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The go-to blog to save energy, save money, help the earth.

Month: December 2019

Select one of the best energy-efficient heaters to achieve comfort and energy saving goals.

Crank Up the Heat: The Best Energy-Efficient Heaters

If you’re anything like us during the long, frigid winter months, you’re probably constantly toeing the line between cranking up the heater in your home to full blast (if only to pretend you’re on a tropical island) and trying to maintain some semblance of energy efficiency by leaving your thermostat at a respectable (but gosh, not quite warm enough) temp.

But who says you have to choose?

The sad truth is that every heater requires energy. But not all heaters are created equal. Some are far more energy-efficient than other antiquated models. This means that you can run that heater how you want (well, within reason) withoutthe fear of wasting a ton of excess energy (or running up your utility bill, for that matter).

Looking for a warmer, more enjoyable holiday season? a December to remember where you don’thave to wear mittens inside? A cavalier “who cares” attitude when Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow and announces six more weeks of winter? Then this post is for you!

Read on for our list of the best energy-efficient heaters on the market!

Let’s Settle This: Should You Buy a Gas Furnace or a Heat Pump?

Before we dive into that glorious list of the best energy-efficient heaters, which is going to save you from a chilly winter and a crazy high energy bill, we need to settle an important question: which is more energy-efficient, a gas furnace or heat pump system?

Before we take a stab at answering that question, let’s describe each of these systems.

Gas Furnaces and Heat Pumps, A 101

A gas furnace is a heating mechanism that relies on a fuel source and fan to heat your home. In some cases that fuel source is oil. But for a gas furnace, it’s natural gas. The furnace will burn gas in a combustion chamber, then the resulting hot air will force itself through carefully structured ductwork and into your home with the help of a fan. Because a furnace uses actual flames to create heat, it’s often said that a furnace is likely to blow warmer air than a heat pump.

Which brings us to our next definition. A heat pump is a system that doesn’t use fuel to generate heat. Instead, it cleverly pulls heat from the outside air and gradually warms your home. Think about a heat pump as an air conditioning unit working in reverse. Instead of taking air from outside and cooling it, it takes outside air and reverses its refrigeration cycle to fill your home up with heat!

The Pros & Cons of Gas Furnaces and Heat Pumps

So which is more energy-efficient?

Honestly, it depends on where you live, what your winter looks like, and how warm you really need your home to be.

However, while at the end of the day the best choice for you depends on many factors, the general rule of thumb is that heat pumps are the best energy-efficient heaters for your home. Heat pumps are particularly great choices for folks who don’t see intense, long-lasting winters (for that reason, they’re hugely popular for Southeastern United States winters where the winters are mild and short).

That said, though gas furnaces are generally less energy efficient and use older technology, they are great options for people who need to keep their homes at a higher temperature and endure long, intense winters. A furnace is less mechanical, so by default, it’s less likely to break—less maintenance and repairs are a plus from financial and waste material standpoints! In addition, as we mentioned, it’s well-known for spitting out warmer air more quickly, heating up your house in a flash. About 50 percent of homes are still heating up with gas furnaces to this day.

Because each type of heater really does have its own pros and cons, we’ve provided our top three picks of each model!

The Best Energy-Efficient Heaters: Gas Furnaces

If you’ve decided to opt for a reliable, speedy gas furnace, get ready for a warm winter! But the question remains—which of the gas furnaces out there are the most energy-efficient? Here are a few options we think are worth bumping to the top of your list!

Bryant Furnaces

The same parent company as Carrier, Day & Night, and Bryant furnaces. So Bryant furnaces offer the same reliable technology, down to the same internal components. They are average-priced furnaces with great reliability, and they are well-known for their high-efficiency features specifically designed to conserve energy and save you money. Some of their furnace models (Bryant Evolution 987M) can offer you a modulating gas furnace that runs at up to 98.3 percent efficiency as measured by the industry metric: Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) . Best of all, most of their furnaces are ENERGY STAR certified.

Rheem Furnaces

With an impressive AFUE rating of up to 98.7 percent, Rheem’s Prestige Series R98V is all about blowing hot air while keeping energy efficiency at the forefront. This model—along with several other Rheem Furnace models—is ENERGY STAR qualified.

Amana Furnaces

Though Amana furnaces are not always credited as the most energy-efficient furnaces in the room, they do make specific models that ensure energy efficiency is a priority. One of these is the AMVM97 model,  a two-stage furnace that runs at up to 98 percent AFUE. Just make sure that if you shop Amana, you’re opting for an energy-efficient model like this one, as their standard models tend to be less than impressive when it comes to energy conservation.

Have another model in mind but you’re not sure if it’s energy-efficient? Check out ENERGY STAR’s certified furnace guide here to double-check the model you’re considering! With this certification in the northern half of the US, you can guarantee the furnace you’re looking at will be up to 15 percent more energy efficient than other baseline models (which can save you an average of $85 yearly).  In the southern half of the US, you can count on these certified furnaces to be about 11 percent more efficient than standard models (meaning you can save an average of $30 per year in energy costs).

The Best Energy-Efficient Heaters: Heat Pumps

Heat pumps won you over? Congratulations—you’re about to have a much more comfortable winter while knowing that you are leveraging very energy-efficient technology! But remember, not every heat pump is created equally. Here’s our list of top-performing energy-efficient heat pumps that deserve your attention.

Daikin DZ20VC with ComfortNet Control

This high-efficiency home heat pump is powered by a two-stage scroll compressor that’s guaranteed to consistently warm your home. The controller (that’s right, heat pumps are fancy, new-age technology that comes with a techy controller!) is a digitally programmable thermostat that features options to prioritize energy-efficiency or comfort. Of course, this heat pump is ENERGY STAR certified.

Lennox XC20 Series with iComfort Wi-Fi Control

Don’t be confused by this products listing as an air conditioner. Like most heat pumps, this Lennox can pump both warm and cold air into your home. This model can also control efficiency, humidity, and comfort with a fully communicating platform. A reliable option, this energy-efficient model is ENERGY STAR certified.

Fujitsu RLF Series with IntesisHome App

Another ENERGY STAR qualified product, this Fujitsu line features is a pump that you can operate via an app on your smartphone (so fancy, right?) for optimal energy efficiency control. Further, this system includes advanced diagnostics with system monitoring, so you can be sure your heat pump is functioning at optimal levels at all times.

PRO TIP: The ENERGY STAR site has a long, long list of options when it comes to energy-efficient heat pumps. If you’re looking to really dig through the list to choose the best heat pump for your home, click here.

You Don’t Have To Freeze This Winter—Just Heat Smarter!

See, it’s not as black-and-white as freeze without heat or waste bundles of energy in the name of warmth. By investing in one of the best energy-efficient heaters, you can strike a balance of conserving energy and saving money while remaining comfortable.

Think we missed a great energy-efficient heater in our list? Have you found the ultimate in terms of the best energy-efficient heaters? We want to hear about it! Drop a line in our comment section and share your heater suggestions with our readers—the more we all know about energy conservation opportunities, the better.

If you’re looking for more advice on how to cut energy costs, conserve more energy in your daily life, or even are seeking out awesome, energy-efficient gift ideas, our blog is where it’s at! Subscribe here to stay in the loop with our regularly updated blog!

A few strategic changes can help save energy in your household chores and reduce the monthly electricity bill. Source: Chloe Skinner

Pro Tips To Save Energy In Your Household Chores

Household chores are a part of our daily lives. They may not be the highlight of our weeks, but they contribute to creating a safe, clean, healthy, and desirable living environment. And let’s be real. Who doesn’t love that fresh, lemon-y post cleaning aroma? Or those crisp, freshly washed sheets?

Today there are more electronic devices and appliances available than ever to help us check off that household chore to-do list. However, the new ease of completing chores can come at the cost of higher power consumption. And as a result, a higher electricity bill.

It can. But it doesn’t have to. By engraining good habits and making informed energy-efficient device purchases, you can achieve the same spotless home while minimizing the financial and environmental cost.

In this post, we provide tried-and-true strategies to save energy in your household chores.

Using Less Energy with Household Tasks

From the physical energy required for vacuuming, scrubbing, and mopping, to electrical energy necessary when using the various the appliances that make life easier,

Oftentimes, we are so accustomed to our routines that we fail to consider if we are doing things in the most efficient way. This can be true physically—you know the muscle power necessary to scrub and mop every surface of a home! It can also be true in the context of energy consumption—from vacuuming, to dishwashing, to laundry!

In our fast-paced worlds, it is all too easy to hit the “start” switch without considering how it might be affecting our utility bills. Yet, simple adjustments to this habit can be a game changer to save energy in your household chores. The most effective examples of this are:

Meal Preparation

In the U.S., people typically prepare meals on a daily basis. But this comes at a cost when it comes to cranking up the oven every night. You can reduce energy use and save money by cooking multiple batches of food at once, making the most of those oven temperatures. Plus, this allows you to spend more time with the family over the dinner hour over the rest of the week! If you and your family prefer variety every day, consider dishes where you can prepare a base (like rice or potations) and then use it in different, creative ways to build up a unique meal each night.

Floor Cleaning

Vacuum cleaners are a necessity for keeping carpets clean. But vacuuming also requires quite a bit of electricity. To ensure your vacuum cleaner is working as efficiently as possible, keep its filters and brushes clean. Otherwise, the vacuum doesn’t will have to work overtime to pick up dirt and debris. If you don’t have a lot of carpet, consider a manual carpet sweeper can get rid of pet hair and small messes. For hard floor surfaces, consider using a traditional broom for the pre-mopping step rather than a vacuum.

Clothes Ironing

No one wants to walk around in wrinkled clothes. But the clothes iron is an energy hog in your home, and believe it or not, there are other eco-friendly options available to you! For example, keep track of the clock and remove clothes from the dryer as soon as the cycle is complete. If you hang or fold them immediately, you’ll be surprised at how crisp they are. If you are using a dryer, consider using the “steam” cycle for the appropriate items. If you would be using the dryer anyway, might as will kill two birds with one stone! For air-dried items, giving a good shake and even smoothing them with your hands or a cold iron before hanging them up to dry will remove those unwanted wrinkles. Lastly, you can also hang slightly wrinkled clothes in the bathroom when you take a hot shower. The steam will further release any lingering wrinkles before you put them on for the day.

How to Save Energy & Money in the Laundry Room

Doing laundry is probably not a favored chore on anyone’s list. Yet it is one of the most frequently completed task. Washers and dryers are among the most used household appliances. And believe it or not, they are among the most costly appliances to operate.

According to ENERGY STAR, the average household in America washes approximately 300 loads annually. For Americans using washers that are ten or more years old, the average annual associated electricity cost is $185. Americans using newer high-efficiency models use 25 percent less electricity and 33 percent less water.

Since we realize you might not be in a position to go out and buy a new washing machine today, here are seven tips to also help you save energy in your household chores in the laundry room:

Use Colder Water Temperatures

Washing laundry in hot water requires a lot more energy than using warm or cold temperature settings. With the exception of cleaning items that are heavily soiled or require sanitization, the milder temperatures typically get the job done. Fabrics will also last longer when you avoid washing in hot water. This one change can significantly reduce your energy costs per laundry load. If you are still concerned about getting your clothes clean, you can use one of the many detergents specially formulated for cold water!

Use the High Spin Cycle

Opting for the high spin cycle helps extract as much water as possible from clothing, thus requiring less time in the dryer. When items are extremely wrinkled afterwards, simply shake them out and your dryer will take care of the rest.

Separate Loads

Most everyone separates laundry loads by color, but it can also be wise to separate by fabric weight as well. This is especially true when using the dryer. For example, heavier fabrics like towels and jeans take significantly longer to dry than thinner shirts, lightweight linens, or underwear. Likewise, you’ll also avoid over-drying thinner fabrics that not only wastes energy, it can also lead to shrinkage and fabric damage. Note: this might not be energy-saving for everyone. If most of your clothes are a similar weight or fabric and you only have a couple items that are different (aka not a full load). Best to keep everything together!

Do Full Loads of Laundry

Wait until you have a full load of laundry to run a load. This will save money and energy by taking advantage of the set resources required per cycle. For additional savings, try to run several loads back-to-back. Particularly when it comes to drying, this will enable you to take advantage of the dryer’s internal temperature being already raised.

Skip the Dryer

Whenever possible, take advantage of line-drying clothes. This will not only help elongate your fabrics’ lives but also save electricity on clothes drying..

Use Dryer Balls

Dryer balls help reduce drying time by separating the clothes and thus improving air circulation. Available in rubber and wool, the wool dryer balls also help reduce static electricity so you can even reduce your waste by doing away with the dryer sheets. 

Keep the Dryer Filter Clean

We’ve all been there. We loose track of time and all of a sudden the lint filter is overflowing with pillow-y fluff! Avoid this situation by removing lint from the dryer filter after each load. On top of that, clean the filter monthly with warm water and a gentle scrub using a toothbrush. This will improve the dryer’s air flow and remove waxy buildup that dryer sheets can leave behind (if you use them).

How to Save Energy & Money Dishwashing

A dishwasher simplifies kitchen chores immensely and most of us couldn’t imagine living without one. Are you cringing thinking we’re about to discuss how much energy it uses? Well, today’s you’re lucky day!

In addition to making our lives easier, dishwashers are in fact more energy-efficient and use fewer gallons of water than dishwashing. This is especially true if your dishwasher is less than ten years old.

As with washers and dryers, you might not be in the market for a new dishwasher. Again, totally understandable! Although, even if your dishwasher is working, if it is more than 10 years old, consider replacing it for significant operational savings. For even more savings over time, all with a swipe of your smartphone, opt for a smart dishwasher when it comes time for a replacement.

Take advantage of your dishwasher to save energy in your household chores.
Take advantage of your dishwasher to save energy in your household chores.
Source: Catt Liu

In the meantime, integrate the pointers below to save energy in your household chores in the kitchen:

Wash Full Loads

Dishwashers generally require the same amount of detergent, water, and electricity regardless if you’re washing a full or partial load. So doing full loads will enable you to get the best bank for your buck.

Use the Energy Saving Cycle

The energy-saving, also known as “eco-friendly,” cycle uses a lower temperature and lower volume of water but still cleans a normal load of dishes well. Make sure you have this setting turned on for energy savings that will add up over time.

Allow Dishes to Air Dry

Consider skipping the heat-dry setting and allow dishes to air dry. Simply prop the dishwasher door open after the cleaning cycle and the residual heat along with air circulation will amply dry the dishes, not to mention prevent damage to dishes from excessive heat temperatures. Some new dishwasher models even pop open the door for you so you can enjoy these energy savings without having to keep track of the cycle.

Avoid Peak Hours

Utility companies routinely charge higher rates during peak usage hours. Take advantage of the “delay cycle” feature so your dishwasher runs when rates are low: late at night or in the early morning hours.

Skip the Pre-Rinse

Many of us are tempting to pre-rinse dishes before placing them in the dishwasher. However, this can quickly consume several gallons of water and take time. Yes, you want to make sure that large food particles are off the plate. But new dishwashers are strong enough that scraping residual food particles into the garbage and putting the dishes directly into the dishwasher will achieve the sparkling clean results you want. All without the unnecessary water and energy consumption.

Final Words

By using these simple, straightforward tips, you’ll save time and save energy in your household chores. And, over the course of a year, the reduced cost in your utility bills will be undeniable. We bet those crisp sheets will feel even crisper, that fresh lemon-y smell even fresher! Any other tips that you use to save energy in your household chores? Let us know in the comments!

For additional energy saving strategies and essential electricity intel, subscribe for weekly updates from the WattDoesItUse Blog!

The home energy audit is an essential first step to making energy efficiency investments that will yield maximum return. Source: Outside Co.

The Home Energy Audit: What It Is & How To Ace It

We’ll be the first to admit that a home energy audit doesn’t sound super exciting. We’re not trying to steer you away from this article (or from the actual audits, trust us!). Home energy audits are actually incredibly useful exercises that we believe everyone should do in his/her home. But when it comes to the actual phraseology of it, it sort of sounds like a test you’re just waiting to fail, right?

We totally see where you’re coming from. But a home energy audit isn’t as scary as it sounds—there’s no letter grade (not really, anyway), no pop quiz to fail, no pressure to pass. The only thing a home energy audit should do for you is to help you identify the best opportunities to conserve energy, save money, and live a more environmentally friendly life.

Read on to find out what exactly a home energy audit is, how to do one, and why it matters so much for your home (and, honestly, the planet!).

First Thing’s First—What Exactly is a Home Energy Audit?

Ever wonder what a home energy audit is? Felt lost on how you can conserve energy and lower your utility bill? Wished you could have a step-by-step, explain-like-I’m-five rundown of home energy audits? Then this article is definitely for you!

We can’t truly understand the benefits of a home energy audit if we haven’t first covered the basics. So, before we dive into the “so what,” we’ll provide the “what.”

A Home Energy Audit Provides Powerful Information

Simply put, a home energy audit is a professional energy inspection of your home that analyzes your energy usage. It identifies how much energy your house requires (including a breakdown by major categories) and where it loses the most energy the most. It should end with suggestions and recommendations for the most effective ways to improve your home’s energy-efficiency.

Again, a home energy audit isn’t necessarily just a look at the way that you use energy. So, for example, it’s not necessarily looking at how you run the thermostat or how often you leave the lights on (though, that might be a factor if you’re dealing with larger than normal electricity bills). Instead, it takes a look at the bones of your home, including its HVAC system, and provides insight on what is driving that energy use.

Primary Focus of a Home Energy Audit

The primary areas that a home energy audit looks at include:

  • Lighting
  • Furnace functionality
  • Airflow
  • Insulation
  • Air leaks

The list can go on, but you get the idea. In most cases, an audit will analyze all of these aspects in the context of the number of people in your home.

The main point is to really examine your home and your lifestyle to see where energy is wasted and what can be done to fix it. An honest look in the mirror.  

Why You Should Audit Your Home

There are so many benefits to energy auditing your home. In this section, we highlight a few of the main reasons.

We Can’t Improve What We Don’t Know

For us, the biggest pro in our positive category for home energy audits is that you’ll give yourself the gift of knowledge. You can take the results—that knowledge—and make a difference in your home’s energy consumption. The data from an audit can empower you to make educated, effective changes to not only your lifestyle, but also to the design of your home.

You might think that your home is already pretty energy-conservation friendly. And for all we know, it might be. But we will say this—you never truly know where energy is escaping or how you could do better until you schedule a home energy audit. Without an analysis and an inspection, all you have to go on is conjecture. While that might be OK, you’ll likely always be stuck wondering how you could have improved your energy conservation or whether your money was spent effectively replacing those windows last year.

Identify Problems And Their Sources

Just as when you’re sore in one place of the body but it’s because another part is not functioning properly, wasted energy in one area of the home can stem from other issues that you didn’t know existed.

For instance, if your HVAC system is working overtime, it could be for several reasons. Perhaps it’s compensating for escaping through worn-out window weather-stripping. Maybe your air ducts are clogged. Or maybe you have air leaking around your doors. If you don’t know where the problems exist, you’ll never be able to take the steps to remedy the problem.

When you have a professional home auditor inspect your home, he or she will not only identify unnecessary energy consumption. The auditor will also trace that issue to identify its source(s). This will save you money and headache by showing knowing where specifically to make home energy efficiency improvements.

Improve Health & Safety In Your Home

Oftentimes, auditors can diagnose health issues in the home (i.e., air leakages that let in excess moisture). This can oftentimes solve smaller health concerns like asthma and allergies.

Boost Your Home’s Resale Value

It’s true! People looking to buy houses these days care about energy efficiency. If you’ve had an energy audit and made improvements to your home accordingly, then you’re miles ahead of other homes that are still needlessly wasting energy and causing the owners unnecessary cost. 

Getting a home energy audit and making the recommended energy efficiency investments is a great way to boost your home's resale value.
Get a home energy audit and make the recommended energy efficiency investments to boost your home’s value.

At the end of the day, the benefits far outweigh the cost of conducting a professional home energy audit!

Home Energy Audit FAQs

Home energy audits are fairly common practices, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not still often shrouded in mystery. As home energy audit advocates, we would be remiss to wrap up this post without debunking the home energy audit myths that float around.

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about home energy audits:

What Exactly Happens in a Home Energy Audit?

Each audit will look slightly different (at least, it should), because it will depend on several key factors. Are you running a standard audit? What size home do you have—1-bedroom or 6-bedroom? Are you noticing problems with your electricity bill? Your HVAC? Or don’t have particular concerns but want to make sure you’ve covered your bases?

Every single audit will be unique, but when boiled down, should generally consist of a professional taking a comprehensive inspection of your home, analysis of your behavior, examination of your past energy bills, and research into your personal energy uses. It’s likely they’ll use several special tests to gauge energy loss, too. You can also conduct your own audit, but make sure to read our advice on that below.

Aren’t Home Energy Audits Expensive?

As with so many things in life, the answer to this question is: it depends. A home energy audit can be pricey, running anywhere from $100-$400 depending on the size of your home. But at the end of the day, you’re investing in a service that’s ultimately going to yield returns via future cost savings. You can estimate how much a home energy audit service will cost here.

Can I Do a Home Energy Audit Myself?

Yes, if you’d prefer to take matters into your hands, you certainly can. We definitely recommend working with a professional if you can afford it, since they’re trained to give you a proper diagnosis. However, there are plenty of resources that can help you run an effective home energy audit. Definitely do your due diligence before taking on this project. We suggest doing your research, finding a valuable resource, and putting all your effort into running a serious audit for an honest inspection.

How Can I Find a Professional I Trust to Do a Home Energy Audit?

If you prefer to have a professional handle the job (and we’ll be honest, we do recommend it!), check out the Residential Energy Service Network to locate a reliable professional home energy auditor.

Get Your Data On!

When it comes down to it, a home energy audit can be a huge lifesaver in your home. The real power of an audit is understanding energy-saving opportunities. By equipping you with the information to make smart energy efficiency and energy conservation investments, it will also help you cut serious energy costs.

Have you ever been a part of a home energy audit? Tell us all about it! We’d love to hear your home energy audit stories in the comment section so you can help other followers see just how useful it was and avoid any unnecessary mistakes along the way! If you’re looking for even more tips and tricks on how to conserve energy at home, better understand our electricity grid, or are even looking for fun energy-saving gifts this holiday season, subscribe to our regularly updated blog for weekly updates to stay in the loop!

Taking steps to improve your windows' energy efficiency can save you heating and cooling costs.

Through the Looking Glass: 5 Ways to Improve Your Windows’ Energy Efficiency

When you buy products through links on this post to improve your windows’ energy efficiency, we may earn an affiliate commission.  These commissions do not affect our product recommendations. Click here to learn more.

Windows account for more than 30 percent of a typical home’s heating losses, regardless of their age. This means that they can be the key to improving your home’s comfort and lowering your energy bills.

Given that, if your home is feeling a bit draftier than usual as winter weather settles in, you might be thinking, “We need to replace our old, drafty windows stat!” In fact, the first thing many people do in a renovation is to replace all the windows. And it’s true that there is really neat, effective smart window technology coming to market (stay tuned for a future post on that!).

However, study after study shows that conventional window replacements have just about the worst bang for your buck when it comes to home energy efficiency investments. On the other hand, you can enjoy significant payback through energy savings if you simply improve your windows’ energy efficiency.

Whether you are a do-it-yourself homeowner or rely on professional contractors for your home improvement projects, take note of these five simple steps to make your windows more energy efficient.

5 Ways to Improve your Windows’ Energy Efficiency

Prepare Your Existing Windows

Are your windows are in fairly good condition? Is there any missing glass, rotting wood, or air/water leakage? If so, a little rehabilitation can go a long way. There are three primary ways to  “rehab” your windows.

Window Frame Upgrades

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) offers a helpful Wood Window Repair, Rehabilitation & Replacement Guide. Along these lines, we love the “Indow window.” This frame insert has a compression tube that holds it in place and seals tightly to the frame to eliminate any air leakage.

Caulking & Weatherstripping

Caulking and weatherstripping are also key steps to deal with unwanted drafts. The U.S. DOE provides helpful step-by-step guides for window caulking and weatherstripping.

Purchase Upgraded Window Coverings

A low-cost way to effectively improve your windows’ energy efficiency is through window coverings, like blinds and curtains. While they don’t actually make your windows more efficient, they can make a dent in your energy efficiency efforts. In the winter, heavy curtains (or even thermal curtains) can block drafts to help your home stay warm. In the summer, they can block sunlight from heating the room.

To ensure that your curtains do their job effectively, make sure that they fall below the ledge of the window. This will enable them to trap as much of a draft as possible. Also be mindful of when you open and close the curtains. As an example, during the winter, close your curtains at night when the temperatures are the lowest. Then open them during the day to welcome in those warm rays of sunshine!

Install Storm Windows

Once you’ve rehabbed your windows, or if they are already in good condition, the next step is storm windows. In particular, low-emissivity (also known as “low-e”) storm windows can boost energy efficiency at low cost. The low-e coating, which is nearly invisible, reduces conduction and radiation heat losses and can improve energy savings by 10-15 percent as compared to standard storm windows! In fact, a U.S. DOE study found that low-e storm windows have an average payback of two to four years, regardless of climate.

While you can find low-e storm windows at big-box retailers, we recommend custom ordering them in order to make sure that it perfectly fits the measurements of your window.

Look for Utility Incentives

Interested in purchasing low-e storm windows but operating on a tigh budget? Some regional utilities offer rebates and incentives for their customers to purchase and install storm windows. The U.S. DOE provides a database of such opportunities. Check it out to see if there are any programs that could help you with your window energy efficiency projects!

Install Window Films

Window films provide another layer on your window itself, which reduces convection and conduction. This not only provides energy efficiency, but also “solar control” window films can protect your skin by blocking infrared and ultraviolet rays. Win-win!

Keep Your Storm Windows Up Year Round

You can remove storm windows and panels during times of the year with more mild weather. But it’s even better to keep them in year-round. Just as low-e storm windows can help hold heat in during the winter, they can keep heat out and hold cool air in during the hot summer months. In fact, across the four seasons, low-e storm windows can save 12-33 percent in combined heating and cooling costs.

Taking steps to improve your windows' energy efficiency will ensure they provide beautiful views, not higher electricity bills! Source: Gabriel Tenan
Taking steps to improve your windows’ energy efficiency will ensure they provide beautiful views, not higher electricity bills! Source: Gabriel Tenan

Keep It In Perspective

It is important to remember that if your concern is maintaining your home’s temperature, windows are not the only place to focus your attention. Unfortunately, with energy efficiency, there is not one silver bullet. Most of the heat loss in older houses is, in fact, through the roof. So proper insulation of your home’s walls and attic is an important area to invest, as well.

That said, the investments set forth in this post help you improve your windows’ energy efficiency and enjoy reduced heating and cooling costs. So if you’re walking around your house in your winter jacket, don’t wait! It is definitely worth taking the steps above before expensive window replacement.

Let us know how they work for you in the comments! For more electricity essentials and energy saving strategies, subscribe to the WattDoesItUse blog for weekly updates on the latest and greatest!

Tweaks can help you save electricity and money on holiday lights.

Deck the Halls: 4 Ways To Save Electricity and Money On Holiday Lights and Decorations

When you buy products through links on this post to save electricity and money on holiday lights, we may earn an affiliate commission.  These commissions do not affect our product recommendations. Click here to learn more.

December is finally here. As we all welcome the chilly, winter month while sipping hot cocoa, and crossing Black Friday gifts off our shopping list, we begin a much-loved and ever-joyous process that each of us has likely been awaiting since last year. Holiday decoration time!

Who doesn’t love the lights, décor, dreidels, and trees?! They’ve become fundamentals of the holiday season. Holiday decorations are so pertinent, in fact, that for my family it is honestly not the holiday season without rounds of the neighborhood to judge who has the best lights.

Holiday Lights Bring Cheer… And Utility Bill Spikes

But for as much as we love holiday lights and décor, there’s a harsh reality that comes hand-in-hand with the inflatable, lit-up snow globe or the house that’s ever-so-carefully lined from top-to-bottom with antique Christmas lights. Holiday lights can suck up a ton of energy. And whats more, they can spike your utility bill like you wouldn’t believe!

Yes, we feel that drain on our wallets. But it also doesn’t exactly align with the energy consumption consciousness that we work so hard throughout the year to establish!

That being said, we’d never tell you to stop the holiday decorating tradition dead in its tracks.  

In fact, we come to you today to share some good news: as with all things energy efficiency, there are smarter ways to decorate your home so it’s just a beautiful and cheerful but requires a fraction of the energy (and associated cost).

Know what that means? This holiday season, you can rock around the Christmas tree and light your Menorahs without running up an insane electricity bill.

How? We’re glad you asked.

4 Ways to Save Electricity and Money On Holiday Lights & Decorations

We’re all about holiday decorating, but we’re also pretty darn invested in conserving energy, too. As holiday light lovers, that often presents us with the dilemma of balancing our love for holiday décor and our passion for conserving energy.

We’ve identified tried-and-true ways to win the decoration game without losing the energy conservation one. Here are the four most effective ways to save electricity and money on holiday lights and decorations.

Fiber Optic Décor for the Win

One of the greatest parts of decorating for the holidays is stringing up all of your favorite décor on your holiday tree. But strings upon strings of lights hung up on your Christmas tree can be a real energy suck.

That’s where top-of-the-line fiber optic décor—like fiber optic Christmas trees!—can be a huge lifesaver. With this kind of décor, products typically use a single bulb located at the bottom of the unit to light up the entire decoration. Ultimately, that conserves quite a bit of energy and saves you some serious money in the process!

Upgrade Your Lighting Technology (Go LED!)

Did you read the last tip and think, “No way am I giving up my Christmas tree!” We get it! There is still a ways to get the same classic look and save money and energy on holiday lights: LEDs!

LED lighting is the way of the future—especially when it comes to decking out your house for the holidays.

LED bulbs are more efficient. They use about 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. They also generate less heat, which helps reduce the risk of burns and fires. And they can last up to 10 years longer than your traditional bulbs!

Even though those classic, incandescent lights you’ve been hanging up on your house gives off the traditional, vintage Christmas look (which, hey, we love too!), they’re unfortunately super inefficient. Even worse, they’re delicate and a lot less durable, which means no matter how well you take care of them, they likely will end up shattered or halfway lit, and meet their end in a landfill somewhere (which is an entirely different problem, for another time!).

By replacing those dated lights with LEDs (especially ENERGY STAR-qualified LED strands), you’ll be able to conserve energy, save money, and you’ll even be able to do away with the worry of breaking filaments and glass (because LED holiday lights don’t have any).

PRO TIP LED HOLIDAY LIGHTS

If you’re still looking for that incandescent light look without the inefficiency, look for LED lights that say “warm” on the label. Technology has advanced significantly such that LED lights no longer only give off the harsh bright light that they once did.

Set Timers & Create a Schedule

We’re not being a Grinch when we say this, we’re just being realistic. You don’t have to leave your holiday lights running around the clock.

Seriously, we promise we’re not Scrooging it up here—we’re all about holiday lights. But, take a moment and think about it: do you really need to run your holiday lights during the day when no one can see them? Or at 3am when everyone is asleep? Probably not.

By setting timers and schedules during the holiday season, you can seriously cut back on the amount of energy you’re using up to run your lights. Set your timer based on when you want your lights to be on display—even if you’re just running it from the time it gets dark to the wee hours of the morning, you’ll save a bundle compared to running them non-stop.

Reflective décor is a great strategy to save electricity and money on holiday lights. It can be as dialed up or toned down as your heart desires. Source: Nick Fewings
Reflective décor can be as dialed up or toned down as your heart desires, all the while ensuring your utility bill doesn’t get out of hand! Source: Nick Fewings
Get Creative With Reflective Décor

If you’re really looking to switch up your holiday decorations and save electricity and money on holiday lights this year, consider a reflective decorating strategy. This beautiful but minimalist approach leverages actual lighting to enhances your decor. Honestly, a lot of them are pretty darn cool. Whether you’re into wreaths, ribbons, bells, garlands, or otherwise, take advantage of the opportunity to get creative with reflective décor!

Let’s Talk Watts: Why the Type of Lights You’re Decorating With Matters 

Remember when we talked about LED lights a minute ago? SPOILER ALERT: We’re not quite finished yet.

Sure, it makes sense that LED lights are a more updated technology, so they’re likely more efficient—but just how much more efficient are they?

LED lights are designed to draw less power than traditional fluorescent and incandescent lights. In fact, they are about 80 percent more efficient (while we’re talking holiday lights here, the same applies in almost every other lighting scenario).  In fact, a typical 84-watt fluorescent bulb can be replaced by a 36-watt LED to give off the same level of light. (Need a little watt refresher? Check out our What is a Watt 101 article here learn about watts, kilowatt-hours (kWh), and more fun essential electricity terms).

The best part? They’re way more efficient because of how they each transform their energy.

Traditional lights typically convert 95 percent of their energy to heat and only five percent of their energy to light. LED lights are basically the opposite.

So, how exactly does this apply to Christmas lights?

While LED lights might cost a bit more upfront, they’ll last longer and ultimately end up saving you money on your electric bill during the holidays. Even better, you can count on them conserving a substantial amount of energy. Doesn’t that prospect make you feel all warm inside?! It does to us!

If you’re interested in quantifying the exact savings that you could enjoy by switching out holiday lights, check out this super visual, very cool calculator from Duke Energy. Here, you can actually add up the types of LED lights you’re using (or want to use) and calculate not only how much energy you’ll be expending, but also how much money you’ll be saving by substituting LED holiday lights.

LED lights can provide the same ambiance with a fraction of the energy consumption of traditional bulbs. Source: Paul Gaudriault
LED lights can provide the same ambiance with a fraction of the energy consumption of traditional bulbs. Source: Paul Gaudriault

Let There Be Light!

If you’re ready to get your stunning (and shockingly inexpensive) holiday decorations up and running, we hope you utilize a few of the tips and tricks we shared to save electricity and money on holiday lights. Remember, your holiday décor can be just as bright and festive as always. But with a few little tweaks, you can save a bundle on your electricity bill and help the planet by conserving more energy than you probably thought possible. Have another energy-saving holiday décor solution that we didn’t mention? Let’s hear it! Drop us a line in the comment section so you can share with your fellow energy conservers.

Looking for even more holiday electricity insight? Check out our energy-saving holiday gift-guides (we’ve even laid out some 101 shopping guides for energy-efficient TVs, stoves & ranges, and more)!

Throughout the year, WattDoesitUse also shares helpful blogs that can guide you toward a better understanding of your electricity at home, including how to decode your electricity bill (trust us, we know it can be confusing). Subscribe to our regularly updated blog for the latest and greatest!

Contrary to EV myths, EVs can save money and help the earth with reduced GHG emissions. Source: Andreas Dress

The 5 Most Common EV Myths, Debunked

Ah, the holiday season! Sleigh bells are ringing, carolers are singing, and road trips to family gatherings abound. Like many, you might be looking at your driveway thinking, “It’s time for a new car.” This time of year is certainly a great one to consider biting the bullet. As new models come to market, the previous year’s models go on sale. There are great deals to be had! But which car to choose? It might not surprise you to hear that we are bullish on electric vehicles (EVs). With an EV, you can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—thus helping the planet—and save money at the same time!

2019 survey from Consumer Reports and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that 63 percent of prospective car buyers in the U.S. are interested in EVs. However, even with interest levels rising, another recent study by AAA finds that most Americans still aren’t ready to buy. Not yet.

Why is this? EVs present several new, sometimes intimidating, considerations for drivers. Along these lines, there are a number of EV myths that cause people to hesitate. These concerns may have been true at one point but no longer need to be.

We want to help you sort through the facts. So in this post, we present and de-bunk the five most common EV myths.

Myth #1: EVs Are Low-Performance Vehicles

One of the most common EV myths is that they are as slow as golf carts. In fact, they are generally quicker than their gasoline-powered counterparts.

Electric motors generate 100 percent of their available torque instantly. This means that when an EV presses the accelerator pedal, the transition from stationary to speed is almost instantaneous. The top version of the Tesla Model S is one of the quickest cars in the world, with a 0-60 mph time of only 2.1 seconds. Of those who have test-driven the Tesla and decided to buy, many note that they made their purchase because “it was fast, and it was fun to drive.”

The Leaf SL Plus is a bit slower to accelerate, at 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds. However that is still extremely competitive as compared to conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

Takeaway

EV technology has advanced to the point where it can compete with that of comparable ICE models. You can absolutely save money and reduce environmental impact while maintaining all of your performance expectations for your ride.

Myth #2: EVs are more expensive than conventional vehicles

Also among the most common EV myths is the concern that EVs are more expensive than their conventional counterparts.

It is true that the upfront price of an EV is still higher on average than that of a comparable conventional vehicle. However, the upfront costs of EVs are continuing to decrease over time.

And on top of that, the true price of a vehicle includes the lifetime costs of owning and operating it. EVs become very competitive when you incorporate subsidies and the ongoing savings that drivers enjoy over the life of their EVs. A study by the Electric Power Research Institute, which examined lifetime costs of the electric Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt, showed that EVs consistently performed better than conventional vehicles due to lower fueling and maintenance costs.

On top of that, many EVs qualify for the U.S. Federal government tax credit of up to $7,500. We should note that the exceptions here are Tesla models. Credits phase out during the calendar year after an automaker sells 200,000 full electric and/or plug-in hybrid models. Tesla hit this milestone in 2018. Credits on Tesla vehicles are now $1,875. They will likely be eliminated on December 31, 2019 (so act fast if you’ve been eying one!). General Motors is likewise hitting the 200,000-unit mark and will see its subsidies shrink moving forward.

Several states offer their own subsidies to EV buyers in addition to the Federal tax credit. In Colorado, EV purchases are eligible for a $5,000 state income tax credit. And California residents can receive a cash rebate of $2,500-$4,500 from the state, depending on their income. You can find a full list of Federal, state, and private EV incentives that apply to you on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) EV Laws and Incentives website.

Takeaway

This is one of the EV myths that is partially true. However, though most EVs are currently priced at a premium compared to similar conventional vehicles, their upfront price tags continue to drop. EVs become even more competitive when you incorporate fuel and maintenance cost savings over the lifetime of the vehicle as compared to conventional models. To calculate your specific savings, use the U.S. DOE AFDC Vehicle Cost Calculator.

If you want to drive an EV but are currently on a tight budget, consider a used model. You can acquire a pre-owned EV quite cheaply. This is because the federal tax credit applies to a used EV’s resale value. Also, pre-owned EVs have fewer miles on them than conventional vehicles. This means they’ve typically endured less wear and tear than that of a used ICE vehicle.

Myth #3: There Are Not Enough Public Charging Stations

The third in our list of the most common EV myths is a lack of public charging station accessibility. In the aforementioned AAA survey, 63 percent of respondents cited “not enough places to charge” as a reason they were unsure or unwilling to choose an EV as their next car. 

As you can see from the U.S. DOE AFDC Charging Station Locator, there are a growing number of public charging stations available throughout the US. But in cities where EV penetration is increasing quickly, there is still a relative shortage of public chargers. State governments and private charging station manufacturers alike are working to address this issue. In fact, California, New Jersey, and New York have announced combined investments of $1.3 billion to build even more public charging infrastructure.

The private sector is also making it easier for EV drivers to access existing charging stations. For example, EVmatch is leveraging the sharing economy to increase access to reliable EV charging options in a similar way to Airbnb. Using the EVmatch app, EV drivers can find and reserve charging stations rented out by homeowners and businesses. This increases publicly available charging options by taking advantage of existing resources versus requiring new designated “public” charging stations.

On top of this, public charging is typically less of an important factor for EV owners than they expect. For people who live in apartment complexes and don’t have access to home charging, public stations are important. However, for the most part, EV owners tend to cover most of their charging needs with at-home and at-work charging.

Takeaway

There is still a shortage of public EV charging stations as compared to the gas stations based on the ratios of pumps/plugs to vehicles. So this is one of the EV myths that is also partially true. However, the number of public charging stations of all levels is increasing. And so are resources that empower EV owners to access existing (previously private) charging infrastructure at homes and offices.

EV owners may have to do initial research to understand public charging options for longer trips. But the infrastructure is robust enough that access is no longer a significant barrier.

Myth #4: EVs Will Run Out Of Charge While I’m Driving

According to the same AAA survey, 58 percent of consumers said they wouldn’t commit to EVs because of “range anxiety,” the fear that they will run out of charge while driving.

EVs have an average range of 194 miles for every charge, which is just under half the range of traditional vehicles (418 miles). They require 8-12 hours to recharge completely, compared to the few minutes it takes to refuel with gas. However, with increasing investments into and improvements to technologies, the driving range of EVs is continuing to increase. And as the range increases, the likelihood of running out of charge is diminishing. On top of that, more DC fast charging stations are becoming available for quick charging stops along major highways and in shopping centers around the U.S. 

On top of this, EV proponents counter that people drive less than 40 miles a day, on average. While this statistic is true, it can be a somewhat misleading statistic. People don’t necessarily drive a consistent, predictable number of miles each day. In fact, most people drive relatively few miles on a typical day. But they also take trips over that are more than 40 (or even 100) miles of driving. For these trips, EV drivers will still need to plan ahead. They can’t yet assume that they’ll have access to public charging access over their route, as they can with gas stations.

Takeaway

EV battery capacity has advanced enough that “range anxiety” is not longer a day-to-day concern for EV drivers, as it used to be. EV range can more than cover people’s typical daily driving needs and even the mileage of regional road trips. However, EV owners still have to conduct initial research to map out public charging options for longer trips.

Myth #5: They Aren’t Actually Greener

As with the first of our EV myths, the argument that EVs don’t offer environmental benefits couldn’t be further from the truth. Electric motors convert 75 percent of the chemical energy from their batteries to power the vehicle. By comparison, ICE vehicles convert only 20 percent of the energy stored in gasoline. What’s more, EVs emit no direct tailpipe pollutants. However, some argue that EVs aren’t actually greener than ICE vehicles because of the emissions associated with battery production and the indirect tailpipe pollutants that power plants produce when generating the electricity that fuels EVs.

EVs tend to fare best in emission comparisons when charged in parts of California, New York, and the Pacific Northwest. This is because renewable energy resources are more prevalent in these regions. Their impact is less in central U.S. states like Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. This is because the areas have greater dependence on fossil fuels to produce electricity. However, the UCS has found that EVs are still responsible for less pollution than conventional vehicles, regardless of region of the U.S. To understand the emissions related to your electricity source, see the U.S. DOE AFDC Emissions from Hybrid and Plug-In Electric Vehicles website.

Some also worry about the environmental impact of battery materials. But according to a report by the California Air Resources Board, technology improvements have led to an EV development process that results in less than 25 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions than traditional ICE vehicles. On top of that, EV batteries have many reuse and recycling options. EV batteries can have second and third lives beyond their automotive use. For example, some new businesses apply used EV batteries as backup power in buildings. Some carmakers are even going into that business themselves to integrate reuse and recycle options.

Takeaway

The incremental environmental benefits of EVs vary as compared to ICE vehicles. This difference is predominantly driven by the fuel mix for electricity production in the region where an EV is charged. Regardless, the direct and well-to-wheel emissions of EVs are still less than those of ICE vehicles.

There are important concerns regarding the labor that is used to extract lithium. But fortunately, many automakers are committing to ethical lithium sourcing

Time To Hit The Road In An EV

There’s no question that EVs are gaining momentum. For the past several years, sales have consistently climbed year over year. And most recently, the first half of 2019 saw U.S. EV sales increase by 22% as compared to sales over the same period in 2018.

Many still hesitate to purchase an EV because of a few pervasive EV myths. As we have shown, while these myths have been true at one point, they are no longer the concerns they’ve been made out to be. Equipped with this piece’s information, give EVs a more serious look for your next vehicle! Whether you’re looking at new or used options, we’re pretty sure that an EV won’t disappoint.

For additional information about electricity consumption at home and how to save money on your utility bill, subscribe here for weekly updates from WDIU!

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