Consider these energy efficient options

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) writes that “heating and cooling costs are typically the largest energy expense for most U.S. homes.”

Knowing that, doesn’t it make sense to take a look at ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency which in turn may help improve your budget efficiencies if incorporated?

The EPA recommends the following options which include the simple to the more complicated – but all can have an impact on your home’s bottom line.

  • Consider a programmable thermostat. This option is considered one of the most simple to incorporate since its programming options allow you to regulate your home’s temperature in all seasons regardless if you’re at home or away.
  • Regulate the rooms not being used. By heating and cooling only the rooms of your house that you actually use and closing vent access to all others you can conserve energy and save money while still maintaining your personal comfort.
  • Consider a fan. In absence of air conditioning, why not install some low-energy ceilings fans, window fans, or whole-house and attic fans? All three fan options consume less energy than whole-house air conditioning, especially when you consider ENERGY STAR rated products.

Saving energy can help you save money while also helping to protect the environment.  Not only will you be taking a chunk out of your largest energy expense for your home, but you’ll also be putting change in your pocket while effecting change in the environment, as well!

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Some culprits that contribute to secret energy costs in your home

There are culprits all around your home that cause energy to trickle away to the point it equates to dollars seeping from your budget.

If you’re looking for ways to maximize your home’s energy efficiency while also increasing the size of your wallet, make sure you take a close look at these often-overlooked culprits:

  • Caulking and weather stripping that needs to be replaced
  • Switch plates that don’t have foam gaskets behind them
  • Single pane windows instead of dual pane or storm windows
  • Dampers from the fireplace being left open
  • Magnets or other closure devices not sealing properly on kitchen exhaust fans
  • Openings at door bottoms where thresholds have worn thin or need to be installed
  • Using the dishwasher’s drying cycle instead of opening the door and letting dishes air dry
  • Leaks or damaged seals in air ducts
  • Temperature set too high on the hot water heater – 120 degrees is more than adequate
  • Keeping the temperature setting of your clothes washer too high — hot water uses twice as much energy as warm water
  • Using screen savers on a computer– sleep mode or turning them off is the better choice

While each of these tips may seem minor on an individual basis, collectively they can add significantly to your monthly energy budget. Take a look around your home today to see what changes can be made so you can start saving money tomorrow!

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Consider these tax credits to help manage your budget

The economy has prompted a lot of us to take a look at ways to save money on our household budget, including energy costs.

And while it might seem easier to look at short term fixes it is sometimes prudent to look at long range remedies, as well.

Take for example the following tax credits that are being offered through end-of-year 2011:

  • Biomass stoves qualify for a $300 credit on an existing primary residence.
  • Central air conditioning qualifies for a $300 credit on an existing primary residence. There are also credits for other HVAC modifications like electric heat pumps ($300), furnaces and boilers ($150), and advanced main air circulating fan ($50).
  • Insulation materials specifically designed to reduce heat loss or gain in your existing primary residence quality for a 10% credit of the cost, up to $500.
  • Roofing materials that are Energy Star rated (such as metal and reflective asphalt shingles) qualify for a credit of 10% of the cost of materials, up to $500, on an existing primary residence.
  • Non-solar water heaters qualify for a tax credit of $300 on an existing primary residence provided the energy factor is within certain guidelines.  Learn more at the Energy Star site.
  • Exterior windows, doors, skylights, and solar tubes can result in a 10% credit toward the cost of the materials up to $500, with windows being capped at $200. Again, all materials must be Energy Star rated.

To find out which products qualify and the exact credit for that product, it’s best to take a look at the U.S. Department of Energy’s website for more information.

Do the math

A quick calculation of the above numbers should yield a tidy sum whether you incorporate all or one.  Either way, it’s like money in the bank while also adding value to your property and increasing your own comfort.

How’s that for taking control of your personal budget?

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Understanding your carbon footprint

Carbon footprint. You might have heard the phrase bandied about in recent years as more people are embracing sustainability in an effort to preserve the world for future generations.  But what, exactly, is a carbon footprint?

To personalize a short definition, a carbon footprint is a measurement of the impact that your activities have on the environment as it relates to the level of greenhouse gases produced by your day-to-day living; predominantly through your use of fossil fuels.

Your carbon footprint actually consists of two parts – the primary footprint, which is a measurement of direct carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions based on the amount of fossil fuels your lifestyle consumes; and the secondary footprint, which is a measurement of indirect CO2 emissions based on the manufacturing and eventual breakdown of the products you use.

The first step to understand your carbon footprint is to calculate how your everyday actions are consuming energy. Once this is identified you can start taking responsible steps to decrease the level of CO2 emissions you produce and then take measures to offset the remaining unavoidable emissions.  The easiest way to find this baseline is to use one of the many free online carbon footprint calculators.

Become part of the solution

There’s an adage that understanding the problem is half of the solution. Knowing that, why not take steps to better understand your own carbon footprint so you can add your own contribution to the solution of a healthier energy environment?

When it comes to choosing an energy provider, take a look at their environmental initiatives just as you are now taking a look at your own.

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Your Home’s Energy Audit: Four Easy Tips

If you’re like most people you’re probably looking for a way to save money and help the environment at the same time. By taking a look at your own home and performing these four simple audit steps there’s a good chance you will accomplish both!

1.       Identify Air Leaks. Statistics indicate that up to 30% of energy efficiency is lost due to drafts or air leaks that come from some very unsuspecting places like switch plates and electrical outlets. Most of us know to look at the major culprits like window and door seals, but a thorough inspection would also include looking at attic hatches, gaps around electrical outlets, seals around baseboards, and even exterior locations such as where chimneys meet the roofline.

2.       Appliance Use. Make sure your refrigerator (or freezer) is not located near your stove, dishwasher, windows with exposure to the hot sun, or heat vents. Also, make sure the temperature of your water heater is set to no more than 120 degrees, even though some units come pre-set at 140 degrees. Also make sure you wrap your water heater in colder months with an insulating jacket that should cost no more than $20 but has the potential to save 220 pounds of gas and 1100 pounds of CO2 for an electric water heater.

3.       Cooking Ideas. Your microwave uses an average of 75% less energy than a conventional oven. Also, if you are cooking on your stove top, try to use pots and pans that are sized no smaller than the size of the burner you’ll be using since using anything smaller just wastes energy. Also, just as a microwave uses less energy than a conventional oven, a toaster oven conserves wasted energy as well. Unless you really need a full-size oven for that small casserole, pop it into the toaster oven instead!

4.       Insulation Helps. It is recommended that US homes have between R-22 and R-49 insulation in the attic and other exterior spaces such as walls and crawl spaces. A lot of older homes do not meet these guidelines, and by making certain that your home adheres to these standards you could reduce your heating and cooling costs by up to 25%. That’s like putting money in the bank!

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Consider the Value of a Whole House Fan

Not only is attic ventilation one of the most important factors affecting the long term health of a house by preventing mildew and energy losses, it also helps protect against wood damaging pests that are attracted to the moisture and then get built-up due to inadequate ventilation.

There’s a common misconception that attic fans are efficient enough to control excessive summer temperatures in a home. However, it’s shown that whole house fans are a better option. Consider these three benefits alone:

1.       Low Operating Costs when compared to an air conditioner

2.       Environmentally Friendly when compared to central air conditioning

3.       Cost-Effective Initial Purchase when compared to other options

Proper attic ventilation is an often-overlooked home and budget maintenance item. You know the adage: out of sight, out of mind. Rather than risk taking action too late, why not take time now to consider all options with regard to energy-costs?

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Understanding Green Energy

If you’ve been shopping for energy rates you may have run across green energy as an option. You may have also wondered what the term actually means.

In short, green energy is another term for sustainable energy – the provision of energy to meet current demands with resources that are replenishable within a human lifetime without negative impact on the environment.

Following are four of the many types of green energy:

1.       Hydropower. This form of energy is derived from the force of water.

2.       Solar Energy. This form of energy is derived from the radiant light and heat emitted from the sun.

3.       Biomass Power. This form of energy is produced from the combustion of biological materials such as wood, waste, and plants.

4.       Nuclear Power. This type of power is considered by some to be a form of green energy while others assert that it is not. In short, the power is provided as a result of a nuclear reaction which releases energy.

While there are other types of sustainable energy such as wind and geothermal, the goal of all green energy is the same: to create power with as little negative impact on the environment as possible.

Most individuals advocating this energy option state that the worldwide use of green energy will result in the ability to conserve the planet for a longer period of time since the by-products of traditional sources are believed to be contributing to an accelerated pace of global warming.

Make a Green Decision

Scientists and energy providers are actively working on the development of alternate energy options. If you agree these options should be encouraged, it might be a prudent decision to team up with an energy provider that has green energy initiatives so a mutually common goal can be reached.

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A Tip to Hedge Against Inflation

It seems that with every trip to the grocery store these days one of two things is noticeable: prices are escalating for basic goods like milk and bread, or the size of packaging is decreasing to lead consumers to believe the price has not changed without realizing that the quantity of the product has actually decreased in size.

With such ploys occurring around us it can often be difficult to navigate the best way to part with our hard-earned money, and this is even true when it comes to basic commodities like energy.

One tip to safeguard against the volatility of the energy market is to take advantage of price-locking that certain energy suppliers offer.

Money Magazine reported that “when inflation is surging, natural resources like oil, food, and raw materials soar in price, too.”

Knowing the above, if you are able to take advantage of any form of price-lock in your used commodities such as energy, gas, food, or other items (including postage stamps) it might be a prudent thing to do.

Peace of Mind Even Without Inflation

The article goes on to point out that even if inflationary threats don’t materialize to the point originally anticipated, a tactical move to hedge against such worries can offer solid protection.

Not all energy providers offer locked-in rates, so if you want to take some of the headache out worrying about future prices, now’s the time to find one that can meet this requirement.

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Three Tips to Conserve Electricity and Manage Personal Budgets

There’s a lot of talk these days about conserving energy for the good of the planet. And while that’s a critically important element for global preservation, today’s economy indicates that energy conservation is as important at a personal level for household budget conservation, as well.

To that end, following are a few tips to help conserve electricity in your own home:

1.       Programmable Thermostats: While the initial cost may seem to negate a potential savings, a programmable thermostat can reduce a home’s energy use by as much as 12%. So if your average energy bill is $125, you could save as much as $225 in one year. And with energy prices ever escalating, the savings potential also escalates to even further help offset the initial cost of the thermostat.

2.       Thermal Lined Curtains: Not only do thermal lined curtains hang nicer than unlined curtains (due to their added weight), but the lining provides an extra layer of protection against outside heat or cold from entering your home. This element of temperature efficiency is an advantage in containing energy costs. A side benefit that many homeowners enjoy with thermal lined curtains beyond their energy efficiency is the ability to black-out a room for more restful sleeping and enhanced television viewing.

3.       Conduct an Energy and Budget Audit: Just as you compare prices at the grocery store to choose the best brand for the best price, you should also do this with regard to home utility costs. Becoming complacent and “reaching for the same brand of milk” every week might result in paying more than actually needed. Make sure you take the time to not become complacent with what seems to be working when in fact there might be electricity rate alternatives that could help you budget enough so your grocery dollar goes even further!

There’s a lot going on in the country’s economy right now – some of which is outside the control of the average homeowner.

But factors within your reach, like energy conservation and your household budget, should definitely be managed.  So what are you waiting for?

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Four Summer Tips to Reduce Energy in Your Home

If you’re like a lot of people you know that the summer months can wreak havoc on your budget. Surprisingly, this spike in expense might have nothing to do with your exciting summer travel plans, but instead have everything to do with the amount of electricity you use to cool your home.

Since we believe it’s a lot more fun spending money on vacation that handing it over to a utility, we offer these four tips to get you through the summer months without scalding your checkbook.

1.       Plant shade trees outside of west-facing windows. If you plant deciduous varieties (that means they drop their leaves in the winter), the benefit can be two-fold: blocking the hot sun in the summer to reduce air conditioning costs and allowing the warm sun in the winter to reduce heating costs.

2.       Use insulated draperies. If you aren’t able to plant trees for any number of reasons, choose instead to install insulated or thermal-lined draperies.  Like trees, these will serve the same purpose of blocking out the sun’s heat in the summer, and in the winter they can serve to control the escape of household heat through glass or leaky windows.

3.       Weatherize your windows and doors. Just as we mentioned that coveted winter heat can escape through leaky windows, undesirable summer heat can leak into your home via the same culprit. Set aside a few hours to update weather stripping and/or caulking around your windows as doors. The project is easy and relatively inexpensive.

4.       Check your thermostat. Different seasons require different temperature settings – so make sure you make the switch (especially if you have a programmable thermostat). Experts recommend summer settings to be kept at about 78 degrees (up from the winter daytime setting of 68 degrees and nighttime setting of 55 degrees).

All four of these are easy tips to incorporate. No one likes to be surprised by increased energy costs, so take the time now to stay in control of your energy use.

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