Before Going Solar – Create An Energy Conservation Plan & Checklist

by Helen Deffenbacher

Our nonprofit organization supports all green energy technologies. Green energy includes renewable sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal, but also it includes energy efficiency and conservation. As the popular saying goes, “The greenest energy of all is that which is never used.”

Energy conservation is one of the easiest things individuals and communities can do to reduce our carbon footprint and help to mitigate climate change. Each action step we take, large and small, enables us to use energy more efficiently and sparingly and to save money.

Enormous reserves of this greenest energy of all have yet to be tapped, but as more and more business and home owners take measures to become more energy efficient, utilizing tried and true as well as new ideas and products, tens of thousands more green jobs will be added to the workforce, further boosting our local economies, while benefiting the environment.

It’s also cost-effective to make our homes and businesses as energy efficient as possible before going solar. It decreases the required size of a solar system, saving a substantial amount of money in upfront costs. Heating water accounts for a significant portion of electricity bills, so you may want to install a water heating system first, especially if your household uses a lot of hot water. It’s the next-to-least expensive of the three types of solar systems.

The solar air system, used primarily for daytime space heating and secondarily for domestic hot water, is the least expensive of the three types of solar systems and also provides an excellent auxiliary energy source.

Either of these options, combined with an ongoing energy conservation plan, can significantly reduce your energy costs, especially over the lifespan of the solar panels, which generally last 25 to 30 years. Solar electric systems (photovoltaics) are moderate to high in cost, depending, of course, on how much of your energy requirements you want the system to provide and the size array you select.

Getting back to energy conservation: Switching to light bulbs that use the least amount of energy and replacing old appliances with energy-efficient models are two big steps to consider. Free or low-cost steps such as plugging air leaks (see a link to “how to” information on the sample checklist below), installing a programmable thermostat, hanging laundry on drying racks or clothes lines–plus many other free and low-cost action steps also save significant amounts of energy and money.

A great number of websites offer tips on energy conservation. These can seem overwhelming if we try to do too many of them all at once. Creating an energy-efficient home is an ongoing process, something to work toward in our daily lives while keeping this long-term goal in mind.

The best energy conservation checklists aren’t static but are subject to revision as we discover more information and tips and learn about new and innovative energy-efficiency products and practices. Today, millions of Americans are changing the ways they think about and use energy, and that’s having a profound impact on local economies all across our nation.

When we take charge of our home or business energy conservation plan and create our own checklist that works well within our time frame and budget, this becomes an enjoyable pursuit or even “hobby.” It’s one in which we can and should encourage our children and grandchildren to help create and maintain, especially when energy and the choices we make today are going to greatly impact their lives. I’ve listed several websites, below, where they can learn about renewable energy and ways to help their families save energy and money—plus many more resources for grownups.

The recommended first step has two parts: an energy audit and an energy conservation checklist. An energy audit gives you an overall plan while a checklist is a fun way for you and your family to record ideas and web links as you discover them.  Even if you choose to hire an energy efficiency expert to complete a home or business audit for you, it’s good to check out what it entails, especially if you are a do-it-yourselfer and would like to complete as much of the recommended work as possible.

RESOURCES – HOME ENERGY AUDIT

Energy.Gov has videos and publications on do-it-yourself home energy audits, including the downloadable PDF, Guide to Home Energy Assessmentshttp://energy.gov/public-services/homes/home-weatherization/home-energy-audits
Home Energy Saver is an interactive do-it-yourself home energy assessment tool. The website was developed and is maintained by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with sponsorship from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and others:  http://www.HomeEnergySaver.lbl.gov/consumer
Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) provides a database of Home Energy Professionals, searchable by state or zip code, a company’s name, or trade, for example: energy auditors, air-sealing contractors, insulation contractors, renewable energy contractors. www.resnet.us

 
ADDITIONAL WEBSITES
Cleaner Greener Lincoln (Solar Energy) http://lincoln.ne.gov/city/mayor/energy/solar.htm
Energy.Gov – Energy Saver 101 http://energy.gov/energysaver/energy-saver
Energy Savers Guide: Tips on Saving Money and Energy at Home http://energy.gov/energysaver/downloads/energy-savers-guide
Energy Star www.energystar.gov
Kilowattchers – Energy Conservation Challenge for Lincoln Electric System Customers http://www.kilowattchers.com
Lincoln Electric System’s Money-Saving Ideas http://www.les.com/your_home/money_tips.aspx
Nebraska Public Power District – Ways to Save Energy & Money http://www.nppd.com/save-energy
Omaha Public Power District’s Road Map to Energy Savings http://oppd.com/prodconsump10g/groups/web/documents/webcontent/22_008051.pdf
Omaha Public Power District’s Watt Detector Program – in partnership with local libraries http://www.oppd.com/AimGreen/EnergyInformationCenter/22_006850

VIDEOS – U.S. Department of Energy
Energy 101: Home Energy Assessment
http://energy.gov/public-services/homes/home-weatherization/home-energy-audits
Energy 101: Solar PV http://energy.gov/videos/energy-101-solar-pv
Heating & Cooling – Energy.Gov http://energy.gov/public-services/homes/heating-cooling
Saving Electricity http://energy.gov/public-services/homes/saving-electricity
Tips: Renewable Energy http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/tips-renewable-energy

BOOKS
Insulate & Weatherize, by Bruce Harley
2014 Solar Electricity Handbook, by Michael Boxwell

INCENTIVES & FINANCING
Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) for Nebraska
http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/index.cfm?re=0&ee=0&spv=0&st=0&srp=1&state=NE
Energy-Efficient Mortgages – Eligible renewables and other technologies include: Passive Solar Space Heat, Solar Water Heat, Solar Space Heat, Photovoltaics, and Daylighting
http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=US36F&re=0&ee=0
Nebraska Energy Office’s Dollar and Energy Saving Loans are offered statewide by the Nebraska Energy Office and the state’s lending institutions: http://www.neo.ne.gov/loan/
Solar energy systems installed before December 31, 2016 also qualify for a 30% federal tax credit. For more information, click on this link:
http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/homeowner.cfm?state=NE&re=0&ee=0

WEATHERIZATION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
Nebraska Energy Office’s Information and Contacts on Low Income Weatherization Assistance Program – Frequently Asked Questions
http://www.neo.ne.gov/wx/wxindex.htm#FAQ
Nebraska Energy Office’s Weatherization Assistance Center
http://www.neo.ne.gov/wx/news/wxassist.htm

FUN WEBSITES FOR KIDS
Energy Kids http://www.eia.gov/kids
Energy Quest http://energyquest.ca.gov/index.html
Energy Star Kids http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=kids.kids_index
PowerUp www.powerupthegame.org

CREATING A CHECKLIST
The following checklist is one I put together as former co-chair of the Green Neighborhood Council, one of the five councils that make up the Green Omaha Coalition. If you want, use it as a starting point to create your own energy conservation checklist, giving certain items your preferred priority and adding new ideas and web links as you and your family discover them.

A SAMPLE CHECKLIST OF WAYS TO SAVE ENERGY & MONEY

Free or Low-Cost
√  Plug air leaks. For how-to information, log onto: http://ase.org/resources/home-building-efficiency-tips-plugging-air-leaks
√  Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms.
√  Use natural light whenever possible.
√  Focus your lighting on tasks, using a lamp instead of an overhead lighting fixture that requires several bulbs.
√  Plug home electronics into power strips and turn the power strips off when the equipment is not being used.
√  Install gasket seals (available at hardware stores) under the cover plates on electrical outlets along outside walls
√  During cold weather, instead of adjusting the thermostat, put on a sweater or jacket and keep throw blankets handy.  Put extra covers on beds as needed.
√  In hot weather, wear lightweight and light-colored clothing.
√  During the winter, open curtains or shades on south-facing windows to allow sunlight to warm your home. Close them at night to keep the heat in.
√  Install an Energy Star qualified programmable thermostat.
√  In hot weather, use shades, drapes and other window coverings on south and west-facing windows to keep out excess heat.
√  During hot weather months, use a fan whenever possible, instead of cooling the entire house.
√  Set your water heater at 120° or 130° when home and the lowest setting when away.
√  Wash your clothes in cold or warm water.
√  Run your dishwasher when fully loaded.
√  Use the “air dry” setting on your dishwasher.
√  Choose the shortest cycle that properly cleans your dishes and clothes.
√  Adjust the water level on your clothes washer according to the load size.
√  Use clothes lines and/or drying racks instead of your dryer, especially for laundry you don’t wear.  If you air-dry your wearables, you can get wrinkles out by tossing a damp cloth in with them and drying them for 10-15 minutes.
√  Keep your dryer’s lint trap clean to keep it working efficiently.
√  Clean or replace dirty filters as needed on your furnace, air conditioner, vacuum cleaner, and other household equipment to keep them working at optimum levels, requiring less energy.
√  Cook with small appliances when possible: microwave, toaster oven, electric skillet, and slow cooker, for example.
√  Set your refrigerator temperature between 36° F and 42° F and the freezer between -5° F and +6° F. A small thermometer in each of them will help you set it correctly.
√  Reduce, reuse, recycle, & repair. Each time you do, you’re saving energy.
√  Buy recycled products to save energy.

Pricier but cost-effective over the long-term
√  When replacing old appliances, computers, table lamps, and light fixtures, choose Energy Star products, which save energy and money in the long run. For more information, visit: www.energystar.gov
√  Replace your less energy-efficient light bulbs with ones that save energy and money over their lifetime, starting with those that are most-frequently used. The Alliance to Save Energy provides a series of six videos on energy-efficient lighting: http://www.ase.org/resources/buying-best-bulb-energy-efficient-lighting-video-tips
√  Use outdoor solar lighting: http://www.energy.gov/energysaver/articles/outdoor-solar-lighting
√  Add Insulation as needed: http://www.energy.gov/energysaver/articles/adding-insulation-existing-home  Also: http://www.energy.gov/energysaver/articles/where-insulate-home
√  Purchase an Energy Star qualified water heater http://www.ase.org/resources/water-efficiency-tankless-water-heaters 

FREE WORKSHOPS ON ENERGY CONSERVATION AND SOLAR ENERGY
Please watch our calendar for announcements about these events, which are always free and open to the public.