This is part 1 in a 3-part interview of Steve King. Steve is a 26 year old environmental engineer, writer, geek, entrepreneur, and creator of the website The Green Geek. He writes about environmental issues from a technology point of view, and is currently working on a book on this topic.
BILL:, Steve, thanks for being with us.
STEVE: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
BILL: I read your article about saving money through conservation, and you offered an excellent example of switching light bulbs. For my Readers, could you explain how it is really possible to save so much money just by switching light bulbs?
STEVE: In order to answer this question, let’s look at how light bulbs work. A typical incandescent light bulb works by heating a tungsten filament to the point of incandescence, which means it’s so hot it’s giving off light. However, only about 10% of the energy gets converted to light; the rest is converted to heat. This not only means you’re wasting 90% of your money for your lighting; you’re also creating possibly unwanted heat. If your house has 15 light bulbs, each one 100 watts at 10% efficiency, that is approximately 1,350 watts of heat. This is roughly the same as an electric space heater. If you have your lights on during the summer, or if you live in a warm climate, you have an extra heating load which. If you have air conditioning, it needs to work that much harder to make your home comfortable. In the winter this might not seem like such a bad thing since you need to heat the building anyways, but it’s still a rather expensive heating method. There are alternatives that save energy, money, and don’t turn your home into a giant Easy-Bake oven. The most common new type of light bulb is the compact fluorescent light (CFL). Advances in recent years have eliminated the harsh white light, and the annoying flicker. CFL’s cost a bit more than incandescent lights, but they have many advantages. Their lifespan is considerably longer, up to 7 years. They also don’t produce heat, which reduces your cooling load. What about the light though? Lighting is measured in Lumens, the wattage rating is the amount of electrical energy required to produce the desired lumens. A typical 75 watt incandescent light bulb will produce approximately 1,200 lumens; however a compact fluorescent light can provide the same light output for only 16 watts. This also equates to 1/4 of the electrical cost. At roughly $4 per bulb, each light would pay for itself within a year and would be putting money in your pocket for the next 6 years after that. If you spent the money to replace all the commonly used lights in your home or office with CFL?s, the savings will be in the hundreds of dollars. That savings goes directly to your bottom line, and is a very sound investment.
BILL: Why is environmentalism important to personal finance? Are they related?
STEVE: Ecology and economics are closely related, both words stem from the Greek word “oikos”, which means house. Economics is derived from the Greek word oikonomos and is made of the words oikos (house) and nemein (to manage) which translates as “One who manages a household”. Ecology, likewise, is also derived from the word oikos, along with the word “logie”, which translates as “study of”. Therefore, economics is the management of the house, and ecology is the study of the house. The environment, in every respect, is very literally our “house”; these words are an apt description for the system we find ourselves in. Our economy is based on the natural world, but our ecology tells us that the very same economy is destroying the natural world. We all need to realize that we’re living an unsustainable lifestyle… We’re using resources far faster than the planet can replenish them and expelling waste far faster than the planet can absorb. The Earth is everything to us. It represents all we have, and all we’ve ever had. In financial terms, the resources available to us are our capital. We have metals, trees, water, animals, oil, and a myriad of other things we can use. In a capitalist system the resources, a.k.a. capital, are used to generate profits. If the capital is used up improperly, its ability to generate profit is reduced. In a successful model, the capital remains the same or even increases, which allows for a continued and increasing profit to be made. With our natural capital, however, it’s being squandered with very little being reinvested. Forestry is just fine if it’s done properly, but clear cutting a natural forest not only destroys the forest, it also prevents it from growing any more trees. The capital is being liquidated at an alarming rate, and being called profit! Some major shifts need to be made in our mindsets, in order to reverse this trend. We don’t need to give up our comfortable way of life to do so, but we’ll need to make a few changes in order to accomplish it.
BILL: Are there other cost-effective things that real estate and property owners can do to their existing properties to save on energy cost?
STEVE: Absolutely, I’ve already mentioned the savings potential from switching to CF lights, but there are several other things you can do. A very cost-effective action is to have a Home Energy Audit. This is an audit of your property to determine energy use and wastage. Based on the audit’s findings, you may be eligible for rebates towards improving your energy efficiency. The audit will indicate where your property is losing heat, and where electricity and natural gas are being wasted. The auditor may use tools such as a thermal imaging camera, which takes a heat picture of your property to see where heat is being lost. This is effective in the summer as well, for detecting any losses of cold air from inside an air conditioned house. The audit report will make recommendations for specific energy saving actions to be taken, and will include things like replacing light bulbs, showerheads and duct filters, adding insulation to basement/crawlspace walls and in an attic space, as well as applying caulking or weather stripping around doors and windows. A programmable thermostat is something that can also be added easily and will not only save energy costs by reducing waste, it also has the potential to increase property value. Finally, other actions such as closing blinds or curtains during the brightest parts of the day and opening windows at night will all reduce the need for air conditioner cooling, without costing much money. A long term action would also be to plant shade trees in front of south-facing windows. Once the trees mature, during the summer this will prevent excessive solar gain into the house but will allow for wanted solar gain and sunlight during winter months.
BILL: What energy-saving features should they look for in future
properties before buying?
STEVE: If any appliances come with the property, they should be Energy Star rated. Basement and attic surfaces should be insulated. A programmable thermostat is a bonus, but can be easily installed at any time for less than $100. In terms of heating and cooling, a high efficiency natural gas or electric furnace will save money as will a high efficiency air conditioner. However, a ground source heat pump can provide both benefits at very high efficiencies, with no cost other than the electricity required to run the pumps. Regardless of the heating or cooling system, a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) is a very desirable item to look for. The building’s ventilation system removes moisture and stale air and replaces it with fresh air, but it also removes any heat you’ve added and vents it outside. In warmer months, this also means that you’re air conditioning the outside as well. A HRV transfers heat between the outgoing and the incoming air streams. A HRV will help maintain temperature inside the building, which provides tremendous cost savings due to a reduced heating and/or cooling load.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my interview with Steve King, the Green Geek.
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