By Jay Richter, Energy Manager, Rock Island ArsenalOctober 23, 2013
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. (Oct. 23, 2013) -- It all started with the purchase of a new home with the new addition of a wife and young children in my life. No longer was I in total control, but on the other hand, I was the single income provider for the home.
My young children were especially fascinated with light switches and buttons in the house and continually leaving lights, appliances, TVs, computers, and printers on all around the house. Unfortunately, the kids never grew out of their young fascination leaving things turned on or messing with the thermostat settings, and of course, they never had to pay any electric or heating bills.
Almost every day, the house looked like a lit up castle at Disneyland when I came home at night. The lights were on everywhere and the heat or air conditioning was crazy and then sometimes when all this was happening, there was nobody home! Being the take charge building energy manager of my home, I decided to take action, by putting my boots on the ground to fight this war on energy waste and take an ownership attitude, impose my individual responsibility, and engage the concept of teamwork!
One of the first items in my arsenal of weapons was to bring in the marines, the Mid-American Energy auditors, to help me identify all the energy savings opportunities in the home so I could cut my energy costs and eliminate waste and live within my income. In addition to the free energy audits, they paid me rebates just like they pay rebates where I work at Rock Island Arsenal.
After they completed the home energy audit, they gave me samples of high efficiency light bulbs to start the replacement of incandescent bulbs in my home, which later I completely replaced them with CFLs and LED bulbs. I did this just in time for the furlough which helped make the finances a little easier to get through that nightmare.
They also gave me water conserving faucet flow limiters and a hot water heater cover, which I immediately installed.
On top of that, I installed LED lights with automatic lighting controls on my front porch, garage, and driveway. Now only the deer, raccoons, and bugs around the lights occasionally turn on the lights and bring me to attention to ward off this energy waste. Those nasty little pests!
Then I got a nice rebate from Mid-American Energy that paid for the new attic insulation when I increased my attic insulation value from R-19 to R-38. However, I had them increase it to R-44 with a little additional expense on my part. I also insulated the two outside walls of my attached garage as well as the garage ceiling and then installed an insulated garage door. Boy, is that cool, no I mean hot, or whatever! Now it never freezes in my unheated garage, which is only heated by the heat transfer through the two common walls on the house.
Next I observed the considerable infiltration loss going up the fireplace chimney and total performance inefficiency of my old-style open-hearth brick fireplace in the family room. This problem was solved when I installed a 75 percent efficient fireplace insert that is just wonderful with a nice glass window and long burning times between loads of wood. Hallelujah, what a deal! Now I noticed that I can heat my home with the fireplace till it gets down to about 35 degrees without using the furnace.
But there was still an enemy in the camp! The TVs were on all the time. This was solved by purchasing new TVs when they went digital. The new TVs have integral occupancy sensors and turn off automatically when no one is in the room.
On top of this, I used my rewards benefits with my credit card company and replaced both of my old home computers for free with new ones that are Energy Star rated and go to sleep when they are not being used. What a deal! I saved energy, and I did not have to pay a dime for them.
Then it happened, the dryer and the air conditioning quit. My four-year-old son kept messing around with the buttons and levers on the thermostat, turning on the furnace fan, and it ran that way for weeks at a time when there was no call for cooling or heating. What a waste! Then my wife called me and told me the air conditioning wasn't working again because he broke the thermostat. So, I took this opportunity to buy an even better new programmable thermostat that I can easily program and lock out the kids at the same time. But that was not the end of it, my wife called complaining the air conditioning wasn't working again. This time, I discovered that the start capacitor had exploded because I failed to clean the coils on my condensing unit with a water hose and I allowed some weeds to block the air flow. The start capacitor was replaced twice because the first one was defective, but now it still works … knock on wood. I must say, however, it really is time to replace the air conditioning because of the impressive efficiency improvements that have occurred in the last 15 years with the newer units. So, I need to plan for that.
Then as I said, my wife had also informed me that the dryer wasn't working, so I watched YouTube for a week to learn how to fix the dryer and discovered the exhaust manifold on the dryer and flexible duct were full of junk. I disassembled the dryer and cleaned the entire disassembled dryer with a vacuum cleaner and also replaced the crinkled flex duct with straight duct. Now it works like it should and doesn't waste energy due to poor air flow or be a hazard to cause a fire.
Unfortunately, I could not replace the upstairs windows this year because of the furlough, so I used plastic and sealed several of the windows to cut down on the infiltration as winter now approaches.
I also took the opportunity to look for and calk cracks to stop infiltration into the house. One of the cracks was due to the brick façade dropping because of a huge hidden water leak inside the wall from a faucet pipe that had frozen that passes through the wall at an outdoor faucet. It had frozen due to my failure to remove the watering hose before it froze outside and did not allow the water to drain proper out of the faucet. My replacement faucet has a new back flow preventer which insures that I won't contaminate my water supply in the house. As it turns out, it is now time to do that again, and I won't forget to do that this year!
So, I started to relax one night by the double-insulated picture window, which had all the kids hand prints, stickers, and scotch taped items stuck to it when I heard a distressing noise. I quickly went to the restroom near the kitchen and turned the door handle that was gooey with honey from my sugar hungry son and noticed the toilet was not filling properly and not turning off because the flapper was kaput, which I aggressively replaced only to find out the stupid plastic flush hand was also broke! Cheap junk! Then I walked into the kitchen. As I avoided the cat, all the toys, and popcorn on the floor, I noticed the kitchen sink faucet would not shut off, so I broke down and got a replacement faucet set and put all my pictures of the repair on Face Book to prove to all my buddies that I can do this stuff.
I might add that thank heavens, I planted a big garden earlier in the Spring and just in time for the furloughs, but it did not save me enough money so I could convert my T-12 fluorescent lamps to T-8 in the kitchen. So, the T-12 lamp replacements are on my waiting list, along with inside house lighting controls, along with the new high efficiency air conditioner, and replacement of my old 97 percent efficient Pulse furnace.
What have I learned from this? To be a building energy manager or monitor takes time, attention to detail, commitment, and determination to keep the electric and gas bills to a minimum so life in the family can go on as we walk down this wonderful experience we call life on planet earth. The easiest way to save energy is to turn things off when you do not need them.
You know, as I write this, it seems that much of what I just said is applicable here in the work place. How about if we all work together as a team, with individual responsibility, and stop energy waste and save money so maybe we won't be furloughed again?
If you have questions about energy savings opportunities in your building, do not hesitate to call the installation energy manager or the Public Works office. If we work together, we can cut our energy costs and reach our mandated energy reduction goals. Thanks for doing your part!