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

Self-Timers

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.

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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.

microwave

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.

fire

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.

Refrigerators

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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Vampire (Gadgets) Are Coming For You. And Yes, You Should Be Scared.

I’m not sure about you, but once October hits, it’s time to start seriously thinking about planning one of my favorite holidays of the year: Halloween. It’s not every day that we get to dress up looking like whatever we want and not get weird looks for it. Kids are happily roaming neighborhoods, adults like to have fun with it, and of course there are plenty of haunted hayrides to attend. But, did you know that some of your household devices are always dressed for the occasion? They are called vampire devices.

I’m not sure about you, but once October hits, it’s time to start thinking about planning for one of my favorite holidays of the year: Halloween. It’s not every day that we get to dress up looking like whatever we want and not get weird looks for it.

Kids are happily roaming neighborhoods, adults like to have fun with it, and of course, there are plenty of haunted hayrides to attend. But, did you know that some of your household devices are always dressed for the occasion? These gadgets are called “vampires.” Much like a real one, vampire devices have a way of slowly taking all the electricity from your home whether they are “on,” “off,” or in “standby” mode.

Yikes! Think of all the electronics you have in your home that stay in standby mode when not in use? In that state, they may be considered “off” but are still sucking electricity. I can think of a couple that I have in my own room: my laptop and digital picture frame. From there, the list goes on as you explore your own house. For now, we will take a look at some of the most popular vampire devices so you’ll be more aware of what exactly could be lurking in your bedroom at night. Fear not, there are solutions.

The TV

If you have a plasma TV, you may want to think of upgrading to a more energy efficient kind, such as a LED TV. The reason? Plasma screens suck up A LOT of electricity—they’re not very efficient. Even if you watch TV for four hours per day, the screen is still using electricity during the other 20 when it’s turned off.

Cable Box

Even though you might turn off your cable box when you’re not using it (emphasis on the might—because let’s face it, most of us don’t), it’s still using power when you’re asleep…24/7 in fact. The displays of channel numbers don’t just magically appear there; rather they require light (which consumes electricity) for illumination, along with other internal parts that are always energized. As outlined in this article, cable boxes are certainly not energy efficient and are one of the top consumers of electricity in your home. By unplugging the box when the TV is not in use, you have the potential to save a lot of that hard-earned cash.

DVD Player

When I supposedly “turn off” my DVD player, a little red light appears to let me know that it’s off, as opposed to a green light when it’s on. However, it’s not really off because the light is on. Does that make sense? Power is still flowing into the DVD player because if it weren’t, the light wouldn’t still be on. Most DVD players only get used once in a while anyways, so when you’re not using it, unplug the darn thing! You can easily plug it back in the next time you want to watch The Notebook for the millionth time.

Laptop or Desktop Computers

Whoa. I know it may be hard to believe, but there are actually some times during the day/night that we aren’t using our computers…GASP! I didn’t know it was possible. When a desktop computer is left on all day, the screen may go black, however the computer is still working to power all the applications and programs that are running in the background. Even on “sleep” mode it’s still using energy. And, when it’s plugged in charging all night? That’s unnecessary power that it’s using. Be smart about how you take care of your computers – it’s best just to shut them down when you’re not using them.

Game Consoles

This is another big one. Along with the DVD player, there is still a green light illuminated when you turn your X-Box off (red for a PlayStation). As I said above, it takes electricity to make it light up. When you think you’re turning game consoles off, think again. They’re actually just in standby mode. To fully turn it off and stop power from flowing to it, hit the other off-switch, usually located on the back of the device.

Cell Phone Chargers

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When your cell phone is plugged in for hours on end, it’s not only damaging the phone, but it’s wasting electricity as well. Furthermore, when the phone isn’t plugged into the charger, it’s still using electricity. In this case, it’s best to just unplug the charger from the wall when you’re not using it to charge your phone.

Don’t be too fearful of these vampires, though. If we band together and take action against them, we WILL succeed. To prevent our homes from further attacks, get into the habit of unplugging these things. Buying a power strip will also do you some good, too. That way, you’ll only have to flip one switch instead of dealing with multiple cords. Also…garlic.

 

 

 

 

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Energy Efficiency at Work

Lowering your energy costs around the office can not only help the environment, but also boost your business's bottom line. Here's a look at strategies for improving energy efficiency at work.

It doesn’t matter if your office or workspace is in  luxury building in a big city or the “spare room” at your home.  Lowering energy costs around the office not only helps the environment, it also boosts your business’s bottom line.  Here’s a look at strategies for improving energy efficiency at work.

Buy energy efficient equipment:

When it’s time to replace computer monitors and other equipment, consider purchasing ENERGY STAR models. This could cut energy consumption by up to 75 percent compared to conventional products.

Power down and unplug equipment that’s not in use:

Have employees turn off and unplug their computers, printers or another equipment before they leave the office. Electronic devices that are turned off but still plugged in can still draw a small amount of power, so use an energy strip to reduce this energy drain.

Set electronics to hibernate or sleep mode:

This way, even if workers forget to power down their computers or other equipment or they walk away for a short time, they’ll consume less power. Most printers and copiers also have an energy-saving mode you could use to reduce your energy consumption.

Use energy efficient lighting:

Use natural lighting when you can and consider replacing conventional light bulbs with more compact fluorescent bulbs. Keep windows and skylights clean to maximize natural lighting.

Add motion sensors:

Installing motion sensors in storage rooms, conference rooms, or other areas that are occupied only sporadically will reduce your energy usage instead of relying on employees to flip off the switch themselves when they leave the room.

Get a programmable thermostat:

During weekends and evening hours when your offices are likely not occupied, set the temperature accordingly to reduce heating and cooling costs.

Use cloud computing to reduce local server costs:

Running a local server incurs energy costs around the clock, so some businesses have switched to cloud computing instead. Cloud computing also allows employees to work from home, another source of energy savings.

Allow employees to telecommute:

If your line of business allows for telecommuting, then having fewer people in the office running computers and printers could help reduce your energy use. If telecommuting becomes very successful, you may find that as your head count increases, you won’t need to expand your office space proportionately. Remember: a larger office space often costs more money to heat, cool and light.

Research environmental grants and loans:

The U.S. Small Business Administration offers environmental grants and loans to help small businesses defray the costs of energy efficient upgrades. If you’re planning an upgrade, these options may be worth investigating.

 

*Photo courtesy of Financial Times, CC / BY 2.0

 

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