Tag Archives: homeimprovements

No Coal this Christmas Season - Personal Climate Action you can take now

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."

Over the last year we've done a lot to our house to make it much less energy intensive, bought an electric car, and got  involved in Citizens' Climate Lobby. The research for all of that created a big pile of links for me, which I've tried to summarize here, to really show how many different ways you can make an impact.

This list is customized for New York, because that's where I live, and where I've done all my research. It would be great to see other folks build local guides for their areas as well, and I'd love to link to them.

Where Energy is Used

How do we use energy in the US? Because we measure electricity in kWh, gasoline / fuel oil in gallons, natural gas in cubic feet, sizing them all up and comparing them is hard. And we don't think about them as a single energy system. At a national level our energy is used by [1]:

  • Buildings - 40%
    • Residential - 20%
    • Commercial - 20%
  • Transportation - 28%
    • Cars, Light Trucks, Motorcycles - 16.2%
    • Other Trucks - 6.4%
    • Planes - 2.2%
  • Industry - 32%
    • Petroleum Refining - 10%
    • Chemical Production - 8.6%
    • Paper Production - 3.5%
    • Metals Production - 3%

The bits of this that always surprise me is that buildings are our key use of energy. Buildings are long term infrastructure. Our house was built in 1960, there are plenty of houses in our area build in 1900. Improving existing buildings is critical to making our infrastructure more efficient. Every improvement we've made over the last couple of years will live on beyond us in this home.

The other thing that sticks out is that we use 10% of our energy budget in the US refining petroleum. Much of that to be burned in other parts of the system. Every time we prevent a gallon of gas from burning, we don't only save it's emissions, but the emissions that happened when it was refined.

Homes

 

energy-use-chart
Average Home Energy use in NY State

Get a home energy inspection

In NY, the NY State Energy Research and Development Agency has many programs to increase energy efficiency. One of the programs is subsidized home energy audits to give you a targeted plan about what the biggest impacts for saving energy in your home will be.

Air sealing and Attic Insulation

Our home was built in 1960, and insulated to the standard at the time (which was not much). A year ago we went forward on our energy audit recommendations and got our attic air sealed, and 8" of cellulose insulation put on top. The results were dramatic. Heating dropped about 15%, my home office (which is the far end of the HVAC), no longer needed a space heater, and summer cooling was also dramatically reduced.

Get your energy inspection first, but realize that proper insulation in your home will dramatically, and immediately change the comfort level, and your energy use.

Replace your Oil Furnace with Geothermal

About 50% of homes in NY State heat with Fuel Oil. It is one of the dirtiest way to heat your home.

If you live in the Hudson Valley or Albany regions, Dandelion is a new geothermal company offering package deals to replace your existing oil system with a ground source heat pump. They put a well or two in your front yard, put a sealed tube down it, then use the 50 degree earth and a compressor to heat your home. Heat pumps get about 4 units of heat for every unit of electricity they consume. Ours has been in for about a month, and so far we're in love. So much quieter, no whiffs of oil smoke, and much more even distribution of heat in the house (it runs the fan slower and longer).

When I did the math, this was the single biggest climate impact we could make. This takes 700 gallons of fuel oil off the table. In comparison, we used about 500 gallons of gasoline in an average year between our cars.

Replace your Oil Furnace with... anything else

Seriously, Fuel Oil is terrible for the environment. While Natural Gas and Propane are still fossil fuels, they emit a lot less both in creating them, and when they burn. If you can't go the full hog to something like a heat pump, changing from Oil to NG or Propane will reduce your emissions on heating to about 1/2 of what they were before.

Lighting

If you've not yet replaced all your lighting in your house with LEDs, do that now. They only use about 20% of the electricity of incandescent bulbs, are more efficient than even fluorescent, and last an incredibly long time (25 year lifespans are common).

If you are a Central Hudson customer you can get 60W replacement bulbs for $1 each. Just do it. While lighting use is overall a pretty low part of your energy budget, it is also very actionable if you haven't done the conversion to LEDs yet. And, LED lights fit in christmas stockings.

Electricity

The path to decarbonizing the economy is to electrify everything, while simultaneously making the electric grid less carbon intensive.

chart

NY State's energy production is relatively low carbon, but if we are going to fully decarbonize we do need to reduce natural gas consumed for electricity as much as possible.

Choose a Green ESCO

NY State allows you to choose your energy producer (energy services company, or ESCO). There are a number of companies that provide you with energy from wind farms that they are building regionally. This typically mean a small rise in your energy costs, but that comes with supporting the build out of new renewables.

Two good options in our area are:

Community Solar

NY State has new rules in place that allow for Community Solar in our area. These are small scale (2 Mega Watt or less) facilities that you can sign up and get your power from solar even if you can't put solar panels on your roof (you have bad site, or are a renter).

Solarize Hudson Valley has sign up information for folks in the area. If you are in the Central Hudson power generation region, Nexamp is building a facility in Wappingers Falls. We've signed up, and starting in May of 2018, will be getting our power from solar.

Carbon Offsets

If there is nothing on the list that works for you, but you still want to have an impact on reducing your carbon footprint, consider some kind of carbon offset. Carbon offset projects work to capture carbon, or reduce emissions from something like a landfill. We all share one atmosphere, so any way you reduce emissions helps.

The carbon offset market is a wildly confusing place as an individual. As a NY (or North East) resident, the Carbon Reduction Certificates from the Adirondack Counsil is great. Each certificate is used to buy 1 ton of CO2 off the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative annual carbon auction (a carbon trading system for power companies that 9 states have agreed to, and NJ and VA might be joining soon). The price for a ton of carbon on the RGGI is still pretty low, so left over proceeds go to their micro grants program which support local energy efficiency and emissions reduction.

RGGIStates529px_0

Get Engaged

Right now, you need to do something extra, or out of the ordinary to have an impact on climate change. Citizens' Climate Lobby is a political action group looking to change that, by pricing carbon in the economy. A real price on carbon would make doing the efficient thing, also be doing the cheaper thing, which would make it the default choice in most situations.

We've got a local chapter that meets in Beacon, NY once a month, and so if you want to flex your political muscles, as well as your economic ones, sign up and join us.

It all maters

Every action you make matters. And the exciting fact is that there are so many things you can do now to have an impact (including many things not on this list). So take a minute this holiday season and think about how you can take a little bit of coal out of your own Christmas season.

 

LED Lighting Primer - Part 2 (Screw Fixtures)

Note: background on lighting and motivation for this is in Part 1. If A19 or 800 Lumens means nothing to you, I suggest you read that first. Also, all links to products go to my Amazon affiliate referral code. So if you buy anything through this page I'll get a small kick back. If you find this useful please feel free to do that.

In only the last 12 months things have dramatically accelerated in the consumer LED space, so for a bunch of lighting situations LED replacements is a firmly solved problem. I did a ton of reading on Amazon about various options, but did my first round of purchasing at Home Depot so that I could return items easily if they didn't work out. I also bought a variety of different kinds of bulbs from different vendors, so I could figure out favorites for future purchases.

Current Major Players

The top 2 vendors in LED replacement bulbs for incandescent or CFL appear to be Philips (who's been in lighting for ever) and CREE (an LED component company that grew up into this market). Philips and CREE hold the largest shelf space at Home Depot, and my understanding is that CREE has some sort of exclusive with Home Depot, which is probably part of it. While powering LEDs is simple, LEDs are directional by nature, so a huge part of the design is actually efficiently diffusing the light into 360 degress.

Philips was in this game before anyone else, and has produced many different iterations of LED replacement bulbs. They were the winner of the L Prize for a 60W replacement. The precursor to that winning bulb was available for retail sale, and ran about $35 / bulb (when not on sale). I have a few of those because the CFL slow start was driving me nuts in our hallway and kitchen.


"Philips LED bulbs" by Geoffrey.landis - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Philips_LED_bulbs.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. The bulb on the left was the first widely available commercial LED 60W replacement. The one on the right was the winner of the L Prize for 60W replacement.

It is clear from the bulbs Philips is continuing to produce that they've got a heck of a design team that's into trying new things (which is paying off).

CREE was a new comer to this market, and entered from below, previously just being a parts maker. It seems that CREE has basically figured out one physical design, and is sticking with that. They are putting their innovation into driving cost down, and energy consumption. A Philips 800 Lumen bulb (60W equiv) will be ~10W, a CREE at the same luminosity will run at ~9W.

CREE entering the market definitely put price pressure on Philips and helped open up this whole market. Competition here has been really good for consumers and means that you can now get an 800 Lumen dimmable bulb for less than $10. I got some for $7 at Home Depot. While still more expensive than incandescent, remember, we're talking about 20 year life on these things, so the amortized cost is actually pretty low.

The A19 (aka Regular Bulbs) story

The A19 space is a completely solved problem. You have a ton of options, they'll all work quite well. I have 3 models of Philips in the house, and a bunch of CREE. They all act and look quite similarly.

My Favorite LED Bulb (non dimming environments)

philips_slim_line_led

If you were to only get one bulb, and start replacing 60W lights through the house get the Philips SlimStyle 800 Lumen 2700K bulb. This is Philips newest design, in which they figured out how to get 360 degree light diffusion without frosted glass. Which means this is 100% plastic, so dropping it, probably not an issue. It's also one of the most inexpensive bulbs on the market. Amazon pricing is currently ~$8, I got them for $7 at Home Depot on some sale they were running.

When lit up and complete bare they look like this:

20141017_182148.jpg

However the light spread is unidirectional. So either as bare bulb, or in a fixture, these will act as you expect. They are dimmable, but they aren't the best dimmable performance out there.

20141018_102927.jpg

SlimStyle in a paper lantern, notice you don't see the donut.

The reasons to not get this bulb is if you need something brighter (the 800 Lumen bulb is the brightest they make in this design) or if you are going to dim them.

Pick for Dimming Lights

If putting bulbs in a dimmer, my current favorite is the Philips 429258.

philips_dimming

This is actually an 880 Lumen bulb, so a little brighter. This got the best reviews for dimmable bulbs in a bunch of places, and I'm pretty happy with the results.

20141018_094422.jpg

 

LED bulbs don't dim all the way down like incandescents do, I think because at the lowest level they are driving so little current it's not enough to activate anything. So realize you'll only get down to 15% luminosity, then it goes off.

I did find this bulbs slightly more blue than I expected for 2700K, but our other lights are also all going through shades which yellow it even more. I think if we want to warm up that room the answer is really change the paint on the walls.

Also note, unlike the SlimStyle, this is frosted glass on the outside to get the diffusion. So if you drop it, it could break. It feels pretty rugged so I'm sure it will take more abuse than a CFL or incandescent.

Pick for 3 way Bulbs

When I started barreling down this path Susan mentioned she'd actually like 3 way bulbs in the 3 lamps in the house that support it. As a kid growing up I think I only ever saw a three way bulb once, so it wasn't even on my radar.

cree_3way

 

Both Philips and CREE make them, however the CREE's click 1 is dimmer (340 Lumens vs. 470 Lumens on the Philips). So CREE 3 Way LED is my pick here. The three we installed work great, and it means we have a ton more control over lighting in the living room.

Like the Philips 429258, this is glass on the outside, so this could crack if dropped.

Higher Lumen Bulbs

I have a few places where I want higher lumen bulbs. I mostly filled this with CREE largely because they were a little cheaper than Philips, and the 100W equiv bulbs were out when I was at Home Depot. So far they've been fine.

One of the nice things of the 75W equiv bulb is that it's still an A19 that uses 13.5W. Which means if you have a fixture that said max bulb was 60W, you can use one of these in it to make it brighter than it's ever been.

The 100W equiv is actually an A21 shape, so a 1/4 inch bigger around. All the 100W equivs (Philips and CREE) state they are not suitable for enclosed fixtures, though given their power distribution I'm not entirely sure why.

Specialty Bulbs

Beyond the E26/A19 lights in the house, I also have some track lights (not on dimmers) which take R20, and our range hood which takes PAR20. Honestly, I always confuse these 2, so realize PAR20 is the shorter one.

The R20 bulbs are also pretty much a solved problem. Philips has plenty of bulbs in this realm. I think I got some Feit brand for a couple of these, but doing it again I'd get these - Philips 423400.

The PAR20 bulbs are still kind of a work in progress. I got the Philips bulb that was on the shelf at Home Depot, but it turns out it was actually a 3000K 25 Degree beam bulb. So the results weren't quite what I hoped.

20141018_111301.jpg

On further research I should have bought the Philips  426155 which is 2700K and a 36 degree beam spread. Amazon primed. Will have them Tuesday.

But that was the only big mistake I feel that I made during my purchasing, so I'm ok with that.

Refrigerator Door Light

We have a GE refrigerator that takes an A15/E26 bulb in both the fridge and the freezer. It turns out this was actually a 60W incandescent. As I ranted a few days ago, this mean the top shelf of my refrigerator was basically an easy bake oven. This is not what you want.

Neither Philips or CREE are in this space. So I ended up with an off brand bulb A15 40W equiv bulb that was on the shelf at Home Depot. I'm ordering this Feit Electric A15 bulb to do the same replacement for the freezer.

Replacing the refrigerator door light with an LED is probably the biggest win I'm going to get out of this. The refrigerator is running noticeably less often now, and the top shelf is cool to the touch even if you loiter with the door open for a while.

If you do nothing else, figure out how to replace your refrigerator bulb with an LED as soon as you can. Your life will get noticeably better after doing it.

Caveats

In general, I'm not going to buy more Feit bulbs unless I have to. Not because their bulbs are bad, but their packaging is completely out of control.

All the Philips and CREE packaging is recyclable (cardboard + PET (#1) plastic). Feit is not. And their R20 packaging is the terrible extra tamper proof kind that you have to cut apart with a box cutter, create a ragged edge of plastic, which you then cut yourself on. Basically everything that Amazon's frustration free packaging was designed to fight. And it's made of a non recyclable plastic. Boo Feit.

The other caveat is that the rule that bulbs don't hum ends up being violated when they are in a dimmer. It's arguably still less than CFLs do in a standard light socket, but if you have sensitive ears (and haven't lost your high end range) you can hear if it you try.

Next Up

I think I have 2 more parts in me, though they'll come a bit later. One on what to do with florescent tube lights, and one on LED native lighting and the future of home lighting.

As always, if you have corrections or comments, please leave them in the blog. Once all these posts are done I'll string them together a bit better, and will definitely update with any corrections.

The whole series:

 

LED Lighting Primer - Part 1 (Background)

Apparently the way my fathering nesting instinct kicks in is through home improvements, as I've had a brand new motivation to plow through a ton of things while at home for paternity leave. One of the large projects has been the conversion of the whole house to LED lighting.

I've learned a lot more about lighting in the process than I would have imagined, and writing it might be interesting to others.  Consider this a primer for the state of the world circa October 2014. And caveat reader, I am in no way an expert, but consider my self an enthusiastic amateur.

Note: I'm going to do this as a multi part blog post, because this is going to be long. Hopefully you'll find the section you are interested in and pick out what's useful to you.

Light Bulb Shapes and Sizes

Before diving in it's worth talking about light bulb shapes and sizes, because, honestly, this confused me for a long time.

The code number of a bulb consists of a letter or letters followed by a number. The letter indicates the shape of the bulb and the number relates to the diameter of the bulb in eighths of an inch. The mosts commonly used household bulb is the A-19. The bulb is "A" type and the diameter would be 23/8". A 65BR40 is a 65 watt reflector 5" in diameter.

bulb-shapes-and-sizes

http://www.lightopedia.com/bulb-shapes-sizes

In addition to the shapes of bulbs, there is a whole orthogonal matrix  which is the base sizes.

bases-filament-types

Again these are coded with a shape and a diameter. However the diameter for bases is measured in millimeters. So you need metric and imperial units, on the same bulb, to categorize it. I'm sure there is a story behind it, and I'm sure it's crazy.

While that looks overwhelming the reality is for house hold use you are looking at only a few of these.

Base Sizes you probably have:

  • E26 - regular screw base light bulbs (E stands for Edison btw)
  • E12 - small screw light bulbs. Aka candelabra bulbs.
  • T8/T12 - tube florescent lights

Bulb shapes you probably have:

  • A19 - this is the regular 60W incandescent bulb. Yes, you can still buy these.
  • A15 - this is often the shape used for appliances (refridgerators).
  • PAR20 / PAR30 - if you have track lights
  • R20 - I've got this in my range hood, not sure it's other users
  • T8 / T12 - if you have tube lights
  • C7 - this is the standard Christmas light string bulb

The reason this is important is that lighting fixtures have a design point of the bulb going into them, and you'd be surprised how close those tolerances are some times.

Measuring Light

It's kind of amazing that for the first century of electric lighting we measured the light of bulbs by the amount of energy they consumed. Given that incandescent bulbs turn 90% of their energy into heat (not light) maybe it's not so odd. But it tells you very little about what this is going to look like in your home.

The lighting market was so static for so long we could get away with 60W as measure of brightness. CFLs made that more difficult, so everything has markings about the "equivalence". So a 17W CFL is a 60W equivalent bulb. But with LEDs landing everywhere now the industry is fortunately taking a step back and actually starting to use some real measurements so you can compare things.

There are two critical dimensions of light: color and intensity.

Color

Color is measured by temperature in Kelvins. It's based on the physics of black body radiation, and largely moves between a red and blue scale. Computer monitors have been using color temperature for enough years now that people are hopefully a little familiar with it.

Black body.svg
"Black body" by Darth Kule - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Incandescent bulbs typically are 2700K - 3300K in color. Soft white or Warm white is often how it's referred to in lighting. Daylight is closer to 6000K and is what's considered Cool white. If you like your light slightly yellow, stick to the low end here (2700K).

Intensity

Intensity is measured in it's own standard unit of Lumens, which is actually a perception unit, so it does attempt to compensate for only what your eye reacts to. The whole process of calculating lumens is pretty complicated, so don't expect to work your way through it. It's a unit of measure you'll just have to build new intuition on.

Leaning back on our crutch of "this is what incandecants are like", here is a handy chart courtesy of Clark Howard:

How Much Light Do I Need?
Incandescent Bulbs

WATTS

Minimum Light Output

LUMENS

40 450
60 800
75 >1,100
100 1,600
150 2,600

Why LED?

LEDs have a bunch of advantages. Honestly, the wikipedia page on LEDs is fun reading if you want the full history.

The top reasons for me were:

  • Energy efficiency: uses about 1/6 the power of equiv incandescent and 70% the power of florescent. This also means less load the electrical in your house.
  • Cool to the touch: you can tell you are't wasting energy because you can touch the bulbs when on and they are only slightly above room temp. Important for certain applications.
  • Longevity: LEDs are rated for roughly 20 years of use before failure. And it's pretty clear that's probably a low ball number. Also failure in LED case is typically they get dimmer by 10%. These are heritage items that might be passed down to your kids or grand kids. Which also means they are not going to generate landfill. Which also also means you don't need a shelf full of spares around.
  • Near instant on: no delayed ramp up to full intensity like CFLs.
  • No humming: I can hear the CFL ballast humming (though apparently my wife doesn't notice it). The new silence in our master bathroom was astounding.

The other great thing about LEDs is the actual light unit is this little chip. So while you can get LED light bulbs that retro fit existing fixtures, you can also get fully integrated light fixtures in shapes and sizes that have never been possible before. That's a lot more extensive than just changing out bulbs, but it opens up a lot of possibilities (more thoughts on that later).

The whole series:

As always, corrections or comments welcomed in the comments here.