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.
- During your normal cleaning routine, it’s easy to forget the areas we don’t see, like behind appliances. But behind items like your refrigerator, dust easily builds up on cooling coils, causing the refrigerator to run less efficiently. Get some help to pull the refrigerator away from the wall for an easy vacuum and dusting to help keep your fridge (and its energy consumption) in tip-top shape! Also, make sure the refrigerator door seal is clean and tight so cold air doesn’t leak out. If you have an older fridge, say 10 or 15 years old, consider replacing it with a new ENERGY STAR-certified model that will result in significant energy savings. You can save up from $200-$1,100 on energy costs over the lifetime of the fridge.
- Speaking of dusting, make sure to dust or wipe off light bulbs. A clean bulb provides much more light for your money! If you still have any incandescent bulbs, replace them with more efficient lights like CFLs or LEDs that use at least 75% less energy.
- After scrubbing your bathroom sink and shower, consider purchasing an energy-saving showerhead, faucet or flow restrictor. These gadgets will help save water, which also cuts down your energy bill by reducing the amount of water that needs to be heated.
- As you finally get to store away winter clothing and equipment, make a quick stop at your water heater. If you haven’t checked it before, it may be set at a default setting of around140°F. For most of us, however, 120°F should be sufficient for your water heating needs. And for every 10ºF you reduce the temperature, you can save around 3–5% on your water heating costs. (Learn more about lowering your water heating temperature from the Department of Energy.)
- Before you start letting the warmer fresh air in, check any sliding doors that lead outside to see whether the track is clean – a dirty track can ruin the door’s seal and create gaps where heat or cold air can escape.
- While you’re cleaning and moving things around, it’s a good time to unplug appliances like computers, TVs, DVD players and game consoles from the wall and reconnect them using a powerstrip. The powerstrip allows you to turn them on and off more easily when not in use and can save energy. By using a power strip, you can avoid “vampire power” – energy used when appliances are not in use but left plugged in – which can add up to an average of $200 in yearly energy costs.
For more energy- and money-saving tips to stay efficient throughout your home, all year round, visit virginiaenergysense.org
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 — You 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 — The 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 — 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.
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.
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:
- Install foam gaskets behind your light switches and outlet faceplates to reduce air leaks through even the smallest of gaps and cracks.
- Caulk and seal windows and doors where air loss and leakage commonly occurs.
- Mail slots in doors are drafty and lead to major heating loss. If you don’t want to replace your entire mail slot, find models that 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.
- Have single-pane windows? Add storm panels to cut heat loss by 50 percent for a cheaper alternative than new window treatments.
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.
The Recipe for Energy Savings: Pt. II - Kitchen
This post is the second in our series featuring ways to reduce consumption and save money in your home’s most used rooms.
While the best meals often involve secret family recipes, the perfect recipe for saving money by keeping your kitchen energy efficient is well-known. The kitchen is a major contributor to the energy waste that occurs in many homes. By taking a few steps around your cooking station, you’ll be on your way to lower utility bills.
It starts with your refrigerator, which should be set between 37°F and 40°F to keep food cool without using too much energy. Likewise, you can set your freezer at a steady 5°F. Remember that refrigerators run inefficiently when dust builds on the coils behind the unit, so cleaning the coils will allow your appliance to run easier and longer. And while you’re improving your fridge, slip a piece of paper between the door and pull the paper out – if it comes out easily, you may need to adjust the latch or replace the seal to ensure air doesn’t escape.
When planning your meals, consider grilling instead of using the stove or oven. Grilling saves energy and money and doesn’t add unwanted heat to your home. Here are a few more things to consider when cooking:
- Allow your oven to multi-task – bake several items at once; using glass and ceramic pans allows you to reduce the heat by 25 degrees while cooking just as well.
- When possible, use a toaster oven or microwave instead of your large oven.
- Try to avoid checking your food in the oven by repeatedly opening the door. Instead, use the oven light (but make sure to turn it off after you’re done cooking!).
When it’s time for cleanup, hand wash dishes and allow them to air-dry. When you do use the dishwasher, flip on the automatic air-dry switch or turn off the control knob after the final rinse and prop the door open slightly so the dishes will dry faster.
Looking to renovate your kitchen for long-term savings? Purchasing ENERGY STAR appliances will keep your energy bills down for years to come:
- Save up to $100 a year on energy costs with an ENERGY STAR refrigerator; a top mounted freezer uses 10-25% less energy than side or bottom mounted models.
- Install a range hood to help remove cooking odors and control moisture; ENERGY STAR qualified models are quieter than standard models, use 65% less energy (for models with lighting) and save you $120 in energy costs over its service lifetime.
Don’t stop at your kitchen, check back next week for our third installment and visit us at www.virginiaenergysense.org for more energy efficiency recipes for energy savings.
Five Rooms Ready for Savings: Pt. I - Bed & Bath
This post is the first in our series featuring ways to reduce consumption and save money in your home’s most used rooms.
When you wake up in the morning, your first thought probably isn’t, “How will I save energy in my home today?” But maybe it’s time to incorporate energy savings into your morning and nighttime routines. Your bedroom is the most used room in the house and — along with the bathroom — is a place where you can start saving energy today.
There are a few simple ways to make your bedroom and bath more energy efficient: If you get a lot of natural light, open your blinds and curtains to brighten your room with sunlight in the morning instead of light fixtures. Light your room at night without burning out your wallet by replacing all of your traditional incandescent lights with CFLs or LEDs; CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent lights, while LEDs last up to 10 and 15 times longer.
Instead of relying on your air conditioner, set your ceiling fan to counterclockwise to cool the room by 3-5°F without lowering the thermostat. When the air conditioning is on, make sure to clear the area in front of your floor vents to prevent air blockage.
Now that you’ve started down the path towards saving energy, why not go a few steps further? Place your hand near your light switches and outlet faceplates. Feel a draft? That’s an air leak that allows hot air into your cool home and lets cool air escape. Give your A/C a break by installing inexpensive foam gaskets behind the switches and faceplates to reduce air leaks through even the smallest of gaps and cracks.
Try your hand at a couple more low-cost tips:
- Turn off bath exhaust fans within 20 minutes of bathing; and when replacing exhaust fans, consider installing high-efficiency, low-noise models.
- Use energy-saving power strips. These allow you to easily turn off all electronics, like your TV, charging devices and lamps, with one click.
For improvements with an even greater return, consider:
- Conserving electricity and water by installing an energy efficient showerhead.
- Caulking and weather stripping gaps and cracks to prevent air loss and leakage. Caulking is best for sealing gaps or cracks that are 1/4 inch or less. Use weather stripping for locations where movement occurs, such as windows and doors.
- Installing a wireless outlet controller to turn off any electronic device remotely from your computer or smartphone app. 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 and keep your home safe
Your energy savings doesn’t have to end here: Work with a professional home energy auditor to learn how your home is performing and where there are inefficiencies and opportunities to save on your monthly utility bills. You can also use our guide here to get started with a do-it-yourself assessment.
If you’re eager to find out the next room you can experience more savings, check back next week for part two and also visit us at www.viriginiaenergysense.org to have all of our tips and resources at your fingertips!
Partners making an energy-efficient difference: CORNERSTONE ARCHITECTS
(This is the first post in a series highlighting the great energy efficiency work Virginia Energy Sense partners are achieving across the state.)
Located in Richmond, Virginia, Cornerstone Architects is an architecture and interior design firm committed to building environmentally friendly structures that make a statement and a contribution to the community. Recently signed on as a Virginia Energy Sense partner, Cornerstone Architects just completed the Emergency Command Center project located at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans’ Administration Hospital. This LEED Silver building project services more than 200,000 veterans coming from 52 cities and counties covering 22,515 miles of central and southern Virginia. The building incorporates energy saving strategies including a super insulated building envelope, high efficiency mechanical equipment, LED lighting, light controls and occupancy sensors.
The firm also owns a historical building in the “Old and Historic District” in downtown Richmond. This location allows employees to walk to several client sites and a variety of lunch options, further reducing their environmental footprint. The Cornerstone Architects team recently improved the energy consumption in the building by applying a “White Roof” coating that increases reflectance, cuts down on heat gain, lowers the electric bill and extends the life of the roof.
Have an energy efficiency story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear what you’re doing and any ideas on how your company/organization can help encourage Virginians to reduce their energy use. For your chance to be featured, contact the Virginia Energy Sense team at Tabitha@virginiaenergysense.org.
Deck the Halls With Minimal Cost
We’re noticing lots of holiday decorations up already! You can make your home festive for the holidays without ruining your energy efficiency efforts. Read on to learn a few simple ways you can make sure your home is full of holiday cheer with minimal impact on your utility bill this season:
Tip 1: Get Creative
Skip lights and go for old-fashioned and edible decor. Gingerbread men, candy canes and popcorn strings make great decorations— and require zero energy!
Make your home sparkle by strategically placing tinsel, glittered stars and other shiny to catch lights already in use. They will give off a twinkle similar to lights and keep your energy use down over the holidays.
Tip 2: If you can’t skip lights, choose LEDs
Did you know it costs about $10.00 to light a six-foot tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days with incandescent lights? To light that same tree with mini-LEDs for the same amount of time costs about $.82—now that’s what I call savings.
As you pull decorations out of storage, check your lights. If they’re damaged or you’re using incandescent bulbs, consider swapping them for LED bulbs and mini-lights.
You can find energy efficient lights in a variety of colors at most local hardware and retail stores. Before you buy, search ENERGY STAR’s Special Offer/Rebate Finder to find deals and other incentives. Enter your zip code to find rebates near you.
Tip 3: Set a Timer
Automatic timers make it easier for you to schedule your holiday lights to shine… when you want them to! Look for timer models that come with dusk/dawn sensors or shut off after a specific length of time. Newer models also have settings to create a light show and can even be combined with music—a fun addition if you’re hosting a holiday party.
If you don’t have a timer, consider plugging lights into centrally located power strips to make it easier to turn them off before you go to bed or leave the house.
Question of the Week: what’s a lumen?
It’s no secret that our home lighting choices have become significantly more efficient. Now, instead of measuring our old, incandescent light bulbs by the amount of energy they use (watts), we’re measuring them by the amount of light they emit (lumens). This new measurement helps ensure you pick bulbs that use the least amount of energy while providing the appropriate brightness you need! Here are some tips to make sure you get the right bulbs for you:
1) Before your next trip to the hardware store, think about your home. What kind of lighting do you need? Are you looking for energy efficient light bulbs for reading, or a brighter bulb for your desk? Make a list of your lighting needs.
Tip: There are also free mobile apps to help you while at the store, including Light Bulb Finder, the winner of the U.S. EPA’s Apps for the Environment contest.
2) Bookmark this graphic from the FTC to help you remember what kind of light bulbs you’re looking for.
3) Once you get to the store, take a look at each bulb’s packaging label. It will include important information you’ll want to consider, including:
· Brightness (in lumens)
· Yearly estimated energy cost
· Expected bulb life (in years)
· Light appearance (how warm or cool the light will look)
· Wattage (the energy used)
For more information on other simple steps you can take to reduce your energy use at home, check out the Virginia Energy Sense Do-It-Yourself Guide, full of low and no cost projects to help you Value Your Power!
Six Quick Steps to Ready Your Home for Winter
Did you know that this Sunday, November 4th, our clocks “fall behind” for the fall and winter? As you switch your clocks back, take a few extra minutes to make sure your home remains energy efficient all through the cold weather months.
Six Quick Steps to Ready Your Home for Winter:
1. Plug laptop AC adapters, cell phone chargers and other electronic devices into a power strip. These electronics continue to draw electricity, even when they are not in use. Look for green power plugs that allow you to leave some electronics turned on, like your DVR.
2. Clean your refrigerator coils on the back of the fridge where dust builds up. You’ll help one of the biggest energy hogging appliances in your home run more efficiently and longer!
3. Reset your programmable thermostat to the coolest comfortable temperature to save on heating costs. Decrease the temperature when you go to bed or leave your home for the day. Ready your home for winter; install storm windows and reduce heat loss through the windows by 25-50%
4. Replace five regular light bulbs with ENERGY STAR qualified light bulbs and save an average of 1,880 kWh over the lifetime of the bulbs. That’s enough energy to light your whole house for nearly 11 months.
5. Grab a can of spray foam and seal all the gaps where air can leak in or out of your home, including those around windows, doors, wiring holes, recessed lights, plumbing vents, your attic hatch, and more. Stopping drafts can make you feel more comfortable and reduce energy bills.
6. Switch the direction of your ceiling fans. Most ceiling fans have a switch on the motor which allows you to control the direction of the blade. In the winter, the blades should move clockwise to force the warm air down.