Energy Saving Ideas
High Efficiency Light Bulbs PDF Print


High Efficiency, Low Wattage Light Bulbs

Conserving Energy

High efficiency, low wattage light bulbs have been increasing in popularity over the past few years.  They are renowned for their economical use of energy and decreased heat emission in homes. By giving off less heat and using less energy, low wattage light bulbs can have a huge impact on the amount of electricity consumed and help mitigate the adverse effects of energy consumption on the environment. The Environmental Protection agency estimates that if American home owners were to change just one light bulb in their homes to a high efficiency alternative it would save enough energy to light 3 million more homes and prevent almost 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year! (Energy Star)

Saving Money

These factors can also help homeowners save a great deal of money by decreasing their lighting and cooling costs.  Using less energy to light a home will decrease electric consumption and help cut overall utility costs.  The significant decrease in heat emission from efficient light bulbs can help relieve the costs of home cooling as well.  Investing in low wattage bulbs is the perfect way to decrease the electric bill during those hot summer months when the air conditioning seemingly never ceases to run.


Due to new government efficiency standards these alternative light bulbs will soon become the mandated standard for lighting needs.  It makes sense to begin the transition to high efficiency bulbs as soon as possible. These new lights will cost more than the traditional light bulbs of the past, but will last longer and save a great deal of money at the same time. (Plain Dealer)

There are a few downsides to these products however.  The traditional fluorescent bulbs used in in the majority of offices and homes are being discontinued after July 14th 2012 because they do not meet efficiency standards.  The new high efficiency bulbs being produced to replace them will not work in the old fixtures because of reengineered ballast that will be placed in every new light bulb.  This ballast allows the bulb to operate efficiently, but its lack of compatibility with the old fixture causes quite an inconvenience.  Light bulb manufacturers suggest having an electrician rewire the existing fixtures, or for the best results just install new fixtures all together.  Although a monetary and timely inconvenience, the switch to higher efficiency bulbs will save money in the long run. (Plain Dealer)


One detriment that needs to be taken into consideration with florescent bulbs is the presence of mercury. Care must be taken when cleaning up a broken bulb or disposing of a dead one.  If the bulb is broken the toxic mercury present inside is potentially harmful if overexposure occurs.  The best advice is to clean up the bulb with plastic gloves and dispose of it properly.  Do not place it in your normal waste receptacles and do not vacuum the particles up. Because the substance is toxic, it should be disposed of separately in a plastic bag.   Some newer high efficiency bulbs are being made without mercury, but you should still consult your local lighting and waste removal representatives so you are familiar with proper disposal techniques in your area. (BBC News)

Quick Statistics

Here are some interesting statistics provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about light bulbs and their Energy Star rated products.

Potential Savings:  Each high efficiency light bulb can save approximately $6 a year in electricity costs and more than $40 during its lifetime.

Energy Efficiency: Low wattage light bulbs will on average use 75% less energy and last 6 times longer than the traditional incandescent bulb.

Heat Reduction: High efficiency light bulbs give off 75% less heat than incandescent bulbs and can help reduce the costs necessary to cool a home.

Blown Cellulose Insulation PDF Print

Problems with Fiberglass Insulation

Insulating your home from the outside elements plays a large part in determining your energy bills each month.  As much as 90% of the homes in the US are insulated with fiberglass batt insulation.  For many years, fiberglass has been the standard product of choice with builders and remodelers.  The problem is that fiberglass insulation has several downfalls.  These include:

1.       Fiberglass fibers are produced in gas fired furnaces that utilize a large amount of energy.
2.       Fiberglass is difficult to conform to all of the odd shapes and spaces inside wall cavities.
3.       Quality fiberglass installations still leave many areas and voids for air flow and leakage. (R-Value)
4.       Fiberglass insulation resists burning, however the Kraft and Foil facing can catch fire and spread. (Ask the Builder)

Solutions provided with Blown Cellulose Insulation

Blown Cellulose insulation is fast becoming a popular alternative to Fiberglass insulation.  Blown Cellulose has been in use for many years but in limited amounts.  The advantages to blown cellulose are significant.  These advantages include:

1.       High Recycled Content
2.       Excellent resistance to air flow
3.       Excellent conformity to wall shapes and spaces
4.       Fire and mold resistant
5.       Reduced energy to produce (About Saving Heat)
6.       Produces slightly better R-Value per inch of thickness (UMass Amherst)

Discussion of Benefits

Cellulose is made of 80% post-consumer recycled newsprint.  A 1500 square foot home insulated with cellulose will recycle the amount of newspaper that an individual would generate in 40 years.  If all new homes were insulated with cellulose, they would use up over 3 million tons of newsprint each year.  Yet fewer than 10% of the homes built are using cellulose insulation.

Cellulose is excellent in preventing the flow of air through a wall system because of its ability to fill voids when installed.  The moistened cellulose packs tightly around all electrical boxes, wiring, plumbing pipe and any other obstacles in the wall cavity.  This tightly packed product will reduce air infiltration through the wall by 36% to 38%.  This reduction in air flow can be as high as 70% in conjunction with a good caulk and seal package.

Cellulose is treated with chemicals to increase resistance to fire.  These products along with the densely packed cavity make it almost impossible to start a fire in the wall cavity.  Without air movement in the wall, any flame that tried to ignite would have difficulty acquiring oxygen.

Cellulose insulation requires 8 times less energy to produce when representing cost per installed R-value unit.  Some experts claim that it requires 200 times less petro energy to produce than fiberglass insulation.

Densely packed cellulose produces and R-value of 4.0 per inch of thickness compared to Fiberglass batts which only produce and R-value of 3.2 per inch of thickness.  In a 2x6 wall that has a cavity depth of 5 ½” the cellulose will produce an R-value of 22 compared to the fiberglass at 17.6.  Over the exterior of your house, this makes a huge difference in heat transfer through the walls (UMass Amherst).


Moisture Concerns

The one question that many people have about blown cellulose is the issue of the moisture that is required to make it “stick” in the stud cavity of a new home.  It is necessary to allow the walls to dry for several days after installation.  Installers can return to check moisture levels prior to covering the walls.

Initial installations of blown cellulose need to reach moisture content lower than 25% before they are covered with drywall or interior finishes.  Chemicals on the cellulose will keep mold from cultivating while the product is drying.  They also protect from future mold, as air moisture passes through the cellulose during the normal course of heating and cooling.

The question of an interior vapor barrier is a popular topic of discussion.  According to the majority of literature on the subject, a vapor barrier is not required on the interior of the wall.  By not installing an interior vapor barrier, the moisture that naturally accumulates in the wall cavity during the life of the house can pass out into the home and be eliminated.  The cellulose is treated to resist mold and is very suited to the minor humidity accumulation that occurs in this process.  A vapor barrier could restrict this flow of moisture passing out of the wall and contain it in the wall cavity, possibly causing moisture problems.

Installation of an exterior barrier such as a Tyvek® house wrap is very important to the integrity of the system because it will protect the wall cavity from infiltration by casual water.  As with any insulation, excess moisture, such as infiltrating rain water entering the wall cavity, can cause it to degrade and sag.  This sagging will create gaps in the insulation and decrease the insulations effectiveness.


Blown cellulose insulation is a good weapon in the fight for energy conservation.  It provides excellent resistance to heat transfer and enables us to reuse one of our most popular recycled products in a positive way.  The added cost to use blown cellulose is usually recovered in 3 to 4 years, which makes it a very affordable way to “green up” your home.  Consider using cellulose in the “wet” form for your next new home project or using it in the “dry” form to improve your existing home.


Solar Hot Water Heaters PDF Print
Energy is required to perform a large variety of functions in our homes.  One of the most important is the heating of water.   This is not a huge part of our monthly budget but is still a significant cost.  A simple solution that can pay substantial savings over the life of your home is to install a solar hot water heater. 

The average annual operating cost for a standard hot water heater is $500 or higher.  This is for a 50 gallon water heater with a life expectancy of 8 to 12 years.  A solar hot water heater, on the other hand requires an annual operating cost of only $50, has a capacity of 80-120 gallons and has a life expectancy of 15 to 30 years ( 

The payback for a solar hot water system is approximately 7 years.  This is due in part to the tax credit that is available from the government.  This tax credit is for 30% of the system cost and eligibility has been extended to the year 2016.  The system cost in a new home or existing is approximately the same.  The cost for an 80 gallon tank using 1 to 2 solar panels is approximately $5400 and the cost for a 120 gallon tank using 2 to 3 panels is approximately $7000(  

Another payback from solar hot water heat is the environmental benefit.  The use of solar power reduces the use of fossil fuels for heating purposes.  Carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by approximately 2000 lbs per year for each solar hot water heater.  Nitrous oxide emissions can be reduced by approximately 1 lb per year for each solar hot water heater. 

Theory of Solar Heating and Terms

Solar Constant - The rate of solar energy hitting the earth’s atmosphere assuming no loss is 429.2 BTU’s per hour per square foot.  This energy if collected for three hours without any inefficiency could power the entire earth for one year. 

Insolation - Since the earth’s atmosphere filters out much of the sun’s energy, the most efficient we can be inside the atmosphere is about 70% or 320 BTU’s per hour per square foot. 

Wavelength Conversion - Solar radiation is a stream of short wavelengths that becomes thermal energy when it is absorbed.  The thermal energy is composed of a new stream that is wavelengths that are 10 times longer. 

Greenhouse Effect - Many materials like the atmosphere will allow the passage of the shorter wavelengths of light but will not allow the returning longer wavelengths of heat to exit.  This “Greenhouse effect” is used in many solar collectors to maximize thermal energy.  

Black Body - Materials that are good at absorbing radiant energy and re-radiating that energy are called black bodies.  The most efficient black bodies can re-radiate up to 96% of the energy that arrives. 

Absorber - An absorber is that portion of the solar collector that contains the black body.  It is usually a flat black surface with a high absorbance rate.  It is responsible for converting the radiant energy into heat. 

Flat Plate Collector - This is the most efficient type of collector in areas where the temperature can get below freezing.  It is made of an absorber, heat exchanger and also includes insulation, glazing, plumbing and the casing to enclose the entire assembly.  These collectors are usually set up facing to the South and tilted at an angle to catch the most amount of radiant energy.  The other advantage to Flat Plate Collectors is that they can absorb diffuse radiation that is produced on cloudy days. 

Convection - This is the basic form of heat transfer that occurs in a solar collector.  A cool liquid or gas is heated in the collector and then moves away to be replaced by more cool material.  This simple process allows for the continual heating of water during times when radiant energy is available ( 

Basic System Operation

The solar hot water system can be either a one-tank or two-tank system.   

A One-tank system has one tank that is heated from the solar system as well as the conventional heating system. 

Two-tank systems have one tank that only heats water using the solar heat system.  This water is then transferred into a second tank that can be heated using a conventional heater if needed.

In an existing home scenario, there is a cost saving option that is available.  In certain circumstances, the existing water heater can be integrated into the solar hot water system.  The cost savings in utilizing the existing hot water heater can be as high as $800.  There are a few basic requirements that are necessary:

Existing electric hot water heaters can be utilized in a one tank system to work with a solar hot water system if thery are less than 5 years old and are at least 80 gallons.  The reason not to use electric hot water heaters older than 5 years is because they will have deposits in the bottom of them that can cause problems in the functioning of the solar hot water system.  If they are smaller than 80 gallons, they do not have enough capacity to be retrofitted to include the solar system.  With the electric hot water heater, the tank will be retrofitted to act as the storage tank and the back up heat source in one. 

Existing gas hot water heaters can be used as the back up in a two-tank solar hot water system.  A separate solar storage tank is installed and then feeds in to the cold water supply of the gas back up heater.  The back up heater will only ignite if the heated water from the solar tank cannot keep up with demand.  The problem with the two-tank system is that it requires additional space that some people may not have in their basements.  The gas hot water heater can be an older heater and can be as little as 50 gallons since it is only being used as the backup.

In warm climates, the cold water is transferred to the roof using a pump and lines to the solar collectors on the roof.  The water is heated and then is returned to the storage tank.  The water from this solar tank is now the supply water that goes into the conventional water heater portion of the system.   

In colder climates, a non-freezing transfer fluid is pumped to the roof and passes through the solar collectors.  It returns to the water heater and then gives off heat through a heat exchanger inside the water heater (   

The conventional portion of both systems will only ignite if the solar portion cannot keep up with the demand for hot water.  Most solar systems will provide 70% of the required hot water.  The burner element in the conventional portion of the heater will take care of heating the other 30% of the water ( 


Solar hot water heat is a simple and effective way to conserve energy and help “green” up the planet.  The payback is approximately 7 years and the systems are simple in operation and durable enough to last sometimes twice as long as conventional systems.  Explore the possibilities with your local solar energy contractor.  If you are in the St. Louis, Mo area, please use our resources list for a recommended contractor.
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