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Idle power control – phase 1 complete

Posted by admin on Nov 11th, 2008
Nov 11

After a week (172.5 hours to be exact, or 7 days 4 hours and 30 minutes) I finally have my results of my phantom power test. The total phantom power used in that time was 0.30 kW total – or 300 watts, almost 1/3rd of a kilowatt. Here’s more math for you:

Hours in a year = 8736.00
Test hours = 172
kW used = 0.30
8736 / 172 = 50.79 time measurement units
50.79 x 0.30 = 15.24 kW of phantom power used in one year by the XBox

As of 1am PST on Nov. 11th, I’ve got the X10 appliance module plugged into the Kill-a-watt, the XBox plugged into the appliance module, and the module is “on”. I’ll need to figure out a good way to power on and off the module. I have two basic options. I can manually use the X10 remote used with the modules and turn off the unit before I go to work (@8:30am), and then turn it on after I get home (@around 8:30pm). The other option is to put my laptop out in the garage (where the test is being conducted), and set up a cron job to automatically turn the module on/off. I’m leaning towards the laptop option, but I’m not certain yet.

The main purpose of this part of the test is to see if using the module to totally cut power to the XBox actually saves any electricity or if the module itself will use as much, or more, power. I’m guessing it will actually use more since the module will always be in a powered state – and the amount of electricity saved by cutting the power to the XBox will be overridden and amplified by the constant draw of the module. We’ll find out in a week.

UPDATE: I’ve changed my mind about using the module to regulate the power flow to the XBox. Instead, I’m going to leave everything just the way it is but leave the module in the “on” mode for the entire week. That way we can see how much additional power the module utilizes in addition to the XBox.

Project funding

Posted by admin on Nov 5th, 2008
Nov 5

I’ve been trying to think of creative ways to fund my long list of projects that I have planned. Advertising on the site hasn’t really panned out too well, which I understand. I’m not usually inclined to click on, browse, and buy things from banners myself. Also, my “Help me go solar” PayPal link hasn’t exactly seen very much action either, so it’s time to go in a different direction. Not only do I want to do as much as I can to promote environmental sustainability, but my project funding also needs to remain sustainable as well….

My latest idea came to me while I was out at lunch with my wife, who came to see me at work today. After lunch, as a treat, we went to the local coffee shop to indulge in a little caffeine consumption. As we were standing in line, I heard two high school girls order two “medium iced latte in a large cup”. What?? What are they going to do – add a little vodka? After ordering our beverages, and as we were waiting for our drinks to be made, I had this urge to approach the girls and ask them, “Are you going to recycle those cups when you’re done?”, but I refrained. It looked like I’d just get a double earful of attitude and not really get anything accomplished.

This suddenly gave me a spark of an idea. A shirt that simply says, “Are you going to RECYCLE that?”. Simple, to the point, but not intrusive. Well folks, now that dream is a reality. Not only can you get a 100% organic cotton t-shirt (made in the USA) with that phrase on it, but you can also get a tote bag and a mug! Head on down to the ECOEXIST online store and get yours today!

Ecoexist "Recycle that" shirt Ecoexist "Recycle that" tote
Ecoexist "Recycle that" mug Ecoexist "Recycle that" longsleeve womens tee

Oh yeah – and don’t forget to vote in the POLL on the left there!!

Idle power control – phase 1

Posted by admin on Nov 4th, 2008
Nov 4

As I mentioned in my last post, I was going to plug an old Xbox that I had lying around to my Kill-a-watt, leave it powered off for a week, and see how much phantom power it used. I got it all set up last night out in the garage (which suddenly makes me wonder if weather/temperature will skew any of the results in any way….) and this morning, before I left for work, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to check the status.

According to the Kill-a-watt, it had been plugged in for 12 hours and 45 minutes, and had used .02 kW. That doesn’t seem like much, but after 24 hours it should be around .04 kW – again, I know, not much. *But* if you combine that with several other electronic devices plugged in around the house – tv, computer, computer monitor, dvd player, phone charger, clock, rechargeable batteries and/or flashlights, night lights, lamps, video game player, stereo, electric razor, hair dryer….I’m sure you get the picture – then it will turn into something quite substantial quickly. If I had 10 items pulling the same amount of phantom power as my “control” test, then they would be using a half a kW (500 watts) about every 30 hours. Here’s what could happen:

1 device @ 24 hours = .04 kW (40 watts)
10 devices @ 24 hours = .40 kW (400 watts - what a 200+ watt solar panel produces in two hours of full sun!)
.40 / 24 = .0167 kW per hour
.0167 kW * 30 hours = .501 (501 watts, or half a kW)
There are 8736 hours a year (24 hours * 7 days in a week * 52 weeks)
8736 total hours / 30 hours = 291.2 * .501 kW = 145.89 total kW used in a year

Almost 146 kW used in a year from only 10 plugged in and powered off devices. I know I have a lot more than that around my house, how many do you have?

Idle power control

Posted by admin on Nov 3rd, 2008
Nov 3

Due to a recent article on TreeHugger about BestBuy’s naming October 30th as “Vampire Awareness Day” (referring to the idle, or phantom, power consumption of the plugged-in-but-not-in-use electronics in our homes), it brought to mind a few items I had acquired a few years ago that I had completely forgotten about. I have a whole box of unused X10 lamp and appliance controllers just sitting in the garage.

Doing a quick check of the X10 website shows that the prices of the wall modules are still relatively inexpensive. Most of the modules are just plugged into an outlet then the electronic device – be it a tv, stereo, computer, etc – is plugged into the module. Then, using an ifra-red remote, the power to the device can be cut off at the wall, potentially saving a lot of phantom power usage. X10 also has wall outlets as well which allows for whole outlet to be disabled whenever needed. The other benefit to having such a device is for when we are away on a vacation. I can control the modules from my computer so I can turn on/off the lights for security. Pretty nifty.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be installing many of these modules wherever I feel they may be useful. I’ll update on my progress and document the pro’s and con’s of the devices (and have pictures!). I think I’m going to do a trial run with a specific appliance, maybe a spare Xbox I have, and plug it in for a week with my Kill-A-Watt attached to see what kind of energy consumption it uses while powered off (for the entire week). Then the next week I’ll use an X10 module to cut the power for 10-12 hours a day and compare the difference. That should at least give me a basic baseline comparison. It would be difficult to get a consistent comparison with something that is randomly being used for varying periods of time – like the tv or the microwave.

Excellent EV conversion howto

Posted by admin on Oct 24th, 2008
Oct 24

I have been wanting to tinker with converting a vehicle to electric for a while. I, unfortunately, have a full sized 2003 GMC Yukon that I bought a few years ago and have looked into ways of making it all, or at least partially, electric. I can’t get rid of the thing since it’s not really a desirable vehicle with the fuel prices, and it is completely paid off so it’s not really costing me anything except for insurance and the rare tank of gas (it hasn’t moved in over two months). We do use it when we need to get sheets of plywood from the hardware store or have large items we need to transport, which of course we could just rent a truck for.

There are a few options to convert a full sized SUV to electric but, as usual, cost is the issue for me. On a side note, I did convert a pocket bike I had from gas to electric. It’s pretty fun to ride and it’s easy to sneak up on people 😉 Here’s a pic – it still needs to be put together better so it’s not pretty yet. I used two telco 12ah batteries wired in series for 24vdc, used a 24v scooter motor I got from a local electronics junk yard, and bought a controller from a scooter web site. If you want specifics then let me know.

One site that I’ve been tracking for quite some time is Kiwi EV. It’s an excellent documentary of his mission to convert a Mitsubishi into full electric. It explains in great detail the process he took, the parts he used, why he made the decisions he did, and how he got it certified as road legal. It’s really quite impressive. He is in New Zealand so some things might be a little different, but he provides a lot of very useful information. It’s even complete with videos and lots of pictures.

Solar oven project update

Posted by admin on Sep 29th, 2008
Sep 29

I started cutting out the frame of the new solar oven from scrap plywood laying around in the garage this past weekend. I have all of the sides cut out and ready for assembly, I just need to find my wood dowel pins to put the pieces together and I need to find a scrap piece of wood big enough for the bottom. I had to make the sides in two pieces because I didn’t have anything left that was big enough to make it solid. Here’s what I have so far:

The top of the sides are set at a 30 degree angle – I had read that is the optimal angle for solar panels somewhere. Once I locate my dowel pins and find a piece for the bottom then it should go together fairly quickly.

Here’s a picture of the one I built last summer. It’s got an old window I found in our garage from some previous owner, and it works pretty well. It’s lined with foil and the bricks in the bottom are to help keep the temperature a little more even. The test I did with it yesterday got it up to over 170 degrees. If it was built a little better and all the gaps and holes sealed up then I might be able to get it hot enough to boil water. I’ll be adding reflector flaps to the new one to ensure it will get more than hot enough for that. It currently sits on an old skateboard for portability, because with the bricks it’s quite heavy:

Does window efficiency film work?

Posted by admin on Sep 29th, 2008
Sep 29

About two weeks ago I wrote that I was going to try to make our single paned windows in our home more energy efficient by using a window film that claims to block around 70% of the suns radiant heat. This weekend I finally completed enough of the project to get an idea on if I’m heading in the right direction. It seems that I might just have wasted my time and money on this.

Of the 12 “panes” on the window, I put the film on 11 of them. I left the top middle pane untouched so I could test the difference in temperature between the filmed and non-filmed sections. I went to Harbor Freight to pick up a cheap infra-red thermometer ($10 – and I plan to use it around the house to find hot and cold spots). Since it was doing the testing on glass, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t skewing the test results when I checked the window temperature so I first put a large washer on the two test panes (the top left pane and the top middle pane) and checked the temp. Hmm – 106 degrees for the non-filmed pane, and 104 degrees for the filmed pane. Whoa.

Okay, maybe the metal washer is making a difference. I decided to put a paper mailing label on each window – that way I would have a surface to test that wouldn’t potentially accumulate heat due to the material it is made from. It did make a difference, the temperatures dropped about 5 degrees for each pane, but they were still 2 degrees apart. The filmed pane was 99.3 degrees and the non-filmed was 101.3.

That’s very disappointing. I’m going to double check the directions, and look for some tips online from others who may have tried the film and see if they have any suggestions on what the problem might be. If I can’t find that I’ve done something wrong then I’ll start looking for alternate ideas to make the windows more efficient.

Sep 25

My wife, of course, likes to take baths. My son is afraid of the shower so he takes baths. I try to conserve water wherever I can and even take a 5 Gallon Bucket into the shower with me to collect the water when it’s heating up, and while I’m lathering up (5th paragraph down in the post). In a way I am a bit hypocritical in the sense that I have a pool, and pools aren’t eco-friendly or promote water conservation. I’ve been trying to think of ways to offset the extra consumption of water due to the pool – which leads me back to the bath water.

Our entire yard was cemented over a long time ago. It’s both a blessing and a curse in that it’s nice to not have to mow a lawn or do extra yard work and we save a lot of water by not having grass or other plant life, but it retains heat in a horrible way and on extremely hot days it may not cool down until 2am. It’s essentially a “hose down” yard but if it gets hosed down a few times a week then we aren’t saving any water over a grassed yard. We have two large dogs, so it needs to be hosed down often. I have been looking for a way to clean the bath water well enough to be able to use it to hose down the yard – thus re-purposing a large amount of used water.

I bought a 5.5GPM pump a while back from a used electronics store and I have lots of marine batteries to hook it up to. I also have three 55 gallon barrels which I can pump the water into. I wanted to build something to filter the water before it made it into the barrel, because it’s easier at that point that to filter it while it’s being siphoned out for use. Here’s what I came up with – which was inspired by an episode of Renovation Nation where a homeowner built something similar to filter rainwater:

  • 5 gallon bucket – can be bought at a hardware store for under $5, but most people already have one laying around

  • a 1 1/2″ pipe connector – male and female – for the drain hole. About $4 from the hardware store

  • two 2″ rubber gaskets for the pipe connectors, to seal around the hole. About $2.50 for a two pack (check in the faucet repair area in the plumbing section)

  • bag of sand – it was harder to find than I thought. About $4.50. This will do the core of the filtration

  • bag of pea gravel – about $3.50. This is used to keep the outlet from getting clogged up and to level out the bottom of the inside of the filter

  • Koi pond filter – also found at the hardware store in the outdoor garden center by the pond equipment. It was the most expensive piece @ $10. This is used to keep the sand in the filter, and also does some large particle filtering – hair and whatnot

  • Optional – a pack of terry cloths, about $2.50. I used them mainly for additional protection from the sand coming out and also to prevent the Koi pond filters from getting clogged up with sand.

Here are the step-by-step pictures of the project as I constructed the filter. You’ll notice that I had already cut the hole and put the pipe fitting in the bucket at this point. Also, before the pipe fitting is installed you’ll need to drill a few holes in the top pipe fitting (the piece that is in the bucket when assembled, not sticking out of the bottom) for complete drainage.

The parts list

Wash the pea gravel to get all the dirt off and fill the bottom of the bucket with enough pea gravel to make it level with the top of the pipe connector (the one that you drilled holes into before assembling)

I put a terry cloth rag on top of the gravel, in an attempt to make cleanup easier later

The Koi pond filter comes in two pieces, the denser one goes in at this point (it’s like a scrubber pad). These should have been cut to fit the bucket, but I was impatient and wanted to try it out

I put another terry cloth on top of that – this is important to help keep the sand out of the filter as much as possible

Put about 4″ of sand on top and level it out

Then another terry cloth, if you want to

Then the other half of the Koi pond filter

Then I threw on another terry cloth on top of all that. Now it’s time for the test. It’s best if you let clean water run through it for a few minutes to clean out all the dirt that needs to be washed out of the filter initially. It’s like a carbon filter for your refrigerator that also needs to have water run through it before it can be used. In hindsight I should have washed the pebbles before putting them in the filter, but it’s a lesson learned. Here’s my initial test run. The pipe fitting fits perfectly into the opening on the barrel it’s sitting on in the picture:

I suppose a disclaimer is in order. This filter is for NON-potable water only! Do not drink it.

Motorcycle hypermiling, and solar oven part II

Posted by admin on Sep 19th, 2008
Sep 19

Since becoming a new motorcycle rider over the last two months I’ve had to put my hypermiling “research” on hold. I needed to fully focus my attention on what I was doing while riding because looking at the pavement pass by and thinking that if I make one little mistake…and the pavement up ahead could be permanently embedded in various parts of my body. Now that I’ve got over 800 miles under my belt on the bike I’m feeling much more comfortable and have actually started incorporating a few of the techniques I learned while hypermiling in the car. The hard part though, is that since it’s a manual transmission and I don’t always know what gear I’m in, it’s a bit dangerous to put it back into gear in certain situations (like turns, for example) so I don’t coast as much as I could otherwise.

This weekend I’m planning to find as much scrap wood around the house and rebuild my solar oven. My initial attempt turned out alright, and we cooked some beans in it one day (I think it took 6 hours tho), but it’s not sealed very well and should be made deeper and more efficient. So, as promissed in one of my early on posts, I’m going to rebuild it and document it for those who might want to attempt the same project.

Making our windows more efficient, part 2

Posted by admin on Sep 15th, 2008
Sep 15

As promissed, here is the update to the window insulation film project. I decided to go with the Artscape’s Energy Film Window Film because there was no adhesive required. I thought it was going to be a simple “stick it on the window and forget it” type of a deal, but I was mistaken. It turned out to be more involved than I thought.

The biggest problem was that the package didn’t have any installation instructions, I had to go to the Artscape website and click on the “Installation” tab at the top of the screen. That’s where I found out that I needed a soapy water solution sprayed on the window and the film for it to adhere to the window.

Our windows have a faux window pane effect – i.e. they have these vinyl strips glued to the window to look like individual panes. I would love to take those pieces off but it would probably damage the window or leave a residue from the glue. Unfortunately, this means I have to cut out 12 12″x9″ pieces of the film per window. I’ve never really liked that style of window, but as much as I dislike them we’re going to have to live with them for a while, otherwise I wouldn’t have to be going through this effort.

Because of all of the individual pieces I needed to cut out and the extra time involved I was only able put up a test piece on one section. According to the instructions, the window can’t be hot when it is applied so I had to wait until the evening. The next day I did a hand test and found that the part of the window with the film on it was at least 20 degrees cooler than the unprotected “pane”. I’m going to finish the installation this week and then do some temperature checks to get a more accurate figure of the temperature difference between the filmed and unfilmed windows.

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