5 Simple & Clever Ways to Minimize Your Energy Usage

When it comes to consuming energy, we Americans are pretty darn good at it. But, with a few simple tricks, you can minimize your energy usage and drop your electricity bill without feeling like you've even tried.

When it comes to consuming energy, we Americans are pretty darn good at it. But, with a few simple tricks, you can minimize your energy usage and drop your electricity bill without feeling like you’ve even tried. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so if you can remember to consistently follow a couple of these easy methods, you will be golden.

1. Go Out…

Anywhere besides your house. Using someone else’s energy (or none at all) is more enjoyable, anyways. Try to go outside where most of the activities are free, or go to the local library to get work done. Enjoy an evening walk with your family instead of vegging out in front of the TV. Go grab a bite to eat. Go to the gym after work instead of coming home to binge-watch Netflix (guilty). Better yet, here are some awesome activities in New England that are coming up with most of them being at little to no cost. The less time you are in your house doing things like watching movies, cooking, showering, or playing video games, the smaller of a number you will see on your monthly electric bill. Limit time spent doing these activities – or simply go some place else to do them!

1331230941_crazy_lady_at_the_library

2. Cover Up

If you find yourself getting cold (which is quite possible now that the chilly New England weather has arrived), don’t reach for the thermostat. Instead, do as mom always told you and grab a sweatshirt, socks, or blanket. These will get you warm quick so you won’t be as inclined to touch the thermostat!

pURGR

3. Turn ‘Em Off

This is a no-brainer, but it’s so easy to forget in the midst of our busy days. But, we need to remember to turn lights off when we leave the room. Often times I will be in a rush to get to work on time and forget to shut off my bedroom lights. Not just one light, but three: the overhead light, closet light, and bureau lamp. What happens now? They stay on – ALL day. Simply put, it’s a waste of money and energy to keep lights on when you’re not using the room. By making this a habit, you’ll minimize your energy usage and also put more dollars back into your pocket.

lightswitch-o

 

4. Use the Microwave

If you’re only cooking for a couple people, heating up yesterday’s leftovers, or making a side dish, consider using the microwave instead of the stove or oven. Did you know that microwaves use 30-80% less energy than regular ovens do? That’s pretty impressive, and definitely worth the savings when you’re cooking small portions. Since microwaves use high-frequency waves, it also takes way less time to cook things. It’s a win-win! You get to eat faster (thus being more productive) AND save money on your electricity bill at the same time!

Don’t believe me that you can make delicious meals in the microwave? Or just need some inspiration to get you started? Here are some recipes that you can use throughout the whole day. Some them look so good that I might even try one out for myself tonight!

microwave

5. Cook Consciously

Whenever you’re cooking on the stove, remember to put a lid on it! Did you know that without a cover on your pot/pan, it uses about 60% more energy than if it was covered? So, next time you’re boiling potatoes or simmering you’re favorite side dish, think of that fact.

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*Photo by Steve A. Johnson / CC BY

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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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New England Pipeline Expansions Proposed

Earlier this fall, energy pipeline operators announced plans to boost the energy supply across New England, reports the Boston Globe. This region has not added any new gas pipeline capacity for the past two decades, which has created supply issues and temporarily boosted wholesale prices for gas and electricity during extreme winter temperatures.

Earlier this fall, energy pipeline operators announced plans to boost the energy supply across New England, reports the Boston Globe. This region has not added any new gas pipeline capacity for the past two decades, which has created supply issues and temporarily boosted wholesale prices for gas and electricity during extreme winter temperatures.

Availability of natural gas is a significant driver in the cost and production of electricity. In fact, at one point during a cold spell last winter, wholesale electricity prices jumped up to $1,290 per megawatt hour, which is more than 35 times the yearlong average of $36 per megawatt hour!

Increasing the energy supply could help alleviate these dramatic spikes in cost, and ultimately help energy residential customers across New England lower their energy bills. One potential project called Access Northeast would impact the Algonquin pipeline, which runs from New Jersey to Everett, and the Maritimes & Northeast line, which carries liquefied natural gas pumped from ships off the coast of Eastern Canada.

Officials at Spectra and Northeast Utilities, the companies proposing the expansion, say the project would be finished in 2018, assuming the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gives its approval (the companies have not yet filed a formal proposal with FERC, but say they plan to do so next year). The two companies plan to invest $3 billion into the project, delivering an additional 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day into New England. That is enough to supply over 3 million homes. Spectra has already proposed a 14 percent expansion of the Algonquin pipeline, a project that, if approved, would likely be completed during the winter of 2016-2017. The new Access Northeast project would complement that expansion.

Energy customers would help recover the project costs of Access Northeast over the first year after the project’s completion, but increasing access to affordable natural gas would likely result in lower energy bills over the long term. Fracking in Pennsylvania and other areas has helped lower the cost of natural gas in other parts of the country, but without increased pipeline capacity, New England customers have not benefited from those cost savings.

The other pipeline expansion proposal involves building a pipeline to supply gas from Pennsylvania across New York and Western Massachusetts. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP, the energy company behind that proposal, plans to solicit public input later this year and file a pipeline application next fall.

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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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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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