3 Tips To Save Energy In Any Home

3 Tips To Save Energy In Any Home

It’s time to face the cruel fact that summer is behind us. The nights are getting cooler and your home needs to be ready to take on the changing season, both inside and out. So many seasonal lists focus on what to do outside a home before the seasons change, but here is a list of 3 sure-fire ways to keep the inside warm and cozy, even without a fireplace!

Green Peeps on the job
Air Sealing is one of the most effective and least expensive fixes for comfort and energy savings

1) Do the Candle Test to find phantom air leaks. It’s simple. Light a candle and watch the flame as you do a quick perimeter check. Be sure to hit the obvious places like windows and doors. But also be sure you check out the area around any recessed lighting, a commonly overlooked spot for air leaks. If the flame is dancing (or worse, goes out!), you have an air leak on your hands. Relax! It’s nothing a bit of sealing can’t fix. For a list of best practices, click here.

2) Change Your HVAC Filter! Simply put, your home will feel more comfortable when you rid it of excess dust and dirt in the air. If you leave a dirty air filter in your HVAC, each time the heat kicks on it’s recirculating those particles through your vents and into your home. Make sure to replace it about every 3 months for the best results. Plus, check out the high-efficiency pleated filters that can help grab more from your air.

3) Save $75 by swapping out your light bulbs! If you’ve been hesitant to change out your bulbs for the more efficient counterparts, it’s time to take another look. LEDs can provide the same comfortable glow as the classic incandescents, but allow you to keep more money in your pocket. While the cost up front is still higher than the old incandescents, you’re getting more bang for your buck. Replacing just 5 of your most used light bulbs can yield $75 in annual savings. If you’re still in need of a crash course in new light bulb language, take a look at this article.

Here are some additional links:

More about how to find drafts.

More about your HVAC filters.

More about Seattle City Light LED incentives.



Save Money & Green Your Home

Save Money & Green Your Home

We are so lucky in the City of Seattle to be owners of wonderful older homes. We have such wonderful Craftsman, Mid Century Classic, and NW Contemporary styles of architecture.  Along with the solidly built homes full of historic charm so carefully decorated and loved lies the evil money pit (cue the daunting music in minor chords). It actually resembles more of a sieve.  Small and sometimes larger cracks, holes and circuitous routes so small the eye doesn’t even see the stealthy thieves.  When the pressure from our forced air furnaces or the heat stack effect takes over during our cold winter nights, physics charms all the heat that good money and fossil fuels create as a by-product of combustion. It coaxes heat to find a way to escape our carefully locked-down fenestrations and into the wilds of the the outdoors.

In plainer language, the heat we pay so much to create leaves our homes too quickly around unintentional gaps in the inner walls of our homes and businesses. I recently was lucky to have Steve Hoffman, a contractor with Community Power Works, to my Phinney Ridge home to perform what is the state of the art energy audit.

Leaky Home Assessment
Just a few parts to the equipment for the test, surprising how much can be learned in a couple of hours.

This involves a large red piece of nylon fabric, some Velcro, an aluminum stretcher frame, a large box fan and a couple fancy electronics. In some ways the test is deceptively simple.   My part of the work ended at cleaning the ashes out of my fireplace. I also locked up my indoor dog and cat for a couple of hours just so they wouldn’t escape during the test as there are times the front door is open.

As I suspected, indeed my chimney flue leaked, but I also learned the double pane windows I installed to save energy were a large source of heat loss around the factory assembled mullions and transoms. No surprise of course the 10 year old can lights in the kitchen were also a source of money escaping through the ceiling and into the attic. I learned of some cold spots in the walls I need to investigate more thoroughly and a few other surprises.

To top off the deal of the decade, the auditor went through the house and provided me with replacement low wattage compact fluorescent lights to replace the soon to be outlawed incandescent bulbs. I plan to see how far I can go with this program, so far I have $95 out of pocket expenses for a $400-600 assessment, and about $50 or more value in light bulbs.

Community Power Works is funded by a federal stimulus bill and won’t be around for much longer.  I highly recommend seizing the moment. This deal is too good to be true! My plan is to install a mini-split heat pump with two heads, one for each floor of my home. Not only will it provide me an inexpensive source of electric heat, but will also provide me with something I haven’t experienced in the 25 years that I have lived in this home. . . . air conditioning! Of course Community Power Works will be there to help me with the rebates and incentives I can collect while saving myself money in the long run and increasing the value and comfort of my home. Sometimes it’s not too good to be true. Seattle, like Oz, really is the Emerald City and there is no man behind the curtain unless it’s the red door.

Backyard Cottages in Seattle

Backyard Cottages in Seattle

Part 1

Welcome to the beginning of a series. The plan is to follow this Backyard Cottage from this point (City of Seattle Planning Department permits in hand) to completion and being featured on the NW Green Home Tour. Detached Accessory Dwelling Units are also known as an DADUs in the City of Seattle. One can go to the DPD’s website and find the CAM 116B or “Client Assistant Memo” regarding the separate living structures Seattle homeowners may build on their single family property.  Much depends on the the size of the lot as well as available setbacks etc., but this is a great solution for increasing density without disturbing the feel and the lines of the neighborhood.

Seattle DADU
The beginning stage, nothing to write home about . . . . yet!


If there is room on your lot this might be a great option to investigate, perhaps above an existing garage or the space at the back of the lot by the alley. Many Seattle neighborhoods are no longer car dependent and have readily available public transportation and such is the case of the build we will be following. The owner of this build could easily rent it out to a young professional who buses or bikes to South Lake Union or a student who attends the University of Washington. These projects can easily be built without having much long term impact on the neighbors or affect on-street parking.

An underused part of pricey Seattle Real Estate
An underused portion of pricey Seattle Real Estate


Seattle DADUs can be a great option as extra guest space, as an income producing unit or as a home office or studio. Quite often these are designed as an “aging in place” solution using universal design techniques. The old wonderful homes we have here quite often have the kitchen and bedrooms on different levels. Accessory Dwelling Units can be a great solution for downsizing when the time comes to transition into an ADA compliant structure right in ones own back yard. The main house can become the younger generation’s family home or as a rental when social security may not be enough to cover the bills.

I will be following this project through completion  with thanks to the generosity of the General Contractor Wayne Apostolik, and the patient homeowner.

Stay tuned as this project progresses over the next 3 months.

City Fruit Seattle

City Fruit Seattle

City Fruit arrived on my radar about 3 years ago at a Sustainable Ballard meeting.   The Coalition actually started to organize earlier in 2008. It seemed like a logical idea to redirect what is often waste to some people to those who can use it. What a great way to increase are local supply stream for food while removing what is sometimes a nuisance to others.

Protected Apple
Apple protected by stockings provided by Seattle City Fruit

Unfortunately during my dealings with SDOT this year I learned it is against city code to plant fruit trees in parking strips. This is often a logical place where a tree might have extra room to grow, while having ample room for a root zone and drip line.  The reason the city doesn’t want these trees in parking strips is they are afraid they will attract the urban wildlife and people might slip on the dropped fruit.  Let’s hope some of the over-protective policies of the past are updated to a more modern and holistic mindset. Truth of the matter is fruit trees have been one of the first things planted for any homesteader, they are here to stay. People have survived just fine with them in their backyards, let’s allow them back on the street! It seems the trees grandfathered in are doing just fine.

From City Fruit’s beautiful and informative website:

Our Goals

Conservation: Preserve fruit trees on public and private properties; document historical orchards.

Preservation of the urban tree canopy: Increase fruit trees planted on public and private properties; map fruit trees.

Stewardship: Improve the care of fruit trees and reduce the impact of fruit pests and diseases using non-toxic methods.

Harvest: Increase the amount of fruit harvested by supporting harvesting groups, developing the capacity of neighborhoods to harvest, and promoting harvesting by tree owners.

Using and sharing fruit: Develop the capacity of people and groups to preserve fruit; explore the income-generating potential of urban fruit; effectively link those who have fruit with those who need it.

Community building: Build and strengthen connections within community groups through the planting, stewardship, harvest and/or preservation of fruit.


City Fruit is a great resource to learn about the lost art of canning and a surprisingly common sense approach. Our urban orchards shouldn’t be forgotten but treasured for how wonderful they really are.


Harvesting in Seattle
Happened upon this in West Seattle last week

So be like the steward above and get involved in this great idea. Galettes, pies, preserves, cobblers, crumbles, apple sauces and freezer jam don’t need to be a thing of your childhood or your past. Celebrate the urban orchards!

Save A Tree

Save a Tree

Save A Tree

Or several!  The City of Seattle just posted a website where one can opt-out of phone books and unwanted catalogs. Just go to the website, and spend about 5 minutes and you won’t be throwing those not-even-opened phone books in the recycle bins any more. This site can take care of advertising that is thrown away each year. Not only phone books but unwanted catalogs too. It takes about as much time to sign up and let the advertisers know you’re not interested as it does to carry the dead weight from your doorstep to your recycling bin.

This service is only available in a precious few cities. We are lucky enough to have this option,  let’s all show the rest of the country how well this can work.

It’s Time To Kick That John To The Curb

It’s Time To Kick That John To The Curb

Have an Old John spending too much time in your bathroom? Toss out that expensive no-good lout and find a more charming, less demanding and one that’s better with budgeting!

Dual Flush for even more efficiency

Most people don’t put much thought into the porcelain bowl in the bathroom, but something we take for granted can take up a large portion of our utility bills. The Saving Water Partnership is offering homeowners in a certain income bracket rebates to throw out the outdated 5 gallon guzzler for a more efficient one. In the City of Seattle we know that our home Combined Utilities bills keep going up, and they aren’t stopping anytime soon. For every dollar we spend on water, we will spend about two dollars more for the sewer charges. It’s as if we use one gallon of water and pay for three. This is a great opportunity to make the switch and perhaps even upgrade to a nicer toilet. Many functional commodes are well under $80.00, and of course there are plenty well beyond the price range that will add beauty to any bathroom.

Are you resistant change because of an experience with a so-called low-flow toilet a decade or two ago? Well, they have figured out the physics since then, and quite often one might find the new toilets work much better than the old ones. They operate just fine with gravity now and don’t need to sound like a Lear Jet fly-by.

While you are at it, you might want to consider replacing your showerhead at the same time for a real improvement with your utility bill. Once again, the showerheads work very well.  Some even have a valve so you can shut off the water and not have to readjust the temperature if you are into the “Navy” style of showering.  As an added bonus, some heads have a feature that allow you to easily clean out the accumulated scale to make sure every shower has the perfect pressure and water flow.

Typically most homeowners can replace the showerhead or add an aerator. The weekend warrior can usually handle the toilet replacement (even if it takes 2 trips to the hardware store). If you think you would need a professional plumber, why not get the neighbors involved? Most toilet replacements take more time for the plumbers travel time then for the actual job of replacement. So why not line up several neighbors on the block for the same time on the same day and make it worth everyone’s while? Remember to keep checking the City of Seattle website and your utility bills for recycling of the old toilets.

Old John doesn’t have to be completely out of your life. You might see him recycled into the next roadway or highway project.