Archive for the ‘Projects’ Category

2015 Resolution – Reflect on Conservation

January 3, 2015

Progress on reducing my direct carbon footprint

Following on my conceptualization for the solution to reducing my direct carbon footprint (this analysis), here is the year in review:

Reduction. I think my theme for 2015 needs to be reflection on conservation, and its nuances.

In previous New Years posts I have tracked our car milage and was pleased to see our progress reducing miles driven. Alas, the reduction was lost in 2014. The lesson: bike/walking to reduce miles in town is easily overwhelmed by driving out of town, which should be obvious, it takes quite a few avoided short trips in town to equal the milage of one trip out of town.

2012 miles 2013 miles 2014 miles
Krista’s car (red) 7927 6313 7370
My car (white) 5241 2336 4472
My pickup (blue) 1059 2078 1576
Prius (silver) new 12/4/14
totals  14227  10727  13418

My friend Stephen has a longer dataset and can demonstrate real progress reducing his driving, so it is possible.

spaeth carbon wedge car

In our cars, reduced use requires constant vigilance. In contrast, the area of lawn I mow is being reduced steadily by orchards, gardens and landscaping at the Cookhouse. I haven’t used the 15-year old riding lawn mower/snowblower in 12 months. Since, I’ve proven its possible to manage what is left without the rider, it needs to go away this spring.

Another notable experiment in reduction was to put a timer on our hot water heater. Now we make hot water for morning showers and again for evening dishes. While the savings from not maintaining hot water is small, we have proven in the past 6 months that we don’t lack for hot water when we want it. This experiment needs more study. For example, can we time the water heater so we use up much of the hot water and only store tepid water (rather than having the water heater reheat the water we just used and then storing that hot water)?

Substitution. Another of the strategies to reduce my direct carbon footprint is to substitute technologies.

The Cookhouse was built with all LED lighting and I thought I was done converting the Barn, but the other day I found one more CFL — a small one in a reading lamp. The house is partly converted, the Kitchen, family room and bathrooms are done.

My efforts at substituting LED lighting for CFLs are producing limited results; my home electric bill is not going down much (if at all), because the refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher and electric dryer are such a large fraction of the use that they overwhelm the savings in the lighting.

The used Prius that Krista will drive in place of the “red” car appears to give her 40+mpg vs the previous 25+mpg in “red car,” so if we can hold the miles driven steady, it should be a decrease in fuel used.

Replacement. The oven in our gas stove died last spring and (sigh) there are no parts to repair a 10 year old stove. The process of deciding has been slow, but we are headed toward an induction stove, all electric. The decision process was explored in this column. Replacing this appliance will produce a permanent decrease in our direct use of carbon, but a small one compared to the gas water heater. I’m having the electrician get me ready to do the water heater, but can’t afford that change yet.

While the 15 year old gas lawn mower is still running, I’m considering replacing it with an electric one. Since I’m not sure how that will work in when the grass grows fast in the spring, I’ll keep the gas one around for another season.

Generation. I have some more data on the impact of the solar air heater in the Cookhouse. My previous report was from a short duration observation. Now I have a year’s worth of data which appears to show April, May & June readings with less consumption than heating degree days would predict. Since the structure is still unoccupied the only energy use is for heating. Goals for 2015 are getting hot water preheating going in the Cookhouse and in our house. This data are also encouraging me to develop solar air heating to supplement in the barn.

849 electric usage

Electric heating in the Cookhouse for 2014

More data on solar air heater

December 12, 2013

The recent cold snap let me collect some interesting new data. Previously I had reported on temperatures in the building with the solar heat on and off, but that didn’t tell how much energy was being captured by the collector. At the end of that post I speculated on a way to approximate measuring the energy.

Each day during the cold snap I read the power meter at 10:30pm. The Weather Depot website gave me the Heating Degree Days for each day. (Heating Degree Day is the indoor temperature minus average outdoor temperature; a measure of how much heating is needed. Colder days have more HDDs.)

This gave me a table, and I could calculate a ratio HDD/KWH which should be a constant

HDD (55F indoor) KWH/day Ratio
52 62.44 0.839
42 51.32 0.824
33 39.75 0.825

The ratio lets me predict, knowing the HDDs, how much energy the building would use.

I turned the solar on Wed, and collected data. It was a fairly clear day, high haze but strong shadows. If the solar is effective it should save me energy, ie, reduce the KWH that would be expected to be used for a given number of HDD

It Worked!  The Solar heater came on for 4-5 hours. While I never saw the temperature inside rise above the 55F thermostat setting, I used 6 KWH fewer than the HDD on Wednesday would predict.

6 KWH is 22% savings – about 1/4 of the energy, which roughly agrees with the collector operating for 1/4 of the day. The building has no thermal storage, its like a greenhouse that warms up in the sun and cools again when the sun sets.

The water heater portion of the system is the way I will store energy. I hope to do a final system leak test on that system this Saturday.

Winter Salad 2012

February 6, 2012

Back at the New Year I posted about several Fall/Winter gardening experiments, including a Greenhouse Crop that I was re-seeding much more densely and a Cold Greenhouse Crop that I had planted.

The new planting in the greenhouse, under lights only, no soil heat, is doing very well. After a month I was able to harvest enough greens (leaf and romaine lettuce, beet greens and spinach) for salad for 4 people. Parts of the planting are not dense (a result of the November initial seeding). Had it been more intensive it would have been better. I cut individual leaves from each of the plants with the hope that they would grow back. It a couple cases I pulled the plant because things are very (over)-crowded and harvesting is difficult.

The Cold Greenhouse suffered a structural failure in late January after a very heavy snowfall and rains. I examined the inner cloche and row cover and can find a couple seeds just starting to break ground. Can’t identify the plant yet.

The salad from the greenhouse was tasty with Huckleberry Vinaigrette dressing.


Chasing a water leak

March 25, 2011

About 8:30AM Thurs March 17 we got a call from the City Water Dept that our water meter was “spinning,” ie, the meter reader thought we had a leak. No telling when it started, perhaps the 9-below night in Feb. The City reads meters in November and March but not between.

My daughter Karina and I went to investigate. It took a little doing to decide which of 3 meters, but then we saw the red hand on the gage zooming around like a second hand on a watch.

Our house was built in 1910. The water used to come from a shallow well located in a concrete pit in the yard. Judging from the concrete in the pit, I’m guessing it dates from the 1940s. Iron pipe ran from the well to the house and a faucet in the yard.

When we bought the house in 1993 the well tested high in nitrates so the house was connected to City water. The plumber ran a new line down from Pine Cone St to the existing faucet and tied into the existing system. He cut off the well from the system. The result is water flows in through a shutoff valve where the old faucet was, over to the well, and back to the house. All in old iron pipes.

I shut off the valve between old and new and the meter stopped spinning. I shut off the valve under the house and turned on the valve between old and new. The meter spun again. Conclusion, the old pipes had failed outside, not under the house. Lucky for us we hadn’t left the house earlier that morning.

The simplest plan was to install 60 feet of new water line, leaving the iron pipes buried in the yard, but cut off from the system. I called the DIG-line and scheduled a Ditch Witch at MBS for Saturday 20th at noon. My daughter had fun with the upside down paint marking the route for the new line.

Leaving the water shut off, we set about seeing how much fun we could still have on Spring Break.

Saturday dawned with 2 inches of snow falling. About 10AM I shoveled the back deck, which needed to be dismantled to allow 12 feet of hand digging among electric, sewer, old water and an unknown iron pipe to reach the crawl space under the back porch.

Gustaf Sarkkinen, Odd Jobs! joined the effort. He went down the access hatch to inspect and found several iron pipes that were rusty and weeping, but not leaking, at locations beyond the shut off valve. We decided to replace them as well.

We decided not to get the Ditch Witch Saturday, because we were having enough fun in the snow and mud hand digging and the weather was closing in. It snowed again that night.

water line going under back porchSunday I got the digging machine about 10AM and and Gustaf picked up parts. We had the trench in and began removing the old supply line so we could slide the new PEX through its hole under the foundations. A few feet of hand digging with a garden trowel in the crawl space and we got the new pipe in.  Gustaf hooked up the line while I began back filling the ditch. By mid-afternoon we again had water to the house’s shut off valve, but a couple of the old pipes beyond the valve had been disturbed and were leaking.

Gustaf cut out the pipes in the middle of some runs of soft copper while I went to Spence for parts. We learned our first lesson – the new Sharp Bite fittings don’t go on soft copper. Neither do solder fittings, you need compression fittings, so off to TriState because Spence was closed. With our new parts, Gustaf went down the hatch and discovered the pipe was not really 1/2 inch copper as he’d believed but 5/8 inch.

Monday AM Gustaf arrived with 5/8 compression fittings. They did not fit. He took a sample of pipe to McCoy’s to see what fittings and knowledge they had. Lesson #2: when soft copper pipe freezes it expands to a size that won’t work with any fitting. The solution is to dismantle more of the system until you reach an unfrozen section or a joint that does not expand. So, we got a chance to remove more of the old pipes under the house. Another trip to MBS for parts.

Monday afternoon I called the City Water Dept and shared that we had the problem solved and asked how to appeal our big water bill then I took my first shower in days. The water ran rusty for 2 days.

Tuesday I put a new ground line on our electric system (we’d found the old ground tied to the hot water line and then finished filling the trench. On Wed I got the access under back porch crawl space re-closed and the deck re-assembled. Life is back to normal after a week.