Jan 16 2011

light bulb! an idea or just simply for light [day 234]

My friend that had the flood finally got to move back into her house yesterday.  As I was helping, I noticed the old bathroom light fixture sitting in the trash, with all of the old light bulbs still in it.  With the challenge, I can’t buy light bulbs, so I gladly unscrewed them all, placed them in an unwanted pink basket and brought them home.  I have 2 lamps that need bulbs.

I want to switch my bulbs over to the compact fluorescent energy saving bulbs, but that requires purchasing them.  It’s great to do this, but throwing away good bulbs seems like a bad idea to me.  I plan to switch them out as they burn out, as they are better for the environment and they use 25% of the energy of standard incandescent bulbs.

I decided to count the number of bulbs and the types that I have in my house.  Here’s the analysis.  (Whatever, it only took 5 minutes)

  • Incandescent – 43
  • Compact Fluorescent – 23
  • LED – 13
  • Halogen – 24
  • Low Watt – 8
  • Fluorescent tubes – 2

Dang!  I have a lot of lights in my house!  Only 41% of my lighting is energy efficient.  Using an energy star calculator, replacing all of the non-energy efficient bulbs in my house would cost just under $500, retail price.  The halogens would pay for themselves in 1 year in energy savings.  The incandescents will pay for themselves in 14 months.  So the big question is, do you replace them right away or do you replace them as they burn out?  Or some people might even be wondering if they should replace them at all?  What are the pros and cons here?  Let’s put these bulbs head to head and see what makes the most sense.

Pros: switching to energy efficient lighting

  • Saves money on your energy consumption. Up to 75% savings on CF’s and 90% on LED’s.
  • Much better for the environment. LED’s have no toxic materials in them and require no special disposal procedures.  CF’s help prevent the greenhouse effect and global warming.
  • Lamp life. LED’s last ten’s of thousands of hours, CF’s last approximately 6,000-15,000 hours, incandescents last approximately 750-1,250 hours, halogens last approximately 2,000 hours.  The life span of energy efficient bulbs are substantially longer than the non-energy efficient bulbs.  This makes the initial higher cost of the bulb a good value.
  • Costs. When factoring the bulb costs and the energy costs together, these save a lot of money in the long run.

Cons: switching to energy efficient lighting

  • The bulbs cost a lot more to purchase. The purchase price is higher, usually 2 to 5 times more.  The upfront cost is more, although the long term savings should be taken into consideration.
  • Lights on. CF’s take time to “warm up” and the light gets to it’s full brightness in about a minute.  For some people this is an issue, but I’ve gotten used to it.  It’s actually nice in the morning when you first wake up not to have bright lights in your face.
  • Lighting ambiance. LED’s light lacks in brightness and because of the light temperature, has a bluish hue to them.  Incandescents have a warm, yellow light.  Incandescents also have directional capabilities that the others don’t have, which is why you see a lot of halogen fixtures in stores and restaurants.  Lots of progress is being made with the energy efficient bulbs in this respect.
  • Disposal. Disposal of CF bulbs is tricky, as they contain a small amount of mercury.

For me, the pros outweigh the cons.  I will continue to replace the bulbs as they burn out with energy efficient bulbs when I can.  When the shopping challenge is over, I’ll consider replacing a portion of these that are in fixtures I use frequently.  Some of the accent lighting fixtures I don’t use often can wait.

Disposal and recycling issues. The recycling and disposal of the CF’s is still not easy.  (Jason, better late than never on this post)  Although there are many recycling programs, there aren’t many drop off places and the city recycling program doesn’t pick these up from your house.  It’s just not easy to dispose of these bulbs right now.  There are, however, two major retailers that participate in the recycling and disposal of these bulbs.  They are The Home Depot and Ikea.  Yes, it’s a little bit of work to save your bulbs and take them to the store, but you can plan it with a needed trip to that store.  Get together with you neighbors and take turns making a “bulb disposal run” each month.   Given the life span of these bulbs, it’s not a huge time sacrifice, and given the size of them, it’s not much of a space sacrifice either.  :)

Jan 13 2011

when the inside of your house is colder than the inside of your refrigerator… [day 230]

Here in North Texas, we’re a little spoiled by the not-too-cold winter temperatures.  We get our once a year snowfall, but generally our low’s are still above freezing.  This was not so 2 days ago, when the low, including the wind chill factor, was to dip into the single digits.

I’m always cold, but it seemed unusually cold in my house.  I thought, “Great.  The heater is acting up again.”  This usually means a trip out to the garage, flip the breaker, mess with the thermostat, then up to the attic, all in efforts to find the right combination of flipping switches on and off to achieve heat.  This has been a ritual since I moved in the house 4 years ago.

This time, the ritual was to no avail.  The heat was out and it was not going to work.  I don’t know much about gas furnaces, but I do know a little bit about electric ones.  Mine’s gas.  And, of course, these things only happen during extreme temperatures.  I called my friend **Keith, as he and his twin brother own a heating and A/C repair company.  I knew it would be the next day before he came out and we decided to stay the night and bundle up warm.  It seemed like a good idea at the time…

My oldest decided to sleep in his room upstairs, the youngest in my bed.  A little after midnight, the fire smoke detector starts going off.  *I had turned off the heater before going to sleep, knowing something was seriously wrong with it.  The smoke detector turned off before I had a chance to get up and deal with it.  Again, a quirky thing in my house, this alarm has been malfunctioning for a couple of years now.  It’s in my son’s room, the one that’s sleeping upstairs.  If you think these smoke alarms will wake your kids, think again.  It’s right over his bed and did not wake him.  After it went off for the 7th or 8th time, and finally wouldn’t turn off, I figured I better go deal with it.  I moved my son to my room, got the ladder out and took it down, trying to shield my ears from the piercing sound.   And yes, I checked to see if it was also a carbon monoxide alarm, and it’s not.

Keith called me back in the morning, and just to be sure, I changed the batteries in the thermostat, cleaned the contacts and tried again.  Nothing.  Keith came out, and the culprit was the main circuit board.  You can see the spot where it blew out on the green side.  On the flip side, there was another bad spot which had started to burn under the resistors to the right.  So, which news would you like first, the good or the bad?

Bad news: The circuit board is fried and needs replacing.  This is not only the board for the furnace, but for the A/C as well.

Good news: My house didn’t catch on fire.   Continue reading

Sep 28 2010

how did I not know it was there?! [day 124]

Today I decided to do a little bit of landscaping now that the weather is a bit cooler.  Frying in my yard is not at the top of my happy list.  I started pulling weeds in the front, working my way around the house.  When I was over by my bedroom window, I heard a buzzing noise.  Very puzzled by this, knowing I didn’t leave anything on in my room, I got closer and listened.  It sounded like a very noisy fan in my room, which there is not one in there.  Next thought… what in the world did the kids do in my room??!  As I got a little closer, I found the culprit.

Between my bedroom windows, on the brick, was the largest ball of electrical tape I had ever seen.  Under it?  An outlet with a plug and cord coming out of it.  I followed the short cord to a box hanging on the brick.  An outdoor lighting timer.  A timer for lights that I took out right after moving in the house.  Four years ago.  Apparently there were two timers, as I never saw this one.  I really thought after all the landscaping and home improvements that I knew this place inside out and backwards.  Now if you know me, you know my immediate thought.  I’ve been paying for this stupid thing to run for four years?!!?! How much did that cost?

Yes, I calculated it.  Not an easy task either, since the kilowatt hours for these are not listed.  I had to use some formula I found on a website to calculate the voltage into kilowatt hours.  My estimate?  $57.82 for the four years.  $57.82 wasted, as the wires were attached to nothing.

How could I not know about that after living here four years?  What else have I missed?  I spent some time looking around my house, behind all of the bushes, to be sure I found everything there is to find.  I didn’t find any more outlets, but I’m still looking for the door to the secret room where they hid the money.

Aug 22 2010

solar panel dilemma [day 87]

I had a great idea!  Solar panels on my house.  They have some great tax incentives, and with the energy savings, that has to be a great plan, right?

I called to get some pricing and to see if my home is a good candidate.  I wasn’t sure if it would be since I have many trees.  The guy on the phone was a huge help.  He asked me some questions about the size of my house and my current energy usage.  He seemed surprised when I told him.  Apparently I use a lot less than other people with the same size house.  Some of that is probably due to my large trees.  He pulled up my house on Google maps, and it felt a little big brotherish when he asked if I had a trampoline and described my property perfectly.  Turns out I have a spot and am a good candidate.

Sit down.  The price for the basic system starts at $23,000.00.  I thought maybe he said it wrong.  I was thinking $10,000.00 maybe?  After tax credits and rebates, my out of pocket would still be over $11,000.00.  Ouch.  Way more than I can afford.  It would also be a while before it paid for itself.  Not to mention I will need a new roof in the next few years and it’s $1500.00 to move them and put them back.  Double ouch.

I did hear the technology is changing rapidly and these might be more affordable in a few years.  Maybe I should get a windmill instead?  I haven’t priced those yet.  And I don’t have an HOA.  If I did, that would require a new blog on how many days before I’m kicked out.  :)

Aug 12 2010

green & clean plan [day 77]

I guess you could call it shopping.  I shopped around for renewable energy plans and solar energy systems over the past two weeks.  Here’s what I found.

My utility provider is Stream Energy.  My one year contract was up last month, so I decided to shop around.  Price was not my driving factor, it’s renewable energy.  Not partial, but 100% renewable.  After comparing the hundreds of providers on powertochoose.org, I found that Stream has a 100% renewable plan.  Since I was already with them, switching was easy to do.

Does your provider offer a renewable energy plan? If so, consider switching.  If you’re a current customer, and in a contract, in most cases they will switch you to a different plan with no penalties.

Now the CoServ thing…

I’m still at a loss of how an area that has been deregulated can have a power company like CoServ where people don’t get to choose.  Their prices are higher (during peak times) and people with this company are stuck with them.  I talked to several people that have CoServ, some like it, some don’t and some just don’t care.  So CoServ calls themselves a co-op, and I guess that stands for ‘no choice’.  Here’s some dialogue I found on the web about this issue:

Customer #1: Electricity has been deregulated in Texas. For some reason, co-ops like Coserv do not have to comply with this law. This seems not only unfair to me but also somehow illegal. Can the city do something to help out its citizens/taxpayers?

City official: I apologize for your frustrations with CoServ Electric. The City does not have jurisdiction over which utility companies opt in or out of deregulation and it is not illegal for them to not be involved in deregulation. Your first action should be to file a formal written complaint with CoServ and send copy to the City to my attention. The next step is to file a formal written complaint with the Public Utility Commission who oversees electricity in Texas. To file a complaint with the PUC you can access their website here. The following information is from the website www.powertochoose.org.

Electric cooperatives and city-owned utilities may decide whether their customers will have a choice of Retail Electric Providers. Customers should contact their electric cooperative for more information.

The City does not oversee or control which electric provider the developer contracts with. However, if the subdivision is not a gated community, and the City accepts the subdivision phase it becomes public right of way. Once there is public right of way established any other utility can operate in the right of ways.

Customer #2: I live in an area of Frisco that is co-op. Thus, I do not have a choice of utility providers.  Will this issue change in the near future? If not, is there a legal course that I could follow to obtain the “freedom to choose”?   It would seem that there would be legal grounds for me to have the same rights as other citizens of Frisco have when choosing a utility provider.

City official: You are correct that CoServ Electric is organized and recognized by the State of Texas as a co-op utility company. Several years ago when the Texas Legislature deregulated retail electric, they specifically allowed co-ops to make the choice to “opt-in” to deregulation, or continue doing business as they always have – that being controlled by an elected Board of Directors. While the City of Frisco has taken the position that all utility customers in Frisco should have the same ability to access competition, the Legislature has not yet made any changes to the law.

The City of Frisco has no jurisdiction or authority over whether or not COServ opts into deregulation. It is an issue that would need to come from the CoServ Board of Directors. Additionally, Texas Legislature could change the law to force co-ops into deregulation by a certain date.

Okay, so what I’m hearing here is that with the right legal jargon, fancy wording, typical politics and ridiculous laws, you can pretty much do whatever you want to? Seriously?  You’re free to choose… but not everywhere.   I could spend all day on this, but it’s not the point, just a frustration.  I welcome any comments on this.  I think everyone should have a right to choose, not just real estate developers and the public that happens to not fall under the co-op.  I have the freedom to shop for power, shouldn’t everyone?

Aug 2 2010

energy [day 66]

I’m power cleaning my house and working all weekend, so not much time to even think about shopping… not that I would if I had time though.  It takes a lot of motivation and energy to clean the house.  Having less stuff does make it easier, as there’s less stuff to pick up.  Unfortunately that doesn’t make the dust bunnies go away.  While cleaning my house, I was thinking about energy.  Not the kind it takes to clean, but my energy company.  I’m using Stream, which has saved me a lot of money, but is not renewable energy.

I decided to start researching power companies and find one with 100% renewable energy.  ‘Shopping’ for power is completely overwhelming.  There’s so many to choose from and so much fine print, and don’t get me started on the feedback and comments about these companies.  My big questions:

  • Are the 100% renewable really 100% renewable energy?
  • Which company has the best pricing, but is also doing this for the right reasons?
  • How can I find the right one without having to read fine print for hours?

I asked a few people at work about their power providers.  Interestingly, in a energy-deregulated society where you should be able to choose your provider, I found that several people don’t have a choice.  They have CoServ and are not allowed to choose.  I was told this is because it’s a co-op.  Figures someone found a way around the ‘choice’ option.  Some were happy with it, others, not so much.  I would like to research it a bit more and see how they’re pulling this off.  When I looked up the pricing, they are substantially higher priced than many advertised providers.  Energy monopoly?  Energy cult?  Energy prison?  Okay, I’ll stop.  I have enough of my own research to do without picking on CoServ (right now).

I’m open to any comments or suggestions.  :)

Jul 31 2010

light bulb! [day 65]

We went to see Despicable Me the other night and loved it.  My kids and I try to get one good line from every movie, and then we pretty much wear it out.  Our line from this movie is “light bulb”.  When Gru has an idea, he tilts his head, and with a somewhat devious look, says, “light bulb” with his funny accent.  So we say it a lot around our house, along with “…give me my angry wig!” and about 20 lines from Spongebob Squarepants.

Yesterday, while cleaning my house, I looked at the light fixture in my laundry closet (it’s clearly not big enough to be considered a room).  It was very dim, partially from needing to be cleaned, but I was pretty sure it was a two bulb fixture with a burned out bulb.  Just a little history on my lovely house of 3+ years, it’s had all kinds of electrical problems.  My garage door opener will still fry any type of light bulb in less than 24 hours, my GFI trips at least every two weeks, my heater trips the breaker about twice a week in the winter and I have about 10 plug outlets that won’t hold plugs.  I wanted a fixer-upper and I guess I got what I wanted.  After removing the glass bug holder off the fixture, I discovered a missing bulb.  There was one energy saving bulb on the other side, so I went to find another bulb so I can better see my laundry mountains.

This is where I realized I have no extra bulbs and many of the bulbs in my house have not been switched over to the energy saving type.  Now here’s a time where I would just go out and buy what I need.  How do I get used bulbs?  I’m sure they must have some at the resale shop.  Maybe I can trade something I have for some light bulbs.  I pulled an energy saving bulb out of a lamp that I don’t use very often.  I got the ladder, started screwing in the bulb and had instant fireworks! Yes, one more electrical issue to add to the list, no to mention a fire hazard.  The wires are all burned on that side of the fixture, so now I need to replace the whole thing.  Thrift store, here I come!

I need a “light bulb” for light bulbs.  Are they a need?  How do I buy them used?  I will keep you posted on my light project.  If you have ideas, please post them.  :)

I thought you guys might like to see some of my non-electricty light bulb art:

Jun 5 2010

the challenge: day 9 [grilling, propane, outdoor movies, teaching man to fish]

I decided to grill out tonight and was wondering if I was going to need a new propane tank. Since that is energy to cook with, and they sell the tank refills at the grocery store, I have decided this will be okay. I did ponder the fact that it’s not a necessity, as I could cook inside. I also thought that cooking outside versus inside saves on utilities since all of the hot cooking would make the air conditioning run more. Anyway, I’m up for your thoughts on this.

We also went to the outdoor movie in downtown Frisco last night and it was some nice family time. They put up the big inflatable screen and hundreds went to watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. I kept thinking I need to bring a small version of this to some apartment complexes in Frisco where the kids can’t go downtown, as their parents are working or they don’t have the transportation.

I also want to post my response to a comment left on the future of shopping post. This is from Ozz…

Well lets see….The US is a CONSUMER based economy it is no surprise that companies attempt to make shopping an easier afair. I think it’s kinda cool but I hate dressing rooms. Just think of the jobs from wiring the stores for this, the dock workers taking the shipments of plasma screens, the software support (ok probably really good for India but ya never know)….etc.

Why some of these impoverished people might get a job due to this, then they can buy the clothes. What a concept instead of handing out…train. It is better to show a man how to fish than to just give him fish.


My response. (Feel free to start a discussion here)

Although I agree with your statement of teaching man how to fish, I don’t feel that this shopping direction is a positive one. This seems to me like another step in making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Our consumer based economy teaches us and our kids that more is better, success is defined by money and happiness will be yours if you buy things that make life easier and more comfortable.

I have become uncomfortable with my comfort. I don’t expect everyone to follow me in that (okay, so I hope some do), but I hope as a society that we can make some positive changes. Like bridging ‘the gap’ between rich people and poor people. ‘Target’ing new ways to build community and thinking outside ourselves, while not building more ‘wal’s to protect ourselves from people we don’t know or understand.

One last thing. There are many types of homelessness and poverty. When I go visit friends (I don’t see these as mission trips anymore), and I see a cute little kid helping me work on painting an apartment so they have a place to meet with others, or maybe a child in Mexico that doesn’t have enough to eat, they just want to feel loved and have their basic needs met. Yes, there are many people who have chosen homelessness as a way of life and I’m sure there are many lazy people our there that don’t want to work and instead ‘work’ the system. But there are many out there that don’t have a choice and they need justice, people who care and are willing to get off their butts and do something about it.

Too lazy to try on clothing or too lazy to work? I’m not the one to judge that, although I have many opinions… (I know, we’re all surprised by that!) My point with this whole shopping thing is that I’m not going to be lazy with this. If it takes a little extra effort to buy necessities that are not excessive, not made in sweatshops and better for the environment, then that’s what I’m going to do. Small change can equal big change.

Ozz, I love a devil’s advocate perspective and you know I greatly appreciate your views! Keep them coming.