operations & maintenance

Saving energy saves money. Reducing your energy use will reduce your gas and electricity bills (which frees up funds for other, more meaningful things). It also benefits the environment and your health in a variety of ways. For example, using less electricity reduces power plant emissions from burning fossil fuels, which reduces air and water pollution, and that helps protect everyone’s health and our shared natural resources. It also reduces the emission of greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change.

This checklist outlines a number of ways that you can conserve energy at home (or at work), by changing your household (or workplace) products and practices related to Heating and Cooling, Appliances and Equipment, Lighting, etc. Most of these strategies are easy and low- or no-cost, and saving energy helps save you money down the road.

HEATING AND COOLING

  • Program your thermostat to provide less heating or cooling at night and during the daytime hours when your home/building is not occupied. If you don’t know how to change the settings on your programmable thermostat, read the manual or ask someone for assistance. (If you’d like to have an easy-to-program, energy-saving thermostat with an elegant design, take a look at the iPod-like Nest thermostat.)
  • On hot and sunny days, cover your windows by closing the shades, blinds, opaque curtains, or shutters; and turn off any lights that aren’t needed (especially any lamps that are using conventional incandescent bulbs, as they emit a surprising amount of heat). And if you live in an area that regularly has hot summers, consider adding shade trees, awnings, or overhangs (particularly outside of west-facing windows) and putting a light-colored roof on your home when it’s time to replace the roof.
  • Avoid or minimize your use of air conditioning, when possible. Air conditioners use a lot of energy, making them expensive to use. In warm weather, try using ceiling fans, floor fans, or a “whole house” attic fan (or in dry regions, an evaporative cooler) instead of AC. These options can often provide adequate cooling.
  • Follow the recommended maintenance procedures for your heating and cooling systems. Replace or clean air filters as specified in the owner’s manuals. Have your furnace or air conditioner serviced if it isn’t operating properly or efficiently.
  • Keep your heating/cooling vents dusted.
  • Keep furniture, curtains, and other objects away from heater/air conditioning outlets, to allow conditioned air to flow freely into the room.
  • Make sure your windows close properly. Fix any broken window panes, seals, or latches.
  • Don’t leave the heat or air conditioning on if you open a window.
  • Weatherize your doors and windows by using weather stripping or seals to minimize air leaks and drafts.
  • Make sure your home is well insulated. Insulate your hot water pipes and water heater, and add insulation (if needed) to your attic, walls, or basement.
  • Hire a home performance contractor to do a home energy audit; they will inspect your home and identify any inefficiencies and seal up air leaks. In many homes, fixing air leaks can save more energy and money than installing a high-efficiency furnace. (One very experienced company that offers these services in California is Advanced Home Energy, formerly called Recurve.) You can search here for a contractor near you who has been accredited by the Building Performance Institute. If you live in California, check out the information provided by Energy Upgrade California.
  • When purchasing a new furnace, air conditioner, ceiling fan, water heater, windows, or doors, choose products that have a high Energy Star efficiency rating. (For windows, at a minimum, make sure you choose double-paned glass.)

Please continue reading. The rest of this post includes tips on lighting, appliances, electronics, and more:

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May 29, 2013
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Green school buildings have multiple benefits and advantages, including:

  • reduced use of energy and water, and reduced materials waste;
  • lower operating costs, i.e., financial savings that can be used to fund other improvements or activities;
  • a healthier and more comfortable learning (and teaching) environment, resulting in better student performance (including higher test scores), improved health of all of the schools’ occupants (and therefore, fewer sick days), as well as more satisfied teachers and staff; and
  • new opportunities for on-site, hands-on environmental learning.

Whether you’re a teacher, parent, student, school administrator, or building professional, you may be interested in learning more about green schools. Here is a listing of many of the key websites, organizations, guidelines, and initiatives related to green schools, with a focus on school buildings/facilities (design of new buildings, retrofitting existing buildings, as well as the daily operations and maintenance of the buildings). Most of these resources are related to K-12 schools, but some of the information also applies to higher education facilities.


Key Organizations and Information Websites

Center for Green Schools (U.S. Green Building Council)

Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS)

Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI)

Earth Day Network: Green Your School

Eco-Schools USA (National Wildlife Federation)

EnergySmart Schools (U.S. Department of Energy)

Global Green USA: Green Schools program

Green Schools Alliance

Healthy Schools Network

High Performance Schools (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

LEED for Schools (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Rating System, USGBC)

U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools

U.S. Green Schools Foundation

For information on getting financing for green / energy efficiency projects, check out these sites: the National Education Foundation/ U.S. Department of Education’s Qualified School Construction Bonds, the California Energy Commission’s Energy Efficiency loans, PG&E’s School Resource Program (for schools within the PG&E utility area), and the DSIRE Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. For additional links related to funding for green projects, see my post on Green Tax Credits, Rebates, and Other Financial Incentives.

Examples of Local and Regional Initiatives


Related Post: Green Curricula and Environmental Learning Activities (i.e., environmental education)

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October 1, 2010
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Reducing your water use has multiple benefits. In addition to helping to conserve and protect your community’s vital water supplies, saving water also helps you save money and energy.

According to the U.S. EPA, if all U.S. households installed water-efficient fixtures and appliances, the country would save more than 3 trillion gallons of water and more than $18 billion dollars per year.

Conserving water also conserves energy, because energy is used to treat, deliver, and heat water. If one out of every 100 American homes were retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, that would save about 100 million kWh of electricity per year—avoiding 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions: equivalent to removing nearly 15,000 automobiles from the road for one year. For additional information on the benefits of saving water, see this EPA webpage.

Low-flow fixtures have been on the market for a while. These days, there are also many ultra-low-flow fixtures that conserve even more water without compromising performance. The EPA’s WaterSense program labels ultra-low-flow, highly water-efficient plumbing fixtures that have been independently tested and certified to meet efficiency and performance standards. In addition to being approximately 20% more water-efficient than average products, WaterSense labeled products have been verified to perform “as well or better than their less efficient counterparts.”

To select the most water-efficient plumbing fixtures, you should look for products with certain flow thresholds. The following sections outline the thresholds to be aware of when selecting ultra-low water-use toilets, showerheads, and faucets:

HIGH-EFFICIENCY, WATER-SAVING TOILETS

Toilets are often the source of the most water use (and water wasting) within a home, accounting for nearly 30 percent of an average home’s indoor water consumption. If you have a toilet(s) that uses more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush (gpf)—as do almost all toilets installed before 1994—replace it with one of the following:

  • High-efficiency (or ultra-low-flush) toilet model that uses no more than 1.3 gpf (the current EPA WaterSense standard, as of 2010); or better yet, a…
  • Dual-flush toilet, which has a lower-flush button for liquid waste and a higher-flush button for solid waste; this type of toilet is common in Australia and Europe and is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. (Dual-flush conversion/retrofit kits are also available to convert a regular toilet into a dual-flush.) Or even better, consider installing a…
  • Composting toilet, which uses little to no water for flushing.

In California, new legislation has mandated that all new toilets sold or installed in the state after 2014 must be high-efficiency toilets. At some point, federal standards might also be raised to this standard.

For commercial/office-building bathrooms, install ultra-low-flush (ULF) urinals in lieu of regular urinals.

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August 25, 2010
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Homeowners (and renters) are increasingly interested in making green home improvements, and they’re particularly interested in knowing which improvements have a low cost and a clear payback—i.e., a decent Return on Investment, or ROI. Here are some commonly agreed upon suggestions for relatively easy and economical projects that reap surefire savings (in energy, water, and dollars):

  1. Switch to LED and/or compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs. (Note: When buying CFLs, look for low-mercury products. Also, because CFLs contain mercury, they cannot be thrown in the trash; they must be recycled by a hazardous waste facility. Some stores, such as Home Depot, collect used CFLs. You can find other places near you that take used CFLs on Earth911.com.)
  2. Switch to WaterSense plumbing fixtures (e.g., dual-flush or other high-efficiency toilets, and ultra-low-flow faucets and showerheads). [MORE INFO here.]
  3. Switch to Energy Star appliances and electronic equipment when it’s time to replace old units. Install an Energy Star ceiling fan(s), to reduce or eliminate your use of air conditioning.
  4. Insulate your hot water pipes and water heater; and add insulation to your attic (and/or walls and basement).
  5. Have a home energy audit done to check for air leaks and identify other inefficiencies; a home performance contractor should then make the needed improvements. More and more companies are springing up to offer these services. (One very experienced company in California is Advanced Home Energy, formerly called Recurve.) You can search here for a contractor near you who has been accredited by the Building Performance Institute. If you live in California, check out the information provided by Energy Upgrade California.

For other ideas and helpful cost/benefit assessments, check out this new book: Green Sense for the Home: Rating the Real Payoff from 50 Green Home Projects, by Eric Corey Freed and Kevin Daum (Taunton Press, April 2010). Here’s the publisher’s description of the book: “When does a green home project make financial sense? The authors of this book provide the answer to this and other questions relating to the cost (and relative value) of environmentally friendly home improvements. They evaluate a wide array of projects, including insulating pipes, weatherizing doors and windows, composting and recycling trash, installing a solar hot water heater, installing green countertops, upgrading appliances, building with reclaimed materials, and installing radiant heat.”

Other recent books include Green Home Improvement: 65 Projects That Will Cut Utility Bills, Protect Your Health & Help the Environment by Daniel Chiras, PhD (RS Means) and This Green House: Home Improvements for the Eco-Smart, the Thrifty, and the Do-It-Yourselfer by Joshua Piven (Abrams).

A number of federal, state, and local tax credits, rebates, and other financial incentives are available for installing energy-efficient equipment or renewable energy (e.g., solar) technologies at your residence.

For a more comprehensive checklist of ways to save energy, see our new post [added 5/2013]: Tips for Saving Energy

 

For additional tips on green home improvements and retrofits, these are some useful online articles and websites, most of which feature lists of cost-effective improvements:

If you’d like assistance with choosing and implementing your green home improvements or remodeling strategies, I am a green advisor who can provide this type of assistance through email consultations (or phone or in-person consultations). Click here for more info.

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May 6, 2010
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Image by Matt FarrarENERGY STAR is an energy efficiency rating program developed by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Most people are familiar with ENERGY STAR labeled home appliances and light bulbs, but many people may not be aware that the label is applied to more than 60 different types of products (for residential use as well as commercial building use), including heating and cooling equipment, roofs, and many types of electronics. (Note: Heating and cooling are the largest sources of energy consumption in homes; they account for almost half of a typical home’s energy consumption and energy costs.)

Energy StarSpecific examples of products for which you can find ENERGY STAR qualified models include: air conditioners (central or room), ceiling fans, exhaust/ventilation fans, furnaces, boilers, thermostats, water heaters, refrigerators and freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers, insulation, windows, skylights, roofs, doors, light fixtures and bulbs, as well as TVs, DVD players, phones, computers, monitors, printers, copiers, etc.

To find out which brands and models of a particular product have earned the ENERGY STAR label, or to compare the levels of efficiency among different models, go to the ENERGY STAR Qualified Products website. Also, check with your utility company to see if they offer rebates for purchasing energy efficient equipment or appliances; many utilities do.

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March 28, 2009
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