Posts tagged ‘Environment’

A soda can candle

melt old wax in a soda can
melt old wax in a soda can

I don’t know why, but it seems that candle makers today have no clue about thermodynamics. The amount of heat that a typical candle flame gives off is no where near enough to melt a 3″ diameter cylinder of wax.

Every candle I own burns down in the middle leaving a hefty hollow ring of colored, scented wax. A huge waste. Here’s my solution …

Cut the top off a soda can, place it over low heat and drop in chunks of the old candle wax. Add enough wax to fill the can. When it’s all melted, take a length of butcher’s string, tie one end to an old washer and lower it into the melted wax. Use something to hold the string centered in the can until the wax starts to harden.

Once the wax has hardened, remove your new candle from the soda can. It may require tearing the can away but the metal is so thin, it will peal away easily.

A mobile water dish for your dog

I would have sworn I wrote this before but can’t find it. YOUR DOG OVER HEATS BEFORE YOU DO!

Since dogs can’t sweat, the have very little ability to cool off once the temp climbs. A dog’s resting body temp it 102. If you go out on a sunny day and the temp it 90, the sun will drive the surface temp above your dog’s base temp. At that point, they have little or no cooling ability at all. If it’s humid, it’s even worse.

Dogs with short noses have it worse still.

My solution is to take water with me and Zen, even on short walks. I prefer not to have Zen drink directly from my water bottle so I’ve come up with a simple way to have a mini doggie bowl with us.

Take two identicle 1-liter empty water or soda bottles. You can use 2-liter bottles for bigdogs, longer walks, and multiple dogs if you need.

Cut the bottom off one bottle so the bottom section is about 2″-3″ tall.

Simply stick the cut bottom onto the other bottle. It will fit snug and be a perfect match.

Fill the bottle with water and go. You can drink from the bottle and you can pull the extra bott off and use it as a mini bowl for the dog!

Farmhouse electricity usage – update

Photo credit - Johananes Schloerb @ The farmhouse has been a sort of living/working laboratory when it comes to energy efficiency and usage. The first rule of this lab is "no crazy life altering bias". I want to know what a real world experience could be had and what it would cost.

The farmhouse is "all electric all the time". The only non-electric system in the house is the kitchen stove which is propane. Everything else uses electricity. The geothermal heat and air conditioning uses electricity for the circulators, condenser pumps, and and the air handler.

There are two times each year when I have no need for heat or AC. With a little luck, the two periods last long enough that I get a full billing cycle from my utility company in the middle of each. The last was last October (Sep 19th thru Oct 18th). The latest just finished (Apr 19th thru May 18th).

I call these my "baselines" because, assuming I do not do a lot of unusual things during these periods like shut everything down and go on holiday, I get to see just the day-to-day usage. This includes things like the water heater, the refrigerator, the chest freezer, my office computer equipment, the TV, lights, etc. It even includes weekend warrior sessions in the shop.

Last fall the baseline was 430 kilowatts. This spring it was 520 kilowatts.

I first thought it was stuff in the shop or some other big thing. It turns out nearly all of that 90 kilowatts can be counted in just three things. I have a small media PC that runs both the TV and some odd computer jobs. It is on all the time because it is working all the time. It uses about 20w but over the course of a full month which adds up to 15 kilowatts. I also installed a dawn simulator to keep me on an early schedule. Over a month, it adds up to a little over 5 kilowatts. The big consumer was a pair of computer monitors. When I switched my work computers around, I setup a multi-monitor system. It turns out, those two monitors total 50 kilowatts of usage each month. As for the 10 kilowatts left over, believe it or not, it can be attributed to a clock radio and my iPod charger.

I’m carbon neutral, are you ?

Carbon-dioxide A friend made a plea that we all try to reduce our carbon footprint. My first thought is I have already put my "money where my mouth is" in that regard. However, it got me thinking – What is my carbon footprint ?

A person’s carbon footprint is simply the carbon produced minus carbon consumed. I found two calculators that did a passable job (carbon calculator #1 and carbon footprint #2). My results were between 16 and 17 tons of CO2 per year. Some sites will describe that as high and the primary factor is that my number represent a household of one. It also includes my workshop which is no small contributor during the heating season. For the curious, here is the breakdown:

  • Air Travel = 1T
  • Car = 2.3T
  • Truck = 6.3T
  • Self + House & Shop = 6.5 T
  • Total = 16.1 T

That is the "producer" side of the equation. Now for the offset.

A healthy tree stores about 13 pounds of carbon annually — or 2.6 tons per acre each year. (source). I have approximately 40 acres of trees so that is just over 100 tons of carbon sequestration. I was not able to find data for lawns so I will assume it is net neutral against the lawn mower.

The envelop please …. I am actually carbon negative to the tune of 84 tons per year. Awesome !

Of course, this is not a highly reproducible pattern. There are approximately 2.3 billion acres of land in the Unites States (source). If everyone had 40 acres of trees, that would make the total population less than 60 million and that does not even allow for manufacturing, agriculture, or infrastructure. For the record, the current population is estimated at more than 307 million (source).

Anyone want to buy some carbon credits ?

More green energy FUD (debunked by someone who *believes* in green energy)

I really wish there was a “truth in advertizing” requirement in the USA. I just stumbled across a new housing community that claims they will save you “thousands of dollars a year” on your HVAC.

But before I unleash my math on you, I should point out I am actually a proponent of geothermal and solar and other “green energy” sources. They are good for the environment and the long term maintainability of the Earth.

People need too see it for what it is … help to save the planet; “yes” … help to save you loads of money; “no”.

Lighthouse Crossing is the only community in the Delmarva region where geothermal HVAC will be a standard feature of every new home. Geothermal HVAC taps into a plentiful (and cheap) source of energy from the ground

The energy savings are dramatic – from 30 percent to as much as 80 percent lower than conventional systems, which will amount to thousands of dollars a year.

Lighthouse Crossing – Why We’re Different

I did some math and it gets very interesting …

First, the minimum value of their claim would be $2,000 per year – anything less could not be called “thousands”. So let’s take the minimum. Now lets look at a home at the opposite end of the spectrum – the old farmhouse I rented for the past two years. I griped about the drafts all winter and the stress of the aging AC heatpumps. I’ll be honest, in the winter months (part of November and part of March and 100% of the months in between, I burned lots of oil – average was 100 gallons a month  so my total for the heating season was 450 gallons. It could have been higher if I wanted it “real toasty” so let’s take that worse case and assume 50% more for the coldest months to make it nice and hot inside – so 650 gallons. Now let’s add the AC. My non AC electrical was never below $35/month. My cooling months were June thru August and a sporadic in September. During the peak of summer, my electric would go as high as $100/month. So, my cooling costs were $65/month for not more 4 months. That’s another $260. If home heating out were $3.50 (the average of the high prices two winters ago vs last winter) then my heat was $1,575 and a very toasty hose would have been $2,275.

These numbers say that the old drafty and un-insulated rental used between $1,835 and $2,535 for HVAC. If you use my real numbers, there was no way Lighthouse Crossing could have saved me “thousands” even if all of my HVAC were free!

So let’s play to their strengths and assume I was too frugal and I should have cranked the heat and AC and spent the higher amount of money. If we believe we get the best of their savings – 80% – then we just squeak in over the “savings wire” by $28.

Unfortunately, geothermal does not achieve 80% savings. According to estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, geothermal systems produce energy bills “30 percent to 40 percent lower”. So, at 40%, the savings would only be in the range of $734 to $1014 per year. If you are looking at modern construction, that high oil usage I reported would be much lower and thus the “savings” would be lower too.

So, should you install solar or geothermal. I say “yes” if you have the extra money. Do not think of it as a financial investment, but rather do it as an environmental investment.

If you don’t have the money for solar or geothermal, there’s still lots you can do – add insulation to your attic, in your walls if possible, wrap your hot water talk with an insulation blanket; insulate pipes on the crawl space if they are exposed, turn your AC two degrees higher and add a fan to circulate the air – there are lots of ways to save with small investments of time and some basic supplies.

A Smarter Planet may be closer than you think

cannon_meters As a new home owner, I’ve been very keen on the technology at the leading edge of environmental responsibility. But I’ve not been sure I was doing a good job at being environmental responsible myself. So, I sat down with Steve Turlington, the Director of Engineering  at my local electric utility company. I asked Steve, "how much electricity should my modern home consume?" The answer turns out to be a common one but needs more detail to answer. While the age of a home plays and important role, the general rule for determining electricity usage is based on the size of the home and the number of occupants.

Steve stopped for a moment and asked for my account information. What happened next was totally unexpected. He pulled up my actual electrical usage – not my last bill, my usage right at that moment. Steve said my house was averaging 750 watts over the last 15 minutes.

It turns out, my house has been fitted with the newest Cannon Technologies PLC meter. PLC stands for "Power Line Carrier". These new meters are the sensor end of the Smarter Power Grid. From his desk, Steve can see not only what my house is using, but also look across the entire grid. He can see businesses vs households; neighborhoods close to water vs inland, etc. In the past, the power company only had data from the substations. That’s a bit like having 20/400 vision – you can avoid bumping into a table, but you may not be able to see the toy truck on the floor until you’re flat on your back.

The new reporting meters, in conjunction with data logging, and PLC transmission enable electric companies to know where and when power is being used. When they add two way PLC to the mix, they have the ability to give the consumer control over power usage vs power cost. You could have the option to sign-up for a reduced power rate at peak load times or in exchange for the power company having the ability to delay your clothes dryer or change your thermostat in a crisis.

Just before I left, I asked Steve if I will ever have the ability to go on-line and see my what my meter is reporting. "We’re working on that too", was exciting news to hear.

Do you have a smart meter on your house ? Is your power company installing them ? Find out !