“Residential” seems to be the word of the season in ASHRAE. The October ASHRAE Journal includes a (somewhat snarky) article on “Zeroing In: Net Zero Houses” by Joseph W. Lstiburek, Ph.D, P.Eng, Fellow ASHRAE. The accompanying ASHRAE Insights features an article about the new emphasis that ASHRAE is putting on residential construction. Our Chapter’s own Dr. Max Sherman (AKA Dr. Duct Tape) chairs the Presidential Ad Hoc Committee on the Residential Construction Market. The committee’s report on ASHRAE and the Residential Construction Market Place is available online:; I found the data provided in the Introduction (pages 8-12) particularly interesting.

All this talk about “Residential” got me thinking about my own home. When my husband and I purchased our 65 year old house about 18 months ago, the to-do list seemed never-ending. We are two engineers, accustomed to building and renovating spaces that meet all current codes and standards. The home inspection on our senior citizen house revealed deficiencies which, at the time, we considered as “must-fix ASAP”.   Of course our to-do list is it still is never-ending, but it is amazing how quickly the urgency faded on those “must-fix” items, and the more of the fun, aesthetic fixes got done instead.

This week, I decided to do some research to help re-prioritize our home updates. PG&E provides a free, easy tool that was surprisingly helpful. It’s called “Home Energy Checkup”, and any PG&E customer can log into his or her account and participate. I spent less than five minutes answering questions about my house, and the program estimated my where most of our household energy was being spent, then gave me a list of the top five tasks we could do to save energy at home. I know that this isn’t close to a real energy model or audit, but for the average homeowner, I think it provides a great stating point.

The tips that were recommended for my house are part of a much larger database of energy saving ideas that can be found here: I went through the list, and here are some of my favorites:

■     Set your refrigerator's temperature to 38°F. Your fridge runs 24/7/365. According to the Department of Energy, your refrigerator should be between 35°F and 38°F. Your freezer should be between 0°F and 5°F. Is yours set colder? Turn it up a couple degrees and you can save energy and money!

■     Be smart about dishwashing. For example, wipe your dishes instead of rinsing them. By scraping off the debris instead of rinsing it off, you’ll save precious water and the energy that would have been used to heat the rinse water. Your dishwasher is probably more powerful than you think.

■     Open your shades on winter days. Obvious, right? Let the sun take some of that load off your heater. Spend an extra two minutes in the morning to open the shades before leaving for work, and you can take advantage of that free heating!

There are many more ideas that even ASHRAE members might find insightful. Check it out for yourself! As a closing note, I have to add that I’m not speaking on behalf of ASHRAE, nor does ASHRAE endorse any of the statements I have made or companies I have mentioned in this message. These are just the words of a new homeowner and mechanical engineer, surprised and pleased with the materials available to the general public.