Green Living Energy Savings

What you should know about “cool roofs”

Cool roofs are one of the leading green building technologies used today, and while it is not a new concept, cool roofs are working to solve a growing problem. Even with the cold and snow in New England cool roofs are an option.
Modern Wooden Home with Roof with Grass
The north tilt of the roof allows for expansive glazing on the south facade to balance the glazing present in the north and west facades, which face a pond (photo: http://briburn.com)

France is leading the “cool roof” movement.  All new buildings in commercial zones across the country must comply with new environmental legislation-they must be covered in plants or solar panels.

Cool roofs are one of the leading green building technologies used today, and while it is not a new concept, cool roofs are working to solve a growing problem. Think about how you’d dress on a hot August day. Do you wear all black? Generally not. You wear light, airy, heat reflective colors like white or blue or yellow. So why do we choose to disregard what builders in hot climates have been doing for hundreds of years, and cover our roofs with dark, non-reflective, heat-absorbing materials?

In densely populated areas like cities and suburbs, these choices have real-time consequences. These cities have been dubbed “heat islands” because of the huge variance in temperature caused by the built environment.

Chris Briley, Principal at BRIBURN, a reputed New England architecture firm dedicated to sustainable design, explains, “In the south, the heat island effect is very real. The city can be 5-10 degrees hotter than the surrounding suburbs and that’s because of dark pavement, dark roofs and a lack of respiring vegetation.” Something as simple and inexpensive as choosing a light color roof paint instead of black shingle or tar can immediately normalize surrounding air temperatures and help bring down the “heat island” effect.

Are cool roofs worth considering up north?

While New England’s cooler climate might not make “heat islands” a top concern, a creative twist on cool roofs help to solve a different problem here. Water quality. Enter the beautiful and functional “vegetated roof.”

A vegetated roof remembers technology that people have been using for centuries. By covering the roofs of both homes and office buildings with plants, we can greatly improve storm water conditions. The roof can absorb and hold the water of a 1” rainstorm, and any water that then runs off the roof and into streams, lakes, ponds and eventually the ocean has been preconditioned with sulphurs and phosphates and already neutralized.

The vegetated roof
The vegetated roof, planted with hardy alpine seedums, is designed to absorb one inch of storm water, and regulate the house’s temperature during the summer months. (photo: http://briburn.com)

“Imagine districts like Portland, Maine,” Briley positions, “with a direct watershed to Casco Bay and a combined sewer system. Every large storm is bad for Casco Bay because of the overflow and unconditioned runoff from our urban and suburban districts. If every roof were a vegetated roof, this negative effect would be greatly reduced.”

Plus, vegetated roofs are cool roofs in the traditional sense that when temperatures are hot, they cool the structure down. Briley explains that because as the plants respire, their heat gain in the summer is ZERO. That can have a huge effect on the cooling load and energy use of an air-conditioned building, as well as increase the comfort of a non air-conditioned building or home. The expense of air conditioning doesn’t make it worth it to most New Englanders, but there are summer months when all of us would appreciate a cooler interior temperature. Vegetated roofs provide that.

“This may seem like a small thing, but you are covering your roof with a natural material that will sequester carbon and release oxygen. And of course, they look beautiful.” – Chris Briley, Principal, BRIBURN

For all of the reasons outlined here, TideSmart Global, a marketing firm based in Falmouth, Maine, is working with BRIBURN on the design and installation of 5,000 ft2 of vegetated roof at their logistics center. The hope is that such a high profile and large-scale cool roof will likely bring attention to the vegetated roof as a viable New England construction feature.

Is a cool or vegetated roof right for you?

There are many more benefits to installing a cool roof at your home or office. Decreased utility bills, increased occupant comfort, extended roof life and even utility rebates in some locations are helping homeowners decide to make the switch. Because of New England’s cooler climate, vegetated roofs are becoming more popular, but there are many factors to take into consideration before deciding on the best cool roof material for you.

What about the snow loads we see here in the New England?  A leaky roof is independent of whether it’s green roof or traditional. It has to do with the installation and design specification of the structure. All roofs must have a proper waterproofing membrane, green roofs included.

There is no evidence to suggest that green roofs are more susceptible to leaking. In fact, some studies suggest that the longer life cycle of a green roof is due to the protection of the waterproof membrane from ultraviolet sunlight. The plants and substrate act as a natural barrier to weathering.

The Cool Roof Rating Council offers a multitude of resources to help guide you through building material options, rebate opportunities, and even reputable contractors.

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Saving energy by telecommuting – four ways to make it work

30 million people already work from a home office at least once a week. With the average employer spending about $10,000 in energy, real estate, and production costs per employee annually-telecommuting can be a win-win for the employee and employer.

Ever considered allowing some of your workers to telecommute? The practice has multiple benefits – from reducing your company’s environmental impact to increasing productivity.

When it comes to applying for jobs,  many young professionals consider  work flexibility as important as salary and other benefits.  As a recruitment tool,  embracing telecommuting can be very a great benefit for job seekers.

You’d certainly be part of a trend, as virtual workers are on the rise: more than 30 million people already work from a home office at least once a week, according to a study by the Telework Research Network, and experts believe that up to 63 million people will work from home by 2016.

Virtual workers reduce costs:

An August 2012 survey from Telework offers illustrative numbers on the environmental impact that would take place if those who have compatible jobs worked from home half the time:

  • The oil savings would equate to over 37 percent of our Persian Gulf imports.
  • The greenhouse gas reduction would be the equivalent of taking the entire New York State workforce permanently off the road.

Wondering how your workers might fare? Check out the following online telecommuting calculator (from GovLoop, with the help of HP) that uses information from a variety of studies and federal databases to break down the savings into the categories of money, time and pounds of carbon dioxide. For example, say you’re an SUV driver with a 30-mile, one-hour round-trip commute, who only travels to the office twice a week.

According to the calculator:

  • Money saved: $6,170 per year
  • Time saved: 156 hours of productivity
  • Greenhouse gas reduction: 4,196 pounds per year

Businesses can help their bottom line, too: Govloop says the average employer spends about $10,000 in energy, real estate, and production costs per employee annually. Administrative expenses, such as the need for desktop computers, office furniture and land lines, also could be reduced with a telecommuting workforce.

Ready to take the plunge? Here are four tips for initiating a virtual work schedule into your organization:

  1. Decide who can effectively telecommute.

    Before you allow the entire office to telecommute, figure out which functions make sense for a work-from-home schedule. If someone is in a more collaborative role, they may hurt productivity if they are out. But it might make perfect sense for a salesperson, who can work on the road most days.

  2. Decide what the schedule should look like.

    There’s no need to go all or nothing with telecommuting. Consider easing into it by having one day a week that is a telecommute day and see how it goes. Workers probably would be more effective telecommuting in the middle of the week, keeping Monday and Friday available for kicking off and ending the week with meetings or other team projects.

  3. Set clear expectations for the team.

    Make sure that workers are equipped with what they need, such as a landline and high-speed internet, to do their jobs effectively. Also have an agreement about what hours they will be available to the team. Ensure they realize that working from home is “working,” not doing chores or childcare.

  4. Check in on a regular basis.

    You don’t want to feel as though you are micromanaging your telecommuting employees, but there also is a case to be made for ensuring that they know they are being held accountable.

Most workers love a telecommuting option because it improves their work/life quality and for that reason they are apt to be highly committed to getting their job done successfully. Giving them the option when it makes sense can help improve their commitment to the company while improving the environment and your company’s bottom line.

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Efficient and Economic Living In Tiny Houses

Oversize homes, oversize mortgages and oversize energy bills have been replaced by tiny homes. Living the high life and moving on up to the top while living in a tiny home.
Tiny Wooden House on Wheels
Tiny houses use less building material [...] which takes less energy to produce.

After the housing crisis of 2008, many homeowners grew disillusioned with the McMansions that had gotten them deep into debt. Aside from their super-sized mortgage, large homes typically also carry a large utility bill to heat, cool and light jumbo spaces. So, as Americans adopt a more minimalist lifestyle, it makes perfect sense that they’d also embrace tiny homes, with some as small as 196 square feet! We’re so fascinated with tiny homes that there are now reality TV shows like Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunters, blogs that discuss the ins and outs of tiny living and even a Tiny House Magazine.

On first glance, one might assume that tiny homes make sense for single people without much stuff. That’s one demographic that inhabits tiny homes, but believe it or not, families with children and dogs also share tiny homes. Some homeowners even use a tiny home as an in-law suite or guest cottage built on their land rather than building an addition to their home.

Tiny house interior
On first glance, one might assume that tiny homes make sense for single people without much stuff.

And while creative storage solutions and a willingness to pare down your belongings is essential, here’s a look at a few benefits offered by tiny homes:

  • Less environmental impact: Tiny houses use less building material (and oftentimes use recycled or repurposed material), which takes less energy to produce. Heating, cooling and lighting a tiny house also takes less of an environmental toll. Some tiny homes operate off the grid using a composting toilet and solar power or wind turbines. Others are connected to a water and electrical supply, but still wouldn’t draw as much water and electricity as a full-sized home.
  • Less space to clean: Dusting, vacuuming and otherwise cleaning a full-sized home can feel like a never-ending chore. But when you live in less than 200 square feet, there are fewer surfaces to keep clean and more time for other activities.
  • Less temptation to accumulate stuff: Some tiny homeowners have extra storage at a friend or relative’s place and rotate items seasonally. But without huge closets and a basement or attic right at their fingertips, most tiny homeowners don’t feel the need to buy tchotkes or other extra stuff they don’t need. Many people find it freeing when they reduce their possessions to just those items they love and use on a regular basis.
  • Less expensive to acquire and maintain: You can sometimes get a bank loan or manufacturer financing for a tiny home. However, many owners pay for a tiny home out of their own savings (often less than $100,000), which means there’s no ongoing mortgage (although they might need to pay rental fees on or purchase the land). With less money devoted to housing costs, tiny homeowners are able to prioritize other goals like paying for travel and experiences, paying down student debt or working less and spending more time with family.

Looking for a more information about tiny houses in New England?  Check out www.tinyhousenortheast.com. They have tiny homes for sale, designs/plans and tons more info about tiny living in New England.

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Just Another Reason to BBQ

No matter how old, your home appliances use a great deal of electricity. While they are more energy efficient than even 5 or 10 years ago. Even the most energy efficient appliances and electronics account for 20% of the average household energy bill. So, stop using them and fire up the grill.

We have finally shoveled our lawns, many are breaking out the BBQ.     If you haven’t…what are you waiting for? Baseball  and softball season is underway.  The days are  longer.  Do we really need another reason to BBQ?  How about saving money?

For every hour you use your oven  (at 350 degrees) it costs about  .20 cents.    Microwaving those steamed veggies for 2 minutes will add .07 cents to your power bill.     Boiling water on your electric stove top will set you back  .11 cents. By using the convection oven for 30 minutes will add a whopping .10 cents to your power bill.

No matter how old, your home appliances use a great deal of electricity. While they are more energy efficient than even 5 or 10 years ago.  Even the most energy efficient appliances and electronics account for 20% of the average household energy bill.

Get out of the kitchen and instead use the grill.     Unless you are a gourmet,  everything tastes better on the grill.  In addition even grilling is getting greener.

There has been considerable debate about which is “greener” charcoal or propane for grilling.      Energy efficient grills are all the rage.  Which ever your preference (charcoal or propane),  using  grills that retain the most heat will reduce how much fuel you have to use.    Consider  a ceramic grill-check out the Grilldome!

There are even a host of environmentally friendly  BBQ briquettes available.     Try coconut briquettes or natural wood briquettes.

What ever your  choice of fuel for grilling, after this long, cold winter, we deserve a good BBQ.  Our spring and summer is too short to not take advantage of  all the outside family time we can get.  So enjoy.

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Making A Difference and Saving Energy With Cloud Computing

U.S. companies using cloud computing could save $12.3 billion in energy savings and 85.7 million metric tons of CO2 savings a year by 2020. Why hasn't your company taken advantage of this yet?

More and more companies are shifting their IT infrastructure to the cloud rather than using servers, a move that can help reap tremendous savings in carbon emissions and energy costs. In fact, a study by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) found that U.S. companies using cloud computing could save $12.3 billion in energy savings and 85.7 million metric tons of CO2 savings a year by 2020. The firms interviewed for the study anticipated reducing costs by as much as 40 to 50 percent.

The study also analyzed the business impact of transferring human resources to the cloud and found that it could achieve payback in less than a year. Beyond reducing their carbon footprint, cloud computing saves companies in other ways like avoiding up-front investments in infrastructure, improving time-to-market and improving automation. Cloud computing offers additional business benefits such as greater flexibility and scalability and easier upgrades.

As a Rackspace white paper points out, the key to achieving the benefits of cloud computing is proper vendor selection. Here’s a look at several factors to consider when choosing a cloud computing vendor:

  • Pricing model: The white paper recommends looking for a cloud computing vendor that bills cloud computing infrastructure on an hourly basis, because spikes tend to last only a few hours. Companies would not reap as much savings with a cloud computing vendor that charges by the day rather than the hour. Some cloud computing vendors also charge users a setup fee for provision (and even de-provision, in some cases) to offset their costs, so try to avoid vendors with high setup costs.
  • Security and compliance: Whether you’re used on-premise servers or a cloud-based solution, you need to do your due-diligence about the vendor’s security protocol. If your business is subject to standards such as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), you’d want to choose a vendor who complies with those standards.
  • Performance: Cloud computing offers a high level of reliability but it’s not infallible. Look for a provider who can offer you a strong Service Level Agreement (SLA) covering factors like host failure and network availability.
  • Support: Your in-house IT department may not have the bandwidth to offer around-the-clock support, so find out what level of support you can expect from your vendor. With the global economy, outages at any time of day are inconvenient and cost you money.

Cloud computing has the potential to save your business energy and money, but it’s important to select your cloud computing provider carefully to ensure the right fit for your needs.

 

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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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3 Simple Steps To Tame Your Power Hungry Home

3 Simple steps-that is all it takes to tame your power hungry home and save money. These days, there are a lot of electronic gadgets in our homes. From flipping on that coffee pot in the morning, to watching TV at night, we depend on electricity for everything we do. However, just a portion of your household appliances account for the majority of your electricity consumption. With some simple adjustments, you can save both money and energy by tackling these power-hungry categories.

These days, there are a lot of electronic gadgets in our homes. From flipping on that coffee pot in the morning, to watching TV at night, we depend on electricity for everything we do.

However, just a portion of your household appliances account for the majority of your electricity consumption. With some simple adjustments, you can save both money and energy by tackling these power-hungry categories.

1. Hot water heaters

Having access to instant hot water at the tap is one of modern life’s greatest conveniences. From steamy showers to the warm suds that clean our dishes and our clothes, our hot water heaters get a constant workout. The average home uses about 45 gallons of hot water each day, which adds up to hundreds of dollars a year on your power bill.

There are several ways to lower this cost. The most obvious one is to use less hot water, which can be accomplished through shorter showers and more efficient dishwashers and washing machines. You may also want to go to the source and replace your water heater with a more efficient model. Then, set your water heater’s thermostat to 120 degrees or lower, which will provide water hot enough for most uses (and can prevent scalding burns as well).

 2. Cooling systems

We’ve talked about the hot stuff, now let’s talk about the cold stuff. Whether you have central air or window units, air conditioning systems use a lot of electricity. Running a 5,000 BTU window unit in one room 24 hours a day could be costing you nearly $600 per year. (Use this online calculator to determine the cost of your central air system.) During the summer months, cooling costs can make up 40% to 70% of your electric bill.

To bring those bills down, make sure your home is well insulated and that any cracks or gaps are sealed, especially around window units. For central systems, use a programmable thermostat and keep the filter clean. Also consider using window shades, screens, or films to keep the sun’s heat from entering your home. Finally, limit stovetop cooking and use an outdoor grill instead of your oven during hot months; heat from the kitchen will just make your AC system work harder.

3. Other household appliances

Did you know your hair dryer uses more power than your clothes washer or your refrigerator? Drawing up to 1,875 watts, a hair dryer used every day can really add up. But it’s not the only power hog that you plug into the wall. Dishwashers, clothes dryers, and vacuum cleaners all take a lot of energy to run. You can view the typical wattages of a variety of household appliances here.

While letting your hair air-dry and hanging your clothes on a clothesline to dry can save quite a few kilowatts, such options aren’t always practical, especially in winter. So what else can you do to save?

First off, when it’s time to buy a new appliance, be sure to check out Energy Star models. Products with the Energy Star label must meet certain energy efficiency requirements, and they include everything from phones to furnaces.

In addition, try to unplug items that aren’t in use, because televisions, microwaves and many other common appliances draw small amounts of stand-by power even when turned off.

And, of course, when possible, limit the use of electronic items. Being mindful of your daily habits will help keep costs down.

 

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