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Posts Tagged: home energy

Five signs it’s time for a Home Energy Audit

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A home energy audit can help homeowners identify problem areas and take steps to improve efficiency and reduce their environmental impact, such as installing a heat pump or more efficient appliances.

A home energy audit is a comprehensive process that involves checking for window and door drafts, inspecting HVAC systems, evaluating appliances, examining insulation, checking ductwork, and more. Qualified technicians will use infrared cameras and other tools to carefully examine your home for potential energy waste. When they’re done, technicians will provide homeowners with a report and suggestions concerning how to improve energy efficiency.

home energy audit seattle

If you’re on the fence about whether to schedule a home energy audit, here are a few signs that your home needs one:

  • Your energy bills are higher than your neighbors’ bills – Talk to neighbors about their monthly electric bills. If their homes are about the same size as yours and have the same number of occupants, their electric bills shouldn’t be too different from yours. If their bills are significantly lower, it could be a sign that your home has some efficiency issues.
  • Inconsistent room temperatures – If you need to wear a parka in your living room but your bedroom is sweltering, it’s a good sign that there are some issues with your HVAC system or that leaks are present in your windows and doors. A home energy audit can isolate the problem.
  • You have older appliances – There are many perfectly good older appliances that have decent energy efficiency ratings. That said, appliances manufactured 10 years ago are nowhere near efficient as modern appliances. Older appliances may have their efficiency even further diminished by age and wear and tear.
  • Strange smells in the house – If there’s a rotten egg smell in your home, this can indicate a gas leak. If your home smells like the fireplace or garage, this could indicate substantial air leakage. An energy audit can determine the cause of the problem.
  • Condensation on your walls or windows – This can indicate a water leak or ventilation problem, both issues that can impact the energy efficiency of your home.

By scheduling an audit and following the recommendations the audit will provide, you can greatly increase the efficiency of your home and head off potential problems from mold, moisture damage, or other home repair issues.

When hiring a contractor to provide a home energy audit, it’s important to find a company with significant experience in providing home energy audits. These audits require special tools and training, so a professional firm with a track record of success is the ideal choice.

Washington Energy Services is a family-owned business providing home energy efficiency solutions to Seattle area clients.  Founded in 1957, Washington Energy Services has generations of experience in providing heating and cooling and other energy-related services, including sales, installation, and service. A member of the Puget Sound Energy Contractor Alliance Network, Washington Energy Services has an excellent local business reputation.

Click here to book a Home Energy Audit

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Seeing the light; top 8 questions about the light bulb changeover.

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Frequently asked light bulb questions:

1. Which bulbs are discontinued?

40 watt, 60 watt, 75 and 100 watt incandescent bulbs plus the T12 and T8 flourescent tubes used in overhead lighting. The new generation of energy efficient LED, CFL, (HE) high efficiency incandescents and deluxe fluorescent bulbs will fit in your existing fixtures. While it might freak you out to pay up to $7.50 for a light bulb, the payback in energy savings and longevity makes up for that.

led bulb

2. What will I see in energy savings?

Studies say that changing out 15 standard bulbs for one of the more efficient options will save you $50 per year on your electric bill. * That could be $50 million for Seattle area residents**.

3. What are these new 40 or 60 watt incandescent bulbs at the store?

These are typically labeled HE, for high efficiency. The high efficiency incandescent has a filament that is insulated by a gas to reduce heat loss, but will retain the visual light you are familiar with from current bulbs. These new bulbs will save energy, can be used with a dimmer switch, and provide familiar color.

4. Is this ban of incandescent bulbs only in the US?

No. Governments around the world are supporting this initiative.  George W Bush signed the US bill into law in 2007.

5. Why legislate a change in light bulbs?

Huge Energy Savings. Traditional incandescent bulbs waste 90% of their energy producing heat instead of light. While that’s nice for your cat when it sleeps under a table lamp, it’s wasting energy. New bulbs use 28-85% less energy, and last up to 25 times longer. Here’s how the top ones stack up vs traditional incandescent bulbs. *

Type of Bulb Energy savings Lifespan vs old incandescent Approx. Cost
LED 80% less energy 25 times longer $7.50
CFL 75% 10x $4
Halogen 40% 3x $4
High efficiency incandescent 28% 3x $2

6. What about light bulbs that are used in grow lights for seedlings?

LED grow lights provide superior performance as they deliver more light output with less energy and heat production, and have a much longer useful life than current fluorescent or incandescent lamps. LEDs can be made in different colors to mimic the ranges of natural sunlight that drive maximum plant performance. These use standard bulb fittings, so they can probably fit into your existing grow light equipment. They come in a variety of wattages.

7. Should I use a CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) or an LED (light emitting diode), they both save energy, so what is the difference?

LED is our strong recommendation, and we suggest you turn down free CFL’s except for use as porch lights.

a. LED’s provide many benefits and prices are coming way down. They last longer than halogen or CFL bulbs, which is why they are used in headlights and TVs.
b.Importantly, LED’s do not have the toxic aspects of the CFL. The CFL bulb, while efficient, contains toxic mercury and disperses unsafe amounts of UV light. You cannot throw away a CFL bulb in your regular trash. Studies by reputable universities have determined that it is harmful to sit under a CFL bulb for extended time as the UV radiation can be detrimental.
c. The quality of light from either LEDs or Halogen bulbs is better than most CFLs. The CFL’s take time to warm up and share their light, plus most types cannot be used in a dimmer. The light that comes from these bulbs is not the same color as your current conventional bulb. It’s harsh… like turn on the lights in a bar at closing time harsh.

8. Are all incandescent bulbs going away?

The regular sizes mentioned are when retailer inventories are depleted, but specialty sizes such as appliance bulbs (for inside of your range hood or refrigerator), decorative fixture bulbs, 3 way bulbs, and other specialty bulbs will still be made.

Washington Energy Services has provided tailored energy saving solutions for Puget Sound area homes since 1957. For the best in energy saving products and services, call 800-398-4663 or click for more information.

 

* Reference: EnergyStar, Lighting choices to save you money, 2013.
** Based on an estimate of 1 million homes and apartments in Seattle and surrounding area.

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Energy action starts at home – with the air you breathe

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During house construction, small holes are drilled to run plumbing, wiring, skylights, TV and other cables as well as heating and air conditioning ductwork. These small holes collectively equal a hole the size of a basketball. Imagine that in your living room wall!

These holes create a direct air exchange between the attic and living space, allowing unwanted pollutants to circulate into the home and at the same time wasting valuable energy. You would never consider breathing the air from your attic or crawl space as your primary air source but that is exactly what is happening.
Using a child’s drawing to illustrate the point, this creates a direct air exchange between the attic (the triangle) and living pace (the square,) allowing unwanted pollutants to circulate through your home and wasting energy.

How do contaminants get into your home
When your house was built many small holes were drilled to run all of the pipes, wiring, etc.

The solution is simple, separate the square from the triangle by sealing your holes and ductwork. The result will be a healthier and more energy efficient home.

How to breathe easier?  

Getting started is easy. Choose an audit company, such as Washington Energy, who is committed to providing only the highest quality audits. The first step would be a 26 point home comfort and energy assessment. Also known as a home energy audit, this is not just a walk through with a clip board. Expect the auditor to be there for 3 hours conducting detailed tests and inspections. (It’s fun too.). The assessment they perform gives you the current health and energy use of your home, and provides a clear plan for making improvements, with energy smart suggestions not selling. And depending on the needs of the home, there may be utility rebates and federal tax credits that can apply.

Washington Energy has already made improvements to hundreds of homes and has an A rating on Angies list for Home Energy Auditing. To get your $199 home energy assessment, call Washington Energy Services at 800-398-4663 or click today.

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Urban legends of green living

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Legend # 1

Turn down the thermostat and you’ll use less energy.  Do you keep temperatures low in winter and endure the chill to save energy and money? If your home has significant air leaks, lack of insulation and lack of duct sealing, you will just lose what little heat you are requesting from your heating system, and it will keep running and burning fuel to keep up. While this may save a tiny bit because you are not forcing it to reach higher temps, you’ll spend it on sweaters to wear in the house and hot cups of coffee to warm up.

Green living tip

You’d save more money and be more comfortable if you insulated and air sealed the house, and put in a programmable thermostat so you reduce the heat while you are not home. Sealing air holes around vents and electrical penetrations, duct sealing and insulating properly can save significant energy (some estimates are up to 40%). And programmable thermostats now can be controlled by your phone while you are away. Then you can be cozy when you want to be.

Legend # 2

Riding my bike is the best way to reduce my carbon footprint. Do you limit your use of a car to save greenhouse gases? While cycling to work does limit your vehicle emissions, according to EnergyStar (the conservation arm of the Department of Energy), “the energy used in the average house is responsible for twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as the average car.” The more energy you use at home, the more our highly polluting power plants need to produce, increasing the amount of greenhouse gases. (Source EnergyStar.gov).

Green living tip

While you’ll get in shape cycling and save a little on emissions, the place to reduce your use is at home. EnergyStar recommends the following steps: Use energy saving windows and HVAC systems, maintain those systems (including caulking windows and having tune ups for your heating appliances), and insulating and sealing your house, plus see # 3 for more.

Legend # 3

I have installed EnergyStar certified products in my home so I must be using less energy. EnergyStar sees it another way. While modern appliances from washers and dryers to furnaces use far less energy these days, people have been using far more electricity from all of our plug in devices. This is why total energy use by homes in the US has not decreased. Some estimates are that this “phantom power” use by appliances and electronics can be up to 10% of our total energy.

Green living tip

Unplug. The average home has up to 10 appliances plugged in, in the kitchen alone! Many are drawing some electricity to power clocks, standby lights or indicator lights (to tell you they are off!). One of us has this in our kitchen: toaster oven, microwave, food saver, coffee maker, mixer, electric can opener, range, dishwasher, garbage disposal, overhead lighting, ipod docking station, and refrigerator = 12!. Add all the phone chargers that stay plugged in when not in use, computers, TVs, game consoles, cable box, hair dryer, electric toothbrush, water heater, and it adds up to a significant amount of excess power use. Do an experiment and try: turning lights off when you leave the room, and plug non-core appliances and computers into a power strip that you turn off when you are out, and you should see a difference.

Legend # 4

We don’t waste water because we never let water run (eg: in the sink while washing dishes or before a shower). For most homes, the biggest culprit wasting water in your house is the toilet(s). If it was made before 1994, it’s not a low flow toilet. One of us here at Washington Energy has a 1926 toilet using 7 gallons of water each flush. That’s about 42 gallons a person per day. Most toilets from the post-war period to the 80s used between 3.5-5 gallons per flush.

Green living tip

There are inserts that can fit some units and hold back a gallon of water each flush, but if you want to save significant amounts of water, you’ll need a modern toilet with 1.6 gallons per flush. These will pay for themselves quickly as your water use will decrease. Some of the WaterSense certified toilets we install have significant local utility rebates, up to $80.

Legend # 5

‘All natural’ equals ‘good to buy’. Are you looking for certain words on packaging when you make a purchase decision? The words natural, green, eco-friendly, or biodegradable are not regulated or based on any standards. (Organic is regulated, and certified organic is inspected.) Biodegradable means it will degrade “someday” which covers almost everything, technically even nuclear waste.

Green living tip

Buy something because it’s the best product for you, and be cautious if basing a purchase decision on these un-regulated words. And right now, genetically modified foods used as ingredients such as corn starch or soy protein are not required to be labeled either, so do not assume that “natural” means it’s not in there. There is no strict definition of what makes a natural food.

 

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Up your house project ROI

Posted On: Filed Under: Doors, Heating 2 Comments on Up your house project ROI

 

From HGTV, to SmartMoney to realtor websites and blogs, we examined all the top expert advice and analysis to find the common themes and save you hours of your time reading! (And time IS money, right?).

We found 5 themes, making these the best of the best resale value home projects:

  1. Cover the DIY basics. Paint, de-clutter, stage the furniture, add lighting and clean, clean, clean.
  2. Tackle the un-glamorous necessities: Have mechanical systems in good working order including plumbing, electrical, heating, and air conditioning, and water heating. Some authors recommended pre-inspection of your systems to identify serious problems and correct them, before your buyer finds them on their inspection on uses them to negotiate.
  3. Focus on the top ROI (return on investment) updates when doing some pre-sale remodeling. Many articles cited that repairing or replacing that old siding with vinyl or fiber cement siding provides the number one return on investment of any project. A modern kitchen, and bathroom update or addition of an extra bathroom will also provide strong positive return. Most stressed the point that even if you can’t afford new kitchen cabinets and appliances, you can update the look of the kitchen with a re-stain or paint of cabinets, new hardware and lighting.
  4. Energy saving or ‘green’ upgrades add value in two ways. You modernize the house and save money on energy bills, which will make buyers happy. Some upgrades discussed in the various articles included: low flow toilets, insulation, insulated windows, heating systems, and entry doors.
  5. Curb Appeal. First impressions mean a lot and that makes curb appeal highly influential in selling. Curb appeal means your house has a desirable look from the street, including the front door, the windows, hedges, walkways, garden/lawn area. Strong curb appeal pre-disposes the buyer to like the house before they enter.

As SmartMoney.com said, don’t forget “good taste endures.” Not all upgrades provide return on investment. Personalized or extravagant upgrades, such as pools, fancy gardens, marble floors in the bathroom or hand made custom kitchen cabinets may not provide as much return as other more classically styled, basic upgrades or replacements.

Whether you are planning a move or want to increase your home comfort, Washington Energy Services has heating, windows, siding, insulation, plumbing and more, all with one call. Get a home energy specialist to review your project by calling 800 398 4663.

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Healthy credit = great loan rates!

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It makes sense to have your credit in the healthiest possible condition when you go looking for a loan. Here are some tips to help you polish up your credit score and possibly lower your interest rate:

  1. Pay all bills on time! Late payments really impact your score, and that hit can last awhile. If you are a “frequent forgetter,” set yourself up for automatic bill pay and never be late again.
  2. Have a good mix of credit. Having installment credit (mortgage, auto or student loans) mixed with revolving credit (credit cards) demonstrates your ability to handle both kinds of credit responsibly.
  3. Stay below 30% of available credit. This is called your “balance-to-limit ratio” or your “utilization rate,” and it’s the difference between the amount of credit you have available and the amount you’ve used. For example, if you have one credit card with a limit of $1,000, it’s best if you don’t charge more than $300—that’s a 30% utilization rate. Even better, don’t charge more than $100. The lower the ratio, the better, as far as your credit score is concerned.
  4. Don’t close “old” credit cards, particularly if you’ve kept current on payments and you’ve had the card awhile. The length of your credit history matters, so those “old” cards can be valuable. You might want to put small charges on these cards (and pay them off immediately) so the card issuer doesn’t close the account.
  5. Don’t open a bunch of credit cards to get a higher utilization rate. Having too much available credit can make you look risky, especially if you get a whole lot of credit at once—it might look as if you’re stockpiling credit in advance of expected trouble.
  6. Check your credit history! You can get a free copy of your history from each of the major reporters (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) once a year at annualcreditreport.com. Check for errors and report them to the agency immediately for correction.
  7. Be cautious of businesses that claim to give you a “free” credit history, but which may charge your credit card a subscription fee for credit tracking or other costly programs.

If your credit history is non-existent or tarnished enough that you find it difficult to get credit, there are ways to begin rebuilding. First and foremost, pay all bills on time, no matter who the bills are going to. Even your cell phone company reports to the credit agencies!

Second, consider a secured card—these are credit cards secured by money you keep on deposit with the card issuer. You can usually charge up to the amount you have on deposit. As you demonstrate responsible behavior, the limit will generally increase until you are able to get an unsecured credit card. These cards are reported to the credit agencies, so your stellar behavior will help you begin building or rebuilding a solid credit history and a great rate-earning credit score!

Article courtesy of Salal Credit Union. All Salal loans and accounts are subject to approval. This credit union is federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration.

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Tax credits for energy saving

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There are many ways to improve the efficiency of your home from cost effective heating and cooling to simply changing light bulbs.Improving your home energy efficiency is one of the most effective ways to reduce ones carbon footprint and save on home energy expenses in Washington State. There are many ways to improve the efficiency of your home from cost effective heating and cooling to simply changing light bulbs.

Improving your home energy efficiency is one of the most effective ways to reduce ones carbon footprint and save on home energy expenses in Washington State. There are many ways to improve the efficiency of your home from cost effective heating and cooling to simply changing light bulbs.

The federal government has had tax incentives for homeowners to become more energy efficient. Millions have taken advantage of the tax incentives so far, but for the millions who have not there is no indication they will be renewed after the 2011 expiration. Many of the federal tax credits on energy efficient materials and appliances made it easy for homeowners in Western Washington to be energy savers. The credits were as much as 30% of the total cost of the project up to $1,500. Most credits only applied to existing homes in Washington State, excluding rentals.

Here’s the list of items that WAS on the tax credit list. It’s still valuable to homeowners as a guideline for top energy efficient product choices.

Heating & cooling

• Natural gas furnace or propane furnace (AFUE rating of at least 95%)
o Furnaces have increased in efficiency, but developers still typically put inefficient 80% AFUE rated furnaces into new construction. If you are building a home, or your remodel includes a new furnace, be sure to ask your contractor about the standard furnace they use.
o Don’t have a gas furnace today? Many local utilities offer rebates for conversion to gas.

• Central air conditioning: (SEER rating of at least 16)

• Heat pump (SEER rating of at least 15)
o Heat pumps offer an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners in moderate climates. Like your refrigerator, heat pumps use electricity to move heat from a cool space into a warm, making the cool space cooler and the warm space warmer. During the heating season, heat pumps move heat from the cool outdoors into your warm house; during the cooling season, heat pumps move heat from your cool house into the warm outdoors. Because they move heat rather than generate heat, heat pumps can provide up to 4 times the amount of energy they consume. Many people have experienced up to a 30% savings in the cost of heating or cooling their homes with a heat pump. (Source: York 2005).
o Geothermal heat pumps are like ordinary heat pumps but use the ground instead of outside air to heat, cool and make hot water. They are highly efficient, but installation may have limiting factors such as terrain or space. There are several different types of ENERGY STAR rated pumps that all qualify for tax credits.

• Biomass stove (Thermal efficiency rating of at least 75%) o Biomass stoves burn biomass fuel to heat a home or heat water. Biomass fuel includes agricultural crops and trees, wood and wood waste and residues (including wood pellets), plants, grasses, residues, and fibers.

Water heaters & solar

• Water heaters – gas, propane or oil (EF 82 or thermal efficiency of at least 90%)
o Water heating can account for a lot of the energy consumed in your home. Traditional tank water heaters last from 8-10 years.
o Good tax credit qualified alternatives for standard water heaters include Heat Pump water heaters (EF of at least 2.0) and high efficiency tankless water heaters, and solar water heaters. Your local contractor can provide information on the energy and tax savings of each. Solar water heaters must have half of their energy coming from the sun, be used in the house only (not pool), and be certified SRCC to qualify for tax credits.

• Solar panels (photovoltaic systems)
o Qualified solar panels are solar cells that capture light from the sun to provide electricity for a residence and meet applicable fire and electrical code. This credit is more complex; currently listed as 30% of the cost up to $500 per .5 kw of power capacity. This tax credit does not expire in 2010, it runs until December 2016. There may also be local or state subsidies and/or regulations.
o An alternative to going completely solar is to have a solar water heater (see above) or solar attic fan. This way you can harness the sun for an individual component of your energy use.

The following are current tax credit qualified products where the credit is 30% of the materials only (no labor) of the project up to $1,500.

Insulation, roofing, windows & doors

• Insulation replacement
o Bulk insulation products can qualify, such as batts, rolls, blow-in fibers, rigid boards, expanding spray, and pour-in-place. Products that seal air (reduce air leaks) can also qualify, as long as they come with a Manufacturers Certification Statement. These can include weather striping, caulking and house wraps. Note, installation costs don’t count toward your tax credit.

• Roofs
o Qualified metal and asphalt roof products can reflect the sun’s rays, lowering roof surface temperature and decreasing the amount of heat coming into your home. The metal roofs must have appropriate colored coatings and asphalt roofs must have appropriate cooling granules – check with the energy star website or your contractor for details.

• Windows and doors (U factor less than 0.30)
o Energy efficient windows, doors and skylights can truly impact your home’s comfort and energy bills. Typically the tax credit qualifying windows have Low E glass or a similar coating.

• Storm windows and doors (U factor and SHGC of .30 or below; must meet IECC)
o Storm windows or storm doors can enhance efficiency by creating another barrier between the interior of you home and the weather outside

In addition to these tax credits, there is also a good chance your local utility (in Seattle, Tacoma, Everett or Olympia, WA) has cash incentives for installing energy efficient products in your home.

To learn more about these incentives, contact a Washington Energy Services Home Energy Specialist at 1-800-398-HOME (4663).

 

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