This article was originally published in the May/June 1994 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online May/June 1994



Housewraps. In an effort to settle the long-standing debate over the energy-saving potential of housewraps, DuPont has sponsored testing to determine the value of several of these products. The first test involved 18 new homes in Virginia. The first group had no housewrap, a second group received housewrap only around outside walls (joints were not taped), and a third group was fully wrapped, including Tyvek Headerwrap and taped joints. Blower door tests showed the groups to have ACHs of 0.52, 0.45, and 0.37 for groups one, two, and three, respectively. A second test, conducted by an independent laboratory, found that housewraps reduced air leakage by 40% to 93%, and that the biggest leaks occur at the bottom plate and subfloor. The results of both tests suggest that while housewrap does help reduce air leakage in homes, joints must be taped and exterior walls sealed where they join with foundations and roofs in order to maximize these products' effect. And since housewraps don't stop air leakage through ceilings or floors over crawl spaces, air sealing inside a home remains essential to achieving energy efficiency. Journal of Light Construction, December 1993, Builderburg Partners, Ltd., 1025 Vermont Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20005. Tel: (802)434-4747; Fax: (802)434-4467.

Continuous Gas Furnace. In response to a challenge from Rochester Gas and Electric Corp., scientists at the GE Research and Development Center are developing a unique gas furnace that can provide its own electricity to operate its blower during a power outage. The new furnaces incorporate a thermoelectric generator that can generate and store 300-500 W of electricity. In addition to providing needed power during emergencies, these systems are estimated to save about $100 a year on electricity costs, because the power stored in the generator is produced using gas, a cheaper fuel. A prototype is expected to undergo testing this year. Popular Science, January 1994, 2 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10016. Tel: (212)779-5000; Fax:(212)779-9468.

New E-E, CFC-Free Compressor. The free-piston linear compressor, recently developed by Sunpower, Inc., could reduce energy consumption of refrigerators and air conditioners by 10% to 15% while, at the same time, using CFC-free refrigerants. Unlike conventional compressors, the new device doesn't rely on a crank or shaft to drive the piston, or on oil-based lubricants. Instead, the piston oscillates inside its cylinder on a gas film, which means it can save energy and utilize a non-CFC refrigerant. Another unique aspect of the compressor is its linear design, which allows variable output by varying the input voltage. This feature reportedly has the potential to improve efficiency by another 10% to 25%, in addition to reducing noise and temperature fluctuations. The company also plans to utilize the device in a Stirling cycle engine for remote, small-scale electricity generation. Demand-Side Technology Report, November 1993, Cutter Information Corporation, 37 Broadway, Arlington, MA 02174. Tel: (617)641-5118; Fax: (617)648--1950.

Environmental Appliances. Green Seal has expanded its list of environmentally approved appliances to include clothes washers, dryers, and dishwashers. The nonprofit organization, through its certification program, gives its approval to appliances that are less environmentally damaging than other products in their respective classes. Household appliances approved by Green Seal must meet water- and energy-use limits, and their packaging must contain recycled materials and limited toxins. In addition to the above appliances, the organization has developed standards for water fixtures, compact fluorescent lamps, paints, windows, window films, room air conditioners, caulks and sealants, and adhesives. It is also working on standards for water heaters, light fixtures, boilers, and furnaces. Environmental Building News, November/December 1993, RR#1 Box 161, Brattleboro, VT 05301. Tel: (802)257--7300; Fax: (802)257-7300

Carpet Labels. A new voluntary labeling program undertaken by the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) will alert consumers to potential health and indoor air quality effects of carpets. As of January 1, 1994, new carpeting bears information labels that discuss associated problems and provide guidelines for installation and removal. Also included is an owner's manual that provides information on carpet care. Among the labels' recommendations are low-emission adhesives and pads, and adequate ventilation during and after installation. While critics say the labels don't answer all questions consumers are likely to have about carpets and that the recommendations are impractical, the labels are still considered an important first step toward advising consumers. Much of the concern over carpet stems from controversial research that showed neurotoxological symptoms in mice exposed to carpet fumes. CRI plans to continue its research into potential health effects, and the carpet industry continues to strive for a consensus regarding research. Indoor Air Quality Update, December 1993, Cutter Information Corporation, 37 Broadway, Arlington, MA 02174. Tel: (617)648-8700; Fax: (617)648-8707.

Straw-Bale Houses. With the price of lumber increasing, an unconventional building material is gaining popularity--straw bales. Straw-bale home construction is reported to be much less expensive than conventional wood construction. For example, a house with 2,500 ft2 of floor space built from straw bales could cost as little as $5,000, compared to about $30,000 for a similar house built with lumber. Walls are built by enclosing straw bales in plaster or stucco (doors, windows, and ceilings are not part of this technique). A standout advantage is that straw bales are actually a natural form of cellulose insulation. A typical straw-bale wall built with 20-inch bales could have an R-value as high as R-40, compared to a typical 2 x 6 wall insulated with fiberglass batts at about R-19. Incorporating passive solar features would reduce a straw-bale home's energy consumption even further. In addition to lower construction and energy costs, this material is fire resistant, strong, and durable. Straw-bale construction techniques are said to be easy to learn. Mother Earth News, October/November 1993, Sussex Publishers, Incorporated, 24 E. 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010. Tel: (212)260-7210; Fax: (212)260-7445.

Fluorescents and UV Light. Consumers need not worry about skin cancer risks from exposure to ultraviolet radiation from fluorescent lights, according to E-Source, a subsidiary of the Rocky Mountain Institute. UV output from electric lighting is small, and though upgrading to more efficient lighting could increase the emissions, most fluorescent lights don't emit enough to warrant concern. Sunlight is a far greater concern, the report said. However, very high output (VHO) or super high output (SHO) fluorescents that are unshielded can emit enough UV to be harmful, because these lamps discharge UV-B, the most dangerous type of UV radiation acrylic lenses or clear UV--abating products will eliminate most UV, even from sunlight. Additionally, the potential danger from VHOs and SHOs can be avoided by switching to T8 lamps. Demand-Side Report, October 14, 1993, McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Tel: (212)512-6410; Fax: (212)512-2723.

U.S. Department of Energy dishwasher standards (effective May 1994) now require that new dishwashers use no more than 2.14 kWh for a normal cycle, according to a recent Appliance article. Although the new requirements have spurred manufacturers on in the quest for a more efficient machine, energy efficiency, along with noise reduction, were already primary design parameters for most manufacturers, who were responding to consumer demands because of a previous slump in shipments. Manufacturers say the changes required to achieve the necessary energy savings were relatively minor, and since energy savings in dishwashers come largely from hot water saving, that's where they started. For Whirlpool, it was merely a matter of asking suppliers to tighten tolerances on timers and valves for better, more controlled, flow rates, said senior product manager Larry Burns. New timers and a new wash cycle brought Frigidaire's mechanically controlled models up to snuff (the company's electronically controlled models were already in compliance). GE used multiple wash arms to better distribute the water, and Thomson's machines offer a water-saving, self-cleaning filter system. Some manufacturers have redesigned the racks so that dishware is better exposed to the water, and Italian manufacturer Merloni's latest entry offers a half-load setting. Appliance, February 1994, Dana-Chase Publications, Inc., 1110 Jorie Boulevard, CS 9019, Oak Brook, IL 60522-9019. Tel: (708)990-3484; Fax: (708)990-0078.


Conservation Clips is compiled by Cathlene Casebolt of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, a non-profit organization working in sustainable energy, agriculture, affordable housing, and environmental protection. Conservation Clips contains brief summaries of useful research reports and articles in related magazines, and other publications collected by the NCAT staff. Contact NCAT, P.O. Box 4000, Butte, MT 59702. Tel: (800) 428-2525; Fax: (406)494-2905.


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