Last Minute Holiday Gifts: Energy-Efficient Edition

Last Minute Holiday Gifts

Tis the season for friends, family, and giving. If you still need last minute gift ideas, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular energy-efficient products. Watch out – you may even find yourself adding them to your own holiday wish list.

Instant Pot

$100

These pots – great for preparing any number of sides and entrees – use up to 70% less energy than conventional cooking methods. With pressure cooking, heat is evenly and quickly distributed, so dinner is ready in a fraction of the time it takes other cooking methods (i.e., boiling, steaming, baking, and slow cooking). This makes cooking convenient; especially for families always on the go.

Smart Speakers

Price Varies

There are a lot of options for smart speakers out there, but two devices reign supreme: Google Home and Amazon’s Echo. They both let users control their music, podcasts, and a wide assortment of smart home products. They are also both available in full and mini sizes. Which one is best? Ultimately, it’s a matter of preference, and which smart home ecosystem the receiver already owns or is planning to invest in.

Indoor Air Quality Monitors

$150

Know someone with allergies? Give them the gift of an air quality monitor, which allows them to accurately measure up to six main air quality indicators, including TVOC, CO2, PM2.5, PM10, temperature, and humidity. Users can visualize their indoor air quality with a compatible app. Smart home integration means that it works with select smart speakers. Its portable design allows users to set it anywhere they’d like.

Smart Thermostats

$250

Heating and cooling accounts for half the energy bill in most homes – more than appliances (big and small) or electronics. Smart thermostats, such as the Nest Learning Thermostat, work with smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon’s Echo to provide demonstrated energy savings and environmental benefits. Nest learns your schedule and preferred temperatures, programming itself for automatic comfort in about a week.

LED Smart Bulbs

Price Varies

With smart light bulbs, you no longer need to remember to turn off the lights, or come home to a dark house. Smart light bulbs are available in different shades of white, from warm to cool white, and color changing LEDs. Most are compatible with select smart speakers to allow you to control your lights with your voice. They also work with standard light fixtures; recessed lighting included. Pair with other smart devices for total home automation and energy efficiency.

Air Sealing Basics

air sealing

While it’s well-known that homes require insulation to mitigate heat loss through walls, ceilings and floors, the concept of air sealing is often less understood. Yet, the Green Building Advisor states that, “one third of the energy you pay for probably leaks through holes in your house.”

Air leaks occur when outside air enters and conditioned air leaves your house uncontrollably through cracks and openings. In addition to wasting energy, air leaks may contribute to moisture problems, and poor indoor air quality (U.S. Department of Energy, 1999).

Air sealing will save you money on heating and cooling costs, improve system longevity, and increase occupant comfort. It will also help to create a healthier indoor environment. Air sealing doesn’t require much effort, and is generally very cost-productive.

Air Sealing Measures

Some measures you can do yourself include:

  • Caulking around windows and doors
  • Installing foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates
  • Installing weatherstripping around windows and doors (include the garage door)
  • Replacing door bottoms (thresholds) with those that feature pliable gaskets

Other sources of air leaks, such as attic and lighting fixture penetrations, are best addressed by a professional. Before beginning any of these measures, it is a good idea to have a comprehensive energy audit performed, which includes both a visual inspection and thermal imaging scan. An energy audit can detect cold spots, air leaks and intrusion, energy-hogging appliances, and insufficient insulation levels.

Save with Energy Upgrade Rebates

Good news! There are several energy upgrade rebates available that make air sealing substantially more affordable. Eligible homeowners can recoup 75% of their project costs; up to $250 for air sealing and up to $400 for insulation through SRP. To check eligibility requirements, click here. We are an SRP Certified Contractor. APS and Electrical District No. 3 offer similar rebates.

Fall Preparation

fall preparation

Despite continuing triple-digit temperatures here in the Valley of the Sun, fall is just around the corner, which means cooler weather is on its way. As we enjoy our last few blissful weeks of summer, it’s wise to start getting our homes ready for the season ahead before it sneaks up on us. Here are a few projects you can complete in preparation of the fall season. Bring on the pumpkin spice lattes!

Interior Maintenance

  1. Check for drafts. Stay warm, save energy and reduce your heating bills this fall by visually examining your home’s windows and doors for obvious issues, such as gaps and cracks. Other sources of drafts may include, but are not limited to, knee walls, attic hatch/opening, wiring holes, plumbing vents, and recessed lights. Fall is a great time to seal and/or caulk around all gaps and cracks to prevent drafts.
  2. Install a programmable thermostat. If you haven’t already, purchase and install a programmable thermostat. Already have one? Be sure to check the temperature settings. Setting the thermostat to automatically lower the temperature at night and when you’re not home, can result in increased energy efficiency, and substantial cost savings.
  3. Have your heating system inspected. Hire an HVAC professional to inspect your heating system. They should test for leaks, check system efficiency, and change the filter. If your system runs on gas, they will also check for carbon monoxide in the air, in order to ensure air safety. It is also a good idea to changer your return filters monthly during the fall and winter months.
  4. Keep yourself and your family safe. Replace the batteries in all smoke detectors, heat detectors, and carbon monoxide devices. Test each one to make sure they’re working properly. You may also want to draft or review a fire safety plan with your family. The NFPA is a good resource for fire safety plan information.
  5. Ensure adequate levels of insulation. Insulation is another important way to prepare your home for fall and winter. According to the Department of Energy, “In winter, heat in your home will try to flow directly from all heated living spaces to adjacent unheated attics, garages, basements, and even to the outdoors.” This can cause your heating system to work harder than it needs to, decreasing your home’s efficiency, and costing you money. For a toasty warm home, make sure your home has adequate levels of insulation by contacting a professional insulation contractor.

Exterior Maintenance

  1. Clean the gutters. It is a good idea to remove leaves and other debris from your gutters once in the fall and again in the spring to avoid overflow and damage. Debris-ridden gutters can tear away from your house, overflow, or even damage your foundation – potentially costing you thousands of dollars’ worth of trouble. You can have your gutters professionally serviced or clean them yourself.
  2. Do a roof check. Inspecting your roof is one task that’s easy to overlook. Don’t! From the ground, you can visually inspect your roof for signs of deterioration, damage, and/or loose or missing shingles. Look at the condition of the flashing too. Back inside (preferably in the attic), check for daylight peeking through the rafters.
  3. Spring for a chimney sweep. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, that you plan on using come winter, fall is the perfect time to make sure its chimney and vents are inspected and cleaned. Search for a certified chimney sweeper at Chimney Safety Institute of America.
  4. Gear up on winter essentials. If you live in a part of Arizona that experiences snowfall or have plans to visit the snow, then you may want to restock on winter essentials, like ice melt or salt before the first winter storm hits. Replace damaged or worn shovels, sleds, and other winter toys well ahead of the crowds.

Recessed Lighting 101

recessed lighting

Recessed lights provide both ambient and task lighting. From bathrooms and kitchens to entry ways and living rooms, recessed lighting looks attractive in just about any area of your home, as long as it’s installed correctly. Also known as pot lighting and canned lighting, these lights are commonly mounted in the ceiling, but can also be mounted in the wall rather than surface mounted.

Available in a wide variety of housing and trim designs, recessed lighting provides functionality, without being aesthetically distracting. One of the best things about recessed lighting is that is that it creates the illusion of more space. Recessed lights give off a soft subtle glow, which blurs the boundaries of the room, making the space appear larger than it actually is.

Since recessed lights are embedded into the ceiling, there are no safety risks associated with dangling cords. Recessed lights that are embedded on the walls, often seen in staircases, provide ample light during the night when visibility is poor. Designed to work in much the same way as a nightlight, staircase lighting comes in handy, as it prevents stair-related accidents from occurring.

To Lay Out Recessed Lighting

  1. Map your ceiling joists and plan to install lights between them.
  2. Need extra light somewhere in your room? This is your starting point. Center the first light over your focal point and space the others around it. For even lighting, plan to have the first can installed in the center, and work from there.
  3. To determine how far apart your lights should be, divide the ceiling height by 2, and space your lights accordingly. For example: a 9 foot ceiling should have recessed lights installed every 4.5 feet apart from one another.
  4. Unless you’re installing lighting in the walls, attempt to avoid placing the ceiling mounted lights to close to the wall to avoid harsh shadows, which will only work to make the room appear smaller.

Choosing a Housing and Trim

  • Make sure it has the correct voltage.
  • Make sure it is IC-rated if in direct contact with insulation.
  • Make sure it is designed for a new construction space if installed before the ceiling or for a remodel if done after construction.
  • Make sure it has the structural features you need: low profile, airtight, sloped, etc.
  • Make sure the trim you choose is aesthetically pleasing. Recessed lighting trim comes in a wide variety of popular styles including adjustable, baffle, glass, pinhole, reflector, square, wall wash, and more.