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The February 2009 Energy Update

By Steve Jones,

thermal imaging cameraIt's February and while it's not too cold in Denver, we just got another bill for Propane and it was larger than expected. The vast majority of our propane use is for heating the house, and we have a large house, so it can get expensive. Fortunately the cost of propane isn't as high as it was last year, so this isn't a record year. The house here at the ranch is fairly well insulated, and when we ran out of propane for a day last year, even with 30F weather outside, the house stayed in the low 50s. However I would love to find a way to better insulate and lower that propane cost even more.

I ran into this article on weatherizing homes, talking about this being a potential new growth area for homebuilders. I think that's a great idea, and it's something we should be doing more. It might cost more to build a better house, and I understand at the lower income levels this can be an issue, but we should be considering the TCO for a house, and trying to reduce the cost of living there. It's always easier to plan for one large payment (your mortgage) than plan on your mortgage and forget to include the electricity, water, gas, etc.

I've been following a blog as one person in Massachusetts retrofits his house. The project is fairly expensive, around $100,000, but there are sponsors picking up a lot of the cost. The government in MA hopes to learn a few things from this project and I think that's a great idea. Perform pilots like this in conjunction with those people that are passionate and learn if there is a better way to do things. I've seen other articles as well (Wisconsin house, Thermal images, Saskatoon's Super Insulated house). I know that people don't think we should use electricity to heat our houses, but if we are using the electricity anyway, shouldn't we take advantage of that heat?

Stud wall insulationRetrofitting houses is hard, and once you have an investment in a furnace, walls constructed, etc., it can be hard to justify tearing things down to seal your house. However building new houses in a more efficient manner, as shown in Saskatoon, might make more sense. If you have unfinished rooms, I'm not sure how much this material will help against your studs, but it has to do something. I'd like to try it in my basement, but at $1/ft, that's expensive.

I'm not sure there's a "best way" to better use the energy we require, but I do think we can do a lot better by experimenting and then pushing these technologies out to the public. I don't want to regulate them and require them, but I'm not sure many builders will make widespread use of them without some type of incentives.

If we ever decide to finish our basement, and I'm tempted to play around with the insulation a bit since we have an exterior wall. I know it gets cold down there, and I'm curious to see if I can improve things without burning more propane than we do now.

In other news, a few interesting links:

Steve Jones


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