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The Strangest Ways to Lower Home Energy Bills

| Blog | March 2, 2012

Energy Saver Lightbulb

Have you done all the usual things to lower your home energy bills, but they are still too high? Here are some unusual things to do that will result in lowering your bills.

Look at government research. Several federal agencies are researching ways to reduce fuel consumption and save energy. America’s high demand for energy and dependence on foreign sources of non-renewable fuels gives the government a strong incentive to help consumers find ways to reduce usage. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) sponsor the Energy Star program, which evaluates the efficiency of appliances and equipment that we use in our homes and businesses. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems (HVAC), programmable thermostats, washing machines and water heaters are among the appliances rated by Energy Star.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) studies building technologies, including materials, energy usage, conservation and efficient lighting. They provide consumer information and recommendations about energy-efficient practices for new construction, renovation of existing buildings, cool roofs, insulation, low-wattage light bulbs and efficient appliances.

Eco House

Planting trees and grass can reduce solar gain during summer months and increase the effects of the sun’s warmth during winter months

Plant trees and grass. Landscaping can dramatically reduce solar gain during summer months and increase the effects of the sun’s warmth during winter months. Using local plants that are suitable for your area can reduce both water usage and heating and air-conditioning costs. Trees provide shade, which helps lower roof temperatures; temperatures on exposed roofs during the summer often exceed 145 degrees. Trees that lose their leaves in winter allow solar gain to help warm the building. Low-growing plants, vines and trellises reduce ground temperatures by shading pavement, earth and walls around a home. Vegetation can lower air temperature around a building by up to 9 degrees.

Cook at night or early morning during hotter months to reduce the load on an air-conditioning system. Eating cool foods like cold soups and salads not only reduces heat generated by cooking, but enhances nutrition. Set up a summer kitchen, like farms had in the early twentieth century, to cook and bake outdoors. Portable ovens, grills and camp stoves can be used in outdoor cooking stations.

Use reflective roof materials. The temperature of a roof can reach 165 degrees during summer months in some climates. Roofs that are coated with reflective materials or use cool-colored clay or concrete tiles reduce roof temperatures by up to 60 degrees during summer months. Roofs transfer reflective heat to surfaces below, resulting in high attic temperatures. Radiant heat passes through insulation, heating surfaces in the living space as well. The Energy Star program rates roof materials that meet minimum solar reflectance standards.

Use solar equipment and appliances when possible. Although converting a residence to solar power can be expensive, solar equipment like outdoor lighting, pool covers and heaters, ovens and cookers are easy to install and provide an alternative to conventional energy. You can make your own solar cooker. Solar ovens reach temperatures between 250 and 300 degrees, enough to cook food and boil water. Popular with campers, solar ovens can also be set up in a back yard that receives adequate light to power the unit.

solar panel

Using Solar Panels on your roof can reduce the need for gas and electric

Outdoor solar lights contain solar cells that convert sunlight to electricity. Units must be placed in a location that gets adequate sunlight during the day to provide enough stored power to run throughout the night.

Solar pool covers use ultraviolet light to heat pool water, eliminating or reducing the need for electric or gas heating. Covers retard evaporation, a major source of energy loss. Covers also reduce chemical usage by 35 to 60 percent.

Change providers. Many states have deregulated electrical utilities, giving consumers the option of changing providers. By changing to Plymouth Rock Energy, your bill can be lowered as much as 10 percent. We provide electricity and natural gas to homes and residences, and natural gas, electricity and fuel oil to commercial users. There are no fees involved; simply call us to make the change. Your services will not be interrupted, nor require alternative delivery routes. Your energy is delivered through the grid already established by public providers. Customer service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for your convenience. You can also lock in rates, so that if rates rise, yours will not increase.


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Improving Employee Morale to Weather Economic Turbulence

| Blog | February 10, 2012


To think that capital is the only casualty of businesses during tough economic times is to make a big miscalculation. Though financial losses may be the most obvious result, money is only the paper-thin surface that obscures other and deeper consequences that often arise during an economic downturn. At the forefront of these issues is employee morale, which has been proven to fluctuate parallel with economic trends. And while low employee morale can become an issue even within companies that aren’t experiencing turmoil, this problem particularly becomes amplified for companies that are undergoing restructuring or downsizing efforts. This will have long-lasting ramifications on a business’ bottom line.

Stephen Balzac

Stephen Balzac

However, the good news for many business managers is that improving employee morale can be simple and cost-effective with enough well-meaning effort, says Stephen Balzac, who works as a professional speaker on leadership and business management, as well as the author of The 36 Hour Course in Organizational Development (McGraw-Hill). According to Stephen, employee morale is amongst the most important and underappreciated aspects of running a business – in part because it can’t be easily measured in charts and graphs. But as any good business leader will attest, having a high employee morale will inevitably lead to higher profits.

So to give some practical advice on the subject, Stephen Balzac shares some of his experiences improving employee morale:

What is the key to building employee morale?

SB: The first and most important way of building employee morale is your own enthusiasm: the manager who can remain upbeat and positive about the future serves as a bell-weather for employees. Conversely, the manager who is in the dumps will drag them down. Praise from a manager who is positive, upbeat, and confident goes a long way; sadly, most businesses do not invest in the manager training to make this work even though it’s cheaper than the cost of low morale!

[Then], focus on successes. Take the time to sit with each employee and go over the year’s successes. Build them up; when you build people up, morale and motivation both increase.

What are some practical ideas can one use to improve morale?

SB: Take a break from the daily routine to do something fun: a movie, department lunch, etc. Don’t make the event contingent upon anything; rather, make it a random “thank you for your efforts” event.

[One way I like] to increase morale in people is to get them tickets to a movie, play, or musical performance — of course, you have to know your employees well enough to know what they’d like. If you don’t, well, maybe that’s why you’re worried about morale in the first place! Dinner at a nice restaurant for an employee and spouse/significant other is yet another powerful way of increasing morale and motivation; make sure you cover babysitting for employees with kids.

How can an office deal with cutbacks while simultaneously improving employee morale?

SB: If you are looking at cutbacks, the good news is that you can apply many of the techniques I described without any real changes. Most of the techniques don’t involve any cost at all (enthusiasm, focusing on success). While it can cost some money to take the department out to lunch or a movie or treat someone to dinner, at that point you’re looking at priorities: where is the money being spent? You have to decide if it’s a priority to take care of your employees or use the money for some other purpose. If nothing else, consider it part of your advertising budget: after all, if you have unhappy, disengaged employees, your advertising dollars will be wasted anyway. Put another way, if you want engaged, loyal customers you need engaged, loyal employees.

What is the best way to approach employee layoffs while not damaging morale?

SB: If you’re looking at layoffs, the most important thing is to be totally upfront. Be as transparent as possible: lay out the problems the company is facing and invite employees to contribute ideas for the solutions. For example, perhaps layoffs can be avoided by having everyone agree to a temporary salary reduction. Demonstrate that you have skin in the game: as CEO, reduce your salary and/or perks first (HP did the shared reduction approach as a way to avoid layoffs and it was very successful at maintaining loyalty and morale). Shared sacrifice gets people pulling together. Putting the sacrifice on others only gets people pulling apart.

It is very common to tell employees that layoffs will be targeted at the poorest performers or something similar. The problem with this approach is that you are immediately telling your employees to compete with one another. If I’m worried about my performance, maybe my best strategy is to make sure you fail dramatically.

Once layoffs have occurred, it’s even more important to be clear about what standards were used and how employees can avoid future layoffs. You must be specific: vague comments like, “work hard,” don’t cut it. You need clear standards and you must encourage employee participation in avoiding future layoffs. Again, the goal here is to encourage employees to pull together as a team, not get into an “every man for himself” attitude. If you can get them pulling together, morale and engagement become infectious. If it’s “every man for himself,” nothing you do will really matter: cynicism is also infectious, especially if it appears to be coming from the top.

Though all companies will inevitably experience turbulent times, the moral of the story is that a little effort can go a long way towards improving employee morale, which will ultimately help a company stay afloat during economic storms.

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Business Communication Skills & Leadership Training from Exec-Comm

| Blog | January 25, 2012

Exec-Comm: Leadership & Public Speaking Training

From communication and planning to consulting and creativity, success in the business world is predicated on the mastering of essential business communication skills. Acquiring these skills can be time consuming, but with the right training you can guarantee success will be seen in the near future. Finding the most resourceful training could be half the battle. Luckily, companies such as, Exec-Comm exist. Those who choose to train with Exec-Comm will benefit from the instruction of dedicated professionals who have a proven track record of improving the work performance of individuals or an organization collectively.

Time is very valuable as a working professional, but investing in training now can save you time later as you help your business move forward with more efficiency and greater success. Exec-Comm provides various professional services designed to improve the effectiveness of executives and entry-level professionals alike. Classes and seminars are available throughout the year online or in person, from one-on-one sessions to public seminars for your employees.

Some of the services offered at Exec-Comm include a Consultative Selling Seminar. At this seminar, an emphasis is placed on listening, a skill often overlooked in the business world. Regardless of the product or service you offer, when establishing a relationship with a potential client or organization, you should look to build a lasting partnership and not just execute a transactional exchange.

The Consultative Selling Seminar is a 2-day course with 19 exercises and 5 meetings and digital recordings to better evaluate performances and track improvement. Clients who sign up for this seminar will learn, among other things, how to field difficult questions from prospective clients of their own; build credibility over initial telephone exchanges while also establishing a rapport with clients; and how to close calls effectively. Overall clients will walk away with a better understanding of the steps involved with a “consultative sales process” and detailed instructions on how to improve their performance.

A successful presentation or pitch can make or break a potential deal. Articulation and projecting confidence to organizations and effective use of visual aids are skills that can be addressed by attending the Executive Sales Presentation Skills seminar. Learning the essentials of an effective presentation can help you focus on the needs of your audience. When you focus on the audience’s needs, you will present with greater confidence, poise, conviction, and impact.

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