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 www.earth911.org 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 http://www.simplyinsulate.com 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.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

As the weather cools, take these steps to save energy.

And remember, big-ticket purchases like windows and furnaces can qualify for a $1,500 tax credit if bought before the end of the year.
  • Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.
  • Lock windows to make a tighter seal and resist drafts.
  • Add storm windows if you have only single-pane windows. This can cut heat loss by up to 50 percent. A better remedy is to replace single-pane windows with energy-efficient double-pane versions.
  • Insulate or increase the amount of insulation in your attic, basement and exterior walls.
  • Cover permanent air conditioners that are secured through a wall to prevent cold air from leaking into your home.
  • Reduce air leaks in floors, walls, ceilings, ducts, vents, plumbing penetrations, and electrical outlets. Plugging cracks where air escapes can cut 10 percent from an average household's monthly energy bill.
  • Service your heating system now. (You should do it once a year.)
  • Replace furnace filters now and change or clean them once a month during heating season.
  • Replace your old furnace with one that’s rated 90 percent or higher in efficiency. This can save up to 30 percent of your heating costs.
  • Clean the chimney and get the vent systems checked.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summer is the season for sudden, often violent, storms.

With those storms comes lightning.

This month, instead of energy-saving tips, we’re presenting life-saving tips.

The National Weather Service estimates that 58 people are killed a year by lightning and another 300 are injured.

If you are outdoors during a thunderstorm and can’t take shelter:
  • Find a car, preferably one with a solid roof, which will give you more support than the fabric on a convertible. Don’t touch anything that can conduct electricity: the radio, the steering wheel and ignition, the shifter.
  • Stay away from water.
  • Stay away from trees, power lines and light or flag poles.
  • Don’t head for high ground or open spaces. If you are caught in the open, lie down or squat with your head between your knees to make yourself smaller.
  • Don’t stand near other people. If you are with others, put at least 20 feet between each person.

If you are indoors:
  • Stay off the phone and away from lines. The leading cause of indoor lightning injuries is being on the phone during a storm.
  • Stay away from electrical wires and outlets.
  • Stay away from TVs and stop playing video games.
  • Unplug appliances and electronics before a storm nears. And, by the way, a surge protector won’t save anything from a lightning strike, so unplug it too.
  • Stay away from water and pipes, including sinks, baths and faucets. A storm is not the time to wash dishes, shower or take a bath.
  • Don’t do the laundry either. Not only are you in contact with plumbing and electrical, but lightning can follow the path through the dryer vent.
  • Beware of hidden metal: Avoid your garage because the floor is probably concrete poured over a wire mesh.
  • Basements are usually safe, but stay away from the walls, which may have been constructed with rebar.
  • Bring pets inside, even if they have a dog house.

If someone is struck by lightning:
  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Assess the situation. How many victims are there? Is the storm over? Is it safe to administer first aid? Do you need to move the victim?
  • Check for breathing and heartbeat. Lightning strikes often cause cardiac arrest. Check for a pulse in the victim's neck or behind the victim's knee.
  • Administer CPR if the victim isn’t breathing and has no heartbeat. To administer: give the victim two rescue breaths followed by 30 fast chest compressions in 30 seconds. Continue until help arrives.
  • Check for other injuries. Lightning can also cause burns, shock, brain injury, muscular and skeletal damage or broken bones.

Planet Green Game

Brought to you by Starbucks Coffee Company in collaboration with Global Green USA

Friday, July 9, 2010

Is your AC working efficiently?

Summer is in full swing and air conditioners are working overtime. Here are some ways to make sure your AC is running at its optimum.

Size matters.
A window unit that is too big will cool the room too quickly, then turn off, then turn back on when the temperature rises. This cycle will be repeated over and over, meaning that you are using more electricity than you need to. A unit that is too big also won’t get the humidity out of the air, since it won’t be running long enough at a time. A too-small unit will also overwork, running constantly to keep up with the demand to cool the area.

To pick the size of the AC unit you need, use this equation: 20 Btu for every 1 square foot of living space. For example: your living room is 15 x 15. The calculation is 15 (feet) x 15 (feet) x 20 (Btus) = 4,500. You need an air conditioner with 4,500 Btus to cool the living room.

Now, of course, it can’t be as simple as all this, right? There are other factors to consider. Is your house shaded by trees? Do you use a whole-house fan too? Do you use the oven a lot (even in July and August)? Answering “yes” to any of these questions can impact cooling capabilities an average of about 5 percent. So, when you go to buy a unit, you may need to increase or decrease the Btus by 5 percent to accommodate how your household actually runs.

Efficiency is key.
Room AC units have an EnergyGuide label on them, which gives you an energy-efficiency rating (the higher the rating, the more efficient the unit). They also come with a comparison of similar models and a chart to calculate the cost of operating the unit based on usage.

Central air conditioning units are rated by Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The higher the ratio, the more efficient the system is.

Install it properly.
There’s no sense in buying an energy-saving model if you put it in the wrong place. Window AC units should be installed on the north or east side of the house in the shade to prevent direct sunlight from decreasing their efficiency. If there’s no other spot to put a window unit than in the sun, put an awning or some other shading device over it. Make sure, though, that the unit has enough room to exhaust air. This holds true for plants, too. Don’t hide the unit with trees or shrubs that are planted too close, because they’ll impede air circulation and decrease efficiency.

Make sure that you install room air conditioners levelly in a window or wall cutout. Units must be on a flat surface so that mechanicals, including the inside drainage system, operate efficiently.

The AC unit should also fit snugly inside its sleeve. There should be no gaps between it and the window.

And, of course, make sure that your house’s electrical system can meet the unit's power requirements. Room units operate on either 115-volt or 230-volt circuits. Standard household receptacles accommodate 115-volt branch circuits, so if you have a large unit, you may need a dedicated circuit. Room units rated at 230 volts may require a special circuit to be installed. If in doubt, consult an electrician. Also, don’t try to install central air yourself; have an HVAC contractor do it.

Boost energy efficiency.
Install a timer on room units. Central AC should be tied into your programmable thermostat. Set the timer to have the unit kick on a half-hour before you come home, that way the room is cool for you but you aren’t wasting energy and money by running the unit all day in an empty house. Just make sure that the timer you buy can handle the electrical load; you don’t want a fire.

Keep it maintained.
To keep your cool, follow this routine periodically.
  • Examine air filters once a month and clean or replace them when necessary. Clean filters can cut energy consumption up to 15 percent.
  • Remove window units for the winter. If they are permanently installed, such as in a wall, then cover and double-check weatherproofing.
  • For central AC, make sure all ducts are properly insulated, especially those that pass through the garage, attic or any other uninsulated areas.
  • Check drain channels for clogs, which can prevent the unit from reducing humidity. The build-up of excess moisture may drip and ruin walls and carpet. Clean channels by running a stiff wire through them.
  • Inspect the seal between the air conditioner and the window frame to make sure there is good contact with the metal casing. Moisture can create gaps that allow cool air to escape from your home, making the unit run less efficiently.
  • Clean the coils, which can get clogged with dust. For a room AC, unplug the unit and use a vacuum to remove dust from the interior heat exchanger. Use a garden hose to hit up the exterior heat exchanger.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Outdoor Tips to Cut Energy Usage

It’s finally warm enough to turn your attention outside. In honor of the coming summer, here are five energy savers you can put into use in your yard.
  1. Block the sun. Plant deciduous trees and shrubs on the sunny (south) side of your home to provide shade and reduce the toll on your air conditioners. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a shady air conditioner can increase efficiency by up to 10% because cool air settles near the ground, so air temps directly under trees can be as much as 25° F cooler. Plant deciduous trees with high, spreading branches on the south side of your home for maximum roof shading. Plant lower-growing trees on the west side, where the sun sets and therefore has a lower angle. If your home is solar-heated and you live in a cold climate, don’t plant trees on the south side because deciduous branches will block some winter sun. For shade year-round, use dense evergreen trees or shrubs.
  2. Block the wind. Evergreen trees and shrubs planted on the north and northwest sides of your house make an effective windbreak. If you don’t want all trees, add a wall or fence to deflect wind. A windbreak can reduce wind speed for a distance of as much as 30 times the windbreak’s height. For maximum protection, plant trees a distance of two to five times the mature height of the trees away from your home. This gives optimum protection while giving the trees room to grow. Also, don’t plant too close to the south side of your house if you need the warm winter sun to help passively heat your house. If snow tends to drift in your area, especially up against your house, plant low shrubs on the windward side of your windbreak to trap snow.
  3. Try xeriscaping. Choose plants indigenous to your area because they have the best chance of surviving with minimal water, upkeep and pesticides. Since they are native to the area, they are used to the conditions. If you must control pests, try integrated pest management, which uses greener methods such as the introduction of safe predators to control pest populations. Both praying mantises and ladybugs feed on plant-chomping pests.
  4. Turn off the lights. Your porch light is one of the most-used fixtures in your home. Instead of trying to remember to turn it off when you let the dog in and go to bed, install a motion sensor. If you think that neighborhood critters and teens will set it off every 10 seconds, nix the motion-sensor and opt for energy-efficient products like CFLs or LED bulbs. You still may forget to turn the light off, but at least it won’t cost as much.
  5. Install awnings. Solar radiation through windows is responsible for approximately 20 percent of the load on your air conditioner. Awnings over windows and patio doors can reduce heat gain on southern windows by up to 65 percent and up to 77 percent for western exposures. This shade can reduce your home’s internal temperature by 8° to 15° F, which can reduce your cooling bill and reduce wear on your AC.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Contrary to popular belief, it is easy being green.

There are little steps each of us can take to conserve energy. In honor of Earth Day on April 22, here are five small changes that don't take much effort. And, if you've already gone green, there are five bigger steps you can take, too.

Five small steps
  1. Buy better bulbs. We all know to replace incandescent bulbs. But did you know that there is an even better bulb than the CFL? LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, have better light quality and last 25 times longer than incandescents. They also use less energy than CFLs.
  2. Start off cold. You don't need to preheat your oven. Just put the dish in and set the temperature. Your food will be ready in nearly the same amount of time.
  3. Air dry dishes. Use the dishwasher for cleaning, but turn off the heated dry cycle. Once the cleaning cycle finishes, crack open the door. Dishes will still dry and you'll save electricity.
  4. Slow down. Speeding and driving aggressively by rapidly accelerating and braking wastes gas. Most cars' efficiency drops 25% when their speed increases from 55 mph to 75 mph.
  5. Save paper. White space is nice, but you can save up to 50% on consumption by decreasing the size of margins, and headers and footers. You can also trim the page by decreasing line spacing. If single spacing is too hard to read, try 1.5 instead of double. Reuse all those wasted pages, too. Take them home for the kids to color on the blank sides. Or, turn those empty backs into notepads.

Five bigger steps
  1. If you're building, fit your roof with solar panels and site your house so that it takes advantage of the sun. Install windows and doors on the south-facing side to allow you to capture the most natural light all day.
  2. Change your heat source from oil heat to biofuels. These nontoxic, biodegradable and renewable fuels are derived from oils, wood or animal and vegetable fat. Most furnaces can run just fine on a blend of 20%-99% biodiesel and most need no additional parts to switch over. Have a trained technician inspect your furnace first to make sure the use of biofuels is possible.
  3. Cut out the use of gas-powered lawn equipment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, tools such as mowers, trimmers and chainsaws account for more than 5% of America's urban air pollution. Plug in instead with battery-powered or electric garden equipment.
  4. Get soaked. Drip irrigation systems deliver a gentle, steady supply of water directly where you need it. This can reduce your water bill by decreasing the amount used. In the eastern U.S., 30% of water consumption in urban areas is for watering the lawn. A gentle soaking via an irrigation system can also reduce the amount of soil eroding off your yard. This means less soil, fertilizer and pesticides leaching into the water supply.
  5. Swim with the sun. By using solar energy, you can cut the cost of heating your swimming pool or hot tub. And the price is nice. Most solar systems cost the same as electric or gas-powered systems but have very low operating costs. Solar pool heaters are the most cost-effective use of solar energy.

Friday, March 5, 2010

It’s official. Spring will arrive at 1:32 p.m. on March 20.

So while we continue to wish all this snow would leave already, here are energy-saving tips you can do to get a little spring in your step.

Fans: Now’s the time to make sure all your fans are clean and working properly. Make sure the blades are dust free and cords are in good repair. Dirty fans can draw slightly more electricity to use. Also check your filters. Wash them or replace them.

Change the direction of your ceiling fan. Blades should turn clockwise to draw warm air up to cool the room.

Refrigerator: Pull your fridge out and check the condenser coils on the back for dust and pet fur. Dirty coils means the motor will work harder and use that much more electricity. While you’re at it, check the door seals to make sure they are clean and tight. Pay special attention to the top seal. You often can’t see what’s building up on there as you store stuff on top of the fridge.

Keeping your refrigerator clean can have a big impact on your wallet. The fridge accounts for about 12 percent of total household energy use.

Water heaters: Make sure your tank is scale-free. Scale is dissolved minerals that can build up at the bottom of your tank. Unfortunately, hot water causes scale, so it’s another good reason to turn the temperature below 120 F. Scale should be flushed each year. To do this, consult your owner's manual or contact a plumber.

Lawn mower: Consider buying an electric version. The benefits are many. They are much easier to maintain since there are fewer moving parts. They don’t emit greenhouse gases. And, they can save you money. An electric mower may only use $3 in electricity a year while a gas-powered version can go through $3 in fuel in a few weeks. Electric versions come in corded, which means you need a smaller yard and a spot to plug in, or battery-powered, which can charge while not in use.

Landscaping: Plants and trees help lower your home’s heating and cooling needs. The leaves of deciduous trees shade your home from the sun in summer. Vines planted on the south side of your home can also reflect the summer sun.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The country is still in winter’s grip.

Make sure your pipes are adequately protected to prevent them from freezing. Burst pipes can not only damage your home but also your pocketbook.

Here are some quick tips to make sure your water keeps flowing.

  • Insulate exposed pipes. Check unheated spaces such as the basement, garage and crawlspace (if you have one) and wrap uninsulated pipes with heat tape or pipe insulation.
  • Where’s the shutoff? Show everyone in your house where the main shut-off valve is for your water supply. Make sure you check it annually to insure it’s in good working order. If pipes do burst, immediately shut off the main valve.
  • Bleed the valves. If your home is heated by a hot-water radiator, open the valves slightly and then close them when water appears.
  • Going away? If you leave for long periods during the winter and your home is unoccupied, you may want to shut off the main water supply and drain the system. A plumber can do this.
  • Start a trickle. During sub-zero nights, you can let the water in sinks and tubs trickle. The amount of water that will run overnight (and the ensuing bill) is tiny compared to the cost of a burst pipe.
  • Open the cabinets. If the temps go below zero and your pipes run inside your cabinets, you can open the doors to help bring the warmer house air in to meet the colder air near the pipes. Just watch your head!

If your pipes do freeze, take these steps:

  • Shut the water off immediately. Only after you’ve shut off the water should you try to thaw the pipes. Frozen pipes can often have tiny cracks in them, and if you heat the pipes to thaw them, you may end up with a spray of water where you least expect it.
  • Heat the pipes. There are two ways to do it. Warm the air around the pipe with a space heater. Just don’t leave it unattended. Warm the pipe directly with a hair dryer or hot water. Do not use open flames or kerosene heaters to thaw pipes.
  • Turn the water on slowly. When the pipes have thawed, slowly turn the water back on while checking for leaks.

For more information, contact your water authority or municipality. If you don’t have public water, contact a plumber for more tips and tricks.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Watching Out For You
It’s hard enough trying to determine whether to fix your energy price for one year much less two. There are many strategies you can employ. Here are a few:
  • Coin flip
  • Fix ... wha?
  • Be done with it
  • Ask one question
Before we discuss these strategies, let’s look at what an energy supplier does to determine a one- or two-year fixed price. Essentially, a supplier will gather your historic consumption or use the consumption of someone (or group of someones) that resembles the way you consume power. While we are all individuals and clearly not like anyone else, during the course of the day you wake up, you shower, you eat breakfast and leave for work. Nine or 12 hours later, you return home, relax and then hit the hay.

Maybe that is not your everyday pattern, but it’s probably a lot of your days and those days have a fairly predictable pattern of energy consumption. Suppliers use your annual pattern of energy use and a set of monthly prices to determine your annual price. A supplier can do this for one year or two with the same confidence in your consumption. (Beginning to feel like you might be in a bit of a rut?)

So the great thing about a fixed price is that you can consume as you wish. Each time you turn on a light, the price is the same. But, obviously, leaving the lights on all the time means you’ll pay more since you use more.

The question is,do you want it to cost you the same amount for one year or two? So back to the strategies listed above:

The coin flip: What do you supplier types think I am …an economist? Let’s just say the coin flip is 50/50.

Be done with it: Like I don’t have enough decisions in my life between car insurance, health-care plans, etc. One fewer decision is that much better, so fix it for two years.

Fix ... wha? I have a supplier? I have a choice? When did this happen? Maybe if you fall in this category, you should talk to someone in our Customer Service Department (845) 805-8586.

Ask one question: This strategy is easier than it might sound. When getting price quotes, ask for both the one-year and the two-year prices. If the one-year price is higher than the two-year price, this indicates that the current year is more expensive than the next. This is a good time to fix the two-year price because you can lock in a lower price for a longer period of time. If the two-year price is more expensive than the one-year price, you may want to only fix your price for one year.

The bottom line for you:
Do a little homework, ask a few questions, and you’ll be able to navigate through those different plans.

Energy Savings Tips
Much of the country is locked in a bitter arctic grasp. That means thermostats are going up and heating bills are too.

For many, an increase may be too much to handle, especially as the recession enters its sixth fiscal quarter. Jobs are still scarce and the economy is still deciding if it wants to rebound.

The good news is that home-heating assistance is available on all levels, from federal to state and local. Here are two you (or someone you know) may be eligible for.

Home Energy Assistance Program: HEAP helps if you are having trouble paying your heating bill. You are eligible if you receive Supplemental Security Income, Food Stamps or Temporary Assistance. You may also be eligible for emergency benefits if your heat has been or is about to be shut off, you are in danger of running out of fuel or your heating equipment is inoperable.

HEAP is federally funded, but many states have their own programs, which have received money from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Weatherization Assistance Program: WAP helps you increase the energy efficiency of your home and reduce your household energy costs. You are eligible if you receive Supplemental Security Income or Percentage of Income Payment Plan. You may be eligible if you have children, have one or more members with a disability or are over age 60. WAP has been given a $5 billion infusion from the stimulus bill.

For more information about these programs or others on a state or local level, contact:

New York: Division of Housing and Community Renewal - (866) 275-3427
New Jersey: Department of Community Affairs - (609) 292-6420
Texas: Department of Housing and Community Affairs - (512) 475-3800
Ohio: Department of Development - (614) 466-6797
Maryland: Department of Housing and Community Development - (410) 514-7000
Virginia: Department of Housing and Community Development - (804) 371-7000
District of Columbia: Energy Office - (202) 673-6700
Kentucky: Housing Corporation - (502) 564-7630
Pennsylvania: Department of Community and Economic Development - (717) 787-1984

Energy News
So Santa brought your family a sleigh full of electronics for Christmas. Our love of power-hogging electronics is growing exponentially, according to the International Energy Agency. The average household has approximately 25 electronic gadgets and that number is expected to triple in the next 20 years.

The worst offenders are flat-screen TVs. Some models are bigger energy hogs than refrigerators. Since 1990 when energy standards were put in place, fridges have gotten about 45 percent more efficient and washers about 70 percent more efficient. Hopefully, TVs will soon be as well. But until then, we’re spending more time in front of our 60-inch wall-hung Samsungs: an average of five hours a day. Many households leave the TV (or TVs) on as background even while not parked in front of it. This wastes energy.

There are simple ways to conserve.

The first is obvious: turn the TV off when no one is watching.

Others take a couple of button pushes on the remote. (Here’s where you need to grab your owner’s manual.) Some high-definition TVs have a mode that allows them to be turned on and working almost immediately. This is often called a Quick Start mode. It may make your TV turn on quicker, but it also can consumeup to 50 percent more energy. You can change the setting so that TV will take a few more seconds to power up. Trust us, you can wait.

Another mode you can change is the Power Saver mode. If your TV has this, it probably isn’t set up from the factory. This mode is designed to do exactly what its name implies: save power. For some TVs, turning this mode on will dim the picture slightly. On other models, there may be a significant change in brightness. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth it. You can also dim your TV’s backlight, which again will dim the picture. TVs often come from the factory with this setting turned all the way up.

Another huge power drainer is a videogame console. One study suggested that consoles consume about 16 billion kWh a year. SIXTEEN BILLION. About 40 percent of U.S. homes have a console, and 14 percent have more than one. These little guys suck down power because they’re often never turned off. Blame that on the manufacturers, whether Xbox, PlayStation or Wii (the least offender), who have designed consoles that make it hard to save a game. So, instead of erasing all those days logged playing "Super Mario," the kids just leave the gadget on, ready to resume as soon as dinner or homework are done. But a console left on 24/7 can consume as much electricity in a year as TWO refrigerators. Consoles use less than 3 watts when turned off. But when left in either Idle or Active mode, can use up to 150 watts, according to a study by the National Resources Defense Council and Ecos Consulting.

Chalk up the evolution of the console to increased energy usage. Today’s games are more realistic with more-powerful graphics processors. (That’s one reason why the more-simplistic Wii is an energy sipper compared to other brands.) Add in the fact that some consoles are multi-functional: not only do they play games, but also DVDs; they allow Internet access and networking capabilities; they offer built-in hard drives, 3D graphics and online gaming. All these eat up the watts. In fact, using your gaming console as a Blu-ray player can eat up almost SEVEN times the power of an actual Blu-ray machine. Using it as a DVD player can eat up almost TWENTY FOUR times the power.

So how do you conserve?

The easiest way is to plug the console into a power strip, and then turn the strip off at the end of each session. Of course, this means that the game automatically ends or you’re staying up forever until you finish. Unplugging the console for one hour a day can save you about $7 a year for a Wii, $92 for an Xbox 360 and $122 for a PlayStation, according to the National Resources Defense Council/Ecos Consulting study.

You can also, just like with your TV, change the power-management features if your brand has them. Xbox 360 and PS3 do, so check your owner’s manual.

There’s also good news from the manufacturers. According to industry experts, the average lifespan for a console is roughly five years, the cycle that manufacturers have taken to release next-generation consoles. With energy conservation as a goal (and increasing public mandate), next generations should include standard and easier-to-navigate power management settings, more-efficient power supplies and built-in scaling capabilities. Improving the next generation could save 11 billion kWh annually, which translates to a $1 billion savings on energy bills for consumers.

That should help your pocketbook with the monthly energy bill after you shell out for the latest console.