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Cooking up holiday energy savings

For many of us, the best holidays involve home-cooked meals and wonderful aromas of turkey, dressing and baked goods wafting throughout the house. It means a busy kitchen and a bustling house full of family and friends. If this rings true for you, you still have an opportunity to save energy during the holidays despite the increased kitchen activity.

Cut carbs (carbon) painlessly

In addition to being the “heart of your home,” your kitchen could pump savings back into your wallet.  According to the Department of Energy, cooking accounts for 4.5 percent of total energy use in U.S. homes. This number, combined with the energy use associated with refrigeration, dishwashing and water-heating, means that as much as 15 percent of the energy in the average American home is used in the kitchen. So, saving energy here can have a significant impact on your household budget.

For example, when preparing side dishes, baked goods, soups and such, consider using a small appliance like a slow-cooker, toaster oven, microwave or warming plate instead of your conventional oven or stovetop. These small appliances are smart, energy-saving alternatives, typically using about half the energy of a stove.

Seal in efficiency

When using your oven, don’t peek! Opening the oven door can lower the temperature by as much as 25 degrees and causes your stove to work harder (consuming more energy) to return to the set cooking temperature. If your recipe calls for baking the dish more than an hour, it is not necessary to preheat the oven.  If your oven is electric, you can likely turn the oven off for the last five to 10 minutes of cooking and allow the residual heat to complete the job. Clean burners and reflectors increase efficiency and offer better heating, so don’t neglect this small but important task.

Just as keeping the oven door closed seals in efficiency and enables the stove to operate more economically, the same rules apply to the refrigerator and freezer. Keep the doors closed as much as possible so cold air doesn’t escape. However, leaving the door open for a longer period of time while you load groceries or remove items you need is more efficient than opening and closing it several times.

If you are entertaining a large group, you may be able to give your furnace a brief holiday. When your oven is working hard and you have a house full of guests, the heat from the stove and the guests will keep your house comfortable, enabling you to turn down the thermostat.

Clean up with energy savings

When it’s time to clean up, extend fellowship to the kitchen, and wash and dry dirty dishes by hand. This uses less energy than a dishwasher. However, don’t leave the water running continuously or you will waste energy. If you do use the dishwasher and rinse dishes before loading them, use cold water. Run the dishwasher with full loads only, and, if possible, use the energy-saving cycle. Note that dishwashers that have overnight or air-dry settings can save up to 10 percent of your dishwashing energy costs.

By adapting these efficient practices in your kitchen, energy savings will be one more thing to be thankful for this holiday season.

Anne Prince writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

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LEDs for the holidays

“LED, LED, LED!’” (Imagine this being chanted the way “USA” is at the Olympics.) While light-emitting diodes won’t necessarily anchor a relay to victory, they are most certainly the current champions when it comes to energy-efficient lighting. So let’s discuss using LEDs for your holiday decorating enjoyment.

When I was a kid, we enjoyed decorating with large painted incandescent bulbs. My dad would hang them around the front door, and we’d deck out the tree with a couple of strings. They were glorious! And hot, posing a real danger when used on a dry tree.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and the energy-conservation movement created a demand for more-efficient options. Enter the mini incandescent light strings. These are still widely used today and dramatically reduced the power consumed by their predecessors.

As is true in our technological age, manufacturers didn’t stop looking for even more efficient alternatives. This led to the introduction of LED lights. The first incarnations generated less than appealing garish blues, greens and reds but quickly softened into a more eye-pleasing spectrum. Today, LEDs are the undisputed champs of holiday lighting.

You could literally wrap your home in LED light strings, become visible to the International Space Station and still have a pleasantly manageable power bill at the end of it all. Now there is no reason to let concerns over cost of operation limit your decorating genius.

LEDs are also showing up in other forms and places. They are available in clear tubes that you can wrap around objects for extra interest (the tubes glow), and many yard figures are constructed with these as the main structural element. Imagine the possibilities!

Now if that isn’t enough for your holiday pleasure, how about wearing some holiday LED bling? Yes, the tacky (but ever so popular) holiday tie with tiny lights that illuminate has been around for years. But, combine the advances in LEDs with conductive paints and micro controllers like the Arduino or Raspberry Pi, and you can create some truly memorable fashions for the holidays. Just imagine the sensation you can cause at the office holiday party arriving in a coat of many, many colors. You could even spell out special holiday greetings with the proper display or simply glow all night long. Don’t worry about needing clunky power supplies or treacherous extension cords to keep your fashion style illuminated. These displays sip electricity from batteries like a fine wine. Just be sure to turn yourself off before driving home.

Two of my favorite sources for such goodies are www.sparkfun.com and www.adafruit.com (click the “wearables” link at either).

You have worked hard all year to reduce your energy consumption to save money and slim down your carbon footprint. Now reward yourself with a splendid holiday display that will be the envy of all who see it while you remain miserly with power use.

Tom Tate writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

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‘Tis the season

‘Tis the season for family, fellowship and lots of cooking.

By Katie Kothman-Haby, CCC

No matter what or how you celebrate, energy use tends to increase over the holiday season. With more guests in your home and activities taking place, your electric meter spins a little faster than usual, costing you more money. Start the New Year off right. Celebrate the holidays efficiently so you don’t have to worry about a high electric bill.

Decorating

  • If you choose to decorate with strings of lights, consider LED (light emitting diode) options. They use over 80 percent less energy than traditional strings of lights and have a longer life. Make sure to purchase high quality strings from reputable sources. Safety and the lifetime can be compromised in less expensive LED strands.
  • Solar powered lighting options are also worth considering for decorations. Instead of having a plug handy, make sure you have a proper location for the solar panel that powers them.
  • Place strands of electric lights on timers so they automatically turn on in the evening after the sun sets, and turn them off around bed time. You won’t have to spend time thinking about plugging and unplugging them, and you won’t have to spend money powering them when unnecessary.
  • Decorate with less lighting. Consider a natural, vintage feel for your decorations. Use items like pinecones, greenery, candy canes, popcorn strings and gingerbread. The whole family can get involved with decorating the home with these safe and festive items.

2014_12_SW_Holiday-efficiency-tip-with-logoCooking

  • Cook with your microwave, toaster oven or slow cooker whenever possible. Small appliances cook quickly and more efficiently than your oven.
  • When you do use the oven, cook more than one item at a time. Have a ham, sweet potato casserole and rolls that all need to cook in the oven? Make some adjustments to cooking temperatures and times, and put all your dishes in at once to take full advantage of the heat that’s being produced.
  • Don’t peek! It’s tempting to open the oven door to check on holiday treats. Use the oven light instead, and keep the door closed. This will keep the heat where it belongs – inside the oven.
  • Glass and ceramic dishes allow you to cook food at a lower temperature than metal baking dishes. If the recipe calls for a metal baking pan and you substitute glass or ceramic cookware, reduce the temperature by about 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Have food defrosted before you cook. Simply planning ahead can cut cooking times and energy use in half. Place any frozen dishes in the refrigerator the night before so they are ready to go in the oven the next morning.

Around the house

  • Turn down your thermostat a few degrees. Extra people bustling around the home and the oven warming food will heat up your home a few extra degrees. Take advantage and adjust your thermostat accordingly. You will save some money on your bill, and your guests will still be comfortable.

Katie Kothmann Haby writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nations 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

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Green gift-giving guide

Wondering what to buy for the person who has everything? How about a gift for an environment-friendly family member or friend? This holiday season, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives urge you to consider giving the gift of energy efficiency.

This doesn’t mean that you have to go out and replace your aunt’s refrigerator or your grandma’s washer and dryer – though you may be their favorite if you do. Giving the gift of energy efficiency can be as simple as filling their stockings, or creating a gift basket, with some of these helpful products.

LED light bulbs are the easiest way to increase efficiency in your home. From indoor bulbs for your lamps, recessed lighting and hanging fixtures to outdoor lighting, such as flood lamps and even decorative lighting strands – there’s an LED bulb for everyone.

LED lighting used to be deemed as prohibitively expensive, but prices have gone down significantly in recent years. Here are some top-rated options for energy-efficient lighting that makes everything bright!

  • GE Reveal 60 Watt Equivalent Bulb – This will run you around $18
  • Cree TW Series 60 Watt Equivalent Bulb – This will run you between $9 and $16
  • Sylvania’s Ultra HD floodlight-style bulb – This will run you between $22 and $35

Water-saving showerheads are also a great gift option. On average, Americans consume over 3 billion gallons of water daily. Switching to a water-saving showerhead could save a family of three up to $631 per year in costs and could reduce water consumption by over 2,600 gallons per year. Lack of water pressure can be a concern when giving this gift, so here are a few examples of showerheads that save water, but not at the expense of water pressure.

  • Glacier Bay 1-Spray Hand Shower – This will run you around $13
  • The Delta 1-Spray Water-Saving Showerhead – This will run you around $16
  • The Delta Arias 5-Spray Showerhead – This will run you around $37

Providing your family and friends with energy-efficiency tips along with a gift is also a great option. For example, did you know that one of the best ways to save energy in your home is to turn off all of your electronic devices? Try a TrickleStar Motion Sensor Power Strip, which costs around $30.

Supplement your gift with caulking supplies or weather strips, and before you know it, you will have the perfect energy-saving gift! All of these products are available online and at Big Box hardware stores, so get to shopping. From everyone at Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, have a happy, energy-efficient holiday!            

Meghaan Evans writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nations 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.