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LED Lights: Expensive But Very Nice

July 12, 2012

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I’m fresh from writing an article (for SF Gate) about light bulbs, and it got me thinking about LED bulbs. I got one from Home Depot last year and I haven’t really used it much. But after that article and seeing how much energy LEDs save compared to incandescent, I’m very curious and eager to try more of these bulbs.

Home Depot has a terrific chart comparing incandescent, CFL (those “swirly” bulbs I always complain about) and LED bulbs. While I don’t care much for the CFL (they are so expensive and never last as long as they say), I rather like the LEDs. Look at the comparison!

Chart courtesy of HomeDepot.com.

Energy costs are very, very high in the Northeast so there’s been demand for.. well, for energy costs to go DOWN but that ain’t gonna happen here…. so we’re scrambling to get better bulbs and adjust our lifestyles to save money. That’s really the only choice we have. LEDs are still rather expensive, but the prices are starting to fall. Last year, this bulb I got cost $35. This year, it’s under $20. Other styles and brands are $10. It would still cost me a small fortune to rig up my home with LEDs, but I already pay a fortune in energy costs.

I’m seriously thinking of getting LEDS, at least for the kitchen which consumes the most lighting in the house. To do so would cost me about $180! But they also produce less heat, last longer and save energy. Hmmm.

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Is Emergency Preparedness A Pipe Dream?

November 5, 2011

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I’m reading this very old book, Historic Storms of New England. It was written by Sidney Perley and published in 1891. His narratives go back to the first recorded natural disasters of the year 1635, a mere 15 years after the Separatists (English Pilgrims) landed on the shores of Massachusetts in 1620. The book is amazing, it tells of earthquakes, strange appearances in the heavens, blizzards, hurricanes (although they were not called hurricanes back then), meteorites and other strange events and storms. Some of the stories include eyewitness accounts (one family’s devastating shipwreck is heart wrenching). In most cases, such natural catastrophes drew people closer to God.

As I’ve been reading the book, oddly enough, New York and New England have suffered a year of unusual weather and natural disasters. This year alone, we’ve had THREE devastating floods, an earthquake, two hurricanes, innumerable tornadoes and — a mere week ago — a freak October Nor’Easter that dumped 32 inches in Maine. I was shocked to read the blog of one of my friends. who reports that in Connecticut they STILL have no electrical power. Cindi at moomettesmagnificents.com/blog/survival-guide-102-in-connecticut-irene-was-a-dress-rehersal-for-alfred-day-5 has had to throw out all the food in her two refrigerators and freezers. News reports say the storm killed 8 people and cut power for at least 4 million households. Wow. Cindi said she has a generator, but there is no gasoline available, so they are out of power completely. Because of the immense snow and downed trees, travel out of the area is impossible, So they are stuck in the disaster zone. Wow.

Backyard Snow2

It won't be long....

And that got me thinking.

My husband and I have discussed “emergency preparedness” before. We have two sump pumps that work day and night to keep water out of our basement. We’ve experienced numerous floods (so many I can’t count anymore), but only once did we lose power in all our years here. If we lost power — especially during a heavy rainfall or hurricane — we’d be inundated with flood waters. So we discussed getting a generator, thinking this would solve our problem. But after reading Cindi’s situation, I wonder if that’s really the cure-all we originally thought. In a natural catastrophe, the gas stations may not pump gas. Then what?

So I don’t know what to do. I feel rather frustrated because everything in our society is SO reliant and integrated with the electrical grid. It makes me feel uneasy. I like to have a contingency plan, but there really isn’t anything. And I thought, “Well, we could get a wood-burning generator, right?” But our chainsaw needs gas to cut that wood. We have SOME wood in the back, but I don’t think we would have nearly enough. And where would I store it? If another flood rages across my land, all the wood is down the pike.

I’m beginning to think “emergency preparedness” is a pipe dream. There’s only *so much* you can do, because no matter what, you are reliant on other people and groups in the community being prepared, too. Which, as we see with the numerous disasters this year, few communities are. I do wonder about my own community. Are they so busy building sidewalks and shopping centers that they forget the other things, too? Like BOATS, lol.

Hm. What do you think?

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How to Keep an Old House Cool in the Summer

May 27, 2011

6 Comments

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…. before the 1970s malaise and even before the Industrial Revolution, most homeowners focused more on keeping their homes cool in the summer than warm in the winter. Back then, wood and coal were plenteous, and labor was cheap (not to mention that families had dozens of kids back then), so heating the house was relatively easy. Houses were built to release heat. High ceilings were the repositories of warmed air; thin glass windows– the bane of our modern homes– and drafty rooms kept the house well ventilated. I’d even heard that the reason for all the decorative gingerbread features in Victorian homes was not for aesthetic reasons, but to give the impression of icicles and therefore the illusion of coolness. I am not sure if this is 100% true, but it’s what I’ve heard.

4snow2011

That's the closest I'll ever get to gingerbread on this house...

At any rate, the world is turned upside down, now. Thanks to the energy crunch, we homeowners must seal every crack, plug every hole, lower ceilings, install thicker windows with better quality glass…. and while there’s great benefit, in hot or cold weather, to insulating walls and sealing every crack, it does make the interior of the house rather airless during summers. Airless homes are not healthy. Mold and mildew love homes with temperate, stale air. Toxins within the home, such as natural gas and small traces of carbon dioxide, reach poisonous proportions in tightly-sealed homes. And since we are in our homes more frequently than previous generations, ventilation is all the more important for our health and well-being.

Close Up

Our old wiring could never have supported the large electric load of an air conditioner.

I have lived in old homes all my life. Old homes aren’t really built for the power-sucking, window-filling air conditioning systems of today. My old homes had outdated electric, unable to withstand the kilowatt slurping window-installed air conditioner. And unless we gutted the walls or purchased new fangled cooling units, we couldn’t install central air, either. So I grew up learning the passive methods of keeping a house cool in the summer. I remember my mom waking up very early on summer mornings to “batten down the hatches” before a particularly sultry summer day dawned. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years:

1. Open the windows at night.
Summer nights are obviously cooler than summer days. I place fans in the windows, blowing cool night air in at night. I sleep better when it’s cool, too.

2. Close the windows before the sun rises.
After encouraging the cool summer night air to enter the house through open windows, I basically seal the cool air in for as long as possible by closing off the source of the heat– the summer day. All windows are closed and curtains are drawn. I may have one upstairs window open, with a fan blowing out.

3. Know the natural air flow of your home.

Every home has some kind of natural air flow to it. I have studied the flow of the drafts in my home, so I know what directions the air naturally travels downwind. If I work WITH instead of against the flow, I can save energy (and money). This helps me to position fans in the right areas, especially that upstairs “out” fan I mentioned in #2. There’s one room in the house upstairs where all the air goes into. I open the window in that room and point the fan out. The fan will blow the heated air that is rising up from the first floor out the window. This does two things: it removes the heated air, and provides a constant draft that makes the house feel cooler.

4. Hang heavy drapes.

Solar energy is a marvelous thing, but when it’s making you sweat buckets, it stinks. I close all windows and blinds during the hottest time of the day (from 11am to 5:30 pm). My current home is situated in the middle of a small business district, with large sections of heat-pumping asphalt all around me. Heavy drapes are my only barrier between comfort and that nasty, heat-belching asphalt.

Whew Exhaustion

ISSOHOT

5. Reduce heat-producing appliance use.
Obviously, the clothes dryer is a biggie here. If you have a laundry area right in the living quarters, it can get pretty hot, running that thing. Hang clothes or relocate your dryer to the basement. Don’t use the stove at ALL (you’ll really regret it!)– get a grill and cook outside. Computers generate a lot of heat, so turn off the ones you are not using. Lower your hot water tank thermostat. Use the “air dry” cycle on the dishwasher. Turn off lights. Regard anything that produces heat as an impediment to your goal.

6. Plant deciduous trees on the south and west sides of the house.
Deciduous trees will provide shade for your land during the hot summers. The nice about deciduous trees is that they will drop their leaves by winter, giving your home access to the warm sun that is welcome in the winter. Don’t plant them too closely to the house, or you may have roof and/or gutter problems when the leaves drop in the autumn.

7. Plant evergreen trees on the north side of the house.
Much like deciduous trees on the south, evergreens offer your home a little barrier. But while deciduous trees provide a barrier from the hot sun in the summer, evergreen trees provide a barrier from the cold north winds in the winter.

8. Install light colored roof shingles.
Black asphalt shingles retain heat and continue radiating it. Shingles in white, gray, or even red absorb less of the sun’s sweltering rays.

9. Insulate the attic.
And seal all holes and cracks from the attic to the living areas. In my old home, the insulation is both insufficient and disgusting. It’s the old cellulose crap– loaded with dust and it stinks like all get-out. Oh, how I hate cellulose insulation!

Attic2

How I HATE this attic!

 

Well, anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, seal the holes! In my home, the roof heats up and the backyard heats up thanks to all that asphalt, and the heat builds up to epic proportions in the attic. And I know all about physics, but in my house the heat actually DROPS. Must be wacky airflow. But the house sometimes smells like the attic and the upstairs gets really hot. When we gut the upstairs, I’m going to seal that blasted attic.

10. Open the basement door.
Before we had our sneaky cat who is always trying to get outside, we would open the basement door and place a fan in the doorway. I really can’t believe how wonderfully cool the basement is. When the weather gets really oppressive, I sometimes go down there to cool back down to 98.6.

FTK 3.26No2

Of course, sitting in the refrigerator is a great way to cool off...

11. Install awnings over south-facing windows.
Believe me, this works. My new kitchen window at 4 feet by 5 feet is so wonderful, but it faces south and receives the full brunt of the hot summer sun and asphalt.

So there ARE ways to keep the house cool without busting your energy bill. After all, you’ll need to save every dollar you can for the winter’s heating bills!

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Finding Good CFL Bulbs

March 29, 2011

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The Old House Journal has a terrific article at oldhouseweb.com/blog/how-to-find-energy-efficient-bulbs-that-dont-suck-nutrition-facts-for-light-bulbs.

Starting in January 2011 light bulbs are required to be labeled with lumens, watts, kelvins and efficacy. Greek to you too? Not worry. The label is now clear, easy to understand and full of fun colors.

It’s good news to me. Here in New York State, we will be forced to use only CFLs (or LEDs) for lighting. I have discovered that not all CFLs are created equal, and have often wondered why the differences seems so enigmatic. I had no idea about kelvins and lumens and all that jazz. I recently purchased some “full spectrum” bulbs for our desk lamps, in the hopes that these bulbs would give us a little energy perk and cheer up our spirits on the gloomy days that New York often suffers. I’d heard that full spectrum bulbs simulate sunlight and therefore help improve mood and make you faster than a speeding bullet and etc. Honestly, I don’t rely on light bulbs to cure diseases! But if full spectrum bulbs give us a little psychological boost, then, hey- why not? Honestly, I can’t say I have noticed a huge difference. Maybe. I’m a pretty chipper person, anyway, especially when I’m at my desk. 😀

Anyway, now we have a little guide for choosing CFLs. I like it. Here’s what Old House Journal said:

1. Bedroom and Living Room: Pick a bulb in the “yellow” range as close to 2700K as you can get.

2. Garage, Basement, Laundry and Utility Room: These are rooms where mimicking the sun is okay. So, look for bulbs in the “white” range and have a high color temperature of about 5800K. Don’t go too much higher than that or you’ll end up in the ugly “blue” range.

3. Computer Screen: There is a great free program I use called F.lux. It makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.

For more specific information, see the lightingfacts.com/Downloads/Performance_Scale.pdf U.S. Department of Energy’s CFL lighting facts chart (opens as a pdf document).

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Incandescent vs. CFLs

March 28, 2011

8 Comments

In 2012, sales of incandescent light bulbs in New York State will be illegal. The bulbs nominated to fill the void: Compact Fluorescent Lights, or CFLs. The government’s Energy Star website says that CFL bulbs use “75% less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and lasts up to 10 times longer.”

Honestly, I’ve been using CFL bulbs for certain rooms, and I haven’t seen any big difference between them an incandescent bulbs; CFLs may last a LITTLE longer than incandescent, but NO WAY not 10 times longer. Maybe 1.5 times. As a matter of fact, I filled my living room chandelier with CFL bulbs in December, and already one has blown. :-p These suckers are pricey, too. No one ever says that they COST 20 times more than incandescent. If you know of a website that offers some statistics, I’m curious.

Anyway, I’m mainly against CFLs because they contain mercury, one of the most toxic neurotoxins known to man. Currently, there is no system for disposal of the bulbs that we will all be forced to use. Oh, there are a whopping total of THREE recycling centers in New York State (all near Albany) that accept CFLs from residents only (at the time of this writing, to my knowledge). But what are homeowners to do with burned-out CFLs? Throw them in the trash for the landfills? Imagine all the mercury polluting the environment, seeping into the water system. Ugh.

Some experts recommend that we save all our CFLs until the state figures out how to dispose of them all.

Uh, hello? We are supposed to stash old bulbs in bags under our beds until you guys figure out what to do with them?! You mean you didn’t have this all planned out BEFORE you passed such a law?

*rolls eyes*

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

How about you? Is your state regulating CFLs? Do you see a noticeable difference between them and the incandescents?

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Plastics: The Good, the Bad, The Ugly

February 27, 2011

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I seem to be on a roll these days regarding plastics, toxins, and the environment. I am by no means a “tree hugger,” as I do feel that modern technology has its place. Modern advances in manufacturing, technology and health have significantly improved our lives. But I will say that profligate abuse of the good earth God gave us is bad. I recently blogged about planned obsolescence and the toxins that are heavily incorporated into our lives and products. Plastics and materials such as styrofoam are in the news again. I recently saw on USAToday that there’s a developing move into “bioplastics.” Bioplastics are a biodegradable plastic derived from plant matter, not petroleum as most plastics are currently. This is from Wikipedia:

Bioplastics or organic plastics are a form of plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable oil, corn starch, pea starch, or microbiota, rather than fossil-fuel plastics which are derived from petroleum. Some, but not all, bioplastics are designed to biodegrade.

Interesting, no?

While I think biodegradable plastic is superb for many things, there are some things that I would not want to use it for. Take, for example, polyethylene sheets. These came on very handy for my renovation– I used them as drop “cloths,” tarps, covering furniture, and– most importantly– as my vapor barrier with insulation when I rebuilt the gutted walls.

DRinsulation

I surely would not want these to biodegrade over time! Nothing provides a superior moisture and air barrier than poly sheets.

Yet, I would think that plastic bag manufacturers could use biodegradable plastic, and make a WHOLE lot of people happy. The current petro-based bags NEVER degrade. Which reminds me, one of the kids place a couple of these bags in my compost bin and I have the pleasant job of digging then out this spring. :-p

Cups, packaging containers, package wrap, etc– these all are perfect candidates for this new wave of plastics. But I do think there’s a place for petro-plastics, still. I am very happy to see companies becoming more conscientious about reducing waste and toxins in our environment.

What do you think? Would you be more inclined to shop at a store that had biodegradable plastic bags? Or go to a coffee shop that served drinks in biodegradable coffee cups?

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Snow Shovels and Planned Obsolescence

February 26, 2011

2 Comments

The Husband and I are rather sensitive to planned obsolescence. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see this post I wrote, Watch This Stuff. It’s a real eye opener!

Planned obsolescence is that deliberate scheme by a manufacturer to intentionally build a product that will become obsolete or nonfunctional after a period of time. I know you’ve encountered planned obsolescence. If you are older than 40 years old, you remember the good old days where if the toaster or VCR or RV or umbrella broke, you’d fix it, not throw it in the trash because it was unfixable. Well, manufacturers make things deliberately unfixable. That’s called “planned obsolescence.” And we just added another product to the list: the snow shovel.

Show shovels are PRICEY. And they do not last very long, either. The handles are pretty sturdy– and The Hubs loves the fancy handles with the thick spongy neoprene on them– these handles don’t hurt his back and give him superior grip. But the scoops of these shovels break. Like, after a few weeks! :-p The scoops are flimsy plastic.

My husband likes his fancy handle, so he attempted to remove the flimsy plastic scoop from the nice handle, and replace the scoop. No can do. The manufacturer glued and pinned and bolted and sealed it together. You have to buy a completely new shovel, another $35, please.

UGH.

That’s just wrong.

Oh well, spring is coming, spring is coming! I know it is! 😀

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Pressure!

December 18, 2010

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Ever try scrubbing your home’s exterior siding or basement floor? NOT FUN. Our basement floods from time to time, leaving behind silty mud and a bad smell (not to mention that the cats make a total mess down there). One of my dreaded spring chores is to hose it out. I use my garden hose with the minimal pressure it provides, and it takes a long time and a LOT of water to clean that floor. Maybe i should look into power washing services, eh? If I consider the cost of water (very expensive here) and my labor, I’d probably break even if I hired a team. Because my basement sump well eventually pumps the ground water back into the storm water reservoir, I’d have to make sure that the company used green technology. I wouldn’t want any chemicals or gunk going back into the system.

If you are in the west coast and are in need of some cleaning up, check out Mr. Pressure Wash (catchy name, don’t you think?). Most pressure washing machines need to be rigged up to your water supply (ouch, that’s hard on the budget), and it’s a cost that companies sometimes don’t give when they offer estimates. Mr. Pressure Wash is unique– they use and reuse their own water! They also don’t use caustic chemicals– instead, they use special enzymes to wash out oils, stains, and other dirt. Estimates are free.

Photo courtesy of MrPressureWash.net

I think it’s terrific that companies like Mr. Pressure Wash are being more considerate of our natural resources and the high costs associated with pressure washing. Kudos to them for offering a great alternative!

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Appliance Repair Help Online

December 2, 2010

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I don’t know about you, but I hate paying extortion prices for appliance repair. My whole household is disrupted when one of the major appliances breaks down (I work full-time, so a disruption like that is a major headache for the family)– not to mention my budget. JUST to have the appliance repair dude step into my house is $200, and that doesn’t even include the repair yet. :-p
GE washer 3
Well, one of the benefits of writing how-to articles online for a home and garden website is that I get to learn about all KINDS of nifty tips, tricks, and online resources, like appliancepartspros.com. Woo hoo! I no longer have to rely on the repair dudes for stuff like this! We recently got a new GE washer (more on that later, as I plan to write a review on it), and it’s comforting to know I have access to all the parts should I need them. Another nice thing about researching appliances and getting parts online is that you can haggle with the repair dude (I do this all the time with the plumber). For example– if your dryer belt tears off and you need a new one, but don’t want to pull apart your dryer to fix it, ask your repair dude if you can get the parts if he will install them. My plumber does this for me, and it’s a win-win situation. It saves him the hassle and time of going to get parts for my appliance, and it saves me money because I do the legwork. And if the parts are online, you can have the mailman do all the legwork!

Anyway, repairing the appliances are expensive enough. I recommend that you do a little research yourself– find out what’s wrong, buy the parts if you need them, and maybe even install them yourself if you can. Believe me, it saves a TON of money.

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My Before, During, and After Story, Part 4

November 20, 2010

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This is the story of our renovation, the toils and victories through a sweltering summer of blood, sweat and tears. Read all the gory details of Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Our kitchen project was finally coming to a close. Yet even now, three months since we moved back in, there are many unfinished projects awaiting me. Now that I am back to a normal schedule with kids’ schooling, my online job, and such, I can only chip away at these remaining projects, slowly but surely. My goal is to batten down the hatches for an Upstate New York winter, and I’ll pick up the hammer and saw again in the spring.

After we tackled the butcher block countertops, we collapsed for a few days. Almost all of the really intense physical labor was done. Except the flooring. We’d installed plywood sub-flooring over the 70s hardboard subfloor over the 50s linoleum over the 1855 pine planks…. thank God, they’d removed the funky 40s carpeting somewhere in there (although dregs of it appeared from time to time as we removed partition walls). I love wood, just LOVE it, but it is so expensive. I decided to go with TrafficMaster allure vinyl planks. It looks like wood– for a second or two, anyway– but it’s durable and easy to install. Cost me a small fortune, though, I’ll tell you what. But I had been waiting SO LONG for a new floor.

Vinyl Flooring

Very easy to install. I guess that's why it's so pricey.

Island

It took me about 8 hours (straight) to install the dining room floor, 10 hours to do the kitchen.

Once the floor was done, the room looked like a real kitchen again. We moved in shortly after. Oh, the JOY!

DeltaH20_5

BeverageArea

This is our beverage area, which I conveniently tucked under the stairwell. Note the painted pantry shelf to the left. Still has no doors, though...

TheKitchen1

dishwasher90273

Our favorite appliance. Oh, how we dreamed for this moment! LOL, six adults in a home make a lot of dishes.

I’d mentioned before about the sink and window as the room’s focal point. I carefully crafted the trim around the window to reflect the home’s Greek Revival architecture. The Greek triangular pediment and fluted trim is repeated throughout the house. I stained this wood extra dark to make it stand out. Cellular blinds soften the hard lines. I need more color and decor here, but all in good time.
Window1

2010 was a wild, crazy ride for us.

MyFan1

I’m spending the winter quietly, taking things slower as best I can. I work at home to pay off the kitchen. If we had hired out to have all this work done, the job would have cost us a small fortune. By doing everything ourselves, we saved a ton of money. It was a lot of work, sure, but I think everyone was enriched by the experience, especially my kids. Here’s a quick breakdown of the economics:

According to this chart, we saved over $36,000 by doing this ourselves. That is a HUGE savings! Yes, I took time off from work to work on this renovation. I worked on reduced hours for four months. However, consider this: a kitchen renovation gives you an average of 70% return on the cost of the project, so I basically “earned” $25,200 on the value of the home. That’s more than I make in a year, let alone four months. So even though I’m not seeing a liquid $25,200 cash in hand, it’s part of my real estate investment. It was well worth it, I think, to go reduced hours on my job (with which, I figure, I lost about $2000 income) to earn $25,200 in capital investment on the property. Moreover, improving the electrical and water supply reduces our insurance premium, the insulation in the walls reduces our heating bills,  and everything in general improves the quality of our lives here.

I think my DIY project was worth it. But I’m SO GRATEFUL it’s over!

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