Power Outages & Food Storage. What you need to Know.

When it comes to storing food, we’re all pretty good at it. We know the basics. When something starts to smell, throw it away. It’s common sense, right? But what about when there is a power outage for extensive periods of time…what do we do then?

When it comes to storing food, we’re all pretty good at it. We know the basics. When something starts to smell, throw it away. It’s common sense, right? But what about when there is a power outage for extensive periods of time…what do we do then? Although most power outages occur in the winter, they can really happen at any time of the year, so it’s best to be prepared. How do we keep nutritious foods such as produce and meat fresh so they don’t go to waste? Never fear – we’ve got you covered! Just follow this handy food safety guide for when the power goes out.

What Do You Need?

Coolers

Make sure to have plenty of them around the house in case the power outage is prolonged. Even the inexpensive Styrofoam ones will do the trick!

storing food in a cooler

Non-Perishable Food Items

I’m sure you want to still be able to eat during a power outage, right? Keep canned foods on stock so you can have those. These can even be consumed cold or heated on the grill. Want homemade canned goods or don’t have the time or “know how” to prepare them on your own? Try a Winter’s Farmer’s Market to support local growers and farms even in the winter.  Usually they have a delicious selection of fresh, homemade canned items.

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Bags of Ice

Of course, with coolers you’ll want ice to put in them to keep the perishable food cold.

Isolated shot of bag of ice

Snow

When worst comes to worst and you find that the power will not be coming back any time, use your resources! Grab a snow bank and drop your frozen food and refrigerator food in that for a while. It will be kept cold (or frozen, depending on temperatures and how you place it) and you can get outside to enjoy the fresh air!

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What Should You Do?

Refrigerator/Freezer

Keep refrigerator and freezer closed, especially if it’s only half full. Food in the fridge can stay good at a temperature of 40 degrees of below, so the less we open it the longer food will stay cool. Freezer items can also stay frozen for a day or two, depending on how full it is and how frequently it’s opened.

Put Ice around items in fridge if outage is prolonged

If the outage lasts a while and you don’t feel like storing food elsewhere (ahem, outside), those bags of ice will come in handy. Place ice around the food so it stays colder longer.

Store the cooler and other foods outside

If you’re using a cooler with ice to keep food fresh and you live in New England, just stick the whole thing outside! Temperatures in the Northeast are usually below 40 degrees in the winter when most power outages occur.

When In Doubt and Faced with Little Resources….

Build a snow cooler! Dig out a slot in the snow bank for food so it stays cold. Be careful, though…if temps drop considerably during the night, refrigerator food could freeze!

When power finally returns, be sure to check refrigerator for any spoiled foods and dispose of them as soon as possible. Finally, when the storm is over and you’re ready to go outside again, go to the store and buy more fresh food so you don’t have to live off of canned goods anymore! For more helpful tips, check out this video from the FDA. As they say… “when in doubt, throw it out!”

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Shopping for Energy-Efficient Appliances? We Have 5 Questions You Should Ask.

Is one of your New Year’s Resolutions to save money? It might sound counter intuitive but sometimes you have to spend to save – and that is the case with energy-efficient appliances.

Is one of your New Year’s Resolutions to save money? In the first of a two part series on home appliances we look at Energy Star appliances  and the idea of having to spend money to save money.

Homeowners hoping to take advantage of first of the year sales can often find good buys on appliances at home improvement stores.  While we favor buying local over national big box stores-consumers have a myriad of choices. And while you’re looking for the quietest dishwasher or the roomiest fridge, make sure to look for something else—the most energy efficient one.

The #1 thing to look for? The ENERGY STAR® certification.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if every appliance purchased in the U.S. was rated to ENERGY STAR® certifications, we would prevent annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 420,000 vehicles and save 25 billion gallons of water and $580 million in energy costs.

Of course, replacing an appliance in good working condition is never a smart choice. But if it’s time to upgrade your kitchen or laundry room appliances, consider an ENERGY STAR® choice.

Besides looking for the ENERGY STAR® designation, here are five other questions to ask yourself before you purchase an appliance:

  1. What size do I need? Buying a refrigerator or washer with a larger capacity than you need will end up using more energy in the long run. Carefully measure the space you have available, and then make sure you are purchasing the right size for your household needs: For example, a couple needs a smaller-capacity washer than a large family.
  1. How much does it cost to run? Each appliance will have an “Energy Guide” label that allows you to compare the typical annual energy consumption of the model you are considering with others. (Note that the Energy Guide itself doesn’t indicate the energy efficiency of a particular appliance. By law, each appliance must carry one.) Bear in mind that the overall energy cost—not just the purchase price—is an important factor in making a cost-effective choice that will allow you to save money for years to come.
  1.  Is it the most energy-efficient “type”? This is where things can get confusing. The ENERGY STAR® designation is awarded to the best-performing appliance in its class, but it only rates refrigerators that are similar makes. So for example, a top-rated side-by-side refrigerator/freezer with an ice dispenser will still use more energy than one with a top-mount freezer that might not qualify for an ENERGY STAR® designation. The issue is the same with washing machines: A front loader will only be rated against another front loader, not against a top loader.
  1.  Do I qualify for a rebate? Enter your zip code here to find out what programs you might be eligible for. Don’t forget to save your receipt and other paperwork to make redemption hassle-free.
  2.  How will I dispose of my old appliance? Many stores will offer to recycle your old appliance for you—be sure to take them up on the offer! They know how and where to dispose of it in the safest way. Having old appliances around your house is not only unsightly, but can be dangerous, as children may climb into an unused fridge or dryer and get inadvertently trapped. For more information on recycling an appliance, check here.

Predictions call for a cold winter, so when you combine that with rising electricity prices, we end up with the “not-so-perfect storm.” So while you’re cleaning up at the store on an appliance sale, remember that you’ll also be cleaning up your household’s bottom line, not to mention our environment as a whole when you make an energy-efficient choice.

 

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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.

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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!

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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.

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5 Easy Ways Your Small Business Can Save Money

As any entrepreneur knows, Benjamin Franklin was right when he said that “a penny saved is a penny earned.” And with the right energy-efficiency strategies, your small business can save hundreds—or even thousands—on utilities this winter. That’s no small change.

As any entrepreneur knows, Benjamin Franklin was right when he said that “a penny saved is a penny earned.” And with the right energy-efficiency strategies, your small business can save hundreds—or even thousands—on utilities this winter. That’s no small change.

Here are five quick fixes:

  1. Change your light bulbs. If you haven’t already, look into one of the exceedingly energy-efficient alternatives to old-school “bulbs.” Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use about one-fourth the energy and lasts ten times longer than a comparable traditional incandescent bulb; and light emitting diodes (LEDs)(check out one of our videos about LED lights) use only 20 to 25 percent of the energy and last up to 25 times longer than the traditional incandescent bulbs they replace.
  2. Install motion sensors. Your mother always told you to turn off the lights when you leave a room, but somehow it’s easy to forget. Rather than constantly reminding employees, make it easy on them and install motion sensors in indoor and outdoor areas. Outdoors motion sensors provide an extra layer of security around the perimeter of your building without requiring you to leave lights on all night. And indoors, they are ideal for places that are infrequently used, such as rest rooms or store rooms.
  3. Turn down the heat. Office temperatures typically make you feel like you live in “Opposite World”—freezing in the summer when you’re dressing light and boiling in the winter when you break out your turtlenecks. You want your office to be a respite from the elements, but there’s no need to go overboard. Set your thermostat right around 68 degrees for a comfortable, not tropical, temperature and leave it there—or better yet, invest in a programmable one. Don’t let all those new holiday sweaters go to waste!
  4. Invest in a dishwasher. That unsightly jumble of lunch dishes and coffee cups could be costing you money! In addition to being a conduit for germs during the cold and flu season, hand washing dishes actually wastes both water – up to 5,000 gallons compared to an ENERGY STAR dishwasher – and uses twice as much energy, both the kind you pay for and the kind you expend. Your utility bill – and your employees – will thank you.
  5. Defang the vampire. Also known as “phantom load,” “vampire energy” is the electricity that PCs, chargers and office machines use when they are plugged in even when they are off. The easiest way to avoid having electricity (and money!) leak all night is to plug machines into a power strip that you turn off every evening.

All small business owners know that wasting energy on the wrong goals is a recipe for disaster—wasting energy on your utility bill is too, but these quick fixes can help! Simply making these small, inexpensive changes will make it so your small business can save money this year.

 

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LED Lighting. Saving Money With A Twist of the Bulb.

Recently we addressed some of the questions that people have concerning LED lighting. Is this a fad (like CFL's)? Isn't LED lighting expensive to install? Will the bulbs work in my fixtures? Once again we visited with our friends from The House Of Lights in Scarborough, Maine...this time we try some LED light bulbs in common fixtures around you home. With a simple twist of the bulb, you can conserve energy and save

Recently we addressed some of the questions that people have concerning LED lighting.   Is this a fad (like CFL’s)?  Isn’t LED lighting expensive to install?  Will the bulbs work in my fixtures?

Once again we visited with our friends from The House Of Lights in Scarborough, Maine…this time we try some LED light bulbs in common fixtures around you home.   With a simple twist of the bulb, you can conserve energy and save money.

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Windows Are Responsible for 50% of heat loss.

Seeping around your windows is responsible for 50% of a homes heat loss. There are some things you can do to mitigate this problem.

The U.S. Department of Energy research suggests older homes lose as much as 50% of their heat loss (energy costs) due to seepage around windows.    This isn’t a result of poor construction, instead due to settling of older homes on their foundation and contraction/expansion during weather changes.

While there are many financial benefits to changing out our windows, the costs can still be prohibitive.  Fortunately-we do have options.  Some can actually be quite stylish!

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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.

 

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