Home Cooking


Home Cooking

While spending a lot of time at home during the pandemic many of us are thinking about the energy use, comfort, and health of our homes. Some of us are working at home and have children in school at the kitchen table. And the holidays are coming up. But instead of a house full of guests, food, and football, the holiday may be a quiet dinner with a few friends and family. If you have the time, we invite you to imagine the home of your dreams—sustainable dreams.

Not every homeowner is ready to build a new home or to convert an existing home to meet strict Passive House standards—super tight, very well insulated, and an energy sipper, not a guzzler. I’ve seen a demonstration of this type of home in which a contractor used a standard hair dryer to heat the entire home. With a very tight house, mechanical ventilation is a must in order to maintain comfort and healthy indoor air. In a certified Passive House, the air leaks cannot exceed 0.6 air changes per hour, which means that a house cannot leak more than about half its entire volume in an hour. Many high-performance homes use a heat or energy recovery ventilator which exhausts air in the winter but captures the heat energy of that exhaust air and uses it to pre-heat the incoming fresh air.

If you have an already tight, well insulated home and you add solar PV and maybe a solar water heater, then minimize your use of gas and electricity inside the home, you could reach the level of a Net-Zero Energy Home, meaning one that uses as much energy as it produces with renewables over the course of a year. If you went completely electric and got all your energy from renewables sources, you would have an energy nerd's dream: A zero-emissions home that emitted no greenhouse gasses. Of course, that would require that the electricity you get from the grid is 100% renewable.

Keeping to a Budget

Besides going for Passive House, LEED for Homes, or another strict energy and sustainability standard, you can do what most of us do, and make your home more and more sustainable over time. The most economical way to keep your energy bills low and your house comfortable and healthy to live in while staying within your budget is to create a house that is at least somewhat airtight, well insulated, and that is able to maintain good indoor air quality with a good ventilation strategy.  Sometimes this means simply having a bathroom fan with an occupancy sensor on a timer so the fan stays on for a few minutes after you leave the room.

Another tip is to hang on to an appliance such as a water heater or refrigerator until it breaks (that’s what most of us do!) or, better, after it has reached its design life. Then replace it with an Energy Star model that has the features you need. Do you have a “beer fridge” in the garage that has seen better days? Consider recycling it and just cooling the beverages you want to consume in the near future in your refrigerator. Do you still have incandescent lights? Swap them out for LEDs. The LEDs are so much more energy efficient, if a little more expensive, than incandescent lights. They will pay for themselves in months rather than years. But if you have some newer, well performing compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) that don’t flicker too much, you might want to keep them for a while and then replace them one by one with LEDs. Remember that CFLs need to be disposed of with hazardous waste. Find rebates for home appliances with Energy Star and learn about the impact of switching out your light bulbs to LEDs. You can even get free LED bulbs and other energy and water saving tools with a virtual Green House Call!

Cooking with Gas?8206441897?profile=original

There is one kind of energy use that people, cooks in particular, have strong feelings about. Especially this time of year, when—pre-pandemic anyway—we are thinking about food and guests. I know of a couple who renovated a house in the North Bay to Passive House standards but then couldn’t give up their favorite way to cook—with gas. By far the most energy efficient way to cook a meal is by using an induction cooktop. These convert 80% of the electric energy used by the device into heat energy. The induction cooktop uses an alternating magnetic field to heat the iron or steel bottom of a pan, which then heats the food. If the pan is not close to the cooking surface, it doesn't heat up at all. But these appliances are expensive—up to $3,000. See if you are eligible for an induction stove rebate from BayREN.

If you just heat water for coffee every morning or to cook potatoes, the best source of heat is a microwave, and these are not very expensive. A microwave can cook a potato in about 15 minutes, but it can take an hour in a gas oven. But roasting a turkey? Baking bread? Making pumpkin pies? The gas or electric range and oven that you already have are good options. When cooking with gas, please make sure the kitchen is well ventilated. Gas cooking can produce some pretty unpleasent combustion byproducts, like carbon monoxide.

There is a movement afoot in this country to move away from using any fossil fuel in buildings or electric power generation. Natural gas (methane) is cleaner and more efficient than oil or coal. But methane is a powerful, very bad greenhouse gas. It leaks from distribution pipes (and cows), and burning it creates carbon dioxide, a much less potent greenhouse gas that's still bad for a warming climate. Sean Armstrong of Redwood Energy advocates for the move to all-electric in a convincing, though humorous way. Check out this YouTube video.

The Bigger Picture

Global Climate Change is a human and planetary crisis. With leadership at all levels of governments around the world, we could rapidly reverse the buildup of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, the primary reason for the drastic warming we are all experiencing. We have the technology! But obviously, we’re not there yet. The cost of electricity from renewable sources like solar PV are now economically competitive with all the fossil fuels, but we have to adjust the grid, our driving, our buildings, and our eating habits to make it happen.

In the meantime, we as individuals can steer our lives in the direction of greater and greater sustainable living. In the end, that’s what’s going to get us where we need to go. We’ll get there house by house, doing what we can with the resources we have. Then, with enough collective action, hopefully, big changes will happen, such as reversing Global Climate Change.

If you are ready to build a home, renovate one, or if you just want a more comfortable, efficient, and healthy home, you can’t lose by contacting the folks at BayREN Residential. You can do an online energy evaluation, speak to an energy advisor, find out about rebates, and more. Our free webinar on November 12th will give you all the details on options for home energy upgrades.











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