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Posted by on in Cooling

For many years, both residential and commercial buildings have used traditional air conditioning units to cool inside during warm summer days. While technology has certainly advanced, the main concept and ideas behind these units has remained fairly consistent. Recently, however, a bit of a new trend has emerged when it comes to cooling inside a building. It’s one that returns to the most basic of cold ideas – ice.


Some very large businesses are actually seeing cost savings through efficiency and less chemical usage by implementing and using ice based air conditioning for their office buildings. In fact, an estimated 3,000 buildings around the world are now using this type of cooling technology.


So how does it work? These types of systems work by making ice at night, when lower power usage means energy is cheaper and lower temperatures mean less power is required to freeze water. During the day when most people return to the office, fans blow air through the ice and into the building. Traditional air conditioning units are most used during the day when more activity is going on in the office, thus requiring more cool air. By saving most of the energy requirements for the nighttime during cooler temperatures, these systems are proving to be very efficient.


Major corporations who have installed these ice cooling units are getting major kudos for their environmental benefits. They are also saving, in some cases, millions of dollars per year in energy bills. The system essentially works like an ultra-efficient battery, storing energy in the form of ice that provides cheap cooling for a large area.

In part one of this blog series, we started discussing materials that can be used to maximize your new home’s efficiency and help you save energy and money. While these materials and methods may at times cost more upfront than traditional building materials, the cost savings can be recouped faster than you may think in some cases. It’s a good idea to talk to your home contractor and construction company to discuss all alternatives when building your new home. Here are a few more tips of material and process topics you may want to explore as options:


Is straw a good option for your home? While it may come as a surprise to many, straw bales can actually be a very strong and durable material to use in your home construction. When combined with other materials such as stucco or plaster, it provides excellent insulation and long-lasting durability. Some experts predict this readily available material can actually last thousands of years if kept properly dry.


Use recycled materials whenever possible. Using recycled lumber or plastic composite materials can greatly reduce the environmental impact your new home build has. As you know, new homes require a great deal of raw materials to construct, so using recycled materials is a no brainer if you can easily find it in high quality. Many high efficiency homes now use a wood/plastic composite combination that is extremely efficient and highly durable. While again more expensive than traditional lumber, it is much more durable and will outlast its alternative.


Explore structured insulation panels as an option. Structured insulation panels are essentially foam insulation sandwiched between two pieces of plywood, cement boards or other common building materials. This type of insulation layering can greatly increase the overall performance in your home regardless of the environment or season. By some estimates, using SIPs (structured insulation panels) can help save up to 50 percent in energy costs when compared to traditional insulation and construction materials.

If you’re in the process of building a new home, whether taking on the process yourself or with the help of a contractor, you’ve likely already started to do a great deal of research on how to make your new home as energy efficient as possible. New homes can often mean higher efficiency all around, especially when special attention is paid to using the best performing materials, appliances and systems. As you probably know, these high efficiency materials often cost more than standard materials. However, in most cases, these costs can be made up rather quickly when taking a look at the month over month energy costs that could be saved because of using them in your new build.


Many materials used to build homes are also now developed from recycled or reused materials, which means you may be able to minimize the overall impact your new home build has on the planet. In this blog series, we’re going to list some materials and tips that will maximize your new home’s overall efficiency and limit it’s environmental impact.


Support your home with recycled steel. Traditionally, large wooden beams have been used for support in homes. Today, steel beams developed from recycled materials are a great alternative. While more durable than wood and great for use in high wind or disaster-prone areas, they also reduce the number of trees that would need to be cut down for the build. Recycling scrap metal also reduces the amount of space needed for landfills, making it a smarter decision for the environment all around.


Use plant-based polyurethane rigid foam insulation. First developed for use in surfboards, plant-based rigid foam insulation can provide an earth-friendly insulation alternative to toxic alternatives. This type of insulation also provides high moisture resistance, great acoustics and protection against insects and pests. Not to mention, it also has a higher R-value than fiberglass insulation, meaning it has a higher thermal resistance and insulates better.


Select the right roofing materials. The material you use on your roof can have a huge impact on your home’s efficiency. The ideal roofing material reflects sunlight to prevent heat from getting trapped in your home. New technologies also allow for these high efficiency reflective materials to come in any color, even dark, which means style sacrifices no longer have to be made.

Posted by on in Efficiency

We’ve written on the blog a few times over the course of the past few years regarding the regional standards changes that have been discussed and debated at great length, both in public and private forums.  These energy efficiency standards, while similar in measurement and theory, were separated and looked at by specific products – furnaces, heat pumps, AC units, etc.


Regional efficiency standards for furnaces, perhaps the most hotly debated of the entire efficiency debate, have been vacated completely for the time being. The originally proposed efficiency standards for furnaces were met with much controversy—by industry experts and knowledgeable consumers. Many felt the proposed standards were much too high and would create inventory problems for manufacturers and suppliers. Retailers who carried medium and lower efficiency furnaces were worried about sales of these units if the efficiency standards went into effect. Therefore, the topic of regional efficiency standards for furnaces is making its way back to the negotiation table.


Meanwhile, the regional efficiency standards for AC units and heat pumps are still on track, so we thought we’d provide an updated overview with specifics so our blog readers can be informed of the upcoming changes. As we always say, a knowledgeable consumer is the most empowered to make smart decisions about home performance and energy issues for their household.


Effective Jan 1, 2015, the MINIMUM standard for air conditioners in Northern states (including Washington) will be 13 SEER, and heat pumps will be 14 SEER/8.2 HSPF. While manufacturing on lower efficiency models will stop on or before this date, the final date to have lower efficiency units installed will be delayed until July 1, 2016. The idea is to ease into the changes so manufacturers, suppliers, retailers and consumers can all have plenty of time to prepare.

We recently posted about the first of two main types of leaks that can cause problems when it comes to your home’s comfort, energy efficiency and indoor air quality – general air leaks around the home.  The other most common home performance issues when it comes to leaks are duct leaks in your HVAC system. As is the case with general air leaks, the best approach to solving duct leak issues is to consult a qualified and knowledgeable home contractor.


Holes, rips or tears in your home’s HVAC duct system can cause major problems for your home’s overall performance and efficiency. They can also cause major headaches for homeowners, as not resolving these issues can result in large monthly energy bills. Whether using heat during the winter or air conditioning during the summer, conditioned air can escape these ducts to places it’s not intended to be, resulting in lost energy.


Duct systems are set up with precision and heavy planning for a reason – to ensure your energy is providing hot or cool air to appropriate places in your home. In order to run most efficiently, this ductwork has to be sealed properly from the starting point through to all destinations in the home. Even a collection of small leaks can add up to a collective loss of a great deal of air and energy.


There are many tests, both visual and more advanced, that can be performed to see where or how badly your ductwork is leaking.  In basic tests performed on ductwork within site and reach, leaks can often be felt by touch when the HVAC unit is on and running. In more severe or troublesome cases, such as leaks occurring in ductwork hidden behind walls or other hard to see and reach places, other tests are necessary to determine where and how bad leaks actually are. Again, a qualified professional should be brought in to address these types of issues for maximum results.


In order to fix duct leaks, a few different materials are used. For smaller leaks in ducts that are exposed, some smaller fixes using mastic or duct tape can be a simple solution. However, if you have duct leaks that are visible or able to be felt, chances are good that there may be some leaks in those hidden areas as well.