Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

Alternative Energy in the Home

By johnnyfever in Technology
Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 06:28:46 PM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

We've all seen quite a bit over the last few months in the news related to our dependence on non-renewable resources. The Kyoto accord, the impending war with Iraq, the cold weather in the eastern US/Canada driving natural gas prices up...you name it . This is a problem that is not going to go away by itself. Oil, natural gas and electricity are not going to get any cheaper in the long term. With all this in mind, I recently started looking into alternative energy solutions for use in the home. I have been disappointed with what I have found.

Am I missing something? What are your experiences with alternative energy?

First of all, I should point out that my motivations are not entirely selfless here. Several factors are responsible for my sudden interest in alternative energy in the home, not the least of which was my last electricity bill. While not outrageous, it was slightly more expensive than normal, at least enough to get my wheels turning. Secondly, here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada we are about to enter our third successive year of drought (unless we get huge amounts of precipitation shortly.) This will affect electricity production somewhat, driving up prices, not to mention the likelihood of bans on watering your lawn, washing you car, etc. On top of that, natural gas prices are currently at their highest point in a couple years, and are supposed to stay that way. And of course, all this talk of war ain't helping things much either as far as oil prices are concerned.

As you can see, saving myself money is probably the single largest motivator for me here, however I, like many residents of this planet, also have an interest in being more environmentally friendly. I have taken a few steps toward being less wasteful with energy around the house. I am putting rain barrels under the down spouts of my gutters to provide me with some extra water for the garden. I have installed a programmable thermostat to lower the heat when we are not home or are asleep. Our house is well insulated, including the basement and attached garage. Where applicable, I use timers to turn things like block heaters, xmas lights etc on and off. I turned off the "heat dry" on the dishwasher.

These measures are all the kinds of things you will find on your local gas or electric company's website. They will not inconvenience you much or cost you much money to implement. They are not individually very helpful to you economically, or to the environment, although the combined effect across millions of households would probably be more significant. What I'm interested in is something to substantially reduce my dependence on the local gas and electric company, and reduce my dependence on non-renewable resources. I'm willing to put up with more inconvenience, to a degree, and I'm also willing to spend some money up front.

So I set out on my mission to find out as much as possible about "alternative energy" and the like. I found was that there are some good options out there if you are starting from scratch (i.e. building a house), but if you are trying to reduce energy consumption in an existing house your options are really limited. Here's a short list of some of the technologies I have come across so far:

  • GeoThermal Furnaces
    Similar to the one here. Apparently some of the new homes being build in a neighbourhood near me have this kind of furnace. These furnaces heat your home using the heat in the ground and a heat exchanger. They can also be used to cool your home in the summer. Sounds like a great idea, but not very cost effective for me to retrofit in my 1 year old home.
  • Tankless Water Heaters
    Information here. The idea makes a lot of sense. You waste a lot of energy by keeping that big tank of water hot all day long. With a tankless heater, the water is heated as is passes through the unit i.e. only when you need it. Another great idea, however I'm not about to throw out my perfectly good 1 year old water heater. I may consider this option when my hot water heater packs it in 20 years from now, but even then, the tankless heaters are currently about 3 times the price of a conventional one.
  • Solar Panels
    I'm not sure why, but I had high hopes for this one. My hopes were dashed on the rocks. In January, our house used over 1000 kilowatt-hours (kWH) of electricity. According to Mr Solar and various other similar sites, in my area of the world, I can expect to generate *at best* 300 kWH of electricity/month via solar panels. And that's if I'm prepared to cough up ~$15,000 US. At that rate, it would take something like 50 years to pay for itself! Since solar panels are expected to last 15-20 years, you would never get that far!
  • Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs
    Finally, something that makes some economic sense to actually use! In case you're not familiar with these, they are fluorescent light bulbs which can be used in place of regular light bulbs. They are quite a bit more expensive that a regular light bulb, but they are typically guaranteed to last 3-5 years depending on the one you buy, and they use a lot less power. For example, I have a bunch of ceiling lights which had 2 60 watt bulbs per light when I moved in. Now they all have 1 13 watt bulb with no really noticeable difference in light output. Now obviously the savings here are negligible, but at least it's something, and there's the added bonus of not having to change a lightbulb for 3 years!

See what I mean? Out of the four products listed above, only one is economically viable for existing homeowners. Some may argue that we should be motivated by concern for the environment and not just money, unfortunately reality prevents most of us from spending $15,000 USD because we want to help the environment. I'm all for the environment really, I live near the mountains and hike, ski and camp all the time. I want to do what I can to be more environmentally friendly but I'm not willing to incur huge personal debts to do it!

I have done a fair bit to save energy without spending money, now I'm willing to spend a reasonable amount of money to take it further. What are your experiences in this realm? Surely there must be more options out there.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Related Links
o Calgary, Alberta, Canada
o here
o here [2]
o Mr Solar
o Also by johnnyfever

Display: Sort:
Alternative Energy in the Home | 193 comments (178 topical, 15 editorial, 0 hidden)
Wind? (none / 0) (#1)
by guyjin on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 02:26:12 PM EST

do you live in an area where wind power is viable?
-- 散弾銃でおうがいして ください
Yes, but $$$ (none / 0) (#13)
by johnnyfever on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 03:02:39 PM EST

One of my stated goals was to save myself money if possible. You can buy wind power off the grid here, but it costs more.

[ Parent ]
I think... (none / 0) (#60)
by redcliffe on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 10:17:48 PM EST

... what he meant was is does your area have enough wind to be viable to have your own wind generator.


[ Parent ]

CF bulbs (4.00 / 1) (#2)
by anon868 on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 02:33:37 PM EST

CF bulbs are great, and they don't have to be expensive. Ikea has a ton of different wattages of CF bulbs, mostly 4.95, even the 20 watt ones are only 6.95 and they really do save electricity. I was able to bring my electricity consumption down to summer levels (115kwh- apartment) just by using CF bulbs.

If you don't live right in the city, you might want to look into Microhydro, or wind power. Many kwh can be cheaply had using microhydro as long as you live near a stream. Also, fairly small wind turbines can be bought for reasonable prices- both should give you a cost/kwh far less than solar.

Unfortunatley, it'll all be more expensive than the 6.1c/kwh we pay Enmax. Until we start getting some kind of subsidies from the Gov't, alternative energy will always cost more than good old coal/gas/...

Also, does your PC run all day every day? Turn it off- you'll save a fortune.
Open a window. No, not that one! One made from actual glass, set in an acual wall, you dork.

Small scale water-wheels? (none / 0) (#176)
by Gooba42 on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 07:12:19 PM EST

All the water we run up the pipes and down the drains, could we recover some of the investment of all the pipes and pumping by catching some of the momentum going down the drain?

[ Parent ]
what's consuming your electricity? (4.00 / 1) (#3)
by khallow on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 02:34:16 PM EST

Here's some questions about your home if you don't mind me asking.

  1. Where do you live roughly?

  2. How large is your house?

  3. What consumes electricity for you? Ie, for that 1000 KwH consumed in January, was most of it heating, or running a farm of computers?

  4. Do you have a good view to the south? Probably do since you are considering solar power.

  5. Do you live in an area that subsidizes any sort of energy conservation or alternate power sources? Eg, California subsidizes solar power arrays.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

answers (none / 0) (#11)
by johnnyfever on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 02:55:25 PM EST

1. Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I thought the link inthe article was self explanatory 2. ~1700 sq feet 3. Good question. I turn all but one computer off unless I'm using them. I don't have electric heat. 4. Yes 5. No

[ Parent ]
Living in Canada... (none / 0) (#20)
by segonds on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:07:24 PM EST

1. Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I thought the link inthe article was self explanatory

The link is not enough apparently as at least two comments are wondering where you are living. :-)

As this link does not bring much to the article, you may want to replace it and a direct reference to Calgary.

[ Parent ]

Good idea (none / 0) (#22)
by johnnyfever on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:11:16 PM EST

Done. Thanks!

[ Parent ]
Sorry, missed that link. (5.00 / 3) (#24)
by khallow on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:34:27 PM EST

1. Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I thought the link inthe article was self explanatory

Once you told me what to look for, I found it. Sorry about that. Anyway, I'm going to start by considering the conservation possibilities. The less power you consume, then the less that alternate sources have to supply. Part of the reason for my focus is that 1000 KwH is typical for large houses (er, rule of thumb I've heard, average single-family housing used 925KwH per month according to this US Dept of Energy report), but generally these have some heating or cooling demands on the electricity as well. So you seem a little high.

Hmmm, 1700 sq feet is a good sized house. Don't use electric heat? Water heater is new too. So unless the hot water pipes are insulated poorly, I don't think you're losing much in the way of electricity from heating your home or water.

Here's some ideas. First, you probably should get a good idea of how much power your house draws when you aren't doing anything unusual. Ie, a power "audit". Leave the usual lights on, TV's or entertaining running, etc. Then go out back at look at your meter (I assume it's similar to most US meters). You can tell from how fast it's spinning, the rate of power consumption. This meter is a pretty handy device for that. If you want to test individual rooms, then go switch stuff on and off at the circuit breaker. A 1 watt device that is always on consumes 0.72 KwH over a 30 day month. This goes in particular for such things as "vampire" devices - chargers and adaptors that remain plugged in indefinitely. If you had a 100 W lightbulb always on, then that's 72 KwH a month! A 100 W appliance that is on for a third of a day every day, still consumes 24 KwH.

Here's some other things that can suck up the juice. You know about computers - particularly ones that are left on all the time. Clothes washers and dryers are a possible source. There are lower power versions of these if you need them, but that depends in part on how often you use them.

Food preparation. If your household cooks a lot, that could be a significant source of consumption. Generally, cooking your own meals is efficient in a lot of ways. I consider it a good use of power for the most part. You might consider purchasing a small toaster and/or microwave, if say you cook small meals in the (possibly electric) oven. About the most significant power saving moves in the kitchen is to leave the oven (when in use) and refrigerator doors closed as much as possible.

Getting up in the morning. Hair dryers, curlers, and numerous other get-up-in-the-morning gizmos can really draw the juice, especially if you use them every day. Not much to say here, except make sure the stuff is off and unplugged when not in use. For example, a 1500 watt hair dryer used for 6 minutes a day sucks up 4.5 KwH over a 30 day month. If you have something that takes a while to heat up, then it might be worthwhile to buy a more expensive version, if that cuts down on the warm-up time.

You can get a good idea of how much power your household draws at particular times just by strolling out to that electricity meter at the appropriate time.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Good Suggestion! (none / 0) (#27)
by johnnyfever on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:45:11 PM EST

I had not thought of auditing my current situation using the meter. Are the pretty self explanatory to read?

[ Parent ]
sometimes (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by khallow on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 05:04:24 PM EST

The ones I've looked at are pretty easy to read. Don't know about Canadian meters, but they can't be that different or hard to read. One thing that is possible is that they have a multiplier (eg, factor of 10). So if 123 units pass on the meter, it might actually be 1230 KwH due to a multiplier by 10. You should be able to figure it out with a little effort. If not, bug your power company. :-)

The spinning wheel is real handy (if you got one, you'll know) because you can measure really small amounts of power by clocking how faster the wheel takes to make a revolution. As I recall, in the meters I saw, 1 unit was one complete revolution of that wheel. Very handy!

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

1000 KwH is a lot even for Alberta (none / 0) (#102)
by chigaze on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 10:40:04 AM EST

I live in Edmonton (north of Calgary for those of you not familiar with Alberta) in a 75 year old, 1350 sq. ft, poorly insulated house. We typically consume less than 500 KwH a month. We've been as low as 300 KwH but we just had twins so we're keeping the house warmer, have been spending a lot of time awake all night, and are doing a lot more laundry. We also have two to four computers and associated network devices running at any one time. As a reference point Epcor (local power company) has the average energy usage in Edmonton at 550 KwH per month. 1000 KwH sounds really high.

Note also that standard gas furnaces do consume a great deal of electricity when they operating through running the fan. When we bought our house the first thing we did was replace the furnance with a top of the line high efficiency one. By using a variable speed fan motor and variable burner settings there is a significant cut to gas and electricity use. Estimate on electricity is up $300 per year savings.

We've also switched our high usage lights to compact flourescents, bought a front loading washing machine and rarely use our cloths dryer. The washing machine helps with this as it has a 1200 RPM final spin the leaves the cloths next to dry.

Future plans are to replace the fridge with a new all-fridge (no freezer compartment) and get a small chest freezer for the basement. Standard fridges lose efficiency running both a freezer and a fridge while chest freezers don't lose cold air when they're opened.

Finally, if you haven't yet you might want to check out the Solar Energy Society's Alberta Chapter.

-- Stop Global Whining
[ Parent ]
As you've discovered (4.00 / 3) (#4)
by wiredog on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 02:35:24 PM EST

It's better, or more economical anyway, to build a new house with efficiency built in than it is to retrofit.

More insulation, and better air infiltration and draft resistance, requires taking off the walls. Or doing it before the walls go on. The same for low-e coatings on windows.

You can reduce your kwh by going to lower energy light bulbs and appliances.

Geothermal heat pumps are very efficient, but you need to dig up the yard to install them.

Once all that is done, then you can run the house on solar. Umm. If you aren't trying to watch TV, use the PC, and wash all your clothes simultaneously. It has the added benefit of providing very clean (electrically) power. PCs love solar power. Nice and smooth.

Some disadvantages of solar are: The need for environmentally unfriendly (to produce) batteries. The need to live in an area that gets lots of sun. The need to cover the entire roof with panels, and possibly part of the yard. The panels themselves are basically created using the same processes and chemicals as chip fabs, which are very environmentally unfriendly.

Wilford Brimley scares my chickens.
Phil the Canuck

Corrections (5.00 / 1) (#6)
by DesiredUsername on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 02:47:45 PM EST

Low-e windows do not require taking off the walls. Any window replacements require removing the molding and perhaps the frame, but a) that's not specific to low-e and b) that has little to do with the wall. I'm thinking about doing it myself, one by one. I doubt I'll even need to repaint.

You may not have to dig up the yard for the geothermal heat pump. Read an article a few weeks ago about a vertical shaft kind, don't know what restrictions it might have.

If you use solar panels, there's no need to power the whole house that way or even store the energy in batteries. You won't save as much, but solar electricity and "regular" electricity are identical and can be mixed with no problem.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]

Modified corrected corrections (none / 0) (#10)
by wiredog on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 02:54:42 PM EST

OK, you may not have to take off the walls to put in new windows. If they're the same size (or smaller) as the ones being replaced. My bad.

Two types of geothermal heat pump. One uses pipes buried below the frost line, the other uses ground water pumped up through a well, and pumped back down. The latter sometimes requires special permits, as you're injecting used water1 into the ground.

Solar is DC, regular power is AC.

1. Yes, the only "use" was to move heat in or out of it, but local codes often trail technology.

Wilford Brimley scares my chickens.
Phil the Canuck

[ Parent ]

Pumps and power (none / 0) (#21)
by DesiredUsername on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:07:26 PM EST

I've never heard of a geothermal heat pump that pumped ground water. The two kinds I've heard of are literally-geo and non-literally-geo. That is, buried pipe and submerged pipe (in a pond or suchlike). The new kind I'm talking about is a pipe buried but in a vertical shaft instead of snaking around the yard. ALL of these systems are sealed and exchange nothing but heat with the environment.

As for AC vs DC: You've never heard of an inverter? Even some all-solar homes use them. Makes it simpler to use off-the-shelf electrical equipment, like radios.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]

Closed loop vs open loop (none / 0) (#83)
by bigbird on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 02:13:39 AM EST

Depending how you define it, there are four geothermal sources:
  1. Open loop, surface water - this would be like using a pond, or a lake. Most people cannot do this.
  2. Closed loop, horizontal - this would be a (few) hundred metres of pipe, placed below the frost line. Common, cheap (before you landscape your yard)
  3. Open loop, groundwater - install two groundwater wells, pump from one, extracting heat (or dumping heat in the summer), dump the water into the second well for groundwater recharge. Big downside is mineralization in your system, the need for permits, and potential impacts on local groundwater quality.
  4. Closed loop, vertical - a few 50-100m deep vertical wells, each of which has a plastic pipe in a loop configuration. The wells are typically sealed with a bentonite grout to minimize the potential for contamination of aquifers, thoroughly purged of all air, and filled with the coolant/heat transfer fluid.
I looked into this a bit last month. Even with a screamin' deal on the drilling (save 30% on well installation from a driller I know), I would still be looking at CDN$12-15k. On an existing house with a working natural gas furnace and wood pellet stove, the payback is likely in the 8-10 year range, possibly in the 5-7 year range when one accounts for the air conditioning and hot water heating.

As far as local codes trailing technology, dream on. Groundwater use for drinking water trumps every other use, and non-consumptive uses such as geothermal heating cannot be permitted to impair groundwater quality. I fully expect open loop systems to be banned, and replaced entirely by closed loop systems.

[ Parent ]

Storage (none / 0) (#65)
by cpt kangarooski on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 12:06:15 AM EST

Actually, I've been interested in using flywheels for power storage instead of batteries. The technology certainly seems as though it'd have more potential than lead acid, though I suppose you would want to sink it below floor level a bit so that if the wheel shattered it didn't chop off your knees. ;)

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]
Whoops and one more (none / 0) (#7)
by DesiredUsername on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 02:49:46 PM EST

A solar panel produces more energy over it's life than what would take to clean up after itself, so it's still a net benefit. And with the discovery that the bandgap numbers for iridium...arsenide?...were wrong, we may see a jump from 10-15% efficiency to 70-80% efficiency, reducing the panel acreage significantly.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Wow... (none / 0) (#57)
by GhostfacedFiddlah on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 09:48:27 PM EST

You pulling my leg?  70-80% efficiency?  There'd be no reason for people not to switch over to solar if that were the case.  Our article-writing friend here wouldn't just have enough energy to run his house (even in Canada) - but enough to sell some back.

Of course, then you'd be getting all the environmentalists complaining that cities covered in solar panels are trapping too much solar heat and causing a local cooling effect and killing the local ecosystem.  Ah well - the grass had it coming, I say.

[ Parent ]

That's okay (none / 0) (#85)
by Gromit on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 02:58:22 AM EST

Of course, then you'd be getting all the environmentalists complaining that cities covered in solar panels are trapping too much solar heat and causing a local cooling effect...
That's okay, it'll offset our city heating effect. ;-) Assuming, that is, that solar panels do absorb more heat than your typical asphalt roof, which I don't think they do...

Of course, if we could just get everyone to install sedum roofs, we could offset the city heating effect -- but then we wouldn't get the power... Choices, choices...

"The noble art of losing face will one day save the human race." - Hans Blix

[ Parent ]
Yes (none / 0) (#95)
by DesiredUsername on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 08:55:27 AM EST

Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the compound that had it's bandgap adjusted and can't find the story now. The best I can find is 40% but that's still 2-3 times better than what we have now and, I think, puts it within the breakeven point for people in the South.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
That would depend a lot on (none / 0) (#98)
by porkchop_d_clown on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 09:17:30 AM EST

the cost of the material, its environmental effects and how long it lasts...

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him go off the high dive.

[ Parent ]
I wish I could find that damn link (none / 0) (#103)
by DesiredUsername on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 10:44:38 AM EST

It was actually cheaper and safer than what we use now. IIRC.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Just Links (5.00 / 1) (#120)
by achtanelion on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 02:53:20 PM EST

Indium Nitride: http://www.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/MSD-full-spectrum-solar-cell.html
That Other Site on silicon rectennas: http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/01/08/0323237&mode=thread

[ Parent ]
That's it (none / 0) (#125)
by DesiredUsername on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 03:54:14 PM EST

I keep remembering it as "iridium" instead of "indium".

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Aside regarding city heat. (none / 0) (#111)
by cdyer on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 01:24:28 PM EST

Apparently, one of the biggest causes of excess heat in cities is the popularity of black or dark colored tile on roofs.  In boston, maybe 2 years ago, the city announced that they were encouraging public buildings (schools, government buildings, apartments, etc.) and anyone else interested in helping, to switch to light colored, white or light gray, tiling to reduce the amount of heat trapped in the city.  I don'tthink they passed any laws, but it was nice to see them taking some sort of interest.


[ Parent ]

Yes, Neglecting the Logarithmic Scale. (3.00 / 1) (#67)
by rasmoh on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 12:20:13 AM EST

While the measured values you stated were correct, your interpretation was incorrect.  The electrical efficiency of a closed system is indicated using a logarithmic scale.  This kind of scale is not common outside of scientific circles, hence your (excusable) mistake.

A little algebra (apoligies to those without higher math) shows the what the increases would be in your common decimal(sp?) system:

10% = .10
.10 = log x
10^(.10) = x
x = 1.25(%)

70% = .70
.70 = log x
10^(.70) = x
x = 5.01(%)

Hope that clears things up.  Always glad to give someone a little exposure to the perfect sciences.

'Twas the pride of the peaches.
[ Parent ]

Fridges, Wind, and just a few PVs (none / 0) (#9)
by flarg on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 02:52:34 PM EST

You say you are from Calgary. There is alot of wind up there, and you should check into some local resources for wind turbine generators (windmills). Even with the snow, windmills are becoming common in areas like Canada, France and Germany. Wind turbines are way cheaper then Solar Photovoltaic Panels, often costing 1/3 for the same energy generation ability, and they function at night and under a cloudy sky. However, they also require alot of space.

To get the biggest energy efficiency bang for your buck, the best thing to do is replace your larger appliances. For example: A new fridge uses a fraction of the electricity of a fridge built  in the 1980's. Replacing it can save you hundreds of dollars in a few years (I bought a fridge 6 months ago, and I've already saved $100 in energy costs). Now check out your clothes washer and dryer, your heater, your television. There are dozens of places where you can save energy.

Solar is still a pipedream for most. It has great potential if we can overcome some obsticals (Price being the big one, but that's related to better, cheaper materials, cheaper batteries/fuel cells, cheaper inverters, better manufacturing techniques, etc). What's needed here is research to help overcome those barriers.

Remember to not pigeonhole yourself. You don't need to generate electricity for your entire house. You could just start with a few panels to generate a few hundred watts. Add an inverter, several batteries, and reroute a few circuits in your home, and you can have a decent backup electicity system.

You'll reduce your energy load on the system, and it could be a fun educational activity. If you plan it right, you can design a system that can grow over time.

Good suggestion, but.... (none / 0) (#12)
by johnnyfever on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 03:00:44 PM EST

Unfortunately, I live in the 'burbs. Building a windmill in my back yard would probably result in a visit from the local bylaw officer.

[ Parent ]
Other ideas: insulate, windows (none / 0) (#15)
by flarg on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 03:12:53 PM EST

Probably the best course for you would be to look at better insulation and replace any energy sucking appliances.

If you are serious about alternative energy, then you need to reduce your energy load first. I've had friends who were looking at $15,000 for solar panels, but were able to reduce that number to $10,000 by adding insulation, replacing the windows, and replacing some appliances. Still expensive, but their energy bill is pretty low (Before the solar panels: US$60 per month for electicity and gas, where the average is $120).

How old is your house?

The former owners of my 1942-built house hired someone to blow in foam insulation between the studs in the walls, added 18 inches of insulation in the attic, and added big swathes of fiberglass insulation between the floor studs. Other houses on my block were built at the same time by the same developer, and many of them don't have insulation, and those houses are COLD!

Next, we need to replace all of the single-pane aluminum frame windows (1960s! Let's replace all of our wood frame windows with heat-transferring-Aluminum! yeah!) with something better insulating like double-pane with vinyl or wood frame.

[ Parent ]

yup (none / 0) (#16)
by johnnyfever on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 03:17:36 PM EST

I will certainly look at more energy efficient appliances as they need to be replaced. Our house is only a year old, so the windows and insulation are pretty good. I even insulated the attached garage when I moved in.

[ Parent ]
You're pretty set! (none / 0) (#18)
by flarg on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 03:30:46 PM EST

That's good. My house is 60 years old and has drafts everywhere. We're slowly sealing them up, but I'm really seeing the value of a new house :)

[ Parent ]
my bill vs. friend's (none / 0) (#19)
by johnnyfever on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 03:36:34 PM EST

A good friend of mine has a house that was built in 1905. His bills are typically more than double what I pay (in the winter anyways!)

That just blows me away, I find it expensive enough in a relatively efficient home!

[ Parent ]

Another idea: Solar water heating (none / 0) (#17)
by flarg on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 03:29:21 PM EST

I'm not a big fan of those 'tankless water heaters', but alot of it depends on the lifestyle.

Traditional gas heaters make more sense if you have people in your house most of the day. If the tankless water heater is on all the time, you'll spend too much money heating the wter.

I think tankless water heaters only make sense if your house is empty or if the hot water goes unused for a long time (If everyone is at work or school, for example).

Something else you may want to look into is solar water heaters. These are not the same Photovoltaic electricty-generating panels. These are simple "pass the water through the solar collector, and store the hot water in an insulated tank" systems. You can buy many of these systems for < US$3000 (And I think $3000 is top of the line).

These systems can preheat the water before it gets to your gas water heater, so you spend less money on using gas to heat the water.

One system that is getting popular here is a combination of the tankless water heating system with a solar heating system. You heat the water through the solar panels, and it's stored in a tank. If the water is not hot enough, the 'tankless' instant water heating system kicks in to heat the water sufficiently.

[ Parent ]

Yes!! (none / 0) (#37)
by RaveWar on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 05:39:04 PM EST

Maybe as a tech site the readers feel that solar panels mean photovoltaic panels as a matter of course, but the water heaters really do work: they boost the temperature of water in the normal tank so mean the existing system has to work less hard.

Otherwise two homes owned by people im my family would not be so fitted, and this is in the UK.
We don't need freedom. We don't need love.
We want Superpower, Ultraviolence.
[ Parent ]

Agreed (4.00 / 1) (#79)
by flarg on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 01:25:34 AM EST

I'll go one up.

I grew up in sunny Central California, and my family has been using Solar Heating exclusively for 9 months out of the year since 1980. No gas heating for 9 months. Never had a single cold shower (water got up to 130 in the tank).

It worked so seemlessly, I forgot that we had it until this moment.

The Technology behind Solar Water heating has not changed much in more then a century. Biggest changes are the quality of materials, and these new closed-loop systems that use antifreeze in one loop, and water in the second loop.

[ Parent ]

Tankless heaters are almost always a win (none / 0) (#63)
by fluffy grue on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 11:22:24 PM EST

Even if the hot water is used heavily, the amount of energy it takes to heat up the water on a momentary basis is the same as the amount of energy it takes to heat up the water on a stored basis, but it doesn't have to apply heat except when the water is flowing.

Of course, this assumes the same level of energy efficiency in the heating itself, but I have a feeling that even if the tankless heater is only half as efficient at actually heating the water, it'd still be more efficient overall, even if the water is used nearly constantly.
"Is a hyperlink" is a hyperlink.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

Cats: Nature's entropy generators

[ [ Parent ]

Maybe you're right (none / 0) (#72)
by flarg on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 12:45:01 AM EST

I was probably thinking of Gas Water Heaters vs. Electric on-demand heaters.

Unfortunately, I'm having trouble locating any evidence to support either side :(

Here's some info, which basically says "The US DOE has not published any research".


The on-demand heaters that I have used in Europe are pretty bad at maintaining a constant, hot temperature. This was in Czech Republic and Austria, where income levels are less then here, so they might have been on the lower end. "hot" water was usually 80-95F. I want my 105F water, and lots of it!

Never tried them in Germany or Switzerland (Or maybe I did try them but never noticed because they worked great).

[ Parent ]

Gas will always win out for water heating (none / 0) (#113)
by fluffy grue on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 01:52:41 PM EST

Compare apples to apples.

The only direct experience I've had with on-demand heating was a gas demand-heater in Hong Kong, which was absolutely heavenly.
"Is a hyperlink" is a hyperlink.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

Cats: Nature's entropy generators

[ [ Parent ]

As long as you have it.. (none / 0) (#157)
by ajduk on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 04:28:18 AM EST

US natural gas is getting a bit tight..

Especially if you look at what's happening to prices:

Natural gas is an excellent, clean fuel for the home. Which is why using it to generate electricity (when we have many ways of generating electricity already) is so bloody short sighted.

[ Parent ]

true, but: (none / 0) (#170)
by fluffy grue on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 02:39:41 PM EST

Natural gas isn't quite as scarce as the utilities want you to think. There are other ways of getting it without finding it in natural pockets. For example, the wastewater treatment plant in Albuquerque generates all of their own power from the gases harvested from the waste. Surely there'd be a way to efficiently harvest gas production from, say, cow farms - like, before they sell the manure, they could perform a similar extraction process on it (rather than letting it just outgas into the atmosphere or whatever they do now).
"Is a hyperlink" is a hyperlink.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

Cats: Nature's entropy generators

[ [ Parent ]

My gas bill doesn't show that (none / 0) (#173)
by Eric Green on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 05:21:14 PM EST

When my gas bill for heating water (the only thing hooked to my gas meter) rises above $15 per month, then, and *only* then, will I believe in "tight" supplies and "rising" prices.

No, I don't have an ultra-efficient water heater (just a cheap piece of junk 8 year old 40 gallon unit). Yes, I take long hot showers. I do have the water temperature turned down to about 110 degrees, but that's mere prudence. And I still don't have a problem with my gas bill...
You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
[ Parent ]

Another possibility (4.00 / 1) (#119)
by DaChesserCat on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 02:50:35 PM EST

Just a quick question. Since most places charge more for electricity during "peak hours," and less for electricity "off-peak," would there be an advantage to putting in some batteries and a charge controller, simply to reduce peak-usage and save money?

In my area, during the "peak months" (May - August), electricity is 6.5 cents/kWh during off-peak, and 10.5 cents/kWh during peak. If you could charge up a few kWh worth of batteries during the night, and use them during the peak time, you could save some money. Let's say you save about 5 kWh per day, eliminating your need to draw power from the grid during the peak times. That's saving 4 cents/kWh * 5 kWh/day * 30 days * 4 months. That's $48 dollars saved per year. How long would it take to pay off something like that?

You'd have two additional benefits. If you have nasty weather moving in, you could tell the system to start charging, so you'd have lights if the grid failed. IOW, the house would have a UPS. I'm sure people in California would appreciate this. The other benefit is that you could add small-scale wind or solar power later on, without having to cough up the whole amount up front. Most solar or wind systems seem to include something like this; the people who are living "off-grid" most certainly do.

Might this be a way to get started?

Trains stop at train stations Busses stop at bus stations A windows workstation . . .
[ Parent ]
Large scale geo-thermal systems? (none / 0) (#14)
by Pop Top on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 03:03:35 PM EST

This is a question - not a comment.

I was driving through Chicago the other day and saw this great big lake next to several large public buildings such as Navy Pier, the Adler Planetarium and McCormick Place.

I was wondering - could the City utilize open loop geothermal to heat and cool large buildings like these by drawing water from the bottom of Lake Michigan? Even in the middle of summer, the water temperature 8 feet below the surface is usually in the 40s (Fahrenheit).


Large scale (none / 0) (#48)
by DesiredUsername on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 06:33:21 PM EST

The school in my hometown uses geothermal heating. That's medium scale at least. OTOH, I hear they have problems with it. From the description it sounds like terrible HVAC control (i.e. the thermostats don't work) so I don't know if geothermal, or the companies that install it, can really be blamed.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
this reminds me (none / 0) (#84)
by ryochiji on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 02:39:14 AM EST

This reminds me of a cooling system installed in some building in Tokyo that was ecnomical (but not necessarily ecological).  Basically, they installed a huge pool on top of the building that was cooled during the night when electricity was cheaper.  Then, during the day, the rest of the building was cooled using that big cold tank of water.

Again, this was just cheaper, not more efficient.  Although, using some large body of water would probably be efficient and cheaper...  On the other hand, I wonder what the environmental factors would be.  There's gotta be some ramification if you're sucking cold water out of a lake and dumping it back in a few degrees warmer (of course, Lake Michigan is pretty darn big, but who knows?).

IlohaMail: Webmail that works.
[ Parent ]

Ice block (none / 0) (#193)
by pyro9 on Fri Mar 07, 2003 at 07:30:36 PM EST

Ages ago, I saw a test house with a huge water tank under it. The heat pump was set up to move heat between the house and the water only. All winter, it would slowly freeze the water. In summer, naturally it melted the ice.

I'm not sure what became of that idea, but the cost of such a large water tank probably had something to do with it.

The future isn't what it used to be
[ Parent ]
Toronto is doing this (none / 0) (#109)
by doconnor on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 12:03:50 PM EST

They have been working on something like this for Toronto for several years. Here is a link discussing it.

[ Parent ]

Passive Solar (5.00 / 4) (#25)
by FlamingoJeff on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:41:01 PM EST

If you have any south-facing windows, provide some sort of heat sink to collect and store heat during the daylight hours. Attractively decorated rocks or concrete blocks work quite well. We just moved to a house in Wisconsin with a south-facing greenhouse/spa on the ground floor. The floor is brick with several feet of sand beneath. Even on sub-freezing days, the temperature rises rapidly in the greenhouse. A simple through-wall fan system with two thermostats, regulates whether heat is sent from the greenhouse to the house or vice versa. Although I've not yet done any controlled tests, warm air seems to come into the house at a higher rate than heated air is needed in the greenhouse.
Progressives for Bush
Great Excuse to Build a Solarium! (none / 0) (#33)
by johnnyfever on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 05:00:34 PM EST

Unfortunately, it's the front of my house that faces South. In my case, the front of the house is mostly garage. I would love a solarium, but I couldn't fit it on the south facing part of the house :(

[ Parent ]
What about a small solarium around the front door? (5.00 / 1) (#49)
by flarg on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 06:50:14 PM EST

Some people build small front 'shoe room' solariums.

Couple plants, a bench, and it's a great place to remove your shoes, or to read a book on a sunny-but-cold-day. Since the solarium would be warmer then the rest of the outdoors, when you open your main front door, you'd loose less heat.

But Calgary in the winter, not sure if this would make much difference.

[ Parent ]

Alternative energy (3.00 / 2) (#26)
by imrdkl on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:41:13 PM EST

At the single-dwelling scale is not going to be cost effective for awhile longer, I imagine. There are likely good kits you can buy relatively cheap, if you can harvest wind there where you live (and the neighbors don't mind the tower in your backyard), but unless you have a river running through your property, that's likely your only option right now other than those you've named.

If you've got beachfront property, you may have one other option, namely wave power, but that's not commercially available yet either. But maybe soon.

My energy bills have skyrocketed too (5.00 / 2) (#30)
by maynard on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:49:40 PM EST

I recently purchased a 100yo house with a large amount of south side roof and have been tinkering with the idea of retrofitting either a thermal solar system, or grid connected PV. The more I look the more I realize it's just not cost effective yet. When I can buy PV shingles from Home Depot, and easily find a contractor/electrician on the open market who has experience in obtaining the necessary permits I'll reconsider. For the moment I've decided to turn the heat down to 58F when I'm out and put on a sweater with the heat at 65F when I'm home.

One point: someone is bound to claim that PV cells don't generate enough energy over the course of their life to justify the energy expense of manufacture. This should dispel that myth. Author claims an energy ROI within 3.5 years at 4.7 hours of sunlight per day for SC-Si cells. Interesting link.


Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.

SCSI Solar Cells? (none / 0) (#122)
by ebonkyre on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 03:01:19 PM EST

And I thought SCSI printers were strange...

Seriously, this site also has some good info about the hows and whys of PV: Southwest Photovoltaic

I don't have any experience with this company, but their site goes into detail about efficiency, direct sunlight vs overcast skies, effective lifespan, etc...

"Time is an abstract concept devised by carbon-based lifeforms to monitor their ongoing decay."
-- Thundercleese
[ Parent ]

SC-Si = Single Crystalline Silicon /nt (none / 0) (#134)
by maynard on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 05:03:46 PM EST

No Text.

Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.
[ Parent ]
Take a lesson from the rich Americans (2.37 / 16) (#31)
by jabber on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 04:51:57 PM EST

The rich in America are not stupid. If they were, they would not stay rich for very long. While they make vastly more money, and maintain their wealth primarily through investments, they do also take heed of household economics.

For example, why spend hundreds of dollars on a new, energy efficient dishwasher from General Electric, when an older, 40 year old one from Mexico will do the job in much less time - and he or she will also serve as a babysitter, so you don't have to buy another television set.

Why buy a riding mower from Sears, when you can just hire a few migrants to use that classic helical push-mower you keep in the shed. It saves you time, and space since you do not have to store the riding mower in your garage. You also save money by not having to repaint your car - since if you had a big riding mower, you'd invariably, eventually, bump into it with the Lexus.

And farther still, you provide a valuable humanitarian service to the workers, who without this opportunity to exercise, would likely sit around and get drunk. Honestly, without your contribution, the only exercise any of them would get would be from beating their wives and children. This way, it's a win-win.

You can save a lot of money, and keep the environment a little greener, by not driving to the grocery store each time you need something. Instead, have it delivered. The delivery truck only has to make one trip, for all it's customers. And it will run that route anyway, so you might as well take advantage of the convenience.

It's the little things that make all the difference. And remember, always keep some cake on hand, in case you run out of bread.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

good point (4.00 / 3) (#39)
by FoG tps12 on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 05:47:20 PM EST

You also provide those workers with income, so it's even a triple win.

tps12 of the Fighters of Gore
[ Parent ]
Income? (3.50 / 2) (#50)
by Andy P on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 06:59:13 PM EST

Your joking right?  I just threaten to report them to the INS, and they do it for free.

[ Parent ]
*LOL* /NT (1.00 / 1) (#45)
by Pholostan on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 06:25:25 PM EST

- And blood tears I cry Endless grief remained inside
[ Parent ]
Biomass (3.66 / 3) (#36)
by ageing hippie on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 05:38:40 PM EST

I forget exactly where I read it but there has been an advance in the area of biomass science, (I think a Japannese uni), they have bred some long lived super efficient bacteria that digest household waste. It's two or three years from comercial production but it's a consideration
Fool me once shame on you, Fool me twice shame on me
Record timing (1.50 / 2) (#44)
by flarg on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 06:24:11 PM EST

This article is heading to the front page now at about 3:20. It was first posted at 1:20.

Record time for an article posting?

Not likely (en tea) (none / 0) (#51)
by krogoth on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 07:07:22 PM EST

"If you've never removed your pants and climbed into a tree to swear drunkenly at stuck-up rich kids, I highly recommend it."
[ Parent ]
On a somewhat related note... (3.00 / 1) (#52)
by rantweasel on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 08:01:03 PM EST

Oberlin College recently built an Environmental Studies building.  Although it hasn't quite lived up to it's ideal, it's an interesting attempt at making a building that places a minimal burden on the local power, water, or sewage systems.  The features you can build in when you are thinking about energy needs at the start are pretty cool, even if they need more time to mature.


Tankless water heaters (none / 0) (#54)
by fluffy grue on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 08:45:53 PM EST

Many countries where space is at a premium (like Hong Kong and France) use tankless water heaters almost exclusively these days, and in those places, the tankless heaters are just as cheap as the tank ones are here. They don't really replace a full water heater, though... they really need to be setup in a way such that you have one heater per water-using room. This has the nice side-effect that it becomes even more energy-efficient, though, because it doesn't end up having to heat the pipes through the whole house either (which also means that you don't have to wait as long for the shower to heat up).
"Is a hyperlink" is a hyperlink.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

Cats: Nature's entropy generators


Europe (none / 0) (#71)
by epepke on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 12:35:34 AM EST

Tankless water heaters are quite common in all of Europe. One of the things that makes them attractive is the 240-volt standard electricity. It is simply easier to pump enough power out of a wire with the higher voltage. Shower heaters are often small boxes mounted in the shower iteslf (I hope it's grounded!)

Of course, there's a disadvantage to this. Vacuum cleaners are the size of Sherman tanks compared to the U.S. and Canada. You just need more iron for a conventional motor at that voltage.

Power in the U.S. and Canada usually comes in as 234-volt 2-phase. If I were building a house, I'd simultaneously wire it with 117 volts using North American outlets and 234 volts using British grounded outlets.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
I wonder... (none / 0) (#76)
by goonie on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 01:18:35 AM EST

how much electricity is wasted in the US due to the extra losses with 110 volt domestic wiring compared to 220 or 240 volt wiring.

In the old days I suppose 110 was safer, but with a residual current interrupter 240 volts is reasonably safe (touch wood).

[ Parent ]

Probably not much (none / 0) (#78)
by epepke on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 01:25:28 AM EST

Probably not much is wasted, since the U.S. went back to copper. There was a time when a lot of aluminum wire was used, and there was a fair amount of loss then, which occasionally showed up as fires.

A lot more energy is wasted through uncorrected power factors. However, there isn't a lot of impetus toward fixing this, as the standard electric meters don't go any slower when the power factor is corrected.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
Huh? (none / 0) (#138)
by goonie on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 05:18:24 PM EST

Sorry, I'm CS, not EE. What's a power factor, and how is energy wasted because of uncorrected ones?

[ Parent ]
Google is your friend (none / 0) (#142)
by epepke on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 05:54:37 PM EST

Try this.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
Gas powered water heaters (none / 0) (#89)
by spung on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 05:27:51 AM EST

I've never seen Electricity powered Water heaters, where I live Gas powered Water heaters seem more common.

And you don't want one of those in your shower, because they emit a lot of monoxide carbon. They must have proper ventilation. A whole family died because of too much monoxide carbon inside the house a few days ago in my country. :\

Also, I think the water tanks around here are Electricity powered. And IIRC they are even more dangerous because the water is compressed. A fire or something would turn it into a small(?) bomb.

[ Parent ]

Compressed Water? (none / 0) (#92)
by YesNoCancel on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 07:56:06 AM EST

As far as I know, water cannot be significantly compressed.

[ Parent ]
well, something like that (none / 0) (#114)
by spung on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 01:59:56 PM EST

It's under high pressure.


[ Parent ]

Incompressible fluids and high pressure (none / 0) (#144)
by epepke on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 05:59:43 PM EST

Incompressible fluids can be under high pressure without being compressed. But there won't be any "explosion" if something ruptures, becuase it isn't compressed.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
Well, I guess it's a myth. Sorry. [nt] (none / 0) (#169)
by spung on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 11:08:17 AM EST

[ Parent ]
If it makes you feel any better (none / 0) (#180)
by epepke on Thu Feb 27, 2003 at 02:21:28 AM EST

Small leaks could squirt out at high velocity and scald the flesh off your bones.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
Gas-fired (none / 0) (#91)
by melia on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 07:54:59 AM EST

we have a gas-fired tankless heater in our rented student house, i find it a lot better than the tank we used to have at home because you can get hot water at whatever time. It seems as though every house i've been to built or redecorated in the past 5 years has one.
Disclaimer: All of the above is probably wrong
[ Parent ]
going green is not cheap (5.00 / 1) (#55)
by zzzeek on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 08:52:52 PM EST

The issue you're having is that your primary motivation factor is immediate monetary savings, which has no particular connection to a conservationist/environmentalist motivation. Here in New York they have even halted some of the recycling measures that were in place for a number of years as it is cheaper for them to just have people throw glass jars away than to recycle them.

Lets face it, the system of energy and manufacturing that is overwhelmingly pervasive is: burn stuff from that comes from the earth, let the carbon emissions go into the air, throw whatever you dont need into landfills or burn that too. The industrial, political, and economic structures that comprise this system are massive, highly intractable (see: the White House as an example of the very tip), and have been in place for many decades. Alternative systems are simply of far too small a scale to compete economically, at this point.

Unfortunately I cannot propose a simple solution to changing this, though to me the most obvious would be, a general shift of public opinion that ultimately affects the political and industrial leadership of this nation (and others), which motivates a shifting of the energy/manufacturing infrastructure towards a refined system based on an adjusted set of priorities that include conservation (and I would suppose profits as well, though the earth cares little for profit). This would have to occur at scales far higher than what individual homeowners can do at this time, since homeowners can generally only operate within the confines of these much larger infrastructures.

I find it hard to believe that if we put 10% of the amount of corporate research that we put into making a meg of ram one thousanth the cost that it was 15 years ago, we could not make similar improvements into technologies like solar and the like.

not the same room for improvement (none / 0) (#58)
by khallow on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 09:57:37 PM EST

I find it hard to believe that if we put 10% of the amount of corporate research that we put into making a meg of ram one thousanth the cost that it was 15 years ago, we could not make similar improvements into technologies like solar and the like.

I just don't think there's the same room for improvement in alternate energy technologies. But there still is a lot of potential (in orders of magnitude) for improving electronics and integrated circuits. And the markets are bigger for integrated circuits.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

what?? (3.50 / 2) (#80)
by Greyshade on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 01:35:46 AM EST

Are you trying to imply that burning sludge from dead things is the most efficent and cleanest form of energy we can harness?

As for the market, how many people do you know that don't use power?

[ Parent ]

No, I'm not (5.00 / 1) (#115)
by khallow on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 02:08:39 PM EST

Are you trying to imply that burning sludge from dead things is the most efficent and cleanest form of energy we can harness?

Where did that come from? I'm just pointing out that, for example, solar cells probably max out currently at an efficiency of 20-25% of the maximum possible (excluding thermodynamic considerations whihc cut it a little further). That means a factor of 4 or 5 improvement possible in the efficiency of solar power (although cost of production needs a lot of work). I believe integrated circuits still have a few more orders of magnitude of performance to go.

Let's look at other comparisons. Fuel cells and light emitting diodes? They are within a factor of 2 of the maximum possible efficiency as is the gasoline engine. Hydroelectric and geothermal are already pretty much there, ie, they can't get much more efficient.

As for the market, how many people do you know that don't use power?

The IC market is probably as big as the energy market and just as influential. Further, it has a lot more room for improvement.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

being stingy can be energy efficient, too (5.00 / 3) (#77)
by clover_kicker on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 01:18:50 AM EST

Jimbo (a buddy of mine) just built a house. We're on the Canadian East Coast, so we know all about cold winters.

Jimbo is definitely not a "greenie". He hates hippies and environmentalists, their whole attitude/approach/appearance just enrages him. He's the kind of guy who refuses to buy a can of tunafish that has a "dolphin friendly" sticker on it, just on principle. No offence zzzeek, but from reading your post, you and Jimbo would absolutely hate each other, on sight.

Jimbo is also a pretty frugal guy.

The Canadian gov't has some recommended guidelines for home insulation/energy efficiency called "R2000". Jimbo likes to say his house is "R6000".

Jimbo built his exterior walls 2 inches thicker then usual, to make room for extra insulation.

Jimbo carefully scouted the land before he bought it, and placed the house to get maximum sun during the day. He designed the layout of the house (windows etc.) to capture the most sun possible.

Jimbo's house has a lot of large, high quality, energy efficient windows.

Jimbo's power bills are pretty damn low. He gets a lot of passive solar heat, for free.

He says the additional cost was negligable, compared to the overall expense of building the house. Presto, the frugal country boy is doing the right thing, even if he doesn't wear tie-dye shirts.

None of you guys are ever going to build a house exactly like this, because you're not going to buy 5 acres of land on a beautiful side hill, looking down into a valley. You probably don't own enough woodland to selectively cut all the trees yourself (clearcutting == raping the land and destroying your investment), and take them to a sawmill to get your lumber. Jimbo built 99% of the house himself, I think he only paid for 8-10 man-days of outside labour (dig foundation, plumber, electrical, drywall taping/patching/sanding).

However, if the contractors/developers who built subdivisions made some easy changes (more/better insulation, more windows, better quality windows, orient the streets and houses so that everyone gets a lot of sunlight, design the houses with big windows facing the sun) it would actually make a vast difference in energy consumption. It'll never happen, because developers/contractors do everything as cheap as they can possibly get away with. These guys don't do half assed work if they can get away with quarter-assed work.

Jimbo talks about housing contractors the way I talk about fly-by-night white-box computer vendors, he's scandalized by the low-quality workmanship/components that people are willing to accept.

To summarize my long and rambling post:

IMHO if energy efficiency became an important goal for all new residential construction, it would save a surprising amount of energy, for surprisingly little effort. However, a lot of these things (placement, house design) have to be done before the foundation is dug.
I am the very model of a K5 personality.
I intersperse obscenity with tedious banality.

[ Parent ]

Tell Jimbo (none / 0) (#104)
by lb008d on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 11:08:08 AM EST

That he sounds like more of an environmentalist than most "hippie enviros". Sounds like he's got his head on straight.

[ Parent ]
Yeah, I tease him that he's a closet hippy :) [nt] (none / 0) (#127)
by clover_kicker on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 04:08:44 PM EST

I am the very model of a K5 personality.
I intersperse obscenity with tedious banality.

[ Parent ]
The most important steps for an efficient home... (none / 0) (#108)
by Ricdude on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 11:54:47 AM EST

...are in the initial siting of the house.  If your house does not have large windows on the south side, you're going to have to pay extra to heat the house in winter.  If your roof does not overhang the windows far enough to shade them in summer, you're going to have to pay extra to cool the house in summer.

I've heard of heating systems consisting of a wall of 55 gallon drums painted black, ideally located in a half-sunken greenhouse-like patio room, but acceptable located in any low room with direct sunlight.  The drums have pipes running throughout the house to radiators.  The sunlight heats the water, which rises to the radiators and provides heat throughout the night.  Valves can shut off the flow of heated water for climate control.  These systems cost no electricity to run, and are capable of warming houses in relatively cold climates throughout winter.

Personally, I supplement the heat from my house's oil furnace with a wood stove.  The combustion chamber is sealed from the room, so the warm air in the house doesn't go straight up the chimney.  A fan circulates the air in the room around the combustion chamber, heating it up and sending it back into the room.  I collect the wood that the utility companies cut down from around their power lines from the sides of the road, and use it to heat my house.  Cheap, efficient, and very warm and toasty.

If you're interested in saving money on your annual energy costs, $50-$100 (USD) in weatherstripping and spray foam insulation can go a long way, and will usually pay for itself within a year or two.

[ Parent ]

very expensive/requires expertise tho [NT] (none / 0) (#110)
by zzzeek on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 12:58:33 PM EST

[ Parent ]
expensive to retrofit, not to construct (none / 0) (#129)
by clover_kicker on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 04:21:00 PM EST

I'm certainly not saying that you should run out and build your own house from scratch. Lord knows, not many folks are as crazy skilled as Jimbo.

I'm saying that the construction industry should make some simple changes with how they build new houses.

If a developer lines up his new houses to ensure everyone gets maximum sun exposure, the incremental cost is almost nil. But he's got to be thinking along these lines before he even decides where the streets are going to run, or it just won't work.

The incremental cost of better windows is quite low.

The incremental cost of thicker exterior walls + more insulation isn't all that high, but you'd have to draw up new house plans to make it work.

It's like changing the electrical code to make something safer, i.e. fuse panels versus breakers. You can't refit every existing building, but you can ensure that new construction follows a better set of rules. Over time, it really makes a difference.
I am the very model of a K5 personality.
I intersperse obscenity with tedious banality.

[ Parent ]

well then it sounds like (none / 0) (#137)
by zzzeek on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 05:17:15 PM EST

these aspects are part of the construction industry, which would be in need of "encouragement" of some kind.  Like you said, contractors arent likely to do these things on their own (I am well aware of the value system of the average building contractor having witnessed many dealings with them).  It remains something that is outside the control of the average homeowner until some bigger change takes place.

(and i am not a hippie at all...geez...)

[ Parent ]

Don't know about add-ons (none / 0) (#56)
by devon on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 09:06:34 PM EST

But you can do some good stuff if you're willing to build. I found this site a few months ago. I'm not 100% sure about the science involved, but I'm interested in the idea. There's also earth sheltered building.

Call yourself a computer professional? Congratulations. You are responsible for the imminent collapse of civilization.
Compact fluorescent bulbs (none / 0) (#59)
by arthurpsmith on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 10:14:05 PM EST

They have them now in sizes that exactly fit anywhere a regular 60 watt incandescent bulb fits - we've got some in our hallway now: 28 watts where previously we had 120!

The one reason we don't have more of these bulbs is that they are not dimmable, and our house was set up with almost all the main room lights on dimmer switches. Apparently they fail or degrade or something under dimmers - anyway, I'm thinking of replacing most of our dimmer switches with regular on-off switches and putting in these new bulbs, they will definitely save us a lot in electricity use. Plus, our power company is providing a $3.00 rebate on each bulb purchased, which about cuts their price in half - hard to beat!

With computers - the heaviest power user is usually the monitor, not the CPU, if you have a regular CRT screen. Going with a flat-screen can cut your energy use significantly; also just turning the screen off when you don't need it. Though in reality a replacing a couple of incandescent bulbs will save you more energy than turning off the computer...

Energy - our most critical problem; the solution may be in space.

Solar is nice if you're in the right area (4.80 / 5) (#61)
by koreth on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 10:19:56 PM EST

What a timely topic -- tomorrow morning the city inspector is coming to (I hope) give his stamp of approval to the shiny new solar panels on my roof. I live in California, where the energy is expensive, there's lots of sun, and the government offers rebates, so for me the expected payoff time is more like 9 years. At $14K it's still a big chunk of change to spend all at once, though, and if the payoff time had been 15 years, I probably wouldn't have done it.

Once I decided to take the plunge, it was pretty straightforward. I called a couple local installers and got quotes, which were about the same. Wrote a check to one of them for the deposit and they showed up and installed the system over the course of two days, and now all I have to do is wait for the inspection. Then I get to watch my meter run backwards during the day!

The other thing I've done, which proved pretty informative, was purchase a current meter to measure how much power the various appliances around the house are actually eating. My PC eats less power than a bright light bulb (87 watts) which I didn't quite expect. My stereo amp, which I used to leave on all the time, draws over 100 watts even when it's not making any sound.

I've replaced most of my light bulbs with CFs, except the ones on dimmers. I vacuumed all the accumulated lint and gunk off the condenser coil of my fridge so it can run more efficiently.

Next time California has rolling blackouts (ugh) I won't notice!

Cool (none / 0) (#107)
by johnnyfever on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 11:54:39 AM EST

That AC power monitor is cool! I'll have to get myself one....

[ Parent ]
Appliance choice, transport issues (none / 0) (#62)
by goonie on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 11:12:15 PM EST

A bit of attention to your appliances might save you some money. Yanks seem to like huge domestic appliances. Are you the same? Do you really need a walk-in refrigerator? Probably not. While if you've just bought an fridge you're not going to chuck it out (they don't use that much energy) it's something to keep in mind if you're purchasing a new one. Same goes for your freezer.

If you're considering a washing machine, front loaders use *much* less energy and water than top loaders. Similarly, not all dishwashers were created equal. Choosing carefully could save you a fair bit of energy.

While the weather is fine, dry your clothes on a clothes line! Your clothes will last considerably longer, and it's much cheaper.

You might consider replacing your CRT monitor with an LCD one, depending on how much of the day you have it switched on.

Finally, it's slightly beyond the scope of this article, but there's also transport, where you could potentially save a bunch of cash by either switching to a more efficient automobile, or alternatively switching to motorcycle (which brings in a whole extra risk of death or serious injury, of course), moped, bicycle, walking, carpooling, or public transport. One or more of these may be practical for you, at least part of the time. I've just bought a moped myself for a 6-mile ride to work over a couple of fairly substantial hills. My travel time has only increased by five or so minutes (and no difference at peak hour), it uses stuff-all fuel, you get a little exercise without arriving to work all sweaty and exhausted, my bike is parked directly outside the office, and I don't have to pay parking fees.

Already taking the bus (none / 0) (#106)
by johnnyfever on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 11:49:55 AM EST

Yup, I've pretty much got the transportation angle beat. I take the bus/train to work which saves energy, and with gas prices and parking, quite a bit of cash too!

[ Parent ]
a green(er) alternative for clothes dryers (none / 0) (#118)
by durkie on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 02:45:55 PM EST

For when the weather isn't good enough to dry your clothes outside, you should take a look at the Spin-X clothes dryer. TIME Magazine had a special on going greener last August or so, and this was in there. They claim ~$370 saved per year, at 12c per kWh.

[ Parent ]
LED Bulbs (4.50 / 2) (#64)
by 0tim0 on Mon Feb 24, 2003 at 11:36:32 PM EST

I'm waiting for LED light bulbs for the home. I have an LED flashlight and it's great. LEDs use about a tenth the energy an incandesent bulb for the same amount of light.

I can't imagine it'll be long before they are ready for home or at least commercial lighting...


Flourescents just as efficient (5.00 / 2) (#69)
by Eric Green on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 12:34:55 AM EST

The energy efficiency of LED bulbs and flourescent bulbs is virtually identical -- both rely on a phosphor glowing when hit by electrons, the only difference is the source of the electrons. The reason why LED bulbs are useful for flashlights is because of their small size and weight, low voltage requirements that make them a good fit for a battery, and the fact that they are a point source and thus can be more easily aimed via a reflector. But LED bulbs in the home would give you nothing that current compact flourescents don't already give you.
You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
[ Parent ]
led and flourescent technology (5.00 / 1) (#133)
by tang gnat on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 04:46:34 PM EST

A flourescent tubes is basically mercury vapor that has a current passed through it. This excites the mercury, which gives off UV light. The UV light (not the electrons) then strikes the phosphor coating, which emits a nice white.

The LED is a semiconductor device in which electrons jumping down the energy gap emit light. This is the exact technology behind most LEDs - the color is selected by setting up a different width energy gap. As for the white LEDs, yes, phosphor is involved. They set up a UV (or close to it) energy gap, so that the UV light strikes the phosphor and again it glows white.

[ Parent ]

I'm not sure this is true (5.00 / 1) (#70)
by kidzatrisc on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 12:35:27 AM EST

I've read a lot of hype surrounding LEDs, and I have a damn cool Petzl Zipka LED headlamp, but when you consider the total light emmited, LEDs are not more efficent then compact fluorescents, they are just much more focused. They are great for flashlights, traffic lights, etc, but not for general room lighting.

Read more here

[ Parent ]

I have an LED bulb (none / 0) (#75)
by flarg on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 01:18:00 AM EST

On a whim last year, I bought an Ledtronic 9-led 4500K Incand White bulb at a fire sale at my local alternative energy shop. It uses approximately 0.6-1.2W of power, and produces light equivilant to a 15W incandescent bulb.

But that said, it's sitting here on my desk, not in a socket. Why? When you turn it on, the light flickers and whines (my guess is it's about a 60-hz flicker/whine, like an old TV); and I have not found a good place to put such a dim bulb (perhaps when I install my outdoor lights).

But this is an early generation bulb, so I expect the flickering to go away with a later generation.

[ Parent ]

Efficiency And LEDs (none / 0) (#135)
by Lagged2Death on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 05:12:56 PM EST

I have an LED flashlight and it's great.

Me too. They are nifty.

LEDs use about a tenth the energy an incandesent bulb for the same amount of light.

Sadly, this isn't generally true.

LEDs make good flashlights because they have reasonable efficiencies at very small scales, where incandescents are absolutely terrible. They can also produce some useful, white light with near-dead batteries, where an incandescent would be terribly dim and yellow or completely out. They're also very rugged - no fillament to blow.

Colored LEDs are a natural for colored light, like traffic signals, turn signals, and brake lights, because they don't need the power-sapping filtering that is required with incandescents.

For larger-scale, non-color (i.e., white light) applications, though, LEDs and incandescents are actually pretty close in efficiency. Both are badly beaten by even the crummiest florescents.

Starfish automatically creates colorful abstract art for your PC desktop!
[ Parent ]
Recovering wastewater heat (5.00 / 2) (#66)
by KWillets on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 12:12:03 AM EST

Water is very good for storing heat, therefore pouring hot water down the drain is a very good way to waste energy.

The GFX Heat Exchanger is a coil of copper tubing wrapped around a drain pipe; it can be attached just below a shower drain to return heat to incoming cold water feed for the shower, or further down the plumbing to catch all the heat sources in a house. Apparently it catches a high percentage of the heat from the drainwater, and reduces hot water demand and peak load.

Another major waste of heat is drying laundry. The main purpose of a dryer is to move water a few feet, from inside the clothes to outside the clothes. Whether the water is liquid or vapor at that point is a function of how much heat one wishes to waste.

I believe some people eventually figured out that a dryer should work like an air conditioner or heat pump, pulling heat from the exhaust, condensing the water, and putting the heat back into the clothes, but nothing has really hit the market. Dryers like this would save a lot of venting as well.

Brilliant (none / 0) (#86)
by Gromit on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 03:21:54 AM EST

Following the link, the diagram Could Not Be Clearer. This is the simplest, most forehead-slappingly obvious way of improving the overall efficiency of a water heating system I've ever seen. Very clever.

"The noble art of losing face will one day save the human race." - Hans Blix

[ Parent ]
Yeah but... (none / 0) (#116)
by tzanger on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 02:19:50 PM EST

If I wire it up as shown it means that my cold water now is not as cold as it was before... A minor but true positive feedback loop.

[ Parent ]
How so? (none / 0) (#153)
by Gromit on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 01:26:25 AM EST

I think the "Cold In" is meant to be the cold into the water heater, not the house as a whole. Or do you mean that the heat from the coils would (in a minor way) work its way back along the cold pipe? Seems like a stretch over more than (say) a few inches, but this is not my area of expertise...

"The noble art of losing face will one day save the human race." - Hans Blix

[ Parent ]
Exactly (5.00 / 1) (#160)
by tzanger on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 08:24:36 AM EST

The graphic text says it too "Preheat cold water to all plumbing fixtures" -- why on earth would you want to preheat the cold water to the cold water tap? To the heater, sure, but the taps?

[ Parent ]
Ah (none / 0) (#172)
by Gromit on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 03:51:18 PM EST

I missed that text, thanks. Weird. Although to be fair, right now in the tail end of winter in south-east England, I have to say that warming the cold water to all fixtures would be mighty welcome. The cold is COLD -- numbs and chaps my hands, in fact, and these English don't believe in mixer taps. ;-) But in summer, I doubt I'd want it warmer.

"The noble art of losing face will one day save the human race." - Hans Blix

[ Parent ]
It's a compromise (none / 0) (#187)
by pyro9 on Fri Feb 28, 2003 at 08:08:06 PM EST

Ideally, you'd want to preheat the inlet to the water heater, but that would be an extensive retrofit in most homes. The compromise is to heat the cold water to the shower. That way, you need less hot water to maintain the desired water temperature and save energy.

The future isn't what it used to be
[ Parent ]
Careful with this (none / 0) (#93)
by DesiredUsername on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 08:34:23 AM EST

A few people on newsgroups reported they were saving their drainwater heat not realizing that their shower drains had been installed under the assumption that in cold weather the drainwater would be hot. They froze and burst their pipes, which ended up costing much more than it saved. (I'm not sure how this happened, I'm just reporting the story.)

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
True (none / 0) (#154)
by Gromit on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 01:28:36 AM EST

Good point about freezing. I was wondering about sewers in that regard. If we all did this, would our sewers back up more often? (At least in places -- like where I live -- where we have a lot of 4- and 6-inch feeder pipes near the surface prior to the mains...)

"The noble art of losing face will one day save the human race." - Hans Blix

[ Parent ]
doing the math (5.00 / 2) (#68)
by daishan on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 12:22:08 AM EST

What can I buy to save the environment? I am so conditioned in my role as consumer that the first thing I think about is what to replace with a new purchase. This can't be good.

Is it always better to chuck out a perfectly good something for a more efficient other?

Should I chuck my lightbulbs and buy compact fluorescent?

Should I ditch my 19" CRT monitor and replace it with an LCD?

Or should I just quit buying all this crap, wait for things to die and then replace them?

Is there an easy way to determine the energy drain, and lifespan of my existing stuff and compare it to the energy drain/lifespan of new replacements?

Solar heating (none / 0) (#73)
by Eric Green on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 12:45:08 AM EST

Probably the most useful thing in Calgary would be solar heating, since heating is what's expensive there. Lighting, dishwasher, etc., none of those use anywhere near the energy of heating your house. Unfortunately, the very fact that you're so far north also makes solar heating somewhat impractical, other than the simplest of passive systems -- a solarium on the south side of your house with some massive concrete or water-filled thermal mass. During the day, let the sun shine on the (black-painted) thermal mass. During the evening, close the thermal shutters (to keep heat from escaping back out the windows), and bask in the heat coming off the thermal mass. Even in your climate, a solarium can get pretty toasty during the daytime, and a small fan can circulate that heat at night.

Do not underestimate the usefulness of thermal mass. Outside temperatures here right now in the Phoenix area range from 45 degrees at night to 80 degrees during the day. My house is built out of concrete, and never gets over 70 degrees during the day, even with that hot desert sun shining straight on my west wall. It's just a case of thermal mass averaging the temperatures. That's what you'd be doing too, but you'd be cheating by painting your thermal mass black (to absorb heat better) and by shutting the thermal shutters at night (so that the heat goes back to the house, not back out the windows).

(Note: That same thermal mass effect also makes my house miserable when the outside temperatures range from a low of 90 to a high of 115 during August in Phoenix... oh well!).
You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...

Solar Electricity Experiences (4.83 / 6) (#74)
by art again on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 01:15:13 AM EST

We've worked on energy efficiency at home since we first got married 25 yr ago. We live in San Jose,CA and finally decided to try solar electricity after the "Energy Crisis." We viewed the solar system as capital equipment, like buying a new roof, and data indicates that we will see a total payback somewhat prior to the end of the 20 year warranty. We bought a 2.3kW system with AC inverters, a grid inter-tie, and a time-of-use watt-hour meter. Electrical energy here is cheaper at night than during the day, but we're at work all day, with everything off, but the refrigerator. As a result, we generate electricity and "sell" it onto the grid all day when prices are higher, whereas we buy it back at night, when prices are cheaper. Since installation in 2002, our system has averaged about 9.5kWH per day, which doesn't quite cover our entire consumption, but with the time-of-use differential, we will likely not pay for any electricity during the year. Our meter is read and billed only once per year. In our case, we were lucky to have a roughly east-west roofline on the 2nd story, and no trees able to shade the panels, with the south face at the rear of the house. The angle of the roof isn't quite optimum, but we elected to keep cost and mechanical hassles at a minimum, by directly mounting the panels without angled racks. Solar works for us and can work in many other places as well. Remember that panel efficiency increases as temperature drops, and that performance can be maximized by insuring an optimum mounting angle and direction if your area isn't as sunny as Calif. Good Luck, Art

Tankless Water Heaters *are* an option.. (5.00 / 4) (#81)
by yebb on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 01:47:15 AM EST

I recently replaced my 50 Gallon natural gas water heater with a 2.5'x12'x17' wall mounted electric hot water heater.  It will flash heat water beyond the comfort level of most people (approx. 140 degrees F) at 2.0 Gallons per minute.  This unit is good for heating water for the entire house, no seperate ones for each hot water tap etc.  It is a S.E.T.S. Tankless Water Heater Model 220.  I bought it from www.gotankless.com out of Kamloops, B.C.  They also sell to the US.
So here is my review of it..

-The average shower head these days uses about 2.5 Gallons per minute, so I had to put low-flow shower heads on (2.0GPM).  But I havn't honestly noticed at all, and I'm one for showers with lots of water.
-My unit (which is the largest model I could get from this manufacturer) uses a 100amp breaker, so you should have a 200amp service to use one. I only have a 150amp, and I used to have a 100amp service and it worked fine, but they recomend 200amp..
-Cost.. but it's really not *that* bad, mine was $1080 Canadian (approx. $680 US).They go down in price from that. Then I had to get it installed, and listen to all the slack-jawed electricians and plumbers say "What the heck is that ther' thing??"
-If someone turns on hot water from another tap, then your shower will go cold.  It really only does 2.0GPM.
-It does this odd thing where it heats the water as hot as it can when you first turn on a tap, then it cools down then comes back up to the proper temperature (within about 10 seconds). Not a big deal with a shower, but anoying if you're doing dishes etc.

-As long as there is electricity coming into my house, I can take showers all day and never run out of hot water.
-I have not even noticed an increase in my hydro bill.
-My gas bill has gone down a full $10 per month, my water heater was a rental unit that was brand new, so one would likely find better savings replacing older traditional water heaters.
-Saves space. Lots of space. It's wall mounted, 2.5'x12'x17' and weights about 6lbs.
-100% life-time warantee.
-Cold incoming water tempurature isn't a factor to worry about.  I live in Ontario and this winter we've had weeks of -15 to -20 degrees C, and it is still very hot.  No decernible difference from the summer.

So overall I like it. I like that when I'm not using hot water, it isn't trying to maintain heat in 50 Gallons of water.  If you have a big family, with lots of people turning on various taps at the same time, I wouldn't recomend it.  If you have old crotchety electrical inspectors in your Municipality then be aware that they may give you hastles because of the large electrical draw.

I hope that helps!

Inches, not feet, I reckon (none / 0) (#87)
by Gromit on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 03:33:56 AM EST

I recently replaced my 50 Gallon natural gas water heater with a 2.5'x12'x17' wall mounted electric hot water heater.
"Yikes!" I thought, "Where the heck could he mount it?" Then I followed (well, copied-and-pasted) the link. You meant " (inches), not ' (feet).


"The noble art of losing face will one day save the human race." - Hans Blix

[ Parent ]
You rented your old water heater? (none / 0) (#96)
by porkchop_d_clown on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 08:55:50 AM EST

Interesting. I never would have thought something like that was possible.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him go off the high dive.

[ Parent ]
some electric co's do this (none / 0) (#174)
by Work on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 06:27:49 PM EST

we had something similar at an apt, but instead of renting the heater itself, a hardwired box that controlled power to the heater was rented from them.

The box shut off the water heater during the midday in the summer to save power so it wasnt heating water when it wasnt likely to be used. If you did happen to need that much water during the day, it had an override button.

[ Parent ]

My tankless water heaters (none / 0) (#147)
by andy7575 on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 10:37:16 PM EST

Here in Hong Kong tankless water heaters are common. We have 3, 2 for bathrooms and 1 for the kitchen. The bathroom ones hang on the wall of the shower. They are made in Germany by Zanker  at www.zanker.de (Site in German) who are part of the Electrolux group. The heaters are about 10" across, 22" high and 5" deep. They run on electricity, and have 2 settings, hot and hotter. The temperature of the water seems to depend a bit on the temperature of the water coming in from the pipes, so when it gets really cold we use the 'hotter' setting. You could follow the previous suggestion of using a heat exchanger on the shower/bath drain to heat up the incoming water.
Hope this helps.

[ Parent ]
Elec. bill (none / 0) (#189)
by Politburo on Sat Mar 01, 2003 at 04:22:50 PM EST

What was the delta on your electric bill?

[ Parent ]
Note on Compact Flouros (4.00 / 2) (#82)
by ferret dude on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 02:01:53 AM EST

I replaced all the bulbs in my house to find that CFs dont take bad voltage well. They died faster as a result of over-voltage and they are quick to brown out on under-voltage. However, you can play tricks when they brown out. By rubbing your finger along the tube you can get the flux to follow your finger and light them up again temporarily. My message: only use CFs in a reliable supply zone. Apparently, Brisbane Australia is not one.
Life is short and hard like a body building elf - Bloodhound Gang
I had a similar experience. (none / 0) (#94)
by porkchop_d_clown on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 08:54:14 AM EST

I tried replacing a bunch of bulbs with CFs. The bulbs didn't work real well, and the high draw on start meant they didn't work with my X-10 light switches at all. (the light switches drive me nuts anyway, but that's another story).

Plus, no matter how "compact" they are, the don't fit well in most of my light fixtures... Ended up pulling them all out.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him go off the high dive.

[ Parent ]
odd! (none / 0) (#101)
by joshsisk on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 10:13:23 AM EST

We switched to CF bulbs because in our house, standard light bulbs tend to die in a bout a week. Our power is so problematic that we've had to put our cable modem and router on a UPS, both died in less than a year.

Since switching to CF, all our bulbs have been fine. But maybe our power problem is different than yours...
logjamming.com : web hosting for weblogs, NOT gay lumberjack porn
[ Parent ]

hmm (none / 0) (#121)
by nutate on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 02:54:04 PM EST

I was just in a light store (yesterda) buying one of this to make a lamp that needed something not so hot. And the guy mentioned that they die faster if they are turned on and off a lot, but they are great for hallways or main rooms, but not bathrooms.


[ Parent ]

Startup costs (none / 0) (#158)
by DodgyGeezer on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 07:48:45 AM EST

Flourescent tubes also use more electricity in the long run if you're constantly turning them on and off rapidly due to their high startup costs.  I think you need to keep them on for 15 minutes at a time.

[ Parent ]
Also don't like to be base-up (none / 0) (#148)
by Eric Green on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 10:39:03 PM EST

I found that if you install them in a fixture where the base is up (i.e. the light socket points downwards), the ballast overheats and they burn out quickly. That already killed one compact flourescent that I'd put under my carporch, which I typically leave on for at least 12 hours a day (while I'm at work and out and about). The one on my back patio points upwards and still works fine, as does the one in my hallway, and the ones in my bathroom (which point sideways, but that's apparently enough to let the heat escape).
You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
[ Parent ]
Operating position (none / 0) (#159)
by DodgyGeezer on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 07:58:47 AM EST

I read something a while back that stated that some bulbs only work in one operating position.  Most of the ones I use are base up, and I've been using them heavily for over two years now.  Another thing to consider is the enclosure if they're base-up: even though they run cooler, if they get too hot you will have problems.  Philips website used to have lots of excellent information about this, but they've reorganised and I can't find it now.  They have some good discussion forums too that you can search.

[ Parent ]
Solar Advances (none / 0) (#88)
by Gromit on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 03:41:29 AM EST

Worth looking for "blue denim" solar products in the near(ish) future from Spheral Solar. Got a writeup recently in (I think) New Scientist. These are a marked departure from traditional solar panels, are flexible so they can (for instance) conform to the curve of Spanish roof tiles, and use waste silicon from the chip manufacturing industry. Currently as efficient as traditional solar panels; obviously, they're hoping to improve that.

"The noble art of losing face will one day save the human race." - Hans Blix

Solar water heating. (none / 0) (#90)
by i on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 07:39:59 AM EST

Here in Israel it's virtually everywhere. I wonder why it's not taken for granted in, say, Florida (same latitude). Or is it?

As for tankless water heater, you can get one that works on natural gas or diesel or whatever, and it will also double as a central heater for your house.

and we have a contradicton according to our assumptions and the factor theorem

Because Americans are wasteful (none / 0) (#112)
by fluffy grue on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 01:48:10 PM EST

Here in New Mexico, you'd expect everyone to have passive solar water heating, because it's so sunny all the time, and yet most people around here use big, wasteful electric tank heaters.
"Is a hyperlink" is a hyperlink.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

Cats: Nature's entropy generators

[ [ Parent ]

Rainfall? (none / 0) (#130)
by RyoCokey on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 04:21:07 PM EST

I'd have to pull out my atlas, but I'd be willing to bet rainfall and cloud cover have something to do with it.

Of course, so would the cost of power off the grid.

Pacifism in this poor world in which we live -- this lost world -- means that we desert the people who need our greatest help.
-- Francis Schaeffer,
[ Parent ]
Used, but not a lot (none / 0) (#146)
by Eric Green on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 10:34:27 PM EST

Solar water heaters are somewhat common in areas like Florida and Arizona that have a lot of sun, but only in the hottest parts that don't get freezes. Otherwise you need a much more expensive type of solar water heater (the indirect type with a working fluid that has a lower freezing point).

There is also the fact that solar water heaters are only cost effective if you must heat water with electricity. Natural gas is very cheap here, and for the most part if you have natural gas for your water heater, a solar water heater is not cost-effective. I.e., it costs more than you'll ever recover. I spend $12 a month on natural gas to heat my water (roughly the cost of two large sandwiches purchased at a sandwich stand), and most of that is the fixed cost of the gas meter. And I take *LONG* showers, at least once a day, sometiems twice a day. Even when my mother and stepdad visited and added their own showers to that mix, my gas bill for that month was only $18.

You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
[ Parent ]

Florida and solar (none / 0) (#161)
by epepke on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 08:42:35 AM EST

There was a big boom in solar water heaters and air conditioners in Florida in the 1930's (yes, that's right), but subsequent housing movements got away from it, mostly for aesthetic reasons.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
Energy density is the main problem. (none / 0) (#97)
by porkchop_d_clown on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 08:58:01 AM EST

Unfortunately, hydrocarbons pack more power per cubic inch than almost any alternative except having a "Mr. Fusion" in your basement.

My dad tried making his own solar panel in our roof for heating water; but Pennsylvania just doesn't get enough sunlight. Wind power requires a large bird-eating rotor (although I've been told the new ones don't spin as fast, so they're less dangerous.

There simply aren't many alternatives for most people.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him go off the high dive.

General electric power? (none / 0) (#99)
by sakusha on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 09:23:19 AM EST

I'm wondering if there isn't an economy of scale to be obtained in electric power supplies for all this high tech crap I've got all over the office. Most of the computers and peripherals runs on standard 9v, 12v, 6v etc. even if the boxes power supplies themselves run off 120v. I figure it would be more efficient to rip out the PS on every device and tie it all to a central DC power supply with battery backup. Of course you introduce a massive bottleneck of a single-point failure node, but I figure the house power plus battery backup is as good as it would ever get for home office systems. Anyway, someone's got to have some ideas about reducing energy consumption for home electronics.

Problem (none / 0) (#140)
by awgsilyari on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 05:34:31 PM EST

I figure it would be more efficient to rip out the PS on every device and tie it all to a central DC power supply with battery backup.

That would only work if the power regulators in all your devices were VERY carefully designed. Assuming the central DC source has a very low internal resistance (which would be required, if it's going to source a lot of current), then it will act like a wire connecting all the ground supplies for all the devices. You can easily get ground-loop currents (signals flowing between devices through the common ground).

AC devices don't suffer this problem because an AC device by definition is already decoupled from the mains supply by a transformer, so that steady currents cannot be pushed back through the transformer to ground. This is why you use a transformer whenever working from the AC mains, even if you don't need any voltage conversion.

Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com
[ Parent ]

Re: General electric power? (none / 0) (#141)
by Persistence of Penguins on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 05:35:03 PM EST

That's something I've been thinking about for a couple of years. I used to work in the electricity supply industry, providing technology for grid-level load management. My time there got me thinking about this issue. Really, it wouldn't be difficult to wire a house with a 24V rail and make use of discrete components to step it down for each of the smaller electronic appliances we use.

Should I ever become a homeowner (maybe even a homebuilder one day) I'll be sure to include it in the plans. As a matter of interest, I think I would also include some or all of the following:

  • Solar hot water system. I live in a part of Australia with a lot of sunshine so it seems like a terrible waste to not install it.
  • Solar-powered lighting. Lights consume a very small amount of electricity when compared against ovens, fans and heaters. It's quite a small task to implement this, even to retro-fit it to a house.
  • As per the original article, using rainwater tanks to water my lawn. If I could afford decent filtration, I'd use it for drinking water instead.
And so the list goes on. Another resource worth mentioning for those readers in Australia would be the Rainbow Power Company. I've not actually had any dealings with them, but their website is filled with fascinating products for making a house more sustainable. As an engineer, formerly of that industry, I think that it's worth the time to consider their range. Happily, they also provide training for anyone; from engineers to Joe Homeowner.

"Serve hot... with lashings of butter."
[ Parent ]

Probably not a good idea. (none / 0) (#156)
by ajduk on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 04:23:52 AM EST

Although this would eliminate some transformer loss, resistance loss - given that you are pushing much larger currents around the house - would be a problem.

As V=I*R and P=I*V,  P = I*I*R.  So for the same wire resistance, power dissapation is proportional to the square of the current.  So lower voltage rails waste a lot more power than high voltage ones.  In reality, this would manafest as a big voltage drop in the rooms furthest from the source.

Better wait for room temperature superconductors...

[ Parent ]

A few things. (none / 0) (#100)
by Ward57 on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 10:05:04 AM EST

  • Insulation. If your loft doesn't have enough insulation, you can always buy some. You could also look (I'm thinking of a DIY store, but I suppose a "hardware" store would do) for high temperature insulation that would go over a hot water tank - perfectly safe so long as you get insulation designed for it. (Be carefull fitting it, water tanks can be hot).
  • Do you turn off all your televisions/vcrs? Most of them have standby modes, which are a good idea in theory, but a real pain if you want to save energy.
  • Power saving features on you PC / low energy pc like the via eden . This isn't a random link, even if it looks like it.
To be honest, I'm not really sure quite how you manage to use 1000kwh of electricity. I thought the everage was about 250.

electricity use (none / 0) (#128)
by clover_kicker on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 04:13:19 PM EST

>To be honest, I'm not really sure quite how you manage to use 1000kwh
>of electricity. I thought the everage was about 250.

What's the temperature today where you live?

I just checked my thermometer, it's -10C (+10F) with winds of 30-50kph.

Tonight it'll be a lot colder.
I am the very model of a K5 personality.
I intersperse obscenity with tedious banality.

[ Parent ]

And...? (none / 0) (#136)
by Lagged2Death on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 05:17:12 PM EST

I guess you have electric heat? Why not just say so? Not everyone does. In my neck of the woods (Ohio, USA) gas heat is nearly universal, so I'm not surprised at the confusion.

Starfish automatically creates colorful abstract art for your PC desktop!
[ Parent ]
Tankless water heater (4.00 / 1) (#105)
by Harpalus on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 11:47:31 AM EST


You make a small error in your economic analysis of the tankless water heater. You already bought it, the cost you paid for it should not factor in your decision, it is sunk cost.

The calculation you should do is:
How much will it cost me to heat water in my current heater for 50 years
How much will it cost me to heat water with a tankless system for 50 years + the cost of the tankless system

Of course this calculation ignores all interest you could have collected on the cost of the tankless system had you saved the money. Also ingnored is the amount of interest you could collect on the monthly savings form the new system.
The main point is that when considering investment in alternative technologies that save you on a monthly basis but have an initial capital cost, you should not factor in the capital cost of your current system, it is a sunk cost, money already spent you ain't getting it back.

CF-bulbs (4.00 / 1) (#117)
by ekj on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 02:40:52 PM EST

Cf-bulbs are a definite saving, and I never understood why not everyone are using them, it's a pure win-win. They use less energy, *and* they make less heat, reducing the need for air-conditioning in the summer.

Typically, a CF-bulb costs around 3-5 dollars and have a rated lifetime of around 10000 hours. A normal ligthbulb costs something like 20 cents and are rated at 1500 - 2000 hours. Thus the calculation for 10000 hours of (equal) ligth may look like this:

  • CF: 1 bulb = 4$
  • CF-El: 10000h * 0.015Kw = 150Kwh
  • Normal bubls: 6*0.20 = 1.20$
  • Normal-El: 10000h * 0.075Kw=750Kwh
In other words, you spend $2.80 more in bulbs, but save 600Kwh on a *single* ligth-spot (assuming currently 75W normal bulb)

This is a net win if your electricity costs more than 280cents / 600 = 0.46 cents/kwh (note 0.46 *CENTS* not 46 cents) In other words an *obvious* win.

Even if you benefit from the extra heating say half the year, it's still a win aslong as el costs more than 1 cent/kwh

There's simply no question whatsoever that *Everyone* should be using the things.

Some reasons (none / 0) (#123)
by kozmikyak on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 03:47:56 PM EST

Of course they should be used where light is not needed for long stretches of time. But I get sick with any compact fluorescent bulb I've ever tried, if I need to read or do other work under the light. Are there compact fluorescents that switch faster than 60 cycles/second?

High frequency fluorescent is passable, but sometimes an incandescent bulb is just easier on the eyes.

With further advances in manufacturing, perhaps LED arrays will eventually be a good option. I like the light they give off, but it requires a good diffuser to light up an area.

[ Parent ]

Flicker (none / 0) (#132)
by Lagged2Death on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 04:41:31 PM EST

Are there compact fluorescents that switch faster than 60 cycles/second?

There are some old-fasioned circular retro-fits for harp-style table lamps that use magnetic ballasts and exhibit 60Hz flicker.

But virtually all modern compact-florescent bulbs - the ones that are about the size and shape of an ordinary light bulb, the ones intended to replace them virtually anywhere - use switching power supplies that operate at a minimum of several kilohertz, and have absolutely no discernable flicker.

If the light from these displeases you (and it might) it's probably something else, like the color rendition, not the flicker.

Starfish automatically creates colorful abstract art for your PC desktop!
[ Parent ]
Two problems (none / 0) (#143)
by Control Group on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 05:57:27 PM EST

As a renter in a 110 year old house, I have very little ability to do serious retrofitting for energy conservation (and, given an almost pure cost motive, little in the way of financial incentive). However, CF bulbs are something I can do, and it's an immediate financial benefit (or at least, it becomes one in a reasonably short term), so I tried them. I ended up going back to incandescent.

First, in my living room there is exactly one source of light: an old floor lamp of mine (there's a plate in the ceiling where, clearly, a central light was meant to go, but the wiring never got there). This old floor lamp, unfortunately, is designed to use large decorator bulbs, and simply looks preposterous with CF bulbs in it (at least, the ones I tried - and I can't imagine the ones I've seen being better).

Second - and more importantly, to me - I find the character of the light they put out to be highly unpleasant over any significant period of time. Perhaps it's because I associate it with my office, going to the dentist, and what not, but it's still something that becomes steadily less tolerable in the home. It's a cold, harsh light, and I simply don't like it.

And - not that it's a frequent concern of mine, but - I can't even begin to imagine how one sets up a room using CF lighting to be romantic.

"Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon."
[ Parent ]

CFs and romance. (none / 0) (#162)
by cdyer on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 09:15:10 AM EST

There's one easy way to set up a room lit with CFs to be romantic:


Another would be to put the light behind a thin colored cloth to filter it to a different color.

Also, I haven't seen it for sale to consumers yet, but warm spectrum fluorescent light bulbs do exist, and give off a much nicer glow.


[ Parent ]

Oh, now you're just teasing me... (none / 0) (#167)
by Control Group on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 10:20:57 AM EST

Well, I've gone and done it - I googled for warm- and full- spectrum fluorescent lights, and found plenty of places trying to sell them.

Really, I was much happier thinking it couldn't be done than that "they" simply don't do it (for residential applications, at least).

"Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon."
[ Parent ]

VERY low wattage CF? (none / 0) (#175)
by Gooba42 on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 07:09:25 PM EST

My one problem with the CFs so far has been that everyone sells the "12W equivalent to a 60W incandescent" but no one sells the "6W equivalent to a 30W incandescent". Is this a limitation of the technology or do people really just like 60W lighting that much? We're saving on electricity but it's ugly as hell to replace all lower wattage bulbs with the equivalent of 60s.

[ Parent ]
Low wattage (none / 0) (#182)
by anon868 on Thu Feb 27, 2003 at 11:59:48 AM EST

Ikea sells 4w CF bulbs, but they don't screw in a normal light socket. They have smaller threads, that go in what look like bed or table lamps (which they sell, of course).
Open a window. No, not that one! One made from actual glass, set in an acual wall, you dork.
[ Parent ]
other wasted resources (5.00 / 3) (#124)
by durkie on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 03:48:39 PM EST

although not entirely in the scope of what the article's going after, you might want to take a look at the Humanure Handbook. It teaches you how to safely compost and reuse all that human waste you're bound to be outputting. Not only will you have fertilizer for the garden that you mentioned, but you'll save a ton of water from not having to flush the toilet. It's not gas or electricity, but it's still an interesting project.

Ya know (5.00 / 1) (#126)
by cr8dle2grave on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 04:07:00 PM EST

From the Roman era forward the overall arc of technological development can measured by how infrequently we have to come into direct contact with our shit, and yet there remain people who just can't wait to play with their own poop. The mind reels.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
well... (none / 0) (#145)
by durkie on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 07:36:48 PM EST

the overall arc of technological development can be measured a lot of ways (such as through efficient usage of resources). clearly, composting your own waste isn't for everyone. i personally don't care if my shit rots at the technologically advanced, human-run sewage dump or in my nonexistent garden. just pointing out the option.

[ Parent ]
Humanure is more advanced than Western sanitation (5.00 / 1) (#149)
by guidoreichstadter on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 11:00:17 PM EST

One of the ideas Humanure Handbook points out is that treating human excreta as waste, instead of as a resource, is basically an anti-social, backwards cultural practice, worthy of irrational, self-destructive societies.


You produce about 500 L of sterile urine a year, the majority of your biological waste. The potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen in this urine are sufficient to completely fertilize all the cereal plants you will consume in a year.

You produce about 50 L dry volume of feces a year. This, easily processed in low-cost anaerobic digesters and compost facilites, can provide you with methane gas and pathogen free fertilizer.

All together, 550 potential L of valuable resources per person, per year.

Yet, inexplicably, Instead:

You mix these 550L /person/year with 55 000 L of sanitized, potable water. You then mix this organic waste stream with billions of liters of inorganic contaminants such as heavy metals, oil run-off and pesticides. You then, at great economic and resource cost, process this toxic mixture back to a modicum of safety, in the process injecting it with millions of kilograms of envirocidal chlorine, and then discharge it into your sources of drinking water. There's almost the sense of a macabre, anti-human ritual to the whole thing.

you are human:
no masters,
no slaves.
[ Parent ]

Dude chill... it was a joke [n/t] (none / 0) (#150)
by cr8dle2grave on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 11:09:00 PM EST

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
Humor. It is a difficult concept. nt. (none / 0) (#151)
by guidoreichstadter on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 11:21:54 PM EST

N. T.

you are human:
no masters,
no slaves.
[ Parent ]
Maybe. (5.00 / 1) (#163)
by cdyer on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 09:22:01 AM EST

While you may have been joking, there are some serious issues with using human excrement as fertilizer. The biggest of these is creating a feedback loop for parasites. If you have any worms, their eggs get onto your food when you fertilize it, you eat it, it goes back into your intestines and hatches, giving you more worms. Or in the case of some worms, it enters through the bottom of your feet when you walk around the garden barefoot. (I think that's hookworms, but I'm not sure.) You don't have the same problems using, say cow manure or chicken manure, because parasites are adapted to a very specific environment, and cow parasites are normally killed by the conditions of human insides, and vice versa. There are ways around this, and those may be addressed in the Humanure Handbook, but it still bears consideration. Cheers, Cliff

[ Parent ]
Oh, definitely (none / 0) (#177)
by guidoreichstadter on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 08:00:17 PM EST

Humanure Handbook doesn't advocate the practice of spreading raw sewage on crops, but describes an aerobic composting system that would destroy most parasites. I would be more worried about bacteria.

Anyways, of course the whole problem must be studied comprehensively to find the optimal solution, but I think that at the minimum such a solution would involve anaerobic digestion of the excreta followed by aerobic composting and biofiltration.

There is a group that designs and implements these kind of systems for industrial customers, I think the company is called "Living Machines" or some such if you are interested. I believe they claim to take raw sewage up to better than safety standards for drinking water using a series of intefgrated biological systems. The photos on the website are neat anyway.

you are human:
no masters,
no slaves.
[ Parent ]

The Rocky Mountain Institute (1.00 / 1) (#131)
by frankwork on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 04:34:58 PM EST

The Rocky Mountain Institute is one of the leading think tanks on energy efficiency. Their site has some really interesting reading on it.

They have a page on household energy efficiency that talks a bit about the things you describe above along with a few other things.

I just read some of their stuff (none / 0) (#183)
by tkrabec on Thu Feb 27, 2003 at 12:42:51 PM EST

Very informative. Read the information of negawats, for FAB plants, but could be applied to a normal house with some adaption.  They also had an article on Home Cooling, Home Energy Breif #8.

Some of the most informative stuff was a chart of where the heat comes from inside your house the top 3 are internal waste heat 33+%, windows 25+% and Ducts 19+%.  

-- Tim

[ Parent ]

Anyone have insight on Reflectix or similar? (none / 0) (#139)
by Eccles on Tue Feb 25, 2003 at 05:30:55 PM EST

I installed a couple of rolls of Reflectix, which is basically a couple of layers of aluminum foil sandwiching a layer of bubble wrap, under the rafters on part of my roof. The idea is that the aluminum is supposed to reflect back radiant heat. I specifically chose a section of rafters below which it tended to get stiflingly hot, at the top of a two story atrium. It seems to have reduced the heat there, and also I noted that in our recent snowstorms, the roof above the Reflectix tends to be the last to melt. But most things I read about Reflectix tend to give it rather negative reviews. Does anyone out their have their own experience or knowledge of this to impart?

Solar power (3.00 / 3) (#152)
by sjl on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 12:51:12 AM EST

As a general rule of thumb, converting solar power to electrical power is very inefficient. IIRC, the best panels (which will probably cost a small fortune) manage an efficiency rate of 30%. However, there are, if I remember correctly (sorry, can't find the site) recent developments that promise an increase in the efficiency to around the 50% mark.

The best use of solar power, at the moment, is for heating water. Consider: we generate electricity in one of several ways: burning coal, fissioning uranium, burning gas or oil, hydro electric, wind power are the main ones. Of these, hydro and wind power are the only two that don't rely upon the same fundamental process: water is heated to steam at high pressure, which then drives a turbine to generate electricity.

The problem with this process? It's woefully inefficient. If you can get 50% efficiency out of such an arrangement, you're doing incredibly well; I think the standard is around the 40% mark. (Note: this is off the top of my head; it's been quite some time since my engineering undergraduate days. I went into computing, so I haven't touched any of this stuff in some years.) In other words, for every ten joules released by burning the fossil fuel (or by splitting the atom), we get four to five joules of electricity. However, we can convert electricity at high efficiency -- around 95%, IIRC -- to heat.

How does this link in with solar power? If you heat water with the sun, you can do so with a very high degree of efficiency -- around 95-99%, depending on the design of the system. Better yet, in doing so, you save an equivalent amount of gas, oil, or electricity in your power bills. It works best in climates with good sun coverage throughout the year, but where I live (Melbourne, Australia), you still get savings, even in the middle of winter. If you're worried about hot water when the sun isn't shining, you can connect the system to a booster system that heats the water when necessary.

All round, a win-win situation. Forget about solar electricity for the moment; give it another five to ten years for the researchers to work the kinks out of the new materials they've found to improve efficiencies. Until then, solar hot water is a definite win.

Water heat. (none / 0) (#164)
by cdyer on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 09:27:27 AM EST

Also, direct solar heating of water will *always* beat using photovoltaic cells to generate electricity, and then heating the water with the electricity.  No sense in performing an extra conversion.  Not only is it free, it is also a zero-waste setup.  


[ Parent ]

Where does the sun go at night? (none / 0) (#186)
by Sloppy on Fri Feb 28, 2003 at 12:06:47 AM EST

The best use of solar power, at the moment, is for heating water.
This is very unfortunate, because my greatest use of hot water is my wake-the-hell-up shower in the morning. Mornings are usually something that happens right after many hours of darkness. :(
"RSA, 2048, seeks sexy young entropic lover, for several clock cycles of prime passion..."
[ Parent ]
Err, that's not quite how solar water heat works (none / 0) (#190)
by Gorsnak on Tue Mar 04, 2003 at 05:24:55 AM EST

Generally solar water heating systems are installed into existing water heaters. You circulate the hot water coming out of the panels through an arm installed into the tank. If this doesn't keep the water hot enough, the conventional gas or electric heating will kick in, so there's no worries about not having hot water in the morning, or on cloudy days.

I expect you could even set things up so that the solar heat will push the tank temp to 10-20 degrees hotter than your tank thermostat, so that after sunny days your heater will have very little work to do to keep the water hot till morning.

[ Parent ]

Great topic. I would like to see a section for it. (none / 0) (#155)
by johwsun on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 03:57:51 AM EST

How about... (none / 0) (#165)
by cdyer on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 09:29:55 AM EST







[ Parent ]

Heat your house and hot water with a solar closet (1.00 / 1) (#166)
by straydog on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 09:31:18 AM EST

Nick Pine has quite a few solar heating ideas. You can do it fairly cheaply (some clear plastic film and some 55 gallon barrels of water), and it seems like a workable system (he has Basic programs to calculate how it will perform and shows all his work).

I have done a bunch of research into retrofitting (2.00 / 1) (#168)
by tkrabec on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 10:48:14 AM EST

We consume a huge amount of energy at my house newarly 4000KwH/month.  The house (2400SqFT)is a 1978 house with origional windows and probably origional AC unit.  We Live in South Florida so Cooling is a big expense.  The house is Concrete Block Structure(CBS).

I have looked into going solar just to save on electricity, but the costs are way too high and the payback is too long.  

I have several smaller solar & wind projects on the list. (no particular order)
1.  Install my 7 small solar panels purchased at a ham fest 2.1Amps @~12Volts and a battery with a small inverter to run the bedrooms (lights clock radio and other small stuff)
2.  Build/buy a Solar hot water system.
3.  Build a Savonius rotor http://www.southcom.com.au/~windmill/
4.  replace the windows (I just put out for a quote) and I will look at doing it my self
5.  Replace the doors
6.  When we reroof (with in the next 4-6years) get the eaves extended for "passive solar" effects
7. add awnings to windows to help keep out the heat.
8.  Replace the fans to more energy efficient ones, the speed selector draws more energy than the fan does, so I might just replace them.

I have replaced several light bulbs with the CF's and they are working nicely. I have seen dimmers that work with them but I do not recall where.
Our house has a bunch of Florescent bulbs, in the kitchen and bathrooms.  I am looking into a material called a "gel", it is used in theatres for lighting to change the color of the light, and there are also gels for color correction (rosco.com), my hope is to make the light look more natural.  And Gels are fairly inexpensive and should last a long time when not used under hot lights.

Well that's enough rambling and incoherent babbeling

-- Tim

Color of flourescent lights (none / 0) (#181)
by anon868 on Thu Feb 27, 2003 at 11:50:02 AM EST

I've found a simple way to get around that one- use them in fixtures where the light is surrounded by something. My main lights have rice paper shades- the harsh, cool light of the CF bulbs is changed into nice warm light when it passes through the rice paper. My other CF bulbs are in fixtures with frosted globes around them, and it has a similar effect.
Open a window. No, not that one! One made from actual glass, set in an acual wall, you dork.
[ Parent ]
OOps I meant (none / 0) (#184)
by tkrabec on Thu Feb 27, 2003 at 03:43:33 PM EST

Most of my CF's are in frosted glass globes or sheets (flat piece of glass screwed to bottom of lamp hug from ceiling)

I was more referring to the in ceiling floresent tubes, but Rice paper would prpbably work there

-- Tim

[ Parent ]

home fuel cells (none / 0) (#171)
by gaucho on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 02:48:42 PM EST

How about home fuel cells - they are supposed to become available this year. http://www.gepower.com/dhtml/distributed_power/en_us/microgen/homegen_benefits.j sp

fuel cells (none / 0) (#178)
by antispamist on Wed Feb 26, 2003 at 08:01:31 PM EST

Although I don't believe cars will run on anything but gas (unless we can get high horsepower elsewhere); I do believe that many appliances/radios/laptops, etc. will go to fuel cells. Everything that I have read has been promissing. Especially that one can take them on planes! Least that's something I heard a while ago.


A useless endevor that will certainly leave u wanting less but getting more.
Just wait... (none / 0) (#179)
by skim123 on Thu Feb 27, 2003 at 01:54:05 AM EST

Once the world's oil supplies become prohibitively expensive to tap, solar energy will look like a bargain compared to oil and natural gas.

What I've found helpful in reducing energy consumption is using the energy-efficient light bulbs, turning down the hot water heater, putting my computer in sleep mode more often, and putting an extra blanket on the bed as opposed to turning on the heater.

Ideally, I would like to be able to produce my own energy, but I'm afraid at the time it's too cost prohibitive, especially for a ~1,100 square foot residence in urban America.

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

Solar Panels (4.00 / 1) (#185)
by crowbraid on Thu Feb 27, 2003 at 09:27:10 PM EST

We're doing nicely with solar panels. We have two Kyocera 120 watt solar panels on our roof feeding into 6 golf-cart batteries. These, in turn, feed a 2000 watt inverter, enabling us to run a TV, microwave, computers...

Oh, I should mention that we live in a 24-foot RV. We don't need 2000 or so square feet. Do you?

-- crowbraid --

Interesting point (none / 0) (#188)
by Politburo on Sat Mar 01, 2003 at 04:05:22 PM EST

Recently we were watching the Price is Right and noticed that they gave away RVs a lot. One of the little games we play while we watch is "what would you do with the prize?" Since I live in a city (New Brunswick NJ), I said I would immediately sell it, since there is no place to store it. Another in the group said "Why not just live in it?" Even though I live in a small apartment (3 ~12'x12' bedrooms, living room, kitchen, bathroom, pantry), I couldn't imagine living, full-time, in an RV, even if I was the only occupant. I guess I could have summed all of this up by saying, yes, I do need 2000 or so square feet.

[ Parent ]
Globally versus Locally (none / 0) (#191)
by OldCoder on Tue Mar 04, 2003 at 06:39:07 AM EST

About ten years ago I was stunned to read of a man in the northern tier of the US who had got his name on every single advertising and catalog mailing list he possibly could. The mailman literally groaned under the weight of the daily load of junk mail and flyers. The guy was using junk mail to heat his house. It worked!

I don't think this can work for everybody, though.

By reading this signature, you have agreed.

Wow (none / 0) (#192)
by bil on Tue Mar 04, 2003 at 12:39:02 PM EST

What a great idea! Now if only I could find a way to burn AOL CDs I'd never have to pay a heating bill again...


Where you stand depends on where you sit...
[ Parent ]

Alternative Energy in the Home | 193 comments (178 topical, 15 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:


All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!