Monday, June 13, 2011

Five Attempts at Green and Frugal Living

I don't really like using the term "Green," because it is SO over-used in today's culture, but I guess I just don't really see a more convenient way to say "environmentally conscientious," so I'll just stick with the slightly obnoxious, "Green." My disclaimer being stated, I can continue with my post.

Most often, it costs more money to live in ways that are better for the environment. Rather, it's often cheaper to live without a care in the world about what happens to our trash after we throw it out. Out of sight, out of mind. While we don't go to the extremes of some people, Nicole and I get a kick out of doing things in a way that minimizes the negative impact on the environment. God gave us this world and everything in it, but that doesn't mean we have a license to make a mess of things, willy-nilly-style. There's some responsiblity that comes with it.

Before I get too far into this, I'd like to mention something else about which we are similarly proud, yet has nothing to do with the environment. We don't subscribe to cable television. Let me make one thing clear: we have no problem with TV. What we DO have a problem with is when companies charge us way too much to sit through 18 minutes of commercials in an hour of programming. That's right; more than 25% of every hour that you spend watching regular television programming is spent watching ads for things that you most likely would never buy if they weren't plopped into an enticing ad with a memorable ditty. So, instead of cable, we have an awesome combination of Netflix ($10/mo) and broadcast television (0$/mo). Netflix serves up an awesome variety of television and movies completely commercial-free, and we even get 1 DVD at a time of unlimited rentals delivered to our door. As for live sports, news and emergency broadcasts, we have regular TV delivered over the airways. That's right - you can get TV with ads for FREE, and thanks to an antenna, a digital converter box and the new wavelengths being used for TV broadcasts, you don't need a subscription to have crystal-clear (most of the time, anyway) TV. That means I don't have to pay a subscribed cent to watch the Lions lose. You'll see the antenna that makes it all possible in the pictures to come... If you don't see them, click the jump break below. You wouldn't believe how many people don't notice that it's there if I don't specifically mention it...



Back to the original topic: environmental friendliness. We do quite a few things to either minimize our impact on the environment, save some money, or both. Take a gander through the following pictures and see what you think:


1. Compact fluorescent light bulbs. We've got these bad boys in every fixture in the house. Yeah, they're expensive at first, but they pay for themselves in no time. Most use around 7-12 watts and give the same light as your average 100-watt bulb. If you're paying around 9 cents per kilowatt-hour, and most people are paying at least that, that means for every ten hours that you have a 100-watt bulb lit, you pay 9 cents. Let's say that, conservatively, you have at least two light bulbs on for five hours per day. Most people have more than this, but stay with me. That means that every day, 9 cents is being dropped in the bucket. This means that each 30-day month, you're dropping at least $2.70 in electricity for those two bulbs. People with families or students (like us) that spend more than that burning bulbs for the bulk of the year (especially in the winter) will be using a lot more than that. Using compact fluorescent bulbs, which last way longer than incandescent bulbs, we're paying about 1/10 as much and getting the same amount of light. For us, it would only cost about $0.30 for the same two-bulbs-worth of light.

--


2. What's missing? A dishwasher. Now before you go all up-in-arms about how Nicole does most of the dishes (something for which I am eternally grateful), she's in on this with me. Just the other day, she expressed a sense of satisfaction at washing out dishes by hand, as it uses less water and electricity than having a dishwasher would. Yes, it's less convenient, but it helps keep the bills down and wastes less water. That's not really much of an issue, as we're blessed enough to live 10 minutes from Lake Michigan, but still, the principle is the same... By the way, additional props to Nicole for MAKING those curtains on the sewing machine my dad got her for her birthday last year. She's turned into a sewing genie recently, doing everything from curtains to headbands to hair barrettes to dress alterations.

--


3. A Solar Well. What's a solar well? Some of you may know about this, but it's something I made back in the summer of 2008 while Nicole was studying in Europe, before we got married. I had lots of time on my hands, and it was fun to design and put together. It's connected to a solar panel outside the house, and is pretty simple. It has a charge controller to limit the amount of electricity that comes in from the solar panel so the battery doesn't overcharge. It has a 32aH 12V battery connected to a 120V DC-to-AC inverter, which lets me use the electricity for nifty things like lights and fans and laptops, all of which plug in through a power strip on the side. It also has an energy usage monitor mounted into the top so I can keep track of the operating voltage and how much electricity I've stored and used from the sun. This in turn lets me know how much moolah I've saved. I also added in a tire pump, which has been incredibly useful. The meter on the right side of the lid is a pressure gauge for the tire pump, the air hose of which wraps around the front. Below are a few more pictures. If you're wondering why the corner is a little crunched, well, my rear tire backing out of the garage might have something to do with that... :(

--



An internal view. In hindsight, I probably could have used a smaller case, but this one was cheap and had the most surface area to use in mounting all the little gadgets.
--


A voltmeter mounted in the front tells me how charged the battery is; 12.7V is a full charge.
--


A Kill-a-watt energy meter. It's seriously a great way to track how much electricity you're using. You can plug a whole power strip into it, and it will keep track of how much electricity you've used. With the newer versions, you can even plug in your energy cost off your electric bill, and it will tell you how much you're spending in electricity through that outlet per hour, day, week, month or year, based on recent usage trends. Good stuff to know, if you ask me...

--

Solar panel mounted to the roof. Nice and simple
--


Below the solar panel in this picture, you'll see the TV antenna I mentioned earlier. This was the best place for signal capturing, as it was the highest spot that pointed east, toward the TV towers.

--



Why the wood? Keep reading.

--


This is the kindling. It's helpful for getting fires started when I use:

--


4. The heat exchanger that I built (with TONS of donated welding work) with my friend Elden. See their blog HERE. Josh helped out as well, but to be fair, Elden did more than me or Josh combined. The blower connects to two chambers beneath the fire that are heated by the coals, travels up the back of the fireplace and goes over the flames' heat before exiting the front of the fireplace doors. With the doors closed this will pump the temperature in our basement (where the fireplace is) up about 20 to 30 degrees when I get the fire roaring. Essentially free heat in the winter time is just such an awesome thing...

--


The blower and tube suck air into the bottom. Don't worry, it's safe; the bottom pipes and tubing never even get warm, as they constantly have cool air running through them.

--


Air goes in the bottom, through the pipes in the coals. It's a little messy... Haven't really cleaned it after the last fire... Don't tell Nicole...

--


Air goes up the back, over the flames then out the front. The entire heat exchanger weighs around 250 pounds and was a BEAST to get out of my car and into the fireplace. 

--


So there you have it; a heat exchanger for the fireplace.
--



5. A clothesline. Simple? Yes. Effective? Yes! Even in humid weather, the clothes dry pretty fast. We have a dryer for those rainy days when we just have to wash and dry my stinky shirts, but Nicole has put this to great use so far this summer.

--

Those are our five attempts at green and frugal living. In the next couple of weeks, I will be converting my old mountain bike from college into an electric bike. By the time I'm done, it'll get about 20 miles per charge and should top out at 20 mpg without pedaling, faster and with greater range with pedaling. For the fiscally and physically bent, this means that for every charge of the 9 amp-hour, 36V battery (a total drain of 324 watt-hours), I will pay exactly 2.916 cents. Coincidentally, my car currently averages around 20 mpg. So, what I could do for about $3.85 in my car, I can do for about 3 cents on my bike without getting drenched in sweat. Since work is about 4 miles away, I will be able to commute to work for about 1.5 cents per day. 

Anyway, for this project you can probably expect a video or two... The parts are still in the mail though, so it'll be a little while. Ideally, what I save in gas will pay for the cost in about 3-5 months, depending on frequency of usage, and (statistically) the parts shouldn't go bad for 5-8 years, so it should be pretty easy to recoup my losses. Anyway, that's all for now. Feel free to email or comment with any questions about any of the things you've seen here.

No comments:

The Tags

accomplishment (2) AMCAS (1) anniversary (5) application (17) awesome (23) backpacking (8) bike (8) Biochemistry (13) Birthday (1) books (2) Break (46) bummer (2) camping (5) Christmas (4) crazy (30) Curiosity (10) doctor (7) Emergency Medicine (7) exams (37) Fail (4) fun (56) funny (22) Gear (8) God (2) Grand Rapids (2) grey hair (1) Honeymoon (2) Interview (8) iPad (2) Jintus Study (11) MCAT (14) med school (55) Mental Case (1) Motivation (4) Moving (4) MSU CHM (70) music (1) Naiya (22) Nerves (2) News (3) Nicole (40) Notes Plus (1) personal statement (5) Philosophy (1) photos (34) premed (4) random (25) Resources (9) Review (13) Running (6) Scary (2) Schedule (5) Science (1) Shadowing (6) sick (8) Specialty (4) stress (13) Studying (44) surgery (4) Tech (2) Tired (3) Travel (14) Travis (5) volunteering (3) Wife (26)
HyperSmash