Martin's house

In battle with squirrels, solar panels finally claim victory

For the most part, solar panels can safely be ignored and simply keep turning your meter backwards. But thanks to some local squirrels, I realized the perils of not regularly monitoring solar panels' output.

These days, it's not difficult to view the electricity generated by solar photovoltaic panels online. And homeowners are increasingly choosing to lease panels, rather than buy them upfront. That means a solar installer or financing company will own the panels and they'll have a financial interest--in the form of renewable energy credits--to monitor rooftop panels' output.

When I had my PV panels installed four … Read more

Why I bought two tons of wood heating pellets

It's not often that I handle a ton of anything but I recently took delivery of 2 tons of wood pellets for home heating. Pellets aren't perfect but I see them as one of the ways consumers can diversify their energy sources and "go green" on a personal level.

The pellets, which are compressed sawdust, come in 40-pound bags stacked about 5 feet high on wood pallets. Those 2 tons, stashed in my garage until the cold weather hits, will cover the bulk of my household heating needs for the coming season.

It happened to be … Read more

Five things you didn't know about LED lightbulbs

If you've heard about residential LED lightbulbs, you probably know that they're energy-efficient, last a long time, and are pricier than other lightbulb technologies.

I've been using LED lights in my home for several months now, and overall the transition has been good. As you consider your lighting options, here a few things that you might not know about LEDs.

LEDs are cooler. When you're running fans or an air conditioner this summer, having burning-hot incandescent bulbs just makes it harder to manage the heat. LEDs run much cooler than incandescent bulbs and significantly cooler than … Read more

LED bulbs move in and mix up home lighting

In the space of a few years, I've gone from one lighting technology to another and now to three lighting types in my home. I suspect others will be in the same shoes as lighting options expand, notably those involving LEDs.

Eager to cut down my electrical load, I essentially converted to compact fluorescent lighting (CFLs) years ago. Recently, though, I've replaced CFLs with efficient LED bulbs and even energy-hogging incandescents to address an unfortunate feature of CFLs: turning them on and off frequently degrades their life.

CFLs are still a good deal both financially and environmentally. They … Read more

At home in a not-so-smart home

The future, we are told, is smart homes able to remotely control appliances, secure us from intruders, and use energy superefficiently. As I sit here with a box full of barely used equipment, I feel like an unconvinced Luddite.

A few months ago, a representative from the Z-Wave Alliance offered to loan me some wireless home automation equipment to check out. Given that CNET has a tech-savvy audience, I've written extensively about home energy management systems designed to give consumers more control over how and when they use energy. I've been giving it a try in fits and … Read more

Winter, snow, and solar panels: A mixed forecast

With many people in the U.S. bemoaning the punishing winter weather this year, solar-panel owners have their own special gripe: sun-blocking snow and ice. But at the same time, very cold temperatures have given some owners a power boost.

A thick blanket of snow can slow a solar photovoltaic (PV) array's production to a trickle. That's something I discovered two years ago when a snowy winter led me to buy a modified snow rake to remove snow from my solar panels. It's now on my list of regular winter chores.

Even with my diligence, this year … Read more

LED bulbs in the home: So far, so good

I more or less ditched incandescent bulbs for more-efficient compact fluorescents in my house years ago. But at this point, I'm awfully close to ditching CFLs for the latest in lighting technology: LEDs.

LED lighting has got a lot going for it. The lights can be far more efficient than other types of lights, and the bulbs are supposed to last for tens of thousands of hours--enough to last 20 or 30 years depending on usage. Unlike CFLs, there's no mercury, the light is instant, and turning lights on and off shouldn't degrade their useful life, according … Read more

Exploring the home energy angle in a water crisis

Moments before heading out for dinner this past Saturday night, I learned I was living in what you could call a dry town. Along with 2 million other people in the Boston area, water service to my town was disrupted because of a "catastrophic" break in the distribution system.

Early Saturday morning, a collar attached to a giant water pipe in Weston, Mass., broke off, which cut off the source of clean water to 30 cities and towns. Two days into the crisis, people in the area are now being supplied by a backup reservoir system that requires … Read more

Chasing home efficiency, nudged by the sun

The cliche response from homeowners with newly installed solar panels is to excitedly watch the utility meter run backwards--"Look, I'm making electricity!" But for me, it's been two years and I'm still checking the meter because I'm so close to that magic number--zero.

With grid-tied solar photovoltaic panels, you get what's called a net meter (unrelated to a smart meter). It means your meter can run in reverse when panels produce more than a house consumes, with the excess electricity piped back onto the grid for the neighbors to use. So when … Read more

Greening the home--from low effort to high tech

A California start-up recently announced plans to manufacture "net zero-energy homes," a term that is starting to enter the national vocabulary. But what if you don't plan on buying a new home anytime soon?

It is true that it's far easier to make new construction green than to retrofit existing homes. At the same time, residential energy use is only expected to climb, as we fill our homes with more electronic gadgets and, most likely, as energy prices trend upward.

So how do you keep your energy bills under control and lighten the environmental footprint of … Read more