Part two in a series on available green building technologies to improve homes and buildings that are economical as well as ecologically friendly.
In this segment, I thought I would look at the major appliances for the home. I want to address the appliances that consume the most energy such as the refrigerator, heating/cooling system and hot water heater. Although I will only cover the major energy consuming appliances there are many more opportunities to buy energy efficient appliances for use in our homes and buildings.
Heating and cooling systems are the biggest consumers of energy in our homes. Furnaces come in a variety of fuels oil, natural gas and electric with electric heat being the least efficient and natural gas being the most efficient to operate. A natural gas furnace is efficient, clean to operate, requires minimal maintenance and is quieter than an oil fired unit. If your furnace is more than 10 years old it does not operate as efficiently as a modern unit. An older unit operates in the range of 40 – 50% efficiency at best, meaning that only half or less of the fuel being burned is converted to heat. A modern furnace operates at 80 to 95% efficiency. By doubling the efficiency of your furnace you will halve your fuel bill. The average household spends approximately $750 per year on heating their homes. A 50% reduction in fuel costs from installing a new heating system would mean the average household could realize a $3,500 savings over ten years.
According to reports, a refrigerator consumes 20% of our total electric use in our homes. Many refrigerators do not operate very efficiently, even many newer models. We’ve all heard of the “energy star” rating that compare similar style and size appliances by the energy they consume. This is a very helpful guide when buying an appliance. Certainly, the energy star appliances are more efficient than their non-energy star rated brethren, but even in the energy star family there are dramatic differences between models. What is often the case, especially with appliances, is that the more you pay up front, the more you save during the life of the appliance. Typically, the more costly models last longer and operate more efficiently than the less expensive models. For illustration, I compared two GE Profile 25.5 cu ft refrigerators: one non-energy star (NES) rated and one energy star (ES) rated, most other features are the same between the models. Purchase cost NES: $2698 ES: $2748; Yearly operating cost: NES: $75 ES: $56. The $20 per year in estimated savings may seem insignificant, but the savings alone will pay you $200 over the next ten years. The savings is small because of the closeness of the models manufacture. In some refrigerators the difference is far more dramatic and the savings is greater.
Hot water heaters offer a great opportunity to lower operating expenses in your home without breaking the bank. The typical hot water heater is a “storage tank” system ranging from 40 to 75 gallons and uses natural gas, propane or electric to heat the water. These systems maintain a set water temperature and run to maintain that water temperature regardless if there is a demand for hot water. The continuous reheating of water makes these systems inefficient and wasteful. A far more efficient system is the “tankless” hot water system. A tankless system provides hot water, 3 to 7 gallons per minute, continuously for as long as hot water is needed. The efficiency in these systems comes from not heating water that sits in the tank and thus only runs when hot water is needed. A gas fired, 40 gallon storage tank water heater costs $430 to purchase, operates at about 59% efficiency with an estimated $361 in yearly operating costs. In comparison, a tankless water heater of similar size, 6 gallons per minute, costs $646 to purchase, operates at 80% efficiency with annual operating cost estimated at $260. Since a tankless hot water system only runs when there is a demand for hot water, the savings with a tankless system can be far greater than the estimated costs given. Using the costs given above, a tankless hot water heater will save you more the $1,000 over a ten year life when compared to the traditional “storage tank” hot water heater.
In a real world study, I decided to change the systems in my home to energy efficient appliances. I have natural gas appliances, so I stayed with new natural gas appliances. I installed a tankless water heater; a new hot air furnace and compact fluorescent light bulbs throughout. The purchase and installation costs are as follows: hot water heater: $750; furnace: $975; compact fluorescent bulbs cost less than $100. The total investment in energy efficient appliances was $1,825. I live in an average home that is 25 years old with older windows and insulation.
My monthly utility costs (gas, electric) averaged $115 prior to installing my new energy efficient appliances. Monthly utility costs now are $80, a savings of $35 per month or $420 per year. Over a ten year period, my $1,800 investment will pay me $4,200. As well, my home is far more comfortable, quieter and cleaner to live in.
When it comes time to sell, my home will stand out from the competition because of the energy efficient upgrades. Home buyers want the mechanicals to be in tip top shape and will pay more for a house with newer appliances. Installing new energy efficient appliances will make your home less expensive to operate and more enjoyable for years to come.