Sat. Feb 24th, 2024


Most of the information about energy you’re likely to receive starts you off on the wrong foot immediately. They teach you how to save energy, which is fine if you’re a consumer trying to save money on your monthly bills, but not if you’re a property owner. You can’t save yourself rich, but when it comes to energy we don’t apply this simple truth.

If you own a building—be it your own house or an investment property- you need to look at energy like an investor. All programs offered to you by various organizations are beneficial to energy companies (customer retention) and the equipment vendors (more sales of their “energy saving” widgets), but none of them talk about it’s benefits as the property owner. That part you have to do.

Make or Buy?

The first decision in investment projects is always: make or buy? How much are we building or developing ourselves? How much do we buy from others? In regards to energy there’s fossil fuel and electricity, but times have changed.

There’s better insulating materials than ever before for windows and everything measured to reduce energy demand, but they don’t produce energy. So focusing only on reducing the demand, you still won’t be able to live in the house. However, there are passive technologies that do generate energy, like retaining walls that can save up solar energy for overnight use, or windows that gain heat in winter and shed heat in summer. You need to decide if you are going to generate your own energy or buy it from the grid. Decide on one time capital investment or energy bills forever. You either produce your energy on site, or you buy it from the grid (or an oil company).

Always energy efficient, except not the same way.

Regardless, if you decided that you would rather buy your energy, or you want to generate your own, be as efficient as possible. However, you will soon notice that the payoff is very different.

Increases in energy efficiency directly reduce installed capacity in the case of renewable energy, and offset your capital outlay at the time of installation. If you’re buying energy from the grid, payback comes from energy savings over so many years.

Furthermore, if you are using renewable energy, there are other things you can do. Reduce combustion within the building, therefore reducing indoor air pollution, and causing a tighter building envelope.

Indoor air pollution, even gas for cooking is a huge problem with the need of ventilation, but if you reduce the sources of indoor pollution, you can also tighten up the need for ventilation, and be able to successfully use heat recovery ventilation, extracting the stale air, but retaining the heat.

If you’re using renewable energy you have different options for energy efficiency than if you are using energy from the grid.

And Now for Retrofits

Given a choice, you probably prefer the net-zero home, the home with NO energy bill. The first thing is: use your head, and first make a plan.

You should have a 30 year energy plan for your property at all times, and the tools for doing it are the EPA’s Home Energy Yardstick for simple cases, or the EPA’s Portfolio Manager for more involved cases.

Figure out how different systems can be combined. You now have a twenty year old oil burning furnace and window air conditioners. Don’t just switch to gas and call it a day. You may be able to go to solar thermal central HVAC, and eliminate the window A/C, and have a much smaller furnace, or some backup heat pumps. There are many options and, depending on your location, and the size of your property, solar thermal, geothermal, or wind power, or even hydroelectric are likely better choices than today’s favorite, the solar photovoltaic (PV) panel.

There is no “free” solar panels.

It is occupying valuable roof space, and include a contract for 20 years, and the price of the installation is simply built into the contract. The reality is that these “free” solar panels are costing people three times the cost if you bought them outright and in a majority of cases. Solar thermal gives you five to eight times the amount of energy per square area than solar PV.

You don’t want to make energy decisions just because of the happy, shiny sales people at your door, or because of any incentives. You want to make energy decisions only because they enhance the value of your property, and that’s your job to figure out.


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