Why Should We Care About Our Home Energy?

We hear about it as a global warming issue, but do you really know why Minneapolis energy efficiency is important? And what you are spending on home energy?

converting coal to electricity jpg

image courtesy of Ron Fergle, Solart

The big picture…

Most of the energy we create from fossil fuels is wasted, and leads to air pollution, global warming, and health issues. (The World Health Organization reported that about 7 million people died of air pollution in 2012.)

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in the U.S. alone, our buildings:

  • consume nearly half of all the energy we create, well beyond industry and transportation,
  • take 75% of the electricity we produce
  • create 44.6% of greenhouse gas emissions.
How we use our energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association

How we use our energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association

Data on Home Energy Use

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Green Building report in 2009 indicated that our homes account for 53.7% of the total U.S. energy consumption for buildings, and 51% of the electricity use — more than commercial.

The average household spends at least $2,000 a year on energy bills. Of that, 50% is for room heating, 27% for appliances, 19% for water heating, and 4% for air cooling. We could power 5 million homes a year with the amount of electricity we spend treating, pumping and heating our water.

The EPA report also indicated that residential homes contributed 20.8% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, with 18% caused by commercial, according to 2008 data.

In addition, buildings contribute about 25% of heating/cooling/lighting life-cycle product waste that leads to greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA.

Of course, in general, the United States is an energy hog — consuming almost three times as much as India.


What Can We Do Without a Contractor?

As we’ve started to explore, some innovative designers are creating and renovating LEED-standard homes, and some business owners are focused on meeting LEED standards for commercial buildings and offices.

As we’ve also been exploring, retro-fitting an existing building is more energy efficient than building something new.

What are the smartest and easiest ways to make improvements to an existing home that will impact energy efficiency and global warming? First… there are several steps that don’t involve a contractor.

1. Limit stormwater runoff

2. Support local food markets

3. Consider joining a community solar garden

4. Install LED light bulbs

How Can We Make an Older Home More Efficient?

We’ll write local case studies and offer Q&A with local architects/developers about this in the future. But there are natural, technological and design elements that can improve the efficiency of a building’s heating, cooling and lighting, which take the bulk of energy costs and losses.

  • Solar will not be limited to large panels requiring maintenance on your roof. New technologies of the near future will enable homeowners to install solar windows, use spray-on solar, and use a mirrored effect to direct sun rays. See this Green Biz article (July 2015) for more on the horizon in solar. Solar at the home reduces the extensive loss that occurs when energy is distributed from a power plant.
  • Better controls adjust automatically to temperature and lighting fluctuations. (See this 2012 roundup from Green Biz from the Consumer Electronics Show.)
  • Minneapolis Solart architect Ron Fergle says cooling takes more intensive energy than heating, even in the Minnesota climate, so preserving high-peak electricity use in the summer for air-conditioning is a giant step. How does your home trap the sun in the summer? Can you use that energy to cool? Do you have stone absorbing thermal heat and helping to cool?

As Jerry Yudelson reported in his 2008 book “The Green Building Revolution,” Oregon developer Peter Erickson indicated that he spent $3,500 to $4,200 more per home in a Mosier development project than he would have without LEED certification standards. Said Erickson, “What came out of that is a house that uses 30 percent less energy than if I had built this house only to local codes. If you take the high side of that extra cost, say $4,200, it pays for itself in three years in reduced energy bills.”

When Adobe Systems retro-fitted its headquarters in San Jose, the company reduced electricity 35%, natural gas 41%, building water use 22%, irrigation water use 75%, and was able to recycle 85% of solid waste. The company reported a return-on-investment of 114%. The retrofit and upgrade involved reduced lighting energy, motion sensors for lights and heating/cooling, and monitoring and metering with automation.

This retro-fitting capability — what local residents have managed to save with energy efficiencies — is part of our ongoing series on Minneapolis and sustainability. Subscribe at upper left to stay in touch as we do!

Deeper Reading

  • 3 steps to zero-carbon future (World Economic Forum) — “stabilizing climate change means getting net emissions of carbon dioxide to zero. As long as we emit more CO2 than natural carbon sinks can absorb, the climate will keep changing. The issue is not whether we decarbonize the economy, but when and how we do so.”
  • Our important bees can’t live in warming climates (The Guardian) — “Bumblebees evolved under a cool climate, unlike butterflies which have a common ancestor in the tropics, and are relatively intolerant of heat. Extreme temperatures of 43C (109F) will kill them outright, while prolonged heatwaves can dry up the food sources they rely on.”
  • How our food impacts global warming (EPA) — “approximately 42 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport, and dispose of the food we eat and the goods we use.”
  • EPA resources for green building
  • Download the 2009 EPA Green Building stats report here