28 September 2010

Thousands get Remodeling Ideas in Raleigh


Organizers of the Southern Ideal Home Show, held at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, said they saw more foot traffic this weekend compared to a year ago.

They hope it's a sign of economic recovery.

Homeowners looking to spruce up their space had plenty of lush landscapes, custom kitchens and sparkling spas to choose from.

Landscape specialist Frank Bennett said he sees homeowners investing in their outdoor living spaces.

"Instead of selling in this economy, they've decided to scale back and stay at the house and enjoy it," he said.

Doug and Mary Latta of Raleigh Homes were typical of those at the home show looking for inspiration.

"We love our home. We love our friends and the neighborhood, so we are just looking to stay and remodel," Mary Latta said.

Many of the 300-plus vendors offered "green" options. A toilet with a built-in sink was one of the most popular attractions.

To thank customers of his kitchen remodeling company, Eddie Casanava adds a unique touch.

"After we remodel their kitchen, I go and I cook for them and their friends and family and neighbors as a thank you," he said.

This weekend's show was the 25th anniversary of the event and was expected to draw about 22,000 people from as far as 100 miles away.

27 September 2010

Nespresso Opens Stores as North American Sales Rise


Nespresso sales in the U.S. and Canada have increased about 50 percent this year, helped by store openings and a new distribution agreement, said Frederic Levy, the head of Nestle’s Nespresso brand in those markets.

The coffee company is opening its 13th sales location in the region tomorrow with a “boutique” in New York’s Soho neighborhood, said Levy, who is president of Nespresso in North America. A shop within a Sur La Table store in Florida will follow next month.

“The new coffee culture is expanding” in the U.S., Levy said today in a telephone interview. “Word of mouth is very strong.”

Nespresso sales reached 2.77 billion Swiss francs ($2.76 billion) worldwide last year, with about 90 percent of the total from Europe. That’s almost 3 percent of Vevey, Switzerland-based Nestle’s revenue. First-half Nespresso sales increased more than 25 percent, Nestle said Aug. 11. The brand is growing even as U.S. consumers have cut spending, according to analysts.

“It may be super-premium, but any consumer can afford to buy the machines and the capsules,” said James Amoroso, a food industry consultant in Walchwil, Switzerland. “It is also a market that is still at the very beginning of its life cycle. Penetration in the U.S. must still be extremely low.”

Nespresso doesn’t plan price increases in the U.S. in 2010, Levy said, adding that the last boost was in early 2008. Futures contracts for Arabica coffee beans have been trading near the highest in almost 13 years.

Crate & Barrel stores began selling Nespresso machines in March, Levy said. The coffee makers range from $149 to $2,500 and the capsules average 55 cents each.

Single-serve machines are responsible for about 7 percent of the global coffee market, according to Nespresso. The brand plans to eventually have 20 to 30 boutiques in the U.S., Levy said.

11 September 2010

High-Tech Utility Meters Spark a Fight

The Wall Street Journal

PG&E Cites Need to Control Energy Use, but Some Residents Fear Higher Prices, Reduced Privacy From Digital Readings

A new, high-tech utility meter is inflaming passions around the Bay Area. Now PG&E Corp. is trying to tamp down growing regional opposition to its $2.2 billion meter upgrade—but is failing to mollify many local critics.

PG&E, through its Pacific Gas & Electric Co. unit, plans to install 9.3 million digital electric and gas meters—otherwise known as "smart" meters—by 2012 as part of a statewide effort to modernize the electric grid and give consumers better tools to control energy use.

The meters are integral to state and national efforts to cut power-plant emissions in the coming years. Unlike old meters that must be read manually, the new ones wirelessly transmit readings, allowing utilities to charge higher prices when they want to discourage energy use or give price breaks to favored uses, like running appliances or charging electric cars during off-peak hours.

Complaints about meters began surfacing in California in mid-2009, when customers in Bakersfield began noticing unusually high power bills. More recently, customers in some Bay Area cities have complained about health problems that they attribute to radio transmissions from wireless meters, and have expressed fears that the meters threaten privacy by theoretically making it possible for hackers to intercept data transmissions.

PG&E says these fears are unfounded and that the meters have been thoroughly tested and have robust security. To reduce opposition, the utility is setting up temporary "answer centers" where customers can go to ask questions about the meters. It also is hiring 165 customer-service representatives and has set up a dedicated telephone line to field customer questions.

But PG&E's outreach has failed to appease critics who, increasingly, are influencing local city councils and county boards of supervisors.

The city council in Marin County's Belvedere, for instance, in August sent a letter to PG&E asking it to suspend meter installations until concerns are addressed. Fairfax and Novato have taken similar steps. And San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera in June petitioned state regulators to suspend PG&E's program, "until questions about their accuracy are fully resolved."

In Santa Cruz County, Watsonville's city council passed an ordinance in August that prohibits smart meter installations for one year. At its next meeting on Sept. 14, the council will decide whether to create a fine for anyone who flouts the law.

Watsonville Mayor Luis Alejo says PG&E has mishandled public queries. He says he asked the utility in August to delay its program until public meetings could be held, but it refused. PG&E now is organizing community meetings, he says, "but that should have been done a long time ago."

Some local residents have taken their objections to the California Public Utilities Commission, which has jurisdiction over utility programs. The commission has declined to order changes in the PG&E program, though Commissioner Nancy Ryan says she will form a task force this month to provide more oversight, noting the importance of public trust.

In response to billing complaints, the commission ordered an independent analysis of meter accuracy. In a report last week, consultants said the meters used by PG&E, which are made by Landis+Gyr, meet industry standards for accuracy and do a better job measuring energy consumption than the electromechanical meters they replace. The report didn't address health concerns.

Joshua Hart, a resident of Scotts Valley, recently formed a group that is trying to stop smart-meter installations. He says he believes wireless meters "pose a significant public health threat" by adding their radio pulses to those of cellphones and other wireless devices.

Tammie Donnelly, a 51-year-old anti-aging consultant in Aptos, says she got a PG&E vendor to remove a smart meter from her home and replace it with an old-style one last winter. She says the wireless meter made her ill, causing headaches, nausea and chest pain.

Studies have failed to established a link between health issues and low-power radio devices like smart meters. A recent analysis by researchers at Kings College, London, looked at 46 studies that tried to determine if electromagnetic fields make people ill. The review concluded that "despite the conviction of…sufferers that their symptoms are triggered by exposure to electromagnetic fields, repeated experiments have been unable to replicate this phenomenon under controlled conditions."

The Federal Communications Commission, which sets standards on radio-wave exposure, says there is no indication that smart meters are unsafe. Smart meters and other wireless devices "are tested and must meet our exposure standards," says Robert Wellser, chief of technical analysis in the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology.

PG&E officials, to date, aren't allowing cities and individuals to opt out of the program, and it isn't clear what force of law city ordinances might have. The state commission has jurisdiction for most utility matters.

"This is a mandatory program," says Helen Burt, senior vice president for Pacific Gas & Electric. One reason is that the utility plans to eliminate most meter reader positions, saving money that provides a major justification for the program.

Some critics say PG&E sowed seeds for the current skirmish by sponsoring and funding an unpopular ballot measure, Proposition 16, in June. The initiative sought to block cities and counties from setting up power-buying agencies that would compete with the utility. The measure failed.

"City councils aren't happy with us about Prop 16," says Ms. Burt. "We know we need to regain their trust."

04 September 2010

Ten Environmentally Friendly Tips To Save Money and Energy

This summer season has been one of the hottest recorded throughout many areas around the globe. The average global temperatures for this year may exceed those of 1998. If that is case, it would result in two of the hottest years on record in the last 13.

The National Academy of Sciences recently released data involving 1,400 climate researchers around the globe. Roughly 97% make the claim that humans are the cause of global warming.

If you are concerned about the future of the environment, here are ten environmentally friendly tips you can take that also have a return on investment — they can help sustain the earth as well as your monthly global cash flow.

1. Fix your home's energy leaks. Over a fifth of energy consumption in the U.S. occurs within people's homes, says the Department of Energy. That's an average expenditure of $2,400 a year. Half of that figure goes to home heating and cooling, much of which results in waste. To prevent energy leaks, insulate ceilings and walls, and seal cracks and gaps. The simplest Cuyahoga County home remodeling fixes can make a tremendous impact. "Often people have so many small leaks around the home that it's the equivalent of having a three-foot by three-foot window wide open," says president of the Washington-based nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy.

2. Swap out your home's light bulbs. The common home has up to 46 throughout the house, says the Department of Energy. However only five of them are energy-efficient. These can slash lighting energy bills by 75%. Not a fan of CFs? Matt Patsky, the CEO of Trillium Asset Management, says new LEDs are much better. They can slash power consumption by 95% and emit a better light than traditional bulbs. They cost more, however prices are dropping rather quickly.

3. Turn the heat off in an empty house or a house when everyone is sleeping. Look into a programmable thermostat for residential heating.
"They typically pay for themselves in three months," says ASE's Ms. Callahan. They can drop your home heating and cooling bills by 10%, she says.

4. Evaluate your home's appliances. Replace any old ones with new, energy-efficient models. Today's more efficient models have an EnergyStar seal from the Department of Energy. They typically use around 30% less energy than older models that lack the seal, experts say. With respect to your TV: The larger the screen, the more power it is sucking up. The same idea applies to PCs. Take into consideration the number of refurbished computers you have around the home as well as how long they remain on and idle throughout the day (if not week).

5. Similar to the tip above: stop leaving your used PCs and home entertainment systems on standby overnight. Although the screen is black, they still use power. Power strips make it more convenient to switch everything off at one time.

6. Get the most from taxpayer green incentives. For instance, the government is currently offering to pay up to $1,500 of your costs on items like insulation other Medina County home remodeling investments that save energy. Your state government may be offering additional incentives. Look for deals like these at DSIRE, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.

7. Get a hold on your hot water heater. It is by far one of the biggest energy users as well as easiest approaches to evaluate your home's energy financial risk management. Turn down the thermostat and wrap insulation around the heater and the pipes. Typically, they are set at around 140 degrees. According to The Energy Department, that is way too high. They suggest dropping it down to 115 to 120 degrees.

8. Invest in a more-efficient vehicle. Highly-efficient hybrids can be costly, but director of pricing and analysis at car experts Edmunds, Jessica Caldwell, claims there are numerous deals available at the moment that can bring the price down. You don't need to go hybrid or buy tickets to all of the upcoming green trade show exhibits. Caldwell says the Versa by Nissan gets around 29 miles to the gallon and has a price tag of $16,000. If a new vehicle is not an option, consider ideas like energy saving truck bed accessories. Extang, an affiliate of BedRug - maker of truck bed liners and truck bed carpet, claims that by purchasing an Extang truck tonneau, you save up to 10% in gas mileage.

9. Get an energy audit of your home's power consumption. By investing a few hundred dollars, experts using high-tech gadgets will analyze your home and offer insights as to what you can do to make your home more efficient. Getting a home audit can help you rethink your home heating and air conditioning, as well as identify potential sources of renewable energy, from geothermal heat pumps to solar water heating solutions.

10. Invest in an e-book reader. If you enjoy reading and read often, these little devices are very green. Books and magazines are not: they do a lot of damage to the environment, from cutting trees to manufacturing and distribution. The senior research analyst at the CleanTech Group, an environmental consulting firm, has calculated the figures. In essence, a gadget like the Kindle has about the same influence on the environment as about 23 books, or 280 newspapers, or 177 magazines.

Going green exhibits a change that is both healthy for the earth and the wallet. Take these tips to heart as well as the home, and start living a more environmentally friendly way of life.