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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Stovetop challenge: Induction versus gas

Fall is here. Time for soup, stew and chili. But before you start your simmer, consider that how you heat your pot could impact your energy bill.

Most stoves have ...

Tagged: oven, stove, induction, soup, heat, gas, cooking

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Stovetop challenge: Induction versus gas

Soup pots on stovetop

Induction cooking is gaining steam. See how it stacks up against the competition when it comes to energy efficiency.

Key Points

  • Soup weather is here.
  • How you cook your soup could impact your energy bill.
  • Induction heat uses less energy than gas.

Fall is here. Time for soup, stew and chili. But before you start your simmer, consider that how you heat your pot could impact your energy bill.

Most stoves have a gas or electric range. But induction cooking is gaining steam, and Paul Scheckel of Home Energy Pros put induction cooking to the test for energy efficiency.

His test was simple. See how much energy was used to boil a pot of water using gas versus induction.

Here’s how Co.Exist explained his results:

“For gas, Scheckel’s 7,000 BTU burner boiled the quart of water in 8 minutes and 30 seconds. That works out to 992 BTUs of energy.

“The 1,300-watt induction cooker boiled the quart in 5 minutes and 50 seconds, which is a little more convenient, but it did it using 0.126 kilowatt-hours of electricity, or 430 BTUs of heating energy. Scheckel compares this to a theoretical 100%-efficient method, which would use around 317 BTUs.

“The induction cooker used 430 BTUs, and gas used 992 BTUs. That’s a pretty big difference. A big part of this efficiency is the induction method itself, which effectively turns your pot or pan into a heating element, whereas gas (and conventional electric hotplates) makes heat which in turn heats the pot. And as we know, gas also heats the room, which is a big waste of energy. In fact, many professional kitchens have switched over to induction precisely because it doesn’t heat the kitchen directly, making it more comfortable for the chefs, and requiring less power to cool the kitchen back down again.

“Whether or not induction saves you money will come down to the cost of gas and electricity in your town, but the energy saving is quite clear.”

Now pass the soup, please. 


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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Three (more) reasons to fire up your grill this weekend

It’s hard to beat the flavor of pretty much anything cooked on a grill. But if you need even more motivation to become a grill master, consider how energy efficient outdoor cooking ...

Tagged: energy efficient, grill, heat, air conditioning

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Three (more) reasons to fire up your grill this weekend

It's Grill Time!

Your summer cooking can be energy efficient -- and extra tasty.

Key Points

  • Grilling is a great way to save energy.
  • No dishes means no energy spent running the dishwasher or heating water.
  • It keeps the heat outside instead of warming your house with the oven. 

It’s hard to beat the flavor of pretty much anything cooked on a grill. But if you need even more motivation to become a grill master, consider how energy efficient outdoor cooking is.

Here are three reasons to fire up the grill this weekend:

  1. It beats the stovetop or oven — Grills use less energy to run than their indoor competitors.
  2. It keeps the heat outside — Your air conditioner will thank you for not filling the kitchen with hot oven air.
  3. Less cleanup saves energy too — Grilling frees you up from washing the pots and pans you’d use for an oven-baked meal, saving the energy you’d spend to run the dishwasher or heat water.

If you’re still not convinced, check out these grilling tips from our friends at www.projectevolve.com. Pizza on the grill? These are my kind of people.


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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Unlikely source of energy: Coffee

Coffee is always there for me. It starts my day off with a smile. It gives me an afternoon pick-up when I’ve been up all night with a sick kid. It’s delicious.

And ...

Tagged: coffee, recycled energy, electricity, heat, recycling energy

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Unlikely source of energy: Coffee

coffee latte art

Two students in Copenhagen were no doubt hyped up on the magical elixir when they noticed that far too much heat is wasted when they sip their cup of joe.

Key Points

  • Coffee. It’s magical.
  • Not only does it make mornings better, it could make electricity.
  • Lost heat from your cup of joe could be recycled into energy. 

Coffee is always there for me. It starts my day off with a smile. It gives me an afternoon pick-up when I’ve been up all night with a sick kid. It’s delicious.

And now, it might also help make electricity.

Two students in Copenhagen were no doubt hyped up on the magical elixir when they noticed that far too much heat is wasted when they sip their cup of joe. Think about that hot mug with beautiful ribbons of steam coming off the top. All that heat could be made into electricity.

So those students made a device called the “Heat Harvest.” It’s a pad that sits on your table or can be built right into your furniture. It recycles all that heat — whether from your coffee, a casserole out of the oven or even your warm laptop — and makes it into energy.

The technology is still in the experimental phase, but if successful, the applications could be endless. Many of our devices like game consoles and televisions put off heat, and this could help capture some of that wasted energy.

Thanks, coffee. As if I needed another reason to love you more. 


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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Black Hills customers, keeping energy affordable by letting the sun shine in

Nothing makes us geek out more than good energy-saving advice. So when one of our Black Hills Energy customers shared an efficiency tip of his own, we were thrilled.

Martin ...

Tagged: solar, heat, Energy, Energy Information Administration

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Black Hills customers, keeping energy affordable by letting the sun shine in

Sunny window

Nothing makes us geek out more than good energy-saving advice.

Key Points

  • Let the sun shine in!
  • 42 percent of your home's energy usage goes toward space heating.
  • Our customers know how to keep energy affordable.

Nothing makes us geek out more than good energy-saving advice. So when one of our Black Hills Energy customers shared an efficiency tip of his own, we were thrilled.

Martin Foxwell of Castle Rock, Colo., lives in a house that gets plenty of exposure to the sun—particularly through the windows facing south and west.

“I make a point to open all of our blinds that face the sun, and leave them that way during the day, whether we’re home or not,” Martin said. “By late afternoon, the temperature throughout much of the house is 5 to 10 degrees higher than it would be otherwise.”

Even better, the warmer temps linger into the night, decreasing slowly and keeping the furnace from kicking in until early morning. “It really is amazing how forceful the sun is,” Martin said.

We agree. And why not use that force to help heat your home and cut energy costs? After all, the Energy Information Administration will tell you that if you’re the typical homeowner, 42 percent of your home’s energy usage goes toward space heating.

Hearing what Martin had to say made us wonder what else our customers do to keep energy affordable.

Tell us, what’s your best energy-saving advice?

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Heating up the cold

In my house, the onset of winter means baking cookies and turning up the heat to keep my babies warm. I don’t even think about the intricate system it takes to get natural gas ...

Tagged: Ukraine, heat, energy assistance, Black Hills Cares

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Heating up the cold

There are one million total refugees and at least half of them are scattered throughout Ukraine.

Key Points

  • Families in Ukraine might not have heat this winter.
  • The government can’t help, so churches are stepping up to help.
  • Unfortunately, many buildings still won’t be ready for the cold winter

In my house, the onset of winter means baking cookies and turning up the heat to keep my babies warm. I don’t even think about the intricate system it takes to get natural gas from the ground to my furnace.

But imagine that the system we take for granted didn’t work. For those of us in the Midwest, that would probably be a life-or-death situation.

That’s also what’s happening in the Ukraine. Many families in Ukraine are facing the possibility of not being able to heat their homes this winter. Russia is shutting off Ukraine’s gas supplies, and much of the gas infrastructure has been damaged in the fighting that’s gone on there.

My husband’s cousin Jill Nelson covers Ukraine for World Magazine and happens to be on the ground there right now. I sent her an email, and here’s her take on the energy situation:

“This is a picture I took three days ago of kids at a camp in Slovyansk, Ukraine. Since they are staying at a summer camp, they do not have the heat necessary for the cold winter months. Already, it was about 35 degrees there so the problem is urgent. There are one million total refugees and at least half of them are scattered throughout Ukraine. The government is not helping with the problem as they are strapped for resources and corruption is rampant so churches are on the front lines of solving this problem of winter housing. One church in Skovyansk is desperately trying to prepare an old Soviet Building so they can move the 100 plus refugees into warm housing but it will not be done in time. They do not have the funds ($6 to $8000 per month) to heat the one summer camp building that is winter prepped so they are concerned at this point.”

The next time I complain about trying to keep my kids entertained indoors during the cold winter months, I’ll remind myself to be thankful about how amazing it is to have heat in our home.

If the thought of someone going without heat this winter tugs at your heart, there are a lot of ways we can help families right here at home. Most utilities have programs you can give to that will help someone in need stay warm. Check to see if your utility statement has an option to donate to help pay for someone else’s bill. Or, visit www.211.org to connect to a variety local programs that help local people in need. 

You can follow Jill on Twitter at @worldnels for more on what’s happening in Ukraine.  

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Does my fireplace help us save energy?

I’m no Ann Landers, but thankfully I’ve had a few readers comment with their energy questions.

So, here goes my first “Dear Sarah” response.

Dear Reader:

Thank ...

Tagged: fireplace, wood stove, heat, EPA

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Does my fireplace help us save energy?

According to the EPA’s website, a wood-burning fireplace is an inefficient way of heating your home.

Key Points

  • Fireplaces and wood stoves are not energy efficient.
  • Here are tips to make them as efficient as possible.
  • Look for new, energy efficient stoves to provide heat and charm. 

I’m no Ann Landers, but thankfully I’ve had a few readers comment with their energy questions.

So, here goes my first “Dear Sarah” response.

Dear Reader:

Thank you for asking if your wood-burning stove is really saving energy and money.

No.

Sincerely,

Sarah, Energy Mom

Maybe it’s this third cup of coffee after a night of being up with baby Annie, but I really crack myself up. Then again, I laughed out loud when Goofy asked for a “meeeskateel” instead of a “mouseketool” this morning. It might be time to leave the house for some adult human interaction. Anywho, here’s the full answer.

According to the EPA’s website, a wood-burning fireplace is an inefficient way of heating your home.  Fireplaces provide less heat to your home, since most of the heat goes out the chimney.  They also do not burn as cleanly as EPA-certified wood stoves — polluting 20 times the amount of an EPA-certified stove. 

But sometimes I just need a cozy crackling fire. If that’s the case for you too, here are a few guidelines:

  • If you’re using a wood stove manufactured before 1990, consider replacing it. These older stoves waste firewood, pollute the air in your neighborhood, and create dust in your home.
  • Avoid using your fireplace as a primary heat source. It’s less efficient than using a furnace.
  • Expect the other rooms in your home to be cooler. Most of the warm air in your home will get sucked up with the draft.
  • Use a lighter kit. These can be added to your existing fireplace and will make it easier to light a wood fire and provide a more efficient start up.
  • Burn dry wood. Wet wood can create excessive smoke which is wasted fuel.
  • Check your chimney for cracks every year. Repairing cracks will make your fireplace more efficient.

In general, fireplaces and wood stoves have more value for their charm than their heat.

And now, I’m off to a much needed mom’s night out. I refuse to let Goofy set the bar for humor. 

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Read this to get 16 percent happier instantly

Last winter was hard. Today I got to take the kids to the park, but last year at this time, we had already endured a huge snowstorm. And winter just kept going. And going. Moms throughout ...

Tagged: heat, Energy

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Read this to get 16 percent happier instantly

U.S. households in all regions of the country can expect to pay lower heating bills this winter because temperatures are forecast to be warmer than last winter and that means less demand for heat.

Key Points

  • The Energy Department is predicting a warmer winter this year.
  • That means we’ll spend less to heat our homes.
  • Do the happy dance.

Last winter was hard. Today I got to take the kids to the park, but last year at this time, we had already endured a huge snowstorm. And winter just kept going. And going. Moms throughout the Midwest searched for activities to keep our kids entertained inside. Homemade playdough? Check. Big cardboard box made into a playhouse? Double check. A little too much Mickey Mouse Clubhouse? Guilty.

So when I saw the headlines this week that home heating costs are likely to be cheaper this winter, I have to admit that while the cost savings are certainly good news, I was equally excited that the Energy Department is predicting a warmer winter. Sixteen percent warmer in the Midwest, to be exact.

“U.S. households in all regions of the country can expect to pay lower heating bills this winter because temperatures are forecast to be warmer than last winter and that means less demand for heat,” said Adam Sieminski, administrator of the United States Energy Information Administration and my new best friend.

Those of us who rely on natural gas for our heat can expect a decline of about 5 percent. Those using heating oil will spend 15 percent less, and those of you who heat primarily with electricity will save about 2 percent. Propane users will save 34 percent.

These savings are due to a one-two punch: warmer temps mean we need to use less, plus increased production of oil and natural gas in Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and several other states is leading to lower prices for energy overall.

So don’t let the winter-is-coming blues get you down. It looks like we may just have a bit of sunshine — and extra cash — to keep us going this season. 

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