Ask the Energy Wiz!
Dear Energy Wiz,
We will be building a new home this year and would like to make the home energy
efficient. We are looking for ways to incorporate wind and solar projects into
the design. Could you please help us in getting started with this project?
What is the availability of grants or other types of assistance?
The Energy Wiz!
Between wind and solar energy, wind is probably the most economical at this time.
There has been progress in increasing the efficiency of solar cells, but it is
hard to say when we might see that progress appear in consumer technology. At
present, solar panels are only about 20 to 30 percent efficient. What that means
is that of all the possible solar energy available, solar panels are only able
to convert around 20 to 30 percent of the energy into a usable form.
In your new home, I would suggest that you consider using both wind and solar.
As you are probably aware, there are times when the wind doesn't blow, and times
when the sun doesn't shine. A combination of both energy sources, might make your
energy supply a bit more consistent. Since neither of these energy sources is
constant, you will probably want to look at a battery backup system. In this
way, you can charge your batteries when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing,
and then use that stored energy when it’s needed. Using both sources will require
a good knowledge of electricity, and a good contractor who can tie the systems
together. It might be an advantage if you can find a contractor that supplies
both wind and solar sytems, as well as battery backup systems.
There are several manufacturers producing windmills for residential use, and the
same is true for solar panels. While the Energy Office does not recommend
specific products or manufacturers, the agency does recommend getting several
estimates for any project. What you are looking for is the most kilowatts –
that’s 1,000 watts – for the dollars you're spending, and of course reliability
and service. Don't be afraid to ask for past customers you can contact, and
possibly visit. Find out how long the company has been in business. Check for
complaints with the Better Business Bureau.
It is likely that you will not be able to purchase any wind or solar system
that is able to generate electricity for less money than the utilities can
provide. You will however, gain a certain level of independence, and will
be helping the environment. One way to reduce the cost of a system such as
these is by reducing your energy requirements, and that is where efficiency
comes in. You will want your home to be well insulated, well sealed – within
reason, "seal it tight and ventilate right" – and you will want to use energy
efficient appliances and heating, ventilating and air conditioning equipment.
As a minimum, you will want your contractor/designer to meet the 2003
International Energy Conservation Code, which becomes state law on July 1,
2005. One approach is using Energy Star
as a guide. You can ask your contractor/designer to design an
Star home, and insist on
You can also go beyond Energy Star efficiency levels. You can increase
insulation values beyond Energy Star Requirements. It is possible to
increase your insulation to a point where your heating and air conditioning
requirements are equal, which negates the need for backup with heat pumps.
You can research appliances and not simply buy those with an Energy Star
rating, but buy the most efficient within a category. You can go beyond
the Energy Star rated heating and cooling equipment to the most efficient
geothermal equipment – proper HVAC sizing is essential, Manual J as a minimum.
You can go beyond Energy Star rated windows and buy the most efficient windows.
Energy Star windows have a U-value of 0.35 or less, but windows with a U-value
of 0.25 or less are available for nearly the same price. You can go from
incandescent lighting to florescent lighting, which uses 1/4th the energy.
If you are doing this, it is important to use high Color Rendering Index
florescent lights to maintain correct color of lighting – an Index rating
of 100 is near sunlight, and anything above 90 is very good. All of this
comes with a price, but in most cases the extra cost for the more efficient
equipment will pay for itself in the long run. This is especially true in
I would suggest you start with the book, Residential Energy, by John T. Krigger.
This book is the basis for the Nebraska Home Energy Rating System, and will
help to guide you to energy efficiency in your new home. Phone 1-800-735-0577
to order a copy of the book.
The list of websites below can be used to help find energy efficient products.
The Wiz is not aware of any grants for residential solar or wind applications.
The Energy Wiz
The Nebraska Energy Office offers low interest loans for energy efficiency improvements which meet certain efficiency or payback requirements.
- The Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program identifies products that are in the top 25 percent of energy efficiency in each product category. The site also allows you to “Bench Mark” a building, or put building specifications into a database that compares your building with other similar buildings.
- The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy offers two free computer software programs: REScheck, and COMcheck. REScheck is for residential and COMcheck is for commercial buildings. These programs can be used to evaluate buildings for energy code compliance.
- The National Fenestration Ratings Council provides thermal test data for windows and doors.
- The Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute offers a directory of manufacturers’ efficiency ratings for chillers, heat pumps, air conditioners and similar products.The sections on Consumer Information, PRIMENET, and Product Types are especially helpful.
- The Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association offers a directory — Consumer Info section — with the efficiencies of gas furnaces, boilers, water heaters, electric water heaters including heat pump types, and other gas and oil-fired residential and commercial products.
- The Consortium for Energy Efficiency is a national, non-profit public benefits corporation that promotes the manufacture and purchase of energy-efficient products and services.
- The International Ground Source Heat Pump Association is a great source for ground source heat pump information.
- The Home Ventilating Institute does independent testing of ventilation products and publishes the efficiencies on their website.
- The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy lists the top rated energy efficient appliances.
- The Association of Home Appliances Manufacturers offers product directories that show efficiencies or annual operating costs — at Consumer Menu and Certified Products — on refrigerator/freezers, chest freezers, room air conditioners, dehumidifiers, humidifiers and room air cleaners.
The web sites below provide information on moisture and mold:
The staff at the Energy Office respond to many inquiries on a variety of topics from Nebraskans. From time to time, the Quarterly will share some questions and the answers with readers.
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