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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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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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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