Best Energy Efficient Freezers 2011


Searching around for the best energy efficient freezer for your home? Good idea.

If you’re considering buying a new freezer, look for an Energy Star-approved model. They use less energy to power them, so they help the environment and save you money on your utility bills.

The Energy Star program recommends that when you purchase a new freezer, you choose a manually-defrosting model, as they use less energy than automatically-defrosting models. Also, buy an appropriately-sized model that fits your needs. Larger-capacity freezers need more energy to keep cold, so if you don’t need a lot of space, get a smaller model. Freezers also use less energy when they are full than when they are empty. And choose a chest freezer over an upright freezer, as the top-mounted door allows less cold air to escape.

Most energy-efficient freezers
Summit model CF11ES

This list was compiled in May 2011 from data on the Energy Star website, and models were ordered by percentage of less energy each consumes, compared to the mandated energy usage for a unit that size. Some of the most efficient are small, refrigerator/freezer combos, but we only list dedicated freezers here.

Please note that entries with asterisks (*) denote characters in the model codes that deal with color, or other factors that have nothing to do with energy use.

10. Danby DCFM425WDD** freezer

This is a 14.8-cubic-foot model with an insulated cabinet and lid. It will defrost manually and has an easy-access drain. Energy Star estimates that it will use 354 kwh of power a year. This model is 11% more efficient than standard units of this size. It costs $580. Continue reading “Best Energy Efficient Freezers 2011”

How to lower your heating cost: 5 DIY tips

Would you rather: a.) Shovel out your driveway after a big snowstorm or b.) Pay your utility bills in January? Unfortunately, most of us don’t actually get to choose whether or not to pay our utility bills – that is, if we want to keep coming home to a warm house this winter. However, you can choose to perform some DIY upgrades in your home that will at least help you lower the amount of money you’re spending to heat your home this winter.

Here are five energy efficiency improvements you can make to save money on your utilities and lower your heating bill:

1. Seal your ducts

The Problem: Many older duct systems were originally sealed with duct tape, which can break down overtime, creating air leaks in your ductwork. This causes two problems. First, it significantly decreases the overall efficiency of your HVAC equipment, especially if your ducts are located outside of your living space (i.e. in a crawlspace or attic). The second problem is that dust and other pollutants can get into leaky ducts and irritate existing health problems such as asthma and allergies.

The Fix: Sealing leaky ductwork isn’t a DIY project for everyone because it can involve bending into uncomfortable positions in small, dirty spaces. That said, for those who are ready to take it on, you’ll need to purchase a bucket of duct mastic and fiberglass tape. Apply a thin layer of mastic at the duct joints and then wrap the tape around the ducts. Once the tape is in place, apply another layer of mastic to seal around the joint completely.

2. Change your furnace filters

The Problem: Air filters, as their name suggests, filter air as it is being pulled in through your return vents to keep any dirt out of your furnace. However, if these filters are dirty, it restricts airflow and the furnace has to work harder, which reduces the overall efficiency.

The Fix: Change your furnace’s air filters once a month during the months you’re using your furnace. This will help reduce the energy your furnace consumes to heat your home. If you feel like your air filter doesn’t get dirty, you may want to have it looked at by a qualified technician because the return air may be bypassing your filter, which means all of the dirt and grime is reaching the interior of your furnace.

3. Seal up air leakage in your “exterior shell”

The Problem: When you’re paying to heat the air in your home, you don’t want it to be seeping out through the gaps in your home’s exterior shell (i.e. exterior walls, windows, doors, attic, basement), only to be displaced with cold, and sometimes wet, air.

The Fix: Some of the simplest areas to seal up are the leaks found around windows and doors, and doing so doesn’t cost a lot of money. You can use caulk around trim and other areas without movable parts. For areas of windows and doors that do need to open and close, you can use weatherstripping or door sweeps. Another problem area that is easy to fix is exterior wall outlets. You can purchase and install outlet insulators, which are installed behind the outlet plate so you don’t even notice them.

4. Cover your windows

The problem: Old or single-pane windows can be a real problem in cold climates. While poor quality windows can cause major comfort issues, they’re also really expensive to replace and usually have a slow return on investment. However, there are ways to improve your current windows without replacing them.

The Fix: One of the easiest and most affordable ways to make your windows more efficient and make your home more comfortable (besides caulking and weatherstripping) is to install a temporary clear plastic film over the windows. You can purchase a kit that includes plastic and double-sided tape, and then all you’ll need is a hair dryer and a pair of scissors. After putting the tape around your window, cut the plastic to the right size. Finally, gently blow hot air over the plastic until it is tight around your window. Be careful not to get the blow dryer too close to the plastic because you might create a hole, and then you’d have to start all over, which is never any fun. Adding this layer of plastic is like adding a storm window, and it can help stop air leaks in the window frame.

5. Install a programmable thermostat

The Problem: When you’re in a rush to leave the house in the morning, it’s easy to forget to turn down your heat. And when you do remember, coming home to a cold house can be really uncomfortable, which may cause you to overcompensate by turning the furnace way up.

The Fix: By installing a programmable thermostat, you can program a temperature schedule for the weekdays and weekends with your thermostat lowering just after you leave the house and heating up just before you get home. Before installing your programmable thermostat, make sure to turn off your electricity. As for the installation, make sure to read the instructions carefully and to install it on an interior wall away from any heater vents.

Where to start?

A great way to figure out what areas to target in your home is have your house checked out by a professional energy auditor who can test your home and give you recommendations on energy efficiency upgrades. If you’d like an idea of what an auditor might be looking at and recommending for you home, check out EnergySavvy.com’s free online energy analysis. Not only will you get a list of energy saving recommendations, but the analysis will also tell you how much money you may save on your utility bills by making the upgrades.

You may also be eligible for energy rebates from your local utilities and a tax credit from the federal government for the improvements you make on your home. To find out what incentives are available in your area, check out EnergySavvy’s list of energy rebates. These rebates may also help you prioritize your DIY project checklist.

Anne Maertens is the marketing manager at EnergySavvy.com. She enjoys blogging to help further EnergySavvy’s mission of making energy efficiency easier for homeowners.

Bloom Box: a practical, clean energy solution for homes?


Photo via CNET.

Like many people, I just started hearing about the Bloom Box from Bloom Energy. It isn’t the first time that 60 Minutes has come up with a story about some type of miraculous energy source that seems too good to be true.

Indeed, free energy scams are as old as energy itself!

But here’s why the Bloom Box isn’t actually a scam. It doesn’t ever claim to be a device that creates free energy. It’s just a fuel cell device that makes ultra efficient use of methane or natural gas to generate electricity cheaper and cleaner than buying it from the grid.

And look who is actually using these devices right now:

http://www.bloomenergy.com/customers/

Wal-Mart, Bank of America, Google, Staples, Ebay, FedEx and others. These are real companies, using a real, functioning device.

Makes you wonder things like, how well would it run on propane? Could you power an entire house off the grid? And how long would the propane last?

Would it be cheaper and/or cleaner if you have a natural gas hookup at your home to use a Bloom Box to generate your electricity instead of getting it from the grid?

How much will they cost for one suitable for a house? What will the payback time be in years?

Want to learn more about the Bloom Box?

The Bloom Energy official web site is starting to offer more details about the device, now that they are actively seeking out media coverage.

CBS 60 Minutes had a segment about the Bloom Box.

CNET has also been covering the Bloom Box, and even live blogged one of their media events.

Readers, do you have anything interesting to say about the Bloom Box?

News that has nothing to do with Election 2008


Photo courtesy of ecupaintingguild at Flickr.com.

With all the news coverage focused on the election, there are a lot of important and/or awesome things that have escaped attention. Here’s a quick overview of environmental news that’s worth following:

First off, it’s common to get a craving for pumpkin pie around this time every year. But it would take hundreds of people to eat a pie made from this enormous 1,900 lb pumpkin. This behemoth is expected to set a new record for giant pumpkins (a record that has grown bigger every year in recent memory). Maybe this is the monster that Charlie Brown’s been waiting for.

I’m sure that pumpkin wasn’t grown naturally, but no one tried to stick an organic label on it at the store. On the other hand, some businesses have been caught making false environmental claims to sell their products. It can be challenging to tell greenwashed products apart from their legitimate green competitors, but one way to make informed choices is to research the companies involved. Many large companies now publish yearly ‘Corporate Sustainability Reports’ that describe their environmental track record. Corporations are also assigning a dedicated board member to oversee environmental performance. Many of the pro-environment changes that companies are adopting also contribute to the bottom line, and make great economic sense while money is in short supply.

On a related note, the credit crunch is slowing down plans to build new wind farms. Even though wind power accounted for about a third of all new power capacity built last year, the credit climate is making it really hard to line up investors. Wind energy is also running into some problems of scale. Windy days in Washington state are causing salmon deaths in a weird series of unintended consequences. As the wind picks up, wind turbines generate more and more electricity. The excess electricity floods the transmission lines, and automatic controls kick in to shutdown other sources of power. In some cases, this causes hydroelectric dams to idle their turbines and dump water over spillways. If only there was an efficient interstate transmission system, or a better way to store electricity, this whole chain of events could be avoided.

But what if we lived in a world without any need for a power grid? Bloom Technologies is trying to create a lower pollution future based on efficiencies of micro-scale. With small fuel cells, the company hopes to eliminate power loss from transmission lines and bring electricity to the third world. As a bonus, they are designing fuel cells that produce hydrogen as a byproduct – that waste gas could be used to warm homes and fuel vehicles.

Whether cars burn hydrogen or gasoline, tailpipe emissions are pretty much inevitable. This waste product has something that is surprisingly useful though – untapped energy in the form of heat. Researchers are developing new thermoelectric systems that can harvest electricity from tailpipe emissions. If they can keep cost and weight to a minimum, these devices will likely be incorporated into a wide range of hybrid vehicles to boost mileage. The energy recovery isn’t 100 percent, but it can really add up to a serious boost in efficiency:

GM researcher Jihui Yang said a metal-plated device that surrounds an exhaust pipe could increase fuel economy in a Chevrolet Suburban by about 5 percent, a 1-mile-per-gallon improvement that would be even greater in a smaller vehicle.


Photo courtesy of fensterbme at Flickr.com.

Queen of England plans array of offshore wind turbines, including biggest turbine ever built

Her Majesty -FLA
Photo courtesy of ceebee23 at Flickr.com.

The Queen of England once enjoyed direct rule over 2/3 of the earth’s surface. Her personal authority is a bit less these days, but she still has control over the territorial waters of Great Britain. And, with the backing of the Crown Estate, Queen Elizabeth II can afford to do some really impressive things in her domain. Like building an array of offshore windmills, including the biggest individual windmill in the world.

Her Majesty’s windmill will produce 7.5 megawatts, which is more than twice as much as the previous record holder (GE’s 3.6 MW Offshore Turbine). The company that’s producing the turbine is Clipper Windpower, based in California. They have a proven history building monster wind turbines – including the largest turbine built in the US: the 2.5 MW Liberty Turbine. Details are still being worked out about where the giant wind turbine will be produced, and how it will be shipped to England.

The average British person uses 10-15 kilowatts per day (half of the average American energy consumption), which means that on a windy day this monster turbine will meet the needs of roughly 500-750 people. And the British Crown plans to build multiple turbines, all far out to sea. Many will be invisible to people on land, but the biggest windmill in the world will be nearly 600 feet tall and should be visible for about 18-19 miles.

Windmill array -FL
Photo courtesy of yakkerDK at Flickr.com.

The right power cords save power and money



Photo courtesy of abrunglinghaus at Flickr.com.

Many of us have a blind spot for extension cords. We tend to treat these power cables as interchangeable parts, but not all extension cords are the same.

Length is important. The longer the extension cord you use, the more energy is lost in transmission. If you only need to add 5 feet, it doesn’t make any sense to use a 100′ cord!

The thickness of the wire is also important. Thin cords lose power faster, and they can also heat up dangerously with heavy power loads. When using extension cords, it’s important to make sure that the wire is thick enough to safely and efficiently conduct electricity. Wire thickness is often referred to as “gauge”.

Gauge numbers are rather tricky. Even though it seems counter-intuitive, thicker wires have a low gauge, and thin wires have a high gauge. Many power cords are available in 18, 16, 14, and 12 gauge sizes. Of these choices, 18 is the thinnest and 12 is the thickest. Thicker wires are generally more expensive, but they can save substantial amounts of electricity. Thick electric wire can also handle higher amperages than thin wires without bursting into flames. That’s good to know if you want to avoid burning your house down or melting your tools.

So, know your cords! Pay attention to cord gauge and length, and they’ll pay you back with a reduced electric bill.



Photo courtesy of ClintJCL at Flickr.com.

Eco news of the week


Photo courtesy of
Brooklyn Bridge Baby at Flickr.com.

Here are five big environmental stories that you might have missed this week:

1) Saudi Arabia is planning for a future without gasoline. The Kingdom is investing in education and hopes to develop new industries and exports that will supplement oil in the near term and replace it in the long term.

2) Small is big. Due to rising energy costs and environmental awareness, architects are finding a surprising demand for smaller homes.

3) Have you heard of CarbonRally.com? It’s a carbon calculator site that’s different from the hundreds of other calculators out there. Instead of focusing on environment harms, the site reinforces good behavior with instant feedback about the progress you’ve made. After all, even minimal impact can be discouraging to focus on.

4) Speaking of carbon – Al Gore and T Boone Pickens are both pushing aggressive energy plans. These gentlemen, who come from very opposite sides of the political spectrum, are stressing that carbon free electricity is more than an environmental issue. They opine that moving away from coal and oil will make a huge difference in the US trade deficit, bolster national security by increasing energy independence, and position American companies to prosper against global competition.

5) Did you know that the Prius fails Georgia’s Vehicle Emissions Test?

Eco News Roundup: 5 Quick Environmental News Stories


Photo courtesy of
wallyg at Flickr.com.

Here are a few quick stories that you might have missed last week:

First off, many different newspapers, tv shows, and blogs have discussed how high gas prices are discouraging people from driving their cars. Well, another factor is at work in many big cities – high parking fees are also encouraging people to conserve gasoline. For both of those reasons, we’re seeing record levels of use for public transport, carpool lanes, and bicycles.

Also, the weak economy is making it difficult for many families to afford organic food. If the high price of groceries is keeping you from enjoying organic produce, the article includes a guide to choosing which foods are most important to buy organic.

Across the nation, electric prices are on the rise. In Texas and Pennsylvania, deregulation of the electric markets may be partly to blame for high energy prices.

Speaking of Texas, the Lone Star State has taken a big step to develop more wind energy. This is a big development, because Texas is a huge electric market and the Texas Interconnection is one of only 3 electrical regions in the US.

Ford, GM, and Chrysler are all seriously re-thinking their offerings for next year. For car designers, low-Carbon is “in”.

Coal Gasification is taking off in China


Photo courtesy of jbrussellphoto at Flickr.com.

China emits a staggering amount of carbon dioxide (more than the United States by some accounts), and the future will bring even more CO2 production from inside the Great Wall. According to several chemical companies, coal gasification is surging in China.

China offers fast-track permits and relatively easy financing as well as “cheap labor and minimal regulations” — factors that allow coal conversion plants to be built quickly and at 2/3 to 1/2 the cost of a similar project in the U.S. or Europe.

Coal gasification is a process during which steam and oxygen are injected into coal turbines to produce a cleaner burn. With this technology, it may be possible to double the efficiency of coal power plants (they currently operate at only 20-35% thermal efficiency). Theoretically, this higher efficiency would reduce the amount of coal we consume to fill our needs, which would extend the world’s coal supply and reduce pollution along the way. The improved efficiency of these power plants means less coal is required per watt of energy, but without regulatory pressure the efficiency of these plants may lead to the use of dirtier, cheaper forms of coal.

The potential environmental benefits to gasified coal include easier containment of pollutants, the ability to use bio-mass instead of coal, and the production of hydrogen during the gasification process. Yet, many of the green aspects of this technology require an incentive for companies to take advantage of them. Without hydrogen cars on the road or a cap-and-trade system for CO2 in place, there are few incentives for the gasified coal plants to capture these waste products.

In China’s current regulatory environment, gasified coal plants are simply bigger, more profitable pollution machines. If pollution controls are lacking, then the environmental effects will be felt beyond China’s borders. The average Chinese citizen is beginning to be affected by runaway levels of pollution, but the environmental movement is only just now gathering momentum in China. This is a country where agitating for change can be very dangerous, and arguing against “progress” is considered counter-revolutionary.

In the face of all this, China’s growing economy is creating an increasing demand for electricity:

Already, China uses more coal than the United States, the European Union and Japan combined. And it has increased coal consumption 14 percent in each of the past two years in the broadest industrialization ever. Every week to 10 days, another coal-fired power plant opens somewhere in China that is big enough to serve all the households in Dallas or San Diego.

So, there’s a good and bad side to this news. China is ramping up its production of CO2 faster than most people expected, but the new gasified coal plants in China may lead to technological advancements that will spread to other countries. In the coming years, perhaps America will be able to adapt green technology that was pioneered in China!


Photo courtesy of mykmyk at Flickr.com.

ps; Coal Gassification is not the same thing as Coal Liquefication. Here are some thoughts on Coal Liquefication and what it means for our gas tanks.