Eco-friendly Cleaning Products

It’s common to disinfect toilets, sinks, counters, etc. with bleach or other harsh chemicals that only leave behind a strong, unpleasant odor. Sometimes an odor so suffocating that it causes you to leave the sparkling room before you even get a chance to enjoy it. But cleaning products don’t have to be so assaultive to your body and surroundings.2531475055_e022dda01a_m

A more natural way to clean is to use essential oils. Essential oils are liquids distilled from flowers, trees, roots, bushes, shrubs and seeds. Essential oils were actually humankind’s first medicine, and there are 188 references to essential oils in the Bible. Each oil has different properties and certain ones can protect the immune system, enhance your mood, stimulate or regenerate tissues and nerves, oxygenate cells and even destroy odors.

The simplest way to create a multi-purpose cleaner is to use a spray bottle and add 30 drops of lemon essential oil to 8 ounces of water. Lemon like other citrus fruits is a natural antibacterial and antiseptic, so this solution is good to use on counter tops, floors, toilets, etc. Cinnamon can be used too as an antifungal, antiviral and antimicrobial. It’s important to make sure that the oil you are purchasing is 100% therapeutic grade; otherwise, it can burn your skin.

The best place to purchase quality oils is at a natural health food store. Although they are expensive, they last awhile since you don’t need to use a lot. Essential oils are a healthy alternative to the common toxic cleaning products. However, you can also use vinegar as a multi-purpose cleaner and baking soda as a carpet deodorizer.

Remember to use rags instead of paper towels, because you can wash and reuse them. If you use any other disposable fabrics to clean, find alternatives that are either biodegradable or can be reused.

Eco-friendly cleaning products are safe to use around pets and children, and when you choose to use essential oils, you clean and refresh your house with aromatic ingredients. There are a variety of oils that can mixed to create a customized scent and cleaning product to meet your needs.

What Homebuyers Should Know About Solar Panels

Consider these questions before buying a home with solar panels.

As Americans gain awareness about the financial and environmental cost of non-renewable energy sources, residential solar installations are increasing across the country. The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that the U.S. now has enough solar installations to power 5.7 million homes, with more than 1 million individual solar installations across the country. While solar installations were once common in high-end homes, the decreasing cost of these systems means they’re showing up on moderately priced homes, too.

As homeowners with solar panels sell those homes, it presents an opportunity for new homeowners to reap the benefits of lower electric bills and a smaller environmental footprint. Still, new owners won’t qualify for the solar rebates and tax credits that the original installer could get. “The single most effective thing that any one individual can do [to combat climate change] is to go solar,” says Raina Russo, founder of Women4Solar, and advisor for CREW: Own the Switch Advisor for Integrity & Mission Council Team Builder. “A homeowner that buys a solar powered house should feel very proud,” she adds.

Of course, the decision to install solar panels goes beyond the potential energy savings and environmental impact. The original owners have the opportunity to thoroughly research their purchase, choose between different manufacturers and installers and make other choices. Meanwhile, homebuyers searching for a residence with existing solar panels can avoid this legwork, but they should still do their homework since the purchase has more complexities than a conventional home purchase. Solar is essentially a “25-year marriage,” Russo says.

 backwoods_panels_1_copy

In general, buyers are willing to pay more for a home with solar features since they know they’ll be rewarded with low (or no) electric bills. A 2015 Berkeley Laboratory study found that buyers are willing to pay an average of $4 per watt of solar photovoltaic energy system installed, which equates to about $15,000 for the average system.

 However, home appraisers don’t always factor solar panels into their assessment of the home’s value, especially if there aren’t other comparable homes in the area that have solar. “The awareness about the value of solar varies widely across the country,” says John Livermore, executive director of the nonprofit Healthy Home Healthy Planet. When the sellers price a home based on the value of solar features but the appraiser doesn’t, that can create a gap between what the buyer offers to pay and the amount the mortgage lender is willing to loan on the home. “That’s a conversation that the agent should be having with the appraiser,” says Shane Herbert, a real estate agent at Summit Sotheby’s International Realty in Park City, Utah.

With that in mind, here are some questions to consider before buying a home with existing solar panels.

Are the panels leased or owned? Ideally, you’d buy a home from someone who owns the solar panels affixed to the home rather than assuming their solar lease. Because solar leases are an ongoing liability (often with escalating payments), assuming a lease can raise your debt-to-income ratio and hinder your ability to qualify for a mortgage on the home. Leasing solar may also give you fewer certainties than owning them, adds Christina Mathieson, vice president of marketing at the New York-based SUNation Solar Systems and a LEED Green Associate. “What we’re seeing is that many leasing companies retain the right to change their production guarantee,” she says. “They retain the right to every year or two lower the amount that they say their system is going to produce,” she adds. Plus, there’s no guarantee that the leasing company will approve you as the new lessee either.

 Who is the manufacturer? Even if you haven’t chosen the solar manufacturer, you should still research its reputation. In the best-case scenario, the solar system is from a U.S. company, according to Mathieson. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that the panels are exclusively manufactured here, but you want them to be a U.S. corporation so you’re protected by the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act [a law that protects U.S. consumers from shady warranty practices],” she says.

Who installed the panels? Mathieson suggests researching the reputation of the person who originally installed the solar system. “The roof is one of the most important structures of your home,” she explains. “Check out the installer that put the system in and make sure that that installer has a warranty,” she suggests, pointing out that the installer or the company that sold the system may be willing to inspect it for you to provide peace of mind. Herbert also suggests getting an independent professional to inspect the system before you commit to buying a new home with existing panels.

Can I see past electric bills? Ask to see the current owner’s utility bills from the past year, so you’ll know what to expect. Most parts of the U.S. operate under net metering where your electricity bill can be zeroed out by solar, but not reduced further. Still, you could roll over credits from a sunny month into a less sunny month, according to Livermore. In a few areas, you can actually get paid for excess electricity your solar panels generate as allowed by your state and your utility provider. Not all solar systems are created equal. “The age of the solar does make a drastic difference, also how many panels and how much energy usage the house is seeing,” Herbert adds.

 What’s the warranty? Ask about the warranty terms. You likely have two separate warranties: one for the panels and another for the inverter, which converts the energy produced by your panels into alternating current that actually powers your house. “Usually the warranty for the inverter is shorter and the expected life is shorter,” Livermore says. “Sometimes when a solar system is sold, the buyer will purchase an option for the replacement of the inverter. Sometimes they don’t,” he adds. The typical solar panel warranty might run 25 to 30 years, while inverters might be warrantied for 10 years, according to Livermore. “They need that documentation to be passed on to them [in case] there were any issues down the road,” Russo adds.
 Source: USMoneyNew

15 Cheap Ways to Stay Cool This Summer

When the weather is hot and humid, turning on the air conditioner at full blast or sticking your head in the freezer sure feels nice – but neither is energy efficient or particularly frugal. The 15 ideas below, however, will help keep your temperature down without sending your electric bill upStaying-cool-this-summer

1. Go to the library. 

The library is filled with free books, magazines, movies, Wi-Fi and, most likely, air conditioning. Instead of reading or surfing the Internet at home on a hot day, do it at the library instead. And if you have kids, be sure to look into what programs might be available for little ones in the summer, such as story time or book clubs.

2. See a matinee. 

Another place that pumps in air conditioning is movie theaters. If you’re planning to see a new movie anyway, make it a matinee. The ticket price will be cheaper, and you’ll be able to get out of the heat while the sun is shining.

 3. Take a shower  and don’t towel off. 

A cool shower is already a great way to help beat the heat. But when you’re done, dry yourself in front of a fan instead of using a towel – the evaporation will help cool you down. You can also use a spray bottle to spritz yourself and get the same effect.

4. Keep the curtains drawn during the day. 

If you’re not at home, keep the curtains drawn and the blinds down – this helps stop sunlight from getting in and heating up your house.

5. Wear light colors (and sunscreen).  GTY_drinking_water_sk_150626_16x9_608

Light colors reflect light instead of absorbing it, like dark colors do. So why the sunscreen? While wearing light colors will keep you cooler, they’re not as effective at blocking the sun’s harmful rays from your skin. Consider applying a daily lotion that contains SPF 30 so you remain protected.

 6. Freeze your pillowcase. 

If it’s still hot out when you’re going to bed, stick your pillowcase in the freezer for a bit before you hit the hay. That way, you’ll be able to fall asleep on a nice, cool pillow.

7. Use your fans right.  Air-conditioning-wind

Unlike air conditioners, fans are usually most effective at cooling people directly, not cooling entire rooms. Or if you have more than one fan, and it’s cooler outside than inside, you can position two fans in your windows so that one pushes hot air out, and the other brings cool air in.

8. Eat strategically. 

We all know that eating and drinking cold things can help cool us down. But you might be surprised to learn that eating very spicy foods can also help you chill out because they help induce sweating.

9. Open your windows at night. 

Opening your windows during the day can just make your house hotter. Instead, wait until the evening to open your windows to let the cool air in.

10. Don’t use the oven to cook. 

Using the oven can drastically increase the heat in your kitchen. Instead, plan for meals that only use the stove top, microwave or grill.

11. Keep bottles of water in your freezer. 

A few bottles of frozen water can do a lot! Put one behind your neck when you’re watching TV or in your bed with you when you sleep at night. If you’re going out and about, bring it to drink – the water will melt slowly, leaving you with something extra cold to sip on.

12. Replace your light bulbs. 

Incandescent light bulbs use more energy and emit more heat than compact fluorescent light bulbs, so if you haven’t already, replace your old bulbs.

13. Wear the right fabrics. Lemon-mint-water-6-660x440

Loose cotton and linen will help keep you cool; synthetics will usually make you sweat. So dress accordingly.

 14. Drink lots of water.

Staying hydrated is one of the best ways to keep cool. If you’re bored by regular water, try infusing it with fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs. Some refreshing combinations include cucumber with lemon and orange with mint. Infusing is easy – just slice up the elements you want to use for flavor, put them in a pitcher with some water and keep it in the fridge.

15. If you do use AC, don’t go too cool.

Setting your air conditioner at 78 degrees instead of 72 degrees could decrease your cooling bill between 6 and 18 percent, according to energy.gov. If 78 degrees sounds warm to you, don’t worry – when it’s 90 degrees or hotter outside, 78 will feel plenty cool.

Source: US MoneyNews

5 reasons to air seal ,insulate your home and Rebate Info

In addition to making your home more comfortable, sealing air leaks and adding insulation can also reduce your energy use which may lower your heating and cooling bills. Just like you wouldn’t go outside during winter without a coat, your home needs layers too protect itself against the cold too.

Air sealing is the process of sealing cracks and other sources of leaks in your home to prevent heated air from escaping and unwanted outside air from entering your home. home-energy-savings

Insulation is a protective barrier between heated or cooled areas of your home and the outside to reduce heat loss and regulate air flow.

Here are the top five reasons to air seal and insulate your home:

1. Increase comfort

When cold air enters your home, it lowers the temperature of the house and overworks your furnace. Your furnace then struggles to maintain the thermostat’s specified temperature. By reducing drafts and air leaks, your furnace will work more efficiently.

2. Reduce energy waste by up to 20 percent.

After you seal leaks and insulate, your furnace doesn’t have to work has hard a break and you gain as much as 20 percent of heated air back in your home.

 3. Lower your heating costs

By adding layers to the envelope of your home, your heating system works to your advantage and keeps you warm—because the furnace doesn’t need to run as often. This can lower your heating costs while still keeping you comfortable.

 4. Improve air quality

Through sealing and insulation, you can control air flow and moisture, minimizing pollutants entering your home and circulating your duct system.

 5. Get a rebate

You can receive up to $1,500 for an air sealing and attic insulation project. For a list of approved contractors, For rebate amounts, check out our rebates for your home page.

Source: NiCor Gas

Comparing smart thermostats and programmable thermostats

energySMART, a Nicor Gas program, provides the option of a programmable or smart thermostat as part of its rebate offerings and free home energy assessments. With no shortage of features, it is just a matter of selecting the better thermostat option to suit your needs.

As the name suggests, programmable thermostats allow you to program your home’s cooling and heating system. Smart thermostats are also programmable, and they are designed to learn your behavior over time, automatically adjusting the temperature in your home to accommodate your habits. As an added benefit, some smart thermostats are WiFi-enabled, allowing you to remotely monitor and control the temperature in your home from a smartphone or other web-enabled device. oie_jpz4VVzGvLNV

As they are considered energy efficiency devices, both a programmable and smart thermostat can help save energy and reduce costs. During a free home energy assessment, programmable thermostats are included and installed at no cost, while smart thermostats can be purchased at a discounted price. Programmable thermostats qualify for a rebate of up to $20, while smart thermostats qualify for a rebate of up to $50.

6 Tips To Make Your Central Air Conditioner Operate More Efficiently

Here are 6 great ways to make your central air conditioner operate more efficiently:

1. CHANGE FILTERS OFTEN.

HVAC Air Filter MaintenanceWith central heating and air conditioning units, it is important to keep the air ducts flowing freely, and keep them free of any excess dust or dirt build-up. Over time, this build-up can become extreme and often lead to blocking the air conditioner vents.

Check on this when you pay your monthly electricity or heating and cooling bill, as a way to remind yourself of when to do it.

You can purchase filters at most hardware stores or discount stores. Some local dollar stores are now starting to offer this in their locations. To save yourself some time and trouble, make sure you know the size of filter your unit uses before heading to the store to purchase a filter. You don’t want to have to take it back and then have to find another filter later. Make a habit of cleaning and changing your filter about once per month to get it running at peak efficiency. This will avoid heavier maintenance and repairs having to be done in the long run. If you have visible access to the fan motor and wheel assembly check the dust build-up in this as well when you change your air filters. Every central air conditioner is tied to the efficiency of the fan motor inside the furnace. If there is excessive or visible dust build-up hire a licensed hvac company to clean your system.

Dusting the vent for air conditioning filter

2. KEEP THERMOSTAT AROUND 78 DEGREES.

Programmable Thermostat

Many people believe that you should turn your thermostat to 78 degrees when you leave for vacation, but tend to keep it around 74 or lower other times. Remember that your central air unit will kick on any time the temperature falls below the temperature you have set your thermostat on. So, if you set it at 78 and leave it there, rather than moving it up and down to your comfort level, you will have more relative cooling in your entire house, save energy by not overtaxing your air conditioning unit, and avoid having to worry about the thermostat or surprisingly high bills each month. The summer months are usually the highest for most people, because it so hotter and people feel they have to move their thermostat down to 68 or even lower. This will cause your system to overwork itself, and it will result in higher bills.

3. CLOSE CURTAINS AND BLINDS DURING HOT SUMMER MONTHS.

Many people may not realize how much air is lost during the summer due to the fact that the sun is coming into their house. People like to open windows too, which lets most of the cool air escape quickly. Teach everyone in your home to keep blinds, curtains, and windows/doors closed when it is at the peak high temperature times, to save energy and keep the cool air inside. If you do this regularly during the hot summer months, you will save a lot of money on energy bills and prevent having to do further maintenance on your central air conditioner because you are increasing the efficiency of your unit in general. This simple step can lead to a lot of savings on your monthly bills, while also keeping your home more comfortable and energy-efficient. Likewise, do the same thing in the winter months for your heating system. Keep curtains drawn so that heat will not escape through the open places in your windows. Another tip related to this is to have good insulation. Some people add insulation to their homes if they are skilled at doing this. You may want to do this too. Adding better insulation to your home sealed your house in and keeps drafts from stealing your air source from your air conditioner unit. Often times there can be incentives through your local power utility company to assist with the installed cost of adding insulation to your home.

4. MOVE YOUR AIR CONDITIONER OUT OF THE SUN TO THE OTHER SIDE OF YOUR HOME.

This often requires a professional to complete the refrigeration and the electrical installations. The savings can be worth it if the total work costs less than $1500. By placing the unit away from direct sun’s rays, you will keep it at a moderate temperature and keep all the parts running more smoothly. Additionally, you will notice a longer life on your central air conditioner because it is running less during the summer months. Have a licensed hvac company come out to your home to see what can be done and what the total cost would be. If the cost is too great, consider installing some type of shade or awning off your house to help shade the air conditioner. You’ll want to leave about 12″ around the sides of the air conditioner and about 3-5 feet around the top of the unit for future servicing needs.

5. UTILIZE A CEILING FAN

Living Room Ceiling Fan

Ceiling fans can help move air around the room when needed. While a ceiling fan will not directly add cold, conditioned air to a bedroom, it does help draw the cooler air up towards the ceiling during the summer. And it helps move the warmer along the ceiling down into the bedroom where you can notice it. Most fans now have switches along the housing that you move up or down according the season. You want the air to be pushed down in the winter and pulled up in the summer.

Ceiling Fan Operation

6. SCHEDULE ROUTINE MAINTENANCE CHECKUPS.

central air conditioner service technician

Finally, there are a few other DIY things you can do to improve the overall health and efficiency of your air conditioner unit, such as (if you are mechanically inclined and feel comfortable with electrical work), you can open up your air conditioner unit and check for problems, such as freon leaks, wiring problems, or other. But make sure you know what you are doing because this can be very dangerous. Stand alone air conditioner units carry a very high voltage and you should always make sure the unit is unplugged and that the electricity has been discharged before attempting this. In addition, have a regular maintenance plan which includes inspection by a licensed & trained professional in the heating and air industry, to come check out your unit on a regular basis. They can tell you what the potential problems are with your unit and offer suggestions in how you can make it run more efficiently.

If you follow these steps, you may save yourself a lot of time and money by cutting down on your electric, heating, and air conditioning bill, making your unit run better, and creating a more comfortable environment for your home. However, sometimes maintenance does have to be done in order to avoid bigger repair problems in the future. So plan regularly scheduled maintenance check-ups, to trouble-shoot any potential problems with your unit, before they result in bigger repair jobs. Remember that it is less expensive to maintain your unit as you go, rather than to have to call in someone to repair it later on. And you know they always break down right when you need them the most!

The key to making your central air conditioner operate more efficiently is due diligence. This is a term usually used in reference to a business looking out for its customers’ best interests. But regarding your air conditioning unit, it refers to keeping your air conditioner up to standards and running at peak efficiency, so that you prevent bigger problems down the road.  Like anything else, it simply requires getting into the habit or routine of doing these things on a regular basis. Soon, it will just become a part of what you do and you can save energy, money, and time in the long run by keeping your central air conditioner running the best it can all year long.

The biggest benefit is the money you’ll save by following these steps. But you may also appreciate the feeling of control you will achieve over your electrical utility bills. It may take a while to get used to keeping your air conditioning unit around 78 all of the time, but with practice all of these steps will become second nature and you’ll love the result that just a little preventive care can bring you.