Monday, December 8, 2014

FROZEN: When Your Furnace Dies in December!

Let’s assume that Disney’s hit film FROZEN wasn't really the intended decorating theme for your family’s tree trimming party. In the midst of all of your holiday festivities, imagine that your furnace suddenly dies. Goodbye, old friend. Finito! 

The situation quickly becomes complicated because your furnace is so old, it’s really not worth repairing. A new furnace must be installed immediately, but there’s not really enough time to carefully research all of the options. It’s a big decision, plus it's a significant financial commitment. Remember, a furnace is like a serious relationship that you hope you can count on for at least the next 15 - 20 years. 

Talk about shopping under pressure! Suddenly FROZEN has become your unexpected holiday theme and it’s not really all that sparkling and glorious. Your family is freezing and you need to take action immediately. 

The Energy Experts feel your pain are here to share some helpful tips when shopping for a new furnace

Proactive Maintenance: When your furnace has suddenly stopped working, no one really wants to hear the “I told you so” lecture. Yet it’s true, because each and every year we recommend pre-winter furnace maintenance. Before those winter winds start howling, ensure that your furnace is operational and safe. Have your furnace inspected by a professional who will change the filter, check for leaks and unhealthy gases. It’s a good time to have the furnace ducts cleaned, too. If there is a problem with your furnace, it’s better to know about it in advance of winter’s first snowfall.

Whole House Energy Audit: As a homeowner, you may eventually need to replace your furnace. This could be due to the age of the furnace or the desire to increase your home’s energy efficiency. This is a perfect opportunity for a whole house energy audit conducted by a professional. A quickie “clip board” audit offered by a furnace sales person is not likely to deliver unbiased information. A whole house energy audit looks at the performance of your home in its entirety. Follow along with the energy auditor and learn about the importance of insulation and sealing air leaks. Make informed decisions about the type of heating and cooling your home needs based on a professional whole house energy audit. 

Furnace Size Matters: Furnaces are a bit like Goldilocks’ options of too small, too big and just right. A furnace that’s too small simply won’t do an adequate job of heating and cooling your home. A furnace that’s too large cycles off and on too frequently, wasting energy, straining components and creating uneven temperatures in the home. Choosing the correct furnace size is best determined by a professional who will also factor in issues such as climate, construction and overall design of the home.

Efficiency Matters: Gas is currently the most common heating fuel. Heating efficiency is rated on how easily a furnace converts gas into heating energy. The rating system known as AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency) calculates efficiency into a number that indicates how much heat the furnace can wring from each therm of gas. The higher the AFUE number, the more efficiently the furnace is functioning. By law, the lowest efficiency rating allowed is 78% and the highest efficiency is rated at 97%. The cost of purchasing a new furnace is linked to its efficiency, therefore the most energy efficient furnaces command top dollar. This cost is offset by energy savings over time and that varies by your climate, how well your home is insulated and local utility costs. Keep efficiency in mind when you are shopping for a new furnace. Remember, it’s a long term relationship!

The Energy Experts and Pro Energy Consultants wish you and your family a warm and cozy holiday season!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thanksgiving Tips for Saving Energy in the Kitchen

Thanksgiving is certainly one of our most beloved national holidays. Whatever your circumstances might be, each year Thanksgiving reminds each of us to take a moment to express our gratitude. Many families go the extra mile and celebrate Thanksgiving by serving the elderly, infirmed or homeless from the community. 

Despite religious beliefs, food preferences or feelings about football, most of us appreciate sharing Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family.

Another aspect of Thanksgiving that’s great, is that everyone is free to make of it what they will. Make it a formal candle-lit dinner with Grandma’s best china and polished silver. Go ahead and create your own tradition by skipping the turkey and go vegetarian.  Involve your neighbors and co-workers in the creation of an eclectic contemporary buffet where everyone brings their favorite dish to share. How about going for the gusto and trying the “turducken” this year? Whatever your choices might be, everyone will be thankful for sharing a holiday meal together.

While creating this fun, festive and delicious Thanksgiving dinner, most of us also need to keep an eye on holiday expenses.  The Energy Experts want to remind you that energy costs are a significant household expense and your kitchen comprises about 15% of that monthly bill. The Energy Experts aren't going to share their secret green bean casserole recipe with you, but they will share the following tips on reducing unnecessary energy usage.

Stop peeking and keep that oven door closed! Every time you open the oven door the temperature drops by 25 degrees. This fluctuation in temperature extends the cooking progress.

Temperature control. If you are cooking something for longer than an hour, pre-heating the oven is not always necessary. Use a freestanding oven thermometer for greater accuracy. If your stove is electric, you can usually turn off the oven or cooktop off 5 – 10 minutes early because it retains residual heat.

Cookware is important. Ceramic and glass dishes hold the heat better than metal pans, so you can usually set the temperature 25 degrees lower. Copper bottomed pans heat faster. Retire any dented, wobbly metal stovetop cookware. If it’s not making full contact with the heating surface, it’s not efficient. Also, don’t be wasteful by using a small pot on your largest burner.

Give your furnace the day off. If you are cooking all day, you can probably turn down your home’s thermostat since the kitchen will be generating extra heat. Not to mention having a crowd of people in the dining room will require less heat from the furnace.

Clean the burners. If you have an electric range, ensure that the stovetop is working efficiently by keeping the burner reflectors grime-free. Regular cleaning can decrease cooking time.

Invite your crock pot and slow cooker to the party. Putting these other cooking appliances to work instead of the oven and stovetop can mean significant energy savings. Also, use a warming plate and the microwave. All of these devices use less energy than an electric stove.

Energy efficient appliances. Chances are likely that you won’t be rushing out to buy a new stove before Thanksgiving. However, when you do take the new appliance plunge, remember that the Energy Star seal of approval guarantees a higher level of energy efficiency. When it comes to stoves, convection ovens require 20% less energy than a standard oven. Self-cleaning ovens use less energy because they are better insulated. It’s also recommended that you use the self-cleaning feature immediately after using the oven to save time and energy because the oven is already heated. Reconsider running that second freezer or refrigerator because it can cost you up to $700 over the next 5 years. Remember to properly recycle used appliances.

The Energy Experts and Pro Energy Consultants wish each and every one you a wonderful and energy efficient Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

If TV Was Real Life, How Would Those Characters Fare as Energy Users?

Lots of us eagerly look forward to the beginning of the fall season. Warm days, cool nights, colorful foliage, snuggly woolen sweaters and the beginning of the new fall TV season! TV? Yes, for some reason the new TV season still manages to generate a ripple of excitement for many of us. Maybe there will be something new and as memorable as The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, All in The Family, Friends, I Love Lucy or The Sopranos? Well, as they say Hope Springs Eternal!

The Energy Experts were recently discussing their favorite TV shows of all-time. Yes, we periodically watch TV! We envisioned some classic TV characters as contemporary homeowners and consumers of energy and here’s how we ranked them: 

Tea Time at Downton Abbey: The Dowager Countess of Grantham will be the first to remind us that “Nothing succeeds like excess.” An army of servants was always busy polishing silver, waxing the banisters and preparing the family for three complete changes of clothes before tea time. Quite excessive, but at least the Grantham family kept most of the county gainfully employed. How would you rate Downton Abbey as a manager of resources?

Ranking: On a scale of 1 (the lowest) to 5 (the highest), we would rank the Grantham clan as a 2. Hey, it was a different era and people still waxed their banisters!

Kramer Installs a Hot Tub: Remember the Seinfeld episode when Kramer installed a hot tub in his living room? While taking a soak, Kramer falls asleep and the heat pump breaks so he mistakenly has an industrial strength heat pump installed in his apartment. What a surprise when the heavy duty heat pump shorts out all the power in the building. How would we rate Kramer as a savvy shopper and energy-conscious apartment dweller?

Ranking: Sorry Kramer, it looks like a 1 for your clueless selection that negatively impacted your neighbors.

Tony Soprano Saved by Noisy Ductwork: Anyone who was a committed Sopranos viewer will remember Tony conducting sensitive business meetings while standing below the ductwork in his basement. Why? Because the Soprano home was a 6,000 square foot residence that seemed to require five central air conditioning units to keep things super chill for the mob boss and his family. The noise of the powerful air conditioning system obscured his secretive business conversations until the FBI figured it out and planted surveillance devices in the basement. How would we rate Tony Soprano as an environmentally aware mobster and waste management company owner?

Ranking: Sorry, Tony – we are giving you and your monster HVAC system a 1 for being an energy hog.

Breaking Bad Takes Meth Pollution on the Road: Walter White clearly gave his new business venture some serious thought when he started the meth lab in an RV instead of using his family home for a production center. Being a chemistry teacher, Walt knew that he didn’t want to mess with his home’s indoor air quality by cooking meth in the kitchen. Unfortunately, his side-kick Jesse was quite a bit less informed. Remember that messy episode with the hydrofluoric acid in the bath tub? How would you rate Walter White as a chemistry teacher who is concerned about his family’s health and indoor air quality issues?

Ranking: Congratulations, Mr. White – we are giving you a 4! As a chemistry teacher, we respect that you use your knowledge to spare your family the toxic effects of your meth lab business. Kudos for your indoor air quality concerns. Sorry, Jesse – you will probably always be ranked as a 1 for your poor decision-making skills.

Modern Family and the Eco-Competitive Neighbor: This big extended California family is always dealing with the issues of the day. Remember the episode when Mitchell tries to “out-green” his sanctimonious environmentalist neighbor? Yes, the neighbor who boasted that he spent four days solar-roasting a chicken.  Let’s not forget that he quizzed Lily about her dollhouse being constructed from sustainable materials. He also launched a bomb about disposable baby diapers. How do you think Mitchell stacks up next to the eco-competitive environmentalist neighbor who has alienated everyone he encounters?

Ranking: We rank Mitchell as a 4 for his green efforts.

Share Your Votes with Us!

Do you think we were too hard on Kramer? Do you think Jesse Pinkman will evolve into a more thoughtful eco-conscious citizen? How would you vote?

We would love to hear from you. Cast your votes in our comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Back to School: Lessons on Environmental Conservation

Now that it’s September, the kids are back in school and focusing their attention on the “three Rs.” In addition to the essentials of “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic”, some schools are adding a fourth R. The fourth R stands for respect.  From the perspective of the Energy Experts, respect should not be reserved exclusively for people, but should include the entire planet.

As a teacher, parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or committed community member, we encourage you to help educate our next generation of environmental stewards. Helping to instill conservation-minded values in children won't happen without some work.  Use less, do more!

The Energy Experts are here to share information on engaging tasks that will inform young people about the importance of energy conservation.  In addition to being educational, these tasks can make valuable and cost saving improvements to your home, school and classroom.  The important message that children (and adults!) can take away from the experience is that every contribution is important and together we can make positive changes to improve the planet.

To get in the spirit, consider turning some of these tasks into a friendly competition with an eco-friendly prize for the winner. For example, create a month-long contest to see who can recycle the most paper; collect the most cans; or cut their home’s energy bill the most.

Start with the following changes:

Turn off lights when you’re done with them. Don’t waste resources by lighting an empty room—save energy and money!

Don’t leave doors to the outside open for longer than necessary. Hot and cool air escape quickly. Energy is a valuable resource, don’t let it get away!

Computers use energy. Don’t forget to power manage your technology equipment.  Put inactive computers into sleep mode and completely shut down equipment at the end of the day.

Get on board with ENERGY STAR products. When shopping, look for the ENERGY STAR label. ENERGY STAR products use less energy than others.

For every light bulb that burns out, replace that old bulb with a CFL or even better: an LED!

Don’t waste water by leaving the faucet running when you brush your teeth. Do you know how many states are currently experiencing a severe drought? Wherever you live, remember that water is precious and takes energy to clean it, so don’t waste it!

Recycle! Don’t forget to put paper, plastic, glass and cans in the proper recycling containers. Never throw away what can be recycled! The more we reuse things, the less we damage our planet.

Use both sides of a piece of paper before throwing it away. It takes energy to make paper, so don’t waste it!

Limit your transportation needs by carefully planning your route to school, shopping and errands. Instead of using the car, take the bus, ride a bike or get some extra exercise and walk.  Remember, vehicles burn fossil fuels, which contribute to global warming. The less we use, the better it is for the planet.

Pick up litter. We want to keep our planet beautiful, clean and green!

Here are some helpful links for more conservation activities:

CleanUp the World Weekend involves over 35 million worldwide volunteers.
Join in as a family or school group on September 12-14.

October is National Energy Awareness Month. Be sure to follow Pro Energy Consultants on Facebook and Twitter for daily information on energy conservation tips.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Perfect Time for an Energy Audit is When Your Are Buying or Selling a Home!

Many homeowners schedule an energy audit during the winter months when energy bills are going through the roof yet their home is barely warm.  Others call an energy specialist in July when sweltering temperatures make it too miserable to sleep. The air conditioning system seems to be working overtime, but it’s still too hot in the baby’s room. Those are all good reasons for an energy audit, but you might be overlooking another important opportunity. Surprisingly, it’s when you are buying a home!

From the Buyer’s Perspective

Buying a home is certainly the biggest investment most of us will ever make. Let’s say that after looking at numerous properties, you finally find your dream house. The next step is the home inspection. We encourage you to go the extra mile and arrange for an energy audit, too. By spending just a little bit more time and money on an energy audit, you can save yourself a lot of money in energy costs over the long haul of home ownership.

Consider this scenario. The energy audit might reveal that your dream house is in fact an old school guzzler of energy. It can still be the home of your dreams, but the energy audit will enable you to better understand what upgrades need to be made. With this additional information you can create a plan and be more financially prepared.

Although energy audits and HERS (Home Energy Rating System) have been available for years, it’s not a familiar topic for many Realtors.  Buyers rely on the experience and guidance of their Realtor, but this might be a situation where the buyer needs to take the initiative. Remember that energy costs rank high on the list of continuous expenses for homeowners. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey indicates that utilities comprise 21% of our monthly household budget. That’s a serious chunk of change, so ask for an energy audit!

From the Seller’s Perspective

If you are selling your home, don’t think that buyers are the only ones who will benefit from an energy audit. If you have made energy efficient upgrades to the home you are selling, remember to present that information to prospective buyers. Based on energy costs, energy efficiency is a valuable aspect of the property you are selling. A study published in The Appraisal Journal revealed that for every $1 decrease in annual energy costs the market value of home increases by $20. To put that in perspective, if you knocked $300 off your annual energy costs that could increase the value of your home by $6000. Sellers should keep those numbers in mind and market their home accordingly!

The Times They Are a Changin’

Many industry experts believe that an energy audit contingency clause should be part of the home inspection process.  In fact, some towns are starting to make this a requirement. Since 2009, Austin, TX has been requiring sellers to conduct an energy audit and disclose the results before selling their property. The ordinance doesn’t require the seller to perform a retrofit; it simply delivers a “big picture” of the property to the prospective buyer. Why? Austin made a commitment to saving energy by encouraging the retrofits of homes through continuing energy efficiency outreach and education. The city assists home owners by identifying low-cost energy saving opportunities in addition to providing financial and technical resources. Austin, in addition to Seattle, San Francisco and New York, were amongst the first, but more cities are making a commitment to energy efficiency. Yes, the times they are a changin’!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Insulation: It’s Not Just a Cold Weather Topic!

If you are currently sweating it out in a hot and humid location, the topic of insulation might just leave you cold. Right? That’s exactly the point! 

The Energy Experts are here to remind you that insulation is just as important in the heat of summer as it is in the middle of a snowstorm.  Now that it's July, let’s take a look at why insulation is really important during the hot summer months, too.

·        Hot attic? Did you know that in the summertime, even a ventilated attic can reach a temperature of 140 degrees on a sunny day? Your grandmother would probably say, “You could fry an egg up there!”  And she would be right – 140 degrees is seriously hot. When there is inadequate insulation to buffer your attic from the heat of the summer sun, it can genuinely feel like an oven up there.  Once the attic has absorbed all that heat, it starts radiating downwards into your home.

·         Do you live in an older home?  Older homes can be long on character and charm, but sometimes come up short on energy efficiency. If you live in an older home, have you updated the insulation in your attic? Even if it was updated at some point in the past, insulation can slip, slide and fail over time. Insulation should periodically be inspected and replaced if indicated. Current standards for insulation in a moderate climate are R-30 to R-60 for the attic, R-11 for walls, R-19 for raised floors and R.42 for ductwork. Remember that air leaks and roof repairs must be completed before insulation can be installed.

·         Ductwork in the attic? Many homes have HVAC ductwork that runs through the attic. Unfortunately, the combination of inadequate insulation and attic ductwork can actually make the summer heat problem even worse. If you have air conditioning, you might assume that attic insulation isn’t an issue that concerns you. Unfortunately, it is definitely a problem for you, your home and your wallet! The heat in the attic is sucking all the coolness out of the ducts when it travels through the attic. The result is that warm air is continuously being recirculated into your living space. Additionally, if you live in a really warm climate you might want to consider adding a radiant barrier to your attic to further reduce summer heat gain.

·         How much are you spending on air conditioning?  Without adequate insulation, you are probably spending too much money for too little comfort.  Due to inadequate insulation, your air conditioner is working too hard trying to keep your house cool.  You end up with a situation where your air conditioner is running all the time, your home is never really comfortable and your utility bills keep getting higher.  A quick reminder – heating and cooling your home makes up 54% of your monthly utility bill and energy costs are predicted to rise 2% each year through 2040. Don’t keep spending more money on something that isn’t working.

Need some suggestions for beating the heat? There are a variety of cost-effective strategies that homeowners can use to keep their homes cool and comfortable this summer. This includes running heat-emitting appliances such as the dryer and dishwasher during evening hours when the temperature is cooling off. Also, consider installing a programmable thermostat, solar screens and awnings. Don’t forget to take advantage of venting and ceiling fans to keep air circulating. Plus, “go green” and create more shade around the outside of your home by planting trees and vines.

Don't forget to insulate! All of those suggestions really do help, but nothing makes a bigger difference than insulation.  Insulation creates a thermal barrier that keeps your home cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  Remember, insulation isn’t just a cold weather issue. You are going to reap the benefits of insulation twelve months a year!

Here is a list of other recent Energy Blog articles that help you stay informed about insulation, air conditioning and keeping your home comfortable during the hot summer months:

Friday, June 13, 2014

This Summer, Play it Safe with an Ounce of Prevention!

Each June, the National Safety Council celebrates National Safety Month by sharing information about a variety of health and safety issues.  National Safety Month also coincides with the beginning of summer fun, sports, barbecues, gardening projects and more. If you are already on the alert for family vacation and driving safety, we salute your preparedness, but let’s not forget that most accidents happen in our homes.

Home safety covers a long list of potential threats such as slip and fall accidents on stairs and in the bathroom; kitchen injuries; fires and electrical hazards; prescription drug and chemical accidents; and swimming pool accidents. Let’s not overlook tornados, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes! 

“An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure.” Truer words were never spoken, especially when it comes to home safety for you and your family. The Energy Experts have some tips for keeping your home a safe place this summer:  

·         Chilling Out: Air conditioning is an essential home appliance in some parts of the country, while it’s really a luxury item in other areas. If you will be relying on your air conditioner this summer, arrange for some preventative maintenance in advance by contacting a qualified HVAC professional. If you don’t have air conditioning, use tried and true cooling solutions such as window fans, attic fans and ceiling fans. Also, avoid using heat generating appliances such as your washer, dryer and stove during the peak heat times of the day. Plan summer menus to keep your kitchen cool. Don’t forget that planting trees near your home can provide welcome shade during the hot summer months.

·         The Long Hot Summer: Stay hydrated at all times and be aware of the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion. The elderly should take added precautions to avoid exertion on hot summer days. Also, never leave children or pets in the car on a hot day.  Remember to apply sunscreen and always keep infants out of the direct sun. For those suffering from asthma, COPD and airborne allergies, air conditioning can really provide health benefits.

·         Let There Be Less Light: Keep your blinds down and curtains closed to minimize direct sunlight that generates heat inside your home. When the air temperature cools down in the evening, uncover the windows. Let’s not forget that incandescent light bulbs are also heat generators, so there’s one more reason to switch to energy-efficient compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs. Also, keep your home safe and energy efficient with indoor light timers and motion activated lights in your yard.

·         Holy Smokes: Don’t forget that smoke detectors are a year round safety precaution. Safety statistics reveal that half of home fire deaths occur in the bedroom when residents are asleep. Be sure to install smoke detectors within 10 feet of each bedroom and never ignore those annoying “beeps” letting you know that the battery needs to be changed. And while we are on the topic, be sure you have a fire extinguisher at the ready should there be a problem with a barbecue flare-up or fire pit mishap.

Each month our Energy Blog features information on energy efficiency and indoor air quality for your home. Here is a list of other recent Energy Blog articles that help you stay informed about health and safety issues in your home:

Air Filters vs. Air Purifiers:One Keeps You From Sneezing, The Other From Getting Sick


Chilling Out: Tips for Air Conditioner Efficiency

Save Energy. Save Money. Save a Life ...?

Children & Indoor Air Quality

Trees: Making you healthy& saving you money!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Pittsburgh is No Longer a “Two Shirts a Day” Town!

A Typical "Two-Shirts a Day" Scene in  Pittsburgh
For those of us who grew up in dark and smoggy Pittsburgh, we can speak from first-hand experience about the positive changes in air quality over the past 40 years. Back in the day, our father wore a white shirt to his engineering office every morning and carried a second white shirt for the afternoon. The air was such a dense haze of polluted smoke that even a freshly laundered white shirt looked gray and grimy by lunch time.

Fortunately, that’s an old story.  Air quality has improved dramatically due to standards put forth in the Clean Air Act of the 1970’s. Each May, the American Lung Association supports Clean Air Month by sharing information about the importance of air quality and the negative impact pollution has on our health and well being.

Clearing the Air on Current Pollution Levels

For all of the great strides that have already been made in air quality improvement, the 2014 State of the Air  report card presents a mixed bag of air testing results from around the US. The good news is that many cities have really cleaned up their act in regards to reducing air pollution. The bad news is that some areas have actually gotten worse. Currently, over 150 million Americans live in areas with such dangerously polluted air that residents are at risk for heart disease, lung cancer, asthma attacks and chronic bronchitis. Infants, children, teenagers, outdoor workers, people over the age of 65 and those with diabetes, respiratory or cardiovascular disease are especially vulnerable to pollution-related illnesses.  Click here to see how your city measures up.

Clean Air Month Starts at Home

Remember, the average American spends 90% of their time indoors, so even small changes can benefit your family’s health. Take action with these suggestions for improving your indoor air quality:

·         Have your home tested for radon, the leading cause of lung cancer.
·         Be sure that any appliance that burns gas is vented to the outdoors.
·         Run an exhaust fan in the kitchen and bathroom.
·         Never leave your car idling in an attached garage.
·         Control moisture and humidity levels within your home to prevent the development of mold.
·         Avoid buying building products, carpets and furniture that off-gas inside your home.
·         Ditch the toxic cleaning supplies and go “green” when it’s time to clean.
·         Go natural and forget about those chemical air fresheners and artificially scented candles.
·         Leave the removal of lead paint and asbestos to the professionals.
·         If you are concerned that there is an air quality problem within your home, have a professional analysis conducted and don’t gamble with your health.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Earth Day celebrates its 44th anniversary on April 22nd!

Mainstream America probably viewed the very first Earth Day in 1970 as a hippie event that would only appeal to tree-hugger types living in geodesic domes. It’s hard to believe, but just forty years ago in the United States, our natural resources were being polluted and discarded like there was no tomorrow. Much of our wilderness was vanishing and wildlife was becoming endangered or lost forever.

In the 1970’s, the initial surge of environmental awareness was generated by public “teach-ins” that educated citizens about the looming crisis of environmental problems. Over a relatively short period of time the environmental movement gained momentum as citizens across the United States began demanding change from industry and the government. By April 22, 1990, Earth Day achieved a major milestone by becoming a global event that mobilized over 200 million people in 141 countries. The message being sent to world leaders was that immediate action must be taken on global warming and clean energy. Environmental concerns had clearly moved to the center stage of world awareness.

Take Action on Earth Day

The history of Earth Day speaks volumes about how much the world has actually changed for the better – at least in the area of environmental awareness! Remember the “teach-ins?” Earth Day is a great opportunity for families to educate their children about respect and responsibility for the planet. Remember that millions of small efforts from around the world add up to a major contribution.

On Earth Day 2014, make a contribution to our planet with one of the following suggestions:

Plant a Tree
Help Green World Campaign to restore indigenous ecologies and lessen the climate crisis in by planting trees. To learn how you can help Green World carry out its mission, click here.  In addition to planting a tree in your neighborhood, you could donate to The Canopy Project, a worldwide campaign to plant trees that will provide food, energy and income to communities in need of achieving economic and environmental sustainability. To make a commitment to the Canopy Project, click here.

Pledge an Act of Green
The Earth Day Network is encouraging its supporters to pledge 1 billion acts of green. Whether your plan is to plant a tree, clean up a park or commit to another noble green act, let the world know! To add your green act to the count or to find an Earth Day Network event in which to participate, click here.

Plan an Earth Day Dinner
Every holiday has its own special menu, so for Earth Day make sure the food is local, seasonal and organic. Especially if you have been working outdoors on a volunteer project, wrap up Earth Day with a group dinner. For some menu suggestions, a preparation list and more, click here.

Roll up your sleeves and join fellow Earth Day enthusiasts who are determined to save the planet. Get involved by volunteering your skills and energy to an environmental nonprofit organization in your area. Find an event that allows you to give back to the planet through VolunteerMatch. 

NASA wants you to participate with a fun social media project. Take a “selfie” and let us know where on Earth are you right now! You can use Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Click here to download NASA’s “selfie” sign for the photograph. 


Friday, April 4, 2014

The Perfect Storm: Polar Vortex Meets Spring Allergy Season!

This past winter’s Polar Vortex storms produced some bone chilling temperatures and record-breaking snowfalls that could translate into a late flowering for trees. If temperatures warm quickly, this means that all of those pollinating trees will be working overtime to catch up and blossom. This might create a colorful and beautiful landscape, but have your allergy medication on hand!

Pollen and mold are the sources of allergy problems for many people. Trees, grasses and weeds all produce pollen, a fine powdery substance that is dispersed by wind, insects and even animals. In some areas, pollen is so thick that it covers cars like a velveteen blanket. Mold is the other half of the two-headed allergy monster and is actually more of a widespread problem than pollen. In addition to allergic reactions, exposure to mold can lead to asthma and other serious respiratory problems. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of mold. Be prepared for an overload of pollen especially if you live in one of the nation’s “allergy capitals.” This year’s allergy honors go to the following ten cities: Louisville, KY; Memphis, TN: Baton Rouge, LA; Oklahoma City, OK; Jackson, MS; Chattanooga, TN; Dallas, TX; Richmond, VA; Birmingham, AL; and McAllen, TX

Tips for Keeping Your Family Healthy During Allergy Season

If you aren’t a resident of one of the “allergy capitals,” don’t think that you will be spared from a runny nose and watery eyes during the spring allergy season. In addition to the pollen problem, melting snow and spring rains create damp conditions that can lead to mold both outdoors and inside your home.

Here are some tips on how to prepare for the two-fisted punch of pollen and mold:
  • Keep your windows closed to reduce the amount of pollen that enters your home. Tree and grass pollens are the main culprits when it comes to spring allergies. Tree pollen counts are typically highest in the early morning hours. If you or someone in your family particularly affected by pollen, minimize the amount of time spent outdoors.
  • Your home might become stuffy with the windows tightly closed, so consider using your air conditioner. Change the air conditioner’s filter before running to eliminate last year’s residue of pollen, dust and mold. 
  • Take your shoes off and leave them at the front door to prevent pollen from being tracked all over your home. If you have been exercising or working out in the yard, considering taking a shower and washing your clothes to stop the spread of pollen throughout your home.
  • When working outdoors wear a face mask to cut down on the amount of pollen you inhale. Also, wear sunglasses on windy days to keep irritants out of your eyes.
  • Fight mold by reducing the moisture in your home. Run the exhaust fan in the kitchen and bathroom to keep humidity levels down. Keep your bathroom clean before mold can take hold. Be sure that your dryer is properly vented to the outdoors. Look for leaks and seepage in your basement and check your attic for water damage from clogged gutters. 
Indoor Air Quality and Your Family’s Health

The tips that we are sharing can make a difference in your home, but small efforts might not be enough to help someone suffering from allergic reactions. This is especially true for children due to their developing immune and respiratory systems. Children are especially susceptible to the health effects of poor indoor air quality that can result in asthma and other chronic health issues. Don’t gamble with the health of your family. Learn how to get your home’s indoor air quality tested.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Customers Care About Energy Efficiency – Make Sure They Know About Your Commitment!


Last month we wrote about how energy efficient businesses can trim costs from the bottom line while also benefiting their customers.   For additional information, see The U.S. Small Business Administration’s energy saving guidelines. This is a great resource offers tools to help you calculate your business’ energy savings, efficiency upgrade information and sustainable business practices. 

This month we are looking at the ways a business can share information about a commitment and strengthen their relationship with their community and customers. 

Share Your Commitment to Energy Efficiency with Your Customers

Once your business has made energy efficiency upgrades, be sure that you are clear on your objectives and the measureable results. Then communicate your energy savings, new efficiencies and environmental commitment to your customers. A recent study showed that 72% of consumers would recommend a business or a brand that supports a good cause over one that doesn’t. As they say, don’t hide your light under a bushel. Let customers know that you actually “walk the walk” by sharing your commitment with the following ideas.

  • Create a “green” mission statement for your business and share it with customers, suppliers, vendors and the community. Share your story in an honest and direct way. Include the statement on your business’ website and with a link on e-mails.

  • Create a printed version of the mission statement and display it in the business where customers will see it. If your business distributes printed materials, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by printing in a manner that’s not environmentally friendly. You will sabotage your message and lose credibility if you are sharing your “green” message via wasteful media and packaging. 
  • Use Social Media to engage with your customers while sharing information about environmental causes. Continue to report back on the results of your conservation efforts and efficiencies.This will create a dialog and enhance the identity and profile of your business.

  • “Give something back” by aligning your business with a worthwhile organization that raises money and awareness for a cause that you want to support.  If you choose to support environmental issues, consider creating engagement activities that raises funds for a specific cause while also strengthening your relationship with your customers. A combination of fundraising and participatory events could be scheduled for Earth Day on April 22 or Clean Up the World Weekend on September 19. Events focused around environmental actions can attract members of the community, raise funds and awareness for important causes while also placing your business at the center of the action. It’s something to think about!