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View Full Version : With all this talk of high utility bills..


Brier Rose
08-03-2006, 06:28 PM
what type of choices are best when starting from scratch with a home?

We are set to meet with a builder to discuss the plans for our new house, and I would really like to make good choices now, that would help us in the future!

We've only had total electric in the past so that is all I know about. We're in a 1300 sq ft. apartment now that's total electric, and the last 2 months bills have been around $250.00 without being on any kind of averaging plan.

Of course being in the South, Summer is what gets us the most. Our bill in Winter is usually around $120.00 or so.

The new house will be 2 story, and around 2800 sq ft. It also has those very high ceilings, so right there I'm starting to wonder how that will effect everything.

Any suggestions for things like heating and air, water heater, etc. ?

TIA

moniot
08-03-2006, 11:19 PM
I wish I could be of more help but...I live way up north. We built two years ago. The best for our area was to put in floor hot water heating that uses propane. We also put in central air. I have propane hot water and dryer but I have an electric stove.

My electic runs about $180.00 to $200.00 in the summer with the swimming pool and A/C (set at 68 to 74) running 24/7. Winters are less. Maybe $120.00 to $150.00.

Propane is maybe 5 to 6 fills a year to the tune of $600.00 to 800.00.

It all depends on prices in your area.

By the way I have a basement (half underground walk out in the back) approx 28 X 70 3 bedrooms and two baths. With 2 teens

Belle5
08-03-2006, 11:27 PM
One suggestion is to not have too many windows. I am the poster who had the $650 electric bill and we have 17 windows on the side that gets the afternoon sun. My neighbor across the street does not have many windows on that side at all (three, I think) and her bill is like $250. I think you lose a TON of energy out your windows! I would have attic fans in your roof (not just the turbines) and I would have radiant barrier painted onto the inside of your attic. Make sure your A.C. unit is the proper tonnage (sp?) size for your size home. Can you tell we have been looking into ways to cut our bill down?

Brier Rose
08-03-2006, 11:40 PM
Thank you both for your suggestions! I'm really lost with all of this, and starting to feel a bit overwhelmed.


Lots and lots and lots of decisions to make! :crazy:

Michie
08-04-2006, 12:33 AM
I would stay away from a 2 story home. Even if you have 2 c h/a units, your heating/cooling expenses are going to be more than a single story home.

texasthree
08-04-2006, 12:41 AM
We have really high ceilings and I believe it does make our A/C bill higher. Friends of ours in the same town, near same square footage, have a much lower bill than us. We are both all electric. She even has 3 kids and I have 1 so there is less of us but double the bill. I think its the ceilings.

dawnball
08-04-2006, 02:54 AM
what type of choices are best when starting from scratch with a home?

We are set to meet with a builder to discuss the plans for our new house, and I would really like to make good choices now, that would help us in the future!

We've only had total electric in the past so that is all I know about. We're in a 1300 sq ft. apartment now that's total electric, and the last 2 months bills have been around $250.00 without being on any kind of averaging plan.

Of course being in the South, Summer is what gets us the most. Our bill in Winter is usually around $120.00 or so.

The new house will be 2 story, and around 2800 sq ft. It also has those very high ceilings, so right there I'm starting to wonder how that will effect everything.

Any suggestions for things like heating and air, water heater, etc. ?

TIA

Ugh, we're further north (NC), but I'm feeling lousy enough about summer bills of $118 for the same number of sqft. Y'all have my sympathy. As for building it right:

See if your state has a group that focuses on passive solar houses. NC has a solar center and you can call and ask questions about your particular house plans and site. Paying for a consultation from a solar specialist is also an option.

Do you have options for how your house is oriented? Sun angles and directions on your windows can have a major effect on your heating/cooling bills. In general you want to have as few windows as possible facing afternoon sun.

Can you add porches or overhangs to west facing exposures? Plant trees to block the sun?

Blow in insulation. In general - insulate, insulate and then insulate some more.

How much flexibility do you have on the interior plan? Lower ceilings will reduce your expenses. Having the upstairs only inhabited in the evening (bedrooms only, maybe) can let you not air condition the upstairs during the day and you may be able to get away with fans only at night. Fewer square feet is a good option too. Ceiling fans will help circulate air and you won't need to keep it as cold.

Turn up your a/c temp. We have ours around 84 now, and have gotten used to it fairly well - it seems to make going outdoors less oppressive too.

Whatever your plans, be sure you take humidity into account. The last thing you want to do is encourage mold growth.

Kay1
08-04-2006, 06:25 AM
I would look into solar.

minnie1928
08-04-2006, 06:41 AM
We built about 5 years ago. Our house has very high ceilings like what you mention. Two things I wish I would have done more of: More canned lighting in rooms (you can get compact flourescent lights for the cans) and more ceiling fans. I have a 2 story family room (open ceiling) and the heat just rises to the 2nd floor with this design. If you don't want to commit to fans yet, atleast have the boxes roughed in so that you could put them in at some point down the road.

Good luck!

PB'sMOM
08-04-2006, 07:29 AM
I would look into solar shingles, since you live in a warm area. They can reduce, if not eliminate your energy bill. And at least 39 states( I don't know about GA) let you sell your unused solar power back to the utility co.-making your electric meter spin in reverse.
There was an article in the June 2006 issue of This Old House. Very informative.
They are a big chunk of change upfront-but if you plan on being in the house for awhile-it may be very cost effective and I would think an added bonus when you do go to sell. Also a tax break.
You might also want to consider a tankless hot water heater. It mounts to a wall versus having this big tank in your basement/lower level. The water heats when you turn on a faucet verse a hot water tank that is a holding tank and continually heats when the temp. decreases.
We have one and it has started to show a diff. in my utility bill.

Good luck,
Cindy

jillyjoey
08-04-2006, 08:32 AM
We built 20 months ago and I wish I was as smart as you to ask in advance. We went with gas heat & water & rest electric. We are similar to you -- 2780 sq ft, 2 story lots of windows, 2 story living room. This summer with many days with heat index over 100 + pool electric bill has been $200. AC set on 76. Ceiling fans in every room -- just took down lights in kitchen and put in 2 ceiling fans. If you love windows -- get your windows glazed. This will help some.

Winter time -- we put in auto-digital thermostats keep them at 68 during day then it goes to 65 at night. Our highest gas bill last winter was $165 (including water -- no sewage --on septic tank). Hot water heater is wrapped as are all pipes. Extra insulation stuffed anywhere we could.

What would I do differently: no gas fireplace -- money just seems to disappear rapidly when I turn that on. If my house plan was different I would put in a woodburning stove. I read something last year about some kind of pellets that you put in the woodburning stove. Growing up in PA -- we had 2 fireplaces and could pretty much heat the house with them -- the downstairs anyway. I've noticed houses being built this year have real fireplaces -- not gas and also have metal roofs (I don't know if that would make a difference on utilities however). I have heard that the thermal heating system is good-- but if it ever breaks $$$$$.

DiznEeyore
08-04-2006, 08:37 AM
We don't live in a new house by any stretch of the imagination -- ours is 60+ years old -- but the best advice I have to save on utilities is to second Dawnball's suggestion to INSULATE!!!

We had insulation blown in last fall after we found out that the homes on our street had virtually NO insulation in the walls. It made a HUGE difference in the winter, and so far this summer, my highest combined gas/electric bill was last month at $78 (our house is approx. 1350 sq. ft. with no basement).

Now, I do keep the central A/C at 79 (at least) and turn it off at night (we have a ceiling fan in the bedroom) so that helps keep the bill down, but still, I have to say I'm pretty impressed with the savings we're seeing from the insulation.

Also re: high ceilings -- FWIW, our master suite (which is an addition, not original to the house) ceiling is 14' and I don't find it more difficult to cool, but it *is* more difficult to keep warm in the winter, as heat rises.

canwegosoon
08-04-2006, 08:49 AM
-Double-tripple glazed windows-House orientated to Sout if poss.
-Best insulation and venting you can afford.
-Solar panels are a good ides if- you can find a certified installer and can afford the initial payments-there are tax credits(check with your state).
-Use all energy star appliances(there are tax rebates-check)
-Ask builder to see examples of his "green" built homes.
-Check out Passive heating alternatives.

poptoone
08-04-2006, 08:55 AM
I second the previous posters. You need to be very wary of putting windows in with direct sunlight hitting it all day. Our home is in direct sunlight in the back the entire day and if we open the blinds the house temp goes up several degrees within the hour. Also make sure to get programmable thermostats and set them to either up temp or lower when your asleep or at work. Also go ahead and splurge on extra insulation. We went with gas dryer, heat pump, water heater, range and never want to go back to electric.

We have two gas log fireplaces and we are able to heat the entire house (2200 sq ft) with just them. It runs about $125.00 with just fireplaces going and $225.00 to heat with heat pump.

carone0318
08-04-2006, 09:36 AM
We just had a house built last year and our previous home we also had built, so for us it was live and learn.

My #1 suggestion would be tyvek wrap your house. It really isn't that expensive and boy what a difference between our 1st home and this home. Our first home was very drafty and this one is not. Our new home also holds in the heat better in the winter and the cooler air better in the summer and I think it has to do with the tyvek wrap.

Also I think someone else has mentioned, ceiling fans, at least have the pre-wiring done, it is pretty cheap (I would think no more than $200 per location). We had the pre-wire done and my FIL & BIL put our fans in this spring and what a difference it made in the family room because it is even cooler (I could turn down the air about another 1-2 degrees). At least have pre-wiring done on first floor areas. It would be much cheaper than if you did it after the fact. Second floor is much easier to do after the fact.

ducklite
08-04-2006, 09:46 AM
I think I can offer a lot of help here. My house is about the same size, only one story, and the ceilings rin from 10 to 14 feet. I've got 30 windows, including two that are 5' wide by 10' tall that get direct afternoon sun. And I've never had an electric bill over $170--it's usually about $130.

We did a LOT of research before we built. First, the windows have a high R factor. I can't recall what it is, but it's the equivelent of having a wall with insulation.

In the south because you a/c more than heat, an electric heat pump is the most energy efficient way of heating/cooling your home. (My engineer husband did a lot of research on this!)

Also, look into having a radient barrier installed into your roof. We think this is savings us about 40% a year on energy costs.

I put up Sillouette blinds on all my front windows (the really big ones that get direct afternoon sun) that open to allow light in but leave a sheer that blocks 98% of UV rays (and a lot of radiant heat.)
http://www.hunterdouglas.com/servlet/getasset?assetid=13237

I like the look of them so I put them in my master BR as well. :sunny:

We added ceiling fans into every room in the house except the kitchen, living room and dining room. The kitchen is open to the family room where there's a large celining fan that moves a TON of air, so no need in the kitchen. Keeping the ceiling fans on to move the air around allows us to keep the a/c set at 79 +/- and stay very comfortable.

I opted for electric cooktop and stoves, although I've got a gas line run to the cooktop as well and might eventually change it out. I'll always use an electric over, IMHO gas ovens cook unevenly. I have a convection oven which cooks faster and doesn't burn.

I have a gas water heater and dryer, and the temp on the water heater is turned down so that while I still get "hot enough" water it's not scald and thus uses less energy.

All of my allpliances are energy efficient except the dorm fridge built into the lanai--although we turn that off and don't use it unless we're going to be entertaining out there. We even put damp rated ceiling fans on the lanai, makes it comfortable to use in all but the hottest/coldest nights.

Anne

Brier Rose
08-04-2006, 09:55 AM
WOW..thank you all for your great suggestions!

I'm afraid it's too late to do very much about the windows! :guilty:

The house is already constructed pretty much. Right now it's in the detail stage...flooring, cabinets, countertops,appliances,etc..

They haven't done electrical yet though, so I can change the lighting, and add more fans.Also pick a good programmable thermostat!

The sheetrock is also not finished yet, so I'm guessing we could beef up the insulation if need be.


The front would get the most sun, and doesn't really have an excessive amount of windows, and at least they're not giant ones.
I had forgotten all about having the windows tinted! My parents did that, and it really did help with how hot it felt in the house!

There is a gas fireplace in the living room. I can just see me wanting to run it all the time too! I LOVE a fireplace in the winter, and that's one thing I've really missed living in this apartmet.
This will be my first gas fireplace, and I thought I would love it for convenience sake, but now I'm wondering if it was a mistake.

Of course..we haven't signed anything on this house yet, so I could just scrap it and start from scratch all over again! ;)

It's not really my first choice of houses, but it is a good deal (or appears to be anyway). :confused3

I can't believe I've even been second guessing buying the house because it might mean less Disney money! :crazy:

Brier Rose
08-04-2006, 10:05 AM
Also, look into having a radient barrier installed into your roof. We think this is savings us about 40% a year on energy costs.


Thank you Anne! Could you explain this a little more to me?


I opted for electric cooktop and stoves, although I've got a gas line run to the cooktop as well and might eventually change it out. I'll always use an electric over, IMHO gas ovens cook unevenly. I have a convection oven which cooks faster and doesn't burn.


This is exactly what I wanted to do! I love a gas cooktop, but have to have an electric oven!

Right now I have a brand new (in storage) total electric convection oven that I love. I got to use it about 3 times before we moved, so it will be going into this house!

I would love to have it set up where I could change it out later to my ideal set up.

Brier Rose
08-04-2006, 10:10 AM
My #1 suggestion would be tyvek wrap your house. It really isn't that expensive and boy what a difference between our 1st home and this home. Our first home was very drafty and this one is not. Our new home also holds in the heat better in the winter and the cooler air better in the summer and I think it has to do with the tyvek wrap.


I'm not sure, but I believe it may have been wrapped with this. I've noticed a lot of the homes being built in that subdivision have been, but I never really knew what it was for!

I guess it's too late now since this house has already been totally bricked, but I will ask the builder.

Kay7979
08-04-2006, 11:08 AM
If your house is brick, I see no need for Tyvek as Tyvek allows the house to breathe, but is a moisure barrier. Your house isn't going to breathe through brick.

Most of the tips I can think of might help someone else but may not be useful to you in your climate, and in your present stage of completion on the house. In general, my tips would be, build the smallest house you can comfortably live in, rather than go for the most square footage you can afford to build, as so many people do today. Along that theme, consider a walkout basement and place some of the rooms there that you would otherwise put upstairs in a bigger house. When we built our present house, we made the walkout basement 9' high and put the family room, my office, laundry area and DH's workshop there which really cut down on the size we needed above grade. We made a wall of french doors across the back of the house so we have light, view, and ventilation. It's great to walk right out to the back yard, and does not feel like a basement.

We wanted a real fireplace, ie woodburning because we're in NY state and get a lot of cold weather. We also have our own wood supply, so it's economical to heat with wood. Rather than build the fireplace on the outside wall, which allows much of the heat that goes through the chimey to be wasted on heating the outdoors, we did it the way most colonial era homes were built, which is through the center of the house. The FP is massive stone and holds heat for about 24 hours after the fire goes out! We have a woodstove in the basement that heats the basement and heats the floors above to some degree, and a woodstove in the kitchen that heats the first and second floors. The fireplace is more for looks, but we do use it. The three flues all run up through the stone chimney, and hold and radiate heat slowly. Our floor plan is very open which capitolizes on heating and cooling.

Build with 2x6 walls rather than 2x4 as it is better insulation than 2x4s with the extra foam board on the outside of the house generally used with 2x4 construction.

Buy Low E windows. We have Pella. They have double panes, are tinted, and have a layer of argon gas between the panes.

Have a porch or awning for windows that face sun most of the day. Our house faces north-west and gets a lot of afternoon sun, but we have a full covered front porch. The wind comes from the west, typically, and we get great breezes nearly all the time. We have only one ceiling fan, in our bedroom, but for warm climates, I would have more.

We have a tankless water heater, so it only heats water when you use it.

That's most of what comes to the top of my mind. Our house is the never ending construction project as we built it ourselves, to a large degree, and still need to finish woodwork, the kitchen island top, and tons of small things, but at least we made it the way we wanted. I can't stress enough that sometimes less is more, and that making a house no bigger than you really need it is probably the best way to economize in the initial and the ongoing costs. I just posted a few pictures of our house last night on the community board, and a few of the grounds and an outbuilding this morning, if anyone is interested in seeing a few photos of our "little hovel." The thread was called "post pictures of your home or where you live." I am not sure if I know how to insert a link to the thread. I'll give it a try.

http://www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=1144987

ducklite
08-04-2006, 11:24 AM
Thank you Anne! Could you explain this a little more to me?

This is a great article about it, and has some tables that show the types of savings and costs associated with it. Ours is attached to the underside of the roof deck.

http://www.ornl.gov/sci/roofs+walls/radiant/rb_01.html

Anne

Michie
08-04-2006, 11:35 AM
I am not sure how much heating you will need in your area, but I have acathedral ceiling in my living room ( which I will never get again!). That is the hardest room to heat of course. We have 2 celing fans with downrods, that have built in heaters! They really help!


http://www.fanheatlight.com/

My living room is roughly 20 x 18 and the fans keep it nice and toasty.

gottaluvdis
08-04-2006, 11:40 AM
Thank you Anne! Could you explain this a little more to me?



This is exactly what I wanted to do! I love a gas cooktop, but have to have an electric oven!

Right now I have a brand new (in storage) total electric convection oven that I love. I got to use it about 3 times before we moved, so it will be going into this house!

I would love to have it set up where I could change it out later to my ideal set up.

We built our house 14 years ago and had the same dilemma with cooking. We ended up installing a gas cooktop and a separate electric oven directly beneath it. That was how you had to do it at the time. We re-modeled our kitchen last year and bought a new duel fuel range. It is 5 burner gas on top (with different btu's for simmering, power cooking etc.) and an electric-convection oven. It has been wonderful to cook with. We bought a Kenmore from Sears (stainless) even though DH drooled over Vikings, Thermadors etc. He does a lot of cooking, but we couldn't justify the price or size requirements of the professional models. The Kenmore is a standard 30" model. You could always change to this down the road.

Kay7979
08-04-2006, 11:55 AM
On the theme of cooking, I forgot to say that we have a propane convection range, but when we bought our over-the-range microwave, we bought one that is combination microwave-convection oven. So now, when I have something small and don't need the full size oven, I can use the electric convection oven, or use microwave and convection at the same time. It saves a lot of energy, and also serves the purpose of having an additional oven when I need to have two things cooking/baking that require different temperatures.

Brier Rose
08-04-2006, 12:14 PM
OMG Kay...I LOVE your house and "train station"!

That really makes me miss living in the country for the first time since we became city folk.

That is exactly the style of house I would love to have if it would fit in around here! There are a few subdivisions around that are primarily set up with that style, but honestly they're just out of our price range right now.
Of course DH would prefer not to be in a subdivision at all, but that's hard to do around here!

My hope is to only be in the house were looking to buy now for 5-8 years, and then start all over again with what I really want!
I wish I could wait for it now, but we have GOT to get out of this apartment!!

nick262
08-04-2006, 12:20 PM
You could also look into having a whole house fan(s) installed. They will help cool the house and attice with out the AC unit. My house is 2750 sqft and it is costing us around 1700.00 to install it and will will get a 100.00 rebate from the electric company.

ducklite
08-04-2006, 01:26 PM
You could also look into having a whole house fan(s) installed. They will help cool the house and attice with out the AC unit. My house is 2750 sqft and it is costing us around 1700.00 to install it and will will get a 100.00 rebate from the electric company.

That generally won't work in the southeast as it doesn't help draw out the humidity. We had one in NJ and it worked great on all but the hottest, most humid days. :)

Anne

Hotdoggie1977
08-04-2006, 01:37 PM
I would stay away from a 2 story home. Even if you have 2 c h/a units, your heating/cooling expenses are going to be more than a single story home.

This isnt always true. We have a new two story house about 2300Sq and our energy bills are lower than most. Last month we only paid 93. I would say we avg 100-120 in summer and 160-175 in the winter.