Letters: July/August 2008

July/August 2008
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2008 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more letters.

Creating a Rain Garden

I just read your article “Greening Water Use” (Sept/Oct ’07, p. 5) and have some questions about keeping water away from our house. Do you have any suggestions regarding rainspout runoff for a small front yard with a thick clay layer over rock?

We are rebuilding a retaining wall for the raised beds in front of our house where the old one was leaning into our neighbors’ driveway.  We installed a new drainage pipe.  We were considering connecting the outlet from our rainspouts and the separate outlet from our porch to the new drainage pipe.  My father suggested I investigate a dry well.  Then I remembered the rain garden you mentioned in the article. Do you think a rain garden would work for us?

Anne Hutcheson-Wilcox
Low-Carbon Productions
Oakland, California

Author Jim LaRue replies:
Dry wells are mainly used to get water back into the aquifer, and they often clog up with clay silt in an all too-brief time.  You could consider your whole front yard a rain garden, if the plants could stand extra water that might be generated from all the storm water coming from the roof as well.  It is likely they would not.  So another alternative would be to create a series of rain barrels (if space would permit), where roof water could be retained and used as needed.  You could make your own rain barrels.

Washer/Dryer Advice
I am about to purchase a new washer and dryer.  Do you have any recommendations for the most efficient and quality one out there? I looked at Maytags this weekend.  I have also heard that LG is pretty good.
Peter Rumsey
Rumsey Engineers
Oakland, California

Technical Editor Steve Greenberg replies:
Maytag has taken a bath with the Neptune (various reliability problems, including the main drum bearing); not sure what their current status is. They also don’t have any tier 3 machines (see below in the rebate discussion), so in my mind they’re not recommended. We bought a Kenmore Elite HE3t washer a few years ago and are happy with it. I see they’re up to the HE5t now. At the time, the HE3t was highly rated by Consumer Reports and very close to being the most efficient.

There are both energy and water factors in the Energy Star listings, and both are worth looking at. See www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=clotheswash.search_clotheswashers.   Both factors are based on DOE test procedures. To confuse people, a higher energy factor is better, but a lower water factor (WF) is better. The energy factor (EF) and the modified energy factor (MEF; see dryer discussion below) both include the energy used for heating water, assuming an electric water heater. Thus the kWh/year includes the energy used by an electric water heater.  Currently the best MEF is 2.79 and the best WF is 3.2. (Of course, these are not the same machine—that would be too

Be sure to look at any rebates, such as that offered by Pacific Gas and Electric Company  (PG&E). See www.pge.com/myhome/saveenergymoney/rebates/appliance/clothes/index.shtml.   PG&E goes by the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) tier 2 and tier 3 listings. Given that, I wouldn’t consider anything below tier 3.
East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) also offers rebates for your area. See www.ebmud.com/conserving_&_recycling/residential/clotheswasher_rebate/default.htm. EBMUD uses the same listing scheme for its rebates as PG&E, and you apply for both from PG&E. Apparently an MEF of 2.2 or higher and a WF of 4.53 or lower will get you a tier 3 machine. That gives you 46 options (not sure how different, or how available, some of the models are), but of course you’ll be looking for one that is tier 4, or whatever the Rumsey standard is.

There’s no DOE or Energy Star standard for clothes dryers. There may be dryer models that use sensors to vary the air flow for more-efficient drying. The washer also has a big impact on the energy the dryer uses, because the washer determines how much residual water is in the clothes; the MEF rating takes this factor into account. Gas dryers make more sense than electric ones in most cases, since the combustion products blow through the clothes, and thus combustion efficiency is close to 100%. But if you have PV with excess energy after the net metering true-up, and/or if you sometimes use a “solar clothes dryer” (my wife, Liz, and I are in both categories), an electric dryer can easily make more sense. It depends on the individual.  We still have the electric dryer the previous owner left in the house, and we never use it.

Irate over IR?
I’ve just had a note from a student who is upset that I said IR inspections cost $100 (or that is how he interpreted what I said)! Perhaps you could run the following clarification in a future issue:

In the Mar/Apr issue of Home Energy  (“Infrared Thermography: (Nearly) A Daily Tool,” p. 31), I suggested that the added cost for an infrared inspection to an existing job is about $100. This is based on two important assumptions. One is the use of a low-cost ($8,000) camera. The other is that the thermographer is already involved with the job in some fashion, as an insulator or weatherization auditor for example. Most qualified independent consulting thermographers charge $300–$500 to inspect a home. This, although higher than my add-on figure, is still a great investment in quality energy conservation work. My apologies for any confusion.

John Snell
The Snell Group
Montpelier, Vermont

In Memoriam

Walt Harwood of Neil Kelly Company, a premier remodeling contractor in Portland, Oregon, died of liver cancer in May. Many Home Energy readers may not have had the privilege of knowing Walt, and this letter serves as an inadequate introduction. Those who knew him will know what I mean.

 Walt was Vice President and Manager of Neil Kelly’s Handyman Home Repair and Home Performance Divisions and a member of the company’s management team. Walt was a great guy and a treasured colleague of mine and many other people in the building community. He was a smart, professional, warm, and generous man. Closer to home, he was taking his quality-focused company into the realm of home performance. Walt’s death is a loss for the building and home performance community, and for many people in Portland and around the country. I will miss him.

Mike Rogers
GreenHomes America
Syracuse, New York

Home Energy Celebrates 25 Years!

Beginning with the January/February 2009 issue, Home Energy magazine will celebrate 25 years of publishing “all the energy news that’s fit to print.” We wouldn’t have lasted one year without your support, and the continuing loyalty of our readers lets us know that we are giving you information that you can use.

Will you please help us celebrate by sending Managing Editor Jim Gunshinan your stories of how Home Energy has helped you do your work, inspired you to do it better, or supported you by letting you know you are a part of a community of dedicated home performance professionals? We may publish your stories in the 25th Anniversary Special Issue in May. If there is anything else you want to share with us to help us celebrate the last 25 years and do even better in the next 25, please let us know. You can e-mail Jim at JPGunshinan@homeenergy.org. Thanks!

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