Retrofit for an Eco-home, Part One

I firmly believe in conserving energy.  So much so, in fact, that this week I’m going to take a much desired, if little deserved, nap and let this week’s article be written by a local residential green building designer, Elizabeth Diane. I’ve asked her to write about better ways to retrofit your home to make it use less energy. Here’s Lisa…

If you want to start greening your own home and wonder where to spend your energy, conserving energy will have the greatest impact to mitigate global warming.  According to the EPA, buildings in the US account for 68% of total electricity consumption and 38% of the carbon dioxide emissions.

So let’s say you really want to make a large dent in that energy bill, while doing something nice for life on the planet.  Here are a couple installations that can have very noticeable impacts:

  • Solar PV Panels.  Why not convert an abundant, clean, inexhaustible source of energy into power?  The PV stands for photovoltaic, meaning the system turns light into electricity, or photons into voltage.  And there are plenty of those photons passing through the abundant grey clouds of the Northwest.  The main requirement is open exposure (no shade) of the light filtering through the clouds from late morning through early evening, especially in winter.  While PV systems are a large investment, there are great rebates through Washington State, especially if you buy your panels from a local manufacturer, and when you are tied to the power grid, you can sell back the surplus power the system generates to the power company.  In the long run, the system will pay for itself, especially as energy rates rise, and solar panels do increase your home’s equity.  Consultation with a solar expert will also pay for itself.  Look for new innovations of more efficient panels and also products such as Solar PV roof tiles and ultra thin roof sheets that may be more common in the market sometime soon.  If ownership of your own panels seems out of reach, there are companies looking at system rentals that cost very little up front and keep your energy bills low. Imagine if we can all generate energy from our roofs in the near future.
  • Passive Solar and Tankless Hot Water Systems.  Depending on household usage, the energy to heat water in our homes is the greater portion of your energy bill.  Using the sun’s energy, captured in a system of water tubes and run through your hot water tank, you can greatly reduce the amount of electricity or natural gas it takes to heat up that cold water and keep it warm for your next shower.  On average, you can see your bills drop 50% or more.  Even more savings can be realized by doing it yourself and using local or reclaimed materials.  The internet is full of instructions—just make sure they are reliable and protect the system from a deep freeze.  You can also run your sun-heated hot water through a tankless “on demand” hot water heater with the same results.  A tankless hot water heater retrofitted to replace or supplement your hot water heater is another way to reduce energy useage.

Correction: Ken here again. In an earlier article I recommended putting dryer sheets between your clothes when you pack them away for the winter.  A reader correctly pointed out that a less chemical-laden alternative is to use a few drops of essential oil on a piece of cotton cloth. Thanks.

Ms. Diane works on both new and retrofit design through her company Lucid 9 Design, Inc. (“Architectural Harmony in Light and Form”) and can be reached at or through her website

Click here to read part two.