LED Christmas Lights

As you shop this holiday season, you’re probably seeing a lot more LED Christmas lights. Their colors are more vibrant and they’re vastly more energy efficient than conventional incandescent Christmas lights. But do they pay off?

Let me ask you something – when you buy a string of lights for decorating, are you thinking “what is the cost-benefit ratio of these lights?” Or, are you thinking “will these look good in my house?” Me personally? I’m thinking that I hope they last for more than one season and I don’t spend next Christmas searching all day for that one burned out bulb! Few things put me in a foul mood faster during the holiday season than having to waste time. I’ve purchased a variety of LED light sets. Some are fantastic, while others are too faint. But all have been reliable and none have burned out. This alone make’s it worth the $10-$20 per string.

What about energy savings?

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The Dangers of Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

Photo credit: flickr user Mulad

There’s a lot of debate about the danger of CFL’s due to the mercury they contain. But how much is it really? And what happens when the bulb breaks?

A recent study, reported in Home Energy Magazine, may surprise you. The study involved breaking new CFL bulbs from a variety of manufacturers and measuring how much mercury was released. To put it into context, they compared the amounts to eating a can of tuna fish – known to contain some mercury but also something most of us do regularly.

In order to really test for the worst case scenario, they tried to do things to make the conditions as bad as possible. Then they “sniffed” all the air with their measurements – the equivalent of sticking your nose right above the broken bulb and inhaling repeatedly as hard as possible. I mean, they really went out of their way to get the highest numbers possible! They noted:

 “In short, everything possible was done to elevate the air concentration of mercury in the room. Even with all this, the one-hour average air concentration of mercury was 21,262 ng/m3 at 1 foot above the floor and 16,814 ng/m3 at 5 feet above the floor, well below the OSHA PEL of 100,000 ng/m3″

What does this mean? Those numbers sound really high, right?

Well, not so fast. It turns out that “a 6 oz portion of albacore tuna is about 63,344 ng. A 2 oz portion would contain about 21,448 ng of methylmercury.” So eating a small portion of tuna exposes you to more mercury than a worst case scenario with the broken bulb.

I should note, there is a difference between eating and inhaling mercury, and since nobody snorts tuna fish, the results aren’t exactly comparable. So keep that in mind. However, based on this study, I feel a lot better that I’m not putting my health at risk by using CFLs.

The article is short and practical, and I highly recommend anybody still worried about the risks of CFLs to read it.

Ted’s Top Tips to Help You Beat the Heat!

Record temperatures are creating uncomfortable conditions all over. Here in Pennsylvania, we’re expecting near 100F temperatures for much of this week, while Chicago just suffered through a heat index of 115F!

Along with high temperatures come big utility bills because of all the air conditioner usage. In this post, I’ll give you some tips for how you can “beat the heat” without breaking the bank!

Why Things Get Hot

If you’ve read any of my posts, you know that I like explaining things because I want you to understand WHY things occur. Once you know why, you can figure out solutions yourself.

Why do we use umbrellas to block the Sun? We all know that it’s cooler in the shade because the sun radiates heat. So if you can block the solar radiation, you can block a lot of the heat that it brings.

Even if you’re in the shade, it can get darned hot! If you’re sitting in your house, you’re being shaded by the roof – no direct sun is hitting you yet you’re still hot. Why? Because there’s still a lot of heat coming in – from the hot roof, the walls, sun shining through the windows and hot air entering the house.

There are other things that heat your house in the summer. Some obvious, some unexpected. You probably know that conventional light bulbs put out a lot of heat. In fact, each light bulb acts like a little space heater. But did you know that every appliance in your home, from your television to your refrigerator, is also pumping heat into the house 24-hours a day? And your water heater, especially if you have an oil boiler for your hot water – those throw off a ton of heat!

Quick recap -houses get hot in the summer because:

  • Solar radiation heats objects in direct sunlight, like your roof
  • Hot air carries heat directly into your house
  • Hot air and solar radiation heat your walls
  • Solar radiation enters through windows and skylights
  • Appliances and lights produce waste heat that enters your home

Beat the Heat!

Now that you know what causes your house to get hot, let’s see what you can do about it. I’ll start with the easy ones and work up to ideas that require more changes or greater investments.

  1. Wear light clothes. Ok, this one is so obvious that I’m embarrassed to write it! But simple things like shorts, a lightweight shirt and no socks make a big difference to your comfort level.
  2. Drink ice water or other no-calorie drinks. Cold drinks help reduce your body core temperature, that’s good. But don’t drink beer or soda or eat ice-cream and expect to stay cold. Anything with calories adds energy to your body, and that energy makes you less comfortable in hot weather.
  3. Use fans to circulate air around you, but only when you’re in the room. Fans cool you by speeding the evaporation of sweat and by carrying heat away from your body. But when you leave the room, turn off the fans or you’ll be wasting electricity AND adding heat to the air because the fan motor gets hot. Remember – fans do not cool the air!
  4. Turn up the temperature on your air conditioner. A slight increase in the temperature setting of your AC results in a significant reduction in the amount it runs. For example, raising the setting from 72 to 76 can reduce the energy use by 25%. Use a fan and turn up the temperature and you’ll see the savings on your next utility bill.
  5. Raise the temperature on your AC when you’re not at home. There’s a lot of debate on this one, but let me put it to rest – you save considerable energy by turning up your AC when you’re not at home. Yes, you have to crank the AC when you get home, but there is definitely a savings – you will save much more energy doing this than leaving the AC at a constant temperature all the time.
  6. Open the windows at night only if it’s cool and dry. Natural cooling at night is a great way to cool the house only when the air is dry. A big use of air conditioning is to remove moisture from the air so if you open your windows at night or in the morning when it’s really humid out, you’re filling your home with water. After that, your air conditioner has to work overtime to remove that moisture. So resist the temptation to open up the house when the humidity is high.
  7. Turn off lights when you’re not in the room. This is always good advice, but it makes even more sense when it’s hot out. Remember, those lights are little space heaters. The longer they burn, the more your air conditioner has to run to remove the heat that the lights put out.
  8. Replace lights with high-efficiency bulbs. This requires a little investment but it pays off year round. Compact fluorescent and LED bulbs are much more efficient than conventional bulbs mostly because they convert more of the electricity into light. I’ve written more than enough about the direct energy savings from these bulbs. Stop making excuses and replace those bulbs!
  9. Install a new fridge. And recycle your old refrigerator. The old energy hogs throw off an amazing amount of heat. A new, super-efficient fridge can pay for itself in a few years and it will heat your house less.
  10. Add insulation to your attic. If you don’t have at least a foot of insulation in your attic, you’re probably under-insulated. If you have a house from before the 1980’s, chances are, you only have a few inches of insulation. Going from 3 inches to the recommended 14″ of insulation (maybe R-9 to R-42) will reduce the amount of heat moving from your attic into your home by about 80%. A good insulation job is something you’ll appreciate year round.
  11. Shade your windows. Remember, a big reason things get hot is because of sunlight. Ideally, you don’t want direct sunlight entering the windows. The best way is by using trees or bushes to shade the windows. If that’s not possible, exterior awnings do a great job, though many people object to the aesthetics. If that’s you, then get interior cellular shades to block the direct light.
  12. Get windows with heat reflective coatings.  In recent years, window coatings have gotten truly amazing. A good window can block 90% of the heat from entering from the sunlight. This also protects your carpets from damaging UV radiation. An added benefit is that these same windows will hold in more heat during the winter and they’ll be less drafty. So replacing old, leaky, single-glazed windows with tight, low-e, double or triple-glazed windows can make a big difference in your comfort year round.
  13. Install a white-roof. Depending on your climate and your current insulation, this may or may not make sense. If you have lots of insulation, than the amount of heat coming in from your roof can make very little difference. But if you’re changing your roof anyway, get a reflective roof. This can substantially reduce attic temperatures and therefore the heat entering your home.
  14. Install a more efficient air conditioner. New air conditioning is usually my last recommendation. You’ll spend thousands of dollars and depending on where you live, you’ll may only use it a few months per year. However, if you have an old unit, it’s probably operating at less than SEER 10, so switching to a new SEER 18 unit can cut your AC bills nearly in half.

YALEDLB – Yet Another LED Light Bulb! Philips 75W Replacement!

Great news for all us energy geeks! Now Philips has an LED bulb that puts out 1100 lumens – in technical terms, that’s a bucket load of light! For comparison, most of the other screw-in LED lights I’ve been commenting on put out the equivalent of a 40w-60w light bulb, maybe 600-800 lumens. For more info, see this press release on Engadget.

Note, the Engadget folks were WAY off in the lifetime. These bulbs last 25 times as long as a conventional bulb (as shown in the press release).

LED Bulb under $10 at Lowes!

A friend just turned me on to this special deal at Lowes in Pennsylvania. The bulb, which he noted is manufactured by Feit (a highly reputable brand) is currently available for $9.98 at this link.

I just bought five more of the $20 Feit bulbs, so I was a bit chagrined to learn about this. But I’m happy for the rest of you. At under $10, there’s really little reason not to try a few of these around your home.

Keep in mind, this is a 40 Watt equivalent, so it’s not the brightest bulb around. However, it’s directional, so it’s good for those areas where you have downlights or other areas where the light output pattern doesn’t have to be totally uniform.

If you get one, please post your comments here. I’ll pick one up myself when I get a chance, but I’d love to hear your feedback.

update: I just looked at the ad more closely – it’s 50% off until 5/9/2011 so buy now!

How to Increase the Energy Efficiency of Your Existing Home

This post by an energy auditor in central PA summarizes a lot of the information required to make your home more energy efficient, all in one spot. It’s like you took all my posts to date and wrapped it up into a single article! Definitely worth a skim.

For those of your unfamiliar with ChrisMartenson.com, Chris is a scientist who, several years ago, started investigating peak-oil – the fact that at some point, you can’t extract oil from the Earth any faster, and from there, it’s downhill. As he investigated it, he got more and more worried, because pretty much everything we do depends upon having essentially an unlimited supply of oil.

Chris is passionate about this cause. So passionate that he produced a series of videos and is traveling the world giving lectures about how to prepare. At first it seems nutty, especially if you’re of the mindset that “technology will always find a solution”, but if you listen carefully and do your own research, you may find yourself buying in to what he says.

I started following him a few years ago, and combined what he said with what I learned from various investment newsletters and other sources. That gave me an advanced warning to shift from classical stocks into metals and mining a few years ago, before the market tanked and mining stocks skyrocketed.

Whether you agree with him or not, his “Crash Course” is well worth viewing as it provides additional insights that you can use to better understand the complex, resource limited world in which we’re now living.

Energy Geek Video – New CREE CR6 LED Downlight Replacement

The CREE CR6 is the latest in a line of energy efficient LED lights made by CREE. This light addresses some of the issues of the earlier lights, allowing dimming down to 5% and having a compact, light-weight package at about half the cost of earlier models.

It draws only 10.5 Watts yet produces as much light as a 65W incandescent bulb, so it’s definitely an energy saver. That’s a 55 lumen/Watt rating, putting it in the same ballpark as a normal CFL spiral bulb. But the fair comparison is with dimmable fluorescent downlights. Those range from 40 to 50 lm/W, so on average, you get 10%-25% more light from the CREE than you would the equivalent fluorescent.

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