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How to choose efficient appliances

It’s never a good day when you realize you need to replace a large appliance in your home. However, when the unfortunate time comes, be sure to take a moment and consider what you will purchase – especially for appliances that haven’t been replaced in a number of years, as the technology may have changed substantially. Instead of rushing out to buy the same make and model of appliance you had, consider this an opportunity to assess the market and make a smart purchase that will save you money in the long run.

According to the Department of Energy, appliances account for about 13 percent of the average household’s energy use. Clothes dryers, refrigerators/freezers, computers, microwaves, dishwashers and washing machines are the appliances that tend to use the most energy in a typical American home. Every appliance you buy has an operating cost, which is the cost of the energy needed to power the appliance. To facilitate more informed comparison shopping, the federal government requires some appliances to have an Energy Guide label stating the approximate energy consumption and operating cost of the appliance. Appliances with an ENERGY STAR label use 10 to 50 percent less energy than standard appliances and are generally more expensive than their standard counterparts. So, it’s important to compare the lifetime costs of each (up-front cost + operating cost) to ensure that purchasing the efficient appliance is the best choice.

In addition to looking at the efficiency of your new appliance, make sure to consider its size. Purchasing an appliance that is too large for your needs will lead to more energy being used. For example, laptops or small desktops (e.g., the Mac Mini) use only one-quarter of the energy of typical desktop PCs and have sufficient memory and processing speeds for many common applications. This same principle applies to refrigerators, air conditioners and more.

As you begin your search for a new appliance, check with your electric cooperative to see if they offer incentives for energy efficient appliances, and remember to use the ENERGY STAR website as an additional resource.

Dramatic advancements in the efficiency of many electric appliances now can provide the same level of end-user comfort with substantially less electric input. With a little research and forethought up-front, you can save money over the life of your appliance without sacrificing any benefits. Good luck, and happy shopping!

Thomas Kirk is a technical research analyst specializing in energy efficiency and renewable energy for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Residential lighting goes high-tech

Until recently, homes were lit with a single technology—incandescent lamps. This is the bulb that generations of Americans learned by, lived by—and even ate by. But those days are long gone.

Over the past 20 years, electric co-ops have promoted efficient lighting by adding CFLs to the mix. In 2012, about 30 percent of U.S. residential sockets were filled with CFLs, with incandescents making up the remaining 70 percent. Today, LED bulbs and fixtures are increasingly preferred in many residential and commercial applications for their efficiency, quality of light and compatibility with automatic controls.

Changes to federal lighting standards went into effect for incandescent bulbs in 2007, when Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), which included provisions to reduce the energy use of everyday light bulbs.

At the same time, through industry efforts and government investment, LEDs dramatically improved in performance and dropped in price, making them appealing options for many applications.

In the first quarter of 2015, traditional incandescents accounted for just nine percent of the market share in household lighting. EISA-compliant halogen incandescent replacements made up more than 44 percent of the market, with CFLs at 40 percent. And although the percentage of LED sales has increased dramatically over the last year, they made up just over 6 percent of the market share in the first quarter of 2015.

LEDs offer features beyond energy efficiency. Some LEDs are part of a system that allows the user to turn off lamps – or even change their color – via a smartphone app. This makes the LED lamp more of a consumer electronic than just a light bulb.

LEDs are essentially computer chips, so they are more difficult to produce than incandescent bulbs. This is one product where cheaper versions often produce a life span and color that is not what the consumer wants. Higher quality LEDs from reputable brands—such as GE, Philips, Cree and Sylvania to name a few—have tested well.

However, some fixtures inside the home do not work well with LEDs. Consumers with older dimmer switches often find that they must purchase newer switches to work with the LEDs. Consumers should pick LED lamps that come with a solid warranty in case there is a problem with quality.

What’s next? While LEDs are still on the cusp of becoming our everyday lighting, there are other technologies in development. Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) are similar to LEDs in that they are solid-state devices that produce light when current passes through them. But unlike LEDs, they are made up of multiple, organic semi-conductive layers that produce diffused light. OLEDs are extremely thin and flexible, which has enabled them to be effectively used in displays, like mobile phone screens and TVs. Manufacturers are developing OLED lighting as well—primarily for decorative architectural panels at this point, although some OLED lamps are available today.

It appears that the age of the LED has begun. They are shatter resistant and have a long life. And yes, some even come with their own app.


 

Brian Sloboda is a program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Laura Moorefield consults for utilities, state and federal governments, and non-profits on energy efficiency, renewables, and program design. Laura founded Moorefield Research & Consulting, LLC in 2013. She currently resides in Durango, CO and is a member of La Plata Electric Association.

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.

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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Saving energy in the kitchen

The holidays are upon us, which means most of us will be spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Whether you are considering replacing an appliance or simply looking for small ways to be more efficient, here are some tips to help you save energy – and money!

It sits in the kitchen, quietly humming away to keep your food cold. Most people don’t think about their refrigerator that often – as long as it’s working. A refrigerator typically runs for several years without any problems – but that doesn’t mean it’s performing to its optimal capacity. Older refrigerators use more energy. Upgrading this appliance can bring a major return on your investment.

According to Energy Star, if your refrigerator is from the 1980s, replacing it with a new model could cut your electric bill by $100 a year. If you bought your refrigerator in the 1970s, the savings could be as much as $200 a year.

Cooking can also be a big energy expender – in more ways than one! But there are a few ways to save energy while cooking. Placing the lid on a pot of boiling water will trap heat and cause the water to come to a boil faster. And there is no need to preheat the oven when cooking a large piece of meat, like a turkey or ham (you do need to preheat when baking or cooking smaller dishes). And, if you are planning on using the oven for a long period of time – for instance, when you are cooking one of those large pieces of meat – you might be able to turn down your home’s thermostat. The simple act of cooking will add warmth to the home because the heat from the oven can raise the temperature in the kitchen and surrounding rooms. This is especially true if you are hosting a party. Once your home begins to fill with people, the temperature will quickly begin to rise.

Even after the meal is over, there are still ways for you to save energy. The first is to make sure that your dishwasher is full before it’s started. Next, make sure you are using the right setting on your dishwasher. Many newer dishwashers have sensors that detect how clean your dishes are. When these auto cycles are used, they will get dishes clean without wasting energy or water. The sanitize setting should rarely be used since it is energy intensive. It is also a good idea to make sure the filter at the bottom of the wash-tub is cleaned. This will help the washer work at its optimal level.

One of the cheapest and easiest ways to save energy in the kitchen is to replace existing lights with LEDs. Not only do they use less energy – you don’t have to replace them nearly as often. Plus, their costs have come down in recent years, making them far more affordable to install. (Note: if you currently have linear fluorescent lamps, converting to LEDs may be too expensive to justify).

As you can see, there are many different ways to practice efficiency in the kitchen, and who knows – you could even save enough money to treat the family to dinner out a couple of times a year.

Brian Sloboda is a senior program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The Cooperative Research Network monitors, evaluates, and applies technologies that help electric cooperatives control costs, increase productivity, and enhance service to their consumers. Additional content provided by ESource.

Shield your home from energy loss with adequate insulation

By Anne Prince

Walls. Floors. Ceilings. Attic. These are some of the prime areas of a home that need insulation in order for you to maximize energy efficiency. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), adding insulation to your home is a sound investment that is likely to quickly pay for itself in reduced utility bills. In fact, DOE estimates that you can reduce your heating and cooling needs up to 30 percent by properly insulating and weatherizing your home.

If your home is more than 20 years old and was not specifically constructed for energy efficiency, additional insulation can likely reduce your energy bills and increase the comfort level of your home. The actual amount of savings for each home depends upon several factors—the current level of insulation, your climate, efficiency of your heating/cooling system and your utility rates. On average, older homes have less insulation than homes built today, but even adding insulation to a newer home can pay for itself within a few years.

So, where do you start?

You first need to determine how much insulation you already have in your home and where it is located. If you need assistance, many electric cooperatives conduct energy efficiency audits for the home and will check insulation as a routine part of the assessment. For those with the DIY spirit, you can conduct an insulation audit yourself using TVA’s eScore self audit.

Here is what you will should be looking for:

  • Where your home is, isn’t, and/or should be insulated
  • The type of insulation in your home
  • The R-value and the thickness or depth (inches) of the insulation

A prime area that is chronically under-insulated is the attic. Whether you live in a cool or warm climate, attic insulation is essential to help keep warm air inside in the winter and prevent hot attic air from heating your living spaces in the summer. If you have R-19 or less insulation in your attic, consider bringing it up to R-38 in moderate climates and R-49 in cold climates. For flooring in cold climates, if you have R-11 or less insulation, consider bringing it up to R-25.

How does insulation work?

Heat flows naturally from a warmer space to a cooler space. During winter months, this means heat moves directly from heated living spaces to adjacent unheated attics, garages, basements and even outdoors. It can also travel indirectly through interior ceilings, walls and floors—wherever there is a difference in temperature. During summer months, the opposite happens—heat flows from the exterior to the interior of a home. Proper installation of insulation creates resistance to heat flow. Heat flow resistance is measured or rated in terms of its R-value—the higher the R-value, the greater the insulation’s effectiveness. The more heat flow resistance your insulation provides, the lower your heating and cooling costs will be.

Save green by going green

Today, you have choices when it comes to selecting insulation for the home, including an environmentally-friendly option made of recycled materials, such as scrap blue jeans. It looks similar to chopped up blue jeans and is treated for fire safety. With an insulating R-value similar to fiberglass insulation, this blue-jean insulation is a great option.

Get started and get saving

While an older home will never be as efficient as a new home, an insulation upgrade will make a noticeable difference in your energy use and wallet. A well-insulated home is one of the most cost-effective means of saving energy and decreasing heating and cooling bills. For more information, contact your local electric cooperative.

 

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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.

To seal or not to seal

By Bret Curry

To seal or not to seal the crawl space is a recurring dilemma for many homeowners. To begin, why do homes have crawl spaces? Crawl spaces became a byproduct when concrete block foundations were introduced. They cost less than basements to build, and they provide access to plumbing, ductwork and some electrical components. Decades ago, conventional wisdom introduced vents, and it was believed they would keep the crawl space area dry. However, the vents introduced a few laws of unintended consequences.

But years of field practice by industry experts, a better understanding of building science, the introduction of diagnostic equipment, relative humidity and dew point monitors and infrared cameras have unveiled some compelling facts about crawl spaces. In fact, many builders across the country who understand building science are no longer building vented crawl spaces, and some building codes are even changing to accept properly sealed crawl spaces.

Experience has taught us that a properly sealed crawl space with a properly installed moisture barrier will dramatically reduce unwanted moisture and thwart heat gain and loss. Proper air and moisture sealing improves comfort and reduces heating and cooling costs. Additional benefits are the elimination of the earthy smell inside a home caused by a damp crawl space and elimination of the environment that promotes the growth of mold and mildew – even the floors will be warmer during the winter. Also, properly sealed crawl spaces can be used for storage.

Many existing homes with vented crawl spaces can be retrofitted and sealed if they meet some very important criteria. First, let’s address how nature affects the crawl space. Remember, heat moves to cool on our wonderful planet. On a summer day, our nice cool crawl space becomes an attraction for hot and humid air. The hot air moves through the vents to the cooler crawl space causing everything to become warmer — even the ductwork and floors. If the ground is not properly covered with a moisture barrier, water vapor from the ground and air will condense on cooler surfaces. This is why most ductwork located in vented crawl spaces has evidence of condensation with mold and mildew on the outer side of the insulation. Uninsulated ducts may even show signs of rust and corrosion. The opposite happens during the winter. The warmer air under the floor escapes through the foundation vents. This causes the floors to become quite cold, even causing pipes to freeze and break.

If you can answer “yes” to the questions below about your crawl space, you could be a candidate for sealing:

  • Is your crawl space dry year-round without any standing or recurring drainage problems?
  • Is your home free from any plumbing leaks?

If you answered “yes,” you may consider a sealed crawl space.

Sealing a crawl space is not that difficult, but it does take time to properly complete the job. A rigid moisture barrier is paramount. There are companies that sell quality watertight moisture barriers and special mastics and tapes to assure an airtight and waterproof seal. Foam board can be used for sealing the inner side of the vents.

If you live in an area where radon could be an issue, I suggest contracting with an authorized entity to handle your project. Also, if you live in an area where termites exist and insurance is required, I suggest that you contact your policyholder and inquire about their parameters concerning sealed crawl spaces. They may require a gap between the top of the moisture barrier and the band joist for inspection purposes. Many termite companies now offer this service.

Be sure to visit www.smartenergytips.org or Facebook www.facebook.com/SmartEnergyTips.org for dozens of energy savings ideas.

Bret Curry is the residential energy manager for Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation.

Manufactured savings

How to boost efficiency of mobile homes

By Thomas Kirk

Manufactured homes, sometimes dubbed mobile homes, often log disproportionately higher energy bills than traditional wood-frame or modular homes.  But there are steps you can take to help manage energy costs and increase comfort.

The ways manufactured homes are designed, built, installed and operated help to explain why their levels of energy performance can be much lower than those seen in site-built homes. During construction, lower quality, less efficient materials may be used, or design specifications may not be met. Transporting a unit to a site and movement can disrupt the integrity of the original construction. Also, homes that sit on jack stands or blocks allow air to flow underneath, which compromises the structure.

Manufactured homes come in several configurations: singlewide, doublewide and triplewide. Doublewides and triplewides require a crossover duct to provide air flow between the sections—a major culprit in air leaks that contribute significantly to wasted energy.

There isn’t a magic bullet to lower the energy consumption of a manufactured home. It takes time and hard work to troubleshoot all of the possible causes of energy loss. The most common culprits and ways to remedy them are:

  • Belly board problems—In most manufactured homes, the belly board holds the insulation in place under the floor and serves as a vapor barrier.  Plumbing that runs under the floor is on the warm side of the insulation to keep it from freezing in winter. However, the belly board can be damaged by animals, deteriorate over time, or become torn, allowing the floor insulation to become moisture laden or to simply fall out, exposing ductwork and dramatically increasing energy losses. Often there is also long-term water damage from leaky pipes, toilets and showers that has compromised floor, insulation and belly board integrity. These problems must be addressed prior to basic weatherization. Replacing the belly board and repairing leaky plumbing should be the first things on your to do list.
  • Air leakage/infiltration—Infiltration of excessive outside air can be a major problem. Specific problems include deteriorated weather stripping; gaps in the “marriage wall” that joins multiple units making up the home; holes in the ends of ducts; gaps around wall registers and behind washers and dryers; and unsealed backing to the electrical panel. This is a dirty job and will require you to crawl under the home and into the attic looking for gaps. Gaps can be filled with weather stripping and insulation. You should consult your local hardware store for the exact type of insulation needed for the specific area of the home.
  • Crossover ducts—Sealing the ducts than run under the sections making up your mobile home will result in tremendous energy savings and increased comfort. Crossover ducts are often made of flexible tubing and are therefore prone to collapse and are easy for animals to chew or claw into. Crossover ducts made of thin sheet metal can leak heated or cooled air to the great outdoors, which is what happens when ductwork connections are made with duct tape. Repairs are generally easy, using either special duct sealant or metal tape that can be found at most home improvement stores. If you can afford the upgrade, consider replacing a flexible crossover duct with metal ductwork.
  • Lack of insulation—Insulation levels and associated R-values in walls, floors and ceilings in manufactured homes can be woefully inadequate. If it is easily accessible, adding additional insulation to ceiling and floors will help. However, adding insulation to walls will be a problem without major renovations that are often not cost justified.
  • Uninsulated ductwork—Ductwork itself may not be wrapped with insulation, allowing heating and cooling losses. Wrapping ductwork will lead to energy savings. You should be able to find insulation specifically made for ductwork at your local hardware store.
  • Single-glazed windows and uninsulated doors—Most manufactured homes come with single-glazed windows and uninsulated doors, which have a low R-value. That means the rate of heat transfer between finished interior spaces and the outdoors is higher than what’s ideal. Replacing the windows with double- or triple-glazed windows or adding storm windows will help make the home more comfortable. An insulated door will also help. However, these solutions can be very expensive. At a minimum, you should add weather stripping to doors and windows. Also, a window film kit is a cheap and easy-to-install upgrade that will help to keep winter winds out of the home.
  • Heat absorbing roof—In areas where you need to frequently run the AC unit, you can save by installing a white roof or cool roof coating.  These roofs reflect more sunlight to keep manufactured homes cooler.  Many cool roof coatings can be brushed or rolled on like paint and are easy to apply on metal roofs.  The cost of roof coatings varies depending on how reflective they are, and how long they will last- choose a coating that is appropriate for your climate.

It may take a couple of weekends and a few hundred dollars, but basic repairs can yield significant savings. Savings of up to 50 percent have been reported in manufactured homes that have been properly sealed and had old electric furnaces replaced with new electric heat pumps. The key is to get out there and start hunting for the savings lurking under, over and inside your manufactured home.

Thomas Kirk is a technical research analyst specializing in energy efficiency and renewable energy for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

Saving energy on entertainment

Many homes boast TVs and sound systems that can rival any football stadium and many movie theaters. People can save hundreds of dollars a year by watching movies at home rather than going to the local theater. Luckily, there are simple steps to saving even more money if you manage the power consumption of your home entertainment system.

Many of the devices in your home entertainment system and your computer system use energy when they are turned off. This is commonly called parasitic load or vampire load. According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the average home loses 8 percent of its monthly energy consumption to these energy vampires.

Your devices use power when turned off because the electronics inside the devices are still working. What these devices are doing and the amount of energy used when turned off varies. It could be that they are remembering the last channel that you viewed, remembering the language you speak or trying to turn on faster. Devices such as TVs and DVD players will often have power settings in the setup menu. Try to find that menu and adjust the settings to save more power. Generally this will cause the device to take a few more seconds to start. Many manufacturers have power settings turned off by default.

Microwave ovens and alarm clocks, which use relatively small amounts of standby power, are acceptable to leave plugged in. A digital video recorder (DVR) uses a fairly significant amount of power when turned off, but if you record programs frequently, you will want to leave it plugged in too.

You don’t have to worry about unplugging items with mechanical on/off switches, such as lamps, hair dryers or small kitchen appliances like toasters or mixers―they don’t draw any power when turned off.

How do you slay other energy vampires? Try plugging household electronics like personal computers, monitors, printers, speakers, stereos, DVD and video game players and cell phone chargers into power strips. Not only do power strips protect sensitive electronic components from power surges, but you can quickly turn off several items at once.

Of course, using a power strip is a manual process and is an all-or-nothing option. A variation on the power strip is the “smart strip.” Smart power strips allow you to plug devices into a specially marked section of the power strip so they will still have power when turned off. Other devices that can be turned off safely are plugged into the rest of the strip. This allows you to turn off parts of a home entertainment system, such as the stereo, DVD player or home theater audio system without losing the ability to record programs to a DVR or having to reprogram the television every time you want to watch a show.

Of course, there’s always a catch. Some devices use standby power to make life more convenient. If you unplug your television or cable/satellite receiver box, what happens? When plugged back in, the TV or box usually will have to run its initial setup program. Depending on the particular device, it could take up to 20 minutes for channels to be recognized or for the user to reset preferences, which isn’t something most people are willing to do every day. For these devices, look for the Energy Star label. If your cable or satellite box doesn’t have it, call your provider and request a new one. Make sure they give it to you for free. TV providers want to keep your business, and they most likely will not let you change providers over something simple, such as a new cable or satellite box.

Entertaining doesn’t have to drain your budget. The money saved by eliminating the energy vampires in your home may be enough to go out and see a movie. But it may still be not enough to afford that extra-large popcorn!

Brian Sloboda is a program manger specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The Cooperative Research Network monitors, evaluates, and applies technologies that help electric cooperatives control costs, increase productivity, and enhance service to their consumers.

Using energy efficient window treatments

Part science, part style

A recent study by two federal agencies used rigorous science and analysis to dissect window-covering choices—how you use them, where you install them and whether they really save energy. These days, every penny counts, which is why Tennessee’s electric cooperatives always recommend finding ways to be energy efficient around the house.

“Windows account for 25 to 40 percent of annual heating and cooling costs, especially in older homes,” says Trent Scott, director of corporate strategy for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Blinds, shades, films and drapes are all good options to consider if old or inefficient windows can’t be replaced.”

According to a joint government and industry research effort (including the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Window Covering Manufacturers Association), window coverings—blinds, shades, curtains and awnings—could save significant amounts of energy at a relatively low cost to the consumer. Researchers next want to quantify how much energy consumer households could save based on the dominant types of window coverings used, in which climate zones people live and how U.S. households currently operate their window treatments. In the meantime, you may want to give your window treatments a second look when it comes to cooling, heating and comfort in your home.

“It’s important to remember that location, placement and materials are key,” said Scott. “Windows facing west let in the hottest light and need the most coverage, while windows facing south are the most important natural light source and only need light coverage.”

Drapery.  During the winter months and in cold climates, draperies work best. Their ability to reduce heat loss depends on fabric type (closed or open weave), color, the season and other factors. Keeping drapes drawn during the winter, especially at night, could save up to 10 percent of heat loss from a warm room. When hanging draperies, make sure they are placed as close to windows as possible to reduce heat exchange and that they are long enough to fall onto a windowsill or floor.

Shades. Shades—pleated or cellular, quilted roller and dual—are one of the simplest product choices for insulating rooms. But depending on the material, some are more energy efficient than others. Cellular or pleated shades are one example of an energy efficient choice. They can help keep air from either entering or escaping your home. Dual shades—highly reflective (white) on one side and heat absorbing (dark) on the other side—are also energy efficient and can be reversed with the seasons. In the summer, lower shades on sunlit windows. Shades on the south side of a house should be raised in the winter during the day, then lowered at night.

Interior blinds. Because of their spacing and openings, blinds tend to be more effective at reducing summer heat gain than winter heat loss. But the level of cooling and heating can also be influenced by the position of the slats. When completely closed and lowered at a sun-filled window, for example, heat gain can be reduced by around 45 percent, according to industry estimates. Slats can also be adjusted to block and reflect sunlight onto a light-colored ceiling.

Window film. Residential window films can be high-end and permanent or inexpensive and temporary solutions to improve the energy efficiency of windows. Clear solar-control window films can block up to 84 percent of the solar energy that would normally enter through windows, according to the International Window Film Association, a nonprofit organization of window film dealers, distributors and manufacturers. When installed well, you may not even know some types of film have been applied to your interior windows, manufacturers say, but they’re working year-round to block ultraviolet light in summer and retain warmth in the winter.

With these and other carefully selected window treatments, you can reduce heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer – keeping your house comfortable and your energy bills lower. To find out more ways to save, contact your local electric cooperative.

Sources: U.S. Department of Energy, Energy.gov, and “Residential Windows and Window Coverings: A Detailed View” September 2013 Report (http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/11/f5/residential_windows_coverings.pdf)

B. Denise Hawkins writes on energy efficiency 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.