Energy Bookshelf: Putting your home on a diet …

If you’re here, checking this out, chances are that you live to a certain extent in the blogosphere, in the virtual world of the World Wide Web. But, you probably don’t read only on the computer screen but also curl up with a good book from time to time. This is part of a series of discussions, book reviews if you wish, about books that one might want on The Energy Bookshelf.

So, for today: The Home Energy Diet: How to Save Money by Making Your House Energy Smart.

For a variety of reasons (aging heating system looking like it was on its last legs; concerns over potential fuel costs for heating (cooling) my home; and other reasons), in 2005 I began to start looking seriously at what I could be doing to improve my home’s energy efficiency. And, that meant research — on line and in hard copy. With this on my mind, one of those days stopping in the public library, I bumped into Home Energy Diet. Right time. Right subject. Right place. It went home with me.

The book turned out to be far more … and far better … than expected when pulled off the shelf.

The author, Paul Scheckel, is a home energy auditor with experience visiting and expecting thousands of homes. The Home Energy Diet, however, does not immediately leap into a detailed analysis of leak detection along your floor boards and options for sealing those cracks, instead Chapter One is “Energy Literacy”: providing a context within which to understand your homes energy use both as individuals and in a larger societal context.

It starts with a discussion of “Energy and Fuel: Where do they come from; where do they go?” He has a start graphic, from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, on US Energy Flow Trends in 2002. (Available in color in this presentation.) Of the roughly 97 Quads of net primary resource consumption for energy, roughly 56.2 Quads (almost 60 percent) is wasted, lost before end use. And, that is not even factoring in much of the ineffiencies at the tail end of the process. Thus, as a nation, huge opportunities might exist to use energy more efficiently (much as the message from Amory Lovins for years at the Rocky Mountain Institute).

Scheckel also walks his readers through basic literacy issues, from what is a kilowatt hour of electricity or the Btu, to defining “What is Efficiency?”

Efficiency is the ability to produce a desired effect with a minimum amount of effort or waste. The enery efficiency of an appliance is a comparison, or ration, of the useful energy output to the total energy input …

So, some 20 percent of America’s energy us is residential. (Actually, according to the Energy Information Agency, 21.87% as of 2004.)

And, as per the nation’s inefficient use of energy, so are the homes — in fact, residencies risk even more inefficiency than the general economy. (Wal-Mart, for example, has the resources to invest in greater efficiency in its stores than any average homeowner could manage.) From aging, inefficient heating systems, to poor lighting, to air leaks, opportunities exist for making the home far more energy efficient — and many of those opportunities are low cost with high payback.

While I was a knoweldgeable (sort of) reader when I pulled Home Energy Diet off the shelf, I learned from it. Scheckel’s material and explanations highlighted to me some serious problems in my attic insulation and ventilation that I simply was not aware of — previously, I thought that the house was reasonably well insulated. A few photos and some words of explanation and understanding came as to why icicles had plagued us most winters. From the book to the real world and the drive to the hardward store. Several afternoons of work putting in baffles and additional insulation ensued. With the first snow of the season, the ‘roof’ proved that this work changed how my house is operating just how Scheckel’s description said it would.

The work isn’t perfect. For example, for business analytical types, Scheckel treats all money as equal — a dollar a decade from now, after all inflation, is treated the same as today’s dollar. This leads toward a bias toward energy savings. Guess what, the savings are still there and still high payoff, just not quite as high as you might think from reading the book. And, well, this is a 2005 book … time is flying when it comes to options for the home. For example, there are reasonable LED options for some household uses — they aren’t really discussed here. But, these are minor problems for what is an excellent and valuable book.

While everything in this book can be found elsewhere, this is a clear and relatively comprehensive discussion of key household energy issues. (And, if necessary, one can quickly track down more detail on other issues.) It is an easy and clear read. And, while I originally got this from the library, I find it of such use that I’ve bought a copy to have around as reference material …

If every American home owner read this book and made minimal investments based on it, the nation could see a rapid cut in energy use — through efficiency rather than any reduction in lifestyle.
In America today, there seems to be an almost guaranteed baby shower gift: What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Many hospitals now give out What to Expect: The First Year as part of the take-home package with babies.

Well, The Home Energy Diet should be as ubiquitous for the American homeowner. Considering buying a home … your realtor should give you a copy so that you’ll be a more informed buyer. Signing a contract for a mortgage — your banker should hand you a copy (it will save you money and make it easier to pay that mortgage). Family and friends should be giving it to you as you move into your new home.

Quite honestly, if this had been in my hands the first day in my new home rather than seven years later, we might have saved thousands of dollars in payments for heating and cooling over those years while living in a more comfortable home.

If you have any concerns about how your home energy system is working, run — do not walk — to get your copy of The Home Energy Diet.

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One response to “Energy Bookshelf: Putting your home on a diet …

  1. Pingback: The Feds Object To Energy Smart Local Governance « Energy Smart

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