Kids home playing video games this summer? Check out these game console savings tips

It’s been summer for a few weeks now. The initial excitement of pools and playgrounds may be dwindling and the reality of filling long summer days is setting in.

If you ...

Tagged: gaming, saving energy, summer

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Kids home playing video games this summer? Check out these game console savings tips

Young girl and her dad play video games

If you have kids, chances are they might be filling some of those out-of-school hours with video games. If that’s the case, then make sure your game consoles aren’t sucking more energy than they should.

Key Points

  • Game consoles use a lot of energy, even when you’re not using them.
  • Most systems have energy-saving modes.
  • Avoid using your game console to stream your favorite shows. Blu-ray players or smart TVs are much more efficient. 

It’s been summer for a few weeks now. The initial excitement of pools and playgrounds may be dwindling and the reality of filling long summer days is setting in.

If you have kids, chances are they might be filling some of those out-of-school hours with video games. If that’s the case, then make sure your game consoles aren’t sucking more energy than they should.

According to Energy Star, today’s game consoles can consume as much energy as all the homes in the city of Houston — the equivalent of the electricity delivered by four power plants.

Holy Super Mario Brothers, that’s a lot of energy.

Thankfully, Energy Star also offers these tips to reduce your game console’s energy use and save some money.

  • Activate power-saving settings: Xbox One comes set up to listen for the “Xbox On” command to turn on and allow other devices to access it through the network. By configuring the “Energy-saving” Power Mode, you can disable such features and drop the Xbox One’s standby power use by 98 percent! The Play Station 4, with software updates, enters a low power “Rest” mode after one hour of inactivity — which can be reduced to save even more. Users can also enable time limits for USB power charging when the PS4 is in “Rest” mode. The Wii U’s power consumption is already optimized in all non-gaming modes, consuming less than half a watt when your console is standing by. 
  • Turn off the controllers: The PS4 includes a useful feature that allows the controllers to turn themselves off when not in use. You can choose to turn off your controllers automatically after 10, 30, or 60 minutes, depending on your gameplay habits. 
  • Dis-Kinect When You Aren’t Using It: Xbox’s Kinect accessory can instantly recognize your body movements. This feature can use up to 14 watts when the game console is in use. So if you don’t use Kinect often, consider disconnecting it. 
  • Keep up on your updates: For example, with Sony’s System Software version 2.0 update, the PS4 now powers down automatically, and the USB ports enter a much lower power state after connected controllers are fully charged, dropping the power consumption by more than 65 percent. 
  • Don’t let your game console come between you and your cable: For the best efficiency choice, plug your set-top box cable directly into the first HDMI port on your TV, and connect the Xbox to a secondary HDMI port on your TV. Plugging your set-top box into your Xbox requires the Xbox to consume power even when you are not gaming — almost as much power as your TV. 
  • Stream content smartly: Streaming through a game console uses up to 10 times more energy than streaming on a laptop or tablet. Consider using another kind of device to stream — like a Blu-ray player, set-top box, or smart TV that has earned the EPA’s Energy Star.

Check out this article for step-by-step instructions — including screen shots — to configure your console.

And then turn the system off for a while and make the kids go outside.

Only 10 weeks until school is back in session.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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The country is more divided than you thought: Here’s the surprising way how

Did you know that the grid isn’t one big web covering the country?

I know, right?

It seems like it should be one, seamless web of wires that delivers electricity, ...

Tagged: energy grid, electricity

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The country is more divided than you thought: Here’s the surprising way how

Power lines and a power plant on an open prairie

Think of it this way: If our interstate highway system worked the same way, roads from the Midwest would only let you drive in the middle of our country, then you’d have to go hundreds of miles out of your way to find a connection point to get to another region’s highway system.

Key Points

  • The U.S. electric grid is made of three interconnections.
  • Each region is independent, with a few connection points between them.
  • A new study is looking at ways to connect them better and make the grid more flexible.

Did you know that the grid isn’t one big web covering the country?

I know, right?

It seems like it should be one, seamless web of wires that delivers electricity, but it’s actually three individual webs that only connect in a few spots.

Think of it this way: If our interstate highway system worked the same way, roads from the Midwest would only let you drive in the middle of our country, then you’d have to go hundreds of miles out of your way to find a connection point to get to another region’s highway system.

And you thought your kids asked “are we there yet?” too many times before.

Here are the three primary electricity interconnections (interconnection is a fancy way of saying web of wires that connect electricity within a region):

  • The Eastern Interconnection – spans east of the Rocky Mountains and a portion of Texas
  • The Western Interconnection – covers areas west of the Rockies
  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas – powers nearly all of the state.

Having three, completely independent interconnections has some pros and cons.

On the bright side, utilities and power providers can act locally to meet power needs nearby.

But the drawback is that it’s difficult to transfer energy from one area to another area across the country.

So for instance, if Iowa is having a really windy day and there’s surplus wind energy being produced, it’s hard to ship it to a population center on the West Coast that could use it.

The Department of Energy is spending $220 million during the next three years in research and development to explore grid modernization.

Some of the research will focus on an Interconnections Seam Study, which will look at ways to increase the points connecting Eastern and Western Interconnections.

The hope is that more connections could help the grid be more flexible, more reliable, and better able to accommodate renewable energy like wind and solar that increase and decrease depending on the weather and time of day.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full-time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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We’re sharing even more energy tips @KeepingEnergyAffordable. Stay informed about the latest issues, learn about new advances in technology, and understand how we're keeping energy affordable, one photo at a time.

Could motorcycles powered by electricity be the next big thing?

My family spent the weekend welcoming summer with a camping trip to Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. While driving around searching for the park’s infamous ...

Tagged: electric vehicle, motorcycle, Harley Davidson, Zero Motorcycles, Livewire

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Could motorcycles powered by electricity be the next big thing?

Electric motorcycle illustration

Change could be coming to the iconic motorcycle industry, as many of the world’s top manufacturers launch electric motorcycles in the next few years.

Key Points

  • Many traditional motorcycle manufacturers are working on electric-powered models.
  • Harley-Davidson, BMW, Honda and Yamaha all have plans in the works.
  • Zero Motorcycles has electric motorcycles available now that go over 100 mph and have a 200 mile range. 

My family spent the weekend welcoming summer with a camping trip to Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. While driving around searching for the park’s infamous buffalo herd, we saw a lot of motorcyclists out enjoying the scenery. The roar of a Harley is a sound of summer that reminded me it’s officially motorcycle season.

Change could be coming to this iconic industry, as many of the world’s top manufacturers launch electric motorcycles in the next few years. Harley-Davidson is developing Livewire, an electric sportbike. The company hasn’t announced when the prototype will go into production, but some speculate it could be within a year. And I know what you’re thinking: no, it won’t be silent. In true Harley fashion, it will sound more like a jet turbine than a Prius. BMW, Honda and Yamaha are all working on electric motorcycle plans too.

Surprisingly, the current leader in electric motorcycles is a company you probably haven’t heard of. California-based Zero Motorcycles already has electric motorcycles on the road throughout the U.S.. The company started in 2006 and has six electric bike models to choose from, ranging in price from $8,495 to $15,995. According to Cool Hunting, the company has now designed a bike it believes will be appealing to even more customers. Its 2017 models can go over 100 mph and have a 200-mile range. Plus, these motorcycles can be charged using the same type of outlet where you would plug in a lamp or a toaster.

Zero Motorcycles has also gotten creative with its marketing. Fearing that customers might put off an electric motorcycle purchase until Congress decides if it will resurrect electric vehicle purchase incentives, the company started a Don’t Wait for Washington promotion. If you purchase a bike now and the Electric Motorcycle Federal Tax Credit doesn’t get renewed this year, Zero Motorcycles will send you a check for 10 percent of the purchase price..

Would you consider trading in your current motorcycle for an electric one? Or, would having a good electric motorcycle option get you to buy a motorcycle if you’ve never been the leather-wearing, hair-blowing-in-the-wind type in the past? I’m curious to see if options like the ones Zero Motorcycles offers might bring people into the motorcycle market who wouldn’t have been interested in them in the past.

Oh, and before I forget, if you do happen to motorcycle through Custer State Park this summer, don’t get too close to the buffalo.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A. in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Win-win windows: Treatments that look great and help you save energy

We recently decided to get new window treatments in our living room. I was excited to update the space, but was quickly overwhelmed by all the options. I wanted something that would ...

Tagged: window treatments, Joanna Gains, save energy, blinds, drapes, shades

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Win-win windows: Treatments that look great and help you save energy

Hand drawn curtains and window

No matter what treatment you choose, make sure to first check your windows for faults. No window treatment can make up for a really leaky window.

Key Points

  • Window treatments can look great and help save energy.
  • With so many options, it can be difficult to determine what type of window cover is the best fit for your home.
  • Consider the energy savings potential along with your style preference before making a decision. 

We recently decided to get new window treatments in our living room. I was excited to update the space, but was quickly overwhelmed by all the options. I wanted something that would look great, but through the process learned that different options could offer benefits beyond aesthetics.

Here’s a quick guide to help you narrow down all the options:

Blinds

Pros: Blinds come in a wide variety of sizes and styles. They even make wide, white ones that resemble indoor shutters (a win for Fixer-Upper fans everywhere). The adjustable slats help control light and ventilation. They can also help keep your home cool in summer, reducing heat gain by up to 45 percent.

Cons: Blinds don’t offer much energy savings in the winter. Those same slats that can let in a light breeze during the summer don’t do much to control heat loss in the winter.

Tip: On hot days, adjust the slats to reflect direct sunlight onto a light-colored celling to diffuse heat and glare.

Draperies

Pros: Options with draperies are almost limitless. Different fabric types, colors and patterns offer a wide variety of style options for your home. Depending on what type of fabric you choose, drapes can help keep your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Cons: Due to the wide variety of options available, it’s difficult to put a number on a drapery’s energy performance.

Tip: To optimize your draperies’ energy savings, hang them close to the wall and let them fall all the way to the floor. Seal them to the wall on both sides of the window and let them overlap in the middle. Choose a heavier fabric to help block more air that might sneak in through leaky windows.

Shades

Pros: Shades are a simple, effective solution. When properly installed, they are an energy-savings winner year-round.

Cons: None of the options at our local stores fit the style of our living room. I might consider these more for a basement room.

Tips: Mount your shades as close to the glass as possible to maximize energy savings potential.

The final word

No matter what treatment you choose, make sure to first check your windows for air leakage and caulk or weatherstrip where needed. No window treatment can make up for a really leaky window.

For details about even more window treatment options, check out this article from the Department of Energy.

Happy shopping! And if you’re curious, I went with the wide white blinds. As a wise person once said, “Always be yourself, unless you can be Joanna Gaines. Then be her.”

And that’s all we really need to know.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A. in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Pool prep: What you need to know before taking the plunge

Memorial Day is just around the corner, marking the unofficial start of summer and the opening of most neighborhood pools.

Between barbecues and bike rides, take a moment ...

Tagged: pool, Energy Efficiency, summer safety

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Pool prep: What you need to know before taking the plunge

Little girl in sunglasses floats in a pool

Between barbecues and bike rides, take a moment to make sure you and your family are ready to take the plunge this summer.

Key Points

  • Pools are fun, but they use a lot of energy.
  • Use a pool cover to conserve water and save on pool-heating costs.
  • Keep safety top of mind while at the pool. 

Memorial Day is just around the corner, marking the unofficial start of summer and the opening of most neighborhood pools.

Between barbecues and bike rides, take a moment to make sure you and your family are ready to take the plunge this summer.

Consider the energy costs:

  • If your neighborhood watering hole is more than 10 years old, talk with the staff to make sure their systems are up to date. Updated pool pumps and filters turn off automatically if someone’s hair gets caught in it. These safer systems also tend to be much more energy efficient than the systems used a few decades ago.
  • If you have a pool at home, make sure to use a pool cover when you’re not using your pool to reduce water loss through evaporation and save up to 50-70 percent on your pool-heating costs. Also, consider installing an efficient swimming pool heater. Learn your options and estimate the costs for gas, heat pump or solar pool heaters.
  • Determine the best temperature for your pool to make sure you’re operating your pool for maximum efficiency. Most pools are kept at 78-82 degrees; each degree rise in temperature will cost 10-30 percent more in energy costs, depending on your location. If you have a pool at home, consider the energy costs when setting the water temp.

Keep safety top of mind:

  • Remember that electricity and water don’t mix. Never operate electrical equipment in or near the pool.
  • Never leave a child unattended in or near water, and teach children how to swim.
  • Install proper barriers, covers and alarms on and around your pool and spa.
  • Know how to perform CPR on children and adults.

Reapply sunscreen frequently and consider wearing sun protectant clothing. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Don’t fall for these summer savings scams

Some people call it gullible, but I call it choosing to trust people.

Sure, I’ve fallen for my fair share of jokes, like the time I truly believed that I could catch ...

Tagged: energy savings myths, summer, Saving Money

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Don’t fall for these summer savings scams

Woman's face and hair freeze as she's blasted by cold air from an A/C unit.

Now that I’m an adult, I’m very wise and definitely won’t fall for things like these summer energy efficiency myths.

Key Points

  • There are plenty of myths about energy savings.
  • Your home won’t cool more quickly if set your thermostat really low.
  • Fans cool people, not rooms, and shutting vents in unused rooms is hard on your system. 

Some people call it gullible, but I call it choosing to trust people.

Sure, I’ve fallen for my fair share of jokes, like the time I truly believed that I could catch a “snipe” bird by staying out all night with a garbage bag and flash light at summer camp. I was determined. And also bore the brunt of a lot of jokes when I was the last kid who figured out it was all an elaborate scheme.

Now that I’m an adult, I’m very wise and definitely won’t fall for things like these summer energy efficiency myths.

  1. Cool your house down quickly by setting your thermostat really low — You get home from work. Your house is really warm and stuffy, so you head over to the thermostat and set it to 55 degrees to cool it down quickly. Great idea, right? Wrong. Setting it to a lower temperature does not speed up the cooling time. The HVAC will work at the same pace until it reaches a certain temperature. Plus, you’ll be wasting a lot of energy if you forget to reset your thermostat later. Instead, just set it where you want it. Or better yet, get a programmable thermostat. That way you don’t have to keep your A/C running all day, but the HVAC can kick in right before you get home.
  2. Save energy by shutting the vents in unused rooms — We hardly ever use the spare room in the basement, so I should just shut the vent in there, right? Nope. Turns out that shutting vents can actually put extra strain on your system. Most central air systems are designed to distribute air throughout the entire house. Blocking vents messes with them and can lead to more system break downs.
  3. Run ceiling fans all the time to help keep the house cool — Fans cool you down, so you decide to keep them on all the time as a major cooling source — even when you’re not there. Bad idea. Fans make you feel cool because the breeze they create cools your skin. But they don’t change the temperature in the room. So, if there isn’t anyone there to benefit from the breeze, you’re better off turning it off and saving some electricity.

Now you don’t need to worry about falling for these myths ever again. And as a bonus tip, never trust an overly enthusiastic camp counselor who thinks it will be really fun to go on a snipe hunt.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Don’t fall for these summer savings scams

Some people call it gullible, but I call it choosing to trust people.

Sure, I’ve fallen for my fair share of jokes, like the time I truly believed that I could catch ...

Tagged: energy-savings myths, summer, Saving Money

Expand Article

Don’t fall for these summer savings scams

Woman's face and hair freeze as she's blasted by an A/C unit

Now that I’m an adult, I’m very wise and definitely won’t fall for things like these summer energy efficiency myths.

Key Points

  • There are plenty of myths about energy savings.
  • Your home won’t cool more quickly if set your thermostat really low.
  • Fans cool people, not rooms, and shutting vents in unused rooms is hard on your system. 

Some people call it gullible, but I call it choosing to trust people.

Sure, I’ve fallen for my fair share of jokes, like the time I truly believed that I could catch a “snipe” bird by staying out all night with a garbage bag and flash light at summer camp. I was determined. And also bore the brunt of a lot of jokes when I was the last kid who figured out it was all an elaborate scheme.

Now that I’m an adult, I’m very wise and definitely won’t fall for things like these summer energy efficiency myths.

  1. Cool your house down quickly by setting your thermostat really low — You get home from work. Your house is really warm and stuffy, so you head over to the thermostat and set it to 55 degrees to cool it down quickly. Great idea, right? Wrong. Setting it to a lower temperature does not speed up the cooling time. The HVAC will work at the same pace until it reaches a certain temperature. Plus, you’ll be wasting a lot of energy if you forget to reset your thermostat later. Instead, just set it where you want it. Or better yet, get a programmable thermostat. That way you don’t have to keep your A/C running all day, but the HVAC can kick in right before you get home.
  2. Save energy by shutting the vents in unused rooms — We hardly ever use the spare room in the basement, so I should just shut the vent in there, right? Nope. Turns out that shutting vents can actually put extra strain on your system. Most central air systems are designed to distribute air throughout the entire house. Blocking vents messes with them and can lead to more system break downs.
  3. Run ceiling fans all the time to help keep the house cool — Fans cool you down, so you decide to keep them on all the time as a major cooling source — even when you’re not there. Bad idea. Fans make you feel cool because the breeze they create cools your skin. But they don’t change the temperature in the room. So, if there isn’t anyone there to benefit from the breeze, you’re better off turning it off and saving some electricity.

Now you don’t need to worry about falling for these myths ever again. And as a bonus tip, never trust an overly enthusiastic camp counselor who thinks it will be really fun to go on a snipe hunt. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Energy savings have never been tastier

Everything tastes better grilled.

One time, my husband even ate some vegetables when they were cooked on the grill.

True, I think he meant to get a bite of ribeye ...

Tagged: natural gas grilling, grilling, Saving Money

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Energy savings have never been tastier

Grilled cheeseburger with pineapple on top

Besides being a delicious way to cook, grilling is also a great way to save some money.

Key Points

  • Grill season is finally here.
  • Cooking outside keeps the heat out of your kitchen and gives your A/C a break.
  • Grilling with natural gas is cheaper than using charcoal or propane.

Everything tastes better grilled.

One time, my husband even ate some vegetables when they were cooked on the grill.

True, I think he meant to get a bite of ribeye and accidentally got some mushroom on his fork, but still, I’m counting that as a grill success.

Besides being a delicious way to cook, grilling is also a great way to save some money. In the summer, your air conditioner works overtime to keep the house cool, especially if you have a hot oven warming the kitchen. Ovens can raise the temperature in your kitchen by 5-10 degrees.

Keep in mind that not all grill fuels are created equal.

The three general sources of heat for a grill are charcoal, propane or natural gas.

  • Charcoal is the most expensive and time-consuming option.
  • Propane is the mid-cost option, but you run the risk of your tank running empty mid-cookout.
  • Natural gas is the lowest-cost option. A grill fueled by natural gas is generally about one-sixth the cost to run than charcoal. Plus, since the gas line runs directly to your grill, you don’t have to worry about having to leave raw burger behind to go fill an empty tank.

If you decide to run a natural gas line to your grill, make sure to check in with your local utility for assistance. Some utilities offer a service to hook it up for you, and others have lists of qualified contractors who can help you out.

So long, oven. I won’t be needing you until fall. (Who am I kidding? I’ll see you next week for cookies, but otherwise, really, you’re on vacation.) 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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4 tips to save money at home while you’re on vacation

Getting ready for vacation is exciting and, well, exhausting. Packing everyone’s clothes, not to mention diapers, snacks and toys is a lot of work. And don’t even think about ...

Tagged: save energy, save money, vacation

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4 tips to save money at home while you’re on vacation

Young girl in sunglasses tips her face toward the sun while holding a suitcase in her lap

To make getting out the door a little easier, here’s a check list of quick things you can do to make sure your home doesn’t waste energy while you’re out exploring the world.

Key Points

  • Save money at home while you’re on vacation.
  • Turn off the A/C and water heater, and unplug your electronics.
  • Fill your fridge with pitchers of water to help it run more efficiently. 

Getting ready for vacation is exciting and, well, exhausting. Packing everyone’s clothes, not to mention diapers, snacks and toys is a lot of work. And don’t even think about trying to leave behind any one of the five plush toys that your 2-year-old needs to sleep. “They need me!” she says. Yes, Annie, Lambie would be very sad without you.

To make getting out the door a little easier, here’s a check list of quick things you can do to make sure your home doesn’t waste energy while you’re out exploring the world:

  1. Turn off the A/C — There’s no reason to cool an empty house this summer. Instead, you can set the thermostat to 90 or just turn it off completely. You can save 2-3 percent on your electric bill for every degree you raise your thermostat while you’re gone. That could result in some pretty substantial savings, especially for longer vacations. But if you have a pet, don’t do that. Leave the house at a temperature that will keep Whiskers happy. If you have a programmable thermostat, make sure to set it to the “vacation” mode before you leave.
  2. Pull the plug — Your electronics use energy even when not in use. So, unplug your TV, lamps, coffee maker, digital clocks, cell phone chargers, computers and game systems, to name a few.
  3. Give your water heater a break — Shut off the circuit breaker to the water heater. This will save lots of energy by not heating water you won’t be using while you’re away. If you have a gas heater, turn the gas valve off to be safe. (This tip is for summer vacations only. During a winter getaway, set your water heater to its lowest possible setting to keep the water from freezing in the lines.)
  4. Prep the fridge — You likely tried to eat all the groceries before leaving home, but a full fridge actually takes less energy to run. If your trip will take fewer than four weeks, consider filling the fridge with things like bottles of water. If you’ll be away for more than four weeks, it might be worth cleaning out the whole fridge and unplugging it until you get back.

Now back to packing. Wish me luck fitting Lambie in the suitcase. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Energy Tip

KEEP THE AIR CIRCULATING.

Install an attic ventilator. An attic ventilating system draws cool air up through the house and may provide as much comfort as an air conditioner at a much lower cost. Use the system to "pump in" cool air during summer evenings.

Banish the dust bunnies and save on your energy bill

Every spring, I get the bug to clean out the whole house.

But then I get half through my daughter’s pajama drawer, tear up at the thought that she’s outgrown all her ...

Tagged: spring cleaning, dust bunnies, saving energy

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Banish the dust bunnies and save on your energy bill

Bunny chills out in the dust.

Maybe this year I’ll be more successful with my spring cleaning if I keep in mind that some projects can also help us save money on our energy bill.

Key Points

  • Spring cleaning projects can help save energy.
  • Dirty fridge coils make the motor work harder.
  • Air leaks in your sliding doors, basement or crawl space make your house less energy efficient. 

Every spring, I get the bug to clean out the whole house.

But then I get half through my daughter’s pajama drawer, tear up at the thought that she’s outgrown all her baby things, and decide that all these items must be kept as precious mementos of her childhood.

That pair of pink footsie pajamas with the strawberry stains is an artifact and must be treasured, right?

Maybe this year I’ll be more successful with my spring cleaning if I keep in mind that some projects can also help us save money on our energy bill. 

Here’s how:

  • Clean the fridge — Refrigerators can use up to 14 percent of a household’s energy. But that fridge can run much more efficiently if it’s clean. Take a deep breath, roll the fridge away from the wall, and brace yourself for what’s hiding behind it (so that’s where the bouncy balls we cried for an hour about losing went!). Vacuum the coils. When things like dust, pet hair, and, say, organic cheddar bunny cracker crumbs, for instance, build up on the coils, the motor has to work harder and uses more electricity.While you’re at it, clean out the inside too. That expired bottle of ketchup and mystery jar of leftovers from Christmas might be blocking the airflow.
  • Check your sliding doors It’s an easy thing to overlook, but make sure to clean out the track of your sliding doors. If it’s dirty, it can ruin the door’s seal. Those gaps in the seal can let in hot air during the summer.
  • Hunt for spider webs — If you have spider webs in your basement or crawlspace, you probably have a draft nearby. If you find webs, hunt down the leak and seal them to help keep your home well insulated.
  • Dust your ceiling fans — While you’re up there, check to make sure your fan is set to go counterclockwise for the summer. In the winter, you want it to go clockwise to help push warm air down. In the summer, you need to change them back to have the opposite effect.

Good luck with the spring cleaning. I’m pretty sure I can get through this list without crying. Just don’t make me sort through June’s and Annie’s sock drawers. Tiny baby socks get me every time.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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We can help keep families from freezing

As a parent, my children’s safety is always top of mind. I tiptoe into my daughters’ rooms a few times a night to replace covers they’ve kicked off. And as I look at their ...

Tagged: LIHEAP, low-income families, heating, legislation

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We can help keep families from freezing

Model of a house topped with a hat and wrapped in a scarf

So when I hear that programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, may be eliminated from the federal budget, I worry for families that depend on those dollars to heat their homes.

Key Points

  • LIHEAP may be eliminated from the federal budget.
  • The program provides energy assistance to low-income households.
  • Contact your legislators and encourage them to save LIHEAP.  

As a parent, my children’s safety is always top of mind. I tiptoe into my daughters’ rooms a few times a night to replace covers they’ve kicked off. And as I look at their sweet, sleeping faces, I’m thankful that we have a warm home to shelter us in the cold of winter. (I’m also thankful that after three books, two requests for a drink of water, and at least one false alarm potty break, they’re finally sleeping, but that’s another story).

So when I hear that programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, may be eliminated from the federal budget, I worry for families that depend on those dollars to heat their homes.

LIHEAP is a $3.4 billion program that provides energy assistance to about 6 million households. Each state sets eligibility rates for the program, but federal law sets the income maximum at 150 percent of the federal poverty guideline. That equates to a household income of $30,240 for a family of three. Of those families served, more than 70 percent have either a senior 60 or older, a child 5 or younger or a person with a disability.

Here in my hometown, we’re still thawing out from the winter, and we know all too well that energy to keep our families warm isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.

Please contact your legislators and encourage them to keep LIHEAP available to people who need it.

I know I’ll be writing my congresswoman and senators. Right after I finish our 50-step bedtime routine with my kids.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Save energy while you conquer your spring to-do list

Your spring to-do list is long. Between signing the kids up for swim lessons, buying new soccer cleats and dusting off the lawn mower, find the time to make sure your air conditioner ...

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Save energy while you conquer your spring to-do list

Replacing an air filter

The one thing you absolutely must do: Replace or clean your air filter. This one task can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5 to 15 percent.

Key Points

  • It’s spring! Time to make sure your A/C is tuned up and ready for the heat.
  • Make sure to replace or clean your air filter.
  • It would also be a good idea to clean your A/C’s evaporator coil and condenser coil. 

Your spring to-do list is long. Between signing the kids up for swim lessons, buying new soccer cleats and dusting off the lawn mower, find the time to make sure your air conditioner ready for the coming summer heat.

Here’s a quick guide to help.

The one thing you absolutely must do: Replace or clean your air filter. This one task can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5 to 15 percent. Can’t find the filter? If you have central air, it’s usually somewhere along the return duct’s length in a wall, ceiling, furnace or in the air conditioner itself. If you have a room air conditioner, the filter is usually mounted in the grill that faces into the room.

The other thing that you should probably do: Clean your A/C’s evaporator coil and condenser coil. The coils collect dirt. That dirt reduces airflow and the coil’s ability to absorb heat.

If you want to really pat yourself on the back, you should: Check your unit’s drain channels. Clogged drains can prevent it from reducing humidity, and the extra moisture could discolor your walls or carpet. You can prevent clogs by occasionally passing a stiff wire through the unit’s drain channels.

If you’re an overachiever and want to make the rest of us feel bad, you should: Have a professional give your A/C a seasonal checkup. If you do this, here’s a checklist of things to make sure they do:

  • Check for the correct amount of refrigerant.
  • Test for refrigerant leaks using a leak detector.
  • Capture any refrigerant that must be evacuated from the system.
  • Check for and seals duct leakage in central systems.
  • Measure airflows through the evaporator coil.
  • Verify the correct electric control sequence and make sure that the heating system and cooling system cannot operate simultaneously.
  • Inspect electric terminals, clean and tighten connections, and apply a non-conductive coating if necessary.
  • Oil motors and checks belts for tightness and wear.
  • Check the accuracy of the thermostat.

Find more tips to improve the efficiency of your air conditioner from the Department of Energy. And then add eat more ice cream to your to-do list. You deserve it.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Daylighting: It’s not a second job, but it can save you money

No, daylighting won’t get you in trouble with your boss. Unlike moonlighting, it’s not a second job or an “invite-all-your-friends-to-this-party-and-make-money-while-you-socialize” ...

Tagged: saving energy, windows, daylighting

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Daylighting: It’s not a second job, but it can save you money

Flat-faced cat looking longingly out the window

Using windows and skylights to let in natural light, especially now as we look forward to long summer evenings, is a smart way to save money without having to make drastic lifestyle changes.

Key Points

  • Strategically placed windows and skylights can help you save money and energy.
  • Maximizing the natural daylight can cut back on how often you need to turn on the lights.
  • South-facing windows are the best because they let in the most sunlight. 

No, daylighting won’t get you in trouble with your boss. Unlike moonlighting, it’s not a second job or an “invite-all-your-friends-to-this-party-and-make-money-while-you-socialize” pyramid kind of thing. It’s being smart about your home’s design to help save you money and energy.

Using windows and skylights to let in natural light, especially now as we look forward to long summer evenings, is a smart way to save money without having to make drastic lifestyle changes.

Here are some tips from the Department of Energy to help make your windows work for you:

  • The best choice: south-facing windows — Windows facing south allow most winter sunlight into the home but little direct sun during the summer, especially when properly shaded.
  • An OK choice: north-facing windows — Windows facing the north admit relatively even, natural light, producing little glare and almost no unwanted summer heat gain.
  • Last choice: east- and west-facing windows — Windows facing these directions provide good daylight penetration in the morning and evening, respectively, but may cause glare, admit a lot of heat during the summer when it is usually not wanted, and contribute little to solar heating during the winter.

The only drawback, according highly esteemed energy experts, to having lots of natural light in your home is that it might make it harder to put your kids to bed at 7:30 p.m. while it’s still light outside, cutting back on your “Homeland” binge time.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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