Energy efficiency

LORRAINE ALEXANDERInspired Interior Design

Fluorescent light bulb

Energy-efficient windows

Windows are the weak link, thermally speaking, in most building envelopes. Modern windows are much better than old single-pane windows, but still represent a compromise. Although greatly improved, we must accept the mediocre thermal performance as a trade-off for daylight, views, and ventilation. South-facing windows can be a good passive-solar design and can heat a space in the winter, but need to be managed carefully to avoid losing more heat at night than the heat captured during the day. When shopping for windows, get expert advice, research the coatings and performance ratings, invest in the best quality you can afford, and plan windows in the space with consideration to energy. Look for the Energy Star logo on windows.

Energy-efficient window coverings

Beyond window selection, energy-efficient window coverings are a wise investment for your home and seldom considered with regard to energy savings. There are many options, so finding the right product to suit your specific need is critical. Shopping for window coverings is like shopping for a car, with many options to weigh. Things to consider are price, beauty, durability, energy efficiency, eco-friendliness, ease of use and function.

Tips for choosing energy-efficient window coverings:
  • Save energy and money. Look for product offering good insulation properties. Typically the walls of a home have a R-value of 19 while the average window has an R-value of 2. The R-value is a measure of insulation's heat loss retardation under specified test conditions. Selecting energy efficient window coverings with better insulation properties can reduce heating and cooling costs, and even reduce negative effects of street noise.
  • In addition, shop for product that offers easy-to-use operating features that work for your specific needs. Example: Top down/bottom up feature provides two operating systems on one product, which allows you the option of preserving views while maintaining privacy. This feature also allows for some day-lighting, good for energy savings.
  • Select the right product for your exposure. A south or west-facing window will be too harsh on a natural wood blind and may warp the product. A faux wood may be more suitable. Check with the manufacturer for recommendation and warranties.
  • When possible select a product that can be installed on timers. This feature can save energy.
  • Think about ease of cleaning, dust and allergens related to air quality.
  • When possible select a product in a natural fiber or recycled content.
  • Qualify the durability of a product. A serviceable product that will last for years is a greener and wiser choice.
  • Finally, when shopping, always think solutions. Example: Layered applications may be the answer. An example of this would be a simple semi-sheer shade coupled with a drapery treatment. The shade will allow filtered light to come through during day use; the drape can be drawn for privacy, room darkening and offer additional insulation.

Think and renew

Energy Star appliances

Through the end of 1997, the Energy Star Program collectively saved more than $2.6 billion in energy expenditures and reduced carbon emissions by 25.5 million tons. Saving energy + shopping smart = big savings in energy cost. Look for Energy Star appliances and check rebate offers through your retailer, local water source or PGE.

High-efficiency lighting

A carefully designed lighting plan can save energy and enhance the beauty of your home. This is one area to seek the advice of an expert who is familiar with green design.

On-demand water heater

A tank-less water heater can produce hot water instantly upon demand. This technology offers convenience, energy savings and less water waste. On-demand units can be mounted and installed outside the home, even in freezing climates, which allows you to use valuable indoor space.

High-efficiency bulbs

Compare light bulbsCFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) are the newest generation of twisted fluorescent bulbs designed to be as compact as a standard light bulb. Developed in part by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the Energy Star Program, while high-efficiency bulbs save energy, they contain mercury; if broken, they can be a health hazard. They should never be disposed of in your garbage can. Local retailers have recycling programs for responsible disposal. There is controversy regarding the safety of CFLs. Research and make your own decision about whether these bulbs are a good choice for you and your family.

The Environmental Protection Agency responding to a report issued by the State of Maine and the Vermont-based Mercury Policy Project, and said they would be revising their disposal recommendations. Here are some recommendations from the study:

  • If a bulb breaks, get children and pets out of the room.
  • Ventilate the room.
  • Never use a vacuum even on a rug to clean up a compact fluorescent light.
  • If there are young children or pregnant woman in the house, consider cutting out the piece of carpet where the bulb broke. Otherwise, use gloves, collect chards with cardboard, and clean the area with disposable wet wipe.
  • Use a glass jar with a screw top to contain the shards and clean-up debris.
  • Click this link "Earth 911" to find recycling centers in your neighborhood.

Natural day-lighting

Day-lighting is the planned use of natural light through windows and skylights. This smart practice coupled with efficient lighting captures optimum environmental benefits, efficiency and function. Advantages include energy savings and productivity benefits for occupants of the home. A growing body of evidence suggests that people living in naturally lighted spaces will be more productive, more creative, healthier and happier. Regarding energy savings, one could assume that daylight use will result in energy savings, but occupants must still be aware of their use of electrical lighting and conserve. E-Source claims that 40 percent to 60 percent savings can be achieved in lighting energy if day-lighting is planned well.

Solar energy

The sun’s radiant light and heat has been harnessed by humans since ancient times using a range of evolving technologies. Solar technologies generate electrical power by means of heat engines or photovoltaics. Applications include space heating and cooling. Solar technologies are broadly characterized as either passive solar or active solar, depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute sunlight.

  • Active solar techniques include use of photovoltaic panels, solar thermal collectors, with electrical or mechanical equipment that converts sunlight into useful outputs.
  • Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the sun, selecting materials with favorable thermal mass or light-dispersing properties, and designing spaces that naturally circulate air. Passive solar includes direct and indirect solar gain for space heating. A common example of passive solar: a solarium on the equator-side of a building.
Shading with deciduous trees

Plant native deciduous trees to shade your home during summer months. Deciduous trees drop their leaves during winter and allow for the warmth of the sun to heat buildings, allowing more daylight in the interior space of the building.


Decisions about insulation are among the most important you will make relative to the environmental impact of buildings. Because insulation reduces energy consumption, it provides ongoing environmental benefits throughout a building’s life. However, not all insulation materials are equal environmentally. In assessing the environmental characteristics of insulation materials, consider a broad range of issues relating to resources going into their production, manufacturing processes, pollutants given off during their life cycle, durability, recyclability and impact on indoor air quality.

Lower thermostat

According to PGE, lowering your thermostat just a few degrees can contribute to substantial savings on your bill, up to 20 percent.

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