Energy Costs Surge in 2007

I am amazed that more people are not jumping onto the Straw Bale Construction band wagon as I continue to watch the price of energy rise, month after month. I heard yesterday that the average cost of energy in the United States increased over 18% in 2007 alone. That is the cost of fuel, as we have all seen and felt, and electricity. Heating and cooling our homes makes up a huge part of the energy consumption in the United States, up to 40% by some counts.

Consider an office building with lights and computers running 24/7. That alone is a waste of electricity; however, now consider that the AC units have to work overtime to cool the room from all the heat those lights and computers generate. That’s madness! In San Francisco, most office buildings have to run AC to keep the temperatures cool enough for the workers. That is crazy considering that San Francisco has a very moderate climate and the outside air is usually cool enough to manage any worker’s body temperature.
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Photo by Laurenz Bobke

Designing offices and homes with passive heating and cooling is one aspect of this dilemma. Another is to build energy efficient buildings. This is where straw bale construction can offer a huge advantage for home owners. Although possible for small companies, straw bale sky risers are not something of the near future. For home owners, however, they can offer huge savings on heating and cooling costs. Even in earthquake areas such as San Francisco, a straw bale house is efficient and structural brilliant! Why more people don’t join in, I don’t understand. I guess it is for the same reason that some people still buy Hummers and huge SUV’s. Once the pain hits their wallet hard enough, they will make a change to support our planet. until then, they will continue to live the inefficient and wasteful lifestyles they do today. I hope it’s not too late when they make the change.

5 Responses to Energy Costs Surge in 2007

  1. Scott M. Sat, December 15, 2007 at 7:54 am #

    Hi Andrew,

    A quick stroll through the new subdivisions being built near to us reveals that every house has an old-time front porch, or side porch, built on it. That’s good – however, usually adjacent to the porch is a concrete pad w/ the neighbors AC heat exchanger. In the summer they’re not only energy hogs (The houses could, for example, size their eaves appropriately to block out the high summer sun and reduce their cooling load) but they’re also whirling, buzzing annoyances. If I can hear them from the sidewalk, I can’t imagine sitting on the front porch, right next to them, trying to enjoy the evening breeze.

  2. RavenBlack Sat, December 15, 2007 at 8:18 am #

    Bit of a nonsequitur to the office buildings isn’t it? Straw bales wouldn’t help at all with getting the heat from computers to go outside!

    There isn’t really a very good cooling solution – heat pumps are probably the best you’ll get with the technology of today. There have been occasional forays into the excellent idea of using heat pumps not only to get the heat out of the computer room, but also to put that heat into the hot water tanks and the like, for office buildings.

    One might also consider a crazy mix of heat pumps, einstein refrigerators and solar ovens. (Einstein refrigerators are powered by heat, so if you put the ‘gets cold’ end where you want cooling, the ‘gets warm’ end where you want or don’t mind heating, and the ‘power’ end in the focus of a solar oven, you have free cooling. I’ve never been able to find the details of how many BTUs of cooling you can get under ordinary conditions with an Einstein fridge though, and it’s basically just acting as a differently-powered heat-pump.)

  3. C Robb Worthington Tue, December 18, 2007 at 12:58 am #

    Many buildings are simply not used wisely. The obvious user issues such as shutting down computers and servers as well as lights should be coupled with intelligent use of external blinds, common in Spain, and ventilation at appropriate times of the day. This can be automated but giving control to users is sometimes better if accompanied with training. For instance if you are too warm don’t just open a window, turn off the heat first. Simple though perhaps expensive retrofits, windows that open and controllable heating units, may pay for themselves in the long run. Using the heat of server rooms to create airflow in the summer and re-using the same heat in the winter should be required when installing such facilities in older buildings that were not designed handle that kind of usage.

  4. Anne Tue, December 18, 2007 at 8:55 am #

    The historical problem in SF is as you describe it, and I have an office in one of those unbearable, hermetically sealed landmark buildings from the early ’80s.

    But before you blast the city too hard, you might take a look at the new building policies and the new government buildings that are going up. Big changes happening, including natural light, natural ventilation, green roofs and passive solar gain. SF is trying hard to be part of the solution.

    Nearby Santa Rosa is in planning mode to take it’s 10 public schools solar.

  5. Andrew
    Andrew Tue, December 18, 2007 at 9:01 pm #

    Anne,
    Thank you for pointing this out. I did not intend to blast SF as I have heard a lot of great things coming from the city in regards to going green., This is true of many cities across the world and I am happy to see that happening. I guess I put out the negatives of what I know without addressing the positives. Sorry for that and thanks for pointing out the good things.

    Andrew

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