Warm up with DOE’s winter home tips

Energy Saver is the U.S. Department of Energy's consumer resource on saving energy and using renewable energy technologies at home. Check out the website, blog and Energy Saver Guide for consumer education material.
Energy Saver is the U.S. Department of Energy’s consumer resource on saving energy and using renewable energy technologies at home. Check out the website, blog and Energy Saver Guide for consumer education material. (Photo by DOE Energy Saver program)

Around this time of year, we are all getting fed up with cold weather and the high utility bills that come with it. Your customers might appreciate some suggestions for saving money and keeping warm over the next few (or, in some places, several) weeks. The DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has just the thing for your website or bill stuffer.  Here are simple steps we can all take to stay warm.

1. Spruce up the fireplace
Before you build that cozy fire and settle in with a good book and a hot beverage, give your fireplace some love.

Replacing your inefficient wood-burning fireplace with a more efficient wood stove or gas insert can turn your pretty–but high–maintenance—fireplace into a viable way to heat your home. Converting your fireplace will not only save you on monthly heating costs, it can improve air quality in your community. It could even put money back in your pocket—some states offer rebates or tax credits for upgrading your inefficient fireplace.

If you aren’t ready to update your fireplace, try adding glass doors with a heat-air exchange system. Make sure your fireplace is cleaned and your flue damper properly sealed. Also, try to keep the fireplace damper closed when you don’t have a fire burning to keep heat from your furnace from going up the chimney.

2. Reverse your fan
The same ceiling fan that helps to keep you cool in the summertime can also help circulate warm air in the winter. Look for a little switch on the motor housing to reverse the direction of your fan, pushing warm air down and recirculating it through the room. How do you ensure that your fan is spinning in the correct direction? When you look up, the blades are spinning clockwise.

3. Protect your lawn so it can protect you
Properly planned landscaping can save you energy and increase your home’s comfort. Windbreaks can help keep your heating bills under control by blocking the cold winter wind around your home. A wall or fence, evergreen trees and shrubs planted on the north, west and east sides of your home can be most effective in creating a windbreak and reducing heating costs.

Especially in some parts of the West, wet spring snowfall can snap branches that provide cooling shade during the summer. Worse yet, a broken branch could fall on a power line and cause an outage in the neighborhood.  Use a broom or a mop to shake the heavy snow off tree branches and relieve some of the weight.

4. Air-seal then insulate
Reducing the amount of air that leaks in and out of your home is one of the most cost-effective ways you can cut heating and cooling costs, improve durability, increase comfort and create a healthier indoor environment. Caulking and weather stripping are two simple and effective air-sealing techniques that offer quick returns on investment, often one year or less

5. Windows, windows, windows
Your windows do more than provide a view of snow-covered yards. They also provide a barrier to the cold. Windows with low-e coating reduce heat loss and even reflect back part of the room’s heat. Installing storm windows can also reduce heat loss through windows by about 10 to 20 percent.

If replacing windows is too big an investment, return to Step 4 and put some fresh calking around the panes and sill. Choose window coverings designed to help improve the performance of old windows. As a bonus, your home will get a little spring facelift to help you through the last dreary weeks of winter.

Read more about sustainability and implementing energy upgrades within the home on DOE’s Energy Saver blog, a great resource for customer education material.

Source: DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

New program to develop energy-efficiency ratings for window coverings

Fact sheet, website present initial data

(Artwork by Attachments Energy Rating Council)

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Window Covering Manufacturers Association You are leaving WAPA.gov.  are launching a program to help consumers make informed decisions about products with significant energy-saving potential: window coverings.

The nonprofit Attachments Energy Rating Council You are leaving WAPA.gov. (AERC) is leading the effort to develop an energy certification and rating program for storm windows, awnings, drapes, shutters, shades, blinds and screens.

AERC has been compiling data for the past 18 months and recently unveiled a website where visitors can learn more about its mission, find resources for evaluating building efficiency and read reports from partnering organizations. One report, Window Attachments: Call to Action, targets utilities. It outlines the energy-saving benefits of window attachments, the market size for the product category and the potential effects of an energy certification program.

Why window coverings?
Properly chosen and installed, window attachments can upgrade the performance of existing windows and save up to 13 percent of a household’s annual energy use. Energy savings are not the only benefits window coverings offer homeowners. Far from being purely decorative, window attachments:

  • Enhance daylighting
  • Reduce draftiness
  • Minimize glare
  • Increase thermal comfort
  • Provide privacy
  • Muffle outdoor noise
This thermal image shows how windows are a major source of heat loss on buildings.
This thermal image shows how windows are a major source of heat loss on buildings. (Photo by Attachments Energy Rating Council)

According to the DOE, 80 percent of all households have window coverings, while complete window replacement—a more expensive option—occurs in 2 percent of U.S. homes annually. This creates an opportunity to save consumers energy and money by making the attachments more energy efficient. The AERC rating will help consumers identify products that save energy and increase comfort, and open a space for new utility programs.

Another advantage of window coverings is that homeowners would not have to change their behavior to get the benefits from window coverings. As utility program managers know, it can be difficult to maintain energy savings from measures that require customers to learn new behaviors. However, a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that people already use window coverings in a way that optimizes energy efficiency. For example, people in southern climates tend to keep their window coverings closed in the summer. In terms of persistence, once homeowners invest in storm windows, they generally keep them installed and in good condition.

Ratings rollout
AERC has begun to rate, certify and label attachment products, starting with interior and exterior storm windows, cellular and pleated shades, blinds, solar screens and interior and exterior roller shades. Look for the first AERC-certified window coverings in retail stores by June or July, with additional product categories appearing in late 2017 and early 2018.

If you think efficient window coverings might provide the basis for a new customer efficiency program, bookmark the AERC website so you can follow the publication of the ratings. In the meantime, learn more about window coverings by downloading the fact sheet from Energy Services Publications and visiting Window Coverings and AttachmentsYou are leaving WAPA.gov. an online guide to choosing the right treatment for each window.

Source: Attachment Energy Rating Council, 1/31/17

IR camera borrowed for classroom, saves energy for university

Western State Colorado University is located in Gunnison, frequently one of the coldest areas in the 48 states.
Western State Colorado University is located in Gunnison, frequently one of the coldest areas in the 48 states. (Photo by Western State Colorado University)

Anyone who picks up an infrared (IR) camera quickly becomes aware of the possibilities of being able to “see” the temperature of objects. Some WAPA customers find that once they borrow a camera from our Equipment Loan Program, coworkers from other departments suddenly appear with ideas for their own projects, as happened at Western State Colorado University You are leaving WAPA.gov. (WSCU).

John Mason, an associate professor of physics in WSCU’s department of Natural and Environmental Sciences, recently borrowed an IR camera primarily for class demonstrations. He heard about it through a colleague who attended an energy fair in Gunnison, Colorado, where then-Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffman had a display table for WAPA.

Showing, not telling
“The camera is great for making abstract concepts concrete to students,” Mason noted. “Take thermally induced electromagnet radiation, for example. Instead of trying to explain it to students, I can focus the camera on a black plastic trash bag, and it shows right through it. Then, I point it at a piece of glass and they can’t see what is on the other side. The students perk right up when I bring out the IR camera,” he added.

Other teachers found uses for the camera, too, but it was in the hands of the WCSU facilities manager that the loan really paid off for the school. “It didn’t take long for word to get to facilities that we had an IR camera, and Bryce [Hanna] showed up asking to borrow it,” Mason recalled.

Gunnison, always one of the coldest spots in the Colorado Rockies, was experiencing a particularly cold winter during the period of the camera loan. Facilities Manager Hanna saw the opportunity to show the administration why Hurst Hall, a building of classrooms, labs and offices, needed a thermal envelope upgrade. The department performed an IR inspection of the building and shared the picture with the insulating contractors to get their input on what measures needed to be taken. “Then we showed the thermal images to the WSCU Sustainable Action Committee to get their approval to fund the project,” he said. “The committee is the ultimate decision maker in terms of how—and whether—sustainability funds get spent.”

Finding, fixing
Hurst Hall’s frigid upper floor and frozen water pipes were plenty of proof that the building had a leaky envelope. But the IR camera helped to pinpoint the areas that needed repairs and make the case for investing in the improvements. “The problems are not always where you expect them to be,” Hanna pointed out.

Hurst Hall; containing offices, classrooms and labs; was very much in need of an envelope upgrade.
Hurst Hall; containing offices, classrooms and labs; was very much in need of an envelope upgrade. (Photo by Western State Colorado University)
The light areas of the thermal image show where Hurst Hall is losing heat to air leaks and inadequate insulation.
The light areas of the thermal image show where Hurst Hall is losing heat to air leaks and inadequate insulation. (Photo by WSCU Facilities Management)

The camera uncovered a bad case of “gaposis” just below the roof where the exterior wall and insulation didn’t quite meet the insulated roof. The opening allowed heat to escape while an uninsulated steel tube vented cold air into the building. Adding spray foam insulation to the gap raised the temperature by almost 40 degrees in some places. “Filling the big holes also helped us to locate the smaller leaks, which are just as important to sealing the building envelope,” noted Hanna.

The results from the project are still coming in, as the heating system controls must be fine-tuned to adjust to the tightened thermal envelope. However, a normalized comparison of 2015 gas bills to 2016 indicated that the building used 20 percent less gas during the coldest month. Hanna explained that because of the low cost of natural gas, the return on investment for the upgrade is practically nonexistent. “We did it because it was the right thing to do,” he said. “Not to mention, the building occupants are a lot more comfortable.”

Which water pump would you rather touch? Thermal image showing pump on right clearly overheating.
Which water pump would you rather touch? This thermal image clearly shows the pump on the right overheating. (Photo by WSCU Facilities Management)
The lighter the window, the greater the heat loss. Windows on the bottom floor are new. The dark mound below the windows is snow.
The lighter the window, the greater the heat loss. Windows on the bottom floor are new. The dark mound below the windows is snow. (Photo by WSCU Facilities Management)

Safe, efficient maintenance
As impressive as big upgrade projects are, keeping equipment and systems in good working order is even more important over the long term. While Hanna had the camera, he used it to detect and correct mechanical and electric issues. “If you are having a problem with a hard-to-reach piece of equipment like an inline water pump, you can see what is happening right away on a thermal imager,” he explained. “If you are dealing with an electrical short, you don’t want to be handling it without knowing if it is live or not.”

Instead of wasting a thousand words on the importance of efficient windows, Hanna simply compared a picture of recently installed windows to old windows. “We could see an immediate difference between the two,” he declared. “The old windows appeared as bright in the picture, indicating high heat loss. The new windows were much darker, showing that less heat was escaping them. In some spots the new windows were even out-performing the stucco wall around them.”

Many lessons to learn
This story offers more than one take-away besides the obvious, “Infrared cameras are awesome!” You might conclude that customer outreach can pay off in unexpected ways, or that facility managers can be a utility’s greatest ally. You may decide that customer service representatives and key account managers need to take an IR camera along when they visit customers.

The Equipment Loan Program can help with that last one. Contact Chris Lyles, 720-962-7249, to reserve a camera for your next customer meeting or public event. And don’t forget to tell us your story afterward.

Technology Spotlight: The power of non-energy benefits

Most energy-saving technologies are invisible to users, but for some technologies, non-energy benefits (NEB) can be the deciding factor in getting consumers to spring for that energy-efficient new appliance or system.

NEBs are those “warm fuzzies” that keep customers happy—things like improved productivity, comfort, safety, health, process control or resale value. Commercial customers who do not excited about cutting energy costs or saving the environment might light up when they learn that a technology could reduce inventory, address regulatory concerns or cut down on maintenance. Especially for projects that don’t have a quick direct payback, NEBs can make the business case to move forward.

The E3TNW databaseRedirecting to a non-government site of new and emerging efficiency technologies, co-sponsored by Western and Bonneville Power Administration, has a field just for NEBs. Because these benefits often influence purchasers more than the energy cost savings, they can have a big impact on how quickly and deeply a new technology is adopted.

Beyond efficiency
One example is interior storm windows, which can cut window energy losses by a quarter or more. These cost-effective alternatives to window replacement are available as easily installed Plexiglas models for homes and double-pane, aluminum-frame models for commercial buildings. They can cut cold drafts and raise the temperature of the interior pane, reduce outside noise and reduce condensation that can cause mold and damage window frames. Some come with solar-controlling tints and UV filters to reduce glare, heat gain and fabric fading. Homeowners who want to be more comfortable and protect their furnishings might see the energy-efficiency performance as just icing on the cake.

Interior storm window panels not only reduce energy loss, they protect furnishings and cut down on outside noise. (Photo by Emerging Energy Efficiency Technologies Database)
Interior storm window panels not only reduce energy loss, they protect furnishings and cut down on outside noise. (Photo by Emerging Energy Efficiency Technologies Database)

LED lighting is another technology that can almost sell itself on NEBs alone. The lamps are four to six times more efficient than incandescent lamps and last about 50 times as long, a point to mention to customers with critical lighting in hard-to-reach places.Unlike metal halide or high-pressure sodium lamps, LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, can be dimmed to save additional energy in areas where daylighting may occasionally be sufficient for the task. Warehouse managers might appreciate how easily the lighting can be automated and programmed for “just in time” use—turning on and off only when occupants enter the space—without needing a warm-up period to reach full intensity. The lamps perform much better than fluorescent lamps in cold temperatures, don’t contain mercury and can change color as needed to support plant growth and intangibles such as workers’ mood and productivity.

Speaking of mood, innovative products like the Sky LED PanelRedirecting to a non-government site can liven up dreary spaces without putting an expensive and leaky hole in the building envelope. The office light fixture has images on the lens, such as clouds, that make the panel look like a skylight. Imagine the boost that could give to people in a hospital waiting room or drab office cubicle.

The Sky LED panel is an affordable and energy-efficient alternative to installing a skylight. (Photo by Smart Lighting Solution)
The Sky LED panel is an affordable and energy-efficient alternative to installing a skylight. (Photo by Smart Lighting Solution)

The Philips Hue lamp may be just the technology to get your early-adopter customers excited about LEDs. The color, brightness and timing of the lamp can be controlled remotely with a smart phone, a pretty cool app to show off to your tech-savvy friends.

Learn more
Too many program managers focus entirely on energy savings and speak purely in engineering terms. Decisions makers, from homeowners to corporate CEOs, usually have other priorities more important to them. Western’s Energy Experts hotline provides a resource for documentation and program ideas to help utility program managers figure out what their customers’ priorities are and how energy-efficiency improvement projects can address them. Contact Energy Experts at 800-765-3756 or submit a technical question online, and don’t forget to browse through Energy SolutionsRedirecting to a non-government site and Utility Options for inspiration.

DOE funds development of energy-saving building technologies

As part of its efforts to help homeowners and businesses save money by saving energy, the Energy Department (DOE) is investing $9 million in leading-edge building envelope technologies, including high-efficiency, high-performance windows, roofs, and heating and cooling equipment.

In his announcement, Energy Secretary Steven Chu noted that a typical American family spends nearly $2,000 per year on their home energy bills, much of which is wasted on air leaks and drafts in houses’ roofs, attics and walls. “By bringing new, affordable energy-efficient products to the market, we can help families save money by saving energy, while strengthening U.S. manufacturing leadership in technologies that are increasingly in demand worldwide,” said Chu.

This new investment focuses on improving whole-home energy performance through six advanced manufacturing projects in California, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Missouri and Tennessee. Funding includes:

  • About $6.5 million in four projects to develop highly efficient, cost-effective heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems
  • About $3 million to two projects targeting building envelope materials.

In Western’s territory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will develop and test highly insulated, easy-to-install windows that use automated shading that can capture or repel heat depending on the season. Projects elsewhere include the St. Louis, Missouri-based Unico developing a cold climate heat pump with a variable speed compressor that will maintain capacity and efficiency even at very low temperatures. The University of Idaho will design and demonstrate a roof sandwich panel that uses foam material to increase building thermal efficiency and helps reduce construction costs by 25 percent.

From 1990 to 2007, U.S. energy use per capita remained fairly consistent. In the last five years, however, improvements in building efficiency for space heating and air conditioning have helped to reduce consumption. Nearly 60 percent of homes now feature energy-efficient, multi-pane windows—up from 36 percent in 1993. About 40 million households have sealed air leaks with caulking or weather-stripping, and 26 million have added insulation. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects that energy use per capita will continue to fall by an additional 15 percent through 2040.

Greater savings can be achieved through more improvements. A typical residential or commercial building loses about 42 percent of energy through doors, roofs, attics, walls, floors and foundations—the building envelope. In the winter months, windows alone can account for 10 to 25 percent of a home’s utility bill through heat loss. The projects receiving funding will help bring new, affordable technologies to market and create opportunities for improved building performance and cost savings.

Learn more about these projects and find additional information on how the Energy Department is helping American homes and businesses save money by saving energy at EnergySaver.gov and through the Buildings Technologies Program. Source: DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, 12/21/12