Everyone want to buy solar panels and other forms of alternative energy thinking that they can go fully “off grid.” They are going to buy enough panels to run the whole house with solar. So after they drop $20,000 on Photovoltaic cells, they realize that they need something else. They have to spend just as much on the batteries so they can run their AC at night. In 30 years, assuming they have no troubles and the PV panels don’t break or degrade, they may break even with the cost.
But because this is a survivalist blog, I must admit that the PV system looks a little better if we discuss about the possibility of grid-down scenarios with regional disasters. Or if I say that there is no way our energy cost will ultimately go down or even stay the same; they will go up and by quite a bit. Now the payoff is a lot better, so can we say 10 years?
I contend that this is still not a great idea yet.
I think it is a poor move to buy a bunch of alternative power and not look at the poor construction of a modern single family home. If we spend $5,000 on efficiency and now only have to spend $10,000 for PV cells and $7000 for batteries because our efficiency is higher, then we have something a little smarter.
So what do we do for our home efficiency:
First, you could get a consultant to tour your home for suggestions. This is their job. I don’t mean window people or insulation guys, I mean a REAL efficiency expert that is not tied to the products.
Now, you can work on your list of corrective actions, what you need to do to improve your efficiency gain. Some common things are:
- Seal up all the cracks in the home that allow high heat transfer. This is usually windows, doors, and attics or basements. Fire places are a HUGE leak and just adding a fireplace pillow when not in use will raise efficiency and pay itself back over about a year.
- Insulate your attic with lots of insulation. You want to insulate the roof pitch. You want insulation between your roof and the space in the attic. Then make sure that you have a small vent fan in the attic that is temperature controlled. This way you don’t keep it blowing if the temperature outside is too hot, heating up the attic.
- Seal up the ductwork in your home. It is estimated that a fifth of your AC energy is lost to leaks in a central air conditioning system. I know that we found ducts almost fully disconnected in our home before when getting it cleaned. You can also have the ducts cleaned, but this is a little lower payback.
- Install a programmable thermostat. The new ones are pretty sweet. You can control them from your cell phone! That means that you can keep it low or off until you get about an hour away from home, and then turn it on. Constantly turning it on and off was said to reduce efficiency, but not when you are doing this with a low frequency and large time gaps.
- Add energy efficient windows. This is an expensive option. A home could cost $10,000 total for new windows, so it does reduce the margin of savings when this is done. Wood is better for efficiency that aluminum frames. A cheaper way is to install storm windows in addition to your current windows.
- Blinds and Curtains can be added to the windows. You use silver (paint or get silver blinds) during the summer and black during the winter. If you have a black curtain about an inch out from the window, it will actually create air flow and warm the home a little bit.
- Energy efficient doors can be added. The main things are that we don’t want hollow doors and we want them to seal well.
After all of this, we can then consider adding an alternative energy system. And you wouldn’t believe how many alternative energy systems there are out there, and how cheap they can be. And NO, I am not talking about electrical systems.
Remember, it is more important that you work on home efficiency before alternative power. It gives you a faster payback and will cost less out of pocket. As an addition, I have found a chart at Portland General Electric that can give you some ideas on small things that you may be able to upgrade for energy efficiency that most people may not even think of.
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