Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Power Savings Adding Up

For a month now we've been shutting off the Electric Water Heater during the day and turning it on a couple of hours before showers and laundry and shutting it off after.  Sometimes we'll turn it on before going to bed and then off in the morning or get up a bit early to turn it on and have showers an hour or so later.  This has had a measurable impact on our energy use and I think at this point it merits setting up the 40 Amp 220 V timer to control the on/off times for us.   I purchased the switch a long while back and never set it up since I wasn't sure it would have an impact.  It appears that it will.  Take a look at the graph below.

We've established a good downward trend but this isn't all just flipping a breaker with some regularity.  Let's review some of the changes that we've made in the last two years to help us get there.
  • Replaced our Old Windows
  • Added a Wood Stove as secondary heat, became mostly our primary heat source.
  • Replaced all lights with CFLs.
  • Added motion switches in a couple of strategic areas.
  • Stopped using the Clothes-dryer so much when we installed an outdoor clothesline.
  • Not mentioned in a blog but - got rid of energy hungry computer and CRT monitor and replaced with a used Mac-Mini and flat panel monitor
  • Added a wind break / privacy fence on the windy side of the house
I'm not going to go into the dollars and cents here because it will make me cry, but we stretched ourselves financially to the limit to accomplish these things.  Some were for the future knock-on savings.  Some were for the improved energy independence and some were just things we wanted to do anyway.  All in all, it has all been a value add on our home.  Realizing savings from these things will likely take a few years and may not happen at all with the rising and variable cost of electricity, but we'll pray and see.

Friday, September 10, 2010

South Side Courtyard

I've been emboldened lately in my carpentry efforts.  After building the clothesline and enjoying the work that went into it as well as the sense of accomplishment, I decided it was high time to do something about the. disused side, the ugly side, of our house.  It's the south side, sadly, that is so unloved here.  Just the utility meters,  a pile of tires, and our AC compressor.  Not much to look at and as a mater of fact, a pretty useless space except for traversing from front yard to back.  Weeds had overgrown and the grade didn't slop away from the house nicely, so the time for action had arrived.

I had my local help (aspiring Dr. / Lawyer 15 yr old from down the road) de-weed and grade the area with a pick and rake.  Then I called in the utilities to mark where the under ground gas, electric and phone were located.  I was on my own figuring out where our well line ran but had a pretty good bearing on that.  Once the area was marked, I started measuring out the area I wanted the fence and flagged the holes.  I didn't use any fancy trig to get it square, just kept checking my measurements and moving stakes till things were true.

Off to Lowes for 13 pressure treated 4" x 4" x 8' posts which went 18" into the hard clay.  This was actually fun for me as using an old clamshell post hole digger really gives you a good upper-body workout.  One night I was so eager to get out and dig I skipped dinner and got to learn all about the need for carbs!  I had started smelling ammonia and kept looking around for the cat peeing on the house, a post, my leg... something.  Lo and behold - the stench was coming right off my chest.  Turns out that when you don't have carbs, your body breaks amino acids for energy and produces an excess of nitrogen in the process.  This bonds with CO2 and if you can't (or aren't) peeing it out fast enough, you sweat pure ammonia.  Wow.  Blew my mind and cleared my nose.

Once the holes were dug and I was happy with their placement, I ordered fence panels and concrete which came two days later on pallets (reusable!) by truck.  It only took one night to mix cement and set the posts.  A trick I learned while doing it was not to set the posts all in a row, one by one, but to set the corners first,  then tie a string or rope between them along one side as a guide for the other posts.  This helped me find that one hole was too far to one side so I was able to widen it before setting the post there and the lines are very straight now with the panels on.

It took me about three nights to put up the fence panels (two in the wind!) with screws, including cutting them to size.  They were 6' x 8' and I really wanted my posts 6' apart for wind resistance, so close to two feet came off each segment which left me with 11 nice narrow segments of fence for other future projects.  I found triple corrosion resistant screws at the local hardware store and the coating really made the screws go in like butter with my electric drill.

Tonight I built the small gate that will go at the front to permit the utility meter readers access to the area.  That came together nicely and prompted me to impromptu an infomercial for "invisible gate".  We make it! Where is it? We don't know! It's invisible gate!!  One large gate at the back will allow garden tractor and cart to be parked there as needed and allow larger items to move in and out, like perhaps a picnic table.

The fence will also get a coat of colored stain to match the house and protect the wood.  5 Gallons will hopefully do it but I might have to go back for more.  Corner boards will go up and get the same color as the corners of our house to tie it all together.  Not sure how I'll work the tops though as I chose stockade tops for the fence (like slightly rounded pickets) and my posts are square and a tad above the fence tops.  I'll have to think on that for a while.

So far, project costs:

Yep.  A fair sight more expensive than I thought I was getting myself in for at the outset.  But, to date, no regrets.  The courtyard already feels like an extension of our home and despite still being rough, it feels like a nice place to be outside with some privacy when you want it.  And, as it is near our bedroom, I have noticed it already cuts down on the wind noise around the corner of our house at night, which is an added and unexpected benefit. Once it's painted and the interior space less rugged, I'll try to get some pictures on here.  Ever since switch to a camera-less phone for work, I've been less the shutter-bug.

So - some lessons learned, some good hard and enjoyable work, some nice craftsmanship going into the finished product... I'd say I'm well pleased with this project despite the cost of all new materials.