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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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.

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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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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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.

Good news KITT: Other cars are learning to talk too

It’s been a lonely few decades for KITT. Not only does the poor ‘80s Trans Am have no other cars to talk to, word has it David Hasselhoff never calls and even forgot poor KITT ...

Tagged: kitt car, fuel efficiency, hybrids

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Good news KITT: Other cars are learning to talk too

David Hasselhoff gives a thumbs-up while perched atop KITT car

The new software lets cars talk to each other and share information about what’s coming up. According to Popular Mechanics, this info lets cars precisely regulate a hybrid’s fuel consumption to increase fuel efficiency by 30 percent.

Key Points

  • New software lets cars talk to each other and share information about upcoming road and traffic conditions.
  • This info lets hybrid vehicles regulate fuel consumption and increase fuel efficiency by 30 percent.
  • David Hasselhoff is a bad friend.  

It’s been a lonely few decades for KITT. Not only does the poor ‘80s Trans Am have no other cars to talk to, word has it David Hasselhoff never calls and even forgot poor KITT on his Christmas card list.

But things are looking up for the Knight Industries Two Thousand.

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, are working on software that lets cars talk to each other.

Although I’m sure they were mostly motivated by images of a sad, lonely KITT, they also developed the software to make hybrid vehicles more fuel efficient.

Hybrids are the mullets of the electric vehicle: Electric engine in the front, standard fuel tank as a backup. They also have a gas-powered generator to give the cars the best of all worlds.

Hybrids usually use up all the battery first and then switch to the fuel engine as a last resort. But if you knew all the factors of your trip, like traffic and road conditions, it would be more fuel efficient to use a combination of the electric and fuel engines.

The trouble is, it’s nearly impossible to know what’s coming up on the road to budget just enough electricity and gas to make it to your destination.

Until now.

The new software lets cars talk to each other and share information about what’s coming up. According to Popular Mechanics, this info lets cars precisely regulate a hybrid’s fuel consumption to increase fuel efficiency by 30 percent. As more cars talk to each other and share more information, that number could go up even more, making drivers — and KITT — even happier.


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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Paint so cool it could save you 50% on your energy bill

What if saving energy was as easy as applying a coat of paint?

A new invention on display at the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy conference in Washington, ...

Tagged: paint, saving energy, energy technology

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Paint so cool it could save you 50% on your energy bill

Man applying paint to roof

Xerox PARC created a magical paint that can self-cool whatever it’s painted on.

Key Points

  • A new paint can self-cool whatever it’s painted on.
  • During tests, it was able to keep building interiors nearly 54 degrees cooler than buildings without the paint.
  • This cool paint should be on the market soon. 

What if saving energy was as easy as applying a coat of paint?

A new invention on display at the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy conference in Washington, D.C., is hoping to do just that.

Xerox PARC created a magical paint that can self-cool whatever it’s painted on. Here’s how IEEE explains the magic:

“The paint is brimming with two different kids of metaparticles. One type of metaparticle reflects broadband sunlight, helping the paint to keep heat away from anything underneath it. The other type emits infrared radiation at between 8 and 13 nanometers, a wavelength that allows heat to pass straight through Earth’s atmosphere and into space, dropping the paint’s temperature below ambient temperature.”

When tested on commercial rooftops, the paint was able to keep building interiors nearly 54 degrees cooler compared to buildings with roofs painted with regular white paint.

What might be one of the most exciting parts of the technology is how affordable and easy to use it is.

The magic paint costs the same as a regular can of paint and can be brushed or sprayed onto most surfaces.

PARC predicts that just applying the paint could save the average home in California 50 percent of its energy costs for climate control.

The paint is only available as a prototype right now, but PARC hopes to have it on the market soon.


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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Darrell Schwalbach
If this works it will be the greatest invention since Nitro Methane. I'm a racer!
5 days 16 hours ago

Think spring: Time to plant!

Happy first day of spring! Time to put away the snow shovels (fingers crossed) and get out the gardening tools.

As if playing in the dirt and getting outside weren’t ...

Tagged: landscaping, saving energy, trees

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Think spring: Time to plant!

Model house in the woods popped out of a magazine

[D]id you know your landscaping could help you save on your energy bill?

Key Points

  • Good landscaping can save a lot of energy.
  • Use trees as wind breaks and shade.
  • Shrubs and groundcover plants can cool the air around your home. 

Happy first day of spring! Time to put away the snow shovels (fingers crossed) and get out the gardening tools.

As if playing in the dirt and getting outside weren’t motivation enough, did you know your landscaping could help you save on your energy bill? Before you dig in, check out these tips to use your landscaping to save energy.

  • Trees — According to the Department of Energy, carefully positioned trees can save up to 25 percent of the energy a typical household uses by providing shade and acting as a windbreak. In tree-shaded neighborhoods, the summer daytime air temperature can be up to 6 degrees cooler than in treeless areas. And windbreaks to the north, west and east of houses cut fuel consumption by an average of 40 percent. Check out this handy guide to decide which trees to plant where.
  • Shrubs – Groundcover plants like succulents and shrubs can cool the air before it reaches your home in the summer. Low shrubs on the windward side of your windbreak can also help trap snow before it blows next to your home in the winter.
  • Climbing vines – Consider shading your patio or deck with a trellis covered in climbing vines. It will help keep your outdoor living space cool, and cut down on the warm air that sneaks inside.
  • Now go enjoy the first day of spring. Picnics and bike rides encouraged. 

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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This company is trying to make energy savings fun

What if tracking your electrical data was fun?

Stop laughing. I'm being serious here.

There’s a new thing in the energy world that gamifies your energy savings.

And ...

Tagged: saving energy, energy data, gamify

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This company is trying to make energy savings fun

Graphic of someone using all the apps on their phone

One company is making it so fun it has 100,000 users and can take the power equivalent of up to 11,000 homes off the grid by sending out a simple text message.

Key Points

  • Energy savings is getting gamified.
  • That means tracking your electrical data can be fun.
  • Plus, it will help keep energy affordable. 

What if tracking your electrical data was fun?

Stop laughing. I'm being serious here.

There’s a new thing in the energy world that gamifies your energy savings.

And yes, “gamify” is a word.

One company is making it so fun it has 100,000 users and can take the power equivalent of up to 11,000 homes off the grid by sending out a simple text message.

It’s called OhmConnect, and its goal is to cut electricity demand during peak times so power companies don’t have to turn on extra power plants.

Here’s how it works: After you sign up OhmConnect, you’ll get alerts for specific times, like 5-6 p.m., when you should try to limit your electric use. So, you adjust the thermostat, welcome the excuse to stop doing laundry and hold off on starting to cook dinner. After the time is up, you go back to life as usual.

OhmConnect then compares your use during that hour to what you would normally use at that time. 

You get a credit for the difference.

These points add up, and eventually, you can cash them out with PayPal or pool your points with friends to donate money to a worthy cause, like your school or a local charity. The average pay out is $100 a year.

Games like this are only available in certain areas, but they’re getting more popular.

OhmConnect makes money from power companies by helping the electric market level off. The electric market benefits by not having to turn on more expensive power sources, and consumers win by saving energy and maybe even helping drive down energy costs overall.

See, it really does sound like run, right? Read more about one customer’s OhmConnect experience on NPR’s All Tech Considered.


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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New drone technology might make wind turbine maintenance cheaper and safer

Last week, we talked about how drones are helping solar plants be more efficient and drive down the cost of solar energy in some areas of the country.

But solar isn’t ...

Tagged: drones, wind turbines, energy technology

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New drone technology might make wind turbine maintenance cheaper and safer

Drone flies in front of wind turbines

The process to inspect a whole wind farm can take months. SkySpec’s self-piloting drones can do it in 20 minutes.

Key Points

  • A start-up company is using drones to help make wind turbine maintenance cheaper and safer.
  • Drones with advanced damage identification systems can inspect turbines in minutes.
  • The process used to take months. 

Last week, we talked about how drones are helping solar plants be more efficient and drive down the cost of solar energy in some areas of the country.

But solar isn’t the only kid on the energy block using drones.

Wind companies are using the little guys too.

 A small business with just 12 employees might change the way wind companies inspect turbines for damage.

The traditional method to see if turbines need any maintenance can be time consuming and sometimes dangerous. Someone has to climb to the top, visually inspect the turbine and blades and take pictures of any damage with a cell phone.

The process to inspect a whole wind farm can take months.

SkySpec’s self-piloting drones can do it in 20 minutes. Drones are deployed to inspect the turbine, top to bottom.

According to the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the drones use an advanced damage identification system that can detect wind turbine cracks and collect valuable data.

SkySpecs received a Small Business Voucher Award through the Department of Energy. Through the award, the company is working with Sandia National Lab to validate the damage detection algorithms it uses. They should be done by fall of this year, and hope to go to market with the product.

Automating processes like this can help reduce the maintenance costs for wind companies, and that could make wind energy cheaper.

Go, drones, go! 


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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Ice dams and dust might be a sign you need to climb this DIY project

Does your house have drafty rooms, ice dams, dry indoor air or dust?

Then you might need to consider attic air sealing.

It sounds a bit intimidating, but thanks ...

Tagged: diy project, save energy, attic insulation

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Ice dams and dust might be a sign you need to climb this DIY project

The attic can be your home’s biggest source of heat loss, so sealing up the leaks and getting it properly insulated could save a lot of money on your energy bill.

Key Points

  • Attics can be your home’s biggest source of heat loss.
  • A DIY attic air sealing project should take about one to three days.
  • In some cases, it’s best to call in a professional. 

Does your house have drafty rooms, ice dams, dry indoor air or dust?

Then you might need to consider attic air sealing.

It sounds a bit intimidating, but thanks to these step-by-step guides from Energy Star, it’s definitely doable.

The benefits can be big. The attic can be your home’s biggest source of heat loss, so sealing up the leaks and getting it properly insulated could save a lot of money on your energy bill.

Energy Star estimates that the project should take about one to three days. But sometimes, you need to call in the professionals.

If you have any of these issues, put down your dust mask and get out your cell phone:

  • Difficult attic access and limited space to work
  • Wet or damp insulation, indicating a leaky roof
  • Moldy or rotted attic rafters or floor joists, indicating moisture problems
  • Kitchen, bathroom or clothes dryer vents that exhaust moist air directly into the attic space instead of outdoors
  • Little or no attic ventilation
  • Knob and tube wiring (pre-1930), which can be a fire hazard when in contact with insulation

Before you start, check with your local utility to see if they offer any rebates for home energy assessments or insulation projects. Here’s a link for state incentives nationwide.  


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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Drones could help drive down solar energy costs

Drones are becoming a solar developer’s best friend.

The remote-controlled flyers are making the design process for solar farms smarter and more efficient, and that could ...

Tagged: solar, drones

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Drones could help drive down solar energy costs

A drone flies in the waning light of day.

Drones are deployed to survey a site. They map the topography and take aerial photos. Developers then use that information to figure out the best spot to place a new type of solar panel that is modular and flexible.

Key Points

  • Drones are helping solar farms produce more energy.
  • They help designers figure out the best spots for each panel.
  • Using drones and software takes 90 percent less time than surveying and design took in the past. 

Drones are becoming a solar developer’s best friend.

The remote-controlled flyers are making the design process for solar farms smarter and more efficient, and that could mean lower costs for some energy consumers.

Here’s how it works. Drones are deployed to survey a site. They map the topography and take aerial photos. Developers then use that information to figure out the best spot to place a new type of solar panel that is modular and flexible.

Seems simple, but before drones, it would take multiple human trips to do all that measuring. And even then, the designers wouldn’t have as much information as a drone can provide with one flight.

This is especially helpful for solar farms on sites where there is topography variation (anything other than a big, flat surface). Thanks to all of the information the drones gather, designers can analyze hundreds of options and then precisely place each panel to get the most sunlight possible.

The cost of solar power has dropped 62 percent since 2009, and with new technology like this, it will hopefully become even more affordable in the future.


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

PLANT A TREE

Planting trees or shrubs that provide shade for your air-conditioning unit can increase efficiency by up to 10 percent.

Shopping for a smart thermostat just got a lot easier

Energy Star now has specifications for smart thermostats. That means if you’re not sure which smart thermostat to buy, you can now look for the Energy Star label to help you weed ...

Tagged: smart thermostats, saving energy, energy star

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Shopping for a smart thermostat just got a lot easier

Woman uses a smart thermostat

Energy Star wanted to identify household thermostats that do more than just set the temperature. They set out to determine which smart thermostats result in actual energy savings.

Key Points

  • Using a smart thermostat can save you more than 8 percent on your heating and cooling energy.
  • There are now Energy Star ratings for smart thermostats.
  • The ratings are based on how easy they are to actually use and will make shopping much easier.

Energy Star now has specifications for smart thermostats. That means if you’re not sure which smart thermostat to buy, you can now look for the Energy Star label to help you weed through the options.

The average consumer using an Energy Star-certified smart thermostat will save more than 8 percent of their heating and cooling energy — or about $50 annually.

Figuring out which smart thermostats to endorse was a little trickier than with other products. Energy Star wanted to identify household thermostats that do more than just set the temperature. They set out to determine which smart thermostats result in actual energy savings.

To do that, they relied on information from field data instead of the laboratory tests they usually use to determine how efficient a product is. This field data showed how families and individuals used the thermostat’s technology and gave higher marks for things like connectivity, remote access and demand response.

Still not sure which one to get? Here are a few tips from Energy Star itself.

Which programmable thermostat is best for me?

In general, every programmable thermostat comes with four pre-programmed settings and maintains those settings within two degrees. Many qualified models also come with additional features, such as:

  • Digital, backlit displays
  • Touch pad screen programming
  • Voice and/or phone programming
  • Hold/vacation features
  • Indicators that tell you when it’s time to change air filters
  • Indicators that signal malfunctioning of heating/cooling systems
  • Adaptive recovery/smart recovery features, e.g. control features that sense the amount of time it will take to reach the next set-point temperature and reach desired temperatures by the set time

How do you choose the right one?

To decide which model is best for you, think about your schedule and how often you are away from home for regular periods of time — work, school, other activities — and then decide which of the three different models best fits your schedule: the 7-day, 5+2-day, or the 5-1-1-day.

7-day models are best if your daily schedule tends to change, say, if children are at home earlier on some days. They give you the most flexibility and lets you set different programs for different days — usually with four possible temperature periods per day.

5+2-day models use the same schedule every weekday and another for weekends.

5-1-1 models are best if you tend to keep one schedule Monday through Friday and another schedule on Saturdays and Sundays.

And here’s a video to break it down, no reading required:


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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Could the Chevrolet Bolt zap your concerns about electric vehicles?

There’re a lot of reasons electric vehicles accounted for only 1 percent of all new car sales last year. For instance, they tend to be spendy, and consumers worry about running ...

Tagged: Electric Vehicles, alternative fuel

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Could the Chevrolet Bolt zap your concerns about electric vehicles?

Chevrolet Bolt

The Bolt costs $30,000, after the $7,500 federal electric vehicle tax credit. And it has a 238-mile range.

Key Points

  • Chevrolet hopes its new Bolt EV will be a game changer.
  • It has a longer range and cheaper price tag than previous models.
  • Electric vehicles accounted for 1 percent of all new car sales last year.

There’re a lot of reasons electric vehicles accounted for only 1 percent of all new car sales last year. For instance, they tend to be spendy, and consumers worry about running out of battery without a charging station nearby.

Chevrolet is hoping the new Bolt EV will be the answer.

The Bolt costs $30,000, after the $7,500 federal electric vehicle tax credit. And it has a 238-mile range. That range and price combo may be just what consumers are looking for. The only other electric vehicle with that kind of range is the Tesla, which costs upwards of $70,000.

But it’s not all rosy for the future of EVs. There is concern that that $7,500 tax credit could disappear with the new tax bill, and that would significantly impact how many households can afford a new electric vehicle.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, it would be five to 10 years before electric cars were price competitive with gas-powered vehicles without the subsidy.

“Today, with incentives, you’re very close to that point,” Simon Mui with the Natura Resources Defense Council told NPR. “Consumers that are charging on electricity, if they charge off-peak, they're basically paying a buck a gallon equivalent. So they're seeing much lower fuel bills overall.”

According to NPR, there are now some 30 models of electric and plug-in hybrid cars available in the U.S.

What would it take for you to make the switch to an electric vehicle? What price point is affordable for you? Is 238 the magic miles number to make you comfortable with a vehicle’s range?


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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Faux forests full of power potential

The term “energy plant” might have an entirely new meaning if researchers from Iowa State University are successful.

Literal energy plants — plastic trees with stalks ...

Tagged: alternative energy, faux forest, wind energy

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Faux forests full of power potential

Four plastic trees

Literal energy plants — plastic trees with stalks made to harvest wind energy — could make a faux forest full of power potential.

Key Points

  • Researchers are working on a way to harvest small gusts of wind with a faux forest.
  • Plastic trees would use leaves and stalks to capture energy.
  • The process is proving difficult, but a new, more efficient material may be the breakthrough they need to make it work. 

The term “energy plant” might have an entirely new meaning if researchers from Iowa State University are successful.

Literal energy plants — plastic trees with stalks made to harvest wind energy — could make a faux forest full of power potential.

Molecular biologist Eric Henderson first had the idea when watching small gusts of wind whip through trees. All those random gusts could be captured to make electricity. Henderson and his team are using a method called piezoelectrics, a process that shifts electrons within a crystal to generate electricity.

Unfortunately, the idea has proven difficult to implement.

For the piezoelectric method to work, the leaf stalks need to move at high frequency at regular intervals. Gusts of wind are, well, gusty — coming and going without notice. Another challenge is what Henderson described to Smithsonian Magazine as “parasitic capacitance.” This is energy wasted during the process, leaving little left to actually charge a battery.

But the team isn’t giving up hope.

They’re working on a new material that could be 100,000 times more efficient than other crystals available.

According to Smithsonian, the material mimics a protein found in the human ear to amplify sound. The researchers couldn’t share any details yet, but they hope this material brings them one step closer to a solution.

I like the ring of that. 


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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