Updated: May 30, 2019
With all the #climatereality it's tough to have hope. I must admit that there are times when I feel deep despair and it doesn't take much. Lately, I have found myself avoiding any news about anything remotely connected with climate - forest fires this summer in California, Sweden and Greece; dying coral reefs, starving polar bears, stronger storms from warming oceans and so on. I've embraced a clear set of boundaries around how much "bad news" I allow into my life and now base each personal decision on the impact it will have on the earth.
When we bought our circa 1960 home in the Catskill Mountains in 2007, we knew that there would be work to do. That first winter we walked around the house with hats and layers of sweaters. The oil boiler worked overtime to keep up and it cost a fortune.
After experiencing an uncomfortably cold house for one season, we installed a woodstove with a catalytic converter that made it more efficient than most. That helped us get through the next heating season by improving the comfort level in the living room where we spent most of our time. The kitchen, dining room and laundry room remained drafty and too chilly for us to spend too much time. We closed off the rooms we could upstairs and used space heaters in the rooms where we spent the most time.
In 2010, we started our company - Energy Conservation Specialists, LLC - and our new understanding of "Building Science" helped us see how our home functions "as a system". We now understood that the cause of the drafts and the expensive energy utility bills was the lack of insulation and air sealing. After doing some air sealing and installing insulation in our attic we significantly improved the comfort of our home. Because our home was built on a slab, we needed to insulate our walls and found that also helped reduce drafts.
We made other small improvements like adding a side arm tank for hot water to eliminate the tankless coil, installing aggressive hot water pipe insulation, reducing the temperature on the hot water tank to 120 degrees, installing a humidistat to improve the efficiency of the boiler and adding low flow devices to our faucets.
When the old refrigerator stopped working we bought a smaller EnergyStar unit that was more expensive than some but uses just $26 of electricity annually. We installed LED lightbulbs and reduced our electric bill significantly right away. Each change has improved our efficiency, reduced energy use and improved our comfort. The next logical step was to contact a Solar installer. There were several options to achieve the installation of solar panels and we chose to apply for a home equity loan for financing. The NYS incentives helped us defray some of the cost and we are thrilled to receive a check from the electric company each year.
With all the changes, we still relied on an old, inefficient oil boiler for heating and hot water. We very much wanted to find a way to end our reliance on fossil fuels. When we learned about the new Mitsubishi mini-splits we hoped that we had found the answer. The new air source heat pumps, unlike the old ones, are engineered to work in our climate as a primary source of heating and cooling. After the incentives, our heat pumps cost us a bit less than a new oil boiler and we are now very comfortable in our home during all four seasons here in the Catskill mountains of New York State. The remaining item we had on our list was a hot water heater. We considered installing a heat pump water heater that removes heat from the air to help heat water. This option didn't seem like a good fit for us so we settled on an electric on-demand hot water heater. The unit only heats water as we need it. Now that we have ended our reliance on fossil fuels at home, our next step is to transition over to Electric Vehicles. Stay tuned!