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Insulation project, initial results

Posted by admin on Apr 27th, 2008
Apr 27

Last weekend I blew insulation into the attic. It has been relatively temperate all week so the results of the project haven’t been very noticeable. Yesterday, however, it hit 95 degrees and I see the direct benefits finally.

There are a few factors to point out first. Last year the thermostat was set three degrees lower than it is this year. Also, the gable fan I installed a few weeks back will have an affect on the results as well. So, this won’t be a direct comparison, but still – the results are noticeable.

Last year, a 95 degree day would have caused the AC to be on somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-8 hours. Yesterday, the AC was on for a total of just under 3 hours – a whole four to five hours less than last year. That’s going to make a noticeable difference. When we replace the windows next winter, and possibly insulate the outside walls (hopefully we’ll be able to) then it should drop that time down to under an hour, I would imagine.

Happy Earth Day XXXVIII

Posted by admin on Apr 22nd, 2008
Apr 22

That’s right, it’s the 38th Earth Day. Hopefully you will celebrate the day by doing something good to cut down on the pollutants we blindly exhaust into the air, or contaminants we put into the water, or the things we do to jeopardize nature and all of its inhabitants. And hopefully that one thing you do to celebrate the day will give encouragement to you, and those around you, to continue celebrating Earth Day every day. I’m telling you – once you start, it becomes easier and easier to consistently make little changes that make consistently big differences.

Some simple things to start out with? Here’s some ideas:

1. Here’s my favorite tip. Do you have a burnt out light? Go get a CFL light, a double pack will probably run around $5, and replace it. Is that light in a place you don’t use the light very often? Then take a light bulb from somewhere you do use lights all the time – like the living room or the kitchen – and put that incandescent light in the low usage area. Then put the cfl in the higher usage area instead. That way you get maximum return on your cfl investment right away.

2. When you throw something away, think to yourself, “is any part of this recyclable?”. I know that a lot of times it can be a little tedious to properly recycle – like taking labels off of glass jars and the caps off of plastic bottles – but if you start thinking about it then it will become a simple habit and will soon become a consistent part of your day. Things that I didn’t give any thought to recycling before were: receipts, bags from a fast food stop (as long as there’s no grease on it), batteries, the laundry detergent bottle, most mail, cans (with the labels taken off), etc. I’m going to be putting up more recycling tips and guidelines in the near future and I’m going to try to make it an easy reference type page.

3. For a little more extreme do-it-yourself starter, you can save the water from your shower or bath and use it to water your garden. This is what’s known as grey water and it is full of good stuff, which your garden will love. As far as getting it out of the tub or shower effectively? I have a 5.5gpm pump that I bought at a used electronics store for $20 (from APEX Electronics in the San Fernando Valley if you’re in the area – I LOVE this store!) and hooked it up to a marine battery I had laying around.

4. Plant a tree. Either for shade, curb appeal or just because. If you don’t want to do it, don’t have time to do it, or don’t have a place to do it, then these guys can do it for you.

5. Do you watch a lot of TV? Have you been thinking of upgrading, or are about to upgrade your TV? If so, then donate your old TV and get a new LCD TV (!*NOT PLASMA*!). LCD’s use a lot less power than the old style TV’s and they are really coming down in price these days.

Bottom line – do what you can to make the planet the best it can be, then go out and enjoy it.

It’s not as hard as it sounds

Posted by admin on Apr 22nd, 2008
Apr 22

We bought our house about 15 months ago in the West Van Nuys (now Lake Balboa) area. When we were looking for houses it was one of those situations where we *knew* this was the house for us when we went on the first walk through. To make a long story short, the inspector came out, found a few minor things here and there – it’s a 1952 house so there’s going to be things – and made a comment that the attic has a lot of space and could probably be converted into a storage area or even another room. We have since determined, for multiple reasons, that the inspector was not the best one we probably could have invested in. For starters, you can’t build a room in your attic as is, period. The ceiling joists need to be converted into floor joists which means a roof removal, and structural changes, and…. Sorry, I’m getting side tracked. The round about point is that the inspector didn’t tell us that we had, at best, 3″ of insulation in our attic and, at worst, no insulation for up to a 10 foot square area. I would have liked to know that.

Last summer we had a hard time keeping up with the heat. It would get as high as 115-120 degrees at times and would take several hours to cool down at night. Needless to say we had our AC on for 10-12 hours a day – our highest electric bill was $585 last summer, which was quite astonishing. I’m not certain what caused me to go up into the attic the first time, but what ever it was I’m glad it happened. We have recessed lights that are IC rated (i.e. can be in direct contact with insulation) that didn’t have ANY insulation around them at all, and a bathroom ceiling that was completely devoid of a stitch of insulation. How did anyone survive in this house in the height of summer?

Since the moment I first ventured up into the attic, it has long been on my list of todo’s to insulate. It’s our norm to make it to a hardware store at least once a weekend for any one of our home projects. On one of those such visits to Lowe’s I found that they sell the Eco-friendly blown in insulation and the blowers to go along with that, all ready for the do-it-yourself-er. The insulation is “85% recycled” and has some strange stuff in it – like newspaper shreds, plastic bag particles, and other such filler material. It’s a two person project but it is one we knew we needed to tackle. Three hours and $250 later and we now have a fully insulated attic with 9-10″ of blown in enviro-friendly insulation. It was a little hot, messy, dusty, and dirty, but a lot easier than I thought it would be and well worth it in the long run.

I think I said it on an earlier post, but I can’t wait to see my next electric bill. I’ve got a little less than a month left. Between the gable fan, the programmable thermostat, and the insulation we should see a huge improvement over last summer. Next we will need to replace our single pane windows – but that will probably have to wait until next winter.

Here’s a picture of my helpers. They loaded the insulation hopper while I was up in the attic.

The troopers who fed the hungry insulation blower

We will soon be using 100% green power

Posted by admin on Apr 17th, 2008
Apr 17

We get our electricity through the LADWP, a.k.a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. They have a program where they offer their customers the option to purchase green power – anything from 20% up to 100%. I just signed up for the full 100% program last night. I’m excited about the whole thing, but I’m also a little disappointed because there’s really nothing tangible to the whole thing – nothing celebratory or anything marking the change of power. I guess just knowing will have to do.

The “down” side to the program is that it will cost us an additional $0.03 per kwh. That’s pretty cheap though to get our power from renewable resources. I do wonder though, how we could verify that we are going to be getting a full 100% green power. It’s one thing to sign up for the service, it’s another to know when, or if, we’re actually getting that power. It’s not my ultimate goal of going full solar on our roof, but it’s the next best thing.

Silly project, part four

Posted by admin on Apr 13th, 2008
Apr 13

I had a fair amount of success today with my little project. It got up as high as 202 degrees. Not bad for being held together with duct tape! It’s hard to see in the attached picture below, but the pointer is dead on 200 (just missed getting the 202 pic, dang it)

I’m going to redo the project, but this time I’m going to use wood and screws – no duct tape. I’m going to document the dimensions and materials used then put them here in case someone wants to try the project themselves.

Proof of 200 degrees! It’s hard to see, but it’s dead on 200.
Proof of 200 degrees!

Silly project, part three (of four)

Posted by admin on Apr 12th, 2008
Apr 12

I tried my solar oven again yesterday at work with the reflector – the results were so disappointing that I’m not even going to go into details on it, other than to say that it was definitely due to the tint on the windows. I figured it would have an affect on the results, but not that much. The office in the afternoon gets pretty hot after 6pm because the AC is turned off automatically at that time. Anyway, the backyard test was much more successful.

I put the solar oven out in the backyard today, and despite a minor problem with the reflector the internal temp got up to 165. The problem I had was that the reflector got blown down and covered the glass so the temp dropped down to 120, but in the 2 hours left of the late afternoon sun, it managed to still get up to a respectable 165. I’ve fixed the issue with the reflector and will give it another try tomorrow. I’m going to try to get it hot enough to boil water, although I’m not terribly confident I’ll get my little cardboard, duct tape and tinfoil oven that hot.

We’re going to go to the local farmers market tomorrow. It will be the second time in two weeks. It’s a small gathering of local vendors but it’s got a lot of stuff and it’s pretty fun. We got a half flat of strawberries last week for $7 and they were delicious! Going to a farmers market is great because most, if not all, of the fruits and vegetables are organic and it helps keep your money in your community. Help support your local farmer, you’ll both be happy 🙂

Silly project, day two

Posted by admin on Apr 10th, 2008
Apr 10

I took the mini solar oven to work today and unfortunately found a problem right away. The way the building is situated, the mid-morning sun doesn’t start to hit the window I’m using until around 10:30am. As the sun crept into the box I started taking temperature measurements at semi-regular intervals. Here’s what I recorded, it’s a bit disappointing:

10:30 = 75
11:15 = 85
12:30 = 95 – start of full sun in the box
1:30 = 102
2:30 = 98 – moved to the western window which caused the drop in temp
3:15 = 105
4:30 = 109

As you can see, the highest it got was 109 degrees but I was really hoping for around 150. I attribute this mostly to a tint on the windows and a slight haze in the sky. It was a bright sunny day, but I’m guessing there was about a 10% haze.

I’m going to give it another try tomorrow. I’ve added a 15″x15″ reflector panel to the lid to amplify the amount of sun being collected (I’ll take pictures later this week). I know that the reflector will help considerably and the lack of having one on the prototype I built for the backyard last summer was part of the problem with it’s inability to go higher than about 200 degrees.

I’m going to bring home the mini solar oven this weekend and test it outside to see how much of a difference the windows at work make.

Check back tomorrow!

Silly project, just for fun

Posted by admin on Apr 10th, 2008
Apr 10

I was at work today, heating up my lunch (which I bring every day, thanks to my awesome wife) in the microwave when I got a moment of inspiration. To hopefully help this all make a bit more sense, let’s start with a little back history to explain the basis of the project you’re about to read about. Last summer I built a solar oven which worked…okay, I guess. We did cook a pot of beans in it one day so I guess it works well enough. I’ve been meaning to revamp it and have been thinking about that more and more lately, which is probably the reason for my lunchtime epiphany today.

My idea was to build a small solar oven to heat my lunch in. I sit in an office on the south west corner of the building so I get decent light in the window by the time I get to work. I spent some time tonight building my contraption and I must say, I think it turned out pretty well. It’s in prototype rough mode but I think it’s actually going to work. I used two old cardboard boxes, used tinfoil, duct tape (new, unfortunately), and a piece of plexi-glass I used for a water heating experiment last summer. It’s probably about one cubic foot of interior space. Here’s a picture –

mini solar oven for the office

I’m going to take it to work tomorrow and test it out. I’ll report on what I find tomorrow night.

If you’re so inclined, this would be a great project to do with kids. I just started with a small box, made sure it was deep enough for a container, the back of it was high enough to accomodate for a 30-45 degree angle, then just started putting it together. One note is that I did double layers of cardboard for insulation, otherwise it wouldn’t realize it’s full heat retention potential 🙂

Sun Chips, in more than one way

Posted by admin on Apr 8th, 2008
Apr 8

I just found out tonight that the Sun Chips Modesto California production facility is powered by solar energy (*not sure how much tho, they don’t say), and they purchase solar credits to offset “100% of the electricity required to make each and every bag of SunChips” in their other seven facilities. Bravo Frito Lay, I am impressed. Now when they switch to a corn polymer bio-degradable bag then I’ll be REALLY impressed.

Quick tip – batteries

Posted by admin on Apr 7th, 2008
Apr 7

Get a small box or some kind of non-metal container and save all of your used up batteries. While you’re waiting for your collection to grow, check out Call2Recycle to find out where you can take them. There are a lot of places where I live that take them, and hopefully where you live to, so it won’t be too much of an inconvenience. In my area it seems that almost all, if not all, of the Radio Shack stores take them.

Rechargeable batteries are an excellent way to cut down on how many batteries you throw away. They may cost twice as much but they last 10, 20, 30 times longer. It’s best to charge them at night when electricity prices are lower and demand for electricity is less as well.

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