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Blog/Opinion: Cool It Now

My tolerance for heat is incredible. I can run around in 98-degree weather and barely break a sweat. "Oh, I'm a little warm," I'll say smugly, looking fresh as a daisy while everyone else is drenched in perspiration.

 

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At least that's how it used to be—until my little house broke me.

I returned from my trip to Turkey to a home with no air conditioning. My friend Eric had removed the only window air conditioning unit in the house when I moved in last winter, because the unit had a fair amount of cold air leaking around it. How hot was it? The thermometer boasted an internal temperature of 94 degrees. I always knew I would install central air someday. That task now moved to the top of my to-do list, displacing unpacking and paying bills. My heat hubris has been reduced to nearly zero.

If you've been following my journey, you know I have been trying to make my home as energy efficient as possible in order to save both money and energy. There are a number of ways to achieve this: a simple energy audit, often provided for free by local utility companies or subsidized by state efficiency programs; and also monitoring devices like the Kill-A-Watt that can help you better understand what activities and appliances are most consumptive—as can this post from a few months ago .

You may not think this information is necessary, but psychological research proves these feedback loops are incredibly useful. Because most of us don't spend our days pondering the electrical grid or thinking about what kind of energy keeps the lights on (50 percent is from dirty coal), information that brings our usage front and center helps us make smarter choices.

 

But I'll admit, in the middle of my personal heat wave, my energy usage was not at the top of my mind. I was just hot. I knew I needed an efficient unit and wanted to take advantage of any tax credits that might be in place, but beyond that I wasn't really thinking clearly.

My friends at Sol Invictus Renewables cooled me down and reminded me of what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. First, I took another look at the federal tax credits for renewable energy efficiencies. You should too. The information—available online at EnergyStar.gov —is convoluted, but checking it out is worth the hassle, because many of the credits, for items including insulation, hot water heaters, furnaces and air conditioning) expire at the end of this year. If you claimed the tax credit in 2009, you aren't eligible for 2010. But if you didn't, get to it. You can get a $1,500 credit for $5,000 worth of expenditures. States also have a number of incentives in place that you can research in the Department of Energy's DSIRE database .

Now, back to me in my inferno...

I looked at the available credits for air conditioning and decided to bundle a furnace and air conditioning upgrade to save on labor costs and ensure I was getting maximum efficiency with both units. A certain level of furnace efficiency is required for high-efficiency air conditioning. Then I scheduled appointments for estimates. I sweated through six of them and am glad I did: The variance between installers was nearly $2,000.

I had been planning to insulate my basement with bio-based spray foam, so I started to work toward that too. If you could see the vines growing into my basement, you'd understand how permeable the structure is.

Sol Invictus Renewables co-founders Wyeth Atchison and Tony Brown encouraged me to go ahead and get the rest of my insulation work done, reminding me it made little sense to get high-efficiency units if all the heated and cooled air would leak through my poorly insulated house.

Now the A/C has been installed. The insulation is on its way. And, forgive me, the heat hubris just may return.

 

 

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Cool It Now:  Created on August 4th, 2010.  Last Modified on August 6th, 2010

About Simran Sethi

Simran Sethi

Simran Sethi is the founding host/writer of Sundance Channel's environmental programming The Green and the creator of the Sundance Web series The Good Fight, highlighting global environmental justice efforts and grassroots activism. She is also an award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, where she teaches courses on sustainability and environmental communications. She is currently writing a book on psychological barriers to environmental engagement. Simran is the contributing author of Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy, winner of the bronze 2008 Axiom Award for Best Business Ethics book.


Named one of the top ten eco-heroes of the planet by the UK’s Independent and lauded as the “environmental messenger” by Vanity Fair, Simran has contributed numerous segments to Nightly News with Brian Williams, CNBC, the Oprah Winfrey Show, Today Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Martha Stewart Show and History Channel. She is committed to a redefinition of environmentalism that includes voices from the prairie, the inner city and the global community.

Simran blogs about sustainability and life cycle analysis for The Huffington Post and Alternet and is currently writing a year-long series about making her first home more resource efficient for Oprah Winfrey’s Web site Oprah.com. She has been a featured guest on NPR and is the host of the Emmy-award winning PBS documentary, “A School in the Woods.” She has lectured at institutions ranging from the Commonwealth Club to Cornell University; keynoted conferences including Bioneers by the Bay, the Green Business Conference and the North American Association For Environmental Education; and moderated panels for the Clinton Global Initiative University, Demos and the Climate Group.

Simran is an associate fellow at the Asia Society and serves on the Sustainability Advisory Board for the city of Lawrence, Kansas.  She holds an M.B.A. in sustainable business from the Presidio Graduate School and graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Sociology and Women’s Studies from Smith College.  She is the 2009 recipient of the Smith College Medal, awarded to alumnae demonstrating extraordinary professional achievements and outstanding service to their communities and the 2009 recipient of the University of Kansas award for Leadership in Sustainability.

 

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