17 August 2010

Aqualectric

Over the last year we poured our hearts and souls (and wallets) into designing and building a green house with the primary goal of saving energy, but I'll admit that we really had no idea how much impact each decision (or all of our decisions together) would make. In fact, we don't even have a sense of what our neighbors with similarly sized houses (built in the 60s) pay for utilities, or what a "regular" (non-green) 2010 house of this size would cost to power, so it's still hard to know how this bill compares with the alternatives:


But for 29 of the hottest Texas days (over 90 every day, with a week in the 100s), I'm confident that we beat every one of our neighbors by a good margin. $123 is comparable to the highest bill we ever had in the condo (which was half the size of this house), but now our electric bill also includes trash service (which the condo association paid for), water (which the association sub-metered and billed separately) and an electric water heater (we had gas in the condo...so our gas bill will surely be less now, too).

Our water usage totaled $9 (although wastewater added another $13); some of the savings there can be attributed to the on-demand recirculating pump, which sends hot water around the house at the touch of a button so we don't have to run the water to warm it up. (This should make a more significant difference in the winter, when we'll want warm water pretty much every time we turn on a faucet.) Now, it should be noted that our water usage will surely increase once we have landscaping, but we intend to keep that to a minimum with native, drought-tolerant plants, and much of the water we do need to use will come from rain barrels and hopefully a 1,000-gallon cistern.

Electric water heaters cost more to power than gas, but we decided to go with a high-quality electric water heater for two reasons: (1) we plan to install solar panels, making anything that uses electricity free to power, and (2) the geothermal heat pump ties into the water heater and acts as its primary power source, making electricity only the backup. That means that, although our water heater's Energy Star label says it should cost about $42/month to power, it will be significantly less in our house (the HVAC company gave us some payback calculations on the heat pump and the assist feature, but I don't recall the number they attributed to the water heater part). I suspect the water heater will cost more to operate in the fall and spring, when the geothermal system isn't working as hard, but that's just my own speculation.

In sum, we're very pleased with the electric bill, especially compared with last month's partial bill, which worked out to about twice as much per week. I assume a lot of that is due to the construction guys not being careful about closing exterior doors and turning lights off, as well as the fact that, as soon as we took over, we turned the thermostat up and programmed it to save energy while we're not home.

Tonight, after the August Splash and Dash (where I wore my fast suit but still didn't improve on my time), I came home to a large envelope from USA Triathlon, the governing body for triathlon and other multisport, uh, sports. I thought it was my membership renewal, but it turned out to be this:


Aquathlon is like triathlon, but without the bike segment. So, I'm basically an All-American in Splash and Dash. (I assume this is based on the results of last summer's S&D series, when I used to be fast. Either that or a USAT staffer mail merged the wrong spreadsheet.) Based on this honor, they invited me to the Age Group National Championship, which I competed in last year when my friend Ursula (now my expatriate friend Ursula) and I took a road trip to Tuscaloosa. Last year, I totally planned to be back this year, but that was when I had no idea the toll building a house would take on my training. I came in nearly last in my age group (like in Portland the year before), and this year...well, as much as I'd like to, the whole thing is a no-go.

Anyway, when I got home tonight, covered in a layer of lake water and sweat, I found myself suddenly wanting to finally clean and then try out our massive bathtub (recall that we took on cleaning the house ourselves to save a whopping $2300 from the construction contract). I definitely canceled out some of our green living points when I fired up this 95-gallon baby, although I only filled it about halfway. The verdict? Definitely a keeper. It's so big, I could practically practice my swimming in it, if I weren't already a nationally-ranked aquathlete (why does Blogger question the spelling of that obviously real word?!). The other nifty thing about the tub is that the spout we ended up settling on (after searching extensively for one that would be long enough to reach into the tub while also working with the rest of our fixtures) pours a lovely, sculptural beam of water into the tub in a way that looks very modern and cool and is also nearly silent.


I contemplated making a video so you could really see (and maybe even hear...by which I mean "not hear") the water streaming into the tub, but I decided that posting a photo taken in the bath was questionable enough, so you'll have to imagine the graceful action of the water.

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