Virginia Energy Sense

Jul 15

Hit a Home Run with Home Energy Savings

Batter up!  Though it feels like summer just started, it’s already time for the mid-summer classic when baseball’s best players gather in one place for the annual all-star game. You may not be able to hit a fastball (or even a tee-ball) but you can become an all-star this summer too – an energy efficient all-star! 

Tonight’s game is a reminder that the summer, and the opportunity for real energy savings, can easily pass you by. To get you started on your journey we’ve shared a few tips to help you take your home from the minors to big league savings:

  1. America’s Favorite Pastime: What is more traditional than baseball and apple pie? Grilling of course! Get outside and fire up the grill to enjoy your favorite foods, family and friends. Grilling also uses less energy than an oven and doesn’t add unwanted heat to your home.
  2. Call A Fan Interference: Heating and cooling accounts for nearly half of the energy used at home. Give you’re A/C unit a break by raising the thermostat 2-3°F and flipping on the ceiling fan. It’ll keep you cool and help you save up to 14 percent on cooling costs this summer.
  3. Go for the Changeup: Swap your five most used lights with ENERGY STAR certified light bulbs to save up to $70 annually on lighting costs. ENERGY STAR certified bulbs last up to 25 times longer than traditional bulbs and are more than 75 percent more efficient.
  4. Seventh Inning Stretch & Seal: Did you know that 30 percent of the cool air from your A/C is lost through gaps, cracks and disconnects in your air ducts? Don’t stretch your cooling system’s power too thin – insulate and seal and/or reconnect your ducts for better quality cooling and lower energy costs.
  5. Going, Going….and It’s “Audit” Here: Hit energy costs out of the park with a professional home audit. Find a qualified auditor to assess your home’s energy efficiency and learn where to make upgrades. By completing the recommendations from your audit you can save up to 30 percent or more in annual energy costs. Find an auditor today!

Now you’re up at the plate. Try these energy-saving tips today and never strike out with your energy bill again. For more tips and resources to become an energy efficient all-star, visit us at www.virginiaenergysense.org.

Jul 05

Five Signs Your Home May Be As Overworked As You Are

Did you know July 5 is National Workaholics Day? For those among you who rise early, work through lunch and leave the office well after sunset — we salute you!

Although you may be rewarded for your hard work, we all know the saying “work smarter, not harder.” Did you know the same can apply to your home? Especially in peaking heating and cooling seasons, your home may be working harder than it should be, causing it to consume more energy than necessary and you to pay more in energy costs. An overworked home can also mean reduced lifespan of your home appliances and equipment, while will also bring unplanned maintenance and replacement costs. If there’s one thing your extra hours at the office should NOT be used for – it’s paying for wasted energy!

Help your home curb its overworked habits with more energy efficient practices. Here are five signs your home is working too hard:

1. Too many drafts – Most homes have air leaks that need to be sealed to make your home more comfortable and ensure the money you’re spending on heating and cooling isn’t escaping. A simple way to detect some leakage is by lighting an incense stick and passing it around edges of common leak sites. Wherever the smoke is sucked out of or blown into the room, there’s a draft. Good places to begin are doors and windows and then baseboards and junctures of the walks and ceilings, where leaks occur most often. Once you’ve detected drafts, seal the openings with caulk and/or weather-strips to save up to 30% on energy bills.

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2. Gadgets galore Each day we grow increasing connected to our phones, laptops and computers and when we’re not focused on our compact screens, we’re focused on the big screen – television. Even when electronics are turned off, they draw energy while in stand-by mode – “vampire” power – which adds up to more than $100 a year. Curb your energy use and annual energy bills by plugging your electronic devices into power strips to easily switch off with one click of a button.

3. Excessively hot water – Most manufacturers set water heater temperatures to 140°F degrees. Lowering the maximum temp to 120°F degrees should be sufficient enough for your home and will save you up to 11% on water heating costs. Take an additional step and add an insulation jacket to reduce stand-by heat loss by 45% and water heating costs by up to 9%.

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4. Old school thermostat – Does your thermostat still have a dial indicating the current temperature? It’s time for an upgrade. Install a programmable thermostat that automatically adjusts temperatures when you’re asleep and away from home. You can save up to $180 a year – it will pay for itself!

5. Too cold. Too hot. Never “just” right – During heating and cooling seasons, HVAC units are hard at work. It’s important to check furnace filters often as dust particles (and pet hair) clog filters, forcing them to work harder and use more energy. Replacing your air filters regularly can reduce your HVAC’s energy use by up to 15%. If you need a reminder to check your furnace, try an air filter whistle – by simply attaching the whistle to your filter and it will automatically “sing” when it’s clogged, reminding you to make the swap.

Now that you’ve given your home a break, it’s time for a break of your own! Before hitting the road for summer vacation though, make sure to check our tips for saving energy and money while you’re away at http://www.virginiaenergysense.org/at-home/vacationtips/.

Jun 18

Virginia Student Wins National Contest for Energy-Saving Invention

Congratulations to Justin Heaton, 6th grade student at Damascus Middle School in Washington County, for winning the Igniting Creative Energy (ICE) Challenge in the Middle School Division! Since 2002, Johnson Controls and the National Energy Foundation have sponsored the ICE contest which challenges students to submit their unique solutions to improve energy and water conservation and the environment.

Inspired by a visit to the Hoover Dam last summer, Justin wondered how he could use the water in his community to create enough energy to power his home. The result was a design of a Micro Power plant, which uses water pressure to generate electricity. According to Justin, his parents told him to “figure out if power could be generated in this way, and I DID!”

Justin’s video of his Micro Power plant earned him the National Grand Prize for the 6-8th grade divisions which included: an Apple gift card and an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. for him and his family to present his project. 

To learn more about Justin’s project, click the video below. For more information on the contest, visit www.ignitingcreativeenergy.org.

Way to “Value Your Power” Justin!

May 16

Virginia Businesses Making A Difference, Helping Others “Value Your Power”

With busy schedules at home and work, making energy efficiency and sustainability a top priority can be challenging. Since many of us are most motivated to conserve energy by the financial savings, implementing measures in the workplace — where the upfront investment can be greater and most of the energy users are unaware of daily usage and cost — can be an even greater obstacle. But just because tenants and employees do not see their office building’s energy bill doesn’t mean they can’t play a role in saving energy, reducing costs and making Virginia a better place to live and work.

There are many ways to take action and encourage coworkers to get involved. Here are some examples of Virginia businesses that have taken different approaches to reducing waste and making their workplace more efficient.

Though there is not a one-size-fits-all approach for every business, there are options for every budget, building and organization size to begin embracing energy efficiency. Learn how your organization can start getting employees and employers involved.  When your office begins to realize its energy-saving potential – or you already have a success story to share – help inspire others by sharing your efforts with us at feedback@virginiaenergysense.org.

Apr 04

Don’t Forget ENERGY STAR Tax Credits this Tax Season!

Did you make any energy-saving home improvements or purchases last year? If you did, you may be eligible for tax credits! As you prepare to file your 2013 returns before the April 15th deadline, don’t forget to claim your upgrades and redeem your eligible deductions.

What Purchases and Improvements Are Eligible for A Credit?

ENERGY STAR products in the categories listed below are eligible for 10% of the cost up to $500 or a specific amount depending on product, ranging from $50 to $300. In order to qualify, you must have purchased any of the following products on or before December 31, 2013 for your primary residence

To learn more about how to apply and what forms you will need, visit ENERY STAR.

Looking ahead to home improvements you may be planning to do this year, here are ENERGY STAR products that will be eligible for a 30% tax credit on your 2014 tax returns. There is no upper limit to qualify for the credit and it applies to the installation costs on both primary and secondary homes (excluding rental properties):

There are many ways to cost-effectively make your home or business more energy efficient before and after tax season. Check www.virginiaenergysense.org for more tips and resources to help trim your energy bills and consumption year round; and don’t forget to take the 10% Challenge!

Mar 20

Time to Put Energy Efficiency on Your Spring Cleaning List

It’s been a long, cold winter for most of us but spring is finally here! The most obvious change in how we use energy during the coldest months of the year is space heating, which may have led to some sticker shock on your energy bills. Besides reducing the heat in your home as the weather warms, there are many other simple things you can do to boost energy efficiency—starting with spring cleaning! Here are some easy steps to incorporate to your other seasonal fixes around the house, most of which require little more than cleaning, dusting or replacing a few low-cost items.

For more energy- and money-saving tips to stay efficient throughout your home, all year round, visit virginiaenergysense.org

Feb 27

Energy Saving Tips for the Garage

Let’s say you have completed your personal home energy saving checklist.  You’ve caulked and sealed cracks and gaps around your home, you use a programmable thermostat that regulates your home’s heating and cooling when you’re away, and your neighbors know that you’ve bulked up your insulation levels in the attic. You’ve done great! But alas, there may be more energy- and cost-saving opportunities you can tackle.

Even the most energy efficient homeowner can easily forget about the lesser-used spaces in your home. Garages, especially those connected to your house, can contribute to high energy bills in a handful of ways. Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind:  

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Appliances: Take note of that old refrigerator hanging out in the garage. More than 60 million refrigerators are over 10 years old, costing consumers $4.4 billion a year in energy costs. If your refrigerator was made before 1987, it costs you around $190 per year to run – even if it’s empty! Upgrading to an energy-efficient fridge with the ENERGY STAR label could cut your refrigerator energy usage by up to 70% and save you close to $133 every year.* And if you aren’t quite ready to replace it, keep it unplugged until you really need it. With some creative storage and grocery shopping habits, you may find that kitchen refrigerator is plenty to handle your family’s cooling needs. Use the ENERGY STAR Savings Calculator to find out exactly how much money you’ll save by replacing your existing refrigerator.

Water Heater: If your water heater lives in your garage, now would be a good time to think about insulating your water heater pipes. Using pipe insulation available for purchase from online retailers and your local hardware store, insulate the first five feet of pipe coming out of the top of your water heater. If the whole length of exposed pipe between the water heater and the wall is less than five feet, insulate the full length. Insulating pipes also help prevent pipes from freezing and bursting in cold weather.

The garage door: If you’re feeling drafts near doors inside your home, just imagine how your largest door may be! Thick, durable weather stripping around the garage door will prevent heating or cooling you’re paying for from escaping and outside temperatures from coming in. Apply fiberglass duct wrap on the inside of the door to make it even more energy efficient. Keep the garage door closed as much as possible. Make sure the walls shared with the interior of your home are also well insulated. If heat collects in your garage during the summer, the hot air can seep into your home and raise the cost of air conditioning.

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Lighting:  Lighting is one of the simplest things you can change inside or outside of your garage. Since lighting uses about 20 percent of a home’s overall energy, switching to more efficient bulbs like CFLs or LEDs can cut your energy use significantly — they’re more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs and last 50 times longer than a traditional incandescent bulb and 10 times longer than a compact fluorescent!. While CFLs and LEDs may cost a bit more at the store than your old light bulbs use only 20%–25% of the energy and last up to 25 times longer than the traditional incandescent bulbs they replace.

For more tips to start or continue saving at home, visit www.virginiaenergysense.org.

*Source: ENERGY STAR

Feb 14

Do Something Sweet for Your Home (and your wallet) this Valentine’s Day!

On Valentine’s Day this year, besides the normal flowers and candy for loved ones, why not take a few moments to show your home and wallet some love? Here are just a few simple, quick steps (with little or no cost!) to help make your home more energy efficient during these cold months.

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Take Advantage of the Sun: Before you leave in the morning, try to take advantage of the sun’s rays to naturally heat your home by opening the blinds to let the sunlight in! When you return home after the dark, make certain to close the blinds to keep the chill out.  Find out more about energy efficient window treatments.

Maintain Your Heating Systems: Take a moment and schedule a service for your heating system. And be sure to regularly replace your furnace filters to keep your HVAC system from working harder than it should be. If you have pets, you may need to replace (or clean reusable) filters more regularly to remove dust, dirt and dander.

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Adjust the Temperature in Your Home: One of the simplest and most effective quick tips is to install and properly operate a programmable thermostat to help reduce heating and cooling costs — the biggest portion of your energy bill. Seems like a no-brainer, but check out this podcast from ENERGY STAR for instructions on operating your thermostat. Use your programmable thermostat to easily set the temperature back just a few degrees when you leave the house or won’t notice the change, like when you’re sleeping.

Turn Down Your Water Heater: During average seasonal temperatures, energy consumed by heating your water heater accounts for 18% of your energy bill. Though default manufacturer settings may be closer to 140 ° Fahrenheit, setting your water heater to 120° F should be sufficient for your needs while easily reducing your energy use.

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Install Gaskets Behind Outlets & Switches: Installing foam gaskets behind electrical outlets and light switches to reduce air leaks and to prevent heated and conditioned air from escaping through small holes. You can also use gaskets to seal off recessed lighting and save energy.

Visit virginiaenergysense.org for tips to help you become even more energy efficient throughout your entire home.

Dec 02

Energy-Saving Resolutions for 2014

It’s never too early to start thinking about your goals for the New Year. This season, after making your traditional pledges, consider adding a new one to your list: resolve to save energy and money by making your home more energy efficient.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has taken the challenge to reduce energy consumption by 10%. You can help reach that goal by taking simple steps that will help curb your own energy spending.

Resolution 1: Change Your Heating and Cooling Habits

The greatest source of energy use in the average home comes from heating and cooling. For quick fixes:

Resolution 2: Fix Air Leaks

Reducing the drafts in your home can save you as much as 30 percent in energy costs in the upcoming year and will make your home more comfortable.  The usual problem areas inside your home are windows, doors, outlets, baseboards, and electrical outlets. You can fix the leaks by caulking, weatherstripping and/or air sealing.

Resolution 3: Waste Less (Hot) Water

The average household spends between $400 and $600 per year on water heating, which is not surprising considering the water needed for washing machines, dishwashers and showers. But there are plenty of ways to reduce the energy you use on water heating.

Resolution 4: Lighting

One of the best ways to save on energy is by switching your old incandescent light bulbs to LEDs or CFLs. Replacing just 15 traditional incandescent light bulbs can save you around $50 a year and more than $600 over the life of the bulb. Consider replacements for ceiling fixtures, outdoor lights and even floor and table lamps. Be sure to read the packaging to know which bulb functions best outdoors and which bulbs can be used in enclosed fixtures. In case you often forget to turn them off when you leave the room, grab a generic WeMo switch that allows you to turn devices on/off from your phone!

Resolution 5: Replace Your Old Appliances

Appliances including refrigerators, freezers, washers and dryers have become much more energy efficient in recent years. Though buying new appliances can be expensive in upfront costs, they will help you save money in the long run in reduced energy costs. There may be incentives or tax breaks available for some purchases. Check the Virginia Energy Sense incentives page to find out what’s available.

Following through on these resolutions will not only help you reduce your own energy waste and save money, but help Virginia achieve its resolution to reduce energy consumption by 10 percent. For more energy saving tips and tricks to keep your New Year’s pledges all year long, visit virginiaenergysense.org.

The Twelve Days of Energy Savings

Between holiday lighting displays, large festive meals and the arrival of cold weather, Americans use the largest amount of energy in December and January. Spreading holiday cheer doesn’t have to come with a hefty energy bill. There are many ways you can save energy this winter while still celebrating the holidays and keeping cozy.

This is the perfect time of year to get started. We’ve identified 12 energy saving projects, each taking less than a day to complete, that will add up to big savings for you and your family. It’s time to start celebrating the Twelve Days of Energy Savings!

Day 1: Understand Your Energy Bill

Ease into your 12 days of energy projects with a simple one that can make a big difference: understanding your monthly energy bill. You can find an easy-to-read breakdown of your bill on the Virginia Energy Sense website. Know what you spend the most money and energy on to lower your usage next month.

Day 2: DIY Energy Audit

imageNow you’re ready to dive in. Start saving right with an energy assessment of your home to identify what fixes will help boost your efficiency. A professional energy audit is the most thorough way to inspect your home for energy waste, but you can also get started cost-free with an online home energy test. That will provide some potential ways to save based on your home’s age, energy sources and other characteristics.

Day 3: Light Bulbs

Did your energy audit reveal that you’re still using incandescent light bulbs in fixtures you forgot were there? By replacing 15 traditional incandescent light bulbs with LEDs or CFLs you can save $50 a year and more than $600 over the life of the bulb. They live much longer and save you money. The best of both worlds!

Day 4: Detecting and Sealing Air Leaks

Most homes have air leaks that need to be sealed to make your home more comfortable and ensure the money you’re spending on heating and cooling isn’t escaping. A simple way to detect some leakage is by lighting an incense stick and passing it around edges of common leak sites. Wherever the smoke is sucked out of or blown into the room, there’s a draft. Focus first on baseboards and junctures of the walks and ceilings, where leaks occur most often. Once you’ve detected drafts, use the U.S. Department of Energy’s easy guide to get started with the right air sealing for your problem areas.

Day 5: Water Heater Temperature

imageToday’s task is as easy as pie. Simply lower your water heater’s maximum temperature to 120 degrees. The default manufacturer setting for many water heaters is 140 degrees, but 120 should be sufficient for most homes. This simple act can save you up to 11 percent on your water heating costs and still provide you with a hot shower.

Day 6: Water Heater Blanket

Head back to your water heater for another simple fix: fit your water heater and the first five feet of exposed pipe with insulation blankets. Heating water, though necessary, consumes a lot of energy. Adding the blanket and insulating your pipes can help raise your water temperature 2-4 degrees, saving you money water heating for showers, laundry and other tasks.

Day 7: Sealing Your Switches

While your light switches are covered by a wall plate, air can still easily escape from them. Check to see if there are foam gaskets under the faceplate. If not, these inexpensive gadgets can be purchased from your local hardware store and easily installed for quick energy savings. Foam gaskets can also be placed behind electrical outlets. Complete the process by plugging in child safety plugs to further reduce escaping air.

Day 8: Doors and Windows

Another great way to keep the heat in (and the cool air out) this winter is by weatherstripping your home. Weatherstripping is good for areas that often open and close like doors and windows. As there are many different kinds to choose from, consult the Department of Energy’s guide to decide which is best for your project.

Day 9: Install a Programmable Thermostat

imageA programmable thermostat can regulate the temperature of your house based on time of day, season and your schedule — helping you save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling costs. They can be purchased for as low as $20 or as high as a few hundred dollars.  But before you make a purchase, check with your utility provider to see if they offer free installation or an incentive toward your purchase.

If you do install it yourself you should:

You can also find programming instructions in our DIY Guide (pg. 12-13).

Day 10: Smart Power Strips

Even when you aren’t charging a device, a plugged-in charger still draws power. To avoid being a victim of “vampire power” — which can account for adding 10% or more to your energy bill — stop plugging appliances and electronics directly into wall sockets. Instead, try smart power strips that can automatically cut power drain. Even if you are using traditional power strips, you can easily turn off all connected appliances with one simple switch.

Day 11: Save on New Appliances

Your home can always benefit from a little retail therapy. Take advantage of the holiday sales to upgrade an old refrigerator, dishwasher, laundry machine or water heater to a newer, more efficient model. Energy efficient appliances, which are easily identified by an ENERGY STAR label, will save you money for years to come.

Day 12: Refrigerator and Freezer

Check your temperature settings for your refrigerator and freezer. The fridge should be set anywhere between 37 degrees and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer should be around 5 degrees Fahrenheit. For even more savings, try the “dollar bill” test.Try to slide a dollar bill in your refrigerator door. If you can easily move the dollar back and forth, replace the seal around the door.

Just because we’ve limited our list to 12 days of energy savings doesn’t mean you have to! Head over to virginiaenergysense.org for tips to help you become even more energy efficient all year round.