Category Archives: Household

The Downside of Ditching Single Use Items

When you decide to ditch single use items in your daily life there is a downside that no one ever mentions in those cutesy Buzzfeed click bait lists of “15 Items to Get You to Ditch Disposables.”  The downside is so many dishes.  And almost all of it is hand washed.

Replace your children’s disposable sandwich bags with reusable silicone bags?  Get ready to hand wash four of those things with a bottle brush every day, five days a week.

Replace water bottles with Hydro Flasks?  Get ready to scrub those out every couple of days for fear that the insides will begin to resemble a middle school science experiment gone wrong.

Replace paper coffee cups at work with a stainless steel mug?  Get ready to bring that home every couple of days to wash out the gunk from whatever that coffee is in the communal kitchen.

It just adds up to so many dishes.  Combined with a maniacal focus the past six months on home cooked meals and I feel like my life revolves around dishes.  Not cooking meals, but cleaning dishes.  A family of four trying to not use any single use, disposable items goes through a ton of dishes.  Like running the dishwasher and hand washing a pile of stuff every day.

However, the addition of kitchen work pales in comparison to what you might have been throwing away.  Just think about the plastic bags in my kids’ lunches.  A week would equal 20 disposable bags.  That is over 80 disposable bags per month.  I might only be on week 3 of using a reusable alternative, but I think it is worth it.

Don’t even get me started on the stainless steel coffee mug that I have been using in the office since 2001.  Yes, my coffee mug is old enough to head off to college.

Advertisements

September 2019 Solar PV and EV Numbers

The past month was surprisingly similar to the same month the year prior:

Sept 2019 solar

Almost 416 kWh of clean, green electricity from the funky yellow sun.  All in, including 100% of my EV charging needs, I ended up down ~122 kWh for the month.  The weather was schizophrenic this month bouncing from cool fall weather to hot and humid.  The third week of the month felt like the dog days of August with 90 degree temperature readings and similar humidity levels.  Needless to say, the air conditioning got turned on to cut that down a little bit.  Until that point I was running ahead in terms of production versus consumption.

For the month I drove my Nissan Leaf EV 755.1 miles with an average efficiency of 5.9 miles per kWh.  For the month I required ~128 kWh of electricity for my mobility.  Compared with the F150 that the Leaf replaced, I avoided emitting ~879 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere assuming that I drew electricity from the grid at an average carbon intensity for my region.

For the first nine months or so of the year—my Leaf arrived the second week of January—I have driven a total of 5,893 electric miles at an average efficiency of 5.2 miles per kWh.  The total C02 emissions that have been avoided versus the F150 that the Leaf replaced are 6,733 pounds thus far.  Again, this assumes 100% of charging occurs from the grid with an average carbon intensity for the region.

Interestingly, the total amount to charge my Nissan Leaf for the month–~128 kWh—was about how much I was “down” for the month in terms of solar production.  This aligns with my original estimates where my initial sixteen panel PV array would provide ~100% of my electricity needs.

As the weather turns cool and the pumpkin spice flows freely I am waiting on an install date for the solar array expansion.  The plan is to add 8 360 watt panels to my existing 16 290 watt panel array.  This represents a ~59% increase in solar capacity and given the new panels will be on the same azimuth it should represent the same amount of increase in terms of actual production.

The increase in solar array capacity should account for more than 100% of my Leaf’s charging needs and provide a cushion of excess production for additional electrification.  The future is electric.

A Seriously Large “Craft” Table

Sometime in the past my wife and I considered building a bar in our finished basement.  It is a large room—approximately 40 feet long by 16 feet wide with a nook that increases the space even more—that is used infrequently.  There is a large television, like every other house in America it seems, but it is turned on maybe once a week.

Our two kids have aged out of “baby toys,” so we sold the old play table that I built and the toy storage bins from IKEA that dominated one half of the room.  As it sat empty we returned our thoughts to building a bar.

Like every starry eyed couple on HGTV we discussed using the space to entertain, even though we do not entertain, and were hopeful that it would become a space where our kids would spend time as they grew up instead of disappearing to friends’ houses.

In reality, what we really wanted was a large flat space to contain art projects, wrapping at Christmas time, in-process LEGO builds, and whatever creation our son starts to dream up with whatever found materials he brings out of his room.  It was never about a bar, per se, but rather a large kitchen island that could serve multiple functions.

With that realization the discussion turned to building an ersatz kitchen island that would not require a major construction project (e.g. plumbing that required breaking concrete, flooring being removed, etc.).  Enter the Modern Craft Table over at Ana White.

This is the completed Modern Craft table:

IMG_20190908_111904163

A lot of modifications have been made to this particular plan.  Let’s go over a few of the major differences:

  • Adjustable shelves:

IMG_20190908_111956511

Each end—total of four—has two or three adjustable shelves that sit on ¼” chrome shelf pins:

IMG_20190908_111947711

The holes were drilled using a JIG IT shelving jig.  If you are drilling shelf pins with any regularity get one of these.

  • Wider bases with a set of shelves on either end:

IMG_20190908_111919707

This is a modification that was made by a number of people on the “brag board” on Ana White’s website, so I cannot take credit for the idea.  It does provide for a wider base, which allows for the larger top described below.

  • Larger top made with double stacked ¾” plywood that has been edge banded with runners underneath to provide additional rigidity and sag resistance:

IMG_20190908_112025668

The top is similar in construction to what was used on a prior furniture project.  The 2”x2” runners along the bottom provide rigidity to the center of the top preventing sagging over time.  Like so many furniture projects we have built over the years this top got a little out of hand.  It weighs a lot.  How much?  It is well over 100 pounds.  This is not flat pack particle board construction.

The table is big.  How big?  The top measures 85.5” by 49.5” edge to edge.  Yes, that is almost the dimensions of a 4’ by 8’ sheet of plywood.  It is also double stacked for strength and stability.  This sucker is not going anywhere.

The end result is a craft table that can comfortably seat four at counter height chairs with plenty of room for whatever project is in process.  The real problem is now that the far wall looks a little bare with a floating shelf of kids’ artwork the vestigial reminder of pre-school classes.  We are already looking at a variety of plans to complete our basement build.  Stay tuned.

Beyond Beef Taco Night

If you have school aged children in any sort of activities you understand the struggle of dinner.  The solution, in my house, is taco night.  A few minutes of prep with some ground beef and a bevy of on hand ingredients mean a quick dinner before running out the door to dance or soccer practice or band…you get the idea.

However, ground beef is an ethical and environmental conundrum.  Regardless of how the animal is raised the production of ground beef results in the death of a cow.  No amount of time on pasture can change this fact.  Furthermore, most cows are raised in conditions that most people find deplorable.  Feedlots and CAFOs are horrible places.  Just driving by one on the interstate can make a person consider becoming a vegan.

America just loves ground beef.  More than half of the beef we consume in this country is in the form of ground beef.  Be it hamburgers, sloppy joes, loose meat sandwiches, chili, etc. Americans eat a lot of ground beef.  Estimates are hard to come by, but the clearest numbers I have seen put our annual consumption north of 30 billion pounds of ground beef consumed in the United States per year.  Most of that ground beef (>80%) comes from feedlot cattle.

This is the market that companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are trying to disrupt with their plant based alternative “hamburgers.”  The ground beef market is not just hamburgers thought and that is where Beyond Meat’s Beyond Beef product comes into play:

IMG_20190909_164557141

It comes out of the package looking a little bit like a brick of protein:

IMG_20190909_164916408

After a few minutes on medium-high heat the protein begins to break up into that recognizable crumble:

IMG_20190909_165628074

A package of taco seasoning and a little bit of water gives you a pan full of taco meat.  It all worked just like cooking a pound of regular ol’ ground beef.

So, what is the verdict?

The process is the same as cooking traditional ground beef.  That is a wash.

The flavor is…close.  The texture is…close.  I do not know if it is psychological because I knew it was not actual ground beef or if it is something in the formulation.  It was just a little off in the same way that some meatless burger patties are off.  Perhaps it is the uncanny valley of fake meat.  No longer are we in the trough of the uncanny valley where the simulated product is off by enough to make it truly disturbing.  Instead we are climbing toward true meat replacements in every facet that only lack a few traits.

This has to be what is scaring traditional meat producers into strong arming state legislatures to pass laws banning the word meat or burger or whatever from faux meat products.  When someone who is conscious of the ethical and environmental impacts of meat production is given an alternative that has none of those concerns their choice is going to be easy.  If the meat alternative is close enough in taste and texture than it is a slam dunk for a larger percentage of the population.  Like Republicans holding onto an ageing base of older, rural, white Americans at the expense of a changing national demographic the meat industry is facing an existential crisis brought on by a competitor.

Beyond Beef is not cheap.  At my local coop it cost $9.99 per pound.  Compare that to a pound of grass fed, grass finished beef produced in Minnesota that costs anywhere from $6.99 to $8.99 a pound from the same retailer.  Consider it the cost of being an early adopter.

This is What the Future Looks Like

People frequently ask me what I think the future looks like.  Rarely do I provide a coherent answer because what I think will happen is constantly changing based on the conditions of the day.  There do exist some constants, however, and solar power is one of those constants.

Why?  For one, it is easy.  Once the panels are installed your array will just sit on your roof producing electricity regardless of what you do.  When you go to work the panels produce electricity.  When you go on vacation the panels produce electricity.  It is the ultimate in “set it and forget it” environmentally beneficial behaviors.

Second, you can see the impact at a household level.  If my utility purchased electricity produced by wind turbines I have no real concept of what that means to me.  Was 15% of my electricity produced by the wind?  More?  Less?  However, with solar panels installed you get a very local idea of how much energy you have produced versus how much you have consumed.  Witness this portion of my latest utility bill:

Electricity Usage House September.png

Notice the lack of green bars from April through August?  That signifies my solar array produced all or more of the electricity that I consumed during that period.  Sometimes my math and the utility company’s math will not align because billing periods do not align with calendar months but the general outlines agree.

Now, imagine approximately 60% more solar photovoltaic capacity being added to this chart.  The contract has been signed, the check has been sent, the plans have been approved, and the panels are waiting in a local warehouse for my system expansion.  I am just waiting to hear when the installers are scheduled to make it happen.

This is what the future looks like.

A Great Month for Solar Production, Electricity Consumption, and EV Efficiency

At last!  In August 2019 my solar photovoltaic array produced more than the same month in prior years.  I was somewhat consigned to a reality where my best days of solar production were behind me, but August came to the rescue:

Image-1 (4)

All in, my household ended up 179 kWh “up” in terms of electricity production minus consumption.  Remember, this includes all of my EV miles as well.  For the year I am creeping back toward being even in terms of production minus consumption after some awful months in the dead of winter.  During that period of time my solar array was covered in nearly a foot of wind driven snow and our electricity usage was high due to crazy low temperatures.  Normally August is a heavy month for air conditioning use.  Our HVAC system has been idle since the first week of month.

For the month of August my total miles driven in the Nissan Leaf was depressed by not being home for a little more than a week.  In the end I drove 531.2 miles at an average efficiency of 6 miles per kWh.  Compared to my truck and assuming power is drawn from the electricity grid, I saved ~620 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Since bringing the Nissan Leaf home I have driven a total of 5,138 miles and save 5,854 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released.  Using the most conservative method of calculating savings—which assumes all electricity comes from the grid as opposed to my solar panels—I have saved just under $727 in fuel costs alone.

Knocking it Out of the Park with EV Efficiency…Solar Not So Much

There are times when driving my second hand Nissan Leaf feels like I am working on cracking a code.  Change one behavior (e.g. turning on the heat) and relative efficiency takes a nose dive.  Adjust a few things (e.g. make sure to drive with the car set in “B” mode) and it seems like you can do no wrong.  Ambient air temperature, type of driving, route choice…on and on it goes.

I am certain that it is the same for a traditional ICE vehicle or even a Tesla, but when you are limited to a little more than 100 miles on a full charge there is a hyper heightened awareness to how quickly the “guess o’ meter” depletes.  However, it was a lot less of a concern this month as I averaged 6.1 miles per kWh for just a tenth of a mile over 900 miles.  That works out to a little less than 148 kWh of electricity consumed and ~1,053 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions avoided versus driving my truck.

Since January I have driven 4,607 EV miles at an average efficiency of 5.1 miles per kWh.  This correlates to ~5,234 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions avoided versus driving my truck.  As I have said before this assumes that I draw all of my power from the grid as opposed to generating it on site with my solar panels.  Based on gasoline prices I have saved about $650 just in fuel since January.

Speaking of solar photovoltaic production, July was a fairly good month:

Image-1 (3)

720 kWh for the month is good.  It is a little bit less than the same month during the prior year, but I would say that it is within the margin of error.  It is not like this is January and February where snow covered my panels up to a foot deep some times.

All in my household consumption ended up about 26 kWh more than my production.  Included in my household consumption numbers are almost all of my EV charging, so without the Nissan Leaf in the garage we would have ended up over 100 kWh.  Granted, that would mean I was spewing carbon dioxide from the tailpipe of my truck.  I will take the trade.

Unlike some summer months we were home for every weekend and took no trips.  Furthermore, for the entire month of July we went out to eat once.  I feel fairly good about making all but one meal at home, charging my electric car, running the air conditioning when it got really hot, and still managing to almost be even in terms of household electricity consumption versus solar electricity production.  It is my hope that in the next month I will adding about 60% more solar photovoltaic capacity to my roof.