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.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Welcome to Home Power Saver!

Welcome to the first installment of Home Power Saver.  This site has been developed to provide an easy resource for homeowners looking to reduce energy consumption and save money.

We hope to demonstrate that there are many simple do-it-yourself (DIY) tasks and projects that almost anyone can perform that will make noticeable improvements to your monthly electric, gas, and water bills.  We’ll discuss products and services that are designed to reduce and/or monitor your power usage.  We’ll show you how to make energy efficient choices when purchasing new homes, appliances, TV’s, and computers.

And all of this will be with an eye towards saving you money.  We’ll have cost comparisons, calculators, and other tools to help you decide if a product or project is right for your circumstances.

Why Reduce Energy Consumption?

There are many reasons to reduce energy consumption.  First and foremost is the impact to your monthly checkbook.  As energy prices continue to rise at rates that outpace inflation, many DIY projects, products, and services may actually yield a ‘ROI’, or in other words, a financial return on your initial investments.

There are also many eco-conscious ‘green-centric’ people that don’t care about ROI, but rather reducing carbon footprints and environmental impact. 

Many people simply enjoy working on their house, and consider it a bit of a hobby.  These people may not be seeking an ROI, but rather a fun project.  

And even if one does not agree with global warming science, most agree that energy resources are finite, and as time progresses it becomes costlier, more dangerous, and more invasive to obtain these resources.   Combine this with our aging energy infrastructure, decades of policy inaction, and a general need to ‘catch-up’ and modernize our energy infrastructure, and it is clear that prices and collateral costs will only rise.

So stay tuned!  Expect frequent updates with simple energy saving projects, product reviews, tools to help you decide which projects are best for you, and much more!