Monday, May 18, 2009

Water-conserving, money-saving tips for summer gardens

(ARA) - Summer 2009 may be a bit less dry than last year in some areas of the country, according to the National Weather Service’s Seasonal Drought Outlook. But it still makes sense, both environmentally and economically, to conserve water as much as possible in your gardening and landscaping efforts.

“Nothing shouts ‘green’ quite like a thriving garden or a lush landscape,” says Susan Thayer, an irrigation and water conservation expert, “. . . except, perhaps, a beautiful yard or garden that’s been nurtured with green practices that conserve precious water.”

While drought in some mid-northern areas is expected to improve, dry conditions will likely persist in areas such as California, Texas, Florida and North Carolina, according the Seasonal Drought Outlook map. One thing that isn’t likely to change anytime soon, however, is the need to cut costs and conserve resources during an economic recession.">Conserving water makes sense environmentally, and can also help your family reduce your water utility bill this summer.

It is possible to grow a thriving garden and nurture a lovely landscape while minimizing water consumption and saving money on your water bill. A combination of native-friendly plants, smart agricultural practices, alternative water sources and efficient irrigation can help keep gardens and lawns growing healthy throughout dry summer months.

Here are some tips for conserving water and saving money by reducing your water bill in your corner of planet.

* Choose drought-resistant native plants for your landscaping needs. Your options won’t be limited to cactus, either. From ornamental grasses to shrub roses, many drought-tolerant native species also offer bright color and visual appeal. Look for plants that do well in the driest conditions found in your geographic region. Your local Cooperative Extension office can help you identify plants that are right for your area. You’ll also find plenty of ideas online at sites like">Irrigate efficiently with low-volume irrigation systems and smart watering practices. Many communities now require all newly built homes to use low-volume irrigation in their landscapes. On average, micro sprinklers and drip irrigation uses 80 to 90 percent less water than traditional irrigation systems.

Irrigation manufacturers like Mister Landscaper are responding to increased consumer demand for low-volume systems by offering micro sprinkler and drip products that homeowners can easily install on their own. Mister Landscaper’s Micro Sprinkler Starter Kits efficiently and slowly irrigate flower and vegetable gardens, as well as areas where trees and shrubs grow. They are available in the plumbing department at Lowe’s Home Improvement stores or online at The system also offers a variety of retrofit products that allow you to replace or add on to an existing underground pvc sprinkler system so you can convert 120 gallons per hour (gph) heads to a 10 gph micro spray or 1-2gph dripper.

“The key is to apply water only exactly when and where it is needed,” Thayer says. Drip and micro spray irrigation provide optimum efficiency with minimum waste and over spray.

* Design your landscaping to minimize evaporation. Windbreaks and fences slow the movement of the wind over the ground and the evaporation it causes, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Postal Stamps going up 2 cents!

WASHINGTON - Peel it and weep: It'll cost an extra 2 cents to mail a letter starting Monday.

The price of a first-class stamp will climb to 44 cents, though people who planned ahead and stocked up on Forever stamps will still be paying the lower rate.

It's the third year in a row that rates have gone up in May under a new system that allows annual increases as long as they don't exceed the rate of inflation for the year before.

Courtesy of Associated Press

Friday, May 1, 2009

What You Should Know When Shopping for a Water Heater?

ARA) – How’s your relationship with your household appliances? You open your refrigerator every day and run the dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer several times each week.

But how often do you think about your water heater? You use it every day, usually multiple times a day. When was the last time you thought about how much energy it consumes or how well it’s doing its job?

Heating water can account for 14 to 25 percent of the total energy consumed in your home, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Choosing the">right water heater for your home and regularly maintaining it can help reduce your energy bills. What’s more, you can actually get a tax break for choosing an energy-efficient water heater.

Under the new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, if you install a natural gas or propane water heater with an Energy Factor (EF) rating of at least .82, or 90 percent thermal efficiency, you could qualify for a tax credit of up to 30 percent of the total cost of installing the heater, including labor, up to a maximum of $1,500. In addition to the potential tax savings, many utility companies now offer rebates to homeowners who install new, energy-efficient water heaters.

So how do you choose the right water heater for your home? Here are some tips:

The Department of Energy advises you to consider several factors, including the type of fuel available to your home (gas, oil or electric), the size of your home, the energy efficiency rating of the water heater you’re considering, and the annual operating costs of different types of water heaters. The size water heater you need will vary based on the size of your home, how much use you anticipate it will get and the type of heater you’re considering.

It’s important to know the differences between standard water heaters and">high-efficiency models. For example, the Vertex high-efficiency water heater, produced by A. O. Smith, replaces the straight exhaust pipe found in standard gas models with an innovative helical coil inside the tank. Conventional heaters lose roughly 25 percent of their energy through the exhaust. Tankless heaters don’t fare much better, clocking efficiency levels of just 80 to 84 percent. The Vertex’s special design boosts efficiency to 96 percent, saving homeowners money on their gas bill and providing more hot water faster than conventional models.

Even if your water heater is currently working, if it’s an older, inefficient model, you could reap real cost benefits by replacing it with a more energy-efficient one. The average lifespan of a water heater is 12 to 14 years. If yours is approaching the end of its usable life, it’s a good idea to research your options and decide on a proactive replacement. If you find yourself without a functioning water heater and no plan for replacing it, you’ll be more likely to go for the quickest, cheapest option available – which might not be the best choice for your needs.

Five categories of water heater are now Energy Star rated, including high-performance gas storage, whole-home gas tankless, advanced drop-in or integrated heat pump, solar and gas condensing. For each type of water heater, the Energy Star rating can help you determine just how energy efficient a model is.

Finally, be aware that opting for energy efficiency doesn’t mean you’ll have to sacrifice performance in terms of how much hot water you’ll get and how quickly. In fact, modern energy-efficient heaters like the Vertex can produce more hot water, more quickly and for less money than other models of comparable size. The enhanced performance fits well into Americans’ busy lifestyles with high demand for hot water.
Courtesy of ARAcontent