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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A moment to appreciate the history around us...

I'm going to take a moment away from my normal discussion to touch on another subject, which while different, still relates, so please bare with me. I live in Detroit, and while many ask why I moved here (in February of this year), many don't understand the opportunities or the history that surrounds this place and needs to be saved. I moved here to go back to school, and launch my own business, by taking advantage of the falling economy. We bought our home, a rather nice place if I may ad, for a FRACTION of the cost of the same house and land anywhere else in this country. I'm attending school and investing in properties to renovate green, so as to provide low cost living opportunities for low income families, while helping the environment in the process.
I mention all of this because in the interest of cleaning up the community, and preserving our resources and way of life, another group here in Detroit, sought to clean up a local part and stumbled upon a hidden gem... a velodrome. Back in August, a group of renegade landscapers calling themselves "The Mower Gang" hit Dorais Park in Detroit, MI with tractors, hand tools and a fistful of determination. They literally uncovered a relic of a Detroit passed – a Velodrome, or banked racing track, built in the late 60′s amid the tensions and trials of the riots that broke out in the city only a few years prior to its completion.

Now this group is hosting a race, in the spirit of old board track racing (motorized bikes, mopeds, scooters, etc), to raise not only awareness, but also to raise funds for maintaining the park and the velodrome. As an avid fan of board track racers, in fact I'm slowly building one myself, this appeals to my interests, but also as a citizen of Detroit and an avid promoter of "greenovation" and sustainability, this speaks to the very core of us as a people. It stands as proof that we, as a populous, want to create a world where not only do we learn from the past, but preserve it for future generations, and make sure they have a hospitable world for those generations to enjoy such things.
So I take this opportunity to encourage you to do the same, and if your interested, check out for details on the ongoing project. The race will be held on October 16th,2010 and sadly my bike will not be ready in time (unless theirs a miracle), but i will be in attendance with my family to show my support for such an awesome cause!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Geothermal Air Conditioning... Old Testament Style!

I recently got a request to discuss Geothermal energy, and I will but first I want to discuss the oldest form of Geothermal use that is still in existence: Geothermal air conditioning.

Records and evidence of civilizations living in hot areas, such as Persia and Africa, have been using Geothermal Cooling in their dwellings dating back to 2500 BC.  That tells us that even back then, green energy existed.  The sad part is, people who live in those same regions are using the exact same method of cooling today, yet we can't seem to figure this out.
The way this is done is actually very simple, they built a pipe, 10" in diameter out of ceramic into their wall near the base, and it turned  downward, until it was four to 10 feet in the ground, then it turned outward, went straight away from the dwelling for 20 to 50 feet, depending in wealth of the person involved. it then turned a 90 degree turn  traveled 10 feet, turned another 90 degrees and returned back into the house, only it would travel the full length up the wall and would exit near the ceiling.  What this did was caused a circulation of air, that radiated the hot air out of the top of the house, only to radiate and be cooled by the cooler ground temperatures, and return back into the house around 70-75 degrees.
See, the ground maintains a constant temperature, whether its cold or hot outside, at a pretty steady 65 degrees Fahrenheit. and its because of this we use geothermal heating and cooling currently for both heating and cooling our homes, and heating and cooling our water, and providing electricity by using variable temperatures to create a flow or "current" to create energy.  The point here is that we can still use this same technique today.  Ceramic pipes are use for drainage mostly all over the world, but if your building a house, you can still opt to plan for this method of cooling with decent planning.
Now, while I know this doesn't really benefit you as a whole, the point was to help you understand how and why geothermal works on a basic level, so you can think about how it could be implemented in your future life.  In my next post, ill go over some low cost geothermal products that you can use on a low budget, and how doing so can profit you!  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Let the wind blow...

So while we've discussed some very good ways to gain energy from the world around us, We've yet todiscuss wind power.  Mostly because while I've often used solar and hydro powers, I've only recently begun planning my wind turbine expansion to my own power producing systems.
As I've often said, the decision to go GREEN doesn't happen over night, it takes planning, and forethought, and you have to know what your eventual goals are.  then you have to decide the best way, taking in all variables to achieve that goal.  As of right now, I"m well on my way, however My next project undertaking is indeed a series of small scale wind turbines, that according to calculations will bring me within 90% of my final destination.  In football they'd call this "1st and goal."
When it comes to wind Turbines, you generally have 3 types -  Horizontal, Vertical, and Barrel.  What I'd like to do today is discuss some of the differences without getting two technical and making your brain hurt.  Unlike the other systems, wind has a lot of variables and as such, is highly capable of producing a headache if you don't do your research first.

Horizontal Turbines are generally the most common. These traditional styles have been used for centuries, providing power, just not electricity.  The standard windmill design was used to grind wheat, turn grinding mills for wood, mill corn, crush nuts, basically the hardest tasks usually reserved for pack animals... only the wind doesn't need food or rest. These are pretty simple designs involving a propeller spun by the wind, and a tail fin to act as a rudder so it constantly faces the wind. the faster the wind blows, the faster it spins and the more power it produces.  While this is the simplest design, it also is considered to produce a considerable amount of energy, but generally requires wind speeds to be around 15mph to begin a rotation.

Vertical Turbines generally require less wind to spin, and don't waste any energy with having to turn to face the wind.  It utilizes vertical blades that catch the wind regardless of direction, and are known to produce a more constant stream of energy, as it requires as little as 3mph of wind speed to move.  This is the type I've chose to attach to the roof of my home here in Detroit, as the wind directions change considerable from moment to moment, which puts these right in the ideal usage category.

Barrel style wind turbines are a relatively low cost option, that are primarily used on plains style dwellings where the wind generally comes from a single direction  They do not rotate to meet oncoming wind and instead only spin when the wind is favorable.  As such, they can be placed on roofs to catch a broader array of wind, allowing them to spin faster.  these type usually require the same forces as a vertical turbine, but can be geared to produce much higher rotations at the generator then either of the other two.  Think of a 10 speed bike... it doesn't take as many turns on that pedal to get that real weal spinning faster...  

All three designs have their pro's and their cons, the trick is to do your research and decide which is right for your personal application.  Take into consideration things like wind speed, direction, and regularity. Then consider if this will be a primary energy source, or a binary, or even supplementary.  GREEN energy projects are each different depending on the desired outcome, which is generally why I personally put so much emphasis on the planning stage.  In my next post, I'll show you how regardless of your choice, you can build your own turbine generator for less then $100.00, and have it producing power by the end of the month!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The MYTH of Expensive GREEN living

After my last post I received a lot of comments about how it was to expensive for panels or how it was to costly to set up solar cells, so I've come here today to debunk these MYTHS for some people.  While I understand this elaborate rouse of corporate brainwashing has been building for years at the hands of power companies, but it simply isn't true.  Some of you may ask why they DON'T want you to go green and the answer is simple.  If 20% of the United States switches to a self sustained solar living, then these companies will lose 20% of a $100 BILLION dollar plus industry. thats right, 20 BILLION dollars minimum that companies like DTE and ConnectivPower have a stake in, and don't want to lose.  Add to that the knowledge that federal mandates REQUIRE power companies to BUY BACK any non used power from you, and PAY you for it.  This means not only are you not paying them for your power, but they have to pay YOU.  This means their 20% loss, is closer to a 25-30% or a MINIMUM of 25-30 BILLION dollars they lose on a yearly basis.
Now Imagine what happens when 80% of the people in the US switch and become self sustaining.  not only would they lose 80%, but the average buy-back rate is about half, meaning a payout of  an additional 20 - 40 %.  Well if you can do simple math, that means that if just 80% of the US becomes self sustainable using GREEN Energy, then The Power industry stands to lose 100-120% of that $100 BILLION dollar industry, and that means no more power company.
So here are the myths perpetuated:
1) Solar panels are to expensive.
Solar panels are NOT expensive.  As proof, I've provided the following
This unit right here is currently one of over 1,000 just like it being sold brand new on eBay.  It it currently marked at $0.99 with the reserve not met, however I know from experience that the reserve on these is usually between  60 to 80 dollars.
Now, some of you may be saying, thats a little pricey, but bare in mind this one panel is 50 watts.  This one panel, if hooked to a single deep cell battery, could power your refrigerator permanently. Now I know some of you are saying, "why my refrigerator?" and the answer is simple, its always running, and we need it that way.  If the power goes out, your food will stay fresh and not spoil, and if you have a gas stove, your in business still.
That's not the only thing though. If you contact one of these sellers on eBay, they generally are willing to do a  bulk order, cheaper!  I ordered mine at $40 a panel including shipping, because I ordered 10.  So yes, I spent 400 dollars, which did take some bite out of my wallet, but the fact I'm not producing enough electricity to power my refrigerator, my lights, my heater, and my computer, and my entertainment system. means I've cut more then 70% out of my electric bill!  I don't know about where you live, but here in Detroit, they tend to run about $300 a month for electricity.  Saving myself $210+ a month sure takes the sting out of it, especially since in 2 months minimum, I'm up a minimum of $20 and compared to last month, I'm smooth sailing.  If i spend the next two months putting the difference between my new electric bill and my old electric bill in a jar, I can double my panel array, and then the electric company pays me every month instead of me paying them.  How is it expensive to have a power company paying you, while eliminating your own bill?  Consider that the less energy you use, the more they have to buy (because your still creating the same amount monthly) so if you shut your house down, and go on vacation for a month, they practically pay for it!)
2) The Tech costs more in some places then others.
All hail the power of the internet, where if you don't like the prices locally, you can order it cheaper from elsewhere.  Right now, the bulk of solar panels come from China, Japan, and the United States.  When ordering in bulk packages, I have YET to meet a company that wont at least throw in shipping.  The biggest thing you pay for with Solar power is having it installed.  And this is why Myth  number 2 works for them.  They tell you its so hard to do, you need a specialized installer for everything. BULL$&!% You can install the panels yourself, its easy, and generally they come with mounting instructions and brackets!  Because its a niche market currently and not so mainstream, they have the ability to piggyback on the power companies "its expensive" claims by inflating their labor costs.
As an example, I use myself.  When I moved to Detroit in February, I called a few companies to get quotes on installing 10 panels, telling them i already had all the equipment.  They first hemmed and hauled because they prefer to use their own equipment (so they can pad the price there too), but in the end gave me a quote of almost $4000! I'm sure that would make ANYONE feel it was expensive!  Bare in mind, thats 4000 dollars for 6 hours of work that I did myself.  thats would take a crew of 2 people 2 hours to do if they did it on a regular basis (remember this is a solar energy company i called) meaning a price markup of 1,000 per hour per technician! no wonder they have everyone scared!

The point is people, it doesn't cost an arm and a leg, and its not hard to do.  If you own a drill, and a ladder you can put them up yourself, and if you shop around, its not expensive to buy, the tech is out there, you just have to look for it, and if spending an hour looking for solar panels at the best deal is to taxing on you, then have a buddy do it, or just follow the link under the picture of the panel above. There, cost effective.

Friday, September 17, 2010

So you want to make the move and go Solar...

Inevitably if you want to go solar, your going to need to do some research. While there are companies out there that would love to install a solar system for you, we're trying to save money here and they love to charge you over 400% in labor costs for something you can easily do yourself.
The best way to start is with an all inclusive kit, that way you get all the component you need to start out, and once you understand the basic simplicity of it all, you can expand.

If you shop around you can find some amazing deals, but in my ventures, Harbor Freight has the best one I could find for beginners.  This wonderful kit, prices at $199.00 includes a 45 watt solar panel, a charge control module (so you don't blow up your battery), and 2 12v lights if your using it in a garage or shed, you can even install these in various rooms in your house, but that involves running wires, which we will discuss later.

the only thing it doesn't come with is a battery, but any deep cell battery will do, similar to the one in a heavy duty truck, or a boat, you can find these pretty cheap at auto salvage yards. For example, parts galore sells batteries out of salvaged vehicles for $10.00 a piece, so shop around, get a good deal.  You could use a regular car battery, but they tend to wear out if you let them drop below a 50% charge rate on a regular basis.  You'll also want a 300 watt inverter to switch from 12v to 120v, and you can pick one of these up on ebay for around 20 dollars. So, now how to set it up...
you'll want to put it where the panels receive the maximum amount of light during the day, as exposure to a good 8 hours will completely charge your battery, which in turn can provide enough power for a full 18-24 hours on a general load, such as lights, or a small appliance like a computer, tv, etc. later on, as you add panels and increase your battery bay, and pick up a larger inverter, etc you'll be able to power more things in your home, and eventually your entire home, becoming self sustaining.
The trick is to start small and simple, so you can understand what your needs are and how the system works, you can always expand later.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rain, Rain, Here to stay...

I know I've touched on this subject before but I figured since its raining today, I'd go into a little detail about rain barrels and how they can be utilized for maximum efficiency. A rain Barrel is generally a 30 to 50 gallon container (generally barrel shaped) that catches the water from the downspouts on your gutters and stores it for later use. Generally, you can fine rain barrels for sale in Home Depot or Lowe's, that cost almost $100.00 just because they have a special label, but thats just insane, and yet another way the stereotype of high cost green living is perpetuated. What is it really, its a barrel with a lid, and a hole drilled 3 inches up from the bottom for a faucet to be installed... So heres how to build your own.

Step 1) Get a barrel. Generally a food grade 50 gallon barrel in blue, black, or white, can be had off Craigslist for less then $15.00 but if you don't have any in your area, go to Wal-Mart (they are everywhere) and pick up a trash can without wheels. Make sure it has a lid, and be sure it doesn't have drain holes in the bottom. It doesn't have to be expensive, it just has to hold at least 40 gallons. they generally run about 14-20 dollars depending on what kind you get.

Step 2) Get a faucet. these don't have to be fancy either, you just need a plastic one, that has a locking nut on the inside and are able to attach a standard garden hose on the outside. this little piece of hardware will run you about 4 dollars, and i suggest getting 2 of them.

Step 3) get a piece of dryer duct flex hosing, and a dryer vent flange. you'll also want to pick up 2 clamps if they don't come with the hose, and 4 bolts with nuts, since you'll be mounting this flange to the lid.

Step 4) Figure out where your going to put it, a good location is on the corner of the building, somewhere close to your driveway.

Step 5) Assembly. Measure up from the bottom 3 inches, drill a small hole big enough for the first faucet to fit though, and put faucet 1 in this location. With the lid on, measure down 1 inch on either side, to the left or right of the main faucet. You don't want it on the back because thats where the water will be coming in. once you have your location, install the second faucet, and open it. This will be the runoff for excess water so your barrel doesn't overflow. I suggest adding a hose to this and running it to your garden to act as irrigation, but you could let it go directly into your where your gutter used to empty into.
Remove the lid, cut a hole big enough for the flange pipe to fit through from the inside, and bolt it to the lid. attach the flex pipe to the piece of pipe sticking up from the outside and place it right in front of the downspout of the gutter. Measure up about a foot and a half from the lid, use a hacksaw and cut the down pipe of the gutter clean off. Connect the other end of the flex pipe to the remaining gutter so that the water from the downspout is diverted into the barrel as opposed to straight into the city's drainage system.
Make sure the bottom faucet is closed! VERY IMPORTANT!

Step 6) wait for it to rain and watch how quickly you fill up! You'll be amazed!

This water can later be used to water your lawn, wash your car, irrigate your garden, you name it, the possibilities are endless!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Farmers Markets and Why They Are Better for Green Living...

Yesterday I took a trip to the Westborn Markets in Detroit. For those who don't know I moved to Detroit in February to take advantage of the bottoming housing market, and I haven't looked back sense. Cities like Detroit are perfect for what it is I'm trying to do to help this world out, but I digress.
So while I've been here I've been shopping int he organic sections of some of the larger stores, Meijer's in particular, until I could track down a notable farmers market to meet my needs. I can say that Westborn Markets does that, and then some, so I've decided today to tell you why Farmers markets are better for not only you, but the environment.
Starting with you, if you examine the way you eat, you'll probably notice that if your busy like I am, you tend to eat meals that are convenient. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but what most people give up when shopping for convenience is health, and they don't realize it. Foods filled with preservatives and chemicals not only tax your body, but they sent your immune system into overdrive trying to fight off what your body sees as a harmful invader its not designed to ingest. If you plan ahead, or become what i like to call "food conscious" you can fin a great deal of healthy foods to fill your need for convenience without sacrificing your health or your wallet.
This is where farmers markets come in. A farmers market is very much like a grocery store, only they tend to get their produce locally. I know what your thinking, Detroit's a city, but in fact, the metro area has a good smattering of farms right here! By getting the crops locally, your doing several things. 1) supporting the local economy as opposed to large chains, 2)cutting out the need for preservatives, ans it wont sit stored for any period of time, and 3)cutting down on the transport expense and effectively lowering the price.
Let's examine these closer. If you stimulate the local economy, you effectively giving back to your neighborhood. A lower economy undoubtedly means more desperation, which in turn means a higher crime rate. Not only does stimulating the local economy mean more jobs, it helps lower the crime, thus protecting you in the long run.
Cutting out the need for preservatives means an overall healthier lifestyle. Foods that don't contain preservatives digest better, and boost metabolism, leading to an overall decline in obesity in America. it also means a a decreased chance of getting sick, developing cancer, or contracting some foreign bacterial infection from imported foods.
Decreasing the need for extended transport not only ensures fresher food, but cuts down on pollution created by trucks traveling cross country, and in some cases, even planes burning crap loads of fuel.
So farmers markets are really a win, win, and win all the way around. You win because its cast effective and healthy, your neighborhood wins because its stimulating the economy and promoting community growth, and the planet wins because your cutting down on pollution and illness.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Another Way Recycled Paper Is Used.

J.S.Vig's Project Green Construction is a favorite site of mine. Like me, he uses common sense, and easily viewable information to show and explain why its not only more cost effective, its better for you all the way around to use recycled materials in redoing your home.

Granted, this isnt really for a project on a budget, but if for some reason you need to re-insulate your home (water damage, mold, fire, renovation, etc) Cellulose is the way to go. No only does it outperform, its generally 50-70% of the cost of regular pink fiberglass insulation.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Going Green - "The Dorm Life Edition" PART DEUX

So yesterday I talked about some  of the larger scale things you can do to cut cost and be more environmentally friendly while living on campus, today I'm going to discuss some other gadgets that can help as well, And I'm going to break them all down for you so you can see the overall savings and how it can benefit you.

Every school requires books, naturally, and all books they require come with a code known as the International Standard Book Number (ISBN).  This code allows you to look up books to make sure your getting the correct edition used for the class.  Each printing and each book has its own code, so 4th edition books have a different code then 3rd edition books, etc.
Most of us now have laptops, as they've become a standard use item for college, and if you don't well that's fine too.  The usefulness of this is that with your Books (which generally cost anywhere from $80.00 to a mind blowing $200.00) and their handy dandy ISBN, you can now shrug off the high cost of super-priced textbooks and opt for the e-book version in PDF Format for significantly cheaper.  The highest priced E-Book I've encountered for anything, including school was a mere $20.00!!!  So if you have to buy 4 books per semester, at an average of 100 a book, that's 400 bucks, but if you buy them as e-books at an average of $10.00 a book, that's only $40.00 for all of them, giving you a savings of $360.00 on average.  If you dont have a computer, that's fine, you can pick up an e-book (like the kindle or any other generic reader you find) reader for anywhere from $49.00 to $200.00, so even if you spring for the full bells and whistles reader for 200, your still spending around 50-55% this semester for books, and next semester, you'll spend MAYBE 10%.  Since most campus store purchases come out of your student account, and at the end of the semester you get whatever is left over back, this translates into a pretty good return on your investment.  On top of that, you don't have to waste time haggling over prices trying to sell the books privately to another student, or feeling ripped off when the store buys them back for pennies on the dollar.

Sometimes its a beautiful day and you want to work on your paper in the quad, or the park, or even just at the bus station while waiting for a ride.  Sometimes your paper deadline will be in crush time and you'll realize you've locked yourself out of your room, and your roommate has classes all day, and the RA is nowhere around.  Well that causes an issue if the battery in your laptop is like mine, and only holds a charge for 2.5 hours.All is not lost though! The fine folks E-Pow have released a Portable Solar Laptop Charger that not only gets the job done, but doesn't hurt your wallet doing it! 
 This little baby will provide enough power to not only charge your laptop, but also allow you to run it at the same time, just as if it was plugged into a wall outlet, and pulls in a price tag of only $107.00!  That's a far cry from the 600.00 options of last year!  Still while $107, may still be a little to rich for your blood, factor int he money you just saved on books with the e-book purchase, and your still golden.

If your rocking a netbook, and dont need as much power, there are other systems out there, some of which can even be found on ebay for even less.  The trick is to know how much power you need, and if you don't know,  ask the geeky nerd down the hall who does (every dorm has one, I was one)... Ladies, remember that nerd could someday be the next Bill Gates so don't count him out of the dating pool.
Once you know how much you need, you can hunt for the one that best suits your needs and your budget.  The great thing with these is, even when your in your dorm, you can use these to charge your cell phones, ipods, etc just by setting it in the window!
If your rocking an ipad, and using it as your e-book reader, there are solar chargers out there that cost as little as 25 bucks (this also apply's to some net books).  Good luck, and don't spend all your saved cash on pizza....