Friday, November 18, 2011

Solar Energy Expansion

Solar energy is becoming an increasingly popular solution for US homes and industry. While other sectors have suffered in this economy, solar is continuing to grow and expand its market. And since the technology is becoming more sophisticated, this expansion is not surprising. For some information about how much it is expanding, here is a some info from
Solar system prices are becoming far more competitively priced as the consumer and business demand for solar power soars. It’s safe to say the solar industry is just heating up in the United States.
Today, the solar industry is one of the few bright spots in the U.S. economy. Last year, the industry grew an astounding 69%, making it one of the fastest growing sectors in the nation as noted by the Solar Energy Industries Association. In the last two years, the number of Americans working in the solar industry has doubled to more than 100,000 employed.  
Solar energy has become cost-competitive with grid-supplied electricity, helping to positively impact our domestic energy supply and the U.S. economy as a whole. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of new jobs are being created across the country. Chapel Hill’s own Strata Solar LLC is doing its part locally by creating jobs for over 60 construction and installation workers and engineers through a variety of state-wide, utility-scale solar projects just this year. Strata has installed 10MW of solar energy systems across the state this year, and forecasts an astounding 30 megawatts and an even stronger hire rate in 2012.
 “Americans are beginning to adopt renewable energy in their own personal savings and are seeing the value it creates for our economy,” says Markus Wilhelm, CEO, Strata Solar. “The solar industry will no doubt continue to progress and remain significant to the growth of our country going forward.”
For the full article, click here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Energy Efficient Windows

One of the most important ways to make your home more energy efficient is to upgrade your windows. Energy Star rated windows will make sure that the warm, heated air will stay inside this winter instead of leaking to the outside. There are some additional benefits to Energy Star windows though, here are a few more from
Get Comfortable
Comfort. It’s the essential quality of home. ENERGY STAR qualified windows, doors, and skylights do more than just lower energy bills — they deliver comfort that other products just can’t match.
On cold winter nights, do you avoid seats near the window? The cold, inside surface of an inefficient window pulls heat away from your body, so you can feel chilly in a sweater with the thermostat at 70 degrees. With ENERGY STAR qualified windows, the interior glass stays warmer, so you can enjoy your window seat even when the temperature outside dips well below freezing.
Do some of your rooms feel like a sauna in the summer? A standard double-pane window allows approximately 75 percent of the sun’s heat into your home.1 With ENERGY STAR qualified windows you can stay cool all summer long. Most ENERGY STAR qualified windows reduce the “heat gain” into your home more than typical windows do, without reducing the visible light. You get the light you need without the uncomfortable heat.
1 Source: Residential Windows. Carmody, Selkowitz, Arasteh, and Heschong. 2007.
Protect Your Valuables
Drapes, wood floors, a favorite photograph: all these things can fade or discolor after repeated exposure to direct sunlight. Whether their value is monetary or sentimental, you want to protect your belongings from fading and discoloring.
ENERGY STAR qualified windows have coatings that keep out the summer heat and act like sunscreen for your house, protecting your valuables from harmful, fading ultraviolet light without noticeably reducing visible light. These special coatings reduce fading by up to 75 percent.1
1 Source: Residential Windows. Carmody, Selkowitz, Arasteh, and Heschong. 2007.

For more information, visit the Energy Star website.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How Forced Air Heating Works

You have probably heard the term forced air heating before, but do you really know how it works? Forced air heating is a very popular heating method that is used throughout the country. Here is an explanation from a Houston heating contractor of how it works:
The truth is that a forced air heating system is simply a heating system that distributes heat throughout your house using air to carry it. In this type of system, heated air travels through a system of ducts and is expelled through vents into the different rooms and areas of your home in order to maintain a particular temperature. That temperature, of course, is whatever you set your thermostat to, and when the desired temperature is reached, the heat will shut off until the temperature drops down again.
Many forced air heating systems are remarkably energy efficient and can effectively keep you home comfortable all winter long. Additionally, they are generally made to be incorporated with central air conditioning systems for year round temperature control. Heat pumps are especially convenient in this way, as they’re able to both heat and cool your home depending on the season and your home comfort needs.
For more information, check out the full article.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Heating Cost by Fuel Type

Have you ever wondered exactly how much it would cost to use another heating source? For instance, would it be worth the initial expense to change for oil to gas? Or maybe it would be better to switch to a pellet stove? In order to answer these questions, an article on InspectAPedia has developed a table that compares the average cost of various fuel types:

Table 1 - January 2009 Comparison of Current Energy Costs per BTU for
Heating Oil, Natural Gas, Firewood, Pellet Stove Fuel, Propane, Coal
Heating FuelHeat Content in BTUs
Unit Cost
Cost / 1000 BTUs
Notes on Formulas & Fuels
Home Heating Oil
140,000 BTUs/Gal
HC = 140

UC = 2.00
1.42 cents
Price varies by time, season, economy, locale
Natural Gas
1029 BTUs/Cu. Ft.
HC = 1.029
$7.00/1000 Cu. ft.
UC = 0.7
0.68 cents
Price varies by time, season, economy, locale.
Firewood150,000 BTUs/Cu. ft.
HC = 150
$75/face cord

UC = 6.46/Cu. ft.
4.30 cents
BTUs vary by wood type, condition, design of wood heater. A face cord is 4' x 8' x 16" of wood tightly stacked = 42.6 cu. ft.
About $50./face cord in Dec 2008 in MN
A full cord 4' x 4' x 8' = 128 Cu. ft.
about $150. in Dec 2008 in MN, more in NYC
Electricity3413 BTUs / KWH
HC = 3.413

UC = 0.11
3.22 cents
1 KWH = 3413 BTUs.
Cost/1000 BTUs = $0.11 / 3.413 = .032258
Propane   in process
Pellet Stove Fuel8200 BTUs/pound
HC = 8.2
$225 / Ton1.4 cents$225. per ton of pellet fuel, 70% efficient. 50 40-pound bags per ton, or 60 40-pound bags per skid. One bag of pellet fuel burns for 24 hours in a typical pellet stove. $225 / 2000 (pounds per ton) = 11.25 cents / pound. .1125 / 8.2 = .0137
Coal   In process
Assuming xx-sized coal for use in coal stoves used as interior heat source, not coal fired furnaces or boilers which use pea coal.
Formulas Used [1]
(UC / HC)
* 100
Unit Cost (UC)__ x 100 = Heat Cost per 1000 BTUs
Heat Content (HC)

See notes above for specific fuels.

For the full article and methodology, visit the website.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Space Heater Safety

Space heaters are a good way to supplement your main home heating system, but they can be dangerous if not utilized properly. The main thing to remember about space heaters is to only use them occasionally and to keep them away from anything flammable. WOLX had some other good suggestions:
"You have the weather coming in, and most people haven't thought about their heating devices, whatever it may be. The space heaters, or the regular heating in the house, or the fireplaces. And they haven't done the maintenance that we suggest that they do," Harrison County Fire Marshal Pat Sullivan said.
Though that maintenance may seem tedious to some, it could very well save your life.
"Those kinds of things can cause fires. If the wires are frayed on your space heaters, if you put the space heaters too close to other things it could burn, such as clothing or wood. Those things, those common sense things. Just get everything away from your space heater," Sullivan said.
Making sure all the elements in the device are working is also a good idea. If you've had a space heater for several years, it might be a good idea to replace it. Still, it's not all about space heaters.
"Using extension cords for the space heaters, using extension cords anywhere in the house is not recommended. Short term, for a few minutes, use it and then unplug it. But to leave it on all the time and use it for your heating devices, that's dangerous," Sullivan said.
Naturally, you'll want to be comfortable and warm in the frigid temperatures. Just remember that safety is of the utmost importance.
For the full article and some more safety tips, click here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Are You Switching to Wood?

Many Americans are turning to wood to heat their homes because of rising gas and oil fuel cost. However, many older wood stoves and fireplaces emit a lot of pollution into the air, as well as heating your home inefficiently. If you are choosing the burn wood, it is best to look into a newer wood or pellet stove that is EPA ceritified. An article in the Tuscon Citizen talks about this new trend:
“The access to cheap wood made a difference,” says Walton, a carpenter who lives on heavily forested land in Keene, N.H., where he chops his own fallen or dead trees.
“It saves us a bundle,” he says, adding his wood stove can manage all winter with just two cords because he added insulation and good windows to his tidy, 1,300-square-foot home.
As energy prices rise, and winter approaches, more Americans are turning to wood to heat their homes, some hurrying to cash in on tax credits for efficient stoves that expire next month.
This upswing is prompting federal officials, concerned about the health and environmental impact of burning wood, to update 23-year-old certification criteria for stoves and set the first requirements for outdoor wood boilers, which heat water that’s piped into homes.
“We are not in the business of telling people how to heat their homes,” says Alison Davis of the Environmental Protection Agency, which plans to propose the new rules next year. But if they want to burn wood, Davis urges them to buy an EPA-certified stove and operate it properly so no smoke gets inside the house.
She says boilers are “significantly more polluting” than wood or pellet stoves because they have short stacks and use 10 times as much wood. Even so, she says those meeting the EPA’s 2007 voluntary standards are 90% cleaner than older ones. “The technology has improved for wood stoves,” Davis says, as has the research on the dangers of wood burning.
Wood heating’s upswing
The number of U.S. households heating with wood rose 34% nationwide from 1.8 million in 2000 to 2.4 million in 2010 — faster than any other heating fuel, according to Census data.
“We’re seeing a rise mainly in states with high oil and gas prices,” most notably in Michigan and Connecticut, says John Ackerly of the Alliance for Green Heat, a nonprofit group that promotes wood stoves.
“It’s a combination of rising energy prices and the economic downturn,” he says, adding low- and middle-income households are much more likely than others to use wood for primary heating. In rural areas, he says many cut their own wood and in the suburbs, they get it free when trees fall.
He expects wood will become more popular this winter, citing the projected rise in household heating costs. Compared to last winter, heating will cost 3% more with natural gas and 8% more with oil this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Retailers are gearing up. U.S. shipments of pellet stoves, considered the most efficient way to burn wood, jumped 59% in the second quarter of this year, compared to the same time last year, and pellet fireplace inserts rose 72%, according to Leslie Wheeler of the the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, an industry group.
“We’re expecting those numbers to continue to increase,” Wheeler says, because of high fuel prices. She says the tax credits expiring this year — up to $300 for EPA-certified stoves — are not as generous as in 2009 and 2010 when they covered 30% of the cost, up to $1,500. She says many cost $3,000 to $4,000 with installation.
For more info, you can read the full article here.