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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How to Actually Save Money During the Holiday Season

The holidays are the most wonderful time of year. This year, you can make them even better and more cost effective by just changing a few simple things!

I’m not sure about you, but for me, it feels like the months of November and December are the two busiest months out of the entire year. They are spent shopping for gifts, attending family functions, planning, and decorating. All of this can take a huge toll on our wallet, and for most, can leave us feeling stressed out and tight on money.

Don’t get me wrong, the holidays are the most wonderful time of year—we get to celebrate multiple different events, cheat on our diets, and most importantly, spend time with loved ones. With that being said, I am here to give you some tips on how you can save a little bit of cash during the months that take us on a financial roller coaster ride.

What a bright time, it’s the right time…to buy LED Lights

Get rid of those old incandescent light strings—they are sucking up way too much energy! Instead, decorate your house and trees with LED lights. Not only do they consume less electricity, but they are safer (LEDs do not generate as much heat) and last longer.

Find out everything you need to know about the benefits of having LED lights here. Your investment now CAN and WILL add up over multiple winter seasons.

holiday lights


Once you have purchased those energy saving LED light strings, I’m guessing you’ll want to decorate your tree and house with them. Let’s be real—no one wants to go outside at night when it’s freezing cold to turn off the holiday lights. It’s easier and more convenient just to leave them on overnight. But, this method is not cost effective. Consider purchasing a self-timer for the lights that would otherwise stay on during the wee hours.


Use Smaller Appliances As Much As Possible

We all know that the kitchen is where we spend most of our time during the holiday season. Entertaining, eating, cooking, and baking delicious treats for our guests. During this time, the kitchen appliances can be working overtime, which means more electricity usage. Whether you’re having a cookie baking party with friends, or just cooking that big Thanksgiving meal, everything from the electric mixer to the blender can be in use. If possible, try using the smaller appliances to get the cooking done. For example, use the toaster oven instead of the regular oven for baking smaller dishes. Heat things in the microwave if you can, and don’t forget to use the crockpot! Even better—try making food that doesn’t require any baking at all, like these fantastic looking Candy Cane No-Bake Cookies.


Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire…

Lying next to the fireplace with a hot chocolate is always one of the many joys of winter, right? If you have a fireplace, try heating your living room with that instead of blasting the electric heater. Now that it’s November, the cold weather has arrived for us New Englanders. Since they are predicting another bad winter, start by getting into the habit early. Not only will it be a relaxing activity, but you will not have to worry about the extra costs of a space heater.


By just changing a few simple things, you will now be spending less on your electricity bill during the holiday season. This can ultimately make time spent preparing for the all those festivities much more enjoyable for you and your family.

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What Does It Mean To Be Energy Literate?

A survey conducted by the National Environmental Education & Training Foundation (NEETF) found that only 12% of young adults could pass a basic energy quiz. The same survey revealed that most of us overestimate our knowledge of energy. Where does electricity come from and how is it produced? What is the difference between a utility and a supply company? What drives the cost of electricity? How much energy do you use in a day, month, or year? If you can answer those questions, you are ahead of the curve.

The following piece was written by Will Fessenden, Provider Power’s director of content & media, and was published in the November edition of Bangor Metro Magazine’s “Energy Section”.

Where does electricity come from and how is it produced? What is the difference between a utility and a supply company? What drives the cost of electricity? How much energy do you use in a day, month, or year? If you can answer those questions, you are ahead of the curve.

A survey conducted by the National Environmental Education & Training Foundation (NEETF) found that only 12% of young adults could pass a basic energy quiz. The same survey revealed that most of us overestimate our knowledge of energy.

Few would disagree that everything revolves around energy. Look around you. Our ability to produce the stuff we buy—the food we eat, the water and oil we take from the ground, the computer screen you are reading this on, all of these require energy.

In spite of its importance, few of us truly understand energy; many American’s don’t even care. According to a University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll conducted in March of 2014, less than 70% of Americans “consider energy issues important.”

Fortunately there are efforts underway to reverse course. This involves education and engagement.  The United States Department of Energy has developed an energy literacy framework. Parents and educators can access tools, lesson plans, and resources focused on 7 “essential principals” of energy.

The Department of Energy defines an energy literate person as someone who can: trace energy flows, knows how much energy they use (and where the energy comes from), can assess the credibility of information about energy and communicate about energy use in meaningful ways.

Closer to home there is a much more hands-on approach to educating about energy.

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s “PowerHouse” program includes working with smart electrical meters (already available in some Maine households) to enable Maine students and their families to investigate and manage home electricity use.  Students review their household electricity use on an hourly, daily, monthly and yearly basis. They then participate in family discussion about energy use at home.

This premise is a very simple one. Use technology to measure and document energy use, and make desired changes based on available data.

The energy crisis of the 1970’s led to a School House Rock cartoon titled “Electricity-Electricity.”

You may remember the lyrics, “Burning fuel and using steam, they generate electricity-electricity. Turn that generator by any means…You’re making, uh…electricity, electricity.”

Some of the nation’s leading energy researchers have called for a greater investment in educating, or at least engaging young people about energy.

President Obama sought the assistance of Hollywood a advertising agency to produce a series of YouTube-style videos designed to highlight the role energy plays in our everyday lives. The project failed to get enough support.

In order to make informed decisions about energy efficiency, renewable energy solutions, energy production and research, we need a higher level of energy literacy.

Without a greater understanding of energy and electricity, history is bound to repeat itself.  Few of us want a repeat of the 1970’s with an energy shortage.  Greater energy literacy means we will be better suited to respond to fluctuations in the market and how to mitigate the effects of those changes.

Hopefully we will not need what they called for in the School House Rock video, “if we only had a superhero who could stand here and turn the generator real fast, then we wouldn’t need to burn so much fuel to make . . . electricity.”

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4 Ways Natural Gas is Impacting Electricity Prices This Winter

It is a matter of supply and demand. Many electricity generating plants in the north east are reliant upon natural gas. When natural gas supply is lower, electricity costs go up.

The Conservation Law Foundation has done an admirable job of explaining the root causes of recent electricity rate increases across much of Northern New England.  Part of their argument is  that “the real problem isn’t a major deficit of pipeline capacity, but a failure to deal adequately with the increased use of natural gas for power generation.”

Here are 4 (relatively) easy to understand ways in which natural gas is impacting electricity prices.

  1. We now use a lot of natural gas for power generation in New England, which helped modernize the system by moving us away from old, polluting, and inefficient sources like coal and oil. Because of this, and the way the regional grid’s electric market works, natural gas prices now generally set the price for electricity in New England.
  2. Unlike natural gas utilities that supply homes and businesses with gas for heating, which buy gas on long-term “firm” contracts that guarantee access to gas, the companies that own natural gas power plants typically buy cheaper “interruptible” contracts because there isn’t currently a mechanism that allows them to pass-through the additional costs of buying firm supply.
  3. In the winter time, people are often turning on the heat at the same time that they are turning on the lights, so the system experiences high demands on gas for both uses in the mornings and afternoons. These “coincident” demands led to price spikes between 10-42 days in each of the last winters, and retail electric prices are now catching up as the market is expecting a repeat of last winter’s high prices.
  4. Now that natural gas makes up so much of the electricity we use, the volatility of gas prices has a bigger impact on electric prices and leads to higher rates. We have been far too slow in deploying demand-reducing energy efficiency measures in homes and businesses and in increasing the amounts of local renewable energy on the system, both of which would help reduce market prices for electricity and protect us from volatile gas prices.

This information is part of a longer blog article published by the Conservation Law Foundation on October 3, 2014.


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How to Save on Energy While You’re on Vacation

While you will always inevitably have to think about some things from back home while you’re away basking in the Caribbean sun, you will not have to worry about wasted energy costs.

Vacations are amazing. In fact, I could use one right now. But I digress. Although vacations are wonderful and fun and great, they can definitely take a toll on your savings account – especially if you have a whole family to take with you.

When you leave the house for vacation or extended period of time, you have to worry about a number of things. The stress doesn’t end just because you’re going on vacation. Who is going to take care of the pets? Do I have food that could go bad and then leave me unpleasantly surprised when I return? What if the pipes freeze? All legitimate concerns.

While you will always inevitably have to think about some things from back home while you’re away basking in the Caribbean sun, you will not have to worry about wasted energy costs. Follow these simple steps before you board the plane and you could have a little extra cash in your pocket for something more exciting (like haggling with the locals!) while you’re gone.

Curtains and Blinds

Save heat energy by going around your house (it will take two seconds) and making sure all the curtains and blinds on the windows are shut. This helps heat from coming in during the summer and prevents heat loss in the winter.

Leave Lights On

When my family takes a trip, we always make sure to leave a couple lights on throughout the house so it gives an illusion that someone’s home. This can deter any potential burglars from stopping by, so it’s best to leave at least one light on when you’re away.

I know what you’re thinking – how in the world does leaving lights on save on energy? The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t. But, if you put those few lights on an automatic timer, to only turn on at certain times of the day or night, you will be saving a lot more than you would if they were not on a timer and keeping your house safe.

Unplug Energy Vampires

Vampire devices are electronics and appliances that are using energy even when they are off. The average American household has at least 40 of these throughout the home – wowza! Do yourself a favor and walk around to quickly unplug these before you leave. Doing so will save on unnecessary electricity costs while you’re away.


If you want to talk about high electricity usage, the refrigerator can be compared to a v8 diesel truck, which are gas hog beasts all on their own. So, back to refrigerators. They take up way too much energy, and even more if they are only half full.

Before vacation, we usually try to keep less food in our fridge in anticipation of our departure. Why not take this opportunity to completely clean it out? Get rid of old food and condiments and unplug everything so you can start fresh upon your return. If you’re going to do this, be sure to leave the doors open so it doesn’t get start to smell and mold.

An alternative to unplugging your refrigerator would be to turn the temperatures up. If you turn the refrigerator up to 42 degrees and the freezer up to 5 degrees, it will still be enough preserve the food that’s in there and still save energy.

Water Heater

Before jetting off to your destination, remember to go into the basement (or wherever it’s located) and shut off the circuit to the water heater. We only think about the luxuries of actually having hot water when it goes cold in the middle of the shower. This is not something that we often think about as consuming energy (it takes electricity to heat the water), but it consumes 25% of the energy you use in your home. Even when we’re not using the hot water. Since we don’t need hot water when we’re not in our house to use it, do yourself some justice and flip the switch before you leave for vacation.


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The Value of Conservation

Some may question the benefits of energy conservation.  Many argue how can the little things I do at home really make a difference?   This graphic should help to bring it all home.

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Is the next energy revolution hiding in your trash can?

Waste reclamation is still a small business in the US, but considering how much trash Americans keep generating, advocates see tremendous potential to grow.

The oldest sources of fuel were wood and animal dung, followed by coal, oil, solar, and wind—we can now add trash to the mix.

A recent report from Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Center argues that turning garbage into energy solves two problems: growing landfills and our ever-increasing use of energy.

A Simple Idea

It all started with a simple idea. If we can turn oil into plastic, why can’t we turn plastic back into oil?

It’s not only possible, it’s happening all over the country. In 13 states and the District of Columbia, more than 10 percent of the plastic waste is converted into different kinds of fuel: synthetic oil, synthetic gas (“syngas”), steam, and electricity.

The work is done in waste-to-energy plants, many of them powered by waste products. The power plants’ own waste product is steam, which some—including many in Denmark—have captured and used to heat houses.

If all the trash that ended up in landfills went to these waste-to-energy plants instead, it could generate enough electricity to power one out of every eight households in the United States, according to the report, and the steam could heat another 9.8 million homes.

Waste reclamation is still a small business in the United States, but considering how much trash Americans keep generating, advocates recognize tremendous growth potential. In 2011,  84 waste-to-energy plants in the United States converted about four million tons of plastic into energy. Nickolas J. Themelis and Charles Mussche, authors of the Columbia University report, say that every ton of trash combusted in modern waste-to-energy power plants replaces almost half a ton of coal. Diverting trash to power plants could reduce coal mining by about 100 million tons per year—about 10 percent of domestic coal production.

According to Themelis and Mussche, simply extracting non-recyclable plastic out of the trash in landfills could save the equivalent of 48 million tons of coal, or 180 million barrels of oil each year.

Many states import coal from their neighbors even as they are shipping trash to out of state landfills the report notes. Converting their own trash into energy could reduce coal imports—and in a few cases, stop it entirely: New York, California, Indiana, New Jersey, and Michigan all send more energy (read: trash) to landfills than they import as coal. Nationally, the use of waste-generated fuel instead of coal could reduce the US state-to-state transportation of coal by 22 percent, say the researchers.

California currently imports almost 2 million tons of coal each year; this could be eliminated by routing just 15 percent of the state’s trash away from landfills to waste-to-energy plants.

The United States remains inconsistent embracing waste-to-energy options. More than half of all states don’t yet combust any of their trash, while others have invested heavily in the new technology. Connecticut leads the pack, converting two out of every three pounds of trash into energy. The District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and Maine burn between a quarter and a half of their waste, while 29 states do no combustion at all, just piling their trash into landfills.

Themelis and Mussche note in their report that landfills grow by more than 6,000 acres annually—the equivalent of seven Central Parks in size. Isn’t it time to stop throwing away energy?


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