Changing your thermostat a degree here or there can make a big impact on your power bill. While that’s a great idea-it doesn’t address the notion that many of your appliances might be using too much energy.
Many people are switching to smart appliances that ensure that your home is using energy as efficiently as possible. The best part is they do the thinking and make adjustments in energy use on your behalf, so you’ll hardly notice a difference—except when it comes to your lower bill, that is.
While installing smart appliances and other technology in your home is an up-front investment, if you’re in the market for upgrades anyway, they are worth looking into for long-term savings. And besides, haven’t you always wanted to feel like one of the Jetsons? (Rosie the Robo-maid is on her way.)
Remember that bit of advice about the savings you can get from turning down your heat one degree? The Nest Learning Thermostat actually figures out your family’s schedule so that it can program itself to warm up when you’re home, and cool down when the house is empty (and vice versa in the summer months). It can also be controlled from your mobile devices so you can make adjustments on the go, such as if you know you’ll be home later than usual. The company estimates that the average customer can save 20 percent on their heating and cooling bills.
Hopefully by now you’ve already switched over to LED light bulbs, but here comes the next big innovation. Smart bulbs automatically adjust their brightness depending on how much natural light is coming into the room. Like the thermostats, you can also control smart lighting via an app, or you can set timers so lights shut off at a certain time. This is great for families who are sometimes forgetful about shutting their lights.
Smart power strips
You’ve probably heard that even appliances that are turned off can use up electricity in your home. But who has time to go around unplugging and plugging things in every day? Smart power strips can sense when appliances aren’t in use, and will cut off the power automatically. This is great for things like printers, televisions, and computers.
Smart grids in your area
For most of New England, the idea of smart grid technology is way off. With the exception of “smart meters” at homes and business in Central Maine Power territory (in Maine) and the New Hampshire Electric Co-op, very few New Englanders will have the opportunity to take advantage of time of use products. This may include special price or conservation efforts during specific times of the day (or days of the week).
According to SmartGrid.gov, more than 15 million smart meters have been installed with funding from the Recovery Act, which give home owners a home energy management system (EMS) to work with.
As you continue to be proactive about keeping your energy costs in check, look into embracing some of these smart elements into your home to help automate and optimize the way you use energy. It will not only take the burden of unplugging, switching off, and scaling back off of you, but it can save you money over time while reducing your carbon footprint.
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France is leading the “cool roof” movement. All new buildings in commercial zones across the country must comply with new environmental legislation-they must be covered in plants or solar panels.
Cool roofs are one of the leading green building technologies used today, and while it is not a new concept, cool roofs are working to solve a growing problem. Think about how you’d dress on a hot August day. Do you wear all black? Generally not. You wear light, airy, heat reflective colors like white or blue or yellow. So why do we choose to disregard what builders in hot climates have been doing for hundreds of years, and cover our roofs with dark, non-reflective, heat-absorbing materials?
In densely populated areas like cities and suburbs, these choices have real-time consequences. These cities have been dubbed “heat islands” because of the huge variance in temperature caused by the built environment.
Chris Briley, Principal at BRIBURN, a reputed New England architecture firm dedicated to sustainable design, explains, “In the south, the heat island effect is very real. The city can be 5-10 degrees hotter than the surrounding suburbs and that’s because of dark pavement, dark roofs and a lack of respiring vegetation.” Something as simple and inexpensive as choosing a light color roof paint instead of black shingle or tar can immediately normalize surrounding air temperatures and help bring down the “heat island” effect.
Are cool roofs worth considering up north?
While New England’s cooler climate might not make “heat islands” a top concern, a creative twist on cool roofs help to solve a different problem here. Water quality. Enter the beautiful and functional “vegetated roof.”
A vegetated roof remembers technology that people have been using for centuries. By covering the roofs of both homes and office buildings with plants, we can greatly improve storm water conditions. The roof can absorb and hold the water of a 1” rainstorm, and any water that then runs off the roof and into streams, lakes, ponds and eventually the ocean has been preconditioned with sulphurs and phosphates and already neutralized.
“Imagine districts like Portland, Maine,” Briley positions, “with a direct watershed to Casco Bay and a combined sewer system. Every large storm is bad for Casco Bay because of the overflow and unconditioned runoff from our urban and suburban districts. If every roof were a vegetated roof, this negative effect would be greatly reduced.”
Plus, vegetated roofs are cool roofs in the traditional sense that when temperatures are hot, they cool the structure down. Briley explains that because as the plants respire, their heat gain in the summer is ZERO. That can have a huge effect on the cooling load and energy use of an air-conditioned building, as well as increase the comfort of a non air-conditioned building or home. The expense of air conditioning doesn’t make it worth it to most New Englanders, but there are summer months when all of us would appreciate a cooler interior temperature. Vegetated roofs provide that.
“This may seem like a small thing, but you are covering your roof with a natural material that will sequester carbon and release oxygen. And of course, they look beautiful.” – Chris Briley, Principal, BRIBURN
For all of the reasons outlined here, TideSmart Global, a marketing firm based in Falmouth, Maine, is working with BRIBURN on the design and installation of 5,000 ft2 of vegetated roof at their logistics center. The hope is that such a high profile and large-scale cool roof will likely bring attention to the vegetated roof as a viable New England construction feature.
Is a cool or vegetated roof right for you?
There are many more benefits to installing a cool roof at your home or office. Decreased utility bills, increased occupant comfort, extended roof life and even utility rebates in some locations are helping homeowners decide to make the switch. Because of New England’s cooler climate, vegetated roofs are becoming more popular, but there are many factors to take into consideration before deciding on the best cool roof material for you.
What about the snow loads we see here in the New England? A leaky roof is independent of whether it’s green roof or traditional. It has to do with the installation and design specification of the structure. All roofs must have a proper waterproofing membrane, green roofs included.
There is no evidence to suggest that green roofs are more susceptible to leaking. In fact, some studies suggest that the longer life cycle of a green roof is due to the protection of the waterproof membrane from ultraviolet sunlight. The plants and substrate act as a natural barrier to weathering.
The Cool Roof Rating Council offers a multitude of resources to help guide you through building material options, rebate opportunities, and even reputable contractors.
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Most school kids today learn a new version of the “3Rs” to accompany good old “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.” Today, they learn “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.” The interesting thing is that while most companies are quite adept at recycling, it’s vital to realize that recycling is actually the third best option, after reducing and reusing materials.
Paper waste, in particular, is staggering. Typical business offices generate about 1.5 pounds of waste paper per employee each day, and financial businesses generate more than two pounds per employee daily.
Here are a few ways businesses can incorporate the first two Rs, which means there is even less to recycle.
- Think before you print. Encourage your staff to rely on electronic files, which save space as well as paper in the office. If you have proper computer backup, electronic files are even safer than paper documents that can be lost to fire, flood or theft.
- Change the settings on computers and printers. Make “double-sided” copies the default. Reduce margins and font size to maximize the paper that you use. Print in the lowest-grade possible for pieces that won’t be sent to clients. Use fonts like Times New Roman or Arial that use less ink and take up less space. The cumulative difference of these small actions can be substantial.
- Keep track of printouts and copies. Most people have no idea how much paper they are using, so see if you can set up a system to track what is being printed. You can also configure your copier to ask for a code prior to making copies, which can alert staff to when they are making more copies than they need. Measuring weekly totals is likely to inspire workers to minimize their personal paper usage.
- Use the “print preview” feature to see how the document will lay out so you don’t waste paper printing multiple copies to check formatting. If you want to proofread on your screen, temporarily increase the font size which helps illuminate typos and other errors.
Have to print? Americans discard 4 million tons of office paper every year — enough to build a 12 foot high wall of paper from New York to California. Eliminating office paper from your waste may reduce your waste bill by as much as 50 percent. Here are some ways to make it easy to re-use your paper.
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After the housing crisis of 2008, many homeowners grew disillusioned with the McMansions that had gotten them deep into debt. Aside from their super-sized mortgage, large homes typically also carry a large utility bill to heat, cool and light jumbo spaces. So, as Americans adopt a more minimalist lifestyle, it makes perfect sense that they’d also embrace tiny homes, with some as small as 196 square feet! We’re so fascinated with tiny homes that there are now reality TV shows like Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunters, blogs that discuss the ins and outs of tiny living and even a Tiny House Magazine.
On first glance, one might assume that tiny homes make sense for single people without much stuff. That’s one demographic that inhabits tiny homes, but believe it or not, families with children and dogs also share tiny homes. Some homeowners even use a tiny home as an in-law suite or guest cottage built on their land rather than building an addition to their home.
And while creative storage solutions and a willingness to pare down your belongings is essential, here’s a look at a few benefits offered by tiny homes:
- Less environmental impact: Tiny houses use less building material (and oftentimes use recycled or repurposed material), which takes less energy to produce. Heating, cooling and lighting a tiny house also takes less of an environmental toll. Some tiny homes operate off the grid using a composting toilet and solar power or wind turbines. Others are connected to a water and electrical supply, but still wouldn’t draw as much water and electricity as a full-sized home.
- Less space to clean: Dusting, vacuuming and otherwise cleaning a full-sized home can feel like a never-ending chore. But when you live in less than 200 square feet, there are fewer surfaces to keep clean and more time for other activities.
- Less temptation to accumulate stuff: Some tiny homeowners have extra storage at a friend or relative’s place and rotate items seasonally. But without huge closets and a basement or attic right at their fingertips, most tiny homeowners don’t feel the need to buy tchotkes or other extra stuff they don’t need. Many people find it freeing when they reduce their possessions to just those items they love and use on a regular basis.
- Less expensive to acquire and maintain: You can sometimes get a bank loan or manufacturer financing for a tiny home. However, many owners pay for a tiny home out of their own savings (often less than $100,000), which means there’s no ongoing mortgage (although they might need to pay rental fees on or purchase the land). With less money devoted to housing costs, tiny homeowners are able to prioritize other goals like paying for travel and experiences, paying down student debt or working less and spending more time with family.
Looking for a more information about tiny houses in New England? Check out www.tinyhousenortheast.com. They have tiny homes for sale, designs/plans and tons more info about tiny living in New England.
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We have finally shoveled our lawns, many are breaking out the BBQ. If you haven’t…what are you waiting for? Baseball and softball season is underway. The days are longer. Do we really need another reason to BBQ? How about saving money?
For every hour you use your oven (at 350 degrees) it costs about .20 cents. Microwaving those steamed veggies for 2 minutes will add .07 cents to your power bill. Boiling water on your electric stove top will set you back .11 cents. By using the convection oven for 30 minutes will add a whopping .10 cents to your power bill.
No matter how old, your home appliances use a great deal of electricity. While they are more energy efficient than even 5 or 10 years ago. Even the most energy efficient appliances and electronics account for 20% of the average household energy bill.
Get out of the kitchen and instead use the grill. Unless you are a gourmet, everything tastes better on the grill. In addition even grilling is getting greener.
There has been considerable debate about which is “greener” charcoal or propane for grilling. Energy efficient grills are all the rage. Which ever your preference (charcoal or propane), using grills that retain the most heat will reduce how much fuel you have to use. Consider a ceramic grill-check out the Grilldome!
There are even a host of environmentally friendly BBQ briquettes available. Try coconut briquettes or natural wood briquettes.
What ever your choice of fuel for grilling, after this long, cold winter, we deserve a good BBQ. Our spring and summer is too short to not take advantage of all the outside family time we can get. So enjoy.
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We’ve all been there—gazing woefully at a washing machine that’s stopped spinning, or a refrigerator that’s lost its cool. You dutifully call your repair shop and wait for the verdict. And when the estimate comes in, you have to make the expensive choice of whether you are throwing good money after bad by paying to fix the appliance, or whether it’s time to cut your losses and buy a new one.
Here are four questions to ask to help you answer the Repair or Replace conundrum:
How old is the appliance
This is the key factor for two reasons:
- What is the expected life of the appliance? In other words, how long can your existing piece realistically be expected to last after the repair, and
- An even more important factor: how energy efficient is it? Energy savings alone can help justify replacing some appliances that aren’t working as they should. As just one example, if all refrigerators sold in the United States were ENERGY STAR certified, the energy cost savings would top $400 million each year, and prevent eight billion pounds of annual greenhouse gas emissions—equivalent to the emissions from 750,000 vehicles.
Is it a quick fix?
It’s surprising how many repairs can be diagnosed and fixed easily by doing some research and watching a how-to video. RepairClinic.com is a great source for DIY-ers, and you’d be surprised how much intel you can find on YouTube as well.
What is the incremental cost of the repair?
Spending $600 to repair the motherboard of a refrigerator that would cost $1,000 to replace might not be the best use of money. It’s painful, but if spending $400 dollars will extend the life of the appliance by 10 years, rather than two, it will be money well saved. A good rule of thumb is not to spend more than 50 percent of the cost of a new product on repairing the old one. And, if this is a subsequent repair, think twice before repairing at all.
What will happen to your existing appliance?
Don’t just tote it to the landfill – when you purchase a new appliance, the store typically will take your old one away and recycle it in an environmentally friendly way. They often reuse many of the parts, so you know that your piece is being repurposed. Thinking about sticking your old fridge in the garage? You might not want to – [C1] energy hogs have no place in your home. Another option for recycling is to search the database on Earth911.com which will offer environmentally friendly options based on your zip code.
If you do need to replace, this is your chance to make a wise choice: do your research and consider energy usage as a top factor when you purchase your new appliance. Also, only buy what you need – the more bells and whistles on a piece, the more opportunity for things to break.