Thursday, October 3, 2013

Home Automation and Being Green

I was flipping through Time Magazine today (The August 26/September 2, 2013 issue). I came across a one page article in the Tech Section titled Home, Smart Home. I've had a soft spot for home automation for a decade or so now. I was among the "early adopters" when I started playing around with X-10 modules which would allow you turn on and off lights with your TV remote. I'm telling you ten years ago that was mind blowing stuff! Especially when you used it to turn on and off the Christmas lights!

It was all kind of cool, but in it early days was a bit unreliable. And while it was cool to turn on and off lights without getting up it was more parlor trick then actually useful to be honest. So after a year or so of messing around with home automation stuff I kind of forget about it.

So this article reminded me of the coolness of it all again. And apparently in the last ten years things have really improved. Especially because we all now carry little wi-fi connected computers in our pockets called smart phones. Most of the technology for controlling and tracking all these new cool devices are in our pocket all ready. This makes adopting home automation cheaper and easier to learn as we are all ready familiar with the interface known as our phone.

One cool item the author (Harry McCracken) mentioned was a new door lock which you could install on your entry door and could be operated with your phone. It works with bluetooth on your phone and automatically unlocks the door when you arrive home. You can also grant temporary access to friends who you want to access your house. It of course makes me thing of the possible security issues should you lose your phone on the subway, but that aside you can't argue with the coolness or convenience of the idea!

He also mentions the Nest thermostat which is available in stores now (I saw it on an end cap in Lowes a couple of weeks ago). Apparently this new gizmo starts to keep track of when you are home and not and figures out patterns of when to raise and lower the temperature in your home to minimize your heating/cooling energy use. Sounds pretty cool. I don't know the exact price, but I think it's hundreds though. I tend to be really conscious of my energy use, and very rarely forget to turn down the thermostat when I got to bed or leave for work. I haven't done the math, but I feel like since I tend to be good about turning it down anyway, it would take quite a while before I recouped the cost of the the Nest thermostat in energy savings. With that said it looks cool, and that is what a lot of tech is all about really. So at some point I'm really going to look into it closely, do the math, and will likely write a post here as well.

All of this got me to thinking about the tie in between home automation and energy savings. Being green and Saving Green! In fairness much of home automation is more focused on the cool of technology. Changing the color or lights in different rooms to create mood settings (cool but in practice, you'll never use it). Changing the radio station that is playing through out your house from a touch screen which is located in the kitchen, living room, and upstairs hallway. All of that is definitely cool, but likely is only going to use more electricity then you would have otherwise.

The stuff that I'm thinking about are the gizmos whose main function is to use less energy. The Nest thermostat is a great example of that. Whether or not it would pay for itself installed in my house, it's main purpose is to save you money. So sure it took ten years to pay for itself, but in the mean time you were using less fossil fuels and where there for saving the planet, even if it did come out of your pocket. I'd love to see home automation devices which would serve a similar purpose for your hot water tank. Or maybe something that would open and close your blinds depending on the time of day, amount of sun, and time of year, to help warm your house or keep it cooler. These are the kinds of items which can pay for themselves and help save the planet.

So I'll be checking out the Nest, and I'll be on the look out for other items which can be installed to save energy. Additionally I'll be checking out these items to see what the potential payoff would be. In other words home long do they have to be installed before they save you enough money in energy usage to cover their cost of purchase and installation.

Friday, September 27, 2013

More Proof of Climate Change

It seems amazing in a way that this is even newsworthy. Yet when scientific issues become political issues the actual facts always get skewed toward whoever has the money.

However when you talk to people with the knowledge and education to understand climate change and don't have vast amounts of money on the line, they almost unanimously agree that climate change is real and represent a grave risk to the planet and our way of life.

From USA TODAY Guilty: Man at heart of climate's change Landmark U.N. report says it is 'extremely likely' man is to blame for warming climate. Get USA TODAY on your mobile device:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Green Loans

On one of my other blogs I talk mainly about loans. Mortgages, auto loans, personal loans, etc. As part of that whole endeavor I found an affiliate which I've included ads for on that site to increase revenue. They are a peer to peer online lender/investor. Basically they connect folks that are looking to borrow money with folks that have extra money they'd be willing to lend. The borrowers get the cash they need, and the lenders make some interest on the cash that wasn't doing much for them right now anyway. The site tracks all this and keep a small fee and everyone wins. Personal Loans 

What I found really interesting about this site is one specific category of lending that they offer as something to focus on. They have credit card refinancing, and auto loans, and home improvements. What interests me here though is a specific part of home improvement loans that they focus on. Green loans! They have a whole category of lending for Green Home Improvements! While I'm sure there are many banks out there offering loans for home improvements which you could choose to use for green improvements, I don't think I've seen ads before focused specifically on lending for green projects!

Maybe there really is hope out there that we can save this planet after all. I mean there are lots of folks talking about the fact that we need to do something. And there are plenty of places you can go to find out the kind of things you can do to start turning things around to save the planet. But really until you see the business world focusing on it, it's not really happening. At least not on a large scale.

That's basically the point of this whole blog, savings green. Sure everyone wants to do the right thing if you ask them. But really until the better alternative actually costs less then the easy alternative, then people aren't going to start doing the right in on a large scale. Now that I've seen a bank taking interest I have some amount of renewed hope though. I mean they obviously did a little homework and found that this is a category that they could make a little money with. Once there are ads out there it'll get people thinking, and maybe then actually doing.

So come on board big business and large banks. Let's save the Earth, and Save Some Green!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Gas Mileage And my Truck Tailgate

For about two years now I have been driving around with my truck tailgate down all the time. The only time I put it up is if I have something in the bed of the truck that I don't want to fall out. Why have I been doing this you ask?

Great question! I had heard that doing this would improve my gas mileage. I had heard it from multiple places and it made a lot of sense. Thinking about the wind that was flowing of my truck into the bed of the truck and then smacking into the close tailgate seems like a no brainer that it was slowing me up. With the tailgate down the wind doesn't need to hit anything and I can roll along and save some mpg's.

So the other night I was leaving my sons soccer practice and a friend was by the back of my truck. He offered to close the tailgate, and I said, no leave it down. I do it to save on gas. He said you are actually burning more gas that way. I said, no way, and was sure he was nuts.

Then he mentioned he saw it on an episode of Myth Buster. Man, that is probably one of the only things he could have said that would have convinced me. I love that show and they guys really seem to be on the ball with their experiments. So he was saying that basically the wind curls back and creates a ball in the back of the truck. Which definitely is true whether the tailgate is up or down, but small misc stuff always collects in the bed of my truck up near the cab. But further that the wind then starts to slide over this air ball and over the tailgate. With the tailgate down the wind actually pushes down on the tailgate and you get worse gas mileage. This really rocked my world!

So I got home and did some googling. It turns out the boys over at Myth Busters did indeed do an episode on this exact subject. And the myth that driving with your tailgate down saves gas mileage was...BUSTED! Ugh!

I did see in the comments from online readers some push back. They only tested it once. They had two different drivers. Etc. I do feel like those guys over at Myth Busters are pretty smart though.

So I've decided to put it to a test myself. I'm going to track my mileage with my tailgate up for the next three gas fill ups. Then I'll do the same with the tailgate down for three fill ups. I'll average both and see if I can find a difference. Now, my idea has some flaws as well because I'm just doing about a week of driving. Most of it is back and forth to work, but there isn't anything saying that I'm driving the same exact route for all my driving for the week, and at the same times, etc. But I guess I gotta go by something.

For the moment I'm assuming that the Myth Busters guys are right, but I think it's worth testing out for myself with my own truck.

I'll report back.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Saving Money With a Clothes Line

You know this one is so basic and obvious it pains me to admit that I wasn't all ready doing it. I always turn off lights when I leave a room, I never run the dishwasher until it's full, and I use CFL light bulbs. But when it comes to to doing laundry it finally hit me like a ton of bricks the other day. I'm still drying every single load in the dryer.

It's late summer and we've been living in this house for a 2 years now (we used to have a clothes line in our old house). I guess it's one of those things that I meant to get set up right away when we moved in and then the drum beat of life kind of distracted me and I never got back to it.

We go camping about 5 times a year with the boys and I almost always tie a rope between some trees so we can dry bathing suits and towels after swimming. We just got back from camping and I was putting things away when I thought, wait, why don't I have one at home?

Now they make some fancy clothes drying apparatus which are nice for your back yard. At our old house I had one that would coil up into a gizmo. Then when you were going to use it, you would just pull it out and hook it on a tree or something. That way when you were drying clothes you wouldn't even see it.

I however this time decided to go with the very basic of options. I tied the green rope that I use when we are camping between two trees in our back yard. Now I did this last night about dust. Kinda late to try it out for this first time because I think it's not great to put out clothes to dry at that hour because the dew will set into them. Then I worked all day today so again I haven't tried it. I'm hoping to soon. I'm off tomorrow so I'm thinking that'll be a really great chance to try it.

Even if I don't use it for every load it's still a big gain for each cycle my dryer doesn't have to run!

So why is clothes line drying to green you ask?

Well that is for one reason in the winter and two really great reasons in the summer. First, all year round the dryer is expensive to run. Basically anything that creates heat is using a good amount of energy to do it. In my case we have an electric dryer so it's sucking up electricity and raising my power bill. So this is the best kind of green change. It's not that I'm finding a slightly more efficient way to do something. It's that I'm finding a way to completely remove the appliance from the equation. Each time I dry the clothes on the line I'm not just reducing the power I need to dry that load, I'm making it zero. That is saving the earth and saving my wallet. Like I always say here at Saving Green, some folks will make a change to help the Earth, but EVERYONE like to save money!

The other reason that a clothes line is a green change this time of year is because it is summer time and it's hot. I have a couple window AC units that I use as sparingly as possible. But I am paying money and using power to cool the house. When I run the dryer I'm heating up the house which means I may be paying even more to run the AC's and cool it back down again. Its a vicious cycle. So when I use the clothes line I am not only saving the money and power I would have used to dry the clothes, but I am also saving the money and power that it would have taken to cool the house back down! Now that is what I call SAVING GREEN!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Wasted Light

This morning I had a doctors appointment. I parked, and on my walk into the office, I noticed one of my biggest pet peeves. The parking lot lights were on. There was four lamp posts around the perimeter of the parking lot and they were all on. My appointment was at 9 AM, so there was plenty of light from the sun!

I was impressed to see that at least one of them had a CFL bulb in it (at least one of the others didn't though). It was one of the biggest CFL's I've ever seen! I would guess based on the size of it, it had to be at least 150 - 200 watts. Maybe more. So kudos for having the energy saving bulbs.

Now it is possible that the doctors (or building management) have done the math and based on the cost of leaving them on all day, just don't care about the additional price. When considered against the overall price of running a building like that, I suppose it is a small percentage. However if you do the math and see what it costs of a year, I'm sure they would rather have the money rather then just completely wasting it!

The best thing they could do it put it on a photocell switch. When it's dark out the lights will come on. Then when the sun comes up they'll go off. If the intention is to keep the lights on during dark all the time, they'll never be wrong. Nobody has to remember to turn them on when it gets dark (safety issue), and nobody can forget to turn them off when it gets light out (energy savings). Granted there is an upfront cost for having a timer like this installed but it will pay for itself over time with the energy savings.

Now don't take me the wrong way. I'm not perfect. I'm not saying there is never a chance you could drive past my house one day in the middle of the afternoon and see my porch light on. It would really bother me if that did happen, but I'm sure it does. I have two small kids that I like to blame things on, but either way, people forget things. So while nobody is perfect, I'm sure we could all do a little better.

So...turn off those lights during the day! And don't get my started on how my kids leave the lights on in rooms they aren't occupying!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Just Use Less Energy!

Just Use Less Energy, sounds simple right? So often everyone is thinking about way to cut down on their energy use, whether it be electricity, gas, oil, etc. That is great and necessary. The trick is I was thinking about this over all the other day. Most often I am always focused on new technology, or a new gizmo, or a new procedure, which will allow me to do what I always do, and use less energy in the process. For example a more fuel efficient car so I can drive the same miles and use less gas. Or a more efficient light bulb that will allow me to light the same room with less electricity.

Both of those are great examples of ways to save money and the planet, and I'm by no means saying that they aren't great ideas. The trick is I get so focused on being more efficient in that way, that I lose sight of the one more obvious option. Just plain using less. So instead of just getting a more fuel efficient car, I should try to find way to just plain drive less miles. And while getting a new LED bulb is great, but making sure to turn off that light when nobody is in the room is a win every time!

A big one that I'm a huge culprit of is the long hot shower. I'm not going to lie, I LOVE taking long hot showers! I've certainly put lots of thought over the years into the ways to get the most hot water for the least energy. And of course wrapping my hot water tank in more insulation is great. But if I would couple that with taking shorter showers then I am really onto something! And yes I love taking the long hot showers, and thinking about taking really quick showers is hard to digest at first. But when I think, "Could I take a shower that is 1 minute less?", that doesn't really sound that bad at all. So maybe for a month or two I'll shoot for that. Then I can keep whittling it down, until it's as quick as can be over time. I'll save quite a bit in the use of less water, and the energy that would have been used to heat it. Then if I can still strive to more efficient with the water I am using, I'm getting a nice double dip.

Air conditioning is a big one too. Many of us, me included, have gotten to the point where it's an expectation in our lives to have air conditioning. Both at work, at home, and in our car. It wasn't really all that long ago that air conditioning was considered a luxury. Many, many fewer homes has AC. You just toughed it out for the couple of months of hot weather. Even affluent folks in the 50's, 60's, 70's would forgo air conditioning as a waste of money. Oh how the times have changed. Every late spring I lug out the three window units that we use in our small house. One for each of the bedrooms, and one for the downstairs living area. I do try to use them as little as possible, but once they are in the windows they are all to easy to use. One quick push of the button and relief from the heat is on it's way! I guess I'll keep working on that, as we should use them less, but I'm not sure that I'm ready to give them up all together :(

The easiest way to save energy is to turn things off
So the moral of the story is that less is more when it comes to saving energy. It's more a way of thinking then anything else. I just am going to keep working on incorporating it into my thinking in my day to day decisions. Yes I'm going to continue to make things as efficient as I can around the house. But, if I can realistically just use energy less overall, that will make a nice dent in my power bills (and help the planet) as well!