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.