Posts

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.

Energy savings can be hard. Make it easy.

Stop. Look around your room. More than likely there is a programmable thermostat on the wall, a plug strip on the floor and a light bulb in your lamp. These are three of the most common products you can use to help reduce daily household energy costs. The trick is figuring out how to make them work for you.

With a little savvy consumer shopping and research, choosing and correctly using programmable thermostats, replacement bulbs and plug strips can be easy to do, says Brian Sloboda, a program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), the research and development arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Programmable thermostats

Shopping for a programmable thermostat? There are plenty of brands and types to suit your home and lifestyle. But one thing you won’t find today is a programmable thermostat that carries the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) familiar blue Energy Star seal. The EPA dropped the label from these products in 2009. Why?

Programmable thermostats can potentially save buyers up to $180 a year on heating and cooling costs, according to ENERGYSTAR.gov, but many customers miss out on savings by failing to correctly install their new thermostats. “Most people failed to use the programmable capabilities. They didn’t know how or didn’t want to,” Sloboda says. This led to poor EPA consumer surveys, and ratings drops and the loss of the Energy Star seal for most products.

Enter smart thermostats, which are intended to be an easier-to-use alternative. They come with motion sensors that help do the work of detecting and setting the temperature in your home. Nest is one such brand of thermostats.

“Sensors will start to turn the thermostat up or down, depending on the season,” Sloboda says. . Within a few days of installing the device, he says the system will begin to learn your schedule, automatically dialing your thermostat back when you’re not home.

The addition of phone and iPad apps, are other smart thermostat features helping to make temperature control easy, Sloboda adds. “Using an app interface should be more intuitive than the old-fashioned programmable thermostat.”

So, what about energy savings?

“A thermostat will only save you money if you allow it to program,” Sloboda says.

Your co-op can also help you take control of your thermostat. If your smart thermostat is sponsored by your electric utility, it can be put under load control, Sloboda says. Controlling the load or demand for electricity can mean maximum savings for both the consumer-member and the co-op, especially during peak times when electric consumption reaches its highest point and is most expensive.

Residential interior lighting

By now you know that Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb has dimmed. January 2014 marked the end of the bulbs’ run under a federal provision to phase out and replace them with more energy efficient options starting this year. Currently, there are only three consumer choices—halogen-incandescents, CFLs and LEDs. But to get the energy savings and lower electric bills you want, you’ll have to pay more up front.

That includes LEDs, the equivalent of the 60-watt incandescent, the most widely used of the phased-out bulbs. And, Sloboda warns, buyers beware.  They are long-lasting, more energy-efficient and most will have the iconic look of the old incandescents.  Buts as a new generation of lighting technology evolvs, the brand you choose will matter.

“There is a whole lot of junk out there. You can buy name-brand LEDs for around $10 and more expensive ones from not-so-reputable companies,” he adds. But don’t take chances on your lighting or waste your money. Lighting experts recommend sticking with brands you know and trust.

GE and Sylvania have been longtime consumer lighting choices, but Sloboda says don’t overlook the lesser-known Cree lighting products. A 60-watt (800 lumens) Cree replacement bulb can cost about $10 at a big box store and is guaranteed to last at least a decade or more.  The Department of Energy and manufacturers are making it easy to make the transition from the old incandescent to the LED—no technology or science degree required to light up your home, just spend some time reading the “lighting facts” on the back of the bulb box, Sloboda urges. It will come in handy when you want to narrow your lighting choice by temperature and color, which has nothing to do with the wattage. It means whether you want your bulbs to have a warm or cool tone when lit or have the look of “daylight” or “soft white.”

If you’ve been light shopping lately, you’ve probably noticed that smart devices have even come to the light bulb aisle. Manufactures like LG, more known for their appliances, and light bulb giant Philips are among those turning out LEDs that can be controlled by your cell phone and change colors to suit your mood.

“Today’s lighting is really starting to become part of a home’s entertainment system,” Sloboda said. With smart lighting, many come with software packages, he added. “You can do things like create a party mode, a romantic mode, a reading mode, a mode for watching TV, all with the flip of a switch.”

Added features like these can make turning on the lights an experience. And over time, energy savings will add up. With new light bulb standards in place in the U.S., the Department of Energy estimates that consumers will save between $6 billion and $10 billion a year in lights costs.

Power strips

They are usually trapped behind a desk or your TV, but traditional power strips work hard to affordably expand the number of electrical outlets in your home. Unfortunately, their convenience can encourage you to leave electronics plugged in all the time – and many devices keep drawing power even when you’re not using them. This so-called phantom or vampire power drain can wastes electricity and be costly.

Continually unplugging household appliances and gadgets is one solution, but it’s not the best option for saving money, power or your time. Smart power strips can help. They’re bigger, color coded and designed to reduce usage by shutting down power to products that go into standby mode.

Most feature three outlet colors, each with a unique task. The blue outlet serves as a control plug, and is ideal for a heavily used device like a TV or computer. Anything plugged into red outlets stays on—electricity to these receptacles never cuts off―making them perfect for satellite boxes or other appliances that need constant power.

The remaining outlets, generally neutral or green in color, are sensitive to current flowing through the blue outlet, so turning off the TV or computer cuts power to them as well. With added occupancy sensors and timers, some smart power strips can be even more efficient. Costing about $20, these products can determine when to cut power to various devices. Sloboda says you can start to see a payback on your investment in about a year.

Take another look around. Energy savings at home can be easy with the help of smart power strips, thermostats and residential lighting—and a little savvy shopping.

Take a vacation from high energy bills

Soaring temperatures and sultry summer nights can cause electric bills to skyrocket. This summer, take a vacation from high electric bills by making your home—and your family’s habits—more energy efficient.

Beat the Heat

Air conditioning helps most Americans beat the sweltering summer heat. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), air conditioning accounts for as much as 50 percent of the average household electric bill. Proper maintenance and smart use of your home’s cooling system will help keep your electric bill in check.

First, make sure your air conditioner’s external unit is clean and free of debris. Clear away dead leaves or overgrown plants and weeds to enable the unit to perform as it should.

Second, change all of the air filters inside your home quarterly, or more often in homes with allergy sufferers or smokers. Fresh filters not only reduce the strain on your cooling system, but improve the air quality in your home.

Third, the DOE recommends that you set your home’s thermostat as high as possible, while still maintaining a comfortable environment for your family during the summer months.

Bumping the thermostat up at least two degrees can make a noticeable difference on your power bill. Investing in a programmable thermostat can lead to even greater savings by automatically adjusting it so that the cooling system runs more often when you are at home and less often when you are away.

Made in the Shade

Windows are not only great sources of natural light in your home, but also great sources of heat during the summer. Curtains, blinds, and shades are some of the most cost-effective ways to make your windows and home more energy efficient. These window coverings offer low- cost, stylish solutions to shield the sun’s rays and keep the interior of your home cool and comfortable. Proper weather stripping and caulking around window panes and casings will also improve the function of your windows by keeping the cool air in and the hot air out. Solar film applied to your home’s existing windows will further repel the summer heat.

Daily Grind

Today’s appliances are more energy efficient than ever, performing better and using less electricity than they did in the past. But despite their functionality and efficiency, most major household appliances give off heat when in use. During peak daytime temperatures, the residual heat from appliances can put an unnecessary strain on your home’s cooling system and send your power bill soaring. Cooler temperatures in the early morning or late evening make these ideal times for running the dishwasher or washing and drying clothes. When possible, turn off your dishwasher’s dryer cycle. This prevents even more residual heat from warming your home and saves on your power bill. Washing your clothes in cold water and hanging them out to dry are also great strides in reducing your household energy consumption.

As your summer heats up, visit TogetherWeSave.com to find out how little changes around the house can add up to big energy savings.

Sources: U.S. Department of Energy, EnergySavers.gov, TogetherWeSave.com

Cool recipes for hot kitchens

By B. Denise Hawkins

Just because it’s hot outside, you don’t have to stay out of the kitchen. Think beyond the backyard grill. And don’t limit your summer fare to tossed salad and cold sandwiches when you want to keep the indoors comfortable, the oven off and energy costs down. With a little time, creativity and a few small appliances, you can save on your utility bill and still stay cool.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that cooking alone accounts for 4 percent of total home energy use; and this figure doesn’t include the energy costs associated with refrigeration, hot water heating and dishwashing.

While the thought of turning on the oven in July can be enough to make you sweat, electric ones can be an advantage during the summer months. Many professional cooks prefer electric ovens to gas for their ability to hold more even heat. Electric stoves are also more energy efficient because they don’t introduce extra moisture into your home when turned on, which can make your air conditioner work harder to cool and drive up energy use and cost.

In winter, the heat and humidity that builds up when cooking in the kitchen can also warm other parts of the home while reducing the heating load on your furnace or heat pump. During the summer months, though, there are still ways to use your oven more efficiently. When baking bread, cakes or any foods that require browning and rising, consider limiting the time spent on pre-heating. If your oven comes with a display that counts down the pre-heating time, use it.

Try these other kitchen tools and energy saving tips to keep you cool:

  • Turn on the microwave. They can provide the most efficient way to cook single food items without the heat. They also use lower wattage to operate and can cut cook time in half.
  • Reach for small appliances. Don’t forget about some of summer’s best go-to kitchen appliances: toaster ovens, crock pots/slow cookers and pressure cookers. These handy appliances use less energy and generate less heat than a standard oven.
  • Use fans. Ceiling fans can be useful in the kitchen. They can reduce thermostat settings by 4°F and use much less energy than air conditioning. Even placing a ceiling fan in an adjoining dining area will help circulate the air and keep you more comfortable. But for maximum cooling using a fan, consider installing a whole-house fan or attic fan to keep the hot air moving up and out of your house.
  • Hours of cooling. In most parts of the country, summer provides a little reprieve in the early morning and late evening. Take advantage of the lower temperatures or a summer breeze during these times to cook, bake, turn on the stove and to run the dishwasher.
  • Regulate the dishwasher. When your summer meal is done and it’s time for cleanup, it’s fine to run the dishwasher. Did you know that it uses less water than washing dishes by hand? You can save even more money and energy by removing the dishes after the wash cycle and letting them air-dry and by running the dishwasher later in the evening during off-peak hours.

B. Denise Hawkins 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.

 

 

Taming Plug Loads

As children, most of us were told to turn off the TV when no one was in the room to keep from wasting energy. But with today’s televisions, turning off the set doesn’t save as much energy as you think. “Off” doesn’t really mean off anymore.

Lights, air conditioning, and heating use most of your home’s electricity. However, all of the TVs, computers, printers, phone chargers and other devices add up. Many gadgets use energy even when you are not using them. These devices are commonly referred to as “parasitic loads,” “phantom loads,” or “energy vampires”—consuming electricity even when switched off.  Phantom loads can be found in almost every room, but a favorite “coffin” is your entertainment center.

Most televisions slowly sip electricity while waiting for someone to press the “on” button. They use energy to remember channel lineups, language preferences, and the time. DVD players, DVRs, and cable or satellite boxes also use energy when we think they’re turned off.

In an average home, 5 percent to 8 percent of electricity consumption stems from small devices that drain energy even when no one is using them. To put that in perspective, the average North American household consumes roughly 10,800 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year. If you estimate that 6.5 percent of your total electricity consumption comes from phantom loads, the amount drained by these vampires equals about 700 kWh annually—or $70 every year.

So how can you tell which devices are okay to leave plugged in and which need to have a wooden stake driven through their hearts? Find plug parasites and use smart strips.

Identify Plug Parasites

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.

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 save energy on the other devices in your home? 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, you can quickly turn off several items at once. (Routers and modems also can be plugged into power strips, although they take longer to reactivate.)

Smart Strips = Easy Savings

Power strips, however, are often hidden behind entertainment centers or under desks and forgotten. A better solution may be found in “smart strips.”

Most smart strips feature three outlet colors, each with a unique task. The blue outlet serves as a control plug, and is ideal for a heavily used device like a TV or computer. Anything plugged into red outlets stays on—electricity to these receptacles never cuts off―making them perfect for satellite boxes or other appliances that need constant power.

The remaining outlets, generally neutral or green in color, are sensitive to current flowing through the blue outlet, so turning off the TV or computer cuts power to them as well. Some smart power strips can be made even smarter with timers or occupancy sensors that determine when to cut power to various devices.

Smart strips are available online or at specialty electronic retailers and online. Payback generally can be achieved in under one year, depending on the type of equipment the strips control and how often they are used.

Maybe our parents asked us to turn the TV off because vampires, phantoms, and parasites haunted their electric bills. These days, smart strips can chase these load monsters away from your home—and your pocketbook.

Brian Sloboda is a 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 research provided by ESource.

Cooperative response to State of the Union

(ARLINGTON, VA) — Jo Ann Emerson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), made the following statement regarding the President’s State of the Union speech this evening.

“Electric cooperatives advocate for a federal energy policy of reliable and affordable power while protecting health and the environment.

“The President plans to offer a vision tonight that he hopes will expand opportunity for all Americans. However, his Administration’s regulations could directly undermine this goal, especially for those living on fixed income or at lower levels of earnings.

“Specifically, the potential costs of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas regulations threaten every household and business on a budget, not to mention the ability of electric cooperatives to continue providing reliable and affordable energy. These regulations hit hardest on Americans who can least afford to pay the bigger bills, lose their jobs or turn down their heat. And since electric cooperatives serve the majority of the ‘persistent poverty’ counties in the country (http://www.nreca.coop/wp-content/plugins/nreca-interactive-maps/persistent-poverty/), we take this seriously.

“Co-ops work diligently to provide affordable power in a way that best meets the needs of the local consumers who own their cooperative, including renewable resources, energy efficiency options and other tools demanded by today’s consumers. We require the freedom to pursue new technologies and innovations. The EPA’s insistence to rely on carbon dioxide capture and storage technology that isn’t ready for prime time hamstrings us in a significant way.

“Sometimes folks in Washington get lost in the policy at the expense of the people. Co-ops don’t see it that way and we’ll continue to ensure our members are heard on the affordability of energy and economic opportunity in their communities all over the country.”

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.

-###-

Unplug your electronics and save

Did you know a computer can draw as much electricity as a new refrigerator? Turn it off when not in use or switch on its energy-saving mode. Also, cell phone and mp3 player chargers as well as plasma TVs and entertainment centers pull power even when they’re off. Unplug these and other appliances to save on your electric bill. Find more ways to save at TogetherWeSave.com.