Category Archives: Energy Efficiency

Summer is Coming: 5 Ways to Improve the Energy Efficiency of Your Texas Home

iStock_000010136948SmallSummer is coming, Texas! And while the heat and humidity might be a welcome thing after this past winter, it will quickly wear out its welcome and add more to your energy bill.

But don’t get yourself steamed up. To prevent your summer cooling costs from boiling over, we’ve got five ways you can keep a lid on them by improving your home energy efficiency. And they’ll work all year ‘round, too.

1. Air seal your home.     Air sealing your home means finding and sealing places where outside air is getting into your home. In the summer, drafts add to your home’s cooling load if they’re not sealed shut. Two of the most common locations that need air sealing are in your attic and along sillplates. In the attic , use expanding foam or caulk to seal gaps and holes where pipes or wires enter from below. Seal and enclose can light fixtures around attic doors.  The sillplate (or mudsill) is where the wooden framing of the house meets the foundation. Use caulk or expanding foam to seal drafts and provide extra insulation.

If your home has a crawlspace, just covering the bare earth inside with 6 mil plastic sheeting as a vapor barrier will reduce the humidity in the living space. For better efficiency, look into encapsulating your crawl space.

 2. Air seal your ductwork.     By sealing both the out-flow and return ductwork, you improve the efficiency of circulating air through your home because it will be running in a more tightly closed loop. By running more efficiently, especially during this hot summer, you’ll pay a lot less on your Texas electricity rates.

If you have insulated flex ductwork in your attic, look for kinks at bends because this will cut off or and slow the air flow. Reconnect and seal loose connections and gaps with aluminum duct tape or ductwork mastic. For holes, you can use silicon caulk. Be sure to seal all of them because 50 little holes will leak as much air as one big one.

3. Shade your home from the Texas summer sun.     Plant trees along your southwestern side of your home—particularly on the southwest. Trees can reduce surrounding air temperatures by up to 9 degrees. By carefully positioning trees to shade your home, you can save up to 25%.

Close drapes on your south and west facing windows to keep the sun’s heat out of your home. Their pleats and folds will help lose heat through convection plus if they have a white-plastic backing, they will reduce heat gains by 33%.

4. Keep your attic cool.     You know that attics get HOT. The roof and walls of your home absorb the radiant heat coming from the sun, which radiates heat into your attic. Air tempertures can soar to 150°F. Some of that heat will radiate into your living space. The National Roofing Contractors Association recommends 1 square foot of ventilation opening should be provided for every 150 square feet of ceiling area. Most homes have passive convection-cooling built into them.

Adding ventilation, like solar powered gable fans or solar powered roof vent fans, does help reduce attic temperatures by as much as 20°F. However, if the attic is well insulated and well sealed their actual effect on cooling is “modest”.

Install a radiant energy barrier. Sure, it looks like aluminum foil and bubblewrap but radiant barriers reflect 90-97% of heat back through the roof and can save on your energy costs, especially if you have your ductwork and air conditioning equipment in your attic.

5. Add more insulation to your attic.     The Oakridge National Laboratory recommends a minimum attic insulation rating of R30 or about 8 inches. Insulation isn’t just for cold. Think of an ice chest cooler. By adding insulation to your attic now in the spring, you slow down the heat conduction rate of that summer time attic heat from trying to get into your living space. Adding insulation keeps you —and your energy costs — a lot cooler.

One more thing — Avoid using appliances during the day that add to your cooling load.  Dryers, dishwashers, and especially ovens put out lots of heat that will make your air conditioning run longer to keep your Texas home cool —adding to your energy bill.

5 Spring Home Improvement Projects for the Lone Star State

HouseMoneySpring’s arrival offers everyone the opportunity for renewal, and that includes renovating and improving your Texas home. Whether it’s new doors, a room renovation, or just landscaping, now’s the time to add some convenience and some value to your home. Where to start? Let us help you out.

Some of these projects may require advanced skills if you try to tackle them yourself. Remember to research your project thoroughly before you start, and if you think it might be over your head, talk with a professional.

1. Install a sun tube to bring natural lighting inside your home. A sun tube is a tube-shaped skylight. The inside of the tube is covered with a reflective coating that extends down from your roof into your living space and provides natural daylight. They’re not as hard to install as a full skylight nor do they take up as much room. But they do let you bring sunshine down into a normally dark part of your home —such as a room or hallway on the north side of your home.

2. Make a more welcoming entryway. Curiously enough, one of the biggest returns on investment for your home at sale time is a new steel front door. Not only do you get the security of steel, there’s also the energy benefit from the magnetic weather stripping that works really, really well. The return on investment at resale averages 101%! Of course, one big way to make your front entryway even more secure is to improve it’s overall visibility from the street —which adds to your home’s curb appeal. You also want the landscaping to compliment your home but not hide the doorway. That way, your visitors will always feel welcome and safe when they arrive.

3. Garage upgrades. If you have an attached garage, having an insulated garage door can help reduce your energy costs. But how they are rated can be tricky. Garage doors are basically panels with metal hinged frames. The panels might be insulated, but the metal frames can conduct heat out of the garage and reduce the effectiveness of the insulation. Still, it’s better to have something than nothing — so do your research carefully and consider your options carefully.

One thing to include, however, is a garage door threshold seal. The seal attaches to the concrete where your garage door closes and acts like a gasket to fully close your garage, shutting out weather, dust, and mice. Some use landscaping glue to attach it to the concrete, others use screws. Either way, it’s a handy way to close a 16 to 20 foot gap.

4. Install a self-sealing dryer vent. For less than $20, you can close off one of the leakiest drafts in your home and seal out varmints as well. The UltraSeal Dryer Vent attaches to your existing dry vent outside. When the dryer is running, the air flow keeps the vent cap open. When it stops, the cap drops down over the vent pipe opening. This totally killed a major draft in our laundry room this past winter. One note: while this is made of good quality plastic, UV radiation will degrade it after a few years (especially during winter). Before installing it, paint it with a few coats of epoxy appliance spray paint.

5. Update Your bathroom. There’s the much touted (but scarcely cited) headline that “In 2011 bathrooms became more important to home buyers than kitchens.” That’s not really surprising given how many design choices and features are available now compared to the past. The main ones, like oversized bathtubs (including spa tubs) and lots of bathroom storage are very important if you’re thinking about the return on your remodeling investment. It can be as high as 85%. Adding a second sink is great, too, if you have room. A great source of bathroom design ideas are found at


Powering the Lone Star State: the Energy Outlook for Texas in 2015

Powering the Lone Star State: the Energy Outlook for Texas in 2015Now that it’s midway through Winter 2015, many people wonder what the coming summer will be like. In particular, “How hot it will get, and what does this mean for electricity in my Texas community.” Well, back in December 2014, the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released its energy usage forcast for this coming year (and beyond).

The good news is that the report states that there is plenty of capacity to meet demand during Summer 2015. However, there are still a few problems that could complicate service in parts of some cities. And if you’re living in one of those areas, you’ll want to know what those problems are and how they might affect you and your family.

Crunching the Numbers

ERCOT expects a possible peak demand of 69,057 megawatts (MW). For scale, 1 MW = the use of about 200 houses during peak summer demand (that’s 5 kw per house). In order to ensure there’s enough electricity, there needs to be extra capacity just in case generators are unavailable (due to scheduled maintenance or sudden technical problems) and demand is rising. That’s when so-called “peaker” generation can fire up to meet demand. That reserve margin for this summer is 15.7%, bringing the total generation capacity up to 77,000 MW. Part of that generation includes new 2,109 MW of capacity fueled by natural gas, 710 MW of wind and 38 MW of solar (both maximum rated or “nameplate” capacity) that has been installed since last May.

However, if reserves are not available, customers will be asked to reduce consumption to reduce the load. This can include demand-response programs that allow the local utilities to control home air conditioning, pool pumps, and industrial usage. High demand and low supply can lead to rolling blackouts in order to prevent damage to the entire grid network.

The Influence of Renewable Energy

This year, contributions from renewable energy are being estimated differently: partly because there’s enough historical performance data and also because the new CREZ transmission lines have reduced congestion, allowing more power to flow.

Wind power is estimated to be at 12% nameplate capacity from non-coastal wind areas and 56% from coastal facilities during the summer, with those capacities changing to 19% and 36% respectively in the winter. The state’s only offshore wind farm was in its planning stage and lost its lease this past July.

Utility scale solar, meanwhile, is counted at nameplate capacity with the plan being that, once that capacity increases to over 200 MW of “commercial-scale,” there will enough historical data behind it to provide a more accurate estimation of performance. Current installed wind capacity is 11,000 MW while solar is 189 MW (about 0.2% of total capacity).

Powering the Lone Star State: the Energy Outlook for Texas in 2015

Future Demand Chart courtesy of ERCOT.

Some Complications Ahead

The ERCOT report lays out two problems that could lead to complications in the coming years. One is growing demand from reviving economy and increasing population. By 2020, Texas’s population is predicted to rise by about 2 million people with summer peak electric demand rising 1.5 % from 69,057 MW to about 74,000 MW. While not much of an increase, this ratio leaves less reserve power available. In the long term, growth is expected to continue while total capacity will likely remained pinned at 80,000 MW. Options include building more generation and opening up transmission access to other US grid systems (which would open up a reluctant ERCOT to more Federal oversight).

While the CREZ transmission project has been attracting more wind farm developers in the north and west, the second problem looms for southern part of Texas: the need for additional transmission capacity to the growing Houston metropolitan area. During 2014, the south side of Houston had the most frequent —and expensive— congestion problems in all of ERCOT. While Houston’s electrical demand has increased, there has been little generation development or transmission built to support it.

During the last few years, only 1,800 MW of new generation replaced 3,800 MW of old capacity that was retired. Add to this the anticipated 690 MW of load from a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, and the growing concern over Houston energy prices as well as who’s going to pay for the line becomes palpable.

Powering the Lone Star State: the Energy Outlook for Texas in 2015

Unites States Map Image courtesy of NOAA.

Whither the Weather?

With all that in mind as we experience the rest of winter (predicted to be colder than the beginning) and head into summer, NOAA’s long term prediction is for “equal chance” (33.33% ) for above, normal, or below average temperatures for all of Texas from June through August 2015. Statistical equivocating aside, given that the West and East Coasts are likely to be warmer than average with a mostly neutral El Niño, Texas might simply be content with only normal-ish heat during the summer.

Thus, while it’s still mid-winter, perhaps it’s best to expect one sure thing about this summer’s Texas weather: change. At least it looks like ERCOT will be able to supply your Texas community with enough electricity to get you through it.

6 Easy Tips to Prepare Your Texas Home for Winter

6 Easy Tips to Prepare Your Texas Home for Winter

Winter Home image courtesy of Freeman at (

With the recent blast of arctic cold pushing the temperatures in Houston all the way down to 32°F on November 18, many Texans are dreading the coming deep, dark months of January and February. This past week’s cold weather will have given you some really good clues about where to start reducing your energy use and improving your home’s efficiency. So, instead of bitterly dreading the coming cold months, let’s look at our six home improvement tips to prepare your Texas home for the rest of winter.

1)  Replace worn-out weatherstripping.

6 Easy Tips to Prepare Your Texas Home for Winter

Check Your Weatherstripping!

One of the easiest ways to find drafts in your home is by lighting a stick of incense and observing the wisps of smoke to see if it is blown or pulled in one direction or not. Drafts enter through doors or windows that are not shutting with a good seal. If your door or windows rattle when they are closed (photo on right), then outside cold air is entering. Both doors and windows should have weather stripping applied on both sides (jambs) and across the top (lintel) so that when the door closes, it has a good seal.

Most newer EnergyStar rated entry doors use weather stripping that magnetically sticks to the metal door (photo on left). Meanwhile, worn-out foam weatherstripping usually crumbles or falls off. If you need to replace weather stripping, use a foam type that will squish (compress AND expand) to give a good seal (center photo). Most are seal adhesive and will work with any kind of door, including wooden ones.

2) Seal the windows

6 Easy Tips to Prepare Your Texas Home for Winter

Caulk those Windows!

While new energy efficient windows are sealed inside their frames, many older windows are held in place with glazing. Over time, glazing can crack and break. The window panes become loose in the frame, and not only do they let in outside air, they are more likely to break.

Glazing needs to be done right to preserve the  window’s look and you want the angles to be neat and clean. The weather is also important to keep in mind, too, because glazing takes a while to dry and cure.

If you’d rather wait until spring, then a safe and reliable temporary fix is to use silicon caulk. Scrape out the old, loose glazing and lay down one or two beads to hold in the glass. Remember to clean out any dust, debris, and old paint lumps from sash window tracks or casement seals because these can keep the windows from closing properly.

Tip: Be sure the glass and the frame are clean and dry before caulking.

3  Subtle clues

6 Easy Tips to Prepare Your Texas Home for Winter

Watch out for Mold!

Sometimes, you have to rely on an unlikely and unhealthy ally to find drafts. Cold air can cause condensation problems leading to mold growth. If your home has black mold growing in it during the heating season, chances are that cold air is entering your home, causing condensation, and providing a friendly environment for mold and mildew spores to grow.

The photo on the left shows a ceiling with a smudge of black mold growing surrounded by condensation. Even though there was adequate insulation in the attic space above, cold air was somehow penetrating the wall. It wasn’t until some of the exterior trim was removed that it showed an expansion gap in the siding, letting cold air into a half-inch wide slot left above the sheathing. Some expanding foam and caulk sealed the leak. The trim piece was replaced and the problem was solved.

4) Keep it flowing

Cleaning out rain gutters one last time before winter sets in can help avoid many serious problems. Blocked, over-flowing rain gutters can spill water down the exterior of your home, allowing water to penetrate paneling. In older homes, this can trap moisture and begin rotting the wall framing leading to expensive repairs. In homes up in north Texas, blocked rain gutters can freeze and over-flow. The cumulative ice weight can tear rain gutters completely from the side of the house. In some cases, clogged gutters may contribute to ice dam problems that seriously damage roofs.

5) Stay in hot water

Most hot water heaters in use today are just tanks of water that are kept hot all day and night until you are ready to use the water. That “stand-by” heating can use a lot of energy. Adding an additional layer of insulation to your hot water heater can add savings to your energy costs. Both a water heater jacket and pipe insulation can reduce about 4%–9% in water heating costs. Another efficiency tip is to flush your water heater tank twice a year to help clear sediment and scale from the bottom of the tank.

6) Just blowing hot air?

6 Easy Tips to Prepare Your Texas Home for Winter

Fix Your Ductwork!

You may have already replaced the dirty air filter in your HVAC system. That’s great. But you should also check your ductwork. HVAC systems move a lot of air and they vibrate. Occasionally, sections of ductwork can vibrate apart —especially when the ductwork may be under tension.

Reassemble any loose or disconnected sections with sheet metal screws and seal those joints with aluminum tape. Check over any metal joints on the air handler for escaping air and coat these with either silicon caulk or ductwork mastic (use a brush or a putty knife). If your system uses insulated flex duct work in the attic, keep an eye out for kinks where it bends sharply or sags in a hanger causing it to restrict air flow to a room.

How much could you save?

All these little fixes won’t cost very much —probably $50 or less when you add in the water heater jacket and pipe insulation as well as expanding foam, caulk, and weather stripping. True, these little jobs may take a weekend or two of your time, but the important things to remember are the potential energy savings. The US Department of Energy estimates that homeowners can save 5% to 30% per year just by reducing drafts. Duct sealing savings alone can run as high as $200-$400 a year in Texas. And best of all, these jobs may help prevent really expensive repairs in the future.

When you couple the savings from these home improvement tips with the increased comfort you feel throughout your Texas home, you might hardly notice the next arctic blast and start liking winter.

5 Helpful Tips for Saving Energy when Renting a Home

5 Helpful Tips for Saving Energy when Renting a HomeIf you’re renting a house or an apartment, autumn in Texas is usually the season that’s easiest on your electric bill. While much of the northern half of the country is shivering with from frosty fall temperatures, most of Texas is still enjoying moderate weather. Normal fall temperatures in Houston range from daytime highs in the mid 70′s to night time lows in the mid 50′s. Still, autumn is also nature’s way of telling you that the temperature will go down —and your energy bill will go up. If you’re renting a house or apartment in Texas, you face limits on what you can do to improve energy efficiency on your landlord’s property.

So, what can you do to be more energy efficient and reduce your energy bills?

Quite a lot, in fact. While you might not be allowed to install new major appliances or installed a smart thermostat, we’ve got 5 ways you can save energy as a renter so you can potentially lower your electric bill.

5 Helpful Tips for Saving Energy when Renting a Home1)  Swap Out Incandescent Bulbs for CFLs or LED Bulbs 

If your apartment has 10 standard-sized light sockets with 60-watt (800 lumen) incandescent bulbs in them, then replacing them with 10 13-watt (800 lumen) CFL or LED bulbs uses 470 FEWER watts per hour. Assuming all 10 lights are used for 1 hour every day for 1 month, CFLs and LED can reduce your electric use by 14,100 watts (14 kWh) —or about $1.40 off your monthly electric bill (assuming 10¢/kWh). That might not be huge, but the point is that energy usage does add up.

2) Become a Fan of Fans

Ceiling fans add extra air circulation that improves air quality. So, if there is a ceiling fan in your apartment, remember to switch its spin direction to clockwise for cooling and counter-clockwise for heating.

Tip – Clean dust from the blades before you switch it or little dust caterpillars will fly everywhere.

Also, remember to change the air filter on your heating, ventilation, and air conditioner (HVAC) system every three months (or more often for someone who smokes and/ or has pets). Air filters improve air quality, but can get clogged over time and reduce your HVAC’s efficiency — and that will cost you.

3) It’s Curtains for You!

Not only do insulated or thermal-backed drapes block out the sun and cut heat gain to a room by 33%, they can also break up convection air currents around a window, which helps keep the room cooler. In cold weather, backed curtains reduce the amount of heat loss by 25%.

Tip – In winter, keep drapes closed on the north-facing windows and open the south-facings ones during the day to catch warm sunlight.

5 Helpful Tips for Saving Energy when Renting a Home4) Program Your Thermostat Properly

Depending on your building, setting back the temperature for heating (and cooling) can save between 5% to 8%, with some savings approaching 13% in winter and 23% in summer.

If your place doesn’t have a programmable thermostat option, get in the habit of setting it back yourself. Hard to remember, yes; but think of ways to remind yourself. For example, you can program reminders into your smart phone, laptop, or just hang an eye-grabbing sign from the thermostat to flip when you adjust it. Silly? Not when you can save up to 15% a year on your energy bill.

5 Helpful Tips for Saving Energy when Renting a Home5) Watch for Appliances that Run Poorly and Waste Energy

Often, such appliances just require “preventive maintenance” or cleaning. If any major appliance, such as the HVAC, laundry, or stove, isn’t working properly, tell your landlord. Keep at it until the problem gets fixed — after all, they’re investing in the upkeep of their property.

Of course, regularly cleaning your place can eliminate many problems before they start. Refrigerators, for example, will use more energy if air circulation around their cooling coils gets blocked with dust or dirt.

Tip — Overfilling your fridge will reduce air circulation on the inside, too, and make it use more energy.

Also be on the look out for windows or doors that fail to close properly. Not only do these let in drafts, they can let in pests as well as turn into potential security problems.

So while renting a home or apartment in Texas may seem to limit ways for you to reduce your energy costs, you actually have far more energy efficiency options than you might realize. Learning what energy conservation options are open to you will help you save more. Plus, you’ll learn how to adapt them to ways that fit your circumstances in the future.

After all, you’re not going to be here forever - you’re just renting.

Energy News in Your Texas Community

This month, our Texas Energy News is all up in the air with mining pollutants from the sky, the future of solar farms and if panels will be painted out, and why ERCOT and a pair of Houston generator companies are getting all strung-out over a transmission line to power Houston.

shutterstock_79940851Texas Company To Mine the Sky…?
On October 21, Skyonic Corporation opened the Capitol SkyMine. The world’s first “commercial-scale carbon capture and utilization facility”, the SkyMine captures CO2, SOX, NO2, and mercury and other heavy metals from generator flue gases and turns them into hydrochloric acid, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and other byproducts. Designed to capture around 75,000 tonnes (82,673 US tons) of CO2, the $125 million installation scrubs flue gases from Capitol Aggregates cement mill in San Antonio and is expected to make $48 million in revenue and $28 million in annual earnings from greenhouse gases that otherwise would be released into the air. Skyonic’s mineralization technology is scaleable, allowing power plants to adjust the amount of CO2 scrubbing from 10% to 99% (depending on plant capability) and can be used to replace existing scrubbing systems and virtually eliminate their associated costs.

energy postTax Deadline Driving Texas’ Sunny Solar Future?
There’s been lots of recent talk about building more solar photovoltaic farms in Texas. Texas may be the US wind generation leader but has only about 75 megawatts of utility-sized capacity. Yet, financial services firm Ernst & Young recently ranked Texas 6th for solar energy potential, saying:

“Texas…has the most untapped solar potential in the country…That could change soon as ground was just broken on a project that will generate 400 MW of solar power by 2016 making it the largest municipal solar project in the US to date.”

Now, that 400 MW project (the Alamo project) AND the report has set a lot of chins wagging about the sunny side of Texas solar, including the Motley Fool and the City of San Antonio which intends on becoming a national leader in solar technology. Even Xcel Energy recently invited bids for its own 200 MW installation. But before you start thinking even flint-hearted investors have succumbed to the sunny charms of renewable energy, remember that the solar investment tax credit slams the door shut at the end of 2016.

IMG_2139Will Paint Make Panels Passé?
Lucelo Technologies, a Texas company based in Austin, has been busy developing solar paint. Instead of pigment floating in a solvent solution, Lucelo puts nano-crystals that absorb sunlight. While the actual process of collecting the electricity from a coated surface still needs to be worked out (the efficiency is only around 3%, panels run between 15%- 20%), it’s fun to think about the small current applications. House or car paints that power LED lights, clothing dyes that power personal electronics, and even new distractions on packaging.
Image IMG_2139.JPG By pedrojperez courtesy of Morguefile

shutterstock_64741621Texas Power Companies Wired Over Wires
Two Texas electric generation companies, NRG and Calpine, have been battling ERCOT and Centerpoint to stop the $590 million “Houston Import Project” since July. The 130 mile Limestone–Gibbons Creek–Zenith 345-kV transmission line project is designed to bring more electricity to the Houston metro area. Some have estimated that the area’s population will soon begin adding 100,000 new residents a year and all that new electrical demand will overload current capacity. ERCOT believes the project needs to be in place by 2018 to maintain reliability and prevent blackouts. NRG and Calpine, meanwhile are criticizing the methodology legitimizing the project and are arguing the added capacity isn’t needed. They maintain that more generators will be built in the Houston area once wholesale electricity prices rise. Lawyers for both sides debated the project before the Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUCT) on October 17.

All ERCOT customer will pay a share of the project’s cost. CenterPoint estimates an extra 35 to 40 cents will be added to residential customers’ monthly bills. Meanwhile, the PUCT is expected to rule on the project November 14.

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.


The City of Dallas developed 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 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.


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 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!