Winter

We Must Act Now to Protect Our Winters

2014 was the hottest year on record, and each of the last three decades has been hotter than the last.

In mountain towns that depend on winter tourism, the realities of climate change really hit home. Shorter, warmer winters mean a shorter season to enjoy the winter sports we love—and a financial hit for local economies that depend on winter sports.

Even if you hate winter, climate change affects you – because climate risks are economic risks. Skiing, snowboarding and other types of winter recreation add $67 billion to the economy every year, and they support 900,000 jobs.

Last week I went to the X-Games in Colorado to meet with some of our country’s top pro snowboarders and the businesses that support them to hear how they are taking action on climate.

Administrator McCarthy speaking to students

I spent the day with Olympic Silver Medalist and five-time X-Games Medalist pro-snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler. Our first stop was the local middle school in Aspen. These students grow up watching pro athletes like Gretchen, and many ski and snowboard themselves. We talked about changes the students can make in their everyday lives to help the environment and how they are the next generation of great minds that will develop solutions for addressing climate change.

Administrator McCarthy and snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler standing in front of a snow halfpipe.

Then we headed down to the X-Games venue to watch the halfpipe competitors practice. Without good, consistent winters, it’s tough for athletes to train and compete. Gretchen, who’s local to Aspen, told me they’re seeing more winter rain here in January, and athletes are increasingly wondering if there’s going to be enough snow for some of their biggest competitions.

Administrator McCarthy and athletes standing in front of ski slope.

The great thing about the athletes I met is that they know they’ve got a lot of stake, so they’re doing something about it. After halfpipe practice, Gretchen and I met with this year’s X-Game competitors. This bunch is committed to their sport, and they’re working with Protect Our Winters to ensure it’s around for generations to come. (That’s Maddy Schaffrick, Jake Black, me, Giom Morisset, Gretchen and Jordie Karlinski above.)

Admininstrator McCarthy and others sitting at round table discussion.

There are a lot of small businesses in Aspen that can’t survive without tourists coming into town, and I sat down for a chat with them in the afternoon. If we fail to act, Aspen’s climate could be a lot like that of Amarillo, TX, by 2100. Amarillo is a great town, but it’s a lousy place to ski.

Administrator McCarthy looking at mountain.

Unfortunately, the past few warmer winters mean the snowpack in Aspen is getting smaller. I joined Auden Schendler of Aspen Snowmass, one of the local ski resorts, to see how this year’s snow compares to previous years.

Administrator McCarthy listening to Alex Deibold speak to reporters.

Alex Deibold, 2014 Olympic Bronze Medalist in snowboard cross, joined us to talk with local reporters about how climate change could impact mountain towns like Aspen if we don’t act now. He’s traveling farther to find snow where he can practice, and that’s why he’s speaking out.

Administrator McCarthy and athletes holding a "Protect Your Local Powder" sign.

These athletes and I have come to the same conclusion: We all have a responsibility to act on climate now. It’s critical to protect public health, the economy and the recreation and ways of life we love.

This week we’re focusing on how we can reduce the environmental impact of our favorite sports all year long. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our website to learn about the progress that major athletes, teams and venues are making, and what you can do as a fan to act on climate.

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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Braving the Weather to Promote Green Infrastructure in Philadelphia

By Bob Perciasepe

Crossposted from EPA Connect

CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe in snow storm in Philadelphia following STAR grant announcement

CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe in snow storm in Philadelphia following STAR grant announcement

Yesterday, I was up in Philadelphia joined by CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley and Mayor Nutter to announce nearly $5 million in EPA grants made possible through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program. These investments are going to five universities, and aim to fill gaps in research evaluating the costs and benefits of certain green infrastructure practices.

The projects to be invested in, led by Temple University, Villanova University, Swarthmore College, University of Pennsylvania and University of New Hampshire, will explore the financial and social costs and benefits associated with green infrastructure as a stormwater and wet weather pollution management tool.

From rain gardens and permeable pavement to using absorbent landscape materials to soak up rainwater and more, the knowledge we gain will pay dividends not just for Philadelphia, but for cities all across the country. Green infrastructure can save money, promote safe drinking water, and build more resilient water systems—especially in the face of climate change.

(from left) Howard Neukrug, Commissioner of Philadelphia Water Department, Samuel Mukasa, Dean of UNH College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Ramona Trovato, EPA Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator of Research and Development, Dan Garofalo, UPenn Sustainability Director, Nancy Sutley, CEQ Chair,   Stephen Nappi, Associate Vice Provost for Technology and Commercialization at Temple University, Bob Perciasepe, EPA Deputy Administrator, Reverend Peter Donahue, President of Villanova University, Maurice Eldridge, VP of College and Community Relations at Swarthmore College, Shawn Garvin, EPA Region 3 Administrator, and Jim Johnson, EPA Director of NCER

(from left) Howard Neukrug, Commissioner of Philadelphia Water Department, Samuel Mukasa, Dean of UNH College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Ramona Trovato, EPA Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator of Research and Development, Dan Garofalo, UPenn Sustainability Director, Nancy Sutley, CEQ Chair, Stephen Nappi, Associate Vice Provost for Technology and Commercialization at Temple University, Bob Perciasepe, EPA Deputy Administrator, Reverend Peter Donahue, President of Villanova University, Maurice Eldridge, VP of College and Community Relations at Swarthmore College, Shawn Garvin, EPA Region 3 Administrator, and Jim Johnson, EPA Director of NCER

Results from these university research teams will supplement a growing body of knowledge that EPA’s own researchers are uncovering. From monitoring and performance evaluation to creating models and a toolbox of green infrastructure resources for decision-makers, this research will be valuable to the city of Philadelphia and beyond.

We’re especially proud of the great work going on through Philly’s Green City, Clean Waters program. Our ongoing partnership between our researchers, EPA regional staff, academia, and the City of Philadelphia under Mayor Michael Nutter is a model for others to follow. We’re helping make real progress at the community level. Community progress isn’t just what guides our actions—it’s a measure of our success in fulfilling EPA’s mission of protecting public health and the environment.

And we’ll continue to rely on that kind of collaboration—especially when it comes to climate change. Luckily, Philadelphia has made major progress, thanks to Mayor Nutter’s efforts in cutting carbon pollution and preparing the city for climate impacts. As a member of President Obama’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, Mayor Nutter’s advice will be critical to make sure  our climate preparedness and resilience policies respond to the needs of communities. The advice we get from the Task Force is an important component to our national Climate Action Plan to combat climate change broadly.

We have come a long way in the 40 years since the Clean Water Act. But with new challenges like climate change—we need push forward with community-focused, innovative solutions. That’s why locally focused partnerships like Green City, Clean Water, and ground level solutions like green infrastructure, are paving a pathway for progress.

I’m confident that through our STAR program, investments in these projects will go a long way to developing innovation solutions to stormwater management, wet weather pollution, and building more resilient, safer water systems for all.

Bob Perciasepe is the EPA’s Deputy Administrator.

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’s Top Tips to Save Energy This Winter

Girl in Winter Hat

By: Brittney Gordon-Williams

Did you know that the average family spends $2000 on utility bills each year, and nearly half of that amount goes to heating and cooling your home? With the temperature dipping to dangerously low levels in many parts of the country, this is prime time to make sure that your home is ready for the cold temperatures ahead. Check out these energy saving tips from the experts at the U.S. EPA’s ENERGY STAR program, and get ready to enjoy winter in energy efficient comfort. 

ENERGY STAR’s Top Eight Tips to Save Energy this Winter 

1.)    Use a programmable thermostat: Program your thermostat to match your schedule. To maximize savings without sacrificing comfort, program the thermostat to lower the heat by 8 degrees Fahrenheit or more when you’re away from home or asleep, and you can save about $180 per year.

2.)    Seal leaks and insulate: Hidden gaps and cracks in a home can add up to as much airflow as an open window and cause your heating system to work harder and use more energy. Sealing and insulating can improve your home “envelope”—the outer walls, ceiling, windows and floors—which will make your home more comfortable and improve the efficiency of your heating system by as much as 20 percent. You can save up to $200 a year by sealing and insulating with ENERGY STAR.

3.)    Keep your air filters clean: Check your heating and cooling system’s air filter every month. If the filter looks dirty, change it. At minimum, change the filter every three months. This simple change will help your system work at maximum efficiency—lowering your energy bills and helping your family maintain better indoor air quality.

4.)    Tune up your HVAC equipment yearly: Just as a tune-up for your car can improve your gas mileage, a yearly tune-up of your heating and cooling system can improve efficiency and comfort. Learn more here.

5.)    Install a door sweep: Door sweeps–or weather stops for garage doors–seal the gap between the bottom of the door and threshold, preventing cold air from coming in and warm air from escaping.

6.)    Close your fireplace damper: Fireplace dampers eliminate drafts by sealing your fireplace shut when you’re not using it. Consider using a fireplace “balloon” to make the seal even tighter.

7.)    Change a Light: With shorter days and longer nights, many families will turn on more lighting at this time of year. Select ENERGY STAR certified lighting for bulbs that use 75 percent less energy than a standard incandescent and last 10 times longer.

8.)    Look for the ENERGY STAR: If your HVAC equipment is more than 10 years old or not keeping your house comfortable, have it evaluated by a professional HVAC contractor. If it is not performing efficiently or needs upgrading, consider replacing it with a unit that has earned the ENERGY STAR. Depending on where you live, replacing your old heating and cooling system with ENERGY STAR certified equipment can cut your annual energy bill by nearly $200.

Brittney Gordon-Williams is a member of the communications team for EPA’s ENERGY STAR program.

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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Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR: Find More Comfort and Savings by Adding Insulation to Your Attic

Attic Insulation

By: Doug Anderson

This week EPA invites you to “Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR,” by sealing and insulating your home. This blog post is the fourth in a five part series from ENERGY STAR’s home envelope expert Doug Anderson about the benefits of sealing and insulating your home, and how you can get started this fall.

In yesterday’s blog, I covered how the attic is typically where the largest energy savings opportunity exists and how to seal air leaks in this area. To complete your attic energy-efficiency improvements, you then need to install additional insulation. By increasing your attic insulation levels, you can save energy and greatly improve the overall comfort of your home.

Attic Insulation: Deciding whether to do it yourself or hire a contractor

If your attic is accessible and not too difficult to move around in, and you enjoy tackling bigger home improvement projects, adding attic insulation may be a good do-it-yourself (DIY) project for you. EPA’s Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR program provides great DIY resources to guide you through the process. Even if you are not comfortable taking on this project yourself, there are many qualified contractors who can help you get the work done.

Also, consider consulting a contractor if your attic has wet or damp insulation, moldy or rotted rafters or floor joists, little or no ventilation, or pre-1930 knob and tube wiring. These may require repairs before starting.

Check the Level

Whether you are planning to do the project yourself or hire a contractor, start by checking your attic insulation levels or depth.  All you need is a tape measure or yardstick.  Taking a few pictures of the existing insulation in each direction inside your attic can provide a good record of where you are starting from, so bring a cell phone camera or digital camera with you.

Use the tape measure or yardstick to measure the depth of your existing insulation.  Insulation often varies in depth so check in a few places.  Knowing your current insulation depth will help you determine whether you should add more and how much more you should to add.

Choosing your insulation

Next, choose the right insulation for the job. Rolls of insulation can cover large areas of the attic and are great for wide open rectangular attics. They are available in fiber glass, mineral wool, plastic fibers, and natural fibers, such as cotton.   Loose fill insulation is another common attic insulation made up of loose fibers of cellulose, fiberglass, or mineral wool that can conform to any space, making it ideal for odd shaped or hard to reach locations.

Installing attic insulation

When installing additional insulation, you do not have to use the same type of insulation that currently exists in your attic. You can add loose fill on top of rolls, and vice versa. If you use roll insulation over loose fill, make sure the roll has no paper or foil backing; it needs to be “unfaced.” Rolls installed over existing rolls should be placed side-by-side perpendicularly to the joists to cover the entire space.  Think carefully before you choose this option.  The many rolls you will need can be large to carry back from the store in a small car, and can be difficult to squeeze through small attic hatch openings.

If you choose to add loose fill, it may be wise to hire a professional, as the application requires the use of a blowing machine.  Some home improvement stores offer rentals of this machine for the motivated DIYer.  The machines are heavy and usually require an SUV or pickup to get home.

Keep in mind that insulation can create a fire hazard if it comes into direct contact with places that can get hot, like light fixtures, chimneys or flues, so you should take the proper precautions. Use sheet metal or wire mesh to help create a barrier around them.  Some home improvement stores now sell insulation covers for insulating around recessed lights.

Learn More

Visit the newly updated Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR website for more detailed information on how to install attic insulation.

Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR this week. Start insulating your attic to get more energy savings and comfort for your home!

Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 13 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including 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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Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR: Unlocking the Comfort and Savings by Air Sealing Your Attic

Attic Air Sealing

By: Doug Anderson

This week EPA invites you to “Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR,” by sealing and insulating your home. This blog post is the third in a 5 part series from ENERGY STAR’s home envelope expert Doug Anderson about the benefits of sealing and insulating your home, and how you can get started this fall.

In yesterday’s blog, we covered how to check your home’s insulation levels and how to look for air leaks. We also covered how to use ENERGY STAR resources to help choose and prioritize your sealing and insulation projects.

To make the largest impact on your utility bill and comfort, you will want to start with the attic.  ENERGY STAR recommends that you always seal the attic first before adding any insulation.

Air sealing the attic: Do it yourself or hire a contractor?

Air sealing the attic is generally a challenging do-it-yourself (DIY) project, but can be well worth the savings in labor costs. If your attic is accessible and not too difficult to move around in, you don’t mind getting a bit dirty, and you enjoy tackling bigger home improvement projects, attic air sealing may be a good DIY project for you.

Even if you are not comfortable taking on this project yourself, don’t let that stop you – there are many qualified contractors who can do the job for you.

How to seal attic air leaks

If you have decided to do it yourself, you will want to start by identifying the locations of leaks, which was covered in the last blog.

Once you have found the leaks, they can be sealed using a variety of materials.  To seal the larger leaks use unfaced fiberglass insulation stuffed into plastic bags, rigid board insulation, a piece of drywall, or expanding spray foam in-a-can.  In some cases, you will need to use metal (such as aluminum) flashing and high temperature caulk to seal holes or gaps near areas that can get hot (such as near chimneys, furnace flues, or water heater flues). Then, seal smaller holes and cracks (under a ¼ inch) with long-lasting, flexible indoor/outdoor caulk like silicone or acrylic latex.

Safety First

After making home improvements that result in a tighter house, there can be an increased opportunity for carbon monoxide (CO) to build up if your gas- or oil-burning appliances are not venting properly.   Have your heating and cooling technician check your combustion appliances (gas- or oil-fired furnace, water heater, and dryer) for proper venting.  This testing is called combustion safety testing.  The testing is easy, but should be done by professional contractor who can sign-off that the systems are OK.

Also, in certain parts of the country, sealing may also trap dangerous indoor air pollutants (like radon) in your home.  To see if you live in these areas or if you just want to learn more about radon, check out the EPA website here.  You can test for radon yourself for a low cost, or hire a professional contractor to conduct tests and discuss solutions if they find problems.  The tests are easy and can give you peace-of-mind.

Additional information on achieving good indoor air quality and proper ventilation in your home can be found here.

Learn More

For more detailed instructions on how to identify and seal air leaks in the attic and throughout the home, visit the Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR website.

Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR this week. Start sealing attic air leaks to unlock the savings in your attic!

Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 13 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including 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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Putting Your Rain Barrel Down for a Long Winter’s Nap

By Steve Donohue

In addition to raking all those leaves, another job I do every fall is put my rain barrel away for the winter.  If you have a rain barrel, you’ll want to do this before a hard freeze can damage your barrel, valve, or overflow piping.

Emptying my rain barrel on a Fall afternoon

Emptying my rain barrel on a Fall afternoon

I have had a rain barrel for many years and often leave it up until after Thanksgiving, and I have never had a problem with freezing where I live near Philadelphia.

But when it’s time to pack it up for the season, your first step should be to drain the barrel as much as possible by removing plugs and opening the valve.  Every inch of water represents 10 or more pounds, so save your back and be patient!  While it is draining, I disconnect the downspout, clean the screens and filters, and remove the overflow piping.

Next, I open and check the inside of the barrel for sediment.  You’ll want to remove this dirt and organic matter to prevent clogging your valve and to start off clean next spring.  I swish the remaining water in the barrel to loosen the sediment and quickly turn the barrel upside down over my mulched bed to keep it off the grass.  Even fully drained, you might want an extra pair of hands to wrestle your barrel off its platform.

I store my rain barrel inside my garden shed for the winter, but you can cover it in place or turn it upside down in the yard.  The key is to keep water out that could freeze and damage it or the fittings.

The last step is to reconnect the downspout to direct water away from your foundation and prevent erosion.  As with any roof drainage, if possible, direct it away from impervious surfaces like concrete and asphalt to slow it down, spread it out, and soak it in.

With your rain barrel safely tucked away for winter, you can relax, kick your feet up and watch some football…at least until it’s time to start shoveling snow.

To learn more about rain barrels, visit http://www.epa.gov/reg3esd1/garden/rainbarrel.html or watch this video about the benefits of rain barrels

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 20 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he is focused on greening EPA and other government facilities.

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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Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR: Seal and Insulate Your Home for the Winter

Seal and Insulate

By: Doug Anderson

This week EPA invites you to “Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR,” by sealing and insulating your home. This blog post is the first in a 5 part series from ENERGY STAR’s home envelope expert Doug Anderson about the benefits of sealing and insulating your home, and how you can get started this fall.

When you hear “getting ready for winter,” what comes to mind? Pulling winter coats out of storage? Buying new snow shovels, or maybe getting a new pair of winter boots? How about sealing and insulating your home? In fact, sealing holes and adding insulation in the attic could be some of the most important projects you do this fall.

Believe it or not, many homes are not ready for chilly winter weather. Older, and even some newer homes, are often under-insulated and teeming with hidden gaps and cracks, resulting in winter electric/gas bill spikes, and sometimes an inability to keep rooms comfortable. In fact, if you added up all the holes and gaps in a typical home, they would be equivalent to having one window open all the time!

By doing a few ENERGY STAR-recommended air sealing and insulation projects yourself, or hiring a contractor, you can start enjoying significant benefits, including:

  • Reduced home energy use
  • Lower utility bills
  • Improved comfort (especially during summer and winter)
  • Less household carbon emissions for a reduced environmental impact

How much can I expect to save from sealing and insulating?

EPA estimates that you can save $200 a year* (10 percent off your annual energy bills) by sealing and insulating your home according to guidance from ENERGY STAR. With many utility incentives and tax credits available today, these investments can pay for themselves over time.

The savings come from keeping heat in the home during the winter and outside during the summer. When your home is well-insulated and sealed, your heater and air conditioner can run less, saving electricity, natural gas, and money. Making the proper investments today means less waste and more savings.

Other sealing and insulating benefits

The benefits extend beyond just saving energy and money. By sealing and insulating your home according to ENERGY STAR recommendations, you may also improve your home in other ways, including:

  • Reduced noise from outside
  • Less pollen, dust, and pests entering your home
  • Better humidity control
  • Lower chance for ice dams on the roof/eves

Getting started on your sealing and insulating projects

Visit the newly updated Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR website for more in-depth information and resources on:

Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR this week. Start sealing and insulating your home!

*Note: Assumes that the typical U.S. home spends $2000 per year on utility costs. This amount may be higher or lower depending on your location.

Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 13 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including 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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Don’t Forget Your Car!

By Lina Younes

Today we got the first snowfall this year. It was not a severe storm. In fact, near my home it was only about two inches, but it was enough for schools in our area to start two hours late. Since the snow was dry and powder-like, the process of clearing the entrance, driveway, and cars was not difficult at all.

Given the snow forecast last night, I thought I had taken the necessary steps to prepare for whatever nature would bring. I had the necessary supplies at home. Yesterday, I also decided to fill up my car with gas so I wouldn’t be stranded at home in the event of a severe snowfall. I had learned from my experience last summer when an unexpected storm left our area without power for several days and virtually no operating gas stations near our neighborhood. So, I thought I was totally ready this time, but not.  As soon as I started driving this morning to take my daughter to school, a light came on in the car:  “low washer fluid.”  Yikes!  Even though the sun was shining bright this morning, some of the melted snow and de-icing substances on the road were splattering on the vehicle, so filling up with windshield washer fluid was in order as soon as I dropped my daughter at school.

So, here are some tips as to what you should do to winterize your vehicle during this season in order to stay safe.

  • Check your air filter and fluid levels.
  • Check the tread wear on your tires and make sure they are properly inflated.
  • And, as I was reminded today, have plenty of windshield washer fluid!
  • Check the condition of your windshield wipers, too.

If you are on the road a lot or live in an area prone to snow and ice storms, consider having non-toxic de-icing substances such as clean clay cat litter or sand in your trunk, a shovel, a flashlight and a first aid kit for emergencies. I hope you don’t have to use them.

Do you have any emergency tips that you would like to share with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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The Darkest Days of the Year

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By Amy Miller

Hello, darkness my old friend.

There seems to be something sinister about loving the darkness. I know I am not alone, that there are others in New England who look forward to winter, with its chilling climate and afternoon blacks. But it’s hard to admit a passion for a season dreaded by so many. It even feels unhealthy to crave weather that sends people shivering into their homes.

Sure, I rise to the occasion when summer comes: I dine outside, garden with gusto and dare to dunk in Maine’s coastal waters. But it is December that I love. With the 15 hours of dark we are given, there are so many lights to warm our hearts. Every drive brings a new display of holiday lights. Inside, we light up our own Christmas tree and then for eight nights watch the Hanukkah candles glow.

Next Friday, Dec. 21 marks the pinnacle – the shortest day of the year. In New England that means anywhere from about 8 hours and 45 minutes of light (Maine) to 9 hours and 5 minutes of light (Connecticut). This is when the sun is tilted 23.5 degrees to the south (Tropic of Capricorn), leaving northern areas with their smallest daily dose of sunlight. Down in New Zealand at that time of year, residents will be seeing the sun for about 15.5 hours each day, but those in Fairbanks, Alaska, are getting fewer than four hours of light. And the polar circles are getting either all day or all night right now.

More than 200 years ago, New Englanders experienced unexpected darkness. “New England’s Dark Day,” as it came to be called, was May 19, 1780. It was so dark at noon people thought the world might be ending, the sun might never shine again or judgment day had come. Scientists determined 200 years later that forest fires in Ontario, Canada had brought the soot and smoke that blocked our skies.

As I drive each evening past the yellowing lights of houses coming alive, I am delighted to head home to nest by a flaming woodstove, cook a meal and share an evening of homework, movies or reading. And in these days of dark, my family can gaze at the stars long before bedtime. Or enjoy a hot tub under the full moon without staying up to await the darkness.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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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Winter Tips: Make Your Home Warm and Green

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By Lina Younes

The Holiday Season is just around the corner. As we create a welcoming environment to entertain family and friends during the holidays, let’s think of some tips that will warm up our home while saving us energy and money, too.

  • First, in order to maximize the efficiency of your heating system, you should clean the air filters regularly.
  • Secondly, seal air leaks throughout the home to stop drafts. By sealing and insulating properly your outer walls, ceiling, windows, doors, and floors, you will improve the energy efficiency and comfort in your home. You can actually save up to 20% on heating costs on your annual energy bill if you follow this tip.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to automate your heating and cooling system and avoid wasting energy unnecessarily when there is no one at home.
  • Use Energy Star appliances and electronics to save money and use energy more efficiently.
  • Are you installing decorative lights at home to get the family in the holiday spirit? Consider LED decorative light strings. Did you know that for every three Energy Star qualified decorative light strings purchased, you could save $30 over the lifetime of the lights?
  • And, don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room to save energy! I know that is something that I have to remind my youngest all too often.
  • Are you in the mood to sit around the chimney this evening? Remember to burn wisely! For example, choose the right firewood. Keep your chimney clean. And use the right type of wood-burning appliance. By following these simple tips, you can protect your health, reduce air pollution and save money.

So, do you have any special plans for the holidays? We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.