It’s that time of year again!! Decorations, holiday cookies, eggnog, time with family (leading to more eggnog). And as much as I love the eggnog, I really love the decorations!
Walking my dog on a crisp winter evening (with a travel mug of eggnog) and looking at the lights in my neighborhood is one of my favorite holiday pastimes. And although I’m more of an understated candle lights in the window with a few more tastefully strung in trees/bushes kind of girl I sincerely appreciate people who go all “Clark Griswold” on their houses.
Of course more lights = more energy = higher bills! And who can afford that especially with all the pressure to find the perfect gift in an economy that continues to struggle?
The good news is that, on average, holiday lights cost just pennies a day. Especially if you are more of an “understated” kind of decorator like I am. But if you do fancy yourself the neighborhood Clark Griswold, you should read on!
On duke-energy.com I found an article that states elaborate displays using large incandescent bulbs can add as much as $80 to a monthly power bill. Yikes!! But luckily there are alternatives to incandescent bulbs. The same article goes on to state that the same style bulb that uses an LED in place of an incandescent would increase the electric bill by only $7. And using mini-lights will reduce it even further – about $1 a month. Duke even created a handy-dandy calculator to help you figure out how much your lights will add to your bill.
So unless you want to give up your Clark Griswold fantasies and instead become the neighborhood Scrooge (Bah! Humbug!), maybe it’s time to be smarter about the type of lights you use. Look into updating your tangled strings of incandescent bulbs for some new (and not yet tangled) LED bulbs. The money spent on new bulbs will quickly be recovered in energy savings. (Just plug the information into the calculator to make your case!) That is enough to make even Scrooge sing “Joy to the World!”
Do you or your neighbors go all out decorating for the holidays? If so, we’d LOVE to see the pictures! Please share them on our Facebook page.
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The stockings might be hung by the chimney with care, but have you looked beyond your mantle this year? Your fireplace is likely a focal point in your home—but it’s also a major potential hazard if you don’t follow some simple guidelines. No matter if you have a wood burning or natural gas model, there are easy steps that you can take to save energy, improve efficiency and ensure your fireplace is operating as safely as possible.
Wood Burning Fireplace Tips
- Have your fireplace inspected and cleaned by a professional each year. Buildup of a substance called creosote is a major fire hazard, and you don’t want to accidentally roast any squirrels who may have built an unwanted nest.
- Resist the urge to flank the hearth with throw pillows. There are few items on planet Earth more flammable than little squares of cotton filled with polyester. (If you’re worried about kids bumping into the mantle or hearth, there are fire resistant padding products available.)
- Don’t use it much anymore? Inflatable fireplace balloons, available at home improvement stores, can be installed just inside the chimney to block frigid downdrafts from entering your home.
Natural Gas Burning Fireplace Tips
- Clean and dust the gas logs and synthetic coals annually.
- Consider shutting off the gas pilot light completely during the summer months or when leaving for vacation.
- Never add any additional items that were not specifically manufactured for your specific gas fireplace model.
Seriously never even consider:
- Using a liquid accelerant or gasoline to start a fire indoors.
- Burning your Christmas tree at the end of the season.
- Adding wood logs to a gas fireplace.
- Going to bed before a fire has been properly extinguished.
Finally, consider storing a small fire extinguisher in a nearby closet, and make sure to change the batteries in your smoke detectors every 6 months.
Now that your fireplace is safety ready, please share a favorite fireplace memory. Hopefully it did not require the use of the nearby fire extinguisher!!
Note: Information sourced from the Hearth, Patio, & Barbeque Association.
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While the word Hanukkah has two meanings, first and foremost, it means ‘dedication’. So if your family is setting out a Menorah this year, why not take the opportunity to dedicate yourselves to new traditions as you also celebrate the old?
Saving energy is good for people, our planet, and the family budget, too. Talk to your family about the importance of making smart energy choices. Then, for each of Hanukkah’s eight nights, learn about a new energy saving tip together. This exercise can show your children that by working together—just like the Maccabees!— you can make a big difference.
Tip 1: Replace incandescent bulbs with more efficient CFL or LED lighting.
Tip 2: Turn the temperature setting on your refrigerator down. It was designed to work just fine on the lowest dial setting.
Tip 3: Vacuum refrigerator coils once a year. Too much dust makes it work harder.
Tip 4: Change your air filters. Ask kids to keep an eye out and report when an adult needs to change them in the future.
Tip 5: Get a new TV recently? Try turning down the brightness. Most come out of the box optimized for the showroom floor, not a dim living room.
Tip 6: Appoint a different child each week to be the official energy monitor and keep the rest of the family honest!
Tip 7: Send the kids on a spider web hunt. Tiny spiders are drawn to naturally drafty areas to build their cobwebs. If they appear in the same places, it’s a sure sign of an air leak.
Tip 8: Grab a Dreidel and break out the Gelt! Spend a power free evening playing games by candlelight.
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This Christmas my family is doing a homemade gift exchange. I am knitting everyone scarves, hand warmers, and ear muffs. Although I will probably develop carpal tunnel syndrome before this endeavor is complete, I have really enjoyed skipping the hustle and bustle of malls or frantically searching for the best deals online. (I mean how much can I really save on that coveted toy my niece has asked for by going to an additional 13 websites??)
And then I realized I still need stocking stuffers…. (My knitting skills do not extend beyond scarves, hand warmers, and ear muffs just yet.) This is going to require at least one trip to Target where I will have to fight the masses for a parking spot within a half mile of the store. So much for my retail free Christmas.
So I started thinking…. Since I have been working with Duke Energy my thoughts have been much more attuned to energy efficiency. I figure that so far my homemade Christmas has been pretty energy efficient. No trips to the mall, just a ball of yarn and some knitting needles. How could I extend the energy efficiency to stocking stuffers? A quick search on the internet and I found tons of ideas!
Now I will admit that many of the ideas I found (and will use) are more on the “green” side than the “energy efficient” side. (For example, fill stockings with fruit rather than candy.) And although “green” is a good thing (at least I think so) this website is about saving energy, so I am going to focus there. Here is what I found:
- Programmable thermostat (Energy Star)– I know it sounds like a boring gift, but in my book there is nothing worse than getting out of my warm, cozy bed on a cold winter morning before the heat has been turned on. I have programmed my thermostat to kick up the heat about 30 minutes before my alarm goes off. This ensures the bathroom is not an ice box as I get ready for work. I promise the cold natured person in your life will LOVE this gift!
- Solar chargers – “Plugged in” is the phrase of our times, but maybe we can find a way to be “plugged in” without physically plugging in. Invest in a solar charger for your smart phones, tablets, music players, etc. This will allow you to skip the plug and use the energy provided by Mother Nature.
- Smart Power Strip – Everything in my house is on a power strip. My dad swears by them – “just in case there is a power surge.” And of course it allows me to plug way more in than the 2 allotted outlets that are built into my wall. A smart power strip gives you these benefits with the added benefit of cutting power when it’s not in use. This is the equivalent of crawling behind the cabinet (and through the inevitable dust) that holds all my electronics and unplugging everything every time I turn off the TV or stereo!
- Ecobutton – This one is new to me, but it looks pretty cool! It is a device that you connect to your computer via a USB cable. It sits right on your desk top and is lit up to help grab your attention. Each time you hit the button it puts your computer in energy saving mode AND it tracks how much energy you save to help encourage a change in behavior. Considering the fact that my computer is on almost ALL the time, I think I’m going to ask for this stocking stuffer myself!
- CFLs – I know! We always talk about CFLs. But they fit so perfectly in a stocking! I just couldn’t leave them off the list. Maybe break down and replace some of those decorative bulbs you hadn’t gotten to with a specialty CFL bulb.
What other energy efficient stocking stuffers have you seen?
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Got a craving for a holiday snack?
Thanksgiving is over. Now it is time to unpack the holiday decorations, string the lights, and hang the mistletoe! Of course my favorite part of the season isn’t the holiday decorating…it’s the holiday eating. Sweet or salty, crunchy or chewy, I am in! (Unless of course it contains coconut. I do not like coconut.)
But before you jump straight to your old favorites, you should look into no-bake holiday cookie recipes. Now I’m not suggesting skipping out on the family favorite that is only made during the holidays. Some traditions just shouldn’t be messed with. But no-bake holiday cookies might be a good option to mix things up or replace the not so popular recipes you have used in the past (if you happen to be cooking for me think coconut….) And not only do no-bake cookies use less energy, they are frequently less time consuming to make than traditional baked cookies. And if there is anything I know everyone can use more of its time and money (i.e. lower bills)! Especially during the holiday season!
Attached is a simple no bake recipe that I’m going to try.
Do you have a favorite (or new) no-bake recipe that you want to share? We’d love to see it. Even if it has coconut….
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Saving Energy on Vacation
By many accounts, Americans are already one of the most overworked, under-vacationed groups of workers in the world. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll indicated that a little more than half – about 57 percent – of American workers use all the vacation time they’re allotted, compared to 89 percent of French workers. Many Germans take as much as three weeks off in August each year to spend time travelling with their families.
Regardless of cultural differences, it’s important for one’s well-being to get away. This summer, look for ways to help save energy where ever you go (or don’t go). Here are just three ways to use less energy on a summer vacation. See if you can come up with some other alternatives and share them with us in the comment section below.
The Staycation – It’s a phrase that is relatively new to our lexicon (maybe because it’s a portmanteau or maybe because it makes good financial sense in rocky financial times), but there is certainly no shame in staying close to home during time away from work. A staycation can be an opportunity to spend time with your family without the hassles and expenses of traveling. Staycations are also a good excuse to patronize local museums, restaurants, theme parks, waterparks and other local attractions. While you’re at home, try saving some energy on your staycation by camping in the backyard with your solar powered HDTV of course, firing up the grill and making some ice cream with an old school hand crank ice cream maker. Just make sure that your work email takes a vacation too.
Alternative Fuel Vehicles – Another way to use less fuel on vacation is to travel in an alternative fuel vehicle. Car rental companies in many cities now offer hybrid and EVs as an option to conventional rental choices, allowing vacationers to save on fuel costs. Have your own hybrid or electric vehicle? Take it on the road instead of flying and save on expensive airline tickets and baggage fees, and while your fellow travelers pull of the Interstate for more fuel, you can keep right on trucking towards the beach. While alternative fuel vehicles will cut down on fuel stops and your vacation expenses, they won’t unfortunately eliminate “are we there yet?”
Eco-Tour Vacation – A third energy-saving option is a vacation that is tailored specifically for the environmentally conscious, in a unity of conservation efforts with sustainable travel practices. Ecotourism and adventure travel are among the fastest growing segments in tourism. From small carbon neutral planes that whisk you away to remote destinations, to solar panels that power everything from ceiling fans to pool filters, these resorts have considered it all. Ecotourism options can take travelers to sensitive natural areas by conserving the environment and minimizing the impact on these areas and the people who live there, including direct financial benefits for conservation efforts. Need some ideas on where to go? Check out thedailygreen.com’s list of the 17 best eco lodges in the world – it’s sure to get your imagination going!
And, if you do head out on nice vacation this summer, don’t forget to turn up your thermostat, close all your blinds, turn down your water heater, and put your front porch lights on a timer. No reason to use a lot of electricity if you’re not at home.
What ways are you going to save energy on your vacation this summer? Staying home? Hitting a eco-tour destination? Driving a fuel-efficient vehicle on your own version of National Lampoon’s Vacation? Tell us below!
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Make Earth Day a family event this year with the Earth Day family challenge. Ask your family to participate in one or more of the following activities—you’ll save energy by unplugging the TV and getting outside, you’ll all learn something new and best of all, you’ll all spend important, distraction free time together.
Start a Family Garden
There is nothing more satisfying or delicious than a home grown tomato! Seed packets are everywhere this time of year, even at the grocery store. Set aside a small plot of land in the yard or fill good-sized patio containers with fresh soil. Plant the seeds together and take lots of pictures. Pull the camera back out to snap photos of the first harvest, too!
Build a Compost Bin
Compost bins are ideal for large and small spaces, and can be easily constructed with a few feet of 2 x 4’’ lumber and a small roll of chicken wire. Have an adult drive 2’’ screws into each section, making a rectangle or square appropriate for the space. Finally, wrap the exterior with chicken wire and secure to the ground with a landscaping spike. It’s amazing how grass clippings and kitchen waste can become next year’s premium garden soil!
There’s no better way to celebrate Earth Day and save time for the rest of the year, too! Take out the laptop after dinner and have kids help make a list of all the bills you currently receive paper statements for. Let them put these last-ever ones in the recycling bin while an adult signs up for electronic billing or auto-draft instead. (You can sign up for paperless billing from Duke Energy here: www.duke-energy.com/paperless.)
Go on a Hike
Plan a route through your neighborhood, a local park or a nearby nature preserve. Pack a picnic, a blanket and a camera. Make a list of local area birds and hold a contest: the first child to spot each bird on their list wins the game.
Does your family have an Earth Day tradition? Please share it in the comments!
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Spring cleaning is a great time to take advantage of many of the energy saving tips that can be found here on Youtility. For example, you can dust your light bulbs or switch them out for CFLs, change your HVAC return filters, program your thermostat, make sure your ceiling fans are turning counter clockwise for the wind chill effect and vacuum your refrigerator coils. Duke Energy customers – the Halpins, from Charlotte, N.C. – were kind enough to let us in their home to show us how easy it is to be energy efficient. Watch the video and then download and print this checklist to get your family started on the right track this spring!
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On a chilly, snowy or drizzly day in January, it can be tempting go into hibernation until April or move to a tropical island. Since most of us have appointments to keep, families to feed and jobs to do, cranking up the heat seems like the next best option. Except for this not-so-little detail: kicking your furnace into overdrive wastes tons of energy and money. In fact, heating and cooling your home can account for as much as 50 – 70% of your total annual energy bill! So before you send that monthly bill into the stratosphere, try taking advantage of these free or low cost tricks to stay warm and cozy this winter.
Join the Counter Culture
Warm air rises and unless you’re a superhero, you probably spend your time occupying the lower half of the room. Change your ceiling fan to rotate counter-clockwise, so you can enjoy the warm air you’ve already paid for.
During the winter season when the sun is lower in the sky, it’s super easy to let those gorgeous rays shine through your windows. Open blinds and shades fully and take advantage of the free heat!
One of the easiest and fastest ways to warm up is to layer up. Evaluate your wardrobe and invest in some cozy, comfortable items to warm yourself up before you warm the whole house up.
No matter what your diet or taste is, there’s a plethora of soup, stew and chili recipes that will keep your family feeling warm and satisfied. Skip the salad and warm yourself from the inside out.
A nice glass of red wine on a cold winter night? Enough said.
Let’s Get Physical
If you’re feeling energetic and need to banish the chill, pop in a favorite workout video or fire up the Xbox or Wii. You’ll be feeling warm in minutes and getting your daily dose of good old fashioned exercise.
Hug It Out
There’s no better way to warm up than to cuddle with a loved one or a pet. So grab a blanket, pop in a movie and snuggle up.
Have a favorite way to warm up during winter? Please share it in the comments!
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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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You know you need one: a serious vacation. But for many of us, the bill for the days spent unwinding can be more stressful than getting stuck in rush hour traffic. With flights and high gas prices, hotel, food and activity costs, a few days in paradise can easily cost $2,000 or more. I recently considered a four day trip to Florida, but the costs began to add up quickly. At first, staying at home seemed out of the question—until I considered all of the things I’d love to do but never have time for.
After looking at the budget, I realized that a trip to Florida would cost about $2,160 while packing in four days of activities and top restaurants in my own city would cost $700—way less than half! Think about where you live and the places you’ve heard friends or family mention—like restaurants, museums, stores and other attractions—that you’re just too busy to see or try during a normal, hectic work week. Plan your days off the same way you’d plan to be far from home: buy a new outfit, swear off any unnecessary chores and charge up the camera.
Start to brainstorm your staycation with these ideas:
- Talk to friends about new restaurants in town. What are people recommending?
- Many museums rotate or update exhibits—so even if you’ve been before, they can be worth another look.
- When is the last time you bought tickets to cheer on your home sports team? Pack a big tailgate for a pre-game picnic.
- Pitch a tent and go camping—at a local campground or in your own backyard.
- Rent a kayak and go for a paddle on your local lake or river.
- Many cities offer free or low cost walking or bicycle tours, where you can learn exciting things about your area’s history.
- Visit a nearby fair or festival for great rides, games and food.
For way less than half of what it would cost to travel out of state, you and your family can enjoy some exciting activities and try fun new restaurants—all while learning to appreciate the place where you live. Save energy and money and enjoy being a tourist in your own backyard with a great staycation this summer.
Do you have any smart staycation tips? Let us know on the Duke Energy Youtility Facebook page!
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It’s July, and it’s HOT. In this heat, it can be a challenge to park the car, walk to the mailbox and then back to the front door without feeling like your clothes are beginning to stick. So I’ll admit—it’s tempting to want to run inside the house, lock the door, crank the A/C, and plop right down in front of the TV.
Really, though, we shouldn’t sweat some sweat or try too hard to beat the heat. With a little bit of planning, it can be fun to unplug the electronics and take yourself, family and pets outside – and keep your electric bill from skyrocketing!
Dress for Success: formal clothes you wore to the office or church are going to make the heat even more oppressive. Exchange those clothes for lightweight, breathable cotton and avoid dark colors. It’s amazing how a simple wardrobe change can make you feel!
Set a Timeline: be realistic. Is it over 85 degrees Fahrenheit today? Plan a hike or a picnic with a start time and end time, so you can enjoy the outdoors without risking your health.
Pack Refreshments: your outdoor trip can be extra fun when a snack is in your future! Old-fashioned baskets or newer thermal backpacks give ample room for a comfy blanket, thermos of your favorite cold beverage and a snack or meal. Bonus: bring a camera to capture some favorite scenes.
Be Fido Friendly: Bringing your four legged friend along? Plan for your breed. My 185 lb Great Dane, Winston, will happily snooze under a tree after a short walk. Smaller breeds can be very high energy, but can entertain themselves with toys or a swim in a pond. Pack extra water and plan for your dog’s preferences, and you’ll find the entire family enjoying the afternoon.
So why not pick a convenient night in the next week and set a date? Pack dinner, games and a camera, and head to your local park, playground or nature area. One family in my neighborhood, weather permitting, has family picnic night once every week—and they find themselves looking forward to it all day long. Give it a try! It can be surprisingly easy to re-charge when you un-plug.
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Summer 2011 is just getting started, but for most of the United States, the heat has already arrived! Did you know that the hotter it is outside, the harder your air conditioner needs to work to keep the inside of your house cool? While it might be tempting to drop the temperature to combat the outdoors, turn your thermostat up by a few degrees and try some of the tips below. You’ll beat the heat and your energy bill, and hopefully have some fun in the process.
Break out the bathing suit.
Who said you can’t have a beach party in the middle of your living room? Slip on some swimwear while you watch a movie or do your chores.
Set up the sprinkler.
Kids and pets can be at a greater risk for overheating than healthy adults, but they can also feel cooped up indoors during a beautiful summer day. Set up a sprinkler, fill up the squirt guns and invite the neighbors’ kids over. At the end of the day, you’ll have a cooled off, tired out and happy bunch.
Take a mini ice bath.
If you’re looking for indoor options, try a mini ice bath. Fill one large or two medium, shallow containers with cold water and add a few ice cubes, place them on a hard-surfaced floor. Carefully step into them for 20 seconds to one minute – and keep a towel handy! We naturally radiate most of our body heat through the head, arms and feet, so just a little cold soak can quickly lower your body temperature.
Let Mother Nature help.
During the evening, open your windows and use ceiling or box fans to create a cross breeze. Circulate cooler evening air through all of your rooms, and make sure to close windows early in the morning. Night air will keep your home cool for most of the morning, and your air conditioner won’t have to work as hard when it does turn back on later the next afternoon.
Close your blinds.
Solar gain – the heat caused by sunlight entering through windows – can cause a significant rise in temperature in your home. Make sure to close blinds and curtains during the day to block out the sun.
Make a smoothie.
Keep a few bags of your favorite fruits in the freezer. A few handfuls of fruit, a scoop of ice and a splash of milk or yogurt, and you have a healthy, cool treat the whole family will love. For grown-ups, add a splash of a favorite tequila for an instant stay-cool party!
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