Las Vegas Sun

July 28, 2014

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How to inch your home off the grid

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From remodeling his own home to leading UNLV’s team of Solar Decathletes as they design the residence of the future, Eric Weber has energy efficiency on the brain. One lap around your house, and the assistant professor of architecture could tell you if it’s an “urban heat island,” which windows never should have happened and how to heat your water with the blazing desert sun.

“There actually are a lot of little things that add up to big things,” Weber says. The options keep getting better and cheaper, and it’s never too late to live smarter.

The biggest energy savings come from improving windows and doors. Even if you have west-facing windows (a “huge no-no” here, Weber says), properly sealing them will make a major difference. Achieve simple fixes with supplies from a home improvement store, or save up and invest in the installation of newer, better materials.

“Shade is always a good thing,” Weber says, an especially important sentiment for those thinking of tearing out their landscaping and installing one of those lovely rock/cactus “gardens.” Weber says rocks actually store heat and reflect it back at your house, so you’re much better off planting native trees that require little water and grow well in our particular inferno.

When your water heater goes kaput, consider replacing it with a solar thermal collector. They typically run about $2,500 (both Lowe’s and Home Depot sell and install them) with cost savings over an electric heater and a traditional backup system for house guests who like to hog the shower.

If you’re planning to stay in your home for the long haul, it makes sense to invest in technologies that will pay for themselves over a number of years. Photovoltaic panels, which convert solar radiation into electricity, have dropped in price 40 percent over the last three years. That’s a great sign for the future, especially considering the cost of energy will keep going up and traditional sources will keep getting scarcer.

Don’t be discouraged if you have an old house with a lot of issues to address. “It’s much easier to get good performance if you take an integrative approach,” Weber acknowledges. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of low-hanging fruit out there.”

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