solarbum

A blog about energy conservation and such.

Points Of Attack!

My wife had decided to take my son to dinner at her parents house. This was awesome. As a guy who works a lot and when I am not working my wife is so I am with my son and have very little time by myself to just veg out I decided I was going to read some online stuff and take a shower. Well, I have been turning the breaker to my hot water heater off so it doesn’t use energy while we are away or not needing our water hot. So I flipped the breaker on and watched my power monitor climb two (2) kWhs and figured that would be enough to get me through a shower. I was wrong. About three minutes into it the water went cold. Not only did this piss me off but it got me to thinking: if two kWhs only gets me three minutes of hot water, what does it take to keep water hot all the time for showers and dishes, etc.?

With that on my mind I started planning out a plan of attack against my power usage. So the way I figure it I have three areas that cost most of my power: HVAC, hot water and cooking on our electric stove. For a while I have been looking into an on demand, portable hot water heater that runs on propane and it costs less that $100. I think it’s time to try it. If I can get hot water to the shower then the only place I would really need it is the dishwasher, and that little sucker has a heating element built in to take care of that. Once hot water is taken care of all I have left is the stove part (read my previous posts to see what I have done about the HVAC…well the heating part anyway). So I was thinking it might be a good idea to get a sturdy coleman propane stove with the two eyes and that takes the little 1 gallon bottles of propane. I can also get one of those boxes that you use as an oven using the heat from the stove burners. All of this is just ideas until I get the wife’s approval, but she is a pretty supportive gal so stay tuned…

P.S. I know some of you are asking yourself “well what is the point of trading in electricity off of the grid for propane to suite your needs? Where is the renewable, sustainable part of this?” and you make a good point. That issue will be addressed soon. For now I am concentrating on using electricity derived from coal that was mined through mountaintop removal as little as possible, but have big plans on how to use the sun to do all of this…or at least help out a little.

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Oh Count The Ways!!!

OK, so besides my solar panels I am doing tons of other things to address energy usage and want to mention a few of them here and will be mentioning many more in coming posts.

Probably the most important single thing that I have in my arsenal of energy saving tools is a power monitor. I have mentioned it in a previous post, but want to elaborate on it. A power monitor is basically an analyzer that attaches to your meter and reads how much energy usage you are using and have used since you last reset the display. Upon setup you enter the price you are paying per kWh so it will also tell you how much money you will be paying the bastards since you last reset the display. Here is a pic of the display, which is mounted to my wall just above my thermostat.

*Note that in the pic I am currently using zero kWh…which is the goal. It is showing that I have used 36 kWh since I last reset it, which was about 4 days ago.

If you are intested in this nifty little device you can get it at a great price here but I would also try ebay, as sometimes you find great prices on them there as well.

OK, so now that I can watch my power one of my biggest concerns is heating my house, since it is New Years Eve that I am writing this. Now a few years ago we replaced our electric baseboard heating with a heatpump, but this year I have gone even further by getting a kerosene heater. Why would I get a kerosene heater when I have a heatpump? Well kerosene burns much cleaner than coal, which is the main source of electricity here in NC. Also, robbing the power company of dollars is always a win in my book (even though I am now giving my money to big oil. Oh well, one day I will have a wood burning stove.)

Anyway, here is a pic of the kerosene heater that I bought:

This monster is a 23,000 BTU heater that does a great job heating our 800 sf. condo. If you will notice I have my air return grill behind it so that at night once the living room area is blazing I can kick the blower motor on and circulate the warm air throughout the house. I do turn it off when we go to bed and set the heatpump, but it runs very little. They say that these things produce carbon monoxide and I’m sure that some do, though mine hasn’t produced any yet so I trust it while awake, but once again don’t go to sleep with one of these bad boys running.

The last big change that I have done lately is turning the electric hot water heater off at the breaker box at night and when we all leave for the day. This is not advisable for too long as it makes the breaker weaker the more you use it, so I will be installing a timer but the point is I don’t want water remaining hot when I will not be using it anytime soon. When I wake up in the morning and take a shower the water is still hot from the night before (almost the 120 degrees I have it set for on the water heater thermostat) so it takes a long time for water to lose it’s heat when the hot water heater is off. I, of course, have a blanket on my water heater. Do you?

Until next time…

New Panels

New Panels

These are my new 100 watt solar panels. I built the platform out of treated 2X4s and have that bolted to my deck. What is not in the picture is my battery bank (which I had to pull out to mount the platform). In that bank I have two deer cycle marine batteries running through a 10 amp charge controller and off of them I have a 400 watt inverter. Basically off of them I am currently running my TV, VCR, DVD Player, cable box, kitchen lights and charging our kindles and cell phones. Not much, but until I get a large inverter (I am saving up for a 10,000 watt inverter) then it will have to stay small. To be honest because of the lack of sun where I live (which I have bitched about numerous times on this blog) the panels cant really handle much more of a load. Some of the requirements for our next place (we rent but may buy soon) is that the place has, or that we can install, a wood burning stove, that it has propane or natural gas (or that we can run one of those) and that it has plenty of sun. I want a tiny house (700-1000 square feet). I have years of experience in construction and am currently in the HVAC industry so if we can get the land I can make the rest happen very cheap. Anyway, that’s that.

The Plan…

Ok, so I have my solar panels installed in a place that currently doesn’t get a lot of sun, but will once some of the leaves fall off the trees. This is one of the obstacles that I have run into being that I rent a condo I can’t just throw them up on the roof. Well, that and I am not down with permits. Anyway, I mounted them on my back deck and have a battery beside them. I currently only have a 45 watt system and plan to double that in the next couple of weeks as well as add two deep cycle batteries and a 1200 watt inverter. What I can do with that is take my coffee maker, toaster and microwave off of the grid. This won’t save me a substantial amount of energy but this thing is a marathon. The next thing I want to begin work on is a solar hot water heater. This is another thing that will be much better when some leaves go because I pretty much need to do everything on my back deck. So there you go: The Plan…for now.

How will you spend your 10 Kwh???

Every since I purchased my Black and Decker Power Monitor, which allows me to see exactly how much power my house is pulling off of the grid and keeps a running sum until you reset it again, I have been wanting to start some sort of limiting as far as the total amount of power we use and other options at hand when we do not want to pull from the grid. For example, if you only have a certain amount of Killowatt hours that you are allowing yourself then you might choose to hang those clothes out to dry instead of use the dryer so that way you can use that power for a hot shower later that day. My family uses on average about 1200 Kwh a month, but that is gonna change. We are going to attempt to use 10 Kwh a day which would be a quarter of what we normally use. Now I should say here that our lifestyle recently changed in a few ways that will help make this much easier. First of all my son started school and my wife has gone back to work, which lets us turn off everything when we are gone that day, also I have purchased a small 45w solar panel kit which I will talk more about in later posts, and I have also built a solar oven (which I am still tweaking). So right now I have potatoes in a pan inside my solar oven cooking slowly, I am running the washing machine but will be drying the clothes outside. My son and wife’s shower blew through a Kwh so now I have 9. Let’s see if I can do this…

Beginnings…

 

 

Ok, so my little blog here is mainly due to the fact that I can find very little online that caters to people like me. Oh, what kind of person am I? I’m a guy that hates paying tons of money to power companies knowing that what I am paying for is power that is derived from coal that is derived from blowing the tops off of mountains. I am a guy that wants to be self sufficient and is taking small steps to be more and more so. I am also a guy that has a small family and so most of my money is accounted for. It’s very easy to get all kinds of info on solar panels and alternative energy if you have $40,000 or more to throw down. I do not and maybe you do not but maybe you feel the same way I do and maybe that is why you are reading this. That is why you should be reading this. I am writing this for people like you and me and most of America. This blog will be about my experiments in clean, renewable energy and other ways in which to screw the power companies and slowly pry, finger by finger, that grip that they have on us. Join me?

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