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    Outfitting Your New Home with Natural Gas

    by Kate Voss
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    With the growing cost of energy and concerns about climate change looming, one has to wonder what our available options are. It’s common knowledge by now that the conventional methods of energy (namely coal, which is used to produce the majority of the electricity in the US) simply may not be sustainable for much longer. The demand for more environmentally friendly and renewable energy is growing every day, and in the meantime we must combat both the hole in the ozone layer and the growing hole in our wallets. For many homeowners, the current solution is natural gas—what was once simply used in our stoves, ovens, radiators, and water heaters is becoming a viable option to power our entire home.

    This increased interest is a result of natural gas prices steadily declining in recent years, dropping close to the numbers we saw in 2002, and coming in at approximately half the price they were in 2008. Many are crediting the plentiful extraction from the Marcellus Shale as the reason behind the decreasing natural gas prices. On the upswing, though, are electricity prices, which averaged an increase of nearly 30 cents per kilowatt hour in all sectors between June 2014 and June 2013 (according to the Energy Information Administration).

    These two factors alone should be enough to have anyone questioning their use of traditional coal-powered electricity in their homes. Many homeowners in states where the energy market is deregulated, like New York, Nevada, and Ohio, are choosing to work with electricity providers that instead utilize natural gas to create electricity (click here for more info). The switch makes sense from an environmental standpoint too, especially when you factor in that, per megawatt hour, electricity produced by coal creates roughly twice as much carbon dioxide emissions than electricity which is generated with natural gas (approximately 2,000 pounds vs. 1,100).

    While the ability to simply switch your energy provider is an easy and convenient option for those living in deregulated states, those who live elsewhere have fewer options. Luckily, there is some hope to be found by following models like the Houston couple who built a home that’s run almost entirely off of natural gas and the solar power harvested from panels on their roof. Steve and Brenda Norwood’s new home features a “micro-trigeneration system” from Texan power generation system makers M-CoGen, which could reduce their electricity use by 70% and provides them with their own power source, making them immune to things like down power lines and outages. While the system the Norwood’s have isn’t available for purchase from M-CoGen just yet, it shows a promising future for those looking to reduce their carbon footprint and lower monthly bills.

    Of course, there are downsides to using natural gas for power as well. While it may produce less carbon emissions than coal powered electricity, it’s the subject of many environmentalists’ scorn due to the hydraulic fracking process which is used to retrieve it. Despite the EPA’s insistence that fracking poses limited risk of contaminating our air and water supplies, there have been instances where it has happened (such as Wyoming and Colorado). In addition to that risk, there is a widely accepted belief that fracking can cause seismic activity and earthquakes, even in places with no history of them before. This is according to a study from the Journal of Geophysical Research which showed the town of Youngstown, Ohio (located near a fracking location) went from having no history of earthquakes to having over 109 small quakes in just a 14-month period. This information fuels the claims that relying on natural gas for power will become just as unsustainable as fossil fuel, and that our methods of doing so can have serious ramifications in the future.

    There is hope for a more efficient way to produce power through natural gas though, making the process much more effective than coal generated power. Last year a research team at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory began their study of how using solar power could increase the power of natural gas, thus taking less of it to do the same task. It’s a promising idea for those who aren’t fully convinced in the viability of solar power or want to lower their carbon emissions from even natural gas. While it’s not likely to be a method available to the masses for a while, it shows a promising future for a cheaper, greener source of energy.

    Image credit: Thinkstock/iStockphoto

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    Garage Maintenance Checklist

    by Justin White

    Frequent residential garage maintenance can spare you from unexpected repair and replacement costs that result from neglect. It’s worth your while to stick to a regular maintenance schedule—from general cleanliness to more in-depth maintenance—so that you don’t overlook any single area over time.

    Below is a garage maintenance checklist broken down into manageable intervals throughout the year.

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    Family-Friendly Neighborhoods in Chicago

    by Carolyn McKibbin

    As a new mom, I’m always looking for fun things to do as a family in my neighborhood. I’m lucky to have parks with swing sets and dog runs, hiking trails, museums, and a library all within walking distance. Key to a family-friendly neighborhood are conveniently located retail shops, public transportation, entertainment and schools.

    If you’re considering renting in Chicago and you rely on family-friendly resources, check out this infographic by the Apartment Guys. They chose five family-friendly Windy City neighborhoods and break them down by average cost, renter/owner occupancy, conveniences, historical highlights, and charm.

    Do you live in one of these neighborhoods? What do you like least/most about it?

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    Considering Home Automation? Read This First

    by Kate Voss

    For so many of us there simply aren’t enough hours in a day. Between commuting, work, those pesky hours needed to sleep, and other responsibilities it’s very rare that we have a chance to do anything but rush. Of course, rushing around everywhere leads to the inevitable forgetfulness, like forgetting to turn off the lights in the house when you leave, or forgetting to lock the front door, both of which can cost you big time.

    Thankfully, technology has the answer to solve some of the problems your forgetfulness can cause. That’s because home automation systems are increasingly becoming commonplace in homes around the country, and of course moving into a new home provides the opportune time to upgrade. However, with so many options available, how do know you which one is right? Or even more importantly, what exactly is home automation? Let’s take a look at what these products offer.

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