Monday, August 31, 2009

Water savings and my city

In the great city of Dallas we have a lot of cheap water. Even when we have droughts and the reservoirs get low, the price doesn't go up.

Just three hours south we have the city of Austin and they don't have near enough water. They understand water conservation better than most, and, they are the capital of Texas. Their city hall is Xeriscaped, ours has a big fountain.

So laws and regulations that come out of Austin are often aimed at conservation but the City is responsible for enforcement. Somewhere between Austin and Dallas on I35, water conservation falls off the truck.

The City can put in place its own policies and ordinances and they have. There are limits as to when you can sprinkle...(all night every night). Unless you hand water or use soaker can do that 24 x 7. And, to really put the fear in the citizenry you absolutely aren't allowed to water during rain or freezing weather.

On the incentives side, the city has some programs to help conserve water. First, their biggest program, you can get $90 to change out your toilet out for a low flow one. From the City's web site...

"Water conservation is a major component of the City’s long-range water supply plan. Our goal is to save 3.5 billion gallons over the lifetime of the 20,000 toilets replaced in the next five years through this program. "

Now that means they are going to save 175,000 gallons per toilet. I will be generous and allow two gallons a flush savings. That single toilet will have to flush 87,500 times in its lifetime to save that much water. If you figure five flushes a day that's about 48 years. 10 flushes (twice our amount), 24 years, or, 20 flushes a day (a family of five home all day with one toilet?) for 12 years!

Of course we have to assume they won't remodel or upgrade that toilet again later.

Now take my sprinklers. I have saved 51,000 gallons in seven months. I will surpass the toilet's lifetime savings in 17 months. In fact, at that rate, in 24 years I will have saved the equivalent of 12 toilets. For us personally, we each use the toilet five times a day and flush less, with two toilets. That means my five flushes a day toilets, upgraded, would take 48 years each to meet the 175,000 gallons city target.

At that rate I will have saved 24 toilets worth of water. My savings cost around $2000. The same toilet saving will cost the city $2,160 and the homeowners around $100 each to install and another $100 average to purchase because cheap toilets don't qualify for the rebate. That adds another $4800, so $6,960 total, about three times my cost per gallon. And of course that doesn't include the administrative costs for the geniuses at city hall to run this program.

You should also bear in mind all those removed toilets are land filled.

Bottom line - upgrading your toilet is a good thing. After about ten other things that have a lot better ROI and water savings potential. The City is almost preying on unsuspecting water consumers who want to be water conscious by leading them to believe this is a good first step. It's not.

So fix your sprinklers, lower the pressure, put in new multi-stream nozzles, get an ET controller, add drip when redoing beds. Inside the home, add flow regulators to showers, change all the aerators on all the faucets, stop drips and flush a little less. You'll save a lot more water and money than calling your plumber to install a new low-flow toilet.

And, for you do it yourselfers out there. Changing out a toilet is relatively easy. A leak however from the connection to the wall, the valve, the tank, etc, can all be catastrophic. There is nothing to safeguard you from flooding your house during a simple weekend trip away. (And they always break when you're away.)

Saving a LOT of money

I just returned from Oklahoma City and an overnight stay at my brother in law's house. He installed central AC about 9 months ago and I was anxious to review their electric bills. (Is that weird or what?)

The bottom line is, going from window units to central AC will save them 55% on their energy costs and pay back the initial investment in 13.5 months. That's impressive.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What are "degree days"?

I am sorry to say that this is important to saving energy. The reason I'm sorry is because it's so darn complex.

The reason we care about "degree days" is because our home's climate control system dominates our energy use. Everything else is secondary. So to properly evaluate our heating and cooling energy use we need to somehow establish a way to compare one day to the next, or week, or month or year. If we spend a bunch of money on conservation how do I really know I have done some good and quantify it.

Degree days was developed just for that purpose and is used by commercial building operators to compare their building's energy use. Before we move on let me make sure I have established the need.

Today, my air conditioning energy use was largely dictated by the weather, minute by minute. Just using the high temperature of the day doesn't really define the amount we use. It's the temperature ALL day that counts. Was it a hot night? Did it warm up fast? Did it cool down slow? All of these contribute to how hot a day it really was. In fact, one could look at the temperature every second of an entire day.

Degree days essentially takes the temperatures from the entire day, usually in half hour increments, and calculates the number of "units" accumulated through the day and that's the degree days. A "unit" would be a degree for a half hour which is 1/48th of a day. But of course its not that simple.

If you keep your house at 75 degrees on a 75 degree day you would have zero (nada) degree days. Why? Because the calculation is based on how much YOU would have used based on your thermostat. If you set your thermostat at 72, then the house would have to be cooled 3 degrees on that 75 degree day thus accumulating 3 degree days of cooling.

Bottom Line #1 -With degree days you have an accurate amount to determine the demand for energy for heating and cooling. This is very useful to compare July 2008 with 2009. For example...

The average high temp in June 08 was 96 degrees, and 94 in 09. So June was cooler this year right? Well actually, there were 284 cooling days based on my 75 degree thermostat setting in June 08. In 2009 June was 292. So June 09 was actually the hotter month. It made sense my June 09 bill was higher in KWH used, than last year.

But there is even another step. We can divide the cooling KWH used by the degree days and get a rough efficiency number thats useful for comparing months. Dividing the current month by the same month last year gives me a percentage improvement number.

Bottom Line #2 - When I compare the months, I can see the results of my energy saving efforts that are focused on climate control in my home. New insulation, sealing, more attic vents etc all are contributing to a higher efficiency number.

This link takes you to a handy site where you plug in your zip code and thermostat setting and it will give you your personal degree days.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Washing machine update

My old top loading machine takes 40 minutes to do a load of laundry. Compare that to 90 minutes for the average front loader.

I guess the next question long to dry?

My dryer takes 40 to 45 for average clothes and around 60 minutes for towels. The front loader takes at least 60 minutes for any load. If you're doing consecutive loads it doesn't really matter since the washer is still the pacing item.

Another "feature" of your front loading washer is that once you start a can't stop. If you push the wrong will wait for 90 minutes to start over.

Bottom Line - The new front loaders use time to get water and electricity savings. They also are easier on clothes and use less detergent. But, the expenditure of time (productivity) to go green is generally not a good idea. The manufacturers need to do better.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Climate Change update

I think the argument over climate change is fascinating. Each camp purports to have it figured out, and neither do. The press fuels this debate ad nauseum. In Washington. it's just another item split down the center aisle of congress.

But this issue is different. Mainly because we don't really have much past history to go do we deal with the possibility of real havoc and disruption to our way of life, caused by weather? Dinasaurs know what can happen when the climate goes haywire, but we don't. We did see fascism, Communism and terrorism as real threats to our way of life but only when we were slapped in the face with it...we can't seem to wrap our head around climate weirdness.

Is part of the problem that Bush (Cheney) told us that Saddam was a real global threat and then he turned out not to be? But that was just the US right, not the whole world. The whole world says the threat is real or possibly real, but nothing is really being done. CO2 concentration are going up and will continue to go up.

Cap and Trade you say? That system has already proven to be too cumbersome politically. It might be a good idea until "fine tuned" by state-by-state partisanship. But the reason why it will be ineffective is congressmen don't believe their constituents (special interest groups) will stomach change in the name of climate change. (It may serve them right that they all won their office telling voters to "vote for change".)

It may be obvious that I am very pessimistic about our government's ability to lead on this particular fight. I think this one is up to the populace. We are the ones that will have to drive climate change change. Because deep down no one wants dirty air from coal, unfriendly foreign oil, expensive to operate gas guzzlers, or to toy around with our climate.

Bottom Line - We want a clean healthy environment, no resource wars (oil), stable climate with renewable resources to grow and provide opportunity for generations to come.

We need a common enemy to call out and focus on, ie...Fascism, Communism, terrorism...climate-ism? Resource-ism? Depletion-ism?

What Pogo said was true; "We have met the enemy and he is us." Us-ism?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Frontloading clothes washer

I envied my neighbors LG front loaders. I was just imagining all the water and energy savings form the washer and the dryer. They looked pretty fancy too.

Whenever I asked her about them she would kind of grumble. It seemed like a sore subject. I of course started extolling the virtues of less water, detergent, higher spin rates so the clothes would be dryer going into the dryer. What's not to love?

Last week she told me, in a fit, with passion. "The whole thing's a scam!" "The dang things take forever to wash a load!"

I was shocked. Then I went and did some research on consumer reports, etc etc.

I found that models use 90 minutes a load and some use 100 minutes to wash some clothes. I could do better than that stream-side with a rock! An hour and a half! No wonder she was mad.

I also noticed how little anyone said about it and how hard you had to look to find that info. They really are downplaying this issue in my view. Consumer Reports doesn't even have that as a criteria for ratings.

I think I am going to go hug my old top loader and tell it I am sorry. And then time the next load.

My diswasher is an enigma

I have a fancy Euro dishwasher from ASKO. I put it in in 2001 to match all the other stainless steel stuff. I didn't really care about the energy use then.

Fast forward to today.

I call ASKO North America to get the energy use numbers on this dishwasher. I can't test it myself because the unit is hard wired in...

They don't have the numbers! Their manuals etc all talk about energy savings etc but no numbers. Hmmm, this makes me suspicious. I wonder if their proud proclamation of now being Energy Star compliant is new for the product or just new for them. I wonder if the old product I have is an energy hog. I wonder if the unit is efficient but they want me to buy a new one on the promise of more efficiency.

(Btw, I had no trouble getting energy use numbers on my old refrigerators.)

Bottom Line - I have to test the dang thing and that isn't going to be easy. These Euros are always preaching about their energy consciousness, so why can't I get some numbers?

Update: Same day.

I found a Canadian website that had old Energy Star figures for my dishwasher. It uses 1.29 KWHs per wash. That doesn't tell you how much it uses without electric heat dry. However it is interesting to note that Energy Star numbers have changed over time. It's also interesting to know ASKO "didn't have them" but Canada's Energy Star did.

Does that mean if I buy an Energy Star appliance today thinking it adds value to my home and they change the rules later I no longer have an Energy Star appliance? Or an Energy Star home?

I'd like to know how much I save by using air dry, Ill bet it's a lot. As for water use and savings, I still cant find that. Btw, the new units from ASKO use .853 KWHs per wash.