Energy FAQs | My Home | Mississippi Power | A Southern Company
  • Katrina 2005-2015
  • Katrina 2005-2015
  • Energy FAQs

    Are surge protectors a good idea? What is Energy STAR®? Find answers to all the questions you might have on appliances, billing and heating and cooling with our list of frequently asked questions.

    Appliances

    Do surge protectors make sense for refrigerator equipment?

    Yes, they do. Just as electronic equipment can be damaged by large voltage surges, so can refrigerators.

    What is the purpose of a home energy audit?

    The purpose of an energy audit is to identify places in the home where energy is being wasted and prioritize the actions needed to fix them. You’ll start saving money on your energy bills as soon as you identify and fix energy wasters. The end result is intended to reduce the amount of energy the home needs to operate and keep occupants comfortable. Energy audits range from simple walk-throughs you can do yourself to more elaborate services performed by trained professionals. Which is right for you will depend on your situation, abilities and interest level.

    Online calculators let you enter information about your home and appliances and compute your energy costs. Such calculators can be helpful as part of an overall energy plan to help you assess and analyze your best savings opportunities.

    For more information about a home energy audit or online energy checkup, contact us.

    What is an EnergyGuide label and how does it work?

    Federal law requires that EnergyGuide labels be placed on all new refrigerators, freezers, water heaters, dishwashers, clothes washers, room air conditioners, central air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces and boilers. These labels are bright yellow with black lettering. EnergyGuide labels for major appliances feature the estimated annual energy consumption, in kilowatt-hours per year (electric) or therms per year (gas). The estimated yearly operating cost is provided toward the bottom of the label. Each label provides the following information:

    1. The manufacturer, model number, type of appliance, and capacity at the label’s top
    2. How that particular model compares in energy efficiency with other models on the market of comparable size and type

    For refrigerators, freezers, water heaters, dishwashers, and clothes washers, the range shows energy consumption in kWh/year or therms/year. The most efficient models will have labels showing energy consumption (“This Model Uses”), at or near the left-hand end of the range, close to the words “Uses Least Energy.”

    For room air conditioners, central air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces and boilers, the range is not energy consumption, but rather, the energy efficiency ratings for these products—EER, HSPF & SEER, and Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE), respectively. Therefore, labels on the most efficient models will show “This Model’s Efficiency” at or near the right-hand end of the range, close to the words “Most Efficient.”

    The labels showing estimated annual energy consumption also show estimated annual operating costs, near the bottom of the label. This estimated cost is based on recent national average prices of electricity and/or natural gas, and assumes typical operating characteristics.

    New furnaces and boilers must now carry EnergyGuide labels showing their annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE); past labels for this equipment only offered suggestions for conserving energy. EnergyGuide labels on heating and cooling equipment still refer customers to manufacturer’s fact sheets available from the seller or installer. These fact sheets give further information about the efficiency and operating costs of the equipment under consideration.

    EnergyGuide labels are not required on kitchen ranges, microwave ovens, clothes dryers, demand-type water heaters, portable space heaters, and lights.

    Budget Billing

    Do I get a discount or save any money on Budget Billing?

    No. Budget Billing is not a discount or savings plan. It is designed to level out your bill so that you are paying 1/12 of your annual electricity usage each month. By paying an average bill each month, you will not experience those seasonal swings in your payment.

    Do I have to sign up for Budget Billing every year?

    No, Budget Billing is continuous unless you call us to cancel it.

    How does Budget Billing work?

    We will total the amount of electricity you used over the past 12 months, and then we will divide that amount by 12 to get a monthly average. Your first Budget Billing bill will be based on that average. Future bills may fluctuate a few dollars each month, because your average is calculated on the immediate past 12 months. So it's a rolling average. If your bill is $5 and 10% higher than your average bill, we will adjust your account to accommodate for the increased usage on the next bill.

    How much does Budget Billing cost?

    There is no charge for being placed on Budget Billing.

    How will I know how much electricity I use each month if I'm paying an average bill?

    Your electric bill shows your actual kilowatt hours usage for the month and your actual energy cost for the current month.

    I haven't been with my power provider for a year. How will you average my bill?

    We will estimate your usage for you to get an average based on your type of business and other factors first month's Budget Bill. As the months progress, your bill will be figured based on the 12 month average of your actual usage.

    Is there a catch up month at the end of the year?

    There are different budget billing options available. Depending on the option you choose, there may a difference between the total actual bills and the amount you have paid annually. Your bill is calculated on a rolling 12 month average. As we generate your bill each month, we base the average on the immediate past 12 months. Contact us to learn more about the budget billing that is right for your business.

    What if I want to cancel Budget Billing?

    Just call and we will take you off the Budget Billing plan. At that time, if you have overpaid for your electricity usage to date, we will credit your bill for the amount you have overpaid. If you have used more electricity than we have billed you for, we will add the difference to your next monthly bill.

    What if I move my business? Can I transfer my Budget Billing or do I have to settle up any under or over payments?

    If you are within the service area of your power provider, you can set up Budget Billing at your new location. If your new location is outside the service area of your power provider, we will apply any amount you have overpaid to your final bill. Or, if you have accumulated usage for which you have not yet paid, we will add those kilowatt-hours to your final bill.

    Will I be able to tell from month to month if I've overpaid or underpaid?

    Yes. Each month, you will see the amount of your current actual bill, current budget bill amount and the running differences between them on your bill.

    Cooking

    Does it cost more to cook with electric or gas?

    Most customers discover that electric cooking is less expensive. The gas bill for cooking goes to $0 when you use electric equipment and the overall energy bill stays the same or goes down because of a reduced load on air-conditioning units.

    Is gas cooking more efficient than electric cooking?

    No, except when using an open burner range or a woc range. Electric cooking is more efficient than gas cooking, because more heat is absorbed by food cooked on electric equipment than food cooked on gas.

    The equation for measuring efficiency, as established by the University of Minnesota 1984 is: the amount of heat energy (BTUs) consumed by the cooking process divided by the amount of heat absorbed by the food, all times 100.

    Which is faster, gas or electric cooking?

    Unless you’re using an open burner range or a wok range, electric cooking is faster. Conduction is the best form of heat transfer, and electric has quicker heat transfer than gas, also electric is faster to preheat.

    Auto Pay (Electronic Funds Transfer)

    Can I arrange it so that my bank account is drafted on a particular day each month?

    We do not have the capability to accommodate specific day drafts at this time.

    What if I have questions about my electric bill?

    Be sure to always review your bill as soon as you receive it and make sure the amount to be drafted is correct. If you have any questions, you can call your power provider to clear up any problems prior to the draft date.

    What if I move my business or change banks?

    You should call your power provider and inform them of your move or change of banks. Since the bank draft is for a particular account at one particular bank, we'll need you to complete a new bank draft agreement in order to arrange for your Auto Pay service to continue after you move or change banks.

    What if I want to cancel Auto Pay?

    You can call your power provider and request to be taken off the Auto Pay program. There's no fee for cancellation.

    What record will I have showing that I paid my bill?

    Your bank statement showing the deducted amount will be your proof of payment.

    Heating and Cooling

    Can a programmable thermostat help me use less energy?

    Yes. A programmable thermostat automatically adjusts your home’s temperature to your schedule, so you’re comfortable when at home and saving energy while away or sleeping. A programmable thermostat could be a good idea if you’re away from home on a regular basis, or want to automatically lower your energy use at night.

    It saves energy while you’re away or asleep, and then brings your home’s temperature back to whatever level you desire by the time you return or wake up in the morning.

    If you’re heating and cooling your home with an energy-efficient heat pump, a programmable thermostat will help you get maximum energy efficiency. Ask your heating and cooling dealer to install a programmable thermostat, and make sure it’s the type specially designed for your heat pump.

    How do you insulate windows?

    Single pane glass windows are virtually thermal holes in your walls. Having R-Values of roughly 1, they allow 19 times more heat to escape than an R-13 wall surrounding them. If you have lots of windows, insulating them could be one of your best energy improvements. However, keep in perspective how much you can improve them and still see through them. Adding another layer of glass raises their R-Value to just over 2, meaning now they are only losing 9 times as much heat as the insulated wall. Triple glazing can bring a window’s R-Value up to 3, but because of their expense they are only cost justified in severe climates. Storm windows can also be added to existing windows. They add a second layer of glass, halve the energy loss through the windows and often reduce infiltration through cracks in the old window casings. Of course, it would be better to have double-pane windows in the first place. Using double-pane windows to begin with brings three additional comfort advantages which some find more valuable than the energy savings. The first is the reduced noise provided by insulated windows. The second is less infiltration of dust and pollen. And the third is that insulated windows are warmer to the touch, which has a significant effect on body comfort. Because our bodies radiate heat toward cold surfaces even when they are several feet away, a cold window makes one feel colder.

    How does a heat pump work?

    A heat pump works like an air conditioner during the summer and reverses to become an air heater during the winter.

    In the summer months, refrigerant is piped through the indoor coils, absorbs heat from the room air, and vaporizes. The cooled room air is then re-circulated throughout the house by a blower. The vaporized refrigerant flows into the compressor, which pumps the refrigerant to the outdoor coil, where it condenses back into a liquid by releasing its heat to the outdoor air. Air is circulated through the outside unit by a fan. The cooled refrigerant then flows back to the indoor coil, where the heat transfer cycle is repeated.

    In the heating mode, the refrigerant flow is reversed, bringing heat inside from outdoors, essentially working like a conventional air conditioner in reverse. Cold refrigerant is piped through the outdoor coils, absorbing heat from the outside air. The refrigerant vaporizes and flows into the compressor, which pumps it to the indoor coil, where it condenses back into a liquid by releasing its heat to the indoor air. The refrigerant then flows back to the outdoor coils, where the heat transfer cycle starts again.

    Like refrigerators, most heat pumps have defrost cycles that minimize frost buildup on the evaporator during the winter heating cycle. Defrost occurs automatically at pre-set time intervals. Defrosting works against the efficiency of the unit when it switches into defrost mode unnecessarily, wasting heating and cooling capacity. Microprocessor controls in some units prevent this from happening. Some controls even determine whether the heat pump or back-up heat is more economical at a particular outdoor air temperature and switch to that heating system.

    How does an air conditioner work?

    Refrigeration units, commonly known as air conditioners, are mechanical systems that remove heat and moisture from the air by passing it over a cold surface. When warm, moist inside air is blown across the surface of the unit’s cooling coil, the air temperature drops and the water vapor in it condenses making the air cooler and drier and therefore more comfortable. When the outside air is above 75°F, mechanical refrigeration is usually required to lower the inside temperature and humidity to make people feel comfortable. Refrigerating air for comfort inside the home, called air conditioning, is far more complicated than heating. Instead of using energy to create heat, air conditioners use energy to remove heat. The most common air conditioning systems use what is known as a vapor-compression cycle, similar to the one used by a refrigerator.

    The primary difference is a refrigerator moves heat out of its interior and releases it to the surroundings, usually the kitchen, while air conditioners take heat from inside the house and release it to the outside environment.

    Home air conditioners have compressors outside containing a fluid refrigerant, usually R-22. This refrigerant fluid can change back and forth between liquid and gas states at temperatures in the 40 to 50°F range. Just like water when it boils, as the refrigerant changes from a liquid to a gas, it absorbs heat, and when it changes back from a gas to a liquid, it releases heat. By changing state, refrigerants move heat from one place to another.

    What is the best way to locate air leaks in a home?

    The most rigorous way to locate duct leaks is with a blower door or similar analysis performed by a professional. This analysis measures the magnitude of your duct leakage and identifies its location. Some companies offer ductwork sealing services with a follow-up blower door check to ensure duct leakage has been reduced to acceptable levels. A blower door is a special instrument used to measure air leakage in a building shell and its ductwork. The equipment consists of a temporary door covering which is installed in an outside doorway and a blower which forces air into or out of the building. The blower door measures how leaky the building and ductwork are, and can be used to find the location of the major leaks. Without a blower door, finding the leaks in the ductwork can be difficult since the ducts are often in hard to reach areas such as the attic or crawl space and the leaks are usually hidden from view by duct insulation.

    What is the best way to reduce cooling costs in the summer?

    The best way to reduce the need for cooling during the hot summer months is by keeping the sun out of the home. Begin as far away from the house as possible with shade trees, trellises covered with vines, or awnings. Pay particular attention to east and west facing windows. The sun is low in the sky as it rises and sets allowing its rays to penetrate deep inside the home and making it tricky to keep out. When allowed to enter the home through windows, this solar radiation can cause the inside temperature to rise as much as 20°F on a hot day. The most effective way to shade the home’s east and west windows and walls is to plant tall trees or plant vines on horizontal trellises. Be sure to use deciduous trees and vines because their leaves provide shade in summer, but they drop them in winter when the solar gain is appreciated. Awnings wider than the windows can provide shade, but even they are ineffective when the sun is very low in the sky and can enter the home right under the awnings. To further protect the home, whenever possible, locate porches and garages on east and west walls for additional shading. Shading large areas that can either reflect or retain and reradiate heat into the home like concrete patios and driveways is also helpful. Most homes have roof overhangs that sufficiently shade the windows. When replacing windows, it is preferable to look for high-performance windows with low-E glazing. They look perfectly clear, yet block out a large percentage of unwanted solar radiation. As you move closer to the home, measures tend to become less effective and more expensive to install. Inside the home, solar gain through windows can be reduced by installing drapes with light-colored linings or blinds that can reflect sunlight. Vertical blinds are particularly effective on east- and west-facing windows. Also, choosing lighter colors for roofs and walls to reflect sunlight will reduce heat gain.

    What advantages does a ductless split-system offer over room and central air-conditioners?

    The advantages of ductless split-systems over room and central air-conditioners are: easy installation, quiet operation, versatility in zoning and design, and security. The split systems also eliminate the loss of cool air as it passes through the ductwork. A key advantage of split systems is their ease of installation. Hook-up requires only a three-inch hole (7.62 centimeters) in the wall for the conduit. Unlike with central air conditioning, you do not need ductwork. Since the compressor in most ductless split-systems is as much as 50 feet (15.24 meters) away from the indoor evaporator, it is usually possible to cool rooms on the front side of the house, while still hiding the compressor in a less conspicuous area. The compressor units also fit well on flat rooftops.

    Ductless split-system air-conditioners operate relatively quietly, since the compressor is outside and the evaporator unit’s fan generally runs at a low speed. Variable speed high-efficiency fans are also available.

    By providing zone cooling, ductless split-system air-conditioners save energy, since only the rooms that are occupied need to be cooled. A thermostat independently controls each zone. Therefore, operating costs are often lower than those of central systems that cool every room, whether it is in use or not. If you cannot afford to purchase an air conditioner for the whole house, you can also buy the system one zone at a time. A single outdoor unit controls from one to four zones, depending on the size of the unit.

    When compared to other add-on systems, split-systems also provide better interior design options. The air handlers can be suspended from a ceiling, mounted flush into a drop ceiling, or hung on a wall. Floor-standing models are also widely available. Most indoor units are low-profile models, no more than seven inches (17.78 centimeters) deep, and come with decorative jackets. Most newer models come with a remote control unit as standard equipment. This allows the positioning of air-handling units high on a wall or suspended from a ceiling, without compromising convenience.

    Unsecured room air-conditioners provide an easy entrance for intruders. Split- systems are more secure than window units since there is only a small hole in the wall.

    What is a geothermal system?

    Everyone knows its cooler underground in the summer and warmer underground in the winter. Geothermal systems take advantage of the earth’s constant temperatures to provide the highest efficiency available today. Special plastic piping is buried below the ground’s surface which allows heat to be transferred to and from the earth. Water is simply re- circulated to and from the underground piping where it is warmed by the earth in the winter and cooled by the earth in the summer. In order for any system to work properly, it must be sized, designed and installed correctly. Make sure your contractor is manufacturer-certified to install closed loop Geothermal systems.

    What is the purpose of a home energy audit?

    The purpose of an energy audit is to identify places in the home where energy is being wasted and prioritize the actions needed to fix them. You’ll start saving money on your energy bills as soon as you identify and fix energy wasters .The end result is intended to reduce the amount of energy the home needs to operate and keep occupants comfortable. Energy audits range from simple walk-throughs you can do yourself to more elaborate services performed by trained professionals. Which is right for you will depend on your situation, abilities and interest level.

    Why is it a good idea to invest in a heat pump?

    The most advanced and efficient heating and cooling system available today, a heat pump is the most economical way to keep your home comfortable year-round. The technologically advanced heat pump keeps your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer—with one amazing piece of equipment. It’s also a wise energy investment that can result in major savings on monthly energy bills for many homeowners.

    You also can’t beat a heat pump for durability. In fact, heat pumps last an average of 20 years in the Southeast United States.

    Heat pumps also provide added design flexibility when building a home. Since there are no flames or fumes, you won’t have to add flues or vent pipes that waste valuable closet and storage space. And because there are no flues, you’ll have more choices in where to locate the indoor part of your heat pump system.

    Will a ceiling fan help me save energy and money?

    Yes. Ceiling fans move air across the surface of the skin, thereby making people feel up to six degrees cooler. Increase your thermostat’s setting by two degrees and use your fan to lower energy costs by up to 8% over the course of the air conditioning season. Some ceiling fans offer reversible operation; they can blow down in summer when the breeze will create a cooling effect, and up in winter to circulate warm air that has risen to the ceiling. This feature is particularly advantageous in rooms with high ceilings that trap warm air during the heating season.

    While operating, losses from the motor actually heat the space in which they run; therefore, they should only be on when someone is there to appreciate their cooling effect. When no one is in the room, keep ceiling fans off. Ceiling fans are usually mounted at the center of the room where the light fixture would normally go. For this reason, they often contain their own lighting fixture just below the fan blades. It is important to keep lighting below the blades because lights above them will appear to flicker psychedelically when the fan operates. If you own or purchase a fan with a lighting fixture, optimize its efficiency by using ENERGY STAR®-qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They consume three-quarters less electricity, generate 75%* less heat and last up to 10 times longer than standard incandescent lighting.

    * Source: ENERGY STAR® -www.energystar.gov

    Home Electronics

    Do surges (or overvoltages) only go through the electric power system?

    Surges may appear on other systems entering the building such as the telephone system and the cable TV system, or branch circuits from the electrical system to outside lighting and signs. Secondary surge protection is recommended for electronic equipment at the point of use that protects all electrical and data connections to the equipment.

    How can I be sure I'm getting protection for my particular application?

    The correct way to protect an electrical device against surges is to provide a properly designed surge protector that provides protection for all electrical conductors into the device. A computer with a modem and network connection must have a surge protector designed to protect the electrical connection as well as the telephone circuit and the network cable.

    How do you protect sensitive equipment, like computers, from electrical surges?

    To properly protect your sensitive electronic equipment you must construct a barrier around it much like you would put a fence around your home. Since you usually can’t prevent the things like lightning that damage your home electronics, you must keep these conditions from getting to your important equipment. Every piece of electrical equipment in your home needs a barrier. Just as it would be silly to dead bolt your front door, then leave the windows wide open, the same is true of your electrical equipment. Every avenue to the outside world must be protected—power, phone, cable, data and control lines must all be protected or your equipment will be vulnerable to damage.

    Begin power protection at the main power entrance, the point where your power, cable and phone lines enter the house. By installing a high-energy surge protection device at this location, you can knock down the first wave of high voltage spikes entering your home. Most contractors call these lightning arrestors. But, don’t confuse these devices with a lightning rod. Lightning rods are installed to protect the house from physical damage in case of a direct hit. They won’t protect electrical equipment inside the home. The lightning arrestor is a device that helps divert damaging surges away from your electrical system and out through your ground rod. The cable TV line will probably enter your home near the main power entrance as well. It’s best to have all of your utilities enter your home at one point because it allows you to tie all of their ground rods together to form a single grounding system. This is required by some codes but it’s often overlooked by cable installers. Unless all of your equipment ties into a single ground, protection against surges won’t be as effective.

    Moving inside your home, the television, DVD, DVR, CD player and stereo system represent a considerable investment, and they can be easily damaged by spikes. Each should be plugged into a plug-in surge protector. Use a protector that has multiple outlets allowing one device to protect your entire entertainment center. If you have cable service, the lead into the house should be surge-protected as well. Everything should be protected. If you protect your stereo but leave the CD player unprotected, the connection between the two devices provides a path for spikes. Some appliances containing electronic controls (i.e. microwave ovens) may also require surge protection. Make sure you use a surge protector designed for “heavy duty use”. There are surge protectors designed especially for microwaves.

    Telephones and answering machines are some of the most commonly damaged devices in the home. A plug-in surge suppressor should be used to protect the power and phone line inputs. A common mistake is protecting only the power line. This does not provide adequate protection. Using a device that contains both protection elements in a single package is best and ensures system compatibility. These devices will have inputs for the phone line and the electric plug. If either line goes directly to the equipment, the equipment is not completely protected.

    To prevent the flashing “12:00? problem, look for clocks and DVD players with built-in battery back-up. Battery back-ups are not designed to keep the unit operating during a power outage, but it will preserve the memory and settings so they will still be there when the power comes back on.

    What is an “automatic cutoff” feature in a surge protector?

    Surge protectors degrade over time. This is because the majority of surge protectors rely on a metal oxide varistor, or MOV, to work. MOVs only conduct electricity if and when the power level reaches an excessive level. That excess power is rerouted automatically to the ground wire, which safely dissipates the excess electricity into the ground. But over time, MOVs degrade. That’s why it’s good to buy a model with a failure indicator. And some models come with an automatic cutoff or auto shut-off safeguard. These models cut off power to the surge protector if and when the MOV has degraded to the point where it can no longer adequately protect any connected equipment.

    Will surge protectors prevent my house from being struck by lightning?

    While surge protectors won’t prevent lightning from striking your house, they will protect your appliances and home electronics from being damaged by momentary electrical spikes and surges.

    What are harmonics and how can they harm my equipment?

    Modern power supplies used in most electronic equipment cause distortion in the electrical systems that supplies them power. One form of distortion is known as harmonic distortion. Most of the electronic loads in commercial facilities are designed to control harmonic distortion to acceptable levels, and seldom are found to be a concern. Large concentrations of variable frequency drives or very large computer systems may require special considerations by the design engineer for the facility.

    Indoor Air Quality

    How can I control excessive humidity in my home?

    To stay comfortable, there must be some moisture in the air; however, excess moisture can cause problems. Moisture originates both inside and outside the home. The problems it creates can be controlled by minimizing the amount of moisture produced inside the home, reducing the amount of moisture entering structural cavities like walls or attics—either from inside or outside of the home—and ventilating moisture-producing areas such a kitchens, baths and laundries. Reducing the amount of moisture produced in the home is the first defense against moisture problems. This entails locating the major sources of moisture and where possible, decreasing their intensity. An average family of four produces 18 to 20 pints of moisture a day performing routine household activities. Just breathing produces between 8 and 12 pints in 24 hours, cooking adds another 5, showering another half pint per shower, and watering plants adds about the same amount of moisture to the air as is poured on the plants.

    Limiting non-essential moisture producing activities will reduce the amount of humidity in the home. If the home has humidifiers, they can be reduced in output or turned off, and the number of indoor plants can be reduced.

    Minimizing the amount of moisture entering structural cavities means separating them from both inside and outside moisture sources. Vapor barriers should create a moisture tight seal around the home’s interior. Bare earth floors of cellars or crawl spaces should be covered with a sheet of .4 mil or thicker polyethylene. Overlap the sheets and secure them in place with a brick or sand. Basement floors and walls that get damp may need a waterproofing treatment. A dehumidifier may be used in these areas. Good attic and crawl space ventilation is essential to keep moisture from accumulating in these areas. Some well-intentioned home owners seal attic and crawl space vents thinking they are reducing heat loss through these openings. While some heat loss may be prevented, considerable damage can result from the trapped moisture. In well-insulated homes, there should not be much heat to be saved in these areas anyway.

    Ventilate moisture producing areas when moisture producing activities are performed. Kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans should be run during cooking or showering, and exhaust vents, including those for clothes dryers, should be vented outdoors and not into attics or other unconditioned areas.

    How can I tell if my home’s humidity level is too high?

    An early indication of high humidity levels in your home is condensation on windows. Because they are usually the coldest surface exposed to room air, they fog up first. By taking action to reduce condensation on windows, you should be able to avoid condensation problems from occurring inside the walls. Occasional condensation or frost on windows is normal. Frequent occurrences, or periods of prolonged duration, are warnings that inside humidity conditions may be causing condensation inside wall cavities.

    A musty odor or buildup of mold in the house is another sign of high humidity levels.

    Inexpensive color-change relative humidity indicators can also reveal high moisture levels. These should be installed near the thermostat.

    On a positive note, a certain amount of humidity in the home can help prevent dry throats and make people generally feel more comfortable because less moisture evaporates from the body thereby reducing the cooling effect. Also, higher humidity levels results in less static electricity and improved furniture maintenance as wood moisture is maintained reducing cracking and shrinkage.

    Should I seal my crawl space?

    No. Crawl space vents keep moisture from building up under homes and damaging building materials. Don’t be tempted to seal them to save energy. Sealing them could cause costly moisture damage. Foundation vents for the crawl space should be located on every wall, close enough together that there is at least one square foot of free vent area for every 25 linear feet of foundation. Free vent area is that area unobstructed by screens, louvers, or other materials. Heated crawl spaces and basements do not need vents. It is a good idea to cover earth floors with a moisture barrier like plastic to lower moisture levels. In an existing home, only about 80% of the exposed ground should be covered initially, to avoid problems caused by the home drying out too quickly.

    What does proper ventilation do?

    Proper ventilation controls heat and moisture buildup in attic, crawl space and uninsulated wall cavities. Good ventilation helps cool the house during hot weather and helps prevent structural damage caused by condensation in winter. Ventilation in attics and crawl spaces should not be blocked to reduce heat loss. Such blockages trap heat and moisture that can cause severe damage to the home’s structure.

    What is “Indoor Air Quality”?

    Amid growing concern about the quality of the outdoor air we breathe, many homeowners have become concerned about the quality of the air in their homes. The 1970's alarm about formaldehyde escaping into homes insulated with urea formaldehyde, combined with the 1980's radon gas scare, have made people wonder what they are breathing in their homes. The contaminants of greatest concern are formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in building materials and consumer products, combustion products from fuel-burning appliances, microscopic organisms and radon. Indoor air pollution can come from building materials, consumer products, pets, pollen, indoor plants, smoking, and, in the case of radon, from the ground.

  • Experts advise three steps in improving indoor air quality:
    1. Reduce the source of potentially harmful chemicals by careful selection of building materials, furnishings and cautious use of household products. Keep in mind that everything you spray or use in the home eventually becomes part of the indoor atmosphere.
    2. Seal the source to prevent the release of chemicals into the air. For instance, seal foundation cracks and block off passages through which by-products of combustion could enter the home.
    3. Ventilate using an effective mechanical ventilator like an air-to-air heat exchanger. Electronic filters that attach to the furnace are also available. They remove particles from the air before it is circulated to the home.

    What is the importance of proper attic ventilation?

    Attics should be ventilated year-round, to reduce the build-up of heat and moisture. In winter, attic ventilation expels moisture that might otherwise accumulate and deteriorate insulation or other building materials. Don’t be tempted to seal the vents to conserve energy. Sealing them could cause costly moisture damage. In summer, proper ventilation reduces roof and ceiling temperatures thereby lowering cooling costs and extending roof life. Attic heat, which would otherwise intensify, pouring unwanted heat down through the attic floor into the living area, will escape naturally if vent area is provided.

    An unventilated attic can reach temperatures as high as 140°F, while allowing a path for natural ventilation lowers the temperature to a more manageable 90-100°F. Homes with poorly ventilated attics often have heat trapped in the insulation radiating into the living space late into the evening after the sun has set. Codes and practices vary, but you should plan on one square foot of free vent area for every 150 square feet of attic. A two-and-one-quarter-square-foot gable vent with louvers and screening would have one square foot of free-vent area. Free-vent area can be reduced by one-half if half of the vents are low-soffit vents and half are at least three feet off the attic floor.

    One of the most effective ways to ventilate a roof is the combination of a continuous ridge vent along the top of the roof with soffit vents along the sides. This creates plenty of area for the temperature differential to form, allowing warmer air to exit at the highest point in the attic. Roof vents come in a wide variety of types, some turbine-style vents even spin. Studies show the effectiveness of passive vents is about the same whether they are stationary or moveable. Power vents will draw more air out of the attic, but any energy savings attributable to them must be tempered with the fact that they use energy to operate.

    What problems are related to high humidity levels in the home?

    People are generally comfortable in homes when relative humidity ranges between 30-60%. Below 30%, some people experience dryness in their nose and throat; over 60%, the air begins to feel uncomfortably sticky. Human comfort is one consideration for indoor humidity levels; the other major consideration is keeping condensation from occurring on interior surfaces and within structural cavities like exterior walls. Excess moisture in these areas can cause problems from peeling paint, cracking of siding, deterioration of building materials and insulation. On the home’s interior, moisture can promote mildew formation and contribute to health problems.

    Other disadvantages of high humidity include the growth of mold, odors becoming more noticeable, and staining when condensation occurs on windows and around nails or screws in walls and ceilings. In addition, high humidity can worsen respiratory problems for people with asthma or allergies.

    Lighting

    How do I clean up a broken CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulb?

    Each CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulb, on average, contains 4 mg of mercury. If a CFL should break in your home, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides cleanup guidelines that can be performed by the general public.

    How much longer do CFLs or LEDs last than traditional incandescent bulbs?

    According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), “an ENERGY STAR® qualified CFL lasts up to 10 times longer than a traditional incandescent bulb that puts out the same amount of light. An ENERGY STAR® qualified LED bulb will last as much as 25 times longer than a comparable traditional incandescent bulb.”

    * Source: ENERGY STAR® -www.energystar.gov

    Where can I recycle my used CFLs?

    CFLs contain a small amount of mercury and should be disposed of properly, ideally by recycling. The Home Depot stores in Mississippi have a recycling program for CFLs. To find a The Home Depot location near you, visit www.homedepot.com/StoreFinder, or search for other locations to recycle your CFLs on www.lamprecycle.org.

    How do I judge the uniformity of lighting levels?

    Uniformity is a measure of how evenly or “smoothly“ the lighting level is spread out over an area. It is expressed as a uniformity ratio of average foot-candles divided by the minimum allowable foot-candles. The lower this ratio, the better.

    How does color affect efficiency?

    If it is important to have accurate color under a lighting system, the best choice is Metal Halide lamps. If color is not important, High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps such as high pressure sodium give the most light per watt. This lowers costs, especially when lights must be left on all night.

    What do I need to know about Security lighting?

    Security Lighting should provide adequate lighting for safety in these areas:

    1. your parking lot
    2. along routes to and from your building
    3. strategic locations such as rear or hidden entrances

    Brightness should be specified to give enough light for security personnel or police to see suspicious activity but not so much as to create glare in security cameras.

    What is Light Loss Factor?

    A Light Loss Factor (LLF) is used to create a safety margin to assure adequate lighting over a period of time. Good lighting design requires the designer to allow for the depreciation of the fixture's light output due to dirt and age of the equipment. A LLF of 0.80 allows for a 20% degradation in the lighting level.

    Why should I invest in façade and landscape lighting?

    Lighting facades and landscapes adds beauty, attracts attention and advertises your facility to customers. Since lighting fixtures are typically hidden from view, choose less expensive yet sturdy ones and have them mounted where they are easily accessible for maintenance. Angling the light upward lowers glare and brings out the textures in building and landscape elements. Southern Company does not offer these types of lighting products or design services; however, we can refer some good suppliers.

    Summary Billing

    Who should have Summary Billing?

    If you have multiple business accounts for which you are receiving separate bills each month, then you may qualify for summary billing. Simply list all of your account numbers and contact us to determine if summary billing is right for your business.

    Surge Protection

    Do surges (or overvoltages) only go through the electric power system?

    Surges may appear on other systems entering the building such as the telephone system and the cable TV system, or branch circuits from the electrical system to outside lighting and signs. Secondary surge protection is recommended for electronic equipment at the point of use that protects all electrical and data connections to the equipment.

    How can surge protectors help me?

    Properly installed surge protectors help prevent damage to electronic equipment caused by momentary large voltage surges. These surges are associated with events such as lightning strikes, short circuits, load switching, equipment failure, and similar unusual events.

    What are some other important features of a surge protector?

    Select a surge suppressor to include the following features: (1) indicators that the device is working and not damaged, (2) thermal fusing to reduce the possibility of fire should the surge suppressor fail, (3) protection against short circuits, either fuses or circuit breakers and (4) quality materials used in the construction of the product.

    What is an "automatic cutoff" feature?

    A surge suppressor may be protected with a fuse device and meet code in one of two ways. Many open the circuit to the protective element that may be damaged from a large transient; allowing future surges to pass into the "protected equipment" which may cause damage. Some better designs protect the surge protector by fusing in such a way that the fuse opens the circuit to the protective element as well as the protected load. Thus, a failed surge protector will not continue to power the electronic system that it is protecting.

    What is the purpose of an indicator light?

    An indicator light lets you know the unit is working.

    What does the Suppression Voltage rating mean?

    A surge protection device that is listed under UL 1449 is given a voltage let through rating by UL. This represents the highest transient voltage that the suppressor allowed to pass into the protected load under test conditions. It may be used as a measure to compare one suppressor to another. We suggest a maximum let through voltage of 500 volts.

    Will your surge protectors prevent my facility from being struck by lightning?

    No. Our surge protectors do not prevent lightning from striking your facility, but they do protect your motor driven appliances and other electrical equipment from momentary electrical spikes and surges.

    Water Heating

    What are the advantages of an electric water heater?

    An electric water heater can save you money and offer you benefits that gas water heating just can’t match.

    • No flames – Forget about flames because an electric water heater has none. There’s no pilot light to light—and re-light. And you don’t have to worry about children and pets coming near it or storing things around it.
    • No fumes – There’s no need to worry about the odor of dangerous gas fumes or carbon monoxide.
    • No flues – Because venting and combustion air circulation are not required with an electric water heater, you’ll save on venting and piping costs. And since there are no flues, you can locate the water heater almost anywhere in your home, freeing up closet and storage space. Even better, you can save energy by installing your water heater near where you use the most hot water—in the kitchen and bath.
    • Economical – A family of four can have all the hot water they need for about $1.30* a day.
    • Quiet & Clean – There’s no combustion noise, no fumes and no residue.

    * Based on a family of four, with the following daily water heating schedule: 4 showers, 1 load of clothes, 1 load of dishes and 10 hand washes.

    What does “simple payback” mean when estimating the value of energy improvements?

    An energy investment’s simple payback period is the amount of time it will take to recover the initial investment in energy savings, dividing initial installed cost by the annual energy cost savings. For example, an energy-saving measure that costs $5,000 and saves $2,500 per year has a simple payback of 5000 divided by 2500, or two years. While simple payback is easy to compute, its weakness is that it fails to factor in the time value of money, inflation, project lifetime or operation and maintenance costs. To take these factors into account, a more detailed life-cycle cost analysis must be performed. Simple payback is useful for making ball-park estimates of how long it will take to recoup an initial investment.