Daylight Savings And Saving Energy

Sunday, March 9 at 2:00 a.m. was the official time to spring forward for daylight savings time (DST). While not all countries or U.S. states observe DST, most North American and European residents set their clocks ahead one hour on Saturday night before going to bed, including their wall clocks, appliance clocks, alarm clocks, auto clocks, sprinkler and lighting timers, some ac thermostats, and many wristwatches.

 

The History of Daylight Savings Time

The idea of daylight savings time originated in the 1700s with Ben Franklin. He believed rising with the sun would enable people to be productive during the daylight hours and thus save resources. The idea didn’t become popular in the U.S. until World War I and later World War II, when saving fuel oil was critical to the war effort. During the Arab oil embargo of 1973, the U.S. again pushed daylight savings time. During that period, electricity consumption decreased by 1% but it may have been more to higher prices than anything else. In 2005, the federal government extended daylight savings time by a month under the Energy Policy Act. But does daylight savings time really decrease energy use? Surprisingly, the answer may be “no.”

 

Does DST Really Decrease Energy Use?

Daylight savings time was invented before the use of air conditioning became widespread. A Kansas study found thats daylight savings time can actually increase consumer energy use because people arrive home when it is hot and turn on their ACs. In so far as many consumers use energy-hogging AC units, this means energy consumption is higher than if the same people had stayed at the office. However, the opposite the opposite is also true. A California study found that electricity decreased because people remained outdoors longer. The bottom line seems to be that, while energy consumption nationwide decreases by 0.03%, actual savings depend on where you live. The South tends to use more, the North is a slight winner. Lighting has almost nothing to do with it; savings relate to cooling costs.

 

DST And Biorhythms And What To Do About It

While the energy savings associated with daylight savings times are negligible, the health costs are not. Studies have shown daylight savings time can disruption the body’s circadian rhythm, which is the basic biological clock that regulates hormone production, among other things. Many people never adjust their circadian rhythm after clocks are set back, resulting in chronic over tiredness and lack of concentration. More specifically, the presence of daylight interferes the production of melatonin by the pineal gland. Low melatonin production is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer as well as insomnia. And melatonin is just one of more than a dozen hormones disrupted by daylight savings time.

While melatonin supplementation is useful, it can only accomplish so much. But you can fight light with light. Researchers have found that the blue light spectrum of daylight is responsible for an out-of-whack circadian clock. So, turn off blue light – televisions, computers and other electronic devices – at least one hour before bedtime if you want a good night’s sleep. And add red spectrum light to your life during the early evening. Incandescent light bulbs emit red light, but are no longer as readily available. However, energy saving red-light bulbs are commercially available, and we sell them of course. Using the “warm color” light bulbs will not only save energy, they can help save your health.

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Using Less Energy To Feather Your Nest

Nest Labs was bought recently by Google, which also purchased Texas Wind Farms. Both companies are in the energy business. Nest manufactures Wi-Fi enabled smart thermostats and smoke alarms, while Texas Wind Farms produces clean, sustainable power.

Nest results mixed.

Nest claims it saves consumers about $175 a year in heating and cooling costs. In reality, these savings can be much lower because Nest aims to keep you comfortable, not keep energy use in check. Many people actually spend more using Nest than not using it, and Nest does not work at all with some oil pump heaters. Independent studies have found that programmable thermostats often result in higher energy consumption simply because people do not know how to use them properly. Nest does better than traditional programmable thermostats, but is not the magical device people expect it to be.

EnTouch for small business.

Large commercial office buildings have used energy-smart thermostats by Siemens and Howell for years, but their cost is prohibitive for small businesses. EnTouch aims to bridge the gap by offering a $5000 system that automates energy consumption by smaller facilities, such as restaurants. In most states, the largest non-industrial energy users are grocery chains; commercial freezers are notorious energy hogs. Equipment such as dish machines, commercial laundry machines, and ice machines all use significant amounts of energy. Replacing these systems and upgrading water-heating systems can produce energy savings without altering the way you do business.

Getting an energy audit.

Power companies are state regulated and most are under mandate to invest in energy programs such as solar power. In many states, residential and small business customers can have an energy audit done by the local power utility at a reasonable cost. Often there are rebates for the replacement of outmoded HVAC equipment, along with federal tax credits. Replacing a low energy efficient HVAC system is the first step in lowering energy costs. After that, consider adding insulation, replacing old windows and doors that are not air tight, repairing torn ducts, and painting a dark roof with a light, reflective coating. A thermostat would be toward the bottom of the list! A great thermostat system will save you money, but it can’t offset a low SEER system and its inefficiency.

Using alternative power.

If you install a solar or wind system, you can be eligible for federal and state tax credits. Often the cost to finance a solar system is about the same or less as your utility bill, so it in effect pays for itself if it provides more than 75% of your power needs. The break-even point is usually around 8 years, at which point your energy is basically free. While installing the panels on the south side of your roof will provide the most energy gain, installing on the western side will provide power during peak periods.

 

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Getting Ready For 2014: Understanding Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs

 

Photo Credit: Google

Photo Credit: Google

Federal legislation such as the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) requiring the phase-out of incandescent bulbs by 2014 has made lighting a confusing topic for consumers. Now, consumers are faced with understanding lingo like wattage, lumens, and voltage in order to buy light bulbs. The issue becomes even more complex when talking about specialized light bulbs for healthcare equipment, aquariums, electronics and appliances, and cars and trucks.

Consumer Household Bulbs

Projectors and televisions, electronics with displays, cameras, laptops, cell phones, toys, and vintage electronic devices… they all use light bulbs in one form or another. Trying to find an energy-efficient light bulb for your refrigerator or your microwave may not be as easy as walking into your neighborhood hardware store. Further, as manufacturers have rushed to supply appropriate lighting, there have been recalls, such as one in May 2013 affecting LED light bulbs produced by Lighting Science Group. We can supply your household light bulb needs, including full-spectrum CFL, LED, and halogen bulbs. We can also supply specialized bulbs for your home appliances, including your refrigerator!

Commercial Bulbs

The legislative mandate will have a huge impact upon businesses and industrial facilities, which face swapping out their incandescent bulbs. We assist businesses of all sizes with this. Just give us a call and we’ll tell you the most economical way to comply with legislation while reducing upfront lighting costs.

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

Compact fluorescent bulbs produce more light and have a longer life than incandescent bulbs. They use very small amounts of mercury, so they should not be thrown out in your regular trash. Earth 911 is a clearinghouse of information for where to dispose of CFL bulbs if your local government does not have a special disposal or recycling option. CFL bulbs come in many shapes besides the familiar spiral, including plug-in bases, circles and tubes, and chandelier and globe screw-in light bulbs. Use a “dark sky” CFL to keep light from spreading into areas such as a neighbor’s yard.  Reflectors have a built-in reflective surface that helps CFL bulbs to throw off more light, which can assist In providing security. CFL bulbs are less likely than incandescent to break and you can also buy special CFL for exterior use that are shatter-resistant.

Halogen Bulbs

Halogen bulbs are relatively inexpensive, but generate a lot of heat. Care needs to be used when replacing them and they can react to other substances. They emit a bright white life and have  a long lifespan. Halogen bulbs use a halogen gas, a poisonous chemical, with a tungsten filament. Because they are fragile, they are not recommended for homes with small children except in difficult-to-reach fixtures.

LED Bulbs

LED bulbs are light emitting diodes – a small electronic device that lights when electricity is passed through it. These can be designed as very small bulbs for use in electronics displays. They can be expensive, which is offset by their long life. They generate more heat than halogen and xenon bulbs, but less than CFL bulbs. They have an intense, focused light that is ideal for task lighting, not ambient lighting. They are also used, like halogen and xenon bulbs, is specialty auto lighting.

Xenon Bulbs

Xenon light bulbs are often used in specialty auto headlights and in exterior path lighting. They are usually low voltage and can be touched with your bare hand, unlike halogen lights. Xenon bulbs emit a clean white light and may be used in high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting. Festoon xenon light bulbs can be used in either task lighting or for indirect lighting under cabinets and shelves.  When using them in a store with glass or jewelry, choose a clear festoon bulb. Otherwise, frosted bulbs have a wide range of applications.  Xenon is more efficient than halogen, uses less energy, and has a longer life.

Any questions? Call us and we’ll shed more light on the different alternative to incandescent light bulbs as we enter 2014.

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Hot Tips For Reducing Winter Heating Bills

Projections are for a colder winter throughout the northern U.S. and we’re already seeing record lows. So how are Americans keeping their homes warm?

  • 54% of homes use natural gas; most are in Northeast, Midwest, and Northwest
  • 38% use electricity; most are in Southeast, Southwest, and California
  • 6% use oil; most are in New York and New England
  • Few use propane, wood or other energy sources

Heat rises and so does the price of heating

The cost of heating has risen since a year ago, making winter energy savings a hot topic. Expect rates to be higher by 2% (electricity) up to 13% (natural gas), while the cost of oil can spike depending upon demand.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates 90% of the 116 million homes in the U.S. will pay more for heating this winter (October 1, 2013-March 31, 2014) than last year:

  • Natural gas: $679 ($80 more than last year)
  • Electricity: $909 ($18 more than last year)
  • Propane: $1,666  ($120 more than last year)
  • Oil: $2,046 ($46 less than last year)

How can you save on heating costs in 2013?

Before we talk about specific ways to save on heating costs, remember that there are a lot of ways you can save on your overall energy costs. One of the easiest is to use ENERGY STAR certified appliances and fixtures, and to replace incandescent light bulbs with CFL or LED bulbs.

In addition, make sure your heating equipment is in good condition so that it can operate efficiently. If you central air conditioning, a SEER 16 unit is a good choice for year-round savings on both heating and cooling. Otherwise, many of the tips that save money on heating will also save money on cooling your home.

Step 1: seal your home. 

Leaky homes let cold air in and warm air out. Make sure your home is tightly sealed. This is relatively inexpensive and can mean significant savings, especially in an older home. Some electric companies offer inexpensive energy audits, or you can hire a professional to conduct an energy loss assessment. In any event, do the following:

  • Caulk all windows
  • Weather strip all doors, including any doors to an attached garage or enclosed porch
  • Weather strip attic hatch or door
  • Seal small gaps around plumbing stacks or electric power supply lines in the attic and in the basement
  • Seal holes or gaps around chimney or furnace flues; keep damper closed or consider sealing the top of the chimney (the fireplace will become nonworking)
  • Make sure your AC ducts are properly sealed and repaired; about 20% of air is lost due to leaking or improperly connected ducts
  • Repair any cracks in mortar or exterior stucco
  • Repair settlement cracks especially if there are small gaps along the baseboard and the rim joist where the cement meets your home’s wood framing
  • Use winter storm windows and doors in northern climates
  • Remove AC window units and close windows during winter
  • Unroll area rugs on top of wooden floors, especially in older homes
  • Use inexpensive gaskets to seat electrical outlets when not in use

Step 2: insulate everything

Properly insulating the attic and walls can save up to 10% annually. Don’t forget the wall between an attached garage and your living space; attached garages and enclosed porches can be significant sources of energy loss. Also remember to use an insulated attic hatch or door. Insulating pipes and your water heater can save on hot water costs.

  • Insulation should be above the attic floor joists
  • Recommended insulation is R-38 at about 12-15 inches
  • In colder climates, R-49 insulation is preferred
  • Use insulation wraps and sheets around pipes, water heaters, and on attic hatch

Step 3: reset your thermostat and ceiling fans

The Department of Energy (DOE) estimate you can save about 3% on your natural gas bill for every degree that your turn your thermostat down during the winter. This means that in Michigan, you could save about $30 a month for a three-degree change.

  • Use a programmable thermostat and set “away” and “bedtime” temperatures to 62 degrees and “at-home” temperature to 68-70 degrees.
  • Heating your home with electricity costs two to three times more than cooling it (about $1.15 per hour in a 1700-square foot house based on 12 cents per kilowatt hour)
  • Do not close registers or air returns in unused rooms; it can damage your ducts and will make your system less efficient
  • Set reversible fans to blow air up; this will push hot at the top of room and distribute it throughout the room
  • Do not leave fans running in unused rooms; this can waste about $7 per month per fan
  • Space heaters are a major cause of fires and so we do not recommend them; instead use heated blankets or Snuggies to stay warm in a colder room

Step 4: control humidity

Controlling humidity is an important way to feel more comfortable year round. Humidity inside your home is related to exterior humidity. In warm climates, high interior humidity means that you will feel too cold. In cold climates, the opposite is true and humidity is usually too dry for comfort. In both cases, the real problem is that exterior air is finding its way into your home. In general, during the winter your interior humidity should be around 40-50% in most homes. In Florida, Louisiana, and other humid areas, it will be a little higher.

  • In general, indoor humidity around 50% is most comfortable; this will vary depending on where you live, how your home is built, and how you heat it
  • In cold climates, if interior humidity is too high ice  will form on the inside of windows and walls, causing damage and possible illness; this usually happens when people add humidifiers because the interior air is too dry for comfort
  • In cold climates, too little interior humidity can cause coughs and nosebleeds; low humidity is usually a problem in cold climates because cold air cannot contain much water and it occurs when too much exterior air is coming into the home
  • Sealing your home is usually the solution, no matter where you live

Step 5: layer like an Antarctic explorer

You don’t have to heat your whole home when you take the chill off by putting on a few layers. Many thin, warm layers will insulate you better against the cold than a few thick layers.

  • Science has debunked that we lose most of our body heat through our heads, but your head and face are more sensitive to cold, so wearing a knit cap will make you feel warmer.
  • Socks will make you feel more comfortable, especially if you have poor circulation. Both cotton and wool absorb and retain a lot more moisture than acrylic, so a good-quality acrylic or synthetic-blend sock will keep your feet drier. U.S.-made socks are usually of better quality than those made in China. Cotton especially retains moisture and will draw heat away from your body.
  • If you choose to wear long underwear, a “wicking” synthetic brand is lightweight and feels soft, but synthetic fibers can stain easily and odors may build up. Silk is luxurious and thin, but difficult to care for and expensive. Merino wool is non-itchy and stain resistant, but costly and can shrink in the dryer.
  • When you layer for warmth, wear a wicking layer (non-cotton) garment first as your base layer. This should be formfitting and long underwear is ideal. The next layer should be looser but not baggy to hold warmth in the air spaces. Consider a hoodie or bulky knit sweater. Common fabrics are synthetic fleece, polyester, and wool. Cotton is not very warm compared to other fabrics. Wear wicking socks and knit slippers, plus a cap and you are good to go. If you’ll be watching TV or reading, snuggle up with a heated throw.
  • Dress your bed, especially in cold climates. Begin with an electric mattress pad. Then add flannel, fleece, or knit polyester jersey sheets that wick moisture (cotton is out). If you don’t want to buy different sheets for summer and winter, buy good quality cotton-synthetic blend sheets. The next layer might be an acrylic blanket or lightweight cotton quilt. Then add a wool blanket. If it is really cold, top it all off with a comforter and duvet. While down comforters are warm, they are difficult to clean and many people are allergic to them. Down alternatives are pretty good performers, are usually machine washable, and are fine for allergy sufferers. The more layers you use on a bed, the warmer you’ll be – and sleeping partners who like it colder can flip back a few layers onto your side. Many people swear by electric blankets, but you can stay warm with the right layers without paying the utility company.
  • Take a tip from your great-grandmother and use a hot water bottle wrapped up in a towel (can leak, though) to warm the foot of your bed. Microwavable bags of rice stay warm, don’t slip around, don’t leak and you can make them easily. We recommend against sleeping with an electric heating pad due to the risk of burns.

What are your tips for keeping warm this winter?

 

 

 

 

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Understanding Relative Humidity and Your AC

Humidity – the amount of moisture in the air – is of tremendous importance for your comfort and for your health. It also impacts the energy costs of operating your AC system, the biggest energy hog in your home. When you reduce the humidity in your home, you also reduce the risk of mold and mildew growth. When humidity is low, you also feel cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

Humidity is a complicated topic.  There is always some moisture in the air. Relative humidity is the amount of moisture relative to the amount of moisture the air can hold. If the relative humidity is 50%, then it is half “full” of water. If the relative humidity is 100%, it cannot “hold” more water. When rain clouds form, they are at 100 % humidity, but the ground-level humidity could be much less.  If the air around you is at 100% humidity, it is holding all the water it can. It does not mean it is raining, just that the air is saturated with water!

When relative humidity is low, we feel cooler because sweat evaporates easily. People feel most comfortable when the relative humidity is around 50%. Your AC system is designed to de-humidify the air, so it is important that it does this properly or you will not feel comfortable even if the temperature is cool. You will also find yourself sneezing and coughing, because humidity promotes the growth of allergens. If humidity is too low, you will have a dry throat and be trouble by static electricity as well as dry, itching skin.

As air cools, it become less able to hold water. At a certain temperature, it will condense into water (the dew point) or ice (the frost point). The dew point varies depending on the relative humidity. Currently, (October), the dew point in South Florida is 65 degrees… meaning condensation will form at this temperature. In Maine, on the other hand, the dew point is now 40 degrees.

Normally, during hot weather, condensation will form on the outside of your windows if you run the AC very cold. This is because hot air can hold more water than colder air. When the air touches your cold windows, it condenses. Indoor humidity that is too low is more common during winter, because cooler temperatures and heating cycles lower moisture in the air more rapidly. In the summer, relative humidity that is too high is a more common issue.

Condensation on the inside of your windows is a sign that something is imbalanced in your AC system. Your AC system includes your entire home, so if you have leaky windows that will affect the relative humidity inside your home and how hard your AC has to work to remove moisture. You buy humidity gauges (hygrometers) for around $15 apiece to measure the amount of relative humidity in the air. Buy several, leave them in place, check the relative humidity, and then swap the positions to check the accuracy of your readings.  If the temperature is at 76 degrees, the relative humidity should be around 50%.  In the winter, it should be no lower than 30%.

Stay Tuned for our next post “The causes of high relative humidity in air-conditioned buildings…

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Lower your energy costs!

If you are blessed with having an actual winter, you are also cursed the heating bill at the end of the month. However, don’t worry, you can do a couple of simple things around the house to keep the costs low.

Ceiling fans are normally set during the summer to spin counterclockwise to push the cool air down. During the winter you want to switch them to spin clockwise at a low speed in order to push the hot air down and prevent cold spots in your home.

 

 

Insulated curtains help reduce draft and heat loss. The most effective types include acrylic or high-density foam insulation and reflective film that helps direct heat into the room. Make sure to take advantage of the daylight and keep the curtains open to bring in the heat. At night, close the curtains to keep the heat inside the room.

 

 

Turn your thermostat down! We’re not telling you to freeze in your house but while you are away set your thermostat 10-15 degrees lower and you will see a 10% savings on your heating bills. You should also set the water thermostat to 120 degrees; you won’t notice the difference. If you are also lighting up your home for the holidays then look into using LED lights to save money on your bill.

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