Energy Savings Blog

Holiday Energy Saving Tips

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Energy Saving Tips for the HolidaysThe holidays bring friends and families together, which often finds us spending more time in the kitchen. If you’re like us, you’re interested in good tips on how to put together a cozy winter meal while keeping energy bills reasonable. Energy costs in the kitchen can total up to 15% of total home energy use, so it’s worth a bit of effort to learn how to be more efficient.

Here are some tips to help keep your energy costs down:

  • Keep the oven door closed. It’s tempting to open the door to check on the progress of a dish. But because the hot air that is contained in the oven is an important part of the appliance’s cooking process, frequent peeking is self-defeating. Every time the oven door is opened, the temperature inside is reduced by as much as 25 degrees, forcing the oven to work even harder (and use more energy) to get back to the proper cooking temperature, and increasing the cooking time. So try to use the oven window instead.
  • Clean your burners. If you’ve got an electric range, one great way to keep your stovetop cooking efficiently is to keep the reflectors under your burners grime-free. They can be a pain to clean, but regular maintenance can go a long way. You can also invest in some better reflectors that can decrease your stovetop cooking times, which will save you energy (and money!) over time.
  • Don’t neglect your crock-pot… or your microwave, toaster oven, or warming plate. Putting your small kitchen appliances to work instead of the oven or stovetop can mean significant energy savings. The average toaster oven can use up to half the energy of the average electric stove over the same cooking time.  And microwave ovens draw less than half the power of your regular oven, and they cook for a much shorter period of time
  • Make contact. We’ve all got one in our kitchen—those warped and rounded pans that wobble when you set them on the stovetop. If you have a gas range, you can cook with warped pans to your heart’s content; those of us with electric ranges aren’t so lucky. Electric stovetops can only transmit heat to pans they are in direct contact with; the less contact your pan has with the burner, the more energy the stovetop will have to expend to heat the pan (and its contents).
  • Cool it. Allow hot foods and liquids to cool before putting them in the refrigerator. Uncovered, hot food and liquids give off vapors that make the refrigerator work harder. Use a lid or plastic wrap to cover the food and place in the refrigerator after cooling.
  • Use your dishwasher. It saves energy and water. Only hand-wash things that aren’t dishwasher-safe, and wait until you’ve got a full load before starting the dishwasher. Be sure to stop the appliance before the heated dry cycle – just open the door and let your dishes air-dry.
  • Turn down the heat. Spending all day in the kitchen? If you’ve got the oven running and soup on the stove, you can probably turn the heat down a bit. The heat from your oven, not to mention dinner guests, should keep your home warmer than usual, and your furnace won’t have to work as hard.

One more tip… Be festive & frugal with your holiday lights. Did you know that those large, traditional colored bulbs you unpack year after year could be costing you a bundle? Consider buying new miniature lights or LED strings, which use 7 to 10 times less energy and last much longer than the larger bulbs.

To avoid accidentally leaving your lights on and running up your electric bill, think about using an automatic timer, both indoors and out. Timers remove the burden of turning the lights on and off…or forgetting to do it! Just make sure that the timer you use is rated to handle the total wattage of your lights.

Enjoy a safe, efficient and happy holiday!

Big Savings on Heat Pump Water Heaters

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Water heaters are one of the biggest sources of energy consumption, second only to energy used to heat your home or business.  Over the past few years, a new type of water heater, using Heat Pump technology, cuts water heating energy use by about 60% compared to standard electric storage water heaters.

If you’re thinking about replacing your water heater, or want to reduce your energy usage, now’s the time to consider a heat pump water heater.  Now through December 3rd, 2014, you can save a total of $700 on the price of a new GE GeoSpring Hybrid Heat Pump water heater.  This includes a $400 instant rebate at the time of purchase and a $300 rebate from OPALCO after installation.

A conventional electric water heater costs about $440 a year to heat water for a typical home.  It can cost even more, depending on the size of home and family and water use habits (baths versus showers, etc.).  In the same home, with a heat pump water heater,  it would only use $167 in electricity – a savings of $272 per year, or over $3,000 over the lifetime of a typical water heater. If your water heater uses propane, the savings should be even greater.

To find out if a heat pump water heater is right for you, click here for helpful tools and resources.  To learn more about the rebates, see information on the OPALCO rebate and the GE rebate, then check out the water heaters at Sears, Lowes, or any of these dealers.  Make your best deal, and once installed, fill out and submit the OPALCO rebate form to receive $300 cash back.

Check out the GeoSpring water heater website to learn more about how heat pump water heaters work, locate a dealer, and calculate savings.  Here’s a helpful video that explains how the GeoSpring water heater works.

What’s More Important, Air-Sealing or Insulation?

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Infrared image showing heat leaking from a house

Infrared image showing heat leaking from a house

A recent analysis of San Juan County homes and businesses showed that most can substantially reduce their energy bills and wasted energy by improving their energy efficiency. Air sealing and insulation are two of the best ways to make your home or business more comfortable, durable, and energy efficient.

To our question – What’s more important, air sealing or insulation? ­– Green Building Advisor (GBA) senior editor Martin Holladay says the answer is clear, “Air sealing always comes first.”

Air Leaks Waste Energy and Rot Houses

GBA estimates a whopping one third of the energy you pay for probably leaks through holes in your house. Air leaks can also cause moisture and indoor air quality problems. Stopping unwanted airflow is an important job of a building enclosure. Air leaks through walls, roofs and floors can have the biggest effect on the durability of a house. Uncontrolled air flow through the shell not only carries moisture into framing cavities, causing mold and rot, it can account for a huge portion of a home’s energy use and cause indoor air quality problems as well.

Doug Poole

Doug Poole

Doug Poole of Sage Building on Lopez Island agrees. He explains, “Air enters and leaves the home through stack effect and wind pressure.  Stack effect turns your house into a chimney and is constantly drawing air from the low points of the home and sending it out through the high points. This is called infiltration and exfiltration.”

Poole lists the benefits of air sealing a home as:

  • Savings on energy costs
  • Improved comfort through reducing drafty areas of the home
  • Better indoor air quality by reducing the air entering the home through the crawlspace
  • Lower threat of mold growth in the attic
air sealing your home

How a leaky building wastes energy. (click to enlarge)

Plugging the Leak

As winter approaches we are more likely to notice our home’s air leaks or “drafts,” especially when the winter winds are raging. Often these drafts are around windows and doors and we think these leaks are our major source of wasted energy. Experts agree however, that in most homes, the most significant air leaks are hidden in the attic and basement. These are the leaks that significantly raise your energy bill and make your house uncomfortable. As Poole said, in cold weather, warm air rises in your house, just like it does in a chimney. This air, which you have paid to heat, is wasted as it rises up into the attic and sucks cold air in all around your home—around windows, doors, and through holes into the basement.

Hand in hand with air sealing comes proper ventilation.  Poole says, “This can be as simple as a bath fan on a timer, or as complicated as a Heat Recovery Ventilator for super tight or high performing homes.  The tightness of the home can be tested with a Blower Door and then the appropriate home ventilation system should be installed.

A popular Home Performance slogan is:  “Seal tight, ventilate right!”  Poole’s own well sealed home has a bath fan that is always on at a low speed so its constantly bringing in fresh air from outside and getting rid of stale, moisture-laden air.  Opening windows high and low in the house can work too, but that wastes a lot of energy and it puts Mother Nature in charge of how much fresh air we get.

Caulking and weather-stripping are two simple and effective air-sealing techniques that offer quick returns on investment, often one year or less. Caulk is generally used for cracks and openings between stationary house components such as around door and window frames, and weather-stripping is used to seal components that move, such as doors and operable windows.  For some good information and tips on how to air seal you home or business, see Energy Star’s excellent A Do-It-Yourself Guide To Sealing And Insulating With Energy Star.  It’s loaded with good how-to information and illustrations.

Pressurizing the House

Blower Door

Blower Door

Poole agrees that door seals can sometimes be a big air leak in a home, and that properly sealing dampers on dryer vents, bath fans and kitchen hoods is good to do as well. That said, Poole finds the biggest culprits tend to be in the dark places. As a Home Performance contractor, his focus is on the high and low leaks in the house.

Donning protective gear and heading into the crawlspace to seal gaps around pipes and wires, under tubs, duct penetrations, etc. will improve air quality, save energy and reduce drafts.”

The attic is a little more technical.  We typically use the Blower Door to pressurize the house and help us find the air leaks in an attic.  These include the plumbing and electrical penetrations, as well as interior wall tops and drop soffits.  If you have a vaulted ceiling with no attic access, then looking for dusty cobwebs in cracks around beam ends, at blocking, etc… can yield results.  Air sealing high in the home saves energy and takes the stress off roof venting, reducing concerns around creating mold conditions on the underside of the roof-deck.

To check the energy efficiency of your house, the Home Energy Snapshot Assessment from OPALCO is a great place to start.  At $25 it is an excellent value, and includes 2-3 hours of consultation with a Building Performance Institute (BPI) certified contractor (Doug Poole or David Meiland of Bailer Hill Construction on San Juan Island), free energy efficient light bulbs and low-flow shower heads. To learn more about the Home Energy Snapshot, energy saving, rebates, or to schedule an Energy Snapshot appointment check out the links below.

Learn More

 

Great Turnout at the San Juan Energy Fair!

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

The first Energy Fair hosted by Islands Energy and OPALCO was a great success!  Visitors at the May 17th event received free energy kits, attended conservation workshops, and engaged in lively conversations with a variety of contractors to learn more about solar panel installations, home energy upgrades, financing programs from Islanders Bank, and electric vehicles, to name a few.

OPALCO Energy Savings Specialist Elisa Howard and MORE Committee member Peter Risser welcome guests at the San Juan Energy Fair on May 17th.

Amy Saxe and Elisa Howard from the OPALCO Energy Savings team enjoyed the chance to chat with members one  on one about our efficiency rebates, home energy audits, local energy generation, and the benefits of LED bulbs.

Some in attendance also participated in solar home tours organized by the M.O.R.E. Committee (Member Owned Renewable Energy).  Kids made door draft stoppers and participated in an energy fact “treasure hunt” for a chance to win prizes.

If you missed this one, please join as at the upcoming fairs on Lopez Island (Saturday, May 31st) and Orcas Island (Saturday, June 7th) from 10am to 3pm.

Due to limited availability and anticipated demand, reservations for the Home Energy Conservation Workshop and the Solar Home Tours are recommended. To reserve a spot, please call the Conservation District at 360-378-6621 or email energy@sjislandscd.org to pre-register.

Come to your local Energy Fairs in May and June!

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

OPALCO is asking all members to understand the sources of electric power and to be aware of their personal energy usage habits and savings options.  Please join the OPALCO Energy Savings team, the M.O.R.E. (Member Owned Renewable Energy) committee, and Islands Energy at upcoming local Energy Fairs.  Participate in solar home tours, efficiency and conservation workshops, kids activities, raffle prizes, and more!  Here are the details:

San Juan Island: Saturday, May 17th; 10am to 3pm @ 95 Nichols Street

Lopez Island: Saturday, May 31st; 10am to 3pm @ Lopez Center for Community and the Arts

Orcas Island: Saturday, June 7th; 10am to 3pm @ Eastsound Village Green

Other highlights include:

  • Free energy savings kitsIslands Energy Logo
  • Demonstrations of electric vehicles
  • A presentation about planned Community Solar projects
  • Information about home energy audits and locally generated power
  • Information about OPALCO efficiency rebate programs
  • Local contractor booths
  • Energy keynote speakers
  • Live music by The Field Boats, a Lopez Island band

These fairs represent launch events for the newly-formed partnership between OPALCO and the San Juan Islands Conservation District.

The Conservation District serves as an umbrella organization for other local and regional nonprofits joining the efforts to increase energy and conservation education and to pilot a Community Solar program in San Juan County.  The collective group has adopted the name Islands Energy.

Due to limited availability and anticipated demand, reservations for the Home Energy Conservation Workshop and the Solar Home Tours are recommended. To reserve a spot, please call the Conservation District at 360-378-6621 or email energy@sjislandscd.org to pre-register.

 

 

Friday Harbor Labs Reap Big Savings with Lighting Upgrades

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

The University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs is receiving a rebate check for $46,230 after completing a substantial lighting efficiency upgrade project in late March.  This retrofit was a component of a larger ESCO project to “green up” facilities.  The lab upgraded to high performance linear bulbs and ballasts and replaced incandescent lighting with LEDs.  This will result in an estimated energy savings of 101,333 kWhs annually!

OPALCO Energy Savings Specialist Elisa Howard will present the rebate check at 4pm on Friday, May 2nd to Lisa Graumlich, the Dean of the UW College of the Environment.  The public is welcome to attend the presentation at the labs to learn more about this exciting project.

OPALCO’s rebate program is funded by Bonneville Power Administration to help incentivize energy efficiency upgrades in San Juan County.  Since 10/1/13, the OPALCO Energy Savings staff has issued a total of $241,115 in rebate checks to members with a collective estimated annual kWh savings of 825,089.

Have you claimed your share of energy efficiency rebates?  Click here for more information or to learn about other OPALCO efficiency and conservation programs.

UW FH Labs

UW Friday Harbor Labs

Cash in on OPALCO Rebates!

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Spotlight on Energy Rebates: Meichelle Roberts, San Juan Island

Meichelle Roberts

Meichelle Roberts,
OPALCO Member

 

Member Meichelle Roberts of San Juan Island noticed her high electric bills and knew it was time to take action. She called OPALCO to learn more about available efficiency rebate incentives to help offset the cost of home improvements she was considering. The payback was huge! Meichelle replaced windows, installed a ductless heat pump, and upgraded her insulation. This made her home significantly more efficient, and Meichelle received checks from OPALCO totaling $6,163.

To further reduce her out of pocket costs, Meichelle joined the Opportunity Council’s Community Energy Challenge and received an additional 30% off the cost of these upgrades. The estimated energy savings for these upgrades totaled 17,871 kWhs!

Meichelle is very happy with the final outcome. “Through the collaboration of OPALCO and the Community Energy Challenge, these improvements to my home were affordable and reduced my long-term utility expenses. I am absolutely satisfied with the results. The program process was also very easy.”

When asked why energy efficiency is important to her, Meichelle responded “Everyone should take an active role to participate in conserving energy. I liked doing my piece as a part of the big picture goal. Saving resources is always important. It’s more than avoiding waste, it is a financial responsibility as well. “

Join Meichelle in the effort to reduce energy waste! To claim your incentives while making your home more energy efficient, call the OPALCO Energy Savings team at 376-3586 or contact us via email.

 

Let’s Go Custom – Local Energy Efficiency Projects Create Big Savings

Friday, April 12th, 2013

This past week OPALCO handed out rebate checks totaling $22,184.00.  The two custom designed energy efficiency projects are expected to save 137,075 kWh per year.  That is equivalent to taking approximately 11 average houses off the grid.

The first project was at Friday Harbor Elementary School where United Energy Engineers installed two variable speed drives for the heat pump circulating system. This project was measured post-install by BPA and is saving more energy than estimated!

The second project was at the Orcas Emmanuel Episcopal Church where local contractors, Greg Reboulet and Sage Building, installed weatherization measures in the shell of the building. The old water-facing windows were replaced.  Insulation was added to the attic and the crawlspace after a great deal of air sealing was performed.

George Garrels (l) and Bishop Craig Anderson(r) receive their check in front of the new windows.

Rick Thompson, Superintendent of San Juan Island School District, receives their rebate check.

Understanding LUMENS and the New Labeling for Lighting

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

You might have heard recently all the talk about banning the incandescent light bulb. It’s not really a ban but a legislation to increase the efficiency of light bulbs – similar to increasing the miles per gallon of automobiles. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 required light bulbs to use at least 25 percent less energy beginning in 2012. The uproar was that this requirement could make the old incandescent bulbs obsolete if manufacturers didn’t meet the new efficiency standards.

The requirement for lighting efficiency has spurred new technologies and the new consumer options for lighting can be mind boggling. Have you been in a big-box store lately to shop for light bulbs?

Here’s some information to help sort through the new options and labeling in light bulbs. Read the new labels and look at the LUMENS not the watts. Lumens tell you how much light you are going to get; wattage indicates how much energy is being consumed. Lumens are what you are buying for your money. The more lumens–the brighter the light.

Here’s some rule of thumb (from Energy.gov):

  • To replace a 100W (watt) incandescent bulb, look for a bulb that gives you about 1600 lumens. If you want something dimmer, go for fewer lumens; if you prefer brighter, go for more lumens.
  • Replace a 75W bulb with an energy-saving bulb that gives you about 1100 lumens
  • Replace a 60W bulb with an energy-saving bulb that gives you about 800 lumens
  • Replace a 40W bulb with an energy-saving bulb that gives you about 450 lumens.

To become fully “enlightened” on lumens and new lighting labels, watch this video from energy.gov.

Remember, when looking for new light bulbs, you want to compare lumens with lumens. Lumens is a measure of how much light output the bulb has or brightness (see post 3/14/11). A typical 60 watt incandescent light bulb has a lumen output of 820 lumens. An equivalent compact fluorescent bulb will have the same lumen output but far less electricity needs such as 13 watts. That’s a savings of 47 watts for the same amount of light.

 

Triple Rebate Savings on Super Efficienct Heat Pump Water Heaters

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Heat pump water heaters have just been approved by BPA for rebates. There is a limited offer to bundle three rebates together for these super efficient water heaters if you purchase one from Sears between November 15 – December 16th. OPALCO is offering rebates of $300 on 50–75 Gal. heat pump water heaters and $500 on heat pump water heaters larger than 75 Gal. This is combined with rebate offers from Sears & GE, and Smart Water Heat for incredible savings. Learn more here.

Heat pump water heaters use electricity to move heat from one place to another instead of generating heat directly, like a refrigerator running in reverse. While a refrigerator pulls heat from inside a box and dumps it into the surrounding room, a heat pump water heater pulls heat from the surrounding air and transfers it – at a higher temperature – into the tank to heat the water. The best locations for a heat pump water heater are in a basement or garage, where the unit will not be drawing heat out of a living space. Learn more about heat pump water heaters.