One of the Nation’s Most Energy Efficient Homes
by The Car Family
Tucked into a cul de sac in Alta Loma is a Spanish style, one story family home that is unique and yet common. For the secret of this 2400 square foot home is that despite its tract house appearance the owners have taken inexpensive steps to make it one of the most energy efficient homes in Southern California with a gas bill that seldom goes above $300 a year and an electric bill that is just a tad over $400 a year and that includes charging the Prius Plug-In nightly.
Let’s start with the facts. First, the house is essentially all electric except for the gas dryer, water heater, and furnace. The back of the house has a southern exposure and is largely glass with a fairly large roof overhang. There is an oversized three car garage attached and the roof has three distinct pitches providing the interior with very high ceilings. Into this mix add a normal sized family, two large dogs, and the usual array of appliances and you have a very typical ranch style residence.
Now comes the interesting part the average gas bill is about ten dollars a month. On extremely cold months this could rise to $35, but the dual pane windows let in an abundance of southern sunlight that heats the tile floor and helps keep the home comfortable long into the night. The addition of the newer windows and doors greatly helps in keeping energy costs down. Southern California Gas and Edison both offer rebates in some cases. During the warmer summer months the roof overhang keeps the sun from shinning into the house. Helping keep the stucco exterior cool is the placement of large bushes on the southside of the house. The large attic acts to “store” the rising heat from the living areas and together make running the air conditioner a rare event. Indeed, last year it was only on twice and this year three times.
The water bill was reduced by the use of drought tolerant plants which require little maintenance, very little care, and no fertilizer. A drip system was installed, but even in hot weather watering twice a week is all that is needed. A grant to remove the grass front yard was given by the area water agency. Although some people hire professional landscapers, the yard was designed by the homeowner to reflect their desire to have a colorful, happy yard. Citrus trees on the property and a garden add to the water cost, but the drought tolerant landscaping has partially offset this and resulted in substantial savings. In addition, the home has low water use toilets and washing machine. The showers have restrictive flow features and the dish washer is never started unless it is full.
The gas bill was dramatically reduced with the tankless water heater and a two-stage furnace. Helping reduce the need for heating are ceiling fans that bring down the warmer air from the high ceiling in the house. Changing the directions of the fans in summer also helps to increase evaporation and keeps the family cooler. Energy efficient fans only cost about three tenths of one cent per hour to operate.
Electricity rates were also kept low by taking advantage of Southern California Edison’s savings plans and the installation of an upgraded SEER air-conditioner. Energy Star appliances, the use of outlet strips that can be shut off ending parasitic losses to devises that are plugged into them, and having lighting systems that use less electricity all squeeze the energy costs. Another important saver is programing the dishwater and clothes dryer to run during late hours. Interestingly, the Prius Plug-in, has a timer that enables it to start charging during off-peak hours. The addition of the Prius has raised the monthly bill for electricity by a measly $4.
There are other things that can reduce energy use that may take more time. For example, having large bushes and trees keep the sun off the house is worthwhile. The west side of the Alta Loma house is shaded by a hedge and vine. Keeping your freezer and refrigerator full and keeping the coils clean helps save running costs and using small solar entry lights can keep your entry lighted for very little cost.
One final tip, on those cold nights when the thought of going to bed unless the home is 68 or higher degrees, is not appealing, use the microwave to prepare a couple of rice heating bags. They can be tucked under the covers a few minutes before bedtime and they can easily take the chill off the bedding and retain warmth for over an hour.
Setting the programmable thermostat at 62 at night and 68 in the day in winter and a maximum in summer of 78 or 80, taking advantage of utility offerings checking your usage with an Edison account are ways you can certainly save yourself some hard earned income as well as help to save the environment.
The bottom line is that this house does not use solar panels because it is so energy efficient it does not qualify. It just uses items that are subsidized by many energy agencies and water districts. The energy costs of this house would save a potential buyer thousands of dollars a year so those looking to purchase a home should definitely check the utility costs before making a decision.
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