08 November 2009

Nov 09 - Going Green: "Wind Power and Windows and Rim Joists, oh my!

(a re-publication of my November 2009 Going Green column from the Takoma/Silver Spring Voice - www.Takoma.com )

What's that quote? Life is not about the destination but the journey along the way. While the endpoint may not be clear, along the way we'll save some money, save some energy and save the planet... that way our journey can be extended at least a little longer. This month we'll have a few questions from readers and clients. I wish these questions had simple and comprehensive answers, but since they don't, I'll give you at least half an answer and some headings in the right direction. With an additional promise to followup on each of these issues in future columns...


I'm interested in buying wind power for my home. What are the differences in products from local suppliers? How much will it cost? - Working through Wind Power Options on Walnut

When evaluating different renewable energy electricity products, you want to look at location, source and verification... along with price. A comparison to food purchases would be evaluating where it's grown, how it's grown and if it has third -party certification.

If a wind product is produced locally, then it has the ability to not only offset global carbon emission, but also pollution in our local air shed. Additionally, it can help the local economy by producing green jobs and tax revenues closer to home.

You may choose to buy a wind product that is 50% wind to save some money or 100% to maximize the environmental benefits. Some clean energy suppliers even mix in other sources such as methane gas from landfills or solar power from solar panels, that you may want to avoid or prefer.

When you get wind power for your home, it will almost certainly be a combination of local grid power and a Renewable Energy Certificate, or REC, representing the displacement of dirty power by clean wind farm power. This REC may represent local, regional or national wind farms and may or may not have individual certification by a third-party organization such as Green-e. Added verification costs a little more and for smaller residential REC purchases, some companies may not include this in order to keep prices lower. But as a customer you may find third-party certification desirable. Of the companies below, only WindCurrent is listed as a certified Green-e supplier for residential purchases..

Here's some local clean power options, ranked roughly in their quality and price. The higher-quality, greener options tend to cost a bit more. (prices are for 100% wind power in cents/KWh)

* Conventional - Pepco - "Standard Offer Service" (this is for comparison if you don't choose an alternative supplier) - MD 12.5 or DC 11.3 - basic dirty power ~50+% coal, ~30+% nuclear, plus natural gas, other...

* Light green - Clean Currents - "C-green" (2yr lock in option) MD 11.7 or DC 11.4 - Combines national (Texas, Iowa) RECs with local standard power and costs less than Pepco's current summer rates, similar to winter rates.

* Regional - WGES (Washington Gas Energy Services) - "CleanSteps" (2yr lock in option) MD 12.9 or DC 12.8 - Combines regional (as far as Illinois) RECs with local standard power and costs more than Pepco's current summer rates. Fossil fuel company selling some green power. (Check with Jared Hughes, Takoma Park resident and local sales rep, who might be able to get you a cheaper gas price as well. 301.270.3012)

* Local and "organic" - WindCurrent - "Chesapeake Wind-Solar Current" - 2.5 cents plus your current electricity rate - Stand alone purchase of very local wind RECs (99% from PA, NJ, MD) along with 1% solar RECs from DE.

Also, if you're a Montgomery County resident you can save an additional .5 cents per KWh (about $25-50/year) through the Clean Energy Rewards Program. The wind power suppliers above are all part of that program.


I live in the Historic District, and want to replace or improve some of my old windows to increase comfort and efficiency. Some of the windows have old storm windows. I'm hearing different opinions about replacement/new windows vs storm windows. What should I do?

- Megan, Wondering about Windows on Willow (in the Historic District)

In general, the energy payback on replacing windows is not cost effective for a homeowner. If the windows are original and need to be replaced to historic requirements, then they'll likely be less efficient, will cost even more and take even longer to pay back. There are more effective ways to make energy improvements that should be done first.

Most windows (even "efficient" ones) aren't all that much better than old windows. Unless you pay TONS of money for SUPER-efficient ones that only really make sense in Northern climates. (Replacing faulty/old/sticky windows in preparation for a home SALE or for your own aesthetic or functional desires is another matter that's not about energy savings.)

Old wood single-pane windows (as long as they don't have big gaps or holes are about R1 insulation value. Cheap new windows can get you R2, but so can having a good storm window. Good quality (argon-filled, low-E) new ones may get R2.6 - R3, but so can an insulating shade. Really efficient windows can get to R5 - R9, but may not qualify for historic use. They say, even a good window (R3) makes a bad wall (R10 - R20).

I think the best things to do with old windows is:
1. Fix any leaks and do a little maintenance so they operate well.
2. Consider exterior or interior storm windows.
3. Consider insulating window shades (or drapes). The window quilts are pretty expensive and hard to find, but pleated honeycomb types that have side rails to prevent air flow can noticeably improve the PERCEIVED temperature of the window and will add a little in actual insulating R-value as well.

In addition to a modest R-value increase, two things new/double pane windows have is 1. they may open/close better than your old windows. 2. the "perception" of warmth. The glass itself will be warmer and tend to encourage the homeowner to keep the heat at a lower temperature. So try placing chairs further from single pane windows so you won't be tempted to compensate by turning your heat up, or try drapes or insulated shades.

Here's some other energy-saving perception tricks to be combined with keeping the thermostat low...

1. Place furniture closer together in winter (further in summer).
2. invest in good quality thermal slippers and socks to keep you feeling warm.
3. Have one incandescent light bulb in your house. And place it close by your favorite reading spot as a miniature space heater.

Making Do With What You Have - learning the fine art of window glazing and using various weatherstripping materials (fuzzy strips, foam rubber strips, rope caulk, v-channel strip and felt pads) you can greatly reduce the air infiltration of older windows. Borrow a weatherization book from the library or find instructions on the internet or pay someone else to do it.

Interior or Exterior Storm Windows - with historic districts, if you have existing storm windows you should be able to replace them with similar ones. Otherwise you may look into interior storm windows. Unfortunately I don't have good information about the R values and paybacks for these options (yet), but you can expect to pay a lot less than new windows, yet still see some energy improvements. If you go for "designer" grade interior or exterior storms, they will look better and cost more.

Exterior Triple Track Storms - These are your standard exterior design with two glass pieces and one screen for use on double hung windows. (Though some wooden frame, single-pane options are found on even older windows.) You can look for higher quality, heavier gauge material, adjustable sill extender, LOW-e coating, low air infiltration rating - and quality installed with stainless steel screws and caulking around except at the weep holes - about $160/medium standard window (installation not included).

Baltimore-based www.BurchCompany.com offers designer-quality triple track storms with many custom options. (not sure on prices).

Interior storm options comes in different flavors; here's a few:

- www.WindowTherm.com, Advanced Energy Panel - $80-90 each. Aluminum frames with foam compression seals, two sheets plastic and locking clips.

- www.ClimateSeal.com, single pane flexible plastic, vinyl frame, with magnetic seals like a refrigerator

- Build your own with wood and two layers of plastic for about $1/sq foot plus your time - A guy I know in Maine has this (and many other energy improvements) detailed at: www.ArtTec.net

Insulation Installation Inspiration: start small and have fun

I recently bought an older house. I know it needs some energy upgrades. I'm in DC and can get a free energy audit with blower door test, but I figure I'll do what I can do easily, then call them to find places I missed. What do-it-yourself project should we do first? - Jeff, Eager to Save Energy on Eastern

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Takoma DC resident Jeff Farbman trims a piece of rigid foam board for insulating the rim joists in his basement.

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Spray foam is used to seal the existing cavity and to "glue" the rigid foam board in place. (Photo by Sat Jiwan Ikle-Khalsa)

We had another insulation party. Well, it was just two of us, but fun anyway. He bought the materials, I brought over some home-brewed organic beer and we set to work on the weakest part of most houses: the band or rim joist - that's where the walls of the house meet the foundation. It is often a place where outside air infiltrates and there's inadequate insulation. With a little effort, not much skill, and some spray foam and rigid foam insulation we were able to greatly reduce leaks and improve insulation value. See photos. (Next party: air sealing and insulating the attic. That might be two separate parties. Let me know if you want to join.)

Sat Jiwan Iklé-Khalsa is now "low-flow" blogging at: www.Truthful-Living.blogspot.com and is a recent green home renovator and a green building/renovation consultant . Find past articles, local green building stores, info, resources, including annotated green house renovation photos and services at: www.Truthful-Living.com or call 301.891.8891


Pepco Offers and Rebates Through EnergyWise Rewards Program:

Recently PEPCO has made available several free offers and rebates for saving energy or deferring energy use to non-peak times. You may want to take advantage of some of these offers: (they either have to do this as a condition of recent rate increases, have stimulus money to spend or figure they'll save more on peak electricity costs than they'll spend on these offers.) For more info see recent PEPCO bill insert, EnergyWiseRewards.pepco.com, or call 866-353-5798.

* Discounts on Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) can be found at participating (usually big box) retailers in Maryland and DC.

* Appliance Rebates: $50 for refrigerators, $25 for window A/C units, $20 for electric hot water heater. (Conditions usually require Energy Star qualified products, but be sure to find the BEST Energy Star products which can save even more energy than basic ones.)

* If you have central A/C, you can choose to get a free programmable thermostat, professionally installed.

* AND/OR be on a voluntary cycling program where PEPCO can turn the compressor part of your A/C unit on/off for periods of time during peak energy use (the circulation fan will still run). Depending on your self-selected 25%, 50% or 100% participation level your house temperature will rise a bit during cycling times, but you'll also get paid up to $40-80 annually, plus a bonus payment the first year. By reducing peak power demand, dirtier and older peak power plants can be kept offline or run for few hours.

Transition Takoma - Local Food Working Group forming

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Standing room only at the recent Transition Town screening of "Fresh! New Ideas about What We're Eating" - at Seekers church. (Photo by Sat Jiwan Ikle-Khalsa)

It was standing room only at the recent Transition Town screening of "Fresh! New Ideas about what we're Eating". Following up on that, a working group is forming to focus on local food issues. Join to be part of the discussion AND ACTION. Visit: http://groups.google.com/group/transition-takoma-food-group

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