The Carbon Cycle and The Renewable Energy Economy

We’ll get back to tiny and small houses in a bit, but I wanted to touch base on a topic that I think we might need a refresher on: the carbon cycle. Like water, which is also necessary for life, carbon circulates throughout our world in a cycle. The earth has designed itself to work with all sorts of chemicals in all states, all over the place. Over 3+ billion years the planet has really refined its processes to not only support life but also keep everything in balance. Short of a meteor hitting the planet, nothing really can upset our happy little world. It takes thousands and millions of years for things to change, evolve, adapt…however you want to describe it.

Then humans came along and after a couple hundred thousand years we figured out how to change the natural systems of the planet, for no particular reason other than as a result of our need to make things easier for us. The carbon cycle is the latest thing we’ve messed up, with catastrophic ramifications for essentially every living thing on the planet.

Here’s the overview of the cycle from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research website 

The Carbon Cycle

All living things are made of carbon. Carbon is also a part of the ocean, air, and even rocks. Because the Earth is a dynamic place, carbon does not stay still. It is on the move!

In the atmosphere, carbon is attached to some oxygen in a gas called carbon dioxide.

Plants use carbon dioxide and sunlight to make their own food and grow. The carbon becomes part of the plant. Plants that die and are buried may turn into fossil fuels made of carbon like coal and oil over millions of years. When humans burn fossil fuels, most of the carbon quickly enters the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and traps heat in the atmosphere. Without it and other greenhouse gases, Earth would be a frozen world. But humans have burned so much fuel that there is about 30% more carbon dioxide in the air today than there was about 150 years ago, and Earth is becoming a warmer place. In fact, ice cores show us that there is now more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there has been in the last 420,000 years.

Image from University Corporation for Atmospheric Research website

Messing up the carbon cycle also makes a LOT more work for all of us. And with more work comes more cost. To think, we were trying to make life easier for us.

We like to mine and drill for coal, gas and oil and simply burn it because it is (erroneously) considered cheap energy. But doing so releases too much carbon into a system not designed to handle it which means we get whacky weather that costs economies around the world untold dollars in the form of property damage, lost productivity, healthcare costs, migration, refugee creation, on and on the list goes. We are socially adverse to stop burning fossil fuels because we’ve been trained to only look at jobs today, and cost on a monthly fuel bill or at the pump. How often do you hear relatives debating the latest gasoline prices vs the last time they debated the life cycle costs of owning an automobile or home run on fossil fuels? The fossil fuel economy has tons of hidden costs and we’ve all been schooled to keep them hidden. It is ironic that in a society that abhors social welfare programs, the very foundation of our fossil fuel addiction, which is killing us is in fact riddled with welfare in the form of these hidden costs.

Fossil fuels make all of our lives more difficult and more costly.

There is a better way. The sun (and earth) provides us with free energy just like free fossil fuels do. And we don’t have to dig underground for it necessarily (or at least we only need mine for the useful metals and elements needed to harvest solar power or mine geothermal wells). The biggest argument against renewable energy is that it costs too much and we can’t power everyone on it. Well let me tell you what, it doesn’t cost too much, we can power everything on renewables, and we have no choice if we want to live. So we need to rethink how we assess cost and value, and we need to rethink the possibilities here. More solar energy hits the surface of the planet daily than we could imagine using in a year. We need to work smarter and not harder.

Using renewable energy is like using your income instead of your savings to pay your bills. It’s simply responsible management of resources. Renewables also are more transparent when it comes to life cycle costs. You have the sun, the power generator and the consumer. There are no ill effects born by those who’s interests are not reperesented like you get with coal, oil and gas. When people have medical expenses due to poor air quality, the coal companies and users don’t get their medical bills. When sea levels rise and hurricanes increase due to the burning of oil, the oil rig workers, and Wall Street tycoons don’t get the bill for rebuilding entire communities and higher insurance premiums. When habitats are ruined so that future generations can’t use them, the gas company doesn’t get a bill to pay for that. Also fossil fuels are finite, so every barrel you burn is a barrel that won’t be available for our children to use; it’s not like mining for aluminum or gold that can be recycled. There is no honor in tearing down a mountain just to burn what a machine mines in order to run my XBox for an afternoon.

Renewable energy use gets the carbon cycle back on track, and is the most fair, cheapest and democratic manner in which to power our world. The switch to renewables also creates a second industrial revolution which will power our economy for the next hundred years as we educate and tool up our workforce in a manner that hasn’t been seen since the middle of the last century. Switching to renewables puts more people to work, and reduces our need for intrusive regulation.

I have no problem getting personal and saying when you argue against renewable energy you really show how little you know or how little regard you have for people, planet, and even profit. I think deep down we all care, or we should care, so educate yourself if you don’t know. I have a lot to learn as well too. And I still fill up my SUV’s with gasoline. But I am making every effort I can to improve and live the right way, hopefully someday without the need for fossil fuel welfare.

The number one thing we can do is be informed consumers. Understand the ramifications of our actions and decide what we want to support with our dollars and effort. Stop supporting those who deny climate change, and do not remain silent or turn a blind eye regarding how we should be fueling our world with renewables. Silence is complicity. I will not be silent, I will not abide the status quo. You shouldn’t either.


Tiny House Part 1

We watched a marathon of tiny house themed shows on HGTV yesterday and it got me thinking, they need to follow up with these people and see how long they actually live in these tiny homes. These are homes that range from less than one hundred square feet to less than two hundred square feet. Often these are actually built on a trailer chassis, including wheels and a hitch so you can tow the home to vacant land that you either rent or own. It’s a huge trend throughout North America. People choose tiny houses for various reasons: downsizing, de-cluttering, budget, mobility. And most of the world likely lives in spaces not much larger than what would be considered a tiny house.

But, of course, I have a few problems with tiny homes based on what I’m seeing in these shows. These houses are probably ok if you’re single and don’t have any pets. The people though I’m seeing more on these shows are couples, sometimes with kids and / or large dogs of all things. I want to see how many of them live in that small of space after say a weekend. I don’t know if the industry publishes any research into it, but I’d put money down that there is a huge percentage of buyer’s remorse. One hundred square feet is not enough space for two people and a large dog to live sanely. How these people don’t know this going into the process I don’t know.

A tiny house from the HGTV ‘Tiny House Hunters’ website

These “houses” do pack in a ton of style and organization into a small package, that is certain. There are issues with the fundamentals though. Let’s take a look at my pros and cons…many of which are on both sides of the ledger.


Downsizing: Making more out of less is a great concept that tiny homes take to the utter extreme. These homes force you to get rid of EVERYTHING, whether you think you need it or not. If you have a cat, you’re lucky if space for a litter box in one of these homes. You eat, sleep and entertain in the same space. This is a great tenet of contemporary living.

Style: These homes are seemingly always custom made so you can outfit it to match your style, with little to no added cost. From contemporary chic to rustic cabin charm, there is a tiny home to suit your style.

Cost: Owning a tiny home could free up money so you can pay off debt, travel, or just have more freedom to do what you want. With no space to store anything it also cuts down on your ability to by stuff because you’ll have no where to put it. Note: A tiny house in San Francisco costs $550,000, so no they are not inexpensive, but they are less expensive overall relative to a traditional house. Lower or no utility costs as well in many instances.


Mobility: Being able to move your tiny home in and of itself is actually great. The problem is, how often are you planning on moving it? Is it worth having to live in a tiny trailer on wheels that gets moved once every few years? And if you’re moving it that often, why not just buy a mobile home, or travel trailer which will do a better job with space and amenities?

Design: tiny homes are build like regular homes basically but on a smaller scale, and something is lost in translation. I feel like motor homes, boats and travel trailers do a better job with shared space, sleeping quarters, bathrooms and even entertainment.

Size: In their effort to be small I think they go too far, unless you’re single, in which case they’re probably okay. There is no “away” space unless you go outside which can be prohibitive in the winter. The bathrooms are extremely small, and sleeping quarters are no better. I just get a real clausterphobic vibe whenever I see these tiny homes. A vibe that would likely go away with just fifty or a hundred more square feet to spare


So this got me thinking, what would I do different? Observing this tiny house craze has made me circle back and appreciate the ‘Not So Big House’ philosophy of home living. I really think that with just a little more space, maybe sacrifice the ability to move the house, you can have all the pluses of a tiny house along with the sanity of not living in a compromised box on wheels. A not so big house can be a cleverly remodeled existing home. It can be a small new home that preserves the property it is on. And it can even be mobile in the form of a nicely appointed trailer or motor home. I’ll be the first to admit, I haven’t done hardcore research into tiny homes; where they’ve been and where they are going, but do know a thing or two about home construction, home ownership, as well as design, and even motor homes and trailers. With that being said, let’s start hashing out what a better tiny home might look like…stay tuned, I’ll share my miscellaneous ramblings as I create them and we’ll see if we can come up with anything better.

The goal is not to be small for the sake of small, but rather how much space to we need to live, work and play in, and how can we maximize the pros and minimize the cons 

I started jotting down some notes – what spaces are critical, and what qualities do they have. Also blocking out some shared function spaces to get in the mood.


Our nightmare is over! No, Donald Trump is still president. What I’m talking about is that I am finally  successful in changing the upstairs hall lightbulbs after three months.

The family unit was cleaning the upstairs hallway and it reminded me that I still needed to get bulbs for those ceiling fixtures. And as you’ve surely read, the LED bulbs didn’t work with the ballast. I couldn’t remove the ballast myself, so the LED bulbs went back the manufacturer. The replacement CFL’s I followed up with had the wrong base, G24Q-1, so they wouldn’t connect to my light fixture. Back those went.

Well today I ran out to my favorite light bulb retailer, Home Depot, and purchased G24Q-3 CFLs from my favorite lighting manufacturer Philips. They are 2,700K and use 26W (which is high) and are 1,800 lumens (also high).

The packaging opened easy enough, and is fully recyclable. I popped the new bulbs in and “voila!”


One thing off of my “to do” list.



We’ve been without proper lighting in the second floor hallway for like three months now due to the ongoing light bulb saga. As it turns out, raising the white flag on the LED bulbs by switching back to fluorescent bulbs still didn’t shield me from problems.

Apparently there are three types of G24Q bulbs – type 1, type 2 and type 3. Each has it’s own subtle little differences in the base (look at the little nibs on the diagram below from – and if you get the wrong one you’re screwed (although they are a “push in” and not a “screw” base).


image from

The ones I ordered from Amazon were a “type 1” and apparently my light fixture is anything but a type 1. Somewhere out there are product designers smarter than me who felt it necessary to not land on a universal standard.

I think the LED bulbs I had were universal though, fitting any type of socket, and that is why the readily fit the light fixture.

Now I have to figure out which type bulb socket I have and then order new ones.

Here’s a handy guide from


Light Bulb Debacle

As you saw in this write up a couple weeks ago, I tried to switch out the CFL bulbs in the upstairs hallway with LED bulbs. Well turns out that they are not “plug and play” rather the ballast needs to be removed for the LED lights to work. I called MaxLite and the technician made it sound pretty easy to remove the ballast, so I gave it a try.

It was a friggin’ disaster.

So I’m sending the bulbs back to EnergyAvenue. And I’ll call MaxLite this week and see if they make a true plug and play lightbulb. Otherwise I may just have to revert back to CFL bulbs. Maybe down the road I’ll simply have an electrician change out the three hallway light fixtures and cut my loses.

It took me a half hour to figure out how to take the light and ballast apart. Then when I looked inside there was no way the ballast was ever meant to be unwired. I am not an electrician by any scope of the imagination so I said “F*ck this” and reassembled everything.

I don’t even know what a ballast does.

I’m taking the rest of Sunday off and watching a movie or playing video games.


The inside of a CFL light fixture ballast.

Garage Door Opener Bulb

Okay, so this probably isn’t my most exciting written piece, but I’m kinda jazzed I got light bulbs for my garage door openers. We were placing an order on Amazon and I noticed they now offer these great Genie brand garage door opener LED bulbs. I had worked on a project designing several displays for these bulbs and my interest was piqued.

The reason you need a special bulb for your garage door opener is one, they need to be vibration resistant for obvious reasons. And secondly the garage door opener can cause interference with regular LED bulb electronics.

These gems were about $10 apiece and are a 10w bulb (60w equivalent). So they’re not the most efficient bulb but then again how often are the going to be on. They put out an amazing 800 lumens each. They are 3000K, so fairly warm for a garage, and will last 22+ years. The bulbs are also rated for cold weather (it’s 60 degrees in January today so maybe that’s not as much a concern anymore in Ohio), and damp locations, so no worries with their garage environment performance. I believe the bulbs are also smaller than a typical light bulb; I think they are considered A19.



Update on my upstairs hall LED’s: one of the bulbs flickered and went out. I think I need to remove the CFL ballast and direct wire the bulbs. I call the store I bought them from and they referred me to MaxLite. I left a message at MaxLite but haven’t heard from them yet. I may just try and do it myself and use the bulbs I have as opposed to sending them back. I’ll keep you posted (yes, I know, it’s all so thrilling).

G24Q LED Bulbs

[Update: these bulbs didn’t work for my application without removing the ballast, and that was “no bueno” when I tried. Read about it here.]

The upstairs hallway lightbulbs have been burning out, so it was finally time to replace them. I took the opportunity to upgrade the bulbs from compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs to new modern LED bulbs.

The biggest challenge was the light fixture takes four pin G24Q style bulbs, which I’ve never even seen before. So I searched the internet and sure enough there were some options for LED G24Q bulbs. Even just a year or two ago it might have been difficult to find this form factor in LED technology, but now that LED’s are mainstream so to speak, I believe you can find them as a replacement for virtually any bulb you’ll find in your home.

I wanted an LED bulb that matches the warm 2700K glow of the CFL’s (the higher the number the colder or blue the light gets all the way up to 5000K). The LED bulb also needed to work with this CFL light fixture, which means it needs the built in electronics to run without having to modify the fixture’s ballast or wiring. I discovered just what I was looking for at Energy Avenue online.

There are three reasons why I chose LED replacement bulbs versus CFL bulbs. One is CFL’s contain Mercury, so if you break a bulb you have a major problem to clean up. Mercury is a huge health hazard if you inhale, touch or otherwise are exposed to it. Secondly LED’s use less energy. In this case at 8 watts, they use less than half the energy of a CFL. Lastly the LED bulbs will last 20 years compared to around 5 years for the CFL’s which means I don’t have to get up on a chair and change bulbs in this enclosed fixture very often, saving me about an hour of my life.

Switching the bulbs was easy and they provide an equal amount of light and color as the CFL’s did. The LED bulbs I selected are unidirectional which means they cast light down only, not all over like the CFL’s. This does create visual hot spots in the fixtures when they are on, which can be distracting, but in the grand scheme of things I don’t care too much, plus I don’t go upstairs that often. You can get LED’s that shine in all directions, I just didn’t think it would be an issue and I’m too lazy to send them back. The MaxLite bulbs I bought do have a cool swivel action so you can rotate the lens to where you want it. This is helpful because with the G24Q four pin base you can not always plan on which way the bulb will face.

By changing these four bulbs upstairs the number of non-LED bulbs we have falls even further down. Pretty soon we will be 100% LED light bulbs in the house which has always been a dream of mine. This really reduces our electric bill, saving us money and reducing how much our family is polluting the environment.

I’d love to hear if you’ve been trying LED bulbs in your home or office.

Have you discovered any interesting or uncommon LED bulb shapes or applications?

Share in the comments below.