Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Just Use Less Energy!

Just Use Less Energy, sounds simple right? So often everyone is thinking about way to cut down on their energy use, whether it be electricity, gas, oil, etc. That is great and necessary. The trick is I was thinking about this over all the other day. Most often I am always focused on new technology, or a new gizmo, or a new procedure, which will allow me to do what I always do, and use less energy in the process. For example a more fuel efficient car so I can drive the same miles and use less gas. Or a more efficient light bulb that will allow me to light the same room with less electricity.

Both of those are great examples of ways to save money and the planet, and I'm by no means saying that they aren't great ideas. The trick is I get so focused on being more efficient in that way, that I lose sight of the one more obvious option. Just plain using less. So instead of just getting a more fuel efficient car, I should try to find way to just plain drive less miles. And while getting a new LED bulb is great, but making sure to turn off that light when nobody is in the room is a win every time!

A big one that I'm a huge culprit of is the long hot shower. I'm not going to lie, I LOVE taking long hot showers! I've certainly put lots of thought over the years into the ways to get the most hot water for the least energy. And of course wrapping my hot water tank in more insulation is great. But if I would couple that with taking shorter showers then I am really onto something! And yes I love taking the long hot showers, and thinking about taking really quick showers is hard to digest at first. But when I think, "Could I take a shower that is 1 minute less?", that doesn't really sound that bad at all. So maybe for a month or two I'll shoot for that. Then I can keep whittling it down, until it's as quick as can be over time. I'll save quite a bit in the use of less water, and the energy that would have been used to heat it. Then if I can still strive to more efficient with the water I am using, I'm getting a nice double dip.

Air conditioning is a big one too. Many of us, me included, have gotten to the point where it's an expectation in our lives to have air conditioning. Both at work, at home, and in our car. It wasn't really all that long ago that air conditioning was considered a luxury. Many, many fewer homes has AC. You just toughed it out for the couple of months of hot weather. Even affluent folks in the 50's, 60's, 70's would forgo air conditioning as a waste of money. Oh how the times have changed. Every late spring I lug out the three window units that we use in our small house. One for each of the bedrooms, and one for the downstairs living area. I do try to use them as little as possible, but once they are in the windows they are all to easy to use. One quick push of the button and relief from the heat is on it's way! I guess I'll keep working on that, as we should use them less, but I'm not sure that I'm ready to give them up all together :(

The easiest way to save energy is to turn things off
So the moral of the story is that less is more when it comes to saving energy. It's more a way of thinking then anything else. I just am going to keep working on incorporating it into my thinking in my day to day decisions. Yes I'm going to continue to make things as efficient as I can around the house. But, if I can realistically just use energy less overall, that will make a nice dent in my power bills (and help the planet) as well!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Basic Solar Light for the Front Door

So for some time now my wife has been complaining that when we get home there is no light at our front door. Well actually that isn't true. There is a light there, but it's not on a motion sensor, so it doesn't come on automatically. And being the green guy that I am I don't like to leave it on when we leave the house.

Of course I have a CFL in there so it's only drawing watts in the teens, instead of 60+, but I still don't like wasting electricity. Less electricity is good, but none is better. Why light up my front step for 6 hours, when I really only need it to be lit up for the 20 seconds I'm out there looking for my house key?

The trick is that the light fixture that is installed out front is basic and doesn't lend itself well to a motion sensor. I actually totally agreed with my wife that we need a light. The trick is that I need to run a line through the walls, install a switch, etc. That isn't a 10 min project. It's not terrible expensive (probably $10-$30 worth of materials). It's just that it's going to take a number of hours to do it. And depending on how I find a path to run the lines through the wall, I may have to cut some holes. Then I have to putty, and it'll take a day to dry. Then I have to paint over the putty. Now this whole thing is really sounding like work. It's all stuff I know how to do, I just didn't feel like doing it, so I procrastinated for quite some time.

Then one day I was walking through Home Depot with my sons and found the solution. I tend to be in Home Depot quite a bit. If I'm not in a total rush I'll usually make a quite walk through the main aisles of the store to see if anything is on sale. I've found some really crazy deals doing this. Sometimes they are just looking to get things off the shelves.

So I see on sale, an exterior solar powered LED flood light. It comes with a small solar panel to mount on the roof (or anywhere that will catch the sun with in the 10 feet or so of wire that came with it). Inside the light unit there was 4 rechargeable AA batteries. I really liked that they were basic rechargeable AA batteries. At some point they are going to wear out and they will be very easy to replace.

Saving Green
$44.97 - Not bad!

So out my sons went to install the light. The whole thing to about 20 mins (keep in mind my sons are 7 and 6, so if I had done it myself it might have taken 10 mins :). With three screws I installed the solar panel on the edge of the roof, and pointed it to the sun. Then I put the batteries in the light and installed it up under the eve, and pointed the light down. Bingo.

The only pitfall I ran into was the first night I came home the light came on but was VERY dim. At first I was thinking that that was as bright as it was going to be and it had been a waste of time. Then I realized that since I had the motion sensitivity turned all the way up it was going on every time a car went by the house. It was doing this as soon as it got dark and was draining the batteries. I adjusted the sensitivity so it just came on when I stepped onto the front step. The next night the light was great!

It's called a flood light, but it shouldn't be confused with a halogen floor light like you would like up a large area with. It's just not that kind of bright, but what do you expect from four AA batteries right. It is however, plenty bright for finding you key and opening the front door. The whole thing cost be about $40, and 20 mins. My wife is happy and so and I ;)

Small Solar Panel Facing the Sun

Light Installed to Cover Area When we are looking for house key

The best part is that it doesn't use any electricity from the grid. All the power is created from the sun. Some day I'd like to save up and cover my roof in solar panels. But until that happens, this is a great start and great example of what can be done.