Back to school means back to energy savings

I love back-to-school time.

I mean LOVE it.

Even as a kid, I would count down the days until school started again and then would lie in bed, wide awake, too excited ...

Tagged: back to school, save energy, school supplies

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Back to school means back to energy savings

Preteen points to drawing of light bulb on a chalkboard

What I don’t remember is how much everything costs. All those glue sticks, back packs and markers can really add up. Thankfully, having the kids at school all day might lead to some energy savings at home to help offset some of those expenses.

Key Points

  • Back to school expenses can add up, but energy savings can help offset them.
  • After the kids are away at school all day, a few changes at home can save energy.
  • Opt for energy efficient tech, unplug unused devices and adjust the temp while kids are away.

I love back-to-school time.

I mean LOVE it.

Even as a kid, I would count down the days until school started again and then would lie in bed, wide awake, too excited to sleep the night before the first day.

And now that my kids are in school, I get to buy school supplies again and even go sit in a tiny desk for kindergarten orientation.

It’s just as much fun as I remember.

What I don’t remember is how much everything costs. All those glue sticks, back packs and markers can really add up.

Thankfully, having the kids at school all day might lead to some energy savings at home to help offset some of those expenses.

 Here are a few tips to help:

Opt for energy efficient tech

My kindergartener probably won’t need a computer this year to write her dissertation about how to do a perfect cartwheel. But older students might start to require extra hardware at home — like printers and computers. According to the Department of Energy, an Energy Star-approved monitor can save you as much 90 percent since this tends to be a device that’s on frequently. Check for the Energy Star label on all your electronics to save some energy and money.

Unplug

Even if all your electronic devices are considered energy efficient, they still use some energy even when not in use. Unplug things like video game consoles, iPods and laptops when no one is using them to avoid wasting energy. You could save 5-10 percent on your total household electricity bill.

Adjust the temp at home

Now that the kids are away during the day, you can raise your thermostat a bit when it’s warm outside and lower it a few degrees when it’s cooler out. You can save 4-8 percent on your cooling or heating with each degree you change it.

Now go ahead and get yourself a few new, freshly sharpened No. 2 pencil. You know you want to.


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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Are you ready for saliva-activated electricity?

You know that feeling you get right before you bite into a cupcake? As you smell the sweet vanilla and gaze at the fluffy frosting, you might even drool a little before it hits your ...

Tagged: saliva, alternative energy, LED, microwatt, Bingham University, SUNY

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Are you ready for saliva-activated electricity?

Sisters eyeing up cupcakes

Researchers created a battery that is activated by a single drop of saliva. It uses microbial fuel cells to convert the movement made during oxidation into electrical energy.

Key Points

  • Your saliva can do more than help digest cupcakes.
  • It could help make energy.
  • Researchers created a bacteria-powered battery. 

You know that feeling you get right before you bite into a cupcake? As you smell the sweet vanilla and gaze at the fluffy frosting, you might even drool a little before it hits your lips. Well, it turns out all that saliva is good for more than just digesting baked goods. It can help make energy.

Researchers at Binghamton University and State University of New York, created a battery that is activated by a single drop of saliva. It uses microbial fuel cells to convert the movement made during oxidation into electrical energy. The battery is paper-based, so it's cheap to produce and very portable.

It doesn’t make very much energy – only a few microwatts per square centimeter - but it’s enough to light an LED. The researchers believe that when power from the grid isn’t available, it could be a good back-up power source for things like water quality monitors. It could also be used for point-of-care diagnostic biosensors.

Your saliva can’t exactly replace coal, natural gas or solar energy, but in our book, all advances in electricity generation are a win. The Binghamton team is working on ways to improve the battery’s power performance and if successful, you could be putting your saliva to good use soon. In the meantime, I think I’ll get ready by having another cupcake. Or two ...

To learn more, check out the full research paper in the journal Advanced Material Technologies

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Keep those pipes hot for energy savings

“Nice pipes!”

Maybe you heard this when sporting your favorite tank top this summer (we can discuss the cost of tickets to the “gun show” later).

But ...

Tagged: saving energy, water heater, insulation, diy project

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Keep those pipes hot for energy savings

Little boy shows off his muscles

When heated water leaves your water heater, it can lose some of its warmth on the path there. Cold pipes cool down the water. But insulated pipes help keep the water hot.

Key Points

  • Insulate your hot water pipes to save energy.
  • Insulated pipes can raise water temperature 2-4 degrees.
  • That means you can lower your water temp setting and use less energy.

“Nice pipes!”

Maybe you heard this when sporting your favorite tank top this summer (we can discuss the cost of tickets to the “gun show” later).

But you could soon earn this complement for your hot water pipes.

According to the Department of Energy, insulating your hot water pipes could help you save energy, especially as we start to look toward colder-weather months.

When heated water leaves your water heater, it can lose some of its warmth on the path there. Cold pipes cool down the water. But insulated pipes help keep the water hot.

Bonus perk: Insulated pipes will also help your shower get hot faster, saving you some time and helping you conserve water.

The energy savings come from being able to lower the water temperature on your water heater. Since you’re not losing heat during delivery, the water can start out a little cooler. This lower setting uses less energy since your heater won’t have to work quite so hard to reach the lower temp.

This DIY project should take you about three hours and cost $10-15 in materials.

Here’s a handy shopping list:

  • Tape measure (Note: If your ability level is at the point you have to go purchase a tape measure, you might want to also call your dad/handy aunt/friend who you saw use a screwdriver at least once.)
  • Pipe sleeves or strips of fiberglass insulation (And no, pool noodles don’t count.)
  • Acrylic or duct tape or cable ties to secure the sleeves or aluminum foil tape or wire to secure the fiberglass pipe-wrap (Bonus points if you can make the hardware sales associate say “aluminum linoleum” 10 times fast.)
  • Gloves and long sleeves and pants if you’re using fiberglass pipe-wrap
  • Scissors, box cutter or utility knife for cutting insulation
  • Headlamp or light if you’re working in crawl space or dark area

And here’s a great step-by-step video:

If everything goes well, you’ll soon be enjoying energy savings and wasting less time waiting for the shower to warm up.

Maybe you can use those extra minutes bulking up your other pipes.

Tickets to the gun show just got a little steeper.


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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These undercover charging stations could crack the case for EVs

In true summer blockbuster form, undercover cops are often the cinematic heroes.

But this summer, there’s a new star to cheer for.

The undercover charging station.

You ...

Tagged: Electric Vehicles, Grid, Charging Stations

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These undercover charging stations could crack the case for EVs

Blueprints of an electric vehicle at a charging station

So, the company developed a small charger. It’s so small that it can be installed into everyday things that are already in a community.

Key Points

  • New technology might make electric vehicle charging stations cheaper to install.
  • Using existing structures cuts down on costs and makes stations more accessible.
  • They also use a slow charge, which will help level out electric demand on the grid. 

In true summer blockbuster form, undercover cops are often the cinematic heroes.

But this summer, there’s a new star to cheer for.

The undercover charging station.

You read that right: Charging. Station.

German startup company Ubitricity is coming up with solutions to make electric vehicle charging stations cheaper to install and easier on the power grid.

So, the company developed a small charger. It’s so small that it can be installed into everyday things that are already in a community.

For instance, London just installed 82 of the chargers into streetlights. These chargers are cheaper to install since they rely on existing structures instead of having to build a complete charging station from the ground up.

These small devices offer electric vehicle owners who live in urban areas a place to charge up if they don’t have a garage or an accessible outlet at home.

A vehicle would generally need to be plugged in overnight to fill the battery using the pint-size stations. But that might actually be a good thing for the electric grid.

Big spikes in electric demand from quick chargers can strain the grid. These low-power charging stations help avoid those spikes and would generally use electricity at low-use times, like in middle of the night.

There aren’t any undercover street light charging stations in the U.S. yet (that we know of anyway, but, you know, they are undercover, so we could be wrong). The company is hoping to expand to cities in the U.S. soon. And that’s a plotline worth seeing.


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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Scientists shake it off, shake it off, for savings

I, I shake it off, I shake it off.

Imagine a bunch of scientists in white coats jamming out to Taylor Swift in the lab while working on ground-breaking research.

Clearly, ...

Tagged: laundry, Energy Efficiency

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Scientists shake it off, shake it off, for savings

Woman juggles laundry

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are using vibrations to dry clothes. No heat needed. No lint left behind. And it is up to five times more energy efficient. Oh, and it cuts the drying time in half.

Key Points

  • A new dryer scientists developed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory shakes the water out of your clothes.
  • Eliminating the need for heat, these new dryers are up to five times more efficient than traditional models.
  • They also take half the time to dry clothes and leave little lint behind. 

I, I shake it off, I shake it off.

Imagine a bunch of scientists in white coats jamming out to Taylor Swift in the lab while working on ground-breaking research.

Clearly, only Taylor could inspire researchers to come up with a way to revolutionize dryers to shake the water out of clothes.

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are using vibrations to dry clothes. No heat needed. No lint left behind. And it is up to five times more energy efficient. Oh, and it cuts the drying time in half. 

If these new dryers make it to a store near you, investing in one could help you save energy and money.

Check out the new dryer in action:

In the meantime, here are some tips from the Department of Energy to keep your old dryer safe and efficient:

  • Wash and dry full loads. If you’re washing a small load, use the appropriate water-level setting.
  • Dry towels and heavier cottons in a separate load from lighter-weight clothes.
  • Don't over-dry your clothes. If your machine has a moisture sensor, use it.
  • Clean the lint screen in the dryer after every load to improve air circulation and prevent fire hazards.
  • Periodically, use the long nozzle tip on your vacuum cleaner to remove the lint that collects below the lint screen in the lint screen slot of your clothes dryer.
  • Use the cool-down cycle to allow the clothes to finish drying with the heat remaining in the dryer.
  • Periodically inspect your dryer vent to make sure it’s not blocked. This will save energy and may prevent a fire. Manufacturers recommend using rigid venting material — not plastic vents that may collapse and cause blockages.
  • Consider air-drying clothes on clothes lines or drying racks. Air drying is recommended by clothing manufacturers for some fabrics.

Now back to those dancing scientists. Remember that the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, but I, for one, am very impressed with your work. Keep it up.


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 ways to stay cool that don’t involve your A/C

My daughters have it so easy. They hardly break a sweat on the hottest days as they play in our air conditioned-house.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have an A/C. To stay ...

Tagged: summer, saving energy, air conditioning, heat

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4 ways to stay cool that don’t involve your A/C

Little girl in goggles plays in the sprinkler

Homeowners spend $11 billion every year to power their air conditioners, and about 6 percent of the average household’s energy use goes to space cooling.

Key Points

  • Consider other ways of keeping your cool that don’t involve air conditioning.
  • Keep hot air out of your house by closing curtains and sealing cracks.
  • Avoid using appliances like your oven to keep the heat out of your house.

My daughters have it so easy. They hardly break a sweat on the hottest days as they play in our air conditioned-house.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have an A/C. To stay cool, we opened windows at night, shuttered up the house during the day and hunkered down in the basement.

I also walked uphill, both ways, to school, but that’s another story.

Homeowners spend $11 billion every year to power their air conditioners, and about 6 percent of the average household’s energy use goes to space cooling. If you want to save some serious energy — and money — this summer, consider going old school with these non-AC cooling strategies.

  1. Skip the oven — Don’t heat your home with appliances. Take it outside and use a grill on hot days.
  2. Shut the curtains — It might be a little dreary, but close the blinds or curtains to prevent solar heat gain.
  3. Check for leaks — Insulate your attic and walls, and seal cracks and openings to prevent warm air from leaking into your home.

4.Ventilate:

  • Natural ventilation — Natural ventilation relies on the wind to create a “chimney effect” to cool a home. A simple natural ventilation strategy is opening windows to create a cross-wise breeze.
  • Fans — Fans circulate air in a room, creating a wind chill effect that makes occupants more comfortable. Fans for cooling come in a variety of options, including ceiling, table, floor and wall-mounted.
  • Whole house fans — These fans pull air in through windows and exhaust it through a home’s attic and roof. To ensure proper sizing and safety, professionals should install whole house fans.

Get more cooling tips from the Department of Energy.

And when all else fails, do what my brother, sister and I did to survive the heat growing up: Run through a sprinkler, eat a popsicle, or sing the entire Amy Grant “Heart in Motion” album into a blowing fan so you sound like a singing ‘90’s pop-star robot, taking “staying cool” to a whole new level.


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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