Jason's Blog

Archive for November 8th, 2004

Energy efficient homes

by on Nov.08, 2004, under General

I’ve been debating building a house this upcoming year, due to me quite possibly staying in Columbia for quite some time. I’ve got a decent job here, good pay, family is in town, etc. With the thought of owning my own home, there’s a few considerations which come in quite heavily. Things like, down payments, build/buy used, location, and whether I want to lock myself into Columbia for another 4+ years minimum. One of the big thoughts in that list is whether to build or to buy a prebuilt home. I’ve been leaning heavily towards building for a lot of reasons, such as custom design (I’m a big fan of colonial front porches), the ability to integrate a home network (gigabit baby – including a connection for the xbox), custom furnishings, a tool shop, and one of the biggest things to me – making the whole thing energy efficiency. I’ve already got a lot of thoughts on what I’d do for such a house. A lot of these thoughts stem from energy efficiency designs I’ve read about, and an interest in such technologies. I’m a heavy environmentalist, and the thought of building a home that uses very very little electricity is massively appealing to me.

For a perfect example of a device that is far more efficient, check this water heater out. It’s a tankless water heater – it heats the water on demand, and thus doesn’t waste gas on keeping a huge tank of water hot. These things are usually more expensivie initially, but they’re vastly more efficient with regards to energy consumption. Second, who doesn’t want as unlimited hot water while taking a shower? Last, overall, it’s just a much smarter design. No heating element to replace, less maintenance costs, less space use, etc. etc. Overall, this is something that goes almost beyond want into need in my view. The math just makes sense – it very often is worth it to spend more initially on something because it’ll pay itself off in the long run. This kind of a device is a perfect example of such an expenditure.

Some other things that I’ve thought of are fairly standard in todays world. You can install things like triple pane/tinted windows, modern ultra-efficient insulation, have your home facing the sun, ground source heatpumps, etc. But, I’d like to go a step beyond the standard and make a truly efficient home. Wired has an article on some of the things being done to pretty much wipe out electricity costs. I know I’d do a lot to not have to spend money each month on electricity, and despite an initial cost that’s higher, the long term value is imense. Imagine for example not having an electric bill each month? At all? Yes, you’d spend more initially, but in the long run, the savings would be MASSIVE. I spend something like 70 a month on electricity right now, if not a bit more. Particularly during the winters. Figure on a yearly basis, you average $75 a month on electricity alone (and keep in mind, in an actual house, I’d imagine this would be a bit more). In 5 years, that’s $4500 and in 10 years, $9000 you won’t have spent on electricity. If you assume an average of $100 a month, that’s another $3000 over 10 years. If you do the math and figure out what it would take to add photovoltaic cells to your house, and what it would add to a mortgage, you might actually end up spending less getting photovoltaic cells for power use. That is, the amount added to your mortgage might be less than the amount saved in electricity costs. Hell, if it adds $50 a month to your mortgage, but you’re saving $60+ a month? That works for me! Particularly if you’re in an area of the country that allows you to sell back extra power generated, which reduces costs even further.

There are of course a ton of other things you can do to build a truly energy efficient home. Some other thoughts I’ve had include things like a built-in greenhouse, an indoor pool in the middle (the big water source acts as sort of natural heatsink), slightly underground construction, etc. The more and more I think about such things, the more I become interested in these new designs, new technologies, and I remember that at heart, I am an engineer. The design, the engineering, the planning and construction – right now, it’s extremely interesting to me. So, hopefully someday soon perhaps I’ll own a home with such fun toys..er, devices…

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