Friday, July 10, 2009

Our cucumbers are cool. We are... not so much.

Lately, the kitchen door has been in this position a lot. (Note also the carefully positioned blinds, tilted just so!) -->

We've gotten more in tune with the diurnal temperature cycle, opening up the house for the cooling night, and closing it back up before the next day's warming occurs. We do our best to create cross-ventilation in a house for whose design this is a foreign concept. Bedroom ceiling fans whir us gently to sleep, and a new-to-us ceiling fan in the living room (thanks, Freecycle!) helps keep us feeling cooler during the day.

My eco-ego swelled when I paid our electric bill a few days ago - the 12-month rolling average for our usage hit an all-time household low. But -- hey, grab that shero cape for me, would ya? -- the secret behind that significantly shrunken electric stat is that... our air conditioner gave up the ghost last fall. This, Gentle Readers, is where I ducked into the phone booth and haven't yet seen my way out.

See, what the HVAC contractors I've consulted for bids seem to be used to is a customer who simply replaces defunct units with the current year's equivalent model, spec-ing the system so that it eeks in to qualify for the Federal tax credit for energy efficiency. I'm not that easily-satisfied customer.

One bid stated, "We guarantee that the cooling system installed shall maintain a temperature of 76 degrees when outside conditions are 95 degrees, temperature to be measured at thermostat." Um, wrong guarantee for this family. The only time our thermostat sees 76 degrees is when Mother Nature sets that as the ambient temp. Sure, we want to be comfortable, but we're trying to drive our purchase decision factors on factors like energy-efficiency and value, too.

One of the glossy brochures touted a constantly back-lit thermostat. Fancy, right? Just reading that made me anxious. Ack! An energy vampire! Why would I want to check the settings in the dark middle of the night? Could it be turned off?! (Thankfully, the answer is yes.)

Since we have an air conditioner and a natural gas furnace, that's what the proposals have quoted. But, what about heat pump/furnace combination systems? Should we heat with biomass? Is geothermal feasible on our property? Is the extra cost of the system worth it for our situation? Why isn't there one place I can go to for answers, instead of needing to ask hither and yon? My head is spinning with BTUs, EERs, and SEERs. My spreadsheets are working overtime.

Did I mention that I'm resenting spending so much time, mental energy, and ultimately money, on a system I want to use as little as possible in the first place?

Should you happen to visit in the meanwhile, there's no need to bring a sweater in case it's too cool. It won't be! And, if you need to freshen up while you're here, feel free to give yourself a spritz. I recommend the sage.


Green Fundraising Ideas said...

That is just one of those necessary evils in life, I think. Those tedious tasks are always so nice when they are OVER! Wish I had some advice, but I have no knowledge about cooling/heating. (Other than it costs a lot!)

Tameson said...

Guess I'm not really grasping what the problem is...unless of course you are above the second floor in the south and then, yeah I can concede an a/c unit is essential. I say, if you aren't dying of heat, to keep it the way you have it and plant some shade trees instead (and cook outside whenever possible).

Green Bean said...

Is it possible to just not get a new one? We don't have a/c but here in the SF Bay Area we only really need it a week or so out of the year. The rest of the time we do the shades down thing.

Daisy said...

I hear you! We live in NE Wisconsin, so we use our A/C very seldom. We wouldn't have even installed it if our child hadn't had heat-humidity related asthma. Take the time now, though. You'll be glad you did the research.

JessTrev said...

I am so very curious about what you learn about geothermal...keep us posted! All that positioning of the blinds so totally reminds me of my dad (who learned it from *his* mom growing up in the DC area).

Kasey said...

If I could do it over, I'd build a passive solar house that self regulates the temperature, eliminating the need for a/c or heating. Of course, that doesn't help you right now. Good luck!


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