I’m a big fan of making things efficient. It’s a powerful tool for improving one’s life, yet seems to be poorly understood. It’s common that once some basic efficiency measures have been taken, the thinking is, “I’ve already done that… nothing more to do”. For example, thinking about electrical usage for a bit; if we take measures that save 25% of our bill, that feels quite nice, and then we turn our attention elsewhere. But, we can do far better. I have a friend who recently cut his electrical usage by 60%, just by looking at lighting and refrigeration. Fortunately, he’s still looking at other ways of cutting consumption. I’m helping as I can.
Have you looked at your electric bill recently? A large percentage of the bill is for stuff you don’t directly benefit from, like surcharges and taxes for some or other program you probably don’t qualify for. Even if you used no electricity, just being hooked up has a cost. I’ll posit that it’s possible (and hard!) to get a 90% reduction in energy usage. This requires some different thinking… like considering money spent on upgrades as an investment rather than focusing on first cost. Looked at this way, you can figure out how this investment compares to others and also compare safety of the investments. “Life cycle cost” is another way of thinking about efficiency investments. This approach compares ALL costs over time and allows you to “race” one technology with another to see which performs better in the long term. Sometimes the most energy efficient equipment costs more than the less efficient stuff because of increased maintenance. Who knew?
But imagine what happens when you do get to such a large reduction in your energy usage. Filling in the remaining 10% or so becomes something that’s pretty simple to do by generating the power yourself. This allows you to consider disconnecting from the grid, saving all those surcharges. It does mean you need to be responsible for your system, which usually means spending a few minutes a week checking on things.
With electricity, the place to start is with your bills. Gather up a year’s worth and see how it goes up and down from season to season. If you look at summer bills, there should be little or no heating cost. In winter, your AC unit likely isn’t running. In the shoulder seasons, when heating and cooling are not used much is the best time to see just what your baseline load is. That’s the energy you use when nearly everything is turned off. I’ve paid attention to this in my house and it’s under fifteen watts. In many homes it’s over 300 watts! That’s a cost that gives you little in return and it’s one of the best places to look when starting to trim your energy usage. I’ve found that a Kill-O-Watt meter (at around $28) is a great investment. It lets you get accurate energy usage numbers for your appliances, so you know which are really using up your power. Measure your TV when it’s on and also when it’s off. You will likely find it uses more energy over the time it’s off then when you’re watching it! Now if you simply put it on a power strip, you can eliminate that waste.
The concept is simple: Measure your usage and keep track of where power is going. From there, more efficient equipment, power strips, eliminating unnecessary electric draws and even supplementing with solar become good alternatives. For example, using a simple solar preheat for your electric water heater can have a big impact on your bill. For a LOT more thinking on this concept, I’ll suggest visiting this site: http://www.thousandhomechallenge.com/ Here, you’ll find case studies on how people made their homes far more efficient… often using a lot of creativity, which can be very inexpensive! You’ll even see that my home was the 13th one to meet the challenge. :~)
So far I’ve just been talking electricity, but the concept of efficiency works in many other fields; like water, gas, trash, transportation, home size and even money!
“Knowledge is power.” Francis Bacon
This is the basic premise and purpose of this website, to share knowledge. Francis Bacon, who may have gone by the pen name of Shakespeare, was clearly an intelligent person. The quote above remains true in both big and small scales. In my little way, by sharing what I’ve learned over many years, I hope to enable readers to gain more control over their lives, which translates into any number of good things and outcomes. Just looking at one field; plumbing. Knowledge of this will help you make things safer, healthier, more comfortable, more satisfying, less expensive and less time consuming.
Here is an example: You may see this photo elsewhere on the site, but think safety for a moment. What is unsafe about this? Three things jump out. First, notice that cap on the relief valve line? That’s a good way to encourage the heater to blow up! A 30 gallon heater can explode with the force of two sticks of dynamite. This is a 40 gallon tank, under a house. If it went kablooie, the house would be so damaged, it might not be worth rebuilding. And, what happens to the people inside? How about that plumber's tape acting as earthquake strapping? It’s actually worse than nothing as it pretends it will help, but in a quake, it simply doesn’t have the ability to hold the tank, which weighs over 400 pounds when full of water. When it falls in a quake, the gas line will likely get broken, flooding the house with gas… causing an explosion and fire. Not good! Next, look at the vent pipe. See how it’s close to floor joists and not connected to a vent pipe that leads outside? Which is worse; the possibility of causing a fire, killing the occupants or killing the occupants with carbon monoxide? All these things did get fixed, but without the know-how, someone might just look at the heater and say how nice and efficient it is because of the blanket!
In future posts, I’ll share other stories and observations that I hope you’ll find useful and entertaining. Of course, feedback is welcome!
Looking back over my working life of nearly 50 years, it seems clear that self sufficiency has always been the best way for me to be useful. Now, mix in a strong interest in water in its many forms and the wide world of animals and you'll know what's important to me.