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Efficient Home

Realities of Eco-Friendly Living

By Tony Regan, Tribune Brand Publishing

Group effort: Learning to adjust to realities of eco-friendly living

It’s just after noon on a Saturday and the temperature hit a steamy 97 degrees. The yard work is finished, your morning tasks are complete and it’s time to cool off. Maybe a quick jump in the pool does the trick. Maybe it’s an ice-cold shower. Or maybe, it’s cranking the air conditioner until your home is colder than a meat locker. Life is good – until your electric bill arrives.

Orlando resident Lindsey White regularly faced a $200 monthly electric bill until she moved into a more modern apartment and immediately noticed a big (and welcome) change. “I was paying $160 to $200 (every month) and noticed everyone in the building was complaining about the cost. So I upgraded to an apartment with tinted windows and treated walls. I went from a $200 bill to a $50 bill,” White says.

Of course, we all have to cool off when it’s hot, but that doesn’t mean we have to consume hundreds of dollars’ worth of electricity to be comfortable. And what about the impact we’re having on the environment? So let’s take a step back and figure out how we can be cool and eco-friendly at the same time.

Chris Castro is co-founder of IDEAS For Us (Intellectual Decisions on Environmental Awareness Solutions), a nonprofit focused on educating people about energy efficiency. “There is no silver bullet to eco-friendly living. It’s an integrated approach,” Castro says. “Education about eco-friendly solutions in our homes, workplaces and lives is the first step.”

To improve your eco-awareness, take stock of how efficient you and your family are in the following areas:

Energy

Air conditioning: “One size doesn’t fit all,” warns Kevin Burns, Orlando Utilities Commission’s conservation manager. “It’s important to have an HVAC system that’s properly sized to match your home.” Burns notes it’s actually possible to have a system that’s too large. In this case, the air conditioner will send cooling air into home but click off before the system can remove enough undesirable humidity.

Homeowners also should consider purchasing air conditioning units with a high SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) number — the unit’s cooling output during a typical season divided by amount of electricity consumed during that same period. Higher numbers indicate greater efficiency; the current SEER standard is 14. “SEER 15 seems to be a sweet spot,” Burns says. He recommends that homeowners contact their utility provider for an energy assessment. In addition, some providers offer rebates when HVAC equipment is upgraded.

LED lighting: A quick fix is always to replace outdated incandescent bulbs in your home with cost-effective, longer-lasting LED bulbs that use less energy.

Eliminate energy “vampires”: It may not be apparent, but appliances and devices such as microwave ovens, washers and dryers, dishwashers and even computers continue to consume energy even when not in use. This contributes to higher electric bills and wastes valuable electricity. One solution is to use of “smart outlets” that monitor and control the appliance’s use of electricity, even when no one is home. “Unplugging appliances is the easiest way,” Castro says. “In addition, power strips and surge protectors are simple solutions.”

Water

Water reduction: Save water by purchasing a low-flow toilet and low-flow attachments for your showers and sinks.

Water heating: Traditional hot water tanks heat electrically, constantly keeping water hot. Install a solar water heating system on your roof or purchase an on-demand natural gas water heater, which operates only when required.

Insulation

Air conditioning: “If you have leaks in your home, the AC is being wasted,” says Castro. To address this, try creating a thermal envelope by insulating the walls with at least the industry standard resistance value grade insulation. “R-19 insulation should be in your walls; insulate your roof with at least R-30. At the end of the day, insulation is the radiant barrier in your roof,” says Castro.

OUC’s Burns agrees that insulation can play a major role in reducing your air conditioning costs. “Reach out to your utility provider and have an energy assessment survey conducted,” he suggests. That way, before spending thousands to upgrade your HVAC system, you might actually spend far less getting your insulation up to par.

Windows: Use double or triple-pane film windows with low-emissivity to block out heat and ultraviolet light.

Outdoors

Landscaping: Go with low maintenance plants suitable for Orlando’s climate. Xeriscaped yards and gardens require far less water than traditionally designed landscapes. Not only will you reduce water use, you’ll cut down on fertilizer, too. Also check with your local utility to see if it offers rebates for Florida-friendly landscaping. 

The roof: Make your roof a “cool roof.” A light-colored roof reflects heat and reduces the amount of energy needed to cool the indoors. Some providers such as Orlando Utilities Commission offer rebates for cool roofs that meet Energy Star standards.

Recycling

Divert waste: Recycle food waste and scraps into a composting bin. The compost can later be used as fertilizer. Also, consider recycled products and packaging when buying goods. Finally, be sure to place items in the appropriate bins for removal and recycling. Far too many people throw perfectly recyclable containers into the trash.  

Change is Good

Homeowners in Florida and across the country continue to find new ways to go green and reduce their carbon footprint. Many, like Orlando homeowner Arin Kidd, are taking steps to initiate solutions both as individuals and as a family. “We’ve replaced windows in the house for solar energy. We use energy-efficient light bulbs. We also recycle plastic and glass products,” says Kidd. “The kids know about recycling, too. They help us recycle plastic and glass.”

Castro points out that most of these eco-friendly strategies are not just good for the environment, they are great for a family’s health and finances. He says it’s only a matter of time before green awareness becomes the norm. “As people begin to realize this, they will transform the market by demanding products that are more efficient, cheaper to operate and that reduce our impact on the environment.”