To ensure an energy-efficient home this winter, grab a pen and notebook

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The Old Farmer’s Almanac Says Colder than Average Winter Looms so It’s Time to Winterize Your Home from Top to Bottom – via Next Step Living

Even if your home was originally constructed as an energy-efficient house, time and nature have a way of taking their toll on your home. For example, opening and closing doors and windows over months and years can cause weatherstripping to break down and lose its ability to insulate and protect your home from cold winter drafts.

To ensure an energy-efficient home this winter, grab a pen and notebook, and take a tour of your home and conduct your own home energy audit. Start with the furnace. Check to see when you most recently had your furnace cleaned. It should be cleaned every year, even if it is a gas furnace. A clean furnace is crucial for ensuring that it is operating safely and efficiently.

Next on your home energy audit is to check all the doors and windows and confirm that they open and close properly. Inspect the weatherstripping to confirm that it’s in good working order, as well. Ideally, examine the doors and windows on a cool, windy day so that you can check for drafts.

The attic is the chief culprit for winter home energy loss. Heat rises, and if the attic is improperly insulated, heat from the lower living areas of the home will find its way into the attic and eventually out of the home via the ridge and soffit roof vents.

Inspect the attic for proper insulation. Depending upon where you live, you should have at least R-30 or R-38 insulation in the attic. Make sure that when inspecting the insulation, you check for small breaks. Even the smallest of uninsulated areas in the attic can lead to a dramatic reduction in energy efficiency.

Next take a look at the shower heads in your bathrooms. Heating water is another major culprit in high energy costs. By replacing the old shower heads with low-flow shower heads, you can dramatically save energy at home.

After addressing the big-ticket items in your home energy audit, look at the electrical appliances and light fixtures. By replacing the standard incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs, you can reduce your home’s lighting energy consumption by as much as 70 percent.

Also, if you have the budget, consider replacing some of the old appliances — for example, the refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave and washer and dryer — with Energy Star appliances.

So conduct your own home energy audit this fall, and implement some, if not all, of the suggestions I recommended. By doing so, you will be guaranteed to have an energy-efficient house this winter.

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Learn what causes condensation on your windows and what you can do to avoid it

Condensation can form on interior glass surfaces when there is too much moisture in the air. If the interior of a structure exceeds certain limits of moisture in the air, the moisture will condense and show up on comparatively cooler surfaces, such as glass.

Windows are typically the coolest areas of interior walls; even if they have storm panels, are glazed with welded insulating glass, have Low-E4® insulating glass, or use triple pane glass. When the warm, room temperature air comes in contact with the glass surface, the air is cooled and if there is enough moisture in the air, the dew point will be reached and the water in the air will condense. A good analogy is when you have an iced drink on a warm summer day, and the glass has moisture on the outside of it. The warmer air meeting the cooler surface of the glass causes condensation to form. Recommended humidity levels in winter months should not exceed 30-35%. If these humidity levels are exceeded, you may want to take measures to reduce the interior humidity level such as:

  • Checking your ventilation
  • Using a dehumidifier
  • Turning the humidifier on your furnace down (or off)
  • Making sure blinds or curtains are open during the day
  • Leaving ceiling fans on to promote air movement
  • Use an exhaust fan in bathroom areas when showering

Additional information can be found in the Guide to Understanding Condensation.

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Why Is R-Value Important?

Simply put, R-value is a measurement of how insulating a building material is, protecting one side from the heat or cold on the other side.  A higher R-value means that a material insulates better than one with a lower value.

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In order to get an idea of what these values are, here are a few examples of common building materials and their R-values:

  • 1/2″ drywall – 0.45
  • 1/2″ plywood – 0.62
  • 4″ wide brick – 0.80
  • 1″ of concrete – 0.52
  • Single pane of glass – 0.91
  • 2″ insulated metal door – 2.00
  • Dual Pane Low E glass – 2.5

R-Value of Building Insulation

Building insulation has different R-values depending on the type of material being used and the thickness.  Different materials are used in different areas of a building, and they are designed  to be used in different types of construction.

Here are a few common types of building insulation:

R-value of fiberglass insulation

Fiberglass – Made of blown glass threads that are either matted together into batts or distributed loosely, this is the most common material used in residential construction today.  The fiberglass “batts” are either stuffed into the spaces between the studs in the exterior walls of a building, or they may be laid down on the bottom of an attic space.  Other forms of insulation, such as loose fill or boards, are used in other locations, such as a basement or crawl space.  Fiberglass batts come in a wide range of R-values, most commonly from R-11 to R-38.

Foam – Spray foam insulation is made by mixing two chemicals (isocyanate and polyol resin, if you are interested) that react and cause the foam to expand to fill the space it is placed in.  It can be shot into spaces through small access holes, making installation in retrofit projects easier than standard batts.  There are two types of spray foam – open and closed cell – with closed cell being the most dense and therefore having a higher R-value.  Foam averages R-5 to R-6 per inch, compared to R-2 to R-4 per inch of fiberglass.

R-value of recycled denimRecycled denim – Blue jeans and other denim products are shredded and the cotton fibers are woven together to form batts, similar to standard fiberglass insulation.  The denim used to produce this insulation is post-consumer, so it removes products from the waste stream and repurposes them.  Denim batts provide slightly better R-values than similar thicknesses of fiberglass.

What Does This Have To Do Windows?

So, why is all this important?  A typical double-pane window achieves an R-2.0. Better windows have higher R-values and low U-factors.  Higher numbers mean more insulation.

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Companies Like AT&T and Vivint Will Be Tomorrow’s Connected-Home Innovators

The connected home market is garnering more hype and attention than ever before. Post-Consumer Electronics Show 2015, the market is awash with new and rejuvenated players promoting innovative solutions, each striving for a bigger piece of the pie.

Driven by lower technology costs and heightened consumer interest, the continued digitization of the home is now seeing blue-chip service providers from telecom, security, solar and big-box retail move to incorporate a greater variety of non-traditional services.

Just as utilities were initially targeting energy-conscious consumers with the first phase of home energy management point solutions, other service providers were similarly engaged in their respective markets. Telecom companies offered internet and cable services, solar developers deployed rooftop panels, and home security companies were mostly limited to setting up cameras and sensors.

Today, pivoting from their respective points of entrance into the connected home, service providers are branching out into new territory by embracing more comprehensive multi-service solutions.


Source: Energy in the Connected Home 2015
Almost every major telecom and home security player now offers a subscription-based smart home solution, primarily focused on security, automation and home energy management — in that order.

Discounted bundle offerings, combining additional cellphone, TV, cable, and smart-home services, have gained significant traction with customers. Aside from small differences typically left to the fine print (for example, Midcontinent Communications requires connected-home customers to be subscribed to its internet services), solutions generally promote similar pricing schemes and competitive home service capabilities. Only by examining the underlying components of these solutions can we understand the full extent of their competitive advantages.
Popping the hood on broadband and security provider solutions

Most broadband and security solution providers are relatively new connected-home market entrants and therefore are eager to attract customers. In order to rapidly deploy a solution capable of hosting in-demand home services, most have turned to licensing third-party platforms from companies like Icontrol and AlertMe (now owned by U.K. utility British Gas). With the exceptions of Alarm.com, Vivint Inc. and AT&T, few companies have invested in developing their own end-to-end home platforms. In fact, Vivint only released its proprietary Sky platform in April 2014. Though it still supports and services customers on its previously licensed platform from Alarm.com, moving beyond the confines of a third-party platform has allowed Vivint to develop some very interesting capabilities.

“The launch of the Sky cloud system pushed our customer adoption rate of additional services to nearly 70 percent, driving our average [recurring monthly revenue] per new subscriber for the year to an all-time high of $61.89,” stated Vivint Inc.’s CEO Todd Pedersen during the Q4 2014 earnings call. He went on to say, “We also rolled out our high-speed wireless internet service and built out the infrastructure needed to accelerate growth in 2015. Our wireless internet offering, along with the data cloud storage technology we acquired last year, provides a winning bundle in the smart-home space.”

While it may require a significant capital investment, it is these players with the necessary in-house expertise that will continue to innovate and develop the next generation of home services.

Source: Energy in the Connected Home 2015

 

A glance at AT&T’s Digital Life

Since its 2010 acquisition of home automation software developer Xanboo, AT&T has built out its proprietary smart home platform Digital Life across its proprietary monitoring and data centers, as well as its 3G network. Though AT&T has undoubtedly made substantial investments into its platform, it has also created new revenue opportunities. AT&T’s 3G services have been used by many third-party HEMS platform providers, including Vivint, Digi’s X-Grid solution, and E3 Greentech. The telecom giant has also developed and implemented cellular-based smart grid communication and utility payment solutions.

Today, Digital Life serves approximately 140,000 subscribers across 82 U.S. markets. And the company’s not stopping there.

FIGURE: AT&T Digital Life Markets


Source: AT&T

 
AT&T continues to make substantial investments into its platform, leveraging its distribution channels and under-contract delivery partners. To better enable hosting of third-party applications, the company has been working to bring together an integration API program that will introduce an additional service layer between its cloud servers and smart-home ecosystem. In collaboration with eight automakers including Ford and General Motors, the service operator recently unveiled its Global Drive Platform, allowing seamless integration between the driver’s dashboard and the connected home system.

Yet most impressive of all, AT&T also offers its platform to other service providers operating outside of its own jurisdiction. Since its release, Digital Life-as-a-service has garnered significant market attention. In late 2014, AT&T signed a licensing deal with one of the largest global telecommunication companies, Telefonica.

As the connected home market matures and customer awareness increases, players such as AT&T will be need to continuously adapt their solutions and improve the user experience to meet tomorrow’s demand.

The recently released GTM Research report Energy in the Connected Home 2015 investigates different service provider offerings, underlying software platforms and hardware OEM partnerships.

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Andersen Windows plans major Minnesota expansion

Andersen Corp. is planning to add more than 300 jobs as part of a $45 million expansion project at its manufacturing facilities in Cottage Grove and North Branch, Minn.

Andersen, the largest window and patio door maker in the U.S., will announce the plans Monday at its Bayport headquarters, where the company recently completed another major expansion project.

“This is an exciting time for Andersen,” CEO Jay Lund said in a news release. “After navigating a historic housing market recession, our markets are beginning to recover. And more importantly our investments in innovation and diversification are fueling the growth of our company.”

Despite continued weakness in new home construction, Andersen has benefited from a pair of positive trends in the housing market.

The dramatic rise in demand for multifamily housing has boosted sales of Andersen’s 100 Series, a low-cost line of windows and doors that has proven popular among developers of apartment buildings, and an increased willingness among homeowners to invest in remodeling projects has fueled demand for the replacement window Andersen line.

Since it was launched in 2009, the 100 Series has been manufactured at Andersen’s plant in Garland, Texas. To meet growing demand, the company spent $18 million in the past year refitting 100,000 square feet of space in Bayport. The expansion resulted in the addition of 100 new jobs. The company employs more than 2,000 people in Bayport.
The 100 Series line is made with the company’s proprietary Fibrex composite material, an alternative to vinyl and aluminum that is 40 percent wood fiber recycled from Andersen’s other manufacturing operations.

Andersen patented Fibrex in 1991 and began using the material in its Renewal products in 1995. The company says Fibrex is twice as strong as vinyl and prevents heat transfer nearly 700 times better than aluminum.

“It offers a great value, because it’s fairly economical to produce,” Lund said. “That’s the third piece of the puzzle: We also have to grow our Fibrex capability.”
The company’s Fibrex extrusion facility in North Branch will receive a $7 million overhaul to increase its production capacity.

Andersen will receive $1.5 million from Minnesota’s Job Creation Fund and $500,000 from the Minnesota Investment fund for the Cottage Grove and North Branch expansions. The company received $625,000 from the Job Creation fund for its Bayport expansion.

Founded by Danish immigrants in 1903 in Hudson, Wis., Andersen moved across the river to Bayport in 1913. The company employs more than 10,000 people at 15 locations in the U.S.

The company’s best-selling product long has been its flagship 400 Series of windows and doors, the high-end precursor of the 100 Series. However, the 100 Series, which retails for about 20 percent less than the 400 Series, is growing fast.

The windows are sold directly to construction companies and are available at retail outlets.

“The 100 Series has become a very substantial part of our business,” Lund said. “It’s really enabled us to reach a different segment of the market. … I think the 100 Series has the potential to some day become our best-seller from a volume perspective.”

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