Going Green, mustbethrifty house

From gas to all-electric to solar

Ripping out the gas meter was logistically unfun. It took many phone calls, emails, and Facebook complaints before my gas provider figured out that I didn’t want to disconnect from the electricity grid (I don’t even have an electricity account with them) and that I just wanted a Victorian Gas Abolishment Form. My gas provider also tried to tell me that meter removal would cost upwards of $500, when, in reality, it cost under $60. I’m not sure why it was so difficult for customer service to action my request. Maybe gas meter removal is still too rare an occurrence? Maybe other folks who switch to all-electric keep their gas meter and continue to pay their service-to-property charges?

Anyway, the gas is gone and good riddance.

gas meter
Our last gas meter reading

Meanwhile, winter has come; we’re cranking up the main split-system in the living areas for a couple of hours on most nights, and sticking to these areas. In the morning, our bedroom split-system turns on briefly to help us get out of bed. It’s really, really cold in the bathroom, now that there’s no ducted heating coming out of the vents. (Note to self: must get onto draft-proofing and double glazing this room.) Cheap Geek has timed the hot water to turn on during the middle of the day, in anticipation of free solar-generated electricity. And I’m getting used to cooking on the induction stovetop.

During this period of all-electric (no gas consumption), we used an average of 9.84 kilowatt-hours per day (20/5/16-5/8/16), compared to last year’s average of 5.63 kilowatt-hours per day (20/5/15-5/8/16) when we were using gas for heating/cooling, stovetop cooking, and hot water.Satellite dish

While waiting for the solar panel install, we had some roof maintenance done. The work is guaranteed for ten years, which hopefully means no solar panels will need to be removed during this period. Cheap Geek and my dad also took away the unused satellite dish that was bolted to the chimney; it would have been extremely hard to remove the dish with solar panels underfoot!

Thirty-two solar panels (Q.PRO-G4 265) were installed over three days. Due to our roof orientation and overshadowing in summer, Cheap Geek opted for microinverters instead of the traditional centralised inverter. There was the option of having a central inverter with power optimisers; these work better at extreme temperatures (i.e. warmer climes) and are the more cost effective option in commercial/larger arrays. However, we live in Melbourne and have a domestic system. Cheap Geek also preferred the safety of AC current running across the roof.

The panels started generating electricity on 6/8/16. So far, they’re pumping out anything between 4.19 to 27.3 kilowatt-hours. We haven’t got batteries yet so we are still drawing power from the grid between dusk and dawn, an average of 5.04 kilowatt-hours which is almost a 50% reduction in grid-electricity consumption. It also brings our grid-electricity consumption below what we were using in 2015, which means that our solar array is offsetting all of our energy needs for heating/cooling, stovetop cooking, and hot water.IMG_0016.JPG

Footnote Frivolity***, Going Green

Goodbye gas, we’re NOT going to miss you (part 2)

Last week, I posted my thoughts on not cooking with gas. This week, I’m going discuss our experiences with 2 more gas to electric appliance conversions:

HEATING AND COOLING

Before: 1980s Vulcan gas ducted heating, 2 x Chigo reverse-cycle heating and cooling, 1 x portable fan

After: 2 x Daikin reverse-cycle units, 1 x portable oil heater, 1 x portable fan

Tradie costs: $325 (electrician) and $200-400 (installation of reverse-cycle units)

In the past, the gas ducted heating provided heat indiscriminately to all corners of the house. The temperature gauge wasn’t very sensitive so the house was either freezing or balmy. The gas ducted heating also had to be turned on and off manually, so we usually left it running all night. On hot days, we tried to use the portable fan, reserving the power-suck of an old reverse-cycle unit in the lounge on unbearably hot days.

April and May 2016 have been unseasonably warm, but we’ve managed to get by with a programmed 30 minute burst of heat from the bedroom’s new reverse-cycle unit first thing in the morning and manually turning on the heat in the lounge room on the occasional nippy night. The air from the reverse-cycle unit that we’ve purchased is fairly dry, but I’ve figured out a setting which allows the unit not to blow air directly into my face. Hurrah for instruction manuals.

We only get energy-efficient heating in our bedroom and the living space, so we will probably need to use the portable oil heater in other rooms if it gets too cold, but at least we now effectively have ‘zoned’ heating.

In regards to cooling, it’s early days yet, but I’m hoping our newer, more energy-efficient units provide better bang per buck/kilowatt as well as better standby power consumption. I’m also hoping that our behaviour doesn’t change (i.e. going to town on the reverse-cycle cooling use).

HOT WATER

gas water heater

Before: Vulcan gas water heater

After: Sanden heat-pump

Tradie costs: $325 (electricians) and $1190 (plumber)*

Like many Melbourne homes, ours came with a gas water heater. I don’t have much to say about it. It was reliable and quiet, I guess.

Most people think of putting in electric-boosted solar hot water as the only greener option, but heat-pump technology (the stuff used in fridges and air-conditioners) is much more reliable than solar hot water in cooler climes (i.e. Hobart). It’s very efficient, and frees up roof-space for more solar panels.

We’ve opted for the Sanden heat-pump because it can be programmed to not draw power at certain periods of day (i.e. the middle of the night, when the ambient temperature is coolest). It’s very quiet, much quieter than a water pump or an air conditioner. It also needs only three hours to completely heat up a 315L tank. And, this is going to sound crazy, it only needed 15 minutes run-time before we got some running hot water!**

Cheap Geek has been monitoring our our electricity consumption and the heat pump seems to only use 400-500 watts per half hour.

The main thing I have against the new heat-pump is its footprint is much bigger than the old gas water heater. You will need to set aside room for the heat-pump as well as the tank, so it’s not a viable option if outdoor space is premium. The pump also needs electricity, which may not be readily available, especially if the previous water heater ran on gas (the joys of renovation logistics).


*These costs are offset in part by the government’s small-scale technology certificate (aka rebate).
**The installers who had not seen a heat-pump before were skeptical until they stuck their hand under the tap in the laundry.

Footnote Frivolity***, Going Green, mustbethrifty house, Reviews, Uncategorized

Goodbye gas, we’re NOT going to miss you (part 1)

Over the Christmas break, Cheap Geek spent a lot of time crunching numbers. He downloaded a year’s worth of electricity usage data from the power company, poured over utilities bills, and trawled through solar panel specs in an attempt to determine the whens and hows of breaking even with solar panel technology. At the end of it, he figured that

  • it would take us 9.5 to 10 years to recoup the initial estimated outlay*;
  • based on our consumption patterns, we could only achieve this if we also installed battery technology; and
  • getting rid of gas would effectively pay for 80% of the solar panels within ten years.

This project was of immense interest to him, so much so that he spent much of the next few months telling everyone and anyone about the financial merits of switching over to solar power. He even convinced my dad, a big Liberal, no-Greens-hogwash supporter, that solar power plus batteries was the way to go.

As of this Thursday, we are officially gas appliance free. These last couple of months have been a frenetic mess of tradesmen replacing gas hot water, gas ducted heating, and gas stove with reverse-cycle heating and cooling, induction stove, and hot water heat pump. Apart from reverse-cycle cooling, most of these technologies are still as fresh as the fresh air fanned out of a heat pump (brrrrr), and the average John Smith/Jane Doe might feel uncomfortable adopting them. Ripping out the gas stove sounded particularly traumatic to some of our acquaintances (especially the wok-loving ones)**.

So the rest of this post will be about my thoughts on changing over from various gas to electric appliances, starting with the

STOVE

Disconnected gas stove

Before: Bosch gas cooktop

After: AEG induction cooktop

Tradie costs: $165 (plumber) and $370 (electrician)

As per above, switching over from gas cooking to induction is the greatest mental hurdle. Cooking is so very personal and seeing flames lick the sides of a pot must fulfil some Neanderthal need within us. I’ve even had greenies ask me whether I miss my stovetop or not.

FYI: I don’t use a wok much as it is not conducive to batch cooking. I usually cook casserole-style dishes, soups, and roasts. I’ve just newly discovered pressure cooking, which really suits my one-pot mindset (less pots to clean) and doesn’t even require a stove. When  I do use the induction stove, I use it to make sauces, soups, stews. I fry eggs sunny side up, make an omelet, boil water/stock, cook meat.

What I love about the induction stove is the evenness and control. It is superior to gas when needing to cook food at low temperatures: heating milk, cooking eggs and fish. Sausages also cook more evenly.

The AEG stove that we bought also has some fancy eco functions. For instance, it will tell you if you can use the residual heat on the stove as a ‘keep warm’ function, and it can turn off power to an element just before the end of a timed cook, using the residual heat to continue cooking the food.

What I find hard to adjust to is the speed in which a pan will heat up. You can’t leave an empty pan heating on the stove (I manage to burn butter for the first time by heating up an empty saucepan and then dropping the butter into it). This could be overcome by using a heavy cast iron pot; these take much longer to heat up than my Baccarat Bio+***.

There also is a lot more steam produced; you can’t cook without turning on the exhaust fan. And you need to hold onto your lightweight pans when stirring the pot, so that the pans don’t move around, scratching the cooktop surface. Regular cleaning is also important: the bases of pots and pans need to be properly cleaned of grime/residue and the cooktop needs to be wiped down with a soft, damp cloth after each use.

In the next post, I’ll talk about our experience with reverse-cycle heating and cooling, and hot water heat pumps.


*This estimated outlay included new energy-efficient electric appliances, solar panels, batteries, electrical work to get solar power ready, plumber work needed for the removal of all gas appliances, and various installation costs.

**It didn’t take too long for me to find a new home for the gas stove, whereas the gas hot water and gas ducted heating seem destined for the scrap heap.

***You may need to upgrade your pots/pans if you don’t already own induction-compatible ones.

Going Green, mustbethrifty house

Invisible pelmets

Waaay back in March 2015, I expressed the need to retrofit pelmets to ‘reduce heat loss/gain from thermal convection’.

Matching fabric pelmets were not an option since the curtains I had purchased were secondhand. I could make my own discreet pelmets but the thought of looking up at a bit of plastic sarking every time I pulled back the curtains gave me the heebie-jeebies. Instead, I’ve held out, putting up with the heat/cold, and stayed on the lookout for a real Harry-Potter-and-the-Deathly-Hallows-style invisible pelmet.

Ecomaster sells a made-to-order invisible pelmet for $16 per metre. Basically, it is a piece of clear plastic which balances on top of the curtain rail/track and window frame.

I’ve bought one to try and am pretty happy with my purchase. My curtains still open and close unimpeded. Looking up, there’s a little bit of reflection and overhang:

invisible plastic pelmets from EcoMaster

And there is some glare above the pelmet:

glare from invisible pelmet
I really am nitpicking however. The pelmet is barely noticeable. And unlike fabric pelmets, it should be easy to keep clean. Yay to mostly invisible pelmets!

Footnote Frivolity***, Gardening on a Budget, Going Green, mustbethrifty house, Second-hand Scavengers

Planning, planting, & waiting for the harvest

While home improvements have limped along at the rate of our mortgage-handicapped savings accounts, the garden around our new home has flourished. Water-tanks are the main bit of hardscaping. However, we have also put in some Colourbond-and-rescued-cypress garden beds, constructed by a local up in Hurstbridge.

DSC00325

And I’ve saved the neighbour’s broken pavers, turning them into a garden path.

DSC00431

More importantly, I’ve been adding as many perennial edibles as I can. It started with turning an ivy-infested patch into a herb garden and ended with me feverishly researching every and any edible plant that might survive in Melbourne. Quandong, anyone?

The plants we have so far includes:

 …almond, apple, artichoke, asparagus, avocado, basil (perennial), beans (runner, and butter), blackberry (thornless), blueberries, cape gooseberry, caper bush, celery (wild), Chilean guava, chives, choko, cranberry, elderberry, fennel, fig, garlic, greenfeast peas, horseradish, kiwiberry, lemon verbena, lemon, lemongrass, lettuce, lime, marjoram, midyim berry, mint (Vietnamese fish, Vietnamese hot, common, and apple), native ginger, nectareze, onion (spring, Egyptian walking), orange, oregano, parsley (curly-leaf), passionfruit, pepino, pepperberry, pomegranate, potato, radishes, rhubarb, rosemary, sage (pineapple, common), salad burnett, samphire, strawberries (alpine and normal), summer squash, tea camellia, thyme, tomatoes…

 Most of these plants are nursery-bought*, a few have come from veggie-swaps. The fig is one of Dad’s strikings.

I’ve tried positioning plants based on their needs. For instance, the orange and the lime has been placed against a north-facing fence**, whilst the cranberry is partly shaded and receiving the occasional deluge from a downpipe. Working with nature, instead of against it, means less watering, fertilising, and need for pest-control. In other words, a garden that is less resource-hungry.

Years will pass before we bring in a decent harvest: the antithesis of today’s have-it-now culture. It’s definitely a bit of wishin’ and hopin’ in a My Best Friends’ WeddingVeggie Garden kind of way.


*Note to self: must learn how to strike cuttings, etc.

*We had to remove a unruly neighbours-be-gone hedge first. I’m looking forward to planting out the rest of our food hedge.

Footnote Frivolity***, Money Matters, mustbethrifty house

Gutter talk

Painted mission-brown, and made from galvanised steel, our gutters probably came with the house in 1965. However, as much as I love mid-century modern, gutters that leave puddles of water in front of the back door for me to step in, instead of delivering said water into the water tanks, is not cool. They had to be replaced, and soon.

Cheap Geek and I opted for continuous guttering in Colourbond steel. It was a little bit more expensive than the traditional ‘stick-length’ guttering, but it meant less wastage on installation. We also requested wider-than-standard downpipes. Downpipes with a large diameter should be able to cope better with a future climate-change-related ‘increase in the number and intensity of extreme rainfall events’ (via CSIRO)*.

Colourbond downpipe
Wider-than-standard downpipes installed in anticipation of climate change related weather weirdness.

The gutters went up 2 weeks ago and there are no more leaks on the back porch! We also found out from Alan Cuthbertson, a Sustainable House Day 2015 host, that drying your clothes inside in winter is a dumb idea: wet clothes on a clothes horse is pretty much a primitive evaporative cooling system. Chris Woodford from ExplainThatStuff! whilst detailing the science behind drying clothes, notes

…no matter how you dry clothes, you have to put in energy from somewhere to evaporate the water. Dry things outside and that energy comes for free from the Sun and the wind. Dry things on indoor radiators and the energy comes from your stove, gas boiler, or heating system. The laws of physics tell us that you cannot dry clothes for free indoors: the energy has to come from somewhere.

Clothes in a laundry basketSo drying the clothes on a non-leaky porch should, in theory, help reduce our heating costs. New guttering FTW!

*Thankyou Michael Mobbs for highlighting the need to prepare for climate-change-related storm events.

Footnote Frivolity***, Gen DIY-er, Going Green

Going batty: what do you do with one too many insulation batts?

It’s been 2 months since the last post and we’re warming up into spring. Cheap Geek still has not finalised the last bit of roof insulation, though I’m pretty sure we’ve got too many Green Stuf batts. Cheap Geek plans on stowing these above the original layer of insulation, but one batt already has the privilege of being stuffed up our chimney.

According to yourhome.gov.au, ‘heat energy goes up the chimney and large volumes of cold air are drawn into the room to replace it, creating cold draughts or removing heated air from nearby spaces.’ And with chimneys, not only does heated air get replaced by cold air, the resulting draught also makes you feel colder than it actually is.

Hence the need to put a bat(t) up the chimney:

Big Brown Bat perched on chimney by Cotinis
Image courtesy of Cotinis (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Cheap Geek measured up the chimney interior and trimmed the batt to size so that it would fit snugly without being squished*.  Once inserted, it blocked out most (if not all) draughts.

Before putting insulation in your chimney, make sure that it is hypoallergenic. Glass-wool batts, for instance, are not a good idea: they can shed irritant particles. Fires are also not a good idea whilst the insulation is in place.

There are purpose-designed products such as Chimney Sheep or Chimney Balloons that will keep the draughts out and the heat in but they’re nowhere near as fun as roping water bottles together whilst stylin’ in a beat up leather jacket and 80’s hairdo.

Macgyver
Image courtesy of fanpop.com.

*Condensing an entire batt will compromise its ability to insulate.