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What You Can Do to Save Big on Home Energy Bills


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Photo: Greener Choices. If you’re like the typical American, you know a thing or two about energy efficiency, but you’re also leaving serious savings on the table. Take a look at the seven energy questions listed below to test your own Energy IQ. Then read through the answers to learn the latest efficiency news and advice, which could lower your utility bills by hundreds of dollars. 

1). What has happened to energy consumption by all households in the U.S. since the late 1970s?

  • Increased by about 50%

  • Increased by about 25%

  • Stayed about the same

  • Decreased by about 25%

  • Decreased by about 50%

Today’s homes are about 30% bigger than those built in the late 1970s, they’re buzzing with electronics, and nine out of ten have air conditioning. And yet, total energy consumption has been basically flat. “But the bar was unbelievably low to begin with,” says Arthur Rosenfeld, Distinguished Scientist Emertius at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a two-term commissioner with the California Energy Commission. “Energy was dirt cheap back then, and if you were in the market for a new car or refrigerator, you had no way of measuring efficiency.”

Appliance standards have done the most to counteract other increases in home energy use. Take refrigerators: A typical 1975 model consumed about 1,750 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year. Efficiency standards helped bring that figure down to around 500 kWh in 2011, and a target of about 400 kWH is set for 2015. Clothes washers and dishwashers have also been impressive efficiency gains. The new lighting-related energy use in half by 2035. And standards set for 2015 and beyond will improve the efficiency of air conditioners and water heaters, which together account for almost one-third of the average home’s energy use.

2). Which home improvement will usually lower a household’s annual energy costs the most?

  • Upgrading windows

  • Adding insulation to an attic

  • Installing light-colored roof shingles

  • Sealing all air leaks, including leaky ducts


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Photo: Greener ChoicesSlick advertising by manufacturers may be the reason that many people incorrectly choose windows in this question. Though new windows can save energy, especially double-glazed units with low-E coatings, Consumer Reports’ tests have found that it could take 20 years to recoup the investment.

The swiftest savings come from sealing air leaks in your home’s walls, windows, and especially its ductwork, which 33% of respondents answered correctly. “Leaky return ducts can also introduce unwanted air pollutants into the home,” adds Kathleen Hogan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency at the Department of Energy.

Duct insulating and sealing are best left to a professional and could lower your annual heating and cooling bills by $400. You can then use  a combination of caulk, foam board, expandable sealant, and weather stripping to plug leaks around windows, doors, electrical outlets, and other openings in your home.

Adding attic insulation is often the next best way to save energy. In a typical residence, laying 11 inches of fiberglass or rock wool or 8 inches of cellulose insulation could save up to $200. Cool roofs are designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat. They can trim cooling costs in warm regions, especially if there’s conditioned living space directly beneath the roof.

3). Which configuration typically uses more energy?

  • A standard high-definition DVR set-top box and 55-inch LCD TV

  • A standard sized side-by-side refrigerator


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Photo: Greener ChoicesThe correct answer is the refrigerator – it’s the more energy-intensive configuration, with an approximate annual consumption of 500 kWh, compared with around 300 kWh for the TV and set-top box. But most homes have just one fridge, and multiple TVs and cable boxes are the norm. What’s more, the calculations assumed a set-top box that meets the latest Energy Star 3.0 specification, which could be at least 40% more efficient than what you may have at home. That’s why the total energy that many households consume watching TV is greater than what they use to keep their food and drinks cold.

If you have an old set-top box, ask your cable provider to replace it with one that meets Energy Star’s 3.0 specification. The country’s six largest cable companies, serving approximately 85% of cable households, promised that at least 90% of new set-top boxes deployed to customers by the end of 2013 will be Energy Star 3.0 qualified. And if you keep a TV in a guest room or other seldom-used part of the house – unplug it! and any ancillary equipment.

4). Which renewable energy device doesn’t qualify for a federal tax credit?

  • Solar water heater

  • Pellet stove

  • Geothermal heat pump

  • Residential wind turbine


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Photo: Consumer ReportsThe correct answer is pellet stoves. They are the one form of renewable energy not eligible for a federal tax credit, which expired in 2011. The pellet stove industry is lobbying hard for its reinstatement, saying the U.S. is the potential world leader in the production of the appliances and their clean-burning fuel.

For now, geothermal heat pumps, residential wind turbines, and solar energy systems qualify for a credit, covering 30% of the cost with no cap. The tax credit is good through 2016 and can be applied to existing homes and new construction using IRS form 5695. Check www.dsireusa.org for state and local incentives.

5). Adjusting a thermostat 5° to 10° F at night and when you’re not at home can cut a household’s annual energy costs by how much on average?

  • Under 10%

  • 10% to 20%

  • 21% to 30%

  • Over 30%


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Photo: Greener ChoicesEach degree you adjust the thermostat could translate into 2% savings if the setback period covers the sleeping and working hours. So in this scenario, the correct answer is 10% to 20%. Given that the average American household spends about $1,000 on heating and cooling, that amounts to potential savings of $200 – enough to cover the cost of several programmable thermostats.

6). On average, which appliance uses more energy per load? 

  • A washing machine

  • A clothes dryer


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Photo: Greener ChoicesThe correct answer is the dryer as the more energy-intensive laundry appliance. Dryers generate heat, which most people know requires a lot of energy – upward of 900 kWh per year to be exact. But increased focus on dryer efficiency could make this question less of a no-brainer.

The Energy Star program named Advanced Clothes Dryers the winner of its 2012 Emerging Technology Award. Heat pump clothes dryers, which already command significant market shares throughout parts of Europe, have the most promise. Those dryers extract heat from a home’s ambient air and release it at a higher temperature inside the drum. Compared with conventional electric dryers, they could save $30 to $40 per year and as much as $700 over the life of the unit, though consumers will need to get used to longer drying times and steeper up-front costs.

The first advanced clothes dryers are expected to be out in 2013. Energy Star is also developing a specification for conventional dryers that could improve their efficiency by 5% to 10%. In the meantime, your best bet for saving energy on laundry is to buy a high efficiency washer that will spin the most water from a load before it goes in the dryer.

7). Can you guess how much ‘standby power’ costs?

Many devices in the home consume electricity even when you’re not actively using them. All that vampire power can add up to 10% of your electricity bill. Unplugging or powering down the following gadgets could save you approximately $120 dollars a year, especially if they’re older models without auto-shutdown modes. (Sources for figures below: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Carnegie Mellon University)

Digital set-top box (with TV off): $25

Video game console (idle mode): $75

Combo DVD/VCR player (on): $13

Cordless power tool and charger (fully charged): $8 

Green Remodeling Ideas That Will Save You Money

“Going green” is more than just a passing phase – being environmentally thoughtful has become a way of life for many Americans, not to mention businesses that serve their needs. From recycling bottles and cans to investing in a do-it-yourself composter, homeowners all over the country are doing their part to help reduce emissions and protect the planet for future generations. 

There are plenty of small things you can do to make your home more energy efficient, but what if you want to go a step further? Whether you’re building a new home or renovating your current place, these green remodeling ideas will save you money over that long haul and make your home more appealing to buyers when you’re ready to sell – while saving the earth in the process. 


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Solar Panels

They’re expensive to install, but solar panels are worth the investment. Last April, the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory released its findings of an eight-and-half-year study of the California real estate market. According to the report, existing homes that were retrofitted with solar panels sold for an average of $17,000 more than comparable homes without them.

They’ll also save you a lot of money over time. For example, a homeowner in Chicago who pays an average of $200 per month on electricity would spend more than $43,000 to have solar panels installed. After tax credits and rebates, the total cost would be just over $30,000. However, after just one year, that homeowner would save anywhere between $1,200 to $2,778 on electric bills. After 25 years, that savings could be as high as $116,560.

To find out how much solar panels could save you, visit: Solar-Estimate.org


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Composite Decking

In addition to saving trees by using composite decking instead of wood, you’ll save yourself a big hassle. Wooden decks need to be sealed every couple years to keep water out, and eventually the elements will cause at least a few boards to rot and splinter. 

Composite decking, made from a blend of wood waste and plastic, doesn’t require the same upkeep as traditional wood deck boards. You won’t need to seal it, which eliminates the time and money you’d spend resealing plus fewer chemicals will be released into the air. And since the deck won’t rot, no trees will be cut down and used to replace it after a few years. 

The average cost of a composite deck addition is $15,579, according to Remodeling Magazine, but you can expect to recoup more than 60% of your cost when you sell your home – more than if you replaced your roof or added a master suite. 


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Synthetic Grass

It sounds crazy, but using fake grass in your yard is a real thing. It looks surprisingly real, and is great for homes in dry climates where it requires a lot of extra effort – and water – to grow the real thing. According to online retailer Artificial Turf Supply, the synthetic stuff costs about twice as much to install as sod. In a 1,500 square-foot yard, ground prep, sod and a sprinkler system would cost $4,750 a year while artificial grass would run just over $10,000. 

But over an eight-year period (the warranty period of the synthetic grass listed on the site), the cost of maintaining a sod lawn would cost more than $14,500. During that same period, there would be no additional costs to maintain the fake stuff, which means a savings of more than $4,000. After 15 years, the savings skyrockets to $13,000. Basically, artifical turf pays for itself completely.

And you’re doing more than putting money in your pocket. You may still “rinse” the lawn from time to time, but you won’t waste gallons of water saturating the ground to keep the grass alive. It doesn’t need mowing, either, which means lower gasoline emissions polluting the air. 

No matter what green home remodeling project you want to pursue, make sure you find yourself a like-minded contractor. Look for a pro who has some experience in green building, or is at least open-minded and eager to get an eco-friendly project under his or her belt. 

Copyright © 2012 Yahoo! Inc.

Sustainability in Floorcovering

The concept of sustainability had not reached the floorcovering industry in 1992. Sustainability was first defined by the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations in 1987 but it took several years to impact the flooring business.

During the early 1990s, many companies had aggressive environment management systems (EMS), but none had taken the steps necessary to move EMS from a tactical management tool into a strategy that integrated sustainability as part of the overall business strategy. This time was one of regulatory compliance and cost containment. The focus was on conservation of resources, energy consumption and costs, water consumption and processing, and compliance with clean air acts. No one was looking at sustainability as a driver for the industry over the next 20 years. However, change was inevitable as the industry leaders began the journey toward sustainability that thrives today.

The landscape of sustainability began a rapid transformation in the mid-1990s. Companies began to publicize their efforts in environment impact reduction and publicly share their goals of environmental stewardship. During this period of time, meaningful steps were made in educating the industry on the impacts that materials, processes, transportation and reclamation had on the environment. Many organizations attempted to use sustainability as a marketing tool. The greenwashing associated with these efforts resulted in the creation and implementation of standards by which products could be rated as sustainable. Through these times of rapid change in the sustainability arena, the floorcovering industry was positioning itself as the sustainability leader in the interiors product segment. 

One of the early drivers that brought focus to the need for a deeper understanding of products and their impacts was the concern over indoor air quality. This issue brought the flooring industry together in an effort to dispel false information and to instill confidence into the marketplace that flooring was not a contributor to sick building syndrome. From this effort, standards for indoor air quality were developed. These were leading standards for the interiors industry. In later years, this success contributed to the cooperation among manufacturers in crating sustainable flooring standards. These holistic product, manufacturing and social responsibility standards served as a template for numerous other industries. Today, most flooring has been subjected to some type of environmental measure – a lifecycle assessment study (LCA), an environmental product declaration (EPD), or some of the many other certification and standard evaluations. 

Another watershed moment for the industry was the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) introduction of its LEED green building certficiation. This standard and others to follow reinforced the market’s demand for sustainable products. Today, many of the products manufactured provide all the credits available to flooring under these standards. 

Leading manufacturers realized that just making sustainable products was not enough; the manufacturing of these products must also be made utilizing sustainable practices and processes. The adoption of ISO 14001 as a leading measure of manufacturing facilities became standard. Resources were committed to the development of new processes for manufacturing to reduce the environmental impact that manufacturing bore. Products changed from heavy weights for performance to lower weights with tighter constructions. A key tenet of sustainable products – make more with less and make products that last longer – became commonplace. The industry realized that you cannot make green products in brown factories. 

While the key focus of the industry was on sustainable products, manufacturing and processes, it was realized that tons of potentially valuable resources were being landfilled at the end of a floorcovering’s useful life. The challenges of transformation of products engineered to perform for extended life to products engineered to perform for extended life to products with components easily separated and recovered were many. The industry continues to work on the transformation of materials that meet the requirements of performance, cost and ease of reuse/recycling. Through the leadership of the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), the carpet industry sought alternative uses for products that were reaching the end of their useful lives. Since CARE’s beginning in 2002, more than 2.3 billion pounds of carpet had been diverted from landfills in the U.S. Not only has CARE been influential in the diversion of carpet from the landfill but by doing so had helped fuel a new industry to recycle and renew old carpet. 

During the last decade, the triple bottom line had been adopted as the overall approach to sustainability by leading companies. The phrase was coined by John Elkington in his 1997 book, Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. The triple bottom line is a balance of environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic viability. The approach towards sustainability to include more than environmental stewardship has expanded the boundaries of sustainability for every company. Now we must mange the social responsibility challenges along with environmental impacts, all while being fiscally responsible. Companies are rising to the commitment to be good neighbors as well as creating jobs. Using the triple bottom line idea allows industry to balance doing good with a cross-sectional approach.

As we look into the furture, sustainability will continue to be an important part of the product and manufacturing landscape. It is proven that with sustainability filters in place, products can be produced more efficiently, materials can be chosen that are better for the environment, and it has also been shown that green products and manufacturing do not have to cost more. As we continue our journey toward sustainability, predicting what is around the next corner is difficult, but the flooring industry had proven it is up to the challenge and will continue to lead in sustainable practices. 

Twenty Key Elements in Flooring Sustainability

  • Bio-based Content

  • Green Energy (solar, wind, hydro, etc.)

  • Recycled Content

  • Third-party Certifications

  • Cradle to Cradle Philosophy

  • PET Reuse

  • Landfill Methane

  • Dematerialization

  • CARE (Carpet America Recovery Effort)

  • Closed Loop Recycling

  • LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)

  • ISO (International Standards Organization)

  • Rapidly Renewable Materials

  • LCAs (Life Cycle Assessments)

  • Green Installation Systems (click systems, LokDots, water based adhesives, TacTiles)

  • Waste Reduction

  • Waste Water Reuse

  • EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations)

  • Cogeneration

  • Local Manufacturing

Armstrong’s Countdown to Cabinet Construction


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Four thousand cabinets a day!

That’s the current output at Armstrong Cabinet Products, a division of Armstrong World Industries.

In business since 1860, Armstrong World entered the wood products industry in 1998 following its acquisition of Triangle Pacific’s cabinet and flooring businesses. Fiscal 2011 net sales for the Lancaster, PA-based corporation were $2.9 billion, with the cabinet division accounting for $136.4 million. 

Sales of the company’s semi-custom kitchen and bath cabinets are driven by both multi-family as well as single-family new construction and remodeling markets, which are slowly showing signs of improvement. Armstrong sells its cabinet products through independent retailers; like American Cabinet & Flooring, Inc., and building supply distributors nationwide. It recently announced an agreement to also work with 84 Lumber for sales of its products.

Armstrong currently offers four series of cabinet constructions targeted at a variety of price points and environmental requirements:

  • Allwood Series: this top-tier series features an all-plywood box construction, hardwood plywood sides and bottom panels, six-way adjustable concealed hinges and wood dovetail drawers. Available in traditional – contemporary – transitional – and causal country styles with a variety of door options.

  • Premier Series: with similar features to the Allwood; this series has a composite panel construction and is available in a wood grain or laminate exterior. Available in traditional – contemporary – transitional – and causal country styles with a variety of door options.

  • Origins Series: available on most cabinet styles, this series is environmentally friendly and uses urea-formaldehyde-free, soy-based adhesive PureBond panels from Columbia Forest Products; which the company says can contribute to LEED NC EQ Credit 4.4.

  • Extreme Series: targeted for the public housing segment, with hardwood plywood end panels and multi-ply plywood top and bottom panel construction, and a pine drawer box.

Lean and Green Manufacturing

A proponent of green manufacturing, Armstrong has its Town & Country maple wood cabinets, part of the Origins Series, featured in Disney World’s Epcot Vision House in Florida.

All cabinets are manufactured to order at the company’s 300,000-square-foot facility, located on 27 acres in Thompsontown, PA. Approximately 450 people work at the cabinet plant. 

Panel processing, frame manufacture, drawer box construction, finishing and assembly are done in-house, with cabinet doors and drawer fronts currently outsourced. Approximately 90% of production is kitchen cabinets, with the remaining 10% for bath vanities. The majority of the product is veneered, in species that include: cherry – maple – oak birch – and plantation hardwood.

Armstrong sources the veneered panels with laminated panels laid-up, in-house. Panels are cut-to-size on one of four Schelling saws before being sent to the Andi CNC routers or the company’s new Keystone Automation end panel machine for further processing.

In another area, Koch bore and dowel machines are used for frame construction. Armstrong uses a variety of sanders throughout the production and finishing process, including Timesaves, Costa and DMC.

Output at the machines is tracked throughout the plant. “With the lean process, you can see the movement of the product on the floor and know at a glance if you need to produce more. It’s a very visual management tool, ” says Tim Clontz, plant manager. 

Parts are finished before being married up in assembly. The company uses a combination of hand spraying and UV coating, with specialty finishes available on its higher-end lines.

Continually looking for ways to improve, Armstrong recently conducted a value stream mapping of the area, which identified a bottleneck in the door finishing process for topcoating. In a quick resolution to the problem, by early May, the company will have replaced a tow-hang line with a Superfici flatline system, which will provide significant improvements in the workflow speed and process, Clontz says. 

Another area targeted for improvement is assembly, Clontz says. Moving from three long lines to five shorter ones will not only speed production, but reduce overall handling on the cabinets, while enabling workers to “have more involvement” in the finished product. “Lean is a never-ending journey,” he says. “Every day we’re trying to get better.”

Safety in Numbers

Armstrong also is aggressive about emphasizing the safety of its employees. Placards throughout the plant illustrate correct methods of operation. In addition, twice daily employees perform stretching exercises as part of the work routine. 

Clontz says he is proud of the recognition the cabinet plant received recently for going more than 600,000 hours without an accident. “Our best resource is our employees,” he adds.