Watt Does It Use

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

Month: January 2020

Installing solar panels at home can help you save money and achieve energy independence. Source: Vivint Solar

The Beginner’s Guide to Installing Solar Panels At Home

Over the past decade, as the cost of solar power has decreased, solar panels have become more ubiquitous in residential applications.  Solar panels can help you reduce the environmental impact of your home and save money. 

If you feel like this technology is still a mystery to you and can’t imagine how it could fit in your home energy set-up, you’re in the right place! In this post, we’ll provide an overview of what solar power is, how it works, and pro tips for installing solar panels at home.

What is Solar Power?

Solar power is a type of renewable or clean energy that comes from the sun’s rays.  It uses photovoltaic cells (also called solar cells) to capture the sun’s light and turn it into energy.  Solar panels work in all types of weather, making them suitable for renewable energy just about everywhere in the United States. But as you would imagine, solar panels work best in dry places with plenty of sunlight, so the southwest is a particularly great geographic area to use them.

How Does Solar Power Work?

As we’ve already mentioned, solar power works by converting sunlight into electricity.  But exactly how?

First let’s start with sunlight. Light is made up of tiny packets of energy called photons. These photons travel nearly 100 million miles from the sun to the earth in approximately 8.5 minutes!

Meanwhile, solar panels are made of smaller modules called “solar cells.” When the sun’s rays shine on a solar cell, the photons emitted by the sun react with it to generate an electrical charge in the solar cell.  Solar panels generate direct current (DC) power which is then converted to alternating current (AC) power which can be used to power your home or stored for later use. There are a number of different types of solar arrays currently available and coming to market in the near future. Feeling like you need a visual? We love this clip from TED-Ed, which provides a 101 on how solar panels work.

But Solar Panels Are Huge, Right?

While an individual solar cell is very small – about 6 inches long by 6 inches wide – many solar cells are connected together to form the larger units that you are used to seeing: solar panels.  Solar panels are typically comprised of about 60 to 72 solar cells.  This means that the average solar panel has dimensions of 5 feet x 3 feet and weighs about 40 pounds.  However, arrays of solar cells can often be constructed to conform to of your residential power needs, regardless of size. 

Why Install Solar Panels at Home?

Solar panels represent an exciting opportunity for homeowners, because they enable you to combine margin and mission. Not only will solar panels mean that you are relying less on fossil fuels for your electricity, but they will also help you save money over the many years of their lifetime.

The Economics of Solar

Rooftop solar energy is becoming more and more affordable.  Innovations in the solar industry have helped make this technology cheaper and easier to adopt.  This decrease in price is coupled with federal and state incentives to facilitate adoption of residential solar panels, which brings solar panel users an even greater savings.

The sun represents a plentiful and limitless source of solar energy which can be harvested for less than $0.06/kWh using solar power.  By contrast, the average price Americans pay for electricity using conventional fossil fuel means is about $0.12/kWh. With that in mind, experts estimate that the average home can save $10,000 to $30,000 over the 30- to 35-year lifetime of its solar panel system!

Furthermore, tax breaks and rebates have made adopting solar energy more affordable in terms of the upfront cost. In recent years, the average cost to install residential solar panels for homeowners has dropped to less than $4 per watt. After tax credits, solar panels are estimated to cost less than $14,0000 per household. Compare that to the estimated savings, and there is something to get excited about! Who couldn’t use another $10-15,000?!

For more information on how you can save money with solar panels, check out this great post from EnergySage.

It’s Environmentally Friendly

The second reason that solar energy is a great option for residential power consumption is the environmental impact.  Solar panels are admittedly associated with some greenhouse gas emissions via the manufacturing process. To produce solar panels, manufacturers also have to handle toxic chemicals. However, solar panels do not emit any toxins into the atmosphere as they’re generating electricity. And the overall greenhouse gas emissions involved in solar energy are still far lower than equivalent electricity production from coal or natural gas. In fact, a 2011 report showed that solar panels’ carbon footprint averaged about 85 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per gigawatt-hour while natural gas and coal averaged 499 and 888, respectively!

On top of these benefits, manufacturers are increasingly offering solar panel recycling programs to reduce their end-of-life environmental impact. This means that by investing in solar panels for your electricity, you can feel good knowing you are not impacting the environment every time you turn on the lights or the television as compared to your neighbors!

Installing solar panels at home can provide financial and environmental benefits. Source: Visual.ly
Installing solar panels at home can provide financial and environmental benefits. Source: visual.ly

Tried and True Tips for Installing Solar Panels at Home

Interested in installing solar panels at home but not sure where to start? You’re not alone! We hear this question, a lot. Here are recommended next steps to begin the process:

Hit the Books (er, Internet)

You are already doing this if you’re reading this post, so congratulations! There is so much information about solar panels on the Web, and it’s great to have an understanding of the process before taking any action.

If you’re really looking to installing your own solar panels, check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s helpful guide to installing solar panels at home.

If you’re not sure how much power you are using or could stand to save with solar power, check out our helpful advice and tools to audit your home energy use and calculate power consumption of typical home devices. You can also use your electricity bill to know how much electricity you currently use. Once you know how much power you’re using every month, there are helpful solar calculators that can give you a sense of how many solar panels you might need.

Reduce then Renew

As we just mentioned, it is critical to understand how much electricity you use in your home before installing solar panels at home. Just as important is to reduce that load where possible. You will position yourself to fully take advantage of this renewable energy source if you first focus on ways to reduce your home energy consumption. A home energy audit will put you on the fast track to invest in the energy efficiency strategies with the highest return. Some low-hanging fruits that you can do in the meantime are to switch out your incandescent lightbulbs for LEDs, reduce phantom loads, and adopt energy-efficient habits in your daily chores.

Lean on a Pro

Solar panel installation is definitely something you want to do right the first time! With that in mind, we recommend working with a qualified professional who has certification from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

Don’t Go It Alone

Whether you do work with a professional or decide to carry out the project yourself, you don’t need to go it alone when it comes to financing! There are many opportunities to take advantage of, from state and federal tax breaks, utility rebates, and financing partnerships from various sources. Make sure to familiarize yourself with these opportunities. There really is no scarcity of incentives to go solar and you can find the incentives, rebates, and tax breaks for your state here.

Safety First

Make sure to acquaint yourself with safety procedures for homes with rooftop solar panels.  While energy efficient, the panels are heavy and can pose a risk to firefighters in case of an emergency.  Make sure to weigh the risks versus the benefits in deciding your solar panel strategy. If you live in a fire-prone area, it’s definitely worth working with a professional to develop the safest plan for your local climate.

Crawl, Walk Run

Interested in taking advantage of the sun to cut back on your electricity and help the environment? But not sure you’re ready to dive into a full solar panel array for your home? If you’re undecided about solar panels, there are many solar-powered gadgets for your home that can help you make the transition. Solar-powered outdoor lighting and even cell phone chargers are becoming more popular!

Here Comes The Sun!

Solar energy can help you cut energy costs and save the environment.  But it can be a lot of work.  If installing solar panels for your home seems daunting, don’t fret.  Installing solar panels in your residence may become easier in the next decade.  Ongoing work in solar energy supported by the U.S. Department of Energy seeks to create a “plug-and-play” solution to enable any homeowner to install solar panels in under 12 hours using pre-built, easily mountable roof arrays.

Selecting one of the best energy-efficient space heaters will keep you warm without spiking your utility bill.

The Best Energy-Efficient Space Heaters: Which You Should Buy & Why

When you buy one of the best energy-efficient space heaters through links in this post, we may earn an affiliate commission. These commissions do not affect our product recommendations. Click here to learn more.

Space heaters—they sound like some futuristic tool astronauts might use to heat up a spaceship. But they’re really not all that modern of an idea. Whether you’ve heard of them or not, space heaters have been around for a very long time.

We mention this for two reasons: first, space heaters can be an effective resource for homes—they are effective little tools that have withstood the test of time, warming rooms around the world for decades! Second, they’re clearly not a space-age contraption, meaning that some use older, very inefficient technology.

While space heaters are definitely must-have powerhouses for homes weathering frigid winters or without central heating, we have to say—the old models leave little to be desired. Why? Because like a lot of appliances and dated technologies, they can be major energy hogs! This means it is critical to identify one of the best energy-efficient space heaters for your home if you’re in the market for a new one.

At WattDoesItUse, we’re all about helping people (like you!) uncover ways to save money and help the planet by living in a more energy-efficient, energy-conscious way. So to help you along your space heater education journey, we’ve composed this post to give you the rundown on how space heaters work, the best way to use them, and most importantly, how to choose one of the best energy-efficient space heaters for your home. That way, you can keep your favorite nook in the house cozy without having to worry about a resulting spike in your electricity bill.

Let’s Talk Space Heaters

If you’ve never heard of a space heater, then it’s likely you either live in a super warm climate where extra heat is never an issue, you have central heat and a well-designed home, or, you’ve somehow managed to live in a cold environment all your life suffering through frigid winters without the knowledge of this glorious invention. But, we digress. The point here is, there are many homes that—even with central heat—have particular rooms that just don’t get the same heat or aren’t able to hold it.

Even if you have a general understanding of what a space heater is, it’s important to understand the different types available before you can identify one of the best energy-efficient space heater models. So let’s dive in!

Space Heaters 101

A space heater is a small, portable heater that is typically used when the main heating system in a home is inefficient, too costly, or simply doesn’t exist. Space heaters are best when used to heat small rooms: you can’t heat the entire house off a space heater.

Space heaters can run on a number of different fuel types, including electricity, natural gas, kerosene, and propane. While most space heaters work by convection, which circulates air within a room, others rely on radiant heating where they emit infrared radiation that directly heats things up within their scope of influence. Let’s dig a little deeper into the most common space heater types to really get acquainted with their pros and cons.

Electric Space Heaters

This type of heater is a typical choice for people because it’s one of the safest types. It’s also great at spreading warmth, and it’s usually very portable. They can have downsides, though. Often, they create dry, stale air. As with all space heaters, they can be a safety hazard if not run properly. And if they aren’t designed with energy efficiency in mind, they can run up your electricity bill.

Fuel-Burning Space Heaters

As the name implies, this type of space heater won’t use electricity. Fuel-burning space heaters, also known as “gas space heaters,” are great for larger spaces. But at the end of the day, they can be more dangerous. Why? Because they’re burning fuel, they’re emitting carbon monoxide, which means you need to take extra measures to ensure they’re not causing serious (or fatal) air quality issues.

Radiant Space Heaters

This type of heater works wonderfully for both indoor and outdoor spaces (like decks, patios, etc.). The great thing about radiant space heaters is that they eliminate the need for insulation, they’re super small, and they’re easy to transport. The downside? They’re definitely emitting radiation, which is what’s responsible for actually heating the area. This can be a health concern for sensitive populations.

When Should You Consider a Space Heater?

While we can’t diagnose every single person’s heating situation and say, yeah, sounds like you need a space heater, we can speak in generalities—which is exactly what we’re about to do. If any of these situations or scenarios ring true for you, it’s possible that you should look into a space heater:

  • My heater just isn’t cutting it—it’s old, it’s inefficient, and I’m consistently piling up under blankets in an effort to stay warm. I can’t afford a new furnace right now, but this winter is going to be a nightmare if I can’t figure this out.
  • My heater works pretty well in the main part of the house, but honestly, my room is freezing—maybe I run a bit hot-blooded, but it seems like my small space just isn’t getting the heat it needs to keep me warm.
  • Where I live rarely gets cold, so I’ve never invested in a heating system for the house. But we’ve been getting some serious cold snaps lately, and honestly, I’m freezing. Even if I could heat just one room in the house, I’d be happier.

If any of these sound like a scenario you’re dealing with, it might be time to invest in a space heater.

That said, we can’t go further without noting that depending on your situation, there are energy efficiency investments that might be best to look at before you even go the space heater route. Specifically, you might be better off investing in sealing and weatherizing your home’s walls, attic and windows or replacing an old furnace with a better, more energy-efficient model. Make sure to check out our Crank Up the Heat blogs (part 1 here and part 2 here) for some insight and advice on choosing an energy-efficient HVAC system and ensuring that your home has the proper insulation to hold that heat.

How to Pick the Perfect Energy-Efficient Space Heater

So, how exactly do you pick out the one of the best energy-efficient space heaters for your home? By doing research, of course! We suggest you take note of these key considerations for each space heater you look at:

  • Safety. Is one type of space heater safer than another? Will one type of heater be more beneficial for your family? Radiant heaters will burn on contact—if you have small children or animals, our suggestion is to steer clear!
  • Energy Efficiency. This is a big one. We suggest you check out energy-efficient models that are ENERGY STAR certified.
  • Purpose. Are you using this heater to warm up several rooms? An outdoor space? A single bedroom? The square footage you want to cover will 100 percent determine the type of space heater you should buy.
  • Installation. Is this an easy machine to install? Does it require you to understand wattage, install additional CO2 detection, etc.? Ease of installation is a huge factor to consider when selecting a space heater.
  • Control. How easy is this space heater to operate? Do you understand how it works? Can you learn quickly?
  • Noise. Is this machine going to be loud? Can you do a test-run in store to get a better idea?
  • Overall Cost. This isn’t everything, but if you have a budget, you know it matters. There are great options that don’t break the bank!  

We can’t move on to our recommendations without coming back to safety a second time. Regardless of type, all space heaters can be dangerous if they’re not used properly.

In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that space heaters spark nearly 22,000 residential fires every single year, leading to about 300 deaths and thousands of burns. We don’t say this to steer you away from your space heater shopping, but we do think it’s vital to mention it before we get down to the nitty-gritty of picking out one of the best energy-efficient space heaters for your home! With that in mind, here are a few more tips to ensure that you use yours properly and responsibly

WDIU Ranking: The Best Energy-Efficient Space Heaters

All studied up on space heater safety? Good—that’s a gold star for you!

Now we can get to the fun part of the blog—a list of the best energy-efficient space heaters that we think could be the perfect addition to keep every corner of your home cozy without breaking the bank on that utility bill!

BEST ALL-AROUND

Dyson AM09 Fan Heater—This heater is exceptionally notable for its energy-efficient design. In fact, we might be so bold to say it might be the most energy-efficient heater on the market right now. It’s patented Air Multiplier technology maintains your desired temperature in a way that wastes no energy, it has no exposed elements so there’s no burning risk, and further, it has a sleep timer function and an extra-wide projection. On top of all this, it has dual functionality for heating in the winter and space cooling in the summer!

BEST CERAMIC

Lasko 6462 Full Circle Ceramic Heater—What we love about this heater is that it can heat an entire room quickly all while sending air in several different directions. It’s super portable, has a remote for easy operation, and isn’t too shabby on the energy conservation. Still, it’s a ceramic heater, which means that it will oscillate heat—this can be a noisy process. Additionally, you’ll need to be extra careful about where you place this heater.

BEST FOR LARGE SPACES

DeLonghi TRD40615E Full Room Radiant Heater—This radiant space heater is packed with 1500W of power to heat medium-to-large rooms but is equipped with an efficient LED light as well as a thermostat, timer, and various heat settings so that you can proactively manage its power use based on your needs. This model is a bit bulkier than other models, but its set of wheels enables easy transfers between rooms, and we love that it’s super quiet.

BEST FOR SMALL SPACES

Honeywell HCE200W UberHeat Ceramic Heater—Small, portable, and exceptionally quiet, this ceramic heater is a great option for incredibly small spaces. We don’t recommend this heater for large rooms, and we always advise to be extra cautious with ceramic heaters, but in the end, this tiny, little heater packs a serious punch in small spaces while being very energy-efficient.  

BEST FOR PORTABILITY

Dr. Infrared DR968 Original Heater—This space heater features infrared technology as opposed to the more-common convection space heaters. This technology consumes less energy, making the Dr. Infrared not only good for the environment but also less costly to operate. At the same time, this little space heater is powerful enough to warm spaces up to 1,000 square feet, making it incredibly versatile. In addition, it is very quiet, easy to use and clean, provides remote control capabilities, and includes a 12-hour timer so you don’t have to worry about whether you forgot to turn it off before heading out for work or travel!

Looking to learn even more about how you can conserve energy? Subscribe to the WattDoesItUse blog for regular updates on how you can revamp your daily habits to help conserve energy and come up with creative ways to cut your utility bills way down!

Choose one of the best energy-efficient video game consoles to minimize your favorite gamer's impact on your electricity bill.

Game Time: The Best Energy-Efficient Video Game Consoles To Save Electricity & Money

When you buy one of the best energy-efficient video game consoles through links in this post, we may earn an affiliate commission. These commissions do not affect our product recommendations. Click here to learn more.

From classics like Tetris and the Legend of Zelda, to newer best-sellers like World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, and everything in between, video games are more popular than ever. Over 164 million people play video games in the United States, and three-quarters of all Americans have at least one gamer in their household.

When we read that statistic with our “energy consumption” filter, we translate as, “three-quarters of all Americans have a video game console in their home.” Given how energy-intensive these devices can be, that means it is critically important for you to select the best energy-efficient video game consoles for your home in order to minimize the impact of your household gaming on your electricity bill!

Not sure how to identify which console will prioritize energy efficiency and meet or even exceed the performance demands of your favorite games!

Gaming in Numbers

First things first, let’s get a handle on the amount of gaming in the US, because it’s probably more widespread than you think! With the wide selection of genres available, people spanning all ages, genders, and ethnicities are getting in on gaming.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, nearly 80 percent of gamers revealed that games served as a way to relieve stress, relax, and provide mental stimulation. Video games are also increasingly used for educational purposes and family bonding time.

The number of people playing video games in the U.S. is growing rapidly, making energy-efficient video game consoles essential to avoid significant stress on the electricity grid. Source: Grist

There is no doubt that the gaming industry is growing and will continue to do so in the years to come.

How Much Electricity Do Video Games Require?

As the prevalence of video games increases, have you ever considered the amount of energy that’s required to play these games?

Depending on the system you choose to play on, your price of electricity, and the intensity of your gaming, the annual electricity costs for your video game console can range from $5 up to about $400 per year. Globally, PC gamers alone use about 75 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year. That is equivalent to the output of 25 electric power plants and doesn’t even include video game console energy consumption. And since this post focuses more specifically on video game console energy consumption, you might be equally surprised to learn that game consoles in the US consume as much electricity every year as all the homes in Houston, the fourth-largest city in the country! Consumers are paying more than $1 billion per year to operate these consoles!

Pretty staggering, right?! Wondering where that energy comes from?

Graphics

There are two primary drivers of electricity consumption when it comes to gaming. The first is graphics. Part of what makes gaming so enticing is the graphics. From the array of characters within a game, to its vibrant life-like storyline, a game’s graphics rely on high-quality, high-performance graphics cards. And these cards consume massive amounts of energy to provide that performance.  

A few years ago, a father and son team—Evan and Nathaniel Mills—researched just how much power these cards used. In fact, just one graphics card can draw 500 watts per hour of use! Shocked by their findings, the father-son duo started gaming a bit less and looked further into the energy usage required to run a gaming computer. This research wasn’t merely happenstance. Evan Mills was a scientist, energy expert, and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He earned a monetary grant and since then has expanded his research to further understand the energy requirements of video games on consoles and computers.

Other Features

The second driver of video game console electricity consumption is all the other features. From wireless controller charging, to voice control, to UBS ports, video game consoles continue to draw electricity even when they are not in use.

In fact, of the $1 billion that consumers pay to operate gaming consoles in the US, $400 million of that is consumed in the middle of the night when the console is in standby mode but still “listening” for voice commands (in the case of Xbox One) or using excess energy to keep USB ports active (in the case of PS4).

The Best Energy-Efficient Video Game Consoles

Let’s face it, video games have come a long way in the past 30 years and the pixelated, slow moving action of retro arcade games simply isn’t acceptable in the gaming world of today. Fluidity and high-resolution graphics are important components for immersing oneself into the game.

And the best energy-efficient video game consoles enable you to save money through minimal power consumption without foregoing performance:

  1. Sony Playstation 4 Pro 1TB Console
  2. Xbox One S 2 TB Console
  3. Xbox One 500GB
  4. Wii U 32GB
Choosing one of the best energy-efficient video game consoles will help you save energy, save money, and help save the planet while enjoying your favorite games. Source: Enervee

How to Minimize Your Game Console’s Energy Use

So you’ve selected one of the best energy-efficient video game consoles for your home. Great first step!

Even with these consoles, new industry options like wireless controllers, voice command, body gestures, internet connectivity, can require excess electricity. That said, there are many easy setting changes that you can change to minimize the energy consumed by your video game console. That way the weekly family game night isn’t costing you an arm and a leg in electricity bills!

Here are four tried and true tips to save electricity and money while still enjoying your favorite video games:

Activate Power Saving

Most video game consoles offer power saving settings that can improve their energy efficiency. For example, Xbox One comes set-up to listen for the “Xbox On” command to turn on. But with its “Energy-saving” Power Mode, you can disable this feature and drop the consoles standby power use by 98 percent! Similarly, the Play Station 4 (PS4) comes set to enter a low power “Rest” mode after one hour of inactivity, but you can reduce that period of time to save additional electricity and money.

Stay On Top Of Software Updates

As game developers and console manufacturers become more conscious of gaming’s environmental impact, they have begun to integrate energy-saving features in new software updates. So staying on top of these updates will help your maximize your console’s energy efficiency and, in turn, minimize your gaming-related electricity costs! For example, thanks to new software updates, PS4 now automatically drops the power consumption of USB ports once controllers are fully charged. This decreases the console’s standby power consumption by over 65 percent!

Stick To Gaming

It can be temptingly convenient to use your gaming console to also stream your favorite show on Netflix. But digital media players like Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire Stick use on average 15 times less energy than video game consoles to perform the same task! Better yet, if you have a Smart TV, that is even less energy intensive than using a separate streaming device to binge your favorite show, allowing to indulge that much more

Turn Off Accessories & Features

In addition to configuring your console’s settings to minimize energy requirements, set your controllers to turn themselves off when not in use. In the case of Xbox, turning off the “Kinect” accessory that recognizes body movements can save considerable energy costs over time. Follow these tips and you’ll quickly be able to reduce the amount of electricity your favorite games consume.

For additional energy saving tips, check out the results of the Mills’ research.

Get Your Game On

If you or your loved one has jumped on the game train, more power to you! We love a good game of Minecraft every now and then ourselves. By selecting one of the best energy-efficient video game consoles for your home and configuring it to optimize its energy-saving offerings, you can get your game on without a fear of an exorbitant electricity bill at the end of the month.

Curious about other major drivers of electricity consumption at home and pro tips to minimize their impact? Check out the power consumption of any device at WattDoesItUse and subscribe to the blog for weekly updates on all-things energy efficiency and energy conservation.

Solar panels are gaining popularity as a leading option to integrate renewable energy at home.

Energy Efficiency: The Critical First Step To Integrate Renewable Energy At Home

When you buy products through links in this post to integrate renewable energy at home, we may earn an affiliate commission. These commissions do not affect our product recommendations. Click here to learn more.

It feels like our world is constantly a-buzz with words like energy efficiency, renewable energy, environmentally friendly, and clean energy revolution. We’ll be the first to say that when it comes to bettering our world by choosing to integrate renewable energy at home and other aspects of your life, we’re very much on board!

At WattDoesItUse, one of our goals is to cut through the chaos and confusion surrounding those important words so you understand what they mean, the value behind them, and how to implement clean energy in your daily life by integrating all of them.

So today, we’re addressing the first step in a super important (and sometimes intimidating sounding) area—renewable energy.

It’s not uncommon for most people to think that renewable energy is a concept best left to the experts. But we’re here to tell you exactly the opposite—you can be an integral part of America’s clean energy future by choosing to integrate renewable energy at home.

So in this post, we provide a complete breakdown of everything you need to know about home renewable energy.

What Is Renewable Energy & Why Should I Use It?

First things first, let’s answer the questions that are likely of every reader’s mind—what exactly is renewable energy and how do I implement that in my own home? Let’s take this one step at a time.

What Is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy, also known as clean energy, comes from natural resources or processes that are constantly being replenished. These sources either do not deplete or can be replenished within a human’s lifetime. When we talk about clean energy or renewable energy, we typically refer to methods like wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydropower.

At its very core, the goal of renewable energy is to replace “dirty” energy methods (i.e., fossil fuels) and reduce lower greenhouse gases while offering the same reliability.

Though renewable energy seems like a new concept, it’s actually been around for a very long time. The idea of harnessing the power of nature for heating, lighting, transporting, and more have been around since about 200 BC. It’s only in the past 500 years that humans have turned toward those dirty energy sources.

But as the need for finding renewable energy sources increases, we’ve turned back to nature in search of cleaner energy. In fact, renewable energy currently accounts for about 1/8 of U.S. power generation. Further, renewable energy expansion is happening in more than just power generation plants. Homes across the United States are investing in home renewable energy processes in order to produce the clean energy they need.

Why Is Home Renewable Energy Important?

So, we understand what renewable energy is and why it’s valuable on a large scale, but what about home renewable energy? Why does a small change in someone’s daily life and home energy process—a solar panel on their roof, a functional windmill in their yard, etc.—make a difference?

Home renewable energy is important for a ton of reasons.

  • It might sound obvious, but we’re taking from energy resources that can’t run out—if we’re already adapting to using our unlimited resources, we can leave the finite resources be. Clean energy is the most sustainable option for energy production.
  • Renewable energy is clean energy. It produces little to no waste products like carbon dioxide or other chemical pollutants, meaning it has minimal impact on the environment. That means your home-base, your personal environment, will be cleaner and healthier.
  • It might seem like altering your own home to run off clean energy is such a small change it won’t make a difference, but it does. Even if you can’t totally power your home via renewable energy, the smallest change makes a difference—and tiny changes can add up over time.

The First Step to Integrate Renewable Energy At Home: Reduce Then Renew

Feeling pretty sold on integrating renewable energy in your home? We don’t blame you—we’re pretty wild about the idea, too. Our best advice to you is this: focus on energy efficiency first, then apply renewable energy.

Now, you might be wondering why we’ve been talking up renewable energy if we were just going to divert you away to a different strategy.

But these strategies go hand in hand. If you simply slap on solar panels before maximizing energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption first, you might not reap the full benefits that renewable energy can provide.

How To Improve Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

First things first, gain a firm grasp on your energy & electricity bills to learn where your main costs are coming from and embark on a home energy audit. This way, you can get a better idea of what type of energy consumption you’re dealing with. You can analyze where you’re wasting key energy and what appliances are the key drivers behind energy consumption in your home. Then deduce how you can improve your energy efficiency.

These changes can be easy:

Once you’ve tackled the basics of energy efficiency to reduce energy consumption, you’ll be in a great position to take full advantage of any renewable energy options in which you invest.

Options for Home Renewable Energy

We won’t dive into every single option out there for home renewable energy (we doubt you actually want to read 20 pages on the subject, and we could seriously talk about renewable energy all day long). But there are straightforward and cost-effective ways to integrate renewable energy at home. Here is the “Cliff Notes” version of the five most viable ways to really invest in home renewable energy:

Rooftop Solar Panels

This is one of the most popular—and potentially cost-effective—ways to integrate renewable energy at home. Solar panels, or photovoltaic panels, are typically placed on the roof in a yard and capture the sun’s energy and convert it to energy. There are a growing number of resources to help you determine the right panel capacity for your home based on location and intended use. Many utilities also provide information and support to integrate this electricity into your service and sometimes even to help finance your investment. As an example, take a look at PSE&G’s Solar & Renewable Energy website.

Solar panels are one of the most approachable options to integrate renewable energy at home. Source: Science in HD
Solar panels are one of the most approachable options to integrate renewable energy at home. Source: Science in HD
Solar Ovens

Though solar ovens might not be the ultimate renewable energy solution, they definitely make a difference! Solar ovens trap sunlight to heat food and passively cook food, too! They cook food for free, can be used anywhere, and can work even when there’s a power outage. All they require is a little sunshine.

Wind Turbines

Wind turbines require significant plots of land in more rural areas and are a bigger upfront financial investment than solar panels. However, if you have enough land, a wind turbine can be a great way to power your home! Wind power is more stable than solar (typically) and it only takes sustained winds of 10 mph to produce a significant amount of power! If you want to invest in this technology to support its growth but don’t have capacity for it at home, consider investing in wind energy companies!

Wind energy might not be appropriate for most, but it is an option to integrate renewable energy at home. Source: RawFilm
Wind energy might not be appropriate for most, but it is an option to integrate renewable energy at home. Source: RawFilm
Solar AC

Sounds weird, right? You use the hot sun to power a cold AC unit? It might seem strange, but it’s a real thing! Solar air conditioning employs the same principles of a solar water heater and it can cut costs, save a substantial amount of money, and even be configured to produce heat, too.

Geothermal Heat Pump

The geothermal heat pump, also known as a ground source heat pump, provides space heating and cooling as well as water heating. Because the ground remains at relatively constant temperatures throughout the year, a geothermal heat pump transfers that heat into your home during the winter and transfers it back into the ground in the summer.

Over the coming months, we will publish posts that dive into each of these five primary avenues to integrate renewable energy at home. Each post will include a dive into the technology, how to get started with it, financing options available, and an overall business case so that you can see how each stands to help you save money while also helping to save the planet!

If you’re not quite ready for this kind of commitment, there are an increasing number of solar-powered devices—from device chargers and computer keyboards, to lamps and flashlights—that can help you make smaller dents in your utility bill before taking the leap.

Save Money & Help Save The Planet: Choose to Integrate Renewable Energy At Home

Renewable energy doesn’t seem like such a massive undertaking now, does it?

We won’t lie—it isn’t always easy to integrate renewable energy at home, but in the long run, it will save you money, help you conserve energy, and make the world a better (cleaner!) place. As a first step, prioritize energy efficiency to minimize your home’s demand for power and stay tuned for more in-depth pieces on each of the renewable options to choose from.

If you’re after more information on energy conservation, alternative energy sources, or even 101 guides on electricity, subscribe to keep up with our regularly updated WattDoesItUse blog! Stay in the loop on energy trends, the latest must-have energy-efficient devices, and insight on living a cleaner, more energy-efficient lifestyle!  

Create an energy-efficient home HVAC environment to keep your home cozy and utility bill low.

Crank Up the Heat, Part 2: 7 Steps To Creating An Energy-Efficient Home HVAC Environment

If you’ve read part of one of our Crank Up the Heat Series, then you’re basically a home heating pro, right? Well, even if that isn’t totally true, you do have a pretty good grasp on what type of energy-efficient furnace is right for your home. If you haven’t read, read it now for tips on how to pick the best energy-efficient heater to keep your home warm and your utility bills low this winter! But selecting the best heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system to manage your home’s temperature is just part of the equation. For that, you’re going to want to read this second piece in order to create an energy-efficient home HVAC environment.

Energy Efficiency Goes Beyond the HVAC System Itself

As you probably already know, your HVAC system is a vital piece of your home’s basic functioning. It helps to monitor, regulate, and control the environmental conditions inside your home. It makes sense, right? HVAC does stand for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning—the main elements of your home’s environmental conditions.

The ideal balance for any HVAC system is that keeps your house comfy (warm or cool, depending on the time of year, and properly ventilated) without expending excess energy or costing you unnecessary money. But often, even the best energy-inefficient heater or air conditioner can waste huge amounts of energy and cost you an arm and a leg. This is because your home HVAC environment has holes in it (literally and figuratively!).

But here’s the cool thing: even tiny changes to your HVAC can make enormous difference in its energy efficiency. Which, leads to the most important question you’re going to ask for the rest of the yearhow can you ensure that you have a truly energy-efficient home HVAC environment?  

In this post, we’re going to break down the top seven ways youcan ensure an energy-efficient home HVAC environment so your furnace and air conditioner(s) produce maximum impact with minimal energy requirements.

Keep in mind, there are dozens of ways to ensure that you’re saving power, cutting costs, and increasing your HVAC energy efficiency, but we chose these seven because they are tried and true and will give you the best bang for your buck!

The Top 7 Ways to Create an Energy-Efficient Home HVAC Environment

Like we said before, these top seven aren’t the only methods to ensure that you’re running an energy-efficient HVAC environment. But in our experience, these tried-and-true strategies can provide the most return for your time and financial investments.

1. Insulate Your Home

One of the best things you can do to ensure that your HVAC system functions as efficiently as possible is to make sure that your home’s insulation is up to snuff. When you insulate your home properly (walls, windows, roof, and don’t forget the air ducts!), there’s less chance of warm or cool air escaping. So your HVAC doesn’t have to work overtime to keep a steady temperature in your home. Take a look at your walls, your windows, your pipes, and ducts—are you losing valuable air through these avenues? Seal any leaks so your HVAC doesn’t need to work double-time to do its job properly. At the end of the day, it’s possible that your HVAC is doing its job totally fine, it’s just the insulation (or lack there-of!) that’s foiling your energy conservation efforts.

2. Retrofit Your HVAC

If you’re already dealing with a large, antiquated, and energy-intensive system that’s otherwise running well and has been aptly maintained, consider retrofitting that old HVAC system to transform its efficiency. When you retrofit an HVAC system, you’re essentially installing new technology into an older, well-functioning system.

In a way, it’s like replacing an engine in a car—the new engine is going to save you a ton of money on gas but won’t cost you as much money as totally replacing your car. When you replace pieces of your old HVAC system (like the air condenser fan or the compressor, etc.) with new parts that are far more energy-efficient, you can optimize and extend the life of your old system without shopping for and financing a new one (depending on how well your old unit is functioning, your wallet will probably thank you).

3. Outfit Your House with Smart Thermostats

A huge contributor to an inefficient home HVAC environment is—that’s right, we’re gonna go there!—human error.

Come on, we’ve all done it—you leave the house and forget to adjust the thermostat, leaving it way too hot (or in the summer, too cold) and wasting a ton of energy when no one’s even in the house to enjoy it. We’ve done it, too! We can empathize!

But a smart thermostat in your home that links up directly to your HVAC can remove human error from the equation. With a smart thermostat, you can automate temperatures settings and schedules to ensure you never waste more energy than necessary again. Bonus points: you can usually connect most smart thermostats with your smart home hub, LED bulbs, and other smart appliances and devices to help with your overarching energy management.

4. Preserve Airflow By Regularly Cleaning Your HVAC

The more debris and dust clogging up your HVAC, the less efficiently it’s going to run. Believe us, we don’t love cleaning any more than you do, but these are the facts. If you’re looking to keep your energy efficiency high and your utility costs low, we suggest that you preserve your airflow by cleaning out all the gunk in your HVAC on a regular basis. While you’re at it, assess your furniture, rugs, and décor to make sure you’re not blocking your HVAC vents—that will also detract from an energy-efficient home HVAC environment.  

5. Invest In Energy-Efficient Equipment

Don’t be afraid to put your money into quality, energy-efficient equipment. Like we told you in Part 1 of Crank Up the Heat, not all equipment is created equal. The fact of the matter is, even though virtually everything uses energy, there are some systems that are specifically designed to reduce the amount of energy they use to do the same job of comparable models. That’s the type of equipment you want to invest in.

If you do replace your HVAC that’s at least 10 years old, you’re likely going to get a system that’s way more energy-efficient. Newer models have a higher SEER rating, which means more HVAC energy efficiency—today’s SEER ratings are around 14-18 (which, compared to the old days, is a big deal). And, of course, with any energy-efficient equipment, we suggest looking for the ENERGY STAR logo!

6. Be Conscious About Maintenance

A functional HVAC doesn’t happen magically. You’ll have to put in the work to ensure you’re scheduling the necessary maintenance to get everything taken care.

Regular maintenance will ensure that your equipment is running smoothly and even prevent larger issues from arising. Schedule your appointments at the end of both heating and cooling seasons to ensure everything is functioning properly. Even though the maintenance costs can feel unnecessary. But we can guarantee it’s a lot cheaper than having to pay for huge repairs and higher-than-necessary utility bills down the line.

7. Don’t Overlook Your Air Filters

As we mentioned above, a clean HVAC is an energy-efficient HVAC. Like we mentioned with cleaning your HVAC, clogged air filters can get in the way of an energy-efficient home HVAC environment. Replacing your air filters regularly can make a huge difference in your system’s energy-efficiency.

Don’t Just Heat Your Home, Create a Heating Environment That’s Energy Efficient

Dropping a ton of cash on the best energy-efficient HVAC elements — furnace and central air conditioning system — can certainly achieve some of the energy savings you’re looking for this year and beyond. But if you don’t create an overarching energy-efficient environment, you won’t realize the full possible savings. With these seven straight forward steps, you can create a comfortable home this winter, spring, summer and fall while at the same time lowering your utility bills. So jot ‘em down, take action, and then share them with your friends!

Have a tip that you’ve learned from your energy-efficient home HVAC environment that we didn’t include? We want to hear it! Share the love in the comments below—your fellow energy efficiency aficionados will thank you!

If it’s advice on other ways to cut energy costs you’re after, like ways you can conserve more energy in your daily routines or energy-efficient gifts for an upcoming birthday, our blog is the perfect place for you to be! Subscribe here to stay in the loop for weekly updates!

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