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Summer Vacation: Week 1

ROADTRIP UPDATES: August 1st has finally arrived, and it’s time for us to take off for our summer vacation! While I truly enjoy passing through any part of this great state, there’s not much to see from today’s journey since we’ll be in Texas for 8 hours straight. Did someone say everything’s bigger in Texas? Well, they were exactly right. Once we get to the border, we’ll then a brief stint in New Mexico, before heading just beyondn the Colorado border for the night. It amazes me on these journeys just how quickly the landscape changes — from the rolling hills and oak trees of central Texas, to the large swaths of farmland and mesquite trees in west Texas, and onto the deep valleys and steep plateaus of New Mexico.

Summer Vacation: Texas

Texas / New Mexico border, photo credit: Megan Brannen

While the two states have a similar climate, almost immediately when you leave New Mexico and arrive in Colorado, the temperature drops and the Mountains rise up all around you! The entire trip my husband and I were singing Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country” as it seemed so fitting of a land so beautiful and vast. We were lucky (especially since we’d had conflicting opinions about the necessity of the tarp on all of our camping supplies in the bed of the truck) that we had good weather for the most part — only light showers here and there in West Texas and New Mexico, but we avoided the looming black and blue clouds off in the distance — however about an hour into Colorado the sky finally let loose and poured onto us. There were a couple of dicey moments where we could barely see the red taillights in front of us since the rain was so dense, and since the sun had already set we decided it was best to pull off

to the side of the road for a bit to wait it out (adding another half-hour to our 14-hour drive). We weren’t alone in this though, since several of the cars ahead of us decided to do the same thing, we decided we made the right decision — to pull off anyway, we had definitely failed to make the right decision concerning the tarp! Alas, we were so close to our destination we just decided not to worry about it until we got there, when we could throw our clothes into the dryer and let everything sit out in the dry heat and sunshine the next day.

HOME IMPROVEMENT PROJECT UPDATES: Ally and Jose and the SUNTEX team arrived at the house that evening and unpacked for their three-week stay. My hope is that they got to “Netflix and chill” that night, since I know the weeks ahead will be extremely busy!

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I hope my boss doesn’t read this blog…

Summer TravelSetting the scene: this next month, my husband and I will be exploring the great outdoors while getting some work done to our home in the meantime. Like most homeowners, we had a few projects we’d started, but never quite knew how to finish, along with some projects we never even attempted, knowing our limits would soon be tested. Luckily for us however, we happened to know of a local contractor that could help us out — so while we traveled away from home, SUNTEX was there to step in and come to our rescue! Now, assuming my boss will read this from time to time, I’ve promised her that I will include stats about each state’s green energy profile, and other interesting information I learn along the way, while of course highlighting the steps taken to finalize the home improvements — however I’ve also received approval to focus a large portion of this month’s blogs on the American National Parks, specifically: Glacier National Park (https://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm), Custer Gallatin National Forest (https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/custergallatin/home), Yellowstone National Park (https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm), The Grand Tetons National Park (https://www.nps.gov/grte/index.htm), and Rocky Mountain National Park (https://www.nps.gov/romo/index.htm) — so please enjoy!

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Travel Prep: Preparing for Home Repairs

Given our tendencies towards a more nomadic lifestyle, when we moved into our first home back in 2018, I made my husband promise me we wouldn’t sell it for at least 10 years. The market has fluctuated wildly since then, and even though we’ve mulled over the idea of renting it out from time to time, we are still just really grateful to have a place we call home. We have come to love our neighborhood haunts, and have made some good friends here as well.

As you might have guessed however, there are still a few things we would like to change about the place, and have even done a few DIY projects to get some practice. The first thing we changed about the home were the doors — there were several that opened into a room, drastically cutting down the space by almost half. We knew that if we put sliding barn doors in the main bedroom we would gain tons of space in our bathroom and closet; we also decided on a glass door that opened outwards from the kitchen, instead of the solid brown door that open inward originally. While we did a pretty good job for beginners, it was clear there were a few details we were desperately lacking in our construction projects, and we had waited over a year to finish them!

The next item I was desperate to change on our home was the outdoor paint, and if you take a look at the picture below, I think it’s easy to see why.

House: Before

When we first moved into the home, I remember asking the inspector what type of energy qualifications homes needed to meet in order to be ready for sale. He nearly laughed, and simply said, “None?” Since our house was built in the early 2000s, there wasn’t anything too outdated to be a major red flag, however we knew the thin window panes might not hold up for much longer. We had been gathering quotes for some time, however after the winter freeze when our windows started to fog up on a sunny day, we knew it was time: we needed to replace our windows.

Windows: Before

The final and likely most significant piece to all of the changes we wanted to make to the home was adding gutters. If you’ve ever been in Texas during a rainstorm, you know just how quickly a light rain can turn into a flash flood, and our home had started to show some of the tell-tale signs of the rain. See photos below for greater detail, however we had water stains on the brick in the front where water would flow off of the rooftop, and the foundation for the back yard porch had started to move slightly — something we were told would continue to happen with the heavy rains each spring. In order to protect our house, we knew it was time to add gutters — and of course I knew just who to call to help me out.

With just a few phone calls, a down payment on the project, and some carefully coordinated planning, we hired SUNTEX to help us out with all of the repairs.

 

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Energy Preparedness: Does your house miss you when you’re gone?

Even though my mind is consumed by the possibility of seeing bears, moose, and geese (oh my!) very soon, there is still plenty to do to prepare our house for being vacant for at least a short time while we’re away. Lucky for us, we’ll have some very dear friends of ours staying in our home for the first few weeks, but after that it will be left to the demise of August and the ravaging heat that ensues at this time of year. Since I’m sure I’m not alone in this activity, I’ve created a short list of what to do when you’re leaving your home for an extended time, and want to make sure you don’t come home to a giant energy bill!

To reduce your energy usage inside the home while you’re gone, you can:

  • Close the curtains and blinds (if you have plants, make sure to leave the blinds open slightly so they’re still getting plenty of sunlight while you’re gone)
  • Seal up any large cracks or crevices in your door-ways with a towel or blanket for some added insulation
  • Turn your thermostat to 78+ degrees (or off, if you’re not concerned about plants or humidity levels indoors)
  • Close all of your doors inside, and make sure you turn off all overhead lights/fans
  • Unplug any devices you won’t need access to while you’re gone (except for your refrigerator since your food will spoil while you’re gone, even if you don’t open it!)
  • Don’t forget to lock up!

Summer TravelAs for outdoor plants, your approach can vary based on 1) how much you’re willing to spend on an irrigation system, 2) how friendly your neighbor’s kid is, or 3) how many plants you’re willing to replace if needed. We tend to be pretty laissez faire when it comes to our lawn — long story short, we use a local ground-cover that requires very little water to survive: horse herb, so we are okay just letting it bake under the Texas sun while we’re gone. Of course if you have a lawn full of grass you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to water it, and if so, how much. There are tons of garden watering timer systems you can buy online, or at your local hardware store, so just be sure to set it up a week before you leave so you can test it out before you go. We do however also have a few plants that like a lot of sunlight, but may not fair so well under 8+ hours of Texas sun. Since these plants are potted, and are often indoors during the winter months, we can either move them inside to a southern-facing window and hope for the best, or we can set up watering timers for those plants as well (see garden irrigation systems online, or ask your local hardware store rep for details). I generally opt for the cheaper, and more sustainable option — and so far replacing my very temperamental gardenia each year is winning out, though I fear that won’t be true for too much longer. The rest of the yard should be just fine since we were careful to only plant native, drought-resistant species in the back yard, and while I’ll miss my tomato plants while we’re in the woods, I know they’re going to love that August sunshine until we get home!

There are plenty of additional blogs to check out on this subject that contain some useful tips on summer travel, so don’t take my word for it — check out Toucan Smart Home to hear what they have to say as well: https://toucansmarthome.com/blogs/news/home-security-tips-summer-traveling.

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Energy Preparedness: Summer Travel

One of my favorite things about traveling — besides the views and the food, of course — is learning about local weather patterns. Perhaps this seems dull, but I’ve been surprised on more than one occasion by the weather, and in the worst case scenarios, it can be quite uncomfortable to say the least. A funny example of this was when I visited the Oregon coast a few years ago for Independence Day weekend. My husband and our dog, Benny, packed up the car and drove to the beach for the weekend! Naturally, as I was going to the beach in the summer-time, I packed all of the beach-essentials: two swim suits, breezy cover-ups, a couple of maxi dresses, and some flip flops — only to find once we got there that I couldn’t wear anything I packed. It was freezing cold! The only people that were in the water (all 2 of them or so), were in full-length wet suits, and most people just hung out on the sand all day long. I don’t believe the temperature rose above the sixties (Fahrenheit), and it’s safe to say I was lucky there were stores open in town where I could buy sweat pants and fleece jackets. While I was a little disheartened that we wouldn’t be doing any swimming this trip, the entire thing felt like a great adventure — and certainly a learning experience. Word to the wise: check the weather before you go!

This year, since we’re planning to go camping all over the country, diversity in packing will be crucial to surviving the trip. One thing we learned while researching the National Parks websites was that almost none of these areas allow open-pit fires anymore. There might be another time during the year when this is more feasible, but with the August fires from Colorado to Montana, we won’t be taking any chances. Instead, we read that only propane-fueled stove-tops are allowed — and since some of the areas we’ll be staying in might be 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night, it’s important we don’t forget the fuel!

Now that we’ve got clothing and cooking in any condition out of the way, another important part of planning ahead for the trip will be deciding which tools to bring to set up our campsite and really enjoy the outdoors. One of my personal favorites includes our solar-powered flashlight and usb charger. Even though a full day of sunshine isn’t always guaranteed, generally these flashlights will last us days and days, and can charge fairly quickly in the early morning sunlight. Even though I usually go to bed pretty early when camping, they’re certainly nice to have out during dinner, or on trips to the restroom and back. Mostly we use them to illuminate our card or domino games, but no matter what you use it for I would always recommend having at least two flashlights on-hand when camping (and extra batteries as well). Then, all we have to pack is the bedding and the tent and we’re all set! Just two more weeks before we’re off — please add your favorite camping hacks in the comments section — since you never can have too many survival tips.

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How do I prepare for a power outage? from ChooseEnergy.com

Survival guides for campers are very helpful if you plan to go out this weekend and enjoy/endure the wilderness, but what if you’re a new homeowner just trying to survive basic maintenance and repairs?

Luckily there are a ton of resources online that you can consult when needed – most of the home repairs I’ve done have only been started after watching a mandatory training video or two on Youtube.

If you’re planning ahead for potential power outages in your area however, our friends at ChooseEnergy.com have you covered! They have put together a brief survival guide explaining why power outages occur, how to prepare your home and pantry for one, and how best to avoid being greatly impacted by power outages in the future.

Check out their guide, here: https://www.chooseenergy.com/energy-resources/power-outage/

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Energy Preparedness: Summer Edition

Summer Travel  Summer is a fantastic time to escape the rigor of daily activity. You can go to any number of lakes to swim or jet-ski, head to the beach to build sandcastles and catch waves — or for the really adventurous spirit, you can even go camping or hiking in the great outdoors! This year, my husband and I have decided to take a month-long road trip, camping along the way, in order to explore all that this beautiful country has to offer! Or, at least we’ll get to see quite a bit of the West. We’re heading to Colorado first, then through Utah and Oregon and onto Seattle, Washington where we’ll get to see some family we haven’t seen in a while. Then, it’s off to Glacier National Park in Montana (https://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm), Custer Gallatin National Forest (https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/custergallatin/home), Yellowstone (https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm), the Gran Tetons (https://www.nps.gov/grte/index.htm), and finally back home!

While we’re both anxiously counting down the days until we’re sleeping under the stars and cooking s’mores, one huge reason we also decided to take this trip during August is to escape the August heat. Every year in Texas this seems to be our highest energy bill — no matter what we do to mitigate it.Glacier National Park

This is a common theme in August in Texas, as any Texas resident will tell you, however with the effects of climate change more prevalent now than ever before in our life times, and with more and more people moving to this great state every day, the peak energy demand season is sky-rocketing. It’s no wonder that as the heat index moves above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, people want to escape inside an air-conditioned building as quickly as possible — but what people don’t realize is that the short spurt of increased demand must be managed by Grid operators — similar to the reports we read in February during the winter storm. Just take a look at what the Texas Tribune reported about summer energy outages this past June: https://www.texastribune.org/2021/06/19/texas-power-grid-ercot/. The good news is that because we’re in Texas, engineers have designed these systems to withstand the heat (so it’s very likely that you won’t have any of the natural gas plants freeze up during this time of the year like we saw this past winter), however any time there is increased demand on the energy Grid, the additional loads must be managed. This week, we’ll explore what to do if your power is interrupted or even goes out during the hottest days on record — and hopefully you live near a body of water if so! For those of you with solar + battery storage, you can tune out for now.

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Last Days of Summer, Don’t Forget Your Sunblock!

SummerHappy Friday everyone; I hope you’ve had a great week so far! With summer winding down it’s important to consider which projects need your attention now, and which can wait until after the winter months have passed. Given what we’ve learned this week about DIY farming, capturing, and home-gardening projects, there will be plenty to process in effort to keep up with the latest projects and trends, and to improve your family’s bottom line. As always, feel free to reach out to our team if you have questions about the blogs, or have a DIY project that you just can’t finish and would like our expertise on — we’re happy to help, and there is no project too small. So read up, rest up, and have a Fantastic weekend!

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“Right to Capture State” – Part 2 of 2

Right to Capture: SolarSo, now that you’ve got your rainwater storage system set up from yesterday — great job on that by the way (!) — you’re ready to move on to step #2 in taking advantage of the ‘Right to Capture’ state laws, at least as they apply to solar energy. I preach to friends and family to ‘go solar’ if and when they can, because I genuinely believe in taking advantage of laws.

Alright! All joking aside, I believe in the product, and believe that the cost is well worth the benefits gained in installing solar panels on your rooftop. Because I work for a solar company, I’m inherently biased, sure, however that also implies at least a fair amount of insight into the companies that can deliver for you, and to be honest there are quite a few all over Texas to choose from.

Right to Capture, The Skinny:

You can “Go Solar,” as we say in the industry, for $0 down — however the system itself is costly, and you’ll want to make sure you have access to the online portal immediately following the installation, just in case some squirrels chew through the wiring and you need to call your installer to come out and take a look. If you have at least a 600 credit score, there are several finance companies you can likely choose from, and will ideally reduce your energy bill in the process. I say ideally here because energy usage is really the driving factor in a high energy bill (though, you will likely still need to pay administrative and/or energy transmission costs to your local energy provider). If you turn off all of your electricity, lights, unplug anything that has constant energy power — from digital clocks to refrigerators — and only use a gas-powered stove to heat your food when needed, you would expect to see a pretty low bill, right?

Well, the same administrative and energy transmission costs apply even to those with a residential solar system, even if your system covers 100% of your energy needs. Particularly in the summer months, or roughly April-September in Texas, it’s easy to “offset” your energy usage with solar energy from your southern-facing rooftop solar system; in the winter, it’s a slightly different story. For this reason, it’s unfeasible to make the switch to solar energy 100% without battery-storage or a generator — or simply by connecting to a grid with a highly technical management system, but why does this occur during the winter months? Solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems produce less energy in the winter for one very simple reason: the days are shorter, and thus there is less sunlight to absorb (at least in the northern hemisphere, and the southern hemisphere would be just the opposite).

Residential Solar, The Rub: (more…)

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“Right to Capture State” – Part 1 of 2

You’ve likely heard it from your realtor, contractor, or perhaps even at the local pond and garden store — but even if you’re hearing it here first, in Texas, we live in a “right to capture” state.Capture the Water For those of you interested in learning more about what this means, check out the following links towards the bottom of this blog post that explain the applicable Texas laws in greater detail. In laymen’s terms, the idea is that *any oil, water, sunshine, or other natural resources* that fall within your property line belong to you (*deferring to local laws and common sense of course). Not to mention, there are incentives for you to do so, for example, for…

⦁ Austin, Hays County, Georgetown, New Braunfels, Round Rock, San Marcos, San Antonio, (and more!): https://www.watercache.com/rebates/austin#:~:text=City%20of%20Austin%20Rainwater%20Collection%20System%20Rebate⦁ &⦁ text=The%20rebate%20program%20is%20structured,exceed%2050%25%20of%20system%20cost
⦁ Dallas / Frisco: https://www.friscotexas.gov//357/Rain-Barrel-Program; and some helpful information about rain-water catchment systems in Texas can be found, here on Arlington’s website:  https://www.arlingtontx.gov/city_hall/departments/stormwater_management/stormwater_education/texas_smart_yards/rain_barrels_and_cisterns

⦁ Houston: https://www.rainwatersolutions.com/products/city-of-houston-gbrc

There is a TON of great information online about what a ‘rainwater collection’ system is, as well as how to build one. If you’re curious to learn more about others in this space, check out the following links, here:

⦁ Rainwater Harvesting Laws and Incentives in Texas: https://www.twdb.texas.gov/publications/shells/RainwaterHarvesting.pdf; including an annual rainwater collection competition(!): http://www.twdb.texas.gov/innovativewater/rainwater/ Right to Capture: Rain Barrel

⦁ Details about the efficacy and importance of rainwater collection, from watercashe.com: https://www.watercache.com/education/rainwater-harvesting-101

⦁ How-to Build a Rainwater catchment system in your home: https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/tips-for-installing-a-rainwater-collection-system/

 

Have you build one already? Please feel free to describe your experience in the comments section below!

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