Virginia Energy Sense

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.

Great Gifts for the Energy-Savers in Your Family

The holidays often find us searching for the perfect gift for our friends and loved ones. Virginia Energy Sense is here to help. We have 10 gift ideas for efficiency-minded gadgets that are sure to be a hit with the energy savers in your family.

Each of these presents can be found at your local hardware or electronics store or online retailer, and many cost just a few bucks. Pick up one of the gadgets and start helping your loved ones save energy and money for years to come.

1)   Air Filter Whistle imageYou should regularly replace the air filters on your heating and cooling unit — as frequently as every month during the summer and winter, when you use the system the most. Air filter whistles make it easy to remember. Simply attach the whistle to your filter and it will automatically “sing” when it’s clogged, reminding you to make the swap. Sure, the whistling isn’t quite as catchy as your winter sing-alongs, but clean filters maximize efficiency saving you money in the long run – helping you keep that holiday cheer all year long.

2)      Smart Power Strips —On average, 10 percent of the cost to power our electronics is wasted to vampire load, the energy used when devices aren’t even in use. Smart power strips have special settings that maintain continual power to critical devices while cutting electricity to others when they are not in use. So go enjoy your lights shining as brightly as Rudolph’s nose and then turn them off with one simple click.

3)      Wireless Outlet Controls —Do you always forget to turn off the house or holiday lights? If so, pick up a wireless outlet controller to give yourself a backup. These devices enable you to control any electronic device remotely on your computer or with an app on your smartphone. Simply plug the controller tool into the wall, and then plug any appliance or device into the controller to instantly give you the power to save on the go.

4)      Insulated Letterbox Flap — Mail slots in doors are notoriously drafty and lead to major heating and cooling loss. If you don’t want to replace your entire mail slot, find models that now attach to the inside of the door and are invisible from the outside. They cut down on drafts while still allowing mail to be pushed through.

5)   Electrical Outlet Gaskets imageThe average household spends nearly half of its electric bill on heating and cooling, but you could be wasting money from gaps, cracks and other air leaks in your home. A simple way to start preventing some of this air loss is to install foam gaskets behind your light switch and AC outlet faceplates. The gaskets only cost a few bucks and you can seal up all your outlets with nothing more than a screwdriver.

6)      Electricity Usage Monitors —To save energy, you need to arm yourself with information. Plug the monitor into the wall and enter the price per kilowatt-hour for your area. Next, plug any device into the monitor and use it as normal for a few days. Check back later and the monitor will tell you how much it costs to run the device per month, including how much energy is wasted to vampire load. After a few weeks, you’ll have a good understanding of your biggest expenses, meaning you know where to target your savings.

7)      Device Charging Stations —Holiday gifts like your new phone, music players, and tablets will consume plenty of electrical power. Cut down on the power you use by consolidating them into a single charging station. The stations enable you to charge multiple devices simultaneously, reducing the amount of energy consumed per device. They also sense when devices are fully charged, automatically shutting off to reduce vampire load.

8)      Radiator Insulation Panels —Also called radiator reflector panels, these thin metal sheets slide between your wall and radiator, and reflect the heat off the wall and back into the room. By circulating the air and reducing the heat wasted into the wall, your heater doesn’t have to work as hard. These simple devices can cut up to 30 percent off your heating bill.

9)      Water Tank Jackets — Curling up inside with a warm blanket is a great way to pass the time in the winter. Don’t let your water heater miss out on the fun. Wrap your water tank with a blanket to improve insulation by as much as 45 percent. Heating water takes a lot of energy but keeping the water hot lets your water heater take more frequent breaks, saving you money.

10)   Efficient Showerheads image Speaking of hot water, pick up one of these nifty showerheads that reduce the water wasted while you wait for your shower to heat up. The showerhead has a built-in thermometer and runs normally when you first turn it on and the water is still cold. Once the water’s hot, the showerhead automatically cuts the flow to a trickle. The change in sound will signal your shower’s ready and reduce wasted water before you hop in. A simple pull of a lever will return the flow to normal. Pick up one of these to help you conserve electricity and water.

Sure, they may not be the most traditional stocking stuffers, but they are the gifts that will keep on giving for many years (and holidays) to come. For more energy-saving tips, visit www.virginiaenergysense.org.

Nov 20

Turn a Scary Basement into Thrilling Savings: Series Pt. IV - Basement

This is the final post in our series featuring ways to reduce consumption and save money in your home’s most used rooms.

Homeowners use their basements for many different purposes. For some, it’s an entertainment space and for others it’s a storage room. But for too many Virginians it’s an energy wasting nightmare. While the basement may be the last place you look to cut back on energy use, it could be costing you serious money. Here are some helpful tips to turn your basement from an energy nightmare to an energy efficient thriller.

The most effective way to reduce your basement’s energy consumption is through insulation. It is common for significant air leakages to occur in the basement as air seeps through vents, ducts, pipes and electrical wires that lead to the outside. You can improve your basement’s insulation by:

Visit ENERGYSTAR’s webpage on insulation for a detailed guide on how to properly insulate your basement.

Basement lighting is another area where you can cut back on energy use, but that doesn’t mean leaving your basement dark and eerie. You can brighten up the space and save money by switching to more efficient light bulbs, like CFLs or LEDs. CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent light, while LED lights last up to 10 and 15 times longer.

Water heaters are often positioned in the basement of your home and there are a few simple steps you can take to make them work more efficiently. The default setting for many water heaters is 140 degrees, but 120 degrees is typically sufficient for most of your water heating needs and it’ll save 7-11 percent on energy costs.

You can also insulate the first six feet of hot and cold water pipes coming out of your water heater. If you have a tank, wrap it with an insulation blanket to improve insulation by as much as 75 percent.  Keeping the water hot allows your water heater to take more frequent breaks, saving you money. If you’re current model isn’t getting the job done, replace it with a tankless or heat pump model to save 30-50 percent on heating costs.

After incorporating these tips in your basement overhaul, go the extra mile by investing in a professional home energy audit to uncover your home’s inefficiencies and opportunities. You’ll save energy and money on your monthly utility bills while bringing more comfort to your home.

Visit us at www.virginiaenergysense.org for more resources and tips. And check back with us here for upcoming winter and holiday tips to save energy and money for more gifts!

Oct 01

A New October Tradition

By Andy Farmer

October brings a number of well-known family traditions, like visits to pumpkin patches, Halloween costume shopping and eating a year’s worth of candy in a single day. This year, we’re asking Virginia’s families to add a lesser known, but equally important ritual to the mix: taking action to reduce their energy use. October is Energy Action Month, a good time to take stock of how we use energy, take steps to waste less and help others do the same before winter sets in.

image Becoming more energy efficient can be surprisingly simple and inexpensive. This is the perfect time to start. In Virginia, we’ve made a commitment to help our economy and natural resources by setting a goal to reduce the Commonwealth’s electric energy use by 10 percent. It’s a goal we can reach with the support of Virginians across the state, from Arlington to Roanoke to Norfolk.

Nearly all of us recognize the importance of being mindful of our energy consumption. In a 2012 survey of Virginia homeowners, 98 percent said that saving energy is important to them. However, only 27 percent of those same respondents said they were highly knowledgeable on the best strategies to make their homes more energy efficient.

That’s why the Commonwealth created the Virginia Energy Sense program to help close that knowledge gap by providing residents with the resources they need to make their homes, businesses and schools more efficient. As the fall season approaches, there are a number of ways to prepare your home for the colder months. Here are few ideas to get you started:

One of the best ways to diagnose your home’s biggest energy wasters is with an energy audit. Consider hiring a professional that can evaluate your home and provide custom solutions to realize big energy savings that carry over for years to come.

These are just a handful of the numerous opportunities for Virginia’s residents to cut energy waste and save money. For a complete list of tips, we encourage you to visit our website, virginiaenergysense.org. There, you can find a guide with easy Do-it-Yourself projects; information about rebates and incentives available to help offset the costs of energy efficiency upgrades; and a home energy test that with just a few clicks and 10 minutes will help you identify parts of your home that can use some improvements. Whether you’re an energy novice or DIY warrior, there are a range of steps you can take to live more efficiently.

image Every month that we delay energy efficiency improvements is another month we waste energy. Start a new tradition today by using October as a time to celebrate Energy Action Month and get started with steps to reduce the energy you consume and pay for.

It might become the most rewarding October tradition you have, except for the candy eating, of course.

Sep 17

Tackling Energy Savings: Series Pt. III - Living Room

This post is the third in our series featuring ways to reduce consumption and save money in your home’s most used rooms.

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Football is back and it’s time to score energy savings in the room where families across Virginia gather every weekend to watch the game. For many of us, the living room is the entertainment capital of the house. You can lead your entertainment center to optimal savings with a few energy efficient improvements. Practice makes perfect, so establishing energy saving habits will greatly improve your home’s efficiency. Here’s the game plan:

Start by clearing the area in front of air vents to avoid blocking cool air and/or heat. Install a programmable thermostat that automatically adjusts your heating during times you’re typically away from home and during sleeping hours. If you have ceiling fans, set them to spin clockwise on colder days to push the warmer air down; ceiling fans allow you to lower your thermostat by 4°F without noticing a difference. You can also reduce your reliance on the thermostat on cold sunny days by opening blinds to heat your space naturally.

Still scrambling for more savings? Some simple practices include using the locks on your windows to make them tighter and draft resistant. Smart power strips have special settings that maintain continual power to a critical device while cutting electricity to others when they are not in use.  Even traditional power strips are handy for powering off several unused devices with one flip of the switch. And if you have a fireplace, make sure the flue damper is closed tightly when not in use to prevent heated air from escaping through the chimney.

Make bigger plays by sealing leaks in your home that allow cold air in:

And no living room is complete without an ENERGY STAR qualified television, which, on average, are 25 percent more energy efficient than conventional models.

Don’t get sacked by high energy bills. Protect your home with more energy saving tips at www.virginiaenergysense.org and check back next week for our final installment on how to reduce your home’s energy consumption and save money.