Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April is the month to make sure that your air conditioners are in top shape.

Soon enough, we’ll stop complaining about the cold and start complaining about the heat.
  • Replace your old central air conditioner with a new Energy Star-qualified model to reduce your cooling costs by 20 percent.
  • Keep your room air conditioner out of the sun. Room air conditioners work best when kept cool. Installing one in a north-facing wall is usually ideal.
  • Set your thermostat to 78° F if you have central air conditioning. You can also save an additional 6 percent to 7 percent off your cooling costs for each degree above 78° F you set it.
  • Use a ceiling fan or portable fan along with air conditioning. Fans can make you feel 3° F to 4° F cooler so you can set your AC a few degrees higher because the moving air increases evaporation from your skin and cools you off. Plus, a fan only costs a half-cent per hour to operate, so you can save on your energy bill.
  • Turn off the AC or set the thermostat up a few degrees when you leave home.
  • Be sure your air conditioner is not blocked so that it operates at peak efficiency. Check that furniture isn’t blocking the return air grill inside your house.
  • Keep doors and windows closed when using AC.
  • Turn off kitchen or bathroom exhaust fans when using AC.
  • Examine air filters once a month and clean or replace them when necessary. A dusty filter reduces air flow, so keeping them clean can cut your energy consumption 5 percent to 15 percent.

You may not believe it, but spring is coming.

It officially arrives at 7:21 p.m. on Sunday, March 20.

So, while you wait to thaw, implement these easy energy-saving tips for spring. The warmth will come. Eventually.
  • Schedule a pre-season checkup of your central air conditioning system.
  • Make sure that gutters and downspouts drain away from the house to reduce moisture around your foundation.
  • Adjust outdoor light timers since the days are (yay!) getting a little longer.
  • Lower your thermostat a little as temperatures outside get warmer. You can cut up to 10 percent on your utility bill by setting the thermostat to 65.
  • Check all the ceiling fans in your home to be sure they are working properly and are dust free.
  • Change the air flow of your ceiling fan to counterclockwise. Most fans have a switch you can flip to change rotation.
  • Use an exhaust fan to draw hot air out of your kitchen while you’re cooking.
  • Dust all the lightbulbs in your house to keep them clean and allow more light.
  • Make sure that the tracks on sliding doors and windows are clean. A dirty track can ruin the seal and create gaps that allow cold air or heat to escape.
  • Check your attic or crawlspace to make sure varmints haven’t set up home. Spring is when a critter’s thoughts turn to romance and open or loose vents and torn screens are like a welcome mat. Plus, where there are openings, there are drafts.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Stay cool with these tips to maximize your refrigerator’s energy savings.

Don’t put your fridge near a window, the stove or oven. Heat will cause the fridge to work harder to stay cool. If possible, site your fridge in the coolest spot in your kitchen.

Use the energy-saving setting on your refrigerator, if it has one.

Set the temperature between 37-40°F.
To check the temp, put a thermometer in a glass of water on the center shelf for 24 hours. Freezers should be at 5°F but cube freezers can be set to 0°F. To check a freezer’s temp, put a thermometer between items and read after 24 hours.

Your refrigerator may have a built-in heater to prevent condensation.
Turn the heater off to save energy. The condensation that may form on the inside walls generally won’t cause problems.

Recycle older fridges, which are much less energy-efficient. A 25-year-old fridge uses about 1,500 kWh per year compared to about 500 kilowatt hours for a new one.

Clean the refrigerator coils. Keeping them clean means better airflow so the compressor doesn’t need to work as hard.

When storing items in the fridge, keep liquids covered and keep food wrapped. Moisture that is released from unwrapped food can cause the compressor to work harder.

Keep the refrigerator stocked
; it takes more energy to cool an empty fridge.

Close the door promptly once you've gotten what you need. Don’t leave the door open while you pour a glass of soda.

Keep your freezer full so that it operates more efficiently. If you can’t stock up, fill 2-liter soda bottles about three-quarters full with water and use them to take up space.

See more interesting energy news in Gateway Energy's SmartWatch newsletter.
In the February 2011 issue, we give you the scoop on the energy market as well as NFL teams going green. We also feature the American Red Cross FR360 Solarlink Radio by Etón as our product of the month. Subscribe to SmartWatch today.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Stay Safe When the Lights Go Out

These may not be energy-saving tips, but they are life-saving tips coming at a perfect time. Now that most of the country has experienced at least one winter storm, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to talk about portable generators. Not exactly sexy stuff, but important nonetheless.

Each year, people die because they used a portable generator incorrectly. Generators operated in a closed space, a basement, garage, carport or crawlspace, can kill. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, generators caused 228 carbon monoxide deaths between 1990 and 2003, the most recent years studied. About 40 percent of these deaths occurred during winter. Almost 70 percent occurred at home. About 26 percent of those incidents resulted in multiple deaths. About 80 percent of the deaths were of adults older than 24. About 72 percent were men.

These deaths could have been prevented.

Never use a generator indoors.
A portable generator’s exhausts carbon monoxide. CO is deadly. It is colorless and odorless, which means you can be overcome quickly if you use a generator indoors. You can’t prevent the build-up of CO by running a generator inside and opening doors and windows or operating fans. The CO won’t dissipate.

Only use a generator outside where exhaust fumes can’t seep into the house. Only use a generator in a well-ventilated, dry area. Keep it away from air intakes, so that CO can’t be vented into your home. Keep the generator dry; protect it from rain and snow.

Install carbon monoxide detectors.
Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors monthly. If you don’t have any, buy and install according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Don't connect a generator directly to your home's wiring.
This can be deadly, because the generator can backfeed into power lines connected to your home. Utility transformers can increase this lower voltage to thousands, sending it along lines and potentially killing utility workers. The backfeed can also cause expensive damage to utility equipment and your generator.

If you want your generator hard-wired, have a licensed electrician install it with an approved cut-off switch that will automatically disconnect your home from the power grid when the generator is being used. Also, check with your utility before hard-wiring your generator.

Don't plug a generator into an electrical outlet because it can still backfeed into utility lines. Instead, plug it into a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated power cord, then plug appliances into the power cord. Make sure the cord has a sufficient wire gauge to handle the electrical load.

Don't overload the generator.
Generators have a power rating. They can only power a limited number of appliances or equipment. Make sure the total wattage of all the appliances you want to power is less than the output rating of the generator. Overloading the generator can cause a fire in the power cord and damage to the plugged-in items.

Properly ground the generator to avoid electrical shocks.
Your owner’s manual will give you steps to ground the generator correctly.

Follow the manufacturer's directions.
Before using the generator for the first time, read the owner's manual. Keep it handy for reference.

Carefully store gas.
Keep gas in approved, non-glass safety containers. Don't store it in the garage if you have any fuel-burning appliance like a water heater in there. Gas vapor is heavier than air and can seep along the floor, where it can be ignited by a pilot light or spark. So, obviously, extinguish all flames and don’t smoke when using gas or the generator. Shut off the generator before refueling. First, turn off all equipment you are powering with the generator, then shut it down too. Keep a fully charged fire extinguisher near the generator.

Be wary of burns.
Many generator parts, such as the muffler, get hot during operation. These parts are hot enough to burn you, so stay clear and keep children and pets away at all times.

See more interesting energy news in Gateway Energy's SmartWatch newsletter.
In the January 2011 issue, we tell you how to take an energy diet. We feature the Vornado Vortex Heater as our product of the month and give you an update on the future of the energy market. Subscribe to SmartWatch today.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The holidays are upon us.

And while we may not be able to totally de-stress when it comes to figuring out what to buy Great Aunt Sarah or whether your siblings are going to battle it out at the dinner table, you can rest easier that, at least by following these easy tips, you can save a few dollars on energy and reduce your carbon footprint.

Use LED Christmas lights. These consume 90 percent less electricity compared to regular Christmas lights and incandescent bulbs. As an added bonus, they cost only about $10 per strand.

Time your Christmas lights. Set the timer to switch on the tree lights when it gets dark and switch them off when you go to bed. Don’t turn on the lights during the day. It’s a waste of energy and electricity since you really can’t see them anyway.

Put the tree on, turn the lights off. When your tree is lighted, there should be enough illumination so that you don’t need other lights. You’ll save energy plus enhance the festive atmosphere.

Buy energy-free gifts. Almost 40 percent of all batteries (more than 40 billion bought during the year are purchased in the Christmas season. Then, these single-use batteries end up in landfills. Make a dent in that number and buy gifts that either don't require batteries at all or buy rechargeable batteries and a charger (if the recipient doesn’t have one) to go with the gift.

Make your own wrapping paper. Did you know that most wrapping paper isn’t recyclable, so it ends up in landfills? Channel your inner Martha Stewart and wrap presents with old maps from your town or state, your kids’ artwork or a scarf/dish towel tailored to the gift.

Recycle your Christmas tree. Ninety-eight percent of Christmas trees are grown on farms specifically for the holidays. But, each year, 10 million Christmas trees end up in the landfill. Whenever possible, recycle instead. Drag the tree into the woods, if possible, so that it can become shelter for animals. Drag the tree to the curb if your city has pickup. Call (800) CLEANUP or visit to find the tree-recycling program near you.

Recycle your old cell phone. If you get a new cell phone for Christmas, put your old one to go use. Drop it off at any Staples store as part of the Sierra Club cell phone recycling program. Each year, 130 million cell phones are thrown out, weighing approximately 65,000 tons.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Insulation can give you a warm fuzzy feeling not only in your home but also in your pocketbook.

Most homes don’t have enough insulation. According to Simply Insulate, 46 million homes are under-insulated, which means you may be paying more for heating and cooling. Unless your home was built with energy efficiency in mind, adding insulation may reduce your utility bills. In fact, you may save enough money so that the renovation pays for itself in a few years. Now’s a great time to add insulation since many rebates and incentives are available. Check out to see what is available in your area.

Where Should You Insulate?

You should insulate places that are a buffer between interior and exterior.
Common places are:
  • Attics
  • Walls and floors adjacent to an unheated space like a garage or basement
  • Exterior walls
  • Cathedral ceilings
  • Basement and knee walls

You should also insulate any place where you want extra sound-proofing, such as between a below-ground-floor rec room and the floor above it or the interior wall of a bonus room theater over the garage.

How Much Do You Need?
The answer depends on several factors:
  • Where do you live? Colder climates require a higher R-value (The higher the R-value, the better the insulation's ability to resist the flow of heat through it.) So, if you live in the Northeast, you need a higher R-value to keep the heat in the house and the cold out than if you live in the South.
  • How old is your home? If it’s more than 10 years old, you likely need more.
  • What type of home do you have? A single-level house has different requirements that a multi-level structure. So does a home with a basement vs. a home built on a slab. Cathedral ceilings, rooms over unheated garages and sun rooms all need extra attention.
  • How do you heat and cool your home? Whether you have a furnace or a heat pump and/or central air conditioning will all factor in to the amount of insulation you need.

How Can You Tell How Much Insulation Your House Has?
The North American Insulation Manufacturers Association website offers a map showing thermal recommendations based on both the U.S. Department of Energy’s recommendations and the most-recent minimum International Energy Conservation Code levels. Click here.

Once you know how much you should have, you need to check how much you do have.
  • In the attic: Use a ruler to measure the amount of insulation. If you have 6 inches or less, you need more.
  • In walls and floors (adjacent to an unheated space): The structural framing elements (the ceiling joists or wall framing boards) are often exposed, so it’s easier to see whether there is insulation. Use the proper R-value associated with your location.
  • Exterior walls: These are more difficult to inspect since they are finished. You can see inside by removing the cover plate on an electrical outlet. Use caution! Check outside the outlet box to see whether you have insulation in the wall.

Why Add More?
There are a lot of additional benefits to increasing the amount of insulation. You’ll get:
  • Increased energy savings
  • Increased comfort levels
  • Evenly distributed temperatures
  • Increased resale value
  • Better acoustics
  • Moisture control

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It’s official. Fall is here, as of September 23. As it gets cooler, here are some tips to help you save heat and money.
  • Turn your thermostat back 10-15 percent for eight hours a day and you can cut your annual heating bill by as much as 10 percent a year.
  • Check the surface of your water heater. If it’s hot or even warm, some of the energy used to heat the water is being wasted. Wrap the heater in an insulating blanket. For every 10° F you lower the temperature setting, you can reduce your bill 3-5 percent.
  • Check your hot water thermostat. If your family never runs out of hot water, then the thermostat’s probably set too high. It should be set between 110°F and 120°F.
  • Put the water heater as close as possible to the kitchen, laundry room and bathrooms if you are building your home. Heat is lost as it moves through pipes so putting the unit as close as possible to these rooms means shorter travel distance and money saved.
  • Weatherize and caulk windows and doors. Doing this can save you more than 30 percent on your heating and cooling expenses.
  • Get your furnace inspected and cleaned. Operating your furnace at optimal levels will save you money.
  • Check the door seal on your refrigerator and freezer. Stick a $1 bill in the door and close the door. If you can let go of the dollar and it doesn’t fall out of the door, your seal is tight. If the bill drops or is loose, you have a worn seal and it should be replaced. A refrigerator door that doesn’t close tightly will increase the temperature inside the unit and make your fridge work harder and longer to cool.