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    Science & Technology

    Measuring energy efficiency at home

    By Christopher Palmer
    Published: Jan. 9, 2012

    Buildings account for about 40 percent of energy use in the United States. At the UTest House, researchers have the chance to measure energy consumption and indoor air quality in a home like many others in the U.S.

    Watch Jeff Siegel, associate professor in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at the Cockrell School of Engineering, explain some steps to assure that your heating, cooling, major appliances and home electronics aren’t costing you and the environment more than what’s necessary.

    About the UTest House
    The UTest House at the university’s J. J. Pickle Research Campus offers valuable research, educational and public outreach opportunities in a realistic setting. It is used by faculty and students to study passive (zero energy) technologies for reducing ozone concentrations in homes among other sustainability and energy efficiency research activities. Read more about the UTest House.

    • Quote 2
      Samantha said on Sept. 20, 2012 at 2:11 a.m.
      Good advices, and very useful information, I didnĀ“t know that LED lights exist, I hope that this technology gets popularity very soon, Imagine save 90% of electricity of lighting, incredible.
    • Quote 2
      David said on May 1, 2012 at 1:15 p.m.
      I used to be in the construction industry and the research sounds like a benefit, but I wish he would have dived into more of what they are actually doing to make homes more efficient, not just mention that they are.
    • Quote 2
      Navin Kunwar said on March 18, 2012 at 8:38 a.m.
      As Jimmy said "My house happens to have a bedroom located over the garage and it was always much colder than the rest of the house in the winter months." same thing applies to me as well. thanks
    • Quote 2
      Jimmy Williams said on March 11, 2012 at 10:02 a.m.
      One thing to add is the use of spray foam that in my mind should replace all traditional forms of insulation that leave far too much to chance when installed on a mass builder scale. My house happens to have a bedroom located over the garage and it was always much colder than the rest of the house in the winter months. We ended up having to pull down the drywall an fibreglass installation than had it spray foamed and the difference was absolutely huge. I also added more R value to the attic that also had an impact on our energy consumption. I never thought of the attic acting as a suction drawing in cold air from every crack an crevice when the heat is escaping.
    • Quote 2
      Sanjan Bikram said on Jan. 29, 2012 at 7:44 a.m.
      I Agree with Barnard as he said I noticed that there was no mention of attic insulation or ventilation and no mention of radiant barriers. Are those things insignificant when compared to the items mentioned? I also noticed that the house is not built on a slab. Would insulation under the floor be of benefit for a house such as the test house?
    • Quote 2
      Alex Fink said on Jan. 28, 2012 at 4:08 p.m.
      To seriously help people change their homes, we need to provide better access to thermal imaging equipment and really quantify the expected savings in terms of future energy cost. Waving our hands around doesn't cut it. In fact, investing today for energy savings tomorrow is a hard proposition to sell - it will never convert well. If contractors really believe the savings they promise customers are real, they should finance the work so that home-owners only pay from savings previously realized. Until this becomes common practice, I doubt energy efficient homes will ever be "normal" (outside of a few yuppie neighborhoods here in norcal).
    • Quote 2
      Mike Scanlon said on Jan. 27, 2012 at 12:08 a.m.
      Jeff, I thought this was a good overview of some commonsense ways to reduce energy usage without a lot of detail. You covered some of the major ways to save energy in the home - programmable thermostat, standby power and lighting. According to your stats in your video, this accounts for roughly half the energy usage in a typical home, excluding appliance efficiency which you mentioned but didn't get cover in any detail. Another significant way to reduce energy usage that you didn't mention is insulation and weatherization.
    • Quote 2
      Betty Saenz Austin TX Green REALTOR said on Jan. 22, 2012 at 5:52 p.m.
      I am all for Energy Efficiency in Homes, my home as well as others. I put an Energy Star roof on my home. I have trees and shrubs that shade it in Summers including Live Oak trees as well as Crepe Myrtles. I am hoping to add open cell foam for a closed attic system soon once I upgrade my HVAC system.
    • Quote 2
      Tom said on Jan. 16, 2012 at 12:58 p.m.
      Pretty lame discussion - what I would expect from the local TV news reporter, not a trained engineer. Only vague data given, nothing that hasn't been in the popular press. No tradeoff info given on cost of new A/C or insulation (not mentioned at all, yet critical) versus savings over time on energy reduction. Casual mention of burning coal in electricity generation but no mention of cheap, clean, infinite nuke or any alternative (what are we supposed to do, build a natural gas-fired generator in the back yard; and how will that pay back?) No mention of Smart Grid and what (if anything) that is supposed to bring to help. The couple people commenting have better suggestions than what is given in the video. 1) Conserve energy. Insulate heavily to slow the heat transfer. Double/triple-pane windows (but realize light is good for humans, and how long before the multi-pane windows "fog", and what is the cost tradeoff?) Shut the door to keep the outdoors out. Seal off drafts (you may only feel them on windy cold days, but they're leaks in the summer too). Direct gas heat is far more efficient and cleaner than the very loss-y electric heat. Don't just wash off the outside of your A/C unit, but clean the coils too. Refrigerators have coils to clean too. 2) Reduce use. If you're not using it, turn it off: HVAC (within reason), lights, TV, printers/PCs, chargers. Buy efficient appliances (balance against price) and light bulbs. 3) Be smart. Don't bake potatoes in the summer (you heat up a huge stove, then burn electricity a 2nd time to remove that heat from the air with the A/C). Run heavy appliances in the quiet of the evening to minimize peaking the electric grid requirements. Close off the vents to unused rooms. And the only useful research is done on a real home occupied by a family (with kids who leave doors open, run video games or TVs all day, do a lot of laundry in 8-year old machines, and want the house cooled to 72 F. An single-story utilitarian box occasionally used by energy-aware engineers isn't going to give you the standard American profile.
    • Quote 2
      w. Bernard Whitney said on Jan. 12, 2012 at 5:48 p.m.
      I noticed that there was no mention of attic insulation or ventilation and no mention of radiant barriers. Are those things insignificant when compared to the items mentioned? I also noticed that the house is not built on a slab. Would insulation under the floor be of benefit for a house such as the test house?
    • Quote 2
      karl said on Jan. 12, 2012 at 5:34 p.m.
      Good overview but few specifics. How much energy in a 10, 20, 30K ft2 house is due to lights? How much would it cost to replace all the bulbs in a normal house and how long would it take to pay them off with lowered costs. And given the dropping costs of new technologies will we want to have a solution that takes that long to pay off? How much energy is used in different parts of the country for heating vs A.C. What are the projected costs of electricity vs. natural gas? What is the best way to seal ducts? What about insulating and sealing the duct work under the house? Worth the cost? I liked the idea of disconnecting transformers when not in use but it might have been useful to make a suggestion about using a power strip for a a series of them that are easy to turn off and on, along with one for the TV and surround sound that use a fair amount of energy too. You also mentioned AC units that are over or undercharged was a problem but only discussed what happens with undercharged units. Also didn't mention the need to have clean air filters. I was having dinner at a friends house in Austin and the AC stopped working. I asked if they had changed the air filter. They had lived there for several years and didn't even know they had one. Needless to say it needed changing. Hope you do a follow on that will offer specific ways to decide which projects have the biggest/fastest payback and are the easiest to do.
    • Quote 2
      Dave Cooper said on Jan. 12, 2012 at 12:37 p.m.
      Jeff, To-the-point, clear, understandable video. Should be worthwhile to non facilities type people as well. Thank you. Dave Cooper UT Facilities Engineering
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