February 18th, 2009
If you’ve long longed to green your home but never felt you had the money to do so, get ready to take action. Obama’s new stimulus plan, signed into law Tuesday, might give you just the extra financial nudge you need to undertake that eco-project you’ve had in mind.
First of all, the new stimulus plan will give you a tax credit for 30% of the costs, up to $1,500 total, for these eco-improvements on a property (via Associated Press):
>> Getting new energy-efficient furnaces, air conditioners, or windows
>> Replacing leaky windows
>> Putting more insulation into attics.
In addition to tax breaks, the stimulus plan lets you get government rebates for buying Energy Star rated appliances. About $300 million will be given out via these eco-rebates through state-run programs. Check with your state in the coming months to see how you can take advantage of these rebates.
Low-income households will also be able to get greenification help, thanks to the $5 billion going to the Weatherization Assistance Program (via LA Times). This existing but underfunded program’s aimed at helping low-income households make energy-efficiency improvements in their homes; more than 33.8 million households are eligible for weatherization services according to the Department of Energy stats. So — If your income’s less than 50% above the poverty level, make sure you’re signed up to get on the waiting list in your state for this eco program, which could reduce your annual gas heating bill by almost a third.
Wealthier people can also get some financial help — though the economic boost isn’t tied to enviro-leanings. According to the Associated Press, the biggest winners from this stimulus bill could be “Americans with more expensive homes who will be able to refinance their home loans at cheaper rates.”
Why? The stimulus bill “temporarily raises the maximum size of mortgages that government-sponsored mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can purchase and market as securities from $417,000 to as high as $729,750 in expensive parts of the country such as New York and California,” says the AP. The bill also “makes a similar change for loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration.”
What this basically means is that homeowners will be able mortgage or remortgage their houses at much more favorable interest rates. Plus, through a separate tax break in the stimulus plan, first-time homebuyers will get an $8,000 tax credit, so long as they buy their homes before Dec. 1.
All that’s to say that many homeowners will be able to save a lot of money — which can be put toward greening projects — which can also earn their own tax credits and rebates!
That’s already a lot of good green news, but homeowners could see additional eco and economical benefits from the stimulus bill. Since the bill’s aimed at creating a lot more green jobs, from training people to make wind turbines and solar panels to promoting energy efficiency in schools and government buildings, we’ll hopefully all see some savings result from the expanding market for energy-efficient products and services.
Popularity: 4% [?]
February 11th, 2009
We’ve always found it a bit strange that one of the most energy-intensive systems in our homes wasn’t covered by the Energy Star program: water heaters. Water heaters are particularly challenging to select. They’re expensive, they employ several different technologies, and unlike many appliances you can’t just judge their merits based on what you see in a store.
Well, Energy Star has finally stepped up and given us some guidance. The standards for hot water heaters were released last year, and as of January 1 many different manufacturers now offer Energy Star models. So what does an Energy Star water heater mean for you? As you might expect, it differs by category, so we’ll run through them and list some good options for you below.
Storage Hot Water Heaters
Storage hot water heaters are the ones most of us have in our homes - a big tank with a burner at the bottom. They’re the least efficient type of hot water heater, for significant energy is lost as the hot water sits in the tank regardless of the insulation level. The new Energy Star standards say that a storage hot water heater must have an Energy Factor of at least 0.62, meaning that 62% of the energy in the fuel burned is converted into heat in hot water. This is about 7% more efficient than the current minimum federal standard for storage hot water heaters. If you’re on a budget, then these models are best.
Some options include:
Tankless Whole-House Hot Water Heaters
The new Energy Star standard for tankless hot water heaters is that they must have an Energy Factor of 0.82. This isn’t that stringent: most quality tankless units already meet or exceed this level. However, the Energy Star certification also specifies that the warranty be at least ten years on the heat exchanger and five years on parts. This is a major upgrade for some manufacturers. Tankless hot water heaters make sense if you don’t have huge hot water demands and if space is at a premium in your home.
Gas Condensing Water Heaters
Gas condensing water heaters are very similar to the traditional storage hot water heaters from the outside. But inside, there’s a major difference: they have very efficient heat exchangers that capture much more of the heat from burning fuel than do traditional models. An Energy Star condensing model must achieve an Energy Factor of at least 0.8, which puts most of these models right up there with tankless versions. That efficient heat exchanger comes at a price, though, so they’ll be more expensive than your typical storage model. Condensing models are great if you have a large family with high hot water demands - the storage gives you a bit more capacity than a comparable tankless unit.
Heat Pump Water Heaters
The previous three hot water heaters all employ gas as a fuel. So what happens if you use electricity? Consider a heat pump hot water heater. Like a normal heat pump or air conditioner, a heat pump water heater uses a refrigerant to “move” heat from outdoors inside to heat your water. Because you’re moving rather than creating heat, the efficiencies are incredibly high: Energy Star heat pump water heaters have Energy Factors of > 2.0. Per unit of energy, though, electricity is often much more expensive than gas or propane, so this higher efficiency might not translate into higher savings.
Solar Hot Water Heaters
Solar hot water heaters convert the sun’s energy into hot water, so why isn’t every solar hot water an Energy Star? The answer is that if they’re too small then they won’t make much of a difference. Therefore, an Energy Star solar hot water heater must have a Solar Fraction of > 0.5, meaning that it provides at least 50% of your total hot water heating needs.
Popularity: 5% [?]
January 25th, 2009
Written by Dawn Killough, courtesy of Green Building Elements.com
Energy Star challenges all employees to reduce the energy use at their places of work, through its newest promotion, “Bring Your Green to Work.” The corresponding web site offers employees the chance to register themselves and their company for the challenge and learn more about how to reduce energy use.
The child in me likes the “virtual office” application that offers several tips for lowering energy use. Ideas include unplugging cell phone chargers when not in use, using window shades to block or allow light and heat into the space as necessary, and, of course, using Energy Star rated equipment. It is presented in an easy to use interface, in which users click on blue stars placed throughout the “office” to receive the tips.
Other features of the site include, as I mentioned above, the opportunity to register individuals or companies as participating in the challenge. There are also several areas full of resources and ideas for lowering energy use in a commercial setting. Once a company joins the challenge, more resources are available, including logos, brochures, and web banners to post on web sites.
There is also a guide to starting a “Green Team.” These committees are started by companies to assess and work with employees and management to lower energy use. They also can work on improving the environmental footprint of a company in general. Their duties may include assessing manufacturing processes and materials, office procedures, and starting awareness and recycling programs.
With all these wonderful resources available, there are no more excuses for continuing “business as usual.” Energy Star and I challenge you to “Bring Your Green to Work!”
Popularity: 2% [?]