Get a clothesline or please shut your mouth about climate change

clothespins

We’re living in times that are undeniably permeated with hotly-fueled, often polarized debates about many topics. One such topic that certainly has a large share of the opinionated conversation market is “climate change”.

We aren’t here to offer support to either side of that debate. To the denying side, we say that care of the environment is an essential duty given to us by our creator regardless if one believes the climate is truly changing or not. We aren’t doing a good job with this task and need to be honest about such!

To those on the other side, furiously and vigorously raising the climate change alarms we also have an admonishment – buy and use a clothesline immediately or please shut your mouth!

If you have one, good! Now go get your neighbors on board with using them.

We’ve participated in many conversations with people of all stripes, many of which are very concerned about climate change. Many of these have notions of how extreme measures must be taken to curtail the use of fossil fuels and how renewables will solve all our problems. Often the suggested solutions are mind-numbingly complex and the outcomes somewhat minimal or worse, undefinable.

One question we often immediately ask such people is “do you have a clothesline?” To which the majority respond with “no”!

Many of these fiercely chanting about climate change would  probably put a single item through a dryer cycle, go make some toaster treats, microwave some popcorn, and watch their 90″ tv (while texting on their smartphone), then perhaps take a nice long hot shower, iron their clothes, get in their cars and drive two miles to get a cup of coffee – single-origin and fair trade of course, before returning home to peruse facebook for several hours before retiring to bed where they might turn on the tv (for white noise of course) while they sleep.

Folks, sometimes there are simple answers to complex problems. Most of us needn’t look further than the mirror to find the source of most environmental issues.

We aren’t suggesting that clotheslines will solve all the large environmental issues of our planet. Changing our consumption patterns would be a good start tho!

Regardless, the difference that would be made by clothesline use alone offers perhaps the highest return on investment that can be found in the area of consumption changes.  They can cost as little as zero. They require no special knowledge or skills. They require no appreciable learning curve and almost every household can participate in their use.

It’s hard to pin down exact numbers, but most data we have found places clothes dryer energy consumption between 12% and 20% of energy consumption in an average household in The United States. In most households, particularly those with electric clothes dryers, only electric-based heat, and hot water consume more household energy.

Imagine for a moment if all households that used a clothes dryer invested in a clothesline? With nearly 126 million households in the US alone, the possible beneficial impact to the environment (not to mention, family finances!) are not trivial, offering a reduction in energy usage of up to 20%! Those with gas dryers also reduce fossil fuels and still benefit similarly. There isn’t a household that wouldn’t benefit from such with the exception of a few nudists here and there 😉

There is NO simpler solar device, nor one more accessible to the masses than the clothesline.

Folks, if you’re unwilling to do the simple things to contribute toward solutions to global issues, in our book you’ve lost all credibility and with it, your rights to complain about these problems.

Honestly, what basis do you have telling others how their lifestyles should change to address climate change if you yourself can’t make such a simple and meaningful change? Such a change requires no expensive renewables installation, no rebates, no governmental agency or legislation to address.

Ah, but you have an HOA that prevents clotheslines! As the old saying goes – “think globally, act locally”. Start your political efforts with your HOA to allow these climate-saving changes. If you can’t get one neighborhood to change, you think we can get entire nations to do so?

The world belongs to all of us, and if we are to care for it properly, we all must be responsible for such. All should be equally responsible for taking personal steps such as these to reduce consumption. If you can’t do that much, kindly remove yourself from debating such things because you might be a hypocrite.

Simple solar power for outbuilding lights and pumping water

img_0782

In this post, we’ll show you the simple steps we took to setup our goat barn with solar-powered lighting and running water.

Note: Though titled as ‘simple’, some will no doubt find this complex. Understandable, however, nothing beyond grade-school math or a calculator is necessary for figuring this out. Take your time and try to understand it, ask questions in the comments if you don’t understand.

Our goal

Our goat barn is over 1000′ from our home, and the thought of running power to it gives us heartburn. Not only would that be tremendously labor-intensive, but also expensive and disruptive. We needed power to light the goat barn when we needed to be in there in the dark, and also to support having running water. We don’t spend more than one hour per day in the goat barn, so the true amount of time we would need to light it or run water was small.

Calculating the loads

To determine what we needed was fairly simple. First, we located the 12v LED lights we wished to use. We wanted something simple and common and found these on Amazon. They had good reviews and only consumed 7w while running. We knew we wanted to install four light fixtures but typically would only have two on most of the time the lights would be on. The maximum “load” of these bulbs (the watts times the hours to get Wh) would be about 28 Wh/day, or .028 kWh.

Next, we knew we needed to pump water from our rain tanks into the barn and out through a faucet and utility sink. This too was easily accomplished by using a 12v Shurflow RV water pump, also available on Amazon. This pump has an internal pressure switch which will turn the pump on when the pressure is low (ie, when a faucet is opened). However, we had an old pressure tank laying around and wanted to run the pump less often than every time we opened the faucet, so we hooked up the pump to fill the pressure tank. When the tank reaches pressure, it triggers the pump to turn off and also has plenty of pressure at the faucet. The maximum load of this pump we calculated at about an hour per day (which is very conservative since it runs more like 10 minutes a day). The amp draw is about 6 amps, so we calculated 12 Volts x 6 Amps = 72 Watts for one hour a day equals 72 Wh or .072 kWh.

So far, we need to support less about 1 kWh per day. No problem!

IMG_1247

Batteries

Now, we’d not typically recommend using deep cycle marine batteries for solar applications, because they’re really not designed for multiple cycles of deep discharging – something you regularly do with solar applications, but we had two on-hand, and let’s be reasonable – we needed to support some pretty small loads. So we wired these together in parallel, which keeps the voltage at 12 V but combines their amps. We did this to be sure that we’d never discharge the batteries below a very very small margin of their capacity, which helps them last a long time.

To help understand how this works, picture this… treat your batteries like a bank account. Treat your loads like withdrawals and your solar input like deposits. If you withdrawal more than you can put back in, you have a deficit (a dead battery). You need to size all your components so that the ratio of withdrawals and deposits keeps the battery happy.

Our system would take about 100 watts per day from the batteries. We need to put at least that much back in. Now.. to figure out what kind of solar panel to get, we needed to know about how many hours of sun we could expect on average. This is called “solar insolation”. There are many useful maps online that show what average hours are for any area. Ours is approximately 5.5 hours. This means that the average amount of usable sun hours per day, across all days of the year and average weather – would be 5.5.

Though we get 5.5 hours of sun a day on average, we can still go a week or so of no meaningful sun in our part of the world. We want to make sure our stuff works when this happens so we might need to support up to 5-7 day withdrawing  100 Watts of power, but with no deposits (no solar). These 5-6 days are called “Days of Autonomy” (DOA), or how many non-sun days we want to run without recharging.We also had to keep in mind that our batteries had to be adequately sized so that we could

We also had to keep in mind that our batteries had to be adequately sized so that we could withdraw 500-700 watts of power from the batteries without significantly discharging the batteries. This is why we used two because the amount taken out of each would be small. With something like a deep cycle battery, you shouldn’t really discharge them more than maybe 20% or you risk killing the batteries. Some solar batteries support much deeper discharges, but not these. The gist is that you need to make sure that after taking all you plan to take from your batteries, you still need to have the right amount of energy remaining. The percentage of how much of the battery energy you can safely take is called the “Depth of Discharge” or “DoD”. Our DoD would be 20%.

If we had been buying new batteries, we would have needed to buy batteries where 20% of their capacity was enough to supply 500-700 Watts. Solar batteries are measured by Amp hours. We have watts. How does that work? Well… take your watts, divide by the voltage of your system and you have the Amps.

100 W per day x 7 DOA = 700 W
700 W / 12 Volts = 58 Amps

Now multiply the Amps by the hours you need them. This is where it gets tricky because we don’t need our energy all at once. The most we will ever need at once is about8.33 Amps. How did I know that? Because, our total wattage, while everything is running is 72 Amps for the water pump plus 28 Watts for the bulbs or 100 watts total. Our system voltage is 12V (the voltage of the batteries, the soon to be solar panel, etc). 100 / 12 = 8.333.

If we ran all our loads for one hour, we would withdrawal the power at a rate of about 8.3 Amps per hour (8.3 AH). Assuming we need that for seven days, we’d need a battery that could support 8.3 AH for 7 days with a total of 58.1 AH.

Now… remember, we can only take 20% or so, so we actually need a battery that has a capacity 5x as much to get what we need out of 20%. 58.1 * 5 = 290.5 AH. Most solar batteries are measured in AH at 20 hours. Forget about what that means for now, but that is the number you want to compare when looking at your total AH needs vs the battery capacity. So, to summarize, to support 58.1 AH of need, we need a 290.5 AH battery. That gives us all the storage we will need to support 7 days of 1-hour per day usage and still not kill our battery.

Solar Panel

We needed a panel that provided as much resupply of watts to our depleted batteries as we’re taking out, plus a little room for margin. We were going to be taking out about 700/week, so we need to make sure we could at least put that much back in. So, we have 5.5h of sun per day on average, and 7 days to collect the sun during that week, that means we had about 38.5 sun hours per week to harvest about 700 W of power.  You shouldn’t just divide 100 w by 5.5 hours because there are a few more elements to consider. Namely, how many days we’d want to be able to run without any sun. We can get a week or so of no meaningful sun in our part of the world. We want to make sure our stuff works when this happens, so we might need to have 5-7 days of withdrawing 100 Watts of power, but with no deposits.

Since that represents best-case scenario and the weather and sun isn’t constant, we didn’t want to just divide 700 W by 38.5 sun hours and figure on an 18 W solar panel. It might work but would more often than not be insufficient. We decided on a 100 W solar panel from the great folks at Alt-E Store. They’re super-helpful, have a great YouTube channel, and are eager to help.

With a 100W panel operating at let’s say, 85% efficiency, we could potentially collect 3,272.5 Watts of power in seven days, or 467.50 Watts per day. Since we only should use 100 watts per day, this left us plenty of buffer and room to grow a little. We added this mount to a schedule 40 iron pipe placed 3′ into the ground and were ready to go.

Charge controller

img_0826

A charge controller is an important piece of the puzzle. Some try to be cheap and avoid them to their potential peril. A charge contoller manages the incoming solar power and charges the battery until the battery is “full”, at which time it prevents over-charging of the battery. They also often have a ‘blocking diode’ of sorts that prevents the energy in the battery from flowing into the solar panels when there is no sun (i.e. at night). We purchased this charge controller for that use. It is important to note that you need to have a charge controller that can support the charging amps you’ll be putting into it. Those charging Amps are a measure of the panel watts divided by the panel voltage (100 W / 12 V = 8.3 A). Your charge controller should be support slightly higher than your maximum charging Amps. Ours is 10.5 so we’re good.

Miscellaneous

To add some additional security and also to make things more organized, we purchased a marine battery terminal block on Amazon. We landed all our circuits positive wires to this block and all the negatives to the negative block it came with. This also gave us the ability to add fuse protection to all the circuits using auto fuses.

From there we simply wired everything together and turned it all on!

Using this for rainwater collection and pumping

We collect rainwater from our goat barn into IBC totes, some 3″ PVC pipe, a Rain Harvesting First Flush Downspout Water Diverter Kit, and a few misc pieces such as the Leaf Eater Advanced Rain Head and a stainless steel filter. We then use the RV (Shurflow) water pump mentioned above and pump the water through a standard household water filter and into a surplus pressure tank that we had on-hand. The pressure tank can be turned on/off with a valve

We then use the RV (Shurflow) water pump mentioned above and pump the water through a standard household water spin-down filter and a carbonb filter into a surplus pressure tank that we had on-hand. Oh… and we also have found that a 1/2″ PEX/SharkBite check valve is essential to make this work well – prevening the water from draining back into the tanks and keeping the pump primed.

The pressure tank can be turned on/off with a valve in-case we don’t want to bother with it. It can help the motor run less often by storing pressurized water. The pump has to run for longer periods of time, but less often. This can be handy for say… filling the pressure tank during peak sun hours then using the pressurized water during non/low sun hours.

Here are a few pictures:IMG_0238

IMG_1246

 

IMG_1245

Tips for reducing your electric bill by up to 30%

Here in PA, we’re ever so fortunate (sarcasm) to be headed into a new era deregulated electricity. Our utility provider (PPL Electric) has announced that they expect most residential electric bills such as ours to rise about 30%-32%! Somehow, this is supposed to be a help to our electricity cost. We’ve not figured that out yet.

As the old saying goes, rather than curse the darkness, light a candle. If your bill is going to go up by 30%, try lowering your consumption by 30% or more. This will not only keep your cost down, but reducing demand lowers prices for everyone.

So what are some relatively low-investment ways you can reduce your electric bill by 30% or more? Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Setup a clothes line. This is the cheapest way to go solar there is! According to Dept. of Energy statistics, clothes dryers account for nearly 6%  of household electric bills (average).
  2. Go Green One Day – unplugging most of your non-essential electricity for one day a week. This could save most households up to 15% of their electricity cost.
  3. Track down and eliminate “ghost loads” of electricity – appliances that use power when not even on (DVD, TVs, Phones, etc). A Kil-A-Watt is a great way to find these. Conservatively, we think this could save most households 1-2%
  4. Install a high-efficiency, water-saving shower head. Doing so appears to reduce our family’s utility cost. This is not direclty reducing the electric bull by a whopping amount, but reduces our utility costs in an amount that equals approximately 5-8% of our electricity cost. This is roughly the cost of one month’s electric bill! See our recent post for details.

So, the above simple steps could reduce your expenses by up to 31% of your yearly electric costs (by our estimates). None of the above are expensive or difficult to implement or require advanced DIY skills.

Have additional tips? Post em’ in the comments.

Why water-saving shower heads are a good investment

Many people might not think to look at their showers as being a source of potential energy and cost savings. That’s unfortunate, because there’s money to be saved in the shower along with natural resources too.

Consider the following scenario: Here’s the simple math for a family of four each taking a 7 minute with an average water-saving shower head (2.6 gallons per minute, or “gpm”):

  • 4 people x 7 minutes x 2.6 gallons = 72.8 gallons per day
  • 72.8 x $.0015/gallon = $.11 per day
  • 72.8 gallons x $.02 to heat it = $1.46 per day
  • Cost per 7 minute shower = $.37
  • $1.46 + $.11 = $1.57 per day to purchase water and heat it for showering
  • $1.57 X 365 = $573.05 per year!

Here’s the math for the savings this family would see by just installing a high-efficiency shower head:

  • 4 people x 7 minutes x 1.6 gallons = 44.8 gallons per day
  • 44.8 x $.0015/gallon = $.07 per day
  • 44.8 gallons x $.02 to heat it = $.87 per day
  • $.87 + $.07 = $.94 per day to purchase water and heat it for showering
  • $.94 X 365 = $343.10 per year!

So just by installing new shower heads, there’s several hundred dollars a year to be saved in water and energy cost. We’ve installed Peerless 76154 1.6 GPM Water-Amplifying Showerhead, Chrome units that cost us less than $15 – money well spent!

As you can see, hot water heating can be a major expense. As we aim for a simpler life, we’re aiming to use less water, and less commercially-provided energy heating the water. Stay tuned for our future posts about our attempts to heat hot water in some non-traditional ways!

Finishing the Root Cellar

When we moved into our house years ago, we had no idea that we had a root cellar. From our point of view, we had a wet, nasty closet area off our foundation that needed to be cleaned up and made to stop leaking. Needless to say, as we came to understand the value of root cellars and what they were, we were glad that we had not been able to make a significant change to our root cellar since moving in.

We were able to put an insulated door on the root cellar, paint it, run electricity to it, and build shelves turning it into a great place to store our potatoes, sweet potatoes, homemade wine, canned goods, etc.

Vented Root Cellar

A good root cellar has a few components – good insulation, high humidity, and good ventilation. We had plenty of humidity, plenty of insulation (the ground) but no ventilation. We fixed that by adding vents. This was easily done by drilling holes in the foundation (through the cement block) and running 1 1/2″ PVC pipe through the side, then up through the flower beds outside. We used a bend at the top to keep out rain and a screen on each one to keep the critters out.

Root Cellar

The way this works, the supply vent should bring cold air (when it sinks) down the pipe and into the root cellar. The source pipe goes nearly to the floor and the vent pipe on the adjacent wall has a vent at the top, to let the rising hot air escape. We decided to give it a little assistance by adding a powered fan to the vent. This was done using a few PVC fittings from Lowes and carving out a spot for an old computer exhaust fan wired to a 12v DC cordless phone power cord. We then plugged it into a timer like this to have it come on at the cooler parts of the day to cool off the root cellar and keep the fresh air moving through.

Root Cellar with Shelves

Lastly, we added shelves made from furring strips. This was a cheap alternative to purchasing shelves and allowed us to make custom-fit shelves for the root cellar. It took just under four bundles of furring strips (10 to a bundle) to finish – so for about $40, we were able to build simple shelves that would allow the air to circulate through the shelved items.

We plan on covering the nasty floor that is currently there with some small gravel. This will allow us to spray water on the floor that will then evaporate to maintain the humidity at or around the 95% humidity that root cellars need.

If you don’t have a root cellar, they’re easy to make in many homes. Just find a non-heated section of your basement (preferably with no window), wall it off with well-insulated walls and a door and vent it. Most people tend to aim for an ideal temperature in the mid 50’s. This keeps things like apples, potatoes, onions and garlic, sweet potatoes, etc. good for just about the entire winter.

In our case, this allows us an energy-free (mostly – when the fan isn’t running) means of preserving the freshness of our summer harvest. If you don’t yet have a root cellar but enjoy growing your own produce – consider a root cellar as your next DIY project!

The specifics of moving from Verizon (with DSL) to Ooma

When we signed up for Ooma and decided to port our phone number, we could not get a consistent answer from either Ooma or Verizon regarding what would happen to our DSL service once the number was ported. Ooma was pretty sure that our DSL service would be dropped and we’d be without internet until we re-established the service. Four separate calls to Verizon regarding this resulted in four separate and inconsistent responses. Three times we were told from Verizon that our service would automatically shut off when the phone number port was completed. During one other call, the Verizon rep insisted that the default action when a phone service with DSL was ported was to convert to “dry-loop” or “naked” DSL. He was right.

You’d think that Verizon and Ooma would both have enough experience with people canceling Verizon phone service to go with VoIP services including Ooma to know what the standard process was! Since we could not locate straight answers from anyone, we decided to write this post to re-assure those who are going through the same process.

Yesterday, after about two weeks with Ooma, our phone number port was successfully completed. We didn’t lose internet service at all. Today, we received two communications from Verizon. One email, the other voice mail (on our newly ported number). Pretty much, all that’s required to keep the DSL is that we contact them within 7 days and provide a new means of paying for the DSL service since we won’t be receiving a bill.

Here’s the Voicemail left from Verizon:
Voicemail from Verizon

Here’s the text of the Verizon Email:

Dear Valued Verizon Online Member,

We know how important your Verizon High Speed Internet service is to you, which is why we are sending you this letter to help make sure that our records are updated following your recent request to change your voice telephone service to another provider.

As a result of that request, your Verizon Online account has been automatically modified so that we can continue to provide your High Speed Internet (HSI) service without Verizon voice service. Your HSI service remains active, and your email address, portal selection (if any), and value added services (if any) will all remain unaffected. If you were previously on a high speed internet annual plan, your commitment has transitioned to your new package and has not changed.

If you wish to continue enjoying Verizon’s High Speed Internet service, please contact our Billing Department at 1-800-567-6789 within the next 7 days. If you do not contact us within 7 days, your HSI service will be suspended for a period of thirty (30) days, then disconnected. If you attempt to access the Verizon HSI service during the suspension period, you will be presented with an opportunity to verify or change your billing information and restore your service.

If you do not wish to retain your Verizon High Speed Internet access service you do not need to take any action. Your service will be suspended after 7 days. Any charges incurred for HSI service following completion of your order to cancel Verizon voice service will be automatically credited within one to two bill cycles.

Your HSI service without Verizon voice is provided on a new dedicated data telephone line: [private]
Please retain this number to help us identify your account if you call us for assistance.

Your new monthly rate for Verizon High Speed Internet without voice is $ [private] per month, effective [private]. Any Verizon bundle discounts you may have previously had are no longer applicable and, if applicable, a bundle early termination fee will be assessed for cancelling the voice component of your Verizon bundle. Your use of the HSI service continues to be governed by the Verizon Online Terms of Service. You can review the Terms of Service by visiting: Internet Access Terms of Service

Thank you for choosing Verizon Online High Speed Internet!

Sincerely,
Verizon Online
Broadband Customer Care Team

So there you have it! If you’re porting a home phone to Ooma from a Verizon local phone service with DSL this is how it works – for now at least!

Converting Verizon Contract Phone to Pre-Paid

For months we’ve been trying to discover a way to reduce our mobile/cell phone service without compromising on the quality of service, etc. The issue is that one of us uses 200+ minutes per month minimum, the other maybe 50 at most. We’ve been using a Verizon Family Plan for a while that had a base price of $69.99, plus $9.99 for the extra line, plus all the other charges, surcharges, tax etc. It usually ended up being $95-$100/month because of the 18% combined taxes and surcharges.

We find this amazingly costly for such occasional use. We considered many alternatives and finally found that the best option for us was to keep one of us on a Verizon “post-paid” (ie. contract) plan and the other we moved to a pre-paid service. There’s an immediate savings with pre-paid of not paying the surcharges that are customary with contract plans.

We were about to purchase a new pre-paid phone/service with Verizon, but we were wanted to keep our phone number and our phone. After calling Verizon and putting up with their salesperson’s shenanigans to try to convince us that this was not a good move, we were able to get them to admit it was possible and instruct us what to do.

Here’s what was required to turn a contract plan into a pre-paid plan:

  1. Our contract date end date had already expired. You cannot do this without early termination fees otherwise.
  2. We were told by the rep on the phone that we MUST take the phone to a Verizon Store to do this – not a reseller, etc. but a VZW-branded store. I don’t know if this was just a ploy, or truly required.
  3. We then had to maintain our position with the in-store reps that this was what we wanted to do, and further resist additional efforts to get us to stay on more expensive plans. We chose the “Core” version of the Verizon Impulse plan because it includes unlimited mobile-to-mobile with other vzw users, only costs $.99/day that the phone is used, and $.10/minute for all other minutes. Since we use about 5o minutes a month for this phone, that should be less than $7/mo. since many of the minutes used are mobile-t0-mobile.
  4. The rep then disconnected the existing number and reserved it (requiring a call into some sort of main office), then re-established the phone number as a new pre-paid service.
  5. This required the purchase of airtime credit. One can choose differing amounts. We chose $50 in order to have 90 days to use those minutes.
  6. The whole process took 10-15 minutes and cost nothing outside of the minutes purchased.

Watch out for these gotchas
Tricky numbers: In the above process, we noticed that the Verizon rep on the phone used the most expensive pre-paid options when “doing the numbers” to show us how pre-paid would be more expensive. Therefore, they used the $3.99/day option when comparing cost. Don’t let this fool you – it’s a sales trick. Further, they also don’t consider the true cost of contract plans with the included surcharges and fees. These don’t exist in pre-paid accounts. In our state, contract taxes and fees tend to be about 18%. Pre-paid reduces that down to 6% in PA and is also on the minutes purchased, not on a contract fee, therefore it’s less taxes paid than in a contract unless our pre-paid usage exceeds a contract price (which is very unlikely).

Verizon Impulse Pre-paid plans compared: The in-store rep recommended a “cheaper” plan with no per-day charges, but a per minute cost of $.25 all the time. This might also appear good to those with poor math/observation skills, but that makes the minutes cost 250% more per minute than the other plans all to avoid a $1 charge for using the phone that day. Consider this example: A 20 minute call with $.25/minute/$0 per-day charge would cost $5.00. The cost to make the same call with the $.10/minute/$.99/day plan would cost $2.98 – that’s 40% cheaper!  Unless all your calls tend to be less than 4 minutes or less (breaking even with the $1/day plan), it’s not a good bargain to go with the $.25/minute plan. Consider yourself forewarned!