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Category: Electrical + Power

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10 Ways to Save Gas, Electricity and Money from PSE&G

How do you make your home more comfortable, avoid pollution linked to global warming, and lower your monthly energy bill all at once? The answers are in nearly every room of your house.

That’s where you’ll find appliances and fixtures that could be wasting energy, and money.

Many home appliances run on natural gas, and even those that don’t may use electricity generated from burning gas. While reducing your consumption of either fuel will save money, burning less gas has the added benefit of avoiding methane, a greenhouse gas that’s more potent than carbon dioxide over a shorter period of time, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Airflow in a home according to the US EPA

Saving energy is easy, cost effective, and good for the environment. Here’s how:

  1. Switch to energy-efficient lighting, appliances and smart thermostats. An ENERGY Star ™ certified smart thermostat can help you save up to $50 a year on energy costs while keeping your home comfortable.
  2. Upgrade to energy-efficient HVAC units (make sure they’re sized according to ACCA Manual J, and installed by a Building Performance Institute (BPI) certified professional). Clean or replace HVAC filters.
  3. Adjust the thermostat. Lower a programmable thermostat one degree in heating season or raise it one degree in cooling season over a 24-hour period and save approximately 3% on your heating bill.
  4. Set your ceiling fan to spin counterclockwise in summer to push air downward towards the floor. This creates a wind-chill effect that makes you feel cooler, and if you’re using air conditioning, allows you to raise the thermostat by about 4 degrees with no reduction in comfort, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In winter, switch to a clockwise rotation to circulate warm air near the ceiling down the walls.
  5. Manage your hot water. Check the water temperature at the tap closest to the water heater and turn it down if it exceeds 120 degrees. Insulate pipes around the unit, especially the first six feet. Install low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators to reduce hot water use.
  6. Add insulation in attics and crawl spaces. As much as 40% of a home’s heat loss is through the attic, yet many homes lack adequate insulation.
  7. Seal your home. Caulking gaps in windows and doors will not only make a home more comfortable, but can shave 10%-20% off energy bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
  8. Add blinds, shades or curtains to help keep your home cool in the summer.
  9. Reduce outdoor lighting.
  10. Install light sensors or timers to switch off lights when they’re not in use.
person installing insulation into a wall

Many homes lack insulation, which can lead to energy loss.

New Jersey residents that meet income eligibility requirements can take advantage of money saving energy efficiency upgrades at no cost throughNew Jersey Comfort Partners, a program co-managed by state utilities and the NJ Board of Public Utilities. All PSE&G gas or electric customers can qualify for rebates on energy efficient lighting, smart thermostats, power strips, and more at the PSE&G Marketplace.

PSE&G is expanding opportunities for all of its customers to save energy and money following the state’s decision last September to approve our$1 billion commitment to energy efficiency. The energy efficiency program, which include rebates for energy-efficient appliances and equipment, is expected to deliver $1 billion in net customer savings, create 3,200 direct jobs and avoid 8 million metric tons of carbon emissions through 2050.

When you save energy, everyone wins.

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A lithium-ion battery that caught fire

How to Prevent a Lithium-ion Battery Fire in Your Home

Pete and his family say the pictures of their destroyed Illinois home don’t do the damage justice. At one a.m., on a night like any other one, the non-manufacturer’s battery on their stick vacuum overheated and exploded in their laundry room.

“The fire was violent and reached over 500 degrees, enough to melt the blades of a ceiling fan,” Pete explains. “We’ve always kept our vacuum plugged in…doesn’t everyone?”

Ceiling fan blades melted after a lithium-ion battery fire
Damage from a lithium-ion battery fire (photo courtesy of Pete)

Unfortunately, 80% of the house needs to be stripped to the studs, and Pete’s family will be out of the house until, most likely, early 2024.

Lithium-ion batteries have been known to cause destructive fires, just like Pete’s. Though the chances of a lithium-ion battery failing and catching fire is one in 10 million batteries, they caused 200 fires and six deaths in New York City last year alone. 

That’s why we reached out to Brian O’Connor, technical services engineer at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Brian shared with us important safety tips to help you and your family safely use devices powered with lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium batteries vs. lithium-ion batteries

There are two types of lithium batteries, but only one of them is known to be extremely combustible.

“Lithium batteries are lithium metal one-time-use batteries,” says Brian. “Lithium-ion batteries are the rechargeable batteries that we’re seeing infiltrate everywhere.”

A lithium-ion battery (or li-on battery) uses lithium salt, which is a highly reactive metal.

“The thing that makes them dangerous is the same thing that makes them useful,” says Brian. “They have a lot of energy in a small envelope.”

You’ll find lithium-ion batteries in your cell phones, watches, laptops, electric vehicles, even your power drill and other tools. When energy is released from a lithium-ion battery, it can generate toxic and flammable gases and heat, which can lead to an explosion.

“If you’re using them correctly, if you’re using properly-listed batteries, [the threat] is pretty low,” says Brian.

Why are lithium-ion battery fires so dangerous?

The differentiating factor between lithium-ion battery fires and other home fires is its fast rate of spreading.

A lithium-ion rechargeable batteries heats up when it starts to fail and pressurizes with flammable gas. As soon as that flammable gas is released, it creates a dangerous and potentially deadly situation. 

“Think of a lighter that breaks in half,” says Brian. “It creates a very quick gas fire, so it’s able to spread to adjacent cells. It can also eject those cells into other parts of the room, so it can become a multiple-point fire.”

Since these fires spread so fast, homeowners don’t have a lot of time to react, which can lead to injury or even death.

How to prevent lithium-ion battery fires in your home

A washer and a dryer destroyed from a lithium-ion battery fire
Damage from a lithium-ion battery fire (photo courtesy of Pete)

Using lithium-ion batteries safely includes the storage, charging, and buying of devices with these batteries.

How to charge a lithium-ion battery safely 

You can lower your risk of a fire by following five simple steps for lithium-ion battery charging:

  1. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Use the charger that came with the product or make sure the charger and battery are compatible. (“Different batteries need different charging rates,” says Brian.)
  3. Avoid charging lithium-ion batteries all the time.
  4. Avoid charging lithium-ion batteries overnight. (This includes your cell phone.)
  5. Unplug lithium-ion batteries once they are fully charged.

“There’s no reason to leave something charging all the time,” says Brian. “It opens you up to a higher probability of something bad happening.”

“The manufacturer recommends that even with their batteries, you charge them for 3 1/2 hours and then unplug them,” says Pete, recalling his home fire. “Only charge them when you are home and paying attention. It’s not only just product. It’s every single lithium battery that you have in your home.”

How to store your lithium-ion battery safely

a plugged-in E-bike
Store your devices in safe places.

Where and how you store your devices with lithium-ion batteries is equally important. The NFPA suggests the following protocol for lithium-ion battery storage:

  1. Avoid storing devices with lithium-ion batteries in precarious positions, such as on the stairs where they can fall, be punctured, crushed, etc.
  2. Avoid storing your devices in your bedroom or next to a door or room exit.
  3. Be mindful of extreme heat and extreme cold temperatures.

Always check the manufacturer’s instructions, but lithium-ion batteries generally cannot withstand temperatures below freezing or above 120°F.

“If you’re living out in Arizona and your garage is unconditioned, it’s going to get pretty hot in there,” says Brian. “That’s when it really increases the risk of a fire.”

Additional tips to prevent a lithium-ion battery fire

When buying a device, batteries, or charging equipment, make sure they’re listed by a nationally recognized testing lab and labeled accordingly.

“[These labs] go through a lot of testing to make sure [lithium-ion batteries] can survive impacts and different temperature ranges,” says Brian.

Also, buy replacement parts, batteries, and chargers from the manufacturer when possible.

Pete’s home fire stemmed from a replacement battery.

“The lithium battery was not from the manufacturer, but a third-party replacement battery that we bought on Amazon that I think you can still buy today,” says Pete. 

Also, as mentioned earlier, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

“The manufacturers of these batteries know what they’re talking about,” says Brian. “They want the product to do well, so make sure that you’re using the charger and you’re charging within the temperature limits.”

How to properly dispose of lithium-ion batteries

A person putting a phone in a recycling bin
Your local DPW may collect your old devices.

Lithium-ion batteries should not be disposed of in the trash. Instead, check with your local big box stores for disposal options for small devices, such as a cell phone or tablet.

Many big box stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s often accept tools powered by lithium-ion batteries, Brian notes.

Your local department of waste management (DPW) may also provide lithium-ion battery recycling. Many offer an annual household hazardous waste day, when you bring these devices for disposal, even if they have caught fire. If your DPW doesn’t accept these devices, contact your local fire department for more options.

Warning signs that your lithium-ion battery may be critical

There are a few warning signs that may indicate your device’s lithium-ion battery may catch fire. First, you may notice a very strong, toxic odor. Second, the device or battery may start to inflate. 

“The electrolyte turns into a gas,” says Brian, “and just like when you boil water, the gas takes up more volume than the solid. It’s going to puff out a bit.”

an inflated cellphone battery
A battery may inflate before catching fire.

Many times lithium-ion battery systems are encased in a plastic or metal container. With layers of protection between you and the battery, you may not be able to see them puff up, but you may be able to hear or smell them.

Next signs include seeing or smelling smoke and hearing loud, popping noises.

“If you start smelling or hearing them, evacuate first, then call the fire department for assistance,” says Brian.

Also, never touch the device.

“It’s really hard to tell when that pressurized vessel’s going to burst,” says Brian, who equates a lithium-ion battery explosion to a blow torch. “You don’t want that in your hand or pocket or anywhere near you when that happens.”

Thankfully, Pete and his family weren’t home when their vacuum caught fire, but they lost so many of their personal belongings.

“This is no joke,” says Pete. “You may have read articles about this happening, but it can happen to you. We certainly didn’t think it would happen to us.”

Ultimately, we need to change the way we approach and use lithium-ion batteries.

Join the neighborhood!

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A person charging their electric vehicle

6 Top Questions About Electric Vehicle Chargers for Home, Answered by the DOE

Electric vehicles (EV) are quickly becoming mainstream. According to the Argonne National Laboratory, more than 3.4 million EVs are on American roads today, and they are expected to make up more than 50% of new vehicle sales by 2030. For many Americans, this may mean less time at the gas station and more time at the garage outlet.

What does this mean for the safety of your home (and your bank account)? We reached out to Sarah Ollila, program manager for the Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) of the Department of Energy. Sarah answered six of the top questions homeowners have about EV chargers at home and how to stay safe while using one.

Are all EV chargers the same?

The short answer is no. There are three types of EV chargers: Level 1, Level 2, and DC Fast Charging (or Level 3).

Level 1 charger

The first type, a Level 1 charger, is the most common EV car charger.

“Most, if not all, EVs come with a Level 1 charging cord, which plugs directly into a normal, 120-volt wall outlet,” says Sarah, who has been with the DOE for more than eight years. “It’s just like charging your phone.”

Level 1 chargers replenish an EV’s battery at a rate of five miles per hour of charging in a 120-volt outlet.

“If you charge for eight hours overnight, that would be about 40 miles of electric range for a standard mid-size EV,” says Sarah. “If you want to get more charging in during that time, you could use what they call a Level 2 charger.”

Level 2 charger

a father and daughter going into a home with a white car parked and charging in the driveway

Consider installing a Level 2 charger in your home.

Level 2 EV chargers are best known as the ones in the charging stations you see in your local grocery store or strip mall parking lot. This type of charger typically yields 25 miles per hour of charging and requires professional installation and a 240-volt outlet (the same outlet as a clothes dryer). Sometimes, upgrades to a home’s electrical system are needed prior to installation.    

DC Fast charging station

A third type of EV charger, a “DC Fast Charging” equipment or Level 3 EV charger, can have a power output over 350kW, allowing it to charge a standard electrical car in 60 minutes or less. Currently, there are just under 7,000 of public stations across the U.S. At this time, DC chargers cannot easily be installed in homes and would require expensive structural upgrades, upwards of $50,000, to complete. 

Please note: Tesla vehicles require an adapter to connect to non-Tesla charging stations. (These are generally provided at time of purchase.) Likewise, non-Tesla cars need an adapter to use Level 1 or 2 Tesla charging stations; however, non-Tesla cars cannot use Tesla Superchargers (or Tesla Level 3 EV chargers).

How do you know which EV charger is right for you?

“Some people are surprised to find that the average vehicle miles traveled per day is actually fairly low,” says Sarah, who helps to accelerate the development of clean transportation solutions. “To go to work, to the grocery store, and to drop the kids off at school is probably going to be less than 40 miles a day.”

If you and your family travel further or you have a longer commute, you may need to upgrade to a Level 2 charger.

Do you really save money on transportation costs with an EV?

With gasoline prices still lingering above $3 a gallon in most parts of the U.S., the price of electric car charging is much cheaper.

“It depends on the electricity costs of where you’re located,” says Sarah, as utility rates vary from state to state, “but one of the nice things about charging at home is that you take advantage of lower over-night electric rates.”

These rates average 16 cents a kilowatt-hour (kW), which means a full-charge  of an EV battery costs around $15. A 12-gallon tank of gas in the U.S. is about $41 (currently).

“It’s considerably less expensive than refilling your fuel tank with gasoline,” says Sarah.

Also, more than 25% of public EV charging stations are free to use, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center. Of course, the purchase price of an EV can be significantly higher than a gas-powered vehicle, and Level 2 EV chargers have upfront and installation costs, too.

Before you buy an EV or install a Level 2 charger, research federal, state, and utility incentives. You may be surprised by offers that may help bring down the costs of both the purchase of an EV and the installation of Level 2 charger. 

How hard is it to install a Level 2 charger for home?

An app for an EV charger
Some EV chargers come with apps!

Getting an EV home charger installed can be completed in the following five steps:

  1. Determine where you’d like the charger installed.
  2. Hire a professional electrician with experience in EV charger installation.
  3. Obtain the necessary permits. (Your electrician should be able to help with this.)
  4. Schedule installation.
  5. Have the EV home charger installed.

Most Level 2 chargers are installed in a garage, but they can also be installed outside your home.

“If you’re going to do an outdoor installation, think about where you want to park relative to the outlet,” says Sarah.

Some Level 2 chargers sit on a pedestal while some attach to the wall. All have standard safety features, including being UL-certified. Some have advanced features, such as data collection and expansive user displays.

As mentioned earlier, charging an EV at home with a Level 2 charger requires a 240-volt system. Most homes already have this system since dryers and electric stoves require them, but you may need to have that outlet installed where you park (and charge) your car. The DOE recommends using a licensed electrician to install the 240-volt outlet and the charger itself.

“There are different types of outlet prong configurations that you can get,” says Sarah, “so you do need to make sure that the outlet you install matches the charger you purchased. An electrician can help do that.”

One of the best ways to find an electrician who specializes in EV charger installation is to contact your EV dealer.

“Manufacturers and dealerships are starting to get more involved,” says Sarah. “It’s possible some of them might even offer charger installation as an incentive to purchase an EV.”

Your local building authorities may require a permit, and while your professional electrician should be able to help, you can learn more about the codes and standards on the Alternative Fuels Data Center website.

What do you need to know to charge your car at home?

Once you have your EV or new charging station, you’ll want to make sure you’re charging safely. Before you plug in your car, here are answers to frequently asked questions that Sarah sees at the VTO:

  • When using a Level 1 charger, use a GFCI outlet to charge. 
  • Car orientation and surface level (such as a flat surface) matter little. 
  • Charging in the rain is just as safe as charging in dry weather.
  • Be mindful of where you place the cord, so no one trips over it.
  • If it’s not safe to charge, the EV and the charger will not allow a charging session to start.

If charging doesn’t start, it could be that the cord has been damaged, or there’s a short in the electrical circuit. Homeowners should be able to troubleshoot the situation easily.

“Many Level 2 chargers have displays or indicator lights that will give you some indication of where the error is, whether it’s on the vehicle or charger side,” says Sarah.

Depending on the reading, you can either reach out to the charger retailer or the dealer for a repair or replacement of that equipment.

Is there any maintenance required for EV chargers at home?

The good news is – home EV chargers require minimal maintenance.

“It mainly includes storing the charging cables securely, checking the parts periodically, and making sure that you haven’t run it over with a lawnmower,” says Sarah.

Homeowners should also keep the equipment clean by wiping it down every so often.

While the idea of plugging in a car may be new, homeowners will soon treat the whole process as second nature.

“Once you make the switch to an EV and get the home charging set up, it’ll really quickly become normal, just like plugging your phone in before bed,” says Sarah. “You won’t spend more time thinking about it than anything else.”

Take care of your home

Homeownership can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. The vipHome.app can help. In less than four minutes, enjoy a new way to manage your home. Simply download the app, register your home, and enjoy a simplified homeownership experience.

Download the app today!

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hurricane warning sign

FEMA Shares How to Prepare Your Home and Family for a Hurricane

Last year, Hurricane Ian devastated parts of Florida, killing more than 140 people and causing between $50 and $65 billion in property damage. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an isolated event. Numerous hurricanes threaten the U.S. each year, and many have been infamous – Andrew, Katrina, Sandy, Charley, Maria – due to their destructive nature. 

The best thing you can do is be prepared for the next devastating storm. That’s why we reached out to Aaron Levy, Director of Individual and Community Preparedness at Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to learn how you can prepare your home for the 2023 hurricane season. 

Are you in the path of the storm?

Florida, the Carolinas, even Texas and Louisiana are well-known to receive the brunt of hurricanes, but you may be surprised to learn hurricanes can happen along any U.S. coast or territory in the Atlantic or Pacific. However, you may be surprised where most hurricane-related damage occurs. 

“It’s actually inland flooding that often causes the most damage and the most injuries,” says Aaron, “and unfortunately the highest amount of losses of life.”

Hurricanes can affect areas more than 100 miles inland. During Aaron’s 12-year tenure with FEMA, he has seen hurricane damage in places such as West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and even parts of New England.

“While hurricanes are generally a coastal event, the impacts can be felt very far inland,” says Aaron.

Hurricane season starts on June 1st, and Atlantic hurricane season runs through November 30th. Though there have been deadly hurricanes as early as mid-June and as late as mid- to late-November, most severe storms happen in the middle of the season. 

“If you look at the data, we often see the most storms occurring in that late summer, early fall range,” says Aaron.

However, it’s never too early to prepare.

How to prepare for a hurricane 

Hurricane prep in three steps
Courtesy of FEMA

“Homeowners shouldn’t be waiting for the first day of hurricane season to take preparedness actions to make themselves safer and more resilient,” says Aaron. 

There are five major steps to preparing your family and your home for hurricane season. 

Step 1 – Prepare an emergency supply kit 

Start by gathering items inside your home for an emergency supply kit. This kit may include: 

  • Potable water for those in the household.  (“We often say a gallon of potable water per person per day. I recommend about three-days worth of potable water per person in your household.”)
  • Non-perishable food and a manual can opener (to open said food). 
  • Paper cups, plates, towels, and utensils. 
  • First-aid kit. 
  • Prescription and non-prescription medication. 
  • Flashlights. 
  • Batteries. 
  • Prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses. 
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items. 
  • Baby supplies (formula, diapers, wipe and diaper rash cream) if necessary. 
  • Pet food and extra water if necessary. 
  • A whistle to call for help. 
  • Dusk mask (to filter contaminated air). 
  • Plastic sheet and duct tape to shelter in place. 
  • Cell phones with chargers and a backup battery. 
  • Local maps (in case your phone isn’t working). 
  • Antibacterial gel and garbage bags (for personal sanitation).
  • Wrench or pliers in case you need to turn off your utilities. 
  • Cash.
  • Paper and pencil. 
  • Fire extinguisher.  

“Building an emergency kit can be daunting, especially for a new homeowner who just bought a house,” says Aaron. “The advice I often give is to do it in stages.”

Buy one supply every time one goes to the supermarket, and in a month or two, you’ll have built your kit!

Step 2 – Gather important documents. 

an emergency kit with water, canned food, a first aid kit, flashlights and batteries, important documents in a waterproof pouch, and a spoon and fork
Prepare your home for dangerous storms.

Have important medical, insurance, and banking information and documents either digitally or as part of your emergency or evacuation kit. 

“I’ve had some experience being deployed for FEMA after a disaster where people walk into shelters or our disaster recovery centers and they don’t have anything,” says Aaron. “If they just had their insurance, medical, and banking information saved on a file safely and securely on their phone, that’s going to help us jumpstart their recovery.” 

FEMA offers the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit to help homeowners keep track of their important documents. 

Quick reminder: Don’t forget to gather your pets’ information as well! 

Step 3 – Make a plan and practice it before hurricane season. 

Know the evacuation routes in your area and discuss the details.

Explains Aaron, “Where’s everybody going to meet? Is that grandma’s house? Is that a friend’s house? Are you evacuating to a hotel or a shelter somewhere out of the storm area? You want to start to talk about that plan.”

Also, make sure to make this a family discussion, so everyone’s needs can be met. 

“Homeowners need to involve grandma and grandpa and neighbors, especially those who might not have the resources to build that kit and make a plan on their own,” says Aaron. “It’s important to be inclusive.”

You want to have those discussions now to make sure that you’re taking steps to make yourself more resilient. Don’t forget to take into account the access and functional needs of anyone in your family who has a disability.

Be a good neighbor!
Courtesy of FEMA

While you should listen to local officials in the event of a mandatory evacuation, you should also learn your options in case evacuations are difficult for your family. 

“What I say to those folks and their families is reach out to nonprofit and community-based organizations such as the American Red Cross today,” says Aaron. “Say, ‘I live in a hurricane prone area. I’m unable to evacuate because I can’t have access to transportation or don’t have the monetary ability to.’ Those nonprofit organizations might be able to render you some assistance when the time comes.”

Step 4 – Prepare your home for severe weather 

There are quite a few steps to make sure your home doesn’t suffer incredible damage or even cause damage to one of your neighbor’s homes. 

“If I was king for the day, I would create National Gutter Cleaning Day,” laughs Aaron, though he adds, “I’m not joking.”

Homeowners should keep their gutters and the drainage points clear, to help direct away water from their house. 

When a storm is approaching, bring in their barbecue grills, patio furniture, and other loose items around your property. 

“In high winds, even not just a hurricane but during tornadoes and other events – those become flying projectiles, which often do tremendous damage to homes,” says Aaron. 

Generator safety should also be top of mind. Be sure to adhere to the local codes and standards. 

“We’ve heard too many horror stories of first-time homeowners causing damage to themselves and physical damage to their families from having generators inside,” says Aaron. “We want to avoid that at all costs.”

Take the necessary precautions when using a generator, and we recently spoke with the Electrical  Safety Foundation International to find out what those are! 

Step 5 – Make sure you are properly covered

Your first call after finding property damage should be to your insurance company, but you may also want to ring them prior to a severe weather event. It’s important to know what’s in your homeowners insurance policy and that you have proper coverage. (This is also an important tip for those living in earthquake-prone areas!)

“Make sure that line with your agent or broker is completely open and that all those boxes are checked, regardless of where you live,” says Aaron. 

This is especially important when it comes to flood damage as this type of damage is not covered by the standard homeowners insurance policy. You may also be surprised to find your home, even if not near a body of water, can flood.  

Flood water is dangerous
Courtesy of FEMA

“I love to say if it rains where you live, your home can flood – whether or not you’re living in a floodplain,” says Aaron. “For all of those new homeowners and new home buyers out there… please look into buying flood insurance even if your mortgage provider is not requiring you to do so.”

Buying flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program is one of the most effective mitigation measures a homeowner can take to protect their losses in the event that their home is significantly damaged by rising waters.

Get additional tips, including how to stay safe during a hurricane, in FEMA’s Hurricane Information Sheet

If you have to evacuate…

Turn off the gas to your home if you have the ability and know how. This can help to prevent a fire and even an explosion during or even after a hurricane. However, don’t turn off your water unless you are directed to do so by local officials.

Also, unplug major appliances if possible. 

“If the electricity comes on when you’re gone, you could have those appliances running for days on end in a situation where there’s already a demand for electricity in other places,” says Aaron. 

Beware of secondary hazards

While hurricanes are a major force of damage and injuries, homeowners need to safeguard themselves from secondary hazards, such as fires or electrocution. 

“It’s the secondary hazards that often cause the injury and in unfortunate times death,” says Aaron. “Number one is fire and electrocution from down power lines.”

Down powerlines after a hurricane
Beware of dangerous situations after hurricanes.

If you see a down power line in your area, call the local utilities as soon as possible, so they can log it and add it to their cleanup efforts.

An unlikely fire hazard may even be caused by your own car, especially if you have an electric one. 

“Car batteries and electric cars are actually very flammable,” explains Aaron. “If they’re parked under or near a home, the home can catch on fire.”

If your home sustains damage from a hurricane or severe weather event

Homeowners who have incurred home damage should always make sure to have a smartphone or camera handy. 

“If I could put in big flashing lights, document your damage, photograph, photograph, photograph, photograph,” says Aaron. 

Homeowners may opt to record video; however, photos may be easier to send to your insurance company. 

“Just from a data transmittal standpoint, it’s a lot easier to send photos than a big video file,” says Aaron. “If you want to take short videos, I wouldn’t recommend against it, but photos are important.”

When FEMA gets involved 

“I think we have the best mission in the federal government – helping people before, during, and after disasters,” says Aaron. 

If there is a major disaster declaration in your area, FEMA can help to jumpstart the recovery efforts. 

“FEMA does have a program called our Individual Assistance Program, which can help with certain uninsured and unmet needs,” says Aaron. 

FEMA can get you into a shelter, into medium or long-term housing, or even get those affected crisis counseling. 

As you are making your emergency plans, make sure to check Ready.gov/hurricanes for more tips and information!

Join the neighborhood!

Homeownership can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. The vipHome.app can help. In less than four minutes, enjoy a new way to manage your home. Simply download the app, register your home, and enjoy a simplified homeownership experience.

Get it today!

Learn More

a person making note in a binder behind a small home on a desk

Need a Home Energy Assessment? DOE Shares What You Need to Know

Rising utility bills, rolling summer blackouts, and the drastic effects of climate change have led many to wonder, “What can I do to help lower my energy consumption at home?” You may be surprised to learn a home energy assessment can provide the answer.

A home energy assessment, AKA home energy audit or home efficiency assessment, is a comprehensive evaluation of the energy use of a home and provides recommendations to improve the home’s comfort, health, and safety.

“The assessment really helps you understand how your home is working and where its deficiencies are, as well as opportunities to save energy and money, says Steve Dunn, technology manager, Home Performance with ENERGY STAR.

We spoke with Steve and his colleague Scott Minos, who leads the Department of Energy’s Energy Saver Program. He shared what you need to know about a home energy assessment, why now is a great time to get one, and quick efficiency tips to help you jump-start your energy saving efforts at home.   

When to schedule your home energy assessment

Home energy assessments are informative for homeowners of both existing homes and new construction, including ENERGY STAR certified new homes and apartments, which are independently inspected by a third-party energy rater to verify their energy performance

“For a new home, it provides you a baseline such as a Home Energy Score,” Scott said. “In existing homes, the assessments can be useful, particularly for older homes.”

“If you’re noticing rooms that are either too warm or too cold, high-energy bills, or indoor air quality issues such as high levels of dust in the home, those are all good indications that there are some issues that need to be addressed,” says Steve, who led national efforts to advance state clean energy and climate change policies and initiatives for the Environmental Protection Agency before joining DOE.

A home energy assessment can help to identify and prioritize functions that are costing you more money or creating safety issues.

The home functions as a system, so there’s interaction between components,” says Steve. “When systems are updated or replaced or the home envelope is sealed and insulated, that could cause changes to things like moisture movement and indoor air quality.”

While a home energy assessment is not an annual need, homeowners may want to consider one if there’s a major improvement or change that could impact the performance of the home’s systems. Even homes built just a few years ago may not have the latest technology or meet the latest energy efficiency guidelines.

How to prepare for an energy assessment

utility bills, a pen, and a calculator
Have your utility bills handy!

Prior to your appointment, homeowners should complete the following tasks:

  • Prepare basic information for the assessor or energy auditor, including the number of people living in the home, occupancy patterns, typical set points for the thermostat(s), and any major improvements planned.
  • Collect past energy bills to help the assessor benchmark and understand the historical energy consumption and types of fuels used in the home.
  • Create safe access points to the different areas of the homes exterior and interior, including the mechanical systems,  attic, basement and/or crawl spaces, and duct registers within individual rooms.

Depending on the complexity of the home and the number of systems installed, a home energy assessment typically takes one to three hours. A larger home or a home with multiple systems will take more time.

What to expect during a home energy assessment

“The assessment starts with an interview with the homeowner, and that’ll include a discussion to identify any specific issues in the home, such as comfort or drafts, and as well as the living patterns,” says Steve.

The assessor will then review the energy bills and the fuel consumption of the home before moving onto a visual inspection. This part will include the home’s exterior, interior, insulation levels, the condition of mechanical systems, drainage and ventilation, as well as any ceiling fans and kitchen or bathroom exhaust fans, and any whole house ventilation systems that may exist.

Potential diagnostic tests

a blower in a door during a home energy audit
Your home will be put to the test!

The assessor may also conduct a number of diagnostic tests, including:

  • A blower door test, which measures the amount of air infiltration or leakage in the home.
  • A thermographic scan with an infrared camera, which identifies areas of air leakage, such as areas around windows and doors as well as walls, floors, attics, and other spaces.
  • Combustion appliance zone (CAZ) testing to ensure that appliances using gas, propane or other thermal fuels vent properly, so there isn’t any potential carbon monoxide hazards in the home.

Energy assessments can also identify potentially any safety issues in the home, such as carbon monoxide from combustion appliances, electrical hazards, and minor or major natural gas leaks in the home.

Get energy-saving tips from your accessor

a homeowner turning down her thermostat
Adjust your habits.

A home energy assessor not only analyzes your home systems and their functions, but also learns about the homeowners’ behaviors related to energy usage.

“The assessor will want to observe how the owners use the home, how they wash their clothes or whether they close blinds or use other window coverings, things of that nature,” says Scott. “They might have different kinds of input and advice based on just behavior.”

Some behavior-based recommendations may include washing clothes in cold water as opposed to hot or even warm water; adding window coverings to a certain part of the home; setting the thermostat at a certain degree, etc.

“This way, homeowners can understand their own energy conservation efforts and how their behavior can result in savings,” says Scott.

As a final step in a home energy audit, the assessor will use modeling software, including the DOE’s Home Energy Score tool or a third-party commercial energy software, to develop a prioritized list of recommendations for improvements. This will include any recommendations related to health, safety, and comfort, and prioritize the improvements based on the cost benefit to the homeowner.

Home energy audit cost and options

Home energy assessments generally range between $200 to $600, depending upon the specific tests completed. However, the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy has a system that provides a home energy audit for less.

“The DOE Home Energy Score tool is on the lower end of that range,” says Steve. “It provides recommendations and typically takes less than an hour.”

EERE also recommends homeowners contact their utility companies. Some offer free home energy audits or energy assessments at a discounted rate for their customers. The recent Inflation Reduction Act provides up to $150 in tax credits for your home energy assessment. (More on that in a moment!)

Another option for homeowners is a virtual energy assessment. This type of audit is conducted remotely and in some cases with a smartphone or other device. (vipHomeLink offers a Virtual Home Checkup, which provides energy-saving tips!) In this case, the homeowner will walk around the home and highlight certain systems and areas for the assessor. 

“That’s obviously not as detailed as an on-site assessment,” says Steve, “but it can help identify if there are opportunities for making energy improvements that might be supported by doing further on-site testing diagnostics.”

Take advantage of rebates and tax credits

Homeowners should look into rebates that may be available through their utility companies and the government for installations. Low-income households may qualify for assistance through the weatherization assistance program, income-qualified programs offered by their local utility, or from state and local housing agencies.

a homeowner applying weather stripping to a window
Keep your home warm and cozy.

“Some utility companies offer what’s called a direct install where they will install improvements at no cost to the homeowner,” says Steve. “This might include things like weather stripping around windows and doors, possibly installing a smart thermostat.”

The Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law both included rebates and other types of incentives. Additional tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements will be available in early 2023.

“There was an existing tax credit that had a lifetime limit of $500 for home energy efficiency improvements,” explains Steve. “That’s now becoming a $1,200 annual tax credit with $150 allotted for home energy audits.”

Some homeowners can receive a 30% tax credit on eligible home improvements, including exterior doors that meet ENERGY STAR requirements; exterior windows and skylights that meet ENERGY STAR’s most efficient certification requirements; and other qualified energy equipment, such as central air conditioners, electrical panels, certain water heaters and furnaces.  

a heat pump next to a home
Homeowners can receive tax credits for installing heat pumps!

Homeowners who install heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, biomass stoves and/or boilers, can receive up to $2,000 in tax credits, which are separate from the $1,200 annual credit.

To take advantage of rebates and tax credits, homeowners can:

  • Reach out to their utility companies (which may also offer financing for large home energy projects).
  • Check out to the ENERGY STAR website, where homeowners can enter their zip code to find rebates available in their local area.
  • Explore the DSIRE website for information about financing and incentive programs for energy efficiency and renewable energy, including financing programs available by state.
  • Speak with their home energy assessor, who can also provide rebate options and information.

Top tips to jump-start your energy-efficiency efforts at home

EERE stresses the importance of a professional home energy audit, but there are some things homeowners can do to increase the energy efficiency and safety of the home. Scott shared with us quick ways to jump-start your energy-saving efforts!

Start with lighting

a homeowner changing a light bulb
Hello, LEDs!

“The first and a very easy thing to do is look at your lighting,” says Scott. “Lighting accounts for about 10% of the average home’s electric bills.”

Homeowners should make sure to use ENERGY STAR Certified LED bulbs, which use up to 90% less energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. Also, select ENERGY STAR Certified light fixtures, especially for outdoor fixtures with features such as automatic daylight shut-off and motion sensors. Also, make sure the home’s lighting is up to the modern electrical code and local standards.

Check insulation levels

If you have easy access to your attic, see if you have adequate levels of insulation and if the home is well insulated and sealed. (If you’re not sure about your home’s specific type or insulation levels, check out Energy Saver’s page on insulation!)

You should also check for air leaks around the usual suspects – windows, doors, and your roof.

“There’s some low-tech ways to definitely check for air leaks,” says Scott. “This can even help reduce your energy bill by 10 to even 20%.”

EERE recommends completing simple tests using a dollar bill, an incense stick, and a flashlight – not all at the same time, of course. Learn the three simple tests to detecting drafts on the Energy Saver website!

Monitor plug loads

Two cellphones charge a counter
Unplug your chargers.

Plugged-in items use 30 to 40% of the total energy consumption in the home. Even when they’re not in use, they still consume energy.

“Using power strips or other smart home devices can have a big impact on the energy bill,” says Steve.

Smart home devices and smart strips can help to resolve these standby modes,” and if homeowners forget to turn off a device, they can do so from an app on their phone.

Homeowners may also want to invest in whole home energy monitoring systems.

“The whole home energy monitors are designed to connect to the electrical panel and can help identify appliances that may be operating inefficiently or help to find where the most intensive energy uses are occurring,” says Steve.

Complete proper appliance maintenance

Check your appliances and make sure they’re running well. Also, complete home maintenance tasks, such as cleaning your refrigerator coils, cleaning your oven, vacuuming your dryer exhaust vent, and changing your HVAC filters regularly. (The vipHome.app can remind you to do these energy- and money-saving tasks!)

This also includes completing your annual or bi-annual heating and cooling system maintenance as well as hot water heater maintenance.

“Both extend the life of the equipment and ensure its operating efficiently,” says Scott.

As we know here at vipHomeLink, the importance of home maintenance cannot be understated.

“Doing regular maintenance is always important as it makes sure that the house is working well,” says Steve. “This is really about home performance, and before it can perform well, it needs to be maintained.”

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How to Help Your Appliances Weather Severe Storms

Last October, one of our team members returned home from a vacation to find three inches of water in her basement. Unfortunately, her water heater, dryer, washer, and mini fridge all received a not-so-clean bath, but she was fortunate that the flood didn’t create additional hazards.

“During flooding situations, gas appliances may be stirred, shifted or broken away from the supply line, causing a dangerous gas leak situation,” says Paul Pirro, Manager Technical Support – Appliance Service, Gas Asset Strategy – at PSE&G. “Plus, any electric appliance or equipment can also shift or experience a pull on the connection or cord, causing an electric short-circuit or sparking.”

While flooding itself may not be preventable, Paul shared with us appliance safety tips to help you prevent storm damage and lower your risk of a home fire or worse!  

Before a severe storm hits your area

One of the first steps to preventing a hazardous situation is to turn off the gas to appliances. 

“During an emergency storm situation, it may not be possible to get immediate assistance,” says Paul, who has been in the utility industry for more than 40 years and recently received the American Gas Association’s Diamond Award of Merit. “Having shut-off valves in good-working condition would be recommended and preemptive.”

a homeowner turning off the gas to an appliance
Shut off your appliance gas valves.

Newer gas valve shut-offs are easily turned by hand, but older valves may require tools to operate. If you have any questions, always contact a professional.

When it comes to electrical appliances, all non-essential appliances and equipment should be unplugged, shut off, and secured.

“Electric appliances especially can experience a surge once PSE&G turns on the electric after it’s off,” says Paul. “Even if an appliance is off, but it’s still plugged in, it can still experience a surge and possibly get damaged.”

If you live in an area prone to floods and storm damage, consider moving any appliances or equipment to higher levels of your home.

“Unfortunate folks who have experienced more than one flood event tend to move a lot of their appliances to a second floor,” says Paul. “A preemptive installation for this equipment to a higher elevation should be performed by a professional who is trained and qualified.”

What to do in the event of evacuation

You want to leave your home as safe as it can be. Therefore, it’s important to shut down or disconnect any unnecessary equipment or appliances that may get damaged.

As mentioned earlier,gas valves supplying individual appliances should be shut off if severe flooding is expected. Also, all exposed electrical connections should be unplugged or disconnected to prevent electrical shorting and damage.

In the event of evacuation, you can shut off the gas valve at the meter to minimize the chances of gas leaks occurring inside the home. Paul provides these quick steps:

  1. First, locate the gas meter inside or outside of their home. The inlet pipe should be next to it. (See diagram on PSEG website.)
  2. Turn the gas off at the main shut-off valve on the inlet pipe by using a 12-inch adjustable wrench or another suitable tool.
  3. Turn the valve a quarter (1/4) turn in either direction until the valve is crosswise (perpendicular) to the pipe.
a diagram showing how to turn off gas to your home
Courtesy of PSE&G

Also, secure furniture, boxes, and any potential clutter away from doorways and windows that could prevent access to appliances if rooms become flooded.

Dealing with home floods and electrical hazards

a home surrounded by flood waters
Your home flooded. Now what?

Your safety is first and foremost when it comes to dealing with floodwater. Never step into a flooded basement or any other room.

“Floodwater may be in contact with electrical outlets, appliances, or cords,” says Paul. “The water could be energized, causing shock or electrocution.”

Don’t touch appliances if they are surrounded by water and stay away from the breaker box in a flooded basement. The breaker box contains significant electricity for the whole house.

Once the floor is dry and no flood water is touching appliances or outlets, if possible, unplug or shut off all flooded equipment before electricity is restored.

“If it can be done safely, homeowners can turn off air conditioners or major appliances that may have been running when the outage occurred,” says Paul. “This will help avoid a sudden surge of power when electric service is restored.”

If your power is “on” after a flood event

There is a possibility of electric shock or electric short circuit, which can cause a fire. If the electric panel was affected by flooding, it must be inspected by a municipal inspector. Then it must be repaired, re-inspected, and turned on before gas service can be restored. (Municipal inspection rules vary so check with your town for precise instructions.)

“The key item is floodwater must be cleared before that inspection is performed,” says Paul. “Municipal employees will not perform this service if floodwater is still on the floor.”

If power is “off” after a flood event

The electric panel must be inspected by a municipal inspector before the power is restored. Once again, floodwater must be cleared for that inspection before gas service can be restored.

“We try to make it clear to customers that all electric issues have to be removed before we can consider introducing gas back to the home,” says Paul.

How to clear floodwater

flood waters in a basement covering the stairs
How do you begin to deal with this?

Since floodwater needs to be cleared in order to get service reconnected, how does a homeowner get the water out of their home?

“Sometimes the municipality, including the fire department and others, can help,” says Paul, “but homeowners have to be careful. If they take too much floodwater out, it can affect the foundation of the home.”

Some experts suggest pumping out a third of the floodwater each day for three days.

“If there’s water outside the home and inside – if there’s an inequality of pressures, the foundation can collapse,” warns Paul. “Also, just floodwater itself can affect the foundation.”

Appliance safety after a flood

an appliance expert inspecting a hot water heater
Appliances do not tread water well.

Appliances that have been exposed to water can short out and become a fire hazard. A trained service professional can determine how high the water level mark reached and identify any specific appliance hazards.

“Rusting of ground connections and pitting of wiring harnesses and connections can cause exposure to electric shock and malfunctioning of the appliance,” says Paul.

You should replace your appliances or have them inspected before attempting to use them. Contact your the manufacturer(s) of your appliances for inspection and further instructions.

Listening to professionals is important as even appliances that work now can create hazardous situations in the future. 

“Heating controls exposed to floodwater can fail even though they tested OK after being dried and placed back in operation,” says Paul. “This is especially true for electromechanical components that may short out or fail after internal corrosion develops.”

That’s why any controls exposed to floodwater must always be replaced.

a mold specialist testing black spores on wall with a handheld device
Beware of mold.

All newer appliances contain circuit boards and electrical components that get damaged easily by coming in contact with floodwater. They would need replacement if flooded or exposed to surges.

Gas-fire equipment contains safety controls that, after being exposed to floodwater, can potentially create an overheating or fire condition.

“PSE&G will not restore gas to water heaters with controls that have been affected by floodwater,” says Paul. “Flooded units must be replaced, and every water heater manufacturer makes this point.”

Since the 90’s, the technology of water heaters has changed, and now all components are together tied to the gas valve.

“There’s really no way of resurrecting it,” says Paul.

Anything that came in contact with floodwater may have also been exposed to stored chemicals, raw sewage, and other unknown contaminants. Mold can grow on any surface that was exposed to floodwater.

“Homeowners should also be aware of health-related risks that are associated with floodwater,” says Paul. “If a refrigerator is off and has been affected by flooding, there’s a possibility of getting mold inside the refrigerator and freezer. In that case, the homeowners may not want to use that again.”

PSE&G provides customers with detailed guidance on how to deal with flooding or other safety related emergencies at www.pseg.com  

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Top 12 Questions to Really Energize Your Solar Panel Efforts at Home

In 2020, solar energy accounted for 3% of the U.S. electricity generation. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that it will account for 5% of U.S. electricity generation in 2022 and as much as 20% by 2050. If you’re like us and interested in helping to increase solar generation, then you probably have a one hundred and one questions.

That’s why we reached out to Shyam Mehta, Assistant Director, Distributed Energy Resources at New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA). Shyam has been part of the solar industry for more than 13 years and answered 12 frequently asked questions to help you decide if solar panels are right for your home.

 #1 – What actually is solar energy?

Energy comes from the sun in two forms – heat and light. Solar panels on homes receive light energy or photonic energy that they then convert into electric energy.

“Basically when we say ‘solar energy,’ we really mean what’s called ‘photovoltaic energy,’” says Shyam, “which solar panels can convert into electric energy for residential, commercial, industrial, or other applications.”

Thus, solar panels absorb sunlight and convert it into electric energy for use by the home for specific appliances. For homeowners, solar panels on their home can generate more than just energy; they can generate savings, too.

“These solar energy systems are typically designed to offset all or most of the annual electric consumption of a household,” says Shyam.

If solar panels on a home produce extra energy, that energy is exported to ‘the grid” to be used by neighboring homes or other consumers.

#2 – How do you know if your home is suitable for solar panels?

Solar panels on a stucco house

Is your home facing the right way?

The ideal roof will have a large, shade-free section that faces either south, southeast, or southwest.

“Because of our location in the Northern Hemisphere, south-facing roofs get maximum exposure to the sun,” says Shyam.

Homes with east- or west-facing roofs can receive solar panels, and some homes even get solar racking on the ground, though that is rare. Since home solar panels are generally mounted on metal racking, which is securely fastened or bolted to the framing of the roof, the status of your roof is important.

“Before the installation, the solar installation company will look at the roof,” says Shyam. “You don’t need to have a brand-new roof, but it’s not uncommon for a roof to be replaced before solar panel installation.”

#3 – Do solar panels increase home value?

A 2015 U.S. Department of Energy study says yes! The team analyzed more than 22,000 homes sales across eight states from 1999 to 2013 and found that homebuyers were willing to pay more for homes with solar panels. In fact, the study found homebuyers generally were willing to pay $15,000 more!

#4 – How easy is the solar panel installation process?

workers installing solar panels on a roof

Get solar panels on your home in a few easy steps.

Once you decide to get solar panels, the process is fairly straightforward.

First, you’ll need to reach out to solar panel installation companies in your area. The installation companies will provide price quotes and system designs. A professional may also come out to the house to take measurements of the roof and the solar resource.

“The homeowner then enters into a contract with an installation company,” says Shyam.

The installation company will apply for governmental approvals, such as building permits and the interconnection approval from the utility company. (The interconnection approval is a contract between the utility company and customer regarding the operation of the home solar system.) The installation company will also apply for incentives or loans that may be available in your area. This process generally takes one to two months. 

Once approvals are secure, your installation company will schedule the solar panel installation.The physical installation of the equipment typically takes one to two days.

Following installation, the utility company will inspect the system and then issue permission for the system to be turned on.

“This is called ‘energizing the system,’ at which point the system begins producing electricity,” says Shyam.

#5 – How do you choose the right installer or contractor for your home?

Tech installing solar panel

Find the right contractor for your project.

Like any multi-thousand-dollar purchase, it’s best to do comparison shopping. Shyam suggests reaching out to at least three solar installers for price points. NYSERDA maintains a list of residential solar installers on their website.

“We list installers that have we have inspected to have consistently high-quality installation standards and accredit them with what we call ‘a Quality Solar Installer designation.’”

Check if your state offers a similar site and use all available resources to cross-check potential installers and get a sense of their quality accreditation.

Then, of course, read the contracts carefully before signing.

#6 – How much do residential solar panels cost?

Unfortunately, there’s no bottom-line number when it comes to installing solar panels as there are so many variables.

The cost varies a lot by the size of your system, which is a function of the size of your roof,” says Shyam. “It depends on where you are in the state, whether you are in the upstate region, Long Island, or New York City. Then it also depends on what kind of loans or rebates you are eligible for.”

Many states and utility companies offer grants and rebates to homeowners that reduce the out-of-pocket cost of home solar panels. The federal government also offers a tax credit that equals 26% of the system cost. Depending on where you live, most cities also offer property tax abatements and other credits. Typically, all these incentives total several thousand dollars.

“On top of that, most solar installers offer loan options or even lease options where you pay a monthly lease instead of paying for the entire cost of the system upfront,” says Shyam.

All these options help to bring down that initial, upfront cost, so how can you take advantage of these offers?

“Typically the installer or the contractor handles all of that for the homeowner,” says Shyam. “Once you are in a contract with an installer, they will apply for the NYSERDA incentive, the federal tax credit, the state tax credit, etc.”

#7 – Is solar worth it for your home?

Young family looking at solar panels

Solar panels can help in a variety of ways!

Having solar on your home doesn’t just reduce your electric consumption: any excess electricity the system produces also results in bill savings. For each unit of solar power exported by the homeowner’s system, the home’s electric bill is reduced accordingly.

We call this net energy metering or net metering,” says Shyam. “Basically anything your system generates over and above what it produces for your home usage offsets your electric bill, and that’s how you get compensated.”

#8 – Do you need to worry about any electrical fields and your home?

“These claims of electrical fields are really not merited,” says Shyam. “There’s no evidence to suggest that solar panels create any kind of electromagnetic fields or electric fields are dangerous to human health.”

#9 – Once installation is complete, do you need to complete any maintenance?  

Compared to other systems in your home, solar panels are relatively low maintenance.

In general, you do have dust accumulation on the solar system in dryer climates,” says Shyam. “In New York, just given the frequency of rainfall that we have, that tends to not be an issue.”

If you’re in a dryer climate, you may have to clean the panels with a simple garden hose and water. (If you’re uncomfortable doing this, talk to your installer about a maintenance plan.)

Professional cleaning solar panels with a mop

Solar panels are low maintenance.

There is one part of the system that will need to be replaced – the inverter.

Explains Shyam, “That’s the part of the solar system that converts the solar electricity, which is DC, or direct current power, to AC, or alternating current power and the form of electricity that is used by most household appliances.”

The inverter typically needs to be replaced after 10 to 15 years, about midway through the life of the system.

#10 – What if my solar panels are damaged?

You don’t need to worry too much about physical damage to your panels, though it’s important to be mindful of severe weather events.

“[Solar panels] are pretty resistant to hail,” says Shyam, “but in extreme weather, like a hurricane, they can be damaged or displaced.”

Shyam recommends that homeowners discuss potential damage with their installer prior to signing the contract.

“It’s important to establish who’s responsible in the event of damage to the system,” says Shyam. “NYSERDA requires that installers offer at least a five-year warranty.”

You should also contact your insurance company to discuss additional coverage for your property.

“A homeowner’s insurance may cover certain types of damage, such as falling tree limbs, for example.”

#11 – How long do solar panels last?

The lifespan of solar panels and system is at least 20 to 25 years.

“The solar panel manufacturers also offer a production warranty that lasts for 25 years,” says Shyam. “However, it’s not uncommon that a system can continue producing energy well beyond that period.”

#12 – What if solar panels aren’t right for your home?

Field full of solar panels

Consider community solar options!

If for whatever reason – financial, technical, or ownership-related – you are unable to install rooftop solar panels on your home, then you may want to consider community solar options.

“This model has gained a lot of steam, not just in New York, but across the country over the last four to five years,” says Shyam.

(New York currently has the largest community solar market in the nation.)

Subscribers pay for a portion of the output in exchange for a discounted rate on the energy that is produced by the system, which is typically located off-site, but in the surrounding community.

“It’s generally located in the same utility territory as where you live, but it’s not necessarily next door or in your backyard.”

If you’re interested in solar panel communities, check your utility company’s website or reach out to your state’s energy department.

For New York residents, NYSERDA has a great resource with an interactive map where homeowners can search by zip code for community solar providers.

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Super Important Generator Safety Precautions That Can Save Your Life

Portable generators are typically used after natural disasters, such as hurricanes or massive snowstorms. Unfortunately, when disaster strikes, people tend to panic, and safety isn’t always top of mind. That’s why it’s important to learn generator safety precautions before you need to use one.

With cold temperatures already here and winter on the horizon, we reached out to Brett Brenner, president of the Electrical Safety Foundation International. Brett shared with us generator safety tips to help keep you safe after disaster strikes.

The biggest generator danger

“The thing that we see all the time with disasters and portable generators is – people just forget that there’s deadly carbon monoxide that can kill you,” says Brett.

Homeowners make the terrible mistake of placing the generator too close to the house or garage. This can lead to carbon monoxide (CO) buildup in the home from exhaust fumes.

“Let’s say you put a generator 10 feet away from your house,” says Brett, “but somebody comes along behind you and opens a window that’s relatively close to that generator and the wind shifts.”

In this scenario, CO can get back into the house, and it’s odorless and tasteless. Unfortunately, you won’t know your home has carbon monoxide in it until it’s too late. That’s why one of the most important generator safety precautions is having working CO detectors in the right areas.

a homeowner pressing the button on the carbon monoxide detector

Beware of carbon monoxide.

“Carbon monoxide is heavier than air, so it’s typically low,” explains Brett. “As it gets worse and worse, it’ll start to rise, but by the time it gets to the ceiling, especially on a second floor, it would be an issue.”

Improperly installed CO detectors may not be helpful and can lead to dangerous situations.

“You need to make sure that you’re following the detector’s directions to say where it should be put,” says Brett.

Also, as part of your generator safety precautions, test your CO detectors regularly to make sure they’re working. A non-functioning CO detector alerts no one.

General generator safety precautions

“You have to be mentally prepared to take some safety precautions, to make sure you don’t put yourself, your neighbors, first responders, or utility workers in danger,” says Brett.

Before you start your generator, take the necessary precautions, including:

  • Understanding that generators are not “plug and play” devices.
  • Following the manufacturer’s instructions (do not throw out your manual).
  • Having a qualified electrician install a transfer switch (if needed).
  • Using a transfer switch correctly and GFCI protection.
  • Making sure your generator is properly grounded. (All generators need to be grounded.)
  • Keeping the generator as far away from the home as you can (at least 20 feet).
  • Operating generators for temporary emergency use only.
  • Plugging your generator into your home the right way to avoid backfeeding the area (which can be deadly).

Can I backfeed my house with a generator?

a plug plugged into a generator

Use generators safely.

Yes, but you shouldn’t. Backfeeding occurs when a homeowner hooks up their generator the wrong way (without a transfer switch) and sends electricity into the electrical panel. When this happens, electricity will find the path of least resistance and create problems for utility workers on the power lines.

Warns Brett, “There have been instances where a utility line worker has been killed because somebody didn’t plug their generator correctly, powered half the neighborhood, and nobody knew about it.”

While you should have a transfer switch installed in your home, you should make sure you’re using the voltage recommended by the manufacturer.

“Sometimes people get creative and decide they’re going to try to backfeed their whole house with a generator by using their dryer outlet, which has a 240-volt circuit.”

For the safety of your neighbors and electrical workers, avoid powering appliances and devices that aren’t supposed to be powered by a generator.

Is there one type of generator that’s safer than others?

A professional-installed generator that is mounted correctly and far enough away from the house may be one of the safest options.

“There’s some safeguards built into a permanently-mounted generator,” says Brett. “You’ve got a transfer switch, so it clicks over automatically or you have to do it manually.”

While there isn’t anything inherently unsafe about portable generators, there are more uncertainties that can lead to dangerous situations.

“As long as you’re conscious of the CO side of things and you’re not plugging in things you shouldn’t be, [most generators] are relatively safe,” says Brett. “You just have to be super, super cautious because it is a running engine, and you’ve got to be careful that you’re just not putting others in danger.”

Potential safe alternatives to generators

Before disaster strikes, it’s best to be as prepared as possible. New technologies can help to keep you safe and power up some electronics without the dangers associated with generator use.

“I’m exploring it for our house,” says Brett, “and there’s a lot of great battery options.”

New battery banks can help you charge your cell phone or even a workstation for most of the day. You may not be able to run a refrigerator off these devices (right now).

“We have moved out from Washington DC to the Midwest, and sump pumps are obviously a big thing here,” said Brett. “So I was looking for a backup power source just in case.”

At a recent conference, Brett discovered new applications that can help power your household necessities during a power outage.

“For the things that you really, really need, you might be okay with some of the battery options that are coming into the market now.”

Expert tips at your fingertips

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a homeowner switching out a normal light bulb for an LED one – how to be energy efficient at home

Top Energy Efficiency Tips for Every Homeowner

Many new homeowners struggle with home maintenance costs. An easy way to save money – and help the environment! – is to make your home more energy efficient. To help you find ways to increase your home’s energy efficiency and lower your utility bills, Megan Turner and Pete Seyfer of Alliant Energy’s PowerHouse show stopped by the vipHome Podcast.

Megan and Pete have been helping customers with energy conservation and DIY home safety for almost 25 years on PowerHouse. Their show focuses on easy do-it-yourself projects and new energy technology homeowners can use in their houses. Check your local listings for PowerHouse, and watch this episode of the vipHome Podcast with guests Megan and Pete now!

 

Start with insulation and weatherization

“Insulation is certainly a great place to start,” says Seyfer. “In the wintertime, keep the warm air in your house, and in the summertime, keep the cool air in your house.”

Homeowners should start by checking their attic insulation levels. If they don’t have enough insulation, it’s time to add more. Then move on to the walls and ceilings, making sure leaks are sealed around the outlets, light switches, and any openings where air leaks can occur.

For less $100, homeowners can also add caulking and weatherstripping around windows and doors, where gaps aid in heat and cool air loss.

Get a caulking tube and a caulking gun to seal around the windows and weatherstrip on the doors,” says Turner.

a homeowner installing new insulation in his attic - how to be energy efficient at home
Start with insulation.

Of course, it’s always important to be careful when completing any home improvement projects, as Seyfer reminds us.

“One of our first years here at my house, a segment was blowing in insulation up in the attic,” remembers Seyfer. “I’m maybe not the most agile or gifted in terms of home projects, and I stepped off one of the joists in the attic and put my foot through the ceiling in my house. My attic is much better insulated, but I had to repair the ceiling.”

Shining some light on bulbs and phantom power

A relatively new technology, light-emitting diode light bulbs (or LED bulbs) can make a huge difference in energy costs.

“It’s a little bit more of an investment, but it really pays itself off,” says Turner. “What you want to do is take those few lights that you use most frequently or that are hard to reach, and replace those because the bulbs last much, much longer.”

With LED bulbs, 95% of the energy goes into the lighting, and only 5% is wasted in heat generated.

Homeowners should also monitor their energy usage around the home when it comes to all the small electronics, such as laptops , cell phone chargers, and video game systems. Many times these items remain plugged in when not in use, which isn’t cost effective.

phantom energy - how to be energy efficient at home

“We call that phantom power,” says Turner. “That phantom energy can really add up, up to 10% of your utility bill. That’s huge.”

Simply remembering to unplug these items when they are not in use can help to lower energy bills.

Applying energy saving techniques to appliances

Two homeowners looking at a new refrigerator - how to be energy efficient at home
It may be time to replace your appliances.

Since a handful of appliances use a bulk of the home’s energy, it’s important to keep them well-maintained and running efficiently. These appliances include the refrigerator, dishwasher, washing machine, and clothes dryer.

“With your refrigerator, you want to keep the temperature at 40 degrees and the freezer at zero,” says Turner. “That’s going to be an energy efficient path and still get the job done.”

Homeowners should also keep the doors shut unless getting an item and know what they need before opening the door.

“It takes a lot more energy to re-cool the unit if you stand there with the doors open,” says Turner. “Also, don’t overcrowd the refrigerator. They’re designed to be full but not jam-packed, because then the circulation doesn’t work.”

A woman smiling while using dishwasher at home kitchen - how to be energy efficient at home
Run full loads.

For dishwashers, Turner suggests homeowners use the eco-settings that are built into the unit and to rinse the dishes off before starting the unit. Also, only run the dishwasher when it’s full.

“Some people are in the habit of doing it every night, whether there are four cups in there or it’s loaded,” says Turner. “Do wait until it’s full because you’re going to use not only less energy but also less water.”

Likewise, washers and dryers should only be run with full loads, and clothes should be washed in cold water.

“It’ll get your clothes just as clean,” says Turner, though Seyfer notes that for sick homeowners, “we do recommend washing with hot water during that time.”

When buying new appliances, homeowners should consider ENERGY STAR-rated appliances, which are built to be energy efficient. In 2018 alone, American purchased more than 300 million ENERGY STAR-certified products.

a woman using a mitt to take food out of a microwave - how to be energy efficient at home
Choose the right appliance for the meal.

“Maybe you’ve got that second beverage refrigerator or beer refrigerator that maybe is 20 years old, but it sure keeps those beverages cold,” says Seyfer. “That’s not always the best use of that old refrigerator because they really burn through energy.”

Homeowners can also use smaller appliances like grills, crock pots, slow cookers, toasters, etc. that use just a fraction of the energy as an oven. They should also use the right pan on the right-sized stove top burner and put lids on pots, to not waste energy.

“That’s going to speed up your cooking, and it’s going to use less energy, too,” says Turner.

Appliance Annual Maintenance Tasks
Refrigerators Clean the coils under the refrigerator with a vacuum cleaner. If you have a pet, you may need to clean more than once a year.
Clothes dryers Clean the lint filter and duct with a vacuum. Make sure the vent is clear at the unit and outside. 
HVAC systems Have your heating and cooling system checked once a year. Also, clean off the outside of the AC unit with a garden hose.  Spray inside and outside the compressor, and gently across the metal fins, making sure not to bend the fins. Trim the landscaping around the unit to allow at least a foot of clearance for good circulation. Before doing any maintenance, turn off the power to the unit at the electrical panel. 
Ceiling fans Make sure your ceiling fans push the cool air down during summer to create a wind-chill effect. In the winter, reverse the fan direction to push the warmed air trapped at the ceiling back down into the room. Remember, ceiling fans cool people, not rooms. Turn off fans when you leave the room.
Gas fireplaces Fireplaces require seasonal tune ups to clean the units and vents. Make sure no animals make a home in the vent and clear out any debris. Consider hiring a professional chimney sweep for this project.

 

Hot tips for your HVAC units

a handyman changes an air filter on an HVAC unit
Replace or clean your furnace or HVAC air filters.

One of the most common maintenance tasks that homeowners forget or simply don’t know is changing the air filters in their furnaces or HVAC units.

“If you’ve got a dirty filter, the unit is not going to run efficiently,” says Seyfer, “and you’re going to use more energy and more dollars to run that furnace.”

While Seyfer recommends setting a reminder to complete this maintenance (and vipHome.app will send reminders directly to your phone). Having a service plan for your HVAC systems can save energy dollars for you and your home. Plus, all homeowners should install a programmable thermostat if they haven’t.

“Megan and I have put in more programmable thermostats over the years,” says Seyfer. “That’s another small investment. You can go up and get Nest and have everything programmed off your iPhone, which is wonderful. That’s significant savings in energy and energy dollars.”

a digital thermostat on a wall reading 68 degrees
If your furnace won’t turn on, it might be your air filter.

The best part about a programmable thermostat is that you can stop your heating and air-conditioning from running all day.

“You can set that to kick in before you get home from work or before you get back from vacation,” says Turner.

Energy.gov found that homeowners can save up to 50% on energy by shading air conditioning units with a bush or a tree (at a distance).

“If you think about it, we run more efficiently when we’ve got a little bit of shade when the heat is pouring down on us,” says Seyfer. “Your air conditioner is no different.”

This also works for all the overall home as well. Consider planting trees near your home (we have a few tips to keep roots attacking your foundation) and don’t forget to call 811 before digging. This will help you avoid hitting underground gas lines and powerlines.

“We always stress safety on any do-it-yourself projects on PowerHouse,” says Seyfer.

Testing your home’s energy efficiency

a smart thermostat being controlled by a phone - how to be energy efficient at home
Get a home energy assessment.

Existing homeowners may struggle with energy efficiency, but a good place to start making an old home energy efficient is knowing how efficient (or non-efficient) the structure is. Alliant Energy recommends taking a home energy efficiency test.

“On the Alliant Energy website, we offer an energy assessment,” says Seyfer. “You enter all of your specific information in there, and it’s basically a checkup for your home.”

The assessment offers recommendations for ways homeowners can improve their home’s energy efficiency and provides guidance on how to lower energy bills.

“I would say every five years, you can revisit it, too,” says Seyfer. “If you’ve done any other home improvements, you can plug those in. It keeps things up to date.”

Most utility companies around the country offer a home energy assessment, and some even offer a professional home energy audit.

“Most energy companies today are trying to be good citizens of our Earth and are looking at ways to make sure your home is energy efficient,” says Seyfer.

We recently spoke with the Department of Energy to learn what to expect during a home energy assessment, and watch the entire episode of the vipHome Podcast with Megan Turner and Pete Seyfer from Alliant Energy’s PowerHouse now.

Explore the neighborhood!

Homeownership can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. The vipHome.app can help. In less than four minutes, enjoy a new way to manage your home. Simply download the app, register your home, and enjoy a simplified homeownership experience.

Download the app today!

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