Rain Barrels Save Water and the Environment

What’s happening in California provides further evidence that water is a limited resource. Overuse not only hurts the environment. It also hurts those who live in it. According to a Tampa Bay Times article, rain barrels can be an effective solution for conserving water.



Choosing the Right Rain Barrel


Choosing the Right Rain BarrelYour best choice depends on your budget, space, and to a lesser degree, your sense of style. Whether you search online or head to your local gardening shop, you should find a good selection available. Be careful to check the measurements of both the barrel and the space it will occupy. Prices typically start at more than $100. If cost is an issue, you can find directions for creating your own at DIY Network.



Placement of Your Rain Barrel


Placement of Your Rain BarrelSince a typical summer rainstorm can easily fill most rain barrels and cause overflow, make sure you place yours in an area that can effectively drain water – without ruining your home’s foundation in the process. Some barrels have overflow spouts allowing you to direct the drainage.


Be careful not to block a sidewalk or frequently used area. A full rain barrel can be extremely difficult to move.



Using Water from a Rain Barrel


Using Water from a Rain BarrelThe captured water needs to be easily accessible. In most cases, this will mean dunking a watering can into the barrel. If your barrel has a spigot, make sure a reasonably sized can will fit underneath the valve.



Safety Precautions


Safety PrecautionsIt’s important to have some type of screen closure covering the top of your rain barrel – preferably one that latches. The goal is to keep mosquitoes out and children safe. Don’t create an environment where mosquitoes can lay eggs, or children could endanger themselves. You’ll find additional safety tips here.



No Effort Is Too Small


No Effort Is Too SmallEven a little water collection is better than none. Returning groundwater to the ground – while bypassing our overworked sewage system – is a win-win for the environment and its inhabitants – especially those who like to flush their toilets frequently.


UN Climate Change Conference Report

The latest United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris in November resulted in the adoption of the Paris Agreement, which was touted by President Obama as “the best chance we have to save the one planet that we’ve got.” The agreement was made by no less than 195 nations – quite a feat when you think that if just one nation objected, no agreement would be made under UN rules. According to BBC News, the goal is to “cut greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will limit the global average temperature to a rise “well below” 2C (3.6F) compared to pre-industrial levels – a level of warming deemed to be the point when dangerous climate change could threaten life on Earth.”



The Rising Tide of Change


The Rising Tide of ChangeExperts say that to achieve this, fossil fuels will need to be eliminated in the later half of the 21st century. Otherwise massive droughts and flooding are just a few of the disastrous weather conditions future generations will have in store. To illustrate the point, ClimateCentral.org put together some alarming visuals of what some of the most iconic cities in the world will look like due to rising sea levels.


Another frightening look at rising sea levels is taken in this New Yorker article, “The Siege of Miami,” where the high-water mark has been steadily rising year by year – almost an inch each year. The article includes projections on rising sea levels by 2100: three feet (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), five feet (United States Army Corps of Engineers), and six and a half feet (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), respectively.



A Historic Turning Point, But…


A Historic Turning PointWhile the Paris Agreement is generally recognized as a defining moment in the climate crisis, it lacks certain key elements, such as how it will be enforced. At any rate, the next step is to get it ratified. This entails a few caveats. Each country must approve it within their own country. No less than 55 countries must approve it. And those 55 countries must be responsible for 55 percent of global CO2 emissions. That means it will most certainly need approval by China and the U.S. They are the largest polluters according to Statista, with China being the largest CO2 emitter at 28.03 percent of global emissions and the U.S. at 15.9 percent. Other top emitters are India at 5.81 percent; Russia at 4.79 percent; and Japan at 3.84 percent.



To learn more about the Paris Agreement, visit the UN’s Information Hub for the conference.


“The Heat Is On”

The Heat Is On - In-Text ImageToday we feature Pennsylvania’s current Secretary of Planning and Policy, John Hanger. Secretary Hanger is a graduate from Duke University and the University Of Pennsylvania Law School and was formerly the Secretary of Environmental Protection of Pennsylvania from September 2008 through January 2011. He has an immense amount of passion and experience in environmental, energy, and green economy issues.



Q: When did your passion for protecting the environment begin?


The Heat Is On - Quote 1A: Like many children, I liked animals. I was born in Kenya and so the natural environment and wildlife were very vivid. As I grew older, I realized the importance of clean air and water, both of which are vital to public health and a good quality of life. As the huge amounts of heat trapping gas goes into the atmosphere and changes the world’s climate, my concern for environmental issues continues to grow. Indeed, the last five years have been the warmest five-year period since modern temperature records started; 2014 was the warmest year; and now 2015 will smash the warmest year record again. The heat is on and increasing.



Q: How did you become involved in energy conservation and what advice do you have for people wanting to enter this industry?


A: After law school, I began developing a deeper interest in the environment and energy in my first law job in the Energy Project at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. I got a lot of responsibility early, and it was sink or swim time. I worked hard to master information. Preparation is a key to success in any activity. Prepare well by improving writing skills and learning basic statistics. Meet people and show that you are passionate and well prepared.



Q: What environmental protection and energy conservation topics are most frequently brought up in government discussion?


A: Reducing air and water pollution as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency are among the most frequent topics. Addressing climate change is the most important environmental topic.



Q: What’s new in the energy conservation industry that’s exciting to you?


A: Better lighting technology, declining costs of energy storage, creation of better batteries. Better batteries and energy storage will allow renewable energy to provide power all day and all night. It will allow families and businesses to leave the electrical grid. Better batteries will also make electric vehicles more practical for transportation.



Q: If you could tell the world about only one way to conserve energy, what would it be?


A: Use the most fuel efficient means of transportation possible, whether it be walking, biking, public transit, or a high fuel efficiency private vehicle.



Q: How do you envision our world in 50 years?


A: If we address, and control, climate change, the temperatures will still go up about three to four degrees. If we don’t address climate change, the temperatures will be higher and produce devastating changes. The heat is on and increasing. We must all act now or our children and grandchildren will be far from happy with us.



Q: Any final thoughts on energy conservation?


A: Everyone can make a difference by using energy wisely and supporting renewable energy sources. And everyone should vote. Please also educate yourself about the positions of candidates on climate change and the environment.


SolePower: Making Strides for a More Energy-Efficient World

Similar to AMPY, SolePower is another new offering in the realm of wearable technology that turns your movement into power for your smartphone. With SolePower, simply walking generates power through a shoe insole (“EnSole”) that hooks to a charger (“PowerPac”), which is easily attached to your shoelaces. You can charge your mobile devices through the PowerPac’s USB port.

How It Works
How it works (click image)

According to SolePower founder Hahna Alexander in an interview with Smithsonian, SolePower holds a unique position in this growing field of energy harvesting technology: “One hour of walk time with a pair of EnSoles provides 2.5 hours of talk time on a smartphone. There is no personal power generator on the market that can match both the EnSole’s power output potential and low-profile and seamless integration with the user’s natural motion…every step you take is a step closer to a full battery.”

Multitasking At Its Finest


With SolePower, you can get some exercise, create power to charge your smartphone, and help conserve energy all at the same time. It’s no wonder SolePower made BuzzFeed’s “27 Reasons It’s the Greatest Time to Be Alive.” That’s one of the more lighthearted articles covering SolePower. It also garnered attention from the likes of Popular Science (winning one of the magazine’s coveted 2014 Invention Awards), Forbes, The Huffington Post, and dozens more. (See all the press coverage here.) It was enough to earn SolePower $60,000 in just 45 days on Kickstarter.com and thousands of pre-orders.

Powering the Future: Energy Harvesting


SolePower and AMPY are just two start-ups who are making breakthroughs in this field, and there are many more on the horizon of this seemingly science fiction world. But according to Wearable Technologies, “energy-harvesting wearables have been around for many years. Automatic watches have been converting the energy from arm movements for a while now and Seiko has even invented an electromagnetic generator that powers its quartz watches by its wearers’ physical movements.” The difference now is that our devices are more sophisticated and require more energy to run, so some of the innovations in the future will be focused on solar cells, thermoelectric harvesting, and piezoelectric harvesting. If I lost you at “solar cells,” you’re not alone. For the complete explanation of all of this fascinating technology, check out “Energy Harvesting for Wearables.”


Energy-Efficient Clothes Dryers Make a Big Impact

​According to the EPA, dryers use more energy than any other appliance in a household. This coupled with the fact that dryers are in 80 percent of American homes means more efficient dryers could make a huge impact on saving energy. While advancements in washers have resulted in dramatic drops in energy use over the years, more energy-efficient dryer options have only recently become available. Early in 2015 the EPA announced that new Energy Star-certified dryers were available across the U.S. from major brands like Kenmore and Maytag. These dryers are at least 20 percent more efficient than conventional dryers but most are comparable in price.

The EPA provides a pretty compelling snapshot of the energy-saving possibilities:


“If all residential clothes dryers sold in the U.S. were Energy Star-certified, Americans could save $1.5 billion each year in utility costs and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to the electricity use from more than 1.3 million homes.”


The specifications for Energy Star-certified dryers are set by collecting information from a number of different groups, from manufacturers to the U.S. Department of Energy. Most of the dryers meet the requirements by shutting off when clothes are dry, which is detectable through advanced sensors. Some of the Energy Star-certified dryers boast energy efficiency that surpasses conventional models by up to 60 percent. These dryers’ advanced technology use heat pumps to recycle the hot air.



Find An Energy Star-Certified Dryer


Find An Energy Star-Certified DryerThe Energy Star website has a page where you can learn about all of the certified dryers. The page makes it easy to shop, from the ability to filter your search and compare models and their features side by side. The site also has a number of other helpful tools in your search for an Energy Star-certified dryer:


Store Locators – where you can find Energy Star-certified dryers in your area
Special offers – find rebates and other special offers in your area
Video – watch the “Ask the Expert” video about Energy Star-certified dryers


If you’re not in the market for a dryer at this point, you can still take the Energy Star pledge and learn about other ways to save energy in your home.


Energy Calculators and Other Nifty Tools

Because it’s in everyone’s best interests to lower our energy consumption, there’s a surprising amount of tools out there to promote energy conservation. Here’s a look at a few resources offered right online.



ENERGY STAR Calculators


ENERGY STAR CalculatorsThe U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set strict guidelines for products to prevent greenhouse gas emissions. Products that meet these high standards are awarded with an ENERGY STAR designation. They’ve also made it possible to see how much energy and money these ENERGY STAR products can save with interactive calculators.


The calculators vary from product to product but they’re all designed to provide a ballpark of savings. For example, the calculator for an ENERGY STAR central air conditioner has you choose your city and fill in such information as your electric rate, cost of the unit, and its Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating – or you can just use their average default values. Then it calculates how much you can save with an ENERGY STAR central air conditioner and gives you a summary of benefits, which in this case is the following:




ENERGY STAR Home Advisor

ENERGY STAR Home Advisor
With the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor program, you create an online profile of your home’s energy use. It then analyzes your data and gives you customized recommendations on how you can improve your energy efficiency. Then, you can create a to-do list and keep track of your progress, making it easier to manage the process and ultimately, save more energy. Pretty cool, huh? Check it out.



Energy Incentives by State


Energy Incentives by StateDSIRE – a nationally-funded initiative at the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University – makes it easy to see what incentives are available in your particular state with an interactive map of the U.S. You click on your state, choose a program type and a technology, then a list of incentives appears. It also lists the latest policies that promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. Updated in real-time through database content, it’s the most comprehensive resource of this type of information in the nation. Take a look at the incentives offered in your state. It’s encouraging to see that so many rewards and policies are in place to help shape a more efficient future.


10 Ways to Save Energy in Five Minutes or Less

Now that it’s getting colder and the holiday madness is approaching, here are some super simple ways to save energy that you can fit into your busy schedule. They’re quick, painless, and require no knowledge of anything remotely mechanical. If you’re handy with a caulk gun, go ahead and seal up those nooks and crannies around the windows. If you know your way around air filters and heating units, knock yourself out. But for the rest of us clueless souls, read on…



#1- Turn down your heat thermostat

#1: Turn down your heat thermostat before you leave for work.


Then, turn it back up when you return home. If you have a programmable thermostat, it does this for you, requiring even less effort! You should lower it by 10 to 15 degrees.



#2- Turn down your hot water thermostat

#2: Turn down your hot water thermostat.


The optimal temperature here is in the range of 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.



#3- Shut doors and close vents in unused rooms

#3: Shut doors and close vents in unused rooms.




#4- Use your curtains on windows facing south and west

#4: Use your curtains on windows facing south and west.


Open them up on sunny days and close at night for extra insulation.



#5- Wash your clothes in cold water

#5: Wash your clothes in cold water.


The bulk of the energy used by a washing machine is to heat the water. Clothes don’t require warm or hot water to be cleaned – in fact, cold water actually preserves color. To learn more, read this article by Real Simple: Does Washing Clothes in Cold Water Really Get Them Clean?



#6- Decorate your Christmas tree with LED lights

#6: Decorate your Christmas tree with LED lights.


(This technically still takes only five minutes if you order them online and have them shipped to your door.)



#7- Increase your inside temperature with your ceiling fan

#7: Increase your inside temperature with your ceiling fan.


Reverse the motor on your ceiling fan so it turns clockwise. (This is as simple as flipping a switch or it may even be a button on a remote control). Keep the fan on a low setting and it will push down the warmer air near the ceiling.



#8- Check your TV’s brightness setting

#8: Check your TV’s brightness setting.


Try a lower setting and use less energy. Considering the average American watches five hours of TV per day, this could actually add up to quite a bit of energy savings.



#9- Unplug electronics you don’t use on a daily basis

#9: Unplug electronics you don’t use on a daily basis.


Learn more about slaying vampire power here.



#10- Make an appointment to get an energy audit

#10: Make an appointment to get an energy audit.


Most local power companies offer these for free and you’ll have completed the very first step to bigger and better energy savings.


So there you have it. Even taking just five minutes out of your day can make a difference. If you need more encouragement, here’s some of the latest news on global warming and climate change.


4 Trends in Energy Efficiency

When it comes to energy efficiency, there are numerous terms that are constantly being thrown around. You might have heard a term before but your’e not quite sure what it means exactly, and sometimes you’re left scratching your head in confusion. Here are four popular energy efficient trends explained.

Going Green

Going GreenThe phrase “Going green,” often associated with environmentalism, dates back to the publication of The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau written in the 19th century. The phrase has been gaining popularity in recent years and has become a movement to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle that helps protect the environment and its resources. The end result is not only benefiting the environment, but also benefiting your wallet.

Triple Bottom Line

Triple Bottom LineThe Triple Bottom Line (3BL) is essentially the highest form of “going green” for businesses. It factors in three components to a company’s bottom line (net income) – people, planet, and profit – hence Triple Bottom Line. This concept suggests that a company conducting fair business and practicing energy efficiency will experience additional economic value to the total net income. Below is an explanation of each element:

  • People: focusing on doing honest and favorable business for both employees and customers
  • Planet: practicing sustainability, limiting resource consumption, and reducing negative environmental and community impact
  • Profit: instilling people and planet into a company strategy will lead to an economic value adding to your total profits

Renewable Energy

Renewable EnergyMost of you have heard the term “renewable energy,” but it is gaining serious recognition as more companies, states, and even nations, are trying to further their efforts of becoming more energy efficient. Denmark is currently on a mission to get the entire country to be energy efficient by 2050. The Danes plan on accomplishing this by primarily using renewable power and ending the burning of fossil fuels indefinitely. Already off to a great start, Denmark expects to have 50% of its energy supply coming from renewable power in 2020!

Home Appliances Implementing Technology

Home Appliances Implementing TechnologyTechnology is constantly evolving and has been a huge enabler of promoting energy efficiency. You can now reduce your electric bill with updated household appliances that lower energy consumption. Programmable thermostats reduce your energy use and can even be linked to an app on your smartphone. There are also apps that help you calculate your electricity usage. As technology advances, more companies are communicating digitally, increasing the ease of transitioning to a more energy-efficient lifestyle.

These are some common energy-efficiency trends we’ve noticed. What trends have you noticed?


4 Free Energy Savings Apps for Your Smartphone

Taking steps to save energy can be as simple as pulling out your smartphone. Download these apps to help make you smarter about energy efficiency. Best of all, they are free!


Click the app icons below to view and download in iTunes.



Energy Cost Calculator


Energy CostThe Energy Cost Calculator assesses the operating cost and energy usage of electrical equipment. First, enter your consumption per hour, the number of hours used daily, and the cost per wattage. The app breaks down your cost and energy usage per day, week, month and year. Available on iTunes.





JouleBugJouleBug is a fun tool that teaches you how to create energy efficiency habits that save money. The app guides you to perform simple sustainability tasks, and you are awarded points based on the cost savings and impact to the environment. Along with information on local initiatives, you’ll get supplemental educational stats, videos, and links that educate you further on the tips. The app gives you the ability to share to Facebook or Twitter and allows you to connect to your utility account to track your home energy usage. Available on Google Play and iTunes.





WattBuddyFor data crunching junkies, Wattbuddy will measure your exact electricity usage all the way down to hourly intervals. Scan your analog electricity meter like a bar code or access your digital meter’s data and the app will also plot your historical usage to help you note patterns, fluctuations and inconsistencies. Depending on your location, the app can show you energy deals as well. Available on iTunes.





GasBuddyWhy not save money on your vehicle’s energy usage, too? The easy-to-use GasBuddy directs you to the cheapest gas prices based on your current location. The app’s information is generated through its community of users. For every gas location and price you report, you earn points towards prize giveaways, including the daily opportunity to win $100 worth of gas. Available on Google Play and iTunes.


These days, you can find a mobile app for every aspect of your life, including energy efficiency. Right at your fingertips, these tools can help you save energy and might even decrease your budget in the process.


Energy Saving Tips for Your Basement and Attic

Your attic and basement might not be used as much as the rest of your home, but these spaces drain energy, too. In fact, the attic and basement can be a significant source of energy loss, so it can sometimes prove to be the greatest opportunity to make your home more energy efficient.





Fill Cracks Basement InTextBBasements are a common place for significant air leaks. If you have an unfinished basement or crawlspace, look for spider webs. If there is a web, there is a draft. Inspect vents, ducts, pipes, and electrical wires that lead to the outside. The Department of Energy recommends sealing small gaps with caulk, filling holes with spray foam, and covering large holes with spray foam and foamboard. Seal air ducts with mastic or foil tape and avoid cloth-backed, rubber adhesive. Be sure not to cover any of the vents for combustion appliances.



Basement Insulation InTextBasements are particularly susceptible to poor insulation, and a large amount of heat can be lost from an uninsulated basement. While insulating the basement ceiling or floor is a less intensive project, you’ll get better energy savings by adding insulation to the walls. Hire a certified professional to determine if you need interior or exterior insulation, estimate the return on investment, and install it properly to help avoid moisture issues later.


Waterheater InTextIf the water heater or washer/dryer is located in the basement, check if it’s time to upgrade to newer, more energy-efficient models. Insulate your water heater, as well as ducts and hot water pipes that pass through unheated areas of the basement. If you have a little-used old refrigerator or freezer in the basement, unplug it until it is needed.





Attic Fan InTextMake sure your attic is ventilated properly. In the summer, some attic power fans can draw cool conditioned air out of the house and pull in warm air into the house, causing your A/C unit to work harder. In the winter, decrease heat loss by covering your exhaust fan using a box to seal around the duct where it opens into the attic. Check that your vents are not blocked by insulation or later construction.


Attic Window Seal InTextThe attic is another location known for considerable air leakage, adding sometimes hundreds of dollars to your energy bills. Caulk wire holes and exteriors of windows and door frames, and seal around electrical boxes, air ducts, and returns. Pull-down attic stairs can be a huge source of air leakage so be sure the access door is properly sealed with weather-stripping and that it closes tightly.


Attic Insualtion InTextOnce you’ve finished air sealing, adding insulation to an unheated attic can make a big difference on energy savings, especially if you have hot or cold ceilings or uneven temperatures between rooms in the house. Check if you can see your ceiling joists. If so, it’s likely you need additional insulation. The Department of Energy notes that upgrading your attic insulation from three inches to 12 inches can cut heating costs by 20%, and cooling costs by 10%.


By taking steps like these, you’ll be able to keep your attic and basement energy efficient and ultimately save on your electric bill.