Friday, March 01, 2013

One Good Thing About the Sunshine State ...

... is that there's quite a bit of sunshine, and a reasonable amount of wind. I'm trying to make as much use of them as possible.

I just got the electric bill for our first full month. $118.

That's not terrible, considering there's no gas bill (it's an all-electric trailer), and considering we used both central air and central heating at various times (I should have kept a diary, but my guess is that the air ran for at least a couple of hours during the day, at least 15 days out of 30, and that the heat ran for several hours at night, at least 10 nights out of 30).

I expect that as spring winds up and summer approaches, it's going to get more expensive, so I'm looking at ways to control that.

We'll be picking up some fans and trying to work out a good air circulation setup so that we can do without air conditioning most of the time (by "we," I mean "everyone else in the family" -- I acclimate well), but the gains to be had in this way are minimal. Tamara and the kids prefer comfort to the stoic acceptance required for lower utility bills for some unknown reason.

I've laid down the law on televisions, game consoles, etc. -- if I see them left on when not in use, they'll disappear until an understanding is reached. I think there's room for at least $20 a month in savings right there*.

Another issue is lighting. I've replaced a few of the most frequently used incandescent light bulbs with CFLs already, but even with lower power consumption, I spend a lot of time turning off lights that others leave on. And most of those lights put out more lumens than I really want, even from fixtures reduced from two 60-watt incandescents to a single equivalent CFL.

So, I am going solar for some room lighting. I've picked two rooms, and two different lights, to start with.

The first room is my "office" (really sort of a family all-purpose room -- my guitar and Liam's keyboards are in here, and so forth). The light from the windows is exactly right during the day -- never too dim and if it's too bright (it's a south-facing room) I have adjustable blinds to tone it down. But at night the place is always either too dark or too bright. I've ordered a d.light s10 lantern, which looks (from reviews, etc.) like it will put out maybe a little less light than a 40-watt incandescent.

The second room is Liam's, because he just hates the dark and wants a light on all the damn time. It doesn't have to be bright light, but a night-light isn't enough. He's got a d.light s1, which looks to be roughly equivalent to a small desk reading lamp, on the way.

The only thing I don't like in advance about these two products is that the solar panels are hard-built into the units. I'd prefer to be able to mount the panels outside the house and run wire from there to the lamps, instead of having to remember to put the units out in the sun during the day to charge them up for use inside at night. But units like that are a little more expensive. They come later if this works out well.

If these two lights work out, I'll pull the bulbs from the wired fixtures so that we have to use them (and then I'll order more solar lights for other rooms). The two solar geegaws came to about $30, so if they save a total of $5 a month they'll pay for themselves in six months. And just for value added, they'll put out less heat than an incandescent bulb or a CFL, so maybe we'll save a little on climate control as well.

If they don't work out for this use, well, I have some other uses in mind for them. We have an outdoor canopy that could use an overhead light for grilling out in the evening and so forth, and I expect I'll need something for the chicken coop I'm about to build as well.

If I had it my way -- that is, if we owned this place and had cash to spare -- I'd just go whole hog, cover the roof with solar panels and maybe stick a wind turbine out back. From what little research I've done, I suspect that that would pay for itself in three years or less and actually turn a profit in the long run (because we'd be producing all of our own power and selling the surplus to the local utility). But we don't own the place, and can't lay out mid-four-figures to do things up that way, so this is how I'm doing it, one little bite at a time.

* I'll probably also be buying a $5 outdoor pathway light -- not because I need the light, but because it operates on rechargeable AA batteries. The kids use AAs for game controllers and such, and right now we recharge at the wall outlet. Why not let the sun recharge those batteries instead?

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