Oh the joys of heating and cooling our homes. Each month we are reminded of how much our utilities cost, and we begin to think of something like solar power to reduce that expense. Look through magazines which touch upon the subject, and you will see some family living happily not having to pay for electricity. We all can dream, but is this realistic for someone in an older home?
Do our homes need conditioned air? When my son and I jump in the car to travel around the back roads of Texas, I stop at as many historic homes that I can find. The joke is that Houston would not exist without air conditioning, but people did live here before the advent of a heating and cooling system. By incorporating design elements which encouraged air flow from breezes through the home and taking advantage of various shading features, people could live reasonably comfortably (as Jimmy Carter suggested they did have to wear sweaters).
Can we take advantage of these features on our current homes? Many of the homes which I inspect were built between the fifties to the nineties when builders did not consider many aspects of saving energy. Even after the energy crisis of the seventies, we did not make some simple choices in our homes which would allow for going without power. We did begin to look at ways to improve efficiency, but I noticed that this trend has generally been used in homes being built in the last ten years.
In most of our homes, we have to look at improving the efficiency of our home by tightening the seal. Preventing air flow from the outside in and inside out is the first step to lessening the work load of our air conditioning system. Once we are not sending our conditioned air out into the world, the units will save on power usage. Then we may look at how to use passive systems so we are not using any power at all.
My next post we deal with how to tighten the envelope of an already existing home affordably. After that, we can look at what one hundred year old homes could teach us about not being reliant on power. Finally, we can take a look at how to better use the power we need to make our homes feel better.