Power For Your Life Podcast | Season 1 - Episode 6
From heating and cooling to insulation and water heating, this episode focuses on designing and building homes for energy efficiency. We discuss these money-saving ideas with expert guest Mark Boyer from Three Rivers Electric Cooperative.
Transcript – Power For Your Life – Season 1 | Episode 6
Original release date: March 1, 2020
Hi, my name is Cadence and I'm Brooklyn. Our parents are members of Ozark Electric Cooperative. I love our co-op because they give out prizes like bikes at the annual meeting. And I love our co-op because they come to my school to show just how to stay safe around electricity.
Darryll (Host): Welcome to the Power For Your Life podcast, where we focus on energy efficiency, the value of electric cooperative membership and safety around electricity. Today I'm visiting with Mark Boyer, manager of member services at Three Rivers Electric Cooperative in Linn, Missouri. Today's topic, how to build an energy efficient home and save money. Mark, it's important to consider incorporating energy efficient products and construction techniques into the design phase of our new home that we're getting ready to build. So, let's start by talking about why it's important to start early in that design process.
Mark (Guest): When you're designing a home, there are a lot of factors that influence energy efficiency. The design of the home itself; if you have a ranch style home that is more just like a square that's easier to insulate and it'll cost less money. If you have a lot of cuts and corners that will add to the cost to insulate. But the most important factor when it comes to new homes is, make sure you insulate well and that you have a heating and cooling system that is efficient.
Darryll (Host): And that insulation is really important. It doesn't really matter what types of insulation you're going to use. You've got to choose the right one based on your site location, all of your construction materials, whether you're using two by four walls or two by six walls or concrete or just any number of things that factor into that right?
Mark (Guest): Yes, we-we call it the building envelope. And the building envelope… look at it like putting a letter in an envelope. It surrounds your home and if you have a tight building envelope, then you're probably going to be operating as energy efficient as you can when it comes to heating and cooling costs. If you don't have a tight envelope, then your costs are going to be higher. So, it's up to you in the beginning phase of the home building process to make sure that you and the contractor on the same page when it comes to energy efficiency.
Darryll (Host): And that-that building envelope you know something that we just can't discuss without talking specifically about insulation. So, let's talk about the various types of insulation and the benefits of each one. Let's start with cellulose.
Mark (Guest): With cellulose--blown cellulose--the cellulose insulation itself is coated with a product that is boric acid and a glue. And so, you mix it with a little bit of water, and you blow it into the cavities and it seals off and then, there be a lot of residue on the floor and just keep putting it back in and then you shave the walls and you have a compact four-inch wall that does not have any air infiltration. If you use cellulose and if you use foam--either type foam--you do not need the house wrap on the outside. You need a house wrap if you use fiberglass insulation because at the air can go through fiberglass.
Darryll (Host): And really, that's one of the fundamental things about-about homes that you see a lot in the construction phase early… is you see that plastic wrap on the outside. And you know as utilities, we think ‘Well we know what kind of insulation they're putting in, so we're probably going to be prepared for those as we call him the high bill complaints’ or-or the-the member who says, ‘you know, I really can't understand why my bill’s so high because I've…’ We think we've properly insulated our home, right?
Mark (Host): You know, each insulation has a performance graph and you need to look at that performance graph to understand how cold and hot affect that type of insulation. And that will help you make your decision. Whenever I built my home, I used blown cellulose and the important-an important-factor when you're building a home is to make sure you insulate the whole envelope all the way around, including as I did the basement walls. And I know there's been a long feeling that if you have dirt up against the outside of the concrete wall that you're good. Well, In Missouri, the ground temperature is an average of 55 to 57 degrees, depending on North/South part of the state. If you're heating your house to 70, you're losing heat constantly through those walls in the basement and you don't even realize it. And so I think it's important to understand, if you truly want the maximum insulated home, you have to know to put the right insulation in the attic, in the walls and all the walls in the basement have to be insulated.
Darryll (Host): You know we did something similar with our new home several years ago. And-and we used foam insulation. And much like the blown in cellulose, you know, it truly seals up every little nook and cranny, including any of those wiring penetrations from the outside air conditioning unit to any electrical penetrations between the studs. I mean, it is truly sealed up and there's no air that can move. Unlike other-other forms of insulation.
Mark (Guest): And you know when we first started talking about tight homes, which that would be considered a title--mine would definitely be considered a tight home--they said, ‘oh, you're going to have problems with moisture.’ I have not. And the whole time I've been at Three Rivers Electric only two or three homes had moisture problems. And none of them were caused by insulation. Matter of fact they were caused by the lack of insulation and exposed walls.
Darryll (Host): And you know, they talk about the fact that, that home can be too tight as you just mentioned and you have moisture problems, you have humidity problems. You have mold problems and you know I've not experienced it. You have not experienced it. We've had lower utility bills than our neighbors.
Mark (Guest): I uh… well… you know there's a meter on every home, and so at the end of the year, if you add up all your month, your monthly bills and divide by 12, you get your average cost. So, I have about an 1,800 square foot ranch home. And my average cost... of course, I have a ground source heat pump too so that it has a large part to play in this, but the average monthly cost is $120.00.
Darryll (Guest): You know you just can't really beat that. I mean, that's just a real, real efficient home.
Mark (Guest): It is.
Darryll (Guest): You know the other factor that comes into play when you're talking about making sure you have as little air infiltration as possible is sealing up those windows and doing it at the proper time in the construction phase. Talk a little bit about the advantages of a two dollar and 50-cent tube of caulk.
Mark (Guest): The advantage is this. Most contractors these days--insulation contractors--as part of the home insulation package, will seal all your ceiling joists and your floor joists and all areas that air can come through, which is something we never did back in the '70s and '80s and even into the '90s. But then it just became part of the process and if you are going to hire contractor, make sure that they will seal with caulk exactly as you're talking about. That-that one tube of caulk that cost $2.50. I don't know-- I mean I haven’t bought caulk in a while... but say it’s $2.50... That will run along way, you know down a ceiling joist to seal that part. And air will come in wherever it can. You know when we do energy audits, it's like well if you can see light around the door or if you feel air around the window, you definitely know air is coming through. So, caulk is your—that is your number one defense for air filtration.
Darryll (Guest): And of course, we want to also make sure that not only are we doing it at the time of construction. But then a year or two or three years later, after you've moved in, you want to go through and inspect all of the inside parts of that window and make sure you've got a fresh bead of caulk around where the drywall meets the window pane, the window sill, all the way around.
Mark (Guest): Exactly if you see the caulk starting to pull away or shrink, you know it's time to redo it. You know, and again there's no time like now. A lot of times again you do energy audits and you know people say ‘I'm gonna get on--right on that’ and I don't know if they ever do.
Darryll (Host): Because there's no real way to prove it is there?
Mark (Host): No, there's not… we just know.
Darryll (Host): Exactly…we do indeed, we do indeed. So, let's take a short break. And when we come back and finish our discussion with Mark Boyer, let's talk a little bit about heating and cooling. You mentioned your ground source heat pump and we're going to talk about that. We're going to also talk about some new technologies that are really old technologies. They've been around for a while, but we're going to talk about that and a great way to save money on your water heating bill. And we're going to do that in a moment when we return.
Darryll (Host): Back with more of the Power For Your Life podcast and our discussion with Mark Boyer from Three Rivers Electric cooperative. Today's topic building an energy efficient home. And Mark before the break we were talking about how best to seal up a home in new construction and some of the energy efficient technologies used in that new home construction. But, you know, there's also some things that you can do with an existing home to make it more energy efficient. Talk about those things.
Mark (Guest): You know, and actually Darryll, it's really not that much different from a new home. Seal—insulate... Also, there's, uh, what plays into… new appliances. And if you have the right type of heating system, a programmable thermostat. OK, so let me and let me start with sealing. Sealing is probably the number one--the most cost-effective way to improve your home. And by sealing, what I mean is this. We talked about it earlier. If you see air around a door. Guess what? Or light around a doorway? Air is coming in. What I run into doing energy audits--and this is just something that happens all the time--I go into a home and I always wonder what I'm doing. I'm always checking every window because invariably what happens is somebody will you know springtime comes they unlatch their window and that top part falls down, probably about 2 inches and they don't even realize it. So, they put the window up. Flip the… whatever that thing is….
Darryll (Host): The latch…
Mark (Guest): The locks, locks window, and they think oh it's-it's locked. When I come back you know now it's cold weather in the winter and I check the window and, usually about half the windows in the home. I've done that.
Darryll (Host): Not only are they unlocked and unsecured, but now they're still leaking air both at the top and then at the top of that. That-- where the latch should be..
Mark (Guest): Yeah, so it's amazing to me. And speaking of windows, I think it's been a common item that everybody thinks that the best way to improve a home is to put in new windows. If you already have double pane windows, that's probably your worst investment. Before you do that, seal—insulate. Again, any exposed wall in a basement that you can get to you need to insulate. Because all you're going to do is help that much more on keeping your heating system from operating. The other--the programmable thermostat--I think people get carried away sometimes because if you read the federal guidelines or any of these energy, you know how to make a whole more energy efficient, they talk about programmable thermostats. They'll recommend turn it down three or four degrees, because if you turn it way down then the whole house cools down. It takes, it ends up going the other direction. It takes longer and runs more to get it back up where it should be. So as long as you’re OK, and you don't get carried away with it, maybe three, four degrees and then bring it back up you’re gonna be good.
Darryll (Host): And do it incrementally too, because-because with many of the new programmable thermostats you can actually start in the wintertime. You can start that preheat, is what I'll call it; that little short segment of bringing it up a couple of degrees say at 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon if you're home by 5:00. So that at 4:00 o'clock, maybe you're bringing it up another degree or two. And then when you get home at five, it's the comfortable temperature that you want; instead of having two solid hours of runtime full bore and putting undue stress on that compressor.
Mark (Guest): Oh, exactly and as you know, we started doing thermostat rebates you know, through the co-op systems. But it has to be Energy Star rated and a lot of people are just buying thermostats and sending in the rebate applications, and they're not qualified. So, if you need to know what qualifies, go to the Energy Star website under thermostats and they have a list of the thermostats to qualify for the Energy Star rating, which will get the $50 rebate through Associated and the electric co-ops.
Darryll (Host): And of course you can always contact your local co-op for the for the exact details of what qualifies in those thermostats.
Mark (Guest): Yes.
Darryll (Host): And you know the smart thermostats even give you that mobile capability. So, if you've got the time while you're out and you want to start that incremental process of raising your temperature in the winter or lowering it in the summer time so that the house is more comfortable when you get home, you can do that over time and not put such a big burden on your heating and cooling system.
Mark (Guest): Exactly. And some of those thermostats are so advanced they learn your--the way you're operating, and they will do it for you automatically. I mean, it's really amazing. The technology that is in some of those thermostats.
Darryll (Host): Right.
Mark (Guest): Back to what you're saying. The last thing about--you seal, you insulate, programmable thermostats, heating systems. Heating systems. If you have a air conditioner that is 20 years old, the SEER rating on that air conditioner is probably 9 to 9 to 11 at the highest. Whereas today SEER ratings can go upwards of 18 to 20. So that SEER rating, a higher SEER rating will make it operate less. So just be aware of that. Heat pumps are the same way. Air source heat pumps have higher HSPF and SEER ratings. Now you pay for the higher, but you're going to save money. So, just be aware that whenever you're buying. And there are again rebates through the cooperative system for air source heat pumps you have to have gas back up, and that's what a lot of people don't understand either. And that's for a reason, but you have to have gas back up in order to get a rebate on that.
Darryll (Host): And you know you're leading right into our next little piece here of information that's going to be really key. And we're going to talk in detail about ground source heat pumps. But according to the Department of Energy here in the United States, more than 50% of the energy that we spend every single month on our home expenses comes as a result of heating and cooling our home, making it more comfortable for us. So, half of our bill is made up by that heating and cooling system. So, let's talk about why Geo has been such a--geothermal ground source heat pumps--have been such an important factor in your life and how much money it saved you over a lifetime.
Mark (Guest): Let's start; I started Three Rivers in 1985. In 1986, ground source heat pumps became readily or available on a residential market. So, there was a rebate at that time--a whopping $250 per system. With the ground source heat pump, you have a higher cost to install because you have to either drill the holes in the ground for vertical or transfer horizontal or put in a lake loop. But the whole reason for that is, with the ground source instead of like an air source system where the air temperature outside, you're either trying to take heat out of the air or put heat back outside--a ground source--water is controlling that heat extraction or rejection. So, because of that, and if you size it right, you control what the heating costs are going to be. Now in my case, again, I have a--I had a meter on mine. But just for example, we have a 1,680 square foot ranch home and our average bill with the ground source is $120.00. Now, what does ground source do for you compared to an electric furnace? A ground source will use one-third…one… one-fourth to one-third what an electric furnace will. Compared to propane… depends on the price of propane, but what propane is right now? It's at least 50% savings compared to propane. And it's real savings. Now, as with any heating/cooling system, what you set it on is going to determine a lot toward what kind of bill you're going to get to. We keep it set on 69 or 70 because we can't hardly take it any hotter in the house. You know, some people have it on 74. Just understand that compared to 70 to 74, you're going to spend about 12 to 15% more to heat that house on 74 than you are on 70. So just keep that in mind. But with the ground source… The first house I built was built in 1992. This is 2019; that’s 27 years. That original system is still there. The house I have now was built in 2004 and I still have the original in there so. They do last, they sit inside. That's the beauty. It heats, it cools. It will help with the water heater if you want it to. And it all sits inside. You don't have that noisy central air conditioner out there. I mean how many people have had a little get together in the summer? You know, on the decks are always right above the air conditioners, so you hear that thing kick on and then you have to raise your voice. With ground source, you don't have that problem.
Darryll (Host): Plus, it's protected from the elements and that leads to it being more of a, of a system to last much longer than being exposed to the sun, the rain, the hail, everything in the world that happens on the outside.
Mark (Guest): Exactly, I mean. I think in the state of Missouri I don't know how many ground source systems are there. But due to the rebate being there for so long… I know it just our co-op alone, 20% of our heating systems are ground source.
Darryll (Host): And that's-that's a pretty good number.
Mark (Guest): It is.
Darryll (Host): And you know the interesting thing too, which goes back to where we started in this podcast, we talked about sealing. We talked about insulation. We talked about, you know, designing that home correctly. So, if you do all of those things ahead of time and you get the right insulation, what's the end result with that geothermal or air source heat pump, or any type of heating and cooling system?
Mark (Guest): Regardless of the type of heating system you have, if you insulate and seal properly, you're going to guarantee that you're operating at the lowest cost there can be for that system, regardless of which type you use.
Darryll (Host): And possibly even reducing the size of that of that equipment.
Mark (Guest): You know, and that is a good point, Darryll. We go look at homes, and then they say, what size do I need? Well, you need a 5 ton, but if you if you will insulate the walls in the basement or whatever, and improve over here, then it could be a four ton.
Darryll (Host): And that's a big savings right there?
Mark (Guest): That's a big savings.
Darryll (Host): Big savings indeed. Well, and speaking of savings, there's one other very large expense in our monthly expenses, and that's called water heating. We've got to have hot water for showers today. I've taken enough cold showers, and I don't wanna do anymore of it. But you know, you have personal experience Mark with--with technology called a heat pump water heater and it's not old technology, but it has really been refined in the last few years. And you have some personal experience. Share with everyone what your experience has been with those.
Mark (Guest): When the heat pump water heaters came out about seven or eight years, probably longer than that. But anyway, I got one about seven years ago and we had--we have a group that gets together, and we had some arguments about it was going to rob heat from the home. It’s gonna cost more of this this and that. So, I thought. Well, you know what I'm going to put a meter on there, and I put thermostats in different areas, and you know so I can see how much the temperature went down. And so I did and at the end of the first year I saved an average of 300 kilowatt hours a month because I kept the water heater--it's a heat pump water heater-- and I use heat pump only or if I needed a quicker recovery I would put it on hybrid. So, on heat pump only average about 100 kilowatt hours a month; on hybrid about 120. I was using over 400 originally. Now I have the metering, I mean I kept meter readings every month and I also put those thermostats in three different areas to see what the temperature drop was. The biggest temperature drop was four degrees and I was by the outside door, which by the way had a little bit of air…
Darryll (Host): Had a little air infiltration problems…
Mark (Guest): And the one in the corner into the living area, it only dropped 2 degrees. So that I don't think anybody should be afraid of heat pump water heaters. They work and they will save you money. Now, right now it just so happens I think about a year ago we started doing rebates on heat pump water heaters--$500 up to $500. You got 50% of the cost back up to $1,000. So, once you get above $1,000 used only get $500 back. But that is a tremendous--so tremendous savings. Tremendous benefit. And I mean, again, now caution. If you do have a heat pump water heater, you cannot stick it in the mechanical room or something like that because it needs air movement to make it work. Where mine is it, I have 10 feet across and 25 feet deep. Plenty, plenty-plenty large and it works like a charm.
Darryll (Host): Or you can also consider you know if you've got a large enough mechanical room, put louvers on the doors or on the wall so that it can have that air exchange. It's got to have the air in order to operate properly.
Mark (Guest): Oh yeah, and you're right, and I think like, I don't have mechanical room, do you? Yeah. And so if you want to want you just put the louvers on and that would be able to move the air and extract the heat like-like a supposed to operate.
Darryll (Host): Well, these are these are just all really important things I think for our listeners. You know the bottom line is we're one trying to share some new technologies in some opportunities to save some money, but also if you're looking at water heater replacement, you know there's rebates available. There's thermostats; smart thermostats that have rebates if they’re Energy Star; lots of different things that you can contact your local electric co-op about.
Mark (Guest): You bet. Darryll, before we before we end. Associated and the cooperatives also have a rebate on mini splits. Mini splits are just--a mini split is a small heat pump. If you have an area where you have no duct work and you’d like to put heat in, a mini split is a wonderful way to do it because you don't need duct work. It just has a head that sits on the wall and that'll do-- that controls the heating and cooling from there…blows, the air out and it operates fine. You can even put mini splits in for a whole house on a new house. Well, you have to plan a little different with that. But you can do that. But my personal preference on any home would be ground source. But those mini splits we're seeing more and more rebates on those and they they work. You know, don't be afraid of ‘em.
Darryll (Host): Don't be afraid of ‘em. Contact your co-op and they'll give you all the details.
Mark (Guest): We will!
Darryll (Host): You bet. Well, Mark Moyer from Three Rivers Electric Cooperative in Linn. I appreciate you taking time today to help our--help our listeners save some money and--and also learn some things about energy efficient.
Mark (Guest): Well, thank you. Glad to do it.