DIY Solar Space Heating

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Photo: Build It Solar.

Mrs. Homegrown, who spent her formative years in the mountains of Colorado, made fun of me this morning as I noted the “cold” temperature . . . 60°F. It was the first ironic “brrrrrr” out of her mouth, letting me know that we’ve transitioned from the hot smoggy season to the the less hot smoggy season here in Los Angeles.

In the northern hemisphere it’s time to consider heating. The always useful Build-It Solar blog has a detailed link to a DIY solar space heating system in Virginia (pdf).

Collector panels mounted on the roof heat a reservoir which is circulated through a floor-based radiant heating system. It even has an Arduino based data acquisition component that tracks performance. There should be a DIY Nobel Prize for this project!

If you live in a place that’s both cold and sunny in the winter, solar heating has a lot of potential. In fact, I’m much more intrigued with solar space and water heating then I am with photo-voltaic panels.

Greywater 101

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Survival Podcast intern Josiah Wallingford has started up a blog, Brink of Freedom, that I’m going to contribute to periodically. In my first post, Laundry to Landscape: How to Reuse Laundry Greywater, I discuss my own greywater system as well as the setup I installed at neighbor Lora’s house. Greywater has been one of the simplest and most rewarding projects at our homestead. And I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation over at the Brink of Freedom.

Incandescent, Compact Fluorescent or LED?

Thomas Edison shows off a big-ass light bulb.

Thomas Edison shows off a big-ass light bulb.

What kind of light bulb to buy, as it turns out, is not easy question to answer. Energy consultant and off grid expert Dan Fink has an informative story in this month’s issue of Home Power Magazine, “Choosing the Right Light” that takes a look at the bewildering array of choices and what bulbs might be best in terms of cost, energy conservation and aesthetics.

Some takeaways:

  • The current way of comparing bulbs–lumens per watt–does not take into account how the eye responds to color. Incandescent bulbs give off a wide spectrum of light. Fluorescents and, to a lesser extent, LEDs do not give off as wide a spectrum of light which can make a room lit with them seem dimmer. In some situations incandescents can be a better choice.
  • LEDs are good for task lighting due to the directional quality of LED light. They are not so good for lighting an entire room.
  • Many compact florescents (CFL) will have short lifespans if you put them in sealed, enclosed or recessed lighting fixtures. You also have to check the label and perhaps even call the manufacturer to figure out if a CFL will work in a horizontal, base-up or base-down fixture.
  • CFLs perform poorly if turned on and off without at least 15 to 30 minutes to warm up.
  • CFLs contain mercury and other toxins and must be disposed of responsibly.
  • Stick to major brands. Avoid non-UL-listed cheap import bulbs.

A trip to the light bulb aisle at the hardware store is likely to stay confusing for some time. Manufactures are coming out with many new bulbs including more efficient incandescents as well as game changing LEDs and CFLs. And, according the article, the government may consider other factors such as color frequency in its light bulb ratings. Fink quotes Mark Rea, a lighting expert at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, “It’s still the wild, wild West out there with residential lighting and consumers still have to choose by trial and error.”

Farm Hack

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Farm Hack is an innovative blog that synthesizes high tech and low tech in the service of growing food and community. The blog is run by the National Young Farmers Coalition. While geared towards agriculture, many of the posts will be of interest to backyard gardeners. Recent subjects include a project to develop an infrared camera to monitor plant health, smartphone tools for farmers and open source appropriate technology resources. It’s exactly this kind of innovation that gives me great hope for the future.

Thanks to Tommy Berbas for the tip.