Here comes the sun – is your home prepared?

Summer has arrived and we are here to help keep both your house temperature and Fanutility bills down. Here are a few ways you can prepare your home for the summer heat:

Turn off your air conditioner. It’s easy for your summer energy bill to add up when you use an air conditioner. There are other ways to keep your home cool, like drawing window shades during the day to keep the sun from heating up your home, or sleeping with your windows open at night to let cool air in. Fans can also help people feel up to four degrees cooler indoors. Consider installing a ceiling fan, and take advantage of our $35 rebate.

Steer clear of heat‑producing appliances. Your home can produce heat in unexpected ways. For example, 85‑90 percent of the electricity consumed by incandescent lights is turned into heat. You can combat this by upgrading to energy‑efficient lighting or by turning your lights off as much as possible. Ovens can also quickly add unwanted heat to kitchens. Instead, think about cooking with your stove or microwave when possible. Finally, air‑drying clothing outdoors instead of using a clothes dryer will both reduce excess in‑home heat and help to save on energy costs.

Insulate and seal your home. Once your house is nice and cool, you will want to keep that cool air in and the hot air out. One easy way to do this is to seal any air leaks or cracks found in walls, ceilings or floors. You can typically seal these air leaks by weather‑stripping doors, installing foam gaskets or applying spray foam or caulking. Installing or increasing attic insulation can also prevent cold air from seeping out through your attic. We offer an attic insulation rebate of 10 cents per square foot of insulation installed.

Check out our Energy‑Saving Tips to learn more ways you can make your home as cool and efficient as possible this summer. We also offer free home energy audits to our customers looking to reduce energy consumption, improve in-home comfort and reduce energy bills.

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Show Your Home Some Love This Valentine’s Day

This Valentine’s Day, remember to extend some love to your home! You can easily giveIMG_0106 your heating system a break by sealing any air leaks, helping to keep your home at a comfortable temperature. Fixing air leaks is an inexpensive and simple DIY project – your wallet will send its love right back to you!

If you feel a cold draft flowing through your home this winter, start by checking these common locations where air infiltration can occur:

  • Doors – Do you notice any light coming from around or under your doors? If so, you probably have an air leak. Replace your door’s weather-stripping or door shoe threshold.
  • Light switches and outlets – Switches and outlets on exterior walls can let cold air in. Apply foam gaskets around switches and outlets to provide insulation.
  • Attic access hatches – Attic access hatches are seldom weather‑stripped. Install foam gaskets around the edge of the attic opening to stop heat from leaking out of your home and into your attic.
  • Plumbing locations – Wherever a pipe protrudes through a wall, air can flow. Spray foam sealant between the drywall and the pipe to help prevent air leakage.
  • Windows – While most windows are weather-stripped or caulked, the original stripping or caulking could be getting old and losing its effect. Apply new caulking and weather‑stripping so no drafts come from your windows.

Once you have identified where your draft is coming from, you can read step‑by‑step instructions on how to weatherproof your house by viewing our Weatherization Tips or Air Sealing Basics fact sheets. You can also learn about other DIY home upgrades by viewing our Energy-Savings Tips fact sheets.

May Your Holidays Be Efficient and Bright

2017 tree with LEDs

It’s that time of the year again! As you spend the holidays with friends and family, remember to be aware of your energy usage to avoid a higher than average bill. Energy consumption can easily sneak up on anyone during the holiday season. Here are a few tips to help make your holidays efficient and bright.

Lighting up the night sky.

If you choose to hang up lights this holiday season, consider purchasing ENERGY STAR® certified LED light strings. They brighten up your home without leaving you with a high energy bill. Not only do ENERGY STAR® certified LED lights use 75 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs, they are also brighter, more durable and last up to 10 times longer than other light strings.

LED lights are safer than traditional incandescent bulbs because they run at a lower temperature, but remember to check each string for frayed wires or damage before plugging them in. It is also important to turn lights off before going to bed or leaving your house. Consider purchasing a timer to automatically schedule when your lights turn off.

For additional tips on LED lights, read our Holiday LED Guide.

Staying warm and cozy.

Warming up next to a roaring fire is a favorite winter activity, but make sure to keep your flue damper closed when your fireplace is not in use – it should only be opened when a fire is burning. Eighty to ninety percent of the heat produced by a wood‑burning fireplace can be released through your chimney if the flue damper is incorrectly used.

Visit our Fireplace Efficiency Guide for more information. Always be sure to double‑check Spare the Air to make sure it is legal to use your fireplace on any given day.

Preparing your holiday feast.

Cooking a holiday meal can be stressful. Don’t let energy waste add to that stress. The California Energy Commission (CEC) has suggestions on how to save energy in your kitchen. Did you know that you should match the size of your stovetop burner to the size of the pan you cook with? For example, up to 40 percent of heat is wasted if you put a six‑inch pan on an eight‑inch burner. Choosing a microwave oven, slow cooker or electric skillet over your stovetop or oven is also an easy way to reduce your energy consumption.

To learn about additional ways to save energy year‑round, visit our 12 Easy Ways to Save Energy guide.

The Power of Community

Public Power Wee LogoThere are many reasons to celebrate the Santa Clara community and having access to local, high quality electricity service is an important one. Every October, public power utilities, including Silicon Valley Power (SVP), celebrate Public Power Week to recognize over 2,000 utilities across the nation that are community-owned, not-for-profit organizations. Unlike other cities that have to rely on large investor-owned utilities, Santa Clara benefits from having a municipally-owned utility that cares about making our city a rewarding place to live. A local business model makes sure that customers can count on responsiveness and investments in community growth, as well as continued affordable rates ensured by our not-for-profit status.

In addition to being invested in the success of Santa Clara, our team is also a part of the community. Our local expertise allows us to create programs and services that are tailored to the needs of Santa Clara’s residents. Our initiatives include investments in free outdoor Wi-Fi throughout the city, student scholarships, and a Tool Lending Library to contribute to the growth of Santa Clara’s economy and a high quality of life for all residents.

As a public power entity, we are also able to make a direct impact on creating a sustainable future for Santa Clara. When the community began to show interest in renewable energy, we launched Santa Clara Green Power, a 100 percent green power option available to all residents and businesses. We also offer a full suite of energy efficiency rebates for residents and businesses, free home energy audits, and energy efficiency resources for our business customers to help our customers improve the comfort of their homes and facilities while saving energy and money.

Sponsoring and enjoying regular community events is another benefit to our local operations. Each year, we look forward to supporting events that allow our friends and neighbors to connect over local entertainment, such as the annual Fourth of July fireworks and the holiday tree lighting ceremony.

As your locally-owned utility and trusted energy advisor, we’re proud to play an integral role in the Santa Clara community!

These devices may be quietly driving up your home’s energy use

Dish Space HeaterDo you know which systems and appliances in your home use the most electricity? Many people might guess that their heating and cooling systems are the biggest energy users – and for years, that was true. However, the digital revolution means that plug-in appliances are playing an increasing role in the typical home’s energy consumption. We often see three common electrical appliances that can unexpectedly raise customers’ energy use.

Gaming consoles and DVRs seem harmless, but they tend to use much more energy than customers realize. This is not only because consumers are acquiring more entertainment devices, but also because those devices are plugged in all the time, sucking out “vampire power” even when not in use. We advise customers to unplug their devices when not in use, turn to a low power mode, or consider investing in a smart power strip.

While their warmth might be great on a cold winter day, space heaters can heat up your electricity bill if used extensively. Some of our customers use multiple space heaters to heat their whole homes all day long. Others continue to use their space heaters after their circuit breakers trip (i.e., outlets shut off). This is not an ideal way to heat your home. First, if your circuit breakers trip while using a space heater, your electrical system has overloaded and automatically shuts off to prevent a fire. Second, central heating is the most efficient and economical way to heat a large space or your whole home. We recommend only using one space heater at a time and using it to warm up a small space for a short period (one – two hours a day). To find the best space heater for your needs, check our Space Heater Guide and entertaining Space Heater Video.

Another appliance that may be using more energy than you’d think is your second fridgeKill-a-Watt electric consumption meter or supplemental freezer. Having that extra cold storage in the garage for extra beverages might be great for entertaining, but be smart and consider unplugging it during off-seasons or between holidays.

Interested in learning more about how your home is using electricity? Sign up for our free, in-home energy audit or borrow a Kill-A-Watt meter from our free Tool Lending Library.

The Future is Bright in Santa Clara

When driving, biking, or walking at night, what is your number one concern? For most people, safety gets the top spot. Visibility is tied closely to safety on the night street: nighttime driving is three times more dangerous than driving in the day and well-lit streets allow drivers to see pedestrians from twice the distance they do on poorly lit roads. That’s why we’re excited to move forward with Phase 2 of our LED Streetlight Retrofit Project, beginning this week.

LED street and intersection lights provide improved visibility and more controlled coverage than traditional lights. This is because LEDs spread light more evenly across an area and more precisely control where light is directed. That means less light pollution and more uniform lighting with less dark spots between poles, which results in a safer walk or ride for residents.

In June 2015, SVP completed Phase 1 of its LED Streetlight Retrofit Project, installing over 5,000 new LED streetlights. Phase 2 is expected to finish in early 2018 and will modernize intersection lights in southern Santa Clara as well as some streetlights in the northeast.

Not only do these LED street and intersection lighting upgrades mean safer nighttime trips, they also cut down on energy use. LEDs use up to 50 percent less energy than currently installed high-pressure sodium and mercury vapor streetlights. This translates into real energy savings: the 5,000+ LED streetlights installed in the first phase of our LED Streetlight Retrofit Project save us three million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. That’s enough energy to power 600 homes!

LED street and intersection lights also reduce our operational costs. LEDs last up to four times longer than the existing streetlights, which reduces lighting maintenance costs and bulb replacements.

Implementing this technology on a larger scale will help the Santa Clara community achieve a brighter and greener outlook on life.

Brighten up your holidays with home energy efficiency and safety tips

The holiday season brings bright decorations, holiday cooking, visits from family and friends, and festive gatherings – which can also mean an increase in home energy use. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season also makes energy safety more important. Did you know electrical accidents and home fires occur most frequently from December through February? We’re here to help with tips for keeping your home bright, efficient, and safe.

Lighting 

2017 tree with LEDs
Holiday tree with energy efficient LED lights

ENERGY STAR-certified LED lights are perfect for those looking for festive decorations without a spike in energy use. LEDs use 70 percent less energy than traditional lights and last up to 10 times longer.

Ensure your holiday lights are safe by checking each set of lights for frayed wires or damages before use. LEDs run at cooler temperatures so they are less likely to start a fire, but no matter what type of lights you use, it’s important to turn them off before going to bed or leaving the house.

For more helpful tips on using LEDs, read our Holiday LED Guide.

Fireplace

A cozy fire in the fireplace can create holiday cheer, but as much as 80 to 90 percent of the heat produced by a wood-burning fireplace can escape through the chimney if used ineffectively. To keep heat inside your home, close the flue damper when the fireplace isn’t in use. The damper should only be opened when a fire is burning.

For more helpful tips on fireplace dampers, visit our Fireplace Efficiency Guide.

Managing Electricity Use

With extra decorations and social gatherings in the home, high electricity bills can be prevented by choosing efficient lighting and decorations. You can also manage energy use by using timers to turn lights off in the late evening.

For more tips on holiday electrical safety, visit the Electrical Safety Foundation International.

Helping 3,000 small businesses lower their electric bills

SVP - CMUA RECS Award 2017Helping Santa Clara businesses improve their bottom line can be a satisfying experience for a municipal utility like ours. A healthy local economy benefits everyone in the community, and we are proud that we just won the Best Energy Program for a Large Municipal Electric Utility award from the California Municipal Utility Association (CMUA), which consists of 59 electric and water utilities.

The honor is for a program called the Small Business Snapshot Audit and Direct Install Program, which saved our small businesses about $300,000 in the fiscal year 2016-17. The name says exactly what we did: determine what energy efficiency upgrades or improvements could be made at over 3,000 Santa Clara business customer locations, and have a third-party contractor, Efficiency Services Group, handle the logistics and installation at no charge to our customers.

The program gave us the chance to offer a valuable service to those businesses that can benefit the most, plus it had a very positive economic impact in our City as customers saved up to several hundred dollars a month in electricity costs. Most of the improvements involved lighting upgrades, which give customers even more savings on an ongoing basis, since modern energy-efficient lights and fixtures require less maintenance and last longer than older technology.

The first-year energy savings alone added up to almost 2 million kilowatt-hours, which translates to preventing about 750,000 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere from power plants. We are thrilled to have organized such a successful program. We appreciate the recognition from the CMUA and continue to look for new opportunities to serve our customers and community.

Marriott Scores Big Energy Savings With Guestroom HVAC Upgrade

Some hotels are taking a big step forward in making sure rooms are comfortable when you arrive and during your stay by installing automated control systems that adapt to occupancy and respond with the appropriate level of heating or cooling. Hotel staff can also remotely prepare a room for an arriving guest, and shut down systems when the room becomes vacant. Sensors can indicate if a room is occupied or empty, which can be especially valuable when it allows the hotel to turn off the energy-hungry heat or air conditioning when guests are out.

The Santa Clara Marriott Hotel is one property that has embraced the new technology, retrofitting the pre-existing air conditioning equipment in rooms to disable the factory built-in controls so that the units can be controlled through the Wi-Fi and sensor enabled thermostats. Guests can still personally choose their level of comfort using in-room thermostats.

The project was completed in August 2016 and meets a Marriott policy to implement one signature environmental improvement a year at each of its hotels. Comfort is just one of the benefits. Dave Mason, the director of engineering for the Marriott, says upgrading 759 guest room thermostat controls will save the property 230,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. The energy efficiency upgrade also will also prevent 55 metric tons of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere annually.

dave_mason_Marriott Hotels

“I was particularly interested in this project because it improves the overall guest experience and saves valuable resources,” Dave Mason said, adding that those savings plus the rebate from Silicon Valley Power will allow the hotel to recoup the $346,000 project cost in less than seven years. The energy efficiency upgrade also will also prevent 55 metric tons of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere annually.

“I would definitely use the word ‘partnership’ to describe our work with SVP,” said Mason. “It only took about eight weeks to complete the project once we had a green light.”

We love working with customers like Dave Mason and the Santa Clara Marriott to improve energy efficiency at their facilities, and the project is even more rewarding when it benefits their guests with improved comfort!

Warming Up Safely With a Space Heater

space-heaterSometimes it makes sense to warm up just a small area like an office or bedroom rather than turn on your central heating system. Portable, or room, heaters can effectively and efficiently heat smaller areas of a home or business.

You’ll want to remember that space heaters, even though small, use a significant amount of electricity. With a typical 1500-watt unit, for instance, it will cost you about 16 cents per hour. That doesn’t sound like much, but if you leave a portable heater on for several hours a day or use multiple heaters, it adds up. Smart use of a space heater can save you money compared to using central heating, but being cautious about extended use is important.

Here are some tips on how to manage electricity costs if you use a space heater:

  • Remember to turn it off when you leave the room.
  • Select the right space heater for the situation. Check out our Space Heater Guide to identify what type of heater is best for you.
  • Space heaters work best in smaller rooms that are closed off to the rest of your home. An open door will quickly reduce the effectiveness of the heater.
  • If you’re using multiple space heaters for more than a few hours it may be more cost effective to use your central heating, which is the most efficient way to heat your entire house.
  • Since space heaters use a lot of electricity, multiple heaters on the same circuit can trip a circuit breaker.
  • The higher wattage of these units exceeds the capabilities of most extension cords, creating a fire hazard. Plug your space heater directly into an outlet.

The U.S. Department of Energy also provides some good tips on space heater safety and what to look for when making a purchase.

Meanwhile, putting on a sweater or sweatshirt instead of using that space heater could save you a dollar a day or more. For a little entertainment and a few tips, check out our video comparing three different types of space heaters.