5 Tips to Getting More Warmth Out of Your Fireplace

During the winter, we like to sit by the cozy fire. Here are some tips on how to fix up your fireplace to get maximum warmth possible.

When you think about staying warm in the winter, one image that comes to mind is sitting curled up in front of a crackling fireplace – especially with all the snow that New England has been seeing recently. What you might not realize is that your favorite cozy spot could be a huge source of heat loss, even when it’s fired up.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, a wood-burning fireplace is an inefficient way of heating your home since most of the heat goes right out the chimney. And, it’s estimated that your heating bill could increase as much as 30 percent if you’re not properly using your fireplace, or leaving the damper open when you’re not burning a fire, as reported by Zillow.com. That’s because even though you may feel warmth in the immediate area surrounding the  fireplace, your other rooms will experience a drop in temperature as the warm air is drawn up the chimney. That will force your home heating system to run more, thus increasing your bill.

So how can you enjoy the aesthetic appeal and comforting warmth of your fireplace without losing too much heat? Here are some strategies on how to fix up your fireplace to get maximum warmth…

Do a damper check

If you think about it logically, the chimney allows airflow so that smoke can escape when you light a fire, but when not in use, you’re letting the warm air from your home out. In other words, if you don’t close your damper (the small door that opens up the chimney flue) when your fireplace is not lit, it’s like losing heat through an open window or front door.

Caulk it

As with windows and doorways, you want to do your best to make sure that air isn’t escaping through cracks or crevices in your fireplace. Caulk around the hearth, and make sure that the flue damper is properly sealed as well. By making this part of your home’s winterizing routine, you’ll be able to heat your home more efficiently.

Keep heat in

An air-tight tempered glass door can help prevent heat loss, even though it might not look as pretty as an open fire. Experts also recommend closing the doors in the room when your fireplace is lit and cracking a nearby window to reduce heat loss.

Install a heat exchanger

Consider upgrading your fireplace with a heat-air exchange system to blow warmed air back into the room. Think of it as recycling warm temperatures.

Seal it

If you’re not lighting the fireplace, you can purchase a chimney balloon, which will block off most of the opening to prevent warm air from escaping. If you really have no intention of lighting any fires, however, you should plug and seal your fireplace flue for good.


Diligent upkeep and maintenance of your fireplace will save you money over the course of a long winter, so you can continue enjoying those evenings in front of the fire without burning a hole in your budget.

Brought to you by

What’s New in Energy-Efficient Homes? Check Out 10 Hot Innovations Here.

Having an energy-efficient home is becoming more and more popular every day. We are constantly finding ways to conserve - here are some new devices to help with that!

The largest trade show in history, the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show, recently took place in Las Vegas. Known as the “Global Stage for Innovation,” the event showcased more than more than 3,600 exhibitors in 2.2 million net square feet of exhibit space.

And while you might think of “consumer electronics” as being items like TVs, iDevices and the like, the show actually features innovations in far-reaching categories that include automotive electronics, personalized healthcare solutions, 3D printers, gaming, unmanned vehicles and much more. But every year there is a major emphasis on our favorite category — energy-efficient advances for the home.

Here are 10 energy-efficient upgrades that caught our eye.

  1. Delta Smart Green House: Built for the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe competition, this cool model features a host of energy-efficient developments for the home of the future. We especially liked the Delta Breez Signature Series, which increases a bathroom’s ventilation by combining a virtually silent and energy-efficient brushless fan motor, LED light, adjustable humidity sensor and built-in motion sensor for automatic operation.
  2. DigitalStrom: This smart-home hub interacts with a Nest thermometer for its cues – for example, if Nest is trying to cool down the house, DigitalStrom will lower automated window shades to block out sunlight.
  3. NuBryte: This smart-lighting device from Lucis Technologies promises to learn your behavior, such as what time you tend to come home each day so it can welcome you with lights – without wasting electricity all day. Sensors can turn on the night light if you wake up to use the bathroom but switch on brighter lights during the day.
  4. Smart Vent: This device lets users remotely close heating and cooling vents in unused rooms, or rooms that tend to get excessively cool or hot to help save on your utility bill.
  5. SolPro: No outlet? No worries. This portable solar charger allows you to charge your smartphone and tablets out in the sun to earn a four-hour charge in 90 minutes.
  6. Technical Consumer Products LED smart home lighting systems: Color your world by combining Connected by TCP and ColorSpree with a smart device, to change the colors of your energy-efficient LED bulbs and sync them to music.
  7. Whirlpool® HybridCare™ Heat Pump Dryer: This smart dryer uses up to 73 percent less energy by regenerating energy during the drying cycle, using a refrigeration system to dry and recycle the same air.
  8. Honeywell wind turbine by Windtronics: Mount this turbine on your roof or a pole to start generating off-grid energy through wind power. Its optimum wind speed is 12 miles per hour to produce 15 percent of the energy your home needs.
  9. Ecobee Smart thermostat: Remotely control this thermostat with your smartphone or computer, and manage your heating or cooling by zone. It also integrates current weather information and offers detailed readouts on your energy use.
  10. The Wi-Fi-enabled Samsung A3050 wall-mounted air conditioner: The app allows you to monitor the temperature of rooms from anywhere, and monitors your unit’s energy usage including telling you when it’s time to clean the filter.

Brought to you by

Capitalists with Heart

6 Eco-Friendly Hotels in Massachusetts

You focus on keeping your home as eco-friendly as possible—so when you travel why not stay at hotels or B&B's that share those values? Headed to the Boston area? Here are some great choices for you and your family.

You focus on keeping your home as eco-friendly as possible—so when you travel, it’s a priority to find accommodations that are as concerned about the earth as you are.

Amidst a growing awareness about the environmental impact of travel, many hotels now strive to reduce their environmental footprint through water and energy conservation, recycling and more. Here’s a look at several Massachusetts hotels large and small that are using eco-friendly practices.

  1. The Lenox Hotel in Boston: The Lenox launched the nation’s first linen re-use program and Boston’s first commercial electric vehicle charging station. The Copley Square hotel features low-flow toilets, showerheads and aerators and in-room and lobby recycling bins. It also uses hybrid vehicles for its car service and housekeeping uniforms made from recycled plastic fiber.
  2. Topia Inn in Adams: Nestled in the Berkshires, this intimate, 9-room organic inn serves  guests non-GMO, USDA-certified organic meals with fair trade coffee and tea. Rooms are equipped with LED lights and dual flush toilets to conserve water and energy, while furnishings are made with organic, rapidly renewable and fair trade materials. The innkeepers also plan to add solar hot water in the coming year.
  3. NineZero in Boston: Located near Boston Commons, NineZero’s sustainable practices include in-room recycling bins, low-flow toilets, showers and faucets, energy-efficient lighting fixtures and a towel and linen re-use program. NineZero also donates unused and partially used bath amenities (also eco-friendly) to community programs and makes eco-friendly dry cleaning services available to guests.
  4. Irving House in Cambridge: Irving House is a bed and breakfast in Harvard Square and dispenses eco-friendly toiletries from built-in units to avoid the waste of individual bottles. It also composts food waste and uses household items such as cups, rugs and picture frames made from recycled materials. The B&B was awarded EPA’s Energy Star in 2006.
  5. Provincetown Hotel in Provincetown: This historic Cape Cod hotel hosts educational workshops on wildlife tracking and birding; offers American-made bath amenities that are not tested on animals; and recycles materials including cans, metals, glass and paper. Guests use water-saving shower and faucet heads and enjoy breakfast served in a garden courtyard patio. The Inn also distributes literature about preserving the Ross Sea in Antarctica.
  6. The Colonnade Hotel in Boston: The Colonnade Hotel uses a non-toxic, chemical-free cleaning system to reduce chemical waste and exposure to toxins. Other sustainable initiatives include composting food waste, recycling of paper, plastics, metals and other materials. The Colonnade was also the first hotel to join a soap recycling program, according to its website.

Brought to you by

Green Living Energy Savings

LED 101: Everything You Need to Know When Shopping for LED Lights

The term “LED” has been getting more and more buzz as we try to move towards a lifestyle of conserving and saving energy. We hear people telling us they’re important to use, but are hesitant to actually buy them because of the price, type, and all of the terminology that comes with it.

Ahh, the Light-Emitting Diode…otherwise commonly known as the LED. We’ve all heard of them, but do we actually know how LED light bulbs are different from other bulbs (such as the traditional incandescent light bulb)?  The term “LED” has been getting more and more buzz as we try to move towards a lifestyle of conserving and saving energy. We hear people telling us they’re important to use, but are hesitant to actually buy them because of the price, type, and all of the terminology that comes with it.

Have you seen our cool videos (links are in the next sentence)? We have already debunked the myths and given you some visual comparisons about the LED bulbs.   As I’m sure you’re aware of, there are still many technical terms about them that would be helpful to know when shopping around. These can be hard to understand, but without knowing them, it can make it hard for the common consumer to choose the perfect light for the home. Let’s explore!

The Light-Emitting Diode

First thing’s first: the Light-Emitting Diode – Simply put, like any other light, the LED is a semiconductor device that emits light when an energy current passes through it. Unlike traditional lighting, the LED does not require the heating of a filament to light up. Instead, they use chemical compounds to produce more efficient light. Naturally, the LED is not a white light source, which is why they are they are commonly used for things like street lights, colored holiday lights and digital billboards. To make the light white so we can have normal looking lights on our homes, they use two methods. One is phosphorous conversion, where phosphorous is put onto the diode to it can make white light. The other, known as RGB conversion, is when red, green and blue light is mixed, resulting in white light. LED lights are far more sophisticated than incandescent bulbs, as different types can let off a different shade or color or white light. They can be dimmed and the big benefit is that they produce the same amount of power as the incandescent blubs but use much less energy to do so. It’s a win-win if you know what you’re looking for when you’re at the store.

Color Temperature

Color Temperature is the shade of color that characterizes the how the white light looks. For instance, if the light gives more of a blue color, it would have a “cool” temperature, and if it’s more yellow looking, it would be “warm” in temperature. So, depending on which part of your house you want to put the lights in, paying attention to temperature is helpful. This is mostly visual, so if you have a particular temperature in mind for your home, you should refer to the package to find out exactly what the Kelvin color temperature is.

Kelvin Color Temperature

But, how do we know which kind of light certain Kelvins will put off to choose? Kelvin Color Temperature is the measure of the color of a light source relative to a black body at a particular temperature, which is measured in degrees Kelvin (K). Incandescent lights have a low color temperature (about 2800K) and have a red-yellow tone. Daylight lighting, such as fluorescent lights, has a high color temperature (about 6000K) and looks bluish to the eye. White light is somewhere in between 5000-6000K, LEDs can but LEDs can be found in all of these shades, too. You just have to know a little about Kelvins and you’ll be all set when choosing which light you want! All of that information can be found on the packaging of the product.

LED-Buyers-Guide-info-graphic_b

Lumens & Watts in LEDs

Lumens

A lumen is the measurement of light that is relevant to humans. The lumen scale indicates the amount of light (brightness) that our eyes can perceive. Simply put, lumens measure the amount of light produced by that particular bulb in which we can see, and is what most people look at when shopping for LED lights. It is important to remember, however, that lumens do not describe the quality of light generated – that would be referred to as color temperature, explained above.

Watts

A watt is a measurement of electric power. Watts refer to the power consumption of that specific product. The higher number the wattage is, the more energy it takes to power that product – whether it’s a light fixture, light bulb, or flashlight – they all require watts to power them. The benefit of higher wattage, though, is that the higher the number, the more light it will produce. If we think of this using a real-world example,

In my opinion, knowing about lumens and watts when choosing which type of light to buy is the most important thing to remember. For example, the average 60-watt incandescent bulb produces 800 lumens, whereas it only takes 4.5 watts to produce 800 lumens using a LED bulb (give or take, depending on the brand and make-up of the bulb). As you can tell, it takes much less energy to power a LED blub, but still has the same brightness that we’re used to seeing with traditional bulbs. Keep this in mind when deciding whether to pay the price for LEDs – they will pay themselves back (and more) over the longer life span of the bulb.


For some reason, LEDs have this notion around them that they are different, do not produce as pretty light as incandescent, and all they do is cost the consumer more. None of those points are true, though. By understanding these common terms, you will now be able to confidently pick out LED bulbs that are sufficient for each area of your home, depending on how you want the color and how much light you want the specific light to let off. At the end of the day, your investment on replacing bulbs now will pay off in the long run, as LED bulbs last much longer than incandescent ones and use less energy, which will save you tons on your electricity bill!

Brought to you by

Could a Ductless Heat Pump Be Right for You?

Want to save money and increase the comfort in your home? A ductless heat pump might be the answer.

Want to save money and increase the comfort in your home? A ductless heat pump (DHP) might be the answer. With the reduction in oil prices, some may question the timing of this type of investment. However, as history has shown us, energy costs can change quickly—trends don’t always suggest a multi-year decline in oil prices.

What is a ductless heat pump?

A DHP is a zonal heating and cooling system that does not require “air ducts,” making it ideal for homeowners who want to replace their current heating system, but don’t want the expense or inconvenience of ductwork. Typically, the system includes an outdoor unit and one or more indoor units that are linked by a refrigerant line. It operates a bit like a space heater or window air conditioner—you can control the indoor units where and when you need extra heat or cooling—but it is far more efficient and safer. They are flexible, and come in different sizes to suit your home’s configuration. Originally recommended for milder climates, current models are equally suited for colder climates as well.

What are the benefits?

Homeowners have found that a DHP provides even, comfortable heat, where and when they need it. This increased comfort comes with a lower utility bill – the increased efficiency means that ENERGY STAR-rated units typically use 25 to 50 percent less energy than other types of heat.  (Check out this  handy calculator from Efficiency Maine to compare savings among heat sources.)

They also offer better indoor air quality benefits, and finally, they are aesthetically pleasing in a home: they can be suspended from a ceiling, mounted flush into a drop ceiling, or hung on a wall. Many have remote controls for ease of use.

What type of home are they best for?

Ductless systems can be used in all types of homes: remodels, additions, new construction, existing homes and even manufactured homes. Use them to replace inefficient systems such as an electric baseboard, wall or ceiling units and even woodstoves. They are an excellent alternative to “ducted systems,” which are more expensive and sometimes not possible because of a home’s configuration.

Is this a new technology?

DHPs have been used in Japan since the 1970s and are a dominant technology in Europe as well. As their benefits become better known, they are gaining popularity across the United States. According to Navigant Research, by 2020, ductless systems will account for nearly 30 percent of all energy-efficient HVAC systems revenue.

What are the costs?

Installation varies, based on the size of your house and the system you choose, but typically costs between $3,000 and $5,000. Tax rebates and incentives may be available from your local installer and utility provider.  In addition, homeowners can expect to save monthly for years to come in the form of lower utility bills—every single month! The ongoing maintenance typically includes an easy regimen of ensuring the filters and coils are clean.

DHPs are an excellent alternative for homeowners looking to increase the efficiency and comfort of their home.

Brought to you by

Energy Audits – what are they and should you get one?

An energy audit, sometimes called an energy assessment can help to find out where heating dollars are going. An energy audit shows how a home uses energy, including where it’s being wasted, so homeowners can make targeted upgrades. Should you have an audit done, we have some tips to help you decide.

When I was little, cold weather meant sledding parties, hot cocoa, and days off from school. I still love cocoa, but after we bought an old farmhouse, winter also meant icy drafts, rattling windows, and painfully high heating costs.

A friend recommended we get an energy audit, sometimes called an energy assessment, to find out where our heating dollars were going. An energy audit shows how a home uses energy, including where it’s being wasted, so homeowners can make targeted upgrades. For instance, we learned that our walls are well insulated, but our attic wasn’t.

Signs you might need an energy audit:

  • Your house is more than 50 years old
  • You’re breaking the bank to buy firewood, pellets, or heating oil
  • Drafts blow in around your windows and doors, or through chinks in the walls
  • Your windows or doors rattle in their frames
  • No matter how much the stove or furnace runs, your house feels chilly

Still not certain? You can run a quick Do-It-Yourself assessment, with some help from the federal government. You’ll need to know your past 12 months of utility usage, which is probably on your electricity bill or heating oil statement.

Some nonprofits offer free or low-cost energy audits, which usually consist of feeling for drafts, checking for rattling windows, and looking for visible signs of leaks, such as condensation on windows or loose ductwork.

A professional energy audit will cost $200 to $500 – the price varies depending on the size of your home and how many auditors in your area are competing for business – but will use some very interesting tools to give you a detailed look at your home’s trouble spots. (Tax subsidies can offset some or all of the cost.)

My favorite instrument was the thermographic scanner, which showed in vivid color exactly how heat was escaping my house – and even let me peek inside walls to see where the lath-and-plaster construction gave way to better-insulated studs with fiberfill. Most professional audits also include a blower door test, which can reveal all the leaks that New England’s older homes are famous for.

Afterward, you will get a detailed report outlining exactly where and how your home is losing energy, plus the measures that you can use to make your home more energy efficient – and even tell you how cost-effective each will be.

For instance, our energy auditor explained that if we added a foot of insulation to our attic, it would cost about $800 up front but would save us about $150 per year in heating costs, so it would pay for itself in six years. Replacing our rattling windows, by contrast, would cost $200 to $400 per window, and doing all 20 windows in the house would save only about $100 per year, so might never pay for itself. Caulking up gaps between old wooden beams costs only a few dollars per tube of caulk, but can make a huge difference in comfort and heating costs. And so forth.

Not only will you learn the best way to spend your winterizing dollars, getting an energy audit can qualify you to get tax credits for your energy efficiency upgrades.

After our energy audit, we decided to insulate our basement and attic, apply caulk liberally, and make a few other changes. The result is that not only does our house feel warmer, our heating costs also dropped enormously — we buy less wood, less heating oil, and our electric bill for the winter months dropped by about half.

For most homeowners, making the upgrades identified in a home energy audit can save you 5 to 30 percent on your monthly energy bill, according to the US Department of Energy.

If you’re ready to shrink your heating bills, get rid of spine-chilling drafts, and find cost-effective steps to a warmer home, an energy audit could be your next step.

 

Brought to you by

Energy-Efficient Resolutions for the New Year

This is one set of resolutions you won't have any trouble keeping. Saving money and making your home more energy efficient are likely high on your resolution list. Here are some tips and hints to keep on top of mind.

‘Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions, and while most people focus on resolutions related to work or personal growth, we’d like to suggest you add in a new category this year. While you’re working on improving your own personal world, why not work on improving the world around you?

To that end, we’re offering four energy-saving New Year’s Resolutions that will make the world a healthier place, and save money to boot! (I bet that’s on your list too!)

This year, resolve to:

  1. Get a professional home energy audit. An energy audit is the first step in energy savings.  A professional will visit and assess your home from top-to-bottom, using the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index, which is the industry standard by which a home’s energy efficiency is measured. Often they’ll do a “blower door test” and thermographic imaging to pinpoint exactly where energy is escaping. As part of the assessment, they’ll give you suggestions on which upgrades you should consider for the most benefit.
  2.   Make one energy-efficiency investment a month. Even though energy-efficient upgrades pay for themselves over time, there is typically an upfront cost. That’s why you might want to consider spreading out your investments. You can start small: why not get new power strips to help stop the ‘energy vampires’ in your home? Next, check into energy-efficient lighting, then a programmable thermostat. Every change you make will add up to significant savings over the not-so-long run.
  3.   Use less. This philosophy is so simple, yet so constructive. Using less encompasses using less electricity by turning off the lights when you leave a room; using less water by turning off the tap when you brush your teeth; using less energy by washing your clothes in cold water, rather than hot – the possibilities are endless. Several mobile apps can help you track your energy and water consumption.
  4. Champion energy savings among your family. It’s vital to get the whole family on board, but it will be more effective if you make it fun, rather than nagging them.  Monitor your progress together, and use your savings for a fun family outing. Keep a chart of small changes every family member can make – whether it’s unplugging their chargers at night, or putting on a sweater instead of cranking the heat. Make sure they know they are a crucial part of the success of this endeavor and show them how their changes – big and small – make a difference.

They say that a new behavior becomes a habit after two or three months. Stick with your new energy-saving regime – and your other New Year’s resolutions – and see how far you have come as spring starts to appear!

 

Brought to you by

Capitalists with Heart

5 New England Based Sustainable Clothing Companies

Thanks to organic and locally sourced foods many of us are able to align our diets with our values. Fortunately we can also we align our values with our wardrobes. Looking for an alternative to mass produced and synthetic clothing? Shop local and you'll find many options across New England.

With the growing popularity of organic, sustainable and local foods, conscious consumers have more options than ever to align their diets with their values.

And just as the “slow food” movement has raised awareness about where food comes from and the importance of making ethical dining decisions, “slow fashion” has likewise given consumers an alternative to synthetic, mass-produced garments.

Whether using organic materials, responsible manufacturing practices or sustainable farming, here’s a look at five New England companies producing or distributing sustainable clothing:

  1. Arrowhead Clothing: Based in Yarmouth, Maine, Arrowhead Clothing uses sustainable fabrics such as hemp, bamboo rayon, silk and organic fabrics in its line of simple, timeless pieces that are handmade in owner Suzanne MacFadyen’s home studio. MacFadyen has launched several fashion lines, and began her fashion career as designer for Rhode Island’s India Imports line.
  2. Rambler’s Way: Launched by the founders of Tom’s of Maine, Rambler’s Way sells worsted wool garments using wool from its 75-acre sheep farm in Kennebunk, Maine. Rambler’s Way Farm uses sustainable, organic and humane farming techniques, including bringing the farm’s 50 ewes in every night and housing them in the barn to protect them from predators. The company also uses green energy including geothermal heating systems and solar energy.
  3. Hatched: This children’s clothing and toy boutique is located in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts and specializes in natural and organic products from responsible companies (none of its products are made in China). The shop strives for Zero-Waste and is painted with low- and no- VOC paint. Products include organic cotton onesies, merino wool booties handknit in Peru and organic French terry swaddle blankets.
  4. SONY DSCBrook There: Maine College of Art grad Brook DeLorme launched this clothing and lingerie line in 2007. Brooke There uses local sewers in greater Portland, Maine and uses ethical fabrics such as US-milled organic cotton, organic wool, silk and bamboo rayon. Some pieces are vegan, without any silk or wool materials. The brand features pieces ranging from lingerie and T-shirts to accessories like arm warmers and eye masks.
  5. Molly Miller: Boston College junior Danielle Dalton started Molly Miller, her eco-friendly clothing and accessories line, after raising over $4,000 on Indiegogo earlier this year. Her vision was to launch a fashion line that allows women to be their authentic selves instead of presenting idealized, Photoshopped images. All items are produced in socially responsible factories based in the United States, and 7 percent of profits are donated to the National Eating Disorder Association.

Brought to you by