It pays to be green

With a new president in office and new environmental policies about to spring out of political limbo and into practice, the old red, white and blue says she is ready for a little more green — at least according to a recent Yale study.

As energy-efficient technologies become more affordable, Americans are willing — and even enthusiastic — to move toward responsible energy use, according to the study, published by researchers from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and George Mason University this month. The survey showed that many Americans have already started making their homes and lives more eco-friendly, and between 10 and 20 percent plan to do so in the coming year. Still, the No. 1 foe in the battle against global warming remains the high costs of green technology.

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Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change and lead author on the study, summarized the survey findings by comparing both American and international environmental efforts to an orchestra. At the individual, national and global levels, he said Americans must learn to harmonize our music — to synchronize our actions with our words.

“The environmental crisis is a collective action problem,” he said, adding that, while individual action helps, it only chips away at a problem that requires a much more global solution.

The survey results suggest that the primary motivation behind the public’s willingness to go green is the need to save green; 91 percent of the Americans surveyed listed saving money as one of their main reasons for turning off house lights. Additionally, 86 percent of Americans said they take the few extra paces to reach for the switch for more a benign reason: to save energy.

It also seems Americans are now convinced that taking a more environmentally friendly approach to life may in fact raise their standard of living. Of the more than 2,000 adults surveyed, nearly two-thirds believe that changing their lifestyles to reduce global warming will either have a neutral or positive impact on their current quality of life.

Paul Anastas, professor at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and director of the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, added that although Americans have long been taught that greener means more expensive and less practical, they need to hear that greener really means more effective, more resourceful and more profitable.

“It takes a while for this message to become common knowledge,” he said. “But the media plays an important role in facilitating this new awareness.”

And according to the survey results, it appears that Americans are getting the message: Energy conservation is no longer viewed as America’s burden.

In fact, 60 percent of the Americans surveyed believe that if people in all modern industrialized nations take steps toward greater energy conservation, the threat of global warming would be significantly reduced.

If Americans believe the problem can be fixed through collective action, what hurdles remain?

Maibach of George Mason, co-author on the study, says it is all a matter of money. The up-front cost of many eco-friendly products is the most significant barrier separating Americans from their energy-saving ambitions, he said.

“[American consumption] will focus more around energy-efficient products if and when our nation can take meaningful steps to reduce or eliminate the extra up-front costs,” Mason said.

The survey results confirmed this view: Cost is the most common reason Americans do not insulate their attics, purchase more fuel-efficient cars, weather-strip their houses, or opt for more energy-efficient water heaters, air conditioners and furnaces.

The survey, conducted in September and October 2008, was funded by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy, the Surdna Foundation, the 11th Hour Project and the Pacific Foundation.

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    How To Stop Drafts and Save On Energy Bills

    Imagine leaving a window open all winter long -- the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding pull-down attic stair, a whole house
    fan, a fireplace or clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day.

    Drafts from these often overlooked holes waste energy and cost you big in the form of higher energy bills. Drafts are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home.

    Drafts occur through the small cracks around doors, windows, pipes, etc. Most homeowners are well aware of the benefits that caulk and weatherstripping provide to minimize energy loss and drafts.

    But what can you do about drafts from the four largest “holes” in your home -- the folding attic stair, the whole house fan, the fireplace and the clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

    Attic Stairs

    When attic stairs are installed, a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be
    removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood.

    Your attic space is ventilated directly to the outdoors. In the winter, the attic space can be very cold, and in the summer it can be very hot. And what is separating your conditioned house from your unconditioned attic? That thin sheet of plywood.

    Often a gap can be observed around the perimeter of the attic door. Try this yourself: at night, turn on the attic light and shut the attic stairway door -- do you see any light coming through?

    If you do, heated and air-conditioned air is leaking out of these large gaps in your home 24-hours a day. This is like leaving a window or skylight open all year ‘round.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an insulated attic stair cover. An attic stair cover seals the stairs, stopping drafts and energy loss. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling.

    Whole House Fans and Air Conditioning Vents

    Much like attic stairs above, when whole house fans are installed, a large hole (up to 16 square feet or larger) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only the drafty ceiling shutter between you and the outdoors.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan shutter seal. Made from white textured flexible insulation, the shutter seal is installed over the ceiling shutter, secured with Velcro, and trimmed to fit. The shutter seal can also be used to seal and insulate air conditioning vents, and is easily removed when desired.

    Fireplaces

    Over 100 million homes, in North America are constructed with wood or gas burning fireplaces. Unfortunately there are negative side effects that the fireplace brings to a home, especially during the winter heating season. Fireplaces are energy losers.

    Researchers have studied this to determine the amount of heat loss through a fireplace, and the results are amazing. One research study showed that an open damper on an unused fireplace in a well-insulated house can raise overall heating-energy consumption by 30 percent.

    A recent study showed that for many consumers, their heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the drafts and wasted energy caused by fireplaces.

    Why does a home with a fireplace have higher energy bills? Your chimney is an opening that leads directly outdoors -- just like an open window. Even if the damper is shut, it is not airtight.

    Glass doors don’t stop the drafts either. The fireplace is like a giant straw sucking your expensive heated or air-conditioned air right out of your house!

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a Fireplace Plug to your fireplace. Available from Battic Door, a company known for their energy conservation products, the Fireplace Plug is an inflatable pillow that seals the fireplace damper, eliminating drafts, odors, and noise. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after.

    Clothes Dryer Exhaust Ducts

    In many homes, the room with the clothes dryer is the coldest room in the house. Your clothes dryer is connected to an exhaust duct that is open to the outdoors. In the winter, cold drafts in through the duct, through your dryer and into your house.

    Dryer vents use a sheet-metal flapper to try to reduce these drafts. This is very primitive technology that does not provide a positive seal to stop the drafts. Compounding the problem is that over time, lint clogs the flapper valve causing it to stay open.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a dryer vent seal. This will reduce unwanted drafts, and also keeps out pests, bees and rodents. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.

    For more information on Battic Door’s energy conservation solutions and products for your home, visit http://www.batticdoor.com or, to request a free catalog, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to P.O. Box 15, Mansfield, MA 02048.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Mark D. Tyrol is a Professional Engineer specializing in cause and origin of construction defects. He developed several residential energy conservation products including an attic stair cover and an attic access door. Battic Door is the US distributor of the fireplace plug. To learn more visit http://www.batticdoor.com