Exotic vacations to Europe, trips to the beach, or camping in the mountains… Spring Break is the perfect time to get out of town and recharge your personal batteries. If you don’t already own one, it might be a good idea to invest in a few electric outlet timers. Not only do outlet timers help save you energy and money by managing your interior lighting for you, they can also provide an added security benefit when you travel, giving enterprising would-be burgalers the impression that someone is home.
If you’re dreading buying one, you should know that timers have evolved quite a bit from original designs that employ a number of circular dials and resemble the cryptex device from The Da Vinci Code. These simple devices are still around and very effective, but for greater piece of mind (and to avoid having the living room lamp shut off in the middle of Jeopardy! on a random Wednesday night) consider buying a programmable digital timer.
Dusk to dawn timers have an electric eye that activates the light when ambient light levels drop and shuts the device off again when the sun comes up – these types of timers are available for as little as $10 and you basically never need to touch them again after you’ve plugged them in. Some photo cell timers can also be activated by wireless remote as well. The conventional dial timers are usually available at home improvements stores for about $15, and digital programmable timers and power strips cost a little more than that, depending on their size and functionality.
The digital timers allow greater randomness in programming, allowing lights and radios to come on at different times on varying days, to cut down on the predictability that enterprising would-be thieves may pick up on.
And for an easy way to save even more energy and money while adding a little bit of extra security to your home? Sign up for free CFLs to put in all those light fixtures: www.duke-energy.com/freecfls
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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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The average American spends roughly $1,000 annually heating and cooling their home, which equates to approximately 40 percent of their total energy usage. If you live in a home with an HVAC system that is more than 12 years old, you could be spending even more. As summer approaches you may be contemplating a new AC unit. Here are a few things you should consider before putting a shiny new box in your side yard.
1. Can I just purchase a new outdoor unit containing a condenser coil and compressor?
Central air and heating systems are separate units, but matched to work together. They share many common components, like blowers, duct work and return air grilles. If both the cooling and heating units aren’t matched and sized properly, you won’t get the ultimate performance from your AC equipment.
The most common style of AC unit is a split system, which includes the outdoor equipment as well as an indoor evaporator coil, usually installed in conjunction with your furnace or air handler. During the summer your heating system works in tandem with your air conditioner. Within your AC unit, air is cooled as it is blown over the cooling coil, which is most often connected to the air circulation fan of the furnace that then blows cool air through your ducts for distribution across your home.
One of the many things to think about when considering a new furnace is the motor that runs the electric fan. Older, standard furnace fans use considerably more energy than new energy-efficient ECM (Electronically Commutative Motor) fan motors. An ECM (sometimes called variable speed) fan motor alters its speed as needed to meet demand and optimize output.
2. Initial capital outlay v. lowest monthly energy bills?
High-efficiency air conditioners cost more up front than mid-range or minimum-efficiency units, but they deliver the lowest monthly energy bills and often include additional energy-saving features. High-efficiency 14 to 23 SEER (seasonal energy efficiency rating) air conditioners are a good choice if you want to make a long-term investment, live in an area with a long summer, and are willing to pay more at the time of purchase so you can reduce your use of electricity.
SEER is a measure of a central air conditioner’s efficiency and performance. The higher the SEER, the greater your energy savings can be. Typical SEERs range from 13 to 18, but some new systems carry ratings as high as 23.
Most high-efficiency air conditioners are two-stage units, which operate on high only during hot summer days and low on milder days – up to 80 percent or more of the time. The lower power setting allows the units to work more efficiently and produce more even temperatures in your home when compared to single-stage units. Two-stage units may also feature quieter operation and more efficient humidity controls. Your home may also need ductwork renovations to accommodate a high-efficiency unit, which would add additional installation costs.
Government regulations mandate that new central air conditioners have SEERs of at least 13, and with Duke Energy incentives or government rebates, you may be able to purchase a central air conditioner with mid-range efficiency (14 plus SEER) without having to pay more than a low efficiency unit. A mid-range air conditioner probably won’t feature energy-saving upgrades like two-stage cooling, but when you factor in the purchase price they may be the best value for your home. Many of these units also include extra insulation against noise and more weather-resistant hardware than low efficiency options.
While they are not as efficient as mid-range or high-efficiency central air conditioners, low-efficiency air conditioners are still highly efficient when compared to standard units installed only 10 to 15 years earlier. So, if you’re replacing a unit that is at least 12 years old, then even a low-efficiency unit will likely reduce your electricity usage by as much as half. If you’re on a tight budget and no rebates are available in your state, a 13 to 14.5 SEER air conditioner may be your best choice for overall value.
3. What size is right for my home?
When considering the size of your new unit, you must remember that bigger isn’t always better – right-sized is the only way to go. Unfortunately, selecting the right size unit isn’t as easy as looking at your current system. Your current system could be sized incorrectly, which could lead to under-sizing or over-sizing your new unit.
A unit that is not big enough will have to work extra hard to try to cool your home and provide the comfort you expect. Installing an over-sized unit can have even worse ramifications, adding unneeded expenses to the project and contributing to moisture-related problems in the future.
Thorough contractors will start with a load calculation – many of them using the Manual J® residential load calculation procedure, the official standard for residential load calculation. Contractors should measure your home and evaluate its insulation, window sizes and quantity, and current internal loads, like lighting and appliances.
4. What else should I consider?
Once the proper system is sized and selected, you should carefully consider your home’s duct work, return air grilles and supply air registers.
Properly installed and maintained duct work may last twenty years or more, but time, heat and humidity can prematurely degrade a duct system’s insulation and efficiency. Ducts also collect contaminates over time that need to be cleaned or removed.
If you purchase a high efficiency AC, you may even consider replacing your duct system to get the maximum benefit from your new system. An evaluation should be conducted to determine that the system is clean and configured in a manner that delivers the proper amount of air to each room.
Your return air grille(s) and supply air registers also play an important role in providing heating and air conditioning comfort. There may be occasions when replacing one or more of these devices creates a noticeable improvement in your home’s comfort.
Return grilles that are undersized can reduce the efficiency of your air conditioning system as well as the comfort in your home. Your contractor should verify that these devices are sized and operating properly and offer suggestions for improved performance.
5. What type of HVAC system qualifies for Duke Energy’s Smart Saver incentives?
Many residential refrigeration technologies qualify for incentives assuming the matched components achieve 14 SEER, can be verified with an AHRI reference number and include an ECM fan motor for the home’s air distribution system: Heat Pump (HP) or AC split systems, HP or AC single package (self contained) systems, geothermal heat pumps including direct geoexchange systems.
To learn more about Duke Energy’s Smart Saver program, please visit duke-energy.com/smartsaver.
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How much can a new cooling system save?
Here at Youtility we’ve been talking a lot about new energy-efficient air conditioning units the past few weeks. So, how much energy can you really save by installing a new unit? If only there was app for that. Oh yeah, there is – Duke Energy’s own Cooling Calc or Cooling System Calculator, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.
After entering your zip code, type of home and details regarding square-footage, current air conditioner age and furnace type, our Cooling Calc provides an estimated lifetime savings based on the installation of a new energy-efficient cooling system.
The calculator also provides savings estimates broken down into annual dollar, lifetime dollars, kWh and CO2. New unit estimates are broken down by system type, size, replacement cost and annual energy cost.
If you’re considering a new unit, you can find more information about purchase incentives and a list of participating contractors, who can provide you with further details on costs and estimated savings, at duke-energy.com/smartsaver.
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Appliances Are Getting SMARTer
Attention aspiring television producers: here’s a great new idea for a show that could be a big hit with viewers in the coming years – Are you Smarter Than a Washing Machine? Even if you can spin and agitate with the best of them, sadly, save for the few bold Mensa members, the answer is likely “not even close.”
Technology is a wonderful thing, but it won’t be long before our appliances are the smartest things in the room. Continual advances have helped make life easier, more efficient, more connected.
At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, manufacturers unveiled the latest round of appliances that will soon organize our household tasks. Appliances are being equipped with the brainpower to accept commands from smart phones, tablets and PCs via integrated management programs that do more than provide users with assistance in making the most efficient use of time and energy. Users can remotely monitor and control cycle times for washers and dryers. Robotic disc vacuums can hunt down unsuspecting dust bunnies on their own. Your refrigerator can let you know when that applesauce in the back is about to expire.
Integrated LCD control panels also allow users to view real-time Twitter feeds, check the weather, and even stream the ball game or TV show they were watching in another room.
Fans of Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near, know it may not be long before artificial intelligence begins to outpace human intelligence at an exponential pace. But did you really suspect it could be refrigerator that would zoom by you in the passing lane? If only your refrigerator could offer a gentle reminder that the post-dinner snack you’re planning isn’t a good idea – oh wait they can do that too.
What new feature will your favorite appliance have in the future? Share with us in the comments.
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Youtility is full of energy (and money) saving ideas. From dusting light bulbs to installing new HVAC units, these ideas, tips and tricks run from low to high commitment and from low to high impact.
The week of April 9, we asked you in our weekly poll, “What would you do to save energy?” The results were insightful.
We gave you the following choices:
- Drive a hybrid or PEV;
- Unplug my cell phone charger and lamps when not in use;
- Push the “energy saver” button on my fridge;
- Install CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs);
- All of the above;
- None of the above.
Of those options, 58 percent of respondents said they would do all of the items listed to save energy. That’s a high number, but probably to be expected on a site dedicated to helping you control your energy use.
The next most selected item (25 percent) was install CFLs. That’s a great low commitment item can deliver substantial savings. Just order some free CFLs from Duke Energy, swap them out, and then enjoy the savings for the next 5-10 years.
Drive a hybrid or PEV, unplug my cell phone charger or lamps, and push the “energy saver” button on my fridge, all garnered between 2 and 4 percent of the clicks. That’s okay though, because 58 percent of respondents will be doing all of these things, which puts those numbers above 60 percent in every category.
Four percent of you said you would do none of the above to save energy. That begs the question – if you won’t do the things listed, do you have any other ideas (and of course it’s okay if you don’t)? Tell us in the comment section below.
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Around your home: CFLs
Changing to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) just makes sense. CFLs last longer, use less energy and save you money. In 2011 we distributed 20 million CFLs to our customers, saving enough energy to power more than 65,000 residential homes or offsetting the carbon output of 130,000 passenger cars.
Join the growing number of people who are switching to CFLs. If you’re a Duke Energy customer you may be eligible to order free CFLs. Check your eligibility and order today at www.duke-energy.com/freeCFLs.
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If you could control the energy use in your home, would you? According to a study recently reported on by Reuters, given this option, a majority of Americans would take advantage of an opportunity to manage their own daily energy usage.
Most people (82 percent) are diligent in their efforts to curb home energy use by turning off lights in unoccupied rooms, or shutting down televisions and other appliances when not in use. Even replacing incandescent bulbs with compact florescent lamps (58 percent), using power strips (56 percent) and looking specifically for energy efficient replacement appliances (55 percent) are common practices with a majority of the more than 2,000 adults polled in February 2012.
Provided an opportunity to control energy use and, ideally, lower costs with a computerized dashboard, 48 percent said they would take advantage of such a cost-saving initiative, even though that would mean disciplining themselves to actively manage their energy use. By controlling energy use, homeowners said they would rather vary the maximum amount of energy allotted during peak hours themselves than allow their energy provider to manage this use.
The report also dials down into details by region regarding energy saving activities and even looks at who changes air filters more frequently.
Take a look to see how your region stacks up in energy saving activities and see if there are some areas you can improve your home’s efficiency. You can also take advantage of Duke Energy’s Personalized Energy Report to help manage your energy use.
Tell us what you’re doing to save energy at home in the comments section below.
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SEER 14? Say what? Get the FYI on your HVAC with Nathan Cranford of Duke Energy.
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It happens to the best of us: after getting married, buying a house and having a kid or two, you start to put a few extra on. Kilowatt hours, that is. It all starts with that big new TV and slowly spirals out of control. By the time you notice, your energy use has ballooned to double the size it was in college. Luckily, you don’t have to get depressed over a bloated bill. Kick start a healthy new routine with the action plan below.
Know Where You Stand
You can’t start saving until you have all the details. A Personalized Energy Report is an awesome free tool that will show you detailed information about energy problem areas.
Stop the Yo-Yo
Ever wonder why your bill changes month to month? Try the free Bill Analysis Tool, for an in depth look at your month to month usage.
Want to stop that yo-yo for good, and have more predictability every month? Sign up for Budget Billing! Based off of your own previous usage data, a representative will work with you to set up a fixed amount that’s predictably consistent month to month.
Get Free Tools
When going on an energy diet, every little bit helps. Make sure to sign up for your free CFLs and install them as soon as the box arrives.
By taking these steps to understand and get your energy use under control, you’ll reign in the excess that’s been weighing you down. Are you up for the energy action plan challenge?
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How your lawn looks defines you. Dandelions are your nemesis. Crabgrass? Not on your watch. You don’t just care for your lawn. You baby it. You fertilize, aerate, seed, prevent, water and mow. You edge and you weed whack. Your perfect blocks of dark green are expertly manicured, cut in perfectly parallel 45-degree rows.
If this describes you, then you know the horsepower of your mower’s engine, the precise blade height for every month of the growing season and the advantages to both bagging and mulching. And, if you know all this, then maybe this article isn’t for you.
But, if you’ve never had a sign in your yard that reads, “Yard of the Month,” then you may be interested in the variety of lawn mower technologies at your disposal this spring.
We took a quick test drive with three different lawn mower styles – the gasoline engine mower, the electric mower and the reel mower. Mostly, it was for fun, but we did learn some things along the way.
Let’s look at the gas-powered mower first.
The keywords here are horsepower and range. If you have a big lawn filled with lush fescue, a gas-powered mower is going to be hard to beat. You may even need a sweet tractor – who doesn’t want one of those? The main reasons to use a gas-powered mower are:
- Your long, thick grass requires a powerful engine.
- You don’t have any local noise restrictions to consider (our mower ran at 96 dB according to the Decibel 10 app on our smartphone – that’s just shy of a jet coming in for a landing.)
- You don’t mind doing a little light maintenance, such as oil changes.
- Your 100-ft. extension cord won’t reach to that far corner of your yard.
The next option to consider is an electric lawn mower.
Quiet, light and easily maneuvered, my first time behind one of these silent assassins was just short of life changing. The specific model I tested didn’t have the same cutting power as our gas mower, so it struggled a bit with our long, thick fescue lawn. But for sheer ease of use and the ability to hear yourself think during operation, you may want to seriously consider making a switch. There have been big advancements in electric mowers, including self-propelled models, so power isn’t the issue it used to be.
There is also a new crop of battery-powered electric mowers that eliminate the cord hassle, but make sure you check that the battery power is adequate for cutting your lawn. Most battery-powered lawn mowers will list the size of lots that a fully charged battery can handle.
Here are the main criteria for considering an electric-powered lawn mower:
- Your yard is small and flat with a low number of trees and playgrounds to mow around.
- You want to save some money. (Electric mowers are generally less expensive than their gas-powered rivals to both purchase and operate, especially when considering the fact that gas is nearing or exceeding $4 a gallon and that you can power your whole house for about $4 a day.)
- You like to hear yourself think (the model we tested ran at 86 dB).
- Your gas-powered mower is getting a little too heavy to push around.
- You’re not very handy with a screwdriver.
- You’re tired of pulling a cord to start the engine.
- You’re not scared by the term “cord management.”
And, that brings us to the human-powered reel mower. Before last week, I hadn’t used one of these in probably 20 years. The nostalgia factor was high. I enjoyed watching the clippings fly through the air with the rhythmic clatter of the turning blades. That is where the fun stopped. Our test grass was just too long for this mower type. Maybe you’ll have better luck.
So, why should you consider a reel mower?
- You’re looking for a very engaging workout.
- You like sharpening blades on a regular basis.
- You have a very small, flat yard and like to mow it multiple times a week.
- You think mowing the lawn should be no louder than a soft golf clap.
- You’re a traditionalist.
There is a wealth of information online to pour through before making a decision on a new lawn mower. We found outdoorpowerbuddy.com and lawnmowersworld.com to be great resources.
Let us know what type of lawn mower you use and why in the comment section below.
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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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While growing up in Upstate New York, I would accompany my grandpa on one of the most gravely critical missions a 6 year old could undertake: chasing squirrels out of the attic. Every winter, they’d chew their way back inside the three story historic structure built in 1909. So he’d march up, more determined every year, to plug, seal, block and fill every nook and cranny. Once, he was so mad that he actually patched a hole with asphalt. In terms of animal management, this seemed like a good strategy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good air management strategy—and the hot, moist air that was trapped during the summer months caused major energy and mold problems over time.
If you’ve ever hauled anything up to your own attic on a warm summer day, then you know just how HOT it can get. With the sun shining down on dark shingles, it can start to feel like an oven. Add to that the moisture that rises from everyday activities—like breathing or cooking or taking a hot shower—and you have a recipe for all sorts of mold, mildew and rust. Yuck.
Depending on building codes, the area where you live and the age of your home, your house was probably built with a ventilation system in the attic. In most cases, this system is a passive one, made up of a few styles of vents that are positioned to provide constant air exchange—aka—when stale, hot or moist air is vented out so new, fresh air can replace it. It can seem counter-intuitive that venting is an important way to save energy when we hear so many virtues of insulation and caulk. But venting, especially in the attic, can help:
- Extend the lifespan of your roof shingles by keeping the underside of the roof cooler in very hot weather.
- Reduce the burden on your air conditioner by allowing hot air in the attic to escape to the outdoors.
- Prevent moisture build up that can fuel the growth of mold, mildew and rust that can cause expensive structural damage, and even irritate the systems of sensitive family members.
The really good news is that in most cases, there isn’t much you need to do. Your system was designed to work all by itself all year long for free—and how many things in life can you say that about? What you do need to know is how to recognize the early warning signs of venting problems before they cause expensive damage. Here are a few things you should be on the lookout for:
- During cold winter months, check the underside of your roof and rafters for frost. Frost is a signal that too much moisture is trapped in the attic; it just condensed and froze, making it easier to detect.
- Look for any water stains, dark or blackened wood, mold, mildew or rot.
- Examine all exposed metal, including brackets, nails and screws for signs of rust.
- Survey your insulation. Is any of it matted or compacted in a specific area? This can be a sign of a roof leak.
So grab a flashlight (and maybe a broom, if you suspect a squirrel or two) and head up to inspect your attic this weekend. It should take less than 10 minutes and give you peace of mind for the rest of the year. In the unlikely event you discover a warning signal—it’ll be less expensive in the long run to call a professional right away.
Have you had a venting problem in the past? Share your story in the comments!
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We’ve all seen one before: a standard water heater. A big, cylindrical drum sitting lonely and forgotten in the corner of a basement or garage. While they look unassuming, standard water heaters use energy around the clock to keep water hot, even when your family is at work or school or on vacation.
You probably already knew that heating and cooling costs account for the majority of the average home’s energy bill. But did you know that hot water accounts for up to 30 percent of those heating related expenses? That begs the question: is a standard water heater the best for your family? Should you consider a tankless model? Or are there alternative hot water sources?
- Tankless water heaters have been getting a lot of attention recently. These small wall mounted units don’t store any water at all. When hot water is “ordered” inside the home, high-powered gas or electric burners quickly heat water as it runs through a heat exchanger.
- There’s a small delay before hot water arrives, but some homeowners prefer the inconvenience to having to keep 75 or more gallons of water hot all day, every day.
- According to Consumer Reports, the tankless water heaters were on average 22 percent more energy efficient than standard gas-fired storage-tank models.
- While the tankless version would provide an average annual savings of $60 – $90 annually, at that rate, it would take over 20 years to recoup the investment costs of these very expensive units.
- In addition to the unit price, there can be additional significant up front costs should you need to upgrade your electrical or gas systems during the installation process.
- Consumer Reports also noted increased service and maintenance costs, with one manufacturer recommending units be flushed annually by a technician.
- If your standard water heater is located in a cold area, like a garage, you can visit your local home improvement store and purchase a specialty insulation blanket to wrap around the outside of the tank. In most cases this will keep water hot while using less energy.
- Turn down the temperature on your current unit. If water is hot enough to be uncomfortable at the maximum settings, you’re wasting energy by over-heating. Why keep water practically boiling just to mix it with cold water?
- Additional alternatives are in development, including solar and heat pump styles. These concepts will ‘harvest’ heat from the sun or from the inside of the home during warm months to supplement traditional heating methods and help offset costs.
Do you or a relative have a tankless water heater? We’d love to hear your opinion of how it’s working in the comments.
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So you’ve decided to remodel something. Congratulations! While the next few days, weeks or months will be filled with dust, phone calls and tripping over things, you’ll eventually walk into that gleaming new space of yours and sigh with satisfaction. While it can be exciting to dog ear pages in Architectural Digest Magazine and borrow all of your sister’s Restoration Hardware catalogues, there’s an opportunity you could be missing while you agonize over whether oil rubbed bronze fixtures look vintage enough for the midcentury French theme you have your heart set on: designing for energy efficiency.
Sure, the whole point of remodeling is to make your space uniquely yours, but for most people it’s also about maximizing the potential resale value of the property. By designing a room to be energy smart, you’ll get the best of both worlds: energy and cost savings for as long as you own your home, and a nice boost in resale value, too.
In the Kitchen
If you’re getting ready to overhaul those Kelly green laminate countertops and banish the floral wallpaper forever, make sure to take a look at your appliances, too. Energy Star rated refrigerators, ovens, cook tops and dishwashers can make a big dent in your energy use. In terms of lighting, there are many CFL and LED bulb styles that will fit almost any recessed can, fixture or lamp.
In the Bathroom
That avocado sink seemed like such a good idea 40 years ago, right? Tastes aren’t the only thing that’s changed. Sinks, showerheads and toilets are all available now with low flow technology to help significantly reduce your water use. If you’re keeping a sink or showerhead in place, special aerators are available to help reduce the amount of water used. And as we mentioned above, there are many CFL and LED bulb styles that will fit almost any recessed can, fixture or lamp. There’s even a new natural light style bulb ideal for applying makeup.
On the Exterior
If you’re getting ready to break out the paint, think about the bigger picture. If the siding is looking tired, the roof and windows might need a little extra TLC, too. New roofing products offer heat barriers and deflectors. New window products on the market boast a layer of inert gas between panes to reduce heat transfer or offer a convenient mini blind feature to block the sun without gathering dust. While these jobs can be a big investment, they’ll greatly improve the value and comfort level of your home. If you’re working with a general contractor, negotiate a new layer of attic insulation into the price they quote to help sweeten the deal (and the savings!).
Have you undertaken a big remodel job recently? Did you design with energy savings in mind? If so, tell us what you did.
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In late 2011, Duke Energy was approached by Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity to participate in a ground breaking energy efficiency project. Our ears perked up at the phrase “energy efficiency….”
In conjunction with the City of Charlotte and corporate sponsors, they were working to turn a local vacant home into a model of energy efficiency for affordable housing in our region. Aptly named the Goodwill/Habitat ReHouse, the effort would rehab, remake, repurpose and repopulate a foreclosed home for a future Habitat for Humanity family.
How cool is that? Not only does the project give us a chance to help spread the word about energy efficiency, it also helps the community and a deserving family. Obviously, we were in!
The home, located at 2420 Barry Street in Charlotte’s Villa Heights community, was donated to Habitat by the City of Charlotte, and construction was led by Goodwill Construction Services. It was completely renovated with Energy Star-rated products and materials, including special roofing, siding, low-flow water fixtures, compact fluorescent lighting and drought-resistant landscaping. And construction is now complete!
To celebrate, an open house event is being held this weekend (2/18 from 12-5 and 2/19 from 1-5). Tours will be given of the house to teach folks about energy efficiency, tell them why it is important and show them the “good, better, and best” ways to make a home energy efficient. This includes information on sealing and insulating walls and roof, buying Energy Star products, and updating windows.
So come on out this weekend, see the great work the Goodwill/Habitat teams did on the house and learn how we can help you make your home more energy efficient – even without the help of the Goodwill Construction Services team!
Note: Parts of the project description were stolen shamelessly from the ReHouse website. I couldn’t see a reason to reinvent the wheel :).
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A Homebuyers Guide to Existing Homes and Energy Efficiency
Looking for a new house can feel like an invigorating challenge. That, or make you want to drive headlong into a brick wall. Either way, there’s a lot to consider when making what will likely be one of the biggest purchases of your life. While most buyers mull over school districts and upgraded features, there’s another not-so-small detail that many forget to add to their list of criteria: energy efficiency.
Buying an efficient home or making energy efficient upgrades might be a little more expensive, but it has the potential to pay you back every single month for as long as you own your home. So if you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new home soon, read on for a quick checklist of things that can help you save energy and money over the long haul.
Buy an Energy Star Home
It’s possible you’ve heard about Energy Star appliances, but did you know that Energy Star certifies entire homes, too? Energy Star rated homes rely on multiple energy efficient upgrades to reduce energy consumption over a typical home by 20% or more.
Run jointly by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, the program uses third-party inspectors to ensure that qualifying homes are 20 to 30 percent more efficient than typical houses. They also celebrated a recent milestone when inspectors certified their one millionth Energy Star rated home!
Make an Upgrade or Allowance Contingency
It’s no secret that it’s a buyer’s market out there—so many motivated sellers are ready to do what it takes to get you to sign on the dotted line. If you’re considering an older existing home, try negotiating for certain upgrades or a cash allowance at closing to use towards the EE project of your choice. Have a home inspector point out areas that might need the most attention and use that information to close the deal in your favor. Some great and reasonably priced things to consider would include:
- New Energy Star Appliances
- Attic insulation and/or radiant barrier
- New EE windows or UV window tinting
Put it on the Punch List
One of the more fun aspects of moving into a new home is getting the chance to redecorate, remodel and add the special touches that make a space your own. So while you’re dreaming of and budgeting for new floors or a patio or a full mosaic Greco Roman bath in the basement, make sure to add energy saving upgrades to the list, too. It might not seem glamorous to forego a 70″ TV to free up some money for insulation, but it’s important to remember two things: it’ll be much easier to get upgrades out of the way before you move in, and the sooner a project is done, the earlier you’ll start to recoup your costs through energy savings.
Look for Special Financing
There’s no denying it—an energy efficient home is going to cost a little more than an average model. From insulation to appliances to windows, better made, higher quality and specially designed building supplies are bound to be more expensive than run of the mill materials. Luckily, if you have your heart set on a more efficient home, special financing is available in most areas to help cover the additional costs. Known as an Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEMs) and Energy Improvement Mortgages (EIMs), many mortgage companies offer loans that credit a home’s amount of energy efficiency savings to help qualify borrowers for larger loan amounts. Talk to several lenders about the options they offer. Most will require a simple home inspection prior to closing.
So if you’re currently house hunting, good luck! Let us know how the search is going in the comments.
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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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We’ve all heard that classic prank phone call. But I thought I was being pranked when I heard about the terrible shape my air ducts were in.
Let me back up and mention that I LOVE my house! It is an adorable little 1940s bungalow. I have carefully restored the kitchen, added a master suite, painstakingly chosen every wall color and piece of furniture. I keep an eye out for things that need to be repaired and updated.
At least, I thought I did.
I recently had the house treated for pests. (Creepy crawlies are not approved décor.) While the pest control guys were in the basement (a part of the house I avoid if at all possible) they noticed that a piece of the duct work had come loose from one of the vents. Huh…how did that happen? So I called my HVAC guy. Apparently this was not the only piece of duct work that needed to be repaired. It ALL did. They estimated that approximately 60% of my a/c was leaking through massive corroded holes in the piping and into my basement. Yikes!
How did I not notice this?!? My bill wasn’t that high. Yes, my house is a little warm in the summer and chilly in the winter… but I am my father’s daughter (i.e. cheap) and keep the thermostat at a level that has been called “hell-ish”. And, of course, inspecting my duct work hadn’t even crossed my mind. So maybe it isn’t all that surprising.
So I had the duct work replaced. It hurt the wallet, but I have been assured that I will see multiple benefits:
- Lower energy bills
- Less dirt in the house
- Less humidity in the house
- No basement mold
- And just maybe my guests won’t sweat/shiver in the future?
Only time will tell. The job is only two days old.
So learn a lesson from me. Take a look at your duct work – especially if you are in an older house. And even if it isn’t all rusted out like mine, when was the last time you had your ducts cleaned? Dust can really build up and hurt your HVAC’s efficiency too.
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The pace of technology today can seem breakneck: there’s a new device practically every day. While we do live in an exciting time, some of the most life-altering technological advancements didn’t happen last year… they didn’t even happen in the last century!
It’s appropriately fitting that great ideas are sometimes referred to as light bulb moments, since the light bulb itself was a pretty darn good one. Refined for wide use with a carbon filiment by Thomas Alva Edison in 1879, the incandescent light bulb completely revolutionized the way we live. It made streets safer and businesses more productive. And it gave people hours of time for activities like reading, writing or sewing that had previously been difficult by dim candlelight. But as life changing as this invention was, the incandescent light bulb is just one of many late 19th century inventions that we still love today.
Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876. Original prototypes relied on a series of electromagnets, membranes and cemented iron to reproduce sound.
Levi Strauss patented denim pants reinforced with copper rivets in 1873. Called “waist coveralls,” the rugged work pants were marketed to miners who flocked to California’s gold rush.
James Naismith, a Canadian physical education teacher, invented Basketball in 1891 to keep students active during long, cold winters. The original version of the game was played by throwing a soccer ball into a peach basket, with the bottom still intact.
George Eastman, looking for ways to make photography more portable, created the first flexible roll of film in 1882, eliminating the need for inconvenient glass plates.
It’s interesting to consider just how far many inventions have continued to develop. Telephones are small and smart. Jeans come in millions of styles. Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world. And photography has gone from glass plates, to flexible film, to entirely digital. Yet, one of these inventions has remained virtually unchanged for over a hundred years: the incandescent light bulb.
Think about how many incandescent bulbs you still have in lamps and fixtures throughout your home. Now ask yourself: what other technology do rely on that hasn’t been improved upon in over 130 years? Today’s CFL and LED bulbs might cost a little more at the register, but they’ll save you big over the long term by using 75% less electricity. It’s time to hang up the 1879 technology for 2011!
If you’re a Duke Energy customer, you may qualify for free CFL bulbs. Visit www.duke-energy.com/freecfls to see if this offer is available in your area.
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When I started replacing old incandescent bulbs around my home with my free CFLs, I had mixed feelings. I knew the CFLs were more energy efficient, but their shape and wattage didn’t necessarily work with my lamps or my decor. I replaced 15 bulbs in my home with the free CFLs, but I wanted more options to suit my needs. Recently, I needed to buy a bulb for a specialty lamp, and I just knew a CFL was not an option. But I was wrong!
While looking over the bulbs selection at my local home improvement store, I was delighted to see that I had so many CFL options. I was very surprised to learn that:
- CFLs are now available in many different shapes, such as spirals, torpedoes, candles and globes.
- They’re designed for all types of fixtures and to suit most decorative needs.
- They’re available with three-way and dimmer switch options.
- CFLs offer bright daylight options, as well as yellow and pink bulbs to provide a softer lighting effect.
- There are more wattage and threading choices, as well as CFL bug lights for my patio.
I was so excited about all these options that I ended up replacing five more incandescent bulbs that day. Admittedly, if I had not received my free CFLs I may not have changed my bulbs – or attitude – as quickly. I like using about 75 percent less energy, saving on my energy costs, and knowing that my specialty bulbs will also last about 10 times longer. If you haven’t received your free CFLs, visit www.duke-energy.com/freecfls. If you have, then visit your local store and check out all the new CFL options.
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