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.

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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***, 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.

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

Winter has come: bring on the insulation

On Sunday, Melbournians woke up to the coldest morning in 18 years. Thanks to central heating, our Mustbethrifty House was toasty warm throughout the night.

However, if it weren’t for roof insulation, we would have shivered regardless of heating. I know this from our experience a couple of months back when Cheap Geek removed the loose fill insulation from our roof, after he suspected it of triggering off my allergies. It was autumn and the weather was still mild; we had the heating turned up and were huddled together on the couch, wrapped up in blankets.

Installing Green Stuf batts in the roofCheap Geek started laying down Green Stuf, a hypoallergenic* polyester batt. He installed insulation for half of the house**, then took a break for a couple of weeks before finishing off the rest. During those weeks, we noticed the change when moving from one part of the house to the other and the thermometer recorded differences of 0.5 to 1 degrees C.

Like most DIY jobs, the insulation is not 100% installed yet, but it’s enough to keep our heating in.


*While the Green Stuf is hypoallergenic and does not require protective equipment, Cheap Geek developed dermatitis on his arms and hands from coming into contact with residual loose fill. It’s best to wear a mask, gloves and a long-sleeved top when installing batts in the roof.

**No super special tools required: scissors, a couple of good camping lamps/torches and a trusty ladder…

Going Green, Money Matters

The indirect cost(s) of double glazing

The guys from Ecostar Double Glazing installed our fancy schmancy double-glazed windows earlier in the week. The house is much quieter now. While some noise still comes through, we’re able to watch TV with a 30% lower volume.

Double glazed window from Ecostar
One of our new double-glazed windows.

There’s also a noticeable difference in how the house heats up and cools down. After a warm day, the internal temperature usually drops in the evening, but with double glazing, the heat is trapped inside. The only way to release it is to open up the windows. Fortunately, Ecostar’s windows are designed to maximise ventilation.

Opening the windows to allow air in/out
The window swings out and slides down, making the most of convection currents. Warm air escapes out through the top and cool air gets drawn in through the lower gap.

Unfortunately, our $13k+ windows do not come with flyscreens*. What’s even more unfortunate is that silly us picked casement windows instead of double hung windows. While casement windows are Ecostar’s cheaper option, they can only be fitted out with costly flyscreens.

Normal flyscreens that fit on the outside of a window or on the inside of a window with a winder usually cost as little as $50 to order and install (via Doorite Screens). Normal flyscreens do not fit on casement windows that have extruding handles; only magnetic or retractable flyscreens are compatible. Magnetic flyscreens are the cheaper option, costing approximately $150 per screen. Retractable flyscreens will set you back $280 to $430 per smallish window**. Ask for Tuff Mesh (aka Cat-Proof) and you’re looking at a 15% markup. Gulp. 

The windows are also devoid of dressings, which means that while minimal ambient heat is transferred through the glass, direct solar gain is still a concern in summer. Plus living in a fishbowl kind of sucks. We’ll soon need to fork out for awnings and blinds/curtains for the windows facing north and west***.  Double gulp.

This double glazing thingy is going to end up costing more than our wedding. Thank goodness for little red packets.


*Still, we did get a very good deal on our windows. The installers from Ecostar told Cheap Geek that they had worked on a similar job which set the owner back $20k. By capitalising on Ecostar’s end-of-year and sign-up-on-quotation discounts, we saved ourselves thousands of dollars.

**Like a good Must Be Thrifty, I got basic phone quotes for ‘a small window’ from four different companies.

**By the way, does anyone know what type of window dressings are the most thermally efficient in both winter and summer?