Saving Money Before it Goes Down the Drain

How much can you save by looking for the ENERGY STAR?

By Steve Ryan

Water heating is the second highest source of energy usage in your home, and no matter what the season, hot water is a necessity.  The average water heater lasts about 13 years, but many water heaters are in use past their life expectancy. Nearly 2.5 [1] million water heaters will fail this year, leaving their owners without hot water (and with wet basements). By being proactive, and replacing your water heater before it fails, you’ll have more options. And you’ll avoid cleaning up a flood in your basement.

If you need to replace your current gas or electric water heater or are planning for an upgrade, you should choose a water heating system that not only provides enough hot water, but does so without wasting energy. Look for an ENERGY STAR certified water heater to save energy and money, while also reducing your carbon footprint.

For example, if you replace your old electric storage water heater with an ENERGY STAR model, the annual savings range from $290 for the average household to $670 for a family of six (see graph).  Even with the extra costs for a heat pump water heater (HPWH), which average about $850 (including insulation), you will still see fast savings.

  • For the average household, an ENERGY STAR HPWH pays back in 3 years and saves $2,050 over its 10-year lifespan.
  • For a six-member family, an ENERGY STAR HPWH pays back in 1.3 years and saves $5,850 over its 10-year lifespan.

If you are in the market for a new water heater, check and see if your utility is offering rebates.  For example, Mass Save, an initiative sponsored by Massachusetts’ gas and electric utilities and energy efficiency service providers, currently offers a $1,000 rebate for ENERGY STAR certified heat pump water heaters.  This one purchase can go a long way in terms of saving on your energy bills and taking action against climate change. Just think–if every appliance purchased in the United States this year earned the ENERGY STAR, we would prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions from 420,000 cars.

Steve Ryan started working for the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Program in 1999.  He currently manages a national campaign to promote power management called “The Low Carbon IT Campaign.”  For more information and to  get step by step instructions on how to put your computer into low power mode, go to http://www.energystar.gov/powermanagement.

 


[1] ENERGY STAR Water Heater Market Profile, U.S. DOE, September 2010. 8 million sold in 2009 (p. 2).  82% replacement, 65% replacements are unit failure, 60% of unit failures are emergencies. (p. 21).  Doing the math, we get 8 million*.82*.65*.6 = 2.5 million.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Yardstick

By: Rebecca Hudson

Let’s face it. We’ve all done it. As much as you hate to admit it, you have compared yourself to your neighbors. Whether it was over who has the better television or who makes the best potato salad at the summer BBQ, we all have a little competitive streak inside of us. But have you ever gotten competitive over saving energy? Well, get your competitive juices flowing because EPA recently upgraded its Home Energy Yardstick, and now you can compete with your friends on a whole new level to see who can have the most energy efficient home.

The Yardstick is a free, online tool that allows homeowners to compare their home’s actual energy use to similar homes across the country to see how they measure up. To get started, all you’ll need is your home’s energy bills, square footage, number of people living in your home, and ZIP code. On the Yardstick scale, a home that scores a 10 is a top performer, an “average” home scores a 5, and one that scores below that has lots of room to improve.

EPA’s Yardstick tool was recently revamped and now graphs your monthly energy use to illustrate how it changes over the year — helping you to better pinpoint where you may have opportunities for improvement. It also now includes additional features like Green Button, a White House supported initiative to help homeowners easily access their utility data. If your utility participates, all you have to do is download your Green Button file from your utility’s website and upload it into the Yardstick tool.

So get started today and get your friends and family together to see who can get the lowest Yardstick scores. If your home does not score well, do not worry; ENERGY STAR has a wealth of tips, guidance, and tools to help you to improve your score and get yourself on the path to improving your home’s efficiency–and of course, beating your friends.

Rebecca Hudson works for EPA’s ENERGY STAR program and is focused on developing homeowner tools and supporting multifamily new construction stakeholders. She looks forward to having a friendly family competition for the best Yardstick score over the next year.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

The Value of Checklists

By: Ga-Young Choi

I was driving around the other day and listening to the radio when a commercial for certified used cars came on.  The announcer was enthusiastically talking about how these used cars are practically new because they undergo a 160-point checklist to ensure that they are in top-working order.  I usually change stations when ads are on, but I found myself paying attention to this one.  It made me realize how great it is that ENERGY STAR is pioneering the use of checklists in the construction of new homes.

While this radio ad was just a sales pitch, I found myself agreeing that checklists are important. I have learned this in both my personal and professional life. To be fair, builders have always used various checklists during construction. They use material checklists to check that they have the right amount of lumber and windows. They compile punch lists during construction to note anything that was left undone by a subcontractor.  The difference with ENERGY STAR checklists is that builders are now using a checklist to ensure that the home is not only built to be energy efficient, but also comfortable for the homeowners and their family.

Homebuyers generally assume that their new home will be comfortable simply because it’s new. However, building a home is complicated, and even the smallest of mistakes can greatly impact the home’s efficiency and family’s enjoyment.  The ENERGY STAR checklists involve nearly all of the subcontractors playing a part in the construction of a home – the framers, HVAC contractors, and even the drywall installers. All of them have an important role in building a home that is energy efficient and comfortable, and the checklists give home builders an opportunity to verify that their subs are doing their job properly.

Since I began working for the ENERGY STAR Certified Homes program, I have a new appreciation of checklists. I use them frequently in my everyday life – when I go grocery shopping or pack for a trip. I’ve especially found them to be important in planning special events; I planned my wedding this year, which would’ve been a disaster without my trusted checklists.  With how busy we are nowadays and the amount of ever-present distractions, having checklists helps me to organize priorities and confirm that I’m getting tasks done on time.

Understanding how important checklists are in my life makes me even more aware of how important they are for homeowners and builders across the country. When someone buys an ENERGY STAR certified home today, they know that their new home has gone through a rigorous process that ensures that it lives up to EPA’s stringent requirements for energy efficiency, quality and comfort. Now that is what I call peace of mind.

Ga-Young Choi has been the Program Manager of Partner Support on the ENERGY STAR Certified Homes team for the past four years.  Prior to joining the EPA, she consulted for a variety of federal agencies on environmental policy and management.  She holds a Master of Environmental Management degree from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. To learn more about ENERGY STAR for New Homes, go to the ENERGY STAR website.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Today’s ENERGY STAR Certified Home: Better is Better

By: Brian Ng

Earlier this month, the new, more rigorous guidelines for homes to be certified as ENERGY STAR® became effective.  In recognition of this milestone, we’re reflecting on the history and work behind the new guidelines, and highlighting the major features and benefits of homes built to these new guidelines that are the basis for our “Better is Better” outreach campaign.

In 1995, EPA first offered a labeling program for homes constructed to be significantly more energy efficient than prescribed by code.  Since then the program has been adopted by more and more builders, who’ve constructed more and more ENERGY STAR certified homes.  In fact, in 2011, nearly one in three new homes constructed in the U.S. has earned the ENERGY STAR label.  That’s an amazing accomplishment by our partners and a tremendous benefit for homebuyers – and the environment.

Over the years, EPA has updated its guidelines in response to improvements in national building codes and equipment standards, changes in the marketplace, and to incorporate lessons learned from previous iterations of the guidelines.  We began developing our latest set of energy efficiency guidelines, commonly referred to as”Version 3,“ back in 2008, issued the first draft for public comment in 2009, and released the final requirements in 2010. Since then, we’ve continued to make refinements and adjustments in response to stakeholder feedback and market factors.

Today, when a home earns the ENERGY STAR label, it means that it’s at least 15 percent more energy efficient than one built to the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code, and includes additional features that make it up to 30 percent more efficient than a typical new home.  All ENERGY STAR certified homes are now constructed with:

  • A complete Thermal Enclosure System with comprehensive air sealing, quality-installed insulation, and high-performance windows to deliver comfort and low utility bills;
  • A Heating, Ventilating, and Cooling System designed and installed for optimal performance, comfort, and lower bills; and
  • A comprehensive Water Management System to protect roofs, walls, and foundations from moisture damage.

These features are inspected using a set of quality assurance checklists that can dramatically reduce the chance that critical details are overlooked and that can greatly improve the efficiency, comfort, durability, and quality of homes that earn the label. That’s why we say that an ENERGY STAR certified home is built better from the ground up.

Together with stakeholders, we’ve put a lot of effort into developing and deploying a host of new training materials, webinars, and other resources to aid builders, trades, and Home Energy Raters so that they can successfully implement the new guidelines.  Many builders, including some who initially expressed concerns about increased costs to build to the new guidelines, are reporting significant cost decreases as they become more familiar with best practices for implementing the new guidelines.

We’re excited to continue supporting our partners, including more than 6,700 home builders in designing, constructing, and promoting the next generation of ENERGY STAR certified homes. We know that the new guidelines are challenging. But they are also critical to ensuring that the bar is continually raised so that the promise of the ENERGY STAR brand is delivered. Simply put: Better is better.

Mr. Brian Ng is the communications manager for ENERGY STAR’s Residential Programs. Mr. Ng has been with the U.S. EPA for 15 years supporting a wide range of initiatives related to the protection of human health and the environment, including the improvement of energy efficiency in new and existing low-income housing.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Fix a Leak: Little Effort, Lots of Savings

By Tom Damm

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of April will focus on Water Conservation.

Barbara (B.J.) McDuffie of the ECA installs faucet aerator during Fix a Leak event.

Barbara (B.J.) McDuffie of the ECA installs faucet aerator during Fix a Leak event.

Consider this: The average American home leaks more than 10,000 gallons of water a year – about the amount of water needed to wash 280 loads of laundry or take more than 600 showers.  A faucet that leaks at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year.

Though my family cringes when I volunteer to fix things, knowing that I’m likely to do more damage than good, even I could handle this one:

Unscrew the end of the faucet spout, pop out the existing rubber washer and filter screen, install a low-flow aerator and its washer, reattach the end of the spout.

That’s it.  Time involved? About 30 seconds.  Watch this video of how to install the aerator if you don’t believe me.

Barbara (B.J.) McDuffie of the Energy Coordinating Agency demonstrated how quick and easy it can be to save money and water during a recent EPA Fix a Leak Week event at the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia, where sets of new fixtures – aerators, showerheads and toilet flappers donated by the Delta Faucet Co. – were being installed throughout the building.

“Fix a Leak Week is a time for us to highlight the benefits of finding and fixing residential leaks,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin, having just repaired a leaky fixture in his own home. “So we’re urging everyone to take three basic steps – check, twist and replace.”

  1. Check for leaks. Toilet leaks can be found by putting a few drops of food coloring into the tank and seeing if color appears in the bowl before you flush. Don’t forget to also check irrigation systems and spigots.
  2. Twist and tighten pipe connections. To save even more water without a noticeable difference in flow, twist on a WaterSense labeled faucet aerator or showerhead.
  3. Replace the fixture if necessary. Look for the WaterSense label when replacing plumbing fixtures, which are independently certified to use 20 percent less water and perform as well as or better than standard models.

Can’t wait to break out the tool box.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.