Category Archives: Energy Efficiency

7 Home Improvement Projects to Prepare Your Texas Home for Fall

shutterstock_77525227With summer heat making way for milder fall weather across the Lone Star State, we welcome the first taste of fall. And after last winter’s harsh extremes, it’s a good idea to prepare now so you can reduce your energy costs later. The problem is that some homeowners are unsure about where to start improving their home’s energy efficiency. While an energy audit is a great way to start, all Texas homes have places that should be inspected at least once a year. So, to keep it simple, we’ve put together a top-to-bottom guide of home improvement projects you can complete to help prepare your home for fall.

1) Check Your Roof

  • Ensure that rain water drains away from your home to keep your home dry and comfortable. Check rain gutters and down spouts to free them of debris.
  • Clear roof vents of leaves or animal nests. Some birds build nests in vent pipes, but while blocking them with steel wool keeps the critters out, it can also collect dust. This slows air circulation and causes exhaust furnace or sewer gas to vent into the home. Installing a properly sized vent cover takes care of this problem.

2) Check Your Attic

  • Keep your attic dry. Roofs take a pounding during the year from rain and sun. Shingles can crack  and crumble, letting water through. Examine the underside of the roof decking for leaks or water staining.
  • Make sure attic vents are not obstructed by leaves or animal nests. If you find signs that squirrels, raccoons, or other critters have been nesting in your attic, you need to prevent their return as well as clean up any damage.
  • Make sure your attic is air sealed. Sealing holes for electrical wiring, plumbing, and the tops framing of interior walls prevents warmed air from escaping into your attic. Look for signs of air moving up from below on insulation covered by a fine dust. Remember to seal around chimney flues and light fixture boxes.

iStock_000008460535Medium3)  Check Your HVAC System

  • Check duct work for loose or broken connections and holes. Nearly 20 to 30 percent of the warm or cooled air moving through your duct work is lost through leakage. Re-attach disconnected sections and seal over any holes you find with aluminum tape or duct work mastic.
  • Remember to change the air filter! Dirty air filters reduce the efficiency of your Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system by making it run longer. and harder. Dust build up can also cause excessive wear to the blower and heat exchanging coils, resulting in costly repair bills.

4)  Check Your Water Heater

  • If you have a tank water heater, add a water heater jacket and insulate the hot water pipes. You can save about $20 annually.
  • Fall is also a good time to drain and flush your water heater. This helps remove rust, scale, and other sediments in the tank that reduce your heater’s efficiency.
  • If you have an on-demand heater, now is a good time for back-flushing to remove scale from that, as well.

shutterstock_812868945) Check  Window & Door Snugness Drafts

  • Examine how well your windows and doors close. One way is to close a piece of tissue paper in a window or door. If you can pull it out easily, it’s letting in outside air and moisture.
  • Add weather stripping to doors and windows so that they close snugly.
  • Re-glaze or caulk loose glass and replace any broken panes. These leak cold, moist air into your home and waste energy.
  • Keep an eye out for loose or rotten frames and jambs. Repair any you find. Also consider replacing old doors and windows with new energy-efficient doors and windows before the weather gets colder.
  • Install thermal backed drapes. These restrict cold air from infiltrating a room.

6) Switch Your  Ceiling Fan’s Revolution

  • During the winter, ceiling fans can be used to move warm air from near the ceiling so that it circulates throughout the room. Just flick the direction switch so that blades spin counterclockwise. And don’t forget to clean any dust from the blades before you turn the fan on!

7)  Seal Crawlspaces

  • Many homes in Texas are built with crawlspaces. While it was initially thought that venting crawlspaces reduced moisture and condensation, it really makes it worse. Outside humid air and moisture in the earth enter the cooler crawlspace and condense on exposed concrete and wood framing, causing mold and wood rot. Consequently, the crawlspace never dries out. Texas homes with sealed and insulated crawlspaces (or “encapsulated“) are more energy efficient with less moisture-related problems. An effective first step is to put down a moisture barrier in your home’s crawlspace . This is usually a single 6-8 mil thick plastic sheet that is laid over bare earth in the crawlspace to trap moisture and keep it from evaporating and penetrating into the home. Your home will feel dryer and warmer during the winter and less humid during the summer.

Remember, you don’t need to do all these home improvement projects in one day. There will still be quite a few mild fall weekends left before cold weather really arrives in Texas. Done promptly, they’ll also start saving you money right away and improve your home’s comfort. If any of these tasks turn out to be more difficult or demanding for you, hire a qualified professional. All the same, don’t let these little jobs linger undone too long especially since your energy costs will increase as winter arrives.

After all, you don’t want to be left out in the cold.

4 Energy Efficiency Tips for Autumn in Texas

4 Energy Efficiency Tips for Autumn in Texas

Fall in Texas image courtesy of donnierayjones.

Autumn is just around the corner and, for Texans, this is when we arrive at blissfully cooler temperatures and a host of time-honored autumn traditions. Fall means shorter days, changing weather, and changing leaves, so what better time for a few energy-saving changes around the house to accompany the changes going on outside of our front doors?


1) Change Your Light Bulbs

Sure, the eco-conscious harp on this energy-efficient suggestion frequently, but with the new restrictions on incandescent bulbs in effect, you have little recourse but to give in to the mania.

4 Energy Efficiency Tips for Autumn in Texas

With that in mind, let me try to convert you – specifically towards using LED bulbs. True, bulb-for-bulb, they are dramatically more expensive than their CFL counterparts, but they last up to 6 times longer than CFL bulbs, contain no toxic mercury vapor, and use half of the energy. And all of that translates into long-term energy savings.  If you’re like us, the $25 price tag per bulb (60w equivalent) seems a bit steep, so opt to buy 1-2 bulbs per month and make the gradual switch to greener lighting.

2) Use Wall Timers

As the days become shorter, more and more folks leave lights on during the day for security and convenience in anticipation for a return after nightfall. A great green way to give yourself some peace of mind is to use outlet and wall switch timers. Timers not only help give the impression that you’re home while you’re not, they will also help to reduce your energy usage.

4 Energy Efficiency Tips for Autumn in Texas

GE Outdoor Light Plug-and-Control Power Outlet image courtesy of SmartThings

For those of you diving headfirst into the “Smart Home” craze, plenty of options are available for remotely lighting your home and monitoring your security without leaving your front porch light on at three o’clock in the afternoon.

3) Reduce Use of Your HVAC System

The thermostat is another frequently mentioned tip that can’t be overstated. As the summer heat fades and the days get a little cooler, give your heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) system a break by dialing back the arctic air necessary to make summertime survivable in the Lone Star State. As the temperatures continue to drop later in the season, switch your furnace off and opt for cozy clothes, a tasty mug of hot apple cider, and a nice thick duvet for hanging around the house in the evening.

4 Energy Efficiency Tips for Autumn in Texas4) Get a Home Energy Audit

Lastly, prepare your home for winter. In addition to standard home winterizing efforts (which we’ll discuss further as we approach that season), consider having a home energy audit.  An hour or so spent with a professional can translate into energy savings for years to come.

With our spectacular autumns and exquisitely mild winters here in Texas, it’s easy to forget that we can make a difference for Mother Earth (and our wallets) as the summer heat fades into distant memory. With a few simple changes, you can save some of your hard-earned cash while doing some great things for the environment.

4 Water Activities to Keep Cool on Hot Summer Days in Texas

Most kids I know want to spend most of their free time outside playing; however, the Lone Star State also presents some special concerns, because once temperatures climb into the higher 80′s and above, park time becomes infrequent. This summer, break up the mundane boredom of being cooped up inside a house on a hot day with these fun water activities.

4 Water Activities to Keep Cool on Hot Summer Days in Texas

Ice Cream Party!

1) Shaving Cream “Freezy Dough”

[Disclaimer: Do not eat this product, as ingesting shaving cream is unhealthy. This craft is for sensory purposes only.]

Many kids love to cook and bake at play kitchens. Why not take it a step further and create outdoor cooking time that doesn’t require sweating over a grill? Here is a simple recipe for pretend ice cream so your kids can host an ice cream parlor for the day!

You will need:

  • Shaving cream
  • Any dyes you might want to add
  • Cocoa powder and Kool-Aid for smell and look

Here are the instructions:

  • Take plain shaving cream and put it into a container that will fit into your freezer.
  • Mix vanilla flavoring into the shaving cream to make it smell more realistic.
  • To add to the ice cream parlor’s options, you can use Kool-Aid to help achieve strawberry ice cream by simply adding in a package of red Kool-Aid into the shaving cream mixing it thoroughly. Chocolate is always a huge favorite and can easily be done by adding cocoa powder to the shaving cream.
  • Once you have all the desired shaving cream options mixed up, place each one in the freezer for several hours.

When you are ready to open your ice cream parlor, just remove the pre-made ice cream from the freezer. Incorporate bowls, ice cream cones, and spoons to help allow the kids to serve one another this tasty treat. You can also make additional toppings to decorate their ice cream like rainbow rice or even real sprinkles.

4 Water Activities to Keep Cool on Hot Summer Days in Texas

Water Balloon Phonics!

2) Water Balloons & Sponge Bombs

Water balloons are synonymous with summertime; however, now that I have a parent’s point of view, hazards like overly aggressive throwing could potentially turn a fun activity into tears. Instead of the traditional water balloon fights, try these fun games that sneak in some classroom learning time.  Depending on the age of the child, the balloons could be used for spelling, math, basic alphabet memorization, shapes, patterns, and more.

4 Water Activities to Keep Cool on Hot Summer Days in Texas

Sponge Ball

Simply use a permanent marker and draw on the water balloon. I particularly like this game of phonics because I can introduce word families by hanging cards up on a wall and having the balloon match up to one of the letters. If your child selects the correct balloon, he or she can then throw the balloon at that particular letter card!

A softer alternative to water balloons is a sponge bomb. A sponge bomb cuts down on the waste and mess of water balloons by being reusable. Just cut up your basic kitchen sponge and tie together with string. Super simple and fun!

3) “Working at the Car Wash”

4 Water Activities to Keep Cool on Hot Summer Days in Texas

Mini Car Wash

Break out that shaving cream again because you are going to open a mini car wash, complete with your choice of different colored soap. First, let’s learn how to create the “suds.”

  • Make up different soaps by putting small amounts of shaving cream into separate containers and adding food coloring or liquid watercolors.
  • Once you have your first soap mixed up, have the kiddos gather their dirty cars to the car wash (aka water table) and have them begin scrubbing the cars.
  • After the foamy soap, have the kids get down and dirty with a baking soda coating. Dry baking soda creates great bubbly fun when adding vinegar to the mix!
  • Put vinegar in a squeeze bottle or spray bottle of your choice and have the kids spray the baking soda caked cars with the vinegar to see the bubbly excitement explode. If your kids don’t like the smell of vinegar, add in an essential oil like peppermint to reduce the strong smell.

Once the bubbly car wash is complete have the kids just do a basic wash of regular soap and water to further clean the cars. Not bad for a hard day’s work at the car wash!

4) “Ice, Ice, Baby”

4 Water Activities to Keep Cool on Hot Summer Days in Texas

Ice Volcano!

When it becomes summer in Texas, sometimes water isn’t even enough to cool us off. Time to break out the ice instead!

You don’t think of volcanoes being anything other then extremely hot – that’s until you play with ice volcanoes.

  • Making ice volcanoes requires a few simple supplies like small bowls, plastic wrap, balls that are weighted enough they will sink, and of course room in your freezer.
  • Place the ball in a small bowl and cover both with the plastic wrap
  • Fill the bowls with a mixture of baking soda and water, adding in food coloring to your desired color
  • Make sure to fill up the bowls enough that the mixture completely covers the ball
  • Next step: freezer time
  • Once frozen, take your mini creations out to thaw slightly, then remove the frozen mixture from the bowl and the plastic wrap

Have the kiddos put vinegar on your icy creations and watch the volcano explode and bubble. You are now left with one icy volcano!

Need some more ideas? Do a search for fun ice activities like ice chalk paint or colored ice cube shapes, and you’ll be surprised what you find.

Celebrating Green Initiatives in Texas for Earth Day

Celebrating Green Initiatives in Texas for Earth DayHappy Earth Day from First Choice Power! Earth Day was established to foster environmental awareness and promote preservation of the earth and it’s natural resources. And with today being Earth Day, we thought it would be fitting to showcase how major towns in Texas are supporting green efforts.

Dallas

The City of Dallas developed GreenDallas.net to offer assistance and green knowledge to its citizens through city-wide programs, events, and partnerships. While many of the City’s programs are geared towards water conservation, they have an overall goal to save citizens energy and money too. Here are just a few:

  • Celebrating Green Initiatives in Texas for Earth DayCease the Grease – To prevent citizens from pouring grease down the drains and clogging drains and sewer lines, Dallas created drop off centers for people to drop off their grease filled containers. The City then uses that grease to convert into biodiesel.
  • Minor Plumbing Repair Program  – This program offers assistance to those who need help with minor plumbing problems and fixtures that may cause water waste and higher water bills.
  • Throne for Your Home Toilet Voucher – Citizens can receive up to $90 per toilet from the Dallas Water Utilities to replace older high-flow toilets with high-efficiency low-flow toilets. They also offer rebates if already purchased.

Fort Worth

Across the Metroplex, Fort Worth is doing its part to create green programs for its citizens. Such efforts include:

  • Crud Cruiser – The City of Fort Worth has a mobile collection trailer that travels to neighborhoods to collect household hazardous waste (from March – November).
  • Fort Worth is working on Stormwater Quality and opened up the Environmental Collection Center. It is where you can drop off household hazardous waste such as chemicals, detergents, pesticides, fertilizers, etc. The goal is to dispose of them properly rather than illegally dumping them down the storm drains, which flows directly to the nearest body of water without being treated.
  • Air Quality - The City enforces the federal Clean Air Act, which comes from the EPA. It deals with outdoor air monitoring, permitting, compliance inspection, complaint investigation and enforcement.

Corpus Christi

Down in the Valley, Corpus Christi has developed several initiatives to green its neighborhoods and public spaces.

  • Bike & Hike Plan – the City, County and Regional Transportation Authority have joined forces to create an extensive plan to provide access to cycling, walking and hiking trails around Corpus to get people outdoors and moving and to promote a greener environment.
  • Rewards for Recycling – Ziplock and RecycleBank have teamed up with the City of Corpus Christi to offer a program that uses Smart Carts to track household recycling participation. Each time a household recycles; the amount is recorded and converted into Recyclebank Points, which can be redeemed at www.Recyclebank.com for rewards from thousands of local businesses.
  • Community Go Green initiatives – The City provides residents with two trash receptacles—one for generalized garbage such as food waste and one reserved for recyclable items.

Houston

Space City has made great strides to reduce the levels of pollution in its skies through a collection of excellent programs.

  • Energy Efficiency Incentive Program (EEIP) – The EEIP will provide a financial incentive to help motivate office building owners, property managers, and tenants located in the City of Houston to reduce energy consumption and increase the economic performance of their building.
  • Electric Vehicles – Starting with just two Toyota Prius vehicles in 2002, today the City’s light duty passenger fleet has become over 50% hybrid.
  • Houston Bikeways Program – The City of Houston offers over 300 miles interconnected bikeway network spanning across 500 square miles. The network includes bike lanes, bike routes, signed-shared lanes and shared-use paths.

    Celebrating Green Initiatives in Texas for Earth Day

    Houston Bikeways

San Antonio

San Antonio rounds out our list with a series of protocols created to increase the energy efficiency of city programs and facilities, as well as improving air quality.

  • The City received an Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant (EECBG). The grant is being used to implement energy efficiency and conservation strategies in four program areas: Community Green Projects; Municipal Retrofits; Transportation Enhancements; and Mission Verde Center. Some examples of those are:
  1. The City installed the Airport Solar Installation on the roof of a parking garage at the San Antonio International Airport.
  2. Heat-repelling solar window film was installed on 57,000 square feet of window area at 36 facilities.
  • The City created the Air Quality Health Alert Plan (AQHAP) , which establishes guidelines and procedures for reducing emissions of ozone-forming compounds into the atmosphere, both on “Alert” days as well as throughout the ozone season.

Austin

Austin is one of the leading cities in Texas making green efforts, not only to better their city, but to set an example for other cities as well. In fact, in 2013 the City of Austin was awarded a national 2013 Climate Leadership Award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the work they have done. While they have several eco-friendly programs and initiatives, here are a few to point out:

  • The City of Austin created The Office of Sustainability’s Climate Program to make Austin the leading city in the nation in the fight against climate change. “In 2007, Austin City Council passed a resolution which established a Climate Protection Plan to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  In 2011, Council approved the Austin Energy Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan, which updated goals to more aggressively mitigate emissions through 2020.”
  • Dillo Dirt – Since 1989, the compost made by the City of Austin has been created from collected curbside yard trimmings and treated sewage sludge. According to their city website, the heat generated in composting the “Dillo Dirt” is sufficient to virtually eliminate human and plant pathogens. Dillo Dirt meets all Texas and EPA requirements for “unrestricted” use and is available to purchase.
  • Zero Waste Master Plan – This is a very ambitious plan set for residents, businesses and organizations in Austin. The plan to is to “divert more than 90 percent of waste from disposal to productive reuse and recycling by 2040.”

What sorts of green initiatives has your Texas town created in order to make life more eco-friendly? Share your city’s efforts in the comments!

Get Ready for the Texas Summer with a Tuneup for your HVAC System

Get Ready for the Texas Summer with a Tuneup for your HVAC SystemIt’s April! Spring has sprung! Trees are budding, birds are nesting,  and flowers are bursting into pink and yellow blooms. Warm, pleasant days in the upper 70′s and lower 80′s make it perfect weather for opening windows and airing out your home. No need to run the furnace, and no need to run the air conditioner. Yet…

By now, you’ve noticed the building humidity and the lengthening days means summer is coming with all that Texas heat. Is your HVAC system ready to handle it this year? After all, your outside unit suffered through a longer and colder winter than normal. Certainly, you should wash dirt out from the cooling coils and clear out any dried grass or leaves from the fan. You should also change the air filter and then test-run the system to make sure it’s at least working.

But unless you’re a professional, how do you know your air conditioner is performing at its peak efficiency to save you money? How do you know whether or not it has a little problem that will get worse if it’s not fixed? How do you know if it’s on its last leg? How do you know that it won’t burn out the first day it hits 90°F?

Get your air conditioning ready now for the summer with an inspection and tune up when you sign up for Direct Energy Home Services. For a as little as $15.99 a month, your air conditioning system will receive 2 annual system check-ups from an experienced HVAC technician. They’ll be able to analyze, diagnose, and repair any issues that might arise, as well as point out those little things (like furniture-blocked air vents) that will keep your air conditioner running at top efficiency.

You can choose from three levels of protection featuring discounts off repairs, coverage for any model at any age, and priority service when scheduling appointments. If your system can’t take the heat, you’ll be covered and be at the front of the line for repairs. And if you’re worried about replacement parts and labor costing hundreds of dollars, don’t lose your cool: a Direct Energy Home Services plan can eliminate many sudden repair costs and may even prevent a breakdown from happening.

Check out First Choice Power’s summer air conditioner hints and other energy saving tips at our Learning Center. We’ll help keep you cool all summer long.

Prepare Your Home for the Texas Summer Heat in Springtime

shutterstock_77525227Not only is spring the time to get your garden ready for summer, it’s also the time to prepare your home for hot Texas weather. While some folks believe all they need to do is turn on the trusty air conditioner, we want to recommend a few ways you can prepare your home for the Texas summer heat in the springtime. Check over these areas of your house before the expensive cooling season starts.

1) Your Air Conditioner.  First, examine your air conditioner’s outside heat-exchanger for loose connections, excessive corrosion (often from pets), or debris. Before turning the system on, use a garden hose to wash out dirt and leaves from the heating coils. On the inside, change out the air filter and carefully use a vacuum to clean out any dust or clogs from the blower and coils.

Check your AC’s condensation pan and drip hose to make sure it isn’t clogged from gunk. To clear a blockage, disconnect the drain tube from the collection pan outlet and carefully insert a small bottle brush to ream it out. Also be sure to pour a little solution of bleach down the condensation drain pipe to kill any mold or mildew that may cause it to clog.

If you didn’t have your heating and cooling system inspected last fall, now is the time to set up an appointment with a qualified professional service.

By the way, now is also the time to clean the “dust caterpillars” off ceiling fan blades and THEN switch the rotation direction. If you don’t clean them off, those blobs of dust fly off everywhere.

2) The Attic. Next, visit your attic. Since spring is the time for babies, you’ll want to first make sure no critters have moved in to nest. Raccoons, possums, squirrels, bats, rats and birds can damage the interior of your attic, as well as leaving droppings and urine that cause serious health problems.

Assuming there’s no wildlife visiting you, have a look at your attic vents (gable vents at the ends, soffit vents at the roof overhangs) to make sure these are open and clear. Ridge vents don’t usually get blocked up, but check them anyway. Solar-powered gable fans (like this one) can help improve air circulation in your attic and so cool your home.

If you’ve been meaning to add insulation to your attic, spring is a great time to do that. Adding insulation helps keep your home cooler in the summer by slowing down the rate which heat moves through building materials from the outside.

Another good idea is to install radiant energy barrier on the underside of your roofing truss. A radiant barrier reduces the radiant heat from the sun that is transferred thorough the roof into the attic. Because of the angle of the summer sun in southern states like Texas, these can reduce your cooling costs by up to 10%.

Also keep an eye out for water staining on the roof trusses, rafters, and the underside of the sheathing since this will indicate a leak problem. Leaks may be harder to find when they’re small, but they’re generally easier and cheaper to repair.

3) The Roof. Check your rain gutters and downspouts to make sure they’re not clogged and that they carry rain water well away from your home. Also make sure that tree limbs don’t come in direct contact with your roof or the sides of your home. The idea here is to prevent rain water from streaming down the sides of your home and penetrating the sheathing. When this happens on a routine basis, rot can begin eating away the inside of your walls. This will degrade the energy efficiency, and add to your energy costs. Plus, it can let pests enter and cause expensive structural problems that will effect the value of your home.

4) The Windows and Doors. Clean them well – and not just the glass part. Clean the dirt and debris from tracks and seals so that your windows and doors close snugly and prevent drafts. If you have an older home, inspect your windows and doors for drafts and repair any loose weather stripping.

If your home has a crawl space that has not not yet been encapsulated, then this is the time to get it done. Sealing off crawl spaces has been shown (contrary to what most homeowners were told last century) to increase energy efficiency by 20% and reduce the humidity that REALLY adds to summertime cooling costs.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to take advantage of the relatively cooler temperatures of springtime and use these suggestions to prepare your home ready for the Texas summer heat.

3 Tips for Planting Your Texas Garden this Spring

IMG_0840_eWhile most of the country anxiously waits for spring, warm weather is already here in Texas. Most Texas gardeners have their favorite food crop seedlings already started indoors and are getting ready to start setting out their cool-temperature-tolerant plants. While having those seedlings ready to transplant is important, you also need to take time to prepare the soil before planting your Texas garden.

Don’t Treat Your Soil Like Dirt

Knowing more about your soil can save you time and money. Texas has 15 major land resource areas, and each one has a specific type of soil, vegetation, climate, and topography. All told, Texas has 61 different soil types. What one gardener can grow easily in Houston’s acidic clayey-loam another might struggle with in Dallas’ alkaline black clay.

Because soils are complex matrices of nutrients and microorganisms, it’s helpful to know what sorts of nutrients your soil has in abundance and what it lacks. Fortunately, you can contact your county extension office for help. You can also arrange to have your soil tested by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Just read and fill out their sample submission guidelines for their Soil, Water and Forage Testing Laboratory to have them analyzed. Texas Gardner Magazine currently offers its free and useful guide to building soil.

Proper Care and Feeding

Lawns are best fertilized in the fall so that the fertilizer can work down into the soil to help root growth. Your garden, meanwhile,  will likely need fertilizer this spring.  Just how much fertilizer you use depends on what you grow because different kinds of plants consume fertilizer at different rates.

Fertilizers are mostly nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium: a jug of 10-20-10 fertilizer contains 10 parts nitrogen, 20 parts phosphorus, and 10 parts potassium. Granular fertilizer can be added and worked into the bedding soil to a depth of one foot. A good ball park amount is 2 cups ( or two pounds) for every 100 square feet. Depending on how well your garden soil drains, a second application of liquid fertilizer can be done when plants have grown to between 4 and 6 inches. However, it’s best to go easy, since too much fertilizer (urea nitrogen) can prevent roots from absorbing water and make the plants look burned. It can also kill them.

Compost and manure are organic fertilizers containing additional nutrients and microorganisms beneficial to your garden soil. Tilling mulch into the soil helps hold moisture, encourage airflow (aeration), and helps with drainage — all of which are especially good if your soil is sandy or clayey. Be sure to mulch around your seedlings after planting to retain moisture. Manure should be composted for 6 months to one year before use to kill bacterial pathogens and parasites as well as mellow the smell. Because different species have different digestive systems, not all manure contains the same amount of nutrients. Cow and horse make lower levels of urea nitrogen while poultry produce 4-5 times higher so a little goes a long way.

Planting Tips

When your soil is ready the frosts are over, it’s time to transplant your seedlings. Seedlings require careful handling to keep the root ball intact, loose soil, and adequate water. A good time to plant them is on a cloudy day or early evening so that they won’t get sunburned. Also pay attention to soil depth to keep the same height above the surface. Spindly-tall tomato plants can be planted deeper as the seedling will send out new roots from the stem and will strengthen the plant over time.

One last tip from our garden: birds enjoy feasting on your seedlings’ tender green shoots. Often, they just snap off all the new leaves and that’s the end of your plant —which can be frustrating if you only have two or three of a particular variety of tomato or pepper that you really love. The trick is to shield your vulnerable little green buddy. Take a disposable plastic cup (or yogurt or cottage cheese container) and cut the bottom off it. Put this over the top of the seedling so smaller bottom end is facing up. This lets in light and water but reduces the area for birds to peck at. Sprinkling cayenne pepper onto your seedlings will help drive away birds and rodents without having any effects to the plant.

How are your getting your Texas garden ready for spring?

Image IMG_0840_e.JPG By FarmerT courtesy of Morguefile.com

Get a Head Start on Spring Cleaning when You Choose First Choice Power!

Get a Head Start on Spring Cleaning when You Choose First Choice Power!Hey there, Texas! Thankfully, it looks like that most of those cold temperatures are finally behind us. Winter lasted a bit too long this year, at least according to THIS born-and-raised Texan.

So, to celebrate the arrival of spring in the Lone Star State, we’re giving you the chance to get a head start on your Spring Cleaning efforts! When you sign up online with First Choice Power between March 14th and 24th, 2014, we’ll send you a $25 Walmart gift card to help with the purchase of your cleaning supplies. You just need to choose a fixed-rate plan that’s 12 months in length or longer, and we’ll send the reward to your mailing address 4-6 weeks after you become an active customer.

Now, don’t be scared of a little home improvement – Spring Cleaning is the time of year where we knock out the cobwebs that collected during the winter, pack away all those cold weather clothes you won’t need until November, and freshen up your home for warmer weather. Think of it as an opportunity to embrace a bit of organization and comfortable temperatures in the 70’s before the unbearable summer highs arrive in a couple of months.

Ultimately, First Choice Power simply wants to welcome spring and new customers with open arms, so this $25 Walmart gift card is our way of saying “Thank You!” for choosing us as your Texas retail electricity provider. And if we can help a little with Spring Cleaning, that’s a good thing too. Maybe next year when you renew, we’ll send a First Choice Power employee to your house to help with chores instead (just kidding!).

Tips for Going Green in 2014: In the Home

shutterstock_31456600With this 3-part series, we hope to provide Texas residents with tips for going green in 2014. In Part 1, we discussed practices that impact your daily life. Part 2 details ways to make your home green, and Part 3 addresses green practices that can make your community a better place.

Earlier this week, we discussed tips for going green in 2014, and just like our bodies need regular injections of good stuff and less of the bad, our home needs clean resources and good care in order to have a healthy, productive life. The basics are the same – reducing waste, supporting what works, and staying informed – so, here are a few green housekeeping habits you can start working on.

1) Cut your energy use by 90% with every load of laundry you do by washing with cold water. Your clothes will still be clean, and you’ll thank yourself once you see your monthly bill. You should also invest in an ENERGY STAR washer and dryer – sure, the initial purchase price is a bit higher, but you’ll use electricity and water more efficiently, which means you’re using (and wasting) less

2) Your plumbing isn’t the only thing that can spring a leak. If you feel cold drafts or dampness in certain areas of your home, you may have an air leak. Seal air leaks as soon as possible so your HVAC doesn’t waste energy and cost you money.

3) You can schedule a professional home energy audit. Also known as a home energy assessment, this service is helpful even if you don’t detect any problems in your home. Just like a check-up with your doctor, a home energy audit is a good way to learn how you can make your home make the most of its energy, and stop small issues before they get a chance to become real problems. It’s not just for the air leaks in your HVAC system, either – getting an exterior and interior evaluation helps you locate trouble spots in your electrical and plumbing systems, too. To find out what you should expect in an auditor and where you can schedule an appointment, read Energy Circle’s breakdown of home energy audits.

shutterstock_816704384) Cut down on the amount of waste that you’re placing in your trashcan and sending to the city landfill by setting into place the basic principles of recycling. Never recycled before? Well, start small by focusing on just one material – it could be glass, paper, plastic, or metal. Simply find a receptacle, place it beside your regular trash can, and ask everyone to place your recyclable of choice in that container. Optimally, you’ll figure out how much you’re using of that material, find ways to reduce how much you use, and then start recycling something else as well. And if you need help figuring out where to bring your recycling, call your city’s sanitation department for help or visit 1800recycling.com!

5) One of the best ways to go green in your home is to power it with renewable energy. This green electricity is generated from sources that will never go away, including wind, solar, geothermal, and more. Check with your electricity company to learn what your options might be, and if they don’t have a green electricity plan for you, you should investigate another electricity company. And as more folks use green energy, more companies will begin to invest in the generation of renewable energy, which will ultimately bring down prices for customers.

Hopefully, you can implement these tips to help you and your family make your home just a bit greener in 2014.

Combat the Cold Winters and Warm Summers by Choosing Free Power Saturdays Now

shutterstock_58461355That power outage North Texas experienced in December because of harsh winter weather has some consumers worrying about the chance of rolling blackouts in the summer. This is especially true when you consider the high prices that come with ultra-high demand for summertime, as usage during the work week can drive wholesale prices up to an insane $30/kWh.

Thankfully, you can do something right now that could help prevent that sort of thing from happening months from now.

What if you and your neighbors signed up for an electricity plan that let you shift all your energy-hungry tasks to a day in the week when most office buildings, industries, schools or other institutions are also closed? The price of electricity would be lowest, right?

Let’s say this day of the week would be Saturday. You could wash laundry and dry it all day long. You could vacuum and steam clean your carpets. You could bake cookies with your kids. Get some heavy-duty house repairs out of the way and later relax in hot, steamy tub. Sounds like a lot of usage, right?

According to the Department of Energy, if you use all these for just an hour, that’s 9.9kWh. If we assume a ¢10/kWh, that adds up to ¢99 for one hour of energy use. It’s much better than $30/kWh, but after in a month of Saturdays, that adds up. And there’s also your other appliances – like your all-important air conditioner and refrigerator that are running at the same time too. Even if you’re an average Texas consumer using 1,168 KWh/month, a typical Saturday bill could be $5.00; $20 for a month of Saturdays.

But what if Saturdays were FREE?

Not only could you save money by time-shifting your cleaning chores to a no-charge day, but you and your neighbors reduce the need to run those appliances during the week. This helps reduce high-energy demand throughout the ERCOT grid and reduces the threat of rolling blackouts that inconvenience everyone.

By signing up with one of First Choice Power’s Free Power Saturdays Price Protection Plan™ or Free Power Saturdays E-Plan™ for 12 or 24 months, you can not only enjoy a fixed low-rate plan but also get free electricity every Saturday. There’s also and added discount of 0.5¢/KWh when you sign up for e-billing and automatic payments. All you need is an AMS Smart Meter installed at your home to enjoy low rates, free electricity, and help keep Texas bright.

In 2014, why not make managing your home electricity usage more effectively one of your New Year’s Resolutions? You can with First Choice Power!