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.