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Live Smarter: Efficient Living & the Eco-Friendly Lifestyle

Home is the one place you should be able to go to let your guard down. Kick off your shoes, turn on the TV, set the thermostat to the perfect temperature and just relax in a comfortable space you can call your own. But is your comfort costing your wallet and the environment more than an arm and a leg? On average more than half of a household’s energy consumption goes to water, lighting, heating and cooling. The prices of these resources can fluctuate drastically based on where you live, the size of your home, how many people live in the home and how much time you spend there.  With all these factors in play it’s no wonder so many homeowners have a hard time trying to conserve energy. But these energies cannot always be sacrificed at hectic times of year. Efficient living is about staying comfortable without damaging the environment.

The Greenhouse Effect

                Earth is essentially a greenhouse. And with the interference of human activity including the extreme rate at which fossil fuels are burning, our greenhouses gases are on the rise. Essentially the planet’s resources are being burned off at an alarming rate and having a domino effect on every corner of the globe. Ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, water reserves are drying up and dry brush is catching fire. This climate change is a direct result of the Greenhouse Effect.

The greenhouse effect is a trend that was identified by scientist as far back as 1896. This phenomenon is actually a positive thing for the planet. It is what happens when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from the Earth’s surface towards space and helps to regulate the Earth’s temperature to a comfortable medium and keeps it from freezing over. The most common gases responsible for this include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, and fluorinated gas.

With some of these gases permeating in the universe, it makes it nearly impossible for heat to escape. However, everything is best in moderation. Due to mankind’s aggressive push towards modernity and valuable resources being burned off, our greenhouse gases keep growing, and the Earth has been getting hotter each year. This can all be attributed to population size, economic activity, lifestyle that do not promote sustainability, energy use. Some other causes to blame include:

  • Electricity and Heat Production
    • One quarter of the world’s human-helmed emissions come from the use of coal, oil and natural gas to produce electricity and heat.
  • Agriculture and Land Use Changes
    • Deforestation and the raising of livestock and crops for food accounts for another quarter of global greenhouse gases. Because plants, trees and soil absorb carbon dioxide, when land and agricultural changes like deforestation, reforestation and afforestation occur, it releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • Industrial
    • One-fifth of global emissions come from the production industry. The manufacturing of goods and raw materials, food processing and construction.
  • Transportation
    • The burning of gasoline, diesel and other petroleum-based fuels account for 14 percent of global greenhouse gases. This is due to people buying more cars and taking more flights.

Energy Efficient Alternatives

With all of this global warming being an effect of human intervention, it is only natural that we ask, “How can we fix this?” Efforts have been slowly shifting towards more sustainable and energy efficient ways of life. Energy efficiency is a method of using less energy to do the same task that would otherwise harm the environment, but receiving the same results. It is one of the easiest and most cost-efficient ways of combating climate change. Two of the main methods the U.S. uses to conserve energy are through the utilization of wind power and solar power.

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Wind Power

This energy source started from the use of windmills that were used for grinding grains and pumping water. They garnered popularity in 14th century Europe and rose to an estimated 200,000 at its peak around 1850. These structures were placed in areas where there was too little water to utilize water wheels. This popularity of this invention would eventually decline with the coming of the industrial revolution. They would eventually be replaced by steam and combustible engines.

Now, however, the U.S. has moved back to this energy efficient method. Wind is now the U.S.’ number one source of renewable energy. It provides roughly 10% of the country’s energy. Wind has delivered $151 billion of investment in the last decade and helps avoid 327 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually. That is equivalent to 71 million cars’ worth of emissions. The industry surrounding these turbines employs more than 120,000 Americans across all 50 states, including nearly 24,000 wind manufacturing jobs at over 500 facilities and employs American veterans more than 50% above the national’s average. Wind Turbine technician is the second fastest growing job in the country, increasing by 68% over the next decade.

Wind energy has the most popularity in the Midwest and Central regions of the states. Wind energy conversion utilizes wind turbines to convert the kinetic energy of wind into mechanical or electrical energy. The turbines use the aerodynamic force from rotor blades, which work like an airplane wing or helicopter rotor blade. When wind flows across the blade, the air pressure on one side of the blade decreases. The difference in pressure on each side of the blade creates both lift and drag and causes the rotor to spin.

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Solar Power

                Solar energy, or photovoltaics, is the utilization of the sun’s rays as a source of renewable energy. Although it’s a bit of technology we have not yet fully harnessed as out primary source, the idea of solar energy has been around for quite some time—as early as 7th century B.C. Humans were said to have used sunlight to light fires with magnifying materials.

Later, Greeks and Romans were known to use mirrors to light torches for religious ceremonies (Chinese civilizations were also said to use these “burning mirrors”). Then, in the 1200’s A.D., ancestors to the Pueblo Native Americans—The Anasazi—would build their abodes on cliffs facing the North to capture the sun’s warmth during cold winter months. But it would be until the late 1700s and 1800s that scientists used the sun’s energy to power ovens on long voyages, then to power steamboats—this was before solar panels.

While there is some debate as to when exactly the technology for solar panels was developed, some credit it to French scientist, Edward Becquerel. Becquerel concluded that light could increase electricity generation when two metal electrodes were placed into a conducting solution. This was called the “photovoltaic effect: the process of generating voltage and electric current in a photovoltaic cell.

In 1873 Willoughby Smith, chief electrician of the Gutta Percha Company, published an article in the Journal of the Society of Telegraph Engineers about his discovery of photoconductivity in the element selenium. He was using bars of the selenium as a detector for flaws in the transatlantic cable before submersion. Smith attributed their energy output to the sun hitting them, so he placed the bars in a sealed box and found that the flow of energy remained constant. Once he removed the box’s lid, he found its energy increased with the absorption of more sunlight.

This later aided British scientists, William Grylls Adams’ and Richard Evans Day’s 1876 discovery. Their findings found of electricity created from selenium when exposed to the sun. The two put selenium through an extensive series of test including experiments in thermal electricity, but concluded the sun to be the greatest factor in the materials reactivity.

In 1883 Charles Fritts produced the first solar cells made from wafers of selenium placed onto a metal plate and covered in a thin semitransparent layer of gold leaf, which produced a current. Fritts stated that the current, “is continuous, constant, and of considerable force [,]…not only by exposure to sunlight, but also to dim diffused daylight, and even to lamplight.” This is the reason some credit Fritts as the inventor of solar cells. It was found that selenium showed high absorption coefficient and mobility, making it an attractive absorber for high bandgap thin film solar cells.

However, because Fritts and his supporter, Werner von Siemens, didn’t know exactly how the invention worked, it was written off by the scientific community and not valued for further research. A host of other scientists and brilliant minds including George M. Minchin, a professor of applied mathematics at the Royal Indian Engineering College, Albert Einstein and Dr. Bruno Lange, a German Scientist, would further the development of understanding of solar energy, but to not much success.

With the rise in popularity of silicon as a source material, the first practical solar panels were created alongside the creation of the silicon transiter, a creation used in many modern technological devices. The silicon photovoltaic cell was created by Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson at Bell Labs in 1954. In 1981, the first aircraft to run on solar power, The Solar Challenger, was built by Paul MacCready.

With the price of solar power having dropped substantially over the last few decades, the demand for this renewable energy has skyrocketed. In 1956, solar panels could cost around $300 a watt, compared to today where a solar panel can cost as little as $0.50 a watt and bringing energy efficient features right into your home.

Energy Efficient Homes

                Building an energy efficient home requires first understanding where it is you are utilizing and wasting the most energy in your existing house or apartment. You don’t even realize it, but when you leave one room in your house your transferring energy to another by turning on extra lights, leaving doors open to the outside, or not replacing your air filters in a timely matter. But how can we strive towards more energy efficient homes?

Multi Slide Glass Door with Views

There are several areas of day-to-day home operation that need to be examined for sustainable living, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning, lighting, and water usage. Most homeowners aren’t even aware of the size of the HVAC system used in their home or the appropriate size that should be used. Many don’t even realize the amount of energy they’re literally flushing down the toilet and pouring down the drain. Here are some tips to consider inside, outside and around your living space for home efficient living:

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) in Energy Efficient Homes

The size of your home matters when it comes to energy efficiency. How big your lawn is, how many windows, doors and stories you have, or even what materials are used in constructing your living space, all effect its energy use. More specifically they affect the way your heating and cooling system functions and is monetarily reflected in your bills.

Depending on the time of year, your heating and cooling bills can fluctuate so rapidly that it can feel like unpredictable mess of energy use when dealing with your homes heating and cooling system. Your heating and cooling system is such a temperamental feature that is dependent upon so much. HVAC’s can be assisted in their energy efficient efforts by developing your homes moisture control and ventilation flow through air sealing. This looks like window and door weather stripping and HVAC duct sealing. These are just a few factors that affect the level of efficiency with your existing house. Some other features to consider are:

  • No two energy efficient homes are the same. Each room in your house has its own climate conditions depending on which way it is faced. West-facing rooms get light throughout the day and can be hotter in the summer, while East facing rooms get the least amount of light and can be cooler.
  • Are your windows and doors insulated? Little slivers of space in the frame of your windows and doors allow your home to be affected be the elements. This means your heating and cooling systems are working overtime to balance your home’s climate, thus causing your energy bills to skyrocket.
  • Is your flooring working for you or against you? Eco-friendly natural materials on your floor can increase your comfort level while also diminishing how much energy is used by your heating and cooling system. Consider stone or tile flooring which retains heat when exposed to natural light and helps keep your home warmer in the cooler months, and stays cooler when shaded during the summer. Wood floors perform in a very similar manner when wood type and thickness are both taken into consideration.
  • From the floor to the ceiling, is your roof aiding your journey towards sustainable living? The materials your roof is made of, whether or not it’s properly insulated and its color all affect how much heat or coldness gets into your home. Roofs with darker or black colors absorb more heat and can affect how much work your A/C is putting in. Lighter roofs or roofs with reflective materials are pivotal in maintaining your homes climate.
  • Additionally, consider ceiling fans for cooling off in the warmer months and skylights to bring in more heat during the cooler months.
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Energy Efficient Lighting

                Lighting generally accounts for about 15% of electricity use in an average home, but can go up to 50% to 90% depending on the size of the home and the amount of natural light offered. Lighting affects our comfort, mood, health, safety and productivity, which means it can be hard to sacrifice this element day-to-day for the sake of energy efficiency. But there are a few ways to maintain an illuminating atmosphere that is also cost effective:

  • Incandescent bulbs are of an outdated technology that waste 90% of their energy heating up. Energy star lightbulbs cost more but last longer.
  • Use dimmer switches to lower ambiance and energy usage
  • Brighter paint colors on your ceiling and walls reflect more light and reduces the need for higher wattage lightbulbs which ultimately will ultimate save energy.
  • LED lights are garnering popularity as they’re more efficient and provide higher quality lighting. These heatless bulbs use at least 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs.

Water Conservation at Home

                Water is one of the most taken for granted sources of energy consumption in family homes. Most heated water wastes money because it is not used at the moment when its heated, so the energy used has already been wasted. This accounts for nearly a quarter of your home’s energy consumption—causing 80-90% of the energy used to heat water to go down the drain. At the same time, toilets account for about a third of your home’s energy consumption. Initiatives can be taken to reduce the energy consumption caused by your hot water systems and other faucets and fixtures.

  • Use a tankless water heater. Traditional water heaters heat all of the water at once which isn’t always used while it’s hot. Tankless water heaters are an energy efficient alternative to the traditional. These systems heat the water as you use it.
  • Wash your clothes in cold water
  • Install low flow toilets and fixtures
  • Fix leaks in toilets, faucets and fixtures to reduce wasted water
  • Using a greywater drain system that recycles the energy from unused hot water
  • Utilizing efficient lawn and garden managing practices
  • Moss or native plants in your lawn and garden require a lot less water and maintenance

Smart Homes

                To find ways to conserve resources at home and utilize more energy efficient features, people are looking towards smart homes. Smart homes utilize technology that connects your appliances to one another in a way that allows you to delegate tasks to them or even monitor their usage as a means of lowering energy costs and practicing sustainable living.

Smart Devices

Smart devices need a Wi-Fi connection as well as a smart home system to link and monitor said devices. This system will then provide insights and analytics as to which devices and rooms in your home have the highest amount of energy use. Some smart devices that can be utilized include smart thermostats to automatically control your thermostat and monitor the climate of multiple rooms to find where is using the most energy.

Smart light systems allow users to create an ambient setup that is controlled by the touch of a button or an app on your phone. Some systems can even be set on a timer so that you never have to worry about whether or not you turned the lights off when you leave the house or whether or not you turned the lights on for your pets at home.

Radiant floors put the responsibility of climate control right under your feet and can become one of the most valuable energy efficient features in your home. Heated floors achieve a comfortable environment at a lower temperature than forced ventilation systems without vents, filters, audible fans and no interruptions. The system also doesn’t pump in dry air which isn’t good for your eyes and respiratory system. These built-in heating systems can be installed in living rooms, bathrooms, bedrooms and just about any room in your house as a means to save energy.

Smart assistants are a wonderful feature to allow dictation to the smart appliances in your energy efficient home. This device not only is great for the convenience of having all of your devices connected and being able to speak right to them, but it is also helping for those with limited mobility to operate their home and devices to their fullest capabilities.

Other available smart features include smart locks, smart security alerts, smart appliances (stoves, coffee makers, refrigerators, dishwashers, etc.)

It needs saying that smart devices alone are not specifically energy efficient, but are more so tools to aid in moving towards an energy efficient lifestyle. The devices are wonderful tools of convenience and analytics and data monitoring for finding the best ways to lower energy cost.

Room Curved Sliding Glass Door

Panda and Energy Efficiency

                At Panda Windows and Doors, we value innovation, top performance and energy efficiency. With our all aluminum thermally broken line of doors, you can save on your home’s energy cost, by allowing our systems to help regulate the temperature in your home by creating a barrier between inside and outside. The thermally broken systems prevent the flow of thermal energy and provides protection against the elements allowing you to save energy.

Multi-Slide Door

                These glass sliding doors blur the lines of interior and exterior spaces and are ideal for opening up large expanses – perfect for parties and entertainment. Then, when it’s time to close up for the night, our contemporary door systems provide protection from burglary, theft and the elements outdoors. Our slim profile systems are durable and made of 6063-T5 extruded aluminum. These glass walls protect your energy efficient home from inclement weather and corrosion even with day-to-day use.

Lift & Slide Door

                The Panda Lift & Slide style sliding doors are one of the best options when looking to maximize weather resistance in the coldest or warmest climates. With a unique system of levers and wheels, this mechanism creates an airtight seal to keep your home at a comfortable climate regardless of the elements outside. With this temperature regulated addition to your home, you can spend less money on heating or cooling cost and more time enjoying your ideal indoor environment.

Horizontal Sliding Wall

                These sliding glass walls offer a frameless option giving you a virtually unobstructed view of the world outside your walls. This lets in more sunlight during the cooler months to warm up your space without relying on your heating and cooling system.

With our Horizontal Sliding Walls, a thermally broken system lets this energy efficient door stand up to the harshest of climates. These glass walls come with a thermally broken aluminum option and a thermally broken aluminum/ wood-clad option that helps you save energy.

French Door

                French doors—also called egress or terrace doors—are a timeless option for your home. With our aluminum based French Doors, your system is guaranteed to be durable, lightweight and weather resistant – even with repetitive daily use. And with our Low-E glass, which is standard for most of our systems, you reduce energy cost by letting in the sunlight, but keeping out the heat that comes with it.

Window and Door House Efficient Energy

Q&A of Home Energy Efficient Living

  • What is an energy efficient home?
    • An energy efficient home is a living space that is actively aware of its energy use and makes efforts towards sustainable living.
  • What makes a home efficient?
    • The building materials used to make a home can drastically help in making it efficient. Sustainable materials include insulated concrete walls, bamboo wood alternatives, recycled steel, vacuum insulation panels and structural insulated panels.
  • How can your energy efficient home be improved?
    • A home’s energy efficiency can be improved in a myriad of ways including, energy efficient appliances, tankless hot water systems, solar panels and utilization of natural light. Other energy efficient steps to take at home include day-to-day habits that can save you energy including washing with only cold water, unplugging appliances while not at home, and utilizing eco-friendly materials in your home construction.
  • Are Smart devices Normalizing Energy efficient home Living?
    • Smart Homes have garnered much wider popularity over the last decade and have made homeowners more aware of the ways in which they are utilizing their homes energy. It has also made it easier to control your devices from the comfort of the couch with objects like smart assistant. It should be noted though, while smart homes are a step towards home efficient living, smart devices aren’t inherently energy efficient. They are merely tools to help monitor and gain a better understanding of where your energy costs are being over-utilized and can be conserved.
  • Are Panda Windows and Doors energy efficient?
    • Panda Windows and Doors offer an energy efficient variation on nearly all of our window and door systems. We specialize in thermally broken systems that help regulate airflow in and out of your home to keep your living space at a comfortable and balanced level, allowing you to save money on heating and cooling cost in the more extreme seasons. While Panda doors are an investment now, they will save you much more money on energy costs in the long run.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help make your home energy efficient with our doors and windows.

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