This article was originally published in the January/February 1995 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online January/February 1995

conservation clips

A Dimmable Fluorescent Light? Pacific Scientific has developed a dimmable compact fluorescent light it hopes will replace millions of household incandescent bulbs. The Newport Beach, California, electrical equipment-maker calls the product Solium, a line of prototype screw-in fluorescent systems with electronic dimmers built into their bases. The new Solium products, capable of adjusting light between an equivalent of 150 watts and 30 watts, will virtually replace the three-way bulb, the company claims. Like most compact fluorescents, the new lights use about one-third of the energy of a standard incandescent, and last ten times longer. One proposed design allows for adjusting the intensity of the light with a hand twist. Pacific Scientific said it is near a marketing partnership with a major manufacturer. A source confirmed General Electric Lighting is experimenting with dimming electronics, and is in very preliminary discussions with Pacific Scientific about Solium, but said the technologies are still open to question. The Wall Street Journal, October 3, 1994. 200 Liberty St., New York, NY 10281. Tel: (212)416-2000; Fax: (212)416-2658.

DOE Unveils Revolutionary Lighting System. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) unveiled what it called a revolutionary 21st century lighting system that uses a bulb of sulfur bombarded by microwaves to produce bright illumination resembling sunlight--at a fraction of the cost of conventional systems. The prototype lamp, invented by a Rockville, Maryland, startup company called Fusion Lighting Inc., and developed under a DOE contract, consists of a closed quartz sphere filled with an inert gas and tiny amount of sulfur. One golfball-sized sulfur bulb, when irradiated by the kind of compact microwave generator found in ordinary kitchen oven, puts out as much light as hundreds of high-intensity mercury vapor lamps. Commercial products are not expected till late in 1995, and the first applications are likely to be in lighting extensive outdoor and indoor spaces such as shopping centers, aircraft hangers, or factories. The lamp is being tested in the entry area of DOE's Washington headquarters, where two bulbs--shining into each end of a 240-foot, 10-inch-diameter reflective plastic light pipe--have been installed. The area was previously lit by two hundred and forty 175-watt mercury lamps. The new system, which uses less than 12,000 watts, produces four times as much light at roughly one-third the cost. The Washington Post, Oct 21, 1994. 1150 15th Street, N.W., Washington. D.C., 20071. Tel: (202)334-6000.

Energy Labels for Doors. The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) has developed a procedure for rating and labeling the energy efficiency of doors. Since door components are often assembled by prehangers, labeling would be a two-part process. Door manufacturers would put a label on the edge of the door slab with a permanent NFRC energy label showing energy performance of the slab with various combinations of glass and frame. Prehangers would then use this information for a second label representing the completed door. NFRC expects to formally adopt the new rating system this year. Energy Design Update, July 1994, Cutter Information Corporation, 235 W. 102nd St., #7J, New York, NY 10025. Tel: (212) 662-7428; Fax: (212) 662-0039.

Minnesota's New Energy Code. New standards adopted by Minnesota's Department of Public Service give builders and potential home buyers the option of purchasing high-performance energy-efficient homes that achieve high levels of air-tightness and require mechanical ventilation to ensure air quality. Most significantly, the code includes a new set of options relating to ventilation of the living space and tight construction--so-called Category 1 and Category 2 homes. By adopting two categories of construction, the code provides an orderly transition to the Canadian Builders' Association's R-2000 Home Program Technical requirements, which will take effect in the state in 1998. Conservation Update, July 1994. Kentucky Division of Energy, 691 Teton Trail, Frankfort, KY 40601. Tel: (502) 564-7192; Fax: (502)564-7484.

Yellow Stickers in Hot Water? While Alabama Power Company believes the yellow stickers on new electric water heaters do serve a purpose by estimating the annual cost for heating water electrically, the utility's research shows that Department of Energy (DOE) input is way off when it comes to its customers. While DOE estimates it costs $453 a year to heat water electrically, Alabama Power claims the cost is closer to $230 for a household of 3 and even lower if special rates are used. Company research puts the average amount of energy used to heat water electrically in its service territory at 3,688 kWh, and 3,306 kWh for Good Cents homes, compared to DOE's estimate of about 5,100 kWh. Also, Alabama Power's residential rate of 6.64cents falls below the 8cents rate used in DOE's estimates. Utility Spotlight, Sept. 26, 1994, P.O. Box 114, Orangeburg, NY 10962. Tel: (914)359-1972; Fax: (914)359-3328.

Getting NEATer. The Department of Energy is preparing to release Version 5.1 of its National Energy Audit (NEAT) software, (see Computerized Energy Audits, HE May/June '94, p.27). Features have been added to make data entry faster and to ensure more flexibility. NEAT Version 5.1 will be available to Weatherization Assistance Program Agencies free of charge. Agencies must fill out license agreements which will be made available through state managers. Weatherization Quarterly, Pennsylvania College of Technology, One College Ave., Williamsport, PA 17701. Tel: (717) 327-4768; Fax: (717)327-4515.

Programmable Systems Spread. American Electric Power plans to install intelligent electric power control systems in 25,000 customer homes in six states. The programmable systems will adjust home electricity use based on the cost of power, which the company varies depending on demand. Known as the TranstexT Advanced Energy Management System, the system includes an intelligent electric meter, a modem, a water heater controller, a pool pump controller, and a smart thermostat/controller for the heating and cooling system as well as small appliances. The modem brings information about the electric rate to the controller and also allows the power company to read the meter remotely. Homeowners instruct the smart thermostat how to respond to different energy prices. The controller helps homeowners decide what energy choices to program, and can display an updated cost record or project the effect of changed settings on monthly bills. Journal of Light Construction, July 1994. R.R. 2 Box 146, Richmond, VT 05477. Tel: (802)434-4747; Fax: (802)434-4467.

Advances in Straw-Bale Construction. A blanket experimental permit issued by the New Mexico Construction Industries Association has raised non-load-bearing straw-bale construction to a new level of respectability. Non-load-bearing straw-bale construction relies on a timber frame to carry structural roof loads. The bales are stacked on the outside of the frame or between framing members, which differs from load-bearing Nebraska-style straw-bale building in which roof loads are carried directly on bale walls. With requests for experimental permits growing, and favorable results from structural and fire-retardency tests, the association has drafted language for permanently adding non-load-bearing straw-bale construction to New Mexico's building code. Sandia Laboratories, meanwhile, has found the thermal conductivity of straw bales it tested to average 0.374 Btu in/hr-ft2deg.F (0.54 W/mK). Converted to R-value, this is R-2.67 per inch of thickness. For the 18-inch-thick bales tested, the average R-value was 48.1, and the range was from R-44 to R-52. Environmental Building News, Sep/Oct 1994. R.R. 1 Box 161, Brattleboro, VT 05301. Tel: (802)257-7300; Fax: (802)257-7304.

Some Ground-Source Heat Pumps Don't Deliver. Energy Design Update (EDU) has investigated a rash of very extraordinary reports about ground-source heat pump systems that fail to heat properly and consume four to five times as much electricity as they are supposed to. All of the reports are for U.S. Power heat pumps, the most widely distributed direct expansion (DX) system in North America. The system is one of a new generation of ground-source heat pumps that exchange heat with the ground by circulating refrigerant through a system of buried copper tubes. They are theoretically more efficient than conventional water-loop systems because they eliminate the water-to-refrigerant heat exchanger and don't require a circulation pump. Clouded by litigation, EDU reports that the exact cause(s) of the problem is not certain, but may be related to an undersized ground heat exchange area. U.S. Power defends its technology and design, blaming the failures on improper ground-loop installation, faulty ductwork, and other installation deficiencies. Energy Design Update, September 1994, 235 West 102nd Street, #7J, New York, NY 10025, Tel: (212)662-7428; Fax: (212)662-0039.

Is Duct-Cleaning Worth It? Cleaning ducts is sometimes necessary, but measuring the results isn't easy. Duct-cleaning companies, however, frequently promote the beneficial aspects of cleaning heating ducts. Advantages promoted include improvements in ventilation flow rates, reductions in airborne dust in houses, greater comfort, and lower energy costs. To determine if there is any truth to these claims, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) studied houses in the Montreal area. The project was small and did not provide a comprehensive evaluation of all cleaning methods, but did provide interesting insights.

Dust measured on duct surfaces, in the air leaving the ducts, and in the house air did not indicate any major differences among the four cleaning techniques studied. Cleaning did not have a significant effect on house airborne dust concentrations. The difference between flow rates for supply air ducts before and after cleaning was insignificant. Flow rates in the return air ducts increased after cleaning, but not by a significant amount. Cleaning the ducts did not reduce energy consumption and may even have increased it. The results indicate that a cleaning technique which concentrates on the return air ducts and the fan may be the most efficient solution. Solplan Review, Aug/Sep 1994. Box 86627, North Vancouver, B.C., V7L 4L2 Canada. Tel: (604)689-1841; Fax: (604)689-1841.

California's Graywater Standards. After a 15-month period of data collection and public participation, the use of untreated household wastewater for subsurface landscape irrigation became legal in California. The Building Standards Commission accepted the Graywater Standards after they were approved by the California Water Commission and adopted by the director of the California Department of Water Resources. The standards, which allow use of water from bathtubs, showers, bathroom wash basins, clothes washing machines, and laundry tubs (but not from sinks, dishwashers, or toilets) are now part of the California Plumbing Code. People wishing to install a graywater system must get a building permit, draw plans, provide information on soil type and percolation rates, and have the system inspected before initial use. Graywater must remain below ground and human contact must be avoided. A graywater system can reuse up to 70% of all the water used in a home--about 100 to 160 gallons of graywater a day for a family of four, enough to water all the trees, shrubs, and other plants (but not turf) at a typical single-family home. The pipes, valves, and tanks for a graywater system currently cost from $200 to $2,000. Water Conservation News, Summer 1994, California Department of Water Resources, P.O. Box 942836, Sacramento, CA 94236. Tel: (916)327-1796; Fax: (916)327-1648.

Conservation Clips was compiled by Cyril Penn of Home Energy.

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