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Mary Mastroeni

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Understanding the Smart Grid

August 9, 2011 5:01 pm

I didn’t feel too smart when it came to the latest information about the rapidly growing U.S. Electrical “smart grid”—so I plugged into some good intel on the subject from Tom Simchak of the Alliance to Save Energy.

According to Simchak, the smart grid is a system of interconnected technologies that enable two-way communications between different parts of the electric power system—from generation through to the appliances—that consume electricity.

This system of communication gives grid operators greater awareness of the condition of the electrical grid at any given location. But Simchak says it also allows consumers the opportunity to have a better understanding of their own energy use—potentially down to individual appliances’ consumption, which allows consumers to identify energy saving opportunities.

Smart grid systems also could open up opportunities for energy management companies, hired by consumers, to use data from “smart meters” to identify opportunities for energy savings, or to measure the success of energy saving measures after they are undertaken.

For utilities, smart grid technologies have the capacity to allow for reductions in electricity use targeted at times when demand is highest. Called demand response, these peak reductions can reduce the strain placed on the electrical grid, and the need for high-cost generation resources.

According to Simchak, consumers participating in demand response activities are compensated for the service.

Consumers do not have to take an action each time a utility calls for demand response activities. Simchak says a utility can simply send a signal to smart-capable appliances that take action based on pre-programmed consumer preferences.

The Electric Consumer Right to Know Act proposed in May of 2011 would allow customers to give third parties access to their consumption data, allowing third-party energy management services to process and reinterpret data from smart meters and to program smart appliances for consumers.

Such services could simplify smart meters’ use, create the potential for greater energy savings, and allow for an aggregation of savings for load management. Retail electric providers would be able to recover the costs of this requirement in electricity rates, subject to the regulation of their public utility commissions or other authority with jurisdiction.

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Preparing Your Home for the Cooler Months

August 9, 2011 5:01 pm

This year is certainly flying by, and with the fall just a month away, it’s a great time to start prepping your home before warm weather turns to cooler temperatures. From water leaks to the chimney, it’s better to be ready for the cold season…before it hits.

Here, State Farm offers up some pre-fall maintenance tips for your home:

Check all window and door locks for proper operation

• Windows that can be opened by breaking the glass and unlocking them, are less effective deterrents to criminals. Check with the hardware store for window lock alternatives.

• All exterior doors should have deadbolt locks.

Make sure there are working nightlights at the top and bottom of all stairs

Other safety ideas for stairs:

• Tile and painted wood or concrete stairs can be slippery when wet or when a person's shoes are wet. Resurface the treads with slip-resistant strips near the stair nosing.

• All stairs of at least three risers should have a handrail.

• Do not store items on the stairs.

Have a heating professional check your heating system every year

• Woodburning stove connector pipes and chimneys should be inspected by a certified chimney sweep at least annually.

Replace your furnace filter

• Furnace filters need to be replaced frequently to allow your heating and cooling systems to operate properly.

Run all gas-powered lawn equipment until the fuel tank is empty

• By doing this, you are removing flammable liquid storage from your garage. At the same time, make sure you aren't storing dirty, oily rags in a pile. They can ignite spontaneously.

Have a certified chimney sweep inspect and clean the flues and check your fireplace damper

• Soot and creosote, which build up inside the chimney, can ignite when a fire is lit in the fireplace.

Remove bird nests from chimney flues and outdoor electrical fixtures

• Bird nests on top of light fixtures are a fire hazard. Bird nests in chimney flues can prevent a proper venting of combustion gases and can catch fire from sparks. You should exercise great caution when working on your roof or consider hiring a qualified professional to take care of any work that needs to be done.

Make sure the caulking around doors and windows is adequate to reduce heat/cooling loss

• Check glazing for loose or missing putty or glazing compound. This will also help reduce water damage to the windows and door frames.

• Make sure that the caulking around your bathroom fixtures is adequate to prevent water from seeping into the sub-flooring

• Check for cracked or missing caulk around the base of your toilet, bath tub, and bathroom cabinets. Properly sealing gaps between your bathroom fixtures and flooring material can prevent damage.

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4 Tips to Extend Your Summer

August 9, 2011 5:01 pm

With the summer season coming to a close, make your summer last a little longer by trying the following tips.

1. Plan more down time. When the season is ending, most of us try to cram in more activities, which can make the season seem shorter! Section off a Sunday or two where you make no plans, allowing you to plan your activities based on your mood, the weather, or that good book you’ve been meaning to finish.

2. Plan an early fall vacation. Make a weekend getaway in early September to extend your care-free summer vibes.

3. Spend more time outdoors. This doesn’t have to be saved for a weekend. Cook dinner on the grill after work, or take a long evening walk at a local park or beach with pals or your pup.

4. Rise early. Some people like to snag more zzz’s during their down time. But during summer, the sun shines earlier, and so should you. Getting up early, even if it’s only to read on the porch with a cup of coffee, will make your days feel longer and your season sweeter.

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For Your College Kids: Let Your Campus Apartment Express Your Individuality

August 9, 2011 5:01 pm

After a year of mandatory dorm living for college freshmen, most students have the option to choose between dorm living or off-campus apartments for the remainder of their college years. Each has its advantages, but there's one way that apartment living excels: it gives you the chance to express your individuality.

Painting walls is often an option if you can prove to the landlord that it will enhance the property or that you will paint them back to their original color before you move out. If that's the case, a little paint can make a world of difference. It can transform "blah beige" walls into a bright, inviting space that will let others know more about the creative you.

Before you start, make sure you have the right tools assembled for the project. Since you're a college student on a limited budget, you'll be tempted to buy the least expensive paint. The reality is that it makes more sense to buy better quality paint right from the start. It'll enable you to get the job completed—and you on your way to self-expression—in just one application.

You'll also need to keep a good painter's tape handy. Just like paint, it makes sense to buy a premium quality tape that lets you get the job done right the first time. Cheap tape can leave residue, tear unevenly, damage the surface, and leave messy paint lines where paint seeps under the tape edges.

Quality painter's tape also enables you to try some new and interesting approaches to wall painting. Besides choosing just one color per wall, you can try decorative striped patterns, diamond patterns, checkerboard designs, or a variety of other wall graphics.

For more information, visit http://www.itape.com.

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Word of the Day

August 9, 2011 5:01 pm

Delinquent loan. One where the borrower is behind, or late, in payments.

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Red Cross Offers Tips to Keep Athletes Safe in Extreme Heat

August 8, 2011 8:01 pm

In the wake of recent student athlete deaths due to excessive heat, the American Red Cross recommends team officials, coaches and parents take steps to help ensure the safety of their players during extreme heat.

"Keeping athletes safe during extreme temperatures is as important as getting them ready for the upcoming season," says Dr. David Markenson, Chair of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. "One of the most important things athletes can do is stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids like water or sports drinks with electrolytes before, during and after practice—even if you are not thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol," Markenson adds.

During the hot weather, team practices should be scheduled for early in the day and later in the evening to avoid exposing players to the hottest times of the day. Other steps teams, schools and parents should take to protect their athletes include:

• Allow athletes to get acclimated to the heat by reducing the intensity of practice until they are more accustomed to it.
• Make frequent, longer breaks a regular part of practice. About every 20 minutes stop for fluids and try to keep the athletes in the shade if possible.
• Reduce the amount of heavy equipment—like football pads—athletes wear in extremely hot, humid weather.
• Dress athletes, when appropriate, in net-type jerseys or light-weight, light-colored, cotton T-shirts and shorts.
• Know the signs of heat-related emergencies and monitor athletes closely.

"Knowing the signs of heat-related emergencies and how to help someone who is suffering from the heat is vital," Markenson stresses. "Coaches and parents need to be vigilant in watching for signs of heat-related emergencies. Athletes should inform their coaches, teachers or parents if they are not feeling well."

Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms that usually occur in the legs or abdomen caused by exposure to high heat and humidity and loss of fluids and electrolytes. Heat cramps are often an early sign that the body is having trouble with the heat. If someone is experiencing heat cramps:

• Get the person to a cooler place and have him or her rest in a comfortable position. Stretching, massaging and icing the affected muscle may help.
• Give a half glass of cool water or a sports drink with electrolytes every 15 minutes. Do not give liquids with alcohol or caffeine in them, as they can make conditions worse.

Heat exhaustion is caused by a combination of exercise induced heat and fluid and electrolyte loss from sweating. Signs of heat exhaustion include cool, moist, pale or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea; dizziness; weakness; and exhaustion. To help someone with these symptoms:

• Move the person to a cooler place. Remove or loosen tight clothing. Spray him or her with water or apply cool, wet cloths or towels to the skin. Fan the person. If the person is conscious, give small amounts of cool water or a sports drink with electrolytes to drink. Make sure the person drinks slowly. Watch for changes in his or her condition.
• If the person refuses water, vomits or begins to lose consciousness, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.

Heat stroke (also known as sunstroke) is a life-threatening condition in which a person's temperature control system stops working and the body is unable to cool itself.

• Signs of heat stroke include those of heat exhaustion and hot, red skin which may be dry or moist; change or loss of consciousness; seizures; vomiting; and high body temperature.
• Heat stroke is life-threatening. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
• Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the person's body by immersing them up to their neck in cold water if possible. If unable to immerse them, continue rapid cooling by applying bags of ice or cold packs wrapped in a cloth to the wrists, ankles, groin, neck and armpits, spraying with water and/or fanning.

For more information, visit www.redcross.org.

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Word of the Day

August 8, 2011 8:01 pm

Depreciation. Gradual decline on paper in market value of real estate, especially because of age, obsolescence, wear and tear, or economic conditions.

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Question of the Day

August 8, 2011 8:01 pm

Q: Where can you find fixer-uppers?

A: They are literally everywhere, even in wealthy enclaves. What sets them apart is price. They have lower market value than other houses in the immediate area because they have either been poorly maintained or abandoned.

To determine if a property that interests you is a wise investment will require a lot of work. You will need to figure out what the average home in the area sells for, as well as the cost of the most desirable ones.

Experts suggest that novices avoid run-down properties needing extensive work. Instead, they recommend starting with a property that only needs minor cosmetic work – one that can be completely refurbished with paint, wallpaper, new floor and window coverings, landscaping, and new appliances.

Also, keep in mind that a home price that looks too good to be true probably is. Find out why before pouring your hard-earned money into it. 

When looking for a fixer-upper, some experts suggest you follow this basis strategy: find the least desirable home in the most desirable neighborhood. Then decide if the expense that is needed to repair the property is within your budget.


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Taming Your Summer Water

August 8, 2011 5:01 pm

If your July water bill showed a marked jump in water usage, that is bad news for your wallet, as well as for the environment.

“Whether you are on a city water line or use your own well, the number of gallons used daily by a family may be expected to rise in hot weather,” says Charlotte Gorman, author of The Frugal Mind: The Little Book of Living Frugal. “But following a few simple guidelines to help conserve water can make a notable difference in your monthly bill as well.”

Below are 10 of the many tips Gorman suggests to help achieve these goals:
1. In the bathroom, use low flow shower heads, which reduce water usage by up to 40 percent.
2. When showering, wet your body, then turn off the water as you lather up. Turn the water on again to rinse off after you have lathered and shampooed.
3. When you brush your teeth, turn the faucet off as you brush. Turn it on again only to rinse.
4. In the laundry, most clothes washers use up to one-third more water for permanent press loads. Save your laundry until you have a full load, and don’t use the permanent press cycle more than necessary.
5. In the kitchen, avoid thorough rinsing of dishes that are going into the dishwasher. Scrape off remaining food, rinse only briefly, and let the dishwasher do the rest.
6. Use a pan in the sink when washing fruits and veggies. The saved water can be recycled to water indoor or outdoor plants.
7. Water yards, vegetable gardens and plants in the early morning or evening. Try watering less often than you have been accustomed to, and use a soaker hose instead of sprinklers to get the most water for your buck.
8. Don’t let the kids play in the sprinklers every day. Thirty minutes of water play could squander several hundred gallons each time.
9. Cover children’s wading and swimming pools when not in use to reduce water evaporation. You won’t need to refill them as often.
10. When it’s raining gently, move your car out of the garage and let nature wash it for you. A quick rubdown afterward should leave the car shiny and save water.

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Fannie Mae Releases July Consumer Indicators

August 8, 2011 5:01 pm

Fannie Mae's July national consumer attitudinal survey finds that Americans' attitudes about the economy and household finances are growing more pessimistic—with 70 percent of Americans believing that the economy is moving in the wrong direction, while only 23 percent think the economy is moving in the right direction. Key indicators show that more consumers across the country have diminished expectations for home prices and their personal finances, more are thinking about renting as a next step, and twice as many are reporting significantly higher expenses than incomes.

"The impact of recent financial market volatility on household wealth has been a setback to consumer confidence, which we're seeing in our survey results and in Americans' continued restraint in their willingness to take on additional financial commitments," says Doug Duncan, vice president and chief economist of Fannie Mae. "Our overall July survey data, beyond the eleven indicators we present this month, show that most Americans think the economy is on the wrong track. The sluggish pace of job growth, coupled with this economic uncertainty, is clearly having an impact on consumers' attitudes toward the housing market and their own personal financial situations."

Survey Highlights
Homeownership and Renting
• On average and consistent with June, Americans believe home prices will decline slightly over the next year.
• Only 11 percent of respondents say it is a good time to sell one's home (similar to May and June 2011 survey results).
• Despite Americans' expectations that rental prices will go up in the next 12 months, fewer Americans say they would buy their next home (down 5 percentage points) and more of those surveyed say they would rent (up by 3 percentage points).

Household Finances
• For the third month in a row, optimism about personal finances has declined, with 35 percent of respondents expecting their finances to get better over the next year (down from 40 percent in April).
• Consistent with June, 20 percent of respondents report significantly higher household incomes over the past 12 months, while 17 percent report significantly lower incomes.
• As compared to past months, four times as many Americans report significantly higher household expenses (up from 37 percent in June to 40 percent in July) as significantly lower expenses (10 percent).

For more information, please visit www.fanniemae.com.

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