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Reduce Fossil Fuel Use: Consider an Air-Source Heat Pump

If you are looking for a way to reduce your fossil fuel use while saving money, an air-source heat pump (ASHP) might be a valid option. While this technology has long been popular in warmer southern climates, the colder winter temperatures in the north make it more challenging to extract heat from the freezing outdoor air. Despite this, technological advancements over the past few years have made ASHPs an efficient source of heating in colder climates as well.

ASHPs move heat into a building by circulating a liquid refrigerant between an indoor handling unit and an outdoor radiator. The heat pump heats the liquid by first pressurizing it, pumping it inside from outdoors, and then circulating it through the home’s heating system. The liquid is then depressurized and cooled, after which it travels to the outdoor radiator where the process begins again. ASHPs can also be used to cool buildings through a similar process in which the warm inside air is cooled by the refrigerant, which has been depressurized. The liquid is then sent outside and pressurized, as well as being cooled by the ambient outdoor temperature. The Department of Energy provides a more detailed explanation here of the many different types of ASHPs for those of you who are interested in the more technical aspects of the process.

Energy and Cost Savings
When installed properly, ASHPs can produce between one and a half and three times more heat energy for a home than the electrical energy they use. The Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships found that by replacing entire units in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions with air-source heat pumps, the annual savings are approximately 3,000 kWh or $459 when compared to electric resistance heaters and 6,200 kWh or $948 compared to oil systems. When they are used to displace oil, meaning that the oil system remains but is used less frequently, the annual savings is around 3,000kWh or $300. These prices of course depend on the current costs of electricity and oil. The federal government offers a tax credit for ASHPs and a number of states offer rebate programs.

The Right Heat Pump for Your Home
There are a number of options when it comes to choosing the right ASHP for your home, but the most commonly used in retrofits are ductless, mini-split heat pumps because they do not require a ducted heating system. According to the Department of Energy, this type of heat pump also provides a way to heat room additions without extending or installing distribution ductwork. The main advantage to using this type is that one outdoor unit can be connected to as many as four indoor units (meaning it can be used in four different zones or rooms). The typical installed cost ranges from $3,000 to $5,000.

It is also important to choose the right model – one that matches your climate. The traditional way of determining this is by using the EnergyGuide label, which denotes the model’s heating and cooling efficiency. Heating efficiency is determined through the heating season performance factor (HSPF) and cooling efficiency is determined with the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). Because the HSPF does not include low temperature testing below 17 degrees Fahrenheit, Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships developed the cold-climate ASHP specification, which requires manufacturers to report down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. You should consult these ratings when choosing your ASHP.

Tiny Living at its Best


Here's a cool "house," created by inventor Van Bo Le-Mentzel. Called the "One SQM House," it measures exactly one square meter in area, fittingly. We'll do the conversion for you: that's 10.7 square feet.

Yeah, not exactly a house by today's standards. No kitchen. No bathroom.

But it can act as a cozy hang out spot, a meditation chamber and even a bedroom, when tilted down on its side with a mattress inside.

The folks over at Treehugger rightly cite Le-Mentzel's suggestion that his One SQM House would be a perfect shelter for Occupiers.

What use could you find for the One SQM House?

TrustMark makes it easy to talk to your contractor.

TrustMark App Gets the Most out of your Contractor

Here's a cool new App. Inspired by a finding that half of British homeowners admit that they forget to ask the right questions when a contractor comes to do work, TradeMark makes it easier for those questions to be asked.

Yes, this is an App for Brits. But's that not to say we Yanks couldn't find a use here. Most homeowners have been in this position; according to TrustMark, younger homeowners in particular lack the confidence to be up front and a little more demanding when it comes time to have a stranger do work on the house.

So what does TrustMark do? It keeps a record of the conversation with the contractor. It prompts questions and gives advice at every step of the repair process.

Can it translate to life in the States? You be the judge. It's free for download.

Check out the TrustMark YouTube video to learn about the App.

Now you can access your garage door opener remotely through the internet.

The Smart Garage

Just recently we covered a new garage door opening technology by Overhead Door that alerted homeowners if they had forgotten to close the garage door. This week at CES Craftsman unveiled the Craftsman Aurrelink Garage Door Openers, Remote Light Switch and Remote Light Control, designed to perform a similar function.

The difference with the Assurelink system is that it enables homeowners to control their garage door from almost anywhere, using a smartphone, computer or tablet connected to the internet.

This kind of connectivity is not new in other areas of the home, but incorporating it into the garage door appears to be a growing trend. One can see the value, too, given that most of us have experienced those moments halfway down the road when you can't remember if you shut the garage door or not.

Think of all the gas you'll save with this new technology! No more turning the car around!

The age of the McMansion may be over!

2012 Lifestyle Trends

Among Builder's 10 Lifestyle Trends to watch for in 2012, look for community gardens, multigenerational housing and working from the home.

You should also note the rise of the DIYer as well as "living smaller." The former might be partially attributed to the rise in the DIY show. But it's not just DIY projects around the house that will be on the increase. Smaller DIY hobbies like woodworking and furniture-making will grow in popularity with the large number of folks retiring.

As for "living smaller," well, that's simply nice to see -- a push back against the McMansion trend that saw giant carbon footprint homes of thousands upon thousands of square feet. Wasted space, wasted energy.

Take a look at the full article to see all the trends. Which one will you be a part of?

Now you have a real reason to spend time on Facebook.

Monitor Energy Usage Through Facebook

Facebook has teamed up with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Opower to launch an app designed to help people monitor and decrease their energy usage -- a sort of social networking smart meter.

Due out early next year, the application will include the following set of features:

  • Compare energy usage to similar homes. (Sounds questionable. Not sure I want my energy usage information available to others. Although NRDC claims complete data privacy will be ensured.)

  • Compare energy usage among friends. (This sounds cool on first pass, but this has the potential to create an inferiority/superiority situation among friends. "Oh, I see you used twice as much energy as me last week. Planet-killer.")

  • Publish conversations about energy to the Facebook newsfeed. (Innocent enough, I suppose.)

  • Group development -- Cooperation and Competition. (NRDC says this feature will allow communities of people to form teams to help each other achieve collective goals and compete against other groups. It also suggests that teams will be rewarded and incentivized by their utility or "other network partners." I'd love to see if this pans out.)

  • Privacy issues aside (and there will always be privacy issues when Facebook is involved) I will say that this is worth the attempt. Energy monitoring has not exactly caught on yet, and with the popularity of Facebook this could be a great way to bring it to the masses. For the moment, I'm all for it.

    More info can be found on the Green on Facebook page.

    Soon to be anachronism.

    Smart Grid Implementation

    Up here in the Burlington, VT area, we aren't exactly on the cutting edge of things like fashion (GQ recently named it one of the 40 Worst-Dressed Cities) or urban sprawl (for this we are thankful), but we are getting our Smart Grid on.

    Back in June a vote was passed for approval of a revenue bond that included $7.2 million that will be used to fund the city's share of the "smart grid project," with the other half of the project to be funded by Department of Energy grants.

    In this Burlington Free Press Op/Ed piece by Burlington Electric Department (BED) GM Barbara Grimes, the implementation steps of the smart grid are briefly laid out. Part of her goal is to quell the confusion and opposition that always arise from change, but I'm a smart grid supporter and needed no quelling. Rather, I walked away from the article a little better educated on what comes first with smart grid implementation.

    As Grimes explains, the first step is to upgrade the system to enable two-way communication between BED and the field systems, which will help prevent and shorten outages. Not only will these ease the stress on homeowners, it will save thousands of dollars of lost revenue for energy-dependent businesses. It's a solid first step.

    After a system upgrade--which will also improve distribution--BED will turn to smart meter installations. This is a facet of the smart grid that most people are familiar with, in name at least. It's also one of the more hot button topics, as consumers question privacy issues. I look to successful smart meter pilot programs like the one just completed in Houston, Texas, as promising signs that the smart grid will one day encompass the entire country.

    As I gear up for a move back into Burlington proper I'm excited by the prospect of having a smart meter and chronicling the transition into smart grid living.

    Are you already living on the smart grid? Tell us about it.

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