Residential energy efficiency: prologue

I've been promising people a series of posts on ways to make houses more energy efficient. My work prompts me to think about this topic, and I have been known to do some home improvement, so I have a lot of ideas. Some are practical things we can do today, and some are more like wish list items. The reasons for doing these things are to make our lives comfortable at less cost to (a) ourselves and (b) the environment.

As a scientist, I think about energy, as in conservation of energy. Energy flows into and out of our houses. Some of it we pay for, and some of it we don't. Some of it does useful work, and some of it is wasted; sometimes we even have to pay to get rid of it. I want to put some numbers on these things, and talk about strategies.

Many people have begun to think about energy efficiency with respect to cars. The hybrid revolution has inspired some fervor and people are getting educated; they're even thinking about the global warming implications of how residential electricity is generated. This topic is handled very well elsewhere, so I won't cover it, except to say that I admire the progress made and I think housing should begin to take similar steps.

I'd like to begin with a few questions to get you thinking.
  • How much harder does your air conditioner have to work when you roast a chicken in your oven in the summer?
  • When you light a wood fire in your fireplace in the winter, does your furnace work less hard, or harder?
  • How much water does your water heater have to heat in order for you to get the first few cups of warmth out of an upstairs faucet?