Coping: A Worthy Weekend Prepping Project

Want to make some money this weekend?  Or at least save a bunch?

When we were talking about the virtues of investing in solar panels (as a non-cash equivalent in the future) I didn’t touch on something called “parasitic loads.”

These are electrical loads around the house that you never think about because, more often than not – they are  convenience loads.

Well, thanks to reader Douglas, who offered this as “fill material” (which it most assuredly is not) we have the makings of a fine weekend project here if you have one of those $29 dollar  P3 International P4460 Kill A Watt EZ Electricity Usage Monitors we were talking about.

“ Priceless is correct. And here’s a related ploy that yields far more real returns than any CD:

Take your Kill-A-Watt meter and go around your place, measuring actual consumption. You may be amazed at how much money you can save by not ceaselessly using electricity. And a penny saved is two pennies earned, after taxes and government subsidies for lower incomes. Sometimes more.

Some ideas: check your stove and frig and freezer for actual energy consumption and phantom loads. Most of today’s appliances have little things that draw current, but the new ones use far less. I had a very nice frig, with a commercial compressor, which, like so many high end appliances was constantly breaking down. After I checked and found it really used 2 or3 times the rated energy, I threw it away the next time it broke. The simpler, cheaper new one saves enough in energy and maintenance to outperform any bank’s insured investment.

And stoves. Gas stoves today mostly use electricity to keep the oven lit. 200 watts on the one I just tossed. Tossed because the controller board failed, and replacement was similar to buying new. But Premier makes stoves which will work when the power is off. Made in USA. Got one. I like most things, including price, about it. If the power goes out, I can cook. Meanwhile, a 3 watt draw for the clock and timer. They make ones which have no draw, but no oven light, either.

Next consider a simple timer on the wifi, wireless internet, satellite and home entertainment systems. The health benefits of turning off microwaves at night are enough, but the energy saving is real as well.

Next we have countless appliances with phantom loads, sometimes substantial. I had a Bose wave radio in the day, which pulled 20 watts turned off. That is over $100 per year.

Next we have one of the favorites. LCD bulbs with 10 year warranties. Keep the receipts, cuz they are electronic and heat can break them, but after you run the numbers, you may see a return on retrofitting them of hundreds of dollars per year. After tax if residential, so multiple hundreds earned. And these have splendid light, color rendition and usability.

Now that Winter is here, walk around your house and find drafts, cold spots, etc. Fixing these can save astounding sums, but also reduce the electric load, which means less solar needed to fill your needs, plus more comfort.

Caveat: I bought 4 mini split heat pumps. Incredible energy savings, but not worth it. Four Mitsubishi top of the line, and one Chinese Amazon type. Certified installers only touch Japanese ones, so I installed the Chinese one, but paid pros for the Mitsubishis. Only one lasted as long as 18 months, and the manufacturer is so obstinate about the warranties that I may have to take legal action, which is likely not worth the hassle. Problem? Chinese subcontractors use really thin, brittle copper on pipes and heat exchangers, which fail prematurely. Even the installers are shocked at the refusal of a Japanese company to stand by their warranties. One pipe, in the Chinese branded system, under a 400 psi design load, was thinner than a beer can. To replace it was impossible without getting solder in the compressor. Dead system, no warranty cuz no installer would touch it.

Interestingly, a very connected guy in the high tech world explained the Chinese manufacturing system to me. His multinational has continuing quality issues with Chinese stuff but the volumes they sell require engaging with multiple Chinese manufacturers. They have so many independent factories, making so many cloned items, that it borders on impossible to get quality stuff insured. And they cheat, all the time, by certifying BS about source, materials, ISO compliance, etc. Buy American, European, Korean, or, maybe, made in Japan. But American manufacturers honor warranties with hassling you to make you go away. Btw, Cree is a made in USA lcd bulb maker, with a 10 year warranty. But I bet they use Chinese components.

Going further, I’d bet they have to use Chinese components because we seem unable to make much of anything for yourselves here in ‘Merica, anymore, but that’s old ground to long-time readers.

The discussion of killing parasitic loads is something that weighs heavily on me whenever a new room is materializing its way out of my head.

Take the new studio room here at the ranch.  What did I put in for lighting?  Track lights (easiest to adjust the mood of a room with).  But when came time to put in lights, did I put in the halogen power suckers and heat makers?  Hell no.

It’s a long name, but the TorchStar 110V 7W Dimmable GU10 LED Bulb – 2700K Warm White LED Spotlight – 50W Equivalent GU10 Base – 450 Lumen 36 Degree Beam Angle for Home, Recessed, Accent, Track Lighting  eat about 7-watts each instead of 50 watts.

That doesn’t sound like much of a savings, until you have 7-lights going.  So with the LED bulbs the power consumption for the whole room if 50 watts.  The conventional bulbs would put the heat up around 350 watts.

Now, understand that we live in Texas and LED lighting is really a “two-fer” down here in the South.  First, they don’t cost as much to run. 300 wats of savings in an hour of operation doesn’t sound like much, but turn the lights on 16-hours a day and what do you have?

Answer: 4.8 KWHrs.  And if your power is costing $0.17 per  KWHr, that is 81.6-cents a day or $297.84 per YEAR in savings which obviously means the payback period, even on expensive bulbs is generally less than 2-months.

What’s the “two-fer” part?  Well, if you put 4.8 kilowatt hours of wasted energy into the air down here, and it’s summer time, then it’s like turning an electric heater on full blast for a bit more than  3-hours.

The “two-fer” therefore is it’s that much less energy you have to remove with air conditioning and that is even more savings.  That’s because you need (depending on system losses) up to 2 watts of electricity into an air conditioner in order to get one watt’s worth of heat removed from the building.

Let’s assume you have a really good AC system (18 SEER or better):  Even with this kind of system and perfectly insulated ductwork you will still put about 1.3-1.5 watts of energy in to suck 1 watts worth of waste heat out of your home.

You may remember that when we redid the HVAC system here at the ranch I put in a somewhat over-sized system.  Most module/mobiles use about a  3 1/2 to 4 1/2 ton system.  I optioned for 5 1/2 tons of cooling.

A useful number to remember is that an AC system measured in tons of cooling will remove 3517 watts or 12,000 BTUs per hour per ton.  When I want cooling, this system will suck more heat out of the air you  can shake a stick at.  We’re able to run the house at 73-F in the summer and our largest power will this year was like $325, or so.  Other people we know in the area run much hotter temps (78-80) and pay far larger bills (try $450 and up).

The key design concept in all this tuff is “balanced systems.”  When we put a new roof on the place two years ago, we went with a lighter color (less heat absorption in summer) and a lighter house color (same reason).

This may seem impossibly OBVIOUS when you’re thinking about it, but who thinks about going with a very light beige color when house paint shopping in the South.  Or, contrary-wise, if you live in the North, who thinks about color heat-gain calculations (at least on the roof and south-facing walls) in the North?

Paul, the local HVAC guy was surprised when I insisted on insulated ductwork, but trust me when I tell you this:  It’s the only way to fly.   You can make up for SEER rating, or leverage what you bought by insulating everything in sight.  Insulation is the cheapest heating and cooling bargain out there.

The next home we buy (or build) will have 10” sidewall insulation and 24” ceiling insulation and even so far as to do triple-glazed windows and maybe even double doors. 

I’m sure when the time comes (he’s too busy to write epistles to UrbanSurvival) but if I ever get to that position in life, I’ll ask reader Nick, who’s an HVAC/mechanical engineering firm partner just where the diminishing return point is on a lot of this stuff.

I figure if you’re doing new construction, looking at 5-year numbers for payback, or at least 3-year paybacks for additional costs would make sense.

Or not.  I keep looking at Mike Oehler’s The Fifty Dollar and Up Underground House Book and wonder if maybe that’s not the answer.

My buddy Gaye up at was asking me the other day what our back-up plans for keeping cool in the summer if the grid ever went down (I’ve started writing the answer) but along the way I decided that since I have a tractor with a bucket on it, a bunch of tall pikes that have to come down (to let more light onto the panels) it might be interesting to get a pond liner and go ahead and build an underground room here.

Ah…there we go, again…following thoughts in the logical direction when we really should get back to the discussion about saving money on power and Douglas’ fine contribution.

The problem is, even when I get “back on track” why is it that logical design concepts come screaming into my head by the bus load?

Here’s one:  All of us have a “media room.”  Somewhere that we have maybe a sound system, a big screen, satellite or cable box, and maybe (at least in our case) a Wii or an XBox plugged in and maybe a rechargeable battery cradle for the Wii controllers/numchucks.

Even when it’s turned off, there’s a lot of residual power sucking going on that  doesn’t get you anything.  So hoe much is a c heck 6-outlet power strip?  Under $8 bucks.   Tripp Lite TLP602 Surge Protector Strip 120V 6 Outlet 2ft Cord 180 Joule.  Not that we care about surge response…we just want one switch to turn off power suckers.

A couple of cheapo timers?  Two of ‘em for under $10-bucks:Woods 50006 Indoor 24-Hour Mechanical Outlet Timer, 2-Pack.

Now we get around to what I call “Institutional stupidity.”

I did all the wiring around here and I am kicking myself even now because I didn’t put in a “master switch” for all the crap in the TV area of the living room.  The construction cost us bupkis but the savings can be huge.

Another one I’m looking into is motion lighting for several rooms in the house.  Kitchen for example.  Why don’t I put motion lights in there?  Or the bathroom.  Do I ever go into the bathroom and not move for 20 minutes?  No.  But those lights (9 CFL’s – we like enough light in the bathroom to be able to do surgery) get left on for hours and hours just because I forget to turn them off.

The ray I figure it, I have other things to use my brain for other than programming myself when a $17 part ( Leviton PR150-1LW 500W, Single Pole, 150 Degrees, 350 sq. ft. Passive Infrared Wall Switch Occupancy Sensor, Residential Grade, White) will solve the problem.  Provided I remember to move every 15-minutes which is the time-out on this puppy  It’s not my favorite place to read, anyway.  And most times, I long shower is 8 minutes….

The only time such a brilliant fixture might not be ideal is next to the bedroom where, by custom (*around here, anyway) the person who turns on the bathroom light turns if OFF before opening the bedroom door so as not to disturb the princess…. Fortunately the motion switch has “hard on” (no jokes, this is serious) and “hard off” switches.

I would go on for several additional hours on how to make your home save you money, but we’ve lingered enough.

Home Handy Bastards have to make a living so we can afford to scheme up such projects so best we get onto that and meet back here for finger-counting Monday.  (A nice way to remind you that table saws and alcohol are not companions, right?)

Even if you’re still renting, I recommend a The Family Handyman (1-year) subscription for $12 bucks as one of the best deals out there.  Seriously good value as is their website where you can find articles on many things, including further adventures in Home Automation.

As we do our ritual of parting with the squares and the mandatory finger check (count ‘em, 10 – have that many after the weekend!) I’m reminded there are people who are owned by their environment and then there’s folks like us that make their environment.  Victims versus owners.

As that stupid old saying went:

As you go through life, make this your Goal

Keep your eye on the Doughnut, not on the Hole.

If you graduated from school without learning that one, go get your money back.  You been had.

Anti-Gravity Research

I continue to chip away at this.

A number of people have alleged that the Boyd Bushman anti-gravity interview on YouTube is a fake.

But, it seems not to be a hoax when you read the patent issued to Bushman in 1999 and assigned to Lockheed.

Moreover, you really need to read a patent application called “Propulsion system using the antigravity force of the vacuum and applications”  If the unlikely named Alexandre Tiago Baptista De Alves Martins has this correct, then the world ought to be beating a path to his doorway any old minute.

Meantime, I’m the proud owner of over a half mile  of magnet wire, because I have my own crazy ideas of how this anti-mass stuff might work.  If nothing else, it’ll make one hell of a novel plot-line, for sure.

Another source of anti-gravity research ideas may be found in the book The Fog: A Never Before Published Theory of the Bermuda Triangle Phenomenon

The short version of this is that it’s about a pilot who takes off from the Bahamas in a Beech Bonanza and is “captured” by a special kind of fog that seems electromagnetic in nature and occurs in that area.  When he emerged from the fog, it was over Miami Beach and even after flying north to his original destination (filed as Andros to West Palm Beach) he still arrive something like 42 minutes early.

Hell of a tale.

So our plans are to build up some Bushman-like magnets in opposition (in an odd coil configuration that has come to mind) and excite it in a unique way and then fly it in our old Beech to see if we can find any “effects” that may not be apparent on the ground for various proximity effects and so forth.

Quite the mind candy.

Not as important as the problem of 536 AD perhaps, but we’ll get into that next week in a Peoplenomics report.

Write when you break-even or figure out how to get away with it.


11 thoughts on “Coping: A Worthy Weekend Prepping Project”

  1. I have two boys, one in kindergarten and the other in 5th grade. I couldn’t(still can’t) for the life of me teach the boys how to turn off the lights. So I switched over to LED’s and put motion detectors/sensors in their bedrooms. It worked fairly well during the day but at night not so much. When the boys roll over they would trigger the motion sensor and the light would come on. When the dog would jump on the foot of the bed, it would trigger the motion detector. When Mama would lay with them and move, or go in later to check on them, the motion detector would trigger the light.
    Second problem… When you walk by the room and the door is open, it can trigger the motion detector. We had this problem in both boys rooms. You would think the door jam would block the sensor from coming out into the hall, but it doesn’t. The boys are still too young to want the door closed, so it had to remain open.
    Finally, when your working at the computer, you will be surprised at how little you move. We moved the eldest out of his room and into a different room and put the office in that room that had the sensor. I could sit at the computer typing/reading and it wouldn’t trigger the motion sensor. Now maybe if I was sipping coffee or something that would have given enough motion?? Maybe I should have put the timer up to 15 instead of 5 minutes? I don’t know… took them out and I am back trying to train the boys how to turn off lights. I started giving dissertations on how a light switch work… you would think that not listening to their old man would be enough motivation to turn off the light.
    So just some food for thought. Maybe start with one before going all out with five or six. They run $25 or so at Lowes/Home Depot so it will save you the time and trouble of taking them back if they don’t work.

    Thanks for the home tips in this article and the automation. That’s some good stuff right there!

  2. Many community colleges offer certificate programs as well as job training – like EMT programs and others. There is a lot of opportunity to those who do go to community colleges – even if it is for 2 yrs.
    As for the free – there is no free lunch -someone will have to pay for it – wonder how O thinks that is going to happen!!

  3. Hi George,

    Former and future subscriber here. I own the $50 Underground House book, and am breaking ground in the spring on mine, I’m in the Missouri Ozarks.

    But George, he only takes the concept half way, you should blend it with another, very compatible, concept. Back in the ’80’s, Mother Earth magazine published a story about an experiment done with an underground home, built in the northern Rockies, up at the continental divide. The concept used goes back to Roman villas, that drew air into the building through channels underground.

    Check out “Passive Annual Heat Storage”, updated in 2013, by John Hait. (

    Brilliant, LOW or NO TECH method of heating AND cooling your home, year round, all for the effort of “building it right” the first time. (depends on your choice of in-earth insulation)

    I’ll be building a website as I build, taking time lapse photos, and while it’s a big project, I’m quite looking forward to diving in. Been off the grid 10 years now, lots to say about that, but aside from your humongous energy demands, you’re right on track there. I’m a programmer, and work at home, but I use a tiny, tiny smidgeon of the power you do. But we’re still calling this a free country, so knock yerself out!! :)

    Howard Weaver

  4. The timers are an excellent idea. I added $6 timers to my cable boxes, tv’s, and stereo, and my computer so that power was running only during the part of the day we actually used the equipment. Been saving $30 / month for the past few months, or $360 / year. Initially I was irked about my computer’s reboot or my cable boxes having to update but I’ve already developed habits to do something else while time’s awastin’. This month, I’m assessing the computer’s sleep vs. off power consumption. It is a very old machine and I’m concerned the cycling might take a toll. In any event, the savings are real and the effort is minimal.

  5. There is a building material you may want to build with–it is a papercrete block-4-10-14 that is made in Texas. Mason Greenstar—western hill country. They call it Blox.
    I really want to try it, but I’m 1200 miles away. You could fly over to the plant as a day trip to check it out.
    In your tornado area, I would tie it together with 1 1/2 inch banding as they use with timbercrete in Austraila, and, tie it down by drilling 3 inch holes for grouted vertical rods.
    Lots of pictures at the mason greenstar facebook page.

  6. My only little concern here, George – the difference between “lcd” and “led” bulbs – I’ve seen the LED kind – but not the LCD. and truthfully – after you PAY that price – are you still saving money? OH – down the road – my road may not be that long before the end. As for the heat from incandescent bulbs – I heat my two ‘temporary’ greenhouses – each out 80 sq feet with them – we had 22º F temps the other morning – no problem with just 200 wtts for about 12 hrs. If I live in ND or MN – it might be cheaper to buy new plants every year.

  7. Regarding insulation, stopping infiltration will trump insulation every time. Seek and destroy infiltration, then go for the R-60 stuff in the attic and R-30 in the walls. Minimum sized windows unless you want a particular view make sense, and then the triple glazed low E stuff.

    I like the idea of concentric rooms, with a heat source in the innermost one. You can live in that as a minimum if circumstances force it, though building codes don’t like this for safety purposes. Use your imagination to reconcile these perspectives.

    Check out the website of Paul Allen Homes in Albuquerque. I’ve met the guy once, and that’s my only conflict, but he’s made a religion out of energy efficiency. Lots of good ideas there, including superinsulating foundations.

  8. Hi K– What about having a regular light switch that goes through a motion detector for your young children’s lights? You could turn off the regular switch at night to keep things dark when they need to be dark.

  9. I love the “$50 Underground House”. Read and reread it over and over. One of the problems is direct dirt to inner space interface causing moisture from condensation. Here’s a way to solve this problem.

    I figure this is about the cheapest house you can build and it looks way cool. Notice the reciprocal roof goes all the way to the ground leaving an open area between the wall and the ground. If you placed plastic on the walls and floor in this space any moisture could be channeled out of the house into a drain. Using hay bales and cob would make for cheap walls. Plaster would provide any color you want. I live in the Southeast so I think I would leave the floor and walls uninsulated but pile the hay on the roof. I measured the water at my place at the of a broiling summer and it measured 71F. The line running at 3″ underground. I could live with that.

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