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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

U.S. Electric Upgrades Mean Higher Bills

Here’s proof you need to prepare for increased rates -- the electric utility system is going to be upgraded, and the cost of these upgrades will appear in your electric bills.

Read the Reuters story: U.S. electric grid needs major overhaul: utility

And then come back for more energy efficiency tips and recommendations.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

LED Lights -- An Emerging Alternative to CFLs

Drawbacks and benefits at a glance.

The photo was taken by Rinto Jiang and posted on Wikipedia and shows how LED lights are being used in large office spaces. Note that these lighting fixtures are similar to the fluorescent lighting fixtures that appear in many office buildings. This same technology is now becoming available for home use.

LEDs use less energy than incandescent bulbs, run cooler than either incandescents or CFLs, and they don't have the hazardous waste issues that CFLs have.

LED stands for "light emitting diode." These were developed in the 1920s, but they did not become commercially available until the 1960s and 1970s, when they were used in LED clocks or in hand-held calculators (remember those tiny red lights on those wafer-sized calculator black screens?).

Recently, they have been used on cars, in traffic signal lights, and some specialty street lighting. LEDs are relatively more expensive than their alternatives, and LED manufacturers have only recently begun to offer LED light bulbs that can be used in the home.

Also, due to their small size, brightness, and diversity of colors, they are used with some holiday lighting. (Check out holiday lighting at Amazon: LED Holiday Lights)

Importantly, however, manufacturers are now introducing a wide range of LED light bulbs for the home. See this listing of LED light bulbs for the home on Amazon: LED Light Bulbs for the Home

The key to understanding this technology is that it uses less energy than an old-fashioned incandescent bulb. CFL bulbs designed to produce a similar amount of light use the same amount of electricity as an LED bulb. CFL light bulbs are also relatively cheaper.

However, CFLs do contain hazardous substances and must be disposed of using your local garbage company's hazardous waste process (the same that you would use for batteries).

LED manufacturers also report that their light bulbs will last for years -- much longer than either an incandescent or CFL light bulb. That means the higher cost of the LED light bulb should be off set by the fact that you will not have to replace it as often as the other bulbs.

In discussing the uses of LED light bulbs, I have heard from some engineers that the quality of light cast by an LED light is not as bright as an incandescent, which is similar to the poor lighting quality of the first fluorescent light bulbs that had been introduced in the 1960s and 1970s.

This is a technology worth looking into.
U.S. DOE Scores D- on Internal Energy Audit

Failure to use or fix programmable thermostats wastes energy.

It's a simple fix -- one that any homeowner can make on his or her own to save energy at home.

The U.S. energy department flunked its own energy use audit.

According to a new story published July 23, 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy is wasting enough electricity to power more than 9,800 homes a year.

The problem: keeping the building heat and cooling systems running after DOE employees have left for the day.

The solution to this problem is to use, or replace broken or malfunctioning, ‘set back’ thermostats. Setback thermostats are thermostats that can be programmed to make furnaces or air-conditioner turn on and off at specific times of the day. They also allow you to pre-program thermostats to operate at specific temperatures.

In winter, these devices turn the temperature down when you leave the house, raising it back to a more comfortable level when you return home. And they perform a similar function in summer -- raising temperatures when you leave home, and lowering them to a more comfortable level automatically at the time when you are scheduled come back from your workday.

Some models of these smart thermostats come with such helpful features as a:
  • Signal that reminds you when to change the furnace or air-conditioner filter
  • Lock that prevents random changes to the thermostat’s settings
  • Automatic modification of temperature settings with changes of the season
  • Low battery warning indicator
These devices are available at most hardware stores, and online. They aren't cheap -- but then they are a lot less expensive than leaving the heat on during the winter when no one is at home.

So check them out and let a digital device manage your thermostat automatically -- while improving energy efficiency and lowering utility bills.

Read more about the DOE's ironic little failure at

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Time to Analyze Your Home Energy Use ...

With an easy to follow checklist that helps you examine how you use energy at home.

Here is a simple quiz you can take to analyze your energy usage.

  1. Do you regularly maintain and service your heating and cooling system? That is, do you clean or replace filters regularly, according to manufacturer's instructions, and do you conduct an annual system tune-up?
  2. In summer, do you keep your air-conditioner thermostat set at 78 degrees Fahrenheit?
  3. In winter, do you keep your furnace thermostat set at 68 degrees Fahrenheit?
  4. Have you sealed windows with and exterior doors with weather stripping, and/or have you used caulk around windows and exterior doors to block out drafts?
  5. On hot summer days, do you block out the heat by closing drapes and blinds?
  6. In winter, do you open the drapes to allow natural daylight in to light and heat your home?
  7. Do you wash your laundry in cold water?
  8. Do you use water saving showerheads in your bathrooms?
  9. Do you only dry full loads in the clothes dryer?
  10. Do you only wash full loads in the dishwasher?
  11. Do you turn off lights, televisions, and computers when not using them?
  12. Do you use compact fluorescent lights in your home?
  13. Do you unplug appliances that are rarely used?
If you answered yes to only 5 of these questions, there is a lot you can do to improve energy efficiency and lower utility bills.

If you answered yes to at least 10 questions, then you're doing a really good job. Congratulations!

Online home energy check up tool

The Alliance to Save Energy, which has been promoting energy efficiency for decades, provides an online tool for assessing your energy use. It's not super intuitive to use, as tools go. But it can provide you with some ideas as to how you can improve energy efficiency.

The tool is here at

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Obama Supports Research to Improve Fluorescent Lighting

But are fluorescent lamps the only energy efficient alternative to help lower utility bills?

The Obama administration has established new energy efficiency standards for fluorescent lamps and incandescent lamps used in residential and commercial buildings.

The administration has embarked on a $346 million effort in research and development of lighting products that will increase energy efficiency and lower utility bills by $1 billion to $4 billion annually.

View the video:

Incandescents are being phased out in numerous countries, including parts of the USA and Canada, to be replaced by fluorescent bulbs. CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps) are becoming more cost competitive with the old incandescents, mainly due to their lower energy use -- I've seen estimates ranging from one fifth to one third the energy use of a comparable incandescent light bulb.

That said, one must remember that CFLs contain mercury, a hazardous substance, and need to be disposed of properly to prevent mercury from entering our water.

Also, there appears to be some concern about ultraviolet lights, although what I've read suggests this may be a minor issue.

Technologies other than the proposed improvements to fluorescent bulbs may be better in the long run. For instance, many utilities are talking about the use of LED technology as a way to improve lighting efficiency.

Learn about these at a cool industry supported website, the Lighting Research Center.

The LRC is supported by government agencies interested in promoting energy conservation, including the California Energy Commission, the US EPA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency, and the Iowa Energy Center.