Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Beating the heat; and the cold.

Once again, this post is Sharon's fault. She posted a bit a couple days ago about facing a future with highly erratic fuel costs- making your choice of how to heat your home pretty significant. The subject came up because apparently, worry warts are already eagerly worrying about the unpredictable price of next winter's fuel.

In the comments, the idea of putting bubble wrap on your windows as a way to decrease heat loss came up- and it turns out Sharon's family already does this.

I may have a better trick; at any rate it's certainly a different one, useful in other situations.

We cover our windows- very tightly- with "space blankets" during extreme weather- either hot (blanket outside) or cold (blanket inside). (Our definition of extreme- colder than -10°F/-23°C, or hotter than 100°F/38°C.)

We use the very inexpensive ones inside; the ones that are just a piece of mylar with aluminum vapor deposited on one side- those can run as cheap as $2.50 for a 4 foot x 8 foot piece. The ones with a more complex construction and tough fiber reinforcement run around $12, but if it's going to be subject to wind, you'll need it.

The outdoor ones come with grommets installed- you can position them over any window that is letting sunlight into the house (shiny side out!), and drastically cut your heat gain.

The indoor ones are fragile, and tear easily- handling them is a job for an adult, or you'll run through them quickly. Well handled though, one blanket can easily last 5 years. A torn piece can be pretty easily mended with any kind of tape, even Scotch.

What we do is put 1" long pieces of self- adhesive velcro tape on the inside of the window frame. Clean the frame well beforehand; finishing with isopropyl alcohol; this is permanent. We usually put the hook part on the window frame, and the pile on the mylar (less abrasive in storage.)

Then, put the mating pieces to the velcro on top of those in place on the window frames- and expose the adhesive. You need to determine which side of the blanket has the aluminum on it- for two reasons. That's the side you want inside, for best reflection; and - the velcro tape will not stick to the aluminized side- it'll just strip the aluminum off, and you'll have to do it over. (I would know.)

Have a good idea of how your piece is going to fit. (If it needs to be cut, we usually try to cut it after this next step; more efficient; leaving bigger pieces for other windows.) Start in any convenient corner, and press a corner of the blanket onto the sticky tape; leaving a good margin of blanket to cover the window thoroughly, including cracks.

Press it in hard; hold your thumb on it for 30 seconds or so to heat it a little. Then; gently stretch the blanket to the next corner, and repeat. You want the blanket to be stretched quite taught when you are done. The velcro is somewhat forgiving- you don't have to match pile and hooks exactly, so you can increase the stretch when you are re-mounting the blanket on the window. Don't pull it too tight during the initial fitting, or you can pull the bottom velcro off the window frame.

Leave the blanket in place for 24 hours if possible, to allow the adhesive plenty of time to really set up. When removing the blanket, you need to work your fingers in between each pair of velcro tabs- just trying to pull on the blanket to get a tab to let loose is guaranteed to tear the blanket eventually. Find the junction between the hook and the pile pieces with your finger nail, then wiggle your finger between- no stress on any of the components.

This REALLY cuts the heat loss from windows- when we put them up in winter, it feels like standing in front of a stove when it goes up. When the blanket is reasonably taught, it will act to cut convection and conduction losses through the glass, acting as another storm window. It doesn't have to be perfect to make a big difference. If you have a very drafty window, you can increase the effectiveness of the blanket by adding velcro tabs in between the corners, holding it down tighter.

And, of course, it cuts radiative loss by around 80%. You can easily make that 90% if you want to- by using a double layer of mylar.

Another huge benefit- when the space blankets go up- your winter house becomes much brighter inside. It also makes the house feel smaller- which can be cozy in a cold snap. I should point out- here in the Little House, our windows do not have curtains or blinds. We want to see the world- and there's no one to peek in. Doing this on windows with accoutrements is liable to be a little more tricky; but still doable.

We take the blankets down when it's sunny- to let the sun and heat in; and to help prevent cabin fever. It's easy to release the velcro; fold the blanket and put it into a 1 gallon ziplock bag; and keep it next to its window.

For summer- label each bag, and store away with the winter hats and gloves.

I think this is very likely to be more effective than the bubble wrap, which cuts no radiative loss to speak of, and varying amounts of convective and conductive.

Of course- if you use BOTH - you could probably cut your fuel needs drastically!


The other problem with bubble wrap of course, is that 13,341 children were murdered by their parents last year for chronic bubble wrap popping. They just can't help it, it seems. The little kids love to jump on it, and the big kids love to pop it between their fingers. Parents sometimes just snap.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Whole Planet Picnic Time

Typically, time has snuck up on me. Surprise- the Summer Solstice is tonight: 5:45 Coordinated Universal Time- which translates into 45 minutes after midnight here in Minnesota.

I think.

In any case- we're having our Whole Planet Picnic here tonight, Saturday, bonfire and friends.

If you're not familiar with this concept, start off with the link above, and then use the site search tool to look for a bunch of different posts on "planet picnic".

We're still doing it- hope those of you who've participated in the past can again (in spite of the insanely short notice- you could also do it on Sunday, of course, since technically that's the official solstice date...)

Zooming off; have to get some mowing done before it gets hot- we're supposed to hit 85°F today; probably our hottest day of the year so far.




Tuesday, June 16, 2009

And the winnah-

Good job, everybody! No dumb guesses among them; but- ADAM had it right.

I just got finished tearing it down and rebuilding it; and indeed TWO golf cart batteries in one quadrant (it's arranged as 4 batteries in parallel (one quadrant) with two quadrants in series; giving 12 volts; then two halves in series giving 24) were really shot, putting out 3 volts at no load. The other batteries in that quadrant were only putting out 4.5 by now; but probably due to massive over loading; hopefully they'll recover.

Those symptoms mean some battery or cell in the arrangement is dead; and pulling everybody else in the system down with them. About 90% of the time. The other answers folks came up with could yield very similar symptoms- but are going to be much rarer occurrences.

One of the esoteric facts that it helps to know- a "dead" lead acid cell will usually read full high voltage- immediately when a charging current is applied. But- in fact it is not accepting the charge; it's dead. So when a load (greater than the charging current) is applied- it will very quickly drop down to a bad number- like 22V.

When I left the battery bank; after 45 minutes of 28 amps charging from the diesel generator; to try to bring some of the drastically low batteries a little back in line; the computer was reading 26.5 VDC; under a 3 amp load (heat lamp for chicks). Which is really pretty good.

If the bank is fixed (sort of) - in the morning, I will expect it to read around 24.5 or so, before the sun hits the panels. That should mean it'll hold up for a while; though some of the batteries that were pulled way down by the dead cells may prove to be too damaged, in the long run.

The batteries that went bad- were some of the newest. And in the next quadrant; some of the oldest (back to 2001!) are still holding a steady 6.3V; even after working with dead cells in the system. My guess is- the quality had declined.

ALL experts on solar system battery banks say: "NEVER put new batteries into a bank with old batteries! Your new cells will be pulled down to the function level of your worst cells- and their life will be shortened."

Fine. True. But I think those guys are not paying for the 16 golf cart batteries themselves.

I just can't afford to replace the bank, when one battery goes south. If I did; I'd have bought about 4 sets of 16 by now. Instead of which, I've bought about 2.2 (since 1994). Which is a bloody great lot cheaper.

One thing I forgot- when the bank is under stress and out of balance; some of the batteries will wind up using a lot more water than others. I found several cells with the water out of sight below the plates. Naughty. And; my backup distilled water supply was not adequate; I eventually put almost 3 gallons of distilled water into the bank; quite a lot; and I had to go in to town to get it.

Had to; though; the chicks were without heat! If I'd thought a little further, we could have bought extra water at the same time as we got the batteries. Duh.

The revolt of the machines continues, too- my multi-meter; really needed to check the exact status of each battery- worked super until I got the two really dead batteries out, and the new ones in. And then it quit working. And I wanted to do a little more checking; of course. I'm hoping it's just a dead battery. Hm. It DID let me finish the critical work. Maybe it's actually on my side?

And. The diesel backup generator- has a new rattle. Under load; but not when idling.


Monday, June 15, 2009

A little quiz for you all-

In keeping with my revolting machinery- I've got a problem with my greenhouse battery bank.

The greenhouse is powered entirely by solar panels (with diesel backup we rarely use); and of course when off grid, that means a big battery bank. In our case, it's 16 golf cart batteries, hooked up to give nominal 24VDC .

So; here's the problem. We've got chicks in a brooder again, which means a load for a heat lamp all night long. Stressful on the batteries, but well within normal specs.

But- right now, on a sunny day, the voltage on the electric system computer reads 25.6 V - when the sun is shining on the panels. 25-26 volts while charging is good. Actual "full battery" voltage under charge is going to be over 28V. But; if a cloud passes over, and the panels are receiving only partial input- the system voltage (with loads running) drops quickly to: 22.3 V; a very bad number.

Now, I know exactly what that means, and am going to be working on fixing it next time it rains.

But- do YOU know what it means? I think it would be good for you to know. Someday; you may need this information. Allowing the battery bank to continue in this state for very long can drastically harm all the batteries, and cut their capacity and life very seriously.

So. What is the problem? I think I'm going to let answers accumulate for a day before putting them up- so none of your comments will be public until tomorrow. So you can't peek!

Friday, June 12, 2009

"In Transition" movie

The Transition Movement is working on a movie- and it's going to be available from the web for another 36 hours or so-

If you're interested in Transition, but don't know too much about it- this is a really good introduction.

Movie is called In Transition, and runs for 60 minutes. You'll need a fairly fast connection; not for dial-up, I think.

It's aimed at folks who are not up to speed on climate and oil stuff; so you may find yourself going "yeah, yeah, I know that already..." :-)

But- what it does show, that is really heartening- is the huge number of people already doing this; and sticking to it.

It's impressive; and a ray of hope when those are very hard to come by right now.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Whistling girls...

My mother taught me this rhyme-

Whistling girls, and crowing hens
Always come to some bad ends.

She was explaining why she couldn't whistle, when I was around 6, and fiercely trying to learn how.  When she was a kid- any girl that whistled would be faced with that chant from the other school kids.  So girls pretty much didn't.

This is not a post about post feminist posting, however.

It's about crowing hens.  I think we've got one.

You'll remember, if you're following closely, that a while back I was puzzling over the sex of our Dominique bird. 

We'd pretty much decided that it was a she- based on the appearance of two types of chicken eggs in the coop.  The shape is different from the guineas; rounder on both ends; and the texture of the shell is quite different, the guinea eggs having what look like rather large pores scattered about while the chicken eggs look more like smooth porcelain to the naked eye.  We were getting one "big" and one "banty" sized chicken egg, nearly daily; and since we have only 3 chickens, and Kanga is definitely all rooster- the math seemed simple.

Then, two weeks ago- I heard two roosters crowing at the same time.  The math was still the same.  3 chickens.  Two crowing.   And then I saw the Dominique actually crow; several times.  What the hay.

So yesterday we found two new chicken eggs- one definitely banty sized- and with the light brown color we've gotten used to there.  And one much larger- and a darker brown.  

Well; heck.  So DO hens sometimes crow?  Is Silly Sally, the Dominique, actually a cross dressing hen?  Spice wants to rename her/him Saleddie.  We hope Eddie Izzard will approve.
(R-rated language there)

Meanwhile- anybody have experience with crowing hens??  Do they exist?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My machines are revolting.

I've spent the last 4 days in machine hell.  Okay, it's only the 3rd level; but it's still hell.

First- my computer died.  Spent a day trying to fix it myself.  Nope.  So then had to spend a day taking it 130 miles to the nearest Apple store- where, in fact, they fixed it under warranty in 3 hours.  Needed a new internal hard drive.  And they apologized for that.

Then it took a day to re-tune the computer; even with a good backup to restore from, there's still a little stuff here, and there, that's not quite right.

Then, this morning- I tried to shift our cooking back to propane, after a couple days on wood (very chilly right now) - but; the connector is now leaking gas, very noisy, very fast.  I don't see why, yet- but it's unusable.

I could, of course, go back to wood... except; we just had 2" of rain, and it's all wet.  Our normal stash of dry wood had been allowed to get low, for the summer- and we used it all...

So- I need my chainsaw, to cut some more dry wood.  Except- the cap on the oil reservoir leaks like crazy just now.  Need a new one.  Means a trip to town- 30 miles...

I want my coffee.


Even off the grid- we depend on machines.  I will live without my coffee, in June, of course.  But in winter- we really need to own two chain saws.  In case.

Oh, yeah, and Spice had a flat tire on the pickup; and the pickup power steering is out on the left side...  but those are just women's problems.  No biggie.  (nudge nudge, wink wink.)