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Cool Home Efficiency Ideas


Every now and then we stumble on some really neat ideas that are easy to implement, don't cost much, and have a big impact on energy savings. We thought it would be a better use of the home page to share some of these ideas so that you could put them to use.

Zero Motorcycles to Accompany Bicycle Racers

Electric motorcycles from Zero will play an important role in this year’s Amgen Tour of California professional cycling race. They will be used as part of the race’s motorized support fleet during the men’s bicycle Big Bear Lake Time Trial stage. Zero electric motorcycles are especially well suited for supporting bicycle racing since there is no exhaust or noxious fumes for the athletes to inhale. And, because they make almost no sound, the riders will be able to hear clearly any team instructions given by radio.

Electric Flight Becoming More Feasible With Better Battery Tech

The demand for higher capacity, lighter weight lithium batteries used in billions of wireless devices around the world has accelerated the application of light weight battery technology for other uses.

Exciting New Electric Vehicles Go Into Production This Year.

Get ready for the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Motors' Model 3 to be unveiled in 2016, with production models to be available by late 2017. The significance of these two electric cars is that they will be the first 200+ miles range vehicles to be released with a sticker price affordable to the mass public. The Chevy Bolt will have an after incentive starting price of $30,000. The Tesla Model 3 will be in the mid-30s. The Tesla Model 3 will be introduced on March 31, 2016, when pre-orders can be placed at Tesla stores in the USA. The Chevy Bolt was on demonstration at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada in January of 2016. Both are essentially multi-processor computers on wheels, and will have many technology driven features to make them more convenient to drive and more network connected than current gas powered vehicles of today.

Chevy Bolt
Chevy Bolt instrumentation will be Android feature rich.

However, there will undoubtedly be major differences in the two releases because the manufacturers have different motives. The Chevy Bolt will be produced to meet minimum quantity California Air Resources Board (CARB) levels so they can continue selling gas cars in states like California that are adapting the more stringent air quality standard mandates. Whereas, Tesla Motors will be producing the Model 3 to reach a mass market of consumers and will be promoting a higher performance series of Models 3 releases that will compete with mid-range luxury cars like the BMW 320i. The Chevy Bolt, on the other hand will be competing with sub-compacts and not GM's own high-profit mid-range to upper-class vehicle line-up, including their high-margin SUVs and pick-up trucks.

Find out more about the latest EV developments on our Electric Cars page.

Roof Top Solar Making a Big Hit in California and Nevada in 2015

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) California has 10 times more solar generation the the entire nation did in 2007. That's only eight years ago. While California has reached 10,000 Mega-Watts of installed solar, Nevada has reached 1000 MW. Both states are the fastest growing solar industry, providing the fastest growing jobs sector in the nation.

Year to year record breaking solar installations
Year to year record breaking solar installations

However, two significant decisions by each state's corresponding public utilities commissions (PUC) will mean California's solar industry will continue to while Nevada's will halt to a standstill. In recent PUC decisions, California's commission voted to continue net-metering with no significant changes, while Nevada's commission voted to phase out net-metering and even backlash existing roof-top solar producers with "operational fees" taking away the cost advantage of having solar installed.

Creative financing, where the solar installing company essentially becomes a power company, allows a home-owner or business to install roof top solar panels without any upfront cost. The building owner leases the panels from the installer with a monthly power bill that is less than what they would normally pay the utility company. Even if the savings are only 5% it's still incentive enough to make the switch. This creative financing idea was thought of by Jigar Shah. Jigar was the founder and CEO of SunEdison, where he pioneered the “no money down solar” model, which has been key to the growth of the solar market, including most famously Solar City. However, if net-metering incentives go away and the utility company penalizes the solar producer, then this financing method halts immediately. The only way this financing method would work without government incentives is to completely disconnect from the utility grid and store the excess power on site using battery storage technology.

Find out more about how solar energy works on our solar energy page.

Roof Rain Can Be Used to Make Electricity, Two Methods Found

Creating Electricity from Roof Rain
Creating Electricity from Roof Rain

Students from two different countries has devised independent methods of generating electricity from roof rain. Three students from Mexico created a turbine that catches roof rain, rotates to charge batteries. The system was developed to be used in small rural communities far away from the grid. Source

The other Canadian student, Raymond Wang, uses piezoelectric materials the size of a piece of paper to capture electrical energy from roof rain. Source

Drones to Make Package Deliveries in 2015

Alibaba Test Drone
Alibaba Test Drone

Several online retailers and shippers are developing and planning to begin delivering packages by air. But each package will be delivered by a drone. A drone is a small flying device that flies similar to a helicopter. The difference being that it uses three or more propellers and is typically about the size of a shoe box.

Alibaba, Amazon, as well as DHL are developing commercial delivery systems in their respective markets. Alibaba has started testing drone delivery in China's three largest urban areas, while Amazon claims deliveries can be made within 30 minutes of online ordering. DHL has started deliveries to a small island off the coast of Germany. How many trucks will this take off the road?

Luna Smart Mattress Cover Controls Home

Luna Smart Matress Cover
Luna Smart Matress Cover

This smart product does many things. It uses sensors to detect breathing, heart rate, track sleep patterns, snoring. Then it makes suggestions to enhance the sleep experience, constantly evolving. In addition it controls best temperatures over time. The integrated smart heater adapts to you and your partner's body temperatures to provide the most comfortable temperatures as well as minimizing electricity use. Additional bells and whistles are smart alarm, smart phone remote control, smart thermostat integration, and smart home integration.

Revolutionary Transportation Ready to Go
(Jetson Age is Here)

Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) transportation has been in research and used on a small scale basis for many years. This company, in conjunction with NASA, has a prototype transportation system, using technology similar to MagLev, that is ready to go now. The rail based taxi system can move at speeds only limited by rider comfort. The cost to install it in congested urban center is 100 times less expensive than rolling asphalt and 10 times less than equivalent light rail mileage. Here's a video to explain the concept.

Home Control With Your Smart Phone

Ever loose your garage door opener or forgot to close the garage door. A simple Chamberlain application installed on your iPhone or Android smart phone can solve both of these problems. The Chamberlain MyQ Garage Universal SmartPhone Garage Door Controller installs a WiFi hub on the ceiling above the door motor and a sensor on the garage door itself. Then you just download the MyQ app into your smart phone and customize the door behavior to your needs. The controller is compatible with most door openers sold after 1993. The hub can control multiple doors openers for those who have two or more car doors on their garage.

Chamberlain Myq Door Controller
Chamberlain MyG Door Controller

Chamberlain Myq Door Controller
Easy Smart Phone Setup for Chamberlain MyG Door Controller

Rain Harvesting in the Desert

Rain is scarce in the deserts of the south west American states. Human development is expanding rapidly there and well water is typically used in rural homes. Large cities such as Tucson, Phoenix, and Las Vegas get their water from snow pack in the Rocky Mountains that flow down the Colorado River. The underground water tables are being depleted much faster than in wet climates. For most small families that want to live off-grid in the desert, you can capture all the water you need from your roof. The rain water can be used several times going from filtered drinking water to gray water, to black water, which can supply nutrients to an edible vegetable garden. See our write up called "Earthship Building Experience"

Rain Capture from Storage Shed
Rain Capture from Storage Shed

Capturing rain water from your roof top can also be used for site preparation and construction. Rather than hauling water to the building site at $200 per load, you can capture a fraction of the water that falls on your property. Here's what we did.

Rain Capture from Storage Shed
Rain Capture from Storage Shed

Our site has an old, very large steel storage building with large indented ribs to give it strength. However, the overlapping ribs make it difficult to install rain gutters. So we drilled a hole in the indented portion of some of the ribs and placed a flexible tin tray to the steel wall to capture water from the top and sides of each rib.

Rain Capture from Storage Shed
Rain Capture from Storage Shed

On the inside of the shed a barrel was used to capture the rain water from each rib. The barrels were strung together using a PVC manifold so the water would be equalized and water use pressure would be maximized. Seven 55 gallon drums were full and overflowing after a couple of summer rains. So we added an extension without drilling more holes in the wall. The details of this project can be found in our rain barrel section of this site.

New Digital Audio Technology Improves Sound Quality While Reducing Watts

Smart phones and hand held music devices are widely used today. People can listen to any music, any time, at any place. And its high quality music in digital formats. Apple's iPod and iPhone line-up has changed many of our lives. We can listen to iTunes in the office, classroom, and while transporting. We can build a library of our favorite tunes and make them available on demand. Although we mostly listen to music through these devices using personal head-phones, the audio signals from these small devices can be fed into high end home stereo and home theater systems.

Do Everything Integrated Amp
This small Bel Canto integrated amplifier accepts multiple digital and analogue inputs, then outputs 120 watts per channel to your stereo speakers.

The traditional home stereo system typically has a number of components that use a lot of electricity. The components can be split into three categories: sources, amplification, and speakers. There may be other components in the system chain such as interconnect cabling, line conditioners, and speaker wire. Sources refer to devices such as tuners (stereo radio), turntables, CD players, MP3 players, and etc. These devices use analogue interconnect cables (RCA jack cable) to feed music signals into an amplifier. The amplifier then boosts the music signal to drive two more speakers and can be heard by the human ears. Today these sources can be and are being replaced by compact digital devices such as smart phones.

High Quality, Low cost DAC
Cambridge Audio's DAC Magic Plus accepts digital inputs from just about any device or computer, enhances the signal through digital filtering, then outputs the converted analogue music stream to your amplifier.

From your compact device, you can send an analogue signal from the headphone jack to your amplifier or your can send it to digital to analogue processor (DAC) that will clean up the music stream using a high sample rate before converting the digital signal to analogue to be sent to your amplifier. DAC devices are available in every price range. There are many available for every level of sophistication of home entertainment system. Some are separate pieces of equipment while others are incorporated into the home theater or stereo receiver (source selector). Still other high quality speakers have the DAC and amplifier built right into the speakers, eliminating the need for an entire chain of components, thus saving money, space, and electricity.

Two Speakers and a small box do everything
Dynaudio's Xeo series speakers take the next step and eliminate all the stereo components between digital sources and speaker output.

Arduino Electronics Development Kit Used to Produce Energy and Food

The Arduino micro-controller board can be used to develop many energy saving or energy producing applications. It is a general purpose device with analogue and digital ports for controlling and sensing real world devices and signals. It was designed by Italian, Spanish, and American instructors to get students excited about interfacing technology with the real world. Kits are very inexpensive and encourage students to tinker with lights and switches. Once they figure out how to control simple devices by writing brief lines of code, they naturally want to do more complicated projects next. The Arduino kit, therefore can accommodate projects of increasing complexity, appealing also to those with electronics or engineering background.

Here are some examples of how Arduino was used in energy and food producing applications. The first is a micro controlled concentrated sun tracking system using mostly recycled parts. The second is a water circulating system that could be used to produce edible vegetables and fish. It mimics the natural growth cycle of plants and water in the real world.

Your Ideas Needed

This is your site. For those who are passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle, for those who are just looking for ideas on where to begin, and for those who are on a limited budget, we welcome you to participate in home energy efficiency ideas. Our web service provider has several excellent methods to allow you to share home efficiency information. Just fill in the form and get started. And remember, your content information will not be used by any other entity for spamming or surveillance.

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