energy star

Slowing the Spinning Wheel

electric meterby Ken Pantuck

Whether we live in houses or apartments, we all probably share the same sense of hesitation when we open our monthly electric bill…especially after some frigid winter months.

Keeping the environment and our household budgets in mind, it makes sense to consider ways to reduce these bills with more efficient appliances, and conservation measures to use less energy whenever possible.

Just like homeowners and renters, most operators of large water and wastewater treatment plants are always looking for ways of lowering energy consumption and the costs that come with it, and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in the process. The difference is that their power requirements are enormous.

Did you know that nationally, electricity accounts for 25 to 40 percent of the operating budgets for wastewater utilities and approximately 80 percent of drinking water processing and distribution costs? In fact, drinking water and wastewater systems account for nearly four percent of all the energy use in the United States.

EPA’s Net Zero Energy team is helping utilities to lower their costs by reducing waste, conserving water, and lowering power demand.

I recently attended a meeting at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the regional planning group for in the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia where energy conservation and reductions were the chief topics. Each authority had used experts in the field to assist them in examining energy saving actions, and estimating the costs of implementing them.

While many of these energy projects involved little or no cost, others carried a more significant price tag. Each authority selected what actions would get them the biggest “bang for the buck” within their capital improvement budgets, and would pay for themselves within one to 10 years in energy savings.

While many large water and wastewater authorities are already benefiting from these energy saving measures, some of the smaller ones are just starting to learn about them. A couple of EPA publications entitled “Energy Efficiency in Water and Wastewater Facilities” and “Planning for Sustainability: A Handbook for Water and Wastewater Utilities” can provide the necessary first steps for a community or authority to begin such an effort.

Why not encourage your local utility to check out the savings?

About the Author: Ken Pantuck is the team leader for the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Innovative Technologies Team.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Greening the Game

Millions of Americans across the country tuned into the big game a couple weeks ago, which was played for the first time under energy-efficient LED lighting. Why the switch? These lights use at least 75 percent less power than incandescent, saving the venue money on its energy bill and energy, which helps reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

The NFL isn’t alone in its journey to fight climate change by becoming more sustainable. Last week we highlighted a number of leading sports teams, organizations, and venues across the industry who are taking action, including our work with greening collegiate sports though the Game Day Recycling Challenge and the collegiate sports sustainability summit. Recycling conserves vital resources, saves energy, and, in 2012, reduced greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 33 million cars off the road for a year. Recycling also creates green jobs and provides essential resources. And during her recent visit to the X Games in Colorado, our Administrator Gina McCarthy, heard first-hand from athletes and the businesses that support them how they are working to protect their winters from climate change.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Score a Touchdown with ENERGY STAR!

By Latosha Thomas

You don’t have to be an NFL Hall of Famer to know that the Super Bowl is more than just a game… It’s an experience (we all know that the commercials are the real champions)! There’s nothing quite like sitting in the stands and watching two teams fight for the glory that comes with winning that game. However, the majority of us will be tuning in from the comfort of our homes. Want to make that Super Bowl experience even better by saving some energy and money while also helping to protect the climate? Then kickoff your Super Bowl with the following tips!

  • More and more people are watching the game online- an average of 528,000 viewers per minute streamed the game last yesuper bowl imagear. [Source: Foxsports.com] Streaming with electronic equipment that has earned the ENERGY STAR uses 25-30% less energy than standard equipment. If possible, avoid streaming through a game console. Streaming through a game console uses 10 times more energy than streaming through a laptop or tablet.
  • Optimize your TV settings- Make sure your TV’s automatic brightness feature—if it has one — is enabled. Reducing the brightness of a TV by employing ambient light control features can reduce power consumption by up to 30 percent. Also, keep in mind that out of all settings on your ENERGY STAR qualified TV, keeping default picture settings guarantees energy savings.
  • Look for ENERGY STAR certified products – Many people buy new TVs or sound equipment in time to host Super Bowl parties. If you’re in the market for some new A/V gear or a TV, look for the little blue label! A home equipped with TVs, set-top boxes, a Blu Ray player and a home-theatre-in-a-box that have earned the ENERGY STAR can save more than $280 over the life of the products.
  • When the game is over, turn off your TV and cable box – Cable boxes can be a particular drain: today’s boxes operate at near full power even when the consumer is neither watching nor recording a show. As a nation, we spend $2 billion each year to power cable boxes that are not being actively used.
  • Use power strips – Plugging devices into more advanced, or ‘smart’ power strips lets you designate “always on” status for products that need to maintain a network connection, like your modem/router or pay TV set-top box. While these other products are on, the strips cut power off from devices like speakers and TVs when they are not in use.

So before you write your list of people to invite and what food to buy, consider taking simple steps to reduce your energy consumption on this night and every night. You’re sure to score big by saving dollars and the environment. What do we say to that? Touchdown!

Latosha Thomas works in communications for EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. In her spare time, she enjoys Hitchcock films, anything related to the beach, and debating the impact that strawberry shortcake has made on the world.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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This Dallas Habitat for Humanity Home Is Energy Efficiency in Action

R6-curry

Last week, during our Energy Efficiency Week of Action, I had the pleasure of visiting an energy efficient home in a Dallas neighborhood. The home I visited was being built as part of last year’s commemoration of the centennial anniversary of the Texas Section of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and together with Habitat for Humanity they built a great home that is green and affordable.

These homes include many energy efficiency features including passive lighting, high efficiency windows and doors, spray foam insulation, tankless water heating, low volatile organic compounds paint, and ecofriendly materials. Some even have solar panels and rainwater harvesting. Because of these construction methods, these homes have received the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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America’s Water Future: Smart, Green, Distributed

By Charlotte Ely

I was raised with the saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” To save water, I started making changes in my own home. Following the advice I’ve given to drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities through my work with EPA’s Sustainable Water Infrastructure program, I assessed our use, identified ways we could save water, and made improvements.

I replaced inefficient fixtures and appliances with WaterSense and Energy Star models. I fixed leaks. Most recently, I installed a graywater system. Residential graywater is water from showers, baths, bathroom sinks or washing machines. Graywater can be used instead of drinking water to safely and beneficially irrigate gardens. The graywater system meets much of our outdoor water needs. Since installed, our household consumption has dropped to an average of 19 gallons per person per day — 60% less than the San Francisco average of 49 gallons per day and 80% less than the national average of 100 gallons per day.

 

The graywater system in Charlotte’s house in San Francisco. Water from one shower and one sink flows into six mulch basins, providing water to a planter bed, four jasmine bushes, a lemon tree and a maple tree.

The graywater system in Charlotte’s house in San Francisco. Water from one shower and one sink flows into six mulch basins, providing water to a planter bed, four jasmine bushes, a lemon tree and a maple tree.

 

As California enters its fourth year of drought, I’m struck both by the immensity of the challenges ahead, and the incredible potential to re-think how we manage our water resources. Innovative water management practices, such as residential graywater and on-site commercial re-use are examples of the kinds of investments that will help communities adapt to water scarcity. One good example is San Francisco Public Utility Commission’s headquarters building which uses 60% less water than similar sized buildings by reclaiming and treating all of the building’s wastewater on site.

I’m especially encouraged by organizations helping to re-envision our water infrastructure as a smart, green and distributed network:

  • Smart: Uses data analytics to optimize utility management.
  • Green: Use strategic landscaping to capture rainfall for reuse or recharge.
  • Distributed: Has onsite treatment and reuse.

Organizations, like Imagine H2O, are cultivating innovative concepts, technologies and entrepreneurs to help communities adapt—not only to climate change impacts such as drought, but also to an escalating need to invest in our nation’s drinking and clean water infrastructure. This year, Imagine H2O’s annual challenge will honor scalable, cost-effective solutions that improve water and wastewater infrastructure. I’m excited to see what the contestants come up with!

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” If we could change how we manage water, could we also change the ‘tendency’ of the water? Would it be less scarce? Less polluted? How do you think we can make our water infrastructure smarter, greener and more distributed?

About the author: Charlotte Ely joined EPA’s San Francisco office in 2006. She works for the Sustainable Water Infrastructure program, helping communities throughout the southwest increase the water and energy efficiency of their water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Rule Your Attic by Hiring a Contractor

This is the second installment of blogs related to ENERGY STAR’s “Rule Your Attic!” outreach campaign encouraging homeowners to properly insulate their attics to reduce energy use, decrease utility bills, and increase comfort this heating season.

By Doug Anderson

If you know you have low insulation levels in your attic (see my first “Rule Your Attic!” blog about measuring attic insulation levels) but are just not interested in making improvements yourself, now is the time to call a contractor to properly seal air leaks and add insulation to your attic BEFORE the high heating bills come. Insulation contractors have all the equipment and experience to do the job right the first time. Let them do the dirty work. Your job is to find a good contractor to help you “Rule Your Attic!”

Shop Around – Selecting a Contractor

As with any home improvement project, you want to make sure you’re getting a good price and that the work will be done right. Here’s how:

Check with your electric utility or State Energy Office to see if they offer incentives for improvements or have pre-screened program contractors. (See energystar.gov/dime or www.dsireusa.org for lists of incentives.)

  • Get several estimates from contractors (know the square footage of your attic).
  • Make sure the contractor is licensed and insured in your state.
  • Ask if the crew chief is certified to do insulation work.
  • Ask how the contractor will keep your house clean during the work.
  • Make sure the contractor understands you want attic holes and gaps sealed before any insulation is added. If they do not agree to “seal before insulating,” call another contractor!

You may find local pre-screened, trained, and certified contractors available through the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program. These programs are run by local utilities or State Energy Offices and are a great place to start looking for contractors to help you with your project.

Make Sure the Job’s Done Right – What to Look For

When hiring a contractor, make sure that you clearly understand the work they’ll be doing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions before the contractor starts, and stay involved throughout the process! Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Contractors should seal air leaks in the attic floor before adding insulation. It’s much easier to seal first to ensure you get the full performance out of your insulation.
  • If you have air ducts in the attic, make sure contractors do not step on or damage them.
  • Burying any ducts on the floor in insulation is okay to do – it can even improve efficiency. Just make sure the ducts are well sealed first.
  • Unless your old insulation is wet, moldy, smelly, or contains animal waste, contractors can just add new insulation on top. It is usually not necessary to remove existing insulation.
  • Most contractors use blown-in, loose fill insulation for attic floors, which is quick and easy to install with the right equipment. Typical materials include fiberglass or cellulose – both contain some recycled content (glass or ground up paper) and are inexpensive and safe. If traditional insulation rolls are used for the attic floor instead, be sure that it is “unfaced” (no foil or paper backing needed) so moisture does not get trapped.
  • Any project estimate should also include installing insulation baffles (rafter vents). This ensures that as you add insulation, soffit vents (which allow outside air to enter the attic) are not blocked and your attic has proper air flow.

attic

 

Make sure your contractor seals attic air leaks before adding insulation.

  • If you have older recessed light fixtures (can lights) that stick up into the attic floor, the contractor should cover and seal them before installing insulation using specially designed covers that are available at most home improvement stores.
  • Contractors should also seal the chase (hole) in the attic around the plumbing vent pipe.
  • It’s also important to weather strip and insulate the attic hatch or door. There are several off-the-shelf products available for standard-sized openings.
  • EPA recommends having a professional contractor conduct combustion safety testing before and after any air sealing as this might affect the drafting of any combustion (oil or gas) appliances in the house.

Document the Contractor’s Work

Finally, tell the contractor that you expect documentation at the end of the job to show how much insulation has been added and what the new insulation R-value is for your attic. When it’s done, take a picture and compare it to the pictures you took earlier to see the improvement. Post your before and after pictures on ENERGY STAR’s “Rule Your Attic!” Pinterest board. Then, you can sit back and enjoy the cooler weather knowing your home is more comfortable and energy efficient.

For more information on deciding to DIY or hire a contractor, watch the second video in our “Rule Your Attic!” video series.

attic2

 

Adding “blown” attic insulation

About the Author: Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 14 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including sealing and insulation products and energy-efficient residential windows.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Rule Your Attic and Save Energy and Money This Winter

This is the first installment of blogs related to ENERGY STAR’s “Rule Your Attic!” outreach campaign encouraging homeowners to insulate their attics to reduce energy use, decrease utility bills, and increase comfort this heating season.

By Doug Anderson

Homeowners throughout the U.S. are starting to wake up to frost on the grass and furnaces or boilers running full blast. Cold weather is here! Now is the time to do a quick, simple check of your attic insulation levels to save money on energy bills and be more comfortable this winter. We call checking your attic insulation level: RULE YOUR ATTIC!

Don’t waste your hard earned money, just check your insulation level today to know if you have a problem or not. It only takes a few minutes. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Grab a tape measure or ruler and a flashlight. (You can also bring your cell phone)
  2. Carefully climb up your attic stairs or ladder and raise the attic hatch or door.
  3. Reach out and stick the ruler into the insulation and measure the depth in inches. Jot down the number or take a picture with your cell phone to record the number.

Now, check your results. For commonly used blown (loose-fill) fiberglass, mineral wool or cellulose insulation (assuming an R-value of about R-3 per inch):

  1. If you live in a Northern State and have less than 16-18 inches of insulation you are below the recommended levels.
  2. If you live in a Southern State and have less than 12-14 inches of insulation you are below the recommended levels.

 

insulation map

 

In the map above, zones 4-8 are considered Northern, zones 2-3 are Southern.

Now, if your levels are good, relax and have a cup of hot cider. If you are below the recommended levels, don’t sweat it. It’s not too late to make an improvement and lower your annual energy bills by up to 10% by sealing air leaks and adding insulation to your home.

From now through November 26, post a picture or short video of your attic floor insulation using the hashtag #RuleYourAttic and include @ENERGYSTAR in your post. ENERGY STAR experts will then provide feedback on how to improve your attic insulation. For more information visit www.energystar.gov/ruleyourattic. To learn how to measure your attic insulation level watch our short video. If you haven’t already followed us, check out the ENERGY STAR Twitter page.

Now, the next question is: should you do it yourself or hire a contractor? We have helpful information whatever you decide to do.

rule your attic

About the Author: Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 14 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including sealing and insulation products and energy-efficient residential windows.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Hitting it Out of the Park: Energy Efficiency Upgrades Improve Quality of Life for Veterans

By Kristinn Leonhart

I look around and I am excited about this last event on the ENERGY STAR Change the World through Community Service Tour event and by the number of impressive attendees: the veterans who have given years of service to our country; Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton; Executive Director of U.S. Vets Phoenix John Scott; Arizona Public Service Chairman, President and CEO Don Brandt; and Congressman Bob Stump, to name a few. All of the local news crews have shown up on this gorgeous, sunny day in Phoenix.

Arizona Public Service is powering the event with a mobile solar generation unit. Upgrades to the Phoenix transitional housing facility for veterans include ENERGY STAR windows, LED light bulbs, insulation, and refrigerators in all of the 135 rooms. New commercial-grade washers and dryers are being installed in the common area for all veterans to use. A new ENERGY STAR flat-panel HDTV was installed in the recreation room. Donations were provided by APS, LG, Sears, Electrolux, FSL, and CREE.

We are thrilled to learn that the facility’s management plans to funnel the money they’re saving through these energy efficiency upgrades back into helping more veterans with the care they need, offering additional housing units, counseling and job assistance programs to get these heroes back on their feet.

But the part of this event that is truly moving is listening to the residents talk about their ENERGY STAR makeover. Gary LaLone, a veteran, is telling me about how happy he is to be able to open his new windows at night; his old windows didn’t budge. He tells me that during the day, his new double-pane windows keep the conditioned air in and they have reduced the noise from the nearby road, and at night after the sun has gone down, he can let some fresh air from outside in.

Mr. LaLone also tells me he no longer has to make a couple of trips to the grocery store a week because he now has a full-size ENERGY STAR refrigerator, and he will be able to fit a turkey in his refrigerator this Thanksgiving. And he absolutely lights up as he tells me about watching the World Series on the beautifully crisp picture on the new ENERGY STAR television set in the recreation room. He could see the stitching on the baseball as it was hit out of the park, as he gestures swinging a bat with a giant grin on his face.

To me, that is the real power of positive energy. We have helped make this hero just a little bit happier.

To learn more about this year’s ENERGY STAR Change the World through Community Service Tour, visit www.energystar.gov/changetheworldtour. Also check out the wonderful video footage of each event at on our youtube page.

Kristinn Leonhart is the ENERGY STAR Brand Manager and a big fan of saving money and energy and keeping life simple.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Energy Star Day: The Power of the Little Blue Label


Let’s start with a few numbers:

300 billion dollars in savings. That’s how much consumers and businesses have saved on utility bills in the last 22 years because of the Energy Star program.

Two billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions avoided, or the equivalent to the annual emissions of more than 420 million cars, over the last 22 years. Thanks to our little blue Energy Star label, folks are doing their part to reduce their greenhouse emissions and combat climate change.

Since President Obama took office, Energy Star has helped American consumers and businesses save over one billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and approximately $110 billion on their utility bills.

That’s one powerful little label.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Why ENERGY STAR Certified Homes Are Built Better from the Ground Up

By Brian Ng

Being an EPA employee working for the ENERGY STAR program, it’s natural to find myself thinking of ways to save more energy, especially at home. There’s plenty I do to consume less energy – everything from turning off lights and using a programmable thermostat, to sealing and insulating in my attic. But there are things that I just can’t do to my existing home that I wish I could do to really improve my home’s comfort and efficiency, things like sealing and insulating the air ducts behind my walls and in the floors, installing a moisture barrier under the foundation, and insulating the brick and block walls of my 1940’s colonial. For those in the market for a new home, you’re in luck! New homes that earn the blue ENERGY STAR label include all these comfort and energy-saving details, and more.

When a home earns the ENERGY STAR label, it means that it can be up to 30 percent more efficient than a typical new home. All ENERGY STAR certified homes are constructed with:

  • A complete Thermal Enclosure System to deliver comfort and low utility bills;
  • An efficient Heating, Ventilating, and Cooling (HVAC) System designed and installed for optimal performance, comfort, and lower bills; and
  • A comprehensive Water Management System to protect roofs, walls, and foundations from moisture damage.

homes graphic

 

These are features that just can’t be easily installed in most homes after they’ve been built, and surprisingly are not built into many new homes. These features are inspected by a third party using a set of quality assurance checklists that can dramatically reduce the chance that critical details are overlooked and that can greatly improve the efficiency, comfort, durability, and quality of homes that earn the label.

To find home builders in your area that are constructing ENERGY STAR certified homes, you can visit www.energystar.gov/partnerlocator. To learn more about the features and benefits of these homes visit www.energystar.gov/newhomes.

Every ENERGY STAR certified new home is built better from the ground up to use energy more efficiently, which means lower utility bills for you and less of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. This makes a big difference for our environment. In fact, one ENERGY STAR certified home contributes 3,700 lbs. less greenhouse gases than a typical home, which is equivalent to the greenhouse gases that are absorbed by planting 43 trees. Since EPA began labeling new homes in 1995, American homeowners have saved over $4 billion on their energy bills and reduced GHG emissions by more than 46 billion pounds.

ENERGY STAR is the simple choice for energy efficiency. Join the millions already making a difference at energystar.gov.

Mr. Brian Ng is the communications manager for ENERGY STAR’s Residential Programs. Mr. Ng has been with the U.S. EPA for 17 years supporting a wide range of initiatives related to the protection of human health and the environment, including the improvement of energy efficiency in new and existing low-income housing.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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