If there’s anything more satisfying than saving money by taking steps to improve the environment, I haven’t… included it in this article. It’s possible that more satisfying scenarios exist, but for our purposes, that satisfaction is going to be sought via green heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) hacks. The investment of money, time and labor that’s necessary to make these hacks happen varies but most, if not all, of them will not only pay for themselves in the long run. Plus, an investment in the environment and the future of our planet is guaranteed to pay off. We’ll go from the ground up.
Actually, we’ll go from beneath the ground up. First off, the future of all human energy use- public and private; domestic and commercial; planes, trains and automobiles- is going to be defined by and reliant upon clean, natural, indigenous and renewable sources. In response to the increased and increasing understanding of exactly how unsustainable fossil fuel-based energy is, a green construction, contracting, architecture and production business (and DIY) culture has emerged.
Among the most popular HVAC alternatives embraced by this subculture is geothermal heating and cooling. Despite its cleanliness and efficiency, geothermal has been given an unfortunately short shrift by the mainstream based largely on a misconception: the belief that it’s only available to the very few people lucky enough to live near or above subterranean geysers or whatever buried heat features. Not so. Geothermal is available to almost anyone with the desire and resources to take advantage of it, relying largely on the heat and coolness perpetually present in virtually all soil.
Some of the geothermal hacks can even be amazingly low-tech. A member of that aforementioned green construction/production subculture invited me over to her house to take a look at the geothermal air conditioning unit she’d put together. This system was composed of a shaft she’d sunk into the earth in which a length of pipe had been stationed. This pipe brought up cool air which was blown into her home with a modest fan. As an HVAC pro my initial opinion was that this cockamamie contraption would do just about squat. For the first time in my life (I’ve decided), I was wrong- it worked shockingly well.
Of course, more intricate and involved geothermal heating and cooling apparatuses are more popular with the public, but my friend’s hack goes to show how simple and effective harnessing the earth’s natural temperature can be. If geothermal isn’t an option for whatever reason, consider using natural gas- it’s generally far better for the environment and at least as cost effective as the traditional oil and coal electricity. For the floor itself, consider bamboo, cork, reclaimed lumber or hardwood that’s been verifiably sustainably harvested. If you’d prefer to stick with your current flooring, be sure that it’s sealed and free of breaks or cracks, particularly at wall junctions and around air return grilles, etc.
Once again, one of the most practical green/money-saving steps you can take is ensuring that everything’s airtight and squared away. If you have any breaches or cracks allowing air either in or out through your walls, you are throwing money away and burning energy needlessly. Again, trouble areas tend to be where your walls meet the floor, around windows, around doors and anywhere else seals can be broken.
Once you’ve established that there is nothing leaking in or out through or around your windows, getting cellular or honeycomb shades for them can prove a surprisingly effective temperature regulation tool. As for the flip side of your walls: vinyl, steel and aluminum are all hardy but they’re also all, in their own way, detrimental to the environment. A far greener (and better looking) option- that earlier-mentioned recycled and/or sustainably-harvested wood siding. Woods a great insulator, natural and easy on the eyes.
It’s amazing how important seemingly superficial changes can be in the profound trimming of a power bill (and the energy saved in doing so). One of the finest examples of this “superficial change yielding huge money and energy savings” dynamic?A white roof. That’s right- simply switching from a black house-cap to a white one can cut your air conditioning bills in the summer 20 percent or more. And that savings represents two tons of carbon dioxide eliminated every year.
Virtually the same effect is accomplished with the installation of solar cell panels on the roof. Of course, solar panelsgrant the additional benefit of providing you with an auxiliary, clean, money-saving source of electricity. Big picture: according to a study done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Heat Island Group in Berkeley, CA, if urban areas transitioned to white or reflective roofing and pavement, the pollution eliminated would be equivalent to 600 million vehicles leaving the roads for the next 18 years.
The greenest of all roofs, though, is literally green: a living roof built of soil and growing foliage. They’re amazingly effective insulators (they’d cut your power bill between 50-90 percent), absorb rainwater runoff and draw in CO2. Plus, they look super-awesome.
Working with What You Have
As fun as having a full geothermal setup or green, living roof would be- turning your house into an earth-powered, garden-topped super-domicile just isn’t a practical move for many. Don’t give in to despair though, there are steps you can take to improve the HVAC system you have in place. One of the biggies involves being sure that all of your filters, ducts and grilles are new and/or up-to-date; and clean. As someone unlikable would say: “A clean and well-running HVAC system is a happy HVAC system, and an efficient one.” And, just as an added treat, consider fabricating your own cool, DIY floor or wall grille. Good luck and stay cool… or warm, whichever is more appropriate at the time.
Author Bio: Ruben Keogh is a retired plumber, HVAC specialist and sprinkler fitter who discovered his true calling after graduating from apprentice to journeyman blogger. When he acquires enough experience, wit and insight to become a master blogger, he’ll let you know. Meanwhile, Ruben spends his time daydreaming about the fishing in Costa Rica, surf and turf grilling and his lovely wife Gina (not necessarily in that order, or course).