Finding Renewable Energy at Home

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Finding ways to use renewable energy at home is now even easier with many products touting the ability to save and reduce the amount of energy we consume.

A quick trip to the local hardware store can help you get started in the right direction. Replace your outdoor lights illuminating your front door with solar light bulbs. They can emit just as much light as traditional ones and will last much longer, depending on the season and where you live.

Even simple, short-term solutions can help reduce your electric bill and help you leave less of a carbon footprint.

Various types of motion sensors are sold for light bulbs, ceiling fans and other products. The sensors can detect when there is inactivity in a room and will turn off after a few minutes. They are inexpensive and relatively easy to install, said William Holt, urban environmental studies program coordinator at Birmingham-Southern College, Birmingham, Ala.

Unplugging appliances that are used infrequently such as your toaster, printer or shredder is also beneficial, Holt said. Household appliances still use energy even if they are turned off.

Even your watch can be operated with solar now and helps you cut down on the amount of batteries that need to be purchased, preventing them from taking up space in a landfill later on, he said.

Instead of buying expensive fertilizer and pre-mixed potting soils, consumers can compost their waste and use that for their yard and flowers.

"If you have a couple of million people making a small change, it actually adds up to a large change for society," Holt said.

Inspecting the physical separator between the interior and the exterior environment of a building, consumers can insulate and seal leaks, said Standard Energy Solutions, the energy efficiency business of Standard Solar. Insulation and air sealing in the proper places will keep cool air in and reduce the amount of hot air that enters. Homes often have rooms that do not reach the same temperature as the rest of the home and become either too hot or cold.

Install LED bulbs to decrease the amount of heat produced by lighting in the home. LED bulbs not only use less energy, but they also produce less heat. Incandescent bulbs can reach 180 degrees and 90% of the energy released is heat and only 10% is light. On the other hand, a LED bulb runs at an average temperature of 90 degrees and converts 60% of its electricity to light.

Participate in local utilities' peak power shut off program. Many utility companies have programs that provide cash or credits for agreeing to have a switch installed on the air conditioning unit that reduce its energy use during times of peak electric usage. This can help lower energy costs.

"Considering the long-term trend of rising energy costs, it makes perfect sense for homeowners to make sure that their home is operating at its most efficient," said Rick Berube, executive vice president of operations for Standard Solar.

Consumers can also save money and preserve oil resources by using a "green" motor oil, which is made from re-refined base oil, said Universal Lubricants CEO Jan Horsfall.

Using a "green" motor oil is beneficial to the environment because re-refining used oil requires up to 89% less energy than refining from virgin crude, he said.

"There's no reason not to recycle used oil," Horsfall said. "It's good for business, good for the economy and great for the environment."

Re-refining used oil releases up to 65% fewer harmful emissions than refining from virgin crude and putting used motor oil into the re-refining cycle eliminates the danger that comes from improper disposal. One gallon of improperly disposed motor oil can contaminate one million gallons of ground water, he said.

"Recycling just two gallons of used motor oil can power an average home for an entire day, protect our landfills, prevent groundwater pollution and reduce our dependency on foreign oil," Horsfall said. "Our closed loop process is an infinitely repeatable, sustainable cycle in which waste oil can be used over and over again. We collect over 40 million gallons of used oil from across the country each year, recycle 99% of it after water is taken out and return it to the marketplace in the form of high performance motor oils, transmission fluids and other byproducts like asphalt flux for use in roads and roofing materials."

Another option is to install window film to lower cooling costs by 30%, eliminate hot spots from glare or retain heat in the winter, said Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association, a nonprofit organization.

For energy efficient upgrades planned for 2013 or made in 2012, window film is eligible for the tax credits approved by Congress and the tax incentive can cover up to 10% percent of the cost of the installation of window film and up to a maximum of $500. The payback period for window film can be less than two years, depending on construction details, location and the type of window film used.

"Consumers can obtain the advantages of new windows without the high cost of window replacements by having window film professionally installed on older windows that are structurally sound," he said.

In a single-family home, window film installation costs can range from $3 to $11 per square foot, depending on the type of window film installed and the process can be completed in one or two days. The IWFA offers a free consumer booklet by clicking here.

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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