Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Wow! Wala-what? What the Heck Is a Walipini?

Wow! Wala-what? What the Heck Is a Walipini?
James Huelseman

For those of us who live in cooler parts of the world, a reprieve from harsh winters can be much needed. But rather than travel hundreds of miles for a brief few days of warmth and sunlight, what if we could build a little semi-tropical room of our own? What would you do with a toasty studio or place for your underground band to play? Enter: the walipini.

According to the Inspiration Green website it's “Called a walipini in South America (from the Aymara Indian language, meaning "place of warmth").” - See more here. Some sources say these structures are typically 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer even in the dead of winter.

The walipini is essentially a greenhouse sunk six to eight feet into the earth (depending on water table) with a side or roof at a ninety degree angle to the sun. It employs plastic or glass windows using passive solar rays to heat the interior. It is recommended to use rock or even barrels of water as a sort of thermal battery to continue warming the room through the cool of the night. Some folks are even using a rocket mass heater which burns anything and can store thermal energy for 12 to 24 hours. More on those here.

You may be thinking this sounds expensive. I does not have to be at all. In fact a small walipini could be dug out and built in a weekend with a few strong helpers and the right supplies. The earth is really the bulk of the structure. At they seem to have put one together for under $300!

There are many uses, the most common growing food supplies in harsher climes. Using this design we can eek out a few more weeks or even months of fresh from the garden foods. Rather than harvesting twenty tomato plants and canning or trashing excess, why not plant four and simply harvest fresh tomatoes longer?

Alternatively, this space can be used as a winter retreat. In this part of the world, hot summer days only last a few months of the year. This could be a sunny solution to dreary winter months. Build a sunken patio or sun room for winter fun. Run a rocket mass heater for a little extra temperature boost and we could even have those citrus and avacado plants we've always wanted. The acoustics must be spectacular for playing or listening to music!

Monday, February 29, 2016

DIY Solar Power Now! Learn How to Get ROI Through the Roof!

Considering Solar? Consider DIY!
James Huelseman

For those of us looking to invest in solar power, the upfront cost can be rather daunting. There are a few programs that can help soften the blow such as Department of Energy loans and a 30% installation tax credit. So how do we move to clean affordable energy without breaking the bank? Joe Utasi owner of CinciHome Solar has a solution.

Joe offers a very affordable alternative to paying for professional installation. He will come to your home and do a very thorough consultation to help build a plan that covers every step of the process from paperwork and permits to ordering and delivery – including dealer pricing on your order. With over 30 years in the field and all the necessary certifications, Joe knows solar.

So how much will it cost to install your own system? Well... that depends. Of course every install is going to be unique and you may or may not be comfortable with running into your breaker box on your own. Cinic Home Solar boasts several installations totaling just above or below $1.50 per watt. This is an average 50% to 70% savings from professional installation.

It makes perfect sense that with the help of a professional consultant this work can be done at a fraction of the cost. Consider all the overhead a traditional company would carry. The would have a brick and mortar office, utilities, phones, staffing, trucks, and so on. This means that for every dollar your installation costs they'll need twice that if not more to make it profitable. If the same work can be done in a weekend with a few helpers, then we can really jump start the savings and switch to solar.

The Future is Here! Check Out This Amazing Solar Powered Grill!

The Future is Here! Check Out This Amazing Solar Powered Grill!
James Huelseman

Folks, this is amazing. GoSun has created a grill powered by sunlight. It uses a vacuum tube technology and parabolic reflectors to turn sunlight into heat. Reaching temperatures of up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit, the grill offers a moisture trapping environment to offer flavorful food without drying it out. This is more than just a grill!

GoSun Mini
With a traditional charcoal or gas grill we are limited to 'grill-type' foods that wouldn't stick to the grate or taste odd. This system allows anything that will fit in the vacuum tube. Make fresh baked rolls, diced veggies, and your favorite barbecued chicken all without using expensive and potentially harmful fuels.

Even if this weren't an amazing concept (and it is), the savings alone makes the grill a worthy investment. This cooking system may buy itself over and over just with the money saved on propane tanks or charcoal. They offer several different styles including a small portable unit to carry along while hiking or camping so you can leave the bulky fuel source behind.

So let's save some money, avoid cooking directly on potentially harmful fuels, or just be prepared for the post-apocalyptic world. Use this code to save 25% on your new solar grill. Come back once you've tried it to let us know how it works!

Monday, February 22, 2016

What You Need to Know About Net Metering

What You Need to Know About Net Metering

James Huelseman

If you're considering renewable energy in Ohio, one of the first topics to consider is net metering and what that means to the individual utility consumer. Net metering is the agreement created by Ohio law between the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and the utility customer. To quote the PUCO website: “Net metering is a billing arrangement where customers who produce their own electricity can receive a credit on their electric utility bills for any extra electricity produced by the customer that flows back onto the electric utility’s distribution system.”

Photo credit:
This works with the use of a two-directional meter. As your home draws energy from the grid the dial on your electric meter measures this use. When the utility representative comes by to check your meter your bill will reflect your actual use. Once you add a renewable energy source to your property, you will use this power first then draw from the grid. This works in real time so when the average family is out at school and work for the day and the sun is at its strongest the meter may be busily running backwards to create a buffer for later in the day when energy consumption typically peaks.

If you generate as much power as your home uses the meter will not move over the course of a billing period and there will be no fee. If you generate more power than you use the meter will run backwards accruing a bill credit that will be applied any month there is a charge. And if you run with surplus regularly enough, you can write in annually to be paid for the power you have sold back.

There are a few rules that carry implications regarding how much can be earned in this way. One aspect of these laws simply specifies what type of systems can be used to generate energy including solar collectors, wind turbines, and so on. This equipment is also legally required to be on the property for which it is generating power. And it must run in parallel to existing utility supply.

Also stated under net metering the focus of generating electric must be to primarily offset your own expense in energy consumption. This specification comes into play when PUCO is determining fair compensation excess power fed back into the grid. There is a distinction on utility bills between what is charged for generation versus distribution. Currently excess power is compensated at a fraction of what the end user would pay. This makes sense to an extent in that the renewable resource does not cover the cost of power lines, staffing, and upkeep which is certainly a large overhead for the members of PUCO. So while a household can reduce or eliminate their monthly electric bill they cannot currently earn income from power generation at a 1:1 ratio.

Even with discounted reimbursement for power generated net metering can help your renewable energy investment be very rewarding. Very few improvements to your home pay back over time the way renewable energy does. Adding solar panels will increase the appraisal of your home instantly. With little to no upkeep over the years they literally pay for themselves. In fact on average a renewable energy source will pay for itself in as little as seven years. Considering you will get all of your investment back as well when you sell your property it makes for quite a sensible investment. Solar power coupled with strategic energy saving will reduce your carbon footprint and put money back in your pocket. 

Feel free to comment or email me!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How to Save Huge on Energy with a Tiny Budget

How to Save Huge on Energy with a Tiny Budget
Small Investment, Big Returns
James Huelseman

In the area of conservation energy is one of the first places to look to save a little money. If we're energy conscious we are already making sure to turn off all the lights before we leave the house and we are doing our absolute best not to leave the oven on over night. But what's the first step to reducing energy use when we're not quite ready for new appliances or solar panels?

The answer is: every little bit counts. In Ohio we average around $120/month on electric bills or around $1400/year according to the Environmental Impact Assessment. I know I'd much rather have an extra grand for a vacation or new toy every year. Now conservation alone will not eliminate our power bill if we still want to have overhead lighting and keep up on post-apocalyptic dramas, but we can do the earth and our wallets some good. So where to start? One of the first places to look is up.

According to the ENERGY.GOV website we can save 75% of the money we put into lighting by using LED lights. Newer LEDs offer the same color and brightness of light as incandescent bulbs but typically last ten times longer. Literally, you can expect 10,000 hours of light with LED compared to 1,000 hours with incandescent. Start by replacing the most used bulbs in your house – kitchen, living room, primary bathroom then as other bulbs burn out make sure to upgrade.

Another great way to conserve energy is to reduce our heating and cooling bills. Of course nothing compares to proper insulation and good windows, but we can save a few bucks and do the world some good at the same time. In a home with South-facing windows we can harness the greenhouse effect of the sun. In the summer we want to save money on cooling our homes and in the winter we want to save on heating our homes.

The right kind of tree in front of those south-facing windows can make all the difference. You'll want to plant deciduous trees that are leafy in the summer but barren in the winter. This will offer cooling shade in the summer and warming sunlight to pass through in the winter. Choosing fruit trees can also offer a pleasant source of healthy snacks to enjoy in your new shade!

While on the topic of windows, bear in mind those windows you cover with plastic in the winter time are hemorrhaging all year. It is far more noticeable in the winter as the cooler air is seeping in and sitting low in the room. In the summer when we're cooling our homes, just as much cool air is moving through that leaky window, but it's going out so it's less noticeable. Running the air conditioning nonstop may not be necessary. If possible keep that ugly plastic in place all year until you're able to upgrade those leaky windows.

These are a few ideas that could save a few bucks every month and add up quickly over a year. If we can then take that money and combine it with state and federal incentive programs which will pay you to upgrade an old water heater or add solar panels, then the savings can really start compounding until we may be paying little to nothing out of pocket for our energy use. In fact with an efficient enough system, homeowners can even begin to earn money by feeding generated electric back into the grid. Wouldn't it be great to be earning money while you watch TV or sleep?

Please feel free to comment or email me!