2016

I didn’t necessarily intend to take a 3 month break from this place. It just happened. Life moved along, and I didn’t have the words to put here for a time. But I hope to say hello a bit more often in the new year. I think it’ll be a good one.

The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 8

Energy Efficiency Project month 8

July 13th – August 13th, 31 days

Late July and early August was considerably drier in these parts, so we didn’t have to run our dehumidifier very often. With the dry also came the heat, however, so we definitely were running our ceiling fans for most of this month. On really hot afternoons when the fans just weren’t cutting it anymore I would close up the house and turn on the air conditioner. Once the house cooled down to about 74°F, I would turn off the AC and keep all the windows and doors shut to keep the heat from getting in as much as possible. Usually running the AC for an hour or so would cool down the house until the heat broke as the sun went down.

This month’s upgrade cost: $0.00

Total upgrade cost to date: $26.64

Over 31 days we used 492 KWH. Which comes out to an average 15.9 KWH/day. Compared to the last billing period average of 19.2 KWH/day, you can really see how much electricity that dehumidifier was using while it dried out our basement.

We are part of the Alliant Energy Second Nature renewable energy program, at the 100% level. (In this program you can choose the amount of your energy use that you want to be matched in renewables, and we chose 100%.) The cost of our renewable energy was $0.14 per KWH for this billing cycle, for a total of $69.81

This month we used 0 Therms of natural gas heat energy. Which averages out to 0.0 Therms/day. However we did still have a small charge to keep our gas on this month, and probably also to pay for meter readers and what not. Degree days this month compared to last month: 0 vs. 25

The natural gas market fluctuates in Wisconsin, so there is not an easy dollar per Therm number to give you, but during this billing period we paid $9.90 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 159 KWH. This was clearly the month that the previous owners moved out of this house and were just using maintenance electricity while it was on the market!

Gas used this month last year: Unavailable – Again, this is the time the previous owners moved out and put this house on the market, so they may have turned off the gas for the summer. Average temperature this month: 73° F. This month last year: 70° F.

Degree Days this month: 0 vs this month last year: 10. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 31 days of the billing period.

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Want to see previous months of the Energy Efficiency Project? Here is Month 1Month 2, Month 3Month 4Month 5, Month 6, and Month 7.

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40 Green Actions You Can Start Today

simple green actions to start todayFor the past month I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of a climate change discussion group in my community. We’ve been reading EAARTH, and discussing the realities of climate change both world wide and within our own small part of SW Wisconsin. And we’ve been trying to envision what action looks like for us.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by how big this problem is, and how little it seems like our personal actions are. The Tanzanian’s have a saying, “Haba na haba hujaza kibaba.” Which translates to “Little by little the bucket gets filled,” and that’s important for us to keep in mind. Yes, we may have seemingly little say in the policies enacted within our own states and country, let alone in the worldwide cooperation that is needed to tackle our energy, and resource issues and our greenhouse gas emissions. But we can start taking simple, concrete actions now. And as we successfully implement each habit, it will be easier to take the next step. Little by little, we’ll fill the bucket.

So with those thoughts in mind, here’s a list of actions you can start taking right now to increase conservation, decrease energy use, and reduce your carbon footprint.

40 green actions you can start today

1. Switch out your incandescent light bulbs for LED light bulbs.

2. Plug your electronics into a power strip, and turn off the power strip when you’re not using them.

3. Turn your thermostat up a few degrees now (and down a few degrees in the winter).

4. Sign up for your local power companies green energy program, you’ll pay a little extra for your energy, but you’ll get it from renewable supplies and tell your power company how important it is for them to invest in renewables.

5. Set the temperature on your hot water heater to 120 degrees or lower.

6. Hang dry your laundry.

7. Stop watering your grass.

8. Plant something edible.

9. Shop your local farmers market.

10. Bring reusable bags along for all your shopping trips (not just to the grocery store!)

11. Purchase dry goods like beans, grains, and pasta from the bulk bins.

12. Start a compost pile.

13. Clean with vinegar, baking soda, and castile soap.

14. Walk if your destination is less than a mile away. Work your way up to two miles away.

15. Look for opportunities to carpool or take public transportation.

16. Add meat-free meals to your repertoire.

17. Purchase humanely and ethically raised meat.

18. Unsubscribe from catalogs

19. Unsubscribe from “junk” mailings

20. Refresh yourself on your communities recycling capabilities and look for opportunities to expand your recycled materials.

21. Carry a reusable water bottle or coffee mug.

22. Use reusable bags or glasses for food storage.

23. Eat fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown in your area.

24. Support local small businesses and local trades workers.

25. Shop consignment or second hand stores for clothing, rather than buying new.

26. Share infrequently used appliances and tools with your neighbors, like lawn mowers.

27. Shovel your snow instead of using a snow blower.

28. Set up a clothing swap among your friends and neighbors.

29. Support local conservation by visiting your state parks.

30. Let your grass grow a bit longer between mowings.

31. Purchase “made in America” and recycled materials.

32. Donate your own no longer used items to second hand stores.

33. Cook more meals at home.

34. Make your own coffee.

35. Use mulch on your garden to cut down on watering needs.

36. Wash your clothing on the cold cycle.

37. Switch from paper napkins, towels, and tissue to cloth.

38. Check out books from the library.

39. Sign up for electronic statements.

40. Sign up for electronic bill pay.

Again, these simple actions aren’t going to save the world from climate change, but they will start a habit of mindfulness about consumption and energy use. These small actions can help pave the way for you to start taking bigger actions, and they can start conversations with your neighbors, friends, family, and co-workers.

Do you have others to add to this list? Send them my way!

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Home Solar Power: How much solar power do I need?

A few weeks ago I wrote about getting started with a home solar power project. That post was an overview on how much power you might need to power your home, and how much a home solar power project is likely to cost you. This week I’m going to start the deep dive, and I’ll use our home as an example.

How much solar power do I need

So, how much solar power do I need?

Well, let’s start with a quick overview of our household, so you can do a simple comparison to your own home and get an idea of if you’ll need more or less before doing your own deep dive.

Our house is a single story bungalow, a little over 1000 square feet. It is home to my husband Neil, our toddler Eli, and myself. We live in a small town in Wisconsin, so we have both cold winters, and fairly warm, humid summers. We are careful with our energy use, but we enjoy pretty much all modern amenities, with the exception of a dishwasher and a microwave. Our appliances are aging, 15 – 20 years is my guess, and we have an electric stove.

We are connected to the grid, and if we put in solar power here, we would stay connected to the grid.

Step 1: Calculate your energy use

Look up the amount of Kwh of electricity that you have used for each billing cycle over the past year. Add it all together, and divide by 365 (or 366 if it was a leap year).

You might think that you should look at your highest energy use month and use that to find your daily use. This method would help ensure that you are drawing all your energy from solar power all year long, but it is also going to cause the size of your solar project to go up quite a bit. This can be both cost and space prohibitive.

By building a solar power project based on energy use averaged over the entire year, you will probably have to buy some extra electricity during the winter, when there is less sunshine and you are possibly using more electricity. But in the summer, you will produce enough to sell back to the grid, recouping your electricity costs in the winter, and over time your solar power project costs. It will also keep your solar panel array to a more manageable size and cost.

Realistically, if you live in a city or town, you’re just not going to have the space necessary to put in enough solar power to meet your entire usage needs. But knowing how much you are using daily will put your project in scope from the beginning, and maybe also help you to think about where you could start cutting back. Remember, if you don’t use the energy in the first place you don’t have to pay for it, and we don’t have to create it by any means, saving all sorts of resources.

OK, so on to our house and our energy use. For the 7 months that we’ve been home owners thus far, I’ve been chronicling our energy use in the energy efficiency project posts. So far we’ve used 2873 Kwh over 208 days. This puts our average daily use at 13.8 Kwh. This is actually a pretty low ball estimate of our daily electricity use, because keep in mind that we were only living here part time for 5 of those months. As we continue living in this house, I’ll revisit these numbers and update as we get a more realistic idea of our average daily use.

Ok. So our goal is to produce 13.8 Kwh of electricity each day with our future solar panels.

Step 2: Find the amount of sun hours your location gets

We use 13.8 kwh of electricity each day, on average. But we don’t need to produce all that electricity at once, just over the course of the day. Because, as I’m sure you’re well aware, the sun doesn’t shine for just one hour most days. In the summer, it might be shining for 14 – 16 hours per day, and with solar panels you can turn that sunlight into electricity the entire time it’s shining. But, as I’m also sure you’re well aware, sometimes the sun really does only peak out for a short while, and some days not at all. So you need to find the average amount of time that the sun shines in your location each day.

Most companies that sell solar panels and accessories have charts and maps that can help you figure our the average hours of sunshine your location gets per day. For example, this chart on the Wholesale Solar website tells me that Madison, WI gets an average of 4.3 hours of sunlight each day. Again, this number is averaged over the entire year, so using it in my calculations means that on cloudy winter days, I’ll probably have to purchase electricity from the grid. But on sunny summer days, I’ll produce extra electricity that I’ll be able to sell back to my power company.

Step 3: Calculate the amount of solar power capacity you need. 

Solar power capacity is the amount of kilowatts your panel array can produce when the sun is shining on it at any moment. It’s pretty simple to calculate: Take your average daily electricity use, and divide it by the average daily hours of sunlight in your area.

For us, 13.8 kwh / 4.3 hours = 3.2 kilowatts.

So we want enough solar panels to produce 3.2 kilowatts of electricity.

Step 4: Factor in efficiency

You may remember from high school physics (or maybe not) that when energy is converted from one form to another, their are losses. In this case, when the light energy from the sun is converted into electrical energy by the solar panels, not all of the solar energy collected gets turned into electricity. Some of it is lost as heat, or friction between the electrons in the wires, etc. Currently, solar panels are 78% efficient. Meaning that 78% of the solar energy they collect, makes it into electricity.

In order to account for this efficiency (or inefficiency, as the case may be) we divide our solar power capacity by 0.78.

So, how much solar power do I need? 3.2 Kw * 0.78 = 4.1 Kw

In order to power our home we need enough panels to produce 4.1 Kw of electricity. How about you?

Or at least in an ideal situation. Next time we’ll take a look at other things we need to consider.

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Want to learn more about solar power? Check out how it’s made in these posts: Solar Power part 1, Solar Power part 2

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The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 7

energy efficiency project June 11th – July 13th, 32 days

We had a wet June and beginning of July in SW Wisconsin. Which led us to discover that are gutters are sagging in the front of our house, and therefore not directing the water to the downspout, but instead it’s basically just spilling right out in streams along the front of our house whenever it rains. And all that water coming down right along the front foundation of our house has left us with a soggy basement.

Ah, the joys of home ownership.

So to start battling the soggy basement we got a dehumidifier. And it does a decent job of drying out our basement, but it’s quite the little electricity suck, as you will see.

But I did replace yet another CFL lightbulb with an LED lightbulb. Progress?

This month’s upgrade cost: $8.82

Total upgrade cost to date: $26.64

Over 32 days we used 613 KWH. Which comes out to an average 19.2 KWH/day. Compared to the last billing period average of 13.4 KWH/day, you can really see how much electricity that dehumidifier was using while it dried out our basement. We also were making greater use of our ceiling fans, which also adds to our summer electricity use.

We are part of the Alliant Energy Second Nature renewable energy program, at the 100% level. (In this program you can choose the amount of your energy use that you want to be matched in renewables, and we chose 100%.) The cost of our renewable energy was $0.14 per KWH for this billing cycle, for a total of $86.98

This month we used 0 Therms of natural gas heat energy. Which averages out to 0.0 Therms/day. However we did still have a small charge to keep our gas on this month, and probably also to pay for meter readers and what not. Degree days this month compared to last month: 25 vs. 148

The natural gas market fluctuates in Wisconsin, so there is not an easy dollar per Therm number to give you, but during this billing period we paid $10.53 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 735 KWH. I find it comforting that even with our spike in electricity use this month, we’re still maintaining less energy use than the previous owners. This is purely speculation, because I don’t know what their habits were, but I think this is due to the fact that we almost never use the drier, we use fans and open windows rather than the air conditioning, and I have a hunch they were running a small business from home, so I think we also use less electronics than they did.

Gas used this month last year: Unavailable – I think this is about the time the previous owners moved out and put this house on the market, so they may have turned off the gas for the summer. Average temperature this month: 68° F. This month last year: 71° F.

Degree Days this month: 25 vs this month last year: 6. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 32 days of the billing period.

Have you signed up for the building earth newsletter yet? You can do that here!

Want to see previous months of the Energy Efficiency Project? Here is Month 1Month 2, Month 3Month 4Month 5, and Month 6.

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