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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Clear a Blocked Drain the Green Way

I'm a modern hippy and that includes having long hair - which inevitably leads to the occasional slow-running bathroom sink. What's a green guy to do?

Here's a simple solution that will take you back to your elementary school days. Build a volcano!

Mix 1 part baking soda to 10 parts warm water. Slowly pour into the clogged drain. Next pour liberal amounts of household vinegar slowly into the drain. Let it fizz for a bit, then rinse with hot water. Repeat as necessary.

Not enough power? Take a clean plunger and after filling the sink with water, plunge gently to loosen the blockage. Repeat with the baking soda and vinegar until clear!


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Moving Beyond the Low Hanging Fruit

When I first moved into my new home three years ago, I wanted to do everything "little" thing I could to improve my footprint and reduce my wasteful costs like energy and heating. Changing a lightbulb is pretty cheap and pretty easy, but sooner or later you end up needing to face bigger ticket items. Windows, insulation, things like this are not cheap or easy to do, but let's face it. They are well worth it! And even though the payback or return on investment might be years, it's still better to do them, or at least consider them.

So, following the guidelines in my energy audit, I started one of the biggest projects of my life - and one of the most expensive. I set out improving the energy efficiency of my home in a very serious way. New windows, new siding, and additional insulation. All at the beginning of the heating season.

As you can see from the photo, my house used to be green with wooden vertical siding. The building was structurally sound and it had decent insulation for a home built in 1974: probably about 4-6 inches of fibreglass batting. The windows were leaky enough in some rooms to feel a draft; the house was expensive to heat; and you could clearly hear the traffic outside in some rooms as if the window was open. Plastic sheeting and caulking only did so much.

My energy audit also recommended additional insulation without removing the existing. Over the next few posts, I'll show you how we added more efficiency and how we improved the value of the house.


Friday, January 22, 2010

How to Build a Pop Can Solar Furnace - Recap

Welcome to Lower Footprint! For those of you who may be listening to CBC's Mainstreet today, I thought I'd post a quick list of the links for the articles about the "Pop Can Solar Furnace" so you could find them easily!

In the interest of full disclosure, this was not an original idea or project! These things have been around for a while, both as commercial products and D-I-Y. I based my design on the best one I could find online in 2008 (here's the link). Each one I build is better than the last and I'm willing to bet you could build one too! All you need is a South-facing window and less than $20.

The first solar furnace was very crude, but worked very well. It cost about $7 to build. It was installed in one of the 'sky lights' or ceiling windows of my solarium. It was installed in February of 2008 and the hottest reading recorded was in April of 2008... 82C (185F) on the surface of the panel and over 52C air temperature in the room.

The orginal Pop Can Solar Furnace Post. There is a link to pictures on Facebook, or another link in the comments if you can't see them there.

The first temperature readings from the solar furnace.

Neat pictures from the hottest readings in the solarium.

Some Q & A about the installation from a blog reader.

The second pop can solar furnace was built for one of the normal windows that face South. This one cost under $20, but could be made cheaper if you have some recycled fence boards or other light wood around your garage.

This design does block most of the available light coming into the room, so it may not be the best option if it's the only window in a room.

Step by step instructions (with pictures) on building a pop can solar furnace window insert.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Results and thermometer readings at the end of October, 2009.

Thanks for checking out the pop can solar furnace! Look for a new design and other projects in the near future!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Energy Savings Update

The holiday season is typically one where we use a lot of extra power... the oven is on more than usual, Christmas lights are blinking away on the tree. It's also the darkest month of the year and if you have family visiting like I did, it means that the thermostats are probably up a bit or on a bit more often than usual.

When I received my power bill today, I was pleasantly surprised to see that despite a relatively normal holiday season, with a full house, my power consumption from Nov 16 to Jan 14 was down by 21% from the same period last year! The daily average was also down roughly 17% (meaning the savings was not consistently spread around maybe). Depending on the math (and not including any prices increases), that's about $175.00 in real savings.

I find this very encouraging and I will be taking further steps to lower this even more! Here's what was done during this period that may have contributed to the savings:

- every room has a programmable thermostat set to 15C. Active living areas get up to 19C when in use, but automatically turn down over night and during the day.
- the new wood stove burned roughly a 1/2 cord of wood during this period. This was certainly a major contribution to the savings.
- the windows and new insulation were started during this period and while they were never more than 50% complete, this will be a major contributor moving forward!
- Christmas lights were mostly LEDs and even the outdoor red and green lights were CFLs.
- While the pop can solar furnace didn't get a whole lot of attention (or sun!) over this period, it did warm up significantly on a few days which would have mitigated any losses to that part of the house.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Project: Insulating the Hot Water Tank Pipes

An efficient and well-insulated hot water tank will help conserve energy whether your tank is heated by electricity (like mine) or by oil or natural gas. Unfortunately, a lot of the pipes leaving the hot water tank are not well insulated, at least in older homes (also like mine).

Luckily, putting insulation on exposed copper is a quick and easy way to help! All you need is some pipe insulation and a knife. Measure the various lengths of exposed pipe and cut appropriate lengths of insulation. Simply wrap over the pipe (careful! it might be hot!) and seal if necessary.

This is what is looks like when complete. Relatively painless. Total time was about fifteen minutes start to finish. Total cost was $0.00 as the insulation was just laying around my garage. You should expect to pay about $2 a metre or less.

Insulating the hot water pipes in the walls is a job best done when building a new home or when renovating walls. My next step for this system is to wrap the water heater with an appropriate thermal blanket.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reducing Your Electrical Footprint

Some days I really love my job. This is one of those days because I got to spend part of my time working on a list of ways for university students to reduce their electricity use for an environmental challenge that's coming up.

Residence provides an interesting challenge for power use since it is quite different than living at home. For example, you never see a power bill. You rarely cook a meal for yourself, but you probably have a fridge and microwave in your bed room. Your computer is probably a 24/7 work centre and entertainment system.

Here's my list. Did I miss anything really critical?

1. Replace any incandescent bulbs with CFLs.

2. Turn off lights when not in use (when leaving the room, etc). Use task lighting where possible (i.e. a reading light for reading, rather than a desk light and ceiling light).

3. Set computers to go into standby mode or turn off when not in use for a 1/2 hour or more.

4. Use a power bar to turn off devices that use vampire power (like stereos, tvs, printers, computer peripherals, gaming consoles, etc).

"Standby power, also called vampire power, vampire draw, phantom load, or leaking electricity, refers to the electric power consumed by electronic appliances while they are switched off or in a standby mode. A very common "electricity vampire" is a power adapter which has no power-off switch. Some such devices offer remote controls and digital clock features to the user, while other devices, such as power adapters for laptop computers and other electronic devices, consume power without offering any features." - Wikipedia.

5. Hang dry your clothes when possible. If you must use a dryer, follow the manufacture's directions, use a proper full load, and clean the lint trap before and after every load.

5b. Wash clothes in cold water. Use an appropriate detergent.

6. Unplug chargers (cell phone, ipod, etc) when they are not charging a device (they consume standby power).

7. Take the stairs and not the elevator.

8. Unplug everything when going away for the weekend.

9. Study in the library where the lights are on already.

10. Open your curtains in the day and use natural light instead of the overhead light. Close the curtains at night to reduce heat loss and increase privacy.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Savings from Burning Renwable Wood

Happy New Year! All the best for 2010!

I recently had a wood stove insert added to my home. It's a high efficiency, modern insert and the goal is to produce a bit more heat for the home, more efficiently, more cheaply, and more sustainably than using the electric baseboards (which get their energy from burning coal).

I recently came across this fantastic workbook by the CHMC: A Guide to Residential Wood Heating. It's a must read for anyone who is considering a wood option for their home or for a new construction.

Of particular interest for me, was a calculation of costs for using wood versus electricity. I had to work it out for myself, but I'm thrilled with the results. Check out page 76 and 77 of the pdf for details.

I was able to calculate that my electric heat costs roughly $3055 per year using these calculations. This feels about right, since I also use electricity for hot water and cooking and lighting, this is about 70% of my annual electric bill.

Going for the same amount of heat by wood results in a cost of $1351, a savings of about $1700 a year. This tells me two things: 1) I'd need about 4.5 cords of wood per year to fully heat my home, and 2) this savings would be if I relied solely on wood heat. With my programmable thermostats, I'd still be doing a bit of electric warming in small rooms at certain times of the day and I probably wouldn't have the stove running 24/7 either.

But now I know that the effort required to run the stove is definitely worth it. The stove will pay for itself in 2 to 3 years, even after the cost of wood is counted.