Front Porch Blog

Never to Young to Learn

I was recently interviewed by my friend Finnegan, as he put together this excellent paper on energy conservation in the home. I wanted to share it with everyone because it is informative and well-researched. Its also inspiring to see someone as young as Finnegan work to build up support for sustainable energy, conservation, and responsible environmental policy. He is in the 8th grade.

Finnegan, take it away:

Over the next 20 years meeting projected electricity demand will require between 1300 and 1900 new power plants in the U.S., which averages out to one new power plant per week every week for the next 20 years. If the world continues to consume fossil fuels at the rate we do now, the environment will be damaged in numerous ways. Global warming will heat the planet and disrupt weather patterns, mountain environments will continue to be destroyed, and our water and air will be polluted with more dangerous chemicals.

Reducing the energy we use starts in the home. If we can all just take a few steps to cut back on the amount of energy we burn, the planet will be much better off. Of course, some sacrifices have to be made to do this, but there are many simple things we can do to cut down on energy consumption. For example, whenever you leave a room, turn off the lights.

Heating and cooling uses up huge amounts of energy. About 44% of the average American’s electricity bill comes from heating and cooling. Fortunately, there are many ways we can cut down. Getting a programmable thermostat helps because you can set the exact temperature you want, and after that temperature is reached the heater or air conditioning will turn off. In the summer, try and use less AC and more fans, but don’t leave fans on when you are not in the room. There is no need to do this because fans don’t actually cool the air, they just help you evaporate water, which cools your body. During the winter, buy thick blankets so you can let the temperature of the house drop at night.

One of the best ways to cut down on energy used for heating and cooling is to make sure your home is well insulated, and that it has as few leaks as possible. Leaks in the average home add up to the equivalent of a 3’ by 3’ hole in the wall. Here are some ways to weatherize your house.

1. Stop air from escaping under doors by attaching sweeps to the bottom.
2. Use window putty to seal around loose window panes, or just replace them with newer ones marked with Energy Star.
3. Cover bare floors with rugs for added insulation.
4. If you need help finding areas of your house to weatherize, contact an energy rater such as the Residential Energy Services Network. They will recommend ways to weatherize your house after testing it using a blower door—a device that finds and measure hidden leaks.

Another way to cut down on heating and cooling costs is to build your house using passive solar techniques. When sunlight strikes a building, materials in the building can reflect, transmit, or absorb the sun energy. The heat produced by the sun causes air movement that can be predicted in well designed buildings. Design elements and material choices can produce heating and cooling effects in a home.

Thirty-three percent of the energy an average American home uses is spent on lighting, cooking, and other appliances. Some simple ways to cut down on lighting costs are to turn off the lights when you leave a room, and to buy compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFL’s for short. These bulbs use 66% less energy, last 10 times longer, and are just as bright. This means that not only do they use less energy, but they also use up less energy being manufactured. Replacing one incandescent light bulb with a CFL can save up to $30 in energy costs. In fact if one light bulb in every home was replaced with a CFL it would stop as much pollution as taking one million cars off the road. The reason that incandescents are less efficient is because they lose a lot of energy through heat.

Another huge energy consumer is water heating. The average American home uses 14% of its energy on heating water. There are many ways to cut down on energy spent heating water. You can install low-flow shower heads, which cut down on water use, and don’t make the shower less enjoyable. They work by mixing air into the water, which uses up less water while still producing a lot of pressure. Flow restrictors work well to, but don’t make for as nice a shower. You can also install aeraters, which work like low-flow shower heads, except they are made for faucets. Water heaters themselves can be very inefficient. Buying Energy Star ranked water heaters can save a lot of energy. One of the simplest ways to cut down on energy used heating water is to take shorter showers.

Refrigerators are the next biggest consumer of energy in the home. They use 9% of your energy on average. Buy Energy Star-rated fridges, and clean the coils on the back of your fridge once a year to improve efficiency. Also, try not to leave the door of the fridge open for long.

If everybody took these steps to protect our planet, the results would be amazing. First of all less energy would be used, and many forms of pollution would be stopped. Because there is so much demand for energy, nonrenewable sources are the most economically competitive ways to generate electricity. If this demand goes down, then energy will not need to be mass produced like it is now. This will allow for more of energy to come from green sources, like wind and solar.

I asked JW Randolph from Appalachian Voices five questions about conserving energy in the home. He confirms many of the things I have found in my research.

1) What do you think are the best ways to cut down on lighting costs?

Turning the lights off when you leave a room is the easiest, most simple way to cut lighting costs for a home. Another super-easy, super-cheap thing to do is to replace your traditional light bulbs with compact florescent bulbs. If you can get your parents to do it at home, you can probably get your school to do it as well! See if they’ll switch to more energy efficient lighting.

2) What do you think are the best ways to cut down on heat loss in the home?

Your first option is to move your family to Southern Florida, but since I don’t speak Spanish, I must stay here. No matter what the heating system is in your house, one of the simplest things you can do is to keep the temperature at a constant level. Turning the heater on and making it 90 degrees, then getting hot and turning it completely off, then getting cold and turning it up to 90 degrees again uses an enormous amount of energy. Just keeping the temperature constant is important.

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of this, and this is the simple version, but the best ways to cut down on heat loss in the home is to check for cracks and leaks in the ceiling, walls, and floor (in that order) and to seal them. The other issue is windows. Glass, in some ways, performs like a liquid, and over decades will begin to slump on the top. This can create a situation where you can lose a lot of heat through a bent window. Having good windows is essential to preventing heat loss.

3) What problems do you think people have with reducing the energy they use, and what can we do to get people to change their ways?

People like to be comfortable, and often have a hard time changing their habits for something that they don’t see any direct reward for. There is myth that using Green power, or efficient technology is more expensive, or even “sissy” to some people. Well, that’s absolutely absurd on both counts. Green power, in the long run, generates enormous cost savings. And everybody knows that real men go solar!

The state of North Carolina is also considering incentives for folks who produce their own power. One of my professors has solar panels on his house, and so he actually produces more energy than he uses. I believe, starting this year, he can now do what is called “net-metering,” which means that the power he produces will go back onto the electric grid, and he gets a profit. I think that those kind of incentives help people change. Its also cool because it means that our community is producing our own electricity locally, and we don’t need it from coal from WV or hydro electric from TN.

You also change people by the example you set. One person can do so much in their lifetime to help the planet and their fellow man. Conservation is cumulative! Include your friends and do fun stuff like creek clean-ups and hikes. I fell in love with the outdoors simply by being out in it. So many kids today I feel like just never see outside!

4. What appliances burn the most energy, and what can we do to cut down on the energy they use up?

Heating your home is the #1 most expensive energy-wise.
Besides that, although I don’t have actual numbers, my guesses are that the refrigerator and dryers take up the most energy. There are coils on the back of the refrigerator which use a tremendous amount of energy, and if you clean them once a year, it can save quite a bit.

5) How does passive solar reduce energy usage?

Passive solar reduces our heating costs, or air conditioning costs, and our maintenance costs. By simply building houses that use the sun to its full extent, as our ancestors did, we can save ourselves 1000s of dollars over the course of a lifetime in energy costs. Its an amazing process, and has several components, but the basics is this. During the day, the sun shines through a South facing window. The dark tile on the floor will heat up, and release heat as the day goes on. In the summer, when the sun is higher in the sky, the roof blocks any sunlight that would go into this room, and the room stays cooler.

Three cheers Finnegan. We eagerly await your application here in a few years 🙂

I should also mention that he got an A. :coolsmile:





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