Saturday, July 30, 2016

Simple tips to save money, conserve energy as the heat rises

(BPT) - With temperatures — and therefore, electric bills — on the rise, American homeowners are looking for the most effective ways to make the biggest dent in their energy bills; however, many may be overlooking some of the most important energy-saving strategies.
Homeowners are more likely to do simple things around the house to conserve energy, according to the Lennox Home Energy Report Card Survey. Those simple things may include changing air filters in a heating and cooling system on a regular basis, unplugging electronics when not in use and turning down the temperature setting on a hot water heater.
While these activities can certainly help save energy and money, Jennifer Franz, an energy efficiency expert at Lennox, a home heating and cooling manufacturer, says homeowners need to take a close look at how they heat and cool their homes if they truly want to make a substantial dent in their energy bills.
“More than half of a home’s energy costs comes from heating and cooling the house,” says Franz. “If you can heat or cool your home more efficiently, then you’ll be well on your way to seeing lower energy bills.”
The first step is to have a professional evaluate the age, performance and efficiency of your heating and cooling system. The Lennox survey found that only slightly more than half of homeowners (51 percent) had taken the proactive step of replacing an old, inefficient heating and cooling system with a new, energy-efficient model, yet doing so can dramatically help conserve energy and reduce utility bills.
Franz says if the air conditioning system is more than 10 years old or the furnace is more than 15 years old — the average life spans of cooling and heating equipment — then it’s time to consider replacing the aging unit with a new high efficiency system.
Energy-saving technologies
Significant advances in energy-efficient technologies have enabled homeowners to save hundreds of dollars a year on their energy bills. One example is the Lennox SunSource Home Energy System — a solar-powered central heating and cooling system — that uses energy from the sun, collected from roof-mounted solar modules, to reduce the electricity consumed by a high-efficiency heat pump or air conditioner.
When the SunSource heating and cooling system is not in use, the solar energy can operate other appliances and electronics. Any excess energy that’s not needed is sent back to the utility company, possibly entitling the homeowner to a credit on their utility bill.
Other energy-efficient ways to cool and heat a home
In addition to replacing an old heating and cooling system, Franz says there are a number of other ways to make heating and cooling your home more efficient. She offers the following energy-saving tips:
* Seal cracks around windows and doors with caulk or weather stripping to prevent indoor air from escaping.
* Keep blinds, shades and curtains closed during the day in the summer to block sunlight from entering the home, but open them up in the winter to naturally warm the house.
* Install a smart thermostat, which can be controlled via an app from anywhere at any time, to adjust the temperature based on when residents are at home or away.
* Add extra insulation to the attic, which will help prevent your home’s heating and cooling system from having to work harder to regulate the indoor temperature.
For more energy-saving tips, visit

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Backyard bounty: Vegetables are nature's original nutritional powerhouses

(BPT) - You’ve probably heard the chatter around how a handful of unusual foods are must-eat nutritional powerhouses — and wondered how you’ll ever get your kids to try kale or chia seeds. But you don’t have to stress over how to incorporate the latest health food fads into your family’s diet in order to get powerful nutrition.
The truth is, those headline-grabbers aren’t the only nutritional powerhouses. Most vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals, so quit worrying about how to pronounce acai or where to find seaweed in the supermarket. Instead, improve your family’s diet and save some money by growing nutrition-packed vegetables right in your own backyard. Keep these tips in mind:
Growing squash is easier than finding chia seeds. Many vegetables are easy to grow in any home environment, whether it’s a large garden plot or pots on your patio. Leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, arugula and kale are full of nutrients and simple to grow, even for beginners. Transplants, like those offered by Bonnie Plants, make it even easier by helping you bypass the work of starting from seed. Plus, you’ll harvest six weeks sooner.
* Healthy benefits go far beyond nutrition. Growing your own vegetables and herbs means you’ll always have a fresh supply of nutrient-rich food at home. But gardening also delivers healthful exercise, time in the fresh air, and it’s a relaxing and satisfying activity.
* Gardens are good for Mother Nature. The more food you grow at home, the fewer natural resources will be needed to grow veggies in far off places and ship them to your local supermarket. Your garden is also a great opportunity to recycle household food waste as compost. Plus, when you choose Bonnie Plants in biodegradable pots, you’re saving millions of pounds of plastic from landfills. The pots decompose, add nutrients to the soil and help prevent transplant shock.
* Gardening could get your kids excited about veggies — really! When kids participate in gardening, they take ownership of the plants they help grow. And with their hands in the dirt, they’re not on their cellphones or playing video games. Kids who grow veggies are much more likely to eat them, and make gardening an ongoing, healthy habit.
* Save money at the supermarket. Growing your own food means you’ll spend much less money in the produce aisle. Plus, you can grow a wide variety of vegetables and herbs, even expensive, restaurant-style “foodie” greens you may not have tried otherwise.
The plant pros at Bonnie recommend these nutrient powerhouses to jumpstart your garden:
* Strawberries — Just one cup of berries contains 3 grams of fiber and more than a full day’s recommended allowance of vitamin C. Phenols are potent antioxidants that work to protect the heart, fight cancer, block inflammation, and they give strawberries their red color.
* Sweet potatoes — Alpha and beta carotene give sweet potatoes their bright orange color, and your body converts these compounds into vitamin A, which is good for your eyes, bones and immune system. A half cup of sweet potato provides nearly four times the daily recommended allowance of vitamin A, plus vitamins C, B6, potassium and manganese.
* Broccoli — This green nutritional giant delivers vitamins C, A and K (associated with bone health), folate and sulforaphane that helps stimulate the body’s detoxifying enzymes.
* Tomatoes — Tomatoes provide vitamins A, C and B, potassium and lycopene — an important phytonutrient thought to help fight various cancers and lower cholesterol.
* Spinach — Spinach contains more than a dozen phytonutrients, and twice the daily recommended allowance of vitamin K. These nutrients contribute to cardiovascular and colon health, better brain function, eyesight and increased energy.
* Kale — Kale contains vitamins A, C and K. A cup of cooked kale gives you more than 1,000 percent of the daily value for vitamin K. It’s also high in manganese, which promotes bone density.
* Cauliflower — Low in calories and carbohydrates, cauliflower is packed with a long list of nutrients, including phytonutrients. They say cauliflower is the new kale!
For more information on growing nutritional powerhouse vegetables, visit Bonnie Plants is the largest producer and supplier of vegetable and herb plants in North America. You’ll find their plants at Home Depot, Walmart, Lowes and 4,700 independent garden retailers.

Save big on home heating, cooling costs with this building method

(BPT) - If you are planning to build a new home or add on to your existing home, you likely take for granted that it will be constructed with “sticks.” For more than 100 years, homes in North America have been built using hundreds of individual pieces of lumber, wall studs, floor joists and similar framing pieces.
Although so-called “stick-built” homes are the norm, the resulting walls and roofs are notoriously drafty and difficult to insulate well.
As homeowners become more interested in saving on home heating and cooling costs, more are turning to higher performance building methods, such as structural insulated panels (SIPs). SIPs are large wall and roof sections made of wood panels laminated to a solid insulating foam core.
Because the insulation in SIPs is continuous across the height, length and width of each panel, they are more energy efficient than stick construction, which consists of hundreds of pieces of lumber dividing portions of insulation every 16-24 inches, resulting in numerous gaps for energy exchange and pollutants to enter a building. U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) tests show SIP structures are up to 15 times more airtight than stick-built construction, and therefore offer higher insulating values. As a result, building with SIPs can reduce home heating/cooling energy use up to 60 percent, saving homeowners money year-after-year for the life of their home.
“Everyone is so amazed by the energy efficiency SIPs provide,” says Scott Bergford, a DOE Energy Value Housing Award Builder of the Year, based in Olympia, Washington. “It only costs an average of $200 to $300 a year to heat one of my homes. That’s anywhere from one-fifth to one-six the typical costs for this region, so the savings are pretty significant, and the homeowners love that.”
“As they learn what is now possible in construction, more homeowners are asking their builders for high-performance, energy efficient materials like triple pane windows and SIPs,” says Joe Pasma, Technical Manager for Premier SIPs, North America’s largest SIP panel manufacturer. “To further boost our panels’ energy efficiency, soon all of our SIPs will be made with insulating foam enhanced with graphite — a product called Platinum GPS.”
At first glance, a SIP might not look very strong given the rigid foam core. But, extensive testing shows SIPs are structurally superior to lumber framing. When a devastating earthquake struck Kobe, Japan, in 1995, the SIP-built structures were some of the few homes that remained standing, despite the severe ground shaking.
And, despite being a manufactured component, SIPs can be adapted for use in any architectural style — from Colonial to contemporary.
Many homeowners wonder about the cost of SIP construction, given the range of benefits the panels provide. SIPs generally cost about the same as stick construction, considering that they enable faster home construction, reduced heating and cooling equipment and reduced disposal costs from construction waste.