World Pangolin Day

World Pangolin Day

Today is World Pangolin Day. If you’re not sure what that means, I’ll give you an ultra brief rundown. This is a pangolin:

This is a pangolin. Super cute. Photo courtesy of

This is a pangolin. Super cute. Photo courtesy of


According to Wikipedia, a pangolin is a mammal that has large keratin scales covering its skin, and is the only known mammal with this adaptation. It is found naturally in tropical regions throughout Africa and Asia. The name pangolin comes from the Malay word pengguling, meaning “something that rolls up”. It is the most trafficked mammal in the world.

People in Southeast Asia love harvesting these little guys, often illegally, and selling all their bits , often illegally, to people in China primarily, as well as other countries. At the rate their habitat is being destroyed, and they are being killed, the pangolin will be extinct in just a few years. Which means while we’ve been able to enjoy their existence and the cool diversity they bring to our world, our kid’s world will be distinctly lacking in diversity cause they won’t have pangolins. Personally I don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t have cool animals, such as the pangolin, in it.

So to raise awareness we celebrate World Pangolin Day today!

Click here for 7 ways to celebrate World Pangolin Day today, and every day really.

And you can use these cool hashtags to raise awareness:

Please take the time to appreciate these awesome critters, and everything they offer in terms of wonder and diversity to our cool world. Think of ways that you and your family can help save these and other endangered plants and animals.

Basement Fireproof Caulking

When not trying to save the world, I’m trying to improve the comfort and performance of our house. Today I checked off a chore that had been on my list for a while.

Plumbers, electricians and HVAC installers in my opinion are nice guys but generally can be horrific when it comes to “whole system thinking”. What happens is the electrician comes in and runs wires, or the HVAC guy runs ducts. Then another trade comes in and does their thing. Well in doing their thing, they may inexplicably mess up the work of another trade and in the end you have a bunch of little issues that need to be addressed. For example, there is support blocking that was removed when air ducts went in, or random hole attempts in the foundation, or holes in air ducts where wires go through.

Just like the foam I had to replace / supplement last week, today I had to deal with some air flow issues. There is a large air duct that was created between two first floor joists. Fairly common, the HVAC team tacks up some corrugated like silver board to seal up the space between two joists and “Presto!”, instant air duct. The problem is either before or after someone ran electrical wires through the two joists. So the air duct, which works most efficiently when it’s air tight, has a bunch of holes that allow air to escape. By time the air goes from the furnace to the vent upstairs, it’s lost a lot of its “gusto” which makes the furnace work harder. In fact you want to keep wires out of the ducts altogether because they are an unnecessary obstruction to air flow.

To seal up these holes, finally, I used some fire barrier caulk. Because they’re electrical wires, you have to use fire caulk. The grey gooey stuff was easy to work with and came off of my hands easily when it was clean up time. I ended up using my finger to apply it because it was difficult to reach the holes with the caulk gun; too many pipes and wires in the way.

I even caulked up some gaps at the end of the vent for good measure.

Tip: do all this caulking during construction when you have better access, or ask your tradesmen to do it for you.


Framing is complete in the basement. So now we’re ready for inspections and then electrical. It’s really exciting to see the rooms formed and ready for the next step. I think we have around $750-$1,000 worth of materials into the project so far. My labor is free.

And I noticed my spray foam job did the trick on the exterior penetrations. I got one more can to touch up one little gap, but otherwise we should be pretty air tight in the basement now. Will see if these sealing chores impact our electric bill in the coming year.


How To Gut Shoot A Wednesday Morning

What should have been a day where I worked all day wire-to-wire, turned out to be lost to time with little production to show for it. As I settled in to work on my project, the one due Friday morning, I could be found clicking away at my computer. Adjacent to my four-by-eight veal box of an office is my studio. In my studio are the litter boxes for our three resident felines. Well the boxes really needed to be cleaned out. I should have done it days ago but just got really busy. They smelled enough that I had to do something – I can work like that no longer. I figured I could scuttle an hour this morning to increase the aromatic niceness of my office. Someday I’ll move the cats to the basement, clear out all the junk at the bottom of the stairs and set up a litter box spa for our furry friends. But that day was not today.

So as the wife left for the dentist I started in on cleaning the litter boxes. On my way back and forth I noticed the box that the FedEx guy dropped off; the spousal unit had set it in the foyer. It was the 501 air filter for our Aprilare air cleaner…

Okay, here’s the deal: I have some sort of metal disorder where I can’t do something monumental if I have something minor weighing on me. My OCD requires me to make a mental list and check items off of it. So in lieu of working – you know, the stuff that pays the bills – I now had to clean the litter box AND change the air filter. I could bang them both out in under an hour I thought. Just work later into the evening. Sounds like a fair deal I negotiated with myself.

So I grabbed the filter, whose replacement now superseded the litter boxes, and went down stairs. I spare you my perplexity as I tried to figure out how to change the filter without reading the directions. Luckily the new filter had complete instructions printed on the box, albeit in an unreadable (by my forty-year-old eyes) green color. Despite the instructions it was still a royal pain-in-the-ass: There are these pleats…and these pleat separating things…and god, it’s just a complicated ordeal. Meanwhile Dixon and Daisy are milling about. And not surprisingly EACH of them decided to walk INTO the open air filter, leading to the innards of the furnace and ductwork. Twice I had to reach in there and retrieve a cat. Both got tush pushes courtesy of yours truly; encouraging them to go play anywhere but INSIDE the furnace.

Okay, filter replaced. Go back to litter box, then work. Behind schedule but, check the “air filter that you replace every 6 months, but I change every 2 years instead” monkey off my back.

Top of stairs, turn to laundry room to clean litter boxes….“What’s that?” I said to the yellow envelope sitting on the bench.

Picking the envelope up I looked at the label, “Hey, these are my ionizing wires”. They were shipped separately from the filters. Looking around…“I could get these in quick, then do the litter boxes. Be back to work by ten, tops” I thought. See, ionizing wires stretch along the length of the air filter assembly and ionize something so that something else happens in there. All I know is I had two broken ones. Oh, and they cost $16 a pop.

“What’s that?” a little blond kid asked. I had forgotten I was supposed to be watching the kids too. Things weren’t looking good on the work front. Don’t even get me started on parenting.

“Ionizing wires.” I carefully opened the envelope and cut the plastic bags, knowing that if I broke one..cut one even…there was a good chance I would lose my mind and probably burn the house down out of spite, then spend the rest of the day in the bar down the street.

Back downstairs I pulled out the furnace air filter assembly, yet again. With barely a blink my two furry companions were on me like white on rice: checking to make sure I wasn’t screwing anything up. Oh, and to crawl into the furnace again. “Damn it, get out of here!”

Looking down I fiddled with the ionizing wires. There are nine, and before me lay seven intact, and two flailing about between my finger tips. “Alright, I can probably salvage this one”

“Bring me a flashlight!” I yelled upstairs to my kid. It’s amazing how blind I am; it’s like a switch they flick when I turned forty. Life is a genuine bitch.


“Oh my god, bring me a freaking flashlight.” After trying to insert the wires blind, I was this close to throwing the air filter assembly through the argon filled basement window.

“Ooooo okay.” He was jazzed cause he got the “put-me-in-coach” call from his old man in the basement.

Now I had two cats and a kid watching me wrestle ionization wires. After I tried three times, flashlight between my teeth, the cats gave up on me and moved on to trying to defoliate a fake christmas tree.

“Here, hold this…and point it right here” I handed my little helper the flashlight and gestured to the end of the ionization wire I was making love to.

“Voila!” I was able to re-use the one wire. “$16 will buy a lot of beer” I thought.

The next wire was just as fickle as the first. Well I must have exceeded the attention span of a five-year-old because now the flashlight was dancing all over the place.

I fired him on the spot and took back my flashlight. He sheepishly walked back upstairs. I felt bad, but this is the big leagues. Better he learn life’s disappointments from me than some random prick out in the real world.

Back to my wire, I snapped it on the third try, and out came the new shiny wire. Eventually I got it installed; it’s a miracle I didn’t break it or have a stress induced heart attack.

“Cool!” I smiled as I slid the filter assembly back into the open furnace.



Blue lights on…everything’s working.

Look around. It was eerily quiet.

“Where are the cats?” I wondered.

“Where are the cats?” I wondered out loud…like really loud.

“What?” a five-year old voice called down from the top of the stairs.

Fourteen life choices cycled through my head in a matter of one second. “We need to find the cats. NOW.” I yelled upstairs as I shut off the air cleaner and pulled out the air filter assembly. I gazed inside half expecting to see eyes.


I put the filter in the way of the opening to block it, in case they weren’t in there; they wouldn’t now be able to get in. The taller of the two blond kids that eat my food came down stairs. “Do you know where the cats are?” I asked him.


“Well let’s play a game whereby we find them and then daddy doesn’t go to PETA jail because he stuffed his cats into a running furnace.” I mean normally the damn things are easy to find, even in our basement; which looks like an episode of hoarders. I instructed my oldest to keep looking, and I went upstairs.

“Have you seen the cats?” I asked pip-squeak. He was watching Disney’s ‘Frost’ for the 1,472nd time.

“Oh I know” he said and then proceeded to lead me along a string of false, and historically inaccurate cat sightings dating back to around the time they lost that plane in Malaysia.

It was a blur. I some point I turned off the furnace at the thermostat. Figuring that might be a good idea. Eventually I found myself back downstairs.

We found a cat.

It was Dixon.

He was sitting so nice. God, he’s such a nice cat…really tame and friendly…and here he was sitting so nice in front of what will be a future bathroom someday, down in the basement. There he was sitting nice…

And looking up.

I went over to him and looked up too. Then it hit me. Animals don’t look up because they are philosophizing about the plight of blue-fin tuna in the Far East.

“Oh you’ve got to be F*CKING kidding me.”

I said that out loud.

“Is that even possible?” I thought as my eyes traced back along the labyrinth of silver ducts…eight inch round leads to twelve-inch rectangle…leads to big ass return air…leads to air cleaner.

I mean how could she even climb up and around that duct work. But this is Daisy we’re talking about. Just the other day I saw her climb the fireplace to the ceiling. Sure the duct was smooth, but I wouldn’t bet against her.

I quieted myself. Dixon looked at me, then back at the pipes and tilted his head.

And that when I heard it.

So faint you’d think it was a lie.

The faintest sound of claws. On metal. Moving left to right.

My ninja cat, she can barely meow and her purrs can only be felt, was in the ductwork of our home.

My eyes traced a line as she moved towards the foyer. I started calculating the ramifications. There was a joint in the pipe. I could cut that. Keep her localized between the floor vent and where I’ll rip the pipe from the ceiling. I grabbed a stick and tapped the pipe; hoping to get a faint meow to confirm my suspicions.

Nothing. Just faint claw clicks.

And that my friends is while I should not work from home. If I went to an office like every other poor stiff out there in the real world this would have never had happened. See, working in an environment with so many distractions only leads to me getting grey hairs and a one way ticket to OCD-stress endured psychosis. And they do not serve beer in mental wards. I’ve checked.

With a sigh I followed Daisy’s quiet march, walking along and looking up.

Then I saw it.

Between the two ducts above my head.

I saw a flash of…


“Bad cat!” I exclaimed in relief. My oldest kid came back down the stairs. “Did you find her?”


She wasn’t inside the pipe, she was on top of the pipe. Balancing her tiny body (it could fit in a cereal bowl) on top of the pipe there was no way for me to see her. It is tight in that joist bay; filled with two air ducts. Well that was a win for me. I wouldn’t have to tear down the ductwork. The blond kid got a good chuckle out of it. As did I. Later he’d tell his mom all about it with laughter and eye gleams only a little kid can muster. Real family memories no doubt.

As for Ms. Daisy, she walked her way back to the end. I think she bit off more than even she could chew because I had to get a ladder to get her down. I have no idea how she got up there. You could look at every possible way and couldn’t figure it out. At the very least she’d have made some noise scrambling UP there but I heard no commotion when I was working on the air filter wires. A mystery that I doubt she’ll repeat anytime soon.

I’m just glad she wasn’t inside a duct.

You can’t imagine how glad.

By time I got to work it was eleven in the morning. Ultimately my morning was shot. I did get three chores off my list – and the reality is, doing so did allow me to focus on my work better. I didn’t get nearly enough done today, but tomorrow will be better.

After all I’m not planning on opening up the air filter.

I don't even know what to say. Suffice to say she wasn't coming down of her own accord.

I don’t even know what to say. Suffice to say she wasn’t coming down of her own accord.

You can see the air cleaner sandwiched down low between the furnace and the rectangular air return duct.

You can see the air cleaner sandwiched down low between the furnace and the rectangular air return duct.

The two ducts on the far left is where she was at.

The two ducts on the far left is where she was at.




Waiting For Spring

Writing-wise all is at a standstill. Tuesday evening finds me burnt out. After a week of travel for work, this week finds me up to my eyeballs in work – both paying and the behind the scenes stuff that doesn’t pay anything but hopefully sows seeds that will amount to something someday. Nothing is going on around the estate as we wait out the remainders of Winter – it snowed yet again today.

I have spent some time working on a few maintenance items including a new filter and ionization wires for the air cleaner. Cost is around $75 annually to replace these items. And I’ve made arrangements to have the septic tank pumped; glamorous yes, I know. One note in case you’re curious, pumping is around $350 dollars for 2,500 gallons. I believe our tank is closer to 3,000 so I don’t know if that means we get 500 gallons free or they leave 500 gallons in there. Pumping only is needed every 2-3 years. Maintenance on the septic is $250 per year too. So while we lack a sewer bill, there still are costs involved. 100′ is the cutoff from tanker truck to tank so I’m hoping we’re closer than that – something I never thought about when we built the house and had the tank installed.

We’ve started making our Spring chore list for outside if the weather ever breaks. Included on that are finishing the sand box and cleaning out the veggie garden. Once warm weather arrives we’ll venture in the garage and find all the seed starting supplies. I bought sunflower seeds, and the wife bought a variety of tea related plant seeds…like camomile? Does that sound right?

Beyond that it’s work, work, work 24/7.

I won’t be writing much in the foreseeable future. I’m even too tired to come up with anything profound, inspiring or otherwise. Be kind to each other everyone. Stay active and involved. These are exciting times to be alive. Take the time to hug your loved ones and enjoy every minute of every day. Soon we’ll all be able to flee the confines of our homes and run around in the sun chasing sprouts and butterflies. Or at least I hope so.

I’ll give Dixon a hug for all of you. He’ll like that a lot I bet.

Our Home Energy Usage


In case you’re wondering, here’s what we use in electricity per month.  I don’t know if this is good or bad. It seems like we use a lot. Then again, everything in our house runs off electric except natural gas range (stovetop).  Heating and light bulb use in winter is what kills us. Our old “normal” 2,700 sq ft house, we averaged 500 kWH per month, 6,500 kWH per year. But that was with mostly just two adults and no kids.

Stuff that runs off electricity (family of four, 3400 sq ft cape cod, NEOhio):

  • geothermal heating and cooling
    • set at 69 degrees in winter
    • set at 72 in summer?
    • we rarely open up the windows (I know we should)
  • cistern water pump (water coming in)
  • septic system pump (water and waste going out)
  • sump pump (runs all the time when its wet out)
  • lighting – including copious amount of incandescent bulbs in kitchen and living room
  • tv (our favorite pass time)
  • computers, phone chargers, iPad, etc. (on all the time)
  • internet (on all the time)
  • chest freezer and small fridge that we don’t use but are plugged in (forgive me father for I have sinned)
Our electric usage in Kwh since we moved in.

Our electric usage in Kwh since we moved in.

To improve things I need to unplug the unused freezer and mini fridge. I need to replace all the light bulb eventually with LED’s. And we should start opening our windows more. I also want to get a programable thermostat which would help a ton at night, regulating temperatures.  Also would be nice if we learned to shut off lights when we leave a room.

Natural Gas

I don’t think the natural gas furnace has ever turned on….not sure it ever will.  We pay about $30 for natural gas and that is almost all fees and taxes ($23 in fees and usage, $7 in actual natural gas). 

In hind sight, we probably should have forgone the natural gas all together and went all electric. This despite my love of booking with gas, and the fact that natural gas is cleaner than our coal sourced electricity here in Ohio. All electric would save us $360 annually, not to mention all the plumbing and maybe an all electric range oven would have been cheaper. It may not amount to much but when every penny counts, I may have given it more thought.

Our average usage is a little under 1.0 MCF per month, and 14.6 MCF in the last year. For us Natural Gas is more of a hobby than energy supply. In our old “normal” 2,700 sq ft house we used about 100 MCF a year, so we dropped our dependence on gas by 85%.

gas bill

Other Stuff

As far as wood pellets go, we’re still working on the free ton we got with the fireplace. I’d say we’re a third of the way through. The family room is the warmest room in the house to begin with, so turning on the pellet fire place is more for ambiance.

I don’t know how to judge water usage or septic usage. Water comes in, stuff goes out. Circle of life.  All we pay for so far is water filters, about $40 every couple months.

If anyone has better “average” household use numbers for electricity or gas, post up in the comments. I couldn’t find much online.

A Cursory Glance At Solar Electric For Green Living

We enter week two of new cats.  I took them to the vet and they checked out alright. No major diseases. The do have fleas and worms  but all of that can hopefully be cleared up in the coming weeks. Keeping them segregated from our original cat, Daphne is a pain, but this to shall pass and we’ll be one big happy family in no time.  I’ve got all the Christmas lights and various trees up to, and we even got our first holiday card in the mail. Most of our shopping is done, so we’re all ready for the 25th.

Out of curiosity I took a few minutes today to look at Dovetail Solar & Wind’s website. I wanted to see where the prices were at for renewable energy systems. An article on EcoWatch reminded me of my interest in someday having our estate work off of the grid.

Here is a sample overview Dovetail regarding the cost and size of a typical solar electric system:

SOLAR PV Residential Price Sheet 10-7-2013af.xlsx

If we put in a system, I would want a roof based array, that had battery back up. I abhor the thought of a power outage; we’ve had three in the last three weeks and I hate worrying about the sump pump, water pump, septic and refrigerator. In fact I’d go so far as to consider a bit of redundancy and install a natural gas generator as well. We’d have quite the outpost for the zombie apocalypse.

I took a look at the September ‘Home Energy Report’ that Ohio Edison provided us and it said we used 1,266 kWh which is “good” according to them. Apparently my “efficient” neighbors only used 748 kWh in September, and “all” neighbors used an average of 1,376 kWh. Despite our house being an electricity hog, the advantage of having a virtually all-electric house (we use gas for cooking and heat backup on our hybrid furnace) is that we can, in theory, switch to all solar electric and get off the grid, which is our ultimate goal….especially once the zombies start coming and take out the coal-fired electric plants along the Ohio River.

Let’s say we use 1,250 kWh per month. First we’d want to reduce our usage to a bare minimum – switch all the lights to LED’s, teach my family not to leave lights on, etc. That’s the first rule of being sustainable, get as efficient as you can, but efficiency follows the rule of diminishing returns, so just being efficient isn’t enough; especially if we’re looking to get off the grid. Other areas I need to attack include finding the damn Therma-tru door corner pads to block out the daylight I still see on my exterior door corners (I lost the damn yellow envelope they sent me during studio decorating!!!), and working on the fan board in the crawl spaces, as well as finishing off the basement with insulation on the top 4′ of the Superior Walls. I list these things if for no other reason than to keep reminding myself they need to be done.

Okay, math time.  Let’s say our efficiency measures get us down to 1,000 kWh per month. 1kW of solar capacity = 100 kWh per month, so we’d need a 10kW system to live off the grid. Well looking at the above chart, that’s not really realistic, or at least it’s not on the chart so lets also look at the roof space we have. If vanity rules then we’d just cover the south-facing garage roof so as not to mar the beauty of Joe’s masterpiece [my word], then we have 576 sq. ft to work with (32’x18′). Looking at the chart above this equals a 6.1kW system. Okay, not bad. We’re still on the grid but it’s a great start. We can either drive down our usage or drive up capacity down the road. Cost? $20K after tax credit, about the cost of a new small car. Not bad at all. Over 25 years (after that I’m dead or in Florida) we save $40K, reduce our carbon footprint, and are no longer at the mercy of Big Energy and their random Autumn blackouts at 12am on a Sunday. Remember, I hate power outages…probably as much as I hate being at the mercy of “the man”.  I have serious control issues, you have no idea, but I digress.

The battery back up is a nice feature because without it, a grid tied system won’t work when the lights go out.  With this system, or a non-backed up system, you can actually “sell” electricity back to the grid if the power company allows it. That way the surplus you might generate doesn’t go to waste, and you can power your “efficient” neighbors with clean solar power. The natural gas generator would come into play if, after 3-5 days without power it was so cloudy that the batteries were drained.

Another cool system that we can get is a solar thermal system that provides our hot water needs. Here’s the Dovetail example chart for that:

SOLAR THERMAL Residential Price Sheet.xls

They also mention solar thermal air heating, which I know nothing about…between our pellet fireplace and hybrid furnace I think we’re all set on that front for the time being.  I do like the solar thermal for the water, and who knows, maybe that’s the system we should experiment with first; would reduce our electrical load in preparation for out solar electric system.  Looks like about $10K for a thermal system, which typically is a series of black tubes on the roof our water runs through and is heated for use inside the house. I’m over simplifying here but you get the idea.

All of this is just speculative, but it’s good to do the homework now, and keep an eye on the prices, as they are coming down and are reasonable for any budget in my opinion; essentially a car payment. In fact one could argue that since we both work from home and don’t have a commute that maybe we should allocate a car payment to this type of system in the future when funds become available. Also, these systems are do-able on any home. don’t feel like you need a special house. I know I’d greatly love to experiment with one or more of these systems.

You know, control issues and all.

Studio Shelf Update

All is quiet on the home front. We pushed back the final day of studio shelf installation to next Monday but I did get a photo of the last studio shelf and it looks great.

The last studio shelf.

The last studio shelf.

Studio bookshelf design.

Studio bookshelf design.

I can’t wait to get the studio done and move back in.  In other news I finally bit the bullet and turned on the furnace. As I sit at my desk freezing to death I felt it was time. The thermostat said the house was at ~67-68 degrees but all I know is I’m freezing in my office so on goes the furnace set at a balmy 70 degrees.  I can hear the fireplace going in the family room, set to an even warmer 73 degrees (which it does accomplish in that space.

I know I have to install some sealing bits on the Thermatru exterior doors, but alas I forget where I put the padded envelop I got from Thermatru in my haste to clean out my studio.  I know you can see daylight at the bottom of a couple of the doors. Hopefully I can fix that.  Well back to work. I just wanted to show off the newest bookcase waiting to be installed.


Case Study: Annual Energy Usage In An Energy Efficient Home

[editor’s note: I changed the title to ‘energy efficient home’ from ‘passive solar’ – this post doesn’t talk about passive solar that much, I can delve into that at another post]

Wow that’s a pretty boring title for a blog post.  I figured “Murdering Fewer Mountains and Trees So I Could Play My XBox” would be a bit to melodramatic for a Saturday night.  My new year’s resolution, which I decided upon last night was I wasn’t going to spend the day on the computer.  Well I made it ’til dinner time before I just had to hop on and fire up an Excel spreadsheet, and for your benefit, a blog post.

I spent the last hour or two pulling all of our utility bills for the last year or so, and entering them into my spreadsheet.  Also I cracked open a bottle of 2010 Joel Gott California Cabernet…it’s pretty good.  Whoever brought it over, thank you.  You’re welcome back here any time. [editor’s note: my sister said she got me the wine so I wouldn’t have to drink Yellowtail.  Thanks sis.]

2010 Joel Gott 815 California Cabernet Savignon makes everything better.

2010 Joel Gott 815 California Cabernet Sauvignon makes everything better.

So I looked at the energy costs from 2009 at our old house.  This was the last year I have complete records for on a previous spreadsheet.  The records I pulled for this new house span from March last year when we were still finishing the house through this month’s bills.

The old house was a cookie cutter colonial, about 2,700 sq. feet.  In 2009 there were just 2 of us and a baby.  Heating was natural gas, electric everything else including cooling.  The furnace had a humidifier too. We had city water and sewer at the old place.  Why this is important is for two reasons: city water and sewer means water magically shows up and leaves the house and we pay a bill to the utility to make that happen.  This also means we’re not really expending any electricity to get that water and send it back, as far as I know.  The old house also had about half the number of light bulbs compared to our over the top new house and it’s hundred or so light sources.  Cooking was natural gas predominantly.  Washer and dryer were electric just like in new house (we have the same appliances in the new place).  Most of the light bulbs were incandescent but many were CFL’s and a few halogen bulbs; no LED’s. Finally we had a gas fireplace but we never really used that.

The new house is about 3,000 sq. ft. and there are 4 of us in here living.  Heating and cooling comes by way of our hybrid system employing geothermal and natural gas. Our fancy system also had an air exchanger and full house air filtration system.  Water and sewer is handled by our cistern and septic systems.  Both of these run off of electricity to pump water in, filter it and send it back out after our bodies filter it a little more.  The new place also has a sump pump which runs all the time basically to keep us from going under water during wet periods.  Cooking is handled by duel fuel range, and electric appliances.  As I said the new place has a ton of light sources, i.e. bulbs, so that alone is a huge load.  Only 4 of the bulbs are LED’s (not including the range hood’s 4 LED bulbs). The rest are all incandescent light bulbs.  The fireplace is our handy-dandy pellet burning unit, and we’ve barely made a dent in our free ton of pellets we got from Northfield Fireplace. It’ll be 2014 before I have to buy pellets.  We run the fireplace every few nights when hanging out in the family room.

Usage and lifestyle are about the same in both homes, for example in terms of watching tv and play video games.  The new place does not have any electric garage door openers though, not that it matters a whole lot.  I’ve just been too cheap / broke to put them in yet.

R Family Company, LLC estimated we’d use $2,413 annually on gas and electric when they did our Energy Start rating last year.  The engineer and architect estimated the usage to be around $1,500 – $2,000 a year just for HVAC…I think.  I’d have to delve into the paper work a bit more to confirm that.  In reality we’re pretty darn close to those numbers, after considering a few things.  I added up utility costs across the four major utilities most of us pay: electric (E), natural gas (G), water (W) and sewer (S).  Other utilities are lifestyle like phone, cable and internet so they’re not important in my calculations.  So adding up EGWS we’re at about $3,080 for the year 3/12 to 2/13.  Our 2009 total in the old house was $3,129.  So actually a little LESS in the new place.  Now there are some expenses not added into the new house such as septic service like getting it pumped out or fixed if it broke.  Same for the water system and sump pump in terms of repairs.  I did include bleach and filters for the water purification system.  HVAC filters would be an added cost in the new home too (the old place had a washable filter).  There is one bill for electric in March of last year that was $800 when we had the resistance heater in place I believe.  That throws our new house total off a bit.  If you take most of that out of the equation then we’re spot on with the $2,400 estimate Bob gave us from Energy Star.

Here's what we paid in 2009 and what we paid in our first year in the new house (most of the year at least)

Here’s what we paid in 2009 and what we paid in our first year in the new house (most of the year at least)

Our Natural Gas (G) usage plummeted off the face of the earth.  Dropping a whopping 90%, I don’t even think the gas furnace kicks in all.  You can see it rises in the winter, so some heat usage and probably more cooking usage as well.  Most of what we pay for gas is fees, taxes and the privilege of having access to gas.  The geothermal heating is just fine for us.  It’s not too cold or clammy like some people claimed it to be.  The fireplace is offsetting some of this too, so figure if we had to buy pellets (a $100-$250 a year maybe?) our heating cost would go up.

Electrical (E) usage is way over the top at nearly 3x the usage of the old house.  But consider: that wild March bill last year, the septic, sump and cistern all running off electric, electric oven and the biggest culprit all the light bulbs…all add up to higher (E) usage and costs.

Water (W) and Sewer (S) costs are a fraction of what they were but once I have to maintain the systems it’ll be a wash I bet….think about replacing the septic tank, field and cistern and there isn’t enough wine in the world to make that not be a major bummer, man.

First Energy now has this cool energy usage graph that customers can utilize to see where they are spending money on electricity

First Energy now has this cool energy usage graph that customers can utilize to see where they are spending money on electricity

Here's another First Energy  graph that highlights electric usage

Here’s another First Energy graph that highlights electric usage

I logged onto First Energy’s site and they have a new energy summary that will show you how much energy you’re using and where at.  It looks pretty good though it works off of a lot of assumptions, I’m not sure you should get too hung up on the exact numbers.  I filled in all kinds of info about my appliances and house.  I like all the color coded graphs and bars.  It even compares my house to the average house.  For electricity we barely beat out an average house ($27 per month) but for overall energy we win by a large margin ($700 annually). It’s actually embarrassing see our costs pegged all the way to the left on the little cost graph……not.  Granted these numbers are just one month’s were of data I think.  I’d have to delve into it deeper to see what a year would really save us.  Also I need to go back and look at our Energy Star docs and engineering docs to see what they estimated and where we landed.  For instance I think the engineer said about $1,000 annual saving on HVAC alone.

By the way, we keep the house at about 70 degrees throughout the year.  The fireplace thermostat gets set at 75 degrees in the evenings just in the family room area.  Personally I need to be in a certain thermal band to be comfortable so I’m not one to dial the temp up or down to far, even to save cost and planet.

I wish someone invented a smart meter, that my utility companies would support and use, that would do all this monitoring for me and just output a report on my computer or phone. Maybe I should design one.

We can save costs in the coming year a couple of ways.  Convert more bulbs to LED’s, especially the bulbs we use the most.  I plan on insulating the hot water tank. I did that in the old house.  We can insulate the basement walls even more, insulating the top 4′ that are at or above grade.  There are some air holes at the corners of some of the exterior doors that I need to close up as well.

One note, when we go to install a solar power system, having this historical electrical usage will be helpful in sizing the system. Right now it’d be difficult to go zero energy (use as much or less than we produce) because we’re at about 17,250 KWH per year.  Let’s say we had 15,000 KWH per year…that translates to a 15 KW solar system.  That would take up about 1,500 square feet of space….our garage roof is probably about 600 square feet (the part that faces southwest).  So we’d have to cover the house bits up too with solar panels.  Cost would be somewhere between $40,000 and $80,000 to install.  Not too bad considering there’s a Jeep I’d love to have that costs $40,000.  Savings over 20 years could be as high as $20,000 to $40,000 (including tax breaks and factoring in the cost of the system i.e. above and beyond).  The system would save between 400 and 800 thousand lbs of CO2 as well.  These are just wild ass guess numbers I gleaned from Dove Solar & Wind’s website while drinking my wine.  Our system would ultimately be smaller; we’d reduce our usage quite a bit and employ other goodies like solar water heating and LED’s everywhere.

Also today we went to the zoo.  They had a cool exhibit talking about collecting rain water and rain gardens.  Around this building there were two rain gardens with a “bio swale” connecting the two.  This inspired me.  We’ve got this surface water problem in the front yard that I’m going to tackle this Spring.  It’s late so I’ll talk more about it in a future episode.  For now you can look at a  couple pictures of the front yard and our temporary pond so to speak.  Night kids.

This is the little pond we get between the lawn and front bed, every time it rains or the snow melts.

This is the little pond we get between the lawn and front bed, every time it rains or the snow melts.

Spring project will be to address the surface water issue by reworking the topography by hand to get the water to drain.

Spring project will be to address the surface water issue by reworking the topography by hand to get the water to drain.

Air Exchange Ventilator

Okay it doesn’t sound as sexy as “passive solar” or “LED light bulb” but today we’re going to talk about our home’s “air exchange ventilator”.  I had to clean it out yesterday so I took some pics.  What is it you ask?  Let me tell you.

As you should know our house is super tight.  So air doesn’t or shouldn’t get in or out easily if all the doors and windows are closed.  Like an exclusive club downtown, we have a bouncer that determines who gets into our club.  It most houses, maybe even yours, air molecules run willy nilly all over like they own the place.  They come and go as they please.  And air molecules, typically in the heat of summer or cold of winter, are really awful critters.  See they sit on their lazy asses outside all day and night, and when they get too hot or cold the come into your house.  Did you invite them in?  Well yes cause they provide you with “oxygen” but I’ll tell you what if it wasn’t for that you probably wouldn’t want them cause like I said they come and go all the time.  Which is fine, we all have relatives like that, but let’s say it’s winter (it is by the way).  Where it gets annoying is the air molecules do very little to warm themselves up.  Look outside, see them all out on your lawn?  Yeah a couple are overachievers letting the sun warm them up but if there’s no sun and the wind is blowing….they say “screw this” and head for your house.  They come in through the cracks in your doors, around your windows, your roof, hell they come through your bathroom vents.  Anywhere you have a hole in your house.  Once inside they sit on your couch, hang out in your pantry, they even snuggle up with you in bed.  And they are super cold.  Cold feet in the morning? It’s the cold ass air molecules, I told you so.

So you try like hell to appease them by cranking up the thermostat, figuring if it’s warm they’ll stop bothering you and your family.  But like any pest this only makes things worse.  See, they come in, you get them warmed up, they drink your beer and then leave basically.  And they tell ALL their friends.  Next thing you know your thermostat’s up to 72 degrees and the wife bitchin’ at you to fire up the wood stove.  Meanwhile all those air molecules are inviting their cousins from Alberta to come down to your place and get warmed up.  Next thing you know you’re essentially operating a welfare state for lazy air molecules.

I’ll be damned if I run a welfare operation for air molecules.  So what we’ve done is first off, made our house super tight.  Now it’s not as tight as it could be but it tighter than probably 95% of other homes out there.  In a perfect world it’d be 100% tight. But then we’d suffocate so as I look out at all the sad, cold air molecules kicking stones in my front drive, pouting cause I won’t let them in, I’m forced to acquiesce and let them in since after all they have the oxygen we so desperately need.  But before I let any of them in there are some ground rules…just like the bouncer at the door to a hot new club.

Outside a big pipe in the side of the house all the air molecules line up, smiles on their faces cause they know I have a warm couch, XBox and beer.  We let them in and they enter the air exchanger.  And they love it ’cause the first thing we do is warm up their little molecule bodies, clean them up and comb their hair.   Then it’s off to the inside of the house, sporting their little fur coats of warmth, leaving the coldness behind outside.  Oh joy, they are so happy you can almost hear them as they run all over the house.  And the furnace easily keeps everyone comfortable ’cause our guests came in warmed up to start with.

Well after a while, you know how it goes, they can’t stay for ever.  They’ve unloaded their oxygen, picked up some CO2 and other foreign air born whatnot….and they’re getting lazy again, except this time it’s on my couch, or my bed or worse yet the bathroom.  Well, “time to go little guys” and the ventilator sucks them all out of the house.  Oh, one thing though, we take their little fur coats before we kick the air molecules to the curb.  There is only so much heat in the world and we can’t afford to have air molecules running around outside with our hard-earned heat.  Wouldn’t look good with the neighbors, people would talk.  And we’re not running a charity here. So the little guys go through the big heat exchanging core again and reluctantly hand off their warm little coats to the new air molecules coming in.  Thus the “exchange” part.  We keep all the heat inside the house…sucking it out of the air leaving and giving it to the air coming in.

Then we dump the stale air molecule asses through a big pipe to the harsh realities of the outside world.  From there we’re more than happy to welcome them back in, but only if they pick up some oxygen first.

I try not to look out the back window lest I see all of the now freezing air molecules looking longingly through the glass into our home.

In the Summer it’s just the opposite, we cool them off before inviting them inside.

Our air exchange ventilator is an 8100 model from Aprilaire.  I just have to clean the filter’s every 6 months and the core every 12 months.  It was a super easy job that took about a half hour.  I just used a shop vac to clean the filters, core (use a brush attachment) and the cavities.  The filters should be oiled as well.  All the directions are right there on the core so there’s no confusion.  Here’s a snippet from their website explaining the advantages:

Is the air your family breathes as fresh and healthy as it can be? An Aprilaire Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) is among the most efficient means of exchanging the air inside your home with fresh outdoor air. In winter months, the exclusive EnergyMax® Transfer Core uses the heat of indoor air to warm the incoming cold fresh air, recovering approximately 77% of the energy.

How Does It Work?
In the summer, warm fresh air passes near outgoing conditioned air, cooling it down. At no time do the stale and fresh air streams mix, instead they pass each other separated by thin walls that allow only the air’s energy to transfer, cutting your heating and cooling bills. The heart of the ERV is the EnergyMax Transfer Core which uses enthalphic technology enabling the transfer of moisture as well as heat into and out of your home.

The Aprilaire Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) provides a comfortable, healthy, noise-free, and safe means of exchanging stale, polluted indoor air with fresh outdoor air in your entire home year round.

There are numerous benefits to installing an Aprilaire Energy Recovery Ventilator in your home:

  • Installs as part of any central heating and cooling system
  • Provides a constant, controlled supply of fresh air to your home year round
  • Reduces excess indoor humidity levels
  • Reduces unhealthy indoor air pollutants such as formaldehyde, <ahref=”index.php?znfaction=iaqproblems&category=health&problemid=12″>volatile organic compounds (VOCs), radon, carbon dioxide, smoke, odors, dust, bacteria and viruses and more
  • Saves energy by effectively retaining and utilizing the energy value from your indoor air
  • Ventilates homes up to 3,600 sq. ft. in size”

Unless you like throwing money away, or you feel guilty and feel all air molecules in the world should have access to affordable heat coverage, you should seriously look into getting your house sealed up super tight and adding an air exchange ventilator.

LED Love

Today was a busy day and went by fast.  I was able to get into the studio to paint and frame some new artwork in the morning.  At lunch time I treated myself to a goodie.  I drove up to get everybody in the house some yummy Chipotle for lunch and stopped of at Home Depot for my goodie.  During my crappy week I needed a diversion, and in light of our last electricity bill, I decided to check out light bulbs some more.  Now keep in mind I can spend a half hour in the lighting aisle of Lowes or Home Depot, or easily down a few beers and surf the net looking at LED’s.  The variety is going up and the prices are going down.  The last time I was at the Depot I saw some Philips bulbs that caught my eye.

I find LED’s fascinating because their design goes beyond just commodity item like incandescents.  There’s a lot of technology in an LED bulb, and they also require cooling fins and lenses.  It’s like having an ipod or other high end electronic device in light bulb form.  Who woulda thought, light bulbs that require some real industrial design.  Maybe I can get a job designing light bulbs.  Would be cooler than it sounds. I’ve been looking at bulbs and in my opinion Philips has the nicest looking bulbs, across their entire lineup. The nicest looking bulb is from GE (click to see it). Their 60W equivalent A19 LED bulb is pure light bulb porn, with its sexy cooling fins and old school bulb shape.  It looks like some sort of alien bulb.  It’s really nice.

I had my sites on replacing some of the most used bulbs in our house, this would help save money in the long run, but also I was curious to get my hands on the latest LED technology out there.  One note, for our new house I’m skipping compact fluorescents altogether.  LED’s are better technology and their cost is coming down.  Eventually pretty much everything will be LED in the house so I don’t want to wait twelve years or longer for my CFL’s to burn out.  The two areas I identified that were prime for upgraded bulbs were the Dining Room and my studio. Both use 60W incandescent bulbs now.  My studio you can see the bulbs as their Barn Light Electric fixtures are just raw sockets like you see at….like you see at Chipotle actually.   So in the studio I’d actually want to factor in the aesthetic design of the bulbs…maybe use them as a stylish detail in additional to functional lighting.  Unfortunately I have six sockets in the studio so to save some money my sights turned to the Dining Room.  In there, you might remember, we have the cool pendants from Barn Light Electric that are made from repurposed acetylene tank heads.  With their port holes you can see the bulbs in there too, so bulb style has to be considered again but not to the extent that we have to in the studio.  The Dining Room pendants had one 60W incandescent bulb in each fixture.  The fixtures are dimmable, and we tend to dim them all the time so that’s important.

Home Depot carries Philips light bulbs so that’s where I focused my search.  They have a great set of search tools so I could quickly zero into the bulbs that would work for our application.  I quickly boiled it down to the GE A19 bulb and a 60 watt equivalent dimmable bulb from Philips.  The Philips won out because of it’s warmer 2700K color, 11W energy usage, higher lumen output at 830 lumens.  It was almost as sexy as the GE bulb….actually it’s understated sleekness is probably sexier in a subtle way. Finally the Philips cost about half as much so it was an all around winner. (You know life as you know it is basically washed up when you talk about light bulbs being sexy.)

So for about $25 apiece I replaced the three Dining Room bulbs.  They look great, the light looks great and they dim nicely.  They use a fraction of the electricity compared to the bulbs they replace and should each save $135 over their 22 year lifespan.  Crazy to think my boys will both have graduated college by time I have to replace these light bulbs.  The bulbs have a six year warranty.

Snow Rails and Fireplace Review

We had an art show this weekend so not much has been getting done around the house.  Outside the snow rails were installed and they look fantastic.  Just as I’d imagined, these little horizontal pieces of metal add a nice subtle design element to the outside, encouraging the eye to move horizontally across the roof.  They add a small degree of welcomed industrial-ness to the look of the structure.  Functionally speaking they’re meant to keep snow on the roof until it melts, preventing from big piles of the stuff from falling on you or me or anyone else.

here you can see the snow rails on the garage

here you can see the snow rails on the garage

Primarily this is to show you the snow rails but I just noticed in this photo... I want to say there is a thermal issue with the roof...on this frosty day it seems like I can see the interior partitions telecasting themselves to the surface of the roof.  I'll have to look into it.

Primarily this is to show you the snow rails but I just noticed in this photo… I want to say there is a thermal issue with the roof…on this frosty day it seems like I can see the interior partitions telecasting themselves to the surface of the roof. I’ll have to look into it.

I’m looking at the photographs I took with my iphone on a frosty morning last week.  I was capturing pictures of the roof snow rails for the blog but it looks like I caught something else in my picture.  No, not bigfoot, but something just as disturbing.  As far as I can tell I can see the ghostly image of my interior wall positions being transmitted visually into the roof.  Basically the wall sections are or aren’t holding the roof frost as well as the non-wall sections.  You can see this in just about every normal cookie cutter house built across America.  The hot air inside warms up the roof and escapes out instead of being held inside the house.  Next time it snows, watch the snow melt on your roof, if it’s poorly insulated you can see the rafters.

Now I don’t know if this is actually what I’m seeing. Just like bigfoot, I don’t have any proof but it’s piqued my interest enough that I need to analyse it this winter.  At some point I’ll get a heat gun out and meter the roof to see what’s going on.  If need be I’ll get the insulation guy back out and see if something needs to be fixed.  Stay tuned.

I had a some questions come into the blog regarding our Quadrafire EDGE 60 fireplace.  We chose this unit because Christine wanted a fireplace look instead of a wood burning stove aesthetic for the family room.  This EDGE 60 is the only pellet burning appliance that  is built into the wall like a fireplace that I know of.  The unit is about 30″ deep, and we mounted ours about a foot into the room.  The remainder lives inside our 10″ thick walls and about a foot sticks out into the screen porch.  We build a framed “box” floor to ceiling and mounted the fireplace on an internal platform about ten inches off the floor.  The part inside the family room is finished in cultured stone.  The part outside is covered in regular house trim.  The chimney is built to manufacturer specs and housed in a wooden framed chase that routes out the top of the house.  None of the chimney is outside except the metal bits up top on the exterior.

our EDGE 60

our EDGE 60

How do we like it?  We love it.  I don’t know if Quadrafire makes them still, their website didn’t list it the last time I looked.  And it’s a pricey unit but we really are happy with ours.  We used it this Fall and it puts out a lot of heat, evenly and effectively.  I was worried it’d dry out the dining room table ’cause it’s so close but the blower shoots the heat out of the top of the unit.  So if you need a quick fix of heat, stand in front of it otherwise sit back and enjoy the even heat distribution.

It’s easy to fill up the hopper on top of the unit with hardwood pellets and looks like the hopper will hold two bags if you wanted to. The front door opens easily with a simple latch.  It’s matte black finish stays relatively clean and can be wiped down with a damp cloth if need be. Clean up is easy, there’s an ash tray below to empty out.  Inside the components are easy to remove and sweep out.  An attachment set for my shop vac is on my xmas list, that would make the job easier, but for now we’re okay with regular shop vac nossle cleaning.

The thermostat is simple to use and controls everything.  Ours is mounted across the room from the unit.  The family room tends to be the warmest room in the house.  The fireplace requires setting the thermostat 2-3 degrees more than the current temp.  It’ll then shut itself off after it reaches the set temperature. I’m sure there’s a manual mode but we use it this way.  The ambiance isn’t over the top like a real fireplace, more appliance like than anything, but you do see flame and it’s a welcome member of the family.  I don’t think you can go wrong with an EDGE 60 in your home.