by an underground steam line carrying waste heat from a coal fired power plant. At the time this was called ‘communism’ and the worst thing that can possibly happen – thousands of apartments all sharing the same heat source that was very cheap… Now in the times of prosperous ‘capitalism’ those outdated ideas are laughed at as something that is never coming back. Or are they?
      The only difference is they will be called ‘progressive’, ‘green’ or ‘cutting edge’.

      • Lina October 17, 2013, 12:25 pm

        It is widely used today in Swedish cities as an green alternative.

    • Jim Wood October 21, 2013, 10:48 am

      Anyone familiar with this type of split system?

      It’s similar to a typical minisplit air source heat pump, but delivers the output to water. Could be great to replace an existing hot water system or as a heat source for a radiant floor.


    • Plastic Kiwi May 2, 2017, 3:52 am

      Solar thermal outdoor shower could be as simple as a black plastic bin on the roof connected to a hose & shower head.

      This was the ‘system’ used when I lived briefly in rural Trinidad. Worked great depending on how many others had already had their shower!

  • Noel October 15, 2013, 6:12 pm

    I love that you posted about this as it is near and dear to my heart as a researcher in home energy efficiency. I’m glad you’re getting some good help on this. I just wanted to point you to a few resources that you might not be aware of that some of us energy geeks are working on at a little research lab to the south of you.

    BEopt – http://beopt.nrel.gov
    The BEopt (Building Energy Optimization) software provides capabilities to evaluate residential building designs and identify cost-optimal efficiency packages at various levels of whole-house energy savings along the path to zero net energy. It can optimize to figure out whether it makes more economic sense to add more insulation or get that fancy new furnace. (spoiler alert: it’s probably the insulation)

    Also, here’s a good paper on heat pump water heaters that you might find useful in deciding whether you should go with the gas tankless or heat pump water heater: “Energy Savings and Breakeven Cost for Residential Heat Pump Water Heaters in the United States”

    • Roch Naleway October 15, 2013, 10:24 pm

      What technologies or concepts are you working on?

  • JJ October 15, 2013, 6:14 pm

    Can’t wait to hear about the off grid solar stuff. Been thinking more and more about some sort of solar application here. Will be needing a new roof sometime in the next few years.

  • Jimfectious October 15, 2013, 6:25 pm

    When we first moved into our house we had an electric bill of about $150/month. After LEDs and CFLs we are down to about $75. There was a significant initial outlay but definitely worked in the end. As for heat, we keep it at about 62-63 in balmy northern New York winters and invested in slippers. Also, I saw a huge difference when putting an extra layer of insulation in the attic. I have a hunch that many 1970s -built houses could use extra insulation. Finally we have a rule that air conditioning doesn’t turn on until there are 3 consecutive days above 85 and it’s humid. Awesome blog!

    • Roch Naleway October 15, 2013, 8:54 pm

      Good work. Regarding insulation – energy codes for new construction homes are constantly getting updated with new energy efficiency requirements. It definitely makes sense to get any house checked out that was built more than 15 years ago. If the weatherization professional does not find any insulation needs that’s ok. The contractor will more than likely identify that the home needs to be air sealed (there are holes in your siding, crawl space, etc.). They may even find that your heating and cooling ducts are not sealed either.

      It is like having the door open in the middle of winter….why would anybody do this?

  • FI Pilgrim October 15, 2013, 6:27 pm

    We moved out of a large, 50-year-old house a couple of years ago into a smaller 20-year-old one (cut our mortgage in half). Amazing how much difference there is in the energy efficiency, there’s a huge hidden cost there. We’re in the southeast, too, so quite a swing in temperatures over the course of the year.

  • Doug F October 15, 2013, 6:37 pm


    I agree the savings from replacing an inefficient appliance with an efficient one has to be balanced by the amount you use the appliance. You mention this critical point regarding AC and heat, but don’t regarding cars. I have a pretty inefficient car (25 MPG). However, I drive about as much as you do and wouldn’t consider replacing my babied, in-good-condition auto with a mystery used one. The savings ($50/yr) is small enough that it would take ten years just to pay off the use tax associated with purchasing a different car!

  • Cheryl October 15, 2013, 6:50 pm

    With all your lights being LED’s, have you considered running them on a 12 volt (or similar) solar system? I haven’t got it set up (yet!) but have talked to a few people who run the lights and some charging points (phones etc) off a small panel and single battery setup, with the rest of the house on the grid as usual.

    Apparently cheap to set up and free to run, probably more so in the US than here.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 15, 2013, 8:32 pm

      This is a neat idea if you don’t mind having two sets of wiring.

      My own partial off-grid idea is to have some solar panels charge a bank of used deep-cell batteries which I see occasionally almost free on Craigslist. These would run an inverter, which I would connect to certain circuits of my home’s electrical system (the fridge and the computers, evening lights, and other constant-drain things, for example).

      This way I could replace at least 50% of my electric use with solar, in a way so low-cost that it would actually be a good investment. But a setup like this depends on cheap lead-acid batteries, which you buy used and then recycle when worn out, replacing with more used ones.

      Of course, much better environmentally is just having the system feed into the grid when the sun is high, you are not using electricity, and everyone else is. I’ll do that if we get some better grid tie policies around here (right now the monthly fee to connect as a supplier is higher than my whole power bill and the rate they pay for power is very low. But if they can get their renewable power elsewhere for cheaper, they should go for it).

      • Roch Naleway October 15, 2013, 9:47 pm

        Your utility does not seem very solar friendly. Many Public Utility Commissions around the US require utilities to offer favorable feed-in tariffs or rebates to encourage investment in solar.

        GP Conservation has a 10kW installed on the warehouse roof. This is enough power for 1-3 homes annually. Our feed-in tariff is roughly 45 cents per kWh. The estimated payback period is 4-5 years. We cannot complain at all.

        • Ben October 16, 2013, 9:11 am

          Just a few comments concerning rate structure for grid-tied renewable generation…

          How “friendly” a utility is toward renewable power is generally a reflection of how “friendly” its interconnected consumers (read: its regulating commission) feel toward renewable power. A generous feed-in tariff is an enormous benefit for the renewable generator that is subsidized by all of the other consumers that don’t have renewable generation.

          MMM’s utility has done what many utilities have done – established a net-metering rate with an up-front monthly fee that reflects the utility’s fixed operating costs for keeping the infrastructure in place. Excess generation is then paid at the cost at which the utility can purchase it elsewhere – typically around 6 cents/kWh in my part of the country. This system may not seem “friendly” but there is a good argument that it is fair.

          • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 12:03 pm

            I totally understand the fairness principle and the argument of non-participating renewable power customers regarding not wanting to subsidize someones solar farm when providing services below costs.

            The benefits of solar exceed the 4-6 cents that utilities pay for when generating wholesale power. You get a much more stable and robust grid. You get mini-sized peaking power plants in neighborhoods when power comes at a premium (30+cents per kWh during some days and hours of the year). You can create self contained, self-healing, power feeders that are isolated entirely from the overall grid compensating for power outages, peak demand, etc. on their own.

            The benefit is that the whole power market is opening up to competition and new ideas….similar to what Tesla is doing with electric vehicles….who knows where this will lead to?

            There are ways to limit the impact of generous feed-in tariffs by making them temporary to induce installations and then dropping them back to lower rates when installations have paid for themselves…..lots of different options.

            • LennStar October 16, 2013, 1:39 pm

              The benefits are even greater: More Sun-Energy means less coal etc. Means less broken earth, means less air pollution, means less illnesses (and costs from them)…

            • CALL 911 October 17, 2013, 11:44 am

              All of the benefits you list are real, but don’t appreciably affect the generator. Who cares about strip mining in Eastern Buffalo Fart that’s 3 states away, and not visible from the interstate. Also, there is no real way to price those disadvantages into the cost of energy.

            • Ben October 17, 2013, 2:08 pm

              We absolutely agree about the benefits of solar, but somebody has to pay for it! Not just the panels and inverters, but all of the relays, communications, and sectionalization equipment necessary to accomplish the self-healing grid ideal that you’ve so nicely described.

              With that in mind, let me alter my tone in keeping with the Mustachian spirit: If you are served by a utility offering favorable rates for renewable then jump on that offer now! It is a firehose of cash aimed at your face!

              MMM’s local utility represents the future of rates, not the past.

            • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 4:05 pm

              @ Ben,

              I love it. Works for me. In Germany they initiated endless subsidies without sunset dates. it makes power 3x more expensive than in the US. However, higher power prices also are a good incentive for folks to become more efficient. I I think that a policy that helps you pay for the equipment, but is slowly phased out once the equipment is paid off would work for me…..So many options…

              PGE has a self-healing power feeder in Salem, Oregon. All sorts of renewable power generation, stand-by distributed generation (generators on roof-tops), and batteries that all work together. It’s all a little bit sci-fi stuff right now, but it will all go in this direction. Innovation is going to get us there.

              The transmission system in the US is hopelessly outdated. The investment needs to happen anyways….even if we did not have to work on effectively tying in new mini-power producers.

        • Mike October 16, 2013, 9:23 am

          This is changing very quickly. Zero-marginal-cost un-dispatchable power in high enough quantities is a direct threat to the investor owned utility business model and to all but the most progressive publicly-owned utilities. Utilities in areas with lots of solar are starting to propose special fees for solar customers to offset the electricity they aren’t selling. None have gone through so far that I’ve heard of, but I would say it’s a matter of time.

          • Aaron October 16, 2013, 9:34 am

            The fees aren’t to cover the electricity the utility isn’t selling, at least that’s not what they’re saying. The fee would be to cover the costs that come with providing energy to the grid, since others are transporting and distributing that electricity. Essentially, with on-grid solar (or wind or anything else), you have hundreds or thousands of mini generators, and the argument is that they should pay for the maintenance and operation of the grid since they are benefiting from it. And it’s hard to see where they’re wrong with that point.

            • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 2:26 pm

              That’s ok. As long as the market is moving from monopolies towards having many smaller entities competing with one another we should be fine. Electric utilities are one of the last true monopolies in the US today. The utility role will change inadvertently. It is going to be interesting to see how things shape up.

      • Dave October 17, 2013, 4:00 am

        Guys forget about the grid tied solar. It’s a scam. At least here in Australia. Sell your roof space to a power company and feed your precious energy into a distribution system that is only 20% efficient. Then get paid pittance for it. No thanks. Do what I have done (and this is my profession and living by the way).

        1) You reduce your load to a reasonable amount 3-4 kWh per day in the tropics/subtropics and 6-7 in more temperate climates. Believe me it’s possible.

        2) If you have electric heating on the house then leave it on the grid. No choice here as putting this on solar will make the system too expensive for most. Alternatively switch to natural gas for major heating appliances.

        3) Install a 70% efficient 48V solar system with battery storage and power inverter to run your efficient mains powered appliances. Use the latest thin film technology solar panels (DuPont makes them in the USA).

        They have stable output over a very wide ambient temperature range. As opposed to crystalline silicon panels that loose up to 25% of their output at ambient temps above 120 deg F. Also they require one third the energy to produce making your payback time much better.

        4) You install an automatic grid changeover switch (“Grid Switch”) that switches your loads back to grid power (in order of priority) as your batteries run flat (like when it’s cloudy for a week, or you wanna have everyone around for a party etc). The “grid switch” means you buy a smaller battery bank (batteries are the most expensive part of the system) and become your own minister of energy. Relegate the grid to backup supply as it should be and give the middle finger to the power companies.

        Also if you go for standard grid tie you will still loose power when the grid goes down (google anti islanding). A “grid switched” system ensures your the only one in the street still online. Use all your same wiring (no running new circuits). This is the best you can do in terms of efficiency and cost reduction without going 100% off grid.

        Love Dave.

        • Da55id October 17, 2013, 1:23 pm

          This sounds great – do you have a detailed reference/writeup of this with equipment names, models and such? Just asking if it’s convenient for more pointers :-)

          • Dave October 18, 2013, 3:53 pm

            Yes, its proprietary info. I’m VERY cautious with what I put on the web. Power companies and other interests don’t like these systems for obvious reasons. Don’t despair, any electronics engineer with half a brain can design a system to function as described above. You can read more about it here. http://unisun.co

            There is no use getting into any of this if your power consumption is still high. Learning about energy is a lifelong pursuit. Start with learning about energy efficiency and waste elimination. As MMM says this will save you more money in the long run than any other investment and is the best place to focus your efforts and money.

      • Pretired Nick October 18, 2013, 3:38 pm

        I find the resistance to solar based on local grid-tie policies to be a little bit complainypants. Yes, it’s frustrating, but in a relatively small municipality such as this and with the scale of this blog at your fingertips, driving change locally could be surprisingly easy.

  • Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle October 15, 2013, 6:50 pm

    What about wood for heat?

    You do a lot of carpentry. You must have a lot of scrap wood to dispose of. You enjoy exercise and splitting wood is great exercise. You could offer to remove people’s fallen trees for free in exchange for the wood.

    Rising and falling energy prices are not a concern for a man with 2 winters worth of neatly stacked wood.

  • Bryan October 15, 2013, 6:57 pm

    There is a really good website to check out for solar projects along with a lot of other cool energy conservation projects. The guy running it does a lot of his own experiments and heats his home with solar in Montana. just search “build it solar”.

    • Valentin October 18, 2013, 2:17 pm

      I second the recommendation of http://www.builditsolar.com

      MMM is a handy do it yourselfer and this kind of project is a nifty addition to an energy retrofit. Doesn’t Colorado have 300+ days of sunshine a year? With that and good insulation, and some thermal mass, you don’t even need a furnace. Save yourself a couple thousand bucks. or spend some of that extra on more insulation! This is what Amory Lovins calls tunneling through the cost barrier: http://www.rmi.org/Knowledge-Center/Library/NC99-06_TunnelingThroughCostBarrier (though he probably talks about it in his TED talks too.

      MMM, don’t fall into the Rich Ivy League syndrome with your new house. Just because you can get 95% efficient furnaces doesn’t mean you need it. Like the Nissan Leaf, it would only be used for maybe 50 hours per year. Use that capital more productively.

      I’d also love to see your creative take on a solar heated house with its instrumentation and control system designed for redundancy and reliability!

  • Dr. Kiwano October 15, 2013, 6:58 pm

    Reading this article reminded me that while I was up in Alaska in February (for a biking/camping vacation) I learned that U of A Fairbanks has a research group that specializes in thermally efficient buildings, and they’ve designed/built/tested houses that keep comfortable with no heating or air conditioning at all, in the Alaska interior, less than 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle! Clearly we live in a world with some amazing materials science and design that we can use to save even more money.

    • Roch Naleway October 15, 2013, 9:07 pm

      The concept your are talking about is referred to as “Passive House”. The concept was developed in Germany that now has over 15,000 residential homes that have no active heating or cooling system.

      Similar to MMM’s new home project: These homes are super-insulated (above and beyond anything considered normal), use a lot of solar heat gain for heating (south orientation & thermal mass), and windows are considers part of the “mechanical heating system” (expensive windows with U-factor of as little as 0.17). A lot of these windows get imported from Canada and Europe.

      One key factor is a fresh air supply to ensure proper air exchanges and a healthy living environment. Some homes use earth tubes that suck in air, pre-heat/pre-cool the air, run the fresh air past a heat exchanger (to absorb heat from the air exhaust), and route the air throughout the home.

      Here is a link to the US-based Passive House Institute. It is a nice resource to learn about the topic:

  • DIY Rooftop Solar October 15, 2013, 7:04 pm

    Looking forward to the off-grid solar panel experiments!

  • matteo October 15, 2013, 8:29 pm

    Be careful with all that deluxe energy efficency equipment! Most of it is fragile, finicky, and much shorter lived vs the old school appliances. Also there is a crazy diminishing returns thing going on that compounds the problem.

    By far the largest energy/$/carbon footprint suck in a building in your climate is heating (and hot water). Conveniently, it also happens that solar hot water is the most efficient and simplest active energy conservation method.

    As Bryan above mentioned, http://builditsolar.com has a lot of terrific and simple designs for homeconstructed solar water heating, with installed costs starting at a few hundred dollars up into the low thousand dollar range, depending on how much you fabricate vs how much you purchase.. A lot of the systems involve a large insulated tank of solar heated hot water. You use this tank as a sort of heat battery and run coils through it for hot water, for heating, etc. Extremely simple, long lived, self repairable.

    A more dependable, energy and money efficient plan would probably be to set up one of these systems and not go overboard on the retrofitting…

    • Roch Naleway October 15, 2013, 9:20 pm

      CFLs are for sure the less expensive option when retrofitting from incandescent lamps. An upgrade from an existing CFL to a LED is tough to justify economically.

      Here are the benefits for LEDs:

      – ENERGY STAR qualified LEDs have a life expectancy anywhere between 2-8x as long as comparable CFLs. The life span ranges from 15,000-20,000hrs. Most folks will get 15-25years of service from quality LED lamps.

      – LEDs do not flicker (unless defective) and folks are going to feel a whole lot less tired when using CFL lighting at home.

      – Better light quality. Many LEDs offer a CRI (color rendering index) of 90 or more. The CRI refers to how colors show compared to colors shown in -daylight. The maximum is 100. Most CFLs have a CRI of 80.

      – No mercury. It is a concern of many folks even though there is a less mercury in a CFL than in a can of tuna.

      We expect LEDs to drop further in price in the coming months. New technology updates are getting fused into production process by the manufacturers.

      • LennStar October 16, 2013, 1:51 pm

        Older CFLs had a lot more mercury in them. Thats were the fear comes from (rightfully). The problem is less the amount, its more that a broken CFL gets the mercury in the air – and thats when it is really, really dangerous. And its no getting out of the body. Like lead you can poison yourself over years and decades and getting “illnesses” that don’t look like they are based on poison but “normal” getting-old-illnesses.

        I really like the new LEDs you can get since this year (germany). For a 60W replacement I get more light from a 10W LED and the buying price is saved in less then a year in the most used lights.

      • Heather October 18, 2013, 8:22 pm

        One of the biggest problems we’ve had with CFLs is their extremely short lifespan–much shorter than advertised, to say the least. I thought I was imagining it but we’ve spread their usage to three houses now and I’m replacing the CFLs every 10-12 months or less! That’s just nuts in my opinion, and definitely has me leery of trying any newer and more expensive lighting options. Very frustrating.

        • Roch Naleway October 19, 2013, 12:16 am

          The shorter than advertised lifespan for CFLs can have all sorts of reasons:

          1. Overheating. I see a lot of regular twisters installed in recessed lighting cans or small enclosed lamp shades. The lamps emit heats that cannot escape and kills the lamp because it is operating out of spec. If you have recessed cans for instance install proper CFL reflectors. They can handle the heat build-up.

          2. 3-way switches. If you have fixtures from your home that can be turned on and off by two different switches you have so called 3-way switches installed. These applications require 3-way CFL lamps….they have a special ballast installed to handle the application.

          3. Dimmers. Do not install non-dimmable CFLs in fixtures controlled by a dimmer. There are dimmable CFLs that are made for the job.

          4. Poor lamp quality. Make sure to get a lamp with the ENERGY STAR logo on the box. These lamps meet stricter requirements and may get audited at random.

          5. Hours ratings. CFLs differ in their life expectancy. Most compact fluorescent lamps carry a life expectancy of 6,000-12,000 hours of use. The more the lamps are used the shorter the number of weeks, months, or years they will last.

          Just a few thoughts….some lamps that are sitting on store shelves are real junk….the production lines for some lamps and manufacturers are old and antiquated. It makes good sense to stick with good quality product when purchasing CFLs. You may pay 10-25% more to get a sleek designed quality manufactured. lamp, but it may actually perform according to what’s on the package.

          Hope this helps.

    • Steve October 16, 2013, 5:35 pm

      Opinions about solar thermal systems are far from unanimous: http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/solar-thermal-dead

      • Mike September 25, 2014, 8:56 pm

        But that comparison was with a $8,000-10,000 solar hot water installation providing 50% of hot water, not a $1,000 DIY one providing 90% (in Montana) like the example at http://www.builditsolar.com.

  • Aaron October 15, 2013, 9:37 pm

    The topic of how we’re going to get our energy in the coming decades is certainly a fascinating one. I work in the energy field, consulting to be specific, and there’s not doubt that the coming decades will be transformative ones for the energy industry. However, there are still a ton of questions and issues that still need to be worked through before we use only clean energy. Such as, what’s the role of the centralized grid in all of this? What level of renewables penetration can the grid handle, and who is going to pay for its upkeep? Is battery technology going to improve enough to integrate it into grid at a high level, thus providing additional flexibility and allow for greater use of intermittent resources? If certain dominos don’t fall, it certainly seems like its going to be impossible to get to 100% clean energy, and there also seems to be conflict ahead between utilities and their customer bases.

    It’s all extremely interesting to me. Even 3-5 years ago, no one was doubting the utility model and now with the price of solar plummeting, it’s just completely changed the math. Contact me if you have any questions, want more information, or want to be pointed in the direction of good reading materials.

    • Roch Naleway October 15, 2013, 10:14 pm


      Great thoughts. I have a few ideas around this topic:

      The utility monopolies are going away. Power production is going to become more decentralized, which should yield higher grid reliability. Transmission lines are supposed to be operated separately from power generation anyways. 3rd party generators should be able to tie into existing transmission lines. Utilities will have to start acting as service providers….similar to what has happened to the telecommunication markets. This should be good for consumers.

      Obviously, the problem with renewable power is its intermittent production. It is not always available when you need it. I truly believe that someone is going to come up with an ingenuous energy storage device that will solve the problem.

      I also think that we will see a lot more investment into power transmission systems. This will improve the ability to move power from one area to another allowing for better balancing of loads. Our 1950s/1960s grid is not going to cut it.

    • LennStar October 16, 2013, 2:07 pm

      100% renewable energy is no problem. My region does it on windy and sunny days and the project area 100km away is at about 75% near-all-time (in such a small area you cant get enough substitutes if there is really no wind as it is a hand full of days a year).
      The problem is storing the energy. Here in germany that would be quite easy.
      You can do this by using energy-to-natural gas (or whatever the english name is). Use the power to produce H2 or methan (=”natural gas” in practical terms).
      You can refit your car to drive with H2, no problem, the buses here do it in many towns. You can use the existing system of gas pipelines and caverns to save it (I live 3km away from a big field of caverns) just like you do it today with the gas that comes all the way from russia.
      Take excess energy from PV in the summer, save it as methan, burn it in the winter to get heat and electricity. Done.

      The only problem is the process. It works fine in small, but to get a working and payable (the whole electricity-methan-electricity cycle has less then 1/4 efficiency +costs) process takes at least 10 more years. The current top-tech units are stored in normal freight containers and can save the energy of I think 100-200 houses with PV.

      • Roch Naleway October 18, 2013, 3:50 pm

        I think storage is going to get a lot better. The person or business that comes up with a solution to energy storage that can be scaled up to industrial dimensions and reduces energy transfer losses will be the next billionaire. I forgot: it needs to be low cost, too.

  • Insourcelife October 15, 2013, 9:44 pm

    It’s great to see all the ideas for the new house! It’s much easier to do most of the energy efficiency related upgrades when the place is built or re-built from the ground up than trying to retrofit an existing structure. I would love to do a similar project at some point to get the exact layout we want (no formal anything, what a waste!) along with the efficiency we desire.

  • Ponmani October 15, 2013, 9:50 pm

    I heard you mention that your computer is constant-drain item. I would like to know how you use your computer/laptop. Do you always run it 24/7 and/or access it remotely?

    With proper power setting to keep computer in sleep/hibernate mode would save significant power wastage. Also, if external monitors(70-75 W) are used, the savings could be much more significant.

    I observe some computer users, just leave their computer/laptop on, so that it can be accessed remotely or do some automated task. Right now I am writing an application[1], that would enable on demand remote access, without running it 24/7. Compared to keeping computer “always on”, a polling interval of 15 mins and power on time of 4 mins, we can save about >80% of computer power over an 12 hour period.

    Sorry for that shameless plug
    [1] http://www.remotewaker.com

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 15, 2013, 9:59 pm

      No, I turn everything off when it’s not in use (0.5 watts standby). But we do use those things quite a bit during the days (about 35 watts for each desktop computer plus an extra 15-25 for the LED monitor depending on size). Good idea for the app.

  • Andres October 15, 2013, 10:58 pm

    This is one of the reasons why renting is so frustrating. When we moved to the area 3 years ago, we decided to rent because we didn’t know which neighborhood we wanted to live in. 2 years ago we had a better idea, but my wife’s work was planning to move and we wanted an idea of where they were moving to. In the meantime, we’re renting a super cheap house but also paying ridiculous energy bills. The windows have gaps that allow air through, and the insulation is a joke.

    We’re finally supposed to find out where they’re moving to in a few weeks. Hopefully then we can buy a house!

    • Karl October 16, 2013, 3:13 am


    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 7:12 am

      This does not sound like fun. Consider getting a product called “rope caulk”. It comes on a roll, it is not messy, and you can squeeze it into the mid-sized areas where you have gaps around your window frame. If you have larger gaps you could get some strips of foam insulation and work to seal the areas. We also see folks getting a tube of white caulk and a caulk gun to apply around the actual window frame.Regular caulk should just be used for small sized gaps. It is overall inexpensive and will pay for itself shortly.

      • Rachel October 16, 2013, 11:56 am

        Thanks for the tip!! I’m in the same boat… renting a house that is very Mustachian in many ways (cheap, small, 1 mile from my job and 1.5 miles from the grocery store, yay!) but was built in 1918, has what appear to be original windows and front door, and is a HUGE five-alarm energy emergency!

      • janice Z October 21, 2013, 12:11 pm

        Will this work for a wood front door? Living in the Chicago area – 4 true seasons – and we do not have storm doors. Looking for a way to seal gaps between door and frame. In addition to sealin git, what are your thoughts on storm doors? Are they worth it?

  • SMP October 16, 2013, 1:29 am

    I pay more than 5% of my net income on energy and fuel – although it doesn’t feel like an emergency to me. It may be between 6% and 8% of my net income.

    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 7:14 am

      Absolutely. Energy costs can really drain your wallet. Making a few changes around the home is like putting money back in your wallet.

  • Stephen October 16, 2013, 1:30 am

    Switching your car based on MPG really isn’t that cut and dry.

    To give some real work examples, over the last 12 months I spent just over €850 on petrol (prices are much higher over here) as an average of 21mpg. Even if I saved the entire amount and dropped both insurance and tax, it still wouldn’t make changing cars worthwhile financially.

    Hell I’m even thinking that whenever I do get around to buying another car, I’ll probably go an even more fuel IN-efficient car. Those things are pennies on the pound as no one wants them. So you get a top end car really cheap. I drive so little than mpg makes only a tiny dent compared to depreciation. My current car is 8 years old and that still holds true.

    • theFIREstarter October 16, 2013, 2:56 am

      I’m not so sure about that…

      I’ve got what I thought was a fairly efficient motor (Peugeot 306, 1.8L Petrol) But have done some experiments on it and found I am only getting around 30MPG combined.

      A quick google search and I found out that the 2.0L Diesel turbo returns 60MPG, yes that is DOUBLE what I am getting now!!!!

      I can pick one of these babies up for under £1000 on autotrader (needless to say I am planning on doing this as soon as possible)

      In terms of reliability, I think survival bias works well on cars over 10 years old, my current 306 has been through 2 MOTs with no issues whatsoever and it only cost £1200 when I bought it.

      I you think it isn’t worth getting a more efficient car because you don’t use it enough and depreciation is the biggest cost you could either get rid of it entirely, or look at a 10 year old+ where depreciation becomes a fairly moot point.

      I’m also going to check out the shower head thing, I am sure mine is dumping out the equivalent of an olympic sized swimming pool every couple of days (as nice as it is… I am sure the efficient ones are just as good though)

  • Karl October 16, 2013, 3:03 am

    Excellent post MMM. However reading posts like this make me temporarily, slightly depressed as I am living in a rental home which is absolutely awful in terms of comfort and efficiency. The place is freezing in winter and baking hot in summer due to cheap construction, poor orientation, lack of shading and no insulation. It’s expensive and uncomfortable to live in. On the flip-side though it is located in a very nice area with lots of cycle paths, parks, bike-friendly streets and is close to friends and work.

    Every single house I have lived in has been like this – it’s the unfortunate reality in many places as these houses were all built to be rentals, not family homes. Thus they are not well designed or comfortable and the owners see no value in improving them in that regards as it doesn’t yield any real increase in rental value for them.

    It’s not all doom and gloom though. Some friends of mine are renting a former family home (empty nester) which is around 50 years old and has been fixed up and improved during it’s life to be more comfortable during poor weather and generally liveable. So there are some options out there.

    For me it’s just a matter of focussing on saving enough money to buy a small plot of land somewhere and build my own small, super energy efficient, self-sustainable home myself. I’ll need around $400,000 to do it on the cheap (welcome to Australia) but I’ll get there eventually!

    • Andres November 6, 2013, 11:27 pm

      Every once in a while I’ll run across some organization (city government, non-profit, or other) who is doing some kind of lending deal for home efficiency improvements. Every time, I talk to them about how renters can take advantage of the deal, and they just shrug their shoulders.

      I wish there was a group out there that set up a scheme similar to the following:
      You have a renter who is interested in home efficiency improvements (insulation, solar thermal, photovoltaics, whatever). You have a landlord who doesn’t care about that unless it improves his/her bottom line. So, you have a third party that basically functions as an escrow for this transaction. The landlord agrees to pay for the cost of an upgrade that will reduce the utility costs for the tenant by $200 per month. In return, the tenant enters into a contract with the escrow to pay $100 per month for X months. The escrow takes a cut, and the rest goes to the landlord.

      Thus, the tenant saves $100 per month, and has a more comfortable living space. The landlord gets paid back for the improvements at a rate of $100 per month. Imagining that the improvement cost $3000, the landlord gets paid for 36 months.

      Obviously, some kinks would need to be worked out. For example, does the tenant sign into a 3 year lease as part of the payback agreement, or do new tenants just get an extra temporary rider on their lease until the landlord is paid back? It would also be even easier to have landlords agree if the third party fronts the money, and the payback goes there instead. As a tenant and a former landlord, I would welcome such a system to incentivize home efficiency improvements!

  • Ric Sake October 16, 2013, 3:46 am

    I’m planning to fit thermostatic valves to our hot water radiators so we can control the temperature by room (rather than by how hot it is in the hall where the heating thermostat lives). I will then move the heating thermostat to the garage (clean & dry, but closer to outside temperatures) so the pump will turn off when it is hot out, such as during the summer. The down-side I see to this is that the pump is going to be running full time during the winter when the heater programmer timer is on demand.
    My question is would the benefit of thermostatic valves typically off-set the cost of running the pump all the time?

    @ anyone
    Does anyone know of any good UK energy efficiency web-resources so I can see what products are available in the UK?

    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 7:52 am

      The zonal control for your radiators (via thermostatic valves) should definitely help lower your costs and increase the comfort around your home. I would do it.

      I don’t know about your plans for repositioning of your heater thermostat from the hallway to the garage. Its role should be to turn the whole system on or off depending on temperatures you’d like to see overall in the home.

      Is there an option to install a master thermostat for the hallway that can control your individual zones around the home, too? It may be a good idea to call up the manufacturer of your system to see whether they have such an option. This would be optimal.

    • InDifferentCircumflexes October 16, 2013, 8:31 am

      What would it entail to have “proper” thermostats in every relevant room, that each could turn the pump on or off, as well as opening or shutting a valve in the radiator?

      Because the scenario you described, with thermostats in each room, but a single additional thermostat to handle the pump seperately, doesn’t actually make much sense (to me, anyway…).

      As for the cost picture, that’s something you’re probably better placed to answer than we are – since you can get the correct prices and look up expected lifetimes of the specific products you are planning to use.

      • Ric Sake October 16, 2013, 9:37 am

        Thanks @Roch

        @ InDifferentCircumflexes
        My plan was as follows:
        * Summer = hot = electric thermostat in garage is “off” = system shuts down.
        * Winter = cold = electric thermostat in garage is “on” = pump runs all the time (if the timer/programmer is on) = each room controlled independently by a mechanical radiator valve like this: http://www.screwfix.com/p/15mm-angled-trv-chrome-white/60368

        But my question was is it economic to have the pump run for hours each day, just in case one or more radiators are demanding heat?

        • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 11:49 am

          You should not let the heat pump run all winter long when you do not need the heat anywhere in the house. It will cost a lot of money and wear your equipment out faster.

          Consider moving your thermostat to an area of the home where you spend the most time (living room, kitchen?). The thermostat will activate the overall system when the temperature drops below your preferred setting. It will also only activate zones that you want to get heated.

      • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 11:45 am

        The main thermostat acts like a switch to activates the overall system. It should be installed in the area of the home that is most occupied. Obviously, all other active zones will only be heated if the main space gets heated at the same time. Otherwise the whole system is off.

        New zonal thermostat systems allow a master thermostat to coordinate with so called “slave thermostats” that are installed in individual zones. I don’t know whether his radiator system can be retrofitted with an upgraded system like this.

        • Ric Sake October 16, 2013, 12:46 pm

          Many thanks, this helps. In this case I think need to first look into converting my single-zone system into a multiple zone system, which will most likely entail extra pipework and/or motorized valves & bypass pipes. Clearly my existing system is old, as in very old!

  • Dollar Flipper October 16, 2013, 4:30 am

    Great points!

    The living room in my apartment has some huge windows right above our sliding door. The door barely shuts the whole way and you can literally feel a breeze come through during the winter. With the baby crawling around and me not wanting to actually do any work replacing the door since it’s only an apartment,

    I bought a roll of duct tape and a HUGE roll of bubble wrap from Uline ($58 shipped). Covered the door/windows (all the windows in the house actually) with the bubble wrap and sealed the leaky areas with duct tape. Last winter, we were able to lower the heating temp by at least 3 degrees F since we weren’t having our heating system fight with the cool air from outside.

    Only negative about this option is not being able to use the grill without having to walk all the way around outside. It’s worth it though.

    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 7:17 am

      Your sliding glass door may be off its track and may prevent it from closing properly.

      • Dollar Flipper October 19, 2013, 4:55 am

        I’m sure it is. The whole window set seems to be off/crooked. This causes a small gap on the left side (the direction the door closes towards), and the bottom too. I’m betting there’s some weather stripping that needs to be replaced too. I don’t want to commit money into an apartment though. If it were my own place this would have already been fixed!

  • KMB October 16, 2013, 4:36 am

    What are you going to do about fresh air? If you seal this house up like you’re intending, indoor air quality is going to take a nose dive. The standard solution would be an energy recovery ventilator, but because you’re abandoning your ducts and furnace you won’t be able to distribute or temper outdoor air. What’s you plan?

    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 7:29 am

      The easiest route to take care of indoor air quality is to install a continuously running Panasonic bathroom fan in a home or apartment. Some models come with a timer, a motion sensor, and can be adjusted for CFMs. You can have it run 24/7 at 30CFM. It kicks to 80 or 110CFM depending on the model when someone walks into the bathroom (motion sensor activated). These fans operate at 0.3 sones and you won’t hear them running. Pretty amazing. Operating costs are $5 per year and negative impacts on heating or cooling bill are small. Product costs between $150-$250.

      More sophisticated solutions include the installation of an ERV or HRV….ventilation fans that get fresh air directly from the exterior and exhaust used air from the interior. The heat from the exhaust air is used to heat the fresh air supplied from the exterior. Products costs between $300-$1,200.

      • Da55id October 16, 2013, 9:35 am

        Great tip! Thanks – I will use these fans as the current crew of rattle trap fans in my house die off LOL.

        • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 11:51 am

          Replace your rattle fans early. Field tests show that rattle fans do not effectively move any air or remove humidity and volatile components from the home. You will notice a significant improvement and get rid of unnecessary noise pollution at the same time.

          • Da55id October 16, 2013, 1:42 pm

            I would want fans that had a humidistat that only vented when relative humidity was above 50%.

            • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 5:01 pm

              Panasonic has fans that come with a humidity sensor that you can adjust, too.

              Here are a few part numbers:

            • Da55id October 16, 2013, 6:04 pm

              awesome! thanks

      • John October 16, 2013, 10:00 am

        So this will de-pressurize the house, correct? The idea being that fresh air will be forced in through any leaks (which are being intentionally removed) / openings (doors, etc.).

        With a tight sealed house, I’m not sure how well this will work. It seems like you would need some source of fresh (outdoor) air, correct?

        • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 4:49 pm

          You are correct. Make up air is going to come through the remaining holes and gaps in the building envelope. Most homes are not sufficiently tight for any concerns about pressurization in the home by a Panasonic bathroom fan operating at 30CFM. It is really slow air movement, but sufficiently high to work for most homes. The energy efficiency specialist usually go with ah ERV/HRV that pulls air from the outside of the home and exhaust air from the inside of the home. It is a bit more expensive, saves more energy, and a more optimal. If you are on a budget the bathroom fan route will work fine.

  • Jane October 16, 2013, 5:19 am

    Have you considered adding an indirect water heater to your new gas boiler system? It is a good alternative to a tankless water heater.

    • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 2:19 pm

      Are you referring to a pre-heater mixed with a booster heater system?

  • Jeff October 16, 2013, 6:53 am

    When my kids were still at home, they- especially my daughter- would leave lights on in every room all day long. I used to grumble that they must work for the electric company. Now they are grown and out of the house, and I guess my frugal ways have rubbed off on them. My daughter left her apt for a weekend and decided to turn off the a/c at the switchbox to save money. Unfortunately, when she returned, she found that she had turned off ALL the electricity, and all the food in her fridge was spoiled- about $300 worth!

    I replaced the canned lights in our kitchen with led replacements this year. Not only are they more efficient, but they are also better lighting than the halogens, and of course they don’t burn out every 6 months.

    We live in Oklahoma, so the air conditioning situation is more important than other places. We regularly have temps that exceed 90 degrees (not to mention 100 degrees) for weeks on end. Our central a/c unit is 10 years old and I suspect not very efficient, but to replace it with a new one substantially more efficient is just not cost effective for us right now. We make do with a higher temp in the house during the day, closing drapes, etc.
    Jeff in OK

    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 7:42 am

      If you want to stick with your existing equipment you could consider an upgrade to your existing thermostat. Most old thermostats are not programmable and not very accurate. They allow for temperature swing of 2-3 degrees up and down. There are low cost options for $25 and luxurious options for $250 (NEST thermostat). All of them have a vacation/away mode that turns the system off while allowing for freeze protection, etc.

      It is going to be less expensive than paying for a new air conditioning system.

      You can also look up the SEER rating for your existing air conditioner. Old systems may only have a SEER rating of 10. New system can have a SEER rating of 18.

      Good luck.

      • Da55id October 16, 2013, 9:41 am

        another option is spot air conditioning. This winter when they’re dirt cheap, buy a “damaged box” or reconditioned outlet store window air conditioner sized for your bedroom and then enjoy during the coming summer. This is what we did, and it reduced our electric bill by $30 a month. FYI, one of us is very very very sensitive to heat and sleep is a most important health/happiness thingy.

        • Jeff October 17, 2013, 7:00 pm

          We actually have 2 room a/c window units. We bought them several years ago when the temps were 100+ and the central unit went out. The repairman couldn’t come for a few days. I have used them some over the years for our master bedroom, and it worked out pretty well, but for the last couple we haven’t used them.

          I guess I can’t complain about our elec. bill too much. It averages about $150/month year round. That’s water heating, cooking, lights, a/c, everything.

    • PeterK2003 October 16, 2013, 9:16 am

      I am horrible about turning off lights. I installed these almost everywhere in the house:


      They are simple to install with a basic understanding of AC electricity and the ability to follow directions. This particular model doesn’t require a neutral wire, just ground, which is an issue b/c many light switches many not a neutral wire in them.

  • rjack October 16, 2013, 7:20 am

    MMM – Did you consider Geothermal heating/cooling as part of your energy plan? I think the newer systems only involve drilling a single deep hole on your property and, as a result, are less expensive to install than the old systems.

  • Kaytee October 16, 2013, 7:33 am

    Just bought our first house last month. It’s a LEED accredited, constructed in 2011 house that apparently is so “tight” that it needs air exchangers to “meet code.” Instead of an attic, we have insulation. We have solar hot water that has still been getting up to the 70’s in the water tank in this unseasonably warm October.

  • PW October 16, 2013, 7:37 am

    Don’t forget about greywater systems to save on water usage. Some options can be pretty simple. Instead of sending water from your washing machine down the drain to the wastewater treatment plant, send it to your water hungry lawn or landscaping. It will save you money and help your city by reducing the demands on the wastewater processing. This is especially useful in dry climate and places where water bills can be expensive. Greywater friendly laundry soap is available also. I was surprised to see the fine print on my Trader Joe’s brand said this already.

  • Eric October 16, 2013, 8:44 am

    MMM: how did you calculate the $10,000 figure for transportation savings? Does this include factors associated with reduced driving other than gasoline savings? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average household in the U.S. spends less than $3,000 on gasoline per year. Thanks!

  • GoCubsGo October 16, 2013, 8:53 am

    It’s great reading these comments for inspiration. Unfortunately, I live in a 90 year old house in a rough climate (Chicago) and am having a hard time making big gains (although reading this site has me making changes). In the past year I’ve put a second layer of batt insulation in the attic, switched out 80 % of lights to CFL, added programmable thermostats. My big project was to build interior storm windows for 8 large windows (cool looking original windows that would have cost $850 a piece to replace- bad payback) . I read about the interior storms and got a ridiculous quote, so I found a local glass shop for the plexiglas and copied the design using parts off the internet (industrial magnetic roll tape, metal L-channels for a drop ceiling instead of custom L brackets). It stopped the wind draft and seems to have made a big difference. All that said, I just got a “Energy Audit Update” from my utility saying I use 95% more electricity than similar sized homes in my neighborhood!!! Very discouraging and not sure where to go from here.

    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 12:14 pm

      Sounds like your utility signed an agreement with OPOWER to provide these comparative reports. I recommend giving your local utility a call….the usually have energy efficiency representatives that come to your home to provide a free walk through? Sometimes they can even do a quick analysis with you over the phone.

  • PeterK2003 October 16, 2013, 9:08 am

    I just got one of them there GE heat pump water heaters. According to the energy star labels on the old/new heater I should save about $300. I paid $400 for it after rebates and sold the old heater for $100. So theoretically It should pay for itself in a year. So far it is working well but it is hard to tell how much I am saving.

    Also(and this wouldn’t be possible for most people) I own 5 acres of land and every dead tree I can find gets cut for firewood. My house is heated almost entirely by wood and supplemented by electric heat with programmable timers. This makes my heating bill a few $ a month in the winter. It is the highest in the fall/spring when it isn’t really cool enough to run the wood burner.

    One thing that I really want to do is go to LED bulbs but I haven’t found any 100W equivalent bulbs that put out 5000K light which is my preference.

    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 5:06 pm

      Under normal conditions you should see $150-$325 in savings on your electric utility bill per year. You can put your last year’s utility bills side by side with your new bills. There should be a difference by 100-250kWh in energy use each month consistently. Water heating is mostly non-seasonal, so you should see a drop across the board.

  • Don Bronkema October 16, 2013, 9:08 am

    Each of infra is another source of cash for Dollar-Cost Averaging into broad, no-load index funds

    –no lunch or dinners out
    –no coffee/tea/booze/tobacco//dessert
    –no wagering
    –no car, bus, train, bike [shanks-mare/all-weather]
    –lean/mean tasty cuisine
    –consume all left-overs
    –slash comestible waste close to zero
    –passive solar, aeolian, geo, tidal, ground-pump
    –sweaters indoors [winter]
    –long-lasting habiliment
    –longlife appliances [Consumer Reports]
    –Washington [DC] Consumers’ Checkbook [hily detailed local services]
    –mortgages amortized in 15 years
    –zero on credit; little stuff of any kind
    –2nd hand clothes/furnishings
    –no marriage/cohabitation [the very quintessence of ruin]
    –no kids [wait til age 40]
    –no travel
    –library books instead of media

    Supererogatory? of course, but w/15-20 years of DCA cost-optimization, a spartan lifestyle will make you independent [wealthy if input is substantial]… parsimony helps you focus on basics, & it permits you to subsidize Populist reform groups.

  • John October 16, 2013, 9:56 am

    I’m interested in hearing how you will manage indoor air quality with the vast improvements in insulation / sealing.

    Any concerns with such a sealed up house? This can be a challenge. Hopefully, the low humidity in CO will help…

    We have an old home that we’ve gradually been sealing / insulating. While our energy bills have dropped, we now have some moisture issues in the house. I’ve actually added a fresh air intake to the furnace to manage these issues (counter-acting insulation / sealing).

    • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 2:19 pm

      You can get continuously running Panasonic bathroom fans that will provide constant new fresh air supply/used air exhaust. We sell them at GP Conservation and move a ton of them. No warranty claims after moving more than 2,000 pieces this year.

      If you want to go hi-tech you can get an ERV/HRV ventilation fan. Costs about 2-5 as much compared to the bathroom fan solution.

  • Anna Neely October 16, 2013, 10:12 am

    This is such a timely article! I’m ramping up to do some efficiency implementations in my own home. We bought a very old (100 years +) home in February with the intention of making two major updates to it to make our good deal even better. The first was to switch from oil (GASP – what is new england thinking?!) to gas and we’re going to go the extra mile of installing a tankless water heater that will supply both our hot water and our heat. The second was to add a significant amount of insulation to the house to make it nice and cozy. We had the unfortunate experience of finding out our home inspector was dead wrong when telling us that the home had been updated from knob and tube wiring, and thus a complete re-wire would be required to add any more insulation. Re-wiring is something that neither my husband nor I know anything about, so we’re stuck dumping heat out our walls until we figure out a good solution.

    • ams October 18, 2013, 5:16 am

      Oh Shit! Does the inspector bear any liability for his error?

      • Anna Neely October 18, 2013, 9:19 am

        Only if we decide to spend more money to get lawyer to pursue it. I feel like legal fees, is a huge waste. In the end, I don’t really want to punish the inspector, I just want to insulate!! I’m curious about the MMM community’s thoughts on paying lawyers (not that there is anything inherently wrong with people in that profession, it’s just so pricey it feels like a huge luxury)

        • Jen January 25, 2015, 5:13 pm

          I hope you figured out your wiring problem and hired an electrician that would also teach you about power while he worked on your house! Electrical work is so easy and fun but can be so dangerous.

          In regards to lawyers, I think that everyone makes mistakes and although they are unfortunate, I don’t want to be sued for every mistake I make and therefore don’t sue others for their mistakes. Also, I don’t see how anyone wins when you fight about anything. I do think it is important to gently and nicely let them know about their mistake so they can learn and so I learn in the process.

  • PawPrint October 16, 2013, 10:21 am

    Like a few others who’ve commented, I live in an apartment in Seattle with not much control over energy efficiency. I did install weatherstripping around the front door and changed out light fixtures. The apartment has electric baseboard heat, however, and I’m just not sure how to deal with that. So far I’ve only turned it on in the bathroom when taking a shower, and in the living room where we hang out. I’ve heard that it’s not good to close off rooms (mold issues), but we haven’t turned on the baseboard heat in the bedrooms. I’m a bit freaked out about how much it’s going to cost this winter.

    I own a rental townhome in another state that I plan to retire to. After buying it, the first thing I did was insulate it and change out the windows. While that cost me money on a property I’m not currently living in, I like to “think globally” and know that my tenants aren’t using up natural resources because they live in an uninsulated house.


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