Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Setting the Record Straight on Energy Efficiency

By Jade Rex, Project Manager

Most of the time when I talk to people about energy efficiency, they start talking about solar and how expensive it is. I think this is a common association to make since media ubiquitously refers to the two in the same breath. Just to set the record straight, energy efficiency and solar (renewable energy) are not cut from the same cloth. I like to think of them as more distant cousins than siblings.

Energy efficiency or ‘EE’ is the practice of making your existing energy source work more efficiently for you. For example, using a CFL light bulb in place of an incandescent light bulb provides the same amount of light, while consuming less energy to do so. Renewable energy, such as solar, is about generating energy from natural and renewable sources, including sunlight, wind, rain, tide, and geothermal. The fundamental difference between the two is that energy efficiency is about how you use energy, while renewables are about how you generate energy.

Now that we’ve established that EE isn’t solar, nor is it trying to achieve the same goals as solar let’s discuss why EE is important and something you should care about. The EPA defines energy efficiency as “products or systems using less energy to do the same or better job than conventional products or systems.” In other words, EE is about using your existing energy sources more thoughtfully. Making your home more energy efficient has huge implications for your comfort, health, and wallet. With approximately 87 million of the 130 million U.S. homes built before the advent of the modern-day energy code, this means that most homes in the U.S. use energy very inefficiently and cause their owners to needlessly waste tons of money. For example, leaky ducts usually waste between 10 and 30 percent of the heating or cooling energy a homeowner purchases.

So what’s the first and most significant step you can take if you are interested in saving money, making your home more healthy and comfortable, and decreasing your home’s green house gas impact? Invest in a whole home performance test—the best and most thorough way to identify the exact fixes your home requires to improve its efficiency. An energy-efficient retrofit typically includes sealing holes, gaps, and spaces where air leaks out; adding insulation to attics, crawlspaces, floors, and walls; replacing energy inefficient appliances; upgrading doors and windows; and replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFLs, in addition to other measures.

Check out the Department of Energy video below to see what a whole home performance looks like.

Compared to solar, installing energy efficiency measures is an easy and less expensive way to significantly reduce your energy usage and impact on the environment. Once you make your home energy efficient, you’ll be able to make your renewable energy investment go a lot further.

P.S. To stay current on energy efficiency news follow me on Twitter @jade_rex.

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