Energy Saving Tips
Peter Drucker, known as the inventor of modern business management, is credited with saying: “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” When making the most of the energy used in your home or business, simply researching “energy efficiency improvements” often provides an approximate idea of how a project’s energy savings compare to costs for improvement.
However, when opportunities are difficult to recognize, such as unexplained energy use or calculating the amount of electricity produced by a solar panel array, an energy monitoring system is essential. In particular, those wanting to optimize their energy use need a system that specifically identifies where energy is used and how much is consumed over time, as well includes and the ability to verify energy savings.
For those unfamiliar with energy monitoring systems, most consist of hardware, software and the delivery of data to a smartphone, computer or other display device. Some systems allow additional components, such as smart plugs and thermostats, to be connected to provide automation of energy saving practices.
When choosing a system, consider the following factors:
Appliance recognition – Unless monitoring is performed on individual circuit breakers serving recognizable connections, the system must provide appliance recognition. Some do this through a process of machine learning by identifying the “signature” of an individual appliance’s energy use and tracking it in real-time for further analysis.
Real-time cost tracking – Different systems will provide a variety of tracking reports ranging from daily to yearly. However, owners especially appreciate seeing the energy use impacts of your appliances and devices in “real-time” and in terms of energy costs.
Smart devices – With the increasing popularity of “smart homes,” controlling appliances and devices through smart devices is crucial. When using smart device applications, users expect to be able to monitor real-time energy usage, adjust settings, set alarms and more. Systems without apps still provide useful information to help save energy but don’t provide the level of convenience many expect.
Solar energy capable – Many people have or are considering solar energy (photovoltaic) installations for their home or business. Most often, these systems are integrated with utility connections so electricity can be used by the owner or flow back into the utility line. If the owner requires more electricity than their solar panels are generating, the extra power flows from the utility line. While most solar energy systems monitor and record how much energy they produce, utility metering usually does not separately record how much is being used at the home or business versus being put back on the line. For that reason, an energy monitoring system is vital to understand the breakdown of energy production and consumption.
Installation – Many systems are designed so Do-It-Yourselfers can complete installation. While in the interests of safety, it is always better to have a licensed electrician appropriately handle the job, doing so is an additional cost for consideration.
Cost and savings – Basic energy monitoring systems intended for use in residential or small business installations range from $70 to $450. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average owner identifies 10% energy savings after implementing new energy-saving projects. Some assertively pursuing efficiency optimization report savings as high as 20%.
Whether you’re trying to identify where your energy is being used or how to use less, your local utility wants to help. Contact them for more energy-saving ideas.
Heating System Tune-Ups
HEATING SYSTEM TUNE-UPS
Though winter does not officially begin until Dec. 21, you’ve likely used your home’s heating system(s) by now considering, well, this is Nebraska! Most people assume since the equipment seemed to work fine when turn they turned the thermostat up, there is no reason to consider an annual HVAC tune-up or inspection. Before dismissing, here are a few things you may not have considered.
Safety – Above all, safety takes priority. Anything intended to produce heat for indoor comfort can pose a potential fire hazard, especially those which require fuel (i.e. natural gas, propane, kerosene, wood, pellets, etc.). To varying degrees, all these produce carbon monoxide during the combustion process and require proper ventilation. Combustion chambers and fireboxes should be inspected for any possible cracks and build-up of deposits. Other components and connections should be cleaned and replaced if necessary.
That being said, electrical heating systems and appliances are not immune to safety concerns, especially older equipment. Wiring connections can become loose or frayed. Dust and other air-borne particulates can build up on coils and cause overheating. Items can inadvertently fall into baseboard heaters and land on the heating coils. Furniture or draperies may have moved too close to units.
Efficiency – The U.S. Department of Energy’s ENERGY STAR® program states that a furnace tune-up can improve your system’s energy efficiency up to 30%. During a tune-up, a professional HVAC technician can assess air distribution (i.e. ductwork) connections for significant air leaks which cause your system to operate longer than necessary and consume more energy. The outdoor components in air source heat pump systems can plug up with dirt, leaves and other debris that considerably reduces their efficiency. During a tune-up, the technician will usually replace the often-overlooked air filter. Dirty filters place additional resistance against proper airflow causing systems to run longer in order to provide comfort.
Reliability – As Murphy’s Law states: If anything can go wrong, it will. When it comes to heating systems, it seems this occurs during the coldest times of the year. In a study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources, professional service calls for heating and cooling systems are surprisingly common. More than half of surveyed households reported having their heating and/or cooling system serviced in the last five years due to failure. With yearly maintenance, you won’t have to worry about dirty gas valves, loose connections, or malfunctioning parts causing failure at inopportune times.
Affordability – According to HomeAdvisor.com, heating system tune-ups usually cost between $70-$200. Paying the minor cost for an annual furnace tune-up is much more cost-effective than paying for expensive repairs or replacements later. Keeping your furnace clean and maintained reduces the risk of future breakdowns or potential carbon monoxide leaks and provides a buffer against increasing energy costs.
Your local utility wants to help you stay safe and warm this winter season. They can also help you identify other ways to save energy throughout the year. For more energy-saving ideas for your home, business, or farming operation, contact your local public power utility.
The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has designated October as Energy Awareness Month. This recognition comes at the perfect time because, as winter approaches, it’s easy to overlook many different areas in our homes and businesses where energy will be lost or consumed without bringing benefit. As the old Greek proverb implies, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Only when a high utility bill arrives, do most people become “aware” of the energy waste.
To heighten energy awareness, consider these often ignored home energy efficiency errors:
- Lights left on. Especially as the days grow shorter, lighting is needed for longer periods. But when occupants leave a room or area, the simple act of switching the light “off” is frequently forgotten. If this becomes a chronic problem, installing an occupancy sensor switch to automate the process is a simple solution. If exterior lighting regularly operates into the next day, a photosensor switch can deactivate the electrical circuit as dawn arrives.
- Windows not tightly closed. Respite from the summer heat is often found after the sun goes down and a cool breeze can be drawn through the house by opening all the windows. While most are shut before the heat of the following day, some may not be closed all way and locked. Others may be missed in spare rooms, basements or other areas not frequently occupied. With differences between indoor and outdoor temperatures often doubling in the winter when compared to summer periods, the undesired air infiltration can significantly impact home heating costs.
- Furnace filters unchanged. Dirty furnace filters add resistance to air flow through HVAC systems causing them to operate longer to keep the indoor climate comfortable. While the life of a furnace filter will vary due to a number of factors, it’s a good idea to examine filters at least every 60 days until a replacement schedule is established. Placing a bi-monthly reminder on a calendar helps assure it does not get overlooked.
- Attic access unsealed. The most common type of attic access style is the attic ladder and hatch system. Others include a simple hatch in the ceiling or a door into the unconditioned attic space. Regardless of type, all should be insulated and sealed with weatherstripping to reduce energy loss.
- Fireplace flues left open. Who doesn’t like a cozy fire on a chilly evening? Obviously, proper exhausting of smoke and fumes is necessary until the embers have completely burnt out. This usually means leaving the flue open until the next day. But the next day’s affairs regularly take priority and the open flue may be forgotten. This allows interior heated air to literally go right up the chimney! Placing reminder notes where they will be seen first thing in the next morning can be great for correcting this oversight.
- Water heater set too high. Even though many water heaters are set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit by default, the DOE recommends 120°F for energy efficiency. For every 10 degrees the thermostat is lowered, energy costs for water heating can be reduced by 3 to 5%.
- Plug loads drawing energy. Many home electronics, battery chargers and appliances use standby power even when they appear to be off. Any device that uses a remote control, has an external power supply or a continuous display are still consuming power. Connecting multiple electronics to a power strip makes it easier to switch off unused devices all at once to assure unnecessary energy use does not occur.
With space and water heating accounting for about half of annual energy use in the average Nebraska home, these often-overlooked energy losses can add up. Recognizing these losses is the first step to improving energy efficiency. Your local utility, can help identify other ways to gain the most value from your energy costs. For more energy-saving ideas for your home, business, or farming operation, contact your local public power utility.
In The Dark On Lighting Terms?
Remember going to the store in the “good old days” to purchase a pack of light bulbs? Once in the bulb section, may have noticed several brands, but one 60-watt bulb was likely the same as the next. You knew how bright it would be, how its color (warm white) would appear and how long it would likely last (750 to 1,000 hours of use). By multiplying its rated wattage by the hours used and dividing by 1,000, it was easy to determine the kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity it used.
These days, the lighting section of hardware and home improvement stores are filled with a myriad of light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs (lamps). To further complicate matters, various lamps have different color appearances, input wattages and rated lifetimes. What’s more, not all LEDs are dimmable and those that are, may not work on a traditional dimmer switch!
How are you supposed to decide what to buy? Fortunately, since 2012, the Federal Trade Commission has required every manufacturer of general-purpose lamps to display a “Lighting Facts” label on their packaging. The label’s five sections explained below can help assure you make the right selection.
While the actual amount of light a lamp produces is measured in lumens, the amount of light provided by a bulb used to be directly related to its wattage. One 60-watt incandescent bulb produced 800 lumens, as much as the next brand’s bulb. One hundred-watt bulbs were twice as bright, producing 1,600 lumens.
As energy efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and LED lamps became available, manufacturers started labeling their products with an incandescent equivalent wattage to help customers identify the expected light output. In reality, the actual wattage of LED lamps is 75% to 85% less than its “watts equivalent” rating.
Because lumens produced by LED products can vary significantly, labeling requirements provided the following ranges of output that are considered equivalent to the fixed values of traditional bulbs.
- 40-watts equivalent = 350 – 749 lumens
- 60-watts equivalent = 750 – 1,049 lumens
- 75-watts equivalent = 1,050 – 1,489 lumens
- 100-watts equivalent = 1,490 – 2,600 lumens
When purchasing, assure the lumen output of new LEDs matches the output of others in the same light fixture to avoid the appearance of brighter and dimmer lamps.
Estimated Yearly Energy Cost
This section identifies the annual energy cost if the LED lamp is operated for three hours everyday for 365 days a year and the consumer pays an average price of 11.0¢ per kWh for electricity. Incidentally, the United States Energy Information Administration identifies Nebraska’s average residential cost of electricity at 11.1¢ per kWh.
The rated life reflected on the Lighting Facts label shows how many years the lamp should last when operated every day of the year for three hours. If operated less than three hours, consumers can expect it to last longer. The converse is also true.
Unlike incandescent bulbs that “burn out,” LEDs tend to lose light output as they are used. Within the lighting industry, LED products are rated by the hours of operation until the lamp drops to 70% of its original output. To determine the number of rated hours from the label, multiply the label’s number of years by 1,095. For example, if the label identifies a life of 13.7 years, the LED is rated at 15,000 hours of operation.
Throughout history as fluorescent lighting became commonplace, people referred to the appearance of white light as “warm white” and “cool white”. As more options regarding appearance became available, the lamp’s correlated color temperature (CCT), expressed in Kelvin (K) units (without the word “degrees”) was used to describe this attribute.
Today, consumer lighting products are rated from 2200K to 6500K. Sliding up the scale, color appearance starts at a warm, yellow-white light and progresses to a cool, bluish/purplish white. The scale on the Lighting Facts label indicates where on the scale a particular lamp will appear.
Not to be confused with the term “watts equivalent” that may also appear on the package, this value is the actual electrical power required to operate an LED or other lamp. When multiplying this wattage by the number of hours the lamp is operated, dividing by 1,000, then multiplying by the average cost per kWh of electricity, an accurate estimated cost of operation can be determined. Note the efficiency or efficacy of an LED that produces a specific amount of lumens is determined by how many watts are required to achieve that level of brightness. When dividing the rated lumens by the energy (watts) used, energy efficiency is improved as lumens produced per watt increases.
Though not identified on the Lighting Facts label, another consideration you’ll want to remember while shopping is that not all LED lamps can be dimmed. Packaging should indicate whether a particular lamp has this capability. In addition, some existing dimmer switches require a minimum power of 50 watts connected to properly operate. Because LEDs tend to have lower wattages than incandescent bulbs, the electric circuit will not reach the minimum power required. Consequently, LEDs may start to flicker, make buzzing noises or overheat. If so, replacing the switch with a dimmer designed for use with LEDs may be necessary.
Understanding the Lighting Facts label is just the beginning of how you can reduce your lighting costs. In partnership, your local utility can help identify other ways to gain the most value from your energy costs. For more energy-saving ideas for your home, business, or farming operation, contact your local public power utility.
According to the United States Small Business Administration, more than 99% (or more than 180,000) of all registered companies or commercial operations in Nebraska are classified as “small businesses.” Anyone living in rural Nebraska knows they are the lifeblood in their local communities. And, with only 10 of Nebraska’s 529 incorporated cities, towns and villages exceeding populations of 25,000, our small communities are often gauged by the vitality of their downtown business district. Many of these small businesses occupy the historic buildings lining “Main Street” which have stood the test of time for decades, if not more-than a century.
When examining construction design of these buildings, a common roofing approach predominates: low-sloped and sealed, flat roofs with composite layers.
Some of these businesses with large air-conditioning loads have taken advantage of the energy savings a “cool roof” provides, but aerial photographs suggest many more have yet to discover this opportunity. A cool roof is light-colored and designed to reflect a majority of the sun’s radiant heat. In contrast, a conventional dark-colored roof absorbs a majority of this solar energy. Conventional roofs can reach temperatures of 150°F or more on a sunny summer afternoon. Under the same conditions, a reflective cool roof will stay more than 50°F cooler.
Recognizing the energy savings a cool roof can provide, the building-materials industry offers several products that increase roof reflectance, such as elastomeric coatings, single-ply membranes, tiles, or reflective metal roofing. Compared to conventional dark-colored roofs, these products keep 60 to 90% of the sun’s radiant energy from being absorbed into the business.
However, a cool roof does not necessarily provide savings for every low-slope roof. Some businesses and most Nebraska homes, regardless of their roof slope, may find their cooling energy savings are more than offset by additional heating costs in the winter. Unfortunately, cool roofs continue to reflect the sun’s rays, which reduce the building’s heating requirements in colder months.
While cool roofs achieve the greatest savings in hot climates when installed on air-conditioned buildings, some Main Street, Nebraska buildings with a high level of occupancy; large amounts of office equipment, manufacturing, food service operations or food retailing; or hospitality venues should investigate how cooling and heating costs compare throughout the year. If the building has high cooling costs, it may be a good candidate for a cool roof. When incorporated with a planned roof installation or improvement, cool roof options often add less than 10% to the total cost. That being said, all roofing projects can expensive. Thus, it is difficult to justify converting a standard dark-colored roof that is in good condition for the energy savings alone unless the building is also significantly under-insulated. For buildings with less than 2-inches of insulation or an R12 insulation value in the roof or above conditioned spaces, combined upgrades may yield a much quicker payback.
Your local public power utility wants to help you stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter while getting the greatest savings and value from the energy you need all year long. For more ideas on how you can make your home, business, or farming operation more EnergyWiseSM, contact your local utility.
How about some statistics regarding the United States’ favorite beverage and the energy needed to keep our cups full?
Behind water and tea, coffee is the most-consumed beverage around the world and with 66% of all Americans drinking coffee daily, we enjoy 3.3 billion pounds per year. The National Coffee Association reports 517 million cups are consumed daily with the average U.S. coffee drinker having 3.1 cups. That earns us second place behind only Finland, whose coffee drinkers average four cups daily.
In May of 2021, PR Newswire reported a study that found U.S. coffee drinkers obtained 81% of their coffee servings at home. That averages to nearly 420 million cups per year with the average cup size being nine ounces. Forty-five percent of this coffee is made using drip coffee makers, 27% with single-serve machines, 9% with cold brew makers and 8% with espresso machines. Considering the average coffee machine uses 150 to 300 watts of electricity to create a cup, that equates to nearly 95 million kilowatt-hours or enough electricity to power about 8,800 American households for a year.
According to ENERGY STAR® over half of households use the warming plate for more than 30 minutes, with nearly a quarter of households using it for more than hour to maintain heated carafes of brewed coffee. In addition, some drip coffee maker owners have selected a unit that continuously maintains an internal reservoir tank of hot water to speed the brewing process when coffee is desired. Both issues provide an opportunity for saving energy. How much?
In reality, not a lot. At Nebraska’s average residential electricity cost of $0.1111 per kilowatt-hour, this only equates to one-quarter to one-third of a penny per hour. But for those who leave their machine on continuously, annual savings of 189 to 257 kilowatt-hours can range from $21 to $29.
Need to add some sweetener to these energy savings before cutting the power to the coffee maker after brewing?
- Burnt coffee – as it sits on the plate warmer, evaporation occurs. With time, the flavor becomes bitter.
- Burnt pot – after most of the water content evaporates, coffee eventually burns to the bottom. Scrubbing with salt, baking soda and lemon juice usually removes this mess, but the extended exposure to excessive heat may warp the bottom of the pot.
- Microwave reheating – rewarming a cup in the microwave uses less energy than an hour of warmer plate or hot water reservoir use.
- Potential fire hazard – The Consumer Product Safety Commission says about 50 consumers report fires caused by coffee makers per year.
Your local electric utility in partnership wants to help you make your best cup possible. In addition to information on other ways to efficiently use the energy you consume, they offer a variety of EnergyWiseSM incentives to help with the cost of energy-saving improvements. To find out more, contact your local electric utility.
When it comes to irrigation, there is no place like Nebraska. By the time the 2007 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey was conducted, Nebraska overtook California as the state with the largest number of irrigated acres and has held the title ever since.
Before our state was founded, Nebraska farmers had started our incredible irrigation history. When Nebraska joined the United States on March 1, 1867, about 10,000 acres of crops were already irrigated with surface water from ponds, lakes and rivers. By 1950, irrigated coverage increased more than 100-fold due to the rapidly expanding use of ground water. However, a revolutionary new water delivery system would help drive Nebraska to more than 8 million irrigated acres by the end of the century: the center pivot.
Traditional delivery systems used high-volume, low-pressure pumps to draw from water sources, then relied on gravity to distribute water through canals, pipes, siphon tubes and crop rows. Sadly, about half of the water using this method ran off fields, percolated down through the soil or evaporated before plants could utilize it. Center pivots keep the pumped water contained until it is released in close proximity of the plants being watered. Some center pivot systems deliver water so efficiently, 95% or more is utilized by the crop. Today, nearly 90% of Nebraska’s irrigated ground is watered with approximately 60,000 center pivots.
Converting to center pivot irrigation systems has provided farmers significant effort, time and water savings while increasing crop yields. Unfortunately, there have been many missed opportunities to optimize energy efficiency in doing so. While traditional systems were designed for high flow/low pressure operation, pivot systems require less flow but much higher pressure to deliver uniform water distribution. When converting, it was common to forego the additional cost of replacing the original pump with one designed to match the new pivot’s flow and pressure requirements. Many farmers have opted to modify existing pumps by installing inexpensive valves and regulators. Some chose to replace their old pump at the same time, but may have selected a new pump that oversized delivery pressure. Still others selected pivots with sprinkler packages that provided wetting diameters larger than necessary to eliminate runoff concerns. This too, requires more pressure than necessary, which results in greater energy consumption.
The 2018 USDA Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey indicated that one in eight irrigation wells in Nebraska operate above 60 pounds per square inch (psi). While a handful have operating conditions that can only be addressed by higher pumping pressure, many could find significant energy savings through system improvements.
The table below illustrates the operation of a center pivot system with average overall efficiency that spans 135 acres. Over the course of a season, 10 acre/inches of water are pumped with an average lift of 138 feet and a flow rate of 760 gallons per minute. A system designed to operate at 45 psi will require about 16% less energy than one designed for 65 psi.
Though many ag producers have seen considerable cost savings and enhanced performance by reducing operating pressure of their entire system, many others may still be using more energy or pumping more water than needed.
If your your local electric utility offers incentives, you may be eligible for one of the EnergyWiseSM agricultural operations. All-electric irrigation systems as well as other electricity-saving improvements around the farm bring value to producers, as well as power providers. Contact your local electric utility to learn more.
Cooling System Tune-Up
Cooling System Tune-Up
With summer coming, Nebraskans are about to use around 10% of their average home’s energy needs in a few short months. Yes, it’s air-conditioning season again!
Many only consider the status of their cooling system when it becomes stuffy inside and they flip the switch on their thermostat from “HEAT” to “COOL.” If cold air blows out, they don’t give it another thought so long as they stay cool through summer. But what if there was a way you could save considerable energy, prolong the life of your central air-conditioning equipment and qualify for an EnergyWiseSM rebate to reduce costs?
The solution simply involves contacting a NATE-certified Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) technician to perform a cooling system tune-up on your equipment. NATE stands for North American Technician Excellence, which is a testing and certification organization recognized throughout the HVAC industry.
Typically, tune-ups on previously neglected cooling systems that have been neglected can provide 5 to 15% energy savings or more. According to homeadvisor.com, a tune-up will cost from $75 to $200. However, local electric utilities supporting EnergyWiseSM energy efficiency programs will provide a $30 incentive on tune-ups.
At a minimum, any technician conducting a tune-up should:
Clean the condenser coil in the outdoor unit – Outdoor condenser coils become dirty over time and are also easily bent. This reduces heat transfer through the coil and causes a cooling system to operate longer to cool the home. An HVAC technician will clean the outdoor condenser coil using commercial-grade cleaning products and use a tool called a “fin comb” to align the coil fins into nearly original condition.
Check the refrigerant charge – Performance and efficiency of your air conditioner is greatest when the refrigerant charge exactly matches the manufacturer’s specification. If your system is low, the HVAC technician will add just the right amount to optimize performance.
Clean the indoor evaporator coil – The indoor coil is inside your furnace or ductwork. Even if you regularly change furnace filters, dust, allergens and airborne particles can accumulate on its fins and dramatically reduce efficiency. While the scope of most tune-ups does not include cleaning this coil, the technician will check to assure significant build up has not occurred.
Check the fan belt and lubricate the motor – Over time, belts crack and signal their impending failure. Some fan motors require occasional oiling to lubricate moving parts and reduce premature motor failure. The technician will assess the condition of the belt and lubricate any parts requiring oil.
Blow out the drain line – Condensate drain lines are continuously moist during the cooling season. If water does not flow through the drain line properly, mold, mildew and fungus can consequently develop and obstruct or block the condensate drain line. The condensate pan can then become filled with water and will eventually overflow.
Visually inspect the system – The HVAC technician’s trained eye will identify any external problems with your system for further rectification.
Discuss proper operation – The HVAC technician can discuss proper control sequences to assure heating and cooling systems do not operate simultaneously, and how to optimize operation for efficiency and comfort.
Discuss/review proper temperature set-back – If you are unsure how to program your thermostat to automatically adjust settings, the HVAC technician can demonstrate this process for you.
Filter Service Schedule – In addition to discussing the quality and effectiveness of various filters, the technician can help identify how often it should be changed. Some homes need this monthly, while others may get by with the same filter for six months or longer. According to the Department of Energy, replacing a dirty, clogged filter with a clean one can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5 to 15 percent.
Your local electric utility has information on additional ways to efficiently use the energy they provide while keeping your home comfortable. In partnership with your local electric utility, they offer EnergyWiseSM incentives to reduce the cost for many of these improvements. Visit with your local public power utility to learn more.
When was the last time your home’s thermostat was adjusted to reduce energy costs? A 2018 survey indicated that only half of Nebraskans living outside metropolitan areas were very likely to adjust their thermostat when leaving home. Considering about 50% of home energy consumption is used for heating and cooling, significant savings could be realized. The U.S. Department of Energy states that energy costs can be reduced up to 10% a year by simply turning your thermostat back by 7° to 10°F for eight hours a day. They recommend settings of 68°F in the heating season and 78°F during the cooling season when someone is home and active. When away or during sleeping hours, they suggest turning the thermostat down to 55°F in the winter and up to 85°F or higher in the summer.
Unfortunately, there are countless explanations why more people do not employ this energy-saving strategy. While some are perfectly reasonable, inconvenience no longer has to be one for homes with a smart thermostat. These energy-efficient devices work in much the same way as a traditional thermostat. However, smart thermostats connect to Wi-Fi and can be controlled via smartphone apps. Some types of smart thermostats can even learn repetitive user behaviors to decide when to heat and cool a home.
Though programmable thermostats allow some of the same automated control by entering a fixed routine of setpoints, users often override and even abandon their programs when personal schedules fall outside the norm. On the other hand, smart thermostats can change setpoints in real-time so no one has to come home to an overly cold or stifling place.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® program concluded that homes with smart thermostats can save up to $180 per year on heating and cooling. With quality units ranging from $60 to a few hundred dollars, they quickly pay for themselves. While installing a smart thermostat may not be the right choice for those who move often, rent or seldom leave their home, most can enjoy this hassle-free way of managing home temperatures and energy use.
When shopping for a smart thermostat, start with the certified models on the ENERGY STAR® website at: https://www.energystar.gov/productfinder/product/certified-connected-thermostats/.
While there are various features to look for when choosing a smart thermostat, the importance of each will vary from buyer to buyer. Regardless of preferences, everyone should keep the following concerns in mind:
Compatibility – It’s vital to choose a thermostat this is compatible with the current HVAC system. Otherwise, homeowners can expect to spend several hundred dollars on complex compatibility work.
Price – The budget often impacts a buyer’s options, and those who do not intend to remain in a particular home for a long time may not want to invest in a more-expensive model. Fortunately, lower-cost smart thermostats are very common, popular and often just as effective as pricey models.
Ease of Use – Most smart thermostats allow users to adjust parameters and settings via a smartphone app. Others track the behaviors and patterns of tenants to formulate software-generated schedules of heating and cooling. These types of software depend on at least some user interface and interaction. That is why it is important to familiarize yourself with your preferred product’s app and system before making a final decision.
Professional Installation – Some HVAC systems cannot be easily connected to certain smart thermostats. Before choosing a product, ensure that your preferred thermostat functions with your heating and cooling system. While professional installation may add significantly to the overall cost of a smart thermostat, it may save tons of frustration and ensures your system operates as expected.
Your local electric utility has information on additional ways to efficiently use the energy they provide while keeping your home comfortable. In partnership with your local public power utility, they offer smart thermostat and other incentives to reduce the cost for many of these improvements. Visit with your local electric utility for additional ways you can become more EnergyWiseSM!
While installing new locks and adding cameras to exterior doors can reduce the chance of an unwanted person entering your home, they add little security against another uninvited intruder: air leakage. When conditioned air exits a home through small cracks and gaps, it is referred to as exfiltration. The opposite, infiltration, occurs when undesired outside air finds its way in. The Department of Energy estimates that 11% of the average American home’s air leakage occurs around or through exterior doors.
While one reason to be concerned about air leakage is energy loss, others include reducing discomfort from drafts, mitigating indoor pollen and dust, diminishing outdoor noise, and eliminating insect and rodent access. Obviously, if a noticeable draft can be felt or if daylight can be seen between the door and frame, there is reason for concern. However, even without these indicators, air leakage could be a major issue. Fortunately, there are a number of measures that can be taken to alleviate leaky entries.
Start by identifying where the leaks are. If a door sticks while opening or closing, check the frame’s alignment with a carpenter’s square and level. If the frame is twisted during installation or due to the house settling over time, it will have to be corrected before proceeding. Then, check to ensure:
If any of these issues exist, repair as necessary.
Check the condition of weatherstripping for a tight fit. One way to do so is to shut the door on a dollar bill. If it can be easily pulled through, air leakage can occur. While damaged or worn out weatherstripping is a problem, note that using too much weatherstripping can cause the door to not seal entirely.
The bottoms of exterior doors require a durable sealant that can withstand regular opening and closing. The following options can be installed on their own or together depending on needs:
Door sweep – A door sweep attaches to the bottom of the door. The rubber gasket seals the space between the bottom of the door and the threshold, keeping warm or cool air inside the home and outside air where it belongs.
Door shoe – With a door shoe, the rubber gasket is on the bottom edge of the door. It is designed to fit snugly against the threshold of an external door.
Door threshold – Finally, special metal thresholds with rubber gaskets can seal the door from the bottom up. The seal withstands foot traffic better than weather stripping, and it can be effectively paired with a door shoe to seal a large gap on the lower portion of the door.
Your local electric utility has information on additional ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency while maintaining a healthy and comfortable indoor climate. In partnership with your local public power utility, they offer incentives to reduce the cost for many of these improvements. For additional ways you can become more EnergyWiseSM, visit with your local public power utility.
Incredible Energy Claims
The Oxford English Dictionary cites the phrase, if it’s “too good to be true” was first written in 1580. More than 500 years later, this expression seems to apply to every facet of modern times; powering our daily lives is no exception.
After learning of an incredible energy-saving or producing equipment or gadget, customers have often turned to their local public power utility as a trusted source for an unbiased opinion. Sadly, many manufacturer claims regarding product capabilities or efficiencies are grossly overstated. Furthermore, most customers don’t have the personal knowledge or experience to sort through the facts and fallacies by themselves. Below are a few examples utility colleagues have recently seen.
The Black Box
Manufacturers of these small devices claim you simply plug their unit into an electrical outlet to potentially save hundreds to thousands of dollars per year. They often lead their sales pitch by saying “This is the device your power company doesn’t want you to know about”. They might provide a lengthy explanation about how after a few weeks, their gadget learns how to optimize your appliance’s electricity use that will save an extraordinary percentage of energy. While the theory behind their device often yields savings for industrial customers with large motor loads, residential customers seldom see any difference on their electric bill.
With claims like “The International Energy Agency declares solar power is the “cheapest electricity in history,” homeowners are thrilled with the prospects of not only eliminating their electric bill but making an income from the extra energy produced. Usually, a company’s solar consultant schedules a time to meet with homeowners to individually “right-size” a system while discussing current incentives and tax credits, potential savings, decreasing equipment costs, and sustainability, as well as future energy costs and increasing property values. At the same time, they may not elaborate on electric utility interconnection, maintenance, unforeseen installation costs, battery storage requirements and more. Though most sales representatives recognize their company’s future relies on customers being satisfied with the installation, they also know their personal income is based on the customer saying “Yes”. Consequently, some claims have been misrepresented leading to consumer disappointment.
Common claims made by less-honorable window sales reps may include, “Their window saves up to 50% in energy.” Does that mean 50% of your home’s total energy costs? No. They are usually referring to a home’s heating and cooling losses through windows alone. Several studies have indicated that approximately 10 to 12% of a home’s total heating and cooling loss is through windows. When considering all losses, this calculates to an overall energy savings of 5 to 6%. Considering the cost of installing each window can range from several hundred dollars to well over $1,000, the payback from savings extends out many years.
Imagine saving “50% or more on home heating costs” using “the most-efficient space heater ever made”. Such declarations are used to justify a 1,500-watt space heater that may cost several hundred dollars or more. Regrettably, some customers don’t understand the draconian measures they must take to achieve that level of savings such as lowering their whole home thermostat setting by 15°F or more and isolating in one room for the heating season. To add insult to injury, they are further perturbed after discovering other 1,500-watt space heaters costing as little as $20 produce the exact amount of heat just as efficiently as their expensive one.
Numerous other claims have been made by manufacturers of insulations/heat barriers, air conditioner refrigerant additives and whole house fans to name a few. While most energy efficiency and energy producing products are fairly represented in the market, some are just “too good to be true”.
If you’re looking at a significant investment, thoroughly research the promoting company through the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. The Department of Energy through Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has developed a web-based evaluation tool to help consumers evaluate window energy savings. And the Environmental Protection Agency through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory offers a photovoltaic energy system evaluator to assist with evaluating solar projects.
As always, know your local electric utility will help to provide unbiased, objective information regarding any energy efficiency or energy producing products you are considering. They want to help you make the most of the energy needed in daily life including how energy is used and can be saved. For additional ways you can become more EnergyWiseSM, visit with your local public power utility.
Holiday Efficiency Savings
The cost of decking the halls, devouring delectable holiday treats, imbibing fine spirits and celebrating with family and friends over the holidays can really add up. Here are a few efficiency ideas to lighten their impact on your finances, schedules and the environment.
If you haven’t already, switch to LED Christmas lights. LED Christmas lights last longer and only use about 10% of the electricity when compared to traditional, incandescent bulbs that produce the same amount of light. Pre-lit, fiber optic trees and decorations also use LEDs with the added benefit of being shatterproof, shock-resistant, and cool to the touch.
Use a timer for all holiday lights. Set it to automatically turn your holiday lights on and off at the appropriate times – typically on at dusk and off at bedtime. To safely control exterior lights around your home, use a weatherproof outdoor timer.
Consider decorations with few or no lights. Reflective ornaments, candles, ribbons and garland make the most of low-lighting conditions. They can be used throughout the house to decorate staircases, entryways, mantels or wherever else you want to add some holiday cheer.
When operating holiday lights, turn off room lights. This enhances the holiday mood while providing sufficient lighting for most activities. Note that fireplaces also provide warm, ambient light. Just remember to close the flue when the fireplace is cold and not in use to ensure heat isn’t escaping up the chimney.
When you have guests, turn down the thermostat and take advantage of the body heat they generate. Waiting until guests are too warm and then opening a window to cool down is very inefficient, especially if you forget to close the window afterward. If you are baking, turn the oven off when finished and leave the door open to circulate extra heat into the room.
For those who may feel a little chilled, add another layer of clothing or grab a blanket rather than turning the thermostat up. Considering this is the only time of the year you can get away with wearing your favorite ugly Christmas sweater or Santa hat, why not take advantage of the opportunity?
While creating your culinary delights, keep the lid on pots and pans and the oven door closed. Food will cook faster and require less energy while cooking. Use a timer to prevent overcooking and the oven light to check on your food’s progress. Remember, it takes about the same amount of energy to heat an oven full of food as it does a nearly empty one. When possible, bake several dishes at the same time.
For smaller cooking tasks, use kitchen appliances like the microwave or toaster oven. Save the oven for larger and longer cooking projects like roasting a turkey or ham. Rather than grabbing a pot for tasks like melting chocolate, making cocoa or warming up leftovers, use the microwave to reduce energy usage by 50% or more.
Give the gift of energy efficiency. When considering household appliances and electronics, look for the ENERGY STAR® label. ENERGY STAR-certified products use up to 60% less electricity than non-certified products. Visit www.energystar.gov for a list of qualified ideas to ensure your gift will save energy for years to come.
Shop locally. Not only will it save time and energy by not making an extended shopping trip, but it also helps support small businesses in your area. Are you more of an online shopper? Check out https://buynebraska.com, https://grownebraska.org and https://fromne.com for a huge selection of great gifts from retailers right here in Nebraska.
Your local electric utility wants to help you make the most of this holiday season! For additional ways you can become more EnergyWiseSM, visit with your local public power utility.
Think quick: What is the most common side dish to serve with a cheeseburger? Naturally, you said “French fries”. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture cited during the 2000s, U.S. per capita consumption of frozen potatoes averaged 55 pounds per year. With that kind of eating, you would think we invented deep frying!
In reality, the process of deep-frying foods started in the 5th millennium BC. Having invented deep-frying during that time, Egyptians had no idea it would change the culinary world. During the middle ages, fritters, which are dough batter filled with meats or fruits, became popular throughout Europe. Finally, in the 1830s, fried potatoes or “French Fries” became popular in France and Belgium. Today, people have become very creative and will fry just about anything.
By the late 1800s, cast iron cookware became widely available and people began preparing fried foods in their homes. In 1918, the Pitco Frialator was invented. This piece of equipment quickly became a staple in restaurant kitchens since it extended the life of cooking oil. Shortly thereafter, National Presto Industries, one of the forerunners in the electric housewares industry, began selling some of the first electric home fryers. In 1976, they introduced “The Fry Baby,” further solidifying our love affair with fried foods.
But the 1980s brought a new focus on the connection between nutrition and health. By the end of the last millennium, studies were underway identifying the correlation between fried food intake and increased risk of heart disease, elevated blood pressure and obesity, among other problems. To date, no study has shown a positive correlation between fried food intake and good health.
Does this mean we must give up our long-lived passion for fried food? No! Introduced in 2005 for commercial kitchens, air fryers have recently gained popularity for home use as a great alternative to oil fryers. Here are some of the reasons:
Efficiency – Traditional fryers work by flash cooking food. After an oil-filled vat is heated to the necessary temperature, food is placed in a basket and completely submerged. Since oil fryers often produce fumes, ventilation is recommended. But air fryers can cook with just a tablespoon of or no oil at all using a sealed cooking compartment and circulating hot air around the food. Thus, it emits no fumes and releases less heat. If someone is trying to keep the kitchen cool, this is appreciated. Though air fryer cooking times are slightly longer when compared to traditional fryers, more heat is kept in the fryer.
Safety – Ever notice what happens when frozen food is put into extremely hot oil? Oil splatters everywhere. In addition, potentially harmful fumes can be created during the cooking process. Air fryers dramatically reduce these risks because all the cooking occurs in a locked compartment. When finished, most models turn off, which reduces the chance of burnt food.
Easy to Clean – Since most of its parts are removable and dishwasher-safe, cleaning an air fryer is a breeze! Compare that to time spent draining, storing or disposing of oil, disassembling, and then scouring an oil fryer.
Less Cost to Operate – Quality cooking oil costs a significant amount of money. Assuming it is not scorched during use and stored properly, the oil may be usable a couple more times before it becomes too contaminated from previous use and needs to be disposed of. With an air fryer, little or no oil is needed.
Healthier Meals – Using little or no oil when air frying ensures excess oil is not soaked up by your food. That translates to fewer calories and less fat.
Versatility – Deep fryers are strictly for frying foods. With an air fryer, different accessories allow users to grill and roast foods. Air fryers can even bake desserts!
Your local electric utility wants to help you make the most of the energy and cost of keeping you and your family fed! For additional ways you can become more EnergyWiseSM , visit with your local public power utility.
Not all clothes washers are created alike. However, all will eventually face a catastrophic failure when used on a regular basis. If the warranty has long expired or the frequency of repairs is increasing, it may be time to go appliance shopping.
Statistics show the average American family washes about 300 loads of laundry each year, and though Consumer Reports® notes 10 years as being the average length of life, clothes washers should last anywhere from nine to 14 years. When replacement time comes, many shoppers start by focusing on purchase price. This causes some to shy away from high-efficiency machines in favor of conventional models. In doing so, they fail to recognize the savings a high-efficiency washer can bring after the initial investment.
First, these washers reduce utility costs through energy and water savings. When shopping, they are easily identified by looking for the ENERGY STAR® logo. To learn the ENERGY STAR® rating, products must meet strict energy efficiency criteria set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the U.S. Department of Energy. Available in either front-load or redesigned top-load styles, ENERGY STAR® clothes washers use improved technology to cut energy consumption by 25% and water consumption by 33% compared to conventional washers.
These savings are achieved through use of sensors that reduce the amount of water used to only the amount needed. During the rinse cycle, clothes are repeatedly sprayed instead of soaked in a full tub of water. In the final spin cycle, high-efficiency washers spin clothes two to three times faster to extract more water. Less moisture in the clothes means less energy used by the dryer.
Then consider wardrobe savings by extending clothing life. Instead of twisting and pulling clothes around a turning agitator, high-efficiency washers use sophisticated wash systems to gently flip and spin clothes. This lengthens the life of often-washed items. Because they are so gentle, many models can safely clean silk, wool and other hand-washables.
Next consider detergent costs. While a container of high-efficiency detergent will often cost more than standard detergent, less is needed per load and re-washing clothes is often avoided. Note that regular detergents should not be used in a high-efficiency washer as they produce too many suds in lower water levels. High-efficiency detergents are easily identified by a small “HE” sticker on the product’s label.
Then there are time savings. Load capacities of high-efficiency washers are generally larger than with a traditional washer, partially because they do not contain an agitator that takes up space. This translates to fewer loads. And, remember – although a high-efficiency washer takes slightly longer to complete a load, the high-speed spin cycles remove more water, resulting in significantly shorter drying times – which, again, extend clothing life.
Finally, it is important to realize the useful life of a high-efficiency washer can be extended if installed on a flat surface, not overloaded, and when always using the correct detergent.
Your local electric utility in partnership wants to help you make the most of the energy and cost of keeping your clothes looking great! For additional ways you can become more EnergyWiseSM, visit with your local electric utility.
Walk into your bathroom, turn on the light and fan, and the first thing you think about is energy efficiency, right? Well, probably not. However, your bathroom’s exhaust system could be letting you down. Many homes have bathroom fans that:
- are too noisy
- move little air
- are not energy efficient
- may cause backdraft
So, how can you avoid these pitfalls? First, identify what size of fan you need. Fan size is usually rated in the amount of air it can move in terms of cubic feet per minute (CFM). Most experts recommend eight air changes per hour for bathrooms. Determine your bathroom’s volume by calculating cubic feet. You can do this by multiplying length by width by ceiling height. Take the cubic feet and divide by 60, which is the number of minutes in an hour. Now multiply by eight, which is the targeted number of air changes. For example, a 10’x8’ bathroom with an 8’ high ceiling would need 85 CFM. When shopping, round up to the nearest size.
Next, choose the quietest, most energy-efficient fan in the size range required. Most fan labels have Home Ventilating Institute (HVI) ratings so you can compare noise levels, as well as their energy efficiency. Fan noise is rated in “sones.” The lower the sone rating, the quieter the fan. Efficiency can be compared by how many CFM of air a fan moves per watt of electricity the fan requires. The best fans have sound ratings of 0.5 sones or less and move about 2½ CFM of air per watt. For added assurance of quality and efficiency, look for the ENERGY STAR® label.
Third, select low-resistance (smooth) exhaust ducting. Seal the joints and insulate sections that run through unheated spaces. This will help maintain the fan’s air volume rating while reducing the amount of heat gained or lost while the fan is not operating. Undersized or droopy flex ducting and ineffective or dirty backdraft dampers and exhaust louvers can cut rated airflow by more than 50%. Also, duct the exhaust air to where it will not cause moisture damage. Many times, this requires ducting to the outdoors.
Remember, if you have combustion appliances, such as natural gas or propane water heaters or gas furnaces or fireplaces, backdraft may be a concern. Because fans can potentially create a negative pressure in your living space, they may cause the combustion appliance exhaust to back up into the indoor environment. Not only should you ensure this will not happen by installing sealed-combustion appliances, but it is always a good idea to have a working carbon monoxide detector in use for an extra layer of safety.
Fifth, install proper controls. Bathroom fans connected to light switches start running when the light is turned on. Often, users turn the light “off” before all the moisture is exhausted after a bath or shower. Meanwhile, use of a separate fan toggle switch often leaves the fan running longer than necessary. Instead, use a timer switch with a maximum of 60 minutes. This should keep the fan running for at least 10 minutes after you leave the room to remove excess humidity.
Following these simple steps will help you save energy and confirm installation of a quality, energy efficient bathroom fan that will provide you years of service. For other ideas on how you can become more EnergyWiseSM, visit with your local electric utility.
Pop quiz: What could be wasting up to 20% of your home’s energy use each year? Here’s a hint. It’s not your children’s video gaming systems or cell phone chargers. Rather, it’s something you rarely see and likely wouldn’t consider unless you have heating and/or cooling problems.
Give up? It’s your ductwork! About 90% of Nebraska homes have a furnace, air conditioner or heat pump connected to a centralized ductwork system. According to ENERGY STAR®, up to 30% of the heated or cooled air that moves through ducts could be lost to leaks, improperly sealed joints, or a lack of insulation. Leaks and seams are responsible for inefficient heating and cooling, but something called heat conduction also shoulders some of the blame. According to the Department of Energy, this phenomenon, in combination with air leaks and gaps, can reduce the efficiency of heating and cooling systems by as much as 40%. Since about half of the energy used in Nebraska homes is attributed to space conditioning, that equates to an overall annual energy loss of 20%!
Why? Your home’s duct system is a branching network of rectangular and/or round tubes in the walls, floors and ceilings that carries heated or cooled air from the home’s heat pump, furnace, or central air conditioner to each room. Duct sections are usually made of sheet metal, fiberglass or other construction materials. Duct loss occurs when conditioned air in a home escapes the duct system through holes, loose connections or improperly sealed junctions between sections. Loss also occurs as heat transfers directly through the walls of the duct itself. These losses are usually from the effects of poor duct installation, insulation and/or design practices.
How would you know if you have duct problems? Here are common symptoms:
- Rooms that are hard to heat or cool – Rooms that are not cooling or heating properly usually means that the ducts are not transporting sufficient amounts of conditioned air to and from them.
- Dust can be found on flat surfaces after running the furnace or air conditioner – Dust can be drawn into leaky air return ducts, make it passed the filter and blow the dust into conditioned rooms.
- Higher utility bills – If ducts cannot transport air properly through a home, the heating and cooling system has to run longer, which requires more energy and costs more money.
Before contacting a certified HVAC technician, there are some simple, inexpensive steps you might try to resolve duct issues:
- Step 1. — Turn on your furnace or air conditioning system.
- Step 2. — Locate air ducts (typically found under floors, in ceilings, and in attics and crawl spaces).
- Step 3. — Feel along the sides of ducts to spot escaping air. Leaks are found at connections to vents and registers where they meet the floor, walls and ceiling. Remember that the s-cleats (where sections of duct connect) are also notorious for leaking.
- Step 4. — Seal with mastic-type sealant and/or butyl, foil or other heat-approved tapes that are labeled with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) logo. Mastic sealants are applied with a paint brush and work great for leaks less than one-quarter inch wide. Heat-approved tapes are great for wider gaps and holes in ductwork.
- Step 5. — If any of your ductwork runs through areas not heated or cooled, remember it requires proper insulation. When uninsulated ductwork extends through unconditioned attics, basements or crawlspaces, heat can easily transfer directly through the duct wall. Thus, cooled air will heat up during the summer and heated air will be cooled during the winter before it gets to the room being conditioned. Also, uninsulated ductwork running through warm, humid areas will cause moisture problems since humidity will condense into liquid water on the duct’s surface.
Finally, if you are unable or prefer not to resolve your system’s concerns through the steps above, it is best to contact an HVAC technician certified through an accredited organization such as the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) program. This helps provide assurance your duct problems are appropriately resolved the first time!
To identify more ways to manage your energy costs, visit with your local electric utility. They are committed to helping customers make the most of the energy they use, which includes keeping homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer. You may also qualify for EnergyWiseSM energy efficiency financial incentives to offset the cost of making your home more energy efficient. Contact your local public power utility to learn details.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, we use about 580 million gallons of gas in lawn mowers each year. While this is only about 0.4% of the total 146,000,000,000 gallons of gasoline consumed annually, could switching to an electric mower make a difference while providing benefits to you?
Let’s assume your lawn’s size is the same as Nebraska’s average of 17,393 square feet. Using a 20-inch push mower and averaging a speed of 3 miles per hour, it will take you 43 minutes each time you mow. During that time, an average gasoline-powered push mower will use about 0.52 gallons while a cordless battery-powered unit will need about 0.42 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity to complete the job.
Over the course of a full season, you mow 25 times. That calculates to using 13 gallons of gasoline or about 10.5 kWh of electricity to charge your mower’s battery. With gas at $3.00 per gallon and electricity at 10¢ per kWh, you will spend $39.00 or $1.05 for fuel respectively. J.D. Power and Associates reports that the average lifespan of a lawn mower ranges between seven and 10 years. Over its lifetime, the battery-powered mower saves $266 to $380 in energy costs!
When it comes to efficiency, electric mowers leave their gas-powered counterparts in the dust! All fuels, including electricity, can be measured by the number of British thermal units (Btus) they contain. Gasoline has around 114,000 Btus per gallon. Electricity has 3,413 Btus per kWh. Using the values from above, a savings of more than 97% is accredited to electric mowers.
Other reasons for choosing electric mowers are:
- No emission of nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or other air-borne particulates
- 75 percent quieter than gasoline mowers – no need for ear plugs
- Less maintenance – no oil, spark plug or air filter changes necessary
- No concern about spilling gas
- Lighter and easier to store. Some models fold up against a wall
- Current lithium ion batteries can complete most lawns with one charge
Now, your local public power utility wants to help make the conversion even easier with a 10% incentive on any new battery powered or corded electric lawn mower (view Incentives for your Lawn & Garden). Contact your utility to find further details, as well as information on other EnergyWiseSM incentives for implementing energy efficient technologies.
Your local public power utility wants to help you stay cool, comfortable and healthy this summer. Contact your local utility if you would like more information on ways to improve your energy efficiency, as well as various EnergyWiseSM incentives that may be available to you for implementing energy efficient technologies.
Heat Pump Operation
Heat pumps have advantages when compared with fossil-fuel heat (natural gas, propane, fuel oil), including high overall efficiency (i.e., higher energy output for the same energy input) and reduced local emissions such as carbon dioxide.
With geothermal heat pumps, even if it’s -25 or +105˚Fahrenheit outside, your house will stay conditioned. That’s because geothermal heat pumps make use of transferring heat into and out of the earth. At 12 feet or more beneath the earth, the ground temperature is a constant 55 to 60˚F in Nebraska. A geothermal heat pump capitalizes on this to provide heating efficiencies that exceed 400%, as compared to natural gas and propane, which cannot exceed 100%. As an added benefit, a geothermal heat pump is 25 to 50% more efficient than a typical air-conditioner.
Electric Power Research Institute field testing has demonstrated that certain models of variable-speed air-source heat pumps meet a home’s entire heating load without supplemental heating down to 0°F outdoors, with continued heat pump compressor operation providing energy savings down to -20°F.
These variable capacity air-source heat pumps are gaining traction in the marketplace. They continuously adjust compressor and fan speeds to meet a home’s required heating and cooling loads, resulting in high energy efficiency and excellent occupant comfort. Though heating capacity of standard-efficiency, single-speed heat pumps is greatly reduced as outdoor temperatures decline, variable-speed systems still provide a higher proportion of their heating capacity at low outdoor temperatures. The end result is a significant reduction in electricity demand during winter by reducing dependence on supplemental heating.
Results from actual variable capacity heat pump installations substantiate this, proving they can handle the heating needs of an entire home at zero to -5˚F. At extremely low temperatures below that, the heat pump is simply boosted by a small amount of electric resistance strip heat (five to 10 kilowatts (kW)) to keep your home comfortable. Contrast this to standard single-speed heat pumps in typical residential applications, where 15 to 20 kW of electric resistance strip heat is needed during the coldest periods, depending on the size of home. These new heat pumps also provide quiet operation and higher air temperatures coming out of your registers.
It should be noted that variable capacity technology has also been applied to geothermal heat pumps for a number years, which results in ultra-efficient heating and cooling of your home.
Both the geothermal and variable capacity air-source heat pumps are especially viable options for rural living where a back-up generator is desired. A 10 kW generator may very well handle the electric heating load during even the most severe conditions.
Public power utilities have incentives up to $3,300 for the installation of these very efficient heat pumps. In addition, federal tax credits are available for geothermal installations made in 2021. For more ideas on how you can make your home or business EnergyWise℠, along with information about energy efficiency financial incentives, contact your local public power utility.
Energy Efficiency For Earth Day
Energy Efficiency for Earth Day
Last year, as COVID-19 grew to occupy most of our daily thoughts, you probably didn’t realize April 22, 2020, marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Parades were cancelled. Tree plantings postponed. Almost every celebration went entirely digital for the first time in history.
Started by Senator Gaylord Nelson, a junior senator from Wisconsin on April 22, 1970, Earth Day draws attention to areas of deteriorating environmental conditions in the U.S. That first year, Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans (10% of the total U.S. population at the time) to take to auditoriums, streets, parks and fields to show concern for how we treat our planet. By 1990, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries. Even with most of last year’s activities being virtual, Earth Day continues to engage more than one billion people for the last several years and has become the premier event focused on sustaining our world.
Not sure if you can work Earth Day into your schedule this year? Consider why energy efficiency is one of the easiest and best ways to appreciate April 22, as well as every other day of the year:
- Energy efficiency is often the cheapest, quickest and cleanest way to meet our energy needs while reducing pollution and lowering utility bills.
- Energy efficiency supports clean energy policies and programs that boost other economic and employment opportunities.
- Energy efficiency supports a sustainable future by reducing the amount of energy needed to power our lives.
- Effectively managing our energy use helps minimize carbon emissions from fossil-fueled generation facilities.
- Energy efficiency often makes our homes and workspaces healthier, safer and more comfortable.
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), 24% of the energy used by Nebraska single-family homes could be saved through cost-effective efficiency improvements. That equates to $320.7 million in utility bill savings, including 15.6 trillion British thermal units per year in gas, propane and fuel oil and 1.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.
Your local utility wants to help you make the most from the energy you need to run your life. Contact your public power utility if you would like more information on ways to incorporate energy efficiency into your day, as well as various EnergyWise℠ incentives that may be available to you for implementing energy-efficient technologies.
Whoever in the middle ages coined the term, “Out of sight, out of mind,” must have said it right after discovering one of the favorite hangouts for an elusive and energy-stealing beast well known in the refrigeration world: the Dust Bunny. Okay, maybe they didn’t have modern refrigeration appliances in the 1500s, but dust bunnies are definitely energy-stealing pests that can shorten the life of refrigerators and freezers today. Fortunately, you can rid yourself of their effects with a little extra effort once a year (or twice if you have pets).
Before discussing how to perform this simple maintenance task, answer this important question: “Where are my condenser coils?”
If your fridge or freezer doesn’t have a toe-grill on the front, you will find condenser coils attached to the back of the unit or behind a panel held in place by a few screws. If this is the case, you will need to pull the unit away from the wall for access. The coils will look like metal tubes wound in a U-shaped grid pattern. These coils transfer heat from your unit’s refrigerant into the room’s air. If you have never cleaned them before, don’t be alarmed if you find yours surrounded by a dense colony of dust bunnies!
For the heat transfer to occur, air must pass over the coils. That air often contains dust, dirt, pollen, pet hair and moisture which builds up over time to create a great environment for dust bunnies to flourish.
Before starting, you will need the following tools: a flashlight, coil condenser brush and dust mask. As you should before working on any appliance, start by unplugging the unit. Don’t worry about spoilage. The coil-cleaning process will only take 15 minutes or less, and the doors will remain closed the whole time.
Next, don the dust mask. Though most of the dust/debris will get vacuumed up, some will likely become airborne. Start by vacuuming the loose dust and debris along the inside of the toe grill or from the backside of the fridge. If your condenser coils are underneath the unit, the flashlight will come in handy to help spot them.
Next, brush away the dust clinging to the coil with a coil condenser brush. These brushes are available at most DIY stores for around $10. Measuring approximately 27 inches long with short bristles on the top one-third, the brush’s cylindrical design lets you easily slip it between the spaces in the coil grid. Work it back and forth to remove dust while keeping the vacuum running to remove loosened dust. Once the coils and surrounding area are clean, replace any toe grills or plates previously removed, plug the electrical cord back in and push your unit back against the wall if necessary.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a dirty condenser coil can increase compressor energy consumption up to 30%. While the total energy saved of 100 to 300 kilowatt-hours per year may only save $12 to $36, dirty condenser coils can shorten your refrigerator or freezer’s lifetime by up to five years. Considering the cost for repairing or replacing a broken or worn-out unit, even greater savings are realized.
Your local utility wants to help you make the most from the energy needed to keep your food cold! Contact your local public power utility if you would like more information on other low-cost/no-cost energy-saving measures, as well as various EnergyWise℠ incentives that may be available to you.
Tips for Renters
Tips for Renters
Not everyone can replace their furnace with a high-efficiency heat pump, either because they are renting or because they cannot afford it. However, there are still some inexpensive opportunities to reduce energy use while improving your comfort at home.
About 50% of home energy consumption is used for heating and cooling. By carefully managing thermostat temperature settings in your home, significant savings can be realized. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends settings of 68°F in the heating season and 78°F during the cooling season when someone is home and active. When away or during sleeping hours, they suggest turning the thermostat down to 55°F in the winter and up to 85°F or higher in the summer. If that is too cool in the winter, try putting on an extra sweater rather than turning the thermostat up.
If you have difficulties remembering to adjust your thermostat at bedtime or when leaving, a smart thermostat may provide a better opportunity for savings. According to product manufacturers, smart thermostats, when properly installed and used, reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 15%. But as with any opportunity to reduce energy consumption, the savings potential depends on how much consumers are willing to leverage a smart thermostat’s benefits. Do not buy one until getting approval from your landlord, if you rent, and confirming the model you are choosing is compatible with your central heating and cooling system.
If you use electric baseboard heaters and do not mind less-used rooms being colder, you might be able to save some money by zone heating. Electric baseboards make this easy since they usually have thermostats for each room. Portable electric space heaters can be a good tool for zone heating, too, if they are used safely and wisely in the area you spend the most time in and you reduce heating levels in the rest of the house. Space heaters that are used incorrectly can be dangerous and can even increase energy costs.
Stop Air Leaks
Little gaps around windows and doors, as well as wiring and plumbing penetrations, can be sources of winter cold and summer heat. With a little weatherstripping and caulk, these air leaks can easily be alleviated, but if renting, you should probably check with your landlord before you get started. If cold air is pouring under the bottom of outside doors, a $10 door draft stopper is a simple way to block gaps and improve indoor comfort.
Windows and Window Coverings
Your windows may be letting heat in during summer days and heat out in winter. Window coverings such as thermal blinds or medium- to heavy-weight curtains or thermal blinds can help you manage your home’s heat loss or gain. In summer, keep blinds and curtains closed to prevent the sun from heating the cooler inside air. On cold, cloudy winter days and nights, window coverings can keep warmth inside. Opening up window coverings during the winter when receiving direct sunlight is a ‘passive solar’ technique that can reduce heating costs. Also, the interior of windows can be covered with clear plastic to reduce heat loss and air leaks.
Since about 10% of a home’s energy use is related to water heating, turning the temperature setting down can save energy. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration recommend a setting of 120°F to optimize savings while reducing the potential from scalding.
Your local utility wants to help you make the most from the energy needed to run your home! Contact your local public power utility if you would like more information on other low-cost/no-cost energy-saving measures, as well as various EnergyWise℠ incentives that may be available to you.
Looking for the perfect gift for the chef in your family?
Looking for the perfect gift for the chef in your family? Maybe you are the chef. If so, it is time you consider one of the most evolutionary pieces of kitchen equipment since development of the microwave oven. In fact, both the microwave and induction oven were introduced at Chicago’s 1933 World’s Fair. If you are not familiar with induction cooktops and ranges, get ready to be impressed!
Induction cooking provides the responsiveness and power of natural gas or propane burners combined with the control of electric appliances. Induction cooktops and ranges look very similar to radiant or ceramic cooktops and free-standing ranges with three to six burners or cooking zones. Single-zone countertop models that plug into standard outlets are also available.
Under each cooking zone, an alternating electric current passes through a coil of copper wire. As the control switch is turned “up,” an oscillating magnetic field steadily increases an eddy current surrounding the pot or pan. The result is resistive heat that is only created in the pan itself. The cooking surface can only become as hot as the pan sitting on top!
So why else are induction cooktops and ranges superior to traditional electric, propane and natural gas technologies?
Speed – If you think gas is fast, watch induction rival! Since induction works by transferring energy straight to the metal of the pan rather than heating up an element and transferring that heat to the pan, many professional chefs find induction every bit as fast as gas.
Power through efficiency – As much as 84% of the energy delivered through the cooking zone is transferred into the food. The Department of Energy finds that around 40 percent of a burner’s heat is transferred using gas. Induction ranges can boil two quarts of tap water in less than five minutes. A gas stove will take more than eight minutes and an electric range with coils will take nearly 10 minutes.
As with all cooking, exhaust hood ventilation is recommended, if not necessary, especially with gas appliances. Electric cooking technologies do not have the same requirements since they do not rely on the combustion to create heat. Kitchen range hoods exhaust air containing the heat, smoke, flumes, and other pollutants out of the home. An equivalent amount of outdoor air must be drawn into the home to replace it. That new outdoor air will likely need to be heated or cooled by the HVAC system, which requires more energy. Not only does induction put energy into food more efficiently, it puts less heat in the kitchen!
Cleaning – Induction cooktops and ranges are simple to clean because their flat glass or ceramic surfaces have no gaps or grills to collect spilled food. Since cooking zones can only become as hot as the pan, spilled food seldom becomes baked on the enamel. When spills are caught right away, simply pick up the pan, swipe the cooking zone with a damp dish cloth and return the pan to the cooktop for no delay in cooking.
Control – Changes in temperature setting occur precisely and immediately. Traditional burners take time to cool down or heat up, and chefs must continually adjust the setting to achieve the perfect simmer or sauté. With induction, the perfect cooking level is achieved almost instantly with one setting change.
No hot spots – Because of how previously-mentioned eddy currents create heat, the entire pot or pan heats in an even, uniform pattern when centered over the cooking zone. Cooks do not have to rotate food around the pan to achieve cooking consistency.
Safety – Perhaps one of the most important attributes induction cooking brings is safety. No flames. No extremely hot burners or coils. Most induction cooktops and ranges sense when a pot or pan is on top of them. Auto shut-off features eliminate the chance of “accidently” leaving the cooking zone on. Others offer additional safety features such as child safety locks, automatic adjustment as food heats up, boil over protection and residual heat indicators. Some can even be controlled from a smart phone. Most are compliant with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Yes, there are some drawbacks with induction cooking. First, the purchase price. Though prices have continued to decrease over the last 20 years, expect to pay a few hundred or more dollars for induction cooktops and ranges when compared to gas or other conventional electric types. Second, magnetic cookware must be used for the induction process to work. That usually means stainless steel or cast-iron cookware. However, you might be able to use an induction plate under your favorite glass, ceramic or aluminum pan to get by. Finally, as with other glass cooktop surfaces, they can be scratched or broken.
Your local public power utility want to help you cook efficiently! Contact them if you would like information on other ways to make the most of the energy that powers your life. In addition, you may be eligible for EnergyWise℠ incentives to reduce the cost of energy-saving improvements.
Do you notice the early morning chill on your floors?
While it’s still dark outside, do you ever sneak into the kitchen or bathroom before everyone else wakes up and notice how cold the floors are? Worse yet, are you the last person up in the morning and still find your floorboard, tile or linoleum is just as cold as it was for the first person who got up? Since the overwhelming majority of Nebraskans don’t live in igloos, you may wonder why. Ask yourself, “Is my rim joist sealed and insulated?” If your home was built prior to the 1990s, you might want to find out.
Now, you may be asking, “Where do I find my home’s rim joist?” If you have a basement or crawl space, you need to look directly underneath the exterior perimeter of your main floor. If your basement is finished, it may be difficult to check because of a drop-in ceiling, paneling or drywall. On most homes, the rim joists, in combination with the sill plate, are the first pieces of wood that set on your home’s masonry or concrete walls or foundation.
Prior to the 1970s, many builders assumed the weight of the house would put enough downward pressure on these boards and the home’s foundation to keep the elements out. A decade later, most contractors installed a felt or rubber gasket between the two surfaces to reduce drafts and cut down on the number of bugs slipping through any gaps. In the end-cavity spaces between floor joists, they installed fiberglass insulation in an attempt to reduce heat loss. Unfortunately, outside air and humidity still infiltrated past these materials, causing heating and air conditioning systems to run longer.
Today, many older homes have huge energy-saving and indoor air quality opportunities associated with properly sealing and insulating rim joists. A Department of Energy case study revealed that the test group of older homes with rim joists later sealed and insulated had a 11.4%reduction of outside air infiltration. This translated to average annual heating and cooling cost savings of approximately 19.3%.
The “retrofit” practice of simply insulating rim joists with fiberglass batts is no longer recommended. Because fiberglass batts are air permeable, they do nothing to prevent warm, humid interior air from contacting the colder rim joists in winter. When this warm, moist air comes in contact with the joists, water vapor condenses. As the problem continues, this condensation can eventually cause mold and/or rot in the rim joist area.
To prevent these problems, this area must be properly sealed and insulated. The entire job can be done with spray polyurethane foam or impermeable rigid foamboard in combination with an expanding foam sealant.
For the best results, a two-part insulation/sealant foam can be professionally installed or Do-It-Yourself kits are available at most hardware or home project stores. A two-inch coating will provide at least an R12 insulation value. At the same time, these products provide a vapor-proof seal between the wood and masonry. This approach is the most convenient as it combines sealing and insulating into one step. Unfortunately, this approach also tends to be the most expensive.
To reduce costs for this improvement, rigid foam board can be cut into rectangles slightly smaller than the space between floor joists. Once inserted into the cavity, expanding spray foam is applied around the foam board’s perimeter to hold it in place while providing an air-tight seal. As with the previous method, a minimum of two inches of insulating material should be applied.
Your local public power utility wants to help you make the most of the energy that heats and cools your home. Contact them or visit www.nppd.com if you would like information on other ways to keep warm this winter. In addition, you may be eligible for EnergyWise℠ incentives to reduce the cost of energy efficiency improvements.