Maine Energy Blog

From LED bulbs to window coverings, five easy ways to cut energy use in your home

The Portland Press Herald breaks down five simple solutions for cutting your home heating bill without switching fuel systems:

With all the political wrangling this year around solar policy and natural gas expansion, it’s easy for Mainers to overlook the most obvious and cost-effective ways to save money and use less energy in their own homes.

For more on this topic, see the original article here.

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Misstep turns good news into bad for Summit Natural Gas

The Portland Press Herald explains how a pricing error by Summit Natural Gas has lead to a spike in prices for Maine customers.

“The proposed rate this heating season for home customers of Summit Natural Gas of Maine is the lowest since the company began operating in 2013, and is comparable to current average heating oil prices, figures compiled by the Governor’s Energy Office show.

This would seem to be a selling point for Summit, which entered Maine three years ago with the promise of expanding the state’s limited natural gas pipeline network and providing a cleaner, more-affordable alternative to heating oil.

But Summit came under fire last Thursday after it emailed a notice to its customers showing that its residential rate would climb 154 percent starting Oct. 1. The pending increase, however, was calculated off the current, unusually low summer rate, which draws little attention since people don’t heat their homes in the summer.”

For more on this topic, see the original article here.

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Surprise Natural Gas Drawdown Signals Higher Prices Ahead

Oilprice.com reports that natural gas supplies are lower than predicted following the warm summer months, which could drive up winter heating costs for homeowners:

Natural gas consumption patterns are much more seasonal than for oil. Demand tends to spike in the winter due to heating needs, and then drops substantially in the intervening months, particularly in the spring and fall. Between March/April and October/November, natural gas inventories build up as people need less heating, and that stockpiled gas is then used in the next winter.

So it comes as a surprise that after a record buildup in inventories this past winter, the summer has seen a much lower-than-expected buildup in storage. And last week’s drawdown, the first in over a decade during summertime, says quite a bit about the shifting energy landscape. The EIA says this is the result of two factors: higher consumption from electric power plants, and a drop off in production.

For more on this topic, see the original article at Oilprice.com.

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Complete Spring Maintenance Checklist for Homeowners

Check your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors 

Your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are your first line of defense in a home emergency, and they need to be checked every so often. Many have batteries that should be replaced, and sometimes have expiration dates on them that let you know when it is time for a new alarm altogether.

Replace outside lighting with motion-activated lights

Not only will this help save you money on lighting costs, it will also be a security upgrade for your home. Outdoor flood lights are a deterrent against theft and trespassing on your property, and will automatically shut off when they’re not needed.

Your fire extinguishers can expire, so check them

Do you have a fire extinguisher in your home or garage? They will need to be recharged every so often to still work, and some have expiration dates where new extinguishers will need to be purchased. Check your fire extinguishers; you never want to find yourself with a non-working extinguisher when there is a fire emergency.

Check your water heater for leaks and corrosion

During the cold winter months, you’ve put your water heater through the ringer. After heating all your dishwashing and showering for the past few months, some wear-and-tear could be appearing on the tank. Check the water heater for any leaks, and examine it for places where corrosion could be eating into it.

Clean or replace your furnace filter

Similarly, your furnace has been working hard over the cold months of winter. Check the filter, and replace it if necessary. This can greatly improve the air quality of your house.

Schedule a home energy assessment

Did you think your heating costs were too high this winter? You may have drafts you don’t know about in your home. The spring is the time to have a home energy assessment team come out and run some tests, to see how efficient your home is at regulating its temperature. They’ll use an infrared camera and a “blower door test” to see where the heat is escaping. This is also great to do before air conditioner season is upon us.

Vacuum out your dryer’s lint trap and hose

This is one of the biggest fire hazards in the home, because lint is highly combustible. Vacuum out the lint trap after removing the screen from your dryer. Also, unscrew the dryer hose connected to the back of your machine and vacuum that as well, the lint has been building up for over a year and is a potential fire hazard.

Vacuum HVAC vents and baseboards

Your central air vents and baseboard heating can get clogged with dust and debris. Unscrew the coverings and vacuum out the vents and baseboards, and get your heating and air conditioning running at peak performance.

Pressure wash your vinyl siding

Mold and mildew can grow on any surface, especially if your home has damp or shady spots on it’s outside. Renting a pressure washer and blasting clean your vinyl siding will keep your house looking great, and your siding lasting for years.

Clean out your gutters

Nobody likes doing it, but it needs to be done. Heavy spring rains could spell disaster for your roof if the water doesn’t drain properly. That leads to rot and water damage under your shingles, and possibly in your attic. Grab a bucket, some gloves, and a ladder, and clear out your gutters.

Check the basement, check the attic

The winter is when pests come inside to survive, so the spring is the time to check and see if uninvited guests have done any damage. Check your basement and your attic for any insect damage or signs of rodent infestation.

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Spring Cleaning Guide for Homeowners in Maine, Room By Room

Start at the Top by Cleaning Your Ceilings

Clean those light fixtures

Your lights are a major facet of how your house feels. Open up any light covers and clean out the dead bugs and dust, and wipe them down like you would any glass surface, with a microfiber cloth and just a touch of water. If you have old bulbs, it might be time to upgrade to some brighter LEDs.

Check your ceiling fans

Not only do they get caked with dust, they also have “winter” and “summer” settings. Now’s the time to change it from its winter (clockwise) spin to its spring (counter-clockwise) spin, so that the circulation in the room increases. Wipe those blades down while you’re up there. Want to keep the dust off your ceiling fan? Wipe them down with furniture polish. Dust has a hard time sticking to the surface after that.

Get Cooking In the Kitchen

Clean out the fridge and the cabinets

Everyone has a dented can of soup that’s been knocking around on their top shelf for years, some jar of mystery condiment on the door of their fridge, or a frostbitten bag of peas in the freezer. If you’re not going to use it — get rid of it.

Clean the refrigerator fans and coils

Fans and coils are usually right behind the “toe-grill” of your fridge. These parts keep your fridge running for much longer, and prevent overheating. Not only will your fridge run better, but its energy usage will plummet, and you could save some cash on energy bills.

Polish up your appliances and your stove top

There are a thousand products for this, but sometimes nothing beats the power of a damp sponge heated up in your microwave. It’ll cut through the cooking gunk with ease — just make sure you’re wearing gloves when you pick it up.

Seal your countertops

If your countertops are stone, make sure they’re sealed. Granite, marble, and many other stone surfaces are porous, which means spills could actually stain them. Not sure if you need to seal them? To check, pour a little water on your countertop. If the water doesn’t bead, it’s time to reseal.

Get Your Windows Crystal-Clear

DIY Cleaner

Wash your windows with a DIY-solution of 2 cups warm water, ¼ cup of white vinegar, and ½ teaspoon of dish detergent. Instead of wiping them down with paper towels, a crumpled handful of newspaper will give you streakless windows.

Vacuum the debris

Vacuum out the debris that’s been collecting in the sills, or water might sit in the seams of your windows. This leads to rot, and that leads to needing new windows.

Use your shades or blinds wisely

They can drastically cut down on the heat of a house in the summer by blocking the sunlight, and this will keep you cooler and save on energy costs. This will be especially helpful if you think your AC is running too much.

Make Your Living Room More Livable

Protect your furniture

Someone is going to spill something on your furniture this season. It’s unavoidable. So protect your upholstered surfaces with a spray or sealant, like Scotchgard. This prevents not only that wine spill from staining your couch, but prevents the growth of molds, mildew and bacteria.

Renew and restore your wooden surfaces with a home-made wood polish

Mix ½ a teaspoon of olive oil with ½ cup of vinegar or lemon juice. Put that mixture in a spray bottle, and use on any wood surface. Wipe clean with a microfiber cloth.

Keep your dust levels down by simply adjusting your home’s humidity level

Dry air causes static electricity to attract dust to every surface. Too high humidity, however, and you could find yourself with a breeding ground for dust mites, a big allergy trigger. Keep your home humidity between 40-50%, the sweet spot for low static electricity and low dust mite populations.

Don’t Forget the Bathroom

Clean those troublesome shower doors, and keep them clean by applying a rain-repellent made for car windshields. This will make the water bead and roll off, and keep the doors crystal clear. Head over to your local auto parts store and pick some up.

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Home Heating Energy Options: What Warms Up Your Room

Natural Gas, Propane, and Heating Oil – Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels, like natural gas, propane, heating oil, and even coal, are actually plants, animals, and microorganisms that died millions of years ago. These elements decompose within the earth, and intense heat and pressure in the earth’s crust slowly, over great periods of time, changes them. Compression and heat forces the carbon bonds in the organic matter to break down, creating the fossil fuels we use every day.

Learn about Heating Oil

How does heating oil work?

Heating oil systems are pretty straightforward. Oil is delivered in trucks and pumped into a home’s oil tank. The oil then travels from the tank into an oil burner by a pump, where it is mixed with air to produce a fine combustible mist. That mist is injected into a burner, and electrically ignited in the combustion chamber. This heat warms up air or water, depending on your heating system, and is then delivered around the home. The emissions produced after the combustion are released through a ventilation pipe, that usually exits out of a home through the chimney.

How is heating oil made?

Heating oil is a byproduct of crude oil being converted into gasoline through the refining process. Gasoline consumption has risen over the years, and that has led to a surplus in home heating oil. Almost all of the heating oil produced for home usage is produced and refined in the United States and Canada. Today, heating oil is blended with biofuels (usually waste soybean oil) up to 5% to help the US achieve its renewable Fuel Standard goals. Maine has a few biofuel producers that create Biodiesel out of waste grease and animal fat which can be added to heating oil.

Learn about Natural Gas

How does natural gas work?

Natural gas is brought into a home through buried gas mains, located under your local streets. This pressurized gas runs into a burner in either a furnace — an air-based heating system — or a boiler, a water-based heating system. The burner ignites the gas and this heat warms up air or water, depending on your heating system, and is then delivered around the home (air ducts for hot air, baseboard radiators for hot water). The emissions produced after the combustion are released through a ventilation pipe that usually exits out of a home through either a chimney or through a side wall vent.

How do we get natural gas?

The production of natural gas is similar to any other fossil fuel production. Usually, a company will drill into the earth vertically near oil deposits, and tap into pockets of natural gas. Sometimes, water and chemicals are forced into rock seams to push the natural gas out when it is hard to get, a process called “fracking.”

Learn About Propane

What is propane, and how is it made?

Propane is a pressurized and chilled gas that, when allowed to warm, vaporizes and acts similarly to natural gas as a source of combustion, creating heat for homes and businesses. Propane gets delivered to your home, and is stored in tanks. Propane is part of the refining process of separating natural gas liquids (NGL) after extracting from the well. This NGL is further refined into methane (utility natural gas), butane, and propane and sold as one of those products. Propane is also created during the distillation process of refining crude oil.

Learn about Heat Pumps

How do heat pumps work?

A heat pump is a mechanical-compression cycle refrigeration system, run on electricity, that can either heat or cool a space. An indoor unit called an air handler is installed, and a unit similar to a central air conditioner (referred to as a heat pump) is installed outside. A compressor moves refrigerant inside and outside between these two units, absorbing or releasing heat. When it’s cold outside, a heat pump extracts outside heat and moves it indoors. When it’s hot out, it reverses the process and acts like an air conditioner, moving heat from indoors outside. They are highly efficient between 20 and 80 degrees.

How are heat pumps powered?

Electricity. They are wired into the electrical system of the house, and are powered like any other household appliance. Most electricity is generated in power plants by massive generators, and these are often powered by fossil fuels like natural gas or coal. Sometimes, these plants generate electricity through wind, nuclear, or water power. In peak electric usage time when there is high demand for air conditioning or heating, many oil-fired electric generating plants are called on line to supplement the power grid.  The best efficiency for transferring electricity from a generating plant to the home is 40%. Most plants and transmission lines lose more than 60% of their created energy by the time it reaches your house.

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