Improving my Oklahoma City home

After purchasing our home I did a lot of research to find improvements and modifications that had a high (& quick) ROI in regards to making our home more energy efficient and lower the cost of maintenance. One thing that irked me about this process was the feeling of “that’s great, but how does it apply to my specific situation?”
So I’ve put this short guide together to help others in my community (the Pleasant Grove addition in OKC).

The community I live in was built along OG&E’s “Positive Energy Home” guidelines, which really doesn’t mean much other than houses are built to code + a little extra insulation. These aren’t LEED certified buildings, just standard construction using reasonably modern materials and techniques.

That being said, I found room for improvement and have been working towards making those changes.

Disclaimer:

  1. I’ve not used any affiliate links, so I make no money off these products. These are my honest recommendations.
  2. Although I care very much about conservation and responsible stewardship, the goal of these recommendations is not to push an environmentalist agenda. I’ve worked in the energy industry for most of my career (coal, oil, and gas) and understand the necessity of these resources as well as their shortcomings. Above all, I believe I am practical – many of the items below have helped me save money and are not empty investments in a feel-good ideal.

Saving Power

HVAC

Climate control drives the highest use of electricity in most buildings – especially in Oklahoma’s wide-swinging climate. The first item I thermostat-4b500ba8055a84bd75a778d80d660669purchased for my home was the Nest Smart Thermostat. There are three thermostats in my home and so far I have replaced two of them with Nests, the third being in a lesser used area of the house.

The Auto-Away and Scheduling features on this thermostat have led to a rapid return on investment (about 1.5 years per), even with Oklahoma’s relatively low cost of electricity. OG&E provides their own “smart” thermostat as part of their Smart Energy program, but it is feature-poor and I believe more efficiency gains can be had with the Nest.

The OG&E thermostat would certainly be an improvement over the contractor-grade thermostats that come with the homes in my community and has the added benefit of being free.

Both the Nest and OG&E’s free thermostat are easy to install and work with the wiring in all of the homes in the Pleasant Grove addition.

Lighting

Personally, I think going through a house and replacing functioning light bulbs is a bit silly and wasteful. Unless a fixture is one that I know I am going to leave on a lot, I don’t generally swap bulbs unless they go out. I’ve not yet made the leap to LED-bulbs as the cost is still high, the color temp is still a little off, and I think there’s still work to be done on making the light from these bulbs more of a diffuse glow (and less directional spotlight), so CFL is my go-to.

My favorite CFLs are those that GE makes. The 13watt GE CFLs I’ve purchased are 1.) relatively cheap (you can get an 8-pack for $15) and 2.) closest in color temp to traditional incandescent at around 2700K.

Hot Water

The hot water heaters used in this community drive the highest percentage of our natural gas cost. Not because they are bad, but because that is the nature of hot water heaters. I briefly researched tankless hot water heaters and discovered they have a really long ROI that is hard to justify given the inconsistency of temperature and supply that they provide.

Things to avoid

Attic fans, either traditional or solar-powered are to be avoided. There are companies in Oklahoma City that swear to their benefits, but so far everything I’ve turned up has revealed attic-fans to be snake-oil. Warm air in an attic is there by design, removing it with a fan removes that thermal cushion and sucks cooler air upward, forcing your A/C to run longer.

The only places attic fans should be used are in buildings that were designed with this sort of ventilation in mind or those that have been designed poorly. If a roofer or solar-company tries to sell you an attic fan, punch them in the face. I have heard of many roofers up-selling these during hail/wind repair.


Saving Water

Shower heads

41PwFhf4MzLThe shower heads that were used in this community’s construction aren’t terrible, nothing like the 5 gallon-per-minute-plus units that most of us grew up with. But there is room for improvement.

I initially looked at The Sweethome’s top recommendation of the Delta In2ition, but decided the high cost wasn’t justified and decided to go with its baby brother, the Delta 75152 that can operate at the standard 2.5gpm or can be switched to 1.85gpm.

Three-fifths of a gallon doesn’t sound like a huge improvement, but it adds up, and unlike other low-flow showerheads I’ve used in the past (looking at you summer-camp showers), this one doesn’t make you feel like you’re living in Soviet Russia during water rationing.

These shower heads pay for themselves in about a year.

Toilets

We have brand new toilets, it would be stupid to replace them with lower-flow models.

Sprinklers

We chose not to install sprinkler system given the low ROI-to-property value. The convenience these systems provide is not something that matters to us at the moment, but may be something we revisit in the future. That said, if you have a sprinkler system, Rachio makes a control unit that is effectively “Nest” for sprinklers. If I had a sprinkler system I’d buy one in a heartbeat.

If you choose to stick with the control system you have or water manually, remember that the best time to water your lawn is early in the morning when the relative humidity is highest. Watering during the day or into the evening will waste more water as the air can absorb water during those times and much of the water you use will evaporate off.

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Clothes Washing

This one was simple. High Efficiency top-loaders use the least amount of water and electricity (and they don’t get moldy like front-loaders). Dryers aren’t worth mentioning as they are inherently inefficient and there’s not much difference from one unit to the next.

We chose a pair of Samsung units from Hahn Appliances here in OKC. Their pricing was $100 less per unit than anywhere else we looked.

Outdoor plants

The landscapers our builders hired did a pretty good job of selecting Oklahoma-friendly plants – I’ve noticed lots of maples, which handle shrubdrought really well. OSU’s Oklahoma Proven site has been a good resource for finding plants that don’t require huge amounts of water or other special care to survive our climate.

Barberry (pictured) is one I’m considering as an addition to our backyard. Bitterweed as well. As much as I’d love a backyard full of ferns and bromeliads, it’s just not in the cards where we live.