Fall 2012

Close to Home | How I Got Cooler Smarter

Our new book, Cooler Smarter, challenges individuals to reduce their global warming emissions 20 percent in the coming year. John Rogers, senior analyst in the UCS Climate and Energy Program, describes how he’s doing it.

My family has taken several steps over the years to reduce the energy costs and carbon emissions associated with our old farmhouse in North Reading, MA. We’ve swapped out inefficient lightbulbs and appliances, added insulation, sealed air leaks, upgraded the heating and cooling systems, and installed a solar water heater. The results? Despite having two kids and building an addition that increased our home’s square footage by 10 percent, our electricity and natural gas bills shrank to pre-kid levels.

But I wanted more (savings). Even with my energy expertise I knew we would need professional help for this next level of retrofitting, so we met with a Boston-area company to figure out the best path forward.

Takin' It to the Studs

With its odd shape and mix of old and new, our house was not a great candidate for a top-to-bottom makeover or “deep” energy retrofit (as described in the Summer 2012 issue of Earthwise), so we decided to approach the project in phases. The first involved a renovation of our basement and kitchen.

The kitchen underwent the most dramatic transformation: we merged the old kitchen and dining room, reconfigured the layout, and added an island. To do this in a way that would cut our energy use, we added spray foam insulation to the walls, and repeatedly checked for air leaks using an infrared camera. We also replaced the windows with high-efficiency sliding doors that let in a lot more natural light but not as much heat or cold. All the new lighting is in the form of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), the new fridge is 35 percent more efficient than the old one (even though it’s 18 percent larger and has an icemaker), and our new induction cooktop is much more efficient than conventional gas or electric models.

In thebasement, we added spray foam insulation to the walls and floor, poured a new concrete floor on top of the insulation, and installed a high-efficiency exterior door and windows. While these improvements cost about 20 percent more than redoing our deck (which has no carbon-reduction benefits), they brought the basement inside the “building envelope,” which means our air ducts no longer pass through unheated spaces, minimizing energy loss. And they had the added benefit of addressing water problems that previously rendered the basement damp and unpleasant.s

The Savings Won't End Here

Our investment in efficient appliances and solid construction, while sizeable, has lowered our energy costs and carbon emissions, given us a beautiful and functional kitchen filled with natural light, and made our basement more welcoming. The success of this phase of the project has motivated us to keep going; we’re doing more air sealing around the house and have installed a monitoring system that measures the electricity usage of every circuit in the house. Studies show having real-time information about energy usage can help us use even less. As Cooler Smarter says, “Knowledge (about power) is power.” I’m excited to see where our path to getting cooler and smarter leads us next.

Also in this issue of Earthwise:


What impact does wind power have on birds?