Shipley Energy

How to Teach Kids About Energy Safety and Efficiency

Various forms of energy make our world work. From the energy that our body uses to the energy that heats our homes to the energy that powers engines to move vehicles, we are surrounded by types of energy that help us in our daily lives. Teaching kids about energy not only gives them the knowledge of our planet and what it provides us — that firm grasp on the limitations of non-renewable energy will also help future generations use energy more conservatively.

Electricity, natural gas and propane are all highly useful forms of energy that also pose an array of safety concerns, especially when it comes to children. It’s never too early to learn about energy safety for kids. Using outlet covers and keeping cords out of reach of little hands is the beginning stages of teaching kids energy safety. As they get older, they should be continuously learning more about the dangers that surround them and how to respect the power that is a regular part of our day-to-day living.

Learning Should Be Effective and Fun

Children won’t recall the right information after a few lessons in a classroom. While part of their formal education will involve learning about the energy we consume and the dangers associated with it, regular lessons and reminders are what kids need to have important information stay with them.

Depending on their age, you may want to cover all the information we have for you here over a period of time — just enlighten your young ones with the vital points they can handle at their current stage of development. Make your teaching on energy a fun and fascinating time that includes some interactive educating like touring your home or school building on an inspection (outlined below), asking questions and visiting some of the quality websites that offer a kid-loving way to learn about the history of energy, to understand the environmental impact of our energy use and to play learning games that teach energy safety for children.

Types of Energy for Kids to Know About

Sources of energy fall into two categories of either renewable or non-renewable. The majority of energy used today comes from non-renewable sources, but renewable energy use has been on a slow and steady incline over the recent years and is expected to continue increasing as we tap into more renewable energy sources to limit our consumption of the dwindling, carbon-releasing supply of fossil fuels.

Renewable and Non-Renewable Energy Sources

Renewable energy refers to energy taken from naturally occurring elements that won’t run out, such as:

  • wind
  • water
  • sunlight
  • wood
  • plants

Non-renewable energy is made from naturally occurring elements that do not replenish quickly and will eventually run out, such as:

  • oil
  • coal
  • natural gas

Teaching kids about the limited reserves of the non-renewable types of energy is very important for their future and will help them see the reason to use energy efficiently. Although some electricity is generated with renewable energy, most of the energy used today in the United States comes from non-renewable sources. It will save you money to conserve energy, but more importantly, conservation will preserve the dwindling reserves of non-renewable energy sources.

The Energy We Use the Most

Fossil fuels provide most of the world with power in the form of coal, oil and natural gas. These naturally occurring fuels in the earth must be extracted and processed to be used for our power needs. All of them are used to provide power to our homes after they are refined and processed according to their specific uses.

At Shipley Energy we provide our customers with:

  • Electricity that is used for heating or just for electrical hookups like lighting and outlets
  • Natural Gas that is used for heating and to power some appliances like stoves and dryers
  • Heating oil that is strictly for use with an oil furnace
  • Propane that is used for heating and to power some appliances like stoves and dryers

What Kids Need to Know About Electricity

Electricity is produced from a few different energy sources that include both renewable and non-renewable origins. From data for 2014, electricity generation in the United States came from the following sources:

  • 27% from natural gas
  • 39% from coal
  • less than 1% from petroleum (oil)
  • 19% from nuclear power (produced with non-renewable sources of uranium)
  • 13% from renewable sources (solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, geothermal)

Electricity is mainly produced at a power plant where the various energy sources are used to turn turbines, which turn electromagnets surrounded by heavy coils of copper wire. As the magnets move, they cause electrons to move between atoms in the copper wire to create electricity. This electricity is then moved through a series of wires to reach consumers, who will use it to power all kinds of electrical devices and systems.

Electrical Safety for Kids

Electricity has many practical applications all around us, but the proper use and control of electricity is very important because it can cause a lot of damage to people and property when not contained or when used carelessly.

The concoction of electrons and atoms that we call electricity is always trying to find its easiest path to the earth, so if a person — or anything else that can conduct electricity — happens to get in the way there could be serious damage.

Static electricity is created when two objects touch each other and their electrons have opposing electric charges — one positive and one negative. Static electricity can cause a small shock when you touch something to ‘release’ the charge or it can cause the objects to ‘stick’ to each other, like clothes fresh out of the dryer.

You’ve likely felt an electric shock from static electricity. This is a very mild shock compared to the shock you would get from the electrical current that runs through your outlets or through power lines. The human body is an excellent conductor of electricity because the majority of it is water, which electricity loves to move through. So, not only do you want to be careful that your body doesn’t come in contact with electricity, but you also need to keep water in any form away from electricity.

Here’s a list of safety tips you can talk about with your children to help them become more aware of the dangers of electricity around the home and outdoors:

  • Don’t touch power lines or anything that is in contact with a power line, like a tree limb, or any toys or other objects that may have gotten stuck on a line. If you see a broken or fallen power line, don’t go near it, even if it seems like there is no electricity running through it. Contact the power authority in your area about the downed line.
  • Don’t go near transformers or other ground-mounted electrical equipment. You will usually see these as a big green metal box mounted on a cement pad or a fenced off tower with a “DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE” sign.
  • Remember that electricity and water don’t mix! Keep power tools and other electrical devices out of rain and away from other sources of water like ponds and pools.
  • Stay inside and away from sources of water during a lightning storm. Lightning is an electric current created in the clouds, so it’s trying to find its easiest path the ground — which can include going through the water in your home plumbing.
  • Keep all electrical outlets covered, and keep cords up and out of reach of small children.
  • Don’t fly kites near power lines or when there is lightning in the sky. Electricity can travel down the kite string and electrocute the person holding it.

What Kids Need to Know About Natural Gas

Natural gas was formed millions of years ago and is located under deep layers of rock. It’s actually a mixture of gases: It is mainly methane mixed with smaller amounts of nitrogen, butane, ethane, carbon dioxide and propane. It is extracted from the earth by drilling deep wells to reach the deposits. Natural gas is found in two different forms located in:

  • permeable sandstone reservoirs
  • coal deposits and shale rock formations

Shale gas has become more popular in recent years in the United States as the sandstone reservoirs have become more depleted. Workers release the natural gas in shale rock through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This involves directing a high-pressure water mixture down a drilled well onto the shale rock to release the gas, which then flows out to the head of the well.

Natural gas is a non-renewable energy source and is seen as the most environmental friendly of all the fossil fuels due to properties that make it burn the hottest and the cleanest. This makes it an efficient choice for home heating and an environmental choice for its low carbon output.

An underground system of pipelines transports natural gas around the United States. Long ago, you needed to be close to a natural gas drilled well to be able to use it, but now a combination of high-pressure pipelines and smaller pipelines carry it into homes and businesses: Over 177 million Americans have access to natural gas lines.

Natural Gas Safety Matters

Since gas lines are underground and you can’t access them inside your home as easily as you can access electricity, they don’t pose a problem unless there is a leak in a line or if a gas appliance isn’t hooked up properly.

There are rules for digging, building houses and using gas appliances to avoid gas leaks, but the biggest safety concern for kids is identifying a leak and responding appropriately.

When natural gas comes out of the ground it is odorless and invisible, so gas companies add a chemical called mercaptan. This is what makes natural gas smell like rotten eggs or a skunk.

Leaking gas can cause a fire or an explosion if exposed to a flame or even a spark. Here’s what kids should do when they smell the strong aroma of natural gas:

  1. Tell an adult right away if you smell something out of the ordinary.
  2. Get out of the house immediately — don’t stop to open windows or make a phone call inside the house.
  3. Use a cell phone or go to a neighbor’s house to call 911.
  4. DO NOT reenter your home until it has been inspected and cleared by the fire department or gas company.

What Kids Need to Know About Propane

Propane is one of the gases present in natural gas and oil in the earth. These gases are called liquefied petroleum gases (LPG) and are separated from natural gas and oil in the processing plants and refineries.

Although propane is a gas in its natural state, when it is stored at a higher pressure or a lower temperature it becomes a liquid. Propane is transported as a liquid because it is about 270 times more compact as a liquid. When the valve is opened to release it from its pressurized container, it becomes a gas again to be used for heating and other applications.

Like all fossil fuels, propane emits greenhouses gases in the form of carbon dioxide, but it is a clean burning fossil fuel, which makes it popular as a transportation fuel and for indoor equipment like forklifts.

In homes propane can be used for:

  • heating with a gas furnace
  • powering appliances like hot water heaters, stoves or clothes dryers
  • fueling gas fireplaces for room heating
  • fueling barbecue grills for cooking

Propane is delivered to homes in a delivery truck with a large storage tank. The propane is transferred by a hose that gets connected to a large storage tank that sits outside of your house and has a capacity between 500 and one thousand gallons.

Being Safe with Propane

Propane safety rules are similar to those of natural gas: The main concern is detecting a leak. Like natural gas, propane is odorless and invisible so that stinky chemical called mercaptan is added to ensure any leaks can be detected quickly.

If a propane leak is suspected, follow the same steps described above for a natural gas leak. If you don’t already have one, decide on an emergency meeting place a safe distance from your house that all family members will know to meet at in case of any type of emergency.

After you’ve had a chance to talk with your child about propane, let them play games and explore the Propane Kids website to encourage regular learning about propane as an energy source and how to be safe with propane in the house.

Teaching Kids Energy Safety With a Home Inspection

The Home Energy Checklist can be a fun activity to teach energy safety for kids: Take a walk through your home (or discuss safety concerns in a classroom), check that all the electrical and natural gas and propane safety rules are followed and talk about the energy used in your home. Check that:

  • You know what powers your:
    • stove
    • furnace
    • fireplace
    • water heater
    • outdoor grill
    • clothes dryer
  • Propane gas detectors are installed (for homes using propane as an energy source).
  • You know what propane smells like.
  • Carbon Monoxide and smoke detectors are installed.
  • Batteries have been checked in detectors in the last six months.
  • You have an emergency plan and have an outdoor meeting place in case of an emergency like a propane leak or fire.
  • Natural gas or propane oven is only used for cooking and not for space heating or drying clothes.
  • Extension cords, appliances, and lights that are used outdoors are labeled for outdoor use.
  • Small appliances are turned off and unplugged when no one is at home.
  • Safety covers are installed on outlets when small children are in the house.
  • Outlets are not overloaded with lots of plugs.
  • All electrical appliances are kept away from water.
  • Electric cords are in good condition and not worn or frayed.
  • A multipurpose fire extinguisher is available and those that are old enough know how to use it.

Keep Kids Interested With a Home Energy Audit

You can help your kids learn more about energy and how to use it efficiently by performing a home energy assessment with them. While you may want to take the extra step and have a professional home energy audit done, a self-assessment done with your kids will be a fun experience that will let everyone know how to best use energy and be aware of potential energy losses. While your children may not care too much about the savings you’ll get on your energy bill, they will likely care about saving the environment by cutting down on the energy you need to run your home.

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