The Beauty Of Energy Efficiency In Your Home

smart home energy efficiencyYou don’t have to only focus on the utilitarian parts of your house when trying to make it more energy efficient. You can focus on more than adequate insulation in the attic, energy-efficient window panes and washers that use very little water. There also are eco-friendly designs that are lovely to look at. When updating your home, consider the following ideas:

Let Landscaping Play Double Duty

There are many landscaping options that look great and help cut down on your home’s energy use. Better Homes and Gardens recommends planting deciduous trees on the west and south sides of your home because the leaf-filled trees shade your home during the hottest part of the year and then, in the winter when the leaves fall off, the branches let sunlight through to warm the house.

Hang Window Coverings

When it comes to being more energy efficient, a great place to start is with your window coverings, especially if your windows are not well insulated. Window treatments can complement any type of room design while also helping to maintain the light and temperature of your room. Depending on which direction your windows face, hang blackout curtains to keep harsh summer light from heating up your room or install solar shades to let in natural light without letting UV rays damage your furniture. Also look for window treatments made from eco-friendly materials. For example, The Shade Store offers shades and blinds made from bamboo and other low-impact materials.

Run Ceiling Fans

To avoid running the A/C non-stop during the summer, add ceiling fans to your most-used rooms. In addition to being budget friendly and easy to find, they use a low amount of energy — about the same as a 100-watt light bulb. Check out the Energy Star website prior to shopping to make sure you purchase an energy-efficient model.

To keep your home as cool as possible, set the fan to turn counterclockwise during the warm months and clockwise during the winter. Many people find that they can turn their thermostat up a few degrees during the summer, which can lead to saving up to 40 percent on energy bills, according to Redbeacon. In the winter, a spinning fan also can help push warm air back down into the room. This allows you to lower your heat and save around 10 percent.

Let in Natural Light With Skylights

Consider installing a few skylights in the rooms you use the most. With skylights you can take advantage of natural light and not turn on the lights inside your home during the day, which can lead to huge savings. The DIY Network offers great advice and tips for homeowners who want to install skylights themselves or you can hire a professional if you’re not up for a big project.

For rooms that get hot, a self-ventilating skylight allows you to vent the room as well as let natural light in. Venting also is great for cooler days and nights when you want to let accumulated heat out.

Simple Ways To Boost Energy Efficiency In Your Home Office

home-officeYou spend a lot of time in your home office, so why not make that time efficient for your home? With a few easy and simple steps you can make your office work for you and help save your hard-earned dough.

Wind Power

If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, make the cool air you do have count by replacing the overhead light with a flush ceiling fan. Adjust the fan to turn counter-clockwise in the summer, that way the cool air will stay lower while the fan pushes hot air up. Even if you do have air conditioning, a fan allows you to run your air less often. Cool the house, then turn off the air and let the fans do the work. Reverse the blade direction for winter to circulate warm air down.

Keep the Sun Out

Direct sunlight can heat up your office quickly, so take measures to minimize the direct light throughout the day. In fact, proper landscaping can help save you up to 40 percent on your energy bill, according to LandscapeforLife.org. Outside, nearby trees and shrubs can provide shade to your windows. Notice where the sun is at its hottest and at what angle the sun shines in. Plant a new tree or shrub in the path between the sun and your window. Inside, install energy-efficient window coverings. Light-filtering cellular blinds are a good option because you can still keep your office cool without sacrificing natural light.

Get Your Green On

Houseplants improve perception of work as well as your attitude. Plants also help reduce molds and bacteria in the air, as well as other toxins. Boston Ferns and Bamboo have been shown to be among the most effective at reducing formaldehyde in the air. Many plants that are suitable for an indoor environment are also low-maintenance. Adding some greenery to your office space will not only help you feel good about your work but will also make you healthier.

Electronics Pitch In

Like many of us, you probably have your fair share of electronics in your home office. Make sure they are pulling their weight by plugging all of them into a power strip. Not only will you be protected in case of a power surge (think: summer thunderstorms) but you can simply flip the switch on the strip when you are done working for the day, turning everything off. Switch from a desktop computer to a laptop and you’ll save money too as laptops use less energy than a traditional desktop. Beware of “sleep” or “hibernate” modes when you shut down. In both modes, your computer is still drawing energy (same is true with light fixtures throughout your house), so better to shut it down completely.

Light Cheaply

Cheap doesn’t mean buy dated 1970s fixtures from the thrift store. Since you spend much of your day in your office, in a variety of lighting conditions, it’s important to optimize light for those conditions as well as the kind of work you do. All lights in your room should have LED, CFL or halogen bulbs, all of which can save you up to 80 percent on your energy bills versus typical incandescent bulbs. For detailed computer work, get a task light. And any lamps with shades should have opaque or light-colored shades Better than light bulbs is the sun. Light from the sun is free, so take advantage of it. Orient your desk to allow bright, but indirect light during your work day. Or look for a desk on wheels that you can turn as the light moves across your office throughout the day.

EV Sales Up In 2014, But Electric Cars Face Two Major Challenges

electric vehicleIt’s heartening news for the green crowd: Sales of electric vehicles were up another 23% in 2014, selling almost 120,000 units. The Nissan Leaf led the pack, followed by the Chevy Volt, the Tesla model S, the Toyota Prius PHV, and the Ford Fusion Energi. Plug-in electric vehicles ended the year with a 0.39% share of annual U.S. sales, which may sound piddling, but overall the trend is upward. However, before sales can significantly increase, EVs have to overcome a couple of serious obstacles.

Although sales in 2014 increased over the prior year, they did not continue the incredible trajectory represented by the 85% jump between 2012 and 2013 sales, which was spurred on in part by high gas prices. In 2014, gas prices began to plummet, and although sales of EVs haven’t declined, the lower prices could prove to be a major stumbling block. It has already affected hybrid models, whose market share dropped to 2.2% in December, the lowest since October of 2011. Electric models were at .5% in December–well in the throes of the oil-price slump–which was higher than their average annual share.

What makes cheap gas attractive isn’t necessarily inertia or an anti-green sentiment on the part of potential buyers: it’s the difference in the price of the cars themselves. Because batteries are extremely expensive, electric models, like hybrids, are priced significantly higher than their run-of-the-mill, gas-guzzling cousins.

Traditionally, there have been two main selling points for these cars: The environmentally friendly, helping-the-planet factor, which is a good feeling but rather intangible financially; and the money-saving angle: Spend a little more money on the green model, the thinking goes, and you can laugh all the way past the pump, where the poor slobs fill up their tanks yet again at usurious prices while you charge up your EV in the comfort of your own garage, for pennies. However, the extra several thousand dollars on the sticker becomes harder to justify when gas prices are so cheap that making back your investment might take a couple of decades, which is a bit past a typical car’s average lifespan. There are gas models out there now that get high mileage already, so it’s even harder to justify the extra expense.

The other major hurdle is infrastructure. While there are 125,000 gas stations in the United States, there are only 151 Tesla Superchargers. EV buyers are understandably bothered by “range anxiety”, the fear that they may get stuck somewhere if they run out of battery power. There are some very useful websites and apps like Plugshare, which maps the closest plug-in stations, including private chargers that can be shared by members, public chargers, and even superchargers. In some areas, this can still be a concern, though: According to Plugshare.com, the city of Greensboro, North Carolina, for example, with a population of 277,000, has only four public charging stations. One is at the airport, and the other three are at car dealerships. How confident would you feel driving your Prius into the BMW or Nissan dealership for a charge?

Fortunately, strides are constantly being made to improve infrastructure and battery technology, as well. Tesla, one manufacturer who has enjoyed a consistent sales boom (its high-end models are purchased by people who are less concerned about price and can afford to go for a vehicle based solely on its environmental friendliness, or simply for the fact the Tesla makes snazzy, high-performance cars that are fun to drive), is building its Gigafactory plant in Nevada to improve battery efficiency and to reduce production costs. And engineers continue to pursue the ultracapacitor, a lightweight power storage and discharge unit that would alleviate the need for a cumbersome, expensive battery. The technology is out there, and it’s coming soon. And with no guarantee that gas prices will continue to fall, especially since oil rigs are liberally shutting down, reducing supply to get more balanced with demand, electric vehicles are still a good bet for the future.

3 Ways To Take Control Of Your Home’s Biggest Energy And Water Guzzlers

electricity conservationFifty-eight percent of the energy the U.S. generates is wasted, according to the Energy Collective. The U.S. Energy Administration reports that energy use by the residential sector has increased dramatically over the past 60 years. Where are you losing energy? Learn about three home energy guzzlers and how to take back control of your energy consumption.

Washers and Water Efficiency

The average American home washes 400 loads of laundry each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many of these households are not using green, energy-efficient options that can save money and energy. The average washer uses 41 gallons of water per load and is the second-largest water user inside of the home. New high-efficiency models use up to 50 percent less water and energy than older washers per load. The EPA states that if all U.S. households were to install water-efficient washers, the U.S. would save upwards of 3 trillion gallons of water a year which could lead to savings of $18 billion dollars annually. Energy Star-labeled appliances are proven to reduce both water and energy use. And, washing machines that have cycle and load setting prove to be more water and energy-efficient than models without the adjustments. So, if your laundry room is a source of water waste, consider upgrading your outdated appliances.

Additionally, washing your clothes in cold water instead of warm or hot water saves energy, too. The Department of Energy recommends washing your clothes in cool water whenever you can. They also suggest switching hot water temperatures to warm or cold settings. Simply switching the setting from hot to warm can cut your energy use in half.

Your Smartphone Uses More Energy Than the Fridge

Believe it or not, your cellphone uses more energy than an Energy Star-rated refrigerator. That’s according to a recent report by the Digital Power Group. The 2013 report states that an average iPhone uses more energy for battery charging, wireless connectivity and data use than a medium-sized Energy Star fridge.

You can easily reduce your energy use at home by unplugging your chargers and other electronics when they are not in use. According to the Department of Energy, five to 10 percent of your home’s energy consumption comes from electronic devices that use standby power.

Enhance your Pools Efficiency

The Consortium for Energy Efficiency reports that standard pool pumps contribute to 70 percent of a pool’s energy use. In some cases, pool pumps will run unmonitored for 24 hours or more, when it only takes six hours of run time to effectively clean the pool, according to Green Building Advisor. The Department of Energy suggests reducing energy use by installing a solar pool heater. The system will include a solar collector, filter, pump and a flow control valve. The Department of Energy states that a solar pool heating system will cost between $3,000 and $4,000, but homeowners will quickly recoup their investments–although cost and payback will depend on your location. Homeowners can even earn a $1,400 tax credit by installing a solar heating system, according to NC Solar.

Solar heated pools require special products to keep them running efficiently. Online retailers like PoolCenter.com will ship your liquid solar heating products directly to your doorstep. Pro Series Liquid Cover, for example, helps to conserve hundreds of gallons of water by decreasing the evaporation of your pool water. The solution is 100 percent harmless and invisible. The liquid cover creates a barrier on the surface even when the pool is in use. The solution also helps to conserve the heat, so you’ll potentially save on energy costs related to heating your pool.

Georgetown To Be First City In Texas To Go To 100% Renewable Energy

green electricityGeorgetown, Texas plans to be the first city in the State to go completely green, with an aim toward getting 100% of its energy from renewable sources, namely solar and wind power. Through a 25-year deal with SunEdison, the city of Georgetown will purchase 150 MW of energy, beginning in 2016. This power will be provided by solar farms that SunEdison, the world’s largest renewable energy company, plan to construct in West Texas. Georgetown also contracted EDF Renewables to provide 144 MW of wind energy from the Spinning Spur 3 wind farm, under construction outside Amarillo. That deal, inked last year, will run through 2039.

Texas has an already-burgeoning wind power industry and has the potential to be a national, if not global, leader in solar power, as well, considering its size and solar exposure. Solar power hasn’t had an easy time getting a foothold without much support and financial incentives in a state more known for oil than practically any other commodity. But now that costs have decreased dramatically for solar power production, the winning factor that made the decision easy for Georgetown turned out to be not so much environmental ideals as price.

Yes, that’s right–the renewable option was also the most economically feasible one. There’s a bit of a “gold rush” on currently to develop the West Texas area for solar and wind power, and municipalities may start to reap the benefits soon, as costs drop lower and lower. Georgetown isn’t waiting, and it plans to join other such forward-thinking cities as Burlington, Vermont, already in the 100% club. Not all Texas cities have their own utilities, as Georgetown does. In most areas, consumers buy power directly from retailers, some of whom do offer power provided by 100% renewable energy. (See “Organic Power Promo” by Bounce Energy and this 100% Wind Energy plan by Green Mountain Energy)  As solar and wind power continue to become more affordable, correspondingly lower utility rates are likely to increase consumers’ preference for renewables, possibly to a tipping point that will make fossil fuels look like a last resort.

Another benefit of investment in renewables for Texas is that solar and wind power do not require the use of water, as the production of power from fossil fuels does. This is a legitimate concern for an area that can suffer from crippling drought. A switch to clean energy can provide a one-two punch in this area, though; not only does it reduce water consumption on an immediate basis, the reduction in greenhouse gases caused by large-scale adoption of renewables could possibly help mitigate the drought-producing effects of climate change, over the long term.

The combination of wind and solar are anticipated to be particularly successful because they are complementary to one another. The blazing afternoon Texas sun traditionally puts peak demand on the grid, but the use of solar power allows that very sun to provide the supply, as well. Wind, on the other hand, tends to occur at times that the sun doesn’t, so energy from wind power can supplement solar energy conveniently. And unlike fossil fuels, whose price and availability can’t be predicted over any kind of long term, the sun and wind are locally produced, so to speak, and as reliable as anything ever gets. The fact that these energy sources are also non-polluting and water-saving, as well as being cheap and reliable, is just icing on the cake.

 

Tesla Introduces Whole-Home Batteries

Tesla batteriesIt’s easy to imagine your clock, cell phone, or cordless screwdriver running on a battery, but how about your whole house? Elon Musk’s innovative company Tesla Motors, maker of the popular line of electric vehicles, announced recently, that it will begin production on such a whole-home battery within the next six months.

Imagine being able to store power, such as the energy gathered by a rooftop solar system or a wind turbine, and store it until needed–or even sell it back to the grid, via reverse metering. No more worries about ever-mounting utility costs or power loss due to inclement weather; the feeling of independence and the comfort of acting responsibly about the environment would be enjoyable, as well. These batteries might make that dream of freedom a reality.

Tesla’s plan is ambitious and optimistic, but what challenges might the company face in actually bringing these batteries to market? Well, the obvious one is price–batteries are extremely expensive, as anyone who has fretted over the cost of even a pack of AAs knows. And batteries that could power an entire house would not only be expensive, they would be very large and heavy (a sizable part of the weight of an electric vehicle is simply from its battery).

Because of their size and expense, these home batteries are not something that you would want to replace on a regular basis, so they would need to be reliable enough to last for years, charging and discharging on a regular basis. Even power companies–who could use large batteries to store excess energy produced during less-demanding hours in order to bolster supply during peak times–are only deploying them in a limited and somewhat experimental way, so far.

If even utilities are a bit leery of adopting batteries on a grand scale, how readily could they become staples in a residential neighborhood? Tesla understands it might be slow going for a while, but the company is determined to keep pushing inexorably toward a greener future.

Besides being Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk also chairs the board of Solar City, a company that provides solar power systems for homes and businesses. He can see that more and more homeowners are adopting solar systems, especially as the price has steadily dropped over the past few years. Batteries that store the solar-produced power and discharge it when needed make perfect sense with this type of system, since the sun doesn’t shine all the time. The inevitable growth in demand for the batteries should lower costs, just as it has done with the systems themselves. Whereas before, most of us suburbanites could only dream of powering our homes with sunshine, it’s becoming more and more within our grasp.

Another way Tesla plans to reduce cost to individual consumers is by mass production. Tesla’s “Gigafactory”, currently under construction near Reno, Nevada, will be the world’s largest battery factory, enabling Tesla to help alleviate cost concerns by having the ability to produce the batteries in large quantities. As for any concerns as to reliability, Tesla’s years of deploying the lithium-ion technology in its car batteries has provided a good track record.

Many other companies are poised on the brink of jumping into the storage-battery game and will be watching Tesla’s every innovative move. Even if not all the power is yet produced by clean sources, the use of batteries will still help curb the overproduction of power by the non-clean ones, and that’s a win by any reckoning.

See Also: Oncor Proposes Battery Storage for Texas Electricity Grid

 

 

Reduce Your Energy Bill By Keeping In The Heat

lower electric billsHeating and cooling account for 48 percent of the energy use in the average U.S. home and is the largest energy expense, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports an average cost of $679 to heat homes with natural gas, $909 for electrical heat and $2,046 for those using heating oil. Regardless of what method you use, heating a home is an expensive endeavor. However, there are quick ways to trim your bills with some simple fixes around your home.

Rearrange Your Furniture

Your perfectly staged home may be the culprit for wasted heat. Move furniture and shelving away from radiators and vents to allow the heat to move freely. This doesn’t just apply for couches and chairs, either. Don’t forget about the bedrooms where large dressers and beds can block much needed heat. This technique takes minutes and costs nothing to accomplish.

Close the Gaps

Close the damper in your chimney when not in use and look for gaps in the mortar of the brick or stone on the outside of your house. Call in a chimney sweep to address any lingering soot in the stack that may be holding in moisture and damp air. Check for gaps around your front door, and add caulk or a door sweep to keep cold air from getting in and precious heat out.

Seal Windows

Old and new windows can be heat wasters in most homes. First, seal any open spaces between your windowpane and the frames with caulk. Next, use dead air as an insulator inside your windows. All you need to do is install a clear plastic film with double-sided tape over the inside of your windows. Grab a hair dryer and heat up the plastic to make it shrink down and look less noticeable, suggests This Old House.

Use Thick Curtains

Trade in your thin curtains for something thicker to work as another layer of insulation. In a pinch, adding a shower lining beneath a set of heavy drapes can help keep the heat in your home. For more window dressing options, pick up insulating blinds or shades to serve the purpose of double-pane windows or inserts.

Close Off Unused Rooms

Don’t waste your money heating up a barely used guest room. Draw the curtains, close off the vents or radiator and add a rolled-up blanket or door sweep to keep the cold air isolated to that room. Then, when it’s ready to be used, open it up for a few to let the air flow again. This way, you won’t be spending money heating rooms you don’t use.

Add Rugs

Hardwood floors can give your home a charming, cozy look, but they also can account for up to 10 percent of heat loss if they’re not insulated, according to the National Energy Foundation (NEF). To help with this problem, cover bare floors with rugs or carpets to help hold in the heat and add some warmth to your home. Also, consider slipping on some heavy socks, slippers or boots to help warm up your feet so that you don’t need as much external heat.

Change Your Furnace Filters

Dirty furnace filters could be making your home work harder to stay heated. Change your filters monthly or whenever they look dirty to clear out any potential heating blocks. This will help your energy bills and also extend the life of your furnace by allowing it to run efficiently.

Texas Electricity Capacity Adequate For Spring And Summer Of 2015

ERCOTThe Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is forecasting that the state will have adequate electric capacity to meet demand for the upcoming spring and summer seasons.  This comes as good news after recent worries about the state’s electricity capacity that have trouble the Texas grid the past few years.  The, now optimistic, outlook has been brought about by both an increase in power generation within the state as well as improved forecasting methods that generally paint a more optimistic picture of future demand for power in Texas.

ERCOT’s Seasonal Assessment of Resources Adequacy (SARA) predicts a peak demand of around 62,000 MW this spring against and expected system capacity of over 76,600 MW.  This puts the reserve margin at over 19%.  Forecasts for the summer are a bit tighter but still within a comfortable range.   ERCOT is expecting a peak summer demand of around 69,000 MW with and estimated capacity of around 77,000 MW.

While the forecast is based on average weather conditions over the previous 12 years and a typical amount of capacity loss due to outages, the forecast means that the grid should even stand up to extreme conditions such as the 2011 drought.  In a repeat of such a scenario, the grid would still have around 500 MW of reserve power according to the forecast.

ERCOT is the organization responsible for maintaining the reliability of the Texas electricity market.  The Texas grid is independent from the other main grids that provide electricity to the continental United States.  Texas is also the largest deregulated electricity marketplace. Competition among electric providers in Texas helps keep electricity rates lower.

 

Fake Checks Are Being Sent To Unsuspecting Victims

scam-alertPeople from across the country have been receiving surprise packages with suspicious looking checks inside.  Usually, the checks are for the amount of $2,570 and are made out to the person that lives at the address where the check was sent to.  In every case, the checks are signed by a computer-generated signature.  The signature is unreadable, but the initials look to be B.B.

In all cases, the checks were sent 2-Day Priority Mail via the US Postal Service.  The return sender information shows the letter as coming from Robert Hill of the North Texas city of Plano, Texas, yet all of the tracking codes appear to originate in Poth, Texas — a town located in South Texas with a population of just 2,300.

If you receive such a check, please do not attempt to cash it.  Feel free to reach out to us for more information.

 

Seal Your Home To Save Money On Your Energy Bill

home energy billsCold winter weather and hot summer sunshine mean high heating and cooling bills. New homeowners may be especially surprised at the utility bills as they experience the seasons for the first time in their new home. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to conserve and manage your home energy costs.

Is There Enough Insulation?

Proper insulation is crucial. If you didn’t join the home inspector in the attic before you bought your house, put it at the top of your list and get up there. Inspect the insulation, noting bare spots and any uneven levels of insulation materials. If you can, identify what type of insulation it is, then use the U.S. Department of Energy insulation checker to determine if it’s adequate for the area you live in. ENERGY STAR offers a free guide to sealing and insulating to help homeowners understand insulation R-values (thermal resistance ratings) and how to evaluate the effectiveness of the existing insulation. Generally, the higher the R-value, the better the insulating effects. If you find your insulation isn’t adequate, add more to prevent heat loss during the winter and to keep cooled air in during the summer.

Check for Leaks and Air Seal Your Home

Gaps and cracks in windows, doors, roofs and vents cost you money. ENERGY STAR recommends weather stripping and caulking around doors and windows when you have drafts, uneven temperatures between rooms or cold floors in the basement in winter. Check for leaks and seal around windows and door frames and trim, as well as ductwork, electrical outlets, fireplaces, crawlspaces, basements, and vents in the clothes dryers, bathroom and oven hood. If you want to take it a step further, a blower door test will pinpoint all the leaks in your home. You can rent blower door equipment to do the testing yourself or hire a professional home energy auditor.

Other leaks to check for to save money on energy costs are appliances like refrigerators, freezers and dishwashers. Older appliances with loose doors and worn gaskets work harder and leak conditioned air, costing more money to run. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recommends checking door seals by putting a dollar bill in the door as you close it to see if it stays in place, or placing a lighted flashlight inside a fridge pointed at the door seal in a darkened room; if you can see light shining through, you’ve got a worn gasket. Replace worn gaskets with custom-made silicone housing seals to extend the useful life of older appliances while reducing energy costs.

Use the Vents in Your House

If you’ve weather proofed and air sealed your home and checked that the insulation is adequate, you can use the vents in your house to control your energy use even more. Close the vents in unused or little-used rooms and close the room up. You won’t be sending heat or cooled air to that space or paying to do so. Family Handyman cautions homeowners to consult an HVAC professional before closing off vents this way, especially if they have a high-efficiency system, because if the return air duct isn’t also properly sealed, it can cause problems like an overworked furnace or forced air through leaks into wasted areas like crawlspaces and basements.