4 Unexpected Benefits of Energy Efficiency


Have you ever thought about all the benefits of energy efficiency? You know some of the obvious ones. But others, you don’t consciously think of. And you might not even have ever thought of them at all.

So, check out some of the top expected, and unexpected, benefits of energy efficiency:

  1. Decrease the Possibility of Many Diseases, Including Cancer

Now, let’s be serious. Being energy efficient isn’t going to eliminate cancer. But, it will reduce its prevalence.

Currently, around 25% of all electricity gets produced by coal power plants. In Texas, we are one of the leading users of coal to generate electricity in the nation.

When burned, coal releases all sorts of horrible pollutants into the atmosphere. It also releases arsenic into drinking water, which can cause cancer. It also leads to a number of respiratory diseases.

By being more energy efficient, you reduce our dependence on coal. And that in turn reduces the risk of many harmful and potentially fatal diseases.

  1. Increases National Economic Growth

Information from the International Energy Agency says gross domestic product could increase .25% to 1.1% per year with large-scale adoption to energy efficiency. That’s likely for European countries.

In the US, we use energy far more inefficiently than in Europe. So the potential could increase even further for us.

Increased GDP means more jobs and overall economic stability. That means more savings in the bank for you. And it increases our nation’s global power and status, and you know certain other countries who would be happy to see the downfall of the US.

In a small way, by committing to energy efficiency, you’re making the US a stronger nation.

  1. Improve Your Health, and Especially the Health of Your Children and the Elderly

Respiratory and cardiovascular conditions are more prevalent in homes without energy efficiency retrofits. So are arthritis and allergies. Symptoms of stress and depression also reduce.

That’s the immediate positive impact on you and your family. And it could also save you money on your healthcare costs with fewer trips to the doctor or hospital.

  1. You Help Those in Poverty

By using less energy yourself, you reduce overall demand. Lower demand means lower electricity prices set by power companies. Those in poverty get a little more to keep in their pockets.

Bet you never thought you were helping those in unfortunate financial situations by watching your own energy efficiency!

So in sum, you’re doing a lot more good than you think when you focus on energy efficiency. It’s hard to live with all these things in mind. But try to remind yourself of all the good you do when you choose to reduce your energy use at home.

You’ll feel great and thank yourself for it!

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How Much Energy Do US Data Centers Use?

Can you name all the digital services you use? Do you have a website? What about a Facebook page? How much video, audio, and imagery do you store online?

It’s nice to carry around your family photo album with you on your smartphone. It’s cool to have all sorts of videos, memories, and much of your important personal data with you wherever you go.

It’s so much more convenient than dozens of file folders. And because it all gets backed up across multiple geographic sites across the nation or globe, your data’s safe permanently. That’s something pretty cool many Americans didn’t have for most of their lives.

But, there is one problem with that. Something has to power it all. That means electricity has to come from somewhere. And it’s going to take the burning of natural resources to produce that electricity. And that means pollution gets released into the atmosphere. And that could mean more health problems, and possibly climate change.

What’s Going On?

Demand for data storage has grown so quickly that the need has advanced faster than technology’s ability to meet it efficiently.

Large corporations like Facebook, Google, and Apple use ultra-high-efficiency cloud server farms. According to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, big companies like these use less than 5% of all data center energy consumption. But, the problem is they’re not representative of the way most businesses use energy from data centers. So in this case, they’re doing a good job.

The real problem, according to the NRDC, is that up to 30% of all servers out there do no work, but still use large amounts of power. Others, though they’re not used as much as they could be, continue to suck big amounts of energy too.

The biggest users of energy are not the huge corporations. They use a large total amount because of their user demand. But they use it efficiently.

Instead, most data center power use comes from small, medium, and large corporate data centers, as well as multi-tenant data centers that smaller companies or private citizens use.

What Can You Do?

If you, or your company, use one of those small, multi-tenant colocation facilities, ask the facility how they ensure high energy efficiency. If you get an unsure or unclear answer, then you know they don’t do it.

Then, ask how you’re charged for the energy use. Because, in most cases, those costs are passed straight on to you.

According to the NRDC, this type of energy misuse could be reduced by 40% with the implementation of a few small measures. By 2020, it’s anticipated (if nothing’s done), this energy use will increase by 53%.

So, this presents a huge opportunity for energy savings. It’s your chance to be a part of public action, and making our world a better place.

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Should You Invest in a Tankless Water Heater?


Your water heater consumes a lot of energy, whether in use or not. Let’s say for a second you have an electric water heater. Well, you have to use electricity to keep the water warm as you wait to use it. And electricity isn’t efficiently produced.

So, for most homeowners, hot water heaters are the second highest source of energy use.

But, the nice thing about living in the most innovative country in the world is there’s an affordable solution to your problem. Tankless water heaters are that solution.

They consume much less energy because they don’t hold your water and heat it. Instead, they actually heat it when you need it.

But should you actually consider buying one?

Pros and Cons of Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless water heaters actually cost more than water heaters with tanks. However, their biggest overall advantage over water heaters with tanks is their cost savings. And here’s how they save you money:

  1. You use much less energy to heat your water than you would with an electric water heater
  2. Tankless water heaters have a typical lifespan of 20+ years, compared to 10-15 for water heaters with tanks
  3. Tankless water heaters also have easily replaced parts, which can extend their life to well beyond 20 years
  4. In some cases, federal and state tax credits are available for tankless water heaters
  5. Also, tank-based water heaters collect sediment, which harms their efficiency and increases your costs over time

Will You Have to Wait for Your Hot Water?

Let’s say you have a fairly average-sized family of 4. Two people want to take showers, and one wants to wash the dishes – all at the same time.

If you have the appropriately-sized tankless water heater, there’s no need for fighting. It can heat all the water you need immediately.

Finally, let’s say you have limited space in your home. Or, maybe you’re in an apartment or a condo. Tankless water heaters, for obvious reasons, take up far less space than their tank-based counterparts. You’ll free up some storage space too.

Finally, don’t forget that since you’re using so much less electricity, you’re doing your part to save the environment also.

So, if you have the additional cash available for a tankless water heater, they make good sense in just about every way.

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2016 Federal Income Tax Credits Available to Homeowners

No, energy savings does not fall all on you. The Federal government does some things to help you.

And they do more than just offer tax credits on solar panel installation. While it’s a significant credit (30% of the cost of equipment and installation), that still leaves many solar panel installations costing $10,000 or more.

That’s out of the reach of many homeowners. Fortunately, plenty of other tax credits are available here in 2016. Check out some of the top ones:

  1. Air Conditioning

Air conditioners recognized by ENERGY STAR as the “Most Efficient 2016” are eligible for a tax credit of $300. “Split systems” must have a SEER rating of 16 or more and EER of 13 or more.

Most home systems are split systems.

“Packaged systems” must have a SEER of 14 or more or EER of 12 or more. For both EER and SEER, the higher the rating, the greater the efficiency.

Packaged systems usually sit on concrete slabs next to your home or on your roof. Ask your contractor about your eligibility for this tax credit.

  1. Insulation

Of all the energy efficiency enhancements your home can get, insulation usually offers some of the greatest efficiency gains. The Fed currently offers a 10% tax credit up to $500. That means the total cost of the product (not the installation) can be $5000 for you to receive the full credit.

Your total cost may exceed that. However, your credit maxes out at $500. You can install the insulation yourself and get the credit.

Many forms of insulation are eligible for this credit, including fiberglass batts, rolls, blow-in fibers, rigid boards, expanding spray, and pour-in-place.

Make sure you check with your contractor or the manufacturer to get your tax credit.

  1. Non-Solar Water Heaters

Water heaters are one of the top energy-suckers in every home. The Fed gives you a $300 credit toward buying a new one.

To be eligible, an electric heat pump must have an energy factor greater than or equal to 2.0. A gas, oil, or propane water heater must have an energy factor greater than or equal to .82, or a thermal efficiency of at least 90%.

More Tax Credits Are Available!

…But those three cover some of your biggest wins. You can learn about additional tax credits at the ENERGY STAR website. Credits are available for:

  • Biomass stoves
  • Air source heat pumps
  • Gas, propane, or oil hot water boilers
  • Roofs
  • Windows, doors, and skylights

Check them out…and watch the savings start rolling in!

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Are You Aware of Energy Efficiency Programs?

Here’s yet another way to improve your savings on your electricity and energy bills. Texas, like many other states, has energy efficiency programs available.

The first guideline for eligibility is that you must have a Transmission & Distribution Utility (TDU) from the list of available providers below. The TDU is the company that does all the physical maintenance and service on the wires. They also read your meter and provide the usage information to the REP. The Retail Electric Provider (REP), does not matter. The REP is the company that handles all the billing, administration, and service.

Here’s the list of eligible TDUs:

  • AEP Texas Central
  • AEP Texas North
  • CenterPoint Energy
  • El Paso Electric Co.
  • Entergy Texas
  • Onco
  • Southwestern Electric Power Company
  • Texas-New Mexico Power
  • Xcel Energy
  • Sharyland

If you are part of an electric cooperative, you also are not eligible for these programs.

Who Came Up with Texas Energy Efficiency Programs?

There’s actually a voluntary organization with yet another long acronym. Possibly the longest you’ve ever seen – EUMMOT. That stands for “The Electric Utility Marketing Managers of Texas.” The organization is made of 10 utilities from across the state of Texas.

The idea is that, since rates generally can’t be raised, it makes more sense for utilities to lower costs to increase their profit margins instead. They also have some regulation, passed in 1999, that forces them to make energy efficiency a goal.

How Do You Participate in an Energy Efficiency Program?

Even though your eligibility is determine by your TDU, you actually end up participating usually through local contractors. For example, a solar panel installer actually does the work of giving you the solar panel and reducing your costs. They then handle any additional payment or reimbursement issues through your TDU.

To figure out your eligibility for any energy efficiency programs, you simply call your TDU and ask what’s available. If you don’t know your TDU, you can use this map.

Or, simply call your REP (the company that sends you your electric bill), and ask how to contact your TDU. Your TDU can give you all the information you need to learn what programs are available and how you can take advantage of the benefits they offer.

You can go to their websites too. But, they tend to be outdated, difficult to use, and it could be hard to find the information you need.

So give ‘em a call. You just might score a savings opportunity you didn’t know existed.

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How to Inspect Your Ductwork for Efficiency-Draining Leaks

System of ventilating pipes

Your home feels cool, so what’s the problem? Well, hopefully nothing.

But, your air conditioner or furnace could be silently running up your electricity bill, and harming the environment, without you even noticing.

Your ductwork may have leaks. Some are obvious because you can see clear cracks in your ductwork. Usually, they appear around the joints.

However, not all leaks, even ones that drain serious electricity and harm your comfort, are that obvious.

Here’s how to check for those less obvious leaks:

  1. Buy a Smoke Pencil or Incense Stick

This is almost a foolproof method for finding leaks in your home’s ductwork. Simply turn your heat or air on so it blows air.

Find the ductwork in your basement and attic. Light the smoke pencil or incense stick. Hold it near the ductwork, and especially the joints. You’ll notice the smoke quickly blows away when you find a leak.

By the way, these leaks will be smaller. So, they’ll be very difficult to find should you simply try to feel them with your hand.

  1. What about Leaky Ducts in Your Walls?

This is where things get tricky. If you’re brave and ambitious, you can try to isolate the problem. Many HVAC pros themselves have a difficult time finding those smaller leaks in walls.

Find your air handler. Partition the supply side from the return side with cardboard and masking tape. Simply by using a blower door and pressure pan, you can take a reading at each register. Because your ductwork’s supposed to be a closed system, each register should show a reading of 0.

Bottom Line: Finding Leaks is Really, Really Hard

At the end of the day, you may not be able to isolate those leaks that are deep inside your walls. So, that’s where it makes sense to call a contractor.

But, you can’t call just any HVAC pro because not all are good at isolating ductwork leaks. To find a good one, ask them,”How would you go about isolating a ductwork leak?”

If they shrug their shoulders and say they don’t know, or if they give a vague non-answer, you know they can’t help you.

Look for an HVAC pro with a couple decades of experience. Check their reviews out online, and look for 4 stars or more. Make sure they have an A+ BBB rating.

That makes for a good contractor right there.

By the way, what’s the biggest sign of ductwork leaks? Hot and cold rooms in your home.

Keep that in mind the next time you suspect ductwork leaks, and you’ll be just fine.

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What Should You Really Pay Attention to for Max Energy Savings?

Should you really be all that concerned about some of your energy savings mistakes?

Remote home control system on a digital tablet.

For example, should you run to unplug your smartphone charger before you go to bed at night? Should you turn the brightness on the screen down so you don’t have to charge your phone up as often?

Well, from an energy savings perspective, don’t waste your time with that. Your smartphone, whether iPhone or Android, costs around $1 to operate each year. That’s just a few kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Not worth obsessing over.

So where do you want to spend your time searching for energy savings?

First, check out the data below on home energy use from SmarterHouse.org:

Home Energy Breakdown

That’s pretty definitive right there. So let’s talk about ways you can score some big wins:

  1. Heating

Yeah…we’re slipping into the cool time of the year. So, we’ll hit that part next. For now, you may have the occasional day where you think you need to turn the heating on.

Your first big win comes by simply turning down your thermostat. Each degree you can turn it down makes a difference. So if you can be comfortable at 67 instead of 68, that’s a win.

See how far you can go before you or others in your household get too uncomfortable.

You can also do the age-old trick of simply adding on another layer. Update your style. Maybe it’s time to add a new hoodie or thicker sweatpants to your wardrobe. Clothing manufacturers have all sorts of cool new styles for warmer wear.

Check out your furnace. If it’s older than a decade, you may have a good opportunity for boosting your savings by buying a more efficient one.

  1. Cooling

Okay, so this is the season we’re in right now. It’s the second biggest energy sucker. Like your heating, consider starting by raising your thermostat a degree or two. Keep going up until you’ve reached your limit.

Turn your thermostat up when you leave for the day. And turn it up a little at night and sleep without sheets.

Make sure your ceiling fan, which should be on to help circulate air, turn in a counter-clockwise direction during summer. This creates a mini “wind-chill” effect that gives you the feeling of being cooler.

So…those are a couple ways you can score big energy savings, without making dramatic changes to your life that make you feel uncomfortable.

Enjoy the new money you find – and the help you do for the environment too!

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6 Simple Ways to Save Money on Energy This Year…And Beyond


Saving money on your energy use in your home isn’t as difficult as you might think. We’ve discussed dozens of ways you can do it over the years on this blog.

And today, we have a few more ideas you might not know.

Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Saving on Water

If you have more bedrooms in your home than you do people, consider getting a water meter. That gives you more accurate billing.

  1. Do You Have Insulation?

Drafty windows and poor insulation, or none at all, leads to some of the biggest energy loss in your home. You may not have any insulation in your attic at all, which could cost you an awful lot of lost heat.

Inspect your insulation yourself, or have a professional do it for you.

  1. What’s That Dripping Noise You Hear?

Not only is dripping obnoxious to listen to, but it’s costly too. You can lose more than 1000 gallons of water per year with leaky faucets in your sink or tubs.

So, take care of that itty bitty drip for big savings.

  1. Consider New Commercial Lending Programs

Wait a minute…don’t energy efficiency upgrades cost a lot of money and take years before you actually start saving money? Many utilities use a new method to solve that problem. You can make repayments through your energy bills. It’s called “on-bill financing.”

If you’ve been considering an energy efficiency enhancement for some time, find a utility that can help you out with this type of financing.

  1. Energy Star Certified Electric Heat Pump Water Heaters

The typical family of four accumulates $600 in energy costs by using hot water throughout the year. You can cut that amount in half by installing an electric heat pump water heater.

And it’s a fast payback period too – around 2-3 years for a family of 4.

  1. Watch for the Falling Prices of Solar Energy

In terms of marketability, solar power is “hot” right now. However, the technology is advancing so rapidly that costs are falling dramatically.

Solar power of any kind may not be affordable for you this year. But it might be in the next few years.

So keep an eye out. Most of your cost comes on the labor for installation and the panels themselves. When those fall substantially, your time to save the money to pay back your costs does too.

Those are some easier ways to save money on energy in this, and coming years. Put them to use, and then make some plans for the new money in your life.

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8 Energy Savings Ideas Recommended by ENERGY STAR

Think you’ve thought of all the ways you can to save energy? We’ve named an awfully large number of them on this blog.

But, new ones always come up. And this time, they come from ENERGY STAR. Here’s some ideas they have that maybe you’ve overlooked:

  1. Make sure you have an energy-efficient TV. You’re going to spend a lot of time in front of the TV. Everyone does. So you might as well be efficient when you do. Keep that energy use down to just a handful of dollars per year.
  2. Choose an Energy Star sound system. Who doesn’t have a home theatre these days? They’re so affordable! Just make sure you have an energy-efficient one available.
  3. Change the filter for your HVAC system. During periods of heavy use, this should be monthly. When you’re not using your HVAC system as much, you can go up to 2 months. “Heavy use” would be for several hours during the day. “Light use” would be just a day or two each week.
  4. Plug all your electronics into a power strip. Your electronic devices and chargers love to suck energy when you don’t actually use them. It’s too hard to remember to shut them all off one by one. So, do it with just the flick of a switch with your surge protector. Easy.
  5. Choose Energy Star light fixtures. They’re beautiful to look at. And they’re fun to show off to friends and neighbors. You’re probably going to have them on a lot, so make sure you have energy efficient light fixtures.
  6. Turn off your lights, but not your ceiling fans. When you’re done using them, turn off your light bulbs. However, your ceiling fans can be useful in circulating air so your home feels more comfortable.
  7. Think about using an electric heat pump water heater. Your water heater is one of the biggest users of energy in your home. So get rid of that problem by installing an electric heat pump water heater today. You could experience a savings of up to $300 in your first year.
  8. Replace your screens with storm windows. Pretty simple and straightforward why this works here. Get rid of those screens. Get some glass window panes in place.

So some of those tips definitely were the same old, same old. But some definitely were new.

Which were new to you?

Consider using those in your home today. And watch the energy savings roll in.

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4 Most Common Barriers to Energy Efficiency

Big business projects get all the energy efficiency attention. It’s true – businesses account for the vast majority of energy use today.

But, single family homes still use about 20% of our nation’s total energy. That’s still significant.

And with looming threats of global warming and all the chaos that could cause, it’s more important than ever to take a closer look at this.

So why don’t more homeowners maximize their energy savings?

Here’s why, and some possible solutions:

  1. The Upfront Cost is Too High

Middle and low-class families don’t have the access to the hundreds or thousands of dollars necessary to finance these projects.

You can get 0% down financing from contractors. But can you make the payments? You can also finance the projects with your home’s built-up equity.

Stop making those payments, though, and you could lose your home!

To counter this challenge, some utility companies let consumers spread the charges for energy efficiency improvements over the course of several bills. It’s called “on-bill financing,” and the goal is to quickly reach the point where the dollars saved exceed the dollars spent by the consumer.

  1. Too Long To Wait for a Return on Investment

Would you put new windows in your home to boost your energy efficiency? You bet you would, if it made sense.

But, it could take 10-15 years, or even longer, before you actually experience the savings. And by then, will there be new windows you’re supposed to purchase that save you even more energy?

For most homeowners, that’s simply not practical.

The government does offer tax credits. Those help.

  1. Personal Attitudes

The small things matter. Ever catch yourself thinking,”This won’t make a difference,” when you do something little like leaving the lights on while you go out for the evening?

Maybe you have another situation that’s more relevant to you. Now, multiply that by several million times, the number of other US citizens who likely think and do the same thing.

What seems little now looks large. You’ll never manage your own energy use perfectly. But you may know one to three ways you can do it a little better. So follow through on those steps.

  1. No Standard Method of Measuring a Home’s Energy Efficiency

Your furnace has an AFUE rating. The higher the rating, the more efficient it is. 100 is perfect efficiency, but that doesn’t exist. However, you can easily get 95 – 98.

So simple, isn’t it?

Well, with your home, no such standard scale exists. The builder might tell you. You might see some bills from the previous homeowner.

But you might use the electricity differently than them. The truth is you don’t know.

There’s no standard for measuring the energy use of a home. However, you can find some contractors who will test and analyze that for you. That at least gives you a ballpark idea.

So, it isn’t easy to be efficient at your home. However, with these tips, you can certainly improve your efficiency some.

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