Monday, December 27, 2010

Five Ways to Use Your Christmas Gift Card

I received a nice gift card to the Home Depot for Christmas. It got me thinking - what should I spend it on?

I like to spend a lot of time on Home Power Saver talking about ways to reduce your electric bill through simple projects and improving efficiency, and I always focus on whether a product or project is cost effective.

So why not use that gift card towards a project that will pay you back for years to come?  Today I'll outline five ways to spend a gift card the Home Power Saver way!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Why New GE LED Nightlight Bulbs Are A Good Omen

I was surprised to notice a new offering at my local Target last week - a 2-pack of LED nightlight bulbs from GE.

I was surprised for several reasons - I hadn't seen LEDs at this Target before, I hadn't seen LED nightlight bulbs at any local store before, and these bulbs were marked as 2700K color temperature.

For under $6 I had to try them out - and my results were interesting!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Solar Water Heaters - Do They Make Sense?

Solar Panel
Last week I began the 'hot' topic of water heating with an introduction to tankless water heaters

But if you are looking at ways to reduce water heating costs, what about solar water heaters?  You may be surprised at the choices and decision points.

Friday, December 17, 2010

News Roundup - Dell, EcoButton

Dell announced this week that they have achieved a goal they announced two years ago - reduce power consumption on desktop and laptop computers by 25%.  They cite improvements in circuit design, energy efficient fans, and LED monitors as the biggest reasons for the gains.

I'm very happy to see so much energy efficiency focus in the IT and telecommunications sectors.  Those areas use insane amounts of energy, and until the last two years all focus has been on faster, denser, better performing products, while companies have had trouble keeping up with the power demands in their facilities.

Anyway, read more about Dell's achievements on Energy Efficiency News.

New Product to help Computer Users Reduce Energy Use

When I first saw the EcoButton, I thought 'wow, another unnecessary gimmick for unwitting consumers'. As I've thought about it some more, I can see some benefit.

The EcoButton is a large-ish button that sits on your desktop and connects to PCs (no Mac support) via USB. It allows you to shutdown or sleep your computer by hitting the large, visible, easily accessible button, and serves as a reminder to do so.

Of course, the same can be done with a couple of clicks of the mouse, but I suppose if it helps someone remember or change their habits, that is a good thing.

Visit Eco-button's site for more info or cut to the chase and view EcoButton on Amazon.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Are Tankless Water Heaters Real Savers?

Tankless Water Heater
Tankless Water Heater
One hot area (yes, pun is intended) in energy reduction is that of hot water heating. As I discussed previously, traditional hot water heaters are (almost by design) inefficient. Storing 80 gallons or more of hot water, constantly being heated whether there is a need or not, simply doesn't make much sense. It's no wonder that many estimates show water heating consuming 10% to 25% of a typical home energy bill.

So when it is time to buy a new hot water heater, it would pay to consider a tankless or a solar hot water heater (to be covered next week). However, there are considerations to keep in mind if you want to see real reductions to your gas and electric bills.

Today we'll look at tankless hot water heaters, and the pros and cons of them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

News Roundup - Another Benefit of Smart Meters

Much has been discussed regarding the current and potential benefits of Smart Meters.  They can provide real-time or near-real-time electrical consumption details and provide that information back to the utility.  This can enable smarter billing plans, usage alerts, and allow for more efficient handling of the electrical grid.

Leveraging this technology, a company called OPOWER is working with utilities to create "smart bills" that show how your usage compares to neighbors.  They can use email and texting to alert customers when certain thresholds are reached, allowing a 'heads up' when a consumer is on-track for a high bill.

OPOWER claims that consumers who have smart meters and are part of this system on average reduce their power consumption 2% to 3%.  Across millions of homes, that is substantial.  Here in Arizona's deserts, 2-3% could translate to $40 to $80 of savings.

Read more about OPOWER on CNN.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Five Reasons to Reconsider CFLs

CFL - Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb
The CFL light bulb is an interesting product.  It has been around in the mainstream for around 10 years, yet continues to be as misunderstood by some as it is revered by others.

And to top it off, it has become a bit of a political lightning rod in the USA as a symbol of everything from global warming conspiracy to government intrusion.

Like many products with a lot of potential, corporate marketers have played up the best of this potential - especially long life and low energy consumption.  Those on the other side of the issue complain about harsh light, overblown life expectancy claims, and price, and mercury content.

Today we'll look at five reasons to reconsider CFLs for use in your home.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Five Ways to Offset Your Holiday Energy Consumption

If you're like millions of Americans, you just completed setting up your Christmas tree and have strung holiday lights all around your house and yard.  And if you're like most people, you are spending $1.00 to $5.00 per day to run those lights.

Most people tend to run their displays from the Sunday after Thanksgiving through to the weekend past New Year's Day.  That is about 40 days, meaning many people are spending $40 to $200 just to run their holiday light displays.

How can you offset this usage?  There are many ways!

Monday, November 29, 2010

How to Save 1000 Gallons of Water a Month With 5 Minutes of Work

low flow shower head
Actually, not only can you save 500 gallons of water with just five minutes of effort, but you can reduce your water heating costs at the same time.

When I moved into my current house over four years ago, it was brand new construction meeting the latest building standards. Over time, standards relating to efficiency have improved greatly, so I felt good about the efficiency of the house.

Of course, as I started to get to know my house I discovered quite a few areas where the standards could be improved upon, and one area that could easily save 500 gallons of water per month with less than $20 to $40 spent, and only 5 minutes of effort.

Friday, November 26, 2010

News Roundup - Spray On Solar Windows

Spray-On Solar Windows

OK, this may not be "news" anymore, since it was announced 2 months ago, but a company called New Energy Technologies announced a product that they claim allows ordinary windows to be converted to solar generating windows.

The product, which would be sprayed onto the window surface, essentially creates a thin-film coating (claimed to be thinner than existing thin-filmed technologies) that generates electricity.

The press release can be viewed on eSolar News.

The company claims that performance numbers with third-party review will be published shortly. No indication of availability and cost has been provided.

Obviously, this method brings up a lot of questions, ranging from durability to how much light will be allowed through. Another interesting one to watch...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Shopping Ideas to Turn Black Friday Green

I've already discussed a few energy saving gift ideas and energy saving holiday decorations that will reduce your electric bills.  But often times you can save energy in some unexpected ways by using products that may not be marketed as 'energy savers'.

Today I'll look at five unexpected products that can reduce you and your friend's electric bills.

Friday, November 19, 2010

News Roundup - TopTenUSA Will Help You Save, and Energy Star Updates

TopTenUSA Will Help You Save

I just came across an interesting site called TopTenUSA. They focus on the top 10 most energy efficient products in a number of different product sets, ranging from electronics to appliances. For example, they have categories ranging from small TVs to large TVs, dishwashers to washing machines, and much more. While I'd love to see them expand, they cover the 'big ticket' items that make the most difference.

As I've talked about before, paying $100 or even $200 more for a more efficient TV or washing machine can pay for itself, possibly several times over, within the life of the product. So it makes a lot of sense to consult sites like TopTenUSA before making these purchases.

Energy Star Looking At Tiered Approach

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Three Ways to Reduce Water Heating Costs

Hot water heaters are often the most overlooked appliance in ones home.  They sit in the basement (or garage if you live in a temperate climate) and just do their thing.

Most home owners only tend to them if the pilot light goes out (which is more and more rare in newer units), or when they spring a leak.

However, with minimal effort, you might be able to significantly reduce the costs of heating water in your home - without replacing your hot water heater.  After all, reducing your gas or electric bill is the ultimate goal of this site!

With winter knocking on the door, now is the time to expend this little bit of effort.

Monday, November 15, 2010

How To Reduce Your Electric Bill (or Why Is My Bill So High?)

The entire purpose of Home Power Saver is to help readers reduce their electric, gas, and water bills. We do this by discussing changes in behavior, simple energy saving products, and improvement projects that most readers should be able to do.

Thus far I've looked at many specific areas where you can save energy and reduce your electric bills, but I have yet to take a holistic view of why a bill is what it is.

That all changes today, where I will dissect the average bill for an average family in the USA, and look at the prime target areas where the most savings may be obtained.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Efficient Landscape Lighting - Save $18 Per Year

I've thought a lot about LED lights in recent months, and the limitations LED lights have.

Then it hit me - low-voltage landscape lights are the perfect application for LEDs! I'm not talking about those solar landscape lights, which usually use LED, but traditional low-voltage  lights that plug in to a timer.

And it makes sense - brightness is not as much of a concern, color temperature is not as important in many fixtures, and these are lights that run for hours, meaning a quick payback.

A google search and check on Amazon revealed very few players, though Amazon carries an LED wedge base landscape bulb from a company called LED Wholesalers.
LED Light Landscape Bulb

I ordered a couple to test, and they work great. I had been using 4 watt incandescent bulbs previously (the lowest wattage I could find), so I am saving about 3.5 watts per bulb (I have three in my setup, so 10.5 watts total).

The LED "bulb" is actually a small circuit board with 6 small LEDs - two on both sides of the board, and two pointing up.  This configuration provides a even distribution of light, and it is relatively warm colored (though not quite like an incandescent).

I schedule to turn off my landscape lighting for about 3 hours in the dead of night, so on average my system runs 9 hours per day over a year. Given my power cost over 500 KwH is 14.35 cents per KwH, my payback (after including shipping costs) is just under 3 years.

However, when I look around town most people are running systems with 5 or 6 fixtures, and generally use 7 or 11 watt bulbs.  In a scenario like that (we'll say 5 fixtures, 11 watt bulbs), you'd save 37.5 watts, or about $17 or $18 a year, and payback would be right around a year. 

Not bad for an easily overlooked power consumer!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Eleven Habits of Highly Efficient People (Energy Efficient, that is).

Since the introduction of Home Power Saver, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about making your home more energy efficient through simple projects and innovative products. However, some of your biggest savings can be gained from simple habit changes. Following the tips below, you may save $250 or more per year, without spending a dime.

I’ve tried to come up with some simple tips and habits that will save you energy and save you money. Many of these are common sense, and you’ve likely seen them before. Hopefully a few are new to you!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Seven Holiday Gifts for the Energy Conscious

I know they are out there - DIY'ers and home improvement enthusiasts looking for projects - and what better projects than those that actually save money and improve quality of life!

If you are looking for Christmas gifts for one of those people, here are seven excellent ideas.  And be sure to check out the Home Power Saver Amazon Store for items sold by Amazon, categorized and commented on by me.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Six Ways to a Green Christmas

LED Christmas Light
Judging by the looks of the local Lowes, Home Depot, and Walmart, Christmas decoration purchases are in full swing.  While its tempting to buy those cheap incandescent lights (which can be purchased for less than 5 cents per bulb), you need to consider the energy costs in running those.  You'll find that LED Christmas lights will save money in the long run, run cooler, and be safer.

But buying LED lights isn't the only way to make energy efficient decisions for Christmas.  I've assembled Six Ways to achieve a Green Christmas.

Friday, October 29, 2010

News Roundup - Better CFLs and Stanford Solar Breakthrough

Power Saving News

Better CFLs

GE has announced an interesting new bulb planned for 2011.  This new bulb appears to be a traditional CFL, but with a small halogen bulb as well.  Operating as a hybrid, it plans to address the 'instant on' issue that has caused concerns for CFLs since their inception.  After the CFL reaches full brightness, the halogen bulb switches off, and the CFL remains on.

I've discussed the instant on issue before, and even commented recently that a new EcoSmart CFL was the 'best yet', but CFLs still are noticeably dimmer than incandescents for the first 20-60 seconds.  The question is whether LED prices and quality will continue to improve at a faster pace.  If they do, GE's bulb may have a limited window of usefulness.

Stanford Solar Breakthrough

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

LED Lighting Prices in Rapid Decline

It has been heavily reported that LED lighting prices are in rapid decline, and I noticed this first hand at Sam's Club last week.

About 2 months ago I purchased two GE 2.5 watt LED bulbs for $30. Today, the same package is $20 - a $10 decrease. These bulbs are only 80 lumens (relatively dim), but they work great in my stairwell footing light fixtures and in my refrigerator (which has 4 bulbs!). Point being, 80 lumens has relatively few applications, but if you have a good one you can expect savings.

My application is a stairwell foot light, where a 60 watt bulb was originally installed.  Using the payback calculator, these now will actually pay for themselves in their 10 year estimated lifetime, as compared to a 13 watt CFL. And they pay for themselves in just 3 or 4 years compared to the 60 watt bulbs that were originally installed. 

Those aren't spectacular numbers, but it is a huge improvement from a year ago.  If these gains continue through next year, we'll see LEDs starting to take some market share from CFLs.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mind the Gap - How to Find and Fix Energy Leaks

Mind The Gap
If you have ever traveled on the London Underground (The Tube) you are likely familiar with the "Mind The Gap" warning, telling passengers that there is a gap you must step over when entering the train.

While waiting for the tube on a trip last May, it dawned on me that "mind the gap" is also particularly important for homeowners when it comes to sealing your house, where even the smallest gaps can result in drafts and wasted energy.

Fixing gaps is a very simple project, but a thorough approach can take a few hours, if not a good chunk of a day or weekend. Today we'll look at how to approach DIY home sealing and what you'll need to save money on your electric and gas bill.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Are Energy Savings Going Up In Smoke?

Fireplaces and wood burning stoves add great ambiance, are a design focal point, and can help create wonderful family memories.  However, they can also be a source of drafts and literally suck the warm air out of your living space.  After all, they are a gigantic hole in your house. And while cool drafts are more noticeable, any source of air infiltration is also a problem during warm weather, forcing your cooled air right out of your home.

In fact, depending on your gas and electric costs, a typical fireplace may be costing you as much as $100 a year.

To make maters worse, fireplaces are actually inefficient heaters as compared to forced air systems.  Even when they are creating heat, they are drawing inside air as an oxygen source.  But few of us would trade the other tangible benefits of fireplaces for these reasons.

So how do you ensure that your fireplace is not a source of air infiltration and improve its efficiency to reduce your energy bills?  Follow these tips and check out these products designed to help.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

News Roundup - Micro Wind Turbines, Recycling, and Computer Networks

Power Saving News

New Player Promises Big Gains in Home Wind Power

Totempower, a new company based if the UK, has a micro wind turbine that promises 20% efficiency gains in an unobtrusive, easier to install, and easy to maintain system. The basis of these gains are a patented design that allows operation at lower wind speeds than comparable products.

Read about their wind power solution on Clean Technica.

Lowes Builds CFL and Battery Recycling Awareness

Lowes has had a CFL recycling program for quite awhile now, and added a on cell phones and rechargeable batteries in the last year. Lowes has done an admirable job in promoting this effort, and recently updated their tracking page.

New IEEE Ethernet Standard Promises Reduced Energy Use

The IEEE recently ratified their new energy efficient Ethernet standard - 802.3az. 802.3az allows for a "low power idle" operation, saving a bit of power during idle times.

Most consumers use Ethernet in their homes, generally connecting a PC to a cable modem and/or router. At this low scale, consumers likely won't see more than a couple of dollars savings per year. However, businesses and enterprises may see substantial power savings.

There is an excellent article in the Kansas City Star covering this - quoting 5 terawatt-hours savings per year in the USA alone.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Three Problem Areas of Windows

Leaky Window
 Boarded Window
Windows can be a major source of drafts, and in some cases, an avoidable source. As windows age, as your house settles, and as materials warp and wear, gaps and cracks in sealants used to prevent air infiltration can occur.

The good news is that these problem areas are often easily fixed.

In general, there are three areas to check around a window. Some people like to wait for a cool and windy day and hold a lit candle or wet hand up around the window perimeter and check for any drafts. While that method is the most thorough, anytime is good for a plain old visual check, which can reveal some problems as well.

The three areas to check are:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Amazon Store For Home Power Saver

As I frequently mention, I'm always on the lookout for products and devices which may help home owners save power, water, or gas. I frequently refer to the products I find within my posts, and if the products are for sale at a reasonable price at, I link to them.

I am also signed up as an Amazon Associate, which means that if a reader of my blog follows my link and ultimately orders the product, I get a small commission.

However, I try not to link to Amazon just for that - I frequently refer readers to other stores which may have better prices or better products, as I did in the attic insulation series and in the outlet insulators article.

None-the-less, most readers are familiar with Amazon and there is a high level of trust with Amazon. For that reason, I have created an "Amazon Store" where you can easily browse all of the products that I've mentioned on the site, plus a few others.

I've added notes to each product to help provide some context as to when and how the product should be used.

As always, I welcome comments and email feedback. If you have products you suggest I add, have had difficulty with a product I have listed, or just want to speak your mind, please leave a comment below.

Visit the Home Power Saver Amazon Store.

Door Thresholds - What You Can't See Loses Money

Home Doorway
I posted a few weeks back about a simple product that can be installed in 30 seconds or less that will give you a nice tightly sealed door.  The ratcheting strike plate is wonderfully simple and useful, but it is only part of the picture when it comes to sealing your door.

The biggest gap is often under the door, along the door's threshold.  The threshold often doesn't seal tightly with the bottom of the door, creating a gap for air infiltration as well as insect infiltration.

But never fear - the solution may be another 30 second fix.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My New Favorite CFL Light Bulbs

Compact Fluorescent (CFL) bulb
In my series discussing CFL bulbs, I noted that while Compact Fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs have come a long way in the last year or two, they still are not perfect.  Some bulbs may take a half second or so to turn on, and several seconds to reach full brightness.  On the other hand, I also noted that many bulbs color temperature (i.e. light "warmth") have improved greatly in recent months and years.

Well, I purchased my first EcoSmart CFLs at Home Depot the other day, and must say I am impressed.  Their immediate brightness beat all of the other brands I have tried, including GE (though still don't quite match incandescent).  They also claim significantly less mercury than other CFLs.

I was already a convert to CFLs, but the quality of these is so much better than what was available just two or three years ago that I'm hoping it creates plenty of new converts.

The specific CFLs I bought were EcoSmart flood lights for my kitchen, and candelabra style for a ceiling fan.

If you are in the market for new CFLs, check out Amazon and Home Depot for EcoSmart bulbs - my new favorite.

Friday, October 8, 2010

News Roundup - LED Tech Breakthroughs, MA Rebates, and more

Power Saving News
Welcome to a new feature of Home Power Saver - the News Roundup series. Periodically, as events warrant, I'll post recent interesting news stories in the world of energy savings.

Topics today include an advancement in LED technology that may lead to even longer life LED lighting and possibly some cost reductions.  Additionally, an interesting new study was released about home energy monitoring systems, and Massachusetts has a money saving rebate on a product that Home Power Saver highly recommends.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How To Insulate Your Garage Door in Two Hours

Garage Door Insulation
Garage Door Insulation Kit
Growing up in the central/northern plains, my bedroom was on the north and west side of the house.  To top it off, it was over our garage, making for a very cold room.  A little garage door insulation probably would have made that part of the house much more tolerable.

Many garage doors these days are un-insulated and light weight metal that simply transfer heat and cold.  In the Arizona low desert, cold weather is only a concern for about 2 months, and hardly that if you live in an urban area.  But even here, garage door insulation often makes sense. In the summer the surface temperature of the garage door can reach 140 degrees!  That heat radiates into the garage, and if you have living space over the garage, it radiates straight up into your living area.

Luckily, it is very easy to retrofit insulation onto a garage door.  Fiberglass and polystyrene garage insulation kits can achieve R5 to R8 insulation values, providing not only excellent thermal protection, but also some noise reduction.  As simple as this project is, there are (as always) a few options and considerations to take into account.

Monday, October 4, 2010

News: Lowes 31 Ways to Save Energy

Lowes recently announced an October promotion focusing on 31 days to save energy, promoting a product each day of the month.  So far they cover some of the same topics as here - lighting and power strips.  But you can bet there will be a focus on appliances and other bigger ticket items.  Hopefully they will tie in some discounts to make this worthwhile.

My biggest concern is they will promote energy savings over good economical sense and being a good citizen of the planet.  One of the focuses of Home Power Saver is to attempt, when possible, to make it clear when a project makes financial sense through tools like our payback calculator and power savings calculator.  And if it can't be quantified, at least the considerations involved in a purchasing a product or embarking on a project should be discussed.

One factor that is too often overlooked is that when an appliance is replaced, that old appliance must go somewhere - and hopefully not the county landfill!  I am planning a number of upcoming articles about choosing new appliances to save money, but the focus is primarily for those who were planning to replace one already. 

However, there are certain situations where a new appliance does save so much energy that it is cost effective to replace a perfectly good older appliance.  In those cases please use Craig's List or Freecycle to get rid of your older appliance.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Adding Attic Insulation - Part II

Blown-in insulation
In Part I we looked at the basics of attic insulation, including the primary types, pros and cons of each, R-values, and briefly touched on the fact that adding insulation have have a great 'return on investment'.

Before embarking on this project, however, we should look at the "return on investment" aspect with a bit more depth.  For most people, it will be important to have a general idea of how much insulation should be put in, and how much they will save.

Is This Project 'Worth It'?

The good news is that you can actually pretty clearly calculate the affect that adding attic insulation will have.  The National Weather Service calculates climatic numbers that can be used in this calculation.  These numbers, called Heating Degree Days and Cooling Degree Days, measure how extreme your winters and summers are by measuring how often and how much you deviate from 65 degrees. These values directly relate to how much you need to heat and cool a home.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Just in Time for Winter – 14 Inches of…

Cellulose Blow-In Insulation
For most of the country, combining the words “winter” and “14 inches” usually means one thing – a lot of snow.  However, as a rough guideline, 14 inches should be a minimum amount of insulation in your attic. More specifically, an R-value of up to 49 is recommended for most of the country.

We'll talk about R values in a minute, but the important thing to be aware of is that many houses - especially older houses (10 years and older), could GREATLY benefit from a little extra insulation.  As time progresses, many insulation types settle and compact and lose some of their efficiency.  Many older houses never had enough insulation to begin with.

As an example, a typical home in Phoenix, AZ could achieve a 12% return on investment by increasing their insulation from R20 to R35.  7% can be achieved going from R30 to R40.  And in a more extreme climate like Boston, MA, 22% and 13% can be achieved.  Move to Minneapolis, and the numbers get better still.  Good luck getting ROI's like that in any other investment!  Part II will look further into the payback and return on investment of this project.  Needless to say, this is one project worth strongly considering, even if you already have a good R30 base of insulation.

And the great news is that with the help of a friend, a little knowledge and planning, adding insulation can be a half day project in most homes, so long as a few precautions are taken.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How A Simple Change to My Site Design Saves You Energy

Black Hole
There is an interesting posting that I stumbled across recently which posed the question of 'what if all of the most popular web sites used a black background instead of a white background'?

Monday, September 27, 2010

9 Easy Home Maintenance Chores You Should Not Skip

Air Conditioner
It is easy to get caught up in daily life and forget (or consciously put off) simple home maintenance chores.  However, if you consider that putting off some of these chores may be costing you money, perhaps your sense of urgency will rise a bit.

Today we’ll talk about a few simple maintenance steps that most of us know we should be doing, but we often forget.  Consider this a ‘nudge’ to action.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How To Connect With Home Power Saver

If you’ve browsed through Home Power Saver’s content and found some value in it, you might consider subscribing to my RSS feed.  RSS integrates with My Yahoo, iGoogle, and many other readers allowing you to automatically see new posts from your favorite sites.  It's a huge time saver, and a great way to keep up with your reading.

Similarly, please check out Home Power Saver’s facebook page.  I’ve just added the Facebook presence, and plan to not only post updates when I have new articles on the website, but as readership increases, will work to create a community for exchanging ideas and passing along experiences.  

The most helpful action anyone can take is to pass along this site to a friend who may be interested in the content.  Whether it be through email, Facebook, or any other method, increasing readership will allow me to spend more time on creating better content and researching, testing, and reviewing new products.

Lastly, I welcome your feedback.  Please leave comments on articles posted – suggestions, critiques, and personal experiences will only make this site better.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Five Ways to Automate Power Savings - Part II

As discussed in part I, most power savings projects "automate" savings. If you install extra insulation, you expend work up front, but can sit back and enjoy the savings for years to come.

However, this two part series in looking at ways that home automation can save you power and add convenience and security to your home.

Part I looked at two simple products that can insure your lights and electronics get shut off when not in use.

Part II today will look at these three additional steps - plus a bonus.
  1. Wall Switch Timers.  These take the place of a traditional switch, and automatically turn on and off base don programs or your local sunrise and sunset.  Perfect for outdoor lighting.
  2. Programmable Thermostats.  It is more efficient for your AC and Heater to run for long periods than to turn on and off repeatedly all day.  Programmable thermostats and adjust your settings while you are at work or away from the house.
  3. Outlet timers.  Traditional outlet timers are perfect for many applications - holiday lights, outdoor fountains, or anything else that you may want to turn on or off at specific times.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

News: Plug-and-Play Portable Solar?

CNN posted a story a few weeks back about a start up company looking to make major changes to how people view solar power.

Today, most consumer-accessible solar consists of two options:

  1. Large arrays of panels generally mounted on the roof.
  2. Small purpose-built solar panels, such as for landscape lighting, charging electronics, fountain pumps, etc.
Solar arrays are costly and have a steep barrier to entry for consumers.  Despite rebates from electric companies and some state and local governments, many solar arrays end up costing well over $5000 out of pocket.  While many arrays can result in a return on investment (usually after 5 - 10 years), $5000 or more is difficult for most people to come up with.  We'll look further at the economics of solar panels in an upcoming solar series.

Small purpose-built systems may also make economic sense in some cases, but don't expect to see a major impact to your bills.

The start-up company, Clarian Power of Seattle, WA, looks to find a middle ground by reducing that costly 'barrier to enter' the solar market, and allowing consumers to add capacity to their solar systems as modularly, over time, as they see fit.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Five Ways to Automate Power Savings - Part I

There is nothing better in than being able to spend a little effort once (and just once) and then be able to reap the rewards for years to come.

Actually, most of the projects and projects I've talked about fit that definition - some effort once, benefits for years. But today I'm going to look at five simple ways in which you can not only automate energy savings, but also automate your home - and save money in the process. Better yet, these five solutions also may also improve your life in other ways - providing security or improving the simplicity of your day.

We'll kick things off by covering the first two ways in which you can automate power savings. See Part II for the remaining three ways to save.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Television Sets and Power Usage - How to Pick a New TV and Optimize It

Television sets are perhaps the largest discretionary power consumers in many households. With most households having multiple TVs, and sometimes multiple TVs on simultaneously, it is not uncommon to be consuming 400, 500, or even 600 watts! In fact, some large plasma TVs with default settings, operated 6.75 hours per day (average for US households), may cost you $155 or more in electricity in a year (and much more in high electrical costs areas).

One key factor that I constantly harp on is that when we purchase new appliances - ANY appliance, we should consider power consumption costs. After all, if you plan to keep an appliance for 10 years, making a decision that could save you $100 a year makes a ton of sense...or cents in this case ($1000 worth).

But what TVs are best? And are there any sacrifices or trade-offs for choosing a power-sipping model?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How To Kill the Vampire (Power, That Is)

One of the key factors in saving energy, and thus saving money, is understanding how you are consuming energy. It sounds basic, but numerous studies have shown that providing energy usage feedback to households results in significant reductions in use.

And you've probably heard how people that drive cars with miles-per-gallon (MPG) feedback meters actually improve their driving efficiency. Whether cars or houses, these studies have all shown anywhere from 5% to 18% reduction in use when direct feedback monitors are used.

And consider this:
According to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the average US household has forty or more devices constantly drawing power.

It's a simple concept to measure power usage, and for household use there are a number of solutions ranging from simple plug-in devices to whole house meters that are placed in your electrical box.

Today we're going to talk about one of the simplest to use meters available - one that is highly proven with a strong market reputation. It's the Kill A Watt EZ .  This solution will not only allow you to understand just how much power your TV, air purifier, or computer uses, but will help you identify dreaded vampire power users.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Halloween in September? Decor choices that pay for themselves.

Halloween Witch - SavingsEvery year I am astonished to see Christmas decor going on sale in early September at the 'big box stores'.  This year, though, it served as a reminder to post a bit about how we can all save some energy this Halloween.

Halloween has become the second largest holiday in the USA in terms of merchandising and decor.  Every year I see more and more elaborate decorations, ranging from giant inflatables in front yards, to motion sensing skeletons, to plain old lighting.

If you're considering lighting, be aware that you can CFL bulbs in the color orange.  I often place colored lights in my outdoor fixtures for a few weeks around the holidays, and this is a way to save a bit of money as compared to traditional incandescents.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Low Tech, High Results - Sealing and Insulating Electrical Outlets

There is one simple upgrade that almost every house will benefit from.  You’ll have greater comfort, less drafts, and see energy savings in summer and winter.

What is this simple, low tech upgrade?  It is electrical outlet insulation pads (aka wall-plate insulation, or foam gaskets).

Decora Outlet Showing Insulation Gap
Decora Leviton Style Outlet
When electricians install power outlets or light switches, they cut a hole in your drywall and leave an area that has no or minimal insulation (see photo at left).  This presents an easy path for outside air to enter your home (aka ‘air infiltration’).

In fact, this gap presents such an easy entry point that in many houses you can literally feel the draft on cool and windy days.  To demonstrate this point, my new construction house in the Arizona desert (not exactly a location known for cold) was actually quite drafty in the winter until I added my wall-plate insulators.

The solution for this is quite simple – purchase a few packages of foam wall-plate and switch-plate insulators (sometimes called ‘foam gaskets’), and install them.

The biggest ‘trick’ to installing these is actually purchasing the correct type/shape in the first place.  the gaskets/insulators are designed to create a tight fit, and made to fit the exact size of the protrusion in the outlet.

Electrical sockets are generally the same in most construction (with some exceptions - especially GFCI outlets).  However, switch plates vary drastically depending on the age of your home.  Recent construction uses ‘decorator’ or ‘decora leviton’ style switches, which are large, flat, rectangular shaped rocker switches or outlets.  The photo above is a Decora style outlet, which is one of those "exceptions" I just mentioned.

Older construction uses much smaller switches that protrude from the wall a half inch or so.   You can either purchase the Gasket Covers by themselves, or part of a kit that includes door sweeps at Amazon.  Note that the kit linked to the left is for the older style outlets and switches.  The best source for Decora Leviton style gasket covers seems to be

Decora Outlet With Foam Insulation Gasket
Foam Gasket Placed On Outlet

You can also purchase small packets of insulators from your local hardware store or from a number of online sources.  However, your best bet is online sources, where you can purchase bulk quantities at a discount. 

As an example, you should be able to find 50 foam gaskets for around $18 or less online, but you'd probably pay double that at the home improvement store.   Further, you’ll be more likely to find specialized gaskets to fit those multi-gang switch plates that cover multiple switches. 

It’s difficult to estimate payback on this improvement because air infiltration alone is not enough to calculate energy consumed.   You would need to know how much air infiltration is occurring, the average temperature deviation from your preferred temperature for that air, and then factor how efficient your heating and air conditioning system is in dealing with that air.  So for this one you’ll have to take my word on the value. 

Foam Outlet Gasket Installation

Installation could not be much simpler.  If you’re like me, if you try to estimate the number of outlets and switches you have on outside facing walls, you will definitely underestimate the quantities.   Your best bet is to survey each room and keep a tally.

All it takes is removing the wall plate, inserting the foam (see photo), and then screwing the wall plate back on.  Best practice would be to turn off the breaker prior to performing any action with the wall plate.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Payback Calculator

Have you ever wondered if that new gadget or new light bulb is worth the cost? Today we are announcing the Power Payback Calculator to allow you to quickly determine how long it will take to recover money spent on a new product or upgrade to save power.

To put this into context, the simple example is changing a light bulb. Today you may have a 40 watt incandescent light bulb in your closet, and you are considering a pricey $15 LED light bulb that only uses 2.5 watts. You figure that the closet light is on for 30 minutes a day – how long will it take for the energy savings to offset the $15 spent?

In my case (12.5 cents per KwH), it would take around 17.5 years for that LED light bulb to pay off – probably not the best financial decision. Now, if you had been replacing a 60 watt bulb that ran for 2 hours per day, you’d be looking at a payback in under 3 years. And if your power cost is very high, such as in Hawaii or New York City, your payback may be under 2 years.

I like to use this tool for those exact scenarios. It helps you determine if a project makes sense for you, and it also helps give you an idea of how long a product may need to last before it pays for itself. 4.5 years for an LED bulb should be likely, for example. I’ve also used this for determining if a Smart Strip makes sense in a particular application.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

CFLs and LEDs and You - Part II

In part I we discussed why Compact Fluorescent bulbs make a lot of financial sense in most applications in the home.  And the historical issue of harsh light is mostly a thing of the past (if you remember to buy the correct color temperature bulb).  But CFLs are not all dim-able, still may not instantly illuminate when turned on, and often take several seconds to reach full brightness.  But after a few weeks of use most people adjust.

However, we’ve yet to cover perhaps the most controversial subject for CFLs, and haven't touched on LED lighting.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Tightly Sealed Door in 30 Seconds

If you've spent any time trying to tighten a seal on a door, you know it can be a pain.  You adjust the weather stripping - perhaps replace it, adjust the strike plate, and try to find the balance where the door operates easily yet forms a tight seal.  If you have all the weather stripping handy and a bit of experience, perhaps you get a workable solution in 15 to 30 minutes.

However, I am hear to tell you that you can actually fix a poorly sealed door in 30 seconds or less without replacing weather stripping and without relocating the strike plate using a very simple gadget.  These 30 seconds will be worth dollars saved on your electric bill, and you'll wonder why all exterior doors don't have this product installed.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

CFL's and You...How I Save $300 a Year

OK, you knew it had to happen sooner or later.  Time for that age-old stereotypical discussion of incandescent vs compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs).  And we'll throw in LED lights for good measure, too.  In fact , there is so much to discuss, we’ll break this up into a two part series, with a cost analysis of CFLs and discussion of light quality in part I, and a further discussion of CFLs and introduce LEDs in part II.

I showed earlier this week how switching just 5 light bulbs save me $124 annually. And you can get eight 13 watt GE CFLs for only $7 at Amazon!

Almost everyone knows that CFLs use much less electricity, and depending on where and how they are used, might last several years longer than incandescent bulbs. Further, since they are more efficient than incandescent bulbs, they produce much less heat - a double bonus for the summer months.

But even with all of these pluses, you need to avoid some common CFL pitfalls and understand a few properties of the bulbs to get the most out of them.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Make A Kilowatt-Hour Make Cents

I think most people are aware the primary unit of power is the watt. Even the non-scientifically inclined know that many light bulbs are rated in watts, or at the very least that Marty McFly needed 1.21 gigawatts of power to get back home.

Then why is it that electric companies charge based on kilowatt-hours?  And how can this knowledge be used to reduce your electric bill?

First of all, a watt is actually a very small unit of power in the grand scheme. As we've already shown, a single computer system can use 250 watts or more power. Now consider a typical household with multiple TV's, computers, air conditioning units, lights, clock radios, cell phones charging, clothes dryers, ovens, etc all operating. At any given time well over a thousand watts may be used. Kilo means 1000, so measuring household and commercial power in kilowatts makes sense.

OK, I Understand Kilo...but why Hours?

If I turn on every light in my house for 20 minutes, should I be charged the same amount of money by the electric company as someone running every light in their house for 24 hours a day? Obviously, the answer is no.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Four Ways to Reduce Computing Cost by $100 or More A Year

Computer Keyboard Help - Savings
Computers are one of the larger power drains in many homes. To demonstrate this point, I used my Kill A Watt and measured my HP Pavilion Media Center, with all of the peripherals connected (printer, external hard drive, monitor) in a number of scenarios. When everything was all "fired up" and running, I was using 290 watts!

If I left everything running but wasn't actively working, power consumption dropped to 220 watts. Let's say I'm lazy and I happen to leave the computer on all day while I'm sleeping and at work (about 18 hours). Using the Home Power Saver Calculator, 18 hours of 220 watt consumption equates to $179 wasted every year (my electric rate is 12.5 cents/KwH).

Solution #1: Be Lazy

The obvious solution is Don't Be Lazy and turn things off when you are done. However, you can actually be lazy and still save power.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Home Energy Terminology Guide

Over the coming weeks a wide range of topics will be discussed, possibly introducing new terminology and acronyms. Well talk about CFL's, LED's, Solar PV panels, calculating kilowatt-hours, insulation types, and many more topics.

To help with all this terminology, I've created the Home Power Saver's Terminology Guide. I've populated it initially with many of the most common terms we encounter, such as kilowatt-hour (KwH), vampire power, etc. As new terms and acronyms are introduced, I'll be maintaining the page to insure everyone is on the 'same page'. And my goal will be to ensure the definitions used here are simple and easy to understand.

If an energy savings related term or acronym is leaving you confused, leave a comment and I'll add it to the list.

And one last note - both the Power Savings Calculator and the Home Power Saver's Terminology page are permanently linked on our home page.

Introducing the Power Savings Calculator

I've created a new tool to allow anyone to quickly determine how much money a planned purchase or behavioral change may save.

Have you ever wondered just how much leaving the light on all night costs you?  Or how much money you'll really save if you replace a lightbulb with a compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb?  Perhaps you are contemplating buying a Smart Strip and wonder if the amount of power it saves will be worthwhile?

In any of those cases, simply use the power savings calculator to find out.  All you need to know is how much power you will be saving (in watts), how many hours per day you will be saving that power, and what your electricity rate is (in the US, typically between 9 and 13 cents).

Use the Power Savings Calculator to calculate your money saved based on the amount of power you've saved.

  1. Enter your local power price in cents.  This is typically measured in cents per KwH (kilowatt-hour).  Typical prices range from 9 to 13 cents.
  2. Determine how many watts of power were saved.  For example, if you replace a 60 watt light bulb with a 12 watt CFL, you will have saved 48 w.
  3. Enter how many hours per day you are saving that power.  For example, if that light runs for 4 hours per day, you'd enter 4 hours per day.

Cost Per KwH cents 
Watts Saved
Hours Used Per Day 
Daily Savings dollars
Monthly Savings  dollars
Yearly Savings dollars

You may be wondering how to determine how much power is being saved. the lightbulb example above is easy, but how do you calculate 'vampire power' that electronics draw even when supposedly off? For that, you may need a Kill A Watt or some other power measuring device. I like the Kill-a-watt because of its easy of use.

Using the kill-a-watt, I determined that my stereo/TV center was using about 22 watts of power that I was able to reduce using the Smart Strip mentioned above. That saves me about $16 per year, and the beauty of the smart strip is that unlike regular power strips, the smart strip allows you to keep critical components powered on all the time. For example, if you have Direct TV and ever power off your DVR, you know it can take 5 minutes or more for it to boot up and re-sync with the satellites. The smart strip allows you to power off everything else, but leave that DVR connected.