Cool It Now
At least that's how it used to be—until my little house broke me.
I returned from my trip to Turkey to a home with no air conditioning. My friend Eric had removed the only window air conditioning unit in the house when I moved in last winter, because the unit had a fair amount of cold air leaking around it. How hot was it? The thermometer boasted an internal temperature of 94 degrees. I always knew I would install central air someday. That task now moved to the top of my to-do list, displacing unpacking and paying bills. My heat hubris has been reduced to nearly zero.
If you've been following my journey, you know I have been trying to make my home as energy efficient as possible in order to save both money and energy. There are a number of ways to achieve this: a simple energy audit, often provided for free by local utility companies or subsidized by state efficiency programs; and also monitoring devices like the Kill-A-Watt that can help you better understand what activities and appliances are most consumptive—as can this post from a few months ago.
You may not think this information is necessary, but psychological research proves these feedback loops are incredibly useful. Because most of us don't spend our days pondering the electrical grid or thinking about what kind of energy keeps the lights on (50 percent is from dirty coal), information that brings our usage front and center helps us make smarter choices.
My friends at Sol Invictus Renewables cooled me down and reminded me of what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. First, I took another look at the federal tax credits for renewable energy efficiencies. You should too. The information—available online at EnergyStar.gov—is convoluted, but checking it out is worth the hassle, because many of the credits, for items including insulation, hot water heaters, furnaces and air conditioning) expire at the end of this year. If you claimed the tax credit in 2009, you aren't eligible for 2010. But if you didn't, get to it. You can get a $1,500 credit for $5,000 worth of expenditures. States also have a number of incentives in place that you can research in the Department of Energy's DSIRE database.
Now, back to me in my inferno...
I looked at the available credits for air conditioning and decided to bundle a furnace and air conditioning upgrade to save on labor costs and ensure I was getting maximum efficiency with both units. A certain level of furnace efficiency is required for high-efficiency air conditioning. Then I scheduled appointments for estimates. I sweated through six of them and am glad I did: The variance between installers was nearly $2,000.
I had been planning to insulate my basement with bio-based spray foam, so I started to work toward that too. If you could see the vines growing into my basement, you'd understand how permeable the structure is.
Sol Invictus Renewables co-founders Wyeth Atchison and Tony Brown encouraged me to go ahead and get the rest of my insulation work done, reminding me it made little sense to get high-efficiency units if all the heated and cooled air would leak through my poorly insulated house.
Now the A/C has been installed. The insulation is on its way. And, forgive me, the heat hubris just may return.
Simran Sethi is an award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. For more information on Sethi, visit SimranSethi.com and follow her on Twitter @simransethi.
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