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Archive for May, 2011

Summer is definitely here

May 30th, 2011 at 12:16 pm

I don't know exactly when summer starts on the calendar, but for me, it's when I break out the room air conditioner.

I have a relatively expensive in-room unit because the subdivision does not allow window units. However, if it can hold up for a couple more years, I think I will be able to break even with its cost through energy savings.

The unit isn't as powerful as I had hoped either, but when combined with my cheapie box fan, it does the job well enough.

Another thing about the unit is that it also produces a substantial amount of grey water. I do use that to water the plants and flush the toilet, but I tend to get more than I can use still. And when I'm not sure what to do with it, well, I dump it into the bath tub. I wish I can think of other uses though? Can you think of any?

But yeah, happy Summer everybody.

Briefly lost power

May 27th, 2011 at 08:43 pm

There is a mild thunderstorm that is causing a surprising amount of power outages here. Hopefully I can finish this entry before anything else happens.

Between these outages though, it quickly dawned on me what I have on hand that works and what doesn't in the event of power outages.

For one thing, my relatively cheap cellphone still works, because it runs on batteries, and with it, I can still access 3G for weather information and sense quick texts or emails to friends and family to see if they are OK and if they need anything.

The other is my 2-LED Tikkina headlamp by Petzl. I think every self-styled handyman should have one of these.

Granted, my low-end model still cost $20, so it's not exactly cheap, but in return, you're getting a lightweight LED flashlight that you can wear on your head, so your hands are free to work on other things. Also, on low-light setting, which is enough light for me, it will last for as long as 190 hours out of 3 AAA batteries! Unless you run it constantly, that translates to months and months of usage.

While having the ability to run on standard ni-cad batteries are nice because of their accessibility, the greener and ultimately more frugal option is to also buy the company's core pack. It is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for the light.

Now, I admit the core pack isn't cheap at an additional $40, but the manufacturer guarantees at least 300 charges, and advertises as many as 900 charges during the course of its lifetime. Assuming an equivalent per-charge of 3 AAA ni-cads, and assuming an average recharge life of 600 charges, that's an equivalent of 1800 AAA batteries! That's also more than $1000 worth of AAA batteries that you won't be spending and then throwing into landfills! All for $40!

The other advantage about the core pack is the fact that it's charged through an USB interface. In other words, it can be readily charged through small, portable solar panels. I haven't gotten this part yet, but when I do, I will have a portable light source that is completely grid-free.

It may be strange for me to spend so much time talking about a little flashlight, but if you are looking for a simple, light, and effective flashlight, and if long lasting life is more important than lumens, then I highly recommend the Petzl Tikkina.

Thoughts on solar

May 13th, 2011 at 05:40 am

I really like the idea of solar power. I really do. Who wouldn't like free, passive electricity?

It's just so unfortunate that they are so darn expensive. A modest 80 watt kit can cost as much as $1000 to $2000. This does not include accessories such as voltmeters, mounts, and sometimes, not even charge regulators and inverters. Oh yeah, and don't forget the batteries.

Solar is also a finicky beast, where cloudy days can reduce efficiency as much as 40 to 50%. Heat exposure can knock that down even further. Solar panels also have a shelf life, and could lose around 15% more efficiency naturally in the first two years. Batteries will need to be replaced eventually as well.

In all, and depending on who you ask, solar panel owners don't break even until about 10 to 20 years later. That's a long time.

Still though, solar seems irresistible to me. It can be an affordable enough option if you can reduce your energy needs low enough. This is doubly so for small, specific energy needs. For example, I am thinking about getting an emergency flash light and radio that can be charged by solar or by hand crank, and I am going to try to use it every night for ambient back lighting instead.

However, my dream some day is having a powerful enough system to be able to charge a laptop and cellphone every day. I don't think that's being entirely unreasonable, especially if I am going to try to pare down to a less costly and more mobile lifestyle.

Anybody know of any good systems or resource on solar power I should look at?

Chopping wood without messing around

May 11th, 2011 at 08:44 am

Ok, so some people, out of frugality, may have a wood burning type stove or fireplace. If so, I thought this was interesting. Even if not, you still might find it interesting.

Virgin Mobile

May 11th, 2011 at 07:04 am

I used to have a pre-pay phone, but I think "shocked" would be a good word for it when I finally realized just how many minutes I am actually using.

Well, you see, everything on those phones cost minutes, and although they tend to be cheap, if there is enough traffic on it at all, I learned the hard way that it will add up!

What's worse, it seems like the previous owner of my phone used it for everything under the sun. I've gotten everything from debt collectors looking for someone I've never heard of, to image and texts of "Happy Mother's Day" and "Spread your joy to your friends, girl!" I'm a guy.

Well, that and it seems that I use more phone than I thought. So, after looking around, I decided to go with Virgin Mobile. The $25 starting deal can't be beat, because although I have only 300 minutes per month, texts, emails, and even 3G is unlimited. Well, I chose the Blackberry, and that costs another $10 premium, but $35 a month is still a very reasonable phone bill to me.

Summer cleaning

May 6th, 2011 at 04:54 am

Ok, so my spring cleaning is a bit over-due. At least I managed to get around to it eventually, right?

As I was cleaning up, I started to wonder just how much space do I actually need and use, and not just want or have? Once cleaning was done, I broke out the tape measure to find out. Here are the results:

Bed: 36 sq. ft.

Kitchen: 5.25 sq. ft.

Desk: 15.75 sq. ft.

Closet: 15 sq. ft.

Bathroom: 24 sq. ft

Total sq. ft.: 96 sq. ft

The figures are rounded, but they are close enough. Also, please keep in mind that this is actual working space, and does not include space to move around (except perhaps the bed, which is wide because of my nightstands).

Relevant chart is relevant

May 4th, 2011 at 04:54 am



Only thing I disagree with is the dumpster comment. I don't think that qualifies as theft, but that's just me.

Vandwelling

May 3rd, 2011 at 08:51 am

or the practice of living inside a van. From a financial standpoint, this has intrigued me as an option.

I know some have lived in one for years, but I wonder if it's possible to live in one... for decades? Possibly the rest of my life?

Certainly, it would be a cheap way to live. However, cheap isn't always frugal, and I wonder if this crosses that fine line?

I know it's pretty extreme, but right now, it's purely a theoretical consideration. I wonder if there's a way I can somehow make it work?