Archive | Energy Efficiency

Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat Review and Giveaway


Disclosure: I received a free Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat for this review.  All opinions are my own.

Want to reduce your home energy consumption and save money?  Who doesn’t!

The biggest way I have found to do this is to closely monitor your heating and cooling system.  This is the single biggest draw on our electric and gas usage.  Even though we heat with natural gas, the HVAC system still needs electricity to run the fans and so on.

Using a programmable thermostat is the simplest and most efficient way to do this.  The temperature is set automatically based on a schedule you set.  So at night or during the day when no one is home, the temperature is lowered (in the cold months), so as not to waste the energy.  I love things that are done automatically!  Less for me to remember.

I was recently sent a Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat to install and test out.  OK, I’ll admit that I, personally, did not install this.  My very handy husband did.  


Before you buy one of these thermostats you need to determine whether or not your system and household wiring is compatible.  Honeywell provides a step by step set of questions to determine whether or not your current system is compatible with the thermostat.   Go through ALL of the steps.  We found that the final step, connecting power to the unit, proved to be a little tricky because of our furnace not the wiring at the thermostat.  My husband was able to figure it out, but I’m guessing it was a little more complicated due to our particular furnace.


The installation was fairly easy.  My husband did have some issues with supplying the unit power as I mentioned above.  He was able to figure it out with the help of the videos.  It’s nice to know that there is also a help line should you need more assistance.

After that it was my turn again. I was quickly able to set the temperature schedule throughout the week!  Much quicker than our old thermostat.  I also chose a cool red color scheme.

Online Access

I, then,  created an account at My Total Connect Comfort so that I could access the thermostat from my smart phone app.  Apps are available for iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android devices.

So far so good!  Not sure I’ll use the app much, but I had fun changing the temperature with my phone and seeing the thermostat change.    The thermostat is working well, was easy to install, and set up.  I also like that I can see what the temperature is outside!


Honeywell is giving one lucky person a free Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat.  Enter below.  Good luck!

The giveaway will run from Saturday April 18 through Friday April 25 midnight EST.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



My Visit to the Westford Solar Park

The Greening of Westford: Westford Solar Park
In early May I had the incredible opportunity to visit the Westford Solar Park in my hometown of Westford, Massachusetts.  I’m such a geek! But I sure wasn’t alone.  About 30 of us were giddy with excitement about being able to see this array.
The Westford Solar Park is New England’s largest privately owned solar energy facility.  Owner of the Solar Park, Cathartes Private Investments, partnered with Nexamp to build and operate the park.  The 4.5 Mega Watt array sits on approximately 20 acres, consists of almost 15,000 individual solar modules and is said to produce enough electricity to run approximately 600 homes.
It is a fixed array, meaning the panels do not move to track the sun’s movement.  When asked why, Nextamp’s Senior Vice President, Will Thompson said  “financially it doesn’t make sense”, siting high failure rates on the tracking mechanisms and little gain in power production.
This land was the site of the Fletcher Quarry for decades.  There was nothing else that could have been done with the land.  Talk about recycling!  This commercial venture, which generates so much solar power, was a perfect use. Another interesting fact is that this array does not require any personnel on a regular basis.  The solar park is monitored by Nexamp remotely.  If a problem arises, they can send someone to take care of it.
The energy is actually used by the businesses and houses adjacent to the park.  Electricity is electricity. Once the power is converted and fed into the existing power grid, it goes to the closest location it is needed.  Think of the businesses in that area.  Kind of cool to think your Chinese take-out or pizza was made using solar power.  OK, my geek is showing again.
What would be even better is if, during a power outage, the solar array could be left on.  Unfortunately, that isn’t the way the existing power grid works.  Everything must be shut down.  But hopefully this will be able to change in the future.
According to Westford Town Manager Jodi Ross’ April Newsletter, “I am pleased to report that our town just entered three agreements with Nexamp to purchase solar energy credits, which will reduce our electricity expenses by about $400,000 per year.”  On the tour we were told that these energy credits were being supplied from other projects, not the Westford Park itself.
Massachusetts has big plans for solar.  Governor Patrick set a goal of reaching 250 MW of solar production in Massachusetts by 2017.  Well, we hit that 250 MW this past May.  The Governor has a new goal of 1,600 MW by 2020.  Since 2007 the solar energy installations in MA have sky rocketed from 3 MW to 250MW !
I find it extremely encouraging that an investment group, Cathartes Private Investments, is looking to build renewable energy facilities.  Obviously, they see the financial potential.  And I love that!  Yes it’s good for the environment, but the majority of people don’t see that as a good enough reason,  unfortunately.  Good thing there are other benefits!
If you are interested in installing solar on your house, take a look at Sustainable Westford’s Solar Challenge. The initial consultation is absolutely free and you will receive a $50 gift certificate to use at the Westford Farmer’s Market this season.
Take a look around.  Are you seeing more solar panels and wind turbines?


Massachusetts Residents Get Your FREE Home Energy Audit

Massachusetts free home energy audit
Energy efficient light bulbs for free

Did you know that as a Massachusetts customer of any of the major electric or gas companies, you are eligible for a FREE home energy audit?

Through the Mass Save program, sponsored by Massachusetts’ gas and electric utilities, residents are able to have a free energy audit. Energy efficiency can save loads of energy and is a necessary and important first step before considering alternate energy sources.
I’m sure you are thinking, who pays for this?  Nothing is free.  You know it.  Guess who pays: You and every other customer of the utility companies contributes to the program.*  Ever wonder what an “Energy Efficiency Charge” on your electric bill is for?  There is a similar charge on your gas bill too.  It’s included in the Minimum Charge.
Do I have your attention now?  Take advantage of it!  You are paying for it anyway. 
I talked about the program in an earlier article.  The program has changed slightly again so here is an update.
You still want to start with making an appointment for the energy audit through Next Step Living*. Next Step Living’s association with the program is new since my last article.  I had another audit a few weeks ago and was very impressed with the auditor’s knowledge.  Once again, he changed a few more light bulbs   I thought we had changed all of ours to CFLs, but a few more types are now available – including dimmable flood lights and candle based bulbs.
I had taken advantage of several of the improvements during the last audit (like adding more insulation to my attic) so there wasn’t much more available to me.  But it was nice to make sure and to have the attic work looked at by someone with some knowledge.  The auditor was very impressed with our contractor’s work on the attic insulation.
One new item for the program is solar.  As part of the audit, your house is evaluated for solar.  Next Step Living has partnered with SunRun for solar installation.  Unfortunately, our house is facing the wrong direction so solar isn’t a viable option for us.  However, my parents house was perfect for solar panels, which were installed last spring.  More to come on that….
Another “addition” to the program:  you are no longer eligible for an audit every year.  If your last audit was before August 2011, you are eligible, but will not be eligible again until significant changes are made to the program.  It makes sense.  Since my last audit, not much had been added to the program, so there wasn’t much more that could be done.
Have you had your FREE home energy audit?
*The link to Next Step Living is an affiliate link.  I will receive $25 if you sign up for an audit using this link.  Please consider supporting this website.  The money will be used to further the information here.
Photo credit:  Top photo used under Creative Commons taken by Anton Fomkin/Flickr


15 Ways to Green Your Laundry



As part of Going Green With the Grizls Summer Blog Challenge, today’s topic is “How do you do your laundry?? Give your laundry tricks“.

Let me start by saying that I never liked doing laundry.  I am on the short side and carrying a large basket of overflowing laundry down and back up the stairs is not fun!  

A few years ago, however, we added on to our second floor and were able to move the laundry room up there!  HEAVEN!  Now I really didn’t have much to complain about before since our laundry was on the main floor of the house, but this is sooo much better.  All the clothes STAY on one floor!  I am not saying this to brag, but as a heads up.  If you are in this position, think about it!  No lugging clothing, no hampers in each person’s room, set up a few baskets in the laundry room for different colors and your sorting is done – well, if your family gets the system.  Still working on mine.

Now for my tips.  Once again looking through my “green” lens.

  1. Wash Your Clothes in Cold Water   90% of the energy used to wash clothing goes toward heating the water. Your clothes will be just as clean washed in cold water.  I had a hard time with this one at first. I slowly switched to warm and always used a cold rinse cycle. Eventually I went “cold” turkey and all is fine.  I don’t use a special detergent either.   Take a look at this website to figure out how much you could save.  My Average Annual Savings: $70
  2. Wash Full Loads Only You use the same amount of electricity to wash a small load as a large one. You will also save water. The larger load will use more water, but it most likely won’t be as much as two smaller loads.
  3. Use Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent Conventional detergents are derived from petroleum.  They wreak havoc on the eco-system, unlike those derived from vegetable oils.  Look for plant-based detergents, free of bleach and artificial scents.  For ratings on detergents, try or try making your own.
  4. Use Less Detergent Read the directions and make sure you are only using enough.  More doesn’t get your clothes cleaner, but it will leave a residue.
  5. Skip the Dryer Sheets Dryer sheets contain synthetic fragrances which can cause harm.  Sometimes the residue from your detergent makes your clothes rough.  Try putting vinegar in the rinse cycle to remove the residue.  You can also try mixing liquid fabric softener with water in a spray bottle and using that in your dryer.  Again, choose a safe one.
  6. Use Dryer Balls If you have a problem with static, dryer balls might be the answer.  I made some out of wool yarn.  Before I started to use them, I had such a problem with static.  Not so much now.
  7. Use Eco-Friendly Stain Removers There are loads of DIY stain removers out there.  The best tip though is to get to the stain BEFORE it goes through the wash and as quickly as possible.  Of course, that is easier said than done.  If you have a really tough stain that you don’t think will ever come out, try this!  Vinegar and water (50/50 mix) works great for BBQ sauce, pet stains, grass, ketchup, orange juice, jelly and wine.
  8. Use a Second Spin Cycle  
    If you are doing a large load of towels, you might be better off using a second spin cycle in your washer before drying. The spin cycle can remove more of the water in a shorter time than it takes for your dryer to do the work.
  9. Make the Switch to a Newer Front-Loading Washer  
    If you are in the market for a new washer, consider a front loading model. They use less water and energy. Look for an Energy Star rated washer, but still compare the usages. All energy star rated appliances need to meet certain energy efficient standards. However, some far exceed those standards while other squeak by. Do your research.
  10. Clean the Dryer Lint Filter  
    Cleaning the lint filter after each use will make sure air is flowing efficiently.  If you use dryer sheets, occasionally scrub your lint filter with a toothbrush and soap.  Chemicals can build up on the screen clogging it.
  11. Line Dry  
    It’s free! Use the power of the sun, especially during these hot summer days. The dryer is one of the biggest energy using appliances in your home – second to the refrigerator. Check out the cost of drying a load of laundry at this site.  Using my latest bills, electricity costs $0.134 per KWh and gas is $1.42 per Therms, including all account charges.
  12. Clean the Dryer Exhaust Vent  
    Make sure the dryer exhaust vent is clear of lint as well.
  13. Use the Moisture Sensor on Your Dryer    
    Using the moisture sensor will ensure that your dryer stops when your clothes are dry. Make sure it works first! I discovered that mine was not working, so I use the timer and only need to run my dryer 30 – 40 mins. depending on what is in there.
  14. Don’t Iron   
    Irons use a lot of energy. I jumped for joy when I heard this one.  I do not like to iron! Hang up shirts when they are still damp to avoid wrinkles. Folding clothes while they are still warm from the dryer is another way to avoid wrinkles.
  15. Wash Some Items Less Often Not everything needs to be washed after one use.  You make that call, but towels certainly fall into this category.

What are your laundry tips?

[Top picture used under Creative Commons license by Ed Yourdon/Flickr]

This post is shared at Your Green Resource Frugally SustainableTeach Me Tuesday and Frugal Fridays.



Habitat for Humanity Builds One of the Most Energy Efficient Homes in Westford

Greene Westford column reposted.

Habitat For Humanity built one of the most energy efficient houses in Westford saving over 40% on energy bills
Wouldn’t you love to cut your energy bills by 40%?  Think of the savings over the years!  Think you need solar panels, geothermal, or a wind turbine to get there?  Think again.
Did you know that in 2008, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell in conjunction withBuilding Science Corporation, built a super-efficient home in Westford?  The estimated savings were roughly 40% over a similar more traditional home.  These savings equate to $1295 per year.  OK, but how much would this cost up front?  The additional initial investment for this 1400 sq foot home was $10,000.
Want to know how they did it?
In the words of Joseph Lstiburek, principal at Building Science Corporation,
 “The Westford House is not weird looking. It is super insulated. It is ultra-tight. It has controlled ventilation with heat recovery. It does not have lots of glass. It has real good glass. It has real good appliances. It has real good lighting. And it has real good equipment—that is small. Everything is off-the-shelf and can be built by anyone.”
  • Insulation: The foundation is insulated at a rating of R-26, walls at R-44 and the roof is R-66.   This is 50% more insulation than is required by current building codes. 
  • Ductwork was placed inside conditioned (heated/cooled) space saving more energy. 
  • Advanced framing techniques: 2×6 construction was used with studs placed 24 inches on center instead of the typical 16 inches.  This reduced the lumber needed by 40%.  In comparison, the lumber needed for this 2×6 construction was approximately 5% less than if traditional 2×4 framing had been used.
  • Windows were limited to reduce heat loss.  Where there are windows, glass with good insulation properties was used.
  • The appliances used were in the top 10% of energy star ratings.  The gas furnace operates at 95% efficiency and an instant gas water heater is used.
  • Compact florescent lighting was used throughout to reduce energy use as well. 
This house is so efficient that it achieved internationally recognized green building certification at the highest level. 
There are 4 levels within LEED certification – Certified, Silver, Gold, and, the highest, Platinum.  The Westford House achieved platinum certification.
The house achieved this certification without the use of renewable energy features such as solar panels or wind turbines.  Because of the work done here by the designers, Building Science Corporation, the Westford House serves as a prototype for high performance, highly insulated homes in cold climates.
Habitat For Humanity built several more houses in Bedford which met LEED Gold certification.  This project included 7 new homes and a renovated farm house that is 150 years old.  Habitat now builds houses to LEED standards which greatly reduces the operating costs for the new owners.
If you would like to learn more about increasing the insulation in your home, start with the Mass Save program.  If you are planning a large remodel, check into the National Grid Deep Energy Retrofit Program.
[Photo Credit Habitat For Humanity]


Idling Your Car: Illegal And Costly

Idling your engine for more than 5 minutes is not only illegal but causes health and climate problems.
Do you see cars idling while in the pickup line at school, in the driveway warming up in the winter, or waiting for someone to run into a store?   It’s actually against Massachusetts state law to idle a vehicle for more than 5 minutes.  It is punishable by a fine of up to $100 for the first offense and up to $500 for a second offense. 
We need to drive our cars to get places.  We don’t need to idle the engines.  
A typical vehicle produces more pollution when idling longer than 10 seconds than it will restarting the engine.  If you plan to be stopped for more than 10 seconds, shut off your car.

Unnecessary idling causes the following:

Air Quality Issues
Vehicles emit carbon dioxide while running.  An hour of idling can release almost 4 pounds of needless carbon dioxide into the air.  As we know, carbon dioxide adds to greenhouse gases in the environment.  These greenhouse gases contribute to climate change. 
Health Effects
Many other gases are released while a car runs.  Carbon monoxide can reduce the blood’s ability to carry oxygen throughout the body.  Nitrogen oxide, another component of vehicle exhaust, can irritate air passages and lungs.  Car exhaust can cause headaches, aggravate asthma and allergies and impair learning.  Children are particularly vulnerable.  Their lungs are immature and since they are shorter, their breathing space is closer to the emissions. 
Wasted fuel
Depending on the size of the engine, idling can use ¼ to ½ gallon of fuel per hour. Many experts agree that warming your car for 30 seconds is sufficient in cold weather.
School buses have diesel engines.  While they are durable and economical, the pollution from diesel engines is a growing concern.  Some studies indicate that over time, exposure to diesel exhaust can cause cancer and other health problems.  MassDEP is working with schools to reduce children’s exposure to diesel exhaust.
I have noticed that school buses in Westford do not idle while waiting.  Yeah bus drivers!
Are there “No Idling” signs at Westford schools?   I haven’t noticed any at my children’s schools.  Although the few times I am in the car line, no one seems to be idling.  At least not in good weather.  So good for you Westford-ians!
As the weather gets colder, remember to bundle up if you will be sitting in your car and shut off the engine.
[Above photo used under Creative Commons from Eutrophication/Flickr]


How To Keep Warm This Winter

Another Greene Westford column reprinted.

A home energy audit is a great place to start going green.   It can show you where to focus your attention to get the biggest bang for your buck.  It may take an initial investment, but will usually pay off in a short amount of time, then saving you money on your energy bills. 
As a customer of National Grid, you are eligible for a free Home Energy Assessment every year through a program called Mass Save.  Mass Save is sponsored by Massachusetts’ gas and electric utilities.  They work with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to “provide a wide range of services, incentives, trainings and information promoting energy efficiency that help residents and businesses manage energy use and related costs.”
Now you are probably wondering who pays for this program.  Guess who: You and every other customer of the utility companies contributes to the program.*  Ever wonder what an “Energy Efficiency Charge” on your electric bill is for?  There is a similar charge on your gas bill too.  It’s included in the Minimum Charge.
Do I have your attention now?  Take advantage of it!  You are paying for it anyway. 
The first step is to make an appointment for a Home Energy Assessment by calling 866-527-SAVE (7283).   This program is eligible to homeowners of standalone homes, residents of multi-family dwellings and landlords.  At this assessment, the auditor will test your gas appliances for safety, assess your home’s energy use and provide recommendations.  In the process, the auditor may install certain items that will start saving you money immediately such as CFLs, programmable thermostats and water savings devices as needed.
Before your audit, do some homework.  Based on the age of your home and heating source, investigate what might be worth doing before the auditor comes.  Also investigate what the program is offering at the time.  You will then be able to absorb and understand what they are telling you and ask questions.  The program changes from time to time, so be sure to ask.  Then ask some more.  Make sure you understand your options and what the next step should be.  Are you eligible for incentives or a loan? If you still don’t understand, call Mass Save and ask them. 
Our home was built a little over 10 years ago, so we thought we were in pretty good shape.  Our audit revealed several light bulbs that had not been changed to CFLs yet.  Those were changed to CFLs free of charge.  The insulation in our attic had settled to half the original thickness.  It also seems that the building codes have changed calling for more insulation in attics.  More insulation was needed to bring the attic insulation R-value to R-38. Our home also needed air sealing in the attic and a dome covering the access to the attic.
All of this work would normally cost about $3600.  The air sealing was free.  The dome on the attic access was free.  We also qualified for an incentive.  Mass Save paid for 75% of the cost of insulation, up to a maximum of $2000.  All of this brought our portion to about $600.  It is estimated that these improvements will save about $300 per year in heating and cooling costs.
This is only my experience which was very specific to what was found at my home and the program as it stood then.  This process took about 6 months from beginning to end.  I had to stay on top of things and keep asking questions when things didn’t make sense.  I was able to choose my own contractor from their list of approved vendors.  If you have a contractor in mind, call Mass Save to find out the correct process.  The program changed in July and this process is now different.
According to my auditor, it is a good idea to have an audit done every year or two.  The program changes, so does your house.  You are entitled to take advantage of the incentives and rebates once per year.  This year you might insulate your attic.  Maybe next year the program changes to include duct sealing and you can then take advantage of that.
*Note: I did not investigate completely how Mass Save is funded.  However, I was able to confirm that we, as utility customers, contribute to the fund.


Green Your Summer Vacation

Reduce Footprints Challenge this week is:

This week, head over to Zero Waste Week 2011 and commit to at least one activity which will reduce waste away from home. Be sure to come back here and share your commitment. The same rules will apply as always … if you write about it and/or tweet about, you’ll be honored next week. After committing to an activity, keep track of your progress because we’ll be talking about our successes next week.

For this challenge, I have “recycled” an article I wrote for Westford Patch back in June which listed tips for greening your vacation.  I have reprinted it here.

Summer means vacation! Making your vacation more environmentally-friendly does not mean you need to bike to your destination or even find a green hotel!
Although those certainly would do it, there are simpler things you can do wherever you go.
Before You Leave Home

  • Turn your hot water heater to “vacation” (or down low). Just remember to turn it back up when you return. When I had an energy audit, the auditor told me this makes sense to do anytime  you are away for more than three days. 
  • Set your thermostats up  so you aren’t cooling  your home unnecessarily. 
  • Unplug everything you don’t need running – TV, coffee maker, toaster, stereos, microwave, cable box, etc. Anything with a clock or remote control continues to use electricity even if you are not using it. I recently discovered that a cable box can draw almost as much electricity even when it’s turned off.  
  • Stop your newspaper. No sense in just recycling it when you get home. 
  • Driving? Make sure your car is tuned up and your tires are at the correct pressure to get the best gas mileage possible. 
  • Bring reuseables such as water bottles, snack bags and grocery bags. This way you can pack your own snacks or even lunch, saving you money on eating out. You will also be saving the packaging of single serve items. Bottled water is super expensive especially at vacation destinations. You can refill your water bottles for free most anywhere. And remember that grocery bags can be used for any purchase. 
  • Flying?  You can bring an empty water bottle through airport security and fill it on the other side. 
  • Another tip for flying – instead of printing your boarding pass, see if your airline has a mobile boarding pass application that allows you to use your phone for your boarding pass. 
  • Instead of buying new books, magazines or DVDs, go to the J.V. Fletcher library or borrow from a friend. 

 At Your Destination

  • Look for recycling bins at amusement parks or other attractions. 
  • Find out the recycling options. Ask the hotel or property agent. Recycling rules vary greatly. You may need to separate your bottles from your paper. 
  • If you are in a hotel, take advantage of their programs. Most hotels will offer to conserve water by not washing your towels everyday. 
  • You already have your water bottle so no need to buy bottles of water. 
  • Turn down the AC/heat and shut off lights when you leave. Hotels are now starting to install devices connected with your key that will automatically shut the lights off when you leave. You may not be paying for these directly, but we all are paying for it in the end.
  • Try to resist the tacky souvenirs that will break quickly and be thrown away. I know this is difficult with children. Hats, T-shirts, even a great picture make fantastic souvenirs too.   

You may be great at recycling at home, but going to a new place may throw your routines off. Little steps. Pick one thing – maybe bringing your water bottle.  I bring mine everywhere because I find it so convenient and I drink more water this way.  Always a good thing.  
Most importantly, have a great time!


How To Save Money with CFLs (And How to Recycle Them in Westford) | Greene Westford

save money with cfls

Compact fluorescent light bulbs can save you money for years to come.

See how in my latest column on Westford Patch. Plus learn where to recycle them.


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