The unusually cold weather in December and January has created some unusually high electric bills for members of electric co-ops. Many are asking the question, “Why does my bill go up when it is cold outside?”

The infographic below helps explains the relationship between electric rates and energy consumption.

If you are concerned about your electric bill, contact your local co-op to learn more about programs and services that can help you save energy and money the next time the weather gets cold (or hot).

 

Eating carrots will greatly improve your eyesight, cracking your knuckles leads to arthritis, watching too much TV will harm your vision. We’ve all heard the old wives’ tales, but did you know there are also many misconceptions about home energy use?

Don’t be fooled by these common energy myths.

Myth: The higher the thermostat setting, the faster the home will heat (or cool).

Many people think that walking into a chilly room and raising the thermostat to 85 degrees will heat the room more quickly. This is not true.

Thermostats direct a home’s HVAC system to heat or cool to a certain temperature. Drastically adjusting the thermostat setting will not make a difference in how quickly you feel warmer. The same is true for cooling. The Department of Energy recommends setting your thermostat to 78 degrees during summer months, and 68 degrees during winter months.

Myth: Opening the oven door to check on a dish doesn’t really waste energy.

While it can be tempting to check the progress of that dish you’re cooking in the oven, opening the oven door does waste energy. Every time the oven door is opened, the temperature inside is reduced by as much as 25 degrees, delaying the progress of your dish and, more importantly, costing you additional money. If you need to check the progress of a dish, try using the oven light instead.

Myth: Ceiling fans keep your home cool while you’re away.

Believe it or not, many people think this is true. Ceiling fans cool people, not rooms. Ceiling fans circulate room air but do not change the temperature. A running ceiling fan in an empty room is only adding to your electricity use. Remember to turn fans off when you’re away and reduce your energy use.

Myth: Reducing my energy use is too expensive.

Many consumers believe that reducing energy use requires expensive up-front costs, like purchasing new, more efficient appliances or construction upgrades to an older home. But the truth is, consumers who make small changes to their energy efficiency habits, such as turning off lights when not in use, sealing air leaks and using a programmable thermostat, can see a reduction in energy consumption.

Remember, energy efficiency doesn’t have to be difficult. Focus on small changes to save big. Learn more about ways to save energy by visiting your local co-op online.

The new year has brought with it extreme cold weather to the Volunteer State. Cold weather means higher energy use. The lower the temperature, the more your heating system must operate to keep your home comfortable.

Tennessee’s electric co-ops suggest the following tips to save energy and money during cold weather.

  1. Seal air leaks and insulate well to prevent heat from escaping and cold air from entering your home.
  2. Reduce waste heat by installing a programmable thermostat.
  3. Turn off lights when not in use.
  4. Lower your water heater temperature. The Dept. of Energy recommends using the warm setting (120 degrees) during fall and winter months.
  5. Unplug electronics like kitchen appliances and TVs when you’re away.
  6. Open blinds and curtains during the day to allow sunlight in to warm your home.
  7. Close blinds and curtains at night to keep cold, drafty air out.
  8. Use power strips for multiple appliances, and turn off the main switch when you’re away from home.
  9. Wash clothes in cold water, and use cold-water detergent whenever possible.
  10. Replace incandescent light bulbs with LEDs, which use at least 75 percent less energy.

Contact your local co-op for more tips to save energy and money.

This year is rapidly drawing to a close and that means the holiday lighting season is back. If your home space is in need of a decorative refresh, here are some tips to take your artistic stylings to the next level. There are two areas to cover, so let’s get started.

Safety is up first

If your lights are ground mounted or can be installed standing on the floor or ground, you can skip ahead. However, since most decorations involve some installation at height, you need to do the following:

  1. Have a ground crew (one or two people) to steady your ladder and pass up the decorations…an invaluable part of safety and for keeping you supplied with untangled light strings, fasteners and encouragement.
  2. Remember to keep a safe distance from your overhead electric service.
  3. Don’t overreach. If you cannot get to a point with your body completely centered between the sides of the ladder, get down and relocate it.
  4. Don’t overextend the ladder. If your ladder is too short, rent or borrow a longer one. A ladder extended beyond its working limits is dangerous as is standing on rungs too close to the top.
  5. Do not overload circuits by stringing more light sets together than the manufacturer recommends. Check the packaging for details.
  6. Check your wires for breaks and cracks in the insulation that can lead to shorts.

Most of these tips apply equally to inside and outside decorating activities.

Light selection is next

If at all possible, invest in LED lights this season. Unlike the first versions to hit the market that were characterized by rather harsh and unattractive colors, the newest generation’s colors are reminiscent of the incandescent lights of yore.

Why go the LED route? Longevity and cost of operation are the two key reasons. Unlike incandescent lights, whether the large or mini bulb, LEDs will last for many, many years. LEDs have no filaments to burn out. Aside from physically destroying the bulb, the LED is amazingly robust. Given the modest number of hours of operation, you can expect LEDs to last seven or more years.

Then there is the cost of operation benefit from LEDs. These gems of technological advancement truly sip electricity. A reasonable estimate of power consumption is 7[1] watts per 100 lights. How does that compare to the old incandescent? Each of those bulbs used 12 watts so a string of 100 devoured 1200 watts.

Truly want to manage the cost of operating holiday lights? Invest in timers to turn the lights on and off automatically. Really into gadgets? Invest is a smart plug for your lights you can program and control from your smart phone.

Once you have your design finalized and installed, it is my recommendation to leave as much of the outside portion of lights in place. No, don’t be that person who leaves the holiday lights on all year. Simply disconnect them after the holidays, protecting the plugs and sockets from dirt and debris. Think of the reduced stress and risk if you set and forget your design. With the longevity of the LEDs, you can enjoy this freedom and practically eliminate the risks associated with high-wire seasonal gymnastics.

Tom Tate writes on cooperative issues 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.

[1] https://www.christmaslightsetc.com/pages/how-many-watts-amps-do-christmas-lights-use.htm

By Derrill Holly

Thomas Edison displayed the first strand of electric Christmas lights in 1880 outside his Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory. Two years later, his partner, Edward H. Johnson, hand-wired 80 red, white and blue bulbs together and wrapped them around his Christmas tree, mounted on an a revolving motorized stand.

For more than a century, incandescent bulbs dominated holiday lighting, but in less than 20 years after their debut, light emitting diodes (LEDs) have caught on with consumers and the way many families decorate for the holidays.

“LED lighting products now account for 60 percent of the holiday and seasonal lighting sold in the United States each year,” said Robert S. La Rocca, business development manager from the Melville, New York-based wire and cable/seasonal lighting division of Underwriters Laboratories.

Seasonal decorations are a $12 billion annual market, which now includes consumer lighting, ornaments, inflatables, artificial trees and table or mantle displays. LEDs are enticing consumers to buy more, and go bigger and brighter, even as they use far less energy.

“A typical 50-lamp incandescent light set can operate up to 0.170 amps or 20.4 watts. Based on this, and the requirements of the previous version of the Standard for Safety of Seasonal and Holiday Decorative Products, known in the industry as UL 588, you could only connect three strings end-to-end.

“This was incredibly limiting,” said La Rocca. “Now, however, with the current version of UL 588, allowing connection of up to 216 watts end-to-end, and a 50 lamp LED light set that typically operates at approx. 0.020 amps or 2.4 watts, you can technically connect more than 50 strings together.”

La Rocca added that consumers should always check the caution markings attached to the strings and follow the provided instruction manual, which advises the user how many strings to connect together.

That means a 1,000-bulb string of incandescent miniatures consumes about 408 watts of energy compared to an equal LED string’s 48 watts. Since most residential circuits operate at a maximum load of 15 to 20 amps, up to three outlets might be needed for the incandescent strings to prevent overload, while the LEDs would use a single outlet.

“A consumer can connect up to 25 strings of LED mini-lights together on a single circuit,” said Dennis Krize, senior vice president of Nicolas Holiday, Inc.

The Taiwan-based firm has manufactured seasonal lighting products for more than 50 years, and has been a licensee for GE brand holiday lighting since 2000. Incandescent miniatures made their first appearances in the late 1960s, and dominated the market for decades, as costs declined.

“LED light strings may be more expensive initially, but the energy savings on some light strings will more than offset the added costs in two or three seasons,’ said Krize. “Because they consume a lot less power, and the technology is constantly improving consumers have a lot more flexibility in how they’re used and how often they decorate.”

Twinkling icicles, lighted shrubbery netting, pre-lighted trees and wreaths, and LED projection systems are among a growing list of favorites.

Unitized fabricating, substitution of plastic for glass, and solid-state control boxes, have also improved durability. Some designs feature programmable display patterns and color selections too.

Incandescent bulbs were rated to perform for up to 2,000 hours while LEDs have been designed and tested to last 20,000 hours or more,” said Krize.

While UL has not specifically tested lamps for longevity, products marked with the UL Holographic labels have undergone a series of testing related to mechanical, physical and electrical criteria. Product testing replicates the types of stresses caused by wind, moisture and rough handling are also conducted on samples.

“These products are designed to last a lot longer,” said UL’s La Rocca. He added that white or multicolored lights used during the holiday season, might reappear in green around St. Patrick’s Day, or be moved to the patio for summer entertaining. Decorative lighting is not for just Christmas anymore!

“I cannot say that an LED lighting string will last longer than an incandescent lighting string, but I can tell you that a lighting string provided with the ENERGY STAR® logo must come with a specified warranty backed by the manufacturer. Those marked with ENERGY STAR® labels are replaceable within a designated period,” said La Rocca. He added, that because LEDs produce little or no heat, the temperature concerns may be reduced, however, the consumer should always look for the UL logo on seasonal and holiday lighting to be sure that the products were tested by UL.

Although UL 588 is a voluntary standard, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission requires that manufacturers of seasonal lighting products meet the specific sections described in UL 588, the Standard for Safety of Seasonal and Holiday Decorative Products.

“Even though the majority of the products covered by UL 588 are considered to be for temporary use, in many cases the requirements are more stringent than other products that are for use all year,” La Rocca added.

Derrill Holly writes on cooperative issues 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.

Why does a 95°F day in one of the Gulf Coast states feel hotter than the same temperature in the Southwest? Why do dry heat and humid heat feel so different, and how does this affect your strategy for home energy efficiency? While there are many common ways to achieve energy efficiency across all warmer climates, there are some important differences that vary by geography.

Heat and humidity vs dry heat

Generally speaking, when there is more moisture in the air, the temperature feels hotter than it actually is because moist air is closer to saturation than dry air. On a humid day, when the air is saturated with water, evaporation is much slower. Simply put, high humidity will make the air feel hotter while low humidity will make the temperature feel cooler.

Heat reduction is priority one

In warm climates, the majority of energy used to make the home feel comfortable is spent on home air conditioning and cooling. The first priority is heat reduction. However, in humid areas, moisture reduction is nearly as important as lowering the indoor air temperature. If a home has too much moisture, indoor air quality can be comprised and mold and mildew problems can develop.

Energy efficiency for hot and humid climates

The first line of energy defense is to ensure that your home is properly insulated and sealed in order to keep the heat and humidity that surround the house from getting inside. Leaky ducts, windows and doors can cause energy loss, making the HVAC system work much harder to wring the moisture out of the air and exacerbate potential indoor air quality issues. Homes that are “sealed tight” are easier to keep cool and dry.

Next, make sure your HVAC system is the right size. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that most current residential systems are oversized. If your unit is too big, you will pay higher energy bills, and you won’t get the efficiency level or comfort you want and expect. It is also likely that the unit is “short cycling,” constantly turning off and on, never achieving optimum efficiency. When the unit runs in short bursts, it will not operate long enough to eliminate all of the humidity in your home. Damp, cool indoor air creates a muggy atmosphere that can lead to the growth of mold and mildew. This can be a particular concern for those who suffer from allergies, as many allergens thrive in damp conditions.

If you are considering a new HVAC system, consult your local electric cooperative to help you choose equipment that is the correct size and meets or exceeds the SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) for the capacity requirement, such as Energy Star-rated systems.

DIY humidity reduction

There are some basic steps you can take to lower the humidity in your home to help make it feel cooler and more comfortable. Start by reducing the humidity you are already producing.  The kitchen and bathrooms are the biggest contributors to higher humidity levels. Check to ensure that your range hood is ducted to the outside, as recirculating range hoods are not effective in controlling moisture (or odors). When cooking, and especially when boiling water, run the vent fan. In the bathroom, run the vent fan when bathing or showering. Keep the fan on up to 30 minutes after you have finished in order to eliminate the residual moisture in the air.

If you can reduce the indoor humidity level, you may be able to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature with a higher thermostat setting and ceiling fans. The air movement from the ceiling fan will create a “wind chill” effect, lowering the temperature and increasing comfort. Finally, check gutters and downspouts for leaks or blockage. If rainwater leaks out and saturates the ground surrounding your home, some of the moisture can eventually migrate into your house. If you would like more information about how to save energy, contact our energy experts at [insert contact information].

Anne Prince 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.

 

 

There are many benefits to having an energy efficient outdoor shop or barn. Aside from saving energy, an efficient outdoor building can keep the environment around your structure healthy and safe; save money on your water bill; keep your animals happier and healthier; and save you from costly structural repairs.

Whether you are looking to build a new structure, or make changes to an existing structure, there are many ways you can make your outdoor shop or barn more energy efficient.

Are you planning to build a new structure on your property? Follow these tips to achieve energy efficiency:

  • Location matters. If possible, carefully consider where you build your shop or barn. Consider drainage, sun exposure and how the building may affect your neighbors.
  • Start with a sustainable design plan. A sustainable design plan, according to the U.S. General Services Administration, includes the ability to use environmentally preferable products; protect and conserve water; enhance indoor environmental quality; and optimize operational and maintenance practices.
  • If you are hiring a contractor to help build your structure, make sure you look for companies who specialize in “green” buildings and energy efficient practices.
  • Choose efficient building methods. Pole barns offer reliable shelter without costly excavation, concrete foundations or general site disruption.

Follow these tips to make energy efficient upgrades to an existing structure:

  • Replace indoor lighting with energy efficient LED bulbs.
  • Ensure your existing structure has adequate insulation levels.
  • Choose outdoor lighting designed to be energy efficient, and install motion detectors to reduce energy consumption when not in use.
  • Plant trees around your metal shed or barn. In colder climates, trees act as a windbreak, and in warmer climates, trees have a natural cooling effect that can reduce temperatures in your metal building 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Consider adding a ceiling fan to circulate air. Typically, there is a 2 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase for every one-foot increase in ceiling height. A ceiling fan can help keep warm air close to the ground in the winter, and circulate fresher, cooler air in the summer. Not only will this help with energy costs, it will also help keep the air in the building from becoming hot and stagnant, which will keep harmful bacteria from building and will keep insects at bay.

To learn more about how to make your outdoor shop or barn more energy efficient, contact the energy experts at your local electric cooperative.

Do you want to save money and electricity but have limited time, money and patience? According to the Department of Energy, a “typical American family” spends nearly $2,000 per year on their home energy bills. Much of that money, however, is wasted through leaky windows or ducts, old appliances or inefficient heating and cooling systems.

Luckily, there are several relatively easy ways to save energy without a substantial commitment of time and money. These efforts will help you save whether you own or rent an older or newly constructed home. And, you won’t have to hire a specialist or call in a favor from someone who is handy with tools to help you.

Where to start

According to Money Magazine, “improving the envelope” of your home is a good place to start. Sunlight, seasonal temperature changes and wind vibrations can loosen up even a tight home, increasing air leakage. Doors and windows may not close tightly, and duct work can spring leaks, wasting cooled and heated air. By placing weather stripping and caulk around windows and doors, you can keep cool air inside during warm months and prevent chilly air from penetrating the indoors during colder months. Sealing gaps around piping, dryer vents, fans and outlets also helps to seal the envelope and creates greater efficiency. Apply weather stripping around overlooked spaces like your attic hatch or pull-down stairs.

Replacing incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs can make a big difference in home efficiency and is one of the fastest ways to cut your energy bill. Known for their longevity and efficiency, LED bulbs have an estimated operational life span of typically 10,000 to 20,000 hours compared to 1,000 hours of a typical incandescent. According to the Dept. of Energy, by replacing your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with models that have earned the ENERGY STAR rating, you can save $75 each year.

Wrapping up savings

Installing a blanket around your water heater could reduce standby heat losses by 25 to 45 percent and save you about 7 to 16 percent in water heating costs, according to the Dept. of Energy. For a small investment of about $30, you can purchase pre-cut jackets or blankets and install them in about one hour. On a safety note, the Dept. of Energy recommends that you not set the thermostat above 130 degrees Fahrenheit on an electric water heater with an insulating jacket or blanket; the higher temperature setting could cause the wiring to overheat.

Given that a large portion of your monthly energy bill goes toward heating and cooling your home, it makes sense to ensure your home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is performing at an optimal level. Checking, changing or cleaning your filter extends the life of your HVAC system and saves you money.

Air filters prevent dust and allergens from clogging your HVAC system. Otherwise, dust and dirt trapped in a system’s air filter leads to several problems, including: reduced air flow in the home and up to 15 percent higher operating costs; lowered system efficiency; and costly duct cleaning or replacement. Many HVAC professionals recommend cleaning the system filters monthly. A simple task like changing the filters on your HVAC system makes your unit run more efficiently, keeping your house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Take control of your energy savings

Take a look at your programmable thermostat. When was the last time you checked to make sure it was programmed for the current season and family schedule? This is one of the best energy-saving tools at your fingertips. It enables you to fine tune the temperature during particular hours of the day. Many models allow you to differentiate between weekday and weekend schedules, and internet-connected thermostats can learn your schedule and make adjustments automatically. Most models come with an override option so you can make manual adjustments without losing overall programing. You can only achieve these efficiencies and savings if it is programmed properly and adjusted periodically to keep pace with changes in household routines.

Remember, there are easy steps you can take now to improve the energy efficiency of your home. To learn about additional ways to save, contact your local electric cooperative.

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.

As smartphones and other electronics take on a more prominent role in our lives, it’s important to ensure these devices don’t run out of power. While finding an outlet in a building is easy, what do you do without access to one? Whether it’s a weekend camping trip, sporting event or travel to a foreign country, you’ll need a way to recharge your devices from wherever you are.

First, you need to decide if this is going to be an energy source you carry with you, or one that stays stationary, probably in your car.

Stationary generators include traditional gas-powered generators and a newer generation of heavy-duty lithium ion batteries. Both types are able to keep larger electronics, including mini-fridges and laptops running all weekend. The difference between the two comes down to cost and operation. The gas generator is cheaper up front, but noisy to operate and requires fuel. The lithium-ion battery is more costly up front, but quieter to operate and cheaper to re-charge.  The battery generator is also much lighter––typically around half the weight of a comparable gas generator––but since you won’t be carrying either with you in a backpack, it’s a largely irrelevant point.

Your choice for portable energy broadly boils down to two options, external battery packs and portable renewable generators.

External battery packs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but their carrying capacity is measured in mAh (milliamp hours). How much is 1 mAh? By definition, it’s enough energy to provide 1 milliamp of electricity for an hour. In practical terms, 10,000 mAh is enough to charge an iPhone 6s three and half times, a Galaxy S6 three times or run a 5W LED to light your tent for 10 hours. The benefits of these battery packs are cost, reliability and weight. A 10,000 mAh battery retails on Amazon.com for about $25, weighs the same as a baseball and can easily fit in your pocket. The downside is once the battery is drained, it’s also useless until you find an outlet again.

Portable generators offer a very different experience than battery packs. These gizmos are able to take some other form of energy and convert it into electricity for your devices. The most common are solar panels, but other types include water (river) and thermal (campfire) generators. The advantage of these generators is they won’t run out of power while being off-grid for extended periods of time. The downside is these generators are heavier, condition-dependent and more expensive than their battery counterparts. Estream’s portable water generator that launched this year, for example, is capable of generating electricity from any flowing water – seemingly a good fit for any trips near a river. However, it weighs 2 pounds, takes over 4 hours to charge to its 6,400 mAh capacity and costs $250. Portable solar panels offer similar economics. A Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit from Goal Zero retails for $130, weighs 1.4 pounds and will take 3 to 6 hours to charge a 2,300 mAh battery in full sunlight (no clouds, panels facing the sun).

While portable generators have a much better wow factor, unless you’re planning to embrace “van life” and go off the grid on a semi-permanent basis, consider a battery pack. Or, if you’re really bold, try turning off the electronics while you’re outside.

Thomas Kirk is an associate analyst of distributed energy resources for the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Business & Technology Strategies (BTS) division.

What does the home of the future look like to you? Perhaps the home of George and Jane Jetson comes to mind, where dinner and laundry are taken care of with the mere press of a button.

Today, the average home may not quite be “Jetsons-esque,” but household appliances are becoming smarter and more energy efficient than ever before. A growing number of appliances now connect to the internet and offer new capabilities. In many cases, purchasing a new television, refrigerator or other large appliance will result in lower energy use, assuming you properly dispose of the old appliance. Many of these smart appliances offer features aimed at comfort, convenience and sometimes, energy savings.

Manufacturers are adding communication modules inside many appliances, which often use Wi-Fi to communicate simple messages to a home’s wireless network. The messages vary from device to device, but typically include energy usage information, power control and thermostat settings. Efficiency-savvy consumers can potentially save energy and money using one of these systems.

The bulk of the savings will come from the ability to remotely control your air conditioning system’s thermostat. Studies have shown that consumers generally do not program their programmable thermostat, but smart phone apps associated with internet-enabled thermostats are often easier to use. These thermostats can also learn your daily routine by sensing when you are away from home and adjusting your thermostat to save energy and money.

There are many devices you can install in your home’s electric panel that can educate you on the energy consumption of various appliances. These in-home monitoring devices provide more information to consumers about their household energy costs and have been shown to help people reduce their energy consumption. One study of 36 energy feedback programs concluded that when presented with information on energy consumption, consumers reduce their home energy use by an average of 4 to 12 percent. Consumers should note that in-home monitoring devices should be installed by a licensed and qualified electrician.

Technology by itself will not save a significant amount of energy, but other activities, such as weather sealing and turning off lights when not in use, will save significant amounts of energy and money. Technology has an important role to play, but the key will be finding the right mix of technologies that fit your lifestyle and budget.

Brian Sloboda is a program manger specializing in energy efficiency for the Business Technology Strategies (BTS), a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.