This article was originally published in the March/April 1996 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online March/April 1996


Air Source Heat Pump Immune to Cold. A new heat pump designed for cold climates performs beautifully in the heating mode and adequately in the cooling mode, according to laboratory and field tests conducted by its developer, Samuel M. Sami, of Canada's University of Moncton. Sami's Combined Cycle Fully Integrated Air-to-Air Heat Pump (CFIA) recently received a U.S. patent. The design uses a specially blended refrigerant composed of HFC-23, HCFC-22, and HFC-152a, making its capacity to deplete the ozone layer 50% less than that of HCFC-22. The heat pump is designed with both the evaporator and condensing coils inside to prevent frosting problems, and it uses a regenerative cycle to preheat evaporator air to boost efficiency. Laboratory tests found that a 3-ton unit maintained a coefficient of performance (COP) close to 3, even at simulated outdoor temperatures of -4oF, while data from field tests at six homes showed an average COP of 2.43 when the average outdoor temperature was 8oF. Demand-Side Technology Report, Nov 1995. 37 Broadway, Suite 1, Arlington, MA 02174-5552. Tel:(617)641-5118 or (800)964-5118; Fax:(617)648-1950.

Call for Committee Members. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is seeking new members for a committee that will review and revise ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 90.2-1993, Energy Efficient Design of New Low-Rise Residential Buildings. Standard 90.2 controls the design and construction of the building envelope, heating equipment and systems, air conditioning equipment and systems, and domestic water-heating equipment and systems of new residential buildings (or parts of them that are either heated or cooled). Committee members will write prescriptive and performance requirements in code language for the following portions of the standard: windows; solar heating; total building energy analysis/life cycle costing; and construction costs. Those interested in applying should contact the ASHRAE Manager of Standards at ASHRAE headquarters, 1791 Tulllie Circle NE, Atlanta, GA 30329-2305. Tel:(404)636-8400; Fax:(404)321-5478; e-mail:

Straw into Walls. Eighteen-inch thick exterior walls made from straw bales are no longer the sole option for building with straw. Natural Fibre Boards of Minneapolis, Kansas, produces particleboard made from straw, while Stramit, of Perrytown, Texas, produces interior partition panels. The first company makes 4 ft x 8 ft panels in 1/4-inch and 1/8-inch thicknesses, with tongue-and-groove or lap joint edges and a variety of surface veneers. The panels are superior to wood-based particleboard in both their moisture resistance and their strength. Stramit's EnviroPanel is a 2 1/4-inch-thick panel that can be used in place of both framing and drywall in partition walls. Testers at Environmental Building News found these panels to be very heavy (a 4 x 8 panel weighs 140 lb) and somewhat difficult to cut, but they were also easy to join and to wire, thanks to prerouted wiring chases. They also dampen sound more effectively than hollow walls. Both products are less expensive than their wood-based counterparts, and have a surface somewhat rougher than drywall. This gives them a rustic look that is perfect, in the case of straw particleboard, for such applications as flooring for loft apartments. Environmental Building News, Nov/Dec 1995. RR 1, Box 161, Brattleboro, VT 05301. Tel:(802)257-7300; Fax:(802)257-7304.

Insulating Steel Studs. Recognizing the increasing popularity of steel studs, researchers have found two ways to reduce convective heat losses in steel stud-framed walls. After trying foam gaskets and hat section furring (mounting the drywall onto horizontal strips of wood, creating an air space between the framing and the drywall), Drexel University researchers found that foam boards were the only insulating material that had a significant effect. Indeed, the increase in thermal resistance exceeded the added insulation by 9%-60%. Meanwhile, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a stud with indented flanges has been developed. By reducing the area of surface contact between the steel stud and the exterior walls, the new flanges increase thermal resistance by up to 15% and reduce the temperature difference between stud and wall cavity by up to 40%. It is not yet clear which method will end up being more economical for contractors. Drexel Insulation Report, September/October 1995. Center for Insulation Technology, MEM Department, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA 19104. Tel:(215)895-1833; Fax:(215)895-1478.

Fallen Buildings Recycled. When the January 1994 Northridge earthquake destroyed thousands of structures in the Los Angeles Basin, it promised to be a boon for the landfill industry. However, when demolition workers waited in line as long as three hours to dump their loads at landfills, it became apparent that recycling the materials could save time and trucking costs. Soon the Integrated Solid Waste Management Office of the City of Los Angeles had developed the capacity for private recycling of up to 10,000 tons of debris per day. That capacity helped the city to recycle 87.5% of all construction waste for five weeks in 1995. According to Josephine Gonzales, of the Los Angeles Environmental Affairs Department, much of the material is being recycled into lower-grade uses, such as road base, aggregate, or fill for major construction. LA Integrated Solid Waste Management Office, 200 N Main St., Room 580, City Hall East, Mail Stop 944, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tel:(213)237-1444; Fax:(213)847-3054.

Northwest Utilities Subsidize CFLs. Compact fluorescent lights costing $6-$9-approximately $10 less than current retail prices-will soon be available in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, thanks to a program through which public and private utilities will subsidize their manufacture. The program aims to transform the area's lighting market by making CFLs cheaper and more widely available. If all goes as hoped, the program could save 5.7 average megawatts, based on 50 kilowatt-hours per year per light. The total cost to participating utilities should be about $5 per bulb, plus 10% or so for administration. Program organizers hope that other CFL manufacturers will be forced to lower their own CFL prices to stay competitive. But regardless of its effect on the CFL market, the program represents a landmark in the sense of showing the [utilities'] willingness to collaborate, according to John McClain of Portland General Electric. Conservation Monitor, Sept/Oct 1995. Energy NewsData, P.O. Box 900928, Seattle, WA 98109-9228. Tel:(206)285-4848; Fax:(206)281-8035.

U.S. Residential Energy Use Rising. American households' consumption of electricity, natural gas, and heating oil is expected to increase by 3.8% from 1994 to 1996, according to the Energy Information Administration's recently issued Short Term Energy Outlook, Fourth Quarter 1995. Residential electricity demand, estimated at 1,006 billion kilowatt-hours for 1994, is expected to rise to 1,040 BkWh in 1995 and to 1,044 BkWh this year. Use of natural gas should decrease in 1995 from last year's level-from 4.87 trillion ft3 in 1994 to 4.79 trillion ft3 in 1995, but it is expected to rise to 5.07 trillion ft3 this year. Residential retail prices for natural gas, electricity, and heating oil are all expected to rise this year: natural gas is projected to cost $6.17 per thousand ft3 (mft3), compared to $5.97/mft3 last year. Electricity prices are projected to rise about 1.2%, the amount by which they've risen every year for the past ten years. And heating oil prices are expected to peak in the first quarter of 1996 at $0.95 per gallon. Energy and Housing Report, Nov 1995. 9124 Bradford Road, Silver Spring, MD 20901-4918. Tel:(301)565-ALFA; Fax:(301)565-3298.

Public Review for Regional Energy Strategy. The Northwest's four governors have asked the Northwest Power Planning Council to convene a comprehensive regional review of the energy system in that region. The review would include a public forum to debate and recommend alternative energy industry structures for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. These areas' electricity providers have dropped their rates and become extremely competitive in recent years, due to deregulation; the governors hope the review process will work toward consensus on how to ensure competition while assuring fairness in the market. After a thorough public review, including hearings throughout the state, the report will be presented to the governors for forwarding to the Northwest Congressional delegation as potential legislation. Meanwhile, the council has found that, despite low energy prices, the region might save $2 billion annually via energy conservation, if it can find a way to market it in the land of cheap power. Update, Dec 1995. Northwest Power Planning Council, 851 SW Sixth Ave., Suite 1100, Portland, OR 97204. Tel:(800)222-3355; Fax:(503)795-3370.


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