Monday, December 19, 2011

Heating with Wood - Simply the Best!

For the past decade I have been spent my winters in a cold house that used heat pumps as the primary source of heat.  Let's just say that heat pumps leave a lot to be desired.  My gas logs were equally disappointing and costly to run.

I got tired of freezing last year and experimented with a rocket stove.  The rocket stove did a fair job of heating the room it was in...  But I still needed more.

This year I broke down and installed a wood stove.  Firewood is everywhere right now for free after hurricane Irene, so I figured this would be as good a time as any.  I installed a new 6 inch Duravent chimney.  (This was no small project as my roof is high and steep.)  I had to get some help with this because it was beyond the scope of what my ladder can do.

I built the hearth pad myself.  4 layers of cement board, a sheet of 1/16th inch steel, and concrete paver stones surrounded my a 2x4 frame stained with mahogany.

I picked out a Vogelzang "Durango" stove.  Caught it on sale for a good price.  I wanted a good free-standing stove... This one fits the bill perfectly.  I get some pretty good burn times out of this stove and it really cranks out the heat once you get it going.  Keep in mind that you need good seasoned wood to get heat from your wood stove.

One more thing to note...  In the stove pipe mounted above my stove I put a device called "Magic Heat".  This is a heat exchanger that captures heat from the flue gases and circulates room air through the heat tubes.  This device really boosts the performance of the stove setup.  I'm a really pleased with it.

The results speak for themselves...  Last night it got down in the 20's.  It was toasty in my den.  The rest of the house was about 70 degrees.  My heat pumps are OFF for the winter, which should cut my electric bill down significantly.  The stove will pay for itself quickly.  I am shooting for an electric bill of around 80 bucks (or less) per month this winter.  :)

All I have to say is... After a decade of runny noses and cold feet this thing is awesome!!  It adds some magic to the home, and seems to bring people together, and the comfort of wood heat is like no other.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What's New?

Sorry for the delay in posting...  I have been a busy boy lately.  I recently changed employers and have found a new lease on life.  :)  It is so nice to have a change of scenery.

So whats new around my place?  Well, we are still maintaining the ~50% cut on the electric bill.  We are getting ready for winter.  The rocket stove got moved outside because the room it was in was repurposed... I think it is going to become a patio heater!!

Hurricane Irene blew through and made a real mess, but one man's mess is another man's treasure.  Firewood is abundantly laying on the ground everywhere.  I will be buzzing up a few cords of wood for storage very soon.  I will post pictures of my stove install once it is done.  I can't wait to feel that wood heat in my house.

Also, I have been looking into the possibilities of building a low tech cottage like the one over at "Year of Mud".  The concept of building a dwelling from natural materials really interests me.  I feel that we as a nation have been sold a bill of goods of consumerism.  Just think about it...  Building a home for next to nothing?  That is just awesome.  Check it out...  This site literally set my mind on fire with ideas!

I will post more "stuffs" here soon...  Stay tuned!!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Zombie Economics - A Guide to Personal Finance

beware zombies!
Books about personal finance are usually boring and monotone. Zombie Economics - A Guide to Personal Finance, by Lisa Desjardins and Rick Emerson takes a new approach. It spoon feeds you information in ways that you can easily relate to. It is easier to think of bills and burdens in terms of ghouls and zombies. This book helps you to visualize slaying your debt, and fighting off hordes of bills. Zombie Economics is an in-depth yet easy to understand compendium of proven methods to gain financial freedom!

Zombie Economics will teach you to be your own hero. This book provides great advice for virtually every form of financial hardship... It covers getting to know your financial self, hardships such as unemployment, debt relief, savings, and shows you in simple terms how to get your life in order. Zombie Economics also tells us how to protect ourselves from future threats so that zombies will never find their way into our lives again!

Everyone faces some form of financial difficulty in day to day life. There are many people who walk through lives each day as zombies without even knowing it... Are you infected? Are you one of the many who has no control over their own money? Are you able to pay your bills? Do you have a savings plan? Do you buy things you don't need or want? Do you fall victim to deceptive product sales? Do you have zombie moochers in your life? Do you sacrifice your own financial well being for others with parasitic intentions? Do you find yourself saying YES to people when you'd rather be saying NO?

You need to know the signs of infection. You need to protect yourself and your loved ones. Zombie Economics will help you become stronger and give you the weapons you need to fight off the hordes of financial challenges in your life. Prevent further infection... Get Zombie Economics - A Guide to Personal Finance and prepare yourself for the fight of your life!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: Black and Decker EM100B Energy Saver Series Power Monitor

I just installed a Black and Decker EM100B Energy Saver Power Monitor devices on my electric meter.  I found them on sale on Amazon and got it for next to nothing (under $30).  All I can say is... "Wow... This is what the electric companies should be giving us instead of the crappy meters they give us."

The unit installs easily.  I think it took me about 5 minutes to get it up and running.  It requires 4 AA batteries (not included).  I was actually surprised at how easy the installation was.

The data that the unit displays is very useful for people like me who are trying to cut their expenses.  The EM100B shows current usage and also estimates how much you are spending on electricity.  You can use the device to identify potential energy hogs.  For instance, I found that while my heat pumps were running it was costing .45 cents per minute.

I would highly recommend the Black and Decker EM100B Energy Saver Series Power Monitor to anyone who wants to spend less on electricity.  This device can pay for itself in no time!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Great Set of Videos about Making Your Own Wind Turbines

Here is a great series of videos showing how to make some rugged wind turbine blades from ordinary 2 x 4s!  Pretty cool!  Dan Rojas is a genius.

GreenPowerScience's Playlist of Wind Turbine Blade Creation Videos.


The Answer is Blowin' in the Wind

LOL...  I know what you are thinking...  Now he's going low tech on us.  Yep.  I am.  But why not??  Expecially when you consider that it takes thousands of watts for extended time periods to process laundry.  The electric clothes dryer has cost us all a LOT of money in our lifetimes. Why not just hang those wet clothes up and let the sun and air do the work??

This clothesline setup costed me under $20 and will pay for itself in one month.  Sold!  I'll take it.  Sunshine and air are free so this is a no brainer for me.

Efficient LED Lighting for CHEAP

This is a really easy hack. You can convert your house lighting over to LED and save a ton of money on electricity.
  1. Purchase a string of Super Bright White LED Christmas Lights. Leave lights in rolled bundle. After christmas sales are a great time to save money on these.
  2. Purchase a lamp socket to AC two prong adapter. (Looks like below. At most hardware stores for around $2.50.)
  3. Remove old light bulb from light fixture.
  4. Screw in Lamp Socket to AC two prong adapter.
  5. Plug in Christmas lights into the Lamp Socket to AC two prong adapter.
  6. Use electrical tape to secure light string to fixture.
  7. Replace lamp shade or fixture dome.
And there you have it! Your light fixture is now super efficient! If you time your purchases right you can implement this solution for under $10 bucks per fixture. The low energy drain from these lights would make a great fit for Solar Photovoltaic applications.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Off-Grid Mindset

When the going gets tough the tough disconnect from the "grids" in their life. There are many grids we connect to aside from electricity. I view a "grid" as anything that you are dependent on that gives you a rewarding feeling but costs you somehow. These things that find their way into our lives become a dependency and we end up paying for them every day, month, and year.

The typical consumer is "hooked up" without even realizing it. Everyone has their vices. I readily admit that I was once connected to the "coffee grid". I would stop on the way to work each day and buy a cup. In time it became an almost default morning action. It became mundane. One day I did the math and realized that I was paying a lot of money for something that wasn't really rewarding. I then realized that there were many things that I was connected to that were draining me in more ways than one... and I realized that I wasn't alone.

It turns out I was connected to the electric, cable TV, telephone, cell phone, internet, gasoline, ipod, coffee, donut, lunch, dinner, employment, gym membership, car payment, mortgage, and insurance grids too! Oh the horror! All of these things were draining me of not only money, but also my time and life force!! To make matters worse I was also connected to the "my job sucks grid". LOL! So there you have it... A corporate slave was born. (*insert whip crack here* OUCH!!!*) The things I owned and subscribed to were owning me while I spent my time working for them.

Consider all of the things you do each day. Do they make you happy? Do they cost you money or time? Do you loathe paying the price associated with these things but fear the change of disconnecting from them?

Well I have good news!! You were born with everything you need to survive. You can do without. In fact, you might just enjoy your life more without these things. If you disconnect from your desire to be comfortable... If you learn to entertain yourself... If you learn to believe in yourself... If you open yourself to change and envision you being untangled and free you can be much happier. The tie that binds is never meant to free you. Cut it!

Don't look at it as "doing without". Think about it as being more efficient. Think about it as doing much more with what is truly yours. You can do it your way. You can take baby steps and disconnect only a few things -OR- you can turn it all off at once. The choice is yours! The key is to do what you like and do it your way! Trust me, you will be happier when you take back some of your time and freedom. Don't let them fool you... FREEDOM IS FREE! ITS THE SLAVERY THAT COSTS.

Put some money in your pocket for a change. Spend some time in your back yard. You don't need movie theaters and restaurants. Call friends over for hot dogs. Burn a camp fire. Grow a garden. Have fun while you reduce your dependency on the corporate world. Who knows... You might even decide to take it to the next level and build a wind turbine or install something that can reduce or eliminate your dependency on utilities. You don't have to go completely off-grid to be an off grid thinker.

I have done much to change my life around. Its paying off. In time I might elaborate... but that is another story! ; )

Monday, May 16, 2011

Conservation Works! Your wallet will thank you!

This post is testimony to the fact that conservation works. What is conservation you ask? Simply put, it is doing what you can to reduce how much you use devices that use electricity, gas, water, etc. My focus has been on conserving electricity.

The picture above is from my most recent electricity bill. One year ago I used 1650 KWH on my electric bill. This year... 770 KWH. YES!!! I reduced my usage by more than half!!!

I've told a lot of my friends about this, and they each had a resounding question... "How did you do it?" The answer is... I did a lot. Read on...

For starters, I became mindful of what was being used in my home. There's a lot more you can do to reduce your electric demand. Here are some of the things I did:
  • Purchased a Kill-A-Watt and audited all devices in my house. This helped me identify which devices carry "phantom loads". (Devices that constantly consume electricity even if they are turned OFF.)
  • I compiled a spreadsheet that calclulated the monthly \ yearly cost to run each device.
  • I used a couple of methods to deal with "phantom loads". I put devices on power strips that I could turn OFF when not in use. For some devices I used a timer to drastically reduce the amount time the device could be powered on. (For instance, I saved myself approx $6 dollars a month by simply putting the pump for my Koi pond on a timer... It now runs for 4 hours throughout the day instead of 24.)
  • Switched all light bulbs over to CFL or LED. You can drastically reduce your wattage by doing this.
  • We turn the lights off when not in use.
  • I turned my heat pumps OFF! My philosophy professor once said that dependency on climate controls is a weakness. You do not need heat \ air conditioning to survive. I am doing quite well running two box fans in my windows.
  • I installed a Propane Gas Tankless Water Heater. The gas lasts a long time, and no more electric demand.
  • I put my swimming pool pump and salt system on a timer. After I read the specs on these devices I determined that they were energy hogs. I now run these for 4 hours each day.
  • I turned my hot tub OFF. This thing was an energy sucking demon.
  • I installed a clothesline. We run the clothes dryer only when necessary. A clothes dryer is by far the worst offender. Sunshine is free.
  • I also rigged up an off-grid solar circuit for my downstair lighting. So far its a huge success. Each night I light my house with solar power.
So, my electric bill has been cut in half. My wallet is loving it. 770 KWH for a household of five is something to be proud of.

You can do it too. The trick is to get everyone in your household on board. If you can work as a team you can all share in the joy of saving money and having fun together. A hundred bucks per month in savings would afford you a nice vacation somewhere. :) I'm lucky in that my household works together as a team and believes in living frugally. Frugal isn't cheap... Frugal is wise.

Simple Solar Setup - Harbor Freight Solar Kit

This is my solar setup. I bought two Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Kits. These panels generate enough electricity to run the lamps in my home all night. I also run the pump for my Koi pond on it. I hooked my panels up to two 12 Volt DC Deep Cycle Marine Batteries and a 400 Watt Inverter. I also have a Grid Tie Inverter that I hook up when the batteries are fully charged.

I am doing everything I can now to reduce my dependency on the grid. So far I am doing so without noticing much difference in lifestyle. You can actually live very well off grid... Its actually kind of fun! :)

I would recommend the Harbor Freight kits to anyone who wants to give solar a try. They are easy to get up and running, and help to give a basic understanding of how solar works.

DIY 55 Gallon Drum Incinerator

I got tired of paying for trash pickup. In these times hard times in which we live one has to come up with ways to reduce expenses in order to survive. I had an old 55 gallon drum that was just collecting dust. I decided to make an incinerator that I could burn my paper & cardboard in. I know... I know... Its probably not the greenest solution in the world, but hey... its saving me 30 bucks a month in trash removal. :)

We actually recycle our plastics. The nasty food stuff goes into a compost pile. The rest gets burned. Saves $360 a year. Works for me. So far everything that I have fed into this burner has burned completely and has been reduced to ashes. For my next trick I might try to harness the heat from something like this for home heating in the winter months. Imagine heating your house with trash. :)

Parts used:
1 55 Gallon Drum
1 Toggle bolt (for door handle)
2 Galvanized Hinges
1 4" x 5' Galvanized duct pipe
1 4" Duct Rain Cap

Tools used:
Dewalt Hand Grinder
120 VAC Arc Welder (This thing is worth its weight in gold!)
Drill with 1-1/2" Hole Saw attachment (For holes in bottom of barrel for air.)