We recently caught up with Matt Bowers of Rochester Passive House Consulting who as the business name implies a Passive House Consultant that specializes in residential high performance housing. He helps clients from home design to renovation. Matt Bowers business is relatively new, but his knowledge runs deep. Read on to find out more about Rochester Passive House Consulting based out of New York.

What is some background information on your company?

Rochester Passive House Consulting incorporated in August of last year as a sole proprietor LLC. I specialize in High Performance Residential Consulting. I am a Certified Passive House Consultant, Certified Passive House Tradesman and HERS Rater. I have the ability to help clients from the design of their new home or substantial renovation all the way though completion. I frequently work with builders and architectural firms to identify potential leaks prior to breaking ground and offer site visit services to ensure the plans are being followed. I also have 2 courses certified though the Department of State for Code Enforcement in-service training (Course #49-6922 – Passive House, Course #49-6923 – Blower Door and Duct Leakage Testing). I am also working on my paperwork to be a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB).

Why is taking training and educated others important to you? 

 I spent 6 years as a Nuclear Engineer in the Navy. Every day I tried to follow the “Daily Top 5”:
     1) Learn something new
     2) Teach someone else something new
     3) Solve your bosses problems
     4) End every day with 10 fingers and 10 toes
     5) Go to bed tired
 If you are not learning something new and teaching someone else something new every day you cannot grow as a person. You also become reluctant to change by not furthering your understanding of different concepts.

How does your continued dedication to learning/taking training impact your business? 

 The more I know, the more I can speak intelligently to my clients which helps gain their trust. Also learning the same thing from different people also may give you a different perspective on something

How did you first get into energy efficiency home building?

After I got out of the Navy I went to RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) for Mechanical Engineering Technology looking to focus on HVAC Design. My interest in Thermodynamics and Fluid Mechanics from the Navy seemed like a natural fit. While at RIT I learned of these homes that were so efficient they didn’t need furnaces. I started rethinking my career path because why would I want to design systems that could be obsolete. I finished by Bachelors and started working for Airtight Services, and worked in the Insulation Trade doing energy audits and consulting with clients building new homes. While with Airtight, NYSERDA offered a free Passive House Tradesman course for Veterans in NYC. I went to NYC and after a week long training I was sold on Passive House. I continued my education on High Performance buildings by becoming certified as a HERS Rater and then getting certified as a Passive House Consultant.

What is your favorite recent project?

I am currently working with a client who is looking for a certified passive house in Wheatland, NY. I have been working with the architect on the design to optimize the heating and cooling demand. The sooner you get the Passive House Consultant and Architect together the better the final result will be – and the final cost will be lower.

Is the Rochester Passive House your first Passive House Construction? If not, when and where was your 1st passive house?

Rochester Passive House is my 1st Certified Project. I have worked on a 1/2 dozen homes in the Rochester area that are very high performance – but most were missing 1 or 2 of the passive house components (windows, high performance ventilation system, airtightness etc.) and were never modeled in PHPP so Passive House Verification wasn’t done. My wife and I saw an opportunity to build a new house and incorporate all of the Passive House aspects, and decided to seek certification. This allows us to offer tours at our discretion to show all of the other benefits of Passive House beyond the extremely low energy bills. Passive House is truly “Comfort achieved though Energy Efficiency”

blower-door-testWhat are your best and cost effective air sealing practices?

In general I like to refer to any section or detail of the architectural prints and have the architect or builder identify the air barrier. If you can identify the air barrier, you can work though the “how do we connect the air barriers” question. Most builders have learned how to build a tight wall, or build a tight ceiling, but the usually fail to connect them. The most cost effective way to air seal a house is to have a plan in place before you break ground. It is easier to erase a line than to tear down drywall to find the leak.
I also am a big fan of doing blower door testing early and often. The earlier you can test, the easier it is to find the leaks, especially when the air barrier is still exposed. I like to use the analogy: Is it easier to seal all the holes in the colander or turn off the faucet?

Will you tell us about the indoor air quality and ventilation systems used in your passive house?

We installed a Zehnder Comfoair 350 with the Comfofond ground loop pre-heater. It runs on roughly 40-100 watts depending on if the ground loop pump is running. It has only cost me $50 in electricity per year to run. It is designed to exchange and filter all of the air in the house once every 3 hours. It does have a boost mode for when we cook or take showers. I have both the Heat Recovery and Energy Recovery Cores. I have found that the Energy Recovery Core is a better option because it helps maintain the humidity during the winter months. The summer months are irrelevant because the unit is in bypass much of the summer. The ground loop pre-heater cools the air in the summer below the outgoing indoor air temperature.
I monitor the IAQ with a device called uHoo. It is only about $300. It constantly monitors Temperature, Humidity, CO, CO2, PM2.5 (dust and pollen) NO2, Total VOC, O3 and Air Pressure. It compares the EPA’s recommendations to what is going on in the house to alert you when something reaches the limits. So far we have stayed well below all of the limits nearly all the time. When working with clients who have a gas stove or a fireplace and want one in their next house I let them borrow the uHoo and challenge them to an IAQ match. I have never lost – and almost all of them convert to electric.

What one piece of advice would you give someone just starting down the road?

For someone starting to work in this field: Don’t be offended when someone doesn’t take your advice. All you can do is be honest and give them as much information as you think they need.
For someone looking to build a house: Passive House doesn’t have to be more expensive, your choice of finishes generally has a larger impact on your final cost – and finishes can be changed and upgrades later.

Any quotes you would like to share by you, your staff, or your customers?

A Wise Man – “You pay for insulation whether you have it or not”
Another Wise Man – “Building to code is the worst you can legally do.”
“Passive House is Comfort achieved though Energy Efficiency”

Just for fun, what is one unusual thing about you that not many people know?

I am a HUGE Strat-o-matic Baseball Fan!


Here are some links to other information about Matt Bowers and Rochester Passive House Consulting:
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Monitoring of energy efficiency measures at St Nicholas College primary school will provide ideas for retrofitting of more schools in Malta and the Mediterranean.
Photo: Water and Energy Agency.

Article reposted from Malta Times, April 9th, 2018.

A proposed action plan to promote zero carbon in the construction or renovation of buildings is under consideration in Malta.

The 16-point plan promoting ZeroCO2 buildings – or as near to zero carbon as possible – is the result of an EU-funded project linking Malta with seven regional partners.

By the end of the year all buildings occupied by public authorities are already obliged to achieve nearly-zero energy status. Under the action plan, this will apply to all new and renovated buildings within 35 months from now, leaving scant time to prepare for changes in the way buildings are constructed.

The first round of regional meetings for stakeholders was held by project partners in Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Lithuania, Greece and Malta in 2016.

Since then the Malta arm of the Interreg-Europe project has come up with a policy action plan. As policy advisors, the Water and Energy Agency and the Building Regulations Office have put forward the plan to the government for due consideration.

A strong message from this project is an appeal to the EU Commission to consider taking a more flexible approach to classifying buildings as Zero CO2 or “near-Zero CO2”.

There is much scope for expanding the many designs and technologies now available on the market as costs continue to come down. Looking into why some schemes have been unsuccessful, and upgrading them, is on the cards. For example, take-up of the energy audit voucher scheme offered to small and medium enterprises has been slack.

Half the recommendations in the policy action plan proposal are “soft” measures which do not require much in the way of funding to bring them into being. These range from templates for energy performance contracts to making unbiased advice more readily available for the best way to make a public building low carbon.

Methods of achieving low emissions for public buildings vary from one sector to another. Residential blocks, offices, health centres, schools and others require individual measures. Ideally, change is worked in at the design stage which looks at facades, systems, geothermal opportunities, roof rights, etc.

A one-stop shop for all financial incentive measures is also proposed. Revision of grants for solar water heaters is deemed “essential” to regenerate interest.

Maltese schools, according to the ZeroCO2 report, can lower their carbon footprint with thoughtfully designed shading and other passive measures so that air-conditioning would not be necessary.

From January 1, 2019, any new or renovated building which belongs to the government must be zero energy. The project extends this to other buildings used by the public: banks, restaurants, hotels, schools etc.

Governments, and even the EU Commission itself, need to keep up with advances in technology for reducing carbon emissions from buildings, said university lecturer and engineer Charles Yousif, who chaired a recent conference for the partners.

He pointed out that once the action plan was in place, architects and engineers would be relieved from the task of making cumbersome calculations on how to achieve Zero CO2 standards in buildings since the project has made baseline results available to all.

Dr. Yousif added that if the authorities made data on energy performance certificates for buildings more accessible then a clear standard for different situations could be set. Penthouses, offices and other types of buildings with specific uses could be designed with an eye on thermal comfort year-round and built to give higher energy savings with lower (or zero net) emissions.

Improving building energy performance is key to reaching a compromise with the European Commission over funding of a €13m shield for the Mater Dei oncology centre, engineer Paul Vassallo, who worked on the project, pointed out.

A substantial reduction of 1,265 tons per year in CO2 emissions at the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre was accepted as mitigation for the project to go ahead.

Exploring different ways of using energy efficiency and renewable energy to cut down on carbon dioxide has already nudged the forerunners closer to carbon neutrality and beyond.

A revision of the EU directive on energy performance of buildings is soon to become law. The European Parliament, Council and Commission must now agree on revised renewable energy and energy efficiency directives. Malta and its regional partners in the ZeroCO2 project have shared their knowledge and experience towards upgrading these directives.

University of Malta researcher and engineer Damien Gatt referred to Priority Axis 4 of EU regional development and cohesion funds for 2014-2020 enabling a shift towards a more low-carbon economy.

Monitoring and reporting on government’s implementation of any action plan proposals will continue over the next two years.

A ‘positive energy’ school

A highly successful pilot project taken on by the Water and Energy Agency has been the “deep renovation” of a school in Siġġiewi. Partly financed by 2007-2013 European regional development funding, the primary school has excelled as a model for good practice of a “positive green energy” building.

On average, across the year, St Nicholas College primary school produces more energy from renewable sources than it consumes in fossil-fuel generated electricity. Photovoltaic panels create overhang shading to help prevent heat entering the building in summer.

In winter the sun is at a lower angle, providing light and warmth for classrooms when most needed. Since the school’s demand for hot water is low, large storage systems were replaced with small instant electric water heaters.

Classroom walls with the highest exposure to harsh temperatures were insulated. High efficiency infra-red ceiling heaters and dimmable LED lights were installed.

Building energy software simulation identified energy retrofit measures for the school, leading to cuts in carbon dioxide emissions of 115 tonnes per year.

The project has been recognised by the joint secretariat of the EU Commission’s Interreg-Europe programme as one of the best examples of good practice across Europe to demonstrate how school buildings can be adapted to generate more energy than they consume.

According to the final report on the school’s transition to a positive energy building, in the early stages it was not easy to explain new concepts and technologies to the members of staff. Automated shading devices, a relatively new technology for Malta, also proved a challenge for installers. Yet initial difficulties were overcome and lessons learned for the future.


Reposted from Times Malta, “‘Near zero’ carbon buildings“, by Anne Zammit, April 9th, 2018.

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[Photo: Dan Freeman/Unsplash]

In a little less than three decades, Hawaii plans to be carbon neutral–the most ambitious climate goal in the United States. Governor David Ige signed a bill today committing to make the state fully carbon neutral by 2045, along with a second bill that will use carbon offsets to help fund planting trees throughout Hawaii. A third bill requires new building projects to consider how high sea levels will rise in their engineering decisions.

The state is especially vulnerable to climate change–sea level rise, for example, threatens to cause $19 billion in economic losses–and that’s one of the reasons that the new laws had support. “We’re on the forefront of climate change impacts,” says Scott Glenn, who leads the state’s environmental quality office. “We experience it directly and we’re a small island. People feel the trade wind days becoming less. They notice the changes in rain. They feel it getting hotter. Because we are directly exposed to this, there’s no denying it.” The state’s political leaders, he says, are “unified in acknowledging that climate change is real and that we do need to do something about it.”

[Photo: Michael Olsen/Unsplash]

Hawaii is already a leader on climate. In 2015, the state passed a law to move to 100% renewable electricityby 2045 (shifting to renewables also helps save money on electric bills, since Hawaii has to import fossil fuels from elsewhere, and it also helps make the island more resilient to disasters). In 2017, days after Trump announced that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris climate agreement, the state passed another lawto uphold the agreement’s goal to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.Transportation is a challenge–while the state is planning for a future where cars run on renewable electricity, it also relies heavily on planes and ships, which will take longer to move to electric charging, and which Hawaii can’t directly control. “Those are global transportation networks that don’t have easy substitutes right now,” Glenn says.

“That’s one of the reasons why we really want to pursue the carbon offset program, because we know we’re going to continue to be dependent on shipping and aviation, and if they continue to burn carbon to bring us our tourists and our goods and our supplies and our food, then we want to try to have a way to sequester the impact we’re causing by importing all this stuff to our islands.” The government plans to sell carbon offsets to pay to plant native trees, which can help absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow.

The state is also working to become more self-sufficient. The governor aims to double local food production by 2030; right now, around 90% of what residents and tourists eat in Hawaii–6 million pounds of food a day–comes from somewhere else, on planes or ships.

Before Hawaii set its goal of carbon neutrality by 2045–meaning that it will sequester more carbon from the atmosphere than the emissions it produces–Rhode Island had the most ambitious goal to cut emissions of any state, with a goal to reduce emissions 85% below 1990 levels by 2050. But several countries also have goals to become completely carbon neutral.

The Maldives is working to become carbon neutral by 2020. Costa Rica will follow in 2021. Norway will be carbon neutral by 2030, Iceland will reach that goal by 2040, and Sweden by 2045. France and New Zealand plan to be carbon neutral by 2050. Some cities are also pursuing the goal. Copenhagen, for example, aims to be carbon neutral by 2025, and Oslo will follow in 2030. Austin, Boston, and several others plan to be carbon neutral by 2050.

In the U.S., as Hawaii moves forward on climate action, it can grow as a testing ground for sustainable technology. “There’s a lot of innovation and research happening across the Hawaii island right now,” says Glenn. Each island has a standalone electric grid, unlike the mainland U.S., where everything is connected. The grids are also different sizes, and use different types of renewable energy, making the state a useful place for companies to see how tech works in different conditions.

As Hawaii learns from other states, it can also share knowledge and inspire more action. “We’re small,” Glenn says. “We’re a rounding error to the emissions that California has…But [others] say, if Hawaii can do it, we can do it. If an island in the middle of the Pacific can make this happen, then we can make it happen. That’s what we try to do. That’s the role we see ourselves having within our national dialogue.”

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Monte Hilleman, the St. Paul Port Authority’s senior vice president for real estate, is leading the net-zero warehouse initiative because buildings are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. In this photo, Hilleman stands atop the 189,000-square-foot Midway Business Center at 1771 Energy Park Drive in St. Paul. The authority collaborated with Bloomington-based United Properties on the center, which received a Silver LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
(Photo: Bill Klotz)

As the world deals with the effects of air pollution and climate change, many would be surprised to discover that more carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from buildings than cars and other vehicles.

The building sector is responsible for nearly half (44.6 percent) of carbon dioxide emissions in the country, according to nonprofit Architecture 2030. Transportation amounts to 34.3 percent.

“It’s a problem,” Monte Hilleman, senior vice president of real estate redevelopment for the St. Paul Port Authority, said at a presentation last week to commercial real estate professionals in St. Paul. “It’s a problem for all of us. … We will not solve irreversible climate change without addressing our built environment.”

The St. Paul Port Authority unveiled a new “net zero energy” commercial building prototype that its leaders said it hoped would be the future of development in Minnesota and a step in the right direction to reduce local buildings’ energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Port Authority commissioned LHB engineering and architecture firm to help come up with the design.

A “net zero” structure is one that balances energy used with energy produced through on-site renewable sources. As of this year, there are only about 70 verified net zero buildings in the U.S.

Net zero buildings are also built to yield long-run savings in energy costs for their owners.

Researchers have analyzed what would be the features of a newly constructed, 60,000-square-foot, net zero industrial building. The building would be 80 percent warehouse with the rest functioning as office space.

Demonstrating Net Zero Energy in a Large Prototype DevelopmentWhereas most warehouses have an EUI (energy use intensity, or energy use per square foot) of around 36, researchers were trying to get the prototype’s EUI down to 14.

The HVAC system could have the single greatest effect on energy use by using a geothermal heat pump system instead of a conventional forced-air heating system. Generally, a more efficient HVAC system could reduce a building’s energy use by as much as 38 EUI and save about $18,000 a year.

The prototype also includes a super-insulated roof and walls, more windows to allow for more natural light (with southern exposure) so that the building could use daylight dimming sensors and save electricity, and sealing around doors and windows.

Solar panels would need to be installed over at least 32 percent of the flat roof to offset the targeted 14 EUI. The building would cost about $4.5 million to construct.

The St. Paul Port Authority will continue to educate potential partners about the prototype.

“We are trying to find the right business, the right contractor that wants to do this with us,” Hilleman said.


Reposted from the Star Tribune, by Nicole Norfleet, April 20, 2018

Other articles: Finance & Commerce, “Sustainable: Port Authority aims for net-zero warehouse“, by Frank Jossie May 1st, 2018

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LA Kings Ice Arena

Stanley Cup playoffs are underway with the finals beginning next week. Efficiency is the name of the game for several hockey arenas. The NHL’s Los Angeles Kings is starting use a technology to reduce operating costs and its carbon footprint. The proprietary processor technology is a molecular level environmental air-flow management system that helps produce cleaner water and indoor air.
An arena in British Columbia replaced a condenser with a new one that uses a closed-loop cooling system. The upgrade could save up to 45% in water use for ice processes including ice isolation, cleaning and refrigeration.

In Massachusetts, the Bentley Arena is the first standalone ice arena to earn LEED Platinum. The arena uses technology that captures heat generated from the rink’s ice-making equipment to heat water throughout the building.

Other arenas have employed strategies to save energy and costs. A pond loop geothermal refrigeration system reduced operating costs at a Wisconsin arena,

Environmental Air-Flow Management System That Helps Produce Cleaner Water and Indoor Air – NHL’s LA Kings Staples Center Arena

Global sports and entertainment company AEG and its National Hockey League franchise the LA Kings are working with BluEco Technology Group on deploying efficient ice technology at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Called BluEco Liquid Crystalline Turbex (LCT), the proprietary technology is a molecular level environmental airflow management system that produces pure water while cleaning indoor air and reducing energy costs for arena and facility operators and owners, the partners say.

“The formulated ice has fewer impurities and a clearer, harder, more dense surface,” AEG, the LA Kings, and BluEco said. “Additionally, the technology eliminates an arena’s reliance on the municipal water systems to create and maintain its ice sheet.” The standalone plug-and-play system doesn’t require integration with ducting or the replacement of existing systems, according to BluEco.

The system was piloted in Los Angeles at AEG’s Staples Center during the LA Kings’ recent season. As a result of that pilot, Staples Center saved hundreds of thousands of gallons of water over the course of the season and lowered its carbon footprint, the partners reported.

“By strategically and efficiently managing indoor air-flow, we no longer need to run air-conditioning at low temperatures to maintain quality ice, thereby delivering fans a better arena experience,” LA Kings COO Kelly Cheeseman said. “The BluEco LCT system is not only cheaper to run but makes our existing HVAC system more efficient and less energy consuming.”

Although the BluEco LCT System was developed for creating ice sheets in hockey venues, the partners say that there are broader applications of the technology large indoor public facilities that need energy-efficient water production such as data centers, warehouses, laboratories, cold storage facilities, and golf courses.


Reposted from the Environmental Leader, May 18th, 2018

Cutting Water Use at Sechelt Arena Almost by Half

Water efficiency is coming to the Sunshine Coast Arena in Sechelt, along with a number of upgrades to the Gibsons and Sechelt arenas as mandated by provincial safety authorities.

Last fall ice installation at the Sunshine Coast Arena was delayed because of Stage 4 drought conditions. To prevent this from happening again, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) will replace a condenser with a new one that uses a closed-loop cooling system, at a cost of $125,000, funded by capital reserves. The Gibsons arena already has a similar system in place. The change will be finalized at an upcoming board meeting.

“This change would have a significant impact on overall water consumption. Preliminary estimates suggest up to a 45 per cent reduction for water used for ice processes, meaning ice installation, cleaning and refrigeration over the course of a season,” said Ian Hall, general manager of planning and community development, at a May 10 committee.

Hall also pointed out that “drastically reduced” water demand with this new system will make it easier to consider other options, such as using non-potable sources, groundwater or rain-water capture. Staff are planning to conduct a feasibility study with ice user groups.

Meanwhile, other changes are coming to arenas on the Sunshine Coast.

In October 2017, an ammonia leak at a skating rink in Fernie, B.C. killed three men, in addition to triggering a seven-day state of emergency and the evacuation of 55 homes nearby the arena. The accident spurred authorities to assess rinks throughout B.C., including Sunshine Coast arenas.

As a result of those assessments, more than 60 mandatory upgrades have been issued to SCRD arenas by WorkSafe BC and Technical Safety BC, including adding new signs, updating procedures and installing or upgrading equipment.

More than 200 arenas have been assessed and at least two have been closed in the province, but it’s also put a strain on professionals qualified to implement the upgrades. “The market for refrigeration engineering and specialty trades is under an extreme load,” according to an SCRD staff report.

The SCRD arena upgrades are expected to cost between $150,000 and $330,000 and will be funded through existing capital and operating reserves. Hall said the ice installation dates for the fall are expected to remain the same, with Gibsons ice ready Aug. 20 and the Sechelt arena ice installed Sept. 23.


Reposted from the Coast Reporter, May 17th, 2018

New Arena Named the Most Environmentally Sustainable in the Nation

First Standalone Ice Arena to Earn LEED Platinum — the Highest Possible Rating

The new, state-of-the-art multipurpose Bentley Arena is the most environmentally sustainable in the U.S. and the first standalone ice arena to earn the LEED platinum certification, the highest possible rating, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. The award for the recently opened, 76,000-square-foot arena highlights the building’s sustainable design and energy efficiency and Bentley University’s continued rise as an innovative, nationally-recognized business university.

“This first-in-the-nation rating for the Bentley Arena demonstrates Bentley’s strong and longstanding commitment to sustainability,” said Bentley University President Gloria Cordes Larson. “From our university-wide commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, to our Sustainability Sciencemajor for students, to our campus waste reduction program that recycles more than 270 tons of material per year, Bentley acts every day on our mission of preparing environmentally conscious, socially responsible leaders.”

“Thanks to the combination of the rooftop solar technology and energy-efficient mechanical design, the overall grid energy required to power the arena will be less than half of what it would take to power a building of a similar size,” said Amanda King, director of sustainability at Bentley. “These technologies also cut the building’s carbon footprint in half.”

The Bentley Arena hosts the university’s NCAA Division I hockey team and prominent university events such as career fairs, high-profile speakers, alumni events and concerts.

The standout sustainable features of the arena include:

  • A 504 kilowatt, rooftop solar array developed by Rivermoor Energy that will generate 40 percent of the building’s annual electricity needs.
  • Innovative technology that captures heat generated from the rink’s ice-making equipment to heat water throughout the building.
  • More glass windows than a typical arena, allowing for more natural light that decreases the amount of electricity needed to light the building’s interior.
  • High-efficiency LED lighting with smart, motion-detecting controls that turn off lights when no one is present to sharply reduce electricity usage.
  • Ice-making and air conditioning systems that use zero CFC-based refrigerants. Chlorofluorocarbons or “CFCs” have been found to destroy the planet’s stratospheric ozone layer.
  • The highest-efficiency plumbing fixtures on the market, including waterless urinals, dual-flush toilets, and low-flow faucets and showers to reduce the demand for water.
  • At least 50% of wood used in the building is sourced from forests with certified sustainable forestry practices
  • About 10% of construction and finish materials were locally sourced and about 20% of construction and finish materials contain recycled content.

Read More…


Reposted from the Bentley University, May 7th, 2018

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The Home Energy Score is a national rating system developed by the U.S. Department of Energy. The Score reflects the energy efficiency of a home based on the home’s structure and heating, cooling, and hot water systems. The Home Facts provide details about the current structure and systems. Recommendations show how to improve the energy efficiency of the home to achieve a higher score and save money.

Before you design a new home or remodel an existing one, consider investing in energy efficiency. You’ll save energy and money, and your home will be more comfortable and durable. The planning process is also a good time to look into a renewable energy system that can provide electricity, water heating, or space heating and cooling. You may also want to explore your options for financing an energy-efficient home.

In an existing house, the first step is to conduct a home energy assessment (sometimes referred to as an energy audit) to find out how your home uses energy and determine the best ways to cut energy use and costs. To learn more about home energy audits and find free tools and calculators, go to Tips: Your Home’s Energy Use, the Residential Services Network, and the Building Performance Institute.


If you plan to design and build a new home or do an extensive remodel on an existing house, optimizing home energy efficiency requires a whole-house systems approachto ensure that you and your team of building professionals consider all the variables, details, and interactions that affect energy use in your home. In addition to occupant behavior, site conditions, and climate, these include:

  • Appliances and home electronics
  • Insulation and air sealing
  • Lighting and daylighting
  • Space heating and cooling
  • Water heating
  • Windows, doors, and skylights.

Before making upgrades, you may also want to work with an energy auditor to use the Home Energy Score, which provides a rating of your home’s current efficiency, as well as a list of improvements and potential savings.

317297-House 1.jpg

Thermograph of a house identifying escaping heat.


Ultra-efficient homescombine state-of-the-art energy-efficient construction, appliances, and lighting with commercially available renewable energy systems, such as solar water heating and solar electricity. By taking advantage of local climate and site conditions, designers can often also incorporate passive solar heating and cooling and energy-efficient landscaping strategies. The intent is to reduce home energy use as cost-effectively as possible, and then meet the reduced load with on-site renewable energy systems.


If you’re building a new house or adding on to an existing one, consider using advanced house framing(also known as optimum value engineering), which reduces lumber use and waste and improves energy efficiency in a wood-framed house.


Cool roofsuse highly reflective materials to reflect more light and absorb less heat from sunlight, which keeps homes cooler during hot weather.


Passive solar home designtakes advantage of climatic and site conditions to provide heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.


If you live in or are planning to buy an earth-sheltered, straw bale, log, or manufactured home, below is more information and links with suggestions to help improve your home’s energy efficiency:

Efficient Earth-Sheltered Homes

Earth-sheltered homescan be built underground or bermed, and—when well designed and built—can be comfortable, durable, and energy-efficient.

Straw Bale Home Design

Straw bale buildings were fairly common in the United States between 1895 and 1940, but it wasn’t until the mid- to late-1990s that building codes began to acknowledge them as a viable approach. Two current straw bale construction methods include non-load-bearing or post-and-beam, which uses a structural framework with straw bale in-fill, and load-bearing or “Nebraska style,” which uses the bearing capacity of the stacked bales to support roof loads.

Proposed straw bale structures face considerable barriers, including:

To learn about the building code standards for your state, contact your city or county building code officials. Your state energy office may be able to provide information on energy codes recommended or enforced in your state.


Log homesuse solid wood logs for wall structure and insulation, and require care in design, construction, and maintenance to achieve and maintain energy efficiency.


Manufactured homes(formerly known as mobile homes) are built to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Code, and are constructed on a permanent chassis so they can be moved. Owners can improve the energy efficiency of these homes by caulking and weather stripping, air sealing, and choosing energy-efficient lighting and appliances.


Reposted from Home Energy Heroes

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An illustration of how the thin-film device system converts waste heat to energy. Credit: Shishir Pandya

Nearly 70 percent of the energy produced in the United States each year is wasted as heat. Much of that heat is less than 100 degrees Celsius and emanates from things like computers, cars or large industrial processes. Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a thin-film system that can be applied to sources of waste heat like these to produce energy at levels unprecedented for this kind of technology.

The thin-film system uses a process called pyroelectric energy conversion, which the engineers’ new study demonstrates is well suited for tapping into waste-heat energy supplies below 100 degrees Celsius, called low-quality waste heat. Pyroelectric energy conversion, like many systems that turn heat into energy, works best using thermodynamic cycles, kind of like how a car engine works. But unlike the engine in your car, pyroelectric energy conversion can be realized entirely in the solid state with no moving parts as it turns waste heat into electricity.

The new results suggest that this nanoscopic thin-film technology might be particularly attractive for installing on and harvesting waste heat from high-speed electronics but could have a large scope of applications. For fluctuating heat sources, the study reports that the thin film can turn waste heat into usable energy with higher energy density, power density and efficiency levels than other forms of pyroelectric energy conversion.

“We know we need new energy sources, but we also need to do better at utilizing the energy we already have,” said senior author Lane Martin, associate professor of materials science and engineering. “These thin films can help us squeeze more energy than we do today out of every source of energy.”

The research will be published April 16 in the journal Nature Materials. The research was supported, in part, by grants from the Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation.

Pyroelectric behavior has been known for a long time, but accurately measuring the properties of thin-film versions of pyroelectric systems has remained a challenge. A significant contribution of the new study is to demystify that process and improve the understanding of pyroelectric physics.

Martin’s research team synthesized thin-film versions of materials just 50-100 nanometers thick and then, together with the group of Chris Dames, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Berkeley, fabricated and tested the pyroelectric-device structures based on these films. These structures allow the engineers to simultaneously measure the temperature and electrical currents created, and source heat to test the device’s power generation capabilities – all on a film that’s less than 100 nanometers thick.

“By creating a thin-film device, we can get the heat into and out of this system quickly, allowing us to access pyroelectric power at unprecedented levels for heat sources that fluctuate over time,” Martin said. “All we’re doing is sourcing heat and applying electric fields to this system, and we can extract energy.”

This study reports new records for pyroelectric energy conversion energy density (1.06 Joules per cubic centimeter), power density (526 Watts per cubic centimeter) and efficiency (19 percent of Carnot efficiency, which is the standard unit of measurement for the efficiency of a heat engine).

The next steps in this line of research will be to better optimize the thin-film materials to specific waste heat streams and temperatures.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is create a protocol that allows us to push the extremes of pyroelectric materials so that you can give me a waste-heat stream and I can get you a material optimized to address your problems,” Martin said.


This article was reposted from and provided by University of California – Berkeley, April 16, 2018.

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