2 Tips on How to Minimize your Energy Consumption this Fall and Winter

It is never too early to start preparing your home for colder temperatures. Here are some tips on how to get ahead of the weather so you can save as much as possible on that pesky electric bill.

Today when I woke up it was a balmy 36 degrees out. Yes, you heard me right.  It seems like just last week we were enjoying the warm August temperatures, but we can surely kiss those goodbye, now. In the Northeast,  this cold Fall morning only means one thing (aside from apple picking, fall foliage, and hiking, of course): the winter is creeping up on us.

I can still remember two years ago, on Halloween weekend of 2012, to be exact, when we were graced with about 8 inches of snow. Sounds impossible for October, right? Think again. If there’s anything I’ve learned from living in New England my whole life, it’s the fact that the weather can change from one extreme to another- in an instant.

I was home from college for the weekend, just in time for my drive back to Vermont, it started to snow.  Even on the best of days, in the best of conditions this ride through the mountains was not particularly pleasant.  When it snows it is worse.

Even though I had a couple days to plan for the snow to know I neglected to put snow tires on my car.  This  was ultimately a bad decision-as this was one wild trip back to Vermont.  I guess I didn’t want to think about what the snow meant – the start of what was probably going to be another long, cold winter.

What does my car story have to do with your electric bill?  When it comes to weather-procrastination doesn’t work, Mother Nature hath no fury!   By the time it is legal to put studded snow tires on your car hopefully your are already preparing your home for winter.  If Halloween hits and the air conditioners are still in your windows, well, you get the point.

During the fall and winter, consumers, especially those living in the Northeast, will likely see an increase in the amount of electricity we use.   Remember the winter of 2013/14? The lower 48 got hit with a worse winter than normal. Southern states felt the chilly temperatures and even experienced ice and snowy conditions for the first time in years.  Both energy and weather forecasters alike are saying this winter will be much like last year.   Colder weather and likely higher energy costs are right around the corner.

It is never too early to start preparing your home for colder temperatures.   Here are some tips on how to get ahead of the weather so you can save as much as possible on that pesky electric bill.

1.    Turn Down the Temps…

  • Swap a blanket (or two) for lower thermostat settings. According to energy.gov,  “by turning your thermostat back 10° to 15° for eight hours, you can save 5% to 15% a year on your heating bill — a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long.”
  • Avoid over-heating your water heater. Most people don’t take 140 degree showers, so just by turning the temperature down, you can save big-time on your electricity bill. Plus, you won’t even feel the difference and it will prevent scalding yourself with hot water!

2.    Windows

  • Cover the windows that don’t get sun with heavy-duty curtains.
  • For windows that get nice, natural light, leave the curtains open
  • Seal drafty windows with a plastic covering so the cold doesn’t get in

(I get it, plastic over the windows…eww…looks awful.  But hey this is great opportunity to go curtain shopping and get something stylish and practical.)

  • Caulk around windows that may have air leaks. If you know the window is drafty, do this before the weather hits so you can stay warmer year-round.
  • If the spaces around your doors or behind cabinets and attics are not insulated, now would be a good time to fill the cracks. A poorly insulated house can result in more heat loss. Make this a weekend project and you will save money in the long run.

Again, folks: We WILL be having another bad winter. Electricity rates WILL rise. Don’t get caught saying you wish you would have been more prepared for the winter when that late-fall snow storm takes you by surprise. By following a few of these simple tips, you can get your home ready before the freezing temperatures arrive. It can also teach you some basic consumption practices for the future  You DO NOT want to be like me, getting caught in a snow storm with nowhere to turn. Small changes can add up, so don’t waste another minute!

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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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Who Else Wants to Know How Much Your Appliances Are Costing You?

It may come as a shock to you, but now technology is more advanced than ever...which inevitably comes at cost to you. But how much, exactly?

It may come as a shock to you, but now that technology is more advanced than ever, we have more gadgets and appliances in our homes than we know what to do with. No matter where you look in my house, it seems as though there is something you have to “turn on” or “plug-in” in every corner of every room.

Granted, most of these things are necessary for our hectic and busy American lives, but do you know how much it’s costing you to use all of those gadgets and appliances every day? Before diving into some of these mind-blowing facts, we will need to get the relevant terms correct.

If you don’t already know, a kilowatt hour (kWh) is a unit used to measure electricity consumption by electricity suppliers. 1,000 watts is equal to 1 kWh, which is equal to 60 minutes. When supply companies price your household electricity supply, they do it based on cents per kWh. So, for each hour that your appliance is running, you can technically calculate how much money it will cost you.

Here are the formulas for that:

Daily Consumption Costs:

*Wattage of Appliance x Hours Used Per Day = Daily kW Consumption

Daily kWh Consumption /1,000 x kW Rate = Cost Per Day

Annual Consumption Costs:

Wattage of Appliance x Hours Used Per Day x Days Used Per Year = Yearly kW Consumption

Yearly kWh Consumption / 1,000 x kW Rate = Cost Per Year

  • Keep in mind that (1 kW = 1,000 Watts)
  • To find “kW Rate,” simply refer to the supply portion of your latest electric bill.

To help you better understand how this calculation works, I will take four popular appliances from my own home that are used on a daily basis and calculate the yearly cost of running them. By doing a quick Google search on the brand and model of each appliance, I was able to find how many watts each appliance uses. To help you get a better sense of the monsters I’m about to analyze, look at the pictures below.

microwave

oven

tv

hairdryer

 

For demonstration purposes, I will pretend the electricity supply rate is $0.10 cents per kWh.

Appliance Watts x Hours Per Day x Days Used Per Year / Convert to kWh x kW Rate = Cost Per Year
Microwave 1,300 x .25 x 340 / 1,000 x 0.10 = $110.50
Oven 3,500 x 1 x 335 / 1,000 x 0.10 = $1,172.50
TV – 46” LED HDTV 166 x 4 x 350 / 1,000 x 0.10 = $232.40
Hairdryer 1,875 x .25 x 365 / 1,000 x 0.10 = $171.09

The results are so interesting to me! I never would have thought that my hairdryer uses almost as much electricity to operate as my TV does. Just by doing a little digging around to find out the wattage of each appliance, I was able to see the numbers that I could never visualize before this exercise. Now, I have a better picture of what the gadgets in my house are costing me.

Like I said earlier, everyone will have appliances with different wattages, as well as different consumption habits. For example, your household might only use the TV for an hour a day but use the oven for two. Each house will be different, which is why this simple exercise can be personalized for everyone. If you would like more general information about how much your appliances are costing you, check out General Electric’s Data Visualization page.

I hope this helps you visualize your energy usage, especially since electricity is not exactly a tangible thing…

*Note: appliance wattage will be different depending on model and brand of product.

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Less Shower Time = A More Efficient Life

There's nothing better than nice hot shower in the morning to get your day started in the right direction. But, after a while, that can start to significantly put a hole in your wallet. By simply changing a few small habits, we can have a more efficient, productive every-day life.

If you’re like me, a nice hot shower is what wakes you up in the morning. Taking showers can be an energizing and relaxing activity, and they also help our physical and emotional well-being. However, is it really necessary to lounge around in the shower for more than a few minutes?

Probably not—and we can get our deep thinking done anywhere. Besides saving time, here are some ways that cutting down our precious shower time and frequency can deliver unexpected benefits.

Saving Water

Did you know that on average, we use a whopping 2.5 gallons of water per minute? Yikes! That means that a 10-minute shower uses 25 gallons of (hot) water. That’s taking dollars out of your pocket, as well as wasting water and time. By reducing the length of your showers, you will be saving water and protecting Mother Earth. You’ll also start seeing savings on your water bill. It’s a win-win!

More Time to Do What Matters

We are all guilty of it, including myself. Sometimes, it can be hard to not take two showers in a day. Once in the morning and once after going to the gym – I get it, it happens. Nonetheless, if we tried to stick to ONE shower a day, we could have more time to spend on doing things that matter most, like catching up with family or taking the dog for a quick walk. We could also have more time to complete our daily to-do lists before the sun goes down.

Energy Savings

Finally, limiting your shower time can significantly impact your electricity bill as well. Whenever you cut your hot water use, you are saving energy and saving money. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little extra cash at the end of the year?

My point isn’t intended to deprive you of your morning luxury: rather, it is to inform you of how cutting off just a few short minutes can benefit you financially. So, I challenge you to break the habit. Try to keep your showers to 5 minutes or less. If you have to, buy a cheap timer to let you know when it’s been too long. In these tough economic times, every little bit can help. I’ve broken my habit—can you do it too?

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5 Tips to Stay cool and keep energy costs down!

Summer officially begins this Saturday [...] many weather folks are calling for warming temperatures this week, with increased humidity, parts of New England could reach the lower 90′s.

Summer officially begins this Saturday, June 21 at 6:51 am (EDT)  (The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a great source of cool weather related info) coincidentally (or perhaps not) many weather folks are calling for warming temperatures this week, with increased humidity, parts of New England could reach the lower 90’s.

Many folks will find themselves rummaging through the attic or garage for the air conditioner and fans.  A good thing to keep in mind is that conditioners use a lot of power-most are not terribly efficient.   Fortunately It is possible to keep energy costs down and stay comfy cool this summer.

  1. Attic Ventilation – attics can easily overheat in direct sunlight.  Don’t be afraid to let the warm (hot) air out.
  2. Don’t use the stove or oven – Do you need to ask why?  Break out the BBQ or eat fruit on warm days.
  3. Clean out Central Air Condition duct work – if need be, hire a professional.  Clean duct work will save you money and provide healthier air.
  4. Replace filters on your window A.C. units – after a couple years you may want to consider replacing filters
  5. Change your shades/blinds – Use light colored blinds or curtains.   When it is warmer, keep them lowered.  At night raise ’em up, let the air flow.

Hazy Horizon - keep energy costs down.

Bonus Tip

Something to think about for the long term… consider planting a tree.  Not only will a grown tree help keep energy costs down, they provide great shade, they are great for the environment (also good for climbing, ropes swings and of course great place to hang a hammock)!

 

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