Toothbrushing and Saving Water – A Solution A Day

Background – Human Behavior and Saving Money

Everyday people take various actions throughout their daily routine. Many of these actions start out as choices and turn into a routine. We as a species are creatures of habit. Thus it should come as no surprise that some of these habits can be improved. An example is smoking is a bad habit. Brushing our teeth on the other hand is a good habit. Even good habits can be improved. Today we shall focus on brushing our teeth and how to save water. My family uses Philips Sonicare Toothbrush, brand toothbrushes they are electric rechargeable and effectively clean your teeth. The ones in the photo are the ones we purchased several years ago.

Lots of tooth brushing is good
Tooth Brushes in my house.

The Problem – Water Wasted While Brushing our Teeth

Hopefully you brush your teeth the recommended three minutes twice a day. When you do brush your teeth what do you do? A typical tooth brushing process might be:

  1. Person walks in
  2. Turns on the water
  3. Rinses off the tooth brush
  4. Puts toothpaste on the brush
  5. Brushes for 3 minutes
  6. Rinses off the tooth brush
  7. Rinses out mouth
  8. Turns off the water

While it is difficult to determine exactly how much time the faucet spends running on the average tooth brushing or the average water used (this will vary with length of faucet on and flow rate of the faucet). We can improve the process to save some freshwater, and a small amount of money.

Faucet left with water running
Water left on during teeth brushing

The Solution – Turn the Water Off when not in Use

At my home 100 gallons of water costs 13.77 cents which is not a crazy amount. In fact it is quite cheap compared to say San Diego where they have a tiered system and the cheapest tier 100 gallons costs 48.66 cents and the most expensive tier is $1.0949 for 100 gallons. Let’s make some basic assumptions:

  1. My water rate (which I suspect is on the lower end of the U.S.A.). Compared to the expensive tier for San Diego.
  2. A family of four who all brush their teeth for six minutes per day (two three-minute sessions each person). This amounts to a total of 24 minutes of tooth brushing and the before and after times.
  3. The faucet is only on for a negligible amount of unnecessary time before and after the tooth brushing.
  4. The faucet it either completely on or completely off.
  5. The average flow rate in a residential bathroom is two gallons.
  6. All bathrooms have the same water pressure.

We will change our process to (I’ve bolded the additional steps):

  1. Person walks in
  2. Turns on the water
  3. Rinses off the tooth brush
  4. Turns off water
  5. Puts toothpaste on the brush
  6. Brushes for 3 minutes
  7. Turns on water
  8. Rinses off the tooth brush
  9. Rinses out mouth
  10. Turns off the water

Math:

4 (people) * 6 (minutes per day) = 24 minutes

24 minutes * 2 gallons (per minute) = 48 gallons per day

48 gallons (per day) * 365 (days per year) = 17,520 gallons per year

That’s 17,520 gallons per year of water that does down the drain during the three minutes where you are brushing your teeth and not using the water.

17520/100 = 175.20 (hundred gallon charges per year).

Below I multiply the charge by the water rates from above to determine the annual cost.

Dollars wasted at my price per year: $24.132

Dollars wasted at San Diego low price tier per year: $85.2578

Dollars wasted at San Diego high price tier per year: $191.83

Just for fun if the entire American population did this it (assuming all Americans brush teeth)  would save:

Dollars wasted at my price per year: $1,893,762,467.00

Dollars wasted at San Diego low price tier per year: $6,690,602,246.00

Dollars wasted at San Diego high price tier per year: $15,053,855,053.00

Gallons Saved: 1,374,880,000,000

Conclusion

Well most people paying my water rate are probably not terribly inconvenienced by the extra $2 of water each month from this habit. Someone in San Diego might be happy to save $7-15 per month on their water bill. The real important thing here is that today more than ever and as the populations increases, fresh water is very important to conserve especially when we could be using 3.77 billion fewer gallons of water per day (just from turning off the water when we brush our teeth. Let me put this into perspective the flow rate of the Mississippi river (The largest river in the U.S.A.) is only 7.76 billion gallons per day (about twice what we would waste as a country if everyone left the water running while brushing their teeth).

Starbucks, The cup problem – A Solution A Day

Background – The cup problem

The intent is to address a larger problem each Sunday while doing at home and small business solutions throughout the rest of the week. This week the focus is on Starbucks Coffee. Each year they sell millions if not billions of little cups. The paper cups are coated on the inside with a material that allows the paper to function with hot liquids. Unfortunately this cup design is very hard to recycle because the two material typically need to be separated which is more difficult and costly. Starbucks has the goal of having 100% of their cups recyclable by 2015, I am not sure of their progress on that front. I became aware of this problem a few months ago and tried to contact their director of Environmental Impact (Jim Hanna) who’s e-mail information is difficult to find. Not being able to locate a direct contact method for him I sent a message through Starbucks customer service department this also was unsuccessful. Oddly this incident and a few others from large companies is why I write my solutions here instead.

A Cup of Coffee
A Cup of Coffee in a reusable coffee cup.

The Problem – Starbucks Cups end up in Landfills

How can we keep Starbucks cups out of the landfill? It appears the Starbucks approach is to make plastic cups (Eww… yet another material that doesn’t degrade for thousands of years…but it can be recycled). They sell their fully recyclable plastic cups for $1. The cups are reusable and they provide recycling bins to accept them inside their restaurants. At face value this might be an improvement on the old cup system but we can do much better in my opinion.

The Solution – Heavy Duty Reusable Cups

After five minutes of learning about the problem that Starbucks had I came up with what I think is a much better solution. Then I learned about their plastic recyclable cups and I still think my solution is better. Basically, Starbucks should manufacture large vacuum insulated aluminium cups. These cups are given to customers by swiping their phone on a censor, which takes a $20 deposit from the customer for each cup. The customer is free to keep the cup if they like or if they return to Starbucks  and walk inside they may deposit it inside a wash bin (please bring them back rinsed out). The wash bin would contain a swipe for your phone which would credit the deposit back to the customers Starbucks account (the money can be removed from the Starbucks account and returned to a bank account online). In the drive-through there is a similar process except the cup get placed inside a slot on a conveyor belt. They also swipe the card on returning the cup to receive the deposit back. They conveyor belt is built such that as cups are loaded into it they are each washed in a washing section of the belt and then dried and the cup come out clean and ready to use in the employee area. After the cups have been used thousands of times (or as Starbucks employees identify damaged cups) they are removed by the employee from the chain and sent to a recycle facility which melts down the aluminium, recasts a new cup, vacuum seals the new cup, and finally places Starbucks logo on the cup. Then the cup is returned to service for further use.

This provides multiple benefits to Starbucks, Starbucks’ Customers and the environment. For Starbucks, this encourages the customer to come back (they have to return the cup to get their money back, they might as well get more coffee). For the customer it provides a higher quality cup that can be well designed to insulate the beverage and to not leech any chemicals into their beverage (the leeching may be a non concern and I am unsure what materials are used by Starbucks). Finally for the environment it eliminates the addition of any plastic to the environment and reduces the number of materials being deposited in landfills.

Conclusion

The coffee industry in general should adopt this kind of reusable model. Starbucks being the industry leader should lead the initiative. Jim Hanna should make himself more reachable. In the mean time you can do your part and make your own coffee to drink out of your own highly reusable and environmentally friendly coffee cups.

Baby in the Toilet

Background – I was at work

This one afternoon I was at work. Apparently the wife was having a relaxed day.  She was hanging out with our one year old playing and having fun. It was a good break after yesterdays cleaning effort where she bleached the toilet scrubbed the bathtub. washed the mirrors and more. Suddenly her phone rang…who could it be? She darted to the other room to answer it…it was her mother with a quick question. A minute later she walked back to get the baby and guess what she found?

 

Baby in the Toilet
You never know what might happen when the phone rings and you have children.

The baby had climbed into the toilet and apparently very proud of himself.

The Problem – Baby in the Toilet

The obvious problem is the baby climbed into the toilet….ewwww. Previously we have been having the problem where the baby goes and splashes in the toilet and gets his hands dirty. To solve this we had been very meticulous about keeping the door to both bathrooms shut. This photo is evidence of failure to close the door meticulously enough.  For some reason he is obsessed with the toilet so we have to be very vigilant about keeping the toilet clean and encouraging his older two brothers (8 and 5) to flush every time and keep the doors shut.

The Solution – Baby out of the Toilet

Well the immediate solution, obviously, is to remove the baby from the toilet and wash him off thoroughly…very thoroughly (thank goodness it was clean and bleached yesterday and that he had the sense/luck to not go headfirst). I am looking for more permanent solutions, currently we are very obsessive (not enough apparently) about keeping all bathroom doors closed (you see the result of failure to do so). I am ordering a seat lid lock such as this, Mommy’s Helper Toilet Seat Lid-Lok, hopefully a lock will prevent future problems. The main item of concern when picking out an appropriate seat lid lock will be to ensure that the older brothers can easily lock and unlock the device (we wouldn’t want any accidents).

Conclusion

Well a baby in the toilet is never good. There are products to help with this which I am strongly considering purchasing at this point. Oddly, yesterday I hinted that today’s article would be about behavior in the bathroom and this was not the intended article. Tomorrow the article will be a Sunday Special dealing with Starbucks.

Low Rolling Resistance Tires

Background – Low Rolling Resistance Tires

This is another personal adventure so strap on your seat belts and enjoy the ride. Let me begin by saying that while I am an advocate for environmental stewardship, I haven’t always been. When I turned 18 and graduated highschool I got a car. I spent a long time deciding what features were important to me personally when it came to a car. Like many 18 year old males a big engine with lots of power was obviously going to be on that list. I also wanted something with lots of interior space and that rode comfortably (not that sporty bouncy suspension). In the end I was driving what I now refer to as ‘The Boat’ because it drives like a boat.

20140926_102047

My 1997 model Ford Crown Victoria, luxury edition, is now 17 years old with 253,000 (80,000 when I got the car) miles and almost eligible for an antique auto tag. I’ll be honest I still love the car but it gets pretty pitiful miles per gallon of fuel (it feels like 10 mpg, but I measured it at 15). When I was 18 I complained about driving to Atlanta, GA because it was about 100 miles and ‘was expensive’ to buy gasoline ($1.09 a gollon). Today and triple the gas price later and I am wondering why I didn’t drive more places.

20140926_102122

Today prices fluctuate between $3.00 and $4.00 a gallon and being a poor, and environmental, person I am much more concerned with fuel effeciency. Now the other piece of the puzzle is that I have for about a decade now been the poster child for brand loyalty when it comes to my Michelin tires. Let’s just say there is no better tire in the world than a Michelin.

There are lots of important factors that go into a tire and a tire should receive the credit it deserves. When you are driving a car the only part of the car that has contact with the road surface (hopefully!) is the set of tires. A poorly designed tire will not grip the road as well as a well designed tire. A quiet tire is also important if you do not with to hear them humming as you roll down the road. How they perform in wet/cold/hot and other extremes is also important. Finally, how they feel when driving is important. Both my cars have Michelin tires and have for a decade and will continue to for the foreseeable future (unless the brand goes sour).

One day I was at a local retailer buying new Michelin Tires and they had a new product out ‘Green X’ which are low rolling resistance tires. These tires have their tread cut in specific ways and are made out of modified compounds which create the ‘Low Rolling Resistance’ property. What a consumer needs to know is that low rolling resistance reduces the resistance the tire receives from the surface when rolling. This is similar but different from friction and traction. Friction occurs when two objects slide against each other like sandpaper on wood. If you are interested in learning more about rolling resistance please click here to be taken to the Wikipedia article on the topic.

The Problem – Green X tires

The problem today is fairly simple: Are Michelin Green X (their low rolling resistance line) worth buying compared to another tire?

20140926_102147

The Solution – A bit more complicated

It has been a while since I looked at this (16 tires to be specific). Last time I looked at this my first concern was that these tires wouldn’t grip the road as well and might cause me to have an accident. After some research I determined that this was not the case and I purchased the tires. My personal experience driving them for over 100k miles and driving Michelin without the Green X technology for over 100k miles are that from my own personal experience I cannot tell the difference between the two when driving (traction, ride comfort, sound).

With that established Michelin tires (which cost more) have another awesome feature. They last forever, I have purchased Michelin tires which are rated for 100,000 miles of treadlife. For comparison of different tires there are a few pieces of information necessary to determine how to get the best bang for your buck.

  1. The cost of the tires being compared (make sure you compare the same size of tire as this can have a big impact on cost and not necessarily in a logical way).
  2. How many miles each tire is expected to travel.
  3. The cost of gasoline.
  4. The improvement in fuel effeciency from the Low Rolling Resistance Property (this variable is different from one manufacturer to another depending on the actual technologies used on their tire/tires)
  5. The base fuel effeciency of your car (if you don’t know this visit fueleconomy.gov for info on US automobiles).
  6. The number of tires on the vehicle.

According to information published by the United States Department of Energy’s – Alternative Fuels Data Center the average improvement from using a low rolling resistance tire is approximately 3%. Since individual manufacturer data (and individual tire data) is difficult to acquire the 3% value will be applied for calculations. The calculation are conducted in an excel spreadsheet. For my car I went to Tirerack.com and located the most popular (all-season) non low rolling resistance tire for my crown Victoria AltiMAX RT43 (T-Speed Rated) at $84 per tire rated for 75,000 miles. Then I did the same query but for low rolling resistance tires. The result was a Pirelli Cinturato P7 All Season Plus, a 70,000 mile tire at $111.00. Then, I added the tires I actually have on my car the Michelin Defenders a 90,000 mile tire costing $129.00. Finally, I added the best seller overall the Fuzion Touring (H- or V- Speed Rated), complete with 40,000 mile warranty for $67.00 per wheel.

tire comparison of low rolling resistance tires
Image of the excel spread sheet showing the savings

As can be seen over the life of the tires the Pirelli save $447.18 (purchase price of $444) and my Michelin tires saved $574.95 (purchase price of $516). In essence Pirelli is paying me $3.18 to drive their tires for 70,000 miles and Michelin is paying me $58.95 to drive their tires for 90,000 miles. I estimated that I drive 30 miles per day which is about 10,950 which allows the Michelin tires to save me about $80 in fuel per year. The average American according to the U.S. Department of Transportation drives 13,476 miles per year or 36.92 miles per day. Using the U.S. average mileage yields: $Fuzion = 3045.98, AltiMAX = $3016.06, Pirelle = $2955.08 and the Michelin $2946,87. Buying the more expensive Michelin Defender instead of the best selling Fuzion results in a total savings of almost $100 per year.

20140926_102239

Conclusion:

Like in previous articles it pays to do the math it turns out the low rolling resistance tires actually tended to save more money over the life of the tire than the purchase cost. Getting paid for using a tire that rides comfortably, grips the road like Velcro and doesn’t make noise is something that I can live with. A tire I liked better than the defender made by Michelin was the HydroEdge (at least here where we get 50 inches of rain a year) but they merged it with another tire to create the defender.

20140926_102217

The article tomorrow will focus on your behavior in the bathroom! Check us out at A Solution A Day.

Click Here for a link to the spread sheet, you may edit the highlighted fields.

Lightbulbs – Which kind is best?

Background – Three Major Types of Light bulbs:

There are many different types of light bulbs for consumers to purchase. Three commonly purchased light bulbs are: Incandescent, Compact Flourescent light bulb (CFL) and Light Emitting Diode (LED). This article will examine the cost to own and operate these three types of light bulbs. At the end you will be equipped to understand the cost of lighting your home.

The Problem – Which Light bulb Should I Buy?

Every time a light bulb of mine goes out I invariably end up back at the question: Which light bulb should I buy?

For most standard screw in residential light bulbs there are three major options:

Incandescent Light bulb

Incandescent Lightbulb
An incandescent light bulb from a closet.

The incandescent light bulb is the grandfather of light bulbs. They have been used since long before I was born. They operate by running electricity through a filament which then produces the light. They reliably produce light for 1000 to 2000 hours. They function on dimmer switches without problem and they are cheap to buy.  Unfortunately they have some properties which may be undesirable. The major downsides to incandescent light bulbs are that they produce a significant amount of heat and they use more power.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb

Compact flourescent lightbulb from my house.
A compact flourescent light bulb from a fixture in my house.

What the heck is a CFL? Well a CFL is a twist (literally) on the more familiar fluorescent bulb (you know the long ones found in many businesses, schools, and other public buildings). These light bulbs operate by filling a glass tube with special gases and then running electricity through the tube. This causes the gas to illuminate producing the desired lighting. These bulbs can use different gasses or different coatings on the glass to emit light in different spectrums (the spectrum defines the colors of the light). Some spectrums found are ‘normal flourescent’, white, outdoor and even some to match incandescent light. A CFL is simply a fluorescent bulb twisted in many directions to produce a more compact shape.

The advantages of the CFL are a lower cost of operation for the same amount of light and they produce less heat (which eliminates the risk of a fire hazard that can occur with their incandescent counterparts) while producing the equivolent light. The problems with CFL’s are that they cost more than incandescent light bulbs to purchase and they contain mercury. Mercury can be a hazard under certain exposure conditions and it requires special disposal (see minimata disease or mad hatters disease for more info on mercury toxicity).

Light Emitting Diode Lightbulb

Light emitting diode lightbulb
A light emitting diode light bulb. I purchased this one in 2007 and this one took a while to warm up and get bright when turned on. As a result my wife didn’t like it so it is in a box (I’m hopping to sell her on the new generation versions which light up more instantly).

A LED light bulb functions by running electricity into a diode which then emits light. A diode is basically two different materials with differing electrical properties (specifically the conductance property). When encased in glass diodes can produce light. A screw in LED light bulb is a bunch of smaller LEDs emitting light together. The main advantages are that they produce light very efficiently which uses little power, produce little waste heat and they are mercury free. The biggest disadvantage is their initial purchase price is very high but they do operate for a long time.

The Solution – How to pick the best light bulb

This solution will focus on the financial aspect mainly. It should be noted that there are environmental and health reasons to not choose CFL and safty reasons (higher fire hazard risk) to not choose the incandescent. These risks should also be considered with regards to a specific lighting application and cost.

I visited a retailer website and found the following products (all three are 100-watt or 100-watt equivalent, that is they all produce about the same amount of light):

Incandescent: 48 pack of 100 watt incandescent light bulbs for $29.75, 750 hour life expectancy

CFL: 12 pack of 23 watt (100 watt equivalent) for $24.90, 10,000 hour life expectancy

LED: 1 pack 16 watt (100 watt equivalent) for $24.95, 40,000 hour life expectancy

Math

I am posting the math here so that you all may use the same formula when you are shopping for light bulbs. I will calculate it for the incandescent bulbs step-by-step and the other two I will just give the final answer.

 

Price Per Light Bulb

Take the price of the purchase ($29.75) divide it by the number of bulbs (48):

$29.75/48 = $0.61979 per bulb.

So each bulb costs about 62 cents.

 

Price Per Hour of Light Bulb

Take the Price Per Light Bulb ($0.61979) and divide it by expected life of the bulb in hours (750):

$0.61979/750 = $0.0008239 per hour of light bulb use

 

Now Convert The Watts to Kilowatts

Light bulbs are rated by how many watts they use. This means if you were to operate the bulb at maximum power for 1 hour that it would consume the rated number of watts. The incandescent bulb is rated at 100 watts. A kilowatt is 1000 watts. So the conversion is light bulb watts divided by 1000:

100/1000 = 0.1 kilowatts per hour (kWh)

 

Determine your electrical rate

You can ask whoever you pay your bill to for this, I pay $0.09445 per kWh for electricity.

 

Cost for 1-hour of electricity using the bulb

Simply take the use of the bulb per hour (.1 kWh) and multiple it by the cost per hour ($0.09445):

0.1 kWh * $0.09445 = $0.009445

Final Result

Finally add the 1 hour of light bulb cost ($0.0008239) and the 1 hour of electricity cost ($0.009445) to learn the total cost per hour of light with that light bulb.

$0.0008239 + $0.009445 = $0.0102689 per hour of light

So just slightly over 1 penny for the incandescent.

Here is all three:

Incandescent: $0.0102689

CFL: $0.0024

LED: $0.0021

 Conclusion:

At the end of the day it is worth it to do the math for your purchase because it could save you a lot of money over the long-term. In this case I found the LED bulbs to be the most cost effective. Cost is only one of many considerations to take for the purchase of lightbulbs.

If at your house there are 10 light bulbs turned on for 10-hours a day then the incandescent lightbulbs will cost about $1.03 per day. The CFL bulbs will cost about $0.24 cents. and the LED is about $0.21 cents. Over the course of a year using the LED bulbs (still at 10 bulbs for 10 hours each day) would save you $295.65 compared to the incandescent bulbs.

Here is a link to an excel spreadsheet you can download and type in all the values (the yellow squares can be changed). I have left my data from this review inside the sheet so that you may see it there for reference.

Tomorrow we will let those wheels keep on turning.

 

Air Conditioner Tune Up + Cost Savings Analysis

This article is the final in a three part series occurring 9-23-2014 through 9-25-2014.

The First

The Second

Background:

I was really frustrated about an electric bill about six months earlier and decided to take action to save money and electricity. This resulted in an assessment of the potential options for improvement. From the list three items were ultimately selected for the improvement.

  1. Installarion of a New Programmable Thermostat
  2. Repair of Leaky Floor Vents.
  3. Having the Air Conditioner Serviced.

The previous two articles focused on items one and two. This article will focus on item three and a 5-months later savings report.

The Problem – Air Conditioner Not Blowing Enough:

The problem is fairly simple today. I placed my hand over the vent and felt less than the expected airflow.  I checked the usual culprit, the air filter, but it was not at fault. This is about the point that my knowledge with regards to air conditioning units ends.

The Solution – Call a Repairman to fix the Air Flow:

I googled heating and air companies and picked the one whose office was closest to my home. A side note, I try  to get services that result in less driving this may be a small difference but if everyone reduced driving of people on service calls it would amount to a significant reduction in automobile emissions. OK, back to the story…the repair guy came out, we killed the power to the unit and he opened it up. Once the unit was open it was much simpler than I imagined.

The repair guy quickly diagnosed the problem as the internal coils were dirty and he sprayed them down with a water hose. Then he put everything back together again. In short 4 screws, my water hose and water a whole lot of standing around waiting for the unit to cycle on to ensure the problem was solved and it was done…maybe an hour total from the time I called to the time he collected payment. The total cost was $150….but I upgraded to the subscription plan and received the service visit and another visit in six months (for free, to clean maintain etc… The system). Actual total cost $130.00 (why do I get the feeling everyone they service gets a subscription and a second free visit….such is life).

 Cost-Savings Analysis:

This is the fun part, from the three articles (if you read them all and you should) if you paid attention you know that my total cost was approximately $260. Below is a photo of a graph produced on my electric providers website. Just eyeballing the graph it is approximately 2300 kWh (kilowatt hours) of power savings in a five month billing cycle compared to the previous year. My current electrical rate is $0.09445 or just under ten cents per kWh. Then multiply 2300*0.09445 and the total is about $217 or $43.40 a month. Provided month six is average then that will increase my savings to $260.40, that is more than I spent. Plus, I still am waiting on that second scheduled maintenance visit from my contract.

electric chart
This is the chart documenting power usage this year over last year

I think these numbers speak for themselves.

 Short Lesson:

A kilowatt hour is equivalent to 1000 watts of electricity used for 1 hour. You may be familiar with light bulbs that have a certain wattage. The five month electrical reduction I made from these changes is enough to run 23,000 light bulbs that consume 100 watts for 1 hour. Better, I could power 127,777 LED 100 watt equivalent light bulbs (18 watts of power each) for 1 hour.

Well that concludes the series on my high electric bill. Tomorrow the article will be about light bulbs. Please come back and check it out.

Floor Ducts

Introduction:

This post will talk about the leaky floor ducts and the solutions applied to reduce my electrical consumption. It is a continuation from my post on 9/23/2014 which focused on a new thermostat. You can read the previous post by clicking here.

Catch up:

Basically, I received an electric bill that seemed higher than what I wanted to pay. The result was that I examined my residence and evaluated potential solutions. The three solutions selected were:

  1. Install a new thermostat to better use conditioned air.
  2. Seal the leaky floor vents to mitigate losses.
  3. Hire a professional to service the Heat pump unit.

Today I will write about the leaky floor vents and their repair.

The Problem – Leaky Floor Vents

As part of my examination to determine effective ways to reduce my personal electrical usage I lifted up the floor vent covers to see if any problems were apparent. Well I was very surprised to find lots of problems (I had my floors completely redone four years earlier when we moved into our current home and part of that was installing new wooden decorative floor vent covers). I wrongfully assumed that these vents would be in perfect working order.

 

Floor Vents/Ducts
The vents that were supposed to be working just fine.

Unfortunately, I do not have any before pictures to share because this occurred before I started writing. However, I can describe it fairly graphically. There are 10 floor vents in my home, I examined nine of them. Of the nine floor vents I examined all of them had gaps around the edges of at least a penny thickness which allowed air to escape directly into the crawl space. Four of the floor vents had severe problems, two of these were completely disconnected from the floor and just hanging in the air. Its amazing any air flow made it into the house. The other two severely problematic vents were partially detached or had gaps greater than two finger widths allowing for severe loss of conditioned air. In one of these gaps I could see daylight through the crawlspace vent and the floor connection ductwork.

Update: I located a before image.

Floor vent before repair
One of the worst floor vents was disconnected from the floor. The image quality is poor and I attempted to sharpen it for better viewing.

The Solution – Seal the Leaky Ducts

An hour later I was driving to the hardware store (Ace Hardware) with three children. We examined the possible supplies and ultimately purchased a box of medium length wood screws, a box of nails and three cans of appropriate expandable spray foam insulation (about $30.00 for everything). Once back at home I went to the tool chest and removed my electric drill, a hammer and some screw drivers. The following steps were followed for each vent:

  1. Remove the vent cover.
  2. Ensure the vent is flush with the bottom of the floor.
  3. Securely (preferably with screws) attach the vent to the floor and/or surrounding support beams. Screws are preferred because they have a much lower incidence of coming loose over time. The nails were used in spaces where screws were not possible due to space constraints.
  4. After the floor vent is as flush as possible and firmly secured (4-6 screws per vent typically). The spary foam insulation was sprayed into all remaining cracks (the exterior windows were open for ventilation and the air unit was turned off to prevent it from blowing the insulation before it dried and set).
  5. Once all gaps were sealed the vent cover was put back in place the insulation allowed to dry and ventilate.

Now:

I have checked the repairs and the insulation and vents are exactly the same as they were six months ago.

Floor Vent/Duct air sealed
The is a photo inside the vent where the spray foam insulation is visible and still in place.

The next article will focus on two topics. The first will be getting the A/C unit serviced. The second will be a cost/savings analysis looking at the expense of these three solutions compared to how much they have saved after five months.

Thermostat

Honeywell Thermostat
This is the new thermostat installed on the wall.

 

Introduction:

Hello World,

Today is the very first daily article for the A Solution A Day blog. The goal of this article and in fact the website in general is to help people by solving small problems on a daily basis. Let me begin with some back history on myself. I am in my 30’s married with three children (8, 5 and 1, respectively). I finished my undergraduate degree in 2009 in Biological Sciences and hope to finish a M.S. degree in Environmental Science later this year. For a decade now I have been looking at ways to improve the health and budget for my family by improving the environment we live in both at home and in our local community.

Problem:

I am a firm believer that we as a society should develop and maintain good encironmental practices. I also think that we shouldn’t have to live like cavemen or reduce our quality of life to accomplish this. About six months ago I was frustrated with my electric bill and as a result I took action.I personally examined my house to determine the possible problems and prioritize them in a way that can be addressed. I discovered several problems and decided to address three of them:

  1. The floor vents entering my house from the crawl space had gaps where conditioned air was escaping.
  2. The air conditioning unit was blowing with reduced vigor.
  3. Finally, it was springtime and often we were changing the thermostat between hot/cold and I thought that we were inneffeciently heating and cooling the place.

Today I will talk about purchasing and replacing the thermostat. In the next few days I will examine the other two problems and their solutions. On the final day I will include a cost analysis and a tracked savings report.

Solution – A New Thermostat:

The thermostat was something that I had wanted to replace for a longtime. I have read over and over that a programmable thermostat can save lots of money. So I decided to look into the thermostat. The first thing I realized is that there are lots of options and a highly variable price range ($10 for a very basic one and $300+ for one with bells and whistles such as voice control and ai that learns and optimizes based on your individual comfort needs). Very quickly I realized that I needed to make a list of the important features that I wanted.

The bare essential features for my wife and I were that it had to be programmable, and it had to automatically switch between heating and cooling. The switching between heating and cooling is awesome by the way. In the spring and fall I no longer come home to a house that is too hot/cold because the thermostat was set one way and the outside temperature went the opposite way.

After an extensive search I determined that a decent thermostat from an industry recognized manufacturer with these features would cost $50-$80. I found one,Honeywell RET97E5D1005/U Wi-Fi Programmable Thermostat, that has remote connectivity and eventually purchased the thermostat.

Installation:

Now I am not sure about the rest of the world but I absolutely despise paying extra money for something that I can do myself. This particular day I decided that I was capable of installing the thermostat myself and could save the $50 cost of hiring a professional. At home I read the manual thoroughly. Then detached the old thermostat from the wall to examine the wiring. This part was a bit more confusing than I expected (I like to think its because my wires were extra confusing, it is more likely because I am not a professional).

On the old thermostat each wire is marked with a code and each wire is a different color and there are seven wires. The new thermostat has places for more than seven wires and different manufacturers apparently use slightly differing codes (see how it gets confusing). Fortunately, Honeywell has a customer service department (online chat or toll free phone line). I contacted them and explained my problem and they asked a few questions.  Then they asked me to read the codes and tell them the wire colors from my old thermostat. From this information they determined that my HVAC unit was a heat pump with electrical emergency backup heat (I am impressed, I didn’t even know I had a heat pump). They told me which color wires to install in their device at which coded locations. The whole process took 5 minutes and at the end I had a sheet telling me the exact way to correctly wire the device.

Now, I carefully tagged (with tape and a sharpie) each wire and marked it’s old code that was known to work on the old thermostat. This is very important because if the new one doesn’t work you can easily rewire the old thermostat and call in a professional. I then killed the power to the whole house and went to work switching the two thermostats. Twenty minutes later I turned the power back on and proceeded to test the system and the newly wired thermostat worked flawlessly.

Phone App:

Next, I downloaded the app onto my Android (my wife did the same on her IPhone) and followed the directions included with the thermostat to connect everything. This also proceeded flawlessly and I have to say the app is very cool. I can adjust anything and everything from my phone. This feature has come in very handy when the house was too cold and I was in bed. I simply adjusted the temperature from the safety of my sheets and went back to sleep. It also worked great when we went to stay at some relatives house for a weekend. We arrived and I turned down the temperature at home (i forgot to before we left) to save a few bucks on heating and cooling.

Come back tomorrow for the next improvement.

Welcome to A Solution A Day

Welcome to A Solution A Day

We try to produce a solution a day, everyday, so that your life will be better. Often the solutions are either environmentally helpful and/or financially helpful. However, sometimes they are just fun like the article about the baby in the toilet. Other times they are none of the above and just make life simpler or better in one way or another. Sunday’s are generally big business days (days which focus on large problems, such as the public education system, or Starbucks cup). There is much more to come and we also accept guest content. If you would like to write an article or a dozen articles for us then please contact us to discuss further what options we have available.

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The A Solution A Day Staff