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Posts Tagged ‘home energy use’

Rechargeable BatteriesThinking of making the switch to rechargeable batteries? Like other energy efficiency tweaks, rechargeable batteries have an upfront cost, but the long-term benefits are very worth the investment and pay for themselves in just two years. One set of rechargeables can replace hundreds of single-use (disposable) batteries, billions of which are used each year in the US alone. Most of these disposable batteries are not recycled and there is no way to reuse them, making batteries quite the climate mess!

The good news is that rechargeable batteries work great, outperforming regular batteries in most situations (except when used in cameras). Rechargeables also consume up to 23 times fewer natural resources than disposable batteries. Upgrades in technology have allowed rechargeables to become slightly more affordable and better functioning over the years, too. There are now batteries that can be charged using a USB port, eliminating the need for a separate battery recharging station.

Here are some tips to make the switch to rechargeables:

  • Choose high quality batteries to power your life: Here’s a list of the best rechargeable batteries for 2015. Many of the same battery brands you are accustomed to using also offer rechargeables, and there are lots of new companies making great options. Stock up on a few sets, get a charger, and get started with the savings!
  • Don’t forget to charge ‘em up: One of the hassles with rechargeable batteries is that they need to charge, sometimes for a few hours each. Having backup batteries charged and ready to go can help alleviate the stress of an important toy or game that suddenly stops working (doubly important if you have kids who want to play NOW). Many rechargeables also come pre-charged for last-minute needs.
  • Be aware of the power slide: As batteries age, they may not store energy for as long as newer batteries. Rechargables also tend to lose juice as they sit, so charge a batch of batteries every few weeks if you find that you’re running out of power often. If you use a lot of batteries, perhaps keep a few regular batteries around as you get accustomed to regularly charging up your rechargeable stash.

Want to learn more about rechargeable batteries? Check out these great resources:

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battery image from America’s Best Organics

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price of electrity in each state

Average electricity price per state (cents/kWh) as of April 2014, compiled by data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration; screenshot from Huffington Post

Sometimes we all need a little nudge to do the right thing. Choosing to reduce your energy consumption is great when it’s good for the polar bears and the rainforest, but you probably don’t think it affects you directly. The good news and the bad news is that rising electricity costs make it so that doing the right thing for the planet is also the right thing for your budget. It might just be the nudge some of us need to be more conscious of our electricity usage.

We all know we can easily reduce our impact on the planet and our budget by reducing our energy use in various ways. But how much difference does it really make? How much money can you really save by reducing your electricity usage? Turns out it depends on where you live. As you can see in the image above and the table below, the cost of electricity varies widely between states.

New York 19.56
Hawaii 38.08
California 10.17
Kansas 12.62
Michigan 14.62
Alaska 19.03
Texas 12.07
Florida 11.76
Washington 8.75

An interactive version of the image is available in the original article from the Huffington Post, but above is just a sample of how widely costs can vary between states. Why the range of prices between states? Varying local infrastructure, climate, availability of sources, pervasiveness of renewable energy technology, and other factors account for the variation. And rates will continue to climb. According to the New York Post, electricity rates will likely increase about 4% each year as coal-fired power plants shut down and are increasingly regulated in the coming years.

In another graphic in the article, the electricity usage by state is shown. And guess what — the states with the highest energy costs also have the lowest use! High-cost Hawaii has one of the lowest collective uses of electricity (it helps that it’s always pretty warm there), while some of the states where electricity cost is low have some of the highest rates of usage (such as Washington, Texas and Arkansas).

how much electricity used in each state

How much electricity is used in your state; screenshot from Huffington Post

What does this mean for you as a user looking to reduce your energy costs? If you live in Hawaii or New York, cutting energy costs makes sense for your own wallet AND those polar bears. Those living in the states that have the highest cost of electricity are actually double incentivized to reduce their consumption: not only is it better for the planet, it’s a quicker return on investment when they see reduced costs on their electricity bill in a short time period. But, if you live in Texas where electricity rates are incredibly low, it’s a bit harder to convince everyone to reduce energy just for the sake of reduction, since it doesn’t impact their personal budgets as swiftly or as greatly. The upfront costs of LEDs and appliance upgrades might deter those living in states with lower electricity rates, and it might be harder to see the benefit of the upfront costs. However, as noted by Forbes, even though a incandescent bulb costs about one dollar compared to a new LED bulb at $25, the lifespan and operational costs make it the cheapest option for the long-term, both for your personal carbon footprint and your budget. To upgrade appliances, consumers can get incentives from the state and federal governments to help reduce the cost of new Energy Star refrigerators, fans, air conditioners and other high-cost items.

Just as the once high cost of solar power has been reduced to make panels more affordable and the payoff period shorter, innovation in products and increasing energy rates will continue to shorten the return on investment for all upgrades. Even in states where energy rates are low and the return on investment might be a bit slower than high-cost states, there are still many incentives for consumers to make efficiency upgrades, which benefit all consumers (and polar bears!) immediately and in the long-term.

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andrea head shot circleAbout the Author: Andrea Bertoli helps to spread awareness of personal climate impacts via social media, blogging, advertising and community outreach for Oroeco.

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A vampire lurks in your DVR! (and cable/satellite box too!)

Which appliance consumes the most power in your home? The refrigerator? The washer, dryer, or TV? A quick energy audit will tell you that the culprit may be a much less imposing energy beast, if you (like over 80% of Americans) have a DVR and set-top cable or satellite box. That’s right, those seemingly innocuous glowing little boxes can combine to suck more electricity than an Energy Star refrigerator, according to a study by NRDC.

There are approximately 160 million DVRs and set-top boxes in the US now draining about $3 billion worth of electricity per year, the equivalent of nine 500 MW coal-fired power plants. That’s more power than used by the entire state of Maryland! And the real kicker is that 2/3 of that energy is consumed when these devices are supposedly “off.” Unfortunately, these little buggers never really die: the lights may go off, but they’re still sucking over 90% what they would while on. And that power drain happens 24/7, 365 days a year. Thus, an HD DVR typically consumes more power than the TV it’s connected to.


So the trick-or-treaters may be long gone from your doorstep, but you’ve still got some big energy vampires lurking in the darkness. The good news is that Buffy [the vampire slayer] is now on the way via a new EPA Energy Star 3.0 standard that mandates substantial improvements over the 2.0 version, and the cable industry (which owns most boxes) recently announced voluntary efficiency measures after all the bad press. But the only way to truly curb your boxy vampires’ appetite is to put them on a power strip that you switch off when you’re not watching TV or recording Buffy reruns. Or join the hipster kids and just stream it all online.

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LED lighting is getting cheaper, “warmer”, and more efficient. Time to switch?

An offshoot of the semiconductor industry, LED lighting technology is already abundant in our lives, from traffic lights to flat screen TVs and computer displays. That’s because LEDs produce are about 10 times more efficient than conventional incandescent lighting, and they can last up to 100 times longer, equating to substantial energy, cost and eco-impact savings over time.

So is it time to re-illuminate your home sweet home? The downside is that LEDs still aren’t cheap, with standard socket LED bulbs costing anywhere from $5 to over $50. LEDs have also struggled a bit matching the “warm” light put off by incandescents, the same problem faced by compact florescent lamps (CFLs) when they first hit the market. But LED prices are coming down quickly, while both efficiency and light quality are improving. The typical LED is now twice as efficient as a CFL, and takes roughly the same amount of energy to manufacture. LEDs also last 2 to 3 times longer, and they’re better than CFLs at dimming (“dimmable” CFLs still tend to flicker, while LEDs are better at maintaining smooth illumination and color temperature, though some brands still have kinks to work out). LEDs also have a leg up on CFLs in that they don’t contain mercury, a toxic component of all CFLs that subjects users to special recycling and breakage clean-up recommendations.

If you’re ready to dive into the future of light, sites like Amazon are of course awash with LED options. Beyond price, pay close attention to customer ratings, “dimmable” claims (if you need dimming), and color temperature (2,700-3,300 K will match standard incandescent lighting, while higher numbers mean a “cooler” color). The EPA award-winning Light Bulb Finder app is a great way to quickly see how options stack up, and there are a number of fabulous online calculators out there that estimate how LED when investments will payback and start turning a profit (vs. both CFLs and incandescents). When both energy savings and longer bulb life are factored in, replacing an incandescent with a $25 LED should save you at least $150 over the 25-year life of a frequently used LED bulb, and if you’re willing to get a bit more creative with your lighting you can save even more.

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To e-book or not to e-book? It’s an open question.

So with iPads and Kindles abounding, what’s the greenest way to read these days?

A (relatively) recent NY Times article by Daniel Goleman and life cycle assessment guru Gregory Norris dug into the question. Turns out it depends on what timeframe you use for your calculations. Any e-reader certainly takes a lot more energy and resources to produce than a book, but when you factor in the fact that a book is limited by the sum of its pages while reading on an e-reader is (almost) infinitely expandable, then an e-reader starts looking greener the more you read.

How much do you need to read to break even? Energy, water, and mineral consumption should balance out after reading 40 to 50 books. However, toxic emissions linked to cancer and other human health concerns don’t register a net improvement until you’ve read ~75 e-books (assuming you’re replacing new book purchases with e-book purchases), and greenhouse gas emissions don’t balance out until you’ve read over 100. Dealing with electronics waste is a particularly vexing problem, though companies like Apple are starting to offer rebates when you turn in your old gizmos for recycling.

So if you’re a voracious devourer of text then an e-reader may win the eco day, but the best pick is probably still a trip to the library, or bumming a good read off a friend. Last time we checked though, our well-worn Harry Potter collection didn’t offer Facebook and HD movies on a plane, so we’re not entirely convinced a spiffy new iPad isn’t still an utmost necessity.

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