The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 6

energy efficiency project month 6May 13th – June 11th, 29 days

We are finally maintaining only one residence. Let me tell you, as convenient as it was to have a place to stay in both of the cities that my husband works in for the past six months, two homes is hard. And expensive. Especially with only one home’s worth of stuff.

During that time, we of course also had two different utility bills, which was quite interesting. Each place was serviced by a different utility company, MG&E, and Alliant, but the offerings as far as renewable energy went were pretty much the same. Our apartment was about 500 square feet, and had electric baseboard heating. And let me tell you, our energy costs there were much higher than for our 1000 square foot house that has a gas furnace. It was surprising to me just how expensive and inefficient electric heating is. I’ll get more into that in a future post.

So now we have one home. One energy bill. And now the burden of maintenance is on us rather than a landlord. Time to get busy.

Again, nothing special in terms of upgrades for energy efficiency this month. We’re spending most of our time and energy this spring and summer on our yard and garden and all that outside stuff that it sure is nice to have warm weather to complete. But it’s important to have months where we don’t make any big changes and just live in our home so we can get a sense of our baseline energy use.

This month’s upgrade cost: $0

Total upgrade cost to date: $17.64

Over 29 days we used 390 KWH. Which comes out to an average 13.4 KWH/day. Compared to the last billing period average of 15.5 KWH/day, we dropped a bit, due to spending a week or so in our apartment getting ready to move out.

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 increased on June 1st, So the cost of our electricity is $0.13 per KWH for the 18 days of May on our bill, and $0.14 per KWH for the 11 days of June, for a total of $52.68.

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: 148 vs. 347.

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 $8.93 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 758 KWH. I imagine this number is going to drop pretty significantly in coming months, because we’re almost to the point where the previous owners of the house listed it for sale, and during that time they were already living in a different residence.

Gas used this month last year: 1 Therm. Average temperature this month: 63° F. This month last year: 54° F.

Degree Days this month: 148 vs this month last year: 108. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 29 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 4, and Month 5.

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3 Energy Wins to Celebrate this Fourth of July

Happy Birthday America!

While we celebrate our Independence this weekend, let’s also celebrate some of the wins we’ve made in America and around the world in the past year in terms of renewable energy growth.

3 energy wins to celebrate this fourth of july

Fireworks by Jeff Golden //CCBY

1. We’ve reached 1% of worldwide energy generation through solar power!

Ok, so 1% sounds pretty small, but nearly a quarter of that was installed just within the last year, and the prices on solar generation continue to fall, meaning that soon it will not only be the earth friendly way to get your electricity, but it will also be the wallet friendly way. This first 1% is hard won, requiring decades of work by scientists and engineers to bring the technology forward and the price down. China, Japan, and the U.S. are leading the way on solar power installation.  You can read more about this achievement here.

2. Dirty, Old coal plants are retiring across the U.S.

In the past year, 7% of coal plants have been retired. These retired plants are the oldest of the currently existing coal plants and dirtiest methods we currently have of generating electricity, so shutting them down is a good step to reducing the dangerous particulates they exhaust – like mercury, from the air. The old coal plants are retiring for a couple reasons – they are too dirty to meet current regulations, and they are being priced out by the plummeting costs of producing electricity using renewables.  You can read more about the shutting down of coal plants here.

3. We’re building battery capacity

One of the biggest challenges with the move to renewables such as wind and solar, is that the amount of energy that they generate fluctuates. On a windy day, wind turbines can be constantly generating electricity, but if the wind dies down – people will still want to use their computers, refrigerator, and air conditioning regardless. Same with solar power, the power generation fluctuates not only with day and night, but with cloud levels and season. A sunny day in Arizona can produce more energy collected by solar panels than all the people of Arizona can use in a day, but at night, that all goes away. So battery capacity is key for capturing and saving all that energy until it is needed. This means that projects like the Tesla Gigafactory will be key in meeting our energy storage needs.  You can read more about the Tesla Gigafactory here.

So there you have it, while you are celebrating independence this weekend, go ahead and light a sparkler or two for these 3 energy wins to celebrate this year.

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Announcing the building earth Newsletter!

While I have been writing blog posts about green building practices, renewable energy, and sustainable living practices since January of 2014, last July was when I moved everything over to the buildingearth.net domain and made this blog official. So here we are, almost a year later, and to celebrate making it this far, I’m kicking off the monthly buildingearth Newsletter!

building earth newsletter july 2015

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Getting started, the building earth newsletter will include recommended articles, podcasts, videos, and books, exclusive content, and behind the scenes info about buildingearth.net. And I’m looking forward to how the newsletter will grow throughout the upcoming months.

So sign up now, and look for the first building earth newsletter to hit your inbox in July.

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The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 5

I’m back after a couple week hiatus due to finally finishing up our move from apartment to house, some traveling, and some adjusting to a new schedule. One of the troubles with having a significant other who is in residency is the constantly shifting schedules. Throw in the mix a toddler that thrives on a schedule, and it means our life sometimes goes topsy-turvy as we adjust. And now we’re well past due for giving you an energy efficiency project update. So, here goes.

energy efficiency project month 5

April 14th – May 13th, 29 days

We had a mid-April cold snap that caused us to turn the heat back on for a week or so. And as I mentioned above, we completed our move during this billing period, so we have a few more energy users in our home these days – a television and XBox, a lamp, etc. And lengthening days mean we’re using our lights less. Nothing special in terms of upgrades for energy efficiency this month. But it’s important to have months where we don’t make any big changes and just live in our home so we can get a sense of our baseline energy use.

This month’s upgrade cost: $0

Total upgrade cost to date: $17.64

Over 29 days we used 451 KWH. Which comes out to an average 15.5 KWH/day. Compared to the last billing period average of 9.45 KWH/day, you can see the definite difference in energy use between basic maintenance mode, and everyday living mode.

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%.) So the cost of our electricity is $0.13 per KWH, for a total of $59.04.

We also used 13 Therms of natural gas heat energy. Which averages out to 0.45 Therms/day. Huzzah for spring and only using our furnace for about a week during this month. Degree days this month compared to last month: 347 vs. 754.

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 $15.45 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 740 KWH

Gas used this month last year: 17 Therms. Average temperature this month: 53° F. This month last year: 51° F.

Degree Days this month: 347 vs this month last year: 466. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 33 days of the billing period.

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

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Building a Sod Compost Bin

With backyard garden dreams like stars in our eyes, Neil and I began tearing up the sod in the backyard. We’ve torn up probably 500+ square feet of sod so far, making way for kitchen gardens, flower gardens, and a prairie garden. Thinking of getting rid of all that sod gave Neil an idea of building our compost bins out of some of it.

As you may recall, our quick and easy winter compost situation was just to toss it in a steel drum that I found on craigslist. When the weather started to warm, we wanted a compost pile situation that was a bit less “trash fire” or “junk yard” looking. So Neil planned out and built a two-pile compost bin arrangement made of sod. And I want to share how we did it just in case you have plans to tear up a bit of grass for a garden and start a compost pile this spring or summer.

Building a Sod Compost Bin

Building a Sod Compost Bin

  1. Measure out the area that you want for your pile, and include 1 foot for each wall.

We wanted about a square yard for each pile, and we had enough room for two piles. so the are we mapped out was:

length = 1 ft (left edge wall) + 3 ft (pile 1) +1 ft (center wall) + 3 ft (pile 2) +  1 ft (right edge wall) = 9 ft.

depth = 1 ft (front wall) + 3 ft (pile) + 1 ft (back wall) = 5 ft.

  1. Dig out the sod within your measured out area so you are starting out with a blank dirt rectangle.

OK, this step is optional, because the walls and compost pile will kill all that grass anyway, but it does give you some sod to start building your bins out of.

We dug out the sod beneath the bins using a square edge shovel. Tearing up sod is not an easy job, especially at this point in the spring when it’s had a good bit of time to re-establish its root system. When we cleared out the sod beneath the bins, it was the end of March, so the grass hadn’t really come back to life yet, which made this process easier. For the sod removal we did for our garden beds, we rented a manual sod ripper from a local hardware store. It was still tiresome manual labor, but it definitely went faster than working with a shovel. Rumor has it you can also rent gas powered sod rippers from Home Depot and the like, but our nearest Home Depot apparently doesn’t have a rental center.

Building a sod compost bin side view

  1. Build the back, side, and center walls out of sod using an alternating pattern. This means you face dirt side to dirt side and grass side to grass side. This is the pattern you use to stack sod to compost it as well. We also overlapped the sod layers so that the breaks in sod strips didn’t line up from layer to layer – you know, lego style.

We built our walls to be about 2.5 – 3 ft tall.

You may want to enforce your walls by making them a bit wider at the bottom than they are at the top. I did this by taking some piece of sod and leaning them along the bottom inside and outside of the wall.

building a side compost bin inside view

  1. Build a shorter front containment wall. Our front wall is maybe only 9 inches tall. Its purpose is just to keep the compost pile from spilling out the front of the bin. You don’t want too tall of a front wall so that you have easy access to the pile for turning it and for retrieving your finished compost for spreading on the garden.
  2. Finish off your walls with a dirt-side-up layer of sod, and plant flowers or a vining plant on the top of the walls.

This step is obviously also optional, but will potentially make for a prettier compost pile situation in the middle of summer. We planted some old nasturtium seeds we had along the top of our walls.

Sod compost bins are certainly not a permanent compost situation. We’ll probably have to build new bins next spring or certainly by next fall. But they serve as multi-taskers for now: containing our kitchen and yard compost while also composting down some of the sod that we were tearing out of the yard anyway. When the sod walls have composted themselves, we’ll be able to use that as garden food as well as the compost piles the walls are containing.

Interested in more building earth articles on compost? Check out the following:
Starting a Winter Compost Pile
Composting during the Winter
Can I Compost That?
Apartment Composting

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