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A Big Return on Small Energy Investments
By: Denise Lineberry

When Bruce Wielicki's two-story, brick home was built in 1987, it adhered to the "Energy Star" standards of its day. Almost two decades later, those standards were no longer up to par – according to Energy Star and Wielicki himself.

In 2006, he calculated his Energy Star home energy yardstick score. The online measurement tool gives you a score ranging from 0 to 10, with 10 being the most efficient energy usage. His score was 0.03.

Bruce Wielicki.

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During NASA Langley's Energy Awareness Month, Bruce Wielicki spoke to a crowd about how he was able to increase his Energy Star home energy score from a 0.3 to 7.3 within four years. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

"I was embarrassed and shocked," Wielicki said to a packed audience in the Pearl Young Theatre during NASA Langley's Energy Awareness Month.

The "do-it-yourselfer," a climate scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center, made a to-do list for his home. Over the next four years, he switched to fluorescent lighting, put in cellular shades, added insulation and sealing, fixed an air conditioning unit leak, installed a programmable thermostat and cut back on "vampire" electricity that sucks energy even when something is powered off.

His half-dozen "5- to 10-percent improvements" added up. He invested a total of $9,240 into his house for those improvements and in financing costs. By August of this year, Wielicki’s energy cost savings had reached $6,300. He will receive a total payback on his investments by spring of 2012 … and then some.

According to Wielicki, investing in energy savings on a purely financial basis has to be compared to other investment options such as T-bills, bonds and stocks. His investment was a smart one considering he'll earn $2,000 each year after he breaks even. He also estimated that his home value went up $40,000.

In the next four years, he will have earned $48,000, a six-fold increase in the value of his initial investment.

Better yet -- his Energy Star home energy yardstick score is now a 7.3. By 2016, his goal score is 9.9. That would be an 80 percent reduction in electricity from 2006, and a 65 percent reduction in gas. If he achieves a score of 9.9, he estimates his energy savings at $2,750 each year.

During his talk at NASA Langley, Bruce Wielicki suggested a few online resources to help you decide what is best for saving energy in your home.

Energy Star -- Home Energy Yardstick Score


Department of Energy -- Home Energy Saver

Build it Solar -- Home Energy Heat Loss Calculator: http://www.builditsolar.com/References/Calculators/HeatLoss/HeatLoss.htm

Wielicki suggested that larger-priced home energy improvements, such as window, air conditioning unit and heating furnace replacements, should be done when the need arises. When the time comes for him to replace them, that will contribute to increasing his energy score.

His house now uses 38 percent of the electricity it used in 2006. Part of that, is a compilation of no-cost efforts – switching off lights and cutting back on "vampire" electricity by unplugging his cable/DVR box from the wall before leaving the house.

His home's energy use changes, as does any, given the number of people occupying it and the time of year. Many were surprised to hear that heat is more costly than air conditioning. Wielicki says that 65 degrees is a "natural temperature use" in the home.

But the savings goes beyond his home. Wielicki, who owns a 49-mpg Prius hybrid, says he saves $1,550 on fuel each year.

And it's not all about money for this climate scientist who spoke of our entry into the "Anthropocene," which marks the extent of how human activities have significant global impacts on the Earth's ecosystems. He also mentioned that 50 percent of carbon dioxide emissions stay in the atmosphere for 150 days, the rest for thousands of years. An 80 percent reduction in fossil fuel CO2 emissions is needed to stabilize climate change with moderate warming and sea level change that could impact the economy.

Wielicki pushed for less pollution and aerosols and a decrease in fuel exports.

"We don't have to wait for new technology," he said. "It's [conserving energy] better for our pocketbook, our health, our national security and for our kids."


The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman