Energy DIY & The Green Scene 

Heating Season Quick-Start

Shorter days, colder nights and frosty mornings mean that heating season is upon us! Stay toasty warm this winter while minimizing energy costs and maximizing the efficiency of your home heating system by following this checklist:

• If you live in a home with a crawl space, close the metal vents on the exterior foundation so your heating system doesn’t have to work as hard to warm up a cold floor. (Remember to open them up again in spring to provide cross-ventilation that will help with summertime cooling costs!)

• While outside, also use weatherstripping for a close fit to seal the trap door to your home’s crawl space and other exterior doors.

• Before you turn on your furnace, clean and/or replace each of your heating system’s filters and make sure there is nothing flammable stored around it. The first time you use your heater, dust that collected on the heat exchanger will burn off, resulting in a strong, distinct odor, but be alert for any smells that don’t go away or don’t seem quite right – if such scents persist, call a professional service technician.

• Would you drive your car 30,000 miles without changing the oil? The same holds true for your home heating system. Have a professional inspect and service your home heating appliance at least once a year to ensure trouble-free operation and consider having an annual service agreement, which could be worth its weight in gold if your system breaks down on a cold winter night.

While you may think of ceiling fans as being strictly for warmer weather, during winter they can benefit your home by moving the hot air that gets trapped at the top of the room, lowering heating costs and reducing the condensation that forms at windows and glass doors. Make sure to flip each ceiling fan’s directional switch so that the blades pull the air upwards towards the ceiling. This will serve to drive the warmer air across the ceiling and down the walls.

• Make sure heat is being evenly distributed around your house by opening all your dampers and registers, operating your system for a few hours and checking which rooms and areas feel coldest. You can then adjust the dampers and registers in the hotter rooms to even out your home’s temperature and maximize the efficiency of your heating system.

• Consider installing a CO detector as recommended by the manufacturer. If your gas logs or other non-electric heating appliance stops operating properly, it might produce carbon monoxide (CO). Because CO is colorless, odorless and tasteless, and the symptoms of drowsiness that accompany CO poisoning may be misinterpreted or happen while you are asleep, this detector could help save lives. If you already have a detector, replace the batteries (and also those in your smoke detectors) and perform the test as recommended by the manufacturer to make sure the detector is working properly.

• Have your chimney and fireplace inspected by a chimney service before you attempt to use your fireplace for the season, and have it cleaned if necessary. A cleaning is important because chimney flues that have become lined with creosote are fire hazards.

• The start of winter is also an excellent time for seasonal tasks that reduce energy costs, such as cleaning the cooling coils behind your refrigerator and vacuuming out lint from your clothes-dryer vent. To find more energy-saving ideas, visit and enter the phrase “Preparing Your Home for Winter” in the search box.

Energy Audits


Just as your body needs annual checkups to make sure everything is working efficiently, so does your home. A home energy audit is when a certified technician comes to your home and gives it a thorough checkup to help you determine where and how your home is losing energy and money. More than 50 percent of a typical residential electric bill comes from heating and cooling costs, so the technician generally looks at the heating and air-conditioning systems, thermostats, ducts, filters, windows, insulation, weatherstripping, and other areas where homes can lose or gain heat.

The technician may also look at appliances, water use, shower heads, and water heaters. After the checkup, an energy auditor will advise you on how any problems discovered can be corrected to make your home more energy-efficient.

Do-it-yourselfers can tackle many fixes on their own. According to, here is a list of things to look for when doing your own home energy audit:


• Check insulation levels in the attic, exterior and basement walls, ceilings, floors, and crawl spaces.


• Look for holes or cracks around walls, ceilings, windows, doors, light and plumbing fixtures, switches, and electrical outlets. A great way to do this is to light an incense stick or candle and watch where the smoke/flame goes as you approach these areas.


• Check the fireplace damper to make sure it is closed, unless the fireplace is in use.


• Check and measure the insulation in your attic.


• Properly maintain appliances and heating and cooling equipment. Replace filters regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.


• Study lighting needs and patterns of use, with special attention to high-use areas such as the living room, kitchen, and outside lighting. Use occupancy sensors, dimmers, or timers to reduce energy use.


• Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents or LEDs.


For more information on DIY Energy Audits, be sure and check out your local electric cooperative’s website, or one of the following:


Spot Lighting Can Help Improve Energy Efficiency

Have you ever wondered what portion of your electric bill is consumed by the lights in your home? According to the Energy Information Administration, lighting accounts for up to one-fifth the total electrical consumption in many U.S. households. And a good portion of that energy may be wasted because light fixtures are poorly located.

You can save energy and money by using spot lighting. Spot lighting is lighting located close to the area where you’re working, whether that is a desk, a kitchen counter, or the bathroom sink. Spot lighting can be used in conjunction with area lighting that illuminates an entire room, or it can be used alone for maximum savings.

You may have noticed that it’s hard to read under a dim light unless you move close to the lamp. That’s because as light travels outward from its source, the same amount of illumination falls upon an increasingly large area. This explains why overhead ceiling fixtures are often configured to hold three 100-watt incandescent lamps, while a nearby table lamp provides plenty of light for a desktop task with only one 60-watt bulb.

One of the best places for spot lighting is in your kitchen. Small lamps that fit under an upper cabinet will direct light right where you need it the most, and there are many different styles available at home improvement stores. If you install new fixtures, be sure to place the switches in a convenient location so you can shut them off as you leave the room. When you are using spot lighting, remember to shut off the area lighting in the room to save even more energy and money.

 Tip of the Month

By replacing your five most-used lightbulbs with ENERGY STAR-qualified bulbs, you could save $70 a year.

 Clean Filters Help Save Energy All Year Long

Replacing or cleaning the filters in your home heating and air conditioning system is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to save on your energy bills. Whether your home has a heat pump, central air conditioner, or a gas- or oil-fired forced-air furnace, a dirty, clogged filter can dramatically reduce the efficiency and shorten the life of your system because it makes it work harder to heat or cool. 

     First, check to see if your system uses disposable replacement filters or permanent filters that need to be washed or vacuumed clean.

     Turn off your system before attempting to replace or clean filters.

     For permanent filters, check how to clean it. If it is washable, make sure it is completely dry before reinstalling it.

     For disposable filters, note and write down the exact size required. Filters come in a wide variety of sizes and they all look alike in the filter aisle at the hardware store.

    Disposables range from the least expensive simple fiberglass filters to more elaborate and thicker pleated-style filters. Less expensive filters should be changed more frequently. Thicker filters last longer and are touted as more effective in trapping dust and airborne particles. Whichever you choose, it is often cheaper and a good idea to buy filters in multi-packs of three or more.

    Look for MERV (Minimum Efficiency Rating Value) ratings on disposable filters. On a MERV scale of 1-20, the higher the number, the more airborne particles the filter will remove. Be aware that the higher the MERV rating, the more airflow can be restricted. Using a filter that is too restrictive may actually make your system work as a hard as a clogged filter and increase energy costs.

     For maximum efficiency, change disposable filters monthly. Clean permanent filters as often as needed. The bottom line is the cleaner the filter, the less energy it takes to heat or cool your home.

 If you have additional questions about how to change filters or which filters are recommended for your system, check your owner’s manual or with your local HVAC contractor.



More Reasons Than Ever To

Switch To Energy-Efficient

LED Holiday Lights

The holidays are the season of lights. So, how can you continue the tradition of decorating your homes with lights indoors and out and still be energy efficient? Easy! Replace your old-fashioned incandescent lights with LEDs (light emitting diodes). LEDs are now available in a wide variety of bigger and brighter shapes and colors — from strings of lights for Christmas trees to Hanukkah menorahs — and they are available in hardware stores, home centers, department and discount stores and thousands of other retail outlets. Here are even more reasons to switch from incandescents to LEDs this season:

    LEDs use up to 90 percent less energy than an incandescent bulb to produce the same amount of light.

    LEDs can reduce your holiday electric bill. A string of mini LED lights uses around 5 watts of power compared to a string of traditional lights that use around 36 watts.

    LEDs are more rugged and more resistant to breakage.

    LEDs last longer – up to 100,000 hours indoors and up to 50,000 hours outdoors.

    Outdoors, LEDs perform well in cold and wet weather.

    Indoors, LEDs are safer because they stay cool to the touch no matter how long they are lit.

 One more bit of advice — when purchasing LED holiday lights, cheaper is not better. Cheap LEDs are often not as bright and won’t last as long as more expensive ones. Look for LEDs with recognizable brand names that have earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR label for maximum energy efficiency.

 Sources: Cooperative Research Network (CRN), Washington State University Extension Energy Program, and

Energy-Saving Tips For Outdoor Lighting Around Your Home

With the shorter days and long, dark nights of winter approaching, here are some energy-saving ideas to consider when installing or replacing outdoor lighting around your home:

    First, determine the purpose of the lights. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) notes that outdoor lights generally serve one of three purposes: aesthetics, security or utility. 

     Remember, security and utility lighting doesn’t have to be daylight bright to be effective.

    Make sure outdoor lights have reflectors, deflectors or covers to make them more efficient and help reduce light pollution.

     Use fluorescent, high-intensity discharge or low-pressure sodium lights instead of incandescent lighting.

     Use CFLs (compact fluorescents) and LED (light emitting diode) lighting for maximum energy savings. CFLs work in many outdoor fixtures and are also available as flood lights. LEDs work particularly well for pathway and step lighting. Most retailers now offer a variety of both CFL and LED outdoor lighting.

     This holiday season, replace your old outdoor lights with LEDs. LEDs not only use much less energy, they don’t produce heat and are safer when strung around evergreens and landscaping.

     Consider the new solar-powered lighting now available for many outdoor applications.

     If you do use old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs, use them in fixtures that include motion sensors so they only turn on when needed.


Energy-Efficiency Tips for Summer Driving

Plan your daily trips. Consolidate your errands like shopping and banking to cut down on driving time and miles travelled.

Slow down. The faster a vehicle travels the more fuel it burns. Maintain a steady speed when possible for maximum fuel economy.

Lighten your load. Get that junk out of your trunk. Extra weight in your car or truck increases fuel consumption.

Use your A/C conservatively. Most auto air conditioners have an economy or recirculation setting that reduces how much outside air must be chilled. These settings reduce the a/c load on your engine and save fuel.

Look for low fuel prices. Gas prices can vary as much as a dime or more a gallon at different filling stations. But don’t waste gas driving all over town to save a few pennies.

Do routine maintenance. Keeping tires inflated, moving parts properly lubricated, and installing new air and fuel filters when needed help ensure maximum fuel efficiency and extend the life of your vehicle.

Source: American Automobile Association (AAA). For more fuel saving and vehicle maintenance tips, visit:

Reader Ideas for Energy Efficiency

In January’s Green Scene, we asked that our readers submit innovative energy-efficiency suggestions to share with other readers of Cooperative Living. We received a passel of good ideas, and they’re still coming in. With this issue, we offer two of these ideas, provided to help you become more energy efficient.

Neely Lewis Watson of King George suggests the following:

“Make sure that your air-conditioning units are leveled. Oftentimes, the ground they sit on is not level, and this can compromise the units’ efficiency.”

And from Lyn Durrwachter of Louisa, we have this: “Two suggestions to save energy are: 1) When using the electric oven, make sure you have several things to bake. Once the oven is warm, bake them in succession at different temperatures or together at the same temperature; 2) Also, turn the oven off five minutes early, thus allowing the remaining heat to finish the baking. This technique also applies to electric-stove cooking.”  

Thanks to Neely and Lyn for their energy-efficiency ideas, and thanks to all others who’ve submitted suggestions. We’ll continue to publish our readers’ energy-efficiency tips in coming issues, and the author of each published tip will receive a special energy-efficiency gift. To submit an energy-efficiency idea, send e-mail to (write “Energy-Efficiency Innovations” in the subject line) or visit and go to Green Scene, or write us at E.E. Innovations, P.O. Box 2340, Glen Allen, VA 23058-2340.

Turn Your Lawn Even Greener This Season

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, maintaining formal landscapes and lawns requires much more water, fertilizer, pesticides, mechanical equipment and just plain hard work than natural landscapes or greenscapes. In fact, the average one-acre lawn costs $700 and needs up to 40 hours or more of labor in maintenance each year.

This season, consider turning all or part of your lawn into a greenscape. Plant groundcovers, native plants and shrubs instead of lawn grasses. Going natural is good for the environment, as properly mulched greenscapes require much less water. Plus, you reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides and will save on the gas and time you would normally spend mowing.

For more information on the many benefits of greenscaping, go online to or consult your local Virginia Cooperative Extension Service office or your local garden center. For more information on growing greener grass, see pg. 24 of this issue.

Getting Answers To Your Energy Questions

Energy is a hot topic today. The problem is finding answers to your questions about energy that you can trust and will help you save money by making your home and lifestyle more energy efficient. Unfortunately, the media and the Internet are overloaded with information that is too often unreliable, impracticable or biased. Before you decide to build a windmill in your backyard or convert your car to run on vegetable oil, consult sources with information you can trust.

1) Talk to the energy experts at your local electric cooperative. Remember, your local co-op is a not-for-profit utility whose only interest is providing its consumer members with reliable, affordable energy and practical advice.

2) Take advantage of the free information available at your local extension office. To find the office in your community, look in your phone directory under Virginia Cooperative Extension or go to

3) Check out the Web site of your local electric co-op and also the Web sites of the U.S. Department of Energy ( ) and the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (

4) Get involved in helping assure that America has a fair, balanced and sustainable energy policy that will provide our nation the affordable energy we need now and in the future. Visit to find out how you can express your opinion.

Turn Off The Dryer & Put Your Laundry On Line

Up until 20 years ago, there were two things most every home had: a TV antenna on the roof and a clothesline in the backyard. While the rooftop antenna is gone — the victim of cable and satellite television — the clothesline is making a comeback.

An electric clothes dryer can cost up to $100 or more a year to operate. Plus, in the summer months, the heat a dryer generates makes your air conditioner work harder and can boost your electric bill even more.

Save money and be more environmentally friendly by going “on line” and hanging your laundry outdoors to dry. Not only will air-drying your clothes save energy, experts claim that your clothes will last and look better longer, have fewer wrinkles and air-drying eliminates static cling.


Summer Energy Saving Tips 


Tune Up

Have your central air conditioner or heat pump checked for coolant leaks and tuned for maximum efficiency. Keep coils clean and change filters monthly. Ceiling and other fans circulate air and help cut down on air conditioning costs. Make sure to set your ceiling fan blades to run counterclockwise in summer.


Seal Up  

Summer is the best time to get outdoors to caulk and seal windows and doors and add insulation to your home for year-round energy savings.


Tighten Up 

In the daytime, keep your house closed tight to keep out unwanted heat and humidity. Only open windows at night. Close curtains and blinds, too, to keep out hot sunlight.

Source: Alliance to Save Energy. For more tips, visit


Save Energy While Away on Summer Vacation

bulletInstall timers on a few selected lamps and light fixtures to discourage burglars. Timers are inexpensive and can be purchased at most home centers, hardware and discount stores. Save even more by using CFL bulbs in all your lamps.
bulletIf you don’t have a programmable thermostat, manually set your temperature higher. Unless you are going away for an extended period, don’t turn off your central air conditioning. Keeping down the humidity level in your home will save energy in the long run.
bulletUnplug and power down TVs, DVD players, cell phone chargers, microwave ovens, computers and any other electronic devices that use energy even when they are turned off. If the appliance or device has a digital clock or remote control, it is probably a “phantom” energy user.
bulletClose drapes and shades that allow sunlight and summer heat in.
bulletTurn up the temperature setting on your refrigerator and turn down the setting on your water heater. For extended vacations, consider turning off your water heater at the breaker switch.

 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------  Driving Toward Energy Efficiency

With prices for regular gasoline already in the $3.50-per-gallon range and predictions that prices could top $4 by this summer, all of us are looking for ways to reduce our fuel consumption.

Many Americans are trading in their gas-guzzling cars, pickups and SUVs for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. The sales of hybrid vehicles that use both gas and battery power are expected to reach over 330,000 vehicles in 2008.

Through March of this year, nearly 75,800 hybrid vehicles had been purchased in the U.S. Of these, over 54,000 were Toyotas. In fact, Toyota has sold nearly 43,000 Prius models and over 21,000 hybrid models of its Camry sedan and Highlander SUV. The largest-selling hybrid vehicle produced by a domestic automaker is the Ford Escape Hybrid, with around 8,000 now on the road.

Automakers are working diligently to perfect and introduce new technologies to increase gas mileage or eliminate the need for fossil fuels altogether. These include fully electric vehicles and vehicles that incorporate fuel cells and use hydrogen for power. General Motors is in the final testing stages of a new extended-range compact electric car powered by a lithium-ion battery dubbed the Chevrolet Volt. GM says the Volt will be designed to use a common 110-volt household plug for recharging and could be driven up to 40 miles each day. For longer trips, the Volt will include an onboard gasoline- powered motor to recharge the battery.

The bottom line is that it is doubtful we will ever see the return of cheap gasoline or diesel fuel. Add to this the push to drastically reduce or even eliminate emissions from vehicles, and it is safe to assume that what we or our children drive in the future will definitely not be powered the same way as the cars and trucks we drive today.

As most of us simply cannot afford to immediately trade in our current vehicles for more fuel-efficient models and much of the new promised technology is still a few years down the road, there are ways we can all reduce our gasoline consumption, save money and do our part to help protect the environment.

First, we can simply drive less, and when we do drive, combine as many trips into one as possible. During World War II when gas was rationed for civilians, there were posters that asked, “Is This Trip Really Necessary?” Maybe we should ask ourselves this question before we get behind the wheel.

Second, we can increase our fuel efficiency by keeping our vehicles in top shape. The U.S. Department of Energy offers the following tips on its Web site,

• Keep your engine properly tuned (fuel economy benefit: 4 percent)

• Check and replace air filters regularly (fuel economy benefit: up to 10 percent)

• Keep tires properly inflated (fuel economy benefit: up to 3 percent)

• Use the recommended grade of motor oil (fuel economy benefit: 1-2 percent)

Based on an assumed fuel price of $3.23 per gallon, the DOE estimates these combined benefits could add up to a savings of as much as 61 cents per gallon.

Using energy more efficiently is no longer a choice, it is the way of life now and in our future. As for me, I plan to dust off the old Schwinn in my tool shed this summer and bike to the convenience store and around the neighborhood. Not only will I save gas, I might drop a few pounds, which should help increase the miles I get per gallon when I do get behind the wheel. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Energy-saving tips for water heaters

TURN DOWN THE TEMPERATURE - Most water heaters are factory set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Around your home, 120 degrees is adequate for most uses. Each 10-degree reduction can save 3-5 percent on your energy usage.

WRAP IT UP - Wrapping your water heater with insulation can reduce energy used by 4-9 percent. Water heater blankets are easy to install and available at many hardware, discount and home supply stores.


Put Your PC to Sleep

To save energy, configure your computer monitor and hard drive to turn off after 20-30 minutes of inactivity. Whenever possible, turn off your PC, monitor and printer. If you use a power strip, switch it off or unplug it from the wall outlet.

Trade Up and Power Down

Today’s PCs, monitors and printers can do much more but use much less energy than older models. New Energy Star qualified models use up to 60% less energy. When trading up, consider a notebook or laptop instead of a desktop model or a flat panel LCD instead of a CRT monitor and enjoy even more energy savings.



Save Energy the Natural Way: Plant Trees


Looking for the ultimate and most natural way to save energy around your home?  Plant trees.


Not only do trees beautify your landscape as the poet Joyce Kilmer wrote, studies show that properly placed trees can cut your air conditioning costs by 25% or more. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that “the net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating twenty hours a day.”


During the hot summer months, roofs absorb solar energy, paved driveways and sidewalks reflect heat, and windows let in hot sunlight.  Trees not only provide shade that absorbs the sun’s rays, they also help reduce air temperatures around your home by releasing water vapor.


Saving energy is only part of the benefit of trees. They also help the environment by naturally converting the dreaded “greenhouse gas” carbon dioxide (CO2) into oxygen.


The type of trees you plant and where you plant them are the keys to maximum energy savings. 


Deciduous trees such as maples, oaks, and birches provide the most shade. Plus, because they drop their leaves in the fall, they allow sunlight to reach your home and provide solar heating during the winter months.


According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “to get a tree’s maximum cooling benefit, you plant it centrally and to the south of the house, or in the southwest corner. In this location, a deciduous tree will shade out hot afternoon sun in the summer while still allowing light to warm the house in the winter.”


When planting a tree near your house, you need to consider how large and how tall the tree will become as it matures. Trees should shade your house but not overhang it as during storms branches could damage your roof or siding. You should also make sure that as the tree grows, it will not affect electric and other utility lines around your home or yard.


Before planting any trees, the best advice is to do your homework. Find out what types of trees are recommended for your area as the soils and climate conditions can vary greatly across our state. Make sure you also get advice as to the most advantageous locations and the recommended distance from your home to plant a tree, too.


Visit your local nurseries or garden centers or if you are not a do-it-yourselfer, consult with a professional landscaper or arborist. Another excellent resource is the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service. There is an extension office in every county in the state and best of all, the information they provide is free. To contact your local office, look under Virginia Cooperative Extension in your telephone directory or visit


A wealth of information is also available at , the web site of the National Arbor Day Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is “to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.”


April 25 is Arbor Day throughout Virginia. Why not celebrate the occasion by planting trees around your home? The trees you plant will not just help save energy, they will make a lasting contribution to improving the environment for everyone for many years to come.