Saturday, May 15, 2010

Some Whining + System Remodel Gas Pipes and Insulation

I haven't posted for a while. Basically, I'm starting to lose motivation in this blog, plus I am working on another writing project which is really engaging but is taking up all my computer time. It seems people really don't care much about green technology judging by the number of comments I'm getting. Michael Kanellos over at GreenTech Media has an excellent article about why there will not be a Google of green tech. On the other hand, today, I went shopping at an Apple store today to buy a Mac for my nephew, who is graduating from high school. It was packed. Families with kids, people poking around at the gadgets, all in response to the unceasing hype around the iPad. Maybe I ought to start a blog shamelessly promoting Apple products.

It kind of reminded me of how people used to flock to car dealerships when the new cars came out in September during the 1960's. When it comes to stuff that doesn't matter, people seem willing to pay lots of money and spend a lot of time with it. I can't imagine that anybody would bring their kids to a store to check out geothermal heat pumps or solar panels. Meantime the defunct oil platform formerly known as Deepwater Horizon is spewing pollution into the Gulf of Mexico at a disputed number of gallons per day, threatening their next shrimp cocktail. It baffles me why people can't make the connection between their lifestyles and the massive environmental degradation that is taking place before their eyes.

Anyway, I'll try to get back to my series on electric cars with a post next week. I just reserved a Nissan Leaf. While I have some reservations about electric cars (which I hope to blog about if I can dredge up the energy), the prospect of fulfilling 95% of our family's daily transportation needs from solar electricity off our roof, plus the fact that California grants free carpool lane access to electric cars was too tempting to pass up. On top of that, after federal and state tax rebate, the Leaf should cost less than $20,000, cheaper than a Prius.

I also expect to be posting more frequently when our system remodel starts. Right now, the geothermal HVAC design is underway. Forrest, our architect, came by today and did some measurements of the gas pipes, and recorded what insulation we have in the walls currently, for Title 24. I couldn't understand why he wanted the gas pipe lengths, since we will be taking out the gas hydronic boiler and hot water heater. He mumbled something about the city needing the number of BTUs going into the house now in order to grant the permit. Perhaps they are starting to get serious about actually measuring carbon emissions, and want to know how much our system remodel will be eliminating. Though that may be too much to hope for. Forrest said that they have been requiring this number for commercial remodels for a number of years.

He also measured the distance for the new gas pipe that will go in for the gas fireplace. The gas fireplace will be replacing an old pellet stove that doesn't have a thermostat, needs to be hand started, and which we haven't used since we moved into the house  because it is too fussy. I am not thrilled about putting in a gas fireplace, since it is not consistent with our goals of making the house carbon neutral. I wanted to put in a newer pellet stove which has automatic ignition, a thermostat, closed combustion firebox, and low particulate pollution. But there is a moratorium on wood burning appliances for the entire Bay Area, regardless of the efficiency of the appliance, due to the severe particulate pollution that develops during winter inversions. We could get an alcohol burning fireplace, but it seems even more fussy than the pellet stove. You have to fill it with alcohol (which will naturally spill) and light it, and of course it also has no thermostat. Though it would work during a power outage from an earthquake, which is not the case for a gas fireplace. The gas fireplace we are thinking of installing is around 90% AFUE, closed combustion, with thermostat, and generally the most efficient on the market. We're already signed up for carbon credits with PG&E, and, besides, we  were not planning on replacing the gas kitchen stove, so we do need to continue to have gas service.

Why are we not replacing the stove? Well, gas is actually somehow easier to cook with than electricity in my experience. I've used an electric stove before and I don't like it as much. I've found it is easier to burn stuff. Electricity is certainly better for ovens, and we do have an electric oven (and of course a microwave) because it gives more even heat. I think we may ultimately replace the gas stove with an induction stove, where the stove top doesn't get hot, when we get old enough that burns become an issue. Burns from stoves are a leading cause of injury in elderly people. Besides, the stove doesn't use much gas, just one therm a month, based on our gas bill from last summer when we had everything else turned off. That should easily be offsetable with carbon credits.

On the insulation, Forrest said that we may be eligible for a tax credit if the insulation reduces energy use by 20%. Perhaps this is a state credit, because, to my knowledge, the feds are still only giving out $1500 per year for insulation. From what I have heard, the "Cash for Caukers" bill passed the House, but, as usual, is stuck in the Senate. The Senate doesn't seem to hold energy at a high priority, so I kind of doubt it will be approved before we start the remodel. I think we will probably achieve at least a 20% reduction. Some years ago, I did a detailed spreadsheet on the heating energy usage of the house, based on the existing insulation and geometry, and how it might improve under various new insulation treatments. For the kind of treatment we are planning (basically R-6 per inch closed cell foam on the ceiling and all outer walls with exception of the master suite and one kitchen wall) the improvement was something like 30%. In addition, we are also planning on replacing the fiberglass batting under the floor with closed cell foam. I didn't include the floor in my spreadsheet, so we may get a somewhat higher reduction.


  1. Let me add a little anecdote. I talked to a woman today who will fly to Florida this summer so her daughter can participate in a soccer tournament. "Oh, I so hope I can help with the oil spill clean-up", she said. I could just barely stop myself from saying:"How about not flying to Florida? Do you know what that adds to your carbon footprint?".

    It's interesting what pulls our heartstrings...

  2. I wouldn't pay a whole lot of attention to your comment numbers or traffic, but in case you do want to drive either higher then pictures, and plenty of them, seem to make a friendlier blog. Shorter and more frequent updates would also drive higher revisit rates among those who follow your blog. While I appreciate text it seems that pictures drive traffic.

    On the general observation that people are oblivious, the problem most likely comes from the lack of deductive reasoning and scientific skills among the general public. How else can you explain the widespread belief in ghosts?

  3. Thanx for the comment. I expect the number of pictures will pick up substantially once the system remodel starts.

    Regarding the lack of scientific reasoning, I recently saw a talk by Andrew Revkin who authors the Dot Earth blog/column in the NY Times. He says that regular people have a fundamental misunderstanding about the way science works that has inhibited action on climate change.

    The problem is the following. When you and your wife or friend have a disagreement about something, then if some action is required it typically doesn't get done until a compromise is worked out even if action is really necessary. In science, however, such disagreements are how knowledge is advanced. Scientists disagree about the interpretation of the data on global warming in various ways, but there is a widespread consensus about the fact that it is happening. The general public takes the disagreement as an indication that no action should be taken and ignores the basic consensus. Naturally, the media likes to play up the disagreement for entertainment value, the more extreme the opinion the more "newsworthy" it is.