This is the first post in a series on the basics of energy use in your home. This series will be a foundation of knowledge upon which to build more complex understandings and discuss more detailed topics.
So, let’s start as basic as it gets: Where does the typical house use energy?
1. Heating: Most climates in the U.S. have periods when the outdoor temperature is less than the desired indoor temperature. We use energy from many different sources (oil, gas, electricity, solar, wood, etc.), distributed in several different ways (furnaces, boilers, heat pumps, wall heaters, etc.) to raise the indoor temperature. Here in Western Washington this is the primary focus of our efforts as a business.
2. Cooling: Just like heating, many areas of the U.S. have periods of time when outside temperatures are too hot for comfort. Almost exclusively we use electricity to power air conditioners to bring the indoor temperature down to a comfortable level.
3. Water Heating: Readily available potable hot water is, in my opinion, on par with the internet when ranking modern marvels. That is a bold statement considering the amount of time I spend on Reddit. A world without a hot shower, no thank you. Hot water is used for other stuff like dishwashing and washing clothes, but really, how did humans live in close proximity to one another before hot showers? Like heating systems, we use a variety of fuels and systems to provide this luxury to our homes.
4. Electronics: phone(s), laptops, routers, modems, televisions, rock tumblers, fans, heated beds for your cats, power tools etc.
5. Appliances: washer, dryer, stove, grill, dishwasher, refrigerator, freezer… most use electricity, some gas or propane.
6. Lighting: in the same league of importance as hot water and the internet… unless you live in an historic home from the late 1800’s, these use electricity
7. Water: A significant amount of energy/resources goes into providing water to our homes for a variety of purposes. Whether you have a well with a pump or get your water from a municipal supply, getting potable water to your house is a big use of energy.
8. Misc. Systems and Luxuries: septic pumps, hot tubs, pool pumps, pool heaters, saunas, driveway heaters, koi ponds
So which category uses the most? Tough to say. Each home is different, unique, and special…like every American child born after 1980 (for the record I am one, and I am awesome, my parents say so). In a sweeping generalization, heating/cooling uses the most followed by water heating… then usually either appliances or lighting.
Occupant behavior, home design (including appliances), and climate are the big drivers of how a home uses energy. Here in Western Washington, heating is usually our largest focus when trying to address energy use. In Florida it is usually cooling. Appliances will be a much larger portion of a home’s energy use for a family of 7 than for a working couple that is rarely home. Uniqueness in a home can be either a positive or a negative (just like kids these days, no matter what their parents say) and the reason it uses more or less energy than most. Our focus is on making a household uniquely more efficient by changing occupant behaviors and home design, since we can’t change the climate to meet individual needs.
We can end this discussion/blog right now if we all agree to stop using the items listed above. But we’d be out of business, so let’s scrap that idea.
Saving energy at the expense of all of our modern conveniences and luxuries is far from a victory. Discussion here will be devoted to using energy in our homes better, more efficiently, through cost effective upgrades and practical changes to behaviors. We can be *warm in the winter and comfortable in the summer. We can have hot water and enjoy well lit rooms. We can have fresh, healthy air without cold drafts. We can have all these things while being more efficient and without breaking the bank.
Up next we’ll talk about the most common ways that energy is wasted within some of these categories. Or perhaps a discussion about the term efficiency, I haven’t decided yet.
*I have to admit to being a hypocrite regarding this point; I keep my house pretty cold in the winter, sacrificing comfort for cold hard cash. But you shouldn’t do that, it is tough on your pets.