Virtual Field Trip: Electricity!

Learn how electricity is produced, where our electricity comes from in Los Alamos, and explore electricity by making an electromagnet yourself in this virtual field trip from the Pajarito Environmental Education Center and Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities.

Click the links below to take our electricity field trip!

1) Watch this video and take notes using our Guided Notes worksheet.

2) Hands-on Activity: Build an Electromagnet

3) Outdoor Activity: Animal Survival in Winter

Share your experience with us! Email us at elizabeth@peecnature.org to share your pictures and stories from this virtual field trip.

If you’re a teacher, contact elizabeth@peecnature.org to schedule a virtual visit to build electromagnets.

Energy Saving Tips for the Holidays

By Elizabeth Watts

Last WinterFest, PEEC and the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities decorated this Tesla using entirely solar powered lights!

As we approach the winter solstice, the nights are getting longer. Many traditions around the world celebrate with lights during this darkest time of the year. Here in New Mexico, many of us decorate with farolitos (or luminarias depending on where you are from!). Whether you put up simple white lights or go full-Griswold, here are some tips on how to save energy and help protect our environment while brightening the dark nights of winter. 

NASA is able to see changes in the amount of light produced in the US during the period from Thanksgiving to New Years. This has effects on energy use as well as on wildlife and on ecosystems. Nocturnal animals may be confused by nighttime lighting while animals that are active during the day can be out longer and have greater exposure to predators. Also animals are in general more sensitive to shorter wavelength (blueish) lights than we are. LED lights use much less energy than traditional lights, but some of them emit more blue light than traditional ones.

One impactful change you can make for both your energy bill and the environment is to not leave your outside lights on all night. This will use less energy and cause less disruption for wildlife. With holiday lights, set them up with an inexpensive outdoor timer, and turn them off by midnight. It’s Los Alamos — no one is out after 10 PM anyway! For regular outdoor lights on a carport or porch, look for LED bulbs that have a warm light instead of a blue light, are shielded, and that have a movement sensor so they only turn on when someone approaches. Lights that are shielded from shining up into the sky reduce sky glow. Check out more recommendations for outside lights from the International Dark Sky Association

LED lights are much more efficient than incandescent lights, especially for larger sized holiday lights such as C9s. A string of 25 C9 incandescent lights uses 175 watts of power while a similar string of LEDs only uses 2.5 watts. For a string of 100 miniature lights, incandescent bulbs will use 40 watts compared to 7 watts for LEDs. This is less of a difference, but if you have multiple strings of lights, it can add up to a significant difference. Here is a handy online calculator that can show you how much energy you can save by using different types of lights. LED lights also have a longer lifespan than incandescent lights so even though they cost more initially, the total cost over 10 years is significantly less.

This video shows PEEC and the DPU’s Grinch-Proof Solar Sleigh in action!

If you are investing in new outdoor lights this year, consider solar-powered lights. There are many styles and colors available. With solar lights, you won’t add to your energy bill. You also don’t have to run extension cords to use them so they are great for decorating places farther away from the house. Most solar lights have a sensor so they only come on when it’s dark outside. You can also try to find ones with a timer so that they don’t stay on too long. Some solar lights will stay on as long as they have power but others have a timer for two, four, or six hours. With a little internet searching, there are even solar-powered electric farolito/luminarias available!

Don’t forget to check out natural light displays this winter. Earlier sunset times mean that you can see the stars without staying up all night! Bundle up if it’s cold, and have some hot chocolate ready for when you come back in. The night of December 13 and morning of December 14 is the peak of the Geminid meteor shower. This year it coincides with a new moon so there are great conditions for viewing this shower. On the evening of the solstice, December 21, Jupiter and Saturn will be in conjunction just after sunset. This will be their closest approach to each other in our sky for 20 years. 

If you have an energy-efficient holiday display, we’d love to see it! Send a picture to elizabeth@peecnature.org. We will also be decorating the treehouse at the Los Alamos Nature Center with solar-powered lights so come check that out, too!

For more tips on saving energy this winter, check out our home winterization post!

Getting Your Home Ready for Winter

Get a free energy efficiency kit from the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities to get started saving energy at home! Email elizabeth@peecnature.org to arrange a pick up time.
This Halloween, PEEC and the Department of Public Utilities want to remind you to weatherize your home so you don’t lose your head over high energy bills! (Graphic by Rachel Landman)

By Elizabeth Watts

With the cold weather finally arriving this week, and with us all at home much more than usual, it’s time to think about ways to conserve energy this winter. PEEC is teaming up with the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities to bring you some tips on how to winterize your home so you can be comfortable while also saving energy and money. The Department of Public Utilities has free energy efficiency kits available to help save energy. If you are interested in getting one of these, email Elizabeth at elizabeth@peecnature.org to arrange a time to pick one up!

Winterization projects are usually quick fixes you can make to your home. Weatherization is bigger projects such as replacing your windows or improving the insulation in your home. These can make a big difference, but also take more time and money. The Department of Energy has a helpful list of things you can do in a day, in a week, in a month, and in a year.

For more tips on winterizing your home, watch this video from PEEC and the Department of Public Utilities.

 

Thermostats

A quick and easy place to start is at your thermostat. The recommended temperature for during the day is 68 degrees F. If this is a little chillier than your household is used to, start by reducing the temperature one degree from your normal. Give everyone a couple of weeks to adjust, and then reduce it another degree. If you have kids who complain about being cold, have them put on a hat or run around outside! 

A big difference you can make is by turning down the set temperature on your thermostat 7-10 degrees at night. This can save you up to 10% on your energy bills. If you have a programmable thermostat it is easy to set it to turn the furnace down automatically an hour before bedtime, and to come up again 30 minutes before you get up. If you leave your home for work or school, you can also program the thermostat to turn the furnace down when you leave and up before you get home. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, you can still adjust the temperature manually. You just need to remember to do it! 

You might also consider upgrading to a smart thermostat. These adjust the temperature automatically to your schedule and preferences. Some of them come with sensors to tell when a room is occupied or what the temperature is in another room. This can be helpful if you have a room that is warmer or chillier than the one with the thermostat in it. Some of them also connect with your phone and turn on the furnace when you are driving home! There are many different models of smart thermostats, so be sure to check out your options before investing in one.

Windows and Doors

Rope caulk is a great way to seal small leaks around windows and comes in the energy efficiency kits.

Next, check your windows and doors. One very simple thing to do is open your window coverings when the sun is shining on your windows to take advantage of passive solar heating. Then close them at night to reduce any heat loss through the windows. 

The next step would be to seal any leaks around your windows or doors. If there is air coming in around the edges of the windows where the glass meets the frame, you want to seal them. The DPU energy efficiency kits have a roll of rope caulk that you can use to seal small leaks, or you can use regular caulk and a caulking gun. Just make sure the place you are sealing is clean and dry before applying the caulk.

If you have a leak where the window frame slides, you need to replace the weatherstripping. There are many different types of weatherstripping available so look carefully at what is already there so you can replace it with a similar type. Doors also have weatherstripping around them. Look around your door when the sun is shining directly on it and see if any sunlight is shining through. If it is, then you need to fix the weatherstripping. If you need to replace the weatherstripping, check out our local hardware stores before ordering online. They have a great variety of weatherstripping, and great people to give you advice!

Outlets

You can insulate light switches and outlets on outdoor walls with these easy to install foam gaskets.

Another place cold air can leak into your home is through the outlets or light switches on any outside walls. The energy efficiency kits include foam gaskets that are easy to install with just a screwdriver. Also check any places where pipes come through the wall from the outside and insulate around these with the rope caulk or with expanding foam.

 

Attic

If you have an attic, you also want to check the attic access to make sure that warm air is not escaping through it. You can use weatherstripping around the edges, or you can buy a cover that goes inside your attic over the access point.

 

Furnaces and Fireplaces

Another important item to check is your furnace. Whether you have a forced-air system, or a hot water heat system, you want to maintain it so that it works efficiently. If you have a furnace filter, you should change it regularly. How often depends on several factors such as pets in the house, if any household member has allergies or asthma, the type of filter you use, and how many people are in the home. In the energy efficiency kits, there is a filter whistle that you can install on your filter. When the air flow drops, it will make noise to let you know it is time to change the filter. 

If you have radiators, make sure to keep them vacuumed and clean. You can bleed any extra air out of the radiator to make it work more efficiently. If you have a fireplace or wood burning stove, make sure it is clean and working properly. Keep the damper closed when you are not using the fireplace to reduce heat loss as well. Here are more tips to keep your wood-heating appliance working efficiently. 

Check smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and put in fresh batteries and make sure the detectors are not expired. Carbon monoxide detectors only last 5-7 years and smoke detectors 10 years.

Light Bulbs

LED bulbs use less energy and last much longer than incandescent bulbs. If you’re replacing light bulbs inside or outside, look for LED bulbs to save energy!

If you need to replace any light bulbs around your home, look for LED bulbs. Although they cost a little more than incandescent bulbs, they last much longer, and use less energy. There is even one included in the energy efficiency kit! If you’ve been unhappy with LED bulbs in the past, be sure to check the color range on the box. The LED bulbs available now come in different ranges, so you can pick a warmer tone or a cooler tone depending on your preference.

 

Outside

Outside your home, make sure any irrigation systems are readied for winter. This can make restarting them in the spring much less of a hassle! Disconnect and drain any hoses. If you have any outside lights that need to be replaced, again try to use LED bulbs to save energy. You can also now buy outdoor LED light bulbs that include a sensor. As well as saving energy, these help with light pollution at night by only turning on when needed. 

There are solar powered outdoor lights that also turn on and off with sensors. These are great because you can put them in places where you don’t already have existing outlets. There are even a wide variety of holiday solar lights available now! Here is a video of our entry in the Holiday Light Parade last year that was decorated with lots of solar-powered lights!

PEEC and the DPU created this solar sleigh for last year’s Holiday Light Parade. It was decorated entirely with solar-powered lights!

We hope this gives you some ideas of ways to prepare for winter and save energy this year! For more ideas on how to make big changes to your insulation check out this information from the Department of Public Utilities. There is also a Conserve and Reduce page at the DPU site.

Finally if you are looking for Halloween inspiration, check out these pumpkin carving templates from the Energy Department!

Make some energy-themed pumpkins using these templates from the U.S. Department of Energy!