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Forum Post: Help yourselves, help others: energy

Posted 12 years ago on Nov. 21, 2011, 4:55 p.m. EST by hyarborough (121)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

This is a harder issue to address, but still doable if you have property and a job. If you go back far enough, houses were designed for the climate. People didn't have air conditioning. However, w/ some work and some amount of money it's possible to modify these clone houses that were were sold on. To start, buy what you can afford. Obviously housing is no longer a good investment. In most areas it's become hard to sell houses. It may be a good time to buy a house if you can afford it. You can do a few things that help reduce your energy consumption. I have attached spaces that buffer the effects of temperature on the outer walls. A greenhouse and cold frame, which also provide food. Next year I plan on adding homemade solar panels and a trellis on the roof to reduce attic temperatures and reduce the need for cooling.

While the average temperature has increased considerably during the time we've lived here, it's still not quite a sub-tropical climate. However, the cold frame allows me to grow tropicals during the winter for a continuous supply of fresh vegetables. I've been concentrating on perennial tropical and sub-tropical vegetables. Many of which double as medicinal plants. Since they're immediately adjacent to the house, they double as solar collectors and reduce the need for heating. In my climate, most years I don't turn on the heat in the house. During the summer, the plants reduce the heat load by blocking the sun.

During this past summer, our central air went out. After spending a small fortune on repair, and ending up w/ poor performance I opted to buy small window units. My cooling costs were reduced by half. After talking to others who had been in similar situations, I found similar stories. In general cooling costs were reduced by about 50%, plus when you have a unit fail you don't end up having to scramble to do repairs. Small room sized units are relatively inexpensive and my total cooling equaled what I had w/ a central unit. Additionally the cost of replacement is less than a service call to a HVAC tech. Use window fans or open the windows when it's nice outside.

In conjunction w/ friends, we're working on a project using homemade flat panel solar collectors. In our area the average solar insolation is about 3KW for three 4'x8' panels, which supposedly is the energy usage of the average house. The plan is to avoid the expense of storage batteries by using heat more directly, and storing the energy in homemade well insulated water tanks. Of course hot water, and space heating are the easiest to do. I discovered cooking w/ sous vide, which is just the best way to cook meat IMO, and it uses low grade heat at a maximum of 160 degrees F. Additionally, the plan is to provide cooling based on a German adsorption chiller using silica gel. Patent is available online, and the original prototype used modified off the shelf A/C components. Then there's also cold storage that will be provided by an ammonia/calcium chloride based solar icemaker. Google crosley icey ball, and S.T.E.V.E.N. solar icemaker. We're also looking into high powered electricity production by re-purposing off the shelf components. The heat engines we're planning on testing are an automotive turbocharger, a pneumatic air motor, and a reciprocating heat engine based on two pneumatic cylinders. All were purchased at a cost of about $100 each. This is nothing new. MIT has done some nice work using re-purposed components, and you can find videos on the web. All of these devices have the potential to produce about 5HP which should equate to over 3KW.

We can;t depend on the power companys to help, apparently. Chena hot springs installed a geothermal system based on r134a w/ an estimated cost of $.06/kwh. This includes maintenance, and the price is expected to go down once the loan is paid off. This was a community effort. Solar w/ storage substitutes nicely for geothermal.

The idea is to do this in a fashion the average handy man can handle. If/when successful we plan to give the information away.

More later.



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[-] 2 points by WeMustStandTogether (106) from Newark, NJ 12 years ago

Very interesting adaptations, practical, accessible. Excellent.

[-] 1 points by buik2 (66) 12 years ago

china is building something like 200 new nuclear power plants. if geothermal or solar energy were feasible alternatives, they wouldnt need the new nukes.

but they do, and they are building nuke power because they are smart.

[-] 1 points by hyarborough (121) 12 years ago

Personally I was starting to form the opinion that nuclear power might be safe enough now to be a viable option, then the Japanese accident occurred. Germany is now getting out of the nuclear power business, and they are smart also. The problem as I see it, is that everything breaks, and human error WILL occur. I think there are other safer options.

[-] 1 points by stuartchase (861) 12 years ago

We can always occupy here. We won't get one peep from one soul.


The Revolution starts here!

[-] 1 points by Faithntruth (997) 12 years ago

In using solar you need to figure out your peak load as well as your daily draw. Can you vacuum while the washing machine runs or if the fridge compressor kicks on? You may have to juggle and balance your usage of household appliances... A dehumidifier can help your comfort level when temps start to go up again so you can avoid using the ac. The water from it can go to the garden...

[-] 1 points by hyarborough (121) 12 years ago

Most certainly. It helps to load limit, either manually, or w/ the help of a controller. I use a home automation computer, low power at 17 watts. I also ran across CAI webcontrols, a $35 PIC based controller. Handles 8 1-wire temperature sensors, 3 analog inputs, a humidity sensor, and 8 digital I/O's. Just low power inputs and outputs. You have to add mechanical or solid state relays to do anything. I constantly monitor Ebay for deals. I recommend "mister house" as the automation software. Free and open source, and has been around for years. I use one to control my kegerator and fermentation chamber, for beer and cheese. One will be used to monitor my fish tanks and growing areas. Information and help can be found for free on the web. This kind of thing can be used to load limit devices.

We have to do more for ourselves.

[-] 1 points by Faithntruth (997) 12 years ago

Ha ha! You dont need my advice... Thanks for being so gracious! Are you documenting what you do on a blog so others can share what you learn?

[-] 1 points by hyarborough (121) 12 years ago

Unfortunately, no. I seem to have more free money than time lately, and I don't get as much done as I did when I was younger. Energy production/conversion is just part of the overall plan. Food production has been the major first step. Still to do is assembly of three different algae photo bioreactors. The omega 3/6 ration of farm raised beef and fish is unacceptable because of the overuse of corn based feed. The algae is to help bring the ratio closer to normal, plus algae is the fastest growing plant we know of. I was hoping to have two assembled and running this year. Have the tanks, tubes for the photo part of it. One set of manifolds is complete, I have the air source and pump, and an inexpensive source of cultures at carolina.com. Just need to assemble the first unit and play w/ feed/production rates. We can probably get away w/ just drying it into pressed cakes for the fish and crayfish, but the plan is to produce pelleted feed consisting of plant material and recycled animal protein.

I was wanting to have the first two solar panels built by the end of this year. Our target maximum temperature is going to be higher than the normal solar hot water heater, and I want to ensure both the selected tank and collector materials will be able to reliably handle the temperature cycling they'll be exposed to. The guy I was hoping to handle most of that labor, and document the build process for the components and tools has two young children, plus is currently a bit diverted trying to get land towards creating a self sufficient family farm. I was just waiting for him to give me the go ahead to purchase the materials for the collectors. I decided to try and at least get some of that started on my own too. I went ahead and purchased enough aluminum radiant heating fins to build two panels. We'll build them later instead. Still have to purchase the copper pipes, but after thinking it out I'm thinking that it would make better sense to build the tank first.

I've also trap, neuter and release feral cats. I make too much money to get assistance, and they run roughly $150 apiece to have the work done. Along w/ winterizing and upgrading my cold frame, the schedule has slipped. Hopefully I'll still manage to get the basic components for the bioreactor and solar panels complete by the end of the year, but not much time left, and I'm tired.

Still have to buy the basic components for the pelletizer mill. We're also planning on using the basic design for a screen less hammer mill designed by an MIT alumni. It was designed to be able to be produced and maintained by third world countries. The MIT D-lab is doing some nice work towards appropriate technology. We're currently using black soldier fly larvae to help convert/process waste into usable protein. Not directly for human consumption, but feed for some of the small livestock. A lot of this stuff would go faster in a community based environment, and it goes slower when you have to maintain a primary job.

A blog would probably be a good idea, but we had originally planned to build a web site when we were further along. However, if you're interested, PM me and I'll send you the discussions I can find, some sketches of some of the basic components, and links to more information. I can also post some pictures of what's been happening so far, but not much that's impressive yet.

[-] 1 points by Faithntruth (997) 12 years ago

Thank you for taking the time for sharing all this...you are certainly quite busy! I am cash strapped, and have nothing extra available to start any projects, but thanks for the offer...

[-] 1 points by hyarborough (121) 12 years ago

It's extremely hard to do this kind of stuff as an individual. 2 out of 3 of us appear to have cash flow problems. A different 2 out of 3 of us only own 1/4 acre. All 3 of us have different skill sets, w/ some overlap. Automotive junkyards are a rich source of components that can be re-purposed, as are old appliances.

A lot of this that would be impossible for a individual to accomplish, becomes doable if done as a collaborative effort.

I hope that things will get better, but I don't believe that they will.

[-] 1 points by Faithntruth (997) 12 years ago

Heard a report on NPR today: China is raising the cut off for being defined as poor. They did not say what it is now, but when they raise it it will be someone who earns less than one dollar per day....

It cracks me up to hear people blame corporations for leaving the US over simple taxes or pollution regulations, when the can pay an army of foreign employees the wages equivalent to a handful of us...

I concur that it wont get better here, but many people compare us to emerging nations which is incorrect. We chose to invest in infrastucture long ago, while the third world did not. They had corrupt dictatorships that amassed their wealth, or never wanted their people to gain power through education and innovation. When you struggle to live hand to mouth it is difficult to oust a dictator. I wonder if anyone has done a study of what percentage of uprisings are due to loss in a standard of living versus a stable (even if low) one.

I find myself quite unwilling to seek employment from a corportion. Im struggling to find a more independent way of life because this is really new to me. I was raised and educated to be an employee and have no experience with small business. I did some work as an independent contractor and that is such a rip. You make a fairly decent wage per job, but the taxes are, i think, excessive.

Well, i got carried away, didnt I! Good luck to you!

[-] 1 points by hyarborough (121) 12 years ago

I think China is going to be a killer, economically, once they get their QA problems solved. There's no way we can compete w/ the wages their people are getting. Food safety violators potentially face the death penalty. W/ the ability to enact those kinds of laws, better QA can't be too far behind. No clue what we can do for the long term.

[-] 1 points by Faithntruth (997) 12 years ago

I wont buy anything made in china if I can find another option. It worries me that our metals for aircraft are made there, too. Back in the early 80's they found kids crayons made there were contaminated with some toxin, and I have treated their products accordingly since: as potentially poisonous. I think that every product should have to list the source of every component so the consumer can make informed choices. But I keep seeing a sci fi future like blade runner where they become the dominant culture. As they reenter the world stage, it seems more and more likely. The US and Western culture has dominated for a long time, but I see so much value in the diversity of cultures that I think we need to protect them all, yet economic rule leads to cultural domination.

[-] 1 points by hyarborough (121) 12 years ago

I'd like to buy products made in the US, but it's gotten much harder if price is also a factor. I'd just read that some US manufacturing industries have rebounded. IIRC textiles, automobiles, food services, gas/energy were mentioned. I'm personally largely a non consumer when it comes to automobiles and food services. I'm a week consumer of textiles, and electronics, and am actively working to reduce my energy dependence. I see similar trends appearing in other median to low income people. If we're not buying luxury items, I'd guess that these are some of the areas where the individual has some degree of control. I'm not sure that these areas are the best types of manufacturing to invest in to produce jobs and for long term economic growth.

[-] 1 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 12 years ago

Good post. Self-sufficiency is the way of the future.

[-] 1 points by hyarborough (121) 12 years ago

You've got to remember that corporations are not your friends. They're out to make a profit, pure and simple. I never buy new products. You have the advantage of being able to view the experience of others. Remember caveat emptor.

[-] 1 points by stuartchase (861) 12 years ago

And when you are done, help me stop these animals: