Friday, December 18, 2009

A happy and energy-efficient Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is synonymous with food. Lots and lots of food. And all that feasting comes with a big energy price tag, measured not just in the days of slaving over pies and green bean casseroles but also in the kilowatt hours and therms your appliances will expend.

While today's kitchen appliances are almost 50 percent more energy efficient than their counterparts of just 10 years ago, all that extra usage they get around the holidays can still add up. You're probably using your oven and microwave to cook and reheat meal after meal and your dishwasher to get all those countless loads clean. Add in family members gaping into the open fridge and you have a recipe for high energy bills.

The good news is that there's still plenty of time to take a few simple steps to keep your family full and your bills manageable.

Your oven
  • A cold oven is OK. You don't need to preheat your oven when roasting the turkey. Since roasting means cooking at lower temps for a long time, you can stuff the bird and put it in the cold oven. Just remember to turn the oven on and take those giblets out!
  • Leave that bird alone. Opening and closing the oven door to check on the turkey or pick at the crispy skin can lower the oven's internal temperature by up to 25 degrees. That means your oven has to work harder to come back up to temperature. Plus, it will take longer for the bird to get done. Instead, use the oven light and window; that's what they're there for.
  • Cook in combo. If you have a big enough oven, slide those vegetable, sweet potato and crispy stuffing dishes in toward the end of the turkey-cooking time. Just make sure to give each dish space so air can circulate.
  • Keep it hot. Once the bird comes out and the oven's still up to temp, utilize the residual heat and slide in desserts or side dishes that just need a quick warm-up.
  • Materials matter. If you use glass or ceramic cookware such as CorningWare, you can turn the oven temperature down by 25 degrees. These materials are good conductors of heat and will cook your foods in the same amount of time, but at lower temps.
  • Store the heat. Electric ovens and cook tops store heat longer. So, you can turn the temperature off several minutes sooner than the recipe calls for and your food will continue to cook.

Your cook top
  • Make a match. The size of your burners should dictate the size of your pots. Using a too-small pot on a too-big heating element can send up to 40 percent wasted energy into the air. So, use a 6-inch pot on a 6-inch burner.
  • Keep it clean. It goes without saying that you need to mop up spills immediately. Cooking on gunked-up burners or dirty reflectors is a waste of energy, since you may need to turn the heat up even more to get the food to cook. Another tip: if your cook top uses reflectors, buy the best you can. Top-of-the-line reflectors can save you a third of the energy needed to heat food.

Your microwave, electric skillet and slow cooker
Your oven doesn't have to be the only appliance that gets a workout on Thanksgiving. Utilize your microwave, slow cooker or skillet, too. All these appliances use less power and throw less heat than your oven will.

  • Microwave. A microwave uses about 50 percent less energy than an oven, so cook your vegetables in here. You can always transfer them to the oven to carmelize the marshmallows on the yams right before serving. And, of course, use the microwave when you want that leftover turkey plate during the second football game.
  • Electric skillet. Another great way to steam veggies, make creamed potatoes or cakes. Some skillets are even pretty enough to serve in.
  • Slow cooker. Think outside the oven, especially if you have a small family. You can cook a turkey breast (stuffed with rice and dried fruit) plus all the veggie trimmings in one inexpensive place. A slow cooker can cook an entire meal for about 17 cents worth of electricity, on average.

Your outdoor grill or fryer
Think outside the box, the box that is your house. Instead of roasting the turkey in the oven, grill it or deep fry it. Yes, there is no turkey aroma wafting through the house, and yes, you may need a little "help" (in the form of a jar) to make enough gravy. But think of all the energy you'll save. Note: Follow all safety directions regarding your grill or deep fryer. Too many holiday accidents occur because of inattention to safety.

Your dishwasher
Using your dishwasher can be very economical: one full load of dishes requires 37 percent less water when cleaned in a dishwasher instead of by hand. Use the energy-saving cycle whenever you can. Using an air-dry or overnight-dry setting can save up to 10 percent of your dishwasher's energy cost.

If you prefer to save water and want to wash by hand, fill your sinks and don't let the water run. You'll use half as much water as a dishwasher.

Your fridge
All that opening and closing of fridge doors takes a toll on your energy bills. Your fridge can account for up to 15 percent of your total energy usage. You can maximize efficiency by keeping the door closed and the fridge/freezer full. If you must take out many items, do it quickly in one shot and keep the door open the whole time. Opening and closing the door over and over makes the fridge run less efficiently. Keep both fridge and freezer fully stocked, which isn't hard to do over the holidays. The more cold items you have inside, the more the cold is contained in that space. Just don't overdo it; you want air to circulate around your food, keeping it cold.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The truth about CFLs

Fluorescent lighting has been around since the late 1930s, so you'd think it would be more popular, right? After all, they last longer and they're "green." So why the long road to acceptance?

Perhaps CFLs have gotten a bad rap due to the flaws of early-generation versions coupled with myths about today's standard CFLs.

Price
For one, CFLs are more expensive, but only at first. According to Energy Star, the joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, a CFL will save about $30 over its lifetime and pay for itself in about six months. Add in the benefits of conservation plus the warm and fuzzy feeling you get for being environmentally conscious. Priceless.

Fire, UV Radiation and Mercury
There is also the fear that CFLs expose consumers to the dangers of mercury and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Some believe that CFLs pose a fire hazard. Since CFLs operate at a lower temperature than incandescents, CFLs actually reduce the threat of a fire caused by lighting fixtures in your home. Still, you should always be sure that your CFL is UL- (Underwriters Laboratory, a products-compliance firm) and Energy Star-certified. Don't be concerned when your CFL finally burns out because it may smoke a little and smell of melted plastic. This is common and not considered dangerous.

While CFLs do emit some UV radiation that ranges from 50-140 microwatts/lumen, UV emissions from a CFL are not considered hazardous and are far less than the amount in natural sunlight. Studies have shown that after 70 years of operation, there have been no significant health problems reported from UV emissions related to fluorescent lighting. Today, double-envelope CFLs, which have a glass or plastic cover which makes them look like incandescent bulbs, emit essentially no UV radiation.

It's no myth that a CFL contains mercury and upon the end of its life must be disposed of properly. The truth is that you'll only be exposed to the mercury inside a CFL if its broken. (See below for how to dispose of a broken CFL.) The use of CFLs actually prevents mercury from being emitted into the air because they require less energy to operate. Over a five-year period, a power plant that burns fossil fuels such as coal, diesel and natural gas to create electricity will emit 10 mg of mercury into the air to light an incandescent bulb. The same power plant will only emit 2.4 mg of mercury to light a CFL in the same period.

Recycling CFLs
If Energy Star-certified CFL is broken, it will release 4 mg of mercury. So it is important that CFLs are disposed of properly. Check your municipal Web site for disposal options, visit www.earth911.org or www.epa.gov/bulbrecycling for more information about recycling CFLs, or simply bring your used CFLs to Home Depot or Ikea. Some organizations have created convenient ways for you to ship your used CFLs to a recycling center. The Veolia ES CFL FedEx Recycle Pak allows you to collect and ship your used CFLs right from your home. Find it at the Gateway Energy Store (www.gatewayenergystore.com) and search "Veolia."

Again, always be sure that the CFL you purchase is Energy Star-certified so you know that the amount of mercury is regulated. Go to www.energystar.gov or www.getenergysmart.org to learn more.

What If It Breaks?
If you break a CFL in your home, first ventilate the room. Open windows and turn off the central a/c or forced-air heating system, if you have one. Wear disposable gloves. For hard surfaces, use stiff paper or cardboard to scoop up fragments and sticky tape (like duct tape) to get any glass or powder left over. Avoid sweeping or vacuuming because that will flick particles around the room. Put the clean-up materials and broken pieces into a glass jar or sealed plastic bag. On carpeted surfaces, carefully pick up fragments and use sticky tape for remnants. If you must vacuum, vacuum only the area where the bulb was broken. Remove the vacuum bag or empty and wipe the canister. Put the vacuum bag and broken pieces into a glass jar or sealed plastic bag. Put the bag or jar in a trash container outside your house for the next normal trash pickup.

No Longer The Ugly Duckling
So, you may be sold on the benefits of CFLs and you realize that they're safe to use inside your home, but you may still be skeptical.

Recent conversations that we've heard from family and friends echo general criticism about CFLs: "They're so ugly." "I can't use them in my fixtures that dim." "I can't use them in my 3-way lamps." We have good news: Recently, manufacturers have made huge strides. Unlike their earliest counterparts, today's CFLs do not buzz or flicker. While it's true that most are not dimmable or useful in a 3-way lamp, manufacturers have wised up and begun to make dimmable and 3-way CFLs to allow you to create the same lighting ambience to which you've grown accustomed in your home.

Find all types of CFLs - standard spiral; covered A-shaped, which look like incandescents; covered globes for bathroom vanities and ceiling pendants; candle bases for decorative fixtures; reflectors for indoors and outdoors; dimmable and 3-ways, along with compatible accessories - at the Gateway Energy Store (www.gatewayenergystore.com) as well as some other online retailers including Amazon. Watch your shipping costs though: standard shipping on a dimmable CFL can run you almost as much as the CFL itself. Buy five or six, so you get the most for your cost.
___________________

Did You Know?
Calling CFLs "compact fluorescent light bulbs" is actually a misnomer? For all you Cliff Clavins out there, CFLs are actually "compact fluorescent lamps." In lamp-industry jargon, a lamp is a device that generates light when connected to electric power. The term "bulb" is used to describe the glassware before it is made into a functional lamp. In addition, the device that most users would call a lamp is called a fixture or luminaire in the lighting industry. For example, what most people refer to as a table lamp is technically called a portable fixture. Yes, Cliffy would be proud.

5 Places to keep the heat in

Soon enough we'll have to break down and turn the heat back on. But just because you'll soon be paying that bill again doesn't mean that the cost has to be the same. Make use of these easy-to-do ideas and you can keep warm knowing that your energy budget won't bust the bank.

Your heating:
Heating and cooling comprise about 50 percent of the energy use in the average home. Since this is probably your largest energy expense, here's where you want to make changes. Keep your radiators, floor registers and baseboard heaters clean. Dust, dirt and pet hair clog your system, making it less efficient. Also, change or clean your filters once a month during the heating season to keep your furnace running at its optimal level. Before the weather turns too cold, have your heating system serviced. You should do this once a year.

Your thermostat:
The setting makes a difference. Don't turn it higher than 68 degrees when you are home. Lower the temperature even further when you go to bed or when you leave the house. Better yet, install a programmable thermostat so you won't even have to think about it. Choose models with weekday (for when you're out of the house) and weekend (when you're home) settings. You can cut your annual heating bill by up to 10 percent if you lower your thermostat by 10 percent to 15 percent for eight hours a day.


Your insulation:

Inadequate insulation or no insulation just invites the cold air in. Make sure you have enough in your attic, basement and outside walls. For example, if you live in the South, you need R30 to R60 in your attic. If you live in the North, Mid-Atlantic or Midwest, buy R38 to R60. Measure to make sure your insulation is at least 6 inches thick. Be careful! Remember to stay on the joists if you're walking around an unfinished attic, otherwise you could step through the drywall and create a nice hole in your ceiling. Also, check for air leaks around windows and in plumbing and electrical outlets. Reducing air leaks may cut 10 percent from your monthly energy bill.

Your water:
This is another chunk of your energy bill. Water heating can be the third-largest expense you have, typically accounting for about 12 percent of your utility bill. But there are easy steps you can take to save money. For starters, turn your water heater down to 120 degrees F. Check your model's factory preset to be sure it's set where you want it. Not only does turning down your water heater save cash, but it also can save your children from potentially serious scalding. You can also install water-flow restrictors in showerheads and faucets so that you use less water while bathing or washing dishes.


Your furniture:

Keep clear by making sure your furniture is pulled away from radiators and vents and draperies are not hanging over heating elements. Not only does keeping everything clear help heat circulation, it also prevents fire hazards. Don't block windows either. In the winter, you want to take advantage of the light during the day, so keep furniture and drapes away. You can make particular use of solar heating on your home's south side by opening shades and curtains to let the sunlight in. Close them at night to retain heat and to bounce the light from your lamps back into the room.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fall Energy-Savings Tips



5 places to keep the heat in.

Soon enough we’ll have to break down and turn the heat back on. But just because you’ll soon be paying that bill again doesn’t mean that the cost has to be the same. Make use of these easy-to-do ideas and you can keep warm knowing that your energy budget won’t bust the bank.

Your heating:
Heating and cooling comprise about 50 percent of the energy use in the average home. Since this is probably your largest energy expense, here’s where you want to make changes. Keep your radiators, floor registers and baseboard heaters clean. Dust, dirt and pet hair clog your system, making it less efficient. Also, change or clean your filters once a month during the heating season to keep your furnace running at its optimal level. Before the weather turns too cold, have your heating system serviced. You should do this once a year.

Your thermostat:
The setting makes a difference. Don’t turn it higher than 68 degrees when you are home. Lower the temperature even further when you go to bed or when you leave the house. Better yet, install a programmable thermostat so you won’t even have to think about it. Choose models with weekday (for when you’re out of the house) and weekend (when you’re home) settings. You can cut your annual heating bill by up to 10 percent if you lower your thermostat by 10 percent to 15 percent for eight hours a day.

Your insulation:
Inadequate insulation or no insulation just invites the cold air in. Make sure you have enough in your attic, basement and outside walls. For example, if you live in the South, you need R30 to R60 in your attic. If you live in the North, Mid-Atlantic or Midwest, buy R38 to R60. Measure to make sure your insulation is at least 6 inches thick. Be careful! Remember to stay on the joists if you’re walking around an unfinished attic, otherwise you could step through the drywall and create a nice hole in your ceiling. Also, check for air leaks around windows and in plumbing and electrical outlets. Reducing air leaks may cut 10 percent from your monthly energy bill.

Your water:
This is another chunk of your energy bill. Water heating can be the third-largest expense you have, typically accounting for about 12 percent of your utility bill. But there are easy steps you can take to save money. For starters, turn your water heater down to 120 degrees F. Check your model's factory preset to be sure it's set where you want it. Not only does turning down your water heater save cash, but it also can save your children from potentially serious scalding. You can also install water-flow restrictors in showerheads and faucets so that you use less water while bathing or washing dishes.

Your furniture:
Keep clear by making sure your furniture is pulled away from radiators and vents and draperies are not hanging over heating elements. Not only does keeping everything clear help heat circulation, it also prevents fire hazards. Don’t block windows either. In the winter, you want to take advantage of the light during the day, so keep furniture and drapes away. You can make particular use of solar heating on your home’s south side by opening shades and curtains to let the sunlight in. Close them at night to retain heat and to bounce the light from your lamps back into the room.

For more energy-savings tips

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Welcome to Go Gateway Green!

Here are some handy tips to keep your home cool this summer, so you can use less and spend less.

1. Programmable Thermostat
If you have central air conditioning, a great way to save energy and money is by installing a programmable thermostat. These easy- to-install devices allow you to set your air conditioner to warmer temperatures during the hours you are not home or in the evening and early morning when it is cooler outside. (See our product profile for more detail).
Programmable thermostats benefit you all year long because they can be used with your furnace during the winter, providing even more savings.

If you already have a programmable thermostat, now is the time to review your settings. Summer schedules almost always vary from winter schedules. Late spring and early summer allow you to keep your A/C at a warmer setting since you can open windows or use fans at night when the outside air is cool. Keep a close eye on the time you spend home vs. the time you are out and about. Or, if you have multi-zone thermostats, make a note of where you are at what time of day. Make sure your settings reflect this. Don’t air condition bedrooms during the day, if no one is there until the evening.

Click here to see our pick for best programmable thermostat.

2. Insulation
The Alliance to Save Energy says the easiest and most cost-effective way to insulate your home is to add insulation in your attic. If you have less than 6 or 7 inches of insulation, you could probably benefit from more. Most homes should have 6 to 10 inches of insulation.

3. Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFL)
Replace your five most-used light bulbs with compact flourescent lightbulbs. 95% of the energy used with an incandescent light bulb goes into heating the bulb, adding unwanted heat to your home. CFLs use two-thirds less energy and last up to 10 times longer. Use dimmers, timers and motion detectors on indoor and outdoor lighting.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, CFLs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing - approximately 5 milligrams - a hundred times less mercury than found in a single old-style glass thermometer. No mercury is released when the lamps are intact or in use and, if disposed of properly, mercury in CFLs should not be a safety hazard.

4. Fans and Dehumidifiers
Install ceiling fans or drag out those window fans. At night, when the outside air is cool, ventilate your home with fans instead of A/C whenever possible. Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist and policy analyst at Consumer Reports’ “Greener Choices,” says that ceiling fans can reduce the temperature in a room about 6 or 7 degrees.

Dehumidifiers also help to increase comfort levels. Used along with fans, they reduce the humidity, help to maintain a steady airflow and cost less to run because they consume less energy than air conditioners.

5. Energy-Efficient Appliances
Select new air conditioners, refrigerators and windows with the Energy Star label that guarantees these appliances are more energy-efficient than their less-expensive counterparts. But don’t let the higher prices scare you. The energy and money you will save over time help to justify the difference. Plus, based on the 2009 economic stimulus package, homeowners can get a tax credit for up to 30% of the cost of energy-efficient home improvements during 2009 and 2010.

Go to www.energytaxincentives.org/consumers/ for more information about tax credits.