Green Living Energy Savings

Keep cool with these 10 Air Conditioning Hacks

Does the idea of relying on an air-conditioner to keep cool get you hot? Here are some tips to keep cool, save a buck and keep the old air conditioner in storage.

According to Google, it’s going to cost you $300 over the course of the summer to run one air conditioning window unit. So which room do you choose? The bedroom? Your home office? The living room? Does your entire family huddle around this loud, dripping machine when summer is at its peak? Is there always someone in the house complaining it’s too cold?

The reluctant truth is, our grandparents survived without air conditioning, especially in New England. With a few common sense actions and a teeny bit of willingness to forgo optimum personal temperature at all times, you too can save some money and do a little bit more for the environment.
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Green Living Business

4 Strategies for Starting a Company Recycling Program

A huge portion of the country’s waste paper comes from offices, so starting a company recycling program is a great way to reduce waste and encourage environmentally conscious practices. This could even be a selling point to potential employees who want to work for an environmentally-aware company.

A huge portion of the country’s waste paper comes from offices, so starting a company recycling program is a great way to reduce waste and encourage environmentally conscious practices. This could even be a selling point to potential employees who want to work for an environmentally-aware company.

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Business, Green Living Business

What Does It Take to Get LEED Certified?

For any business that cares about sustainability, the environment, or making the world a greener place, having its facilities LEED certified is a great way to do their part.

If you’re in the midst of a new construction or renovation and are considering LEED certification, here’s a primer on how to successfully complete the process, and why it’s worth considering.

Why Take the LEED?

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, and is essentially a green building certification program for building projects. In order to earn a LEED certification, the project earns points based on the environmental impacts and human benefits of using particular building practices. There are different levels of certification depending on the number of points earned, and as a business owner, you must choose the type of LEED program that best fits your construction project. Your choices are:

  • Building design and construction (BD + C)
  • Interior design and construction (ID + C)
  • Building operations and maintenance
  • Neighborhood development
  • Homes

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To get certified, you must earn 40-49 points; silver certification requires 50-59 points; gold needs 60-79 points; and platinum is for those that earn 80+ points.

 

If you need some bottom-line motivation as to why it’s worth going through the process and expense of becoming LEED certified, three key points to keep in mind include:

  1. LEED-certified buildings cost less to operate, reducing energy and water bills by as much as 40 percent, as per the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
  2. LEED buildings have higher air quality and more comfortable work spaces for employees, creating a healthier and more comfortable environment that can increase productivity.
  3. Over 60 percent of corporate leaders believe that sustainability leads to market differentiation and improved financial performance, according to USGBC.

The Path to LEED

The first steps of the LEED process can be completed online, beginning with registration. You’ll have to submit a registration form and your flat registration fee of $1,200, which will open your LEED Online account. The certification fee will be based on the size of the project and the rating system under which you register, with pricing beginning at $2,750. Naturally, the higher the level of LEED certification you’re trying to achieve, the more expensive it will be.

From there, you’ll be able to access various tools, and given step-by-step instructions on the documentation you’ll need for your application. If you’re working on BD+C and ID+C projects, you will have the option to split the LEED review, in which you will submit your application in two parts: one for design credits, and the other for construction credits.

Once you’re ready to begin working on your project, be sure to choose professionals – from engineers to consultants to architects — who are LEED-accredited to ensure that the job gets completed according to LEED specifications, recommends the National Resources Defense Council.

All in all, investing in a greener business will have long-term benefits, can help you operate more efficiently, and will set you apart in the eyes of your customers and clients. LEED certification is a proven path toward sustainability.

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Green Living Energy Savings

How to Choose an Energy Efficient Ceiling Fan

On a normal summer day, no other household appliance consumes as much energy as the much-loved air conditioner. All the more reason to not forget about the humble ceiling fan.
A mid-size ceiling fan set on high for 12 hours per day costs just over a penny per hour in electricity or just about $3.50 per month

Air conditioning units, even the newest, most efficient models, occupy the top spot of the American energy consumption pyramid. On a normal summer day, no other household appliance consumes as much energy as the much-loved air conditioner — or even comes close. Roughly 25% of an average monthly electrical bill is consumed by a running air conditioning unit.

Now, consider the humble ceiling fan. A mid-size ceiling fan set on high for 12 hours per day costs just over a penny per hour in electricity or just about $3.50 per month. Even your curling iron uses more energy.

Three numbers to consider when shopping for a ceiling fan

Now that you are considering a ceiling fan to save money, you may as well consider an energy efficient one to further lower your household consumption. There are three numbers on the side of the box to look at:

  1. Airflow or CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute): Air flow, whether you’re talking about duct systems, bath fans, or ceiling fans, is measured in cubic feet per minute, usually called simply cfm. The higher the number, the more air is moving.
  2. Electricity Use (watts): Energy usage can be a bit confusing, but it’s important to remember that a watt is the unit of measurement for the rate of energy consumption. If the ceiling fan you are looking at includes a light, that will not be included in the electricity use rating to better allow an accurate comparison of the fan mechanism.
  3. Airflow Efficiency (or CFM/Watt): Efficiency is generally measured as output divided by input. In this case the output is airflow or CFM, divided by electricity use or watts

So what can we gather from these three numbers? You want high airflow or CFM with low electricity use or watts. Therefore, the higher the airflow efficiency number, the more efficient the fan. Other factors to consider are the size and height of the room. Energy Star provides an installation guide to help you choose the best size and mount for your ceiling fan. General rule of thumb is, get the biggest fan you can.

You have successfully installed your new ceiling fan. Now what?

As with any appliance, you have to know how and when to use it to get the best bang for your buck. In most homes in the U.S. ceiling fans don’t actually save much energy at all, but that’s not to say that they can’t. For all of the reasons that this article has laid out, ceiling fans can be a great money and energy saving tool, but you have to understand how and when to use them. Here are the rules of the road:

  1. Fans cool people, not rooms. The most important rule of using a ceiling fan to save energy is to turn it off when no one is there. The goal is to make your room feel cooler, allowing you to skip the AC. Ceiling fans don’t actually change the temperature of the room that much, but the circulating air does make the person inside the room feel cooler.
  2. Use the fan year-round. A ceiling fan set to run counterclockwise in the summer provides a cooling breeze. In the winter, reverse the motor to clockwise (most ceiling fans have this feature) for a gentle updraft, forcing warm air hiding out near the ceiling down. And don’t forget to adjust your thermostat to really realize these savings.
  3. Apply for a rebate. Energy Star often partners with appliance manufacturers to further incentivize use of energy efficient products. These savings can come in the form of federal tax credits or product rebates. As you continue to make improvements to your home, this website is a helpful tool to discover savings.

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Green Living Energy Savings

5 Steps to Making Your Old Home More Energy Efficient

We New Englanders love our squeaky old farm houses, Capes and captain’s houses. Making them energy efficient and reducing energy costs will make them all the more enjoyable.
front of large yellow home
Originally built in 1880's this home has undergone a number of renovations. Many windows still need replacing as well as upgrading the insulation.

We New Englanders love our squeaky old farm houses, Capes and captain’s houses, and taking care of our historic homes is nothing short of a labor of love. But it’s not just about the hard work. While the carbon footprint of maintaining and inhabiting an old home is less than building a new one, the expense of heating, cooling and lighting these beloved structures can be nothing short of menacing.

There is also our own, personal energy use to consider. All residential buildings in the US use more energy than all commercial buildings combined. While we love our drafty fireplaces and single pane windows, none of us are looking to guzzle up the resources often required to make a New England winter manageable. That said, building a new and tightly sealed home can emit up to ten times more C02e (carbon dioxide equivalent) during construction than rehabbing an old one. So, while cutting household emissions can clearly make an impact, if your goal is to be the best global citizen you can be, older is better.

Enter home performance. An energy efficient home isn’t just for new construction. There are many ways to keep the charm and originality of your historic home while also saving a little fuel, a little electricity and potentially a lot of money.

Historic Homes are Different

There are considerations to make before moving forward with creating new efficiencies in your old house. It is important to remember that your 1800s home was constructed using different techniques than what contractors practice today. For example, if your home is a pre-1850s structure, its bones are likely post and beam instead of the more modern balloon framing. This will be important to consider when updating your insulation.

Another major consideration is temperature regulation and moisture levels. Historic homes were not built with the same static, comfortable temperature expectation as today. If you were cold, you put on a sweater. If you were hot, you opened a window. Thicker walls provided some insulation, keeping the home warmer at night and cooler during the day, but in general, air was allowed to move more freely throughout the structure. Adding insulation to your old home without considering the house as a system can cause moisture to accumulate and mold and rot to form.

Thanks to south-west facing windows-the sun provides some warmth and added natural light.
Thanks to south-west facing windows-the sun provides some warmth and added natural light.

The best thing to understand about owning an old home is that you live in a structure that has served well for 100, 150 or even 200 years. The charm of your home is not only an aesthetic consideration, but also an environmental one.

Now, to improve your historic home’s energy efficiency

It is important to be considerate of your surroundings as you move towards retrofitting your home. Old homes were designed to utilize their natural surroundings for temperature control. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this project. Here are some first steps to having an energy efficient historic home:

  1. Get an energy audit. This is the first step to identifying leaks in your home. While many states offer free energy audits, it may be worth the expense of going to a professional when dealing with a 100 to 200 year old home. They will go beyond some of the more obvious energy upgrades and provide a complete roadmap for moving forward.
  2. Air seal. But not too tight! This is a one-step to significantly improving your home’s energy efficiency. Identifying and sealing the holes and cracks in your home’s exterior, doors, windows and even attic floor will make a huge difference. Sealing up these cracks can often be a DIY project. Energy Star offers a comprehensive DIY guide to get you through. During this project, keep the house-as-a-system approach in mind and work to strike a balance. The house still has to breath to avoid mold and rot.
  3. Keep it simple. Cut down on drafts by closing curtains, plasticing your windows in the winter, closing your fireplace damper and using door snakes. These methods may be simple, but they are cheap and surprisingly effective.
  4. Establish climate zones. Old homes are often comprised of many rooms. As winter approaches, identify which rooms you aren’t using regularly and consider shutting them down for the season. If you have an air-conditioned home, consider the same in the summer. Placing these rooms on separate thermostats will allow you to further control the climate.
  5. Consider a programmable thermostat. There are many options of varying cost out there, but the overall goal here is to decide what temperature your house should be at certain times during the day, and stick with it. The Nest thermostat seems to be getting the best reviews lately, but there are several options.

These are some basic, first steps you can take towards improving your historic home’s energy efficiency. Should you choose to get a professional energy audit, they will go deeper into your house’s needs and its possibilities, addressing big-ticket items like your furnace, windows, basement and attic, and even the possibility of purchasing renewable energy to power your home. There are a multitude of resources out there for homeowners with regard to sourcing contractors, DIY projects and even tax credits.

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Green Living Energy Savings

Beat The Heat-With Efficient A.C. use.

Did you know 2/3 of all U.S. Households have air conditioners? Here are some tips to keep cool and keep costs down

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We Agree. Read the Fine Print

Legislative efforts in New Hampshire to make electricity buying for consumers should be embraced.

The following appeared in the New Hampshire Union Leader-March 19, 2015

Dave Solomon’s Power Plays: When it comes to utility mailings, read the fine print
DAVE SOLOMON

Competition in the sale of electricity has been a fact of life for New Hampshire’s residential consumers for the past three years, yet confusion persists in the market.

Many customers are still getting stuck with high-priced variable rates after their fixed-rate contacts expire.
Complaints to the Public Utilities Commission and to state lawmakers prompted two bills in the state Legislature this year designed to enhance consumer protections and rein in questionable marketing practices by some competitive electricity suppliers.

The House bill, HB 345, would have created a consumer bill of rights, eliminating the ability of a utility to cut-off service for non-payment of an energy supply charge. That bill failed on a voice vote in the House on March 4.

A bill in the Senate, SB 170, would require the Public Utilities Commission to redesign the billing format for residential electric bills and the PUC website so that key information for consumers will jump out and hit them on the head. It’s called “conspicuous notification.”

That bill is still alive, and is likely to pass after getting an “ought to pass” recommendation on March 12 by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It has bipartisan support with 12 senators signed on as cosponsors, and is scheduled for a floor vote today, March 19.

In addition to mandating changes to the billing format for electricity customers and improvements to the PUC website, it puts some teeth into PUC enforcement of the competitive electricity market, authorizing regulators to assess fines, rescind contracts, order restitution and revoke the registration of any competitive electricity supplier “found to have engaged in any unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the marketing, sale or solicitation of electricity supply or related services.”

Defining unfair or deceptive practices is not going to be easy, because some competitive suppliers know how to exploit the confusion in the market with promotional materials that walk a fine line between deceptive and unclear.

While testifying in support of SB 170 back in January, the attorney who represents consumers before the PUC, Susan Chamberlin, pointed out just how confusing it can be.

“I’ve seen disclosures provided by at least one competitive supplier that say, ’OK after your fixed rate expires, this will go to the rate determined by the ISO-New England,’ ” she said. “That’s not completely inaccurate, but it’s not completely accurate either. ISO doesn’t regulate the rate, they simply monitor the market, and the market can have a variable rate that goes up to 100 percent more than what you are paying.”

A mailed solicitation from North American Power that went out last month triggered some confusion. Here’s how Rosemary Marshall of Hollis described the North American mailing.

“I received information from PSNH reflecting North American Power as the option for a change to our energy supplier. Have there been any complaints regarding their fixed rate?”

That mailing did not come from PSNH. I got the same mailing. It’s easy to see why someone would think it comes from PSNH. It says “Attention PSNH customers, First Notice,” and has PSNH all over it, but it was from North American, whose logo is inconspicuously placed in the lower right hand corner of the page. The key details of the offer are in microscopic print at the bottom of the back page.

North American has actually been one of the more stable companies in competitive supply. One company, Glacial Energy, had people going door to door representing themselves as PSNH employees.

A new entrant into the market, Ambit Energy, uses an Amway-style network marketing system that will soon have your friends and neighbors telling you what a great deal they can get you on your PSNH bill, which may be technically true, but not entirely accurate.

Regarding Rosemary’s question about complaints, I checked with Amanda Noonan, director of consumer affairs at the PUC, who provided complaint data from June 1 of last year to Feb. 20, regarding the two major competitive suppliers in the state — ENH Power with more than 40,000 customers, and North American, with about 35,000.

The PUC got 21 complaints about ENH, and 101 about North American. What accounts for the difference? Here’s what Noonan had to say:

“ENH Power offers only fixed price energy products to its customers. A few weeks before the end date of the contract, ENH communicates to its customers that the contract will be ending and offers a new fixed price, fixed term contract. The communication tells the customer what the price is and what to do if they want or don’t want to continue with ENH”

“North American Power offers fixed priced energy products to its customers as well. It also communicates to its customers a few weeks before the end date of the contract, notifying customers that the contract will be ending. The communication tells the customer what to do if they want or don’t want to continue with North American.”

“It also notifies the customers that if they do nothing, they will be placed on North American Power’s variable price service. The notice does not tell the customer what that service will be priced at, most likely because the price is not yet known. For those customers that do nothing, the variable price service can be considerably higher in the winter months than the fixed-price service.”

Bottom line: Read the fine print.

– See more at: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20150319/NEWS02/150318919/0/SEARCH#sthash.PyFfl8kh.dpuf

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Capitalists with Heart

Sustainable Architects in Boston

As we strive to live more sustainably, our choice of home makes a huge impact on our environmental footprint in terms of energy use and the environmental impact of the home’s materials. Fortunately, sustainable design is becoming increasingly mainstream, offering a growing number of options that seamlessly incorporate form and function.

As we strive to live more sustainably, our choice of home makes a huge impact on our environmental footprint in terms of energy use and the environmental impact of the home’s materials. Fortunately, sustainable design is becoming increasingly mainstream, offering a growing number of options that seamlessly incorporate form and function.

Here’s a look at several Boston-area architecture firms with expertise in this arena.

  • Amacher & Associates Architects: Led by Franziska Amacher, LEEP AP and graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, this Cambridge-based firm offers architecture, space planning and sustainable development. Past projects include commercial and residential buildings including a zero-energy building, a renovation of a Beacon Hill brownstone, a green farmhouse in Maine and a solar two-family house.
  • Architerra: With all of its full-time professional staff LEED-accredited, Architerra has completed projects including the Massport cruise terminal in Boston, a new science and art center at Cambridge School of Weston and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Wind Technology Testing Center. The firm has received awards including the Boston Society of Architects Award for Sustainable Design and a AIA COTE Top Ten Green Project.
  • Studio G Architects: Studio G Architects’ portfolio includes sustainable design projects including the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance Offices (using recycled building materials and components), Eco-Tourist Resort in Israel (featuring graywater and rainwater recycling and passive ventilation systems) and the Green Roof at Boston Latin School. The firm also has a tradition of preserving historic structures and, in some cases, adapting them for new uses.
  • Reverse Architecture: Somerville-based Reverse Architecture has designed homes and commercial spaces as well home additions with features such as a “geothermal” ground source heat pump and LED lighting. One notable project, Condensation House in Twentynine Palms, California, is designed to extract and design water vapor from every potential source. The firm’s founder, Carl Solander, LEED AP also lectures at MIT.
  • ZeroEnergy Design: Based on Boston’s Milk Street, ZeroEnergy Design (or ZED for short) offers green architecture and mechanical design services, working on new home construction and renovations. ZED helps residential clients achieve energy performance targets such as net zero energy (using on-site energy production such as solar photovoltaic to match energy consumption), passive house standard (using 70-90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a conventional structure) and deep energy retrofit (improving energy performance by at least 50 percent). It also has LEED-accredited professionals and LEED for Homes Green Rater on staff.

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