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!

 

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Pellet Stoves. Savings. Simplicity. Safety.

Whether you’re looking for new heating options to save money, want to do your part to help the environment, or are looking for some aesthetic appeal, a pellet stove could be just the investment your home needs. To help you decide if you want to join the 2.8 million American households that have pellet stoves, we came up with a list of pros and cons to guide you through.

Whether you’re looking for new heating options to save money, want to do your part to help the environment, or are looking for some aesthetic appeal, a pellet stove could be just the investment your home needs. To help you decide if you want to join the 2.8 million American households that have pellet stoves, we came up with a list of pros and cons to guide you through. Consider this your “hot stove” report…

The Pros

Long-term savings

If you’re like most people, one of the biggest deciding factors of switching to a pellet stove is cost. Generally speaking, pellet stoves could offer a return on your initial investment since it usually costs less to keep your home warm than oil, gas, or electric-powered heating. You can expect to pay a couple of thousand dollars or more for your stove (depending on the model you choose), as well as a bit extra for the installation since an exhaust must be put in, so it will take time to recoup your upfront costs. One comparison between an oil-heated home and a hybrid oil and pellet-heated home found that the latter saved $876 in annual heating costs. Unfortunately, the federal tax incentive that used to be in place for pellet stove buyers expired in 2013, but check with your state to see if any rebates or tax credits are available.

Simplicity

If your decision involves a pellet stove versus a wood-burning stove, the pellet stove wins for ease of use. The pellets burn more efficiently than wood (even if the flames aren’t as “romantic” looking), produce a more consistent heat, and do not create as much ash. Plus, the heat is regulated via thermostat. Once you load the hopper with pellets, your work is done.

Safety

Unlike wood burning stoves, pellet stoves are less likely to get hot enough to cause burns, with the exception of the glass door.  In that respect, they are safer for homes that have small children.

The “green” factor

There’s no doubt that pellet stoves are more eco-friendly than traditional heating sources. According to the Alliance for Green Heat, installing a pellet stove can reduce your carbon footprint by two to four tons per year, or 10 – 20 percent of your entire emissions.

The Cons

Storage challenges

Pellets are easy to store since they come in 40-pound bags, but if storage space is limited in your home (and, yes, they should be stored indoors), that could be a negative since it will mean frequent trips to the store.

Upkeep is required

Pellet stove owners should be aware that frequent maintenance and cleaning is necessary to keep the stove in proper working condition. If you tend to be lax about that sort of thing, like scheduling yearly professional maintenance, and taking care of the stove’s cleaning on an ongoing basis, this might not be a good fit for you.

Electricity powered

If you’re considering a stove because your area is prone to power outages, pellet stoves won’t solve that problem. They require electricity to run the fans, so if you lose power, you’ll also lose your heat source (unless you hook up to a generator).

The noise factor

If you’re already used to your heating or cooling systems being noisy, this might not matter, but be aware that you’ll hear a constant, dull rumbling sound when your pellet stove is running.


If you love the idea of incorporating a pellet stove into your home décor, and the pros outweigh the cons, this could be your next major home upgrade.

If you are looking for more information about pellet stoves, well-there is a group that can help.  Check out the The Pellet Fuels Institute-they are a non-profit association that serves the pellet industry, which is comprised of pellet mills, pellet appliance manufacturers and industry suppliers. The Institute is active in educating consumers about the convenience and practicality of using wood pellet fuel in both residential and commercial applications.

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Lack of Nat Gas Pipelines Equals Higher Electric Utility Rates

Energy and business writer for Forbes.com, James Conca, has a reputation for carefully and with appropriate detail covering U.S. energy issues.  His December 17th piece Pipeline And Nuclear Shortages Send New England’s Utility Bills Soaring is among his strongest.

Accompanying his piece is this graphic that depicts natural gas pipeline infrastructure across the county.  Those who understand the basic laws of supply and demand can easily understand how parts of New England are so far behind other parts of the U.S. (in terms of the availability of nat gas) and why electric utilities here are so susceptible to fluctuations in the energy market.

Consumers interested in saving on their electric bill often see competitive supply companies as a good alternative to the utility default or stand offer.  Due to sophisticated buying practices, and being able to look over longer periods of time ,like 12 or 24 months (many utilities look at pricing only for 6 months at a time), consumers benefit from shopping the market.

Since many electric utilities are owned by large national or multi-national companies, using an electricity supply company also enables consumers to shop locally with a businesses in their own state or region.  Doing so has the added benefit of supporting local jobs and community.

 

 

 

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LED Lighting Misconceptions

LED Lighting. What are the benefits, misconceptions, and potential pitfalls of LED lighting? We spoke with folks who know a whole lot about LED lighting and asked them to address some of the more pressing questions they are getting.

Residential and business consumers have many questions (and some concerns) about LED lighting. Is this another lighting fad (like CFL’s)? Can you really save money? Will I have to change out my light fixtures?

To help answer those (and many other questions), we visited with one of northern New England’s most respected lighting and design stores, the House of Lights , and asked them to address some of the questions they are hearing.

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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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Here Comes the Sun. Will We Ever Really Embrace Solar?

Based on two recent studies, the sun has the potential to become the biggest electricity source by 2050. Will society and economics ever let it happen?

Could Solar Energy Be The Largest Source of Energy by Mid-Century

At the risk of overusing a pun, the future of solar energy looks bright, based on two reports recently issued by the International Energy Agency (IEA). At the center of both reports’ findings is the notion that the sun has the potential to become the biggest electricity source by 2050. If all goes according to plan, that is.

Here’s how it breaks down, and what has to happen in order for solar power to take the center stage spotlight away from fossil fuels, wind, hydro, and nuclear energy.

The Growth of PV

With the right set of variables, the IEA projects that solar photovoltaic (PV) systems could generate up to 16 percent of the world’s electricity by 2050, with solar thermal electricity (STE) from concentrating solar power (CSP) plants providing an additional 11 percent. Put together, that would make solar the leading source of electric power, preventing more than 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

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As has been widely reported, sales of solar photovoltaic systems have skyrocketed in the last few years alone, thanks to significantly reduced costs. In fact, as the IEA reports, the gains made since 2010 has been more than that of the previous four decades. This is happening on a global scale, with China and the United States leading the way.

The benefits of solar PV are clear: there is no fuel price risk, no greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or other pollutants during operation, and little or no water is consumed. In order to reach the level of PV capacity that the IEA is hoping for by 2050, however, regulations, policies, and electricity markets will have to remain on board to support its steady rise, as well as a growing investment in the technology.

In other words, these hopeful projections are not written in stone.

On Deck: STE

As far as STE, which has had a slower ramp-up than PV, the growth of solar overall will depend on it gaining traction in the future. Especially in regions of the world that have a lot of sunny skies – like Africa, India, the Middle East and the United States – STE has the potential to expand, and work in conjunction with PV technologies to supercharge solar’s growth.

STE is needed in the long term because of its ability to store thermal energy that can be used to create electricity during times when there is no sunlight. In that respect, it’s a great complement to PV, since it limits the need for other energy sources.

The key for continued growth is for costs to keep going down, as pointed out by IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “Both technologies are very capital intensive: almost all expenditures are made upfront,” she said in a press statement. “Lowering the cost of capital is thus of primary importance for achieving the vision in these roadmaps.”

Only time will tell if solar technologies can continue their rapid expansion, and light the way for a future powered by clean energy.

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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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Can Changing To LEDs Pay for College?

Using LED lightbulbs can save you money. How much? Switch all the bulbs in your home to LEDs, in 18 years save almost $7- thousand dollars. Perhaps not enough to pay for college, but enough to pay for books?

OK.  Perhaps you won’t save enough money to pay for your kids’ college tuition, but changing out all the lights in your home to LEDs can save you a good hunk of cash.  What other investment can you get that kind of return?

The United States Department of Energy is a great resource for all things LED, including changes to technology, energy savings, and available products.  For more visit www.energy.gov

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