Next time you’re thinking about a housewarming present, you might think…petrochemicals.
That’s because petrochemicals have a lot to do with keeping a house warm when it’s cold outside (and cool when the weather is hot) – which means more efficient use of energy, and means lower energy bills for you.
In your house, those petrochemicals have been turned into plastics and other synthetic materials that make up the insulation on the inside, the coating for the outside, or the brains of the whole operation.
So let’s start with the brains when it comes to energy efficiency, which would be a smart thermostat.
Since your thermostat is “in charge” of about half your energy bill, a smart thermostat can make a big difference in how efficiently you use energy, and how much you pay in your energy bills.
Want to be warm when you wake up in the winter? Your smart thermostat has you covered. Ever forget to turn off the AC when you go out in the summer? It has you there too, keeping you and your family comfortable, efficiently and effortlessly.
That’s because smart thermostats learn your patterns: when you get up, when you go to sleep, when you leave and when you come home. They give you heating or cooling as you like it, when you want it. They also let you adjust the thermostat remotely, in case the day’s plans change.
That adds up to significant savings. According to some companies, a smart thermostat can save ten percent on your heating bills, and 15 percent on your cooling bills, every year.*
But there’s a lot more plastics and petrochemicals do for energy efficiency around the house. Inside your walls, for instance: There, you might find insulation made from polystyrene (lightweight, easy to install and an excellent insulator). That comes in sheets or “boards.” Another possibility – polyurethane foam, which is “blown in” to the space between walls. (Both of those “polys” are made from petrochemicals.)
Your front door? In a well-insulated place, that might well have a foam core inside, just like the walls.
Outside? If it’s a house, and you’ve got vinyl siding on those walls, that’s plastics (derived from the petrochemical ethylene) at work again.
If you live in a part of the country that gets real winters, odds are your water pipes are wrapped in foam insulation. That’s good for keeping hot water hot – and also to make sure your pipes don’t freeze. (Though if you’ve got your smart thermostat hooked up, it can alert you if something goes wrong and the temperature in your place is dropping, dropping, dropping.)
And no matter where you live, if you’ve ever walked by a house under construction, you’ve probably seen an open frame wrapped in a sort of paper, with “Tyvek®” stamped all over. That’s a petrochemical-derived product too, to provide a little extra insulation, and to keep moisture out.
That’s today. But there’s more to come. How about roof panels that turn dark in the winter, so they soak up sunlight and warm the house — while in the summer, your roof turns white, to reflect all that hot sun and keep you cool?
That smart roof is being developed now, and what makes it work is? Yes, plastic. In this case, a 3D-printed hollow plastic panel that is made to reflect sunlight. Then fill that hollow panel with liquid (methyl salicylate, if you’ve got that chemistry textbook handy, and yes, that’s a petrochemical derivative too) and now it absorbs sunlight.**
Odds are, when that’s ready for your roof, the next generation of smart thermostats will be ready to do switching back and forth for you. That’s because petrochemicals, and the plastics made from and with them, also keep developing, improving, evolving – just as the way we live does.