What Ferrari Knows Can Help With Insulating Homes to Reduce Utility Bills

ferrari_192319It makes sense to “lightweight” automobiles, even though it costs more to use premium materials such as aluminum or magnesium than to use steel. The general rule of thumb in the auto industry is that you save about seven percent fuel economy for every 10 percent vehicle weight that you reduce. Reducing vehicle weight impacts almost every other attribute in a positive manner:

  • it burns less fuel,
  • lowers emissions into the atmosphere,
  • accelerates and brakes better,
  • provides less “wear and tear” on load bearing parts in the suspension and brake systems and,
  • is more nimble in handling.

 The aluminum alloys in the automobile industry perform equal or better to steel in dent resistance. Finally, pound for pound, aluminum absorbs twice the crash energy as steel, helping the all-aluminum Audi A8 achieve 5-star crash performance levels.

 Despite this, mainstream automakers continue to address fuel economy issues by improving powertrains, shrinking vehicle size, or a host of other band-aid fixes. A lighter weight vehicle is more efficient (efficiency improvement per unit cost) than most of these other approaches and it improves the performance of these other approaches in the process!

 Traditionally, it was high price tag vehicles (Audi, Ferrari, etc.) that were made from lightweight materials. Later this year, the 2015 Ford F-150 will launch with an all-aluminum body structure. The F-150 is one of the highest production volume vehicles in the world, so this is a game changer not just for Ford, but for the global auto industry. For the above-cited performance reasons, Ford wants you to equate an aluminum F-150 with other aluminum vehicles like the Space Shuttle or the battle-tested Army Humvee, not a soda can.

 So what does this have to do with insulation? We often hear homeowners being urged to switch to more efficient light bulbs, windows, doors, appliances, etc. to address utility bills. Yet millions of homes are under insulated.

 Like vehicle weight, insulation in a house is not very visible or exciting – at least not in the same way that a new stainless steel Energy Star refrigerator might be. Yet, like vehicle weight, improving insulation in a house is one of the smartest things you can do to lower your operating costs. Adding insulation helps improve the performance of things like high-efficiency HVAC equipment/systems, new appliances, or windows that are touted for their energy saving potential.

 We should all learn a lesson from the auto industry: it may not be as cool as an 8 speed transmission (new windows), but reducing vehicle weight (adding home insulation) is the smart move to make before you invest in other energy savers.

 

Setting the “Green” Bar Very High

Hat’s off to Mayor Michael Bloomberg for throwing down the gauntlet and launching a Carbon Challenge to the most populated city in America. The Mayor’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next 10 years. In order to accomplish this, he created a task force charged with identifying large footprint tenants and their real estate representatives.  To date,10 commercial office partners, 17 universities and 11 hospital systems have joined the New York City Mayor’s Carbon Challenge.

 For some buildings, upgrading the windows and mechanical systems provided a great starting point in meeting the Challenge.  New York, like most east coast cities, has a great deal of old construction, some of which does not easily lend itself to energy upgrades because of the materials and construction techniques.

 Much of what the Mayor is going after is workplace tenant practices and behaviors and that’s a good place to start.  A great deal of energy can be saved simply by learning to operate the buildings we have more efficiently.  Adding sensors to turn lights on and off, for example, help to change people’s habits. This also helps to amend people’s habits when they go home as well. The combination of workplace and home energy saving habits will go a long way to curbing our thirst for energy.

Carbon Calculator

Carbon Calculator

 Here at our company we face the same hurdles and we have started to engage and challenge our employees in all our locations to identify ways to be more efficient with energy, water, recycling, and waste management– and it is paying off.  Are we net zero? Not yet but we have received the Energy Star Sustained Excellence Award for three years running. The key is getting everyone on the cart together and challenging each other to do better. 

Last year CertainTeed developed a Carbon Calculator that tracked the CO2 saved by our installed products. We equated those calculations to the number of trees that were saved or the number of cars taken off the road – things that the employee could relate to.  This has had a real impact on behaviors.  Now they can “see” the impact their work has on America. We are currently in a challenge pledge for GreenBuild 2013, which will be in Philadelphia, to reduce our employees’ carbon output by 10,000 gallons through carpooling and a work-from-home program. Like the old saying goes… when you see a turtle on a fence post you can be sure he didn’t get there alone… and you can be sure he isn’t getting off of there alone either.

 Are there great things that you are doing to encourage behavior changes at your businesses to improve energy efficiency?

 

 

Net Zero Test House a Great Experiment for Energy Efficiency

Lucas Hamilton

October is Energy Awareness month and what better way to start it off than to talk about a great project underway in Virginia. CNN recently ran a story about the Net Zero house that was built by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as a test facility to experiment with alternative energy high-efficiency systems. 

The 2,700 square foot home on NIST’s property in Gaithersburg, Virginia is home to a “virtual” family – Father, Mother and two children. The house is powered by solar panels and geothermal systems while hundreds of devices that actually simulate the family’s energy use.

While the home looks like a standard middle class home that you might find in any suburban neighborhood the home cost about $2.5 million to build.  That is mostly due to the elaborate systems being utilized and tested.  The appliances, plumbing and heating systems are programmed to turn on and off based on the time of day.  For example at 6:15 am, a computer that is housed in the garage which is ‘control central’ triggers the valves in the basement to turn on the water flow to the showers. Of course, it doesn’t take into account Johnny leaving the lights and TV on his bedroom all day.

One very cool aspect of this project is that everything in the home, except one small devise, is manufactured in the U. S. and is able to be purchased and used in a typical residence.

Other facts about the construction of the house such as geothermal loops that extract heat from earth as opposed to the air and walls constructed to reduce energy loss and keep the home at a comfortable temperature will provide great data that can be used in future construction.

There are net-zero homes that are being built in parts of the U.S. but this home will provide incredible research that can be applied to construction standards going forward.  Watch the video for a full review of the project:

http://youtu.be/xSzu83fyQaQ

I think we will learn a great deal from this project and it will help us in the quest for net-zero homes but… how do you feel about using a virtual family? I think we’re going to miss out on learning about behavior and this is an area which we may understand the least.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed

Energy Deregulation is a Positive for Consumers, but Do Your Homework

 Danny Small is Manager, Building Science Development for CertainTeed Corporation

Danny Small

Danny Small

 If your utility called you up and offered you a significant discount on your electric or natural gas rate, would you take it? 

Usually I’m speaking to builders, architects and homeowners about reducing energy costs by using less energy.  Now, in many parts of the country, you can also reduce your energy costs by simply paying less for the energy you use.

With the recent deregulation of the energy industry, individuals as well as businesses in certain areas of the U.S. now actually have a choice of utility suppliers.  What that means is that you can now lower the rate you pay for your energy by taking advantage of a seamless and easy process.  Electricity choice is well under way, and natural gas is right behind it.  If your state does not yet offer energy choice, it’s coming, and it can offer a significant savings for residences, small businesses and large commercial and industrial entities.

Here’s how it works:  Your utility bill consists of three components:  generation, transmission and distribution.  The utility remains responsible for distribution:  Getting the energy to your house, maintaining the lines and poles and taking care of the billing, collections and customer service. The generation and transmission however, is now open to competition and can be “shopped around,” resulting in potentially large savings for the customer.

You may be wondering how the utility feels about this whole thing.  In one of my previous positions, I helped manage energy efficiency incentive programs in several eastern states, working closely with utility companies as deregulation started to roll out.  The utilities actually actively encouraged their customers to shop their rates.  Since the utility does not make its money on generation or transmission, they are not looking to provide the lowest rate; they just pass the cost on to the customers.  You can view a news interview with a representative from a Pennsylvania utility, explaining how the process works.  

Switching is easy.  It costs nothing, takes only a few minutes online or over the phone, and in many cases there is no long-term commitment.  Everything stays exactly the same from the customer’s perspective:  Same bill, same payment process, same service, same electricity.  Just a lower rate! You really have nothing to lose in making the switch.

Among energy suppliers, both rates and terms can vary widely.  Go to www.ShopForEnergy.com to see the options available in your area.  Besides a competitive rate, look for a plan with no termination fee.  In addition, some suppliers offer 100% renewable energy options (recommended) and other benefits to win your business.  For example, one major eastern supplier, North American Power, offers all of the above and also contributes $1 per month from its own profits on behalf of each of its customers to a charity of the customer’s choice.

So far, my experience “privatizing” my energy has been extremely positive, and I highly recommend it if the option is available to you.

Energy Awareness Begins with You

As we approach the close of Energy Awareness Month remember it is never too late to start improving energy efficiency whether in your home or in you life.

With tax rebates about to end, possibly forever, this is the last opportunity to reduce the cost of replacing windows or doors or insulating that attic.

The most beneficial investment a homeowner can make is to conduct an energy audit.  This will give you a firm handle on where your home is losing energy and the improvements you can make to correct the problems.  These problems don’t have to be handled all at one time.  The important thing is now you have an idea of how to make adjustments to reduce energy loss while contemplating replacing aging systems with more efficient new systems.

As a way to boost energy awareness, Energy Star created a video challenge as part of their Take the Pledge program to increase participation from Americans in all walks of life.  Take the Pledge boasts that Americans participating in the Pledge have amassed $793,107, 376 in energy savings, eliminated 10,243,261,274 lbs in greenhouse gases and have saved 6,008,157,595 kilowatt hours of electricity.

The short videos in the video challenge are creative, instructive and entertaining. View a sample of these below:

You can view all the videos on the Energy Star Take the Pledge page.

Making changes, however small, in your daily activities to reduce your carbon footprint make a huge difference over time.  Changing your light bulbs to compact florescent (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs is one place to start.

But like many efforts to make substantive change – it starts with YOU!

Vicky Gallagher is Supervisor, Corporate Marketing Communications for CertainTeed Corporation

The Philadelphia Eagles Really Know How to Go Green

I attended a Green Drinks event recently in the Philadelphia area sponsored by Sustainable Solutions Corporation, a company that provides comprehensive sustainable development and green building services for corporations, municipalities, developers and homeowners. Lucas Hamilton wrote about these events in his “Starbucks” of Sustainability Blog.

The guest speaker was Leonard Bonacci, director of event operations for the Philadelphia Eagles.

I’m a football fan and religiously watch the Eagles play every game, but I was not aware of the incredible commitment the Eagles organization and Lincoln Financial Field were making in their efforts to “Go Green.” Theirs is a top-down commitment, starting with the Eagles owners Jeffrey and Christina Lurie. Christina leads this charge, which started when the team moved into their new home, Lincoln Financial Field.

The Eagles are considered to be one of the most environmentally conscious Teams in the NFL. That is due to the enormous attention paid to reducing their carbon footprint, including:

  • Employing wind technology to power the lights.
  • Using napkins with recycled content and cups that are corn-based rather than petroleum based, and are totally biodegradable.
  • All of the grease from food cooked at the stadium is taken to a refinery to be combined with biodiesel fuel.
  • Composting of trash instead of sending to the landfill.
  • Requiring vendors to support their green initiatives by greening their operations, recycling and using energy-conscious products.
  • Recycling by staff and tailgaters, including easy-to-identify blue bags, dumpsters and trashing carts to collect recyclables.

The ultimate goal is for the entire enterprise is to be carbon neutral, which is no small task when talking about a stadium that hosts 70,000 people per game.

Their newest endeavor is a partnership with a company called Solar Blue which will help convert Lincoln Financial Field to function with self-generated renewable energy. This will be accomplished with wind, solar power and dual-fuel generated electricity.

My personal favorite conservation effort by the Eagles organization is Eagles Forest, a 6.5 acre site located in Neshaminy State Park, Bensalem, PA. The organization has planted 1,500 trees and shrubs, including 150 trees purchased by Eagles fans. Part of this program is dedicated to offsetting the team’s carbon emissions from away-game travel.

For me Go Eagles now has added value! What do you think of Go Green? Are teams in your area making similar commitments?

Energy Awareness – A Little Effort Can Save You Money

Lucas Hamilton

Colder weather is on its way! Don’t wait to make sure your home is operating efficiently. The Federal Energy Tax Credit will expire at the end of the year.  If you have not taken advantage of the $1500 rebate you may want to do so before December 31, 2010.

The benefits of an energy-efficient home are endless but here are a few:

  • You can reduce monthly utility bills
  • Enjoy a more comfortable home by eliminating cold and hot spots
  • Reduce the home’s carbon footprint by using less carbon based energy sources.  This is increasingly important across many communities in the U.S.

Doing a little homework will increase your results. Conduct that energy audit.  Enlist the help of a professional or visit Energysavers.gov for a helpful check list.  But here are a few things to look for:

  • If you can see floor joists in the attic, you need to add more insulation
  • If you can see daylight around a door or window, there’s an air leak.
  • Run a damp hand along the edges of windows and doors.  If there is a draft, it will feel cool to your hand.
  • Look for dirty paint at the edges of your outlets on exterior walls- they may need sealing.
  • Look for dirty carpet along the base boards of your exterior walls- you may need to seal the drywall to your sub-floor.

Seal leaks, caulk or weather-strip around fireplaces, electrical outlets and door and window frames.

Insulation is the most important addition to a home for improving comfort and savings. Homeowners have options in the type of insulation that would be best in solving the problem:  fiberglass batt insulation, blown-in insulation or spray foam insulation.  The key areas to focus on are:

  • Unfinished basements which can contribute to one-third of a home’s heat loss
  • The attic: especially if the home is more than 30 years old. It is likely it is substantially below current code recommendations for energy-efficiency.
  • Add insulation to exterior walls.  Consult a contractor to drill small holes in the stud cavity and add blown-in insulation.
  • Use insulation backed siding when re-siding your home.

Rob Brockman, marketing manager for CertainTeed Insulation was a guest on Talk Philly sharing tips for Energy Awareness month and making your home more energy-efficient.  You can view the segment here.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

During Energy Awareness Month Take the ENERGY STAR® Pledge

Lucas Hamilton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR program has launched a pledge project designed to draw awareness on the part of individuals to change their ways and adopt more energy conscious practices. The pledge asks individuals to commit to replacing items in your office or home ranging from light bulbs to appliances and office equipment that carry the Energy Star label to reduce energy consumption. Retrofitting with added insulation is another improvement to consider.

According to the current statistics 2,655,126 individuals have joined the cause and pledged to take small, individual steps that have led to reducing 8,842,303,899 lbs. of greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change.

I want to applaud my fellow employees for taking the Energy Star pledge and committing to reducing their energy consumption.  The EPA estimated that the value of the pledges received by CertainTeed/Saint-Gobain so far equates to more than $1.5 million in energy savings.

You, too, can get involved as an individual or a company and be a part of this national campaign.  Get your company involved by going to Energy Star’s Join our Movement . To register as an individual go to Take the Pledge

This type of awareness is a good starting point to encourage everyone to look at ways to reduce their energy consumption and become more conscious of how they use energy.  We can all do our part.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Home Energy Labeling – Leveling the Playing Field in the Housing Market

Home energy labeling could be a great motivator for encouraging homeowners to jump into energy improvements. The emerging trend toward creating energy labels on homes, similar to the energy labels on appliances, is one way to encourage homeowners in older homes to buy into the benefits of upgrading and the necessity to keep pace with other homes in their neighborhoods.

Already utilized in Europe and Australia, this practice could incentivize homeowners so that they keep their home competitive in the marketplace. It is no surprise that Oregon is the testing ground for this new program given the State’s focus on sustainable and living building initiatives. The label would convey the home’s annual energy usage, energy costs, and carbon emissions.

According to research from the National Association of Realtors, Americans live in a house for an average of seven years.  Homeowners generally say they will buy a more energy efficient house the next time they buy rather than invest in their current house. Home energy labeling may make homeowners reconsider deferring energy upgrades to someone else.

If a prospective home buyer had the ability to look at two houses on the market and compare the energy consumption of the houses it would enable the buyer to make a more informed purchasing choice. As a homeowner, wouldn’t you want to have a better home energy label than your neighbor?

If a house sits on the market for one year, I guarantee that the homeowner will spend more money in a wasted mortgage than if he had made the energy efficiency improvements that would have sold the house quicker. For example, the average U.S. mortgage may be around $1,600  per  month. If your house sits on the market for one year while you are already in a second home, you will spend $19,200 in mortgage payments on the empty property. If home energy labeling were in place, spending a fraction of that mortgage expense on energy upgrades would have made the house much more marketable and created jobs for the trades who do such improvements.

Home energy labeling has definite merit in a free market economy and this could incentivize homeowners to improve their properties in order to keep competitive with newer homes.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation.

Ecobuild is an Eye Opener for the Green Movement

Saint-Gobain booth at Ecobuild 2010

Saint-Gobain booth at Ecobuild 2010

In early March, I attended the Ecobuild 2010 Conference and Expo in London, England to see how the sustainable and green awareness message and activity level is handled in the United Kingdom and Europe.  Our parent company, Saint-Gobain was an event sponsor and large exhibitor at this event displaying our sustainable solutions and systems. This show is the equivalent of the GreenBuild Conference and Expo held annually in the U.S.  It was an eye-opener, to say the least.  The U.K. is far ahead of us in the development and integration of energy efficient products. The show had 1,000 exhibitors, attracted 41,000 attendees, and hosted 600 speakers on sustainable topics. The enthusiasm on the show floor ran high. It is clear that even in this time of downturn in the construction industry, the goal of a lower carbon built environment continues to accelerate in other parts of the world.

The heavier emphasis on energy efficiency at Ecobuild verses the trade events I have seen here in the U.S. could be because the cost of energy in the U.K. is higher for both homes and automobiles. In addition, government regulations are more stringent with regard to requiring industry to reduce carbon emissions.

Not surprisingly, there was a strong emphasis on insulation products, primarily fiberglass but also reflective foils and foam insulations.  I am an Insulation guy so I was particularly interested in these products. A new product I saw was a wood fiber insulation product that is used in side walls as a replacement for other types of insulation. Solar panels, either for roofs or ground installation, were also heavily displayed.

But most intriguing was the fact that in every product display, regardless of its place in the building structure, for example a roof truss or steel stud, the marketing story had some energy efficiency twist to it.  They weren’t just selling wood, roofing or insulation every product had an element of how the product contributes to saving energy and reducing the carbon footprint.  The small effort to include more energy efficiency visuals and words in terms of the products we promote would go a long way in raising the consciousness of energy efficiency in the U.S.

The construction industry could learn a good lesson from the activities that the U.K. is undertaking in terms of the development of energy efficient products, and in generating awareness of energy efficient products.  We shouldn’t wait until regulations change or mandates kick-in to step-up sustainable product development and implementation.  The momentum started over there could easily be transferred over here which would not only be good for our planet but also for our pocketbook.

 

 

 

Eric Nilsson

Eric Nilsson

Eric Nilsson is Vice President, Corporate Marketing for CertainTeed Corporation