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Energy Saving Strategies for Older Homes

If you live in an older home, you know it’s a challenge to keep energy costs manageable, especially during cold weather. According to articles posted on digitaljournal.com and lfpress.com, there are a variety of steps you can take to keep your home warm and efficient, and keep your energy bills lower:

  1. Consider insulating attic spaces. This can have a tremendous impact on a home’s energy efficiency, and significantly reduce heating and cooling costs. The best types of insulation available now are blow-in spray foam options.
  2. Add insulation to the roof and exterior walls, as well as to the basement foundation walls and floor slab.
  3. Seal cracks, leaks and holes. These retrofits will help reduce heat losses in winter and heat gains in summer. Common spots where air leakage occurs include electrical boxes, plumbing, wiring and ducts that run through exterior walls or into the attic, around chimneys and exhaust fans in attic spaces, and where the first floor joists rest on the foundation wall. Windows and doors with worn or missing gaskets and weather-stripping or those not well-sealed to the surrounding walls are also locations of air leaks.
  4. If it’s feasible from a budgetary standpoint, replace old windows and doors and choose new, energy efficient options. Since this is expensive, adding storm shutters and clear plastic coating to windows can help an old home be more efficient. For homeowners who can’t replace doors and windows, adding window stripping and caulk is also a good idea.
  5. Insulate the hot water heater and associated pipes, and keep the thermostat set at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. If possible, consider a tankless water-heating unit. These are an upfront investment, but they save money in the long-term, because they only heat water when it’s needed.
  6. Enact home heating zones. This means strategizing to heat a home based on usage. For example, heat the downstairs of an old home during the day, and the upstairs at night.
  7. If an old home also has old appliances, it may be worthwhile to invest in newer energy saving models. While there are some things owners of older homes can’t control without big remodeling investments, this is a less expensive alternative.
  8. Just because a home is old doesn’t mean it can’t take advantage of new technology, like home automation systems. A home automation system can allow owners of older homes to control the systems located within, even remotely, including the thermostat.
  9. Above-grade walls in older homes are typically wood frame, and there may be fiberglass batt insulation in the stud cavity. To increase insulation values in the exterior walls, the existing interior drywall and polyethylene can be removed and a new second row of wood framing installed. Insulation and a new polyethylene vapor retarder and air barrier can then be added to the new stud wall complete with new gypsum board finish.
  10. Replace existing single- or double-glazed windows with double- or triple-glazed windows that meet or exceed the Energy Star rating for your location. Energy-efficient windows often have low-e coatings, argon-gas fill and low-conductivity insulating glass edge spacers.
  11. Below-grade walls are often concrete or concrete block, and they may either be uninsulated or have wood-frame walls with fiberglass batt insulation that were added some time after the house was built. One way you can increase the thermal resistance of the foundation walls is to install foam board insulation directly against the inside surface of the foundation wall. Be sure to insulate and air seal the area between the floor joists where they rest on the foundation wall. For the basement floor slab, if you have adequate ceiling to floor height, you may be able to install extruded polystyrene board insulation over the existing slab and then add new finished flooring.

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The 10 Most Energy-Efficient States In America

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has released its annual ranking of energy-efficient states in the union. The top ten states yielded no surprises:

  1. Massachusetts
  2. California
  3. New York
  4. Oregon
  5. Connecticut
  6. Rhode Island
  7. Vermont
  8. Washington
  9. Maryland
  10. Illinois

However, several states not typically associated with energy efficiency made significant strides in improving their status. Mississippi, Maine, Kansas, West Virginia, and Ohio all received accolades. Mississippi, which was ranked on ACEEE’s “most in need of improvement” list, passed laws in 2013 that called for a mandatory energy code in commercial and state-owned buildings. In June, Maine also passed sweeping legislation to fund energy-efficiency programs that had long been neglected. Kansas and West Virginia updated their building codes, and Ohio augmented its utility programs to meet energy-efficiency resource standards (EERS). The full rankings as shown on a map.

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Queen Elizabeth Christens World’s Most Environmentally Friendly Building

The structure at One Angel Square looks like no other. Its 14 stories bulge at the middle. Each floor is wrapped in windows of a highly reflective material that gives the building the appearance of a repurposed pie tin. But One Angel Square, despite its somewhat aesthetically challenging looks, has a major upside—it is the most environmentally friendly building in the world. According to an article posted on Link2, the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), an internationally acclaimed system of assessing buildings, gave One Angel Square a score of 95.16%, the highest ever awarded.

The building’s many environmentally-friendly features include power generated from crops grown on the group’s farms; heating and cooling the premises by drawing air below the basement and redistributing it at the earth’s core temperature; and a double skin façade that acts as a ‘duvet’ to insulate the offices in the winter and ventilate it in the summer.

The building, which is the new head office of a company named the Co-operative Group, is located in Manchester. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh toured and presided over the official opening in November.

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EMerge Alliance Expands Its Focus to include Homes and Small Businesses

The EMerge® Alliance has long promoted direct-current (DC) power distribution standards for buildings. The organization (of which Nextek is a founding member) has announced the launch of a new residential DC power standards initiative to advance the use of DC power in homes and small businesses. As the number and percentage of semiconductor-based devices, which run only on DC power, continue to grow, it only makes sense to find ways to connect them to DC power sources. This would eliminate conversion of AC power to DC, which results in power loss to heat.

The residential initiative will also include hybrid use of alternating current (AC) and DC power by defining interfaces with existing AC power systems at various points in the system. The goal of the approach is to provide plug-and-play DC convenience for homes and small businesses for such uses as personal electronics and home automation equipment, as well as EV charging and direct support of the expanding use of USB, wireless charging and other low-voltage DC power distribution methods.

According to EMerge® Alliance Chairman Brian Patterson, the increasing percentage of home electronics running on DC power, combined with the rapid expansion of the residential solar market in the U.S., makes DC power distribution a clear opportunity for homes to achieve energy savings and grid independence. “We have seen the sustainability, flexibility and reliability advantages that DC power provides to commercial building spaces, and it’s time to extend these benefits to homes and small businesses,” Patterson said. “DC power distribution would not only maximize the efficiency and ROI of rooftop solar panels by enabling them to directly power consumer electronics, appliances, LEDs and electric vehicles (EVs) without conversion losses, it could also give homeowners a choice to either store excess DC power or continue selling it back to power companies.”

The Alliance will next form a technical committee to identify needs and opportunities for residential DC power standards. EMerge® Alliance members will collaborate with organizations like IEEE, the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology, and NextEnergy Center’s NextHome, a DC-connected house demonstration project, to determine best practices for implementation.

The EMerge® Alliance is an open industry association leading the rapid adoption of safe direct-current (DC) power distribution standards for buildings. The Alliance is the only application standards development group working on advancing the use of DC power in residential and commercial buildings.

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Nextek CEO Paul Savage Discusses EMerge Goals at Austin Event

Nextek CEO Paul Savage was among the participants in a discussion of the EMerge Alliance’s organization and future plans at an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Central Texas Section panel on July 8. Savage spoke about the Alliance’s goal of achieving rapid adoption of safe direct current  (DC) power distribution in commercial buildings through the development of EMerge standards, as well as what Nextek is doing to further that cause.

Savage was joined on the panel by BJ Sonnenberg, Manager of Business Development for Emerson Network Power, and Dr. Mietek Glinkowski, Global Head of Technology for ABB. The moderator was David E. Geary, Director of Engineering for StarLine DC Solutions.

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NextHome, a Direct Current connected home, is Coming to Detroit

NextEnergy's VP of Business & Technology, Jim Saber, has announced the NextHome project, a direct current based home that generates and runs on renewable DC power. The home will be delivered to the NextEnergy building soon, and Nextek Power Systems will install a DC power network system. In Phase 2 (fall 2013), we will begin integration of appliances, consumer electronics, lighting and control systems, solar-photovoltaic power, communications network, smart meter, vehicle charging technologies and more. On completion, the home will be available for viewing by the public. For the complete story, see Mr. Saber’s blog on the NextEnergy site.

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3D Solar Panel Arrangement Can Maximize Generated Power

Researchers at the Australian National University have created a three-dimensional arrangement for solar panels that could expose 20 percent more surface area to the sun, and improve power generation by about 15 percent. The system is designed to work with solar tracking panel systems (motorized units that move the panels to face the sun as it tracks across the sky). Therefore, they would have limited use on homes and other smaller structures. The researchers envision the system be employed at designated parks around city fringes, which would lease portions of their land to owners of grid connecting solar systems. The 3D solar tracking systems would use one-sixth of the area of traditional solar arrays, making them more compatible with dual land uses, including agriculture.

Additional information is available in an interview with Ross Edgar, PhD from ANU’s Research School of Engineering.

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A Passive Home Can Aggressively Lower Energy Costs

What if your home could stay warm without a heating system, or cool without air conditioning? The idea may sound impossible, but new construction techniques have made such buildings a reality in a few places in the country. Passive buildings are constructed to be completely airtight, and employ advanced equipment such as a vapor barrier and a mechanical, balanced ventilation system with heat recovery. They typically show overall energy savings of 60 to 70 percent and 90 percent of space heating over a traditional home.

The concept of passive construction has gained popularity in economically troubled Europe, where about 20,000 of the homes exist, but there are fewer than 100 in the United States—so far. The idea may begin to catch on as homeowners and building managers continue to strive for lower energy costs for heating and air conditioning.

For a look at a passive building, see this article in the Jackson Sun.

The US Passive House Institute has a variety of resources to help people determine if this advanced construction model is for them.

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Study Shows Energy Hogs Default on Mortgages One-Third More Often

Thought you could get away with leaving all the lights on or running appliances when you don’t need to? Think again. A recent study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Community Capital and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting energy efficiency, has determined that homeowners who are not conscious of energy saving practices are one-third more likely to default on their mortgages. The study included 71,000 homes from 38 states and the District of Columbia. The sample was restricted to single-family, owner-occupied houses whose loans originated during 2002-2012 and were used for purchase only. About 35 percent of the houses in the sample were ENERGY STAR-rated for efficiency, with the rest forming a control group. The study determined that the odds of a mortgage default on an ENERGY STAR residence were one-third lower than those of a home in the control group.

According to Cliff Majersik, executive director of IMT, “It stands to reason that energy-efficient homes should have a lower default rate, because the owners of these homes save money on their utility bills, and they can put that money toward their mortgage payments.”

The authors believe that lenders should require an energy audit as part of the mortgage underwriting process, and that federal housing agencies could promote underwriting flexibility for mortgages on energy-efficient homes. They will recommend that Congress consider their findings as they create legislation to improve the accuracy of mortgage underwriting.

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A New Way of Thinking About the Future of Energy Management

Rapid changes in the way business and industry think about energy generation and management, including the implementation of renewable resources and the Smart Grid, have led to a new term to describe the field: Transactive Energy. Nextek Power Systems has been developing aspects of this technology for years. We just never called it that.

The term has proven so popular that a Transactive Energy Conference 2013 was held in Portland, OR last week. Attendees had workshop options like “Business Models and Value Realization,” “Transactive Energy Functional Requirements” and “Enabling Cyber-Physical Infrastructure (theory-Grid Integration).” The working description of Transactive Energy is “involving techniques for managing the generation, consumption or flow of electric power within an electric power system through the use of economic or market based constructs while considering grid reliability constraints.”

Essentially this means developing technology that decentralizes power distribution, providing input and control at the consumer end, as well as the producer end. Instead of power coming exclusively from a utility, transactive energy can also come from renewable sources located at the user’s site, for example, a solar panel array on a building roof. The fact that energy is produced at both locations means consumers can reduce reliance on the main power grid, lowering costs and maintaining power during outages or cyber attacks. And excess on-site energy can be used to charge electric vehicles or even be sold back to the grid to further offset costs and provide energy to other users.

Transactive energy also includes tremendous advancements in energy monitoring and control. Currently, Nextek is partnering with a variety of organizations to develop a wireless energy control system that is capable of “learning” the habits and needs of a user’s environment, and making energy-saving decisions more quickly and effectively than through human control.

Having a name for this increasingly important field of study helps lend some credibility to it, but doesn’t change the fact that Nextek is committed to playing a vital role in bringing the new technology it represents from the drawing board to implementation.

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Nextek Provides Solar Power for Hurricane Sandy Victims

Nextek Power Systems this week provided its STAR (Stationary or Transportable Available Resource) solar power generation trailer to a Long Island family still living with friends because of Hurricane Sandy. The home of the Babington family of Amityville has been uninhabitable since the October 2012 superstorm, and they say their insurance company has failed to move to fund its replacement.  They’ve been staying with friends since the disaster, but recently, thanks to efforts by their local United Way, a company named Hunter Insulation offered a small, solar powered house for them. The company installed it in their front yard. Nextek’s Bohemia, Long Island office became involved in the effort, and contributed the STAR trailer to provide electrical power.

The story was aired on the local ABC affiliate and can be seen on their web site.

Hunter Insulation hopes to acquire a Federal Emergency Management Administration contract to provide the pre-fab homes wherever disasters like Sandy occur.

Nextek’s STAR trailers have been deployed around the western hemisphere, particularly in Haiti, to provide rural inhabitants with electrical power, often for the first time in their lives. The system generates power from solar panels and stores it in batteries. A portion of the power can then be transferred to portable batteries for use in local homes, powering lights, cooking stoves and other small devices. For more information on STAR trailers, visit the Nextek web site.

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Nextek Makes News in USA Today

Nextek Power Systems, Inc. was listed among the companies at the forefront of renewable energy technology in a USA Today web article on May 12. The article (located below a large video) concerned tying improved battery technology to renewable power generation systems, such as solar or wind. Those renewables have always worked well when the power source is available. But when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, those systems have had to revert back to using AC grid power. Better and long-lasting batteries mean that homes or buildings powered by renewables don’t have to use AC power as often, if at all.

A recent test by Nextek that was authorized by the U.S. Army’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) in Champaign, IL have shown that an entire building can be powered by solar, with enough energy left over to store in batteries, charge electric vehicle stations or even sell back to the AC energy companies.

The future of renewables is looking brighter almost every day, and Nextek is proud to be one of the companies lighting the way.

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