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Archive for July, 2009

What are you doing about it?

California is just a broken levee or another dry winter away from a full out water supply crisis. And that’s just the issue of having enough water for the bare necessities. That doesn’t count the growing dust bowl in the Central Valley that’s emerged since water supply to farming areas already has been cut. It doesn’t either include the environmental crisis in the delta that many say already is in full swing. If you take that into account, you could argue that we’re already in the middle of a crisis.

Yet, there doesn’t seem to be any awareness about this and most people (and local government) certainly don’t have the feeling of urgency to do something.  We can all pull our weight and make a difference with just a few simple changes. Actions like not letting the water run during tooth brushing, limit time in the shower, install water efficient toilets and washing machines are some of the common recommendations. You should certainly do all of that, but there’s a easier target to go after first. The biggest consumer of water for the average Californian family is their landscaping. The lawn alone takes 20,000 gallons per year. That’s about a whole swimming pool of water.

Long term you should phase out plants that require a lot of water to survive and move towards more drought resistant landscaping. In general, this tend sto mean moving towards native plants that already are adapted to the climate.

However, here’s a quick tip that most people can implement right away: Most irrigation system have a way to adjust for seasons. Our system allows us to to set a percentage of the times you’ve programmed for normal irrigation. Many (inlcuding yours truly) have defined “normal” as the level you need to get through the hot parts of the summer. This means that you expend too much water most other days.

If you instead set the normal level to be perfect for the more average summer days you should be fine most of the summer and just need to keep an eye out for the need to water just a little bit extra on the hottest days.

Instead of reprogramming your whole system, you can just use the seasonal adjustment to check what level works for you. In our case we put it at 70% when we normally would’ve turned it to 100% for the summer (of course, we already have it completely turned off during the winter and only gradually increase the run times through the spring)

This approach works very well for us, there’s been a couple of hot spells when I’ve had to manually water a little bit more to supplement the automatic system, but the lawn is definitely still green and doesn’t seem to be hurting at all.

If you figure that the manual add-on watering amounts to 10% (or less), i.e. that we in our case in reality run the system at 80%. Then this strategy still translates into saving at least 4,000 gallons of water for the average family.

Now for your local government, how about foregoing those lawns on the medians of the roads? Plant native plants instead to provide some greenery if necessary. And how about making sure the irrigation systems work as expected, are tuned to the right levels and don’t leak? Just a few blocks from where I live, there’s a leak that’s been there for more than a couple of weeks now…

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After some time planning I’ve taken the plunge and started remodeling the upstairs of our home. I’m fully aware that even when starting small, a remodeling project often expands to include much more than you initially had intended. Knowing that, our plan is hopefully more realistic than last time we did it and includes quite a lot from the start.

In broad strokes, this is what we’re planning to do:

  • Convert a master bedroom den to a home office
  • Build a walk-in closet
  • Remodel the master bathroom
  • Update the guest bathroom
  • Make necessary electrical updates due to the remodel
  • Install a whole house fan system
  • Rip out the carpets and install hardwood floors

Where are we now with this project? Half of the new walls are framed and the space for the walk-in closet is gutted. Over the last couple of days I also took advantage of the slightly cooler weather and installed the first of 3 fans that go into the whole house fan system. It can get pretty hot in the attic on warm days so it’s necessary to do that work on the cooler days.

We live in Pleasanton, California and it can get pretty hot in the summer with averages around 90F/32C and peaks well above 100F and 40C.

We’ve had more or less a manual whole house fan system for the last 6 years or so. That’s how long it’s been since we decided to not use the old AC system anymore and “go green”. We’ve been using multiple fans to move cooler, fresh air into the house in the mornings and after sundown. It’s been working surprisingly well, with the exception of when we get multiple really hot days in a row. But it has been a chore to do it and sometimes you miss your window of opportunity, i.e. you sleep in and the day is already warm when you get up. So in our case, we’ve already made the energy savings by foregoing the AC several years ago and it’s now more about making it more convenient.

The system I chose is a QuietCool QC-1500, which I selected because it promises to be very quiet and also came with a wireless remote control (using Zigbee for the networking, maybe I can do more interesting things with that later?). The recommended size of system for our house had 3 fans to be installed in the attic. Actually, they seem to have changed the sizing chart now and maybe 4 fans would be more optimal according to their chart. But I’m betting they have changed it just to sell more fans. I can always install one more fan later if I’m wrong.

One QC-1500 whole house fan

One QC-1500 whole house fan

I ordered the system on line from A Trendy Home (they had a Father’s day sale) and it showed up after just a few of days. Yesterday I installed the first of the fans and have temporarily connected it with an extension cord to test it. Later I need to get an electrician to install a dedicated outlet for it.

I must say that so far it’s delivering as promised on most things. Even with just one fan operating for now there’s a definite breeze through the house and the remote control works in any part of the house. It’s not quite as quiet as I had expected though. There’s a faint low frequency, rumbling noise. It may just be that’s it’s a new sound because it’s definitely more quiet and less intrusive than the fans we were using before. I guess I may have had somewhat unrealistic expectations on how quiet it would be. Bottom line, and in anticipation of what the next 2 fans will do, I would still highly recommend it.

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