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Energy Efficiency: A Revolution in Applied Sustainability at Home

By Sarah Antolick, Engineer at Pare Corporation and a member of Pare’s Sustainability Committee

 

Whether you are a climate-conscious homeowner or are simply looking to keep a few extra dollars in your pocket, sustainable homes have become a hot topic in the past few years. In 2010, 40% of U.S energy consumption was from residential and commercial buildings and accounted for nearly 40% of carbon dioxide emissions [1].  As environmentally conscientious citizens and engineering professionals with a stake in the construction industry, we have an imperative to improve our built environment.

Building codes set a standard for the design and construction of our homes while setting a reference point for health, safety and wellness.  Updating the building code is a powerful tool for improving new construction, which comprises a significant portion of our housing market. According to a study by Statista published in 2017, residential housing growth between 2015 and 2016 amounted to 880,000 new units [2]. These new housing units are among the most sustainable and energy efficient as we are seeing higher standards and codes on both the national and local levels.

However, new construction cannot compare to our existing housing, as it is estimated that there are 135.58 million total residential units in the United States as of 2016.  Therefore, it is in our existing homes that we can make the greatest impact on our environment through energy efficiency improvements.

There are many easy ways to reduce energy usage and save money in our homes without starting from the ground up. Savings vary depending on home size, age, current technology usage, product brand, etc., but collectively these technologies provide significant savings.   Items such as LED light bulbs, low-flow shower heads and aerators, and programmable thermostats are simple fixes that can help reduce energy waste.

The impact that can be derived from these simple changes includes:

  • LED light bulbs use 25-80% less energy and last 3-25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs [3].
  • Phantom energy is energy consumed by appliances that are plugged in but not in use which can account for 15% or more of a household’s total energy consumption. Advanced power strips can eliminate this inefficiency [4].
  • Water heating is the second largest contributor to most households’ energy consumption. Simply fixing a leaking faucet can save $35 annually [5].
  • Low-flow shower heads can save both water and energy consumption for water heating. Low-flow fixtures can translate to 25-60% reduction in water consumption annually [5].

Additional savings can be achieved through larger investments such as air sealing by using double pane windows, added insulation, upgraded HVAC systems, and energy star appliances.

The cost of these systems and energy savings vary greatly.  Locally  both Massachusetts and Rhode Island encourage homeowners to invest in these retrofit options through their rebate programs. Mass Save provides services at subsidized cost and provides interest-free loans on long-term investments [6]. Rhode Island has paired up with National Grid to provide both auditing services and rebates for eligible homeowners [7].

Residents of Rhode Island can take advantage of companies such as RISE Engineering for a full spectrum of services from auditing, design, vending, and  installation through the financial incentives process. RISE is one of the oldest providers of energy auditing services with over 35 years of experience working on over 25,000 single-family residences totaling over $800 million in energy improvements. They work with utility companies, municipalities, and program sponsors to offer a comprehensive energy retrofitting experience. https://www.riseengineering.com/

Likewise, in Massachusetts, HomeWorks Energy is one of the companies tackling energy efficiency one home at a time as part of the “Mass Save” program.  This program is to provide Massachusetts residents with home energy assessments including installation of free products including low flow shower heads and LED light bulbs, and recommendations for future improvements through HVAC, weatherization, windows, and solar. HomeWorks collaborates with home owners, municipalities, contractors, and other community partners to help take advantage of Mass Save incentives. https://www.homeworksenergy.com/

A sustainable future starts in our homes, and the first step in unlocking these opportunities is through home energy assessments. Learn how you can start the process at https://energy.gov/energysaver/do-it-yourself-home-energy-audits

Additionally, The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) maintains a comprehensive national database of Energy Incentive Program resources for organizations, businesses, and residents which can be accessed at https://energy.gov/eere/femp/energy-incentive-programs.

 References:

1-  http://buildingsdatabook.eren.doe.gov/

2-  https://www.statista.com/statistics/240267/number-of-housing-units-in-the-united-states/

3-  https://energy.gov/energysaver/how-energy-efficient-light-bulbs-compare-traditional-incandescents#4- https://energy.gov/energysaver/reduce-hot-water-use-energy-savings

5- https://energy.gov/energysaver/reduce-hot-water-use-energy-savings

6- https://www.masssave.com/en/saving/energy-assessments/ and https://www.masssave.com/en/saving/energy-assessments/homeowners?gclid=CjwKCAjw1ufKBRBYEiwAPI_r4XLc7hejP5qFEKr-CNvIojqk_8T0rqkUiS2e0feHPIyZVWAFsQUj-xoC9OIQAvD_BwE

7- https://www.nationalgridus.com/RI-Home/Energy-Saving-Programs/ and https://www.nationalgridus.com/RI-Home/Energy-Saving-Programs/Home-Checkups-Weatherization

Pare Congratulates Walter Burke on Environmental Achievement Award

Pare Corporation is excited to recognize a long-time client, Bristol Parks and Recreation Director Walter Burke, as the recipient of Save the Bay’s annual Environmental Achievement Award. Walter was recently honored for his efforts to eliminate stormwater pollution entering Narragansett Bay in the Town of Bristol and, in particular, for his efforts to improve water quality at the Bristol Town Beach.

walterburkecropped

Working with Pare’s civil engineering and environmental teams, Walter initiated the Bristol Town Beach project to eliminate the frequent beach closings caused in years past by stormwater pollution. Historically, Bristol was forced to close its beach an average of 15 to 20 times per summer due to a stormwater system that carried bacteria, salt, and pollutants directly into the bay. David Potter, Senior Project Engineer in Pare’s Civil Division explains, “Pare worked together with Walter, the CRMC (RI Coastal Resources Management Council) and the DEM (RI Department of Environmental Management) to obtain a joint permit for the first-ever permitted GWVTS (Gravel Wet Vegetated Treatment System) in Rhode Island.”

Bristol Beach Plan

This design uses a vegetated permanent pool split between two cells to temporarily capture stormwater runoff from the adjacent residential neighborhood and treat for pathogens, total suspended solids, and other constituents. The two cells within the GWVTS are planted with a variety of aesthetically pleasing flowers and shrubs that feed on bacteria and pollutants before releasing this “filtered” water into the bay. The GWVTS is one of the solutions incorporated by Walter Burke on the Bristol Town Beach to treat stormwater runoff and reduce the number of beach closings.

The new system worked so well in the summer of 2013 (its first full season) that beach closings went from 15+ to zero. Briscoe Lang, Pare’s Principal Environmental Scientist, stated, “This system has proven successful in removing pathogens, and it should be used in all possible settings. It also provides significant aesthetic benefits.”

Bristol Bioretention Pond

When discussing the dual-functionality and success of the project, Pare’s team unanimously noted Walter Burke’s “vision” and his “get it done” attitude. As Briscoe Lang said, “Talk is nothing without action.” David Potter added, “He not only has the vision, but the patience and energy to achieve it.”

Bristol Beach Wetland

Congratulations to Walter Burke, who was presented the Environmental Achievement Award on Wednesday, May 21, by Save the Bay. For press coverage of Walter Burke’s achievement and additional GWVTS details, click here.

And the Winner of PARE’s 3rd Annual Earth Day Photo Contest Is…

Happy Earth Day, everyone – and congratulations to Jay Bowen, the winner of PARE’s 3rd annual Earth Day Photo contest!

We received thirteen great entries this year, so it was a difficult choice! Jay’s “The Plight of the Bumblebee” swept the competition with nine votes.

 

Image

The “Plight” of the Bumblebee
“More than an annoying summertime buzz
More than a stinger on a tiny ball of fuzz
The Bee works all day to produce the perfect food
A sweet, delicate treat for when you’re in the mood
No need for tools, chemicals, or artificial power
To gently coast from flower to flower
A form of agriculture not to be surpassed
The Bee has perfected sustainability built to last
But the Bee’s population has started to decline
Pesticides and poor environment come to mind
So let’s stay green and give our BeeFF’s a hand
For as Einstein said “No bees, no man”

Jay will receive a gift card to Panera Bread, a company that encourages us to “Live Consciously, Eat Deliciously”. To learn about how Panera promotes sustainability and gives back to the community, click here.

Special thanks to all who entered the contest this year! Check them out here.

Photo 1: ”Taking Advantage of a Windy and Sunny day at the Beach” by David Matheson

Photo 2: “Walking on Water!” by Melodie Hebert

Photo 3: “Beauty of the World” by Joe Malo

Photo 4: “Fuel Production Plant” by Simon McGrath

Photo 5: “A Foraging Egret” by Lauren Hastings

Photo 6: “Jellyfish Awareness” by Scott Lindgren

Photo 7: “Roman Aqueduct” by Brandon Blanchard

Photo 8: “Maintaining Our Environment” by Kevin Vivieros

Photo 9: “Great Egret” by Briscoe Lang

Photo 11: “San Sebastian Spain” by Brian Mahoney

Photo 12: “Lake Winnipesaukee Sunset” by Devon Ward

Photo 13: “Mono Lake” by David Easterbrooks