Observer on Sunday: Energy efficient homes

(Published in the Observer on Sunday, 10 June, 2012)

A local developer is urging government to include “real energy efficient construction standards” in the National Energy Policy to help homes and businesses drastically cut their electricity bills. 

Gilles Langlois, managing director of Cayman Precast Systems, said that while there is a raft of building regulations in place, there are currently no regulations that stipulate how energy efficient homes must be. As a result, he said many of Cayman’s homes are leaking unnecessary amounts of energy and hitting consumers hard in the wallet.  

Indeed, he said this needs to be a priority before Cayman starts to look at adopting alternative energy sources, such as solar. 

“There’s no point putting solar panels on your roof if your house isn’t built to be energy efficient,” Langlois explained. “If your house is leaking energy you will need double the solar panels, which means double the investment and then twice as long to see a return. It just doesn’t make sense. We need to clean house before we go to alternative energy. 

“Construction standards on the whole are good in Cayman, but we are missing energy standards. This means properly installed insulation in ceilings and walls, a minimum standard for insulated windows, properly installed energy efficient a/c systems and weather stripping. If done properly, all these things can help reduce energy loss from the home.” 

Currently, many homes are built without any real energy efficiencies in place. For example, the industry standard in Cayman is to use insulation in the roofs rated R-11 and R-19. However, Langlois believes R-30 minimum should be used and stresses the importance of following the manufactures installation procedures. The R-value is a measure of thermal resistance. The higher the number the more effective the insulation is. As a comparison, the US Department of Energy recommends a rating of R-30 to R-60 for the state of Florida, which enjoys a climate comparative to ours.  

“If we ever needed anything from government, we urgently need a national energy policy, which will force people to adopt a higher level of energy standard,” Langlois said. “There is a tremendous awareness that needs to be brought to the forefront before we adopt alternative energy technology, which is firstly about efficiency. 

“Alternative energy at the moment is a pipe dream for many. It’s expensive, and the payoff is slow – often up to 10 or even 20 years. Tidying up house is real and the savings are instant.” 

Indeed, Langlois maintains an outlay of just $1,500 to $5,000 will make the vast majority of homes energy efficient.  

“This isn’t about a big investment where you will get money back in ten years or so. This is about investing a relatively small amount on things such as properly installed insulation, weather stripping, an a/c evaluation and double pane insulated windows to substantially reduce power consumption. An energy efficient home can cut electricity bills in half, with pay back on the initial outlay in a year or so.” 

National Energy Policy 

Cline Glidden is Chairman of the government appointed National Energy Policy Committee, that has been tasked with developing a national energy policy for Cayman. He said government is depending on the NEP to make recommendations to encourage at least minimal, green construction methods of all future buildings, while striking a balance of increased construction costs. 

“The last fifty years of economic growth have seen the structure and standard of living change and with the majority of consumers being able to afford the increasing cost of electricity, this was never a priority item for government. 

“Today, with household electricity costs averaging around $500 to $800 per month, this has become a major concern for our government. We have been busy for fifty years growing and diversifying our economy, now we must catch up with the developed countries in consumer protection legislation such as this,” Glidden said. 

The committee is drawn from the public and private sector to draft the NEP, which will cover a 20 year period, from 2012 to 2032, with bi-annual reviews. The NEPC will also draw on feedback from the public. Areas for review will include renewable energy, construction, water requirements, energy conservation and the environment. The committee will also be responsible for developing a public education plan for the policy to help raise awareness of energy conservation.  

The NEPC has currently made its recommendation and the public feedback period is expected to begin in the next 60 to 90 days.  

Make your home energy efficient 

Highly reflective window blinds can reduce heat gain by about 45 per cent. Keep them drawn during peak sunlight hours whenever possible. 

Weather stripping on all doors and windows should be checked for proper seal, and changed if missing, dried out or damaged in any way.  

If you have a water heater tank you should consult a licensed electrician to install a timer and reduce the setting on the thermostat. An insulation blanket kit for water heaters can be found at your local hardware store or online to further reduce your water heaters power consumption. 

Call a reputable air conditioning contractor or a construction savvy friend to go into the attic and insure all air conditioning duct connections are attached and not leaking cool air into your attic space. This is a very real and common problem and if found needs to be rectified. The age and SEER rating of your unit should be checked as the new 13 to 15 SEER rated units can save you as much as $50 per month in operating costs. 

While you’re in your attic, check to insure the insulation you have is not displaced. Ceilings and attics should have a minimum of R-30 fibreglass or equivalent installed as per manufacturer’s recommendation.  

Shading with trees, shrubs or vines to West and South facing walls can help reduce heat gain through walls and windows. 

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