Category Archives: Household

My Personal Paris

The U.S. government will not save us from climate change.  The signs have been apparent long before Donald Trump took the oath of office and handed over the U.S. government to fossil fuel interests in a manner so brazen even Dick Cheney would blush.  The final nail in the coffin of the possibility of leadership from the U.S. government came with the decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

Make no mistake, the Paris climate accord was not going to be the tool with which to save the world from man-made climate change.  It was a first step in codifying a structure with which to address the issue in a constructive manner.  The current President of the United States does not understand constructive problem solving since it cannot be manhandled into a monosyllabic tweet at five o’clock in the morning.

The Paris climate accord was limited, but it was a start.  Just getting everyone to the table—save for Syria and Nicaragua at the time—was a major accomplishment.  Just getting everyone to agree that man-made climate change was a problem and that we should act was herculean.  We all can agree, however, that the Paris climate accord did not go far enough to address the problem and it does not include forcing functions for countries that fail to live up to the commitments made to the world.

Regardless, the framework of the Paris climate accord is irrelevant for those of us in the United States.  This does not mean that we have to sit idly by and watch as the world tries to address the problem.  I surmise that at this moment in history most of the tools that we need as a civilization exist for us to combat climate change and secure the future of Earth as a viable habitat for humanity.

Consider the following chart of the sources of carbon emissions in the United States:

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As an individual we have a hand in every slice of the pie with a more direct impact on some more than others.  It is our job as residents of the planet to figure out how we can meet or exceed the goals of the Paris climate accord without the agreement of politicians in Washington D.C.

Everyone has to figure out how they will act on a “personal Paris.”  Unlike almost any other time in recent history we have the tools to make meaningful change at a personal level.  Solar photovoltaic systems are cheaper now than ever and make economic sense in almost any market in the country.  Electric vehicles are now more common than ever before and accessible to a larger share of the population that at any other time in the short history of the technology.  Commuting can be reduced or eliminated via bicycling or telecommuting or just becoming an early retiree like all those couples living in vans on Instagram.

My point is that we have a plethora of options in order to address every slice of the emissions pie pictured above.  If you have the discretionary income there are options.  If you have extra time there are options.  If you need to save money there are options.  As I stated earlier, unlike any other time in recent history we have the tools available to use to make meaningful change.

We need to take responsibility for our actions and act in a correspondingly restorative way.  We need to become the change we want to see in the world.

Thinking about Household Electricity Consumption

As I dither about installing a solar photovoltaic system on my home I also spend a lot of time thinking about electricity consumption in general.

When I first contacted a few solar installers in my area—who have all been very responsive which is a sharp difference from other home service providers lately—all of the systems were sized far in excess of my needs.  I have written before about my household electricity consumption and it remains something that baffles me well into 2017.

The twelve month rolling average electricity consumption of my household is approximately 400 kWh.  It has been stable within 20 kWh of this number for about three years.  What does that number mean in comparison to the average U.S. and Iowa household?

According to the Energy Information Administration the average U.S. and Iowa households consume approximately 900 kWh and 847 kWh per month respectively.  What the hell are people doing with all of this electricity?

It is not as if I live in a small house without the use of many electric appliances.  We have a large-ish French door refrigerator, chest freezer in the basement, electric dryer, and an electric range.  When I lived in a house with a gas range, gas dryer, and no deep freeze the monthly average was below 200 kWh over the course of three years.

We use the air conditioning in the summer, although it is rarely icy like in some houses.  We cook at home all the time using the electric range and small appliances like my beloved Instant Pot.  There are two elementary school aged children in the house so we run through a lot of clothes that often times use the electric dryer.  Sure we turn off lights in rooms, have LEDs in all but a few fixtures, do not watch very much television, and generally exist in a somewhat analog entertainment world (e.g. books that are actually printed on paper occupy many an end table spot).

It makes me question the urgency to install a solar photovoltaic system.  Yes, such a system would divorce me from the somewhat dirty grid in Iowa where even though a large percentage of our electricity is wind derived much of the rest comes from coal.  However, would I be better off investing that capital in something else that might have more of an impact ecologically speaking?

Furthermore, if I am living a modern life at half of the juice—so to speak—of the average household in my state doesn’t that mean we have a lot of room to become more efficient without really sacrificing anything in terms of modernity?  Just some random—kind of like the Tweeter in Chief going off in the morning—thoughts for a Monday afternoon.

Little Clamping Tricks

When you are building things from plans on the internet sometimes you have to deviate and other times you have to improvise.  While building my version of the rustic x end table from Ana White I had a little conundrum with the securing of the decorative x on each side of the two tables.

These are not load bearing in any way, so the pieces are completely decorative but merely gluing and securing with a few pneumatically driven brads seemed a little light in terms of construction.  The pieces were to be glued using end grain which is notorious from being a poor holder of joints.  Ugh, first world problems.

I decided to secure each end of the x with a screw driven from the top or bottom leaving only two ends in the middle to be secured in another fashion.  One of the x pieces was also secured with a screw driven through the full length x piece.  The screw head would be hidden by the final x piece that was going to be glued into place.

The final problem that remained was how to glue the angled piece and clamp it securely.  I cut the end a hair long so that it would have to be nudged into place with a little assistance and clamped everything down using a pair of scrap wood pieces with angles cut corresponding to the x pieces:

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It’s not perfect and it is not pretty, but it carried the day.

Not Quite Ana White Rustic X End Table

If you spend any time on Pinterest looking for ideas of furniture to build you will come across Ana White.  She is like the patron saint of Pinterest’s DIY furniture community.  From rustic farmhouse furniture to close facsimiles of high end lifestyle retailer’s furniture the titular Ana White is a source for a lot of ideas on how to turn a weekend and a pile of 2x4s into something for your home.

Unhappy with what was commercially available for our in-process remodeling of a family room—which was transitioning from some well-worn IKEA items to something more to our liking—my wife and I began sliding down the rabbit hole of Pinterest.  In the interest of full disclosure, we knew we were going to end up building furniture because I already had a garage full of woodworking tools acquired over the process of remodeling two prior homes and helping lots of friends with casework, cabinets, and built-in project over the years.

We chose to build a modified version the Rustic X end table, which is part of the particularly popular “x series” of tables on the site.  The real fun began when we started to change all of the measurements.  How much fun?

Most end tables that we looked at were too tall and so was the end table we were planning to build.  So, off came two inches on the height taken from the legs which begat changing the measurements of the x brace.  The table was also quite large at approximately two feet by two feet square give or take.  So, off came six inches in width to get something that matched the proportions of our couch a little better.  If you have an overstuffed or large leather couch the proportions may work quite well, but it just did not in this case.

Another deviation from the plan is the top.  Instead of joining 5 2x6s together for the top I chose to create a flat top with 6 boards.  To eliminate any grooves between the boards I machined one long edge of the two end boards and both long edges of the four middle boards.  On each pass with the table saw I took off ~1/4” so that in the end the overall width was quite similar to what was in the plan.  After some time with a belt sander, random orbital sander, and a router equipped with a roundover bit the top came out like this:

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There are still some machining marks and imperfections in the wood and the result along the edge is far from uniform.  It is not quite as rustic as what was in the original plan, but I think that the lack of grooves between the boards will be welcome since none of that gunk from tables will end up accumulating in the spaces.  Please note that sawing through a dozen pieces of 1.5” thick wood is a task for a fairly robust table saw equipped with a high quality blade.  Some “consumer” table saws will gak after a few passes and the blades will produce some awful chatter marks on the machined edge.  Also, if you take this route get ready for some serious piles of sawdust.  My compost pile got quite the addition of material.

Additionally, I did not attach the top using screws from to bottom.  I chose to use a tabletop attachment bracket which will allow the large wooden top to expand and contract without placing undo stress on the rest of the construction.  In a lot of these DIY rustic plans there is little effort to take into account the movement of wood through the seasons which will lead to unsightly splits, joint separation, and warping in time.

All in all, the tables came out quite well for something that started with a pile of 2x4s and a plan from which we deviated quite a lot:

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As you can see from the pictures I also went with a more traditional stain and polyurethane finish as opposed to the weathering and wax that was used on many of the examples shown on Ana White’s website.  One, I did not feel that the grey to blue tone of the weathering would look particularly good against the blue to grey couch.  Two, polyurethane is a much more durable finish as opposed to wax and these tables will be the victims of coaster-less drinks.  Trust me, I have two children who never think to use coasters.

Next up is a version of the rustic x console as a sofa table for behind the sectional.

Carburetors are Black Magic

For those of you not familiar with history there was a time when gasoline powered engines of all stripes did not easily start on the first attempt and, depending on the weather, required a particular dance to maintain a smooth idle.  Before electronic fuel injection made our lives easier by eliminating carburetors from our lexicon we were forced to adjust chokes to fine tune a fuel air mixture and worry about things like jets getting gummed up with deposits from gasoline.

Anyone who waxes nostalgic for the days of carburetors is either lying, has no idea what a carburetor actually does, or enjoys spending afternoons swearing at small brass tubes with small holes punctured in them.  I am going to posit that most people are in the first group.

Carburetors are like black magic.  Somehow this crude assemblage of bulbs, floats, jets, needles, and what not is capable of mixing fuel and air into the appropriate ration to ensure combustion in our small engines.  On most modern small engines the manual choke has been eliminated in favor of automatic chokes using a variety of bi-metal arms to ensure operation.

When it is spring time and you wander out to garage and the mower does not start.  Is it the spark plug?  Maybe, considering my spark plug looked like this compared to a brand new spark plug:

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A few minutes with a 5/8” socket yielded…nothing.  The same sad burble as before.  Maybe the engine was not getting any air?  Given the condition of my old air filter that would not be unthinkable:

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Less than thirty seconds later I got…nothing.  This is the point when most people give up and load the mower for a trip to the small engine shop.  I come at this from a slightly different school of thought that says, “If you can’t fix it, you do not really own it.”  Some take that to mean that you have the option of having the item repaired by a professional as opposed to the item being essentially disposable.  While this is a laudable goal for all products, I want to control a little bit more of my destiny.

When your mower will not “turn over” in the spring try this trick.  Remove the air filter and spray some starter fluid directly into the air intake.  If your mower starts, but dies after a few turns of the crank it likely means that there is a problem with your carburetor.  This, dear friends, is within the skill set of a decently mechanical person, especially given excellent videos like this one on YouTube.

Here’s the deal.  I do not really understand how carburetors work, but I can take the thing apart, clean out some gunk, and put it all back together again.  I do not need to understand the method of operation very well to complete that task.  It’s still black magic to me.  The carburetor in my mower was covered in all kinds of filth.  The bulb where the gasoline goes before being mixed with air looked like the inside of a forgotten Brita filter.  The jets were clogged with a residue reminiscent of Slimer.  No wonder the mower refused to work.

Less than twenty minutes of time with a 10mm socket, a Torx set, and a can of carburetor cleaner left me with hands that smelled of various petrochemicals, a serious mountain of dirty paper towels, and a mower that fired up on the first try.  I have not touched the inner workings of a small engine since my senior year of high school, which was more than twenty years ago.

I detail this not to beat my chest—okay a little chest beating is in order—but to suggest that the skills and knowledge to repair a lot of the stuff in our lives is well within our reach.  We do not to call someone to repair everything that breaks and we do not need to buy new things every time something breaks.  We bought it, so if we break it we should learn how to repair it.

What’s in the Box: Nomadik March 2017

This month’s box from Nomadik came a few days later than usual due to a “supplier issue.”  It does not really matter that my box came in March or the first day of April, but it does change the publishing schedule slightly.

A bottle of ReviveX Durable Water Repellent:

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This is like the safe entrée at your go-to weeknight restaurant.  What person who spends more than a couple of days per year outdoors does not have some article of gear or clothing in need of a weatherproofing plus up?  Like the carabiner from last month’s box this stuff is just useful for those of us engaged in outdoor pursuits.  It might not even last until the second week of April if the rains in Iowa keep up and my daily raincoat starts lacking in repellency.

A Wild Hedgehog Tactical Ouch Pouch:

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Bonus points for an awesome name.  I do not know if a wild hedgehog is any more capable than a domesticated hedgehog.  Heck, I do not know the first thing about hedgehogs save for some cute pictures I have seen on Buzzfeed.

This little plastic pouch of first aid items is already in my outdoor go bag.  You know, the backpack that you grab for a short hike or day outside.  The one with the well-worn Nalgene bottles in mesh side pockets, a Leatherman, flashlight, and questionably aged Clif Bars.  Would I have spent $15 on one these pouches?  Probably not considering that I fall into the “rub some dirt on it” school of first aid practiced by sadistic Little League coaches from time immemorial.  However, I like having some of the options in case someone takes a spill on the next day of hiking at Palisades Kepler.

An Epic Wipe:

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It’s big.  Like the size of a wall poster big.  It’s a wet wipe.  Like the ones I used to have bags of floating around my house when my kids were in diapers.  If there is one thing I miss about my kids being in diapers it was being prepared for everything with the contents of a diaper bag.  The first time you realize you no longer have the diaper bag is a terrifying moment.  Why did I let me kids get tomato soup if I did not have the diaper bag?  Damn…

Like the aforementioned Ouch Pouch this thing is going into my outdoor go bag.  The odds it gets used before April is out is high.  Unlike the Ouch Pouch I can see myself purchasing a half dozen of these to have ready in case of messy disasters like tomato soup or another incident with a blue raspberry gas station slushy.

The GSI Infinity Backpacker Mug:

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It’s a mug.  It’s has a top.  It’s light.  What more is there to say really?

Made of polypropylene and wrapped in an insulating sleeve the Infinity Backpacker Mug is meant to be an alternative to heavier stainless or enameled mugs.  However, I think it will have a hard time competing with my RTIC Lowball.

Oddly, a copy of Rova was included in the bottom of the box:

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The magazine claims to be about the “adventure lifestyle,” but it looked more like a slick sheet for RV manufacturers.  Nothing about an RV park says adventure or lifestyle to me, but I may be jaded by passing so many sad looking RV parks on the way to Colorado.

What’s in the Box: Nomadik February 2017

Apparently I am a difficult person to buy gifts for owing to my general lack of things that I “need” and a vehement insistence that people do not need to buy me things to celebrate milestones like birthdays.  In the absence of direction a family member went out and purchased a six month “subscription” to Nomadik.

I am a little late to the entire subscription box idea.  What started as a way for makeup aficionados to have new products delivered to their door for a nominal price relative to the retail price of the goods in the box has morphed into an entire industry.  This industry caters to every possible niche imaginable.  Nomadik is the subscription box that centers its offering around adventurers.  The target market is the type of person who travels, reads Outside, considers a ski pass to be a good investment…oh shit, that sounds like me.

So, what is in the box:

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The Parks Project “Park Watcher” beanie is a comfortable, if somewhat standard, knit beanie for those cold mornings:

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The idea here, in my estimation, is that I am being exposed to the Parks Project brand.  It’s interesting.  Parks Project sells items—usually clothing—for which the proceeds will benefit projects within a particular national park or generically the national parks in general.  Love Rocky Mountain National Park?  Buy the t-shirt and support habitat restoration.  Maybe in an era when Donald Trump is directing the federal budget such private support will become more critical than ever before.

Plus, the beanie is “Made in the U.S.A.”  In these times of Trumpian bloviating and blustering it is good to find something that would meet with the approval of the Donald.

Nomadik included three Ritual Energy peanut butter and chocolate caffeinated energy snacks:

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These little buggers claim to contain the same amount of caffeine as a single cup of coffee, which I have always found to be a problematic unit of measure given the differences in brewing coffee.  My grandmother’s coffee probably had about a tenth the amount of caffeine as a regular cup of coffee because she used so few grounds and what was there was cut with chicory.  My friend makes a pot of coffee with about a half pound of grounds, so I imagine these would not have the same impacts.  As of right now, Ritual Energy only offers these little nuggets of caffeinated goodness in a single flavor.  My intent is to pack these for my upcoming ski trip and use them on mountain.  Risky?  Sure, but so is strapping wooden sticks to your feet and sliding down a mountain covered in frozen water.

What person do you know that spends any times outdoors that cannot find a use for another carabiner:

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The Mizu collapsible shot glass is kind of a throwaway for me:

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I rarely drink anything that would come in a shot glass sized serving preferring drip coffee over shots of espresso and IPAs over shots of Fireball.  It might however make a nice little re-gift option for my friends who do tend to favor the harder stuff.

Overall, a winner with the beanie, a couple of so-so items, and a throwaway in the shot glass.  A bonus is that included in the box were coupon codes for the Parks Project and Ritual Energy, so if you were a fan you could feed your need for a little less money.  I am interested to see what future boxes hold over the next five months, but I am not totally sold on the concept right now.