Home Energy Audit from Guardian Energy Auditors

I received an energy audit from Guardian Energy Auditors on President’s Day.  The inspection had been scheduled during a period of lower temperatures to make it easier to locate drafts and leaks, and I was asked to slightly elevate the temperature in my home prior to the audit to further increase the temperature difference. 

Our inspector, Todd, was punctual and friendly. As scientists and new home owners who want to learn everything about our house, our interrogations and oversight can be annoying for contractors. Todd, however, did not mind in the least as we followed him around all morning, asking questions and taking pictures. He was patient, gracious and attentive, and seemed to enjoy sharing his knowledge with us. 

The first thing that happened was a blower door test. This depressurizes the home to help identify how well air does (or does not) get from the outside to the inside – we could watch the numbers bounce around as the wind blew! In addition, it can also test the air flow between rooms when doors are open or shut. (Helpful because optimal air flow between rooms will create more efficient heating and cooling) We have a pretty old house… I tried to pressure-mount something against joist several months ago and gave up when it kept causing the ceiling to flex and push out nails in different rooms. Todd did a walkthrough to ensure the depressurization caused no damage, and even in our old house, there was none, so these things must be pretty dang safe. 

The second step was to walk around with a thermal imaging camera, which I found fascinating. I had developed some expectations of where my leaky areas would be and I was far off. Would you expect doors and windows to leak? I did, but our doors and windows were fine. We had leaks from places I did not know could leak, such as corners and baseboards, as well as sockets, plumbing, and almost anywhere two pieces of material touched each other. Even more impressive was that he could point his camera at my wall and show me where my insulation was lacking – it was so obvious with blue squares of cold around the warm colors of the framing inside my walls and ceiling. We joked about finding ghosts on the camera, and he even humored us by letting us use the camera to look at our dogs, explaining as we did so how thermal imaging can be used for medical diagnosis.

He measured the refrigerator wattage with a Kill-a-Watt meter and we followed him into the attic while he inspected our insulation and duct work. He tested for carbon monoxide and natural gas leaks with even more nifty gadgets that go beep, and concluded with an exterior inspection and interview process.

The entire process took about four hours, and all the while he was giving us pointers and explaining how we could make various improvements, and even giving us recommendations and ball park price estimates for different products. We received a 30-page audit report two days later, complete with pretty pictures and charts, categorized monetary savings, and prioritized action items. I was pretty shocked to read that, compared to similar houses, our home was in the bottom 20% for energy efficiency!  I had been under the impression our efficiency was decent to average for a 60-year-old home… but apparently our house is abnormally leaky and drafty as well as being poorly insulated.  According to our report, making suggested improvements can save us $700 per year, the majority of which comes from savings in air conditioning. We’re really going to appreciate our Green Home Loan! (Which is another post for another time)


Re-usable Snack Bags Have Arrived!

As discussed in a previous post, I was unable to find a local source for these. I suppose they would be easy enough to make, if one had a talent in such things (I don't). These came from Etsy's Little Mister store, which is unfortunately not long for this world. I'm sure you could find other sellers with similar products. I was hoping that they would be the same size as sandwich bags, to give my husband a little less change-shock, but they are just slightly smaller. He has looked them over skeptically, promising to try them next week. I think they are quite nice, and the velcro seals look nice and tight, so I expect they will be a good substitute for nearly all of our baggie needs... might have to find other sizes later on, though.


Climate Change as an Animal Behavior Experiment

I find climate change endlessly fascinating. It precipitates a speeding up of so many fundamental processes – meteorology, evolution, geology, and ecosystem progression, to name the first few that come to mind. It’s also a huge-scale experiment on animal behavior, and I’m not just talking about polar bears here, people. I’m talking about homo sapiens: you and me. Questions that are normally philosophical, such as whether or not we as a species are truly as adaptable and intelligent as we suppose we are, are about to be measured quantitatively in upcoming decades and generations.

If you’ve never taken a basic animal behavior course, I highly recommend it as one of the most interesting classes I’ve ever had. It explains many simple things such as why one may have an uncontrollable urge for spices, sugar or alcohol, why one may not ever want to eat chicken again after a bad night at KFC, and why one may lean towards altruism. It draws so many parallels between the behavior of humans and the behavior of birds and toads and monkeys that you may not feel so species-superior at the end of it, because we are all subject to the same processes. Bottom line, we evolved to do what we do for a reason, and that reason is somewhere in history this habit was vital for either the survival of ourselves, our offspring, or our community.

To supplement this, there is a basic concept in ecosystem studies called the Tragedy of the Commons. This is not a concept that lends itself to quick explanations, but the crux of it is that people have no meaningful incentive to use less resources now in order to ensure that those resources will be around later. Survival and social mechanisms kick in, and people will over consume, even knowing the consequences. You can Google it for details.

Basically, there are very sound psychological and biological mechanisms hard-wired into humans as a species that has led us to over-consume our planet.   Burning fossil fuels, over-producing agricultural lands, and having multiple babies does not make us evil. Our oft-times destructive and selfish lifestyles aren’t a symptom of stupidity. They’re a symptom of being alive, of being one more creature on the planet competing to survive. We have become like this because it has allowed us to prosper more easily as a species.  You can only accept so much guilt for being a “victim” of nature. The catch is that we are a species like no other... a highly creative, highly intelligent species that finds it easier to adapt the world to itself rather than adapt itself to the world; a species with no boundaries across the globe. Our food, our products, our people, our pollution – we share with all the world in a big way.

So now that we know that our actions are unsustainable stressors on our environment and lifestyles, the question that really matters is: Are we strong enough as a species to make major changes that go against our evolution? Can we fundamentally change our nature to care for the Commons together? It’s the brain versus evolution. Collective will power versus science.

The processes of nature will go on, with or without us. “Without us” is a point in the distant future, but we are intelligent enough to look that far ahead, find potential threats to our species, and act to postpone extinction. The scenario of climate change gives us few possible outcomes. We can keep going as we are until we are no longer able, then adapt quickly enough to survive in a changed world. We can keep going as we are without adaptation, and possibly lose our foothold in the ecosystem altogether (that’s death, folks). We can make a half hearted effort, slow down the change, and still find ourselves faced with adaptation or extinction on some future date. Or we can all act together as one to make a change large enough to repair the damage and maintain our lifestyles indefinitely. Whatever the outcome, it will be an interesting road. My inquiring mind is a bit sad that I may be dead of old age before the answer becomes evident, but only time will tell.


Free Energy Audit Newsflash

 Free Energy Audit

OG&E customers have one week left to sign up for a free home energy audit! You may be aware that OG&E offers a $50 energy audit walkthrough that comes with some simple services such as an air conditioner tune-up and duct sealing. What you may not know is that if you sign up between now and March 4th, this $50 fee is waived. 

If you’re leery about the term “audit”, don’t be.  During energy audits a contractor generally visits your home and identifies steps you can take that will improve your home’s energy efficiency and save you money on your electric bills. They aren’t trying to figure out what you are doing wrong, they are trying to find out what you can do better. Think more of a doctor’s visit for your house rather than a police raid. The information is specific and personalized to you and your home.  While some of the pricier energy efforts (like new appliances and better insulation) are well known, there are usually some super cheap and easy fixes you can do that will make your home more efficient. Audits range from basic walkthroughs to detailed quantitative analyses using fancy gadgets.  This OG&E one promises to be simple and to the point, with some added bonuses thrown in.

So what have you got to lose? Free is my personal favorite price. Ours is scheduled for March 31st.

We also had a fancier audit done recently… I’ll tell you about that later.


Our Tankless Water Heater Experience

We bought our home in November of 2008. One of our first adventures in home ownership was installing a tankless water heater, which we did in February of 2009. What is a tankless water heater, you ask?

A tankless water heater is a sophisticated box that hooks up to your home’s electric or natural gas systems. It has these coil-y things in it. Ours happens to be natural gas. Your turn on the hot water, and the nifty heater heats up the coils and pulls water through said coils, thus creating hot water. It does this until you turn off the hot water faucet, and then shuts itself down. Simple, right? Compared to a traditional hot water tank, which constantly maintains a certain number of gallons of water at a specific temperature.

Tankless water heaters consume less energy because they are using (electricity or gas) only when you are using hot water! Whereas regular hot water tanks are on all the time, and may continually lose energy as the heat from the water slowly escapes the tank to make your hot water tank closet or your garage nice and toasty.

And the SUPER COOL thing about hot water tanks? Are you ready for this? You don’t run out of hot water. Ever. Never. Not while the tank is in proper working condition.

There was nothing wrong with our other hot water tank. It was just big, in the way, old, inefficient, and there was a tax incentive that year for upgrades. Switching the water tank seemed to be a simple, relatively inexpensive, cost-efficient thing we could do. And the idea of running hot water forever was pretty dang appealing. So we discussed, and decided to do it. I let my hubby pick the model. He spent hours researching about the technology and the different kinds and models and uses of tankless heaters (one can never blame him for being hasty, that’s how he rolls). And he chose one.  This one, in that picture... the Bosch 1600 H. Ironically, once tax time came around, this model was not one of the ones on the rebate list. Oops on us.

This particular size is supposed to allow us to run one major appliance at a time. So we can’t take a shower while the laundry is going, or someone is scrubbing the dishes in the sink. We could have gotten a bigger, more expensive one that would handle everything at once, but we have a small house and a small family, so this is sufficient.

Thankfully we have handy buddies who were willing to install the tank for us. Ta da! It took them just a few hours to switch out the old heater for the new one and replace the plumbling and venting through the roof. I sold the old heater on Craigslist. The new one worked like a charm! Except that one of the knobs kept falling off - you can see in the picture where it should be. But that’s ok. We just pick it up and stick it back on when we need it.

A couple of months later I had a parade of several different plumbers march through our house doing inspections. As they did so, I asked each one if the tank was installed correctly and if I had to get the city to come inspect it and certify it (someone had told me that I needed to do that). Most of them had no idea, and had never seen the doo-hickey before. A few of them said that it was put in wrong, and we should change this or that, or that we put in the wrong kind for our house, or that they shouldn’t go in the garage.  But the wide range of responses made it obvious to me that no one definitively knew what they were talking about; I suppose because tankless heaters were not yet common enough in OKC for local plumbers to be educated on them. I called the city to ask if it needed to be inspected, and after being bounced around on the phone a bit, they told me that it did not… but most of those people didn't know what I was talking about, either!  The most I could do was assume that the tank was working fine and my friends knew what they were doing.  It has been two years now and it still seems a safe assumption.

So now to the real questions: 

Have I had any problems with it?
Yes, just a couple. The main issue is that, since the water has only a limited time to pass through the coils and be heated up, the end temperature is heavily dependent on the ground temperature and how cold or warm the water is to begin with. This is accounted for to some extent by the design of our heater. If we slow the flow, it is in the coils for longer and gets hotter. We can also increase or decrease the size of our flame. So to make the hottest possible water, the knob for flow goes down, the knob for flame goes up, and vice-versa to make the water less hot. BUT. During the coldest part of the winter we can’t get the water extremely hot, more like pretty dang warm, and this makes taking a hot bath difficult in January. I boil a pot of water on the stove if I really want a hot soak that month. On the other hand, hot water in summer is easy to come by, and during most of our year the temperature is pretty constant.

The second winter we owned the tank (December 2009), we had a blizzard. The exposed pipes leading up to the water tank in the garage froze. We panicked a little, called my handyman uncle. Shut off the water. Slowly heated the pipes back up. Turned on the water. And it worked again. We then immediately bought insulation for the pipes and pointed a space heater at them if it got ridiculously cold outside (thankfully, in Oklahoma, not a common event). We had a second blizzard this December, and forgot to heat the garage... and they froze again. Other than those two times, it's been kosher.

A few months after that first blizzard, a part on the heater broke. Because we have a home warranty, the repair cost was paid for via insurance (hooray). We don’t know why it broke. Our technician did not know why it broke. Maybe it had something to do with the freeze? Or a manufacturing flaw? No clue. But break it did. And because the tankless heater is uncommon, the part had to be ordered, and we had to wait for it to come in. And it was installed, and we found out that a second part was broken, rinse, wash, repeat. THEN, only then our hot water worked again. But because of the insurance and the part ordering process we were out of hot water for a good month or so. It was supremely annoying. I was cursing my need to be original, I admit, because if I’d a regular tank, it would have been done within in a few days, tops.

Am I glad I made the change?
 Yes, definitely, the pros outweigh the cons. Of course having a tankless makes me feel like a good guy, because it consumes less energy and pollutes less. I save money on my gas bill, but I admit that I don’t save as much as I thought I would, and because we bought the heater two months after we moved into the house I don’t have a decent baseline comparison – I can’t tell you in numbers how much money and therms we’ve saved. Our natural gas bills are pretty conservative, and almost negligible during the summer. I am confident that we have saved some amount, but I don’t have enough data to know if the device has monetarily paid for itself yet.

The biggest practical benefit, by far, is having unlimited hot water.  We don’t have to worry about limiting our showers, timing our showers just right with our guests and each other so that no one runs out, or those drastic temperature fluctuations that happen when someone flushes while you’re showering. In fact it has been so long since I’ve had to worry about such things that it seems primitive now. I turn on the hot water tap, I get hot water. End of story. No fuss.
So, for us, tankless water heater = more money, more convenience. And that breakdown we had? One time thing, probably a fluke. It was a cheap fix ($60 out of pocket), thanks to our home warranty. Hopefully it will not happen again.

 Would I do it the same way?
No.  If we were doing it over, I would still switch to a tankless, but I would have selected a higher-capacity model even though we don’t *need* one. I think that would prevent the problems we have in the winter with not always being able to get the water as hot as we’d like it to be. I guess it’s like buying pantyhose – one size too big can’t really hurt, but might come in handy some day.

Also, I would have made double sure that we got one of the tax-incentive eligible models. I can't believe I didn't do that... what a foolish oversight!


Recycled Glass Countertops

We are in the process of completing a bathroom renovation project, and recently received our custom-made countertop samples from River's Edge Countertops. They are so beautiful! The pictures don't really do them justice. These are made from plate glass and black light bulbs. It took us a few days to pick between them, and we will be getting the lighter one.

These are made by a local business owner in Newcastle, and the price is mid-range comparable... not like that ridiculous $100 a square foot recycled countertops they sell at Lowe's. In fact, it wound up being similar to low-end prices for granite. This product certainly costs more than a plastic, synthetic counter, but isn't it worth more? It's prettier, more durable, from a local craftsman, and better for the environment.  Post-consumer recycled glass countertops like these keep products out of the landfill, aren't made with nasty non-renewable petroleum byproducts, and won't off-gas VOCs into your home.  They are tougher to scratch or stain than plastic and easy to maintain.

So it works like this... if you want to buy a countertop from this guy you call him. You can go to his show room and pick out a sample from his pre-made designs, or you can discuss what you have in mind and he can custom make you a pattern sample (like he did for us), which will take a week or so. He will come out to your house and measure the space himself. Once everything is laid out, 2 more weeks should see the countertop made, and he will come out and install it for you, all price-inclusive with a lovely warranty. Needless to say, I'm excited to see what our bathroom vanity will look like 2-3 weeks from now...


Working Towards a No-Waste Lunch

We have always used lunchpails around our house.  My husband has a hardshell igloo that he loves. It’s a big ol’ insulated sucker that he can fit everything into whether its food or not.  I like to use a small, squishy, Nissan lunch box that I got for free.  (Well, ok, the lunch box came with the purchase of my latest vehicle, so I jokingly tell people that it’s the most expensive lunch box I ever owned.)

We were also in the habit of using Ziploc baggies for everything (the generics didn’t seal as well, of course) we put into our lunchboxes. It was how our mommies raised us. It was convenient. But it generated a lot of waste and cost a lot of money, having to buy those fancy baggies every month – both of these things annoyed me. I hate buying stuff just so I can use it once and throw it away later.

I started taking leftovers-in-tupperware with loose fruit for my lunch, and encouraged the hubby to do the same.

He refused. He required chips, pudding and a sandwich.  I bought him sandwich-shaped reusable containers, which he really liked. Not only did it prevent waste (which he really did not care about, he is not a greenie, I use the money pitch), but even better, it kept his sandwich from getting squished in his lunchpail and he could stack things on top of it to fit even MORE STUFF into his huge igloo lunchbox.

I also bought little reusable cups that were the same size-ish as the pudding cups he liked, and made up a bunch of boxed pudding on the weekends, packing it into these tubs for him. Honestly this didn’t last long – thankfully he gave up pudding around the time I got tired of making pudding cups, trading them in for apples and little candies.

The one thing I could not break him of was using baggies for chips.  He hated putting his chips in a box. He said it was weird and he couldn’t fit as many chips in there so I sighed, and he kept his ziplocs. But this Christmas while I was shopping for gifts, I found the perfect thing in a little craft shop. Re-usable cloth snack bags!  And they look cool! They had an interior lining resistant to moisture and stains, so that most of the time you can just shake it out or wipe it out. But, if needed, can be run through a wash cycle. Even better, it was made by a local artisan and sold at a locally owned shop.  I bought a few, filled them with treats to give as small holiday gifts, and vowed to return after Christmas and get some for myself.

Sadly, after Christmas, they were gone! I spent a little bit of time looking for them before I caved and went to etsy to order them. I got five of them for just under $5 each, and eagerly await their arrival in the mail… 


CFL Simplicity

I think the first environmental thing I did to my living space that required a sacrifice of any type on my part was to convert all our bulbs to CFLs.  I had planned to install CFLs one at a time as our “normal” bulbs burned out, but got impatient and did it all in one shot, throwing out all the older bulbs. Doing it this way was expensive. I’m remembering that we replaced about 8 bulbs at once at a cost of $36.  Doing this today would cost me less than $20, since prices have gone done and bulk pricing has been introduced.

We switched to CFLs in 2005, and we’ve had to replace most of them once, in 2009. A couple we have not replaced yet.  (I had to change my porch light twice – we have trouble remembering to turn it off. Obviously, we need a timer or light sensor.)  When we moved in 2008, we bought cheap, old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, screwed those in the sockets, and took our CFLs with us to the new abode. 

In 2006 I ran a branch of EPA’s Change-a-Light campaign for my work place. It was moderately successful; I was able to get about 100 pledges for bulb changes. Not as high as I’d hoped considering the size of my office building, but not too shabby, right?  My take-away is that I remember the complaints and the skepticism that even educated people have towards change.

Some people complained about the delay when you flip the switch being too long. I never had this issue. Some people complained about the bulbs burning out too quickly. I never had this issue either, but I wonder if it may have to do with putting the wrong bulb in the wrong place… like putting a CFL in a socket with a dimmer switch on it, or choosing the wrong wattage, or something?  I’ve heard complaints about the costs. I still do. But the costs are lower now; you can buy 5-packs at Lowes for not much at all. And in the long run, it saves money. Most of those bulbs lasted me five years. However, it has been a long time since I’ve heard much fight against CFLs, so I’d like to think that the public is more educated and accepting of them now.

Switching your light bulbs is one of the easiest things you can do to increase your home’s performance. It saves electricity, saves you money on both your electric bills replacement cost, and saves you the time and hassle of changing the bulbs more often. It’s not really that expensive up front  (unless you have to buy a large quantity of bulbs at once), and you have to change your bulbs anyway so it’s no extra work. You invest a few minutes of your life by screwing in bulbs and immediately start reaping the benefits.

I like them. I think they’re cool. I think they’re a technological advancement. They save me money. Because I’m lazy, I appreciate not having to change out burned bulbs as often. I have no motivation whatsoever to buy a cheaper product that doesn’t work as well as my CFLs do.


Central Oklahoma Farmer's Markets

One of the things that spurred me into starting this blog is that I was tired of looking up the same information over and over, running all over the web to retrieve it. In specific, I kept having to look up the times and locations of our various Farmer’s Markets. I'll also add links on the ECOlinks tab.

So without further ado, below are links and charts relating to the OKC Farmer’s Markets. I am sure it is not comprehensive. If you want to add to this, please do. Just use the same format I have used below – send it to me and I’ll post it.

Time of Year
All Local
OSU-OKC Farmer’s Market
400 N Portland
OSU-OKC Farmer’s Market
400 N Portland
8 am-1pm
OSU-OKC Farmer’s Market
NW 63rd and Western
Year round
Walker Square Farmer’s Market
SW 59th and Walker

5pm – til all sold
Walker Square Farmer’s Market
SW 59th and Walker

9am – til all sold
Urban Agrarian Local Foods Market
NW 23rd and Hudson
11am – 3pm

Urban Agrarian Local Foods Market
NW 10th and Walker, St. Anthony’s parking lot
Sterling’s Produce
Farmer’s Public Market, 311 S Klein
Year round
Angel’s Produce
Farmer’s Public Market, 311 S Klein
Year round


First Post


This first post has been a long time in coming. You see, I have issues at times with moderation. When I began to imagine this blog, I dreamed it big, with multiple pages and topics and links, as something that you and I can use as a database, as a place for me to rant, for me to describe my efforts at changing my home and my lifestyle and take questions and ask for advice, as a place for all sorts of things. In short, a giant eco-okla-bloggy mecca. I started to design complex websites that I don't know how to program. I started to write up lots of posts ahead of time, so I can schedule a regular posting a few times a week, even when I have no ideas or motivation. I probably have ten or so, waiting.

But after a while reality came around. Yes, that would be awesome. Yes, my website blog would be unique and useful. But it is also way too ambitious for the amount of time I have to put into it, no matter how passionate I can be, because I am not about to quit my job or take time away from any number of things that are more important to me. This blog is a hobby and I should treat it as such. I was well on the road to treating it as my livelihood and I am not ready for that!

So. I don't know how often I shall post, but post I shall.

Also, some of my posts will be self-centered and only mildly informative. As a hobby blog, I give myself permission to do that.

But by all means, please do still offer advice and questions and comments. It may be just for fun, but it is still in earnest.