Green Energy and Earth Day|Energy saving tips, alternative energy can benefit homeowners, institutions

SANDUSKY Helping the environment can also help your pocketbook. For homeowners, making adjustments or simple changes t
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Helping the environment can also help your pocketbook.

For homeowners, making adjustments or simple changes today on Earth Day can make the difference in energy savings.

"I guess the whole idea is taking a large picture of the whole global arena and locally on the aspect that you're going to save money on your pocketbook," said Nick Hinkle, member of Green Energy Ohio, a nonprofit organization that promotes environmentally and economically sustainable energy policies and practices in Ohio.

By monitoring the thermostat and hot water heater closely, homeowners can reduce the amount of energy needed to heat their house, Hinkle said. Also, energy-efficient light bulbs use less power and last three to five years longer than incandescent light bulbs.

"If you have every household install five energy-efficient light bulbs, it'd basically be the equivalent of 8 million cars or 21 power plants," Hinkle said. "It's the little things that add up."

In the Sandusky area, strong winds are prevalent and provide an alternative energy source, said Mark Norman, member of the Green Energy Ohio board of directors.

"You have to look at wind maps," Norman said. "This is an excellent region for wind, but you have to look at your location."

Other energy saving tips include closing the damper in a fireplace since it will prevent up to 8 percent of furnace-heated air from going out the chimney. Also, homeowners should clean furnace filters monthly since it will improved air flow through the house.

Even the shower can produce energy savings. By replacing the shower head with a low-flow shower head, one can cut water consumption significantly, Hinkle said.

Norman, who helped build the Foam House, 1016 Third St., used advanced products for energy efficiency. The house features foam building blocks that are filled with concrete, which is more energy-efficient than modern construction materials, Norman said.

But you don't need a foam home to energy cut costs.

Any type of insulation can keep heat in during the winter and cold air in during the summer. But spray foam is the best type of insulation.

Throughout the entire house, windows result in significant heat loss, Norman said.

"More heat's lost through the windows than all the walls combined," Norman said.

Norman recommends replacing old windows for more energy-efficient ones and installing insulated blinds on windows to keep heat in.

Along with simple changes to the house, consumers can cut the electric bill by investing in alternative energy sources. Wind and solar energy comprise two of many forms of alternative energy that consumers can utilize.

Small wind turbines, which start out at $500, can produce savings, Norman said. Before jumping in, consumers should analyze all aspects of wind energy.

Trees and buildings can often block wind and prevent the wind turbine from producing enough energy. Wind turbines need to be 100 feet off the ground or higher since it will be more productive that way.

Consumers also need to consider how the turbine is hooked into the electricity in the home.

Aside from wind, solar energy can also produce enough energy to power a home.

"If there's enough sunlight to cast a shadow, there's enough energy to heat your home," Norman said.

Despite its benefits, solar energy for the home is very expensive. To install solar panels on the foam house, it would cost close to $45,000, Norman said.

"We use 10 times the energy than what citizens of the rest of the world use," Norman said. "We're going to have to change how we do things. The greatest thing we can do is become aware."

One local institution is planning to pursue alternative energy to power its buildings.

BGSU Firelands received aSaving $1 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a 60-meter 250 kilowatt wind turbine, according to Dean Jim Smith. The college also has plans to build a larger wind turbine that would produce 1.2 megawatts of electricity.

"The cost savings for electricity for the campus would be a benefit for us, which we can in turn pass on to the community," he said.

The college is still in the planning phase and needs to consider the impact of the wind turbines on the migratory bird population.

"We'd like to serve as an application model," Smith said. "We'd like to see us and other people take advantage of the application of wind power for public entities."

"The economics is going to force it. We should be aware that those changes are coming," Norman said. "There's going to come a point that we're going to have to look for other answers."

PULLOUT: Energy Saving Tips

Thermostats and hot water heaters are often set too high resulting in wasted energy.

*Energy-efficient light bulbs reduce the amount of power that's used in the household. These light bulbs can last three to five years longer than incandescent.

*Consumers should replace shower heads with low-flow shower heads since they will reduce the amount of water used and lower a person's monthly water bill.

*Homeowners who have fireplaces should close the damper, which can prevent up to 8 percent of furnace-heated from escaping up the chimney.

*Furnace filters should be cleaned monthly since the air will flow better and the furnace will more effectively heat the house.