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Happy Pi (π) Day!

What a week, and Happy Pi day to you all! I hope you’ve had an amazing weekend, and as we’re looking ahead, just a quick reminder to set your clocks forward an hour for daylight savings time, today, 3.14 (unless you’re in Arizona, of course). We’ll get back to digging through the archives to learn about Historical figures in the world of energy in the week ahead, so keep an eye out and feel free to add your favorites in the blog comments.

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Historical Figures: Electric Discoveries, Part 2

If you’ve been following along this week, you might already know where this story is headed, however the observations that led humanity to electric lighting where certainly unexpected at the time of their discoveries. While the source we’ve been using thus far to discuss the history of electricity is helpful (here’s the link: https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-electricity-1989860#:~:text=Ben%20Franklin%2C%20Henry%20Cavendish%2C%20and,first%20practical%20application%20of%20electricity), it leaves out one crucial person responsible for aggregating many of the previous findings and creating a historical record of electricity in his book titled, “The history and Present Stare of Electricity, With Original Experiments” which allowed countless others to further this exploratory work: Joseph Priestly. Some of Priestley’s most important work, in my opinion, included the initial findings of conductivity – please see the quote below from encyclopedia.com (https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/science-and-technology/chemistry-biographies/joseph-priestley):

His experiments relate primarily to conductivities of different substances, although he also examined other modes of the motion of the electrical fluid. He discovered the conductivities of charcoal and of metallic salts, ranged the metals in a table of comparative conductivities, first noted the distinctive marks left by spark discharges on metallic surfaces—now known as “Priestley’s rings”—and examined the phenomena of “electric wind” and sideflash. His most remarkable electrical discovery came as an interpretation of an experiment by Franklin. From the observation that pith balls lowered within an electrified metallic cup were not influenced by electricity, Priestley deduced, on Newtonian grounds, the inverse-square form of the force law between electrical charges. The publication of this deduction in the History passed nearly unnoticed (as had that of Daniel Bernoulli in 1760), but it probably inspired Cavendish’s subsequent experimental determination of the force law.”

By combining and honing the information on electricity and conductivity, as well as requesting direct critiques from the experimenters themselves, Priestly was able to pass on a plethora of generational knowledge to other scientists who would later continue this important work. His book potentially led Henry Cavendish to his discovery of electric attraction and repulsion and his own discoveries on conductivity – priming us for Charles-Augustin de Coulomb’s famous “Coulomb’s law” which states the direct inverse relationship between electrostatic repulsion and attraction (see below).

Coulombs Law

In case you’re curious about the chemistry implications of this equation (which essentially hold our entire world together), click on the image to check out the source.

Priestley, Cavendish, and Coulomb’s works gave rise to another scientist, who’s name you might recognize: Alessandro Volta. While Volta has a plethora of findings, one of his most significant contributions to the world of electricity was the worlds first battery (https://www.thoughtco.com/alessandro-volta-1992584). As you can see from this link, the words “volt” and “photovoltaic” are credited to him.

It would still be roughly 80 years before we saw the first incandescent light bulb that led to harnessing light in street lamps and homes, but the painstaking work would may have taken even longer without these amazing discoveries. More to come on that in tomorrow’s post!

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Historical Figures: Electric Discoveries

There’s a lot to unpack in the history of electricity, but there’s also a ton of information online to help. So where do we begin? It’s easy to think that Benjamin Franklin “invented” electricity in 1752 during his experiment when he, to put simply, attached a key to a kite so that it might be struck by lightening and then the electricity would be harnessed via a Leyden jar (https://www.fi.edu/benjamin-franklin/kite-key-experiment), but in fact electricity itself existed long before that day, and humans had been well aware of it for centuries prior. His discovery however did help illustrate that lightening did in fact harness the same type of electrical charges that we use to power our homes today.

Even in his experiment however, Franklin was already building upon existing principals and prior inventions within the field of electricity. Namely, those of William 

Gilbert – whom had coined the phrase “electrica” in his book written in 1600 about electricity and magnetism, “De magnete, Magneticisique Corporibus” – or Otto von Guericke – whom was responsible for proving that a vacuum could exist– or Pieter van Musschenbroek and Ewald Christian Von Kleist – whom had invented the very Leyden jar that allowed Franklin to harness the electricity from his kite experiment (https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-electricity-1989860#:~:text=Ben%20Franklin%2C%20Henry%20Cavendish%2C%20and,first%20practical%20application%20of%20electricity).

After all of this progress however, humans were not quite able to turn on a light switch in their home to turn on their recessed lighting. It would take the delicate work of a few more people before we were ready to achieve that milestone. To be continued on tomorrow’s post – stay tuned!

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Winter Weatherizing for Your Home

It seems that while Texans have been able to avoid many of these tasks in the past, with record low temperatures and several days of snow on the ground, it’s definitely time to do some cold-weather proofing in our homes! I’ve also been reading a lot about how to keep warm in your home – particularly since so many people in Texas lost power yesterday – so I’d like to share a few good links that I’ve come across here:

Please comment/reach out if you have any other tips to stay warm in these freezing temperatures! Many of our northern neighbors have dealt with these types of conditions before, so know that there is always help and plenty of good advice to go around.

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Appliances That Steal From You at Night

This week we briefly touched on a few of these types of appliances, and while these objects are a smaller piece of the personal energy pie, training yourself to adapt to unplugging items when not in use can have a big impact – both financially, and ecologically speaking. Here’s a fantastic article outlining “Energy Vampires” such as coffee makers and laptop computers with smart reminders that save you money:

https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/articles/energy-vampires-are-attacking-your-home-here-s-how-stop-them

Learning new habits takes time, but with all of the tips and tricks we learned this week, you’ll be able to save money and reduce your carbon footprint – in several cases – without even spending a dime. If you’re already using these “best practices” in your home, and are ready to take the next step in energy savings, don’t hesitate to reach out and call us today!

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Goliath Appliances: Refrigerators, Dryers, Microwaves – Oh My!

Let’s take a look at a slightly smaller portion of the residential energy circle: big appliances. Refrigerators, washing/drying machines, dishwashers – how do they all stack up, in energy cost and consumption?

While there is always some variation in the type of products you’re comparing, here is a good list to consult when thinking about the cost to power your in-home and in-office appliances: https://www.siliconvalleypower.com/residents/save-energy/appliance-energy-use-chart. Some quick calculations will show you how much energy is used in each row / year and had some interesting revelations.

Here’s the link to the Energy.gov energy calculator also, if you prefer to do your own energy consumption analysis.

Some of the high consumption levels on this list aren’t surprising of course, but the good news is that a lot of this technology is improving drastically, and quickly; and with the general push towards energy efficiency, there may even be a rebate in your area for upgrading to Energy Star certified appliances!

To learn why, feel free to check out their information at the following links:

Even if you reasonably do not wish to replace all of your appliances at once for energy star certified appliances, there are plenty of energy saving tips to help you cut down on the amount of power these same appliances consume.

How do you ensure your current appliances are used as efficiently as possible? Please check out the following article, here, which provides insight into how to get a better estimate of the current energy consumption of your fridge (and is applicable to other large appliances as well), and ways to improve upon your energy consumption without spending a dime – and don’t forget, air-drying is free!

Like all things related to energy efficiency, the annoying answer time and time-again is that your energy consumption truly depends on the age of the equipment you are using, the way in which you/your family is using said equipment (are you unplugging your laptop every time you’re not using it?), and can also depend upon your local utility rates. For this reason, and because you want to make savvy financial decisions and cut waste, it’s important to have a good understanding of how you ‘consume’ energy and how you can mitigate that consumption. Mitigation is also the cheapest way to save money on energy costs, so before you even consider buying solar panels, we recommend exploring what you’re currently doing to power your home or business, and all of the equipment within it, and work to reduce your energy consumption first, then get solar panels to offset your carbon footprint further. As always, if you have questions on this, please give us a call today!

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Heating for One: Why so Expensive?

While I would love to explore the intricate and highly complex details of heating, it’s safe to say that this article does a much better job of explaining the ins and outs of storing heat indoors than I ever could, so please give it a read:

The cheapest, most efficient way to heat your home this winter, By Stephen Marcus Monday 21 December 2020

https://www.ovoenergy.com/guides/energy-guides/is-it-more-energy-efficient-to-leave-the-heating-on.html

The biggest takeaways I get from the article, are that most homes in the US use centralized heating, but all types of heating will lose heat in the wintertime – through heat transfers within the heating process, or simply by escaping through the front/back door/walls/floorboards. The best way to prevent this is by having good insulation to keep heat trapped indoors longer, and if your house uses thermostatic radiator valves, you’re likely ahead of the game in terms of energy efficiency. The article also provides some excellent tips for cutting energy use, from the best types of insulation to use in your home and where to add it to make the most impact, to adding a lid to boiling water so it will come to a boil more quickly and therefore use less energy (https://www.ovoenergy.com/guides/energy-guides/120-ways-to-save-energy.html), to investing in thermal solar panels which turn energy directly into heat!

It’s important to note that until we can all afford to move to things like thermal solar panels, we will be somewhat reliant on fossil fuels to heat our homes – so the question becomes, how can we waste less? The possibilities are limitless. What are some of your favorite techniques for saving money in the wintertime? Please share them here, or give us a call today if you would like to discuss the insulation and heating system in your home!

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Hot and Cold: Our feelings Towards Air Conditioners

Having spent plenty of time in Texas, I typically think of air conditioning as a lifeline – and for most of the year, it is! With July and August temperatures regularly frequenting triple digits, it’s essential to make sure you drink water, find shade, and pray that your AC unit never breaks.

Naturally, when I moved to Seattle, I was shocked to find that almost no one had an air conditioning unit! Triple-digit temperatures in Seattle are extremely rare, and for most of the year you don’t even need a ceiling fan to cool down (though that’s started to change more recently). As a Texan living in this temperate city, I can say without a doubt that I needed the heater for most of the year instead.

My point is, while saying “let’s just get rid of all of the air conditioning units!” is effective in some areas, it’s not feasible in others – and conversely, the same goes for heaters, though we’ll cover that in a separate post.

While everyone may have their own preference when it comes to setting the thermostat, I think it’s safe to say that somewhere around 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal (click here for a short article I came across in trying to determine why: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-people-feel-hot/). How can we reasonably, carbon-neutrally, achieve this temperature, year-round, without spending a fortune?

First, let’s learn a little more about the modern AC unit. Energy.gov is typically a great source for information about energy in the US, and this site has a ton of good information about how AC units work, and ways to mitigate additional costs associated to cooling your home: https://www.energy.gov/articles/energy-saver-101-infographic-home-cooling.

We should also consider the modern AC unit efficiency, and how this differs from what we used in the past. AC unit efficiency is measured by something called a SEER rating, or a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio – which “derived by calculating the annual cooling output during the cooling season divided by the total electric energy input”, per AAA Heating & Cooling (https://www.aaaheatingandcoolinginc.com/ac-seer-rating-actually-means/). According to their site, a good AC unit today should have a SEER rating of 13-14, however more efficient AC models do exist today, and even go as high as 20 SEER (https://flgreenteam.com/ac-101-air-conditioning-heat-pump-primer/). Of course, there are always more considerations – a key factor being waste/cost. If you cannot afford a brand-new AC unit with a SEER rating of 20 or above, or if your AC unit is working currently and does not need to be replaced, what can you do to mitigate your energy consumption now?

1. Replace your Air Filters every 90 days! 

There are plenty of options! One of the easiest ways to prolong the lifespan of your AC unit and reduce the amount of energy you use to cool your home is to replace your filters regularly. These filters can be purchased at the grocery store, but you have to know the size you need before you go. If you’re a new homeowner like me, this will be new for you – but I promise it’s not hard! I learned it, so too can you – check out a quick guide on replacing your air filters here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tkJFtYUMfo.

2. Turn Off your AC when not home / not using it!

This question has been debated as long as I can remember: is it better to allow your AC unit to maintain a constant temperature all day, or turn it off and on and allow it to fluctuate? Depending upon your biggest concern, the answer to this question will change – if your concern is driven by cost savings, you should turn your system off completely when not home/not using it (https://www.debtroundup.com/should-i-turn-off-my-ac-while-away/).

However if your primary concern is bugs or mold growing long-term in your household (and you live in a humid environment), you may actually want to just turn the temperature in your house up when you leave, and back down to a more comfortable temperature when you return (here’s why: https://www.cooltoday.com/blog/should-you-turn-off-your-ac-when-youre-not-at-home#:~:text=But%20there’s%20a%20much%20better,home%20from%20mold%20and%20bugs).

In either case, please do NOT leave your AC unit running all day long in your home, whether or not you are there.

3. Close your Curtains

One seemingly simple thing people sometimes forget is just how simple it is to control heat with shade from the sun. Take out a compass (or look up your home on google earth), and see which of your windows face the south. Those windows are going to let in an enormous amount of sunlight (and therefore, heat) for most of the day but especially in the afternoon (assuming you’re in the northern hemisphere, of course). The easiest and simplest way to prevent this is to block out as much of that sunlight as possible – whether you’re using “black out” curtains or not, you will feel the difference, and may even start to see the difference on your utility bill.

4. Install a smart thermostat

Smart thermostats are becoming more popular, and while it’s not exactly a “free” solution, this equipment can absolutely help you save money. How do they work? The simple answer is that they can regulate the temperature of your home based on both your habits, and the outside ambient temperature, so that you don’t have to constantly think about it, leaving less room for error. For a more detailed explanation, feel free to check out this link: https://justenergy.com/blog/are-smart-thermostats-worth-it/, or go check out a few customer reviews to see what other people think of their smart thermostats.

Hopefully these tips will help you save money and cut down your energy costs, especially as we head towards another summer in Texas! If you’re curious about your personal energy consumption, but are not sure how to begin saving money on energy costs or decreasing your carbon footprint, please call us today – we’re happy to discuss it with you. If you have other tips and tricks on saving money while cooling your home, please add them here as well!

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Setting the Stage: Energy Consumption in the Home

As homeowners, we understand the appeal to have the best gadgets and gear to help with daily chores and life. For example, the dishwasher saves us hours of time spent over a sink with rubber gloves, the leaf-blower provides a similar benefit over using a manual rake. It wasn’t until recently that we really discovered that we needed to start asking ourselves what the carbon cost of these items might be, and how to prevent waste. There’s a lot to unpack here, but if you can get through it, you’ll be one step closer to making your home carbon neutral, and saving a ton of money in the process.

This week, we’ll take a holistic view of the home’s energy consumption, and see if we can uncover an opportunity or two in eliminating our own carbon footprint.

To start, we need to have a fundamental understanding of which appliances use the most energy in our homes. Here are a few articles to help guide you in the right direction:

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