Summer! It’s finally here—and so is a barrage of graduations, first communions, weddings, BBQs and family reunions. If you’re on the hook to host, then you know: after shelling out big time for a bouncy castle, live band, open bar and pony rides, the last thing you’ll need is a huge energy bill the following month. So check out these tips and hopefully the only thing ‘electric’ on your mind will be your killer moves to The Electric Slide.
Rent a Tent
Hot, sunny outdoor spaces might feel nice for a few minutes, but eventually folks will be searching for a place to cool down. Rent a tent from a local company or borrow a few folding canopies from friends and neighbors. You’ll save energy and precious cool indoor air by cutting down on the in-and-out churn of guests through your door. Bonus: hang solar powered lanterns or rope lights for an easy day-to-night transitional space.
Cool Kiddy Pool
For kids and kids at heart, a few strategically located kiddy pools can act as a mini oasis on a hot summer day. Set one designated for splashing—and maybe even a sprinkler or two—in a corner for kids. Set an adult only pool with chairs around it, so your mom’s gaggle of second cousins can roll up their pant legs and soak their toes while they chat.
Break Out the Cooler
Keep beverages in a cooler on ice in a shady spot outdoors. You’ll save major energy by minimizing foot traffic through the house and reducing the number of times you or your guests need to open up the fridge. Bonus: dump cold cooler water over the top of a select guest of honor, creating fond memories for years to come.
Give the Real Goodies
Sending people home with a party favor after your event? Consider treats that save energy or encourage people to go enjoy the great outdoors. Seed Bombs are a beautiful way to encourage everyone to turn off the TV and get outside.
Do you have a trick for saving energy while hosting guests? No matter if the party is large or small, share your ideas in the comments!
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The week of April 30, we asked you what you thought was the most power hungry device found in homes. The race was behind a dishwasher, toaster, coffee maker or plasma TV. The right answer, which 22% percent of you selected, was none of the above.
The fact is you don’t need to follow a political campaign or tune in to the wheeling and dealing on the latest reality TV show to get an up-close glimpse of the power hungry. The true reality is that they live and breathe (and heat and cool) among us. They are, in fact, some of the most trusted and relied upon appliances in our home. Take a look at these five biggest home energy eaters and see how a little conservation can go a long way to savings.
No. 5 – Refrigerators: the irony that the appliances we rely on to curb our hunger are also the hungriest in our kitchens is not lost. Despite the efficiencies technology has provided, a refrigerator is still one of the biggest energy draws in a home. There are two things to remember: one, listen to your mom and shut the door; and two, refrigerators don’t have to work as hard when they’re full because there’s less air to cool.
No. 4 – Dehumidifier/Air purifier: clean, dry air is pretty important, yes. But a dehumidifier uses twice as much energy as a 27-inch TV and an air purifier uses 60 percent more energy than a refrigerator. If your climate or a physical condition requires their use, be sure to monitor that use to ensure they are not operating at times when windows or doors are open.
No. 3 – Water heater: washing clothes in cold water and limiting showers to a couple of minutes can help dramatically reduce run times. An electric water heater might run for as long as an hour filling its tank during these typical everyday tasks. You can also turn down the thermostat on your water heater – if your water is too hot to touch when turned all the way to hot, then you are overheating your water and wasting energy.
No. 2 – Air conditioning units: it’s hard to believe that there was once a time when air conditioners weren’t a part of every home, but it’s also hard to believe that people used to walk to school uphill each way (and in all that snow!). To stay comfortable and save money, make sure you’re using a programmable thermostat and setting the temperature a few degrees higher when you’re not at home.
No. 1 – Heating system: another critical appliance, yes. But the cold of winter likely requires the most energy for homes warmed with electric heat. It is not unusual for a heat pump to run 12 hours a day on the coldest of days, with a typical consumption of about 15,000 watts. This can add up to several hundred dollars each month, more than enough to buy some nice sweaters that will allow you to program your thermostat a couple degrees lower. Do it when no one is looking; they probably won’t even know.
And bigger doesn’t always mean the most gluttonous. Always be vigilant for ways to drive a stake through the heart of your energy vampires, the small “always on” devices or chargers that continually draw power, even when the devices they power are not connected. Officials with the Electric Power Research Institute estimate that the average home 30 years ago had three “always on” devices. Today? Try 30. Here are some places to look to help keep energy costs down:
Digital picture frames – EPRI estimates that, if every American home had a digital picture frame running around the clock, it would require five power plants to keep them running.
Un-used chargers – it’s certainly more convenient to keep cell phone and laptop chargers plugged in, but these still draw energy. Pull the plug until you’re ready to charge, or make it easier on yourself and connect these devices – and others, like printers and CPU speakers – to a power strip that can be turned off when you’re away.
Share how you’re taming the power hungry devices in your house in the comment section below.
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The kitchen—the heart of the home! If you enjoy saving money as much as a home cooked meal, check out these super easy tricks that you can do right now with no equipment and no hassle.
- Here’s a reason to rummage through the bottom cabinet to hunt down that stubborn lid: water boils faster if the pot is covered.
- Unless you’re making an epic pot of chili for 18 people, your meal will cook just fine with the smaller sized heating element on your cook top.
- Turn the cook top or oven off just before the meal is done. You already paid for that residual heat—use it!
- Reheat leftovers in the microwave instead of the oven.
- Speaking of leftovers: plan for them. Double your recipe and freeze half for a stress free, energy saving meal later on.
- Think small, save big: slow cookers, pressure cookers and small electric griddles use less energy than larger, full sized appliances without sacrificing flavor.
- Check the temperature setting on your fridge. Unless you’re chilling down a champion Jello mold, it was designed to work and keep food fresh on the lowest setting.
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SEER rating: sounds delicious, right?
Sadly, I’m not going to talk about the best ways to cook a steak today. But I hope the promise of saving energy and money will be almost as enticing.
SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, which is defined by the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute. Essentially, SEER ratings are a grade given to stand-alone air conditioning and heat pump equipment units to help consumers better understand a given appliance’s energy efficiency.
How do the fine folks who grade these things arrive at their final conclusion? SEER ratings are calculated by the “cooling output” (aka: how much cold or hot air can it blow) divided by the total amount of electric energy the unit uses in watt-hours. An easier way to think about a SEER rating is to compare it to the miles per gallon (MPG) rating on your car. In both cases, these ratings measure how much work a machine can get done with a set amount of energy. And just like a higher MPG rating is good for your wallet, so is a higher SEER rating.
As you’re probably all-too-familiar, as temperatures rise, so do our energy bills. Here are a few things to think about as we get ready for the summer months ahead:
- If you’re currently in the market for a new air conditioner or heat pump, pay attention to the SEER rating and ask questions about energy efficiency. You might spend less money over time with a unit that is more expensive but more efficient.
- Check to see if you qualify for Duke Energy’s Smart $aver® program, which offers cash rebates for qualifying high efficiency central air conditioners and heat pumps. You can learn more here.
- Schedule a yearly maintenance visit for your existing A/C before the cooling season gets underway with a local heating and air company. Your unit will operate more efficiently when it’s free of debris and in top working order.
- If you have exposed ductwork that is easy to access in a basement, crawlspace or attic, give it a quick visual inspection for major leaks, gaps or holes. You’ll want to avoid a situation like this.
- Change your air intake filters. All of that dirt and dust makes central heating and cooling systems work harder and waste energy.
Be good to your cooling and heating units and they’ll return the favor to you and your wallet. Now who’s ready for some steak?
Do you know the SEER rating on your air conditioner? Share it in the comments!
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If you’ve ever bought a new car at a dealership, chances are you paid close attention to two different numbers: the purchase price and the miles per gallon (MPG) rating. Since the MPG rating is tied to how often you’ll be stopping at the pump to fill up the tank, it’s easy to see why this number plays an important role in a purchase decision.
Just like cars, home appliances come with two price tags. But because an appliance will sit plugged into the wall, the second price—the average annual energy cost—isn’t always so obvious.
If you’re heading to the store to invest in equipment that can last 10, 15 or even 20 years, it’s a good idea to bring a notepad. Thanks to large yellow tags featured prominently on the front of each appliance, it’s easy to calculate and compare the lifetime operational costs of the units you’re considering buying. When I started to calculate the lifetime operational cost of a new washer and dryer, I realized that I was looking at a significant amount of money. Depending on your unit styles and family habits, appliances can account for 10% – 18% of your household’s energy consumption.
Appliances make our lives easier, safer and more convenient, but they also use a significant amount of energy and stick around for a pretty long time. Refrigerators last an average of 14 years, clothes washers last about 11 years and dishwashers typically last about 10 years. So if you’re lured towards a certain model on the showroom floor because it is $200 cheaper, double check that yellow tag. You might break even or actually save money over the long term by choosing a more expensive but more efficient appliance.
Efficient appliance shopping tips:
- Look for appliances that offer specific energy efficient design features. New “double” ovens partition the same amount of space you would find in a regular, standard oven into two drawers. So on pizza night, you’ll only need to heat one rack instead of the entire oven.
- When you do shop for a new appliance, look for the ENERGY STAR® label. ENERGY STAR products usually exceed minimum federal standards by a substantial amount.
- The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy provides information to consider when deciding on new appliances.
- Research your fuel choice. Some appliances come in gas, electric or combination versions. Certain fuel choices may be more or less efficient based on the type of appliance. (For example, electric ovens are more efficient than gas ovens, while gas cook tops are more efficient than electric cook tops. New hybrid ranges offer an electric oven/gas cook top combination for maximum efficiency!)
- Look for appliances with more sophisticated temperature settings and automatic shutoff features.
We want to hear from you: if you bought a new appliance lately, did the average annual energy cost factor in your decision?
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Even if the moving van drove away, say, five years ago—if you’ve built a new home in the last few years, there’s a good chance you can save more energy with a few quick upgrades. It’s true that most newer homes are more energy efficient than homes that are 30 or more years old, but many builders still pay closer attention to local and state building codes than energy efficiency when making construction choices. So whether you’re still picking out the details or have had a little while to settle in, check out these ideas to help you save energy, money and time for years to come.
Look for ENERGY STAR Appliances
If your friends are asking you about your new appliances, and all you can tell them is “OMG they’re stainless steel!,” it might be time to do some extra homework. Like lots of other goods, appliances can vary significantly in cost and efficiency. When you’re standing in the appliance store, saving $300 on a new refrigerator sounds like a good idea—but—it can cost over $300 a year to power the average fridge. Spending just a little bit more on a more efficient style can pay you back several times in energy savings.
Ah, a white picket fence and a tree in the yard. Sounds nice! While landscaping can be a matter of personal taste, there are a number of things you can do to help Mother Nature help you. Try planting a large, deciduous tree (like a Sugar Maple or Oak) to the south side of your home, where the sun shines hottest in the summer. When the tree loses its leaves, the sun can help warm your home during winter. Similar screening techniques are great for outdoor A/C units. The hotter your A/C gets, the harder it has to work. Tall, narrow trees or shrubs (like Pencil Holly) can block the sun’s rays and help keep your AC cooler. And if you live on a large, flat lot, planting a row of tall, narrow evergreens (like Leiland Cyprus) on the North side of your property can cut down on wind, which can steal precious heat or air conditioned air from your home all year round. If there are power lines nearby, be sure to check out this handy planting guide.
Decorating is a great way to show off your unique style, but it can also be a great way to save energy, too. The right window treatments can still look great while also helping to prevent heat loss or solar gain. Taking your local climate into account, consider where each window faces and the amount of sun, shade or wind the window is exposed to. For sunny windows, consider room darkening shades that block out the sun on hot summer days. For windows exposed to wind, pair a standard wood blind with heavier full length draperies that you can close in winter.
I’m assuming you’d also like to relax in your new home now that you have it, right? If you’d like to save a few minutes each month, sign up for paperless billing. And with auto draft options available, you can automate the entire process for a hassle free future!
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Thanksgiving morning, I get up at o’dark thirty to get the turkey in the oven and the casseroles assembled. Before Macy’s even THINKS about starting the parade, most of our dinner is prepped and ready to pop in the oven. My reward? Black Friday ads.
Yes, I am “one of those.” While I’m tackling the bird, I make the hubby run out and get me the ginormous paper. Then, I sit down with coffee and the ads, creating a master plan for my Black Friday adventure. I love to find steals and deals, and, yes, believe it or not, the camaraderie of shopping with others who enjoy this foray into the holiday shopping frenzy. (Which lasts until about 10am, at which time I grab my latte and head home!)
The shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are a plethora of discounts, freebies and sales. And, since several family members have agreed to a gift price limit and/or homemade gift exchange, I have a little bit of extra money to spend to support our efforts to keep our heating and electric bills down. So where will I focus my spending?
Heating the family. I have lowered the thermostat to 65 degrees during the day while we are gone and while we are in bed; 68 degrees is the day time setting for when we are home. So to help keep everyone warm and grumble-free, I will be looking for: flannel sheets and pajamas; slippers; extra throw blankets; and down comforters. And maybe some of those snuggle blanket things as gifts!
Fun without the cords. Like most families, we are typically plugged in; yes, the spouse and I have actually had a conversation via Facebook while in the same room. But I like for us to have family time together UNplugged as well. For indoor fun, this is a great time of year to find new board games, playing cards, books and crafts really cheap. And, for the 3 snow days Charlotte gets each winter, I will stock up on gloves, scarves and hats. I am also going to look for deals on telescopes and footballs to gift to unnamed family and friends!
Meal planning. No, I don’t mean surfing the web for 101 ways to use up leftover turkey. Small kitchen appliances are a huge loss leader for stores trying to get you in the doors. Slow cooker and toaster oven discounts abound! You can even find deals on microwave ovens. Rather than heating up the entire oven for a dinner for 3, I use my slow cooker a couple of times a week. To share this energy (and mom!) efficient cooking method, several folks on my shopping list might be getting slow cookers this year ~ with some of my favorite recipes to make it extra special!
A couple of additional shopping tips:
Look at the stars. Energy Star appliances, that is. Home appliance and other big box stores will discount dishwashers, dryers, and ovens this time of year. I’m really not in the market right now, as my darling hubby got me new Energy Star-rated appliances a couple of years ago. But if you are looking to update your avocado green for stainless, now might be a good time to check out the deals! (Click here for more info on Energy Star appliances.)
Decorating with less. Less electricity. If you are looking to add to your holiday decorations, you might find some deals on LED lights and solar powered holiday landscape lights. Keep in mind that these will probably not be deeply discounted until AFTER Christmas, but if you need to replace the frayed, tangled spider-web of lights, you should be able to find some sales to take advantage of.
By the way, I cheated. Many “Black Friday” sites already have deals for stores posted, and I found all the items mentioned above at one or more stores!
I’d love to hear what steals and deals YOU find during the holiday season to help reduce your energy consumption and save money.
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Summertime! The season often conjures up images of relaxing weekends by the pool or vacations with friends and family. While you’re taking a much needed break, there is at least one thing working much harder this season: your air conditioner.
I mentioned in an earlier post that the warmer it is outside, the harder your air conditioner has to work to keep the inside cool—so it can be frustrating that we can’t adjust the weather (and seemingly, our bill). Luckily, we’re not at the complete mercy of Mother Nature, because there’s a lot we can do inside to help keep our homes cool. And the daily actions we take can add up to make a big difference.
One of biggest culprits that can zap precious cool air from your home during hot days is the oven. To see just how big an impact it would make, I decided to run a little experiment at home. So last Tuesday night, I chopped some sausage with onions and peppers, tossed it together with diced tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, and popped that Pyrex full of love into the oven for 1 hour at 400 degrees.
Using an indoor thermometer, I tracked the temperature of my kitchen about every 20 minutes until dinner was ready. As you’ll notice, the change was dramatic: the temperature in my kitchen rose by 5 degrees in just one hour and did not return to the original temperature until we were heading up to bed much later that night.
So my personal verdict is in: during the next few warm months, I’m going to let my oven take a long vacation. Instead, I plan to use my grill to cook meats or veggies that I might ordinarily roast, or opt for a no-cook recipe like a fresh salad. I might even opt for the ultimate “energy saving” solution… and head straight to my favorite restaurant.
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