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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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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5 Smartphone Apps to Make You More Energy Efficient

You may not realize it, but your smartphone is good for more than checking email, making calls, and playing Minecraft—you can use it to help you track your energy efficiency and save on your electricity bills, thanks to a number of innovative mobile apps.

If you’re like most of the American population, you’ve probably got a smartphone in your pocket right now (or maybe you’re even reading this from your mobile screen). You may not realize it, but your smartphone is good for more than checking email, making calls, and playing Minecraft—you can use it to help you track your energy efficiency and save on your electricity bills, thanks to a number of innovative mobile apps.

Here are five apps worth checking out for help with going green around your house:

Green Outlet (iOS, $0.99)

Do you know how much you’re paying for kilowatt/hour of electricity? Just plug in that number, add the appliances and electronics you use in your house, and this app will help you learn how much you’re paying to power all of your electronic devices. It’s a great way to get a forecast of your monthly electricity bill, and learn what you can do to save.

Green Outlet
Green Outlet is just one of many apps to help you monitor your home energy use.

Leafully (iOS, free)

This free mobile app can be connected to collect data from more than a dozen regional utility companies, and provides you with weekly reports to let you know whether your energy usage was higher or lower than usual. It also helps you to measure and visualize your family’s environmental footprint, letting you know how many trees would need to be planted to offset your carbon emissions, and helping you to purchase carbon offsets.

Light Bulb Finder (iOS and Android, free)

Want to replace your conventional light bulbs with energy-saving equivalents, but not sure what to buy? This app helps you track size, wattage, and price for all kinds of energy-saving bulbs. You can even conveniently purchase your new bulbs directly through the app’s shopping interface, rather than trekking out to the hardware store.

Easy Battery Saver (Android, free)

While your smartphone is by no means the most power-hungry gadget in your home (link to Anna’s piece), if you find yourself needing to charge your phone frequently, it’s worth taking efforts to conserve electricity. This simple app can change the settings on your phone to preserve maximum battery life, enabling you to go longer between charges.

JouleBug (iOS and Android, free)

This app turns sustainable living into a game! Get access to tips (called “Pins”) on how to make your everyday actions more environmentally friendly, and gain points for completing each action. You can connect with your friends, and compete to see who’s completed the most Pins to discover who’s the greenest of them all. A “yearly impact” calculator helps you visualize the difference that you’re making in your life—and the world—with these simple actions.


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6 Tips for Renters on Saving Money on Electricity

Do you rent your home and looking to be more energy efficient and save on your power bill? Chances are you don't want to pay for pricing things like windows or insulation. Fortunately renters can still make a host of small changes to help lower their heating and cooling bills.

Most energy-savings tips only apply to homeowners—if you’re only renting, you’re not likely to pay for pricey insulation in a house you don’t own. But even if you can’t make major renovations or upgrade to energy-efficient appliances, renters can still make small changes to help lower their heating and cooling bills.

Windows are a great place to focus, as many apartments have older ones that aren’t well-insulated and allow for heat loss. And when landlords aren’t footing the energy bill, they have little incentive to pay for upgrades.

Here’s a look at several renter-friendly strategies for saving money on your electricity and heating bills.

Use insulated drapes

Insulated drapes are an inexpensive way to keep out cold air, especially in a room with lots of windows. You should be able to purchase simple insulated drapes inexpensively and move them with you to future apartments. Use tension rods if you’re concerned about leaving nail or screw holes above the windows.

Place plastic on the windows

An inexpensive plastic window insulation kit can help you keep out drafts. This video shows how to weatherize windows using plastic. Once windows are sealed, you can’t easily open them again without removing the plastic, so you may want to leave one or two windows in the kitchen uncovered case you overcook something and need to air out the room (remember to close the window later).

Weather strip doors and windows

This video shows you how to install peel-and-stick weather stripping. A few benefits of weather stripping: you can still open and close your windows and they can help keep out bugs and outside noise. You can use weather stripping in combination with plastic insulation or insulated drapes.

Get a space heater

If you need to heat a small space like a bedroom, it’s sometimes more efficient to use a space heater rather than heating the entire apartment or house. Just be sure to position the space heater away from other furniture and turn it off when you leave the room to lower your risk of fire.

Clean heating and cooling vents

When dust and other debris build up in in your heating and cooling system, it forces the system to work harder to heat or cool your home. By changing the HVAC filters (if applicable) and vacuuming the vents periodically, you’ll help the system run as efficiently as it can, even if your landlord isn’t ready to upgrade.

Remove window AC units

If you leave an air conditioning unit in your window year round, you’re likely letting warm air escape or cold air in through gaps between the unit and your window. Remove AC units at the end of the warm season and store them until the following spring. Better yet, use fans and open windows instead of running energy-sucking AC units.


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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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