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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Across the globe, people eat certain foods on New Year’s Day that are thought to symbolize good luck. Asian countries eat noodles to bring long life. Mediterranean countries believe pomegranate is associated with fertility. Other countries eat fish to help them move forward into the New Year. In the Southern United States, it’s about good luck and prosperity! i.e. black eyed peas and greens.
And since I can certainly benefit from good luck and prosperity in the New Year, I have tracked down a recipe for Hoppin’ John. I can’t guarantee good luck if you eat this on New Year’s Day, but you will at least save a little green by using the slow cooker rather than the stove top. (That’s a step in the right direction for prosperity, right??) And it’s yummy!
What foods does your family eat to usher in the New Year? We’d love to hear about them…especially if they use the slow cooker.
Happy New Year!!
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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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Now that the holidays are here, exactly how much free time do you find yourself with…? If you’re like me, there’s a long list of things to do and buy, punctuated by weeknight parties, school recitals and end of year reports at the office.
With the rush, the bustle and the outright fatigue, people can fall into one of two camps. The first group, after doing a beautiful job decorating, can’t even manage to get home before 9pm to turn their lights on. The second group, inundated by cleaning or wrapping or writing out cards, collapses into bed and forgets to turn their lights off, wasting energy and irritating neighbors.
You can save time, energy and hassle while maximizing enjoyment of your outdoor masterpiece by picking up a few holiday light timers. These handy little gadgets cost only a few dollars and can last for years. There are multiple styles that can range in price based on their features. Below is a guide to some popular models.
Single Device / Single Time Timer
This most basic model allows you to set one predetermined on/off time for just one device, like a strand of lights.
Multiple Device / Dual Time Timer
A dual time timer allows you to set two distinct on/off times for two or more devices. These are especially handy for decorations that include audio. Your neighbors don’t need to hear ‘Frosty the Snowman’ for five consecutive hours each night for the next month.
Digital timers can accommodate multiple devices and very specific settings, since they rely on digital technology rather than pins. Some units can be programmed to turn a single device on and off at different times, depending on the day of the week. These models are more costly, but can be effective if you wish to leave decorations lit longer on special evenings or during the weekend.
Photo-sensitive timers are some of the easiest to use because they require no programming at all! The unit senses when the sun goes down and turns decorations on automatically. The potential downside is that these timers only shut decorations off when the sun rises in the morning, meaning whatever is plugged in remains on all night. Consider photo sensitive timers for hard to reach accent decorations, like an over-the-garage wreath.
In addition to saving time, energy and money, automatic timers pack an added benefit: home security. Putting exterior and interior lighting on timers can give would-be burglars the impression that someone is home, even if your family is over the river and through the woods this holiday season.
Have a timer tip you’d like to share? Post it in the comments!
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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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I love January 1st. I especially love the brand-new calendar, empty of dates and to-do’s but filled with promise, hope, and possibilities. A new year is like a clean slate, where anything is possible.
With this perspective, and perhaps a bit of a haze leftover from the holiday “cheer”, I think about my New Year’s resolutions. Like forty-something percent of my fellow Americans, I use this time of optimism to set goals for the year. At some point in my life, I have tackled most of the “top ten” of popular resolutions, focusing on money, health and quality time with loved ones. I have had varying levels of success, resulting in some of the resolutions being repeats on my list and some, much to my surprise, lasting beyond the end of January.
This year, my resolutions will once again focus on money, health and loved ones but with an energy efficiency slant.
Money. With the fairly gloomy economic outlook, “save more, spend less” is becoming a common mantra in American households. In our house, our version is going to be “save more energy, spend less money”. A lofty sounding goal but how do I accomplish it? Starting with the easy tips on this website, I’m going to make a list of 12 tips (one for each month) to do in 2012. By signing on to Duke Energy’s online services, I will be able to compare my savings from the prior year’s spending. Maybe not an exact science but I know if I overcomplicate this, my likelihood of sticking with it will be much less likely!
Health. I’ve mentioned in a prior blog that my slow cooker is one of my favorite appliances. I’m going to invest a bit of time looking for some healthier versions of my favorite recipes. I’m also going to seek out a few ways to use my microwave beyond popping popcorn and melting butter. When I do my meal-planning each month, I will incorporate one new healthier meal a week. 52 new recipes over the course of the year seem pretty doable.
Loved ones. Ah, yes… the family. Achieving MY resolutions requires getting the guys in my house onboard. This may require some stealth and mom-ingenuity. But I am determined to succeed in spending more quality time together AND have their help in “save more energy, spend less money”! My “how to” plan? First, our family nights are going to shift from sitting-in-front-of-the-TV-with-laptops to blowing-the-dust-off-the-board-games. Second, we are going to use the plethora of reusable water bottles we have for more than lacrosse games; I am going to recruit my son to keep the dozen or so bottles we have filled and in the fridge. Double win on this one: less plastic waste AND we fill up the extra space in the fridge to maximize the energy use. Lastly, I’ve signed the hubby up to run a 10K with me in the spring – we are going to get healthy and moving together. But let’s keep that between us until I figure out how to finesse that one.
Are you a resolution-maker? What are you going to do in 2012 to “save more energy, spend less money”? Please share your ideas with us – and check back with us for more tips to try.
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The holiday season is officially around the corner, and with that comes all of the fun, excitement and semi-insanity of friends, family, shopping, cooking, party-going and entertaining. The next four weeks can feel like a marathon; after expending a huge amount of energy and effort, you cross the New Year’s finish line feeling dehydrated, dizzy and sore.
With everything that you’re about to have (literally and figuratively) on your plate, now is the perfect time to make sure your HVAC system is 1. working and 2. operating efficiently. Why bother with this extra step on your already jam packed checklist? Because you don’t want to hear Aunt Thelma complain for the next three years that she had to eat Christmas dinner wearing a parka—nor do you want to open a bill in January that’s three times higher than you were expecting.
The first step requires minimal effort but a small investment: calling in a professional heating and air technician for an annual furnace check-up. Some new systems can cost as much as a small car, so think of it like bringing your wheels to the mechanic for a yearly inspection. Ask your neighbors for a reputable reference, and keep the technician’s phone number handy if they did a good job. Reliable contractors are worth their weight in gold, especially if an unforeseen issue pops up in the future!
Step two requires a little bit of legwork, but will pay off in the long run:
- Examine and replace all of your air intake filters. (My house has two intake vents which are awesomely two different sizes. To minimize frustration and trips to the store, I bought 6-packs of each filter size and keep the extras stashed in a closet.)
- Walk through each room and examine vents on the floor, walls and ceiling. Make sure they’re all open and unobstructed. (I used to think that closing vents in underutilized areas, like a guest bedroom, was saving me money. Not the case!)
- When you are home set that thermostat at 68 degrees and keep it there. (I mean it. Really. Exercise some self control and layer up if you must!)
- When you aren’t home, lower your thermostat by 10 degrees. This can really help you save. (And if you can figure out how to program your thermostat, you can make sure your home is nice and toasty when you return home!)
And if you have more HVAC tips, please share them in the comments.
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“The difference between a helping hand and an outstretched palm is a twist of the wrist.”
I think of those words often in my role as program manager for Duke Energy’s Fuel Funds (Heating Assistance Programs -Share the Warmth (Carolinas), Heatshare (OH), Wintercare (KY), and Helping Hand (IN)). How many of us are fortunate enough to serve in a role that allows you to live your passion? I’m lucky enough to do just that. On a daily basis, I talk to or meet someone who is struggling to make ends meet, maybe as a result of a job loss or illness or some other unforeseen circumstance.
I recently had the opportunity to spend the day with 4 people who were assisted though our Fuel Funds last winter. Just like you and me, they worked every day, took care of their kids or spouses and lived their lives. Then something happened. A car accident, an illness, or a combination of bad breaks. They found themselves falling behind on everything, including their utilities and were threatened with disconnection. Perhaps just like you or me, they didn’t know where to turn for help because they have never needed it before.
Thankfully, through the generosity of Duke Energy customers, employees and shareholders, through corporate contributions, donations and matching funds, over $3.2 million dollars in heating assistance was provided to customers across Duke Energy territories this past year. The face of poverty is growing and changing… and it looks a lot like all of us. By donating, even $1, we can make a real difference in the lives of our neighbors.
So please, take a moment to consider giving. Your donation of even $1, will make a real difference in the lives of our neighbors. Information on how to contribute can be found at:
“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”
– Winston Churchill
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