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My father recently received an email with an expected arrival date for his new Tesla Model-S electric car. Years after placing the order for the car, it finally hit home that the car was on its way. He told me that I would need to add an electric circuit in his garage to charge the car. This got me thinking about garages and how they are frequently overlooked when discussing green building. This article will briefly review some important environmental aspects that apply to many garages in Winter Park.
First and foremost, I want to discuss the electric car and traditional gas/diesel powered engines because this is what started my thinking. Traditional gas/diesel engines and vehicles or their fuel can negatively impact air quality within the house, due to their fumes and off-gassing. They obviously can also pose a fire hazard. An electric car, on the other hand, has zero tail-pipe emissions. If you have a solar panel array that offsets your electric consumption from charging the car, like the Net-Zero Energy home I recently completed, then you may truly have a zero emission car. I believe the important part to focus on is the electric car’s contribution to cleaner air in the garage and house by eliminating a potential hazard. Also, on a side note - kudos should go to the City of Winter Park for their recent installation of six electric car charging stations throughout town. They are currently offering free charging for electric cars in the specially designated parking spaces.
Beyond the car, most people also keep lawn maintenance equipment in the garage. Gas typically powers this type of equipment, but advances in battery technology are helping create a competitive market for battery-powered yard tools. My wife and I own a battery powered electric mower, which has proven to be very reliable and low-cost over the past five years. I also recently met the owner of a successful lawn maintenance company that converted all of his lawn equipment to operate on batteries or propane. There is even a solar panel on top of the trailer that charges the equipment while on the road! As gas prices remain high, I believe we will see more electric products displace traditional fueled engines in the market. This transition will help reduce the possibility of poor air quality issues and risk of fire in the home.
I think almost everyone also has old pesticides and chemicals in the garage. There are now many environmentally preferable lawn and pest products available, which reduce the risk of air and water contamination. I suggest trying some to see how they work for you and also properly disposing of your old products. The City is hosting a household hazardous waste disposal day in early August and will hopefully continue to hold these convenient events for Winter Park residents in the future.
One of the primary reasons it is important to eliminate the fumes, fuel, and chemicals from the garage is because many older homes in our area have the AC air handler located there. The air handler blows air through the house and it can suck in fumes from the garage if it isn’t sealed properly. Most units are not sealed well, so this leakage creates a serious potential for contaminating the air within the home. People have even been killed because of this – primarily from carbon monoxide introduced into the home via the air handler in the garage. A simple fix for this is to install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in the home. You can also apply mastic around the unit at joints and penetrations to help reduce contaminates from ever getting inside your house.
I also commonly find certain appliances in the garage which contribute to increased energy consumption. Many people place refrigerators in the garage, but don’t realize that the hot garage can increase electricity use of the refrigerator by 50% compared to units located in conditioned space. This higher consumption is also compounded by the fact that the older refrigerators that are typically used may consume four times the energy as compared to current energy star models. If you don’t need the extra space, it’s time to turn your garage fridge off or give it away!
I guess the lesson to take away from this article is to think about your garage and assess the unique risks it may pose to the efficiency of your home and health of your family. There are usually small and inexpensive steps everyone can take to reduce energy use and mitigate potential threats to air quality.