PlantOur homes consume considerable energy and natural resources. We heat in winter, cool in summer, utilize electricity,  and use water both cold and hot.  Conserving energy and switching to alternative energy sources will save money and contribute to sustaining the planet’s resources. Part of creating a green home is moving towards green energy sources.

Green energy is renewable energy that is replenished naturally such as wind power, hydroelectricity generated from waterfalls, solar panels utilizing sunlight, and geothermal heating which pulls heat from the ground. I’m going to focus on how the individual can benefit from and implement green energy in their homes. The ideas range from the simple all the way to building a home using mostly renewable resources.

Here are a few tips for conserving power that are in the easy category. Easy I can still hear my mom saying ‘Turn off the light’. It’s become a habit to always turn off lights when leaving a room. I still get annoyed with myself if I forgot to turn off the garage or basement light. It’s likely costing only a few cents. It just seems a waste.

In the winter, we welcome the sun warming our homes. This is an example of solar energy. On sunny winter days, open the curtains or blinds to let the sun in. The sun is at a lower angle in the winter so shines farther into our homes. During the summer, close the blinds somewhat to divert the heat from the hot afternoon sun. This  saves energy to heat your home in the winter and to cool it with air conditioning in the summer.

Switching to a programmable thermostat is convenient once set up and saves energy. The one I have, allows for day and nighttime temperature settings. As well, it can be set in vacation mode at a specific temperature for the required number of days. Mine also displays an alert when the furnace filter needs to be cleaned. A clean filter increases the efficiency of the furnace.

Compact Fluorescent BulbsChanging your incandescent light bulbs to the new longer life compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) conserves energy and saves money. These bulbs use 75% less energy and generate less heat. This reduces cooling costs in the warm weather.

There is an increasing variety of CFL bulbs to fit various fixtures. You can also get bulbs from white to soft yellow light to mimic the incandescent bulbs. There is information on selecting the correct bulb and shade on the U.S. Dept. of Energy site. Here’s a direct link to a CFL Purchasing Guide showing the types of bulbs for fixtures and the best light color for your use.


Solar Energy

Do you have a calculator with a solar cell instead of a battery? One that works where there’s enough light to power it? Then you are using a mini solar panel. Solar panels hold the hope that we will one day be able to harness the sun to provide electricity for our homes.

Solar Panel on RoofSolar panels are made up of  arrays of photvoltaic cells which collect renewable energy from the sun. They are a clean source of  alternative energy. The cost of installing solar panels on the roof of an existing home is becoming more reasonable. There may be grants or other financial incentives in your area which will help defray the cost. There are solar calculators on the internet which determine the cost of installing solar panels and the payback savings.

You may already be using solar panels on a small scale. Many garden lights are now solar powered.

Solar water heaters use the energy of the sun to heat water. I am familiar with this type of system from camping. Of course, this was a very basic system consisting of a large plastic container filled with water set on a shelf over the outdoor shower. If it was a sunny day, the shower was warm. If cloudy, not so warm but still worked well.

Here’s a diagram of a solar water heater system.Solar Water Heater

There are several designs for these systems. A good source of information on solar water heaters is provided by the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

Try this do-it-yourself solar energy water heater system.

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Geothermal Heating

If you are building a new home, it makes sense to incorporate solar panels and consider geothermal for a renewable heat source. Geothermal energy comes from the heat in the ground. Even in regions with a cold winter, the ground temperate is 55°F or 12.8°C just ten feet or 3 meters down. The heat is extracted with a geothermal heat pump. It is a constant source of heat in cool weather.

Geothermal System

In the summer, the system can be reversed so heat is withdrawn from the home. This withdrawn heat can be used to heat water saving even more.

Geothermal seems like the ideal alternative energy source for heating the green home.

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The Wisconsin home featured in this video was built using passive solar and geothermal.

The heat extracted from the ground is fed into the hydronic floor. So the floorsgeot are warm all winter. The windows on the south side of the home are glazed to enhance the capturing of solar energy. An open floor plan was used in the main living areas for good heat circulation and to take advantage of the solar heating.

The home was designed with an overhang on the south side, to reduce the summer heat.

The home has two thermal mass areas for retaining solar heating. One is the concrete floor with the tubing where the geothermal heated water circulates. The second thermal mass is created by the wood burning fireplace made up of three tons of bricks. This retains the heat and slowly releases it to supplement the solar heating.