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Save a few bucks, save the world

The state of Hawai'i has a few suggestions on how to make your home energy-efficient

Conservation has become a bad word in today’s consumer society–to many it means giving up comfort, convenience and style. But more and more businesses and now consumers are finding conservation may not only be cool, but it may also line the wallet.

Anyone looking to find ways to cut household costs and, as a lucky byproduct, get hip and go green should take a look at the recently released guide for energy performance, comfort and value in Hawai’i homes put out by Hawai’i’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT). Although the report, available at [www.hawaii.gov/dbedt], is designed as a guide for home builders and architects to use in constructing new energy-efficient homes, the report is also a good resource for learning how to make smart choices in your current home.

The big three

There are little ways and there are big ways to gain energy efficiency at home. The three ‘big bang’ techniques for Hawai’i are solar water heaters, radiant barriers and natural ventilation.

Solar water heaters can reduce water heating costs by up to 80 or 90 percent compared to conventional water heaters. According to the report, with the right-sized solar water system, a family of four can save nearly 40 percent on their monthly electricity bill–over $600 per year at a 14.5 cent per kilowatt price, and that’s low compared to the state’s 18.33 cents average kilowatt price in 2005.

With the state’s high energy costs and current income tax credits and utility rebate programs, the cost of buying and installing a new solar system is paid back in savings in less than four years. You can save even more if you decrease the amount of hot water you use by simply installing aerators in faucets and low-flow showerheads, which can reduce usage by 50 percent. Bonus point: During those not-so-uncommon power outages, you still have hot water!

Radiant barriers are the next big bang, but are generally harder to install in current homes and more often apply to new construction because proper installation is key to getting the benefits. Radiant barriers are thin sheets of reflective material that reflect heat rather than absorb and re-emit it. When done right, they can reduce ceiling temperatures by 18 degrees F and indoor temperatures by 4 degrees F–and that means people feel cooler. By eliminating the need for air conditioning, which is one of the big electricity sinks in a house, families can save some $400 per year on their power bill.

As it turns out, natural ventilation is healthier, too. Keeping windows open helps flush out indoor pollutants–which can be two to five times higher than outside. These pollutants include volatile organic compounds, pollen, mold spores and dust mites, all of which take a toll on your health, particularly for people who suffer from allergies or asthma–and Hawai’i has one of the highest asthma rates in the nation.

Although it’s nice to have air conditioning to keep a controlled temperature inside, people who live in such homes actually suffer greater stress from temperature and humidity when they go outdoors. And research by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers shows people living in naturally ventilated homes can adapt better to a wider range of temperature and humidity conditions.

The little stuff

There are also small ways to save the world. Simple choices, from picking light-colored matte paint for walls and ceilings to buying energy-efficient appliances, can make a big difference.

The littlest way to save big, though, is to switch from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs. According to DBEDT’s report, only 10 percent of the energy used by incandescent bulbs produces light, the other 90 percent goes to unnecessary heat. Not only that, but incandescent bulbs usually only last for up to 2,000 hours while fluorescent bulbs last up to 10 times that. HECO also offers rebates on compact fluorescent bulbs and other energy-efficient appliances.

Appliances are a bigger purchase, but also contribute more to the bill–electricity in the kitchen alone accounts for almost 40 percent of total energy used at home. Refrigerators can account for close to 20 percent of the bill, while cooking on electrical appliances accounts for up to 10 percent. The report offers tips for selecting and installing refrigerators, ranges, ovens, laundry machines, dishwashers and, if you must, air conditioners.

The big savings

So, what’s the bottom line? DBEDT’s report looks at energy-efficiency savings between an energy-efficient house and an inefficient air-conditioned one. The energy-efficient house saves up to $831-$1,131 per year over the inefficient home.

Energy-efficient choices also save more than money. Using less energy, especially in Hawai’, which depends so heavily on converting oil to make electricity, translates into using less fossil fuel and emitting less carbon dioxide. An energy efficient home can easily emit 8,000 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide a year than a regular home.

When going green means getting green in your pocket–maybe conservation isn’t so bad after all. 


Conservation Tip Carbon Savings

Replace 3 light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs Save 300 lbs of CO2

Run the dishwasher only when full Save 100 lbs

Adjust the thermostat up two degrees in winter and down two degrees in summer Save 2,000 lbs

Set the waterheater no higher than 120<0×02DA>F Save 550 lbs.

Clean or replace a/c filters Save 350 lbs.

Plant a tree (good for shade, too!) Save 2,000 lbs

Insulate your walls and roof Save 2,000 lbs.

Unplug un-used electronics Save 1,000 lbs

Replace old appliances Save Ö a lot