Heed the outdoors! You can save energy on both heating and cooling by taking advantage of the weather outside. This is especially the case in the fall and spring when temperatures are milder. When humidity is low the temperature is nicer outside than inside, open your windows and screen doors to let those breezes in. This also helps refresh the stale air inside your house. Remember to turn off the AC or heater while the windows are open.
Closing your curtains or blinds in summer during the day reduces heat gain in your house, decreasing cooling costs.
With these soaring temperatures in late summer, staying cool is a challenge. There are simple steps that you can take to reduce the temperature rise in your house and thus cut the cost of cooling. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, windows are an entryway for heat into your house. You can reduce heat gain in your house by 45% by covering you windows. Closing draperies can reduce the increase in heat by 33%. The best effect comes from draperies of medium-color that have white-plastic backings. Blinds and cellular shades are even more efficient, reducing heat gain by up to 60%. Exterior options for reducing heat through windows include window awnings can reduce solar heat gain by up to 65% - 77% depending on the direction that the window faces.
Photos by Susan O'Donnell
The gentle falling of leaves that comes with the arrival autumn is accompanied by the loud droning of leaf blowers. The high-decible noise from these machines raises the question of whether they are necessary. While they are a helpful tool for piling the leaves in our tree-rich neighborhoods, they have downsides as well. According to an EPA study, the inefficient two-stroke motor of gas-powered leaf blowers emit particulates and pollutants including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide, which contribute to climate change. The practice of blowing leaves out of landscaping is detrimental to plant beds: the high-force winds produced by leaf blowers scour plants, compact the soil, and blow away nutrients with the topsoil. A study in the Environmental and Toxicology Studies Journal found that the low-frequency/high decibel sounds emitted by gas-powered leaf blowers travel long distances and through walls. These impacts are detrimental to health of both humans and wildlife.
Alternatives to gas-powered leaf blowers include using different tools or adopting a different approach to leaves. Use a rake on the lawn and a broom to clear the sidewalk or driveway. Electric blowers have no direct emissions and produce less noise. We can also question the value of applying a standard of “neatness” in the outdoors that can only be achieved by using these machines. In some areas of the yard, leaves don’t need to be removed at all: soil in plant beds is protected by leaf litter and gets nutrients as the leaves break down. Instead of blowing leaves away, consider gently raking the leaves from your lawn into your landscaping.
Gasoline-powered leaf blowers cause air and noise pollution. Raking is better for your health and the environment
Leaf blowers have become a contentious issue in many communities, because of the air and noise pollution they cause. A number of cities, including Santa Barbara, CA, and Aspen, CO, have actually banned gasoline-powered leaf blowers altogether.
Like lawnmowers, most gasoline-powered leaf blowers run on a lightweight, compact two-stroke engine. During operation, about 30% of the fuel the engine uses fails to undergo complete combustion. As a result, the engine emits relatively large quantities of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and hydrocarbons into the atmosphere. This Washington Post article from 2013 explains the problem in greater detail: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/how-bad-for-the-environment-are-gas-powered-leaf-blowers/2013/09/16/8eed7b9a-18bb-11e3-a628-7e6dde8f889d_story.html
AARP recommends raking leaves as a way to keep fit and burn calories while enjoying the outdoors: http://www.aarp.org/health/fitness/info-02-2009/raking_leaves.html. Consumer Reports has tested the efficacy of leaf blowers compared with raking and recommends an ergonomic rake for getting the job done, avoiding injury, and protecting the environment: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2011/09/should-you-buy-a-leaf-blower-or-a-rake/index.htm
More and more gardeners are wondering whether it’s even necessary to remove leaves from the garden and lawn. A mower can turn fallen leaves into valuable mulch, but its gasoline-powered engine may be just as polluting as the leaf blower’s. Raking leaves and adding them to your compost bin, or simply raking them into garden beds, is probably the most environmentally-friendly option of all: http://www.treehugger.com/lawn-garden/skip-rake-and-leave-leaves-healthier-greener-yard.html.
Photos from Flickr by Shelton Dunning (rake) and Marco Verch (leaf blower)
Converting our energy sources to 100% renewable, sustainable energy is a critical step in achieving the Greenhouse Gas reductions necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. You can advance your community toward this goal by choosing an electricity provider that generates power from renewable sources.
photo by Zac Zac, Flickr
In the late 1990s, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) allowed for electric suppliers to compete in the market place, and some of those providers offer 100% renewable energy. AFewSteps recommends two organizations, The Energy Co-op and Green Mountain Energy, which provide green energy (including locally sourced options) to the PECO territory. You can find more information on these and other companies by going to www.papowerswitch.com, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s website providing information about the multiple electricity suppliers available in Pennsylvania. Look for a plan without enrollment, cancellation, or monthly fees.
How do I sign up for green energy?
The best way to sign up is by calling the supplier on their toll-free number. Some suppliers also allow you to sign up online at their website, but there may be options not listed there. You will need to have your PECO account number (at the top left of your bill) handy in order to authorize the transfer of service, and may have to verify your identity. This is to protect you from unscrupulous operators.
The Energy Co-op EcoChoice Pennsylvania 215-413-2122
Green Mountain Energy Pollution Free™ Farm to Market 1-855-531-5066
Will I get multiple bills?
No. PECO will still send one bill each month. The gill will include the electricity generation charges from The Energy Co-op or Green Mountain Energy as well as PECO’s transmission charges.
Whom do I call if I have a problem?
PECO. PECO will still provide the electivity service to your home.
Will my service be affected?
No. You will still experience the same reliable service hat you have in the past.
Can I switch back?
Yes. You can switch back to PECO or another provider if you want. Be sure to read the details of the contract given by the provider.
Using your stove or oven heats your house making your air conditioner work harder and adding to your energy use during the summer. Take that heat outside by cooking on the grill. Or make salads or sandwiches that do not require any cooking.
It’s a myth that keeping a furnace running at an even temperature saves energy, so set back your thermostat five degrees or more at night and when you’re not home.
The energy saved by letting the house cool down and remain at a lower temperature is much greater than the energy used to warm up the house. It is a popular misconception that it is better to keep your home at a constant temperature because the boiler or furnace will “work harder” to bring the inside temperature back up from a ten degree set-back.
Not so. Your heating system always runs at the same rate when it is on. The main variable is how long it remains on. Studies have proven that turning the thermostat back 10 degrees for an eight-hour period will save you 10% on your heating bill, on average. If you can’t turn your thermostat down 10 degrees, try 5 degrees-there will still be energy savings. The longer your home remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you’ll save.
Programmable thermostats typically pay for themselves in energy savings in the first winter. Programmable thermostats are not recommended for homes with heat pumps or electric baseboard systems. Steam boilers and radiant systems may take longer to heat the house back up, but a programmable thermostat will ‘learn’ in a few days when to start heating the house up to reach your desired temperature setting.
Consider the humble Clothesline to lower your carbon footprint. An old-fashioned clothesline hung between trees is all you need to dry your clothes in the summer sun and cooler, drier autumn.
Here’s a simple, affordable “technology” that’s making a comeback–the clothesline. It can save you as much as $200 a year (less for those with gas dryers) in energy costs and creates no global warming gases or air pollution.
Automatic clothes dryers were once hailed as a miracle of modern housekeeping, but that convenience came with a price: namely, 6% of total electricity consumed by American homes, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. Taking advantage of the sun and breeze is free for all, and sunlight is an excellent disinfectant. Clothing also lasts longer and smells great when it’s line-dried. Not only that, standing in the fresh air, feeling the wind on your face, and hearing the birds sing is therapeutic.
In conjunction with the humble clothesline, a wall drying rack in the laundry area can handle small items such as underwear and socks.
National Hanging Out Day, April 19th, is a day to hang your clothes out to dry. It was created by Project Laundry List, which joins together with other organizations to educate communities about energy consumption.
Reverse your ceiling fan direction for winter.
We can all appreciate the humble ceiling fan on a hot day, particularly when it’s coupled with a cold glass of lemonade. But the same fan that cuts summer electric bills by as much as 40% can also help out in the winter.
Fans today are made with a little switch that changes blade rotation. Counterclockwise produces that pleasant summer breeze we crave. Clockwise makes an updraft that sends the warmer air pooled near the ceiling back into the living space — cutting heating costs by as much as 10%. This is especially important in rooms with high ceilings.
In an article by Lauren Zerbey on apartmenttherapy.com, she explains how this works:
"In the summer months, the slightly angled blades of a ceiling fan turn counterclockwise to move air down, making people feel cooler due to a concept known as the wind chill effect. During winter, the warm air generated by your heating system naturally rises to the ceiling while cooler air sinks. By switching the direction that your fan blades turn, that cooler air is drawn upwards, which forces the warmer air near the ceiling back down into the space. How does this save energy? Since thermostats are typically located at human level, keeping the warm air low where it’s needed means you can turn the your thermostat down a few notches and still stay warm."*
Get to know your switch, and you’ll have a fan for all seasons.
*Lauren Zerbey, May 7, 2019, "Winter Tip: reverse your ceiling fan direction and save energy," apartmenttherapy.com.