Five must-haves for the energy-efficient home

By Mary Ripley on  July 13, 2017

The most important feature of an energy-efficient home may be a resident with good energy conservation habits: such as turning off lights in an empty a room, etc. But if you’re really serious about bringing down your household energy usage, take note of the following essentials. (If the cost savings from these investments isn’t enough incentive, remember that you can claim the cost of the first three improvements on this list for federal tax credits as part of the America Taxpayer Relief Act.)

Efficient heating and cooling equipment

If your HVAC system is 10 years old or older or isn’t working properly, consider an energy-efficient replacement. No matter how you maintain climate control – furnace, boiler, geothermal heat pump, central air conditioner – an energy-efficient version is available. Just look for the Energy Star rating.

By the way, a home’s central air conditioner usually operates using the blower motor from the furnace. If you replace your air conditioner unit with a more energy-efficient version and attach it to your old furnace, you will diminish the new system’s effectiveness. (Any energy-efficient HVAC component can be claimed for a tax credit!)

Energy Efficient Windows

If your home has older windows, as much as 25 percent of your heat and cooled air could be escaping through them. You can reduce air leakage by weather stripping movable parts of your windows and doors and caulking the gaps and cracks in stationary parts. But, if you want to have a real impact on your energy bill, replace those drafty windows and energy-efficient ones. The investment will pay for itself and then some. And don’t forget the tax credit!

Proper Insulation

Energy experts call the barrier between the inside of your home and outdoors the “thermal envelope.” Walls, doors and windows are all part of that envelope, but the most critical components may be the home’s insulation and the caulk and weather stripping used to seal up gaps and cracks.

Your home should be completely blanketed – exterior walls, floors and ceiling/attic – with the right type of insulation. No matter what variety you use (batt, blown-in, sprayed/injected or rigid) be sure it is properly installed to achieve its full energy-saving potential. Yes, insulation installation is eligible for the tax-credit!

Programmable thermostat

A programmable thermostat allows you to set your HVAC system to work only when you need it without having to constantly adjust the thermostat. By taking the time to program it, you can set it to lower the heat or air conditioning after you leave and turn it back up just before you arrive home. This can save as much 30 percent on your energy bill.

Often, these gadgets are like little boxes of unclaimed cash hanging on the wall. It is estimated that about half of the households with programmable thermostats do not use them properly – or at all. If that sounds like you, or you aren’t sure how to operate your programmable thermostat, consult your thermostat owner’s manual (or, chances are you can find instructions online). If your thermostat isn’t programmable, consider exchanging it for one that is.

Energy Star lighting and appliances

The Energy Star program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency labels products as Energy Star rated when they are proven by a third-party certifier to be highly energy efficient and, as a result, less expensive to operate.
Look for the Energy Star rating on products including light fixtures, ventilation fans, and major appliances including refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines and dryers.

Sources:
www.energystar.gov (U.S. EPA)
www.nrel.gov (National renewable energy laboratory of Department of Energy)

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Kitchen Appliances, Ranked: Best to Worst

By Mary Ripley on  July 6, 2017

Your kitchen is full of a variety of gadgets to cook your meals with, however some will take a toll on your energy bills more than others. We’ve compiled a quick list ranking common kitchen appliances from best to worst based on the amount of energy they generally consume when cooking the same food.  

microwave

1. Best: Microwave- They’re quick, convenient and you probably own one. Microwaves use the least amount of energy and can heat just about anything in a few seconds, which makes them the best energy-efficient appliance in your entire kitchen.   Close up of a slow cooker working on kitchen shelf    

2. Slow Cooker- Slow cookers are a great solution for recipes that require several hours of cooking. In fact, using a slow cooker on low for 8 hours uses the same amount of energy as using an electric oven for one hour. They also help retain moisture for foods that could easily dry out or get burned on other appliances.  

black toaster oven on natural background

3. Toaster Oven- Toaster ovens are essentially a regular oven, except smaller and more efficient. They’re best for cooking small servings for food that you would typically cook in a regular oven, like pizza slices, French fries, and garlic bread. They cook your food just as well with no pre-heating necessary.     

4. Stovetops: Stovetops aren’t the best for retaining heat, and since they’re part of a larger appliance they generate a lot of energy. When using a stovetop make sure that you’re using the proper pans and skillets for your burners to minimize heat loss and help you waste less energy.

Stovetop  

5. Worst: Oven- Ovens are the biggest energy hogs in your entire kitchen. While ovens are necessary for some foods or large batches, they should be used sparingly. They waste a lot of energy just to pre-heat, they’re large, and they typically have to be used for long periods of time. The combination of these factors makes them the worst appliance in your entire kitchen!

Empty open oven

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Common questions about energy aggregation and NOPEC

By Mary Ripley on  July 6, 2017

What Does Energy Aggregation Mean for Ohio Residents?

chalk board with shape of ohio - Energy Aggregation = Energy savings

Ever since energy was deregulated more than 15 years ago and energy aggregators came on the scene, Ohio residents have naturally had a lot of questions and concerns. Because NOPEC’s communities’ interests are, by extension, our interests, we want our members to be as informed as possible when making decisions in the energy marketplace. ­To that end, we’d like to address some of the concerns our residents have raised.

Does energy aggregation cost tax payers’ money?

Although NOPEC is a council of governments, NOPEC’s operations are not funded by government or by taxes. We’re actually funded by the energy suppliers we buy from.

Here’s how that works. As an energy aggregator, we buy from one electric company and one natural gas company for hundreds of thousands of customers. Because we buy for so many customers, we’re able to negotiate fair, stable prices. The energy companies that we choose to buy from benefit, too. They don’t have to worry about attracting, signing, or retaining customers—all of which eats into their profits when they market to individual consumers. In exchange for cutting out these costly processes, they offer our customers better terms and conditions and a wider array of products, and they give us a small operational fee.

Are energy aggregators just out to increase their profits?

NOPEC is actually a not-for-profit organization. We contract with energy suppliers on behalf of our communities, but we don’t make any money for our services.

NOPEC was created in 2000 after Ohio’s energy market was deregulated in 1999. Before 1999, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) regulated energy prices and consumers could not choose their own suppliers. Deregulation created a competitive energy market.

After energy was deregulated, several local northeast Ohio governments came together to aggregate, or combine their purchasing power to choose electric and natural gas suppliers on behalf of their communities. This was the beginning of NOPEC.

Why am I automatically added into the NOPEC program unless I actively opt-out?

If you live in a NOPEC community, that means your community voted to be included in NOPEC. Here, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) explains the steps a community must take to become part of government energy aggregation. However, even if your community voted to aggregate, individuals can still choose not to participate and to instead buy from private energy suppliers.

NOPEC’s electric customers receive opt-out forms every three years and natural gas customers receive them every two years. All you need to do is fill out this form and send it in, and there are no fees for opting out during the opt-out period.

There’s a major benefit to being part of an opt-out (rather than an opt-in) aggregation. The larger the buying group, the more buying power it has. It is difficult to make a sufficient number of residents aware of opt-in aggregations in their communities, so opt-out aggregations are usually much larger and their members (like you) see more benefits.
Full length portrait of happy men and women with hands raised against white

Why is my neighbor’s bill cheaper than mine even though I’m a NOPEC member?

There could be a number of reasons private energy suppliers sometimes have cheaper rates than NOPEC, but not all of those reasons mean NOPEC is not the best option for you.

Private energy suppliers often offer low introductory rates, but these rates eventually go up. When reviewing an offer, read the terms and conditions to see how long the rate is promised as well as other factors in the offer that might affect your energy costs down the road.

Rate stability is another issue you should note. NOPEC never offers gimmicks or short term rates. And because we are a non-profit, we aren’t focused solely on the bottom line. We focus on long-term energy savings

We have energy experts who understand the industry. They look out for our communities and consumers to negotiate better terms and conditions and make sure our members aren’t charged unfair amounts in fees from the energy companies.

If you have any more questions about NOPEC, take a look at our FAQs or contact us on Facebook or Twitter.

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How to Compare Energy Offers

By Mary Ripley on  July 6, 2017

Mail or phone offers from gas and electric companies can be confusing. How to compare energy offers is one of the most commonly asked questions we hear at NOPEC. Answer these questions to make informed choices when choosing your energy supplier.

Know Who You Are Doing Business With

Is the company a government aggregator or a company with local roots? How long have they been doing business in Northeast Ohio? Does the company have a good reputation? Is the company’s offer sponsored by a non-profit organization like NOPEC or only by a for-profit entity?  

Reviewing the Offer

What is the rate? How long is the rate good for? What happens after the “Special Offer” period? What is the length of the contract? Does the contract automatically renew?  

Check the Terms and Conditions

Read the fine print to find out the terms and conditions. How do you need to enroll to qualify for the offer? Online, by phone? How long do you need to be a customer until you get the reward? Is there an early termination fee? How much is it?  

Is the Offer Really the Best?

Don’t take their word for it. Compare the offer to similar offers in the market to make an informed choice. Be sure to compare contract lengths, the renewal process, early termination fees and rates. To compare energy offers to NOPEC's pricing, check out our electric and natural gas pricing pages.  

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Open the windows: It’s easy and breezy

By Mary Ripley on  June 29, 2017

A great way to keep your home cool as Indian summer and fall approach is to simply open up the windows.

Wind-driven natural ventilation works by way of a phenomenon known as the chimney effect.

Cooler air will naturally blow through open windows and, consequently, the warmer indoor air will be drawn out of open windows on the leeward–or downwind–side of your home via a vacuum effect. This creates the sensation of a cooling breeze in the room where you’ve opened the fall windows.

Using natural ventilation will not only drive down your energy bills but will, also, save you wear and tear on your cooling system.

Funneling fresh air through your home can help to improve indoor air quality and, subsequently, the health of the occupants, according to Breathing Buildings Ltd.

Also, consider using windows to control the temperature of the room when it gets colder out, as well. Opening a window just a crack can go a long way toward keeping the overall room at a desirable temperature.

If you are interested in improving your home or business so you can take fuller advantage of wind-driven natural ventilation, you can visit Energy.gov to learn how changes in landscaping can help cool or heat your home more efficiently.

Investing in different landscaping is often a one-time expense that brings about a lifetime of energy savings.

Give a big group hug to Mother Earth: Share this information with your friends to help them save on their energy bills, too.

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Saving energy in the summer heat

By Mary Ripley on  June 23, 2017

Summertime in Northeast Ohio is a long-awaited friend. But it comes with a price, literally. In summer, the average household spends nearly as much to cool the home as it does for all other home-related energy uses combined. So before you blow up the beach ball, get your home ready to handle the heat as efficiently as possible.

Put your windows to work. At night, when the temperature dips, turn off your air conditioning and open your windows. Close them in the morning to trap in the cooler air. Install window coverings, like blinds or shades and keep them drawn during the hottest part of the day to block out heat.

Tame your thermostat. Raise the temperature on your thermostat when you are going to be away and lower it again when you return. A programmable thermostat makes this a lot easier and more efficient. Set it to lower the temperature ½ hour before you arrive home so it will be comfortable when you get there.

Don’t try to cool the yard. Cool air seeping out through gaps in your windows in the summer can devastate your energy bill just like wind whistling in through those gaps in the winter. Use weather stripping to seal off leaks in doors and windows. If you use window-unit air conditioners, be sure they fit snugly in place. Plug any openings around the unit where air can escape.

Give your cooling system a hand: Schedule maintenance for cooling equipment in late spring just as you do for your furnace at the end of fall. Clean your air conditioner filters once a month by running water through them and letting them air dry.

Keep heat-producing appliances, like lamps and televisions, away from your thermostat. Otherwise, it will think the air is warmer than it is, and your cooling system will work harder than necessary. Maximize the airflow in your home by making sure all vents are open and no furniture is blocking them.

If you have window air conditioning, try to keep the unit out of direct sunlight and make sure that it has plenty of airflow. It will work much harder to get rid of the heat if it is in the sun or a tight space.

Cool it old school. Before you seal up the windows and crank up the air conditioning, ask yourself if you can get by without it. You might be surprised at how comfortable you can make your home with fresh air and a few strategically placed fans.

To pull hot air out of your home, place fans blowing outward in windows that face away from the prevailing wind. To bring air in, turn the fans around to blow inward and place them in windows that receive a breeze and are near shaded outdoor areas. No matter which way the fan is facing, be sure windows on the opposite side of the house are open to create a cross breeze.

It’s summertime. Why are you heating your home? You may not realize it, but that is exactly what you are doing if you are burning incandescent bulbs, using your clothes dryer, baking casseroles and running your dishwasher.

Only 10 to 15 percent of the energy used by incandescent bulbs produces light. The rest generates heat. If you haven’t already switched to energy-efficient bulbs, now may be the time.

Consider drying your dishes in a sink-side dish rack and hanging your laundry outside to dry. Plan cold salads and sandwiches for dinner a few nights a week, and make good use of your backyard grill. That’s what summer is all about anyway, right?

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How Can You Tell if You Can Save Money with NOPEC?

By Mary Ripley on  June 22, 2017

The Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council (NOPEC) is a non-profit organization of more than 200 local governments that purchases electric and natural gas services for consumers in its member communities. Because NOPEC has so many members, we have more bargaining power than individuals to negotiate low prices with energy suppliers. (Think of it like buying in bulk).

For this reason, NOPEC is able to offer lower electric and gas rates than about 95% of energy suppliers. How can you tell if NOPEC is the lowest in your area?

Compare Rates

Before you choose an energy supplier, you can compare rates apples-to-apples using our natural gas and electric rate comparison tools. Have your current energy bills handy to enter your current rate and energy usage.

Keep an Eye on Your Energy Bills

With everything else you have going on, you probably don’t take the time to read your energy bills every month. But if you’re not a NOPEC member, your rates could fluctuate drastically without your realizing it.

For-profit energy suppliers often start you with an introductory discounted rate, but this rate is not permanent. You may think you’re saving money only to find out a few months later that your energy bills have skyrocketed.

Why NOPEC is Different

NOPEC is a not-for-profit government organization, so our goal is to protect consumers and save them money. We have the lowest rates about 95% of the time, and even when we don’t, we can promise you consistency that the for-profit suppliers can’t.

NOPEC Gives Back

NOPEC also gives back to the communities it serves, helping members reduce energy waste. With community outreach programs like the NOPEC Energy Bike, we work to inform consumers about energy conservation. We have also given more than $16 million in grants to our communities for energy efficiency projects, and our Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing (PACE) loan program helps businesses finance energy efficiency and renewable energy improvement projects.

Not sure if you’re a NOPEC member? These example gas and electric bills show you where you can look to find out.

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How to Get Your Kids to Help You Save Energy This Summer

By Mary Ripley on  June 19, 2017

Summer is here, which means the kids are out of school and at home. Time to get ready for your utility bills to skyrocket, right? No way! Just because your kids are on summer break doesn’t mean you'll have higher electricity bills. Get your kids on board with helping you save energy this summer by using these simple tips. Not only will these tips help you save money on your energy bills, but you’ll also teach your children that saving energy can be fun!

1. Adjust your thermostat: If your kids aren’t active indoors, adjust your thermostat. Air conditioning can account for up to half of your energy usage every month! Instead of keeping your home ice cold in the summer, just leave your thermostat at 75°. This is a comfortable temperature when relaxing indoors. Imagine how much you’ll save just by adjusting the temperature just a few degrees.

2. Get a pool:  If the kids start to complain about being hot, get either an inflatable or hard- sided portable pool for them to play in. Not only will this cool them down (so you can keep your thermostat at an affordable temperature), it also gets them out of the house and having fun!

3. Install thermal curtains: When hot sun blares into your windows all day, it can quickly warm up your house to uncomfortable temperatures. It also makes your A/C work harder! Sun-blocking thermal curtains are affordably available to help you control the amount of hot sun pouring into your house. Enlist your kids to help you install the curtains, then give them responsibilities to open and close them depending on the times of day.

4. Designated snack time: Opening and closing refrigerator doors all day can suck up so much energy. In order to avoid high energy bills because of your kids’ indecisive hunger cravings, designate a snack time. That way, your kids aren’t constantly opening and closing the refrigerator all day to find something to eat.

5. Black out time: Kids can get bored easily in the summer if they’re not being engaged. And many times, being engaged involves using electronics (watching TV, playing video games, etc.). More electronics usage means higher energy bills for you. To help save electricity, start an electronics black out time and encourage your kids to play board games or do something creative, like painting or writing. Not only will you save on your electric bill, but you’ll also foster their creativity.

6. Grill Out: Nothing is more miserable than turning on your oven and heating up your house in the summer when you’re already hot. So get out and grill! It will save your A/C from working overtime to cool down your oven-warmed house.  Get the kids involved in helping you prepare and cook dinner. You can also teach them how to grill.

7. Hang Your Laundry Drying your laundry in a dryer will not only warm up your house, it also consumes lots of energy. Take advantage of the warm and sunny days by naturally drying your clothes and hanging your laundry outside. Make sure you get your kids involved, to show them that you don’t have to use unnecessary energy when doing your laundry.

8. Tell Your Kids to Keep You Accountable: Saving energy takes commitment from the whole family. Tell your kids that they should let you know every time you leave a light on in an unused room or leave a door open when the air conditioning is on. You can even make a game of it by giving them some incentives to keeping you accountable, like taking them for ice cream for every 5 times they’ve “caught” you wasting energy.

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DIY Toilet Tank Trick

By Mary Ripley on  June 16, 2017

Using common items around your home, you can reduce the amount of water used in your toilet, and your toilet tank.

Toilet Tank

All you need to do is to fill plastic bottle with sand or small rocks.

Water Bottle with rocks

Remove the cover of your toilet tank and place the bottle in the water (don’t worry this water is clean!).

Toilet Tank Demo

Toilets automatically stop flushing when the water in the tank reaches a certain level, but they are typically more full than necessary. By displacing the water with a heavy object, your toilet will work normally while using less water.

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Simple Bathroom Renovation Ideas

By Mary Ripley on  June 13, 2017

Inexpensive DIY Bathroom Ideas

Renovating your bathroom to be more energy efficient doesn't always have to be expensive. By using a few common household items you can give your bathroom a sleek and chic update that you'll love.

Upcycling

Various painting equipment on green wooden background

Upcycling is taking items that you don't want anymore and reusing them for a different purpose. By upcycling you can create new furniture and accessories for your home by using items you already have. For example, you can use a mason jar as a toothbrush holder, braid strips of old T-Shirts and towels to create a new rug, hang baskets on the wall for storage, or weave plastic grocery bags together to make a waste basket. You can paint these items to give them a fresh new look. Take a look at what your already have sitting around your home and get creative, and check out your favorite craft website for step-by-step instructions.

Spray Paint

set of metallic aerosol spray cans isolated on white background

Sometimes all you need to update your bathroom is a new accent color. Spray painting your faucet, light fixtures, doorknob, cabinets, and light switch covers using rust-proof paint can change the look of your entire bathroom while saving money. Use dark matte paint for a modern look, metallic gold for a trendy aesthetic, and fun pastels for a colorful look kids will love.

LED Rope Lighting

Macro Close Up of Twisted and Messy LED Light Rope

LED lights are great because they use less energy than standard bulbs, and rope lights are flexible enough to be used just about anywhere. Put an unexpected twist in your bathroom by stringing LED rope lights under your cabinets, around your mirror, and even under your cabinets. It will provide additional light and add a creative touch.  

Light Bulb

Remove Light Bulbs

It's possible to have too much light in your bathroom, which can drain your energy bill. If you feel like you have too much lighting, try taking out a few existing lightbulbs. If your bathroom is too dark after removing the bulbs, consider switching to LED bulbs.

 

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Bathroom Energy Saving Investments

If you're willing to make a big investment to save energy, consider these tips to help get you started on making your bathroom more energy efficient in the long run.  

Upgrade Your Bathroom Appliances

Shawer head with flow of water spilling out on blue background

Installing a high-efficiency showerhead and faucets, as well as a low flow toilet, can reduce the amount of excess water wasted in your bathroom. A high tech appliance that you'll use daily, helps the environment, and reduces utility bills is money well spent!  

Add Natural Light

Large master bathroom, corner bathtub with window, walk in shower, sink and large mirror, tile floor and tub area

If possible, consider installing a window or skylight in your bathroom. They help cut down on energy usage and will provide natural light in your bathroom all day long.

By using these suggestions, you can enjoy the look of a new bathroom without the hefty price.

             

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