Searching for Energy Vampires

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As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, I checked out a Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor from the public library and I’ve used it to test most of the gadgets around the Root Simple compound. I focused on the stuff that’s plugged in all the time to see if I could discover any hidden energy vampires.

Unsurprisingly, the refrigerator uses the most power and costs around $81.67 a year to operate. At the risk of turning this blog post into an exercise in appliance virtue signalling, that’s not too bad. We keep the freezer full which helps conserve a small amount of power (empty space in the freezer or fridge takes more energy to cool). The fridge is often full of way too many condiments on their way to becoming compost, but this also probably saves a small amount of energy. And it’s a smallish fridge. Joining the radical fridge-free partisans of the homesteading movement would knock the power bill way down but I’m just not in the mood to give up my cushy first world lifestyle.

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The modem/wi-fi router/desktop computer combo that keeps this blog humming consumes around $18.15 a year (with the computer off). I’d love to have a large, theatrical kill switch that would simultaneously save energy and cut off the internet. This would stop the urge to compulsively check Facebook and watch YouTube cat videos. Hit the big red button and you’d have to settle down with a book. But the “internet of things” in our household (a “smart” irrigation controller and a Ring doorbell make this impracticable). The Man always finds a way to keep us connected and dependent!

Our old microwave consumes the next greatest amount of power at $3.88 a year. The microwave should definitely be shut off when not in use. It’s also old and I suspect newer models probably consume less power when not in use.

Speaking of newer gadgets, our ginormous Costo flat screen TV (they give them away when you buy a slice of pizza) doesn’t seem to use measurable power when turned off. And that flat screen has been turned off a lot lately since I’m peeved at another instance of a Hollywood film crew blocking my beloved Sunset Blvd. bike lane. I’ve decided to boycott the film industry again and read books until Hollywood brings us a new Tarkovsky (meaning my boycott will be permanent).

My next, and more mathematically challenged, Kill A Watt project is to compare incandescent and LED lighting. Stay tuned.

What measures have you taken to drive a stake through energy vampires?

Get a Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor From Your Local Public Library!

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I’ve always wanted to geek out with a Kill A Watt electricity usage monitor and see how much power our household devices eat up. But I didn’t want to spend $22 on a gadget I’d only use for a week.

Thankfully, public libraries around the U.S., including our local Los Angeles Public Library, have Kill A Watts you can check out just like a book. I’ve got one right now and I’ve been running around the house checking out our gadgets. Some appliances, such as the refrigerator, that cycle on and off need to be left plugged into the Kill A Watt for at least a day or longer to get an accurate result.

I found the instructions for the Kill A Watt a bit confusing. Naturally, I looked up a YouTube video for a clearer explanation.

I’ll share my findings in a few days but leave you with this unsurprising spoiler alert: looks like LED light bulbs save power and it costs $33 a year to run a water fountain for our privileged indoor cats.

DIY Appliance Repair: What I did When My Dishwasher Start Button Stopped Working

When, in the middle of a terrible head cold last week, our dishwasher stopped working I had a meltdown. In my worst display of “first world problem” privilege ever, I actually fell to my knees and wailed. Then I calmed down and asked Dr. Google for advice.

In recent years, Dr. Google has become much more knowledgeable about the intricacies of appliance repair. Back in the dark ages, the internet only provided Beanie Baby prices and Nyan Cat memes. Now the internet’s coverage has expanded beyond the geeky and into the more mundane world of home construction and repair.

What to do when your appliance stops working
So when a major appliance breaks down I would suggest first consulting the Appliance Blog discussion threads. Even if you’re going to hire the job out it’s good to know what the problem might be and how much it will cost to fix. In my case I was able to figure out that the control panel had a bad switch.

The next step is to head to a parts supplier such as Parts Dr. I picked up the control panel for $137 including shipping.

Appliance Repair 101
The last step, actually doing the repair, is where YouTube comes in. You could probably learn to pilot a jet with YouTube instruction these days, and there’s now a decent amount of appliance repair porn to watch. I viewed the thrilling video above multiple times before attempting the repair.

It took less than ten minutes to swap out the control panel. Then I took a victory lap around the living room with much fist pumping. In the end, I probably saved at least $150 by avoiding a service call.

The interior of my Whirlpool Silent Partner III dishwasher has nicely designed modular parts that are easier to access than many other appliances I’ve opened up. But I have to say that, like many modern gadgets, I wish it had fewer features. All those buttons and circuits end up being a repair liability over time. We need to start a #fewerfeatures movement!

The Primitive Technology Guy

I mentioned last week that episodic TV, YouTube videos and a recliner are an important part of Kelly’s open heart surgery recovery process. Our breeches are still deep in that Jas. Townsend and Son 18th century YouTube cooking hole, where we’re learning about cleaning pots with brick dust and how to make Norfolk dumplings on the go.

Australian reader Jampotts reminded me of another wildly popular YouTuber who just goes by the handle “Primitive Technology.” The anonymous creator of the these wordless videos, shot in northern extreme of Queensland, Australia uses a “show me don’t tell me” philosophy of film making that I greatly admire. No long, babbling intros!

Kelly was especially impressed with his pump drill fire starting technique:

He has a blog that describes the content of his videos in more detail.

People like John Townsend and the Primitive Technology guy are the good side of the internet, producing quality work that’s a lot better than mainstream television. If you have a favorite YouTube channel let us know about it in the comments.

How to Block Telemarketers

telemarketinghellIf you’re in possession of an AARP card, you also probably have a land line telephone. If, like me, you are taking care of an older relative it’s likely that your elder depends on a land line that rings every few minutes with offers and pleas from dubious charities, political parties and Elmer Gantry types. In my opinion, there’s a special level of Dante’s inferno for telemarketers who prey on the elderly, but I won’t be able to fix that problem in a blog post. Let’s just take care of those unwanted calls.

At my mom’s house I tested two solutions: the Sentry Call Blocker and Nomorobo.

51sxnaptccl-_sl1000_Sentry Call Blocker
The Sentry Call Blocker is a piece of hardware the goes between your phone and the wall jack. It sells for around $40 on Amazon and has no monthly charges. The way it works is that you manually enter a list of approved callers. Unknown numbers get forwarded to a recorded message (oddly, a man with a British accent–an out of work Shakespearean actor, perhaps?). You can also scroll through a list of previous incoming calls and either put them on the approved list or block them. It did a great job of blocking unwanted calls. Unfortunately, it also did a good job of blocking wanted calls. After using it for a few months I had to disconnect it. Important calls from health care agencies as well as some of my mom’s friends were not getting through. And the interface is too complicated for an older person to operate.

cmfuwjawiaajvq6Nomorobo
Nomorobo is a call blocking service for VoIP phone lines. Nomorobo maintains a large database of telemarketers that they’ve culled from the FTC, crowd-sourced reports and their own “honey traps.” When a spam call comes in the phone rings once and then, satisfyingly, automatically hangs up on the helpless boiler room employee. I’ve been using it on my own line (it comes free with Spectrum VoIP service) for around six months and in that time not a single telemarketer has made it through. Not even an election related call! Nomorobo offers a version for iPhones for $1.99 a month that I’m considering using to stop the student loan calls (I don’t even have student loans!). If you’re a Spectrum/Time Warner subscriber you can activate Nomorobo through the web interface for your account under “VoiceZone/Peace and Quiet.”

There are numerous apps for Android and iPhones that also promise to block telemarketers that I have not tested. In my experience the National Do Not Call Registry is a joke, but I’ve listed my numbers anyways. At least until the telemarketers find a workaround, Nomorobo gets my vote.