Do Rooftop Solar Panels Make Sense for Your Home?

Solar can save you money on energy costs over time, it’s good for the environment, and perhaps you’ll even start a trend on your block. Of course, the decision isn’t so simple as that, since solar panels are a long-term investment. You’ll want to consider a few factors before you take on the up-front costs.

In theory, adding solar power to your home sounds like a great idea. It will save you money on energy costs over time, it’s good for the environment, and perhaps you’ll even start a trend on your block.

Of course, the decision isn’t so simple as that, since solar panels are a long-term investment. You’ll want to consider a few factors before you take on the up-front costs.

Can you afford it?

There’s no getting around the fact that solar panels are expensive. The good news, however, is they are way less expensive than they used to be, and there are some pretty attractive tax credits available right now to help make them more affordable. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) states that the average price of solar panels decreased 65 percent since 2010, while installation costs dropped about 40 percent.

In addition, Uncle Sam is willing to help too, in the form of tax incentives. As of now, the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit allows taxpayers to claim 30 percent of the cost for solar systems, but that benefit is up at the end of 2016. In addition, states also provide their own perks, rebate programs, and other tax breaks, but you’ll need to do your homework to figure out what your state offers.

Is your home in an ideal location?

How much benefit you’ll get out of solar panels will really depend on how much sunlight your home receives. Depending on where you live, how your home is situated (such as if there are any trees or taller homes blocking the sun), can make a huge difference in your decision. Keep in mind that even moderate sunlight exposure can turn out to be cost-effective for you if you pay a lot for your electricity, simply for the fact that you won’t be subject to the ever-fluctuating energy costs you’re dealing with now.

What about your roof?

Not all roofs are created equal, and depending on the type you have, it could bring up the installation costs, or it might not be ideal for solar panel arrangement. If you’ve got a standard shingled roof, you’re probably OK, but Spanish tiles, for instance could complicate matters. An installation consultation will help you figure out if your roof poses any challenges.

What are your future plans?

Remember, that although you’ll begin enjoying lower electric bills right away, it does take several years to recoup the investment of a solar panel system. In other words, you should think about if you plan to stay in your home for a few years before you move forward. That’s not to say that adding solar and then moving will be a devastating loss, since doing so will add to your home’s value (and selling price).

However, once solar panel installation is done, you can’t take them with you if you decide to move on.

Solar panels have proven to be a growing consideration among homeowners over the last few years. While they may not be right for everyone, it’s worth looking into, especially if your home enjoys ample sunlight year round, you’re currently paying high electricity prices now, and/or you live in a state that offers strong perks for solar installation.

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6 Great Farm-to-Table Restaurants in New England

New England restaurateurs have always taken great pride in using the freshest, local ingredients. Here are some fantastic restaurant options for that special evening or holiday meal- where locally sourced items dominate the menu.

When you’re dining out, would you rather eat fruits and vegetables that were grown thousands of miles away—or right in the restaurant’s backyard?

Today’s gourmands are shying away from the exotic offerings that characterized fine dining years ago in favor of locally grown fruits and vegetables, local pasture-raised meat, and sustainably-fished seafood.

While New England may not have the year-round bounty of California, it’s got plenty of restaurants showcasing the best of farm-to-table dining. Here are a few of our top picks in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

Maine

Fore Street

Since 1996, Fore Street has been showcasing the best food that Maine has to offer, with an open kitchen and wood-fired stove that serve up local rotisserie chickens, pizzas topped with locally foraged mushrooms, fresh roasted vegetables, and other delicacies sourced from around New England.

The Well at Jordan’s Farm

Visit this seasonal, outdoor eatery, and chances are, you’ll be eating vegetables that were picked just a few feet away. On this picturesque farm in Cape Elizabeth, you can sit at a picnic table or bring your own blanket to enjoy your meal—pets are welcome, too. The menu offers a changing medley of local meats, seasonal veggie dishes, and fresh-picked fruit desserts.

Vinland

This Portland, Maine restaurant has an ambitious mission: Save for its wine menu, all ingredients used in its dishes are grown in Maine. That means olive oil, lemons, or chocolates, among other verboten ingredients. The restaurant rises to the challenges imposed by its limitations by crafting fresh, innovative meals that include pasture-raised meat, locally foraged mushrooms, farm-fresh vegetables, and seafood caught out of Portland’s harbor.

New Hampshire

Republic Café

Located in Manchester, New Hampshire, this restaurant was “certified local” by the state’s Farm to Restaurant connection. The establishment partners with more than 20 local vendors to supply meat, vegetables, seafood, cheese, and other ingredients for its Mediterranean-inspired menus, featuring antipasti, small plates, tagines and other larger dishes, and an extensive wine list.

Massachusetts

Just Right Farm

Located in Massachusetts’ South Shore area, Just Right Farm offers a screened porch for dining on a 300-year-old farmstead. The restaurant serves up seasonal, home-grown dishes, such as beet and apple soup and fingerling potatoes, along with local seafood and meat, such as Maine mussels and pasture-farmed pork.

The Farmer’s Daughter

This restaurant in North Easton, Mass., serves more casual, but still fresh and local, fare for breakfast and lunch. Using ingredients such as farm-fresh eggs, local bacon and sausage, and grass-fed organic beef, the menu offers something for everyone—even a kids’ meal with free-range, organic chicken tenders.

If you know of a great farm to table restaurant, please tell us about it.  Perhaps we’ll write about it and more than likely we’ll also be sure to eat there too.  To share your ideas, comment here or share with us on our Facebook pages.  Thanks!

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5 DIY Ways to Insulate Your Home on the Cheap

Did you put off insulating your home? So, yah, colder days have arrived. No worries! Here are some "it isn't too late" things you can do to insulate your home this winter.

Like it or not, winter has arrived.  Like it or not, it will stick around for a long time.

If your house isn’t well-insulated, you’re likely to spend a lot on heating bills: The average heating oil bill in Maine last winter was $2,046.  While it is true that the cost of oil has dipped since last winter, do you really think it will stay that way all winter?

And if your heating source doesn’t heat your entire house adequately, you’re likely to see a hike in your electricity bill if you need to supplement with space heaters.

While wall insulation is the best remedy for making the most of your home’s heating source, if it isn’t in the budget this year, you have numerous other options for DIY home insulation fixes.

Try these tips for a warmer winter:

Cover any air leaks with weatherproofing.

Use weatherproofing strips and caulking to seal any air leaks in your doors and windows. Window insulation kits can typically be purchased for under $20, and can be installed in a matter of minutes.

Add thick curtains to your windows.

Options such as the Thermaliner blackout curtains will help contain the heat in your home. If you don’t want to spring for all-new curtains, you can add a cheap liner to your existing curtains, such as fleece or even a PVC shower curtain. Keep the curtains open during daylight hours to let the sunlight in and add natural heat to your home, but when the sun sets, draw the curtains to contain the warmth.

Fix drafty doors with a door snake.

You can use common household items to create a “door snake” that sits at the bottom of your door and blocks the cold air from entering. Door snakes can be crafted out of materials such as old socks, pillow stuffing, and popcorn kernels—find step-by-step instructions for making one here.

Plug your chimney when not in use.

One study found that a household heating bill was 30 percent higher when the home had a missing or broken fireplace damper. If your fireplace flue doesn’t seal properly, you could be losing a lot of heat through your chimney. Plug the hole with a “chimney balloon”—a balloon covered in laminate that can be inflated once it is inside the chimney to provide an effective seal. Such balloons can be purchased for $40 to $50, or you can make your own chimney balloon out of household items such as cardboard and bubble wrap. (Just remember to take the balloon out before you plan to light a fire!)

Seal your attic air leaks.

In most homes, a lot of your heat will escape into the attic, where it’s not doing you any good. While insulating your attic space with foam can be an effective way to lower heating costs, you can use a simple reflective foil material as a cost-effective alternative.

Gable View of Ongoing House Attic insulation Project with Heat a

By stapling the foil sheets to your attic roof rafters, you can reflect the heat that hits the rafters back down into your home’s living space.

Any time or financial investments you make this year should provide a nice return on investment for years to come.  While it is a one time expense, your’ll enjoy the savings, and be warmer over the long haul.

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5 Smartphone Apps to Make You More Energy Efficient

You may not realize it, but your smartphone is good for more than checking email, making calls, and playing Minecraft—you can use it to help you track your energy efficiency and save on your electricity bills, thanks to a number of innovative mobile apps.

If you’re like most of the American population, you’ve probably got a smartphone in your pocket right now (or maybe you’re even reading this from your mobile screen). You may not realize it, but your smartphone is good for more than checking email, making calls, and playing Minecraft—you can use it to help you track your energy efficiency and save on your electricity bills, thanks to a number of innovative mobile apps.

Here are five apps worth checking out for help with going green around your house:

Green Outlet (iOS, $0.99)

Do you know how much you’re paying for kilowatt/hour of electricity? Just plug in that number, add the appliances and electronics you use in your house, and this app will help you learn how much you’re paying to power all of your electronic devices. It’s a great way to get a forecast of your monthly electricity bill, and learn what you can do to save.

Green Outlet
Green Outlet is just one of many apps to help you monitor your home energy use.

Leafully (iOS, free)

This free mobile app can be connected to collect data from more than a dozen regional utility companies, and provides you with weekly reports to let you know whether your energy usage was higher or lower than usual. It also helps you to measure and visualize your family’s environmental footprint, letting you know how many trees would need to be planted to offset your carbon emissions, and helping you to purchase carbon offsets.

Light Bulb Finder (iOS and Android, free)

Want to replace your conventional light bulbs with energy-saving equivalents, but not sure what to buy? This app helps you track size, wattage, and price for all kinds of energy-saving bulbs. You can even conveniently purchase your new bulbs directly through the app’s shopping interface, rather than trekking out to the hardware store.

Easy Battery Saver (Android, free)

While your smartphone is by no means the most power-hungry gadget in your home (link to Anna’s piece), if you find yourself needing to charge your phone frequently, it’s worth taking efforts to conserve electricity. This simple app can change the settings on your phone to preserve maximum battery life, enabling you to go longer between charges.

JouleBug (iOS and Android, free)

This app turns sustainable living into a game! Get access to tips (called “Pins”) on how to make your everyday actions more environmentally friendly, and gain points for completing each action. You can connect with your friends, and compete to see who’s completed the most Pins to discover who’s the greenest of them all. A “yearly impact” calculator helps you visualize the difference that you’re making in your life—and the world—with these simple actions.

 

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Mainers Can Save Money with Energy Efficient Investments

Mainers, on the whole, are frugal people—just ask the thousands of Uncle Henry’s subscribers out there. So, when it comes to investing in new energy-efficient appliances and heating and cooling systems, it’s always a bonus when you’re able to score a great deal.

Mainers, on the whole, seek out value—just ask the thousands of Uncle Henry’s subscribers out there. So, when it comes to investing in new energy-efficient appliances and heating and cooling systems, it’s always a bonus when you’re able to score a great deal.

While you’ll save substantially on your energy bills over the long-term by making the switch to energy-efficient appliances and systems, Maine also offers a number of rebates and incentive programs to make the thought of changing your equipment even more appealing.

Efficiency Maine, a Maine state government initiative, provides a wealth of material about rebate and incentive programs on its website. Here’s a sampling of what’s available:

Under the Home Energy Savings Program, which has a total cap of $1,500 in incentives for residential buildings of up to four units, you can choose from:

Up to $400 for air sealing:

 If you use weatherstripping or caulking to seal your home against air leaks, and then get an assessment done by a BPI-certified professional, you could get up to $400 in rebates.

Up to $1,000 rebate for home insulation:

If you insulate your home’s walls, attic, or basement, you’re eligible for a rebate of up to $500 for each insulation measure, or $1,000 for multiple insulations with a minimum $3,000 total cost.

Up to $750 for supplemental heating system installation:

You can receive a $250 rebate for purchasing an EPA-approved wood stove or pellet stove. If you purchase a ductless heat pump (typically around $3,500 for equipment and installation), you could receive a rebate of $500.

Up to $500 for a high-efficiency central heating system:

When you make the move to an Energy Star-rated furnace or boiler, or install an air source heat pump, you’ll be eligible for an incentive of $500, provided you’ve spent at least $1,500 on the project.

You are also eligible for a $5,000 rebate for choosing one of two energy efficient heating system options:

  • A geothermal heat pump
    This type of home heating and cooling system naturally draws heat or cools the air in your house using an underground loop system. The system cost and installation typically costs approximately $40,000, but is eligible for a 30% federal tax rebate in addition to the $5,000 state rebate, bringing the total cost down to $23,000. Based on anticipated savings, the system will lead to nearly $50,000 in savings over a 20-year period.

Visit Efficiency Maine to find out about applying for state-run incentives and rebates to make your home more energy-efficient and save money on your power bill for years to come.

 

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Here’s What Millennials are Doing to Shape the Future of Energy Efficiency

Millennials are the generation of the future, and they are slowly starting to reshape the nation with values that are most important to them.

The Millennial Generation, or those of us who were born between 1982 and 2003, are quickly gaining recognition and turning heads all over America. Millennials will make up as much as 75 percent of the workforce by 2025…whoa!

Millennials are the generation of the future, and they are slowly starting to reshape the nation with values that are most important to them. These values, as outlined in a Brookings case study titled, How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America, are reforming the definition of “success” and bringing the world together as a more collective whole. What do these shifting values have to do with energy efficiency, you ask? Read on to find out.

The essence of the Brookings study was based on what values they found to be most important to Millennials. I hate to break it to you, but money and power were not high on that list. Instead, the researchers noticed some values and priorities that are a little different from our predecessors, Generation X and the Baby Boomers. Here is roughly what they found:

Preservation of the environment and experiences are more important than material, unnecessary “things”

If Millennials were faced with the choice (and affordability) of purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle over one that requires gas, which one do you think they would choose? What if they could choose whether they got their electricity from renewable or non-renewable sources? My point is, Millennials generally feel the need to be more “green.” In the future, this could greatly influence how we produce energy, especially if non-renewable sources get too sparse.

Over the past few years, going green has become more popular and it doesn’t look like that is changing anytime soon. In order to have experiences and create memories, Millennials know that they need to first protect our precious Mother Earth. It’s not just strictly about saving the environment, rather, more about having this idea incorporated into allpolicymaking”—from healthcare right down to shopping habits.

Technology is essential

Millennials have grown up on the cusp of the technology era. We remember what it was like without a computer or cell phone, but we are still pretty technological savvy. Millennials realize the future of technology, and according to this article, they are looking for it in their homes. “Smart homes” are quickly on the rise here in America.

Millennials are constantly looking at ways to make their lives more efficient while still making sound decisions. Often times, this means staying up-to-date with the newest technology (like this cool SmartThings device) so they can monitor energy consumption and save on costs such as the electricity bill.

They value conservation and helping others as much as possible

So if the key to energy savings is to consume less, Millennials know how to do it best. With their drive to make their homes more efficient, paired with the want to protect the environment, they know that the big contributor to saving money on energy is to conserve it. For more information on why it’s important to conserve energy for our future, visit the Conserve Energy Future site.

Trust and Corporate Social Responsibility are far more important than the bottom line

Millennials tend to distrust big companies. Which is why they will most likely switch to an outside, local electricity supplier rather than sticking with the big company. As outlined in the study, Millennials would much prefer to pay a little more if the company was aligning with their values of corporate social responsibility.

Because of the high priority of these values, Millennials have the power (no pun intended) to raise awareness about not only important worldwide issues, but about energy efficiency and consumption as well. If we do not start making changes about how we produce energy, our country could be in danger of running out of non-renewable resources. The balance between conserving and just being aware about energy is important. Not just for Millennials, but for everyone who cares about energy efficiency. Together, we can make a difference in the world we live in.

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Energy Incentives for Massachusetts Homeowners

Energy savings makes both financial & environmental sense. There are options for Massachusetts consumers. What option is best for you?

As temperatures cool and homeowners brace for another New England winter, it’s time to think about ways to save on energy costs. Aside from turning down the thermostat and piling on the sweaters, Massachusetts tax credits and state rebates could help you avoid a chill-inducing bill.

We’ve rounded up several options for Massachusetts homeowners to consider.

  • Residential Renewable Energy Income Tax Credit: If you install a renewable-energy system (such as solar water and space heating, photovoltaics or wind-energy systems) in your home, then you may be eligible for a 15 percent state tax credit totalling up to $1,000. Any excess tax credit left over may be carried forward for up to three years.
  • Renewable Energy Property Tax Exemption: Solar-energy systems and wind-energy systems that supply heat or other energy to a taxable property are exempt from local property taxes for 20 years. The exemption applies to the value added to the property, not the full property tax; any dual-purpose components (such as windows or thermal drapes) are not eligible.
  • Renewable Energy Equipment Sales Tax Exemption: Massachusetts exempts renewable energy equipment such as geothermal heat pumps and solar space heaters from sales tax. Complete Massachusetts Tax Form ST-12 [PDF] and submit it to your vendor when you purchase the system.
  • Commonwealth Small Pellet Boiler Grant Program: Install a high-efficiency, low-particulate matter wood pellet boiler or furnace in your home ,and you could receive a grant of up to $15,000. The base grant is $7,000 and adders are available for criteria such as thermal storage ($2,000) or moderate income ($2,000). Grants are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Commonwealth Solar Hot Water Residential Program: Through the Commonwealth Solar Hot Water Pilot Program, rebates are available for installing residential solar hot water systems. The residence must be occupied year round, and the maximum incentive is $3,500 per building or 25 percent of the total installed costs. You may be eligible for an additional $1,500 to cover the costs of a meter installation if you sign up for the MassCEC performance monitoring program.
  • Commonwealth Solar II: This program provides rebates on photovoltaic systems in homes and businesses to the system owner. The base incentive is $.40/watt and adders are available for moderate home values, moderate income and Natural Disaster Relief.
  • Commonwealth Woodstove Change-Out Pilot Program: Residents with a non-EPA-certified wood-, wood-pellet-, or coal-burning stove can receive help with the cost of replacing it for a high-efficiency, low-emissions wood stove or fireplace insert, or a wood-pellet stove or fireplace insert. Under this program, the maximum rebate is $2,000 for low-income residents and $1,000 for other residents.

Individual utility providers may offer their own utility rebates or zero-percent financing loans as well, so it pays to explore all of your options to maximize your potential savings.

 

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