energy efficiency

In the past couple of years, several documentary films have come out that are focused on the folly of fossil fuels (such as oil, gasoline, and natural gas), and new films have also been made to bring attention to the broader climate crisis. Most of these movies have been critically acclaimed.

Recent fuel films include:


Gasland (2009): about drilling for natural gas by “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing) (Gasland is currently airing on HBO and via HBO On Demand.)


Crude (2009): about the lawsuit on Chevron/Texaco’s contamination of an Amazon community in Ecuador


Fuel (2008): about biodiesel made from waste vegetable oil


A Crude Awakening
: The Oil Crash (2007)

Also, in the years since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, several new films have been made about climate change; these include:


Climate of Change (2010: Coming Soon): This film was created to present inspiring, uplifting stories of regular people around the world who have spearheaded a variety of local initiatives to combat climate change.


The Age of Stupid (2008)


Climate Refugees (2009)


The 11th Hour (2007)

Click on the links to see trailers or to learn more about each film. Check sites such as IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and Netflix for reviews.


If you’ve seen any of these films, let us know what you thought of them by posting a comment below.

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July 26, 2010
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In these times of unnatural disasters—such as BP’s oil-hemorrhaging drill “spill,” as well as extreme weather events caused by increasing climate volatility—more people are seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint: i.e., their consumption of fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, and natural gas). We are all essentially junkies—or oiloholics—who don’t know how to live without these substances.

Power plants (especially those that burn coal), transportation (particularly emissions from cars, trucks, and jets), and energy use for homes and buildings (e.g., for heating and cooling) are the primary sources of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide and methane. [For detailed information on the percentage of emissions from different sectors, see the U.S. Energy Information Administration: Energy Consumption Data and Architecture 2030’s data analysis.]

Until government and industry help shift our infrastructure and economy away from dinosaur fuels and into clean, renewable energy sources, we’ll never be able to get really “clean”—so we should all be pushing for government to end the huge subsidies and tax breaks for dirty energy industries and to support cleaner energy sources (e.g., local solar, wind, tidal power, biomass, and some types of biofuels—a topic for a future post). But we can also do a lot right now, in our everyday lives, to start weaning ourselves off the junk.

In addition to the most obvious steps that can be taken to reduce our direct use of fossil fuels and electricity generated by fossil fuels — such as driving as little as possible and conserving energy and water at home/work/school— there are lots of other ways that each of us can lessen our dependence on filthy fuels. You can do so in every area of your life, from choices you make for your home and household and yard and garden, to your vehicle/transportation, travelfood, and other consumer choices. For example, plastics and many household products (such as common cleaning products and personal care products) contain petrochemicals, most of which are toxic to humans and other animals, so it’s best to choose alternatives to such products (e.g., glass instead of plastic bottles/containers, and natural rather than synthetic chemical ingredients for household/personal products).

I’ve compiled this compendium of several other online resources that list other specific ways that we can start tackling our individual and collective carbon addiction, to gain a decent measure of independence from dirty energy sources:

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July 6, 2010
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If you’re thinking about doing a major renovation of your home or building a new home, I hope you’ll avail yourself of the growing number of resources on how to design and build houses that consume very little energy and that produce at least as much energy as they consume (i.e., net-zero-energy homes).

One of the most recent books on this topic is: Energy Free Homes for a Small Planet: A comprehensive guide to the design, construction, and economics of net-zero energy homes, by Ann V. Edminster (Green Building Press, December 2009). The publisher says: “Energy Free is designed to equip building professionals and homeowners alike with a toolkit for creating homes that use no more energy than they produce—this means homes that are free from the vagaries of energy-price fluctuations and that help to free society of the high political and environmental costs of fossil fuels. The author includes…step-by-step guidance on how to make decisions that will yield an energy-free residential project, whether a single-family home or multifamily building, new or existing, in an urban or a rural setting.” For more info about the book, click here.

One approach to designing and renovating homes so that they use very little energy is the Passive House approach, espoused by the Passive House Institute. The Passive House (or Passiv Haus) standard was originally developed in Germany. Passive houses are designed to reduce energy consumption by 80-90% compared to conventional houses. The first new home being built as a Passive House in California is a project of the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin (CLAM). The home, known as the Blue2 House, is an affordable second unit behind another home in Point Reyes Station; the main house was also renovated using some Passive House techniques.  CLAM is chronicling the home’s construction process and progress on a blog.

Other resources worth checking out include: GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, which has published several case studies of net-zero and near-net-zero energy homes; the Home of the Future program from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD); the Department of Energy’s Building America program; and Affordable Comfort Inc.’s Thousand Home Challenge and Deep Energy Reductions programs.

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June 3, 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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GreenDollarSignThe following are key online resources for information on federal, state, and local environmental tax credits, rebates, and other financial incentives. Most of the incentives that are available are for installing energy-efficient equipment or renewable energy (e.g., solar) technologies.

FEDERAL

This is a good directory of federal income tax credits and other incentives for energy-efficient products—for consumers, as well as businesses, builders, and manufacturers: Energy Tax Incentives Assistance Project

(For info on federal grants to organizations and agencies, go to Grants.gov.)

STATE AND LOCAL

Check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency for a compendium of options, organized by state. Also check with your municipality (city and county governments) and local utility companies. Many offer their own green rebates and incentives. And this is a great summary of energy-efficiency grants and funds provided to state and local agencies by the 2009 economic stimulus/recovery bill (ARRA).

CALIFORNIA

For those of you who are in California, there are numerous entities offering green rebates and other incentives. Take a look at these resources:

If you know of other useful directories or resources related to green financial incentives, or if you have made use of energy tax credits or other green incentives, please share your experiences or suggestions by leaving a comment below.

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November 16, 2009
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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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