OMG! Energy Secretary Steven Chu LOVES Mapawatt!

Alright, so maybe Secretary Chu doesn't really love us (at least not yet), but he answered a question we sent in via Twitter to his Town Hall style chat, so that's a start.  The purpose of the chat was to "...discuss President Obama's Clean Energy and Innovation Agenda" and it can be seen on the website and the snippet with our question can be seen below.

Our question was: "What is the most cost effective modification a homeowner can make to their home to save the most energy".

His answer (paraphrased):

Insulation, finding where the air leaks are and sealing  those leaks.

He then went on to describe how he made a custom solution to prevent air from coming in or escaping from his mail slot, which sure sounded a lot like the solution we posted last week to prevent door drafts!  Of course his wife seemed to like the solution he came up with much more than my wife liked the big piece of cardboard sticking out of our door.

My answer would have been "Install and use a programmable thermostat", but only because I think that this is easier to do for most people than tackling their insulation issues, but to tell you the truth, his answer is probably the better one because it is more cost effective (depending on how much insulation you need).  It makes sense to fix all your leaks first, and then tackle the usage side (which is done with the thermostat).   I guess that's why he has a Nobel Prize for Physics...

See our question and his answer below!

enjoyed our post? let others know: 


I agree with you on the idea that getting a programmable thermostat is a more realistic option for most people. It's true that getting an energy audit and insulating is important it also takes time and money where a programmable thermostat is relatively cheap and easy to install so you can start using it right away while you're still in the process of testing and insulating your house. My point is that it's not an either or situation. Like you said, even if you're house is properly insulated you still need a programmable thermostat conserve energy so if you're short on cash it's a good place to start.
ckmapawatt's picture
Thanks for the reassurance Neal! In reality, you need to do both, but its all about what is more realistic for the homeowner. Too often, people give energy saving advice without taking into account human psychology.
With all due respect, the programmable thermometer is pretty far down the list, especially compared to really sealing the leaks in the walls _and_ heating duct vents (both cold return and warm air vents) Once they are properly sealed and _before_ you have additional insulation blown in (cellulose, not fiber glass, please) it is very important to go into the attic and seal all the holes where the wiring and pipes penetrate the interior walls/joists. Use a product called mastic. Then add insulation in the attic and walls. You will be AMAZED how much more comfortable you will be and how much lower your heating and cooling bills will be. Yes, adding solar panels to your house is "new and exciting" but seal and insulate your house first. Getting a "blower door" test and a "duct blaster" door and fixing those leaks comes first.
ckmapawatt's picture
Jeff, I appreciate your comment, but I honestly think the answer is (which it so often is when discussing energy): It Depends. For instance, I put in a theater room down in the basement. It is insulated pretty well already. There isn't too much I can do to improve the insulation. But, because we use it more often now, we have to heat it more, and this is where the programmable thermostat comes in. Some people would just leave this room on 70 degrees all the time, even if they only use it once a week. I try to program the thermostat so it is only heated at the times we might use it. In actuality, I should keep it on very little heat until I know we're going to use it, and then manually raise the heat. So, that's a long answer, but my point is, we're discussing the difference between Efficiency and Conservation. Insulation and sealing is improving your home's efficiency, while using a Programmable Thermostat is energy conservation. It depends on how old a home is and what a homeowner has already done that depends which option has the greatest impact.
I had an energy audit for around $300 that used an infrared camera to shoot every room in my house. They also took pics with a regular camera where they noticed leaks in the envelope. I saved the pics and it was very informative! I'll probably write a blog on it soon. It was worth the $300 to see what I can't see with the naked eye...
Agreed, the FLIR camera photos are great ;) But truth be told I didn't have that much "actionable intelligence" from mine. Front door leaks... knew that. Attic hatch leaks a bit... yeah, need to take care of that. Every outlet in the wall looks cold... But the neat thing was, once I had the walls retrofitted with blown-in cellulose, many of those leaks / cold spots just magically got better, for having filled the gaps in the walls. So it was a twofer - retrofitting insulation had a side-effect of stopping many leaks, too! Still need to do something about that nice old leaky front door. Interestingly, they didn't shoot my mail slot. It's darned cold too!
I am glad that Chu gave such a good answer! The best way to find out about the performance of your building envelope is to get an energy audit done by a qualified energy expert. They will do a blower door test to determine the equivalent leakage area of the building envelope, and this is the single most valuable piece of info. That, and identifying the specific leaks and how best to improve them. An audit costs around $700 and most auditors will give you a list from easiest to hardest (expensive) things to do to improve the insulation and/or leaks. Best investment you can make IMHO.
Guy, nobody will spend $700 to find out how to spend $2000 to save $100 a year, unfortunately. But luckily most utilities will subsidize those first two numbers significantly. I never suggest an energy audit to anyone without also pointing out that you can almost always get a less-expensive one from your utility. OTOH, one friend's audit was a joke. Mine was excellent. Depends who they contract with I guess.
Here in Maine the non-profit group I work with charge about $350 to do a very detailed audit. However, I was referencing the for-profit guys that also work locally and charge $700 and up. But our track record shows that people are very willing to spend a little to learn what needs to be improved. Maine has the oldest housing stock in the country (think leaky 1800's farm houses heated with oil and/or wood stoves), and one of the coldest climates, so energy efficiency is a big deal 'round here. Even the cheapest old Mainah sees the wisdom in improving the insulation in their home! ;)
ckmapawatt's picture
Good point Eric. I was going to say the same thing that $700 sounded pretty high. I think if you call around to different providers in your specific area, you can find a range of services offered and prices at those services. Resnet has a good section you can use to <a href="" rel="nofollow">find a home energy auditor</a>.


Post new comment

Subscribe to Comments for "OMG! Energy Secretary Steven Chu LOVES Mapawatt!"