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Weatherization: Money You Spend Now to Save Long Term

One word I’ve heard more this week than I ever cared to is weatherization. According to several articles, if the Texas energy grid had just been “weatherized” prior to the storm last week, several people in the state would have had power and water during the coldest week in 30 years, and a few more might even still be alive. So what even is weatherization/winterization and why is it so important? You can look this word up on Webster’s dictionary and you will find that it essentially means “preparing for winter”, which I’m sure comes as no surprise, however it also is not very helpful if you really want to understand what the process entails.

Thus, here is a quick link which explains winterization in your home: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-to-winterize-plumbing-pipes-844862; another on winterizing large equipment: https://www.macallister.com/winterizing-equipment/; and here is an easy 234-page read on best practices for weatherization in the Midwest: https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2016/06/f32/Midwest_Wx_Best_Practices_May_2007.pdf. In case you’re not an ERCOT board member, or a politician in charge of regulating the energy industry, here’s a slightly shorter article on weatherization and how to prevent frozen gas pipes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/thebakersinstitute/2021/02/19/winterization-and-the-texas-blackout-fail-to-prepare-prepare-to-fail/?sh=3de8c087c838and please find the graphic within which shows how temperature can affect the flow of gas in a pipeline:

It’s safe to say this process is not simple, it is time consuming, and can be costly – however, as I’ve come to learn this week, it is also essential. Texas does not often have winter storms that bring snow or last for longer than a day at a time – at the end of last year I was joking that Santa usually wore shorts in Texas, and that while I knew all of the words to “White Christmas” I had never actually seen one. I think after last week’s debacle, weatherization may become something we start to familiarize ourselves with in the future. It is certainly something I hope my elected and appointed officials familiarize themselves with now, as climate change could potentially exacerbate this problem.

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Budgeting Tips and Tricks

You’ve probably heard this word over and over again – perhaps you’ve built one and stick to it rigidly, perhaps you’ve set it loosely and try to monitor it sparingly throughout the year – but something that’s important to think about when you’re looking at home improvements: your budget. The good news here is that a new roof or a new solar system can actually add value to your home, so unlike other luxury goods, home improvements can actually pay off in the long run. Additionally, these items are typically financed through a financial lender (such Sunlight Financial or Loan Pal, for example) or through your bank (through a Home Equity Line of Credit, or HELOC), which means you don’t have to pay them all off at once, however you will still need to think about these types of projects ahead of time and plan accordingly. Having said that, there are a ton of ways you can seek out a financial planner, but for some quick tips, feel free to check out the following article, and share your favorite budget hacks in the comments below: https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/finance/how-to-budget.

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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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