Ceiling Fans Cool the Energy Burn

By Jeff Feldman


A good couple of years ago, I perused a magazine article highlighting inventions that have changed the world. I was surprised to see that the ceiling fan made the list. I can’t fully recall the author’s rationale for including the humble ceiling fan among such heavy hitters as the printing press, the public library, and the telephone. But as I sit here today in the summer swelter, with my ceiling fan spinning faithfully above me, I am in full agreement on its inclusion.

It was German-American inventor Philip Diehl who, in the mid 1880s, first mounted a fan blade on a sewing machine motor and attached it overhead. We have enjoyed the ceiling fan’s cooling breezes ever since.

We are all familiar with the simple premise of ceiling fan operation: air moving across the surface of our skin makes us feel cooler and more comfortable at warmer temperatures. A study conducted in Florida several years back revealed that proper use of a ceiling fan allows us to raise our air conditioner setting 2 degrees without any loss of comfort. This minor adjustment can result in up to a 14 percent reduction in annual cooling energy usage. With both energy prices and daytime temperatures rising steadily, the humble ceiling fan can offer some extravagant savings.

The problem is that many people don’t use their ceiling fans properly. That same Florida study found that we tend to run the ceiling fan but don’t bother with the corresponding bump of our AC those 2 degrees. This, of course, results in more energy usage, not less.

The other issue is that many of us turn on ceiling fans and then leave the room. The fan’s breezes cool us only when we are present to appreciate them. A ceiling fan whirling away in a vacant room is simply a waste of energy. You may argue that a ceiling fan contributes to air circulation within your home, but according to “the Green Curmudgeon” at GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, you’d be wrong. This includes the myth about running ceiling fans in reverse in the winter months. A Consumer Reports study reveals that the notion of fans reducing air temperature stratification—heated air sitting up toward the ceiling – is inaccurate, at least in spaces with the standard 8-foot ceilings many of us have in our homes.

Home energy auditors armed with infrared cameras have taken aim at running ceiling fans. Their findings? Those ceiling fan motors get hot! An active ceiling fan can measure 100 degrees, the equivalent of having a small heater mounted to your ceiling. This heat output is offset by the cooling effect of the fan, but only if the fan is actually blowing on you. The bottom line: don’t waste energy and add heat to your living space by running fans in unoccupied rooms.

I encourage those in the market for a ceiling fan to plan to spend a bit of money to get a good one. Those $50 specials at the big box stores that wobble and rattle give well-built ceiling fans a bad name. One of your key shopping criteria should be energy efficiency. Energy Star certified fans are 60 percent more efficient than non-qualified models. You can check out the 2014 list of Energy Star’s most efficient ceiling fans (over 52 inches) at http://tinyurl.com/lsj2b4t.

At the top of the Energy Star list sits the Haiku by Big Ass Fans. These lovely, bamboo-bladed, high tech fans—some of them come equipped with a room occupancy sensor!—operate on only 5–6 kWh of electricity each year, costing less than an estimated 70 cents per year . Of course these fans also cost over $1000 to purchase and so the payback period is a bit extreme.

For those looking for a good, solid, efficient fan that won’t break the piggy bank too badly, I suggest looking into Emerson fans. Emerson’s Carrera EcoMotor line of fans use only 14 kWh of electricity for an estimated annual operational cost of $1.59. Various motor finishes and wood blade packages can be mixed and matched on these fans and they are light kit adaptable. I installed Emerson fans in nearly every room of our home over seven years ago and have been impressed with how solidly built and well-designed they are. At around $400 apiece, this was a sizeable investment, one we did in stages, but we have enjoyed the quiet operation, the cooling breezes and the energy savings ever since.

Jeff Feldman is a speaker, writer and consultant on green living and green building. You can reach Jeff at GreenPathConsulting@gmail.com.

The Magnetic Draw Of ‘Ogs’

By LInda DeGraf


One morning as I began to rise from the depths of sleep, my husband called to me from our big glass sliding doors, “Come quick. You’re not gonna believe this!” Standing over the little pond in our yard was a four-foot-tall great blue heron! It was evidently eyeing the frogs as a possibility for breakfast before it took off for larger waters. That was an unexpected encounter with a wild one, but it was a welcome moment of wonder.

Adding a water feature to your yard or garden area nurtures a host of wildlife visitors, and provides a home for frogs and other aquatic lovers. Everyone needs water, whether to live in, breed in, hover over for a fly-by sipping, wash and splash in, or just sit by and feel renewed.

Having built our strawbale house on ground with a significant slope, we needed to bring in someone with a backhoe for some serious re-grading. What a fine time to scoop out a few more bucket loads for a pond. How big though and how deep? Everyone says to make it as big as you have space for because as soon as you put it in you’ll wish it were bigger! But we also wanted it to be manageable, simple, and affordable, so we made a modest, irregular shape roughly ten feet across.

How deep depends in part on what you want to do with your pond. If you hope, for example, that critters will be able to overwinter, you need at least some part of your pond to extend below the freeze line. In this area that means about three feet deep.

We dug out a shelf around parts of the perimeter to hold plants we got from a nearby pond, and used field stones to secure the pond liner. Stones placed in natural curves down to the water’s edge provide varying levels for wildlife to enter and exit the water, as well as plenty of nooks and crannies to hide from predators. We barely finished preparing the space before a huge rainstorm filled it with water. For the long term, we ran a downspout from our roof into the side of the pond, and created a spot on the lower slope for overflow. We added a few oxygenating plants, so we’re about to enter the third summer without the need for a pump. (There is plenty of information online for those who want more active circulation.)

Being surrounded by woods, we decided not to stock our pond, but to just wait and see who chose to come. Had we put in fish, they would have eaten most of the smaller critters and altered the native ecosystem we wanted to nurture. Within weeks we had hundreds of tadpoles! We have counted up to two dozen green frogs at a time basking on rocks or launching themselves into wrestling matches. Last summer four pairs of American toads held a three-day breeding marathon, trailing their black, jellied egg necklaces around and around the irises.

Once a shy wood frog peeked out from under a rock and pickerel frogs appear from time to time. In the spring, the choruses of tree frogs and greens resound throughout the evening. Last summer a painted turtle came and stayed for a few months. A ribbon snake spent hours weaving in and out of rock crevices and gliding sinuously across the water in vain attempts to snag a frog or two. One morning we watched a dragonfly emerging slowly from its old nymph exoskeleton. We see little goldfinches sipping water and hummingbirds gathering nectar from the irises.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of our wildlife habitat improvement project has been the delight of all the children that rediscover their own wildness at the edge of this one little pond. To bear witness to our two-year-old granddaughter’s squeals of joy and magnetic draw toward “ogs!” is to remember the wonder of the natural world.

Experiencing the intricacies of life cycles and biodiversity reconnects us with our own inner child and instills in all of us that the earth’s caretaking is our sacred trust. Watching that instinctive bond between children and their wild home is pure magic.


Linda DeGraf is an artist and educator of young children who lives at the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Community near Shannondale Springs.  The PVAS Backyard Naturalist program encourages people to connect with the wildlife in their own backyards. To learn how to provide quality backyard habitat, see www.potomacaudubon.org/bynhabitats.

It’s Morel Mushroom Time

By Doug Pifer

Somewhere in an old orchard under a dead apple tree, grayish yellow mushrooms that look like sponges have popped out of the ground. It’s morel mushroom time.

I found my first morel in damp, rich woods where swamp violets and skunk cabbage grew. Poking up through wet leaves, it looked surprisingly like a small piece of dried sea sponge about five inches high. Pear-shaped, it had a short stem with a slightly granular surface.  When I picked it, it broke in half and was completely hollow, as if molded out of wax. I discovered several dozen more as I searched around among the dead leaves.

When I took them home, I studied several field guides and identified them as Morchella esculenta, the common, gray or yellow morel. The morel is related to the cup and bird-nest fungus, and its woodsy aroma reminds me of the dead tree roots on which it feeds. The cap of the morel generally has a honeycomb-like network of ridges surrounding deep pits. The tops of many of them take on a rusty or blackish tinge. But you know you have a morel mushroom when you split it open and the cap and stem are all in one piece and it is completely hollow inside.

The name esculenta means delicious.  Morels are among the choicest of all mushrooms. They belong to a group of fungi known informally as the foolproof four, along with giant puffball, sulfur shelf, and shaggy mane mushrooms. Supposedly these are the four most easily recognized edible mushrooms.

Morel mushrooms sometimes show up at farm markets. I once bought some at the Mount Airy Farm Market in Waterloo. They were delicious sautéed and served with buttered toast. It is always a good idea to split the morels in half and soak them in salt water for a minute or two. Virtually every morel mushroom has a resident population of springtails: tiny, soft insects so light colored they are nearly transparent. The salt water bath will destroy them all instantly.

In the Western States, morels grow by the hundreds in recently burned forested land. Harvesting them has become a big business there, and teams of professional pickers set up camps in the national forest lands in Washington, Oregon, and the Rocky Mountain states. There, licensed mushroom buyers sell them to gourmet stores and restaurants throughout the world.

Now here comes the wet blanket: I don’t recommend eating anything you pick from the woods unless you’re equally certain about what it is and what it isn’t. In other words, you should know what other species it might be, and how to tell the difference. The poisonous morel mushroom, Verpa bohemica, appears at about the same time as the edible morels. A poisonous morel resembles a brain more than a sponge, and its insides have a cotton-like texture. Still, it looks very similar and many folks have eaten it and have become really sick.

If you want to hunt and eat wild morels, remember there are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters. But there are no old, bold mushroom hunters!

On Edge for Spring Gobblers

By Doug Humphreys

Ecologically speaking, an “edge” is the boundary between two distinct environments. It might be where a hardwood forest meets a hayfield. It could be timberline or where a dense pine forest meets the shore of a lake. As hunters we know from experience that an edge usually means game. But why?

To fully understand why game gravitate to edge environments, one must first understand the ecological phenomenon known as “edge effect.” The extreme case of a mature hardwood forest that borders a cultivated field is a good case study that dramatically illustrates edge effect.

The canopy of a mature hardwood forest minimizes the amount of light that reaches the forest floor and, as such, limits the quantity and type of vegetation that can survive in the understory. When a mature hardwood forest ends abruptly at the edge of a cultivated field, the characteristics of the forest edge are different than that of its interior. Wind and sun are able to penetrate the forest edge and create a drier environment with more available light—conditions favored by opportunistic species. This allows shade intolerant species to exist beneath the canopy, as they are able to take advantage of the light penetrating from the edge opening.

The edge ecosystem provides a perfect combination of food and cover for both game and non-game species. The open side of the edge provides grasses, grain, or legumes; which will vary based on whether or not the field is cultivated. The edge itself will provide abundant browse on the understory species and high levels of hard and soft mast, as species at the edge take advantage of available sunlight. When an animal senses danger, it can escape to the protection of the forested side of the edge.

Turkeys utilize edge areas for multiple reasons. They use the open side of an edge for scratching and take advantage of the inherent protection provided by the edge understory. In spring, toms strut along an edge and use the edge for breeding. Hens nest in the thick understory at the edge ensuring food for themselves and protection for their clutch, roosting in the tall trees overhead.

Hunting spring gobblers in an edge environment is an exercise in patience. A turkey hunter can begin the day by using the cover of morning darkness to enter a field and pinpoint the location of a gobbling bird still on the roost. When an active bird is located, the hunter can discretely position at the edge near the gobbler’s location. The gobbler will likely come off the roost into the field to strut at dawn.

Being positioned on the edge near the location of an early morning gobbling bird can present a shot as the bird struts along the edge looking for a challenger or a breeding hen. A hen decoy positioned 20 yards into the field can help draw a tom toward the hunter as well as divert attention away from any movement the hunter might make. Calling should be kept soft and to a minimum, the decoy should be the primary tool to bring an energetic morning bird into range.

During midmorning, when the hens go to nest, the gobblers will often head to an edge area to establish dominance and scratch. Patience is imperative during midmorning hours. The birds will typically gobble less and, unless they are fighting to establish a pecking order, content themselves to scratch in and out of the edge as they mosey with no particular purpose. A jake decoy will pique the interest of an older, dominant bird, and lure him into range. The occasional call to bring life to the decoy is fine, but don’t overdo it.

When hens come off the nest in late morning to stretch their legs and look for a mate, toms will often gobble with the regularity and vigor one would expect at dawn. A hen decoy in the field, supplemented with a jake decoy, will attract the attention of a mature tom. Call enough to get the attention of an active bird, but, again, keep calling to a minimum.

Choose a camouflage that matches the environment and season. In the early part of the season, before foliage is heavy, I use a tree bark pattern of some design. As the woods green up, I switch to good old-fashioned woodland camo.

To most people, edge effect is a relatively mundane ecological process. To turkey hunters it is a literal natural wonder. Next time you are in the woods looking for a long-beard, do what I do. Get on edge for spring gobblers.