Archive for the ‘shade’ Tag

Do You Like Your Energy Utility Companies?   1 comment

When I was renting my house, I liked my electric utility, SMUD. The rates seemed fine, especially compared to PG&E rates that would occassionally get published in the newspaper in a summer-time story about someone getting a $2,000 electric bill. I was very happy that SMUD has 50% and 100% Greenergy options (renewable energy). It should be obvious that we’re enrolled in the 100% Greenergy program. I knew that they ranked well in customer satisfaction surveys (according to the website: 1st in California and 2nd in the nation for 2010). And I hadn’t had any negative experiences myself, nor heard of any from friends or coworkers.

Then we became homeowners. Now I have to say that I love my electric utility. And that started right away. This house actually didn’t have an electric meter installed before we bought it due to a lien on the previous owner or something like that. But in order to close on the house with an FHA loan, the electric connection had to be restored. How/why none of the real estate agents, appraiser, or loan officer didn’t catch that slight detail before the week we were going to close, I don’t know. To make a long story short our agent somehow managed to get a building inspector out to the house the following morning (usually takes 1-2 days), and then a SMUD installer out that afternoon (usually takes 7-14 days). I don’t know how she did it, or why SMUD was actually willing to send an installer on such short notice, but I am very grateful. (The rush was an attempt to meet the June 30 deadline for the first-time homebuyer tax credit.)

After we bought the house we had to buy appliances. Since we weren’t replacing anything we couldn’t take advantage of any of the Cash-for-Appliances programs; but SMUD had a separate rebate for an energy efficient washing machine. And when our water agency ran out of funding for their half of the joint rebate program for the washing machine, SMUD sent us the application for an alternative rebate program. Then we planted two free shade trees in our front yards, with possible plans to plant a third this year. Then I got this home energy audit, which is a $500 home energy audit that cost me $99 because SMUD reimburses the contractor for the remainder. I know there are other rebates, some of which we might be able to take advantage of like the Cool Roof rebate (since we are looking at having to reroof anyway), or whole house fan rebate. And if I ever decide to buy carbon offsets, I can look into their carbon offset program.

One of my only disappointments has been the slow roll-out of new smart meters. I probably shouldn’t complain since PG&E’s earlier roll-out was a disaster with lots of defective meters. But now we have a smart meter, and hopefully we’ll be able to get detailed/down to the hour energy usage data through our online account soon.

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Posted July 21, 2011 by mayakey in energy use, environment, home, money

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Awning Time   3 comments

Summer’s here, and with it comes our canvas awnings. Well, they’re not needed this week since the forecast high temperatures are the same or lower than our programmed A/C setting. But a couple of weeks ago, and fourth of July weekend, getting those awnings up quickly was imperative in the face of hundred degree temperatures with no evening Delta breeze.

We have the awnings from our old house, but unfortunately discovered that they don’t quite work here. We have larger windows and an open back patio that means we get no relief from afternoon and evening sun. The old four foot long awnings don’t manage to shade the entire window and sash, especially if there is a breeze. So we got longer six foot canvases at the hardware store. This is the only cotton item that I can think of where I voluntarily purchase a non-organic fabric. The painters drop cloths at the hardware store are perfect in that they have a tight weave that doesn’t let any sun through, but are thin enough that they let the light through. I tried canvas from the fabric store one year and it was eternal twilight in the house. Since we can, this year we bought strong metal screw-in hooks to hang the awnings from the eaves. Now there is no more need to go outside after a windy day and re-glue/replace fallen/broken plastic hooks. Up until the last minute we hadn’t decided if we wanted to continue using our “cheap” canvas awning strategy or do something a little nicer since we own the house now, but it really stands out as the best option. If/when we decide to do something else, the hooks on the eaves can be used for something else like hanging plants or windchimes.

Just a refresher, the awnings are part of my primary strategy for climate control in the house during the summer: keep the sun off. If the sun doesn’t shine on the walls, it won’t heat them up as much, which in turn doesn’t heat the inside as much or as fast; and if the sun doesn’t shine in the windows the interior of the house doesn’t heat up nearly as fast. This is vital for walls/windows that face east, and even more so for walls/windows that face west. For the last two weeks I experienced the difference first hand since our office is in the one room that doesn’t have an eave so we haven’t figured out how to hang an awning. (Disclosure: we also haven’t figured out how to shade the bay window in the living room since canvas hanging from the eaves isn’t really attractive, but those windows face south and are still fully shaded by the eaves.) During the last two weeks I worked from home to avoid the offgassing of the new carpeting at my work office, and even with a curtain completely shading that window from the inside all morning long that room was significantly hotter than the rest of the house. I’d be sweating in the office (with the door closed so as to not heat up the rest of the office), but the rest of the house stayed cool well into the afternoon. In fact, even at 8 or 9 in the morning there is a noticeable difference between the unshaded office and the master bedroom, even though they are right next to each other and the bedroom is occupied while the office is empty.

In addition to buying new canvas to fully shade the windows, we are also shading part of our back patio this summer. Mike had bought one of those collapsable canopies last year and for fourth of July we put it up in the patio and hung another awning (actually our tent ground cloth) on the west side so that part of the patio is in shade all day long. This also helps to keep the house cool because then at night there’s less radiant heat coming off the concrete. For that reason we plan on keeping the canopy up for most of the summer. It’s amazing that there’s still a difference in the temperature of the concrete at 10pm under the canopy versus the exposed areas. I look forward to getting rid of much of that concrete and reducing the thermal mass around the house.

Posted July 12, 2011 by mayakey in energy use, home

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Our Trees Are Here! Our Trees Are Here!   Leave a comment

Last week we got our free shade trees from our utility company. I was planning to plant them this weekend, but I forgot to call Underground Service Alert (811 Call Before You Dig) on Wednesday so I have to wait until the end of Monday to plant. I am pretty sure that there is a water line and cable beneath our lawn, but since I don’t know exactly where I want the utility to mark the lines. Utility marking is something that I have to do all the time for work, but requesting a dig ticket outside of work is a new experience.

I’m pretty excited about the shade trees. Well, I’m ecstatic about one of them and hopeful about the other. Our local utility company (SMUD) has a program giving free shade trees to customers that request them. It’s a limited list of shade trees (no fruit trees or evergreens, and they have selected a number of species as particularly appropriate for the area), but I really don’t understand why more people don’t participate. I mean, it’s FREE. All you have to do is meet with an urban forester to select the tree(s) and the location, and then dig the hole and care for the tree. In a few years you get shade! We might not see much return on “investment” since the trees might not yet be fully grown before we move again, but since the “investment” was zero I can live with that. We’ll get some shade, and hopefully better resale value.

The tree that I am excited about is a native Valley Oak. It’s a large tree that will be planted out near the street. I am very passionate about native plants, and of all the trees native to the Sacramento area, the oaks are my favorites. I’ve been nervously mapping the location, though, because the location of this tree will be a huge factor in figuring out what area of the new lawn gets removed for xeriscape. Since a valley oak is a low water use tree, I’d like low water use landscaping around it. We’re going for improving resale value, though, and I don’t want to do anything that might have the opposite effect. Sacramento is a seriously water-guzzling town, and I’m afraid that removing all of the lawn will have a negative effect. Plus, I need to leave enough lawn accessible to the driveway for me to drive my car onto the lawn so that I can wash it by hand.

The tree that I am not so excited about is the eastern redbud. We had been planning to get just one tree, but the urban forester took one look at our front yard and said we could easily fit two trees, a large and a small tree. They don’t have the western redbud on the list because for some reason it wasn’t deemed appropriate (size? color? root structure? branching? apparently they look at a number of variables). So she suggested the eastern redbud instead. To be completely honest, I’m kind of regretting that decision. Maybe we should have just gotten one tree and gone looking for a small native tree on our own. Honestly, though, I hope it’ll work because the small tree is the most important one for shading the front window. And I know full well that if we had gone the route of finding (and buying) a different small tree near the house, it wouldn’t have happened this fall.

Posted November 15, 2010 by mayakey in energy use, gardening, home

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Awnings Up   7 comments

After a long cool spring, summer appears to be here. Last weekend we had to hang our awnings in an attempt to keep the inside temperature from getting too hot, but we still had to turn on the air conditioner briefly.

As renters, we have been limited in what we could do to make our home comfortable in the summer (especially when our landlady decided to cut down all of the trees on the west side of the house right before summer started one year). But we have figured out a few strategies that I will share.

The first principle to reducing your cooling load is to block the sun off/out of the house. If the sun doesn’t shine in the windows, then it won’t heat up the inside of the house. Better yet, if the sun doesn’t shine on the window or wall at all, it won’t heat the window or wall above ambient temperature, which will then radiate into the house. And even better, if the sun doesn’t shine on the ground near the house the amount of heat reflected back up at the walls is reduced as well. If you own your house you can plant a tree or large shrub, or construct an awning or other shading structure; but most renters are limited to just closing the blinds.

During my second summer in Sacramento I challenged myself to a no-AC summer, which meant figuring out other ways to keep the house cool. I decided to create cheap and non-permanent awnings for the west facing windows by hanging canvas drop cloths from the gutters using glued-on hooks. As I mentioned above, not too long after I moved in here our former landlady cut down the trees and turned the side yard from a mossy and shady lane into a hot dry oven. I was thrilled, I tell you, and in response we bought the longest drop cloth we could find and stretched it all the way along the west wall. Because of the proximity of our neighbor’s house that three feet of awning keeps the sun off of the entire height of the wall for most of the afternoon and evening. At one point we tried canvas from the fabric store, but discovered that the nice thing about canvas drop cloths is that they are thin enough that they don’t block all of the light, just the sun.

canvas awnings

Posted June 11, 2010 by mayakey in energy use, frugal living, home

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