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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.

  • retirebyforty October 16, 2013, 10:23 am

    We spend about $50/month on gasoline on average. That’s not quite as good as MMM, but much better than the average family. Our energy also cost about $50/month. We really need to be more efficient. I’m not sure what is sucking up all that energy – 400kW/month. Just a lot of cooking lately I guess.

    Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 12:08 pm

      You could get a P2 Killawatt power meter. it plugs into your outlets…you plug in your appliances….monitor your consumption and identify the culprits.

      What kind of water heater do you have? What kind of space heating/space cooling? Gas or electric?

      Reply
  • Kyle October 16, 2013, 10:47 am

    MMM suggested in the past that LED’s are not a good investment because they are dropping in price faster than the electricity $ savings. Based on this article, MMM is now purchasing LED’s. So are these a good deal or not?

    Reply
    • tommy October 17, 2013, 11:58 am

      If the prices are as in Norway, you should definitly not buy LEDs for socket E27. GU10 spots on the other hand, damn they’re cheap! So all depends on what kind of socket it is. If it is GU10, go for LED. E27 i would have bought CFL, and wait for the LED versions to have a price drop. In Norway one can get CFLs 11W for 1.5 USD, and good enough E27 LEDs for 15 USD. The price diffrenece is to large.

      Source: my education: Master of Scienece, Electric Power Enginnering.

      Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 18, 2013, 3:55 pm

      If you have incandescent old school lighting you can make LEDs pay. LEDs are long term solutions….the lower cost A-lamp LEDs can be purchase for a low dollar amount….no problem here. If you buy expensive LED reflectors or LED globes you want to be in that living space for a few years.

      You will most likely not have to replace this lamp ever again while you live in this home.

      Reply
  • Leslie October 16, 2013, 10:50 am

    Installing energy efficient lightbulbs and getting rid of an air conditioner in the garage from previous owners cut our energy bill by 50%.

    Reply
  • mike October 16, 2013, 10:55 am

    Good thing there have been a lot of comments so far. Maybe MMM will not read this far down to view my comment.

    3 gallons of gas per month. Man, that is hard core and inspirational.

    So let me go on my little rant, then I zip it:

    What about the terrible inefficiencies of eating meat? A pound of edible red meat takes 15-20 pounds of grain. That grain would feed me a lot longer than 1 pound of meat. The amount of water used to raise that one pound of beef is the amount used taking a five minute shower everyday for a year.

    We won’t even go into the terrible amount of animal suffering and what it does to our planet.

    Oh yeah, but where would I get my protein? How about where the cows, chickens, the vegan elephants, gorillas, hippopotamusses get it–from plants.

    Reply
    • Da55id October 16, 2013, 1:15 pm

      very persuasive. We have cut down on our per person meat consumption by 90% from a decade ago. It’s a good think to do for the reasons you state. I’d steak my life on it.

      Reply
    • Martin October 16, 2013, 1:32 pm

      Unfortunately all the ‘efficiencies’ of eating veggie burgers instead of the real thing goes into the pockets of the manufacturers and distributors – beef burgers are less expensive per ounce of protein than any veggie burgers!
      I find the same thing happens with a lot of other products, for example around here (Ontario) local strawberries in season are about twice the price of California strawberries that have to be shipped across the continent using lots and lots of energy. Why would I buy local?

      Reply
      • danvan October 22, 2013, 3:50 pm

        Why buy local? Because Ontario strawberries in season are little bright red packets of deliciousness sent by the fruit gods and imported California strawberries are giant white crunchy tasteless blobs!

        And don’t get me started on Niagara vs imported peaches :)

        Reply
    • rjack October 17, 2013, 3:28 pm

      Mike – You are talking about factory/feed-lot meat, not grass-fed meat that I buy from my local farmer. You may want to read this:

      http://robbwolf.com/2013/10/09/permaculture/

      Reply
      • Franco October 21, 2013, 4:05 pm

        I agree with RJack. The pound for pound grain to meat comparison does apply to feedlot beef, which is something that we want to avoid.

        But, humans can’t eat grass at all, so if you are eating grass-fed beef you are getting extremely high-quality food made from a plant that was not even edible for humans in the first place.

        Chickens are another good example. Free range chickens transform worms, crickets, weeds, grass, ants and all sorts of other non-human food into delicious and nutritious highly-concentrated eggs (and meat.) It is an extremely efficient source of food. The chickens do all the work once you get them set up.

        Also, a comparison of the efficiency between properly raised meat and veggies should take into account the number of hours of labor involved in the production. Growing veggies can be very work intensive (but worthwhile.) However, if you have more land than time, animals can do a lot of the work turning raw land into food for you.

        The question of whether it is morally right to kill animals for food is another question, and a good one. Every living thing on earth eats some other living thing. Some eat plants, some eat meat, some eat both. However, there is no doubt that animals killed for food do suffer (but briefly if raised well.) Most of these animals would not even have been born or had lives at all, were it not for humans who wanted to eat them.

        But why shouldn’t humans avoid causing this extra suffering if we can? Good question.

        Reply
  • tgod October 16, 2013, 11:03 am

    We’ve recently bought a 20 year old house (walk-in rancher, walk-out basement) on Vancouver island. Temps are pretty moderate here, but its the wet west coast, so we love the heat from a woodstove to dry us out down to the bone, which we had in our previous house. Our new house unfortunately doesn’t have one, instead it has a forced air electric furnace, which so far has been ok. It’s starting to get colder, but I’ve been keeping the temp @ 67 during the times were home and the house seems to maintain its temp quite well. I haven’t gotten my first electric bill yet, so not sure if i’m in for a surprise or not. $140/mth is kind of normal to me, though i’m hoping it will be less in this new house, even with the furnace. We run entirely on electric here, we’ve never had an option for gas given our house locations. We still plan to put a woodstove down in the basement, and an earlier comment about a heat pump water heater caught my eye. I did a bit of research, but didn’t come up with any definitive answers, so i’m wondering, can the heat pump part be inside the basement to take advantage of the heat being produced by the woodstove during the winter? In the summer it would be trickier though given that the basement stays relatively cool, so not sure how well it’s inside position would work to create hot water. The other option is a water jacket around the woodstove to preheat the water as well.

    Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 4:43 pm

      Your heat pump water heater will do well in a basement. Anything above 45 degrees is an appropriate ambient temperature setting. It will also dehumidify the basement when in operation and provide additional comfort. Normal basements are in the 60-70 degree range all year long. Depending on your water use it may cool down your living space by up to 2 degrees. It will need to be installed with access to roughly 1,000 cubic feet (air to pull from).

      Reply
      • tgod October 16, 2013, 5:02 pm

        Awesome! Our basement is 1500 sqft, pretty open, though we’ll be throwing up some walls to give us a rec room, workshop and possibly a room to rent out to an international student.
        As our current hot water tank that came with the house has a consistent leak, is 13 years old and therefor needs to be replaced, this thread came at a good time.

        Reply
        • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 5:12 pm

          Very good. Is your basement finished? What state do you live in?

          Make sure to check for local rebates. The national resources is http://www.dsireusa.org. It lists rebates and tax credits that are local to you.

          Reply
          • tgod October 17, 2013, 10:12 am

            Basement is unfinished with a partially finished bathroom, a utility room sectioned off but other than that a wide open space.
            We’re in BC,Canada, not sure if the gov’t has any rebates anymore, they did have a rebate program in the past, but I think that was scrapped…I hope I’m wrong.

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

              Sounds good to me. Go for it.

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

              A 50 gallon GeoSpring will work for households with 3-4 people (2 bathroom tops). If you need something to handle more hot water demand give us a call.

              Reply
              • tgod October 18, 2013, 1:50 pm

                It would be a 3 bathroom home (given the extra one in the basement), but only 4 of us…unless we rent a room. Is there another option that would provide larger capacity if needed? I will have teenage boys over the next 10 years, so i’m sure my hot water usage will go way up.

              • Roch Naleway October 18, 2013, 3:59 pm

                You should get an 80-gallon model. The AirGenerate ATI80 will do the job. It can keep up with households of up to 6 people.

                You could set up 2x 50 gallon GE GeoSpring water heaters in series, but that’s more work and does not yield further benefits.

  • Ed October 16, 2013, 11:20 am

    Saving energy, like saving money, is great.

    But what about travel – flying in particular? I can drive all over my town in my gas guzzler but not ever get on a plane for long distance travel and come out ahead on both money and energy use.

    How to reconcile that?

    When giving advice on money matters, I tell people to look at the big things first.

    Reply
    • Martin October 16, 2013, 2:06 pm

      Modern airliners use as little fuel as 3L per 100km per seat. This means that when traveling alone or even with one passenger, its usually more energy efficient overall to fly. With a full complement of passengers in a car, it will usually be more efficient to drive, even if you’re driving a Suburban. Unfortunately, most of the big SUV’s I see on the road, are carrying just the driver…

      Reply
  • Glenstache October 16, 2013, 11:20 am

    We live in Seattle and bought a 1955 house, which had zero insulation in most exterior walls, and about half of what should have been present in the crawlspace and attic. The first winter was hugely energy inefficient and costly… truly an energy emergency. We spent about $3k having insulation blown into all exterior walls, the attic and additional foam bats installed in the crawlspace. We also installed a fireplace insert ($100 on craigslist, plus another $100 in various vent pipe and sheet metal to vent through, and close off the chimney. The fireplace insert allows us to heat only the primary living space. It is also nicer for the neighbors who don’t have to inhale the particulates from additional wood smoke. We reduced our heating costs from about $200/month (!!) to around $40/month, and the house is considerably more comfortable and less drafty. The next step is replacing the inefficient forced air unit with a more energy efficient unit (or something else altogether), and start chasing after the next sources of heat loss from the building envelope.

    Reply
  • CincyCat October 16, 2013, 11:21 am

    I loved everything about this post except “bathing” in ocean water. ALWAYS shower after swimming in a body of water that is naturally filled with living microorganisms or artificial chemicals (read: always shower after swimming, period – even if it is just a 30 second swish).

    When we were on vacation, my husband wasn’t always diligent about showering after swimming in the ocean, and he contracted septic bursitis from bacteria that had entered his body via a very small cut in his elbow. One visit to the emergency room (the infection spread very rapidly – literally within hours his elbow had a red swelling the size of a lemon), and some very powerful antibiotics later, he was fine. Thankfully, no surgical aspiration was necessary.

    Reply
    • Ottawa October 16, 2013, 12:02 pm

      I disagree entirely CincyCat. This is all about weighing the probabilities of events and understanding causation vs correlation.

      1) The likelihood of contracting septic bursitis is very low.
      2) The causal agent (swimming in ocean) of the bacterial entry is not and cannot be proven. How do you know the bacteria didn’t enter while leaning on a table sipping a margarita?

      Thus, one cannot make the inference of causation…and further…one cannot even imply that taking a shower after exposure (whatever the cause) would mitigate the exposure’s outcome (infection).

      Reply
      • CincyCat October 16, 2013, 7:32 pm

        That is true – the bacteria could have come from anywhere, but it is an amazing coincidence (considering it has never happened before, or since – and it has been years). This argument is along the lines of “to wear a helmet or not to wear a helmet” when riding a bike. Sure the odds of having a bad incident happen are relative to the environment one is biking in, but the same principle applies. I don’t know if you are a health professional, but I’ve not read a single peer-reviewed resource that states it is a good idea to NOT take shower after swimming in a chlorinated pool or another body of water teeming with living micro-organisms, and I can’t find a single resource that recommends bathing in the same in order to save on hot water costs.

        Reply
  • Eliot B October 16, 2013, 11:57 am

    Maybe it is the rendering of the house, but my first thought was – is there enough overhang on the roof so that the house doesn’t overheat in summer?

    My house (in Christchurch, New Zealand, 43 degrees South) has wide eaves over outdoor decks allowing nearly all winter sun, but little in summer.
    Additionally, they provide undercover line drying for those showery days

    Here is a pic showing the solar water heating, and solar/wind clothes dryer
    https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-Zw5GfBgXMns/Ul7SRKwlJkI/AAAAAAAABmY/51h89xpJhDM/w715-h536-no/img_9698.jpg

    Reply
  • Kyle October 16, 2013, 12:03 pm

    So are led’s a good deal or not? Is the price still falling faster than the electricity savings?

    Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 12:21 pm

      If you go with LEDs you most likely will not replace the lamp ever again while you live in your home. It is the ultimate long term solution. If you want quicker paybacks you can use CFLs.

      Prices are still falling by roughly 20% annually. With that said you would save this amount easily if you replaced your incandescents with LEDs today.

      Reply
  • Kathy Ormiston October 16, 2013, 12:07 pm

    Tankless water heaters take a long time to get hot water to your shower. You end up running the water a long time before you getting a hot shower. Maybe there are tricks to improve performance, but that was our experience. I’d never get another one.

    Reply
    • Melissa October 16, 2013, 5:51 pm

      I have found this to be untrue with our tankless. It’s about the same as with our big tank in our old house. Perhaps 2-3 seconds more on the shower furthest from the unit. It’s worth it. Our gas bills are mostly the access fee and we cook on a gas stove, so I know from my previous life that most of my old bills were high due to heating 40 gallons of water 24/7. Our water usage is between 2,000 and 3,000 gallons per month which to me is still high (used to be 1,000 when I lived alone) but that’s what having a shower-lover in the house does. When I talk to neighbors and friends, they are using much more water (thousands of gallons per month more) than we do. If we’re using more water on that shower, it is negligible. We’re very pleased with it. On another note, I was told recently by a plumber how bad the chlorine in our water is on our plumbing. (We wondered why we had to keep replacing fixtures and seals!) We have now installed a charcoal filter on our incoming water which will remove the majority of the chlorine. It is also better for the tankless. The taste is hugely improved. The filter is to last about 7-10 years. Our city chlorine level was about “12” according to our plumber if anyone wants to compare to their own city.

      Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 3:24 pm

      The activation time for tankless systems by Rheem is less than 1/2 second. You can get a recirculation pump installed. Some folks put a recirculation pump on a timer or motion sensor. If you walk in your bathroom it start the pump….by the time you wash your hands or take a shower you get water right away. It is a nice feature and there is not a whole lot of energy expense to this comfort solution.

      Reply
  • Mom October 16, 2013, 12:08 pm

    Have you considered a solar hot water heater? You get the solar, it’s not tied to the grid, and you get a water heater :)

    We’re slowly updating the energy efficiency in our house, but after replacing the heat pump in early 2012, I haven’t made many gains. We went from an estimated 6 SEER system to a 19SEER system (and I would have gone higher if they had >19 SEER in a 4-ton unit). Our heating (electric only) bill went from $450/mth to $250/mth (I’ve got the thermostat as low/high as other family members will let me). All of our lights are CFL or LED (slowly converting over as bulbs die). But I hate how out house was built – not energy efficient at all – we have several rooms which are always too hot or too cold, we don’t have access to our ducts (which I’m *sure* are leaking), and it’s all electric. We’re trying to decide whether to “upgrade” to solar when we replace our roof (the current structure can’t handle the weight of panels), or just save our money and build a house the way we want.

    Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 12:17 pm

      Consider getting a ductless mini-split heat pump installed in areas of your home that only have baseboard electric heaters. Depending you your climate you can get a 12,000BTU unit that can heat and cool (both) roughly 600-800 square feed.

      Reply
    • Jonathan Thomas January 3, 2014, 12:58 am

      Solar panels are very light. I’m not sure who lied to you, but weight shouldnt be an issue.

      Reply
  • cynthia October 16, 2013, 12:22 pm

    Way to go Mr MMM! –just to tell you about our energy efficient experiment:

    we live in a new Eco-village neighborhood planned out by the city of Balma in France: our apartment is south facing, and uses what the French call ‘bioclimactic’ organization: laying out the house to take into account natural principles like using the heat/light so major exposure south side, planting tall hedges or evergreen trees on the north/west were the storms and rain blow in from, etc. Also good insulation, bike storage rooms at the entrance and cars buried far underground. Heating and hot water are NOT INDIVIDUAL to each house: our neighborhood has its own ‘power station’ that heats water from one enormous (and shared, more efficient) biomass system burning sawdust pellets, complemented by a solar panel/mirror concentration system. 75 degree C water is pumped to each building, then a hot water exchanger from Sweden heats the circuit of water in our radiators.

    But in fact, our home was so well insulated and oriented that we DID NOT EVEN NEED TO TURN ON THE HEATING in the winter, the house stayed at 19 deg C while it was snowing outside. In the summer, the shading system on the patio prevented those sun rays from entering the house, so the house stayed a max of 25 deg C WITHOUT ANY AC. I found myself wondering, why cant we just do away with heating and AC systems then, if everything could be built like this!

    That plus no halogens plus water saving faucets everywhere means we spend almost nothing on energy!

    Thanks for the good work, and if you want to look further into the techniques they use here, let me know and I’ll send you some reading. (do you read French? as a Canadien?…)

    Reply
  • Kokuanani October 16, 2013, 12:33 pm

    ***While living in Hawaii last winter, I noticed that their electricity is generated by burning tankerloads of imported oil, ****

    I seem to recall from your write-up of that trip, that you spent your time on the North Shore of Oahu. You should really get out more.

    EVERYONE I know here uses solar for their water heating, even those who have the indulgence of a pool.

    Hawaii is actually the ideal location for “natural” energy: solar, wind, thermal, BUT there’s a large scandal you could do us service by investigating: the energy companies limit the ability of consumers to sell energy they’ve generated [solar, wind]back to the companies. Kauai is the only island that’s bucked this scam, because the people, not an energy company, own the production and storage facilities.

    There’s NO reason for any utility in Hawaii to be burning oil to generate electricity, except for those companies that want to keep profits high

    Reply
    • Johnny Aloha October 16, 2013, 2:01 pm

      Kokuanani,

      He stayed in Kailua for the trip, and made it to other areas of the island as well. You’re right, everyone has solar hot water, but we don’t becuase we just bought the house and the previous owners didn’t.

      Reply
    • stellamarina October 16, 2013, 3:09 pm

      Well there is a percentage of power on Oahu being provided from H-power where they are burning household trash to make electricity…..so trying to work on it….plus the windmills that are going in.

      Just want to say that I really liked the look of the solar water heating systems I saw in Tahiti. Looked a lot more simple and low cost…..a long tank lying on the roof right above the shower area…with one panel to heat it.

      I am unwilling to jump on the solar power band wagon here in Hawaii….not sure that the weather will not kill the infrastructure before we get our moneys worth.

      We did put a timer on our water heater….it just comes on for about 3 hours total a day and that helps with the power bill. The power company says the biggest energy sucker in Hawaii is the old second fridge that is outside or in the garage.

      Reply
  • hands2work October 16, 2013, 1:21 pm

    We are in the midst of turning my mother’s attic into an apartment. We priced a natural gas tankless water heater just days ago at $276 at Home Depot in Virginia. Where on earth are they selling for $2500????

    Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 4:46 pm

      $276 sounds really low. Is it a Bosch unit? Most tankless water heaters cost between $800-1,250 for the equipment alone. Installation runs between $1,000-2,500 depending on whether the gas service is sufficient. Older homes usually need upgrades to their gas supply lines. It can get pretty pricey.

      Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 16, 2013, 4:52 pm

      Whoa.. I’ve never seen a gas tankless under $700 (a Jacuzzi brand one at Lowe’s), as even the cheapest tank-storage ones are over $300. If this has changed, I need to go out and do some upgrading right away!

      Reply
      • Franco October 21, 2013, 4:13 pm

        We bought a german-made Steibel-Eltron electric tankless for our house for $600. This was in 2009. They had smaller versions at the time as well which might work fine for a single person apartment.

        I’ve also seen some of those “under the kitchen sink” type tankless heaters which are meant to service only one appliance. I bet some of those could get that cheap.

        Reply
  • The Frug October 16, 2013, 1:31 pm

    For the home energy obsessed there is a great website myenergy.com . You can link it to your local utilities and compare yourself to friends and neighbors. If you do sign up please friend me (Brad Beckstrom) so I can have a few more people to compare my energy bills with. As a bonus they also track water and electric.

    I’ve shared some more details here on my experience with the free service. http://www.thefrug.com/are-you-an-energy-hog-track-and-compare-your-electric-gas-and-water-usage-with-friends-and-neighbors/

    Reply
  • Emily Capito October 16, 2013, 1:40 pm

    MMM – Sincerely appreciate posts like this where you simply live the concept and allow us to peak in on the nitty gritty details.

    Really wishing I could see inside my walls to see if my hot water lines are insulated – now I just hear dollars whooshing out as I wait a full minute for the tankless to send the goods 20 feet.

    Bottom line – we will be siphoning some dollars away from planned HSA contributions and into some energy efficient upgrades before the end of the year. Great post.

    Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 4:55 pm

      You can determine whether your water lines are insulated by checking it out at the location of your water heater. If the lines are not insulated around the water heater they are (most likely) not insulated anywhere else.

      Most utilities recommend insulating the first 6 feet from the water with pipe wrap insulation ($3 per 4 1/2 stick @ a hardware store). Cold & hot water lines.

      Reply
  • Johnny Aloha October 16, 2013, 1:46 pm

    We’re still taking the amazing cold water showers after a swim in the ocean. Can’t beat it.

    Great post! I didn’t even know heat pump water heaters existed until this article. Some quick calculations reveal it will pay for itelf in about a year! Guess what I’ll be doing very soon.

    Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 4:38 pm

      Yes, heat pump water heaters reappeared on the market in 2009. They will become more mainstream in 2015 when new energy efficiency requirements kick in for electric water heaters.

      Reply
      • Johnny Aloha October 18, 2013, 12:12 pm

        Purchase complete! I’m so stoked. After tax rebates, final cost was $524 delivered to our door. After selling the old one for $100, my calculations show a 127% ROI!!! As a side bonus, we’ll install it outside (hot/humid climate of Hawaii) and enjoy the benefit of the cool air discharge. Thanks for all the info!

        Reply
  • Karen October 16, 2013, 2:25 pm

    So we spend more than 5% of income on energy. $100 or so a month on utilities that I am working to shrink + $400 in fuel = about 16%. (5% for us would be $160) But we moved to a rental home in the country to cut our rent in half, knowing it would double our automobile fuel usage but figuring it was enough of a savings to be worth it. So instead of $1400 a month in rent + $200 in fuel, we spend $700 a month in rent + $350-$450 on fuel for cars. I haven’t been able to convince DH to ride a bike to work (14 miles each way), and I travel with 2-4 kids almost everywhere I go. (Grocery store and nearest stores are 4.4 miles away) What do others think, is it okay to consider all that additional fuel cost part of our rent? (So is it okay to say $200 a month for what fuel cost used to be before we moved + $100 in utilities = 9% current income?) I know there is room for improvement, but how much of an emergency is it?

    Can I look at it as, if I lower utilities to $50/month, I get $110 towards fuel in my 5% and if I can get our gas costs down by combining trips and watching usage more to $300/month, that is only $190 extra in fuel to add to rent? (Not trying to be a whiner, honestly looking for input from mustachians.)

    Reply
  • phred October 16, 2013, 2:34 pm

    Have you planted the trees yet for shade, wind diverting and solar tempering? What have you planned for the crawl space?

    Reply
    • Kruidig Meisje October 18, 2013, 2:52 am

      Last year I let them insulate the crawl space. And we switched our laminated floor to wood (bamboo).
      Now we don’t have cold feet anymore (and yes, we are using slippers & sweaters), and the heating stays lower/out because the house feels so much more comfortable.
      Note to self: check difference in heating costs be4&after.

      Reply
  • Iron girl October 16, 2013, 5:28 pm

    Great post! Something I have been starting to look into where I live in a7 year old ranch in eastern Maine…frigid winters, oil heating and expensive electricity($0.25-0.27/kWh). Heating alone averages $200/mo over the year (we lock in the price and pay the same amount monthly, usually getting back money at the end of the year), usually keeping the house at 58 when we’re out during the day and up to 65 in the evenings/weekends. These numbers are based on our previous rental, this will be our first winter in this house and there is a propane fireplace that may help offset the main living space. I looked into a heat pump at least in the main area, but electricity is too high. Our boiler is 84% efficient, so not sure it makes sense to invest the money for a new system as we will be here for about 5 years.

    I like the mention of testing efficiency in appliances (I know the dishwasher and fridge are older, but not ancient) but I’m not sure how to go about that. Suggestions?

    Reply
    • Melissa October 16, 2013, 5:58 pm

      I’m always curious why the East Coast uses heating oil when the Midwesterners are using natural gas (or rural use LP)? Is it an availability issue?

      Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 8:54 pm

      You can get a P2 Killawatt plug-in meter. Plug it into your outlet, plug in the fridge and have it collect information for 1 month. You will be surprised.

      If you refrigerator or dishwasher is older than 15 years (some argue 10 years) get a new one. The minimum energy efficiency standards have changed significantly.

      Also, you can buy the least expensive new refrigerator on the market and you will save a ton of energy and money. Older fridges that are 20+ years old cost more than $200 (or 2,000kWh) to operate. The ENERGY STAR label on a newer fridge only gets you an average incremental savings of $5 annually over the basic model. The incremental cost for ENERGY STAR logo on fridges may run $100-$200. The ENERGY STAR label will not be cost effective in this case. A full size fridge starts at around $450: Your payback is 2 years….thereafter it is money in your pocket.

      Dishwashers are a mixed beast. You have water and sewer savings in the mix. The savings can still be good if you have a 15 year old clunker and replace it…..usually not as good as junking the fridge.

      If you want to be seriously environmentally friendly you may be able to put the fridge and get $50-$100 from your utility for it (if they run a refrigerator recycling program). Yes, they may pay you for your old one just to get it off the grid.

      Old fridges are almost criminal and should not be allowed to be resold or given away. The reseller is going to stick someone with a huge power bill. Not a nice thing to do.

      Reply
  • Nate October 16, 2013, 5:56 pm

    What!!! No Navy shower at the MMM house. Look into one. If you need the water, push the button. This will save a TON of water. Ships have some really good conservation technology due to their constrained resources.

    Also, why are you not putting in a 500 gallon rain water tank hooked up to your gutters?

    Reply
  • Rockinrobf October 16, 2013, 8:53 pm

    What about adding storm windows instead of replacing the windows? is it worth it?

    Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 16, 2013, 9:30 pm

      Installing storm windows cuts your energy losses from windows in half. The U-factor for single pane windows is roughly 0.9 (terrible). You get a U-value of roughly 0.48 by having a combination of a single pane window and storm window installed. A new regular double-pane window will get you to 0.33 or better (normal windows can go down to 0.25). Specialty windows can even do better.

      To put this into perspective: a window is still a hole in the wall. You are going to stop some of the energy waste by installing storm windows, but it is still a hole in the wall.

      Your R-value in wall (higher is better) without any insulation is roughly 3-5 depending on how they were build. If you blow in insulation you can get to an R-value between R-11 and R-15 with 2×4 walls. The amount of heat loss your are going to prevent by having insulation in your walls and the attic is going to be huge. It’s like wrapping your house in a number of thick warm blanket when you add insulation…

      Reply
  • Rabia Aziz October 17, 2013, 12:03 am

    After reading the blog I have realized that when I will buy my house, I will make sure that it should have plenty of windows, and the water lines may run through walls to keep house warm. It is very hard for me to cut down my gas bills as I have to pick n drop my little daughter at her preschool. I do not know how to manage the gas expense? I like the idea of solar energy based machines, that can definitely save tons of money.

    Reply
    • Kruidig Meisje October 18, 2013, 3:14 am

      What is the problem with picking up your daughter, that makes the car a necessity? Distance? Dangerous roads/roads without biking facilities or side WALKs? No busses? Does she have a disability? No carpool/parent pool option in your neighbourhood/school?
      Each of the answers might have a different answer with regard to the cheaper option. Most important: keep an open mind and keep looking for alternatives, and you will find something.
      And otherwise: in a year or one/two she can walk to school probably? (or you could walk her to school)

      Reply
  • Snor October 17, 2013, 12:25 am

    If they’re available where you live, you could use phase changing materials to fake thermal mass. Usually, this comes in the form of plasterboard with small droplets of parrafine (or some such) in it. The parrafine’s melting point is around room temperature. This means that when it’s hot, your walls will soak up heat while staying at room temperature, since the parrafine is melting. The same thing goes for when it’s cold: the plasterboard emits heat at room temperature until the parrafine is solid again.

    Good luck with the house!

    Reply
  • Gorka Galdos October 17, 2013, 1:56 am

    All this house energy efficiency in very interesting. Can the experts out there recommend any good literature on the subject? Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 3:34 pm

      Start with http://www.energystar.gov. It is a pretty good website to start off with. Once you have specific ideas on what to read up on there are more specific websites to visit.

      Reply
    • BetsyR October 18, 2013, 2:28 pm

      I just read a good book on the subject: The greened house effect : renovating your home with a deep energy retrofit / Jeff Wilson.

      Reply
      • Jeff Wilson November 7, 2013, 12:18 pm

        Hey – thanks! That’s me! We did a deep energy retrofit (DER) to save over 85% on our energy bills, all while making our home a more comfortable and healthier place to live. Glad you liked our story and the information with it . . .

        Reply
  • Ninety Four October 17, 2013, 5:50 am

    The link to Bikes At Work doesn’t work.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 17, 2013, 9:08 am

      It does work most of the time, but their site has been down a lot recently. Maybe the Mustachians are overloading it?

      Reply
  • Ninety Four October 17, 2013, 6:47 am

    I absolutely LOVE my Bosch Aquastar 2400 ES tankless water heater.

    I live in a 650 sq ft home, and use hot water only for doing dishes in the winter and for showering. Since I bike or walk to work every day, I shower at work on workdays. Since I use so little hot water, it just doesn’t make sense to have a big tank of water on standby.

    It takes about 30 seconds for the water to get warm, and maybe another 10 – 15 seconds for it to reach 105 degrees.

    Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 3:35 pm

      Look into recirculation pumps and you get hot water right away (less than 1 second). Consider using a timer or a motion sensor to activate/deactivate the pump.

      Reply
    • MoneyAhoy October 19, 2013, 8:28 am

      I’d be interested in seeing a calculation to determine what the ROI is. Have you done this? I’m thinking it might be somewhere in the 5-6 year range, but I haven’t run the numbers.

      Reply
  • RK October 17, 2013, 8:30 am

    I am curious about your windows. Are you upgrading them to be more energy efficient? I have terrible windows but shrug at the thought of replacing them myself. Any thoughts?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 17, 2013, 9:04 am

      Definitely upgrading the windows! The current ones are single pane with warped 60-year-old wood frames and don’t even open or close properly. I’m a bit of a window enthusiast – I’ve replaced (and added additional) windows and doors in every house I have ever owned.

      Replacing windows is one of the easiest DIY tasks, as it’s just “take out old rectangle, plunk in new rectangle”, plus a bit of trim work afterwards. And you get a clearer view, better operation, and better ventilation out of it too.

      Reply
  • TKC October 17, 2013, 8:55 am

    We have stopped using warm water altogether, except for occasional purposes. I still don’t get why people need warm water for shower in Florida!!

    Reply
  • GoCubsGo October 17, 2013, 9:48 am

    Kind of a specific question… I wasn’t familiar with a heat pump mini-split system until reading these comments. I’ve tried to get energy usage down but am way over where I should be. I realized a big culprit. I have a zoned HVAC system. Previous owners added a family room addition (20×17 with vaulted ceilings). They used the old furnace/ac condensor to heat/cool the addition and bought a new one for the rest of the house. The furnace and a/c in the family room addition are 30+ years old and won’t die. Would it be cost effective to scrap the old system (even tho it works) and do a mini-split setup just for that addition? We spend 70% of waking hours in that room. My summer bill averages 2300kwh a month for an 1,800 sqft house (with CFLs).

    Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 3:42 pm

      First of all – definitely get rid of your energy vampire of a heater/cooling system.

      If you have a gas furnace/air conditioning combo it may not be cost effective to replace it with a new gas furnace + air conditioner. It may set you back $5-$8k if you need to use a contractor.

      A ductless mini-split system (installed) for this area should be sized at around 18,000BTUs. The whole system installed runs between $3,500 – $4,000. It will heat and cool your space and is virtually maintenance free.

      Get rid of that 30-year old beast as soon as you can.

      Reply
  • GoCubsGo October 17, 2013, 10:27 am

    This might be an accidental repost.. I had a quick question about the mini-split hvac systems. I’m having a hard time getting my bills down and may have found a culprit. Previous owners but on a large family room addition (20×17, vaulted ceilings). They zoned the system by using the old furnace/ac condensor to heat/cool the addition. They then installed a new one for the main house. We use the addition 70% of waking hours. The ac and furnace are over 30 years old and wont die! Would it make sense to scrap the old furnace and ac (even tho they work fine) and install the mini-split system to heat/cool that room. Or do I just wait since it still works and replace with a standard (not mini-duct) hvac system. I think the existing system is probably super ineffecient and way oversized for one room. My summer usage is 2,300 Kwh/month for an 1,800 sqft home which is really high.

    Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 3:43 pm

      How high are your vaulted ceilings? What state do you live in?

      Reply
  • Anthony N. October 17, 2013, 10:44 am

    I have typical can lights in my basement, that are on dimmer switches. When I’ve tried to use more energy efficient bulbs, I get a humming sound and flickering of my lights.

    What do I need to do to get this to properly work with LED lights?

    Reply
    • phred October 17, 2013, 2:56 pm

      you need to replace your old dimmers with dimmers that will handle the LEDs. I believe it is the power supply within the LED that can’t cope with the incandescent lamp dimmer

      Reply
    • phred October 17, 2013, 3:00 pm

      my reply to you seems to have disappeared. Anyway, you need to replace your incandescent lamp dimmers with dimmers that can handle LEDs

      Reply
      • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 3:48 pm

        It is not the dimmer that is at fault. The lamps need to be rated as dimmable.

        Reply
        • phred October 18, 2013, 11:19 am

          Then why do they now sell universal dimmers which are advertised to work with LEDs?

          Reply
          • Roch Naleway October 18, 2013, 11:58 am

            Old dimmers do not save any energy. They use resistors to restrict the flow of electricity to the lamp. The resistor simply converts the excess energy to heat. This is inefficient and does not save energy.

            The universal dimmers your are mentioning are an energy saving device. They use alternate current and cut off the flow of energy to the lamp for short period of times and save energy proportional to their dimming factor.

            Universal dimmers work better with CFLs and LEDs. They allow for a better dimming range. Nevertheless the CFL and the LED needs to be rated as “dimmable”.

            An non-dimmable CFL will always create a buzzing noise and the ballast will not adjust for the varying supply of power the lamp. The same applies to non-dimmable LEDs. You will have a lot of sound and a very poor dimmable range: maybe you’ll get 2-3 dimming settings that look ok.

            Reply
            • Mike September 26, 2014, 2:07 pm

              “Old dimmers do not save any energy” is not a true statement. Even for very old rheostat based dimmers, there is always a reduction in energy use when dimming. These are not very common, since they have to be large to dissipate up to 1/4 the rated wattage of the device being dimmed. Normal dimmers, since the 70’s at least, use a Triac or SCR, and are fairly efficient. They do produce a chopped waveform which can produce a buzzing, especially the cheaper ones with poor noise filters. The newest dimmers are basically a switched mode power supply, which produce a sine-wave output that does not cause buzzing.

              Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 3:48 pm

      Here is what we tell our customers.

      Your CFL or LEDs need to be rated as “dimmable”.

      – The ballast on regular CFLs is not supposed to work on dimmers.
      – The driver on regular LEDs is also not rated to be attached to dimmers.

      We carry dimmable and non-dimmable CFLs and LEDs at GP Conservation.

      There is a price difference between the technologies. If you do not purchase dimmable CFLs or LEDs they will fail prematurely and you are out way too much money. CFLs and LEDs that are supposed to last for years may go out within a matter of weeks and months.

      Make sure to check the labels on the products.

      Reply
      • Cheryl October 18, 2013, 4:17 pm

        Quick question: we have a fan light combo, operated by remote. Replaced the 60W bulb with a CFL and it’s fine until you turn the light off with the remote – it flickers dimly, not enough to see by but enough to see the bulb in the dark. Would a dimmable bulb fix that?
        We turn it off at the switch now but it’d be nice to be able to use the remote in winter rather than getting out of bed!

        Reply
        • Roch Naleway October 18, 2013, 4:46 pm

          Mmmmmhhhhh….? This is interesting. If the power to the light is off it there should not even be a flicker on that lamp. If you lamp flickers there is energy that make it all the way to the ballast of the lamp.

          Does the remote controlled fan/light combo come with a dimming function? Is your wall switch a dimmer?

          It sounds to me like you remote control is not truly turning the fan/light combo off. It may just turn it down with little energy making it to the lamp ballast. At this point – try a dimmable lamp. It is not going to hurt your set-up. Dimmable lamps can go into standard sockets anywhere.

          Reply
        • Greg October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

          The switch built into the fixture (fan) doesn’t work with CFL’s. You will need to reinstall the incandescent bulb. It’s to do with how the light circuit is switched. I have this same problem with an outdoor fixture switched by a radio-frequency add-on 3-way switch.

          You could try a dimmable bulb, can’t hurt and might be the solution.

          Reply
  • Mr. Dan October 17, 2013, 11:29 am

    Triple M,

    I was curious if you could expand on your insulation plans, specifically the roof deck. I am currently in the process of “upgrading” a beautifual house which was built in the 1920’s located in the midwest. The only insulation to speak of is R-9 in the attic which someone installed in teh 70’s.

    You mention a combination of spray foam, rigid foam board with foil backing and batt insulation. Specific questions

    1) Closed or open cell foam? Thickness?
    2) The rigid foam board with foil, is it intended to provide a radiant barrier? If so, don’t you have to have an air gap on the radiant side?
    3) Are you planning to completly “seal” the attic area, i.e. no ventalation?

    Thanks in advance,
    Dan

    Reply
  • phred October 17, 2013, 11:45 am

    Your new house is going to be solar sited, solar tempered and very well insulated — all great and fantastic. You admit you’ll be hardly using the furnace. It therefore seems a biggo waste of moola to install an entirely new heating system. I can understand you wanting the learning experience, but if you install it into a new rental house, won’t you be able to get a better financial return?

    I would keep the present furnace. Inspect its heat exchanger, the flue, install a flue damper, install a programmable smart thermostat, replace the blower motor with a new higher efficiency motor. As to the ductwork: take it apart, power wash it, check if you need an additional cold-air return, put the duct back together, seal the joints with mastic, and insulate the duct.

    Reply
  • payitoff October 17, 2013, 11:46 am

    i see your mentioned Hawaii.

    would you move to Hawaii? why or why not?

    Just curious.

    Reply
  • Tom October 17, 2013, 11:57 am

    Thought I’d pass on a little water-saving gizmo I’ve recently installed. It’s a shower-head adapter that shuts off the flow once hot water starts flowing. Here’s the problem– You turn on the shower, walk away, and wait for the water to get hot. When you come back there’s steam in the bathroom, you’ve wasted tons of hot water, and the energy to heat it.

    This little device sits in-line with the shower head and essentially shuts off the water once the shower is hot and ready to use. Once you step in the shower you just yank on the cord and presto-you have hot water with no waste. I’ve been using it for a couple of months and it works like a champ.

    Here’s the url on amazon if anyone is interested. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0017YXIKC/ref=oh_details_o03_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    Reply
    • Survive The Valley October 17, 2013, 1:58 pm

      This is a really great tip. Wish there were something as easy as this to prevent having to run the cold water waiting for the hot water to flow in the first place (without having to put in recirculating systems etc.).

      Reply
      • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 3:50 pm

        Install a recirculation pump at your home. It will take care of it.

        Reply
        • Survive The Valley October 17, 2013, 5:09 pm

          But doesn’t a recirculation pump require 1) having a water tank system where you always have water constantly heated and 2) use more electricity to circulate the water? #1 is probably more of an energy waste compared to the latter.

          Reply
          • Roch Naleway October 17, 2013, 5:25 pm

            You do not need a storage tank to run a recirculation pump. Recirculation pumps can work on tank and tankless systems. The key to running it on a gas tankless water heater is to have it installed with a water heater that does not require a high gallons-per-minute activation minimum. We use a lot of Rheem gas tankless water heaters. They activate at 0.25GPM flow rate.

            Inefficient aerators in faucets use 2.5 gallons-per-minute for reference purposes. In other words: you do not need to move a lot of water to heat the water right at your faucet or shower when you need it.

            The recirculation pump should only run when you need it. This is why it should be installed on a timer (when you use your bathroom in the morning or at night). Alternatively, you can have it motion sensor activated and have it run for a few minutes each time you enter the bathroom.

            It costs pennies to run if you have it installed this way.

            For reference purposes:

            80% of the time that people want warm water to wash their hands at home…..the warm water never reaches the faucet before it is turned off. That’s a real waste that is caused by poorly designed plumbing systems every day.

            Reply
            • Survive The Valley October 17, 2013, 8:44 pm

              Thanks for the tip. I’ll check out these recirculation pumps and see if it’s something I can put in our house.

              Reply
            • PawPrint October 21, 2013, 10:18 am

              We had a recirculation pump installed at what was going to be our “forever” home and loved it. We had to move out of state and turn the house into a rental. The bathroom sink developed a leak, which the property management company fixed and, of course, charged us. When we went to sell the house, we discovered in that they had disabled the recirculating pump by redoing the “crazy” plumbing in the bathroom when they fixed the sink. I was so ticked–and the renters should have been, too, It took forever to get hot water to the back of the house without the pump. I made them hire a real plumber to make the pump functional again.

              Reply
  • Survive The Valley October 17, 2013, 1:55 pm

    We live in the Bay Area, and when we purchased our house back in late 2010 our #1 consideration for a new home was finding one that had South facing windows. Add to that double paned windows and a tankless natural gas heater (and we passed on the A/C – absolutely no need for it here where it’s rare to get above 85F) with 3 separate zone controls allow us to really our climate control bill. In the Spring/Summer/Fall our gas bill hovers around about $10-20. I pity our neighbors without South facing windows literally just across the way from us and they’re cold in the winter and hot during the summer.

    As for LEDs, I’m a recent convert. I found the Cree 9.5W (60W equivalent) Warm White 2700K bulb that Home Depot sells for $12.97 awesome. If interested, I did my own little analysis over at http://survivethevalley.com/2013/09/20/leds-look-good-save-money-better-environment/.

    Reply
  • Rachel P. October 17, 2013, 3:03 pm

    MMM, you really should get rid of one of those cars. You don’t need two–you are ready, willing, and able to live a low-car lifestyle. Check out my friends Robert and Cia Johnson in Clark Howard’s new book–they gave up their cars a few years ago and do all the stuff you write about. It is totally doable!
    http://www.hlntv.com/video/2013/08/08/jvm-clark-howard-new-book

    Reply
  • Drew Marie October 17, 2013, 8:50 pm

    I work in residential energy efficiency programs and this post is what all of my stakeholders need to read! Without fail, the first thing I get asked about is solar. How much sense does it make to install a large array on a home that leaks like a sieve, just so you can pay extra to heat or cool your attic when your ducts look like a war zone? I think a big factor is that people can see solar; they don’t see the dollars floating out of dozens of exit points in their house.

    Thanks for the great post!

    Reply
  • Justin October 17, 2013, 9:57 pm

    I can’t agree with the comment re: replacing a car under 35 mpg in my case. I’m retired now, and drive very little. Maybe 150-200 miles/month at the most. That’s about 5-7 gallons of gas depending on city vs highway driving. Or somewhere around $15-25/month on gas. Let’s say $250/year.

    I would have to spend a few thousand bucks at least to upgrade my 13 year old Honda civic to something that gets closer to 35 mpg city driving. The new(er) car might shave $50-100 off my annual gas bill, but would likely offset the energy savings with higher property tax bills and (if I go with comprehensive and collision coverage) insurance costs. Sales tax alone on a different vehicle would eat up 2-3 years worth of energy savings. Then there’s depreciation.

    You have hinted at this elsewhere – if you are only driving a couple thousand miles per year, the total gas costs are pretty low anyway so it might not make sense to get a Leaf or something really expensive just to shave off half of a tiny energy bill.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 18, 2013, 12:40 am

      Oh yeah, I would totally agree with you there – and I consider a Civic a 35MPG+ car too (I tend to measure by hypermiler-on-highway standards rather than EPA standards, so I would put the 2000 Civic close to 40MPG) http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/07/26/hypermiling-expert-driving-to-save-25-50-on-gas/

      Reply
      • Justin October 19, 2013, 8:06 pm

        I definitely get 35+ mpg in uncongested highway driving. Hard to break 28-30 in the city though.

        The biggest gas savings for me come from not driving very much, and hitting 3-4 errands in one trip if I do drive.

        And the honda civic can be quite a cargo hauler! A fact that pickup truck/Escalade drivers would never understand.

        Reply
        • Megan February 14, 2014, 8:47 am

          I completely agree with you though I don’t own a Civic myself anymore. We have had a series of small hatchback cars now for a number of years and I simply adore them. My Scion tC (hatchback coupe, fun to drive) has hauled more amazing things than you could imagine. We pretty much furnished our new townhouse from Ikea over three weekends with multiple hauls in the tC. With the lay-flat back seats and the hatchback you can fit in almost anything. For things that are slightly too large, you get some rope and tie down the back hatch and just drive slowly on the freeway. No need for an SUV for backpacking, camping, or road-tripping when it all fits in the hatchback.

          I will say though, it is not well suited to rough dirt roads, as we found out doing a back country backpacking trip. That was one time I wished I hadn’t sold my old 4WD manual RAV4…

          Reply
  • midelectric October 18, 2013, 7:15 am

    Just a couple weeks ago we had foam insulation blown in the walls and attic in our 1930s era home.There was little to nothing in between the siding and interior plaster and lath so we’ve added about R-20 to the walls and significantly more to the roof. Just before the foaming, the old NG fired furnace was starting to warm our radiators at night. In the week after the walls were foamed I think it came on for about 2 minutes. Now that the attic has been done the furnace hasn’t turned on for about 10 days.

    Of course, the weather hasn’t been consistent over that time but there were several 50F nights in a row in each situation. We’re all more comfortable and i”m excited to see next month’s utility bill! Is it weird to be excited about high R values? Absolutely not, I say, though it may be because I’m an engineer.

    We have a ton of GU10s all around the house, thanks for the links to LED replacements as that’s next on the list.

    Reply
  • J Dubs October 18, 2013, 10:28 am

    Just bought 16 of these LEDs for the recessed lighting in my house. Should save some cash, but the best part – the wife likes ’em.

    Lowe’s had/ is having a sale – less than $10 buck a pop.

    http://www.lowes.com/pd_408202-75774-LBR30DM/LED_0__?productId=4187797&Ntt=br30&pl=1&currentURL=%3FNtt%3Dbr30&facetInfo=

    Reply
  • Heather October 19, 2013, 8:22 pm

    I live in a 1000 sq ft house, 3 people (2 cats) and our electric usage is insane, as I just discovered. We’re in CT and electric rates are extremely high, so pretty much everything is gas. We also have probably 90% CFLs in the house and yet when I average the last 12 months of bills we are using 693 KwH per month! What am I missing and how do I go about fixing this? It’s an older house, 100+ years, gas hot water heater, wood stove heat plus radiant floor heating on the first floor (second gas hot water heater and elec circ pump). We do use a window AC unit in one bedroom during the hottest weeks of the summer, but that can’t be much of a contribution. What am I missing here?

    Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 19, 2013, 8:40 pm

      Is the house vacant during the day? Or is someone at home 24/7 every day of the week? Do you cook with gas or electric? Is your tv an LED, LCD, or Plasma? Do you have an electric or gas dryer?

      In most cases heating & cooling is the #1 energy user & water heating #2.

      Both systems are gas in your home, but your electric recirculation pump could be a factor. Most people with gas furnaces think they are only paying for gas and forget that an electric blower is pushing the air through the ducts. Copy the information from the rating label on your recirculation pump – how many watts does it use?

      You could have an “old fridge problem”, too. An old fridge can use up to 2,000 kWh more than it should. Write down the make, model number, and serial number. We can figure out how old it is.

      Reply
      • Heather October 19, 2013, 8:48 pm

        Spouse works from home, so someone’s here all day. Oven/stovetop is gas, as well as HWH. Dryer is gas, also. TV is LCD, I believe; smallish and rarely on (but not unplugged). Refrigerator is fairly new; bought it in 2009 when we finished renovating and moved in. The recirc pump is a Taco 00R-MSF1-IFC (1/20 HP, 3 speed, 115v, 1.10 max amps).

        Reply
        • Roch Naleway October 19, 2013, 9:13 pm

          Interesting…your spouse will effect your energy use at home. That’s one factor, but you should still be able to see lower energy use and related bills for 693kWh per month.

          Does he keep the lights on in every room of the house? Do you use a lot of higher wattage CFLs (20-28W)? Does he use a lot of computer equipment? Does it stay on? Do you have a workshop with power tools?

          You can always ask your utility to come out and check your meter. There is a less than 1/100 chance that your meter is running fast (faster than it should), but you maybe that one customer.

          You could have a plug-load that maybe consuming power while you are thinking that it’s turned off. One option would be to get a P2 Killawatt meter. It plugs into an outlet and you can plug in your electric gear right into it. It will record usage and you can identify misbehaving equipment.

          A few things to consider immediately are to upgrade your remaining 10% of inefficient lamps, consider installing occupancy sensors, get some smart power strips to combat vampire loads.

          Reply
  • ChoicesChoices October 20, 2013, 7:55 am

    Question for MMM or Roch: I see that you vary your thermostat settings; for instance, with heating you drop the temp at night (62) and have it higher in the day(67). But because of the concept of thermal mass, everything in the house has dropped to 62 by morning. Then the heating has to warm it all back up to 67 before efficiently keeping it there. Isn’t it more efficient to just maintain a constant 67? I’ve struggled with this idea for a while and now perhaps can be educated by some experts on what’s wrong with my approach. Can you two help? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Gerard October 20, 2013, 12:26 pm

      Unless your house is *very* efficient, the thermal mass isn’t storing most of the energy produced, so keeping the house at 67 overnight would be mostly heating the surrounding air… the larger the gap between the indoor and outdoor temp, the more energy you need to maintain that difference in temperature. Ideally, I suppose, you would plan your life so that you don’t get up (and turn up the heat) until outside temps have started to rise and the heat of the sun has started to work its magic on your inside air and thermal mass.

      <edit: sorry, just realized that you asked MMM or Roch, who will probably be able to give a better science-y answer!.

      Reply
    • Roch Naleway October 20, 2013, 9:44 pm

      Setting back the temperature through the night reduces heat losses. The outside temperature during the day is in general higher than during the night. The higher the difference between indoor temperature and outdoor temperature the more heat loss your are going to have to deal with.

      The higher the heat losses the more energy you have to use to keep you temperature at your preferred setting.

      The whole concept about setting back your temperature is about not needing to heat your entire living space while you and your family are sleeping under a comforter or blanket. Most people have a better night rest when the air temperature is lower at night.

      For every degree that you can lower your average thermostat setting you can expect to save 3% on your heating related energy use. Setting back your thermostat during the night can significantly lower you average indoor air temperature lowering energy use and related bills.

      Interestingly enough setting back your thermostat will yield higher savings in a crappy insulated house than a well-insulated and air sealed house. A well-insulated house will simply loose a whole lot less heat than a home with no insulation in the walls or attic. The savings potential is lower.

      I have a Wi-Fi enabled, programmable thermostat that we setback by 10 degrees each night at 10:30pm. The temperature never really drops more than 5-8 degrees over a 8-9 hours period. When the exterior temperature at night is higher the actual temperature drop by the setback is lower (less heat loss) and vice versa.

      Most people should be able to reduce their heating related energy use by 10-20% during the heating season.

      The role of thermal mass is to store energy and act as stabilizer of your indoor air temperature. Air is a terrible substance to transport and store energy. Thermal mass can be all sorts of stuff. Some folks have a brick or stone wall inside the house that is exposed to sunshine all day long absorbing free heat from the sun. The air inside the house will loose heat at a much faster rate at night than the brick wall at night. The heat in the brick wall will, however, continuously transfer heat from itself to the indoor air (as long as there is a temperature differential between the two. The fall in indoor temperature should be a whole lot less severe with lots of thermal mass in place.

      A word of caution: do not set back your temperature at home at night if you use an electric air source heat pump or ductless mini-split heat pump as primary heating system in a cold climate.

      Heat pumps work best when they operate over long periods of time. Heat pumps also need time to heat up a living space. Heat pumps work best when they can heat a space slowly and evenly creating maximum comfort.

      Heat pumps loose some of their heating capacity when exterior temperatures are cold. It may take a longer time to recover back towards your desired temperatures in the morning when the thermostat changes back to daytime temperatures. It is best to leave heat pumps stay at a fixed setting during the winter.

      Reply
      • phred October 21, 2013, 7:43 am

        I once had an air source heat pump. When the temps got to below freezing, the pump ran almost continuously all through the night. So, yes, I shut it off at night

        Reply
        • Roch Naleway October 21, 2013, 12:02 pm

          You can for sure to do this. The problem with air sourced heat pumps is that they take longer to heat your space in the winter time. It will take awhile to get your temperature back to normal in the morning when the equipment is turned back on. Some people want it to be immediately warm and cozy in the morning. We do not recommend the set back of heat pump equipment if this becomes a comfort issue for the occupants.

          With that said heat pump are very efficient and should run long periods of time. With colder outside temperatures it takes them a little longer to extract heat and transport it back into your living space.

          Reply
  • Rob aka Captian and. Mrs Slow October 20, 2013, 8:17 am

    Well it seems your having an impact

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/from-mount-vernon-area-to-rockville-man-relishes-his-two-hour-40-minute-commute/2013/10/19/15f8eee8-1bd3-11e3-a628-7e6dde8f889d_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

    We recently moved and nr 1 priority was a bikable/public transit location, went from 1.5 tanks of gas a week to less than 1 a month and once I recover from my knee replacment surgery I expect that to decrease even more.

    Reply
  • Tiffany October 20, 2013, 11:05 am

    I love these posts except that it points out that we have way more consumption than you do. What is your gas usage by therms? It’s easier to compare than cost.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 20, 2013, 3:45 pm

      Good point Tiffany – natural gas has become very cheap in the US in recent years so my cost numbers don’t mean very much to those in other countries where it costs more. I will dig up the online gas bills and add some proper therm units from my own utility (Xcel Energy)

      Reply
  • marvinat0rz October 21, 2013, 7:05 am

    Hey MMM, just saw you mentioned some potential solar energy experiements. Just as a potential heads-up – battery storage technology is currently about to get a lot cheaper. Solar installation company SolarCity is buying ~25kWH battery packs from Tesla Motors, which they use to store excess solar energy from housing installations for use during the night, eliminating the necessity to constantly interface with the power grid. You’ve probably done the calculations more thoroughly than I have, but I’m guessing with your power use, 25kWH would last you at least 24 hours. So you would be good even with a couple of overcast days, which realistically seems like the only thing you have to worry about in your climate.

    I don’t think it is realistic to do a major DIY project with this kind of setup just yet (battery cell costs would be prohibitive in low volume), but it’s something to keep your eyes on during the next couple of years.

    Regards,

    Reply
  • Louis Mack October 21, 2013, 11:40 am

    I completely agree with you, especially on the matter of transportation. So much money can be saved if you step out of the box on the idea that you have to drive everywhere and it is better for your health (where you will save money too by improving your physical lifestyle). Just this weekend I had some family in town that was complaining about distance and wanted to drive to the gym that was less than a mile away. I laughed at the irony of that.

    Reply
  • Steff M October 21, 2013, 8:33 pm

    Loved this post! I too am very curious to see you investigate off-gridding in the future. My husband and I decided to go off-grid when we built our own home about 3 years ago, and we’ve been working dilligently to bring down our electricity bill, because when preparing a battery bank to store your generated power, the less you need to store, the cheaper the initial cost of the system.

    We’re down to between 6-9 units per day, which is crazy good in NZ (not cheap, though – our power bill is $60-85 per month), and our daily usage will be lower when we go offgrid as water heating and cooking will be done on gas.

    I’ve crunched a lot of numbers, though, and because our power bill is so low, and the fact that you have to replace the battery bank every several years (I’ve heard anything from 5-20 years. Hoping the latter if we look after them) we’re going to struggle to come out on top by being off grid. It also doesn’t improve the value of our property (whereas grid-tied does), so that’s something to think about. Buyers don’t want the bother. We’re building our “forever home” though, so this doesn’t concern us. And I’ve spoken to a lot of offgridders over the last couple of years and not one of them has a single regret about the lifestyle.

    We move into the new house in Dec and am excited to begin a new adventure with our solar panels :). Definitely interested in a MMM look into the off grid lifestyle!

    Reply

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