Energy Solutions

On the Closure of Vermont Yankee

Posted on September 5, 2013 by Alex Wilson

The big energy news in my part of the world this past week has been the pending closure of Vermont’s only nuclear power plant, Vermont Yankee, in Vernon, about six miles south of Brattleboro. The closure is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2014, at the end of the current fuel cycle.

A Heat Pump Using Carbon Dioxide as the Refrigerant

Posted on August 29, 2013 by Alex Wilson

In researching and writing about building products for our publication Environmental Building News over the past twenty-plus years I’ve had an opportunity to cover some fascinating breakthrough products and technologies. One such technology I was writing about a few weeks ago is the use of carbon dioxide as a working fluid for heat pumps. 

Building a ‘Layered House’

Posted on August 22, 2013 by Alex Wilson

If you are building an energy-efficient house, you have to address air leakage and pay attention to the the integrity of the insulation layer. We can have the best of intentions and can install lots of insulation, but if we leave it leaky or include details that compromise the integrity of that insulation, then the home’s energy performance can be severely affected.

Take recessed ceiling lights, for example. From a design standpoint, they’re great, since the light source is roughly flush with the ceiling and all of the mechanism is hidden in the ceiling above (in recessed cans).

It Takes a Village to Be Resilient

Posted on August 15, 2013 by Alex Wilson

The Dummerston Energy Committee, on which I serve in my home town, is conducting an energy survey.

Partly, we are conducting this survey to understand how our town uses energy — both in our homes and in our vehicles. We have a goal in Dummerston, articulated in our Town Plan, to reduce nonrenewable energy consumption 40% by 2030, and we’re trying to establish a baseline from which to measure our success in achieving that long-term target.

But we’re also conducting this survey for another reason that may be more important: to gauge how resilient our town is.

Getting Power From Solar Equipment When the Grid is Down

Posted on August 8, 2013 by Alex Wilson

One of the biggest complaints I hear about most solar-electric (photovoltaic(PV) Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. or PVPhotovoltaics. Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic (PV) cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow.) systems is that when the grid goes down you can’t use any of the power that’s produced. Consumers have spent thousands of dollars on a PV system, and during an extended power outage on a bright, sunny day when the PV modules are certainly generating electricity, they are disappointed that none of that electricity can be used.

Smart Vapor Retarders

Posted on July 31, 2013 by Alex Wilson

Nowhere in building design has there been more confusion or more dramatic change in recommended practice than with vapor retarders. Thirty years ago, we were told to always install a polyethylene (poly) vapor barrier on the warm side of the wall. Then we were told to forget the poly and go with an airtight layer of drywall (airtight drywall approach). Insulation contractors, meanwhile, often said to skip the vapor barrier; we need to let the wall or ceiling cavity dry out.

It made for a lot of confusion. And I’m not sure we’re totally out of the woods yet.

Getting to Know Spider Insulation

Posted on July 25, 2013 by Alex Wilson

We’ve just completed the installation of a relatively new and (at least in New England) little-known insulation material called Spider. As a reminder, the house we are renovating (really rebuilding) in Dummerston, Vermont, has provided an opportunity to try out dozens of innovative products and materials that I’ve long researched and written about in Environmental Building News.

Sometimes, It’s Cheaper to Install PV Than More Insulation

Posted on July 11, 2013 by Alex Wilson

There’s an age-old question of how much insulation to install in our homes. Conventional wisdom says to add more until the “payback” for the added insulation isn’t worth it — until the energy savings that will result from the insulation doesn’t pay back the cost of that insulation quickly enough.

Energy and environmental consultant Andy Shapiro, of Energy Balance, Inc. in Montpelier, suggests a different approach: basing that decision on the cost of a solar electric system.

Designing Houses That Keep Their Cool

Posted on July 4, 2013 by Alex Wilson

Summer is here, with a pattern of hot weather and (in our part of the country) high humidity. We can be glad in Vermont that we’re not dealing with temperatures approaching 120°F, as are Phoenix and Las Vegas. (Death Valley was predicted to hit 130°F the other day, just four degrees shy of the highest temperature ever recorded on earth — 100 years ago.)

What’s New with Water-Resistive Barriers

Posted on June 27, 2013 by Alex Wilson

I remember years ago — I hate to remember how many; it must have been around 1982 or 1983 — writing for New England Builder (now the Journal of Light Construction) about Tyvek housewrap. It was then a fairly new product — and really a new idea: a material that would wrap over the outside of a house to provide an air barrierBuilding assembly components that work as a system to restrict air flow through the building envelope. Air barriers may or may not act as a vapor barrier. The air barrier can be on the exterior, the interior of the assembly, or both. and improve energy performance.

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