With summer on the way, it’s time to take steps to make sure your home will be comfortable without wasting energy—or overheating your wallet—as the temperature rises.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is working to make sure that the government’s energy efficiency standards developed or updated over the past year for many types of products that help keep you cool, including ceiling fans and portable air conditioners, take effect on schedule. Updating national efficiency standards on a regular basis means that when it’s time to purchase new cooling equipment, you can be assured it meets at least minimum energy-saving performance criteria while saving money and energy.
But in the meantime, here are some tips to keep your cool in the warmer months:
Don’t let that cool air—and your hard-earned dollars—sneak out the window! Windows, doors, and other parts of your home’s envelope are often leaky (see the graphic below for more examples), and many buildings don’t have enough insulation in their walls or attic. Sign up with your utility or a local contractor for a home energy audit, which will give you an idea of exactly where you’re wasting the most energy. Then seal the leaks, install weather-stripping, and add more insulation to make sure you get to enjoy your home in comfort while lowering your energy bills.
If you’re in the market for a new air conditioner, make sure you choose a product with the ENERGY STAR label. ENERGY STAR room air conditioners use around 15 percent less energy than conventional models while central air conditioners use about 8 percent less– which keeps more cold cash in your pocket. And ENERGY STAR ceiling fan/lighting combinations are a whopping 60 percent more efficient than conventional fan/light units thanks to improved motors, blade designs, and lighting. Even better, choose a product recognized as ENERGY STAR Most Efficient, which signifies you are choosing the top energy-saving products on the market that use the least amount of energy.
Staying comfortable when it’s hot outside is more about how the air feels on your skin than the actual temperature. A ceiling fan can help a room feel up to 10 degrees cooler and uses just 10 percent of the energy of a central air conditioner, so you save money when you don’t have to set your thermostat as low to keep your cool. Make sure your fan is set in the forward (counterclockwise) direction so that it will pull up the cooler air from the ground and blow it back down onto you, creating a breeze to keep you comfortable. (And bonus: you can switch the direction of a ceiling fan to clockwise in the winter to clockwise, which will circulate warm air in the room.) Just remember to turn the fan off when you leave the room as a fan doesn’t do any good if there’s nobody in the room to enjoy that breeze.
One of the simplest ways to help beat the heat is to keep your curtains and blinds closed during the day when the sun is at its hottest. If your windows are older or your home gets a lot of sun, the heat gain through the windows can greatly contribute to the indoor temperature. Closing curtains and blinds will help keep the room cooler and your energy bills lower. It’s not rocket science, but it works.
Using a programmable thermostat is a great way to make sure your home stays cool while you’re there to enjoy it, but that your air conditioner isn’t working overtime when you’re away. If you have a fairly regular schedule, it’s easy to set your thermostat for your home to be warmer when you’re not there, but have it kick on so that it’s cool and comfortable by the time you walk in the door. And if you use a ceiling fan, you may be able to set your thermostat a few degrees higher without the room feeling warmer, which saves even more. Check out the ENERGY STAR website here for tips on how to properly set your thermostat to make the most of it. A programmable thermostat is beneficial to your winter cooling bills too: when used properly, the right thermostat settings can save you up to about $180 in annual energy costs.
There’s a common misconception that having your air conditioner run all day to keep your home at a constant temperature will use less energy than setting your air conditioner to a warmer temperature during the day. Let’s put that myth to rest! The cheapest way to use your air conditioner is to turn the thermostat up for when you’re not home.
Curious about why this is the case? The answer is physics, specifically the second law of thermodynamics. Simply put, it means that heat always flows from a hotter environment to a cooler environment until it reaches a state of equilibrium. This is true for your home, too. The larger the temperature difference between your home and outside, the more heat flow there will be. If your thermostat is set to 65 all day and it’s 85 degrees outside, more warm air wants to flow into your home, which means your air conditioner has to work hard throughout the day to replenish the cool air. But if you set your thermostat higher, say at 81 degrees on that 85-degree day, as your house warms there will be less heat flow from the outside to the inside because your house is closer to that state of equilibrium. It is true that your air conditioner will need to kick on and run for a little longer to cool your home before return. But air conditioning systems operate most efficiently at full speed for a longer period of time, rather than cycling on and off to keep your house cool while you’re away. This also underscores the importance of having a well-sealed and insulated home to keep the cool air in and the warm air out.
While Halloween may still be six months away, you likely have some “vampires” lurking around your home today – and they’re taking a bite out of your wallet.
With many of our consumer electronics products plugged into electrical sockets — an average of 40 items per household connected at any one time – they’re constantly “sucking” electricity, even when not in use. In fact, some of these products can still consume as much as 25% of its full power even when switched off.
Along with large appliances, which are the main culprits, other common “electricity vampires” include televisions, cable/satellite boxes, DVD and Blu-ray Disc players, game consoles, printers, phone chargers and desktop computers.
But there are several ways to help fight back against “vampire power” — also referred to as “standby power” or “phantom power” – plus there are other ways technology can help you save money in your home.
Timed power cut-offs
On a related note, curb idle time on your gadgets, such as having your laptop or game console go into sleep mode after a short period.
Special switches and power strips can also cut off electricity, on demand, or via a timer. Tricklestar, for example, has a line of Conserve-branded switches that completely shuts off power to what’s plugged into it — either with the flip of a switch or after a predetermined amount of time . Conserve power strips can also cut off any residual power to the device after a specific time or with a wireless remote switch. Supporting up to eight devices, these power strips include outlets you want powered all the time — such as a Digital Video Recorder (DVR), so it can still archive your favorite shows – while shutting off other outlets, like a TV, audio-video receiver, game console, and so on.
Ensure you’re purchasing consumer electronics branded with the Energy Star logo as they’ve been tested and verified to be more energy efficient. You should see that familiar sticker on the box and product itself. When in doubt, ask a salesperson or write to the manufacturer on their website. Around since 1992, Energy Star-certified products will be Eco-friendlier than those that did not earn the seal of approval. More info is at energy star.gov, including a list of its 2017 award winners for products with superior energy efficiency.
Replacing your incandescent or florescent bulbs with LED lights can greater reduce the amount of power your home consumes, as they sip rather than gulp electricity. A 60-watt equivalent, for example, might only be only 6.5 to 10 watts for comparable lumens with an LED light — not to mention they can last considerably longer, which saves you even more money.
You’re not alone if you’re concerned about water damage and the havoc it can wreak – especially if you knew the national average cost to repair water damage is now $2,175 (HomeAdvisor.com). Have some peace of mind with a simple solution like the D-Link mydlink Wi-Fi Water Sensor. This small white doohickey plugs into an open power outlet — such as one in a basement, under a window or near an old water heater — and immediately notifies you if a leak is detected with a notification sent to your smartphone. There are no monthly monitoring costs as it joins on your existing Wi-Fi connection. Since you don’t need to be physically there, this water sensor is also ideal for summer homes and rental properties
All hail the humble power strip. It’s building a fan club among sustainability proponents, most notably in government
In an effort to reduce the nation’s power consumption, the Department of Energy and its partners aim to convince as many agencies and businesses as possible to use advanced power strips (APSs) in their facilities. These devices prevent electronics from drawing power when they’re off or not in use, either by detecting the power load, sensing the absence of workers in a room or simply shutting down power at a predetermined time.
DOE maintains that commercial plug and process loads — for instance, from computers, printers and fax machines — account for about one-fifth of all commercial-building energy use annually. (“Plug load” describes the energy drawn from electrical products via standard AC outlets, as opposed to the energy drawn from building systems, such as HVAC and lighting.)
Office equipment alone consumes about 7 percent of all commercial electric energy, according to DOE. Therefore, by using advanced power strips, DOE says the nation can significantly reduce its overall energy consumption.
Michael Sheppy, a mechanical engineer at the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and coordinator of a new APS awareness campaign, says that a study two years ago by the General Services Administration (GSA) found that use of APS devices with timer controls resulted in energy savings of 48 percent in printer rooms and 26 percent at workstations. The campaign, which launches this summer, is designed to alert the public to mature, commercially available (though underutilized) APS solutions, and to help building owners, operators and tenants understand and deploy APS products to save energy.
“There are an abundance of advanced power strips on the market, but consumers lack information on how to pick the one that will save them the most energy in their particular building, install them correctly to maximize savings and calculate the return on their investment,” Sheppy says.
NREL uses APS devices in its Research Support Facility, a “net-zero” building — one whose energy use is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created onsite — that houses NREL’s main data center. It also uses the devices in its Energy Systems Integration Facility, where it performs high-performance computing research and studies energy efficiency.
Shawn McCarthy, research director at IDC Government Insights, says that people don’t always realize the amount of electricity consumed through plug loads, pointing out that even a personal computer or monitor in sleep mode can drain energy.
“Power management with advanced power strips is a smart move for many government agencies,” McCarthy says. “It’s especially useful when those strips have a timed component that can be set to turn off the strips for nights and weekends. While it may not be possible to power down all systems, there are many systems that can be shut down with no ill effects.”
The Defense Department plans to participate in the APS campaign. Amy Hanada, energy engineer, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Hawaii, says that results of the base’s own pilot of 100 APS devices two years ago far exceeded expectations.
Hanada, who serves as installation energy manager, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH), says the command’s initial goal was to reduce plug load consumption in one of the base’s buildings by at least 20 percent, and to cut the building’s total load by 5 percent. But the demonstration saved about 28 percent in plug loads and 8 percent in total consumption. Early this year, JBPHH deployed about 3,000 additional APS devices in 18 different buildings.
25% The percentage of the overall electric load in an office building that can be attributed to plug loads
SOURCE: “Reducing Office Plug Loads through Simple and Inexpensive Advanced Power Strips” (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, January 2014)
“Because of the amazing savings, the Navy at JBPHH worked with NREL to get more APS units installed throughout the base,” Hanada explains. NAVFAC and NREL also published a joint report of their findings, “Reducing Plug Loads in Office Spaces: Hawaii and Guam Energy Improvement Technology Demonstration Project,” in January.
Officials at the base are excited about the results because electric power can cost more than 25 cents per kilowatt-hour in Hawaii. Prices on the mainland vary, but typically are not nearly as high. Wyoming has the lowest power rates, at 6.08 cents per kWh, according to the Institute for Energy Research.
Over the past several months, armed with data from its own pilot, GSA rolled out 16,000 APS devices to 80 locations across nine regional offices nationwide. The users represent a mix of GSA offices and federal tenants, including the Environmental Protection Agency; Federal Communications Commission; Internal Revenue Service; and the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security.
“Basically, it’s a matter of swapping out the old surge suppressors at workstations, printer rooms and other common areas for APS units,” says Kevin Powell, national program manager of GSA’s Green Proving Ground. After breaking even on the program in less than two years, GSA expects to save $200,000 annually on its electric bill across all 80 locations.
Powell says that when GSA evaluated APS devices, it saw the best energy savings from simple, timer-based power supplies. It developed technical specifications for energy savings and ease-of-use and purchased timer-controlled devices that met its requirements.
With timer-based APS devices, when employees come to work at 8 a.m., for example, they turn on the timers and all their equipment runs for 11 hours. In a standard, timer-based APS setup, attached devices may include cellphone and notebook chargers (most of the pilot agencies used notebooks), computer monitors, speakers and other miscellaneous items.
“We set the timer for 11 hours because, realistically, the vast majority of people don’t work longer than that on any given day,” Powell explains.
The idea, says NREL’s Sheppy, is to encourage organizations to deploy advanced power strips that make saving energy as simple as possible.
“If it’s not easy to use, people won’t do it,” he says. “When people see how easy it is and how using an APS doesn’t interrupt their normal routine, they are pleasantly surprised.”
Reason #1: Without fresh water you will die in just a few days. Plain and simple, no sugar coating, it is a simple morbid fact that helps drive the point across, water equals life. Most of us learn this along the way, so why are you complacent when you see fertilizers, oil and other pollutants pour into rivers and streams each time it rains? Would you eat a fish with some weed killer marinade, or drink water with a nice motor oil sheen on top?
Reason #2: Using less water keeps money in your pocket. By utilizing basic water conservation techniques you are able to save thousands of gallons of water each year. You do the math, use less water and the water company charges you less money. That sounds like a good deal all around.
Reason #3: Protecting our natural eco-systems from further damage is critical, especially for the survival of some endangered species. The oceans, streams and lakes that are the lifeblood of so many local eco-systems are used as dumping grounds, hurting everything that relies on these water sources.
Reason #4: Conserving water can also save energy. In order to pump the water from a central facility into your home or office, energy is required to run that equipment. For example, studies have shown that in California alone, 6.5 percent of all energy consumed goes towards moving water from one place to another. So saving water means using less energy which reduces your carbon footprint and helps the country become more energy independent.
Reason #5: For our friends in Florida and other areas prone to sinkholes, water conservation can actually reduce the occurrence of sinkholes. When the natural aquifers run low, it leaves a gap where water once was. Simple gravity pushes the ground downward since there is now a void and voila, you have a sinkhole.
Using simple water conservation techniques can help cut your water usage by more than half. If you commit just a little extra effort each day you alone can make a difference. Whether you try your hand at Xeriscaping or just use a low flow shower head you can see reduced water bills within the first month. Do the planet and our future generations a favor, conserve water and stay thirsty for more savings every day.
This weekend, thousands of people will descend upon Houston to watch the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons duke it out at the Super Bowl. But the game won’t be the only thing on display.
In 2014, Houston’s NRG Stadium became one of the first major sports venues to use LED energy-efficient lights. The system uses 60 percent less power than the previous lighting array, translating to significant energy savings. What if Texas took a page from NRG’s book to lead the country in saving energy?
Texas recently kicked off its 85th Legislative Session. Now is the time for state leaders to seize on energy efficiency as a win-win-win path, creating local jobs while helping Texans save money and water, and reducing electricity waste and pollution.