Do It Yourself: Cut your energy bill in half!

Learn how to make the most of the energy you consume, stretch your dollar the farthest you can, and shrink your footprint!  This handy list of tips – courtesy of Missouri Wind and Solar – is full of simple but incredibly effective DIY measures you can take to reduce your energy bill by as much as 50%.  We’ll be taking a look at the most energy intensive items around your home, as well as how you can improve their efficiency.

1. Shower heads

Did you know that the average shower head uses around 10 gallons of water per minute?  If you’re like most Americans and you like your showers hot, that’s a lot of water to be heating each minute.  In a 15 minute shower, you’ve heated 150 gallons of water – now that is energy expensive!

Conversely, a water-saving shower head uses only 1.5 gallons of water per minute.  That means that in the same fifteen minute shower, only 22.5 gallons of water have been used.  That’s 127.5 gallons of water saved, for an 85% reduction!  Not only is this conservation of water more environmentally responsible, you’re also using way less energy to heat the water, which, after a month’s worth of showers [hopefully] really adds up in your favor!

2. Bulbs

When it comes to light bulbs, there’s quite a bit out there for consumers to choose from.  The standard 75-watt incandescent is the more conventional choice, however it is far from the most energy efficient.  By swapping these out for a compact fluorescent bulb, consumers can run 5 bulbs for the amount of energy expended by one 75-watt incandescent!  Just check and make sure you’re not buying the orange variety – this tinted bulb gives off a harsh and unsightly colored glow. Other forward-thinking investment bulbs include the LED 10-watt variety and the LED 30-year design. LED 10-watt has an 8:1 efficiency output as compared to the 75-watt incandescent; the 30-year LED by comparison, runs 10:1.

3. DIY Insulation

You don’t have to spend hundreds to have your home sealed off for the hot summers and cold winters here in Missouri.  Insulation is as simple, and as green, as installing a repurposed sheet of bubble wrap to your windows to keep the warm or cool air inside.  1″ bubble wrap is a common packaging material that is all-too-often used once and discarded.  To get the most our of your wrap, simply cut to the size of your window, lightly mist window with water, and apply the flat side of the wrap to the wet glass.  This simple installation will keep cold air from entering your home in the winter, and will keep hot air out in the summer, causing your heating and cooling to run less.  It’s also a great way to find alternative destination for your plastic bubble wrap that does not involve the landfill – the same wrap can be used over and over for years!

*NOTE: If you’re not able to find any bubble wrap for this one, there are also plastic window kits specifically designed for home insulation that you can find at most stores.

4. Ceiling Fans

While we’re on the subject of heating and cooling, ceiling fans are another great tool for energy efficiency, often underutilized by Americans.  They can really help you stretch your heating and cooling as far as it can go by following a few simple rules.  The first thing most people don’t realize is that the direction of the blade spin actually does matter – a lot.  In the summer, the fan should be set to rotate counterclockwise, clockwise in the winter [looking at the fan from the floor up].  A switch to change this setting is found on the body of the fan in most models, as pictured below.

ceiling fan

In the winter, never set the fan above the “low” setting, as any higher will cool the air inside.  On this low setting, however, it will circulate the heated air, pushing it across the ceiling, down the wall, and into the middle of the room.  With the warm air better circulating, your heater will turn on much less frequently, saving you tons on heating costs.

5. Humidifiers

One more thing you can do to maximize your heating while minimizing cost this winter is to keep the air in your home humid.  Humid air will hold heat much longer than the dry air we often experience in Missouri winters.  Buying a humidifier and adjusting until the air in your home runs about 55% humidity will ensure that the heat you pay for lasts longer, again causing it to run less, once again saving you money.

And finally, perhaps the biggest home energy wasters,

6. Phantom Loads

Microwave ovens are a staple tool in nearly every American kitchen, but did you know that most of the energy they consume is burned up when they aren’t even in use?  This is due to “phantom loads”, or perhaps more aptly-named “energy vampires”. The usually square black box on the end of the appliance is always sapping power, even when the microwave is dormant.  That little digital clock on your microwave?  It costs a surprising amount to keep that little guy going all the time.  These phantom loads are not limited to the microwave, however – they can be found on all sorts of appliances throughout the home and kitchen, including, but not limited to, stereos, coffee makers, cell phones and MP3 players.  According to the Daily Green, tell-tale signs of phantom loads include features such as remote controls, continuous digital display (think that clock on your microwave or DVD players), rechargeable batteries (think cordless phones), and external power supplies (think inkjet printers and iPod or iPhone chargers).

So what can you do to fight phantom loads?  Start by investing in a kilowatt meter. Plug this device into all of your appliances to find out how much power they use when they’re not in use. Once you’ve identified the phantom loads, plug all of these appliances into a power strip.  This strip can then be turned on and off as needed, so you’re only using (and paying for!) electricity as needed, rather than continuously.  How much energy are you really saving though?  How much could it really cost to keep these things “running” all of the time? You’ll be surprised!  As for the convenience of time-keepers, as on the microwave, DVD player, clock radio, etc., I’d suggest investing in a good watch :)

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FAIR enough! MO government leads the way in energy consumption reduction, saves millions

Although Missouri state policy on renewable energy could be called less than progressive, the same cannot be said of the efforts made thus far by the state government to reduce overall energy consumption.  Over the past four years, 3,200 government buildings throughout the state have reduced their consumption by 22%. (see article at STL Today here)

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This more than doubles the original goals set under Gov. Jay Nixon’s 2009 executive order – goals for an annual reduction of 2% over the next ten years.  To break it down, consumption of electricity has been cut down by 13.6%, and gasoline use by 33.49% overall, for a total savings of $17,780,124 since 2008.  This reduction has been facilitated with the help of 148 different utility and energy vendors, all guided by the St. Louis-based IT company Talisen Technologies.  Talisen has scoured the renewable energy frontier in search of every eligible rebate in order to keep its implementation within fiscally viable reach.

One source of renewable energy that has remained relatively untapped in terms of the state’s investment is solar; despite Missouri’s high potential for solar energy generation.

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While solar rebates are continuing to be offered through next year, it’s expected that funding for these incentives will run out before 2014 ends.  In the meantime, a hat’s off to the Missouri government for going above and beyond to curtail their energy consumption.  Here’s hoping state policy will follow suite!

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Ameren’s ambiguity will threaten fate of renewables

In the ongoing fight for renewable energy advancement, the state’s solar rebate program continues to be threatened by Missouri utilities.  This time, on October 11, Ameren filed to suspend all solar rebates prematurely for the year, posing a sizable threat to future available funds for the program in coming years.

In 2008, 66% of Missourians voted in favor of the renewable energy standard (RES), including the solar rebate program.  For a cold calculation of what this means for homeowners who do invest, see the video below:

http://www.renewmo.org/res-compliance-battle-2013.html

One stipulation of this program was that the solar rebates offered could cause the ratepayer’s bill to increase by more than 1%.  Ameren claims to have reached the 1% limit, despite their own insistence earlier this year that they didn’t even need to calculate the cap; as their VP of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch only eight months ago, “It’s an academic calculation now because we’re not up against the one percent limit.”

Solar power has consistently increased in popularity throughout Missouri since the introduction of the RES, with over 1,400 installations over the last 3 years in Ameren service territory.  This year, $13 million has been given out in solar rebates, compared to last year’s $9 million, and much more is to be expected, with about $28 million worth of requests on the wait-list.  Now, at such a crucial time, Ameren wants to claim that these solar rebate payments are causing them to reach the cost limit for implementation of the entire RES law.  We need your help to ensure that Ameren’s solar rebate program will stay open to Missourians.  What can you do to help?

Please sign our petition.  Renew Missouri has continually been a pro-renewable force in the state, ensuring that these programs are readily available to you.  Forward this along and make your voice heard!  Thank you for your support.

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MAKE A DIFFERENCE MONDAY: Electric Car Drastically Reduces Gas Use

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John Gillispie is the executive director of Columbia-based MOREnet. He has a solar system installed on his house and he drives an electric car.

Gillispie installed the 17 panels on his home last October and received a federal rebate for both the panels and his car.

Gillispie said it takes about 12 kilowatt-hours to completely recharge the battery. He says he pays about nine cents per kilowatt-hour, so it’s roughly $1 a day to recharge the car. Compared to gas, which is about $4-$5 per day, the electricity is much cheaper.

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MAKE A DIFFERENCE MONDAY: Lighting Incentive Program Brightens Business Savings

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Everyone wins with energy efficient lighting. Energy efficient lights don’t use as much energy as other lights, so the environment benefits and utilities and businesses both save money.

Columbia Water and Light started a lighting rebate program for businesses in 2007, offering a $300 rebate per kilowatt reduced.

Connie Kacprowicz, Columbia Water and Light’s utility services specialist, says the utility has seen growing participation and a huge amount of savings since the program started.  It currently has about 200 customers.

So far, the lighting rebate program has saved nearly 7 million kilowatt hours and nearly $700,000.

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MAKE A DIFFERENCE MONDAY: St. Louisan Installs Solar Panels

Jeanne Clauson

Jeanne Clauson, a Chesterfield resident, had been thinking about installing solar panels for a while. It wasn’t until she went to an event at the botanical garden in St. Louis, where different alternative energy companies had their products on display, that she decided to go for it.

“I’m extremely uncomfortable with all the coal we are using,” Clauson said. “Missouri has plenty of sun and I have two portions of my house with a flat roof.”

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She said the solar company recommended getting started at the beginning of the year because utilities tend to run out of rebate money at the end of the year. Clauson said she probably wouldn’t have installed the panels without the rebate.

“The rebate was a big incentive,” Clauson said.

She said it took about a week for Earth First Solar to finish installing her 18 panels, with only a few delays due to rain and some roof access problems. Her bidirectional meter started on July 11.

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She said the panels produce an average of 137 kwh each week. She uses an Enphase Energy program that enables her to see how much each panel is producing.

The solar company calculated that she would be receiving about one third of her power from the solar panels and she is expected to break even in just six years.

Clauson said an added bonus is her living room, located right under the section of her roof with the solar panels, “is noticeably cooler now that the panels absorb the sun that used to beat down on the black, flat roof.”

This post is part of our Make a Difference Monday series. If you or someone you know has implemented a renewable energy source, let us know by emailing amanda@renewmo.org.

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MAKE A DIFFERENCE MONDAY: Local Business Owner Strives for Sustainability

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Leigh Lockhart, the owner of Main Squeeze, has made her home and business almost as energy efficient as she can.

Main Squeeze has thermal windows in its upstairs office, a refrigerator with a compressor outside on the roof so the heat isn’t generated inside, energy efficient lighting and an on demand water heater.

“An electric water heater just holds the hot water all day, you know, 24/7,” said Lockhart. “It’s a very inefficient way to heat water whereas this on demand system creates hot water only when we need it.”

Both her business and home support Columbia’s Solar One program. She’s also done many other things in her home to make it energy efficient.

“I did everything there from thermal windows to blown in insulation and a lot of tuck pointing and filling of gaps and building covers for attic fans and things like that,” said Lockhart.

She said she thinks the city of Columbia has a lot of really good incentives and ideas for moving the city forward with energy efficiency.

Lockhart said she is a big believer in alternative energy and wanted to make sure her business supported that.

“I never really wanted to run a capitalist business if I couldn’t make it justified with my ethics,” Lockhart said. “So, setting the business up in a way that I consider sustainable was really important.”

This post is part of our Make a Difference Monday series. If you or someone you know has implemented a renewable energy source, let us know by emailing amanda@renewmo.org.

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