19 July, 2012

Instantaneous (Tankless) Water Heaters

You know, I’m getting downright cheap in my old age.  I just hate to spend money for utilities if I’m not home to ‘enjoy’ them.  One example is that I lower the furnace thermostat when I go to bed or when I’m away from the house.  My household critters don’t seem to mind as they have fur coats and they make use of each other to keep warm (and sometimes my sofa, too).  I use compact fluorescent and LED bulbs for lighting and I even have solar powered spotlights to illuminate the back porch.  I’ll try anything to save a buck.

But there doesn’t seem to be much we can do with tank-type water heaters.  I’ve added tank blankets and pipe insulation, but it doesn’t seem to save all that much.  Since 2004, storage tank-type water heaters have been mandated (by the U.S. Department of Energy) to be more energy efficient as well as a combustible vapor requirement.  Despite that (according to the DOE), water heating accounts for 20% or more of an average household's annual energy costs. So, the operating costs for gas storage tank water heaters average more than $200 annually.

Rinnai whole house water heater
A tank-type water heater maintains the water temperature to the thermostat setting on the tank.  The heater does this even if no hot water is drawn from the tank.  This is due to "standby loss": the heat radiates from the walls of the tank and out the flue pipe. These standby losses represent up to 20% of a household's annual water heating costs.  One way to reduce this expenditure is to use a tankless (also called " demand " or "instantaneous") water heater.

Instantaneous water heaters are common in Europe and around the world.  When I have visited my relatives in England, I noticed the water heater in their homes were mounted on the wall in the kitchen.  Unlike the common tank water heaters, tankless units heat water as it is used, or “on demand”. A tankless heater has a sensing device that is activated only when you open the spigot, the heater will fire up and give a constant supply of hot water.  Junior can do his normal 40-minute shower and there’s no waiting for hot water for your shower when he is done.

Ariston demand water heater
The largest gas units, which may provide all the hot water needs of a household, are installed centrally in the basement or small units at the point of use, depending on the amount of hot water required. For example, you can use a small electric unit as a booster for a far-off bathroom, dishwasher, or laundry. These units are usually installed underneath a sink or nearby in a closet.

What I have learned from using centrally-located tankless heaters is that you need to find the highest flow rate you can get. Also you may need modify your water-use behavior a little bit.  Despite manufacturers’ claims, you still do not get the same flow rate of water as you would with a tank type heater.  With a 3.5-gallon per minute showerhead running and a large water-using appliance cycles on, one or both may not get much hot water.  So hopefully, you get to finish your shower before Junior decides to turn on the dishwasher. 

Now if I can only figure out a way to convert the excess energy that my dogs have to heating the house.

06 June, 2012

A Summer Reading List

A recent gift from my companion is 'More Straw Bale Building' (from Mother Earth News and New Society Publishers), as she expects me to learn how to build with bales and get busy with making our country cottage dream home.  So, I'm under orders to read it now.  Yes darlin', it's right here in front of me.  Maybe this fall I'll write a review of it here.

'Building Construction Illustrated' by Francis D.K. Ching should be possessed by every architect, designer, contractor, handyman, lumberyard, hardware store counterman, homeowner and Saturday morning thumb-banger. I think you get my drift. It's in its fourth edition now, my copy of the second edition was printed over twenty years ago, but still relevant. You can find it on Amazon, Ebay, and what few bookstores that are still left.  Fire up that Kindle too....because you can download it for only 12.95 (no shipping cost!). My youngest granddaughter is just a year old, maybe I'll get it for her as a Christmas gift.

The trade magazine Journal of Light Construction (JLC) is an excellent monthly 'encyclopedia' of construction techniques. Most of the how-to articles are written by contractors themselves. While I receive the hardcopy in the mail every month, I often check their website for the free .PDF's to download. Tool reviews and ads are helpful, too.  Also available from JLC is a DVD-ROM of the past 20-odd years of the magazine.

Tumbleweeds Tiny House Company may not have been the first site to promote smaller houses, but Jay Shafer is the out-front leader of the tiny house movement.  For more than a decade, Jay has been living in 100 square feet or less.  He has books, plans and advice for anyone considering downsizing to the smaller house.  The house plans go from 65 sq.ft. to almost 900 sq.ft.  Another site to see is Kent Griswold's TinyHouseBlog.com for more big ideas about living small.

Building the Future with the Past
Tiny Texas Houses website is back online. They were offline for a while, and I'm glad that they're back up. I really like their designs and the fact that they use as much recycled material as possible. I've placed the link back on my link list and hope to see more of them in the future.
I keep The Kneeslider in my link list which has absolutely nothing to do with housing, but I'm still a motorcycle maniac. It's a well written blog by Paul Crowe, formerly of Cycle World magazine. He covers all brands of motorcycles (foreign and domestic), news and tech development.
Finally, for all of us tech-weenies and garbage gadget-teers out there (we know who we are), the two sites that I love most are; the MIT Technology Review and Instructables I get the MIT newsletter every weekday and the Instructables newsletter weekly, so be sure to sign up.

20 May, 2012

Coleman Quad Lantern

I wanted a battery-operated lantern for when power outages occur (which in my area is several times a year). About two years ago, my companion Mary found the Coleman LED Quad lantern at a warehouse store and bought it for me . We liked it so much that we immediately bought a second one. The light output is a bright cool white (190 lumens), it doesn't flicker like the fluorescent lanterns I replaced with this unit and the batteries last longer. Besides handling its primary duty, we have used it in the back yard in the evening, and we've taken it to the cabin that our hiking club maintains. The cabin has little outdoor lighting, so the ability to take the individual panels off for the short hikes to the outhouse is a great thing and the panels have survived being dropped by small (and not so small) children.

Each panel has six LEDs and 3 NiCad AAA batteries that charge from the base unit 8 D-cell battery pack. Alkaline D-cells provide 1.5 volt each and NiCad or Lithium-ion rechargeable cells only put out 1.2 volts.  While the lantern does work on 9.6 volts, it's brighter with the alkaline batteries.   

Coleman makes a rechargeable 6 volt battery pack for the two panel LED lantern, but unfortunately, there's no 12 volt rechargeable pack for this lantern as yet. And while I'm making up my 'Santa list', I'd like to see a 5-to-10 watt solar panel charger for it, too.  It would be nice to have a 'non-grid' way to recharge the unit for the extended power outages or when camping. I've been seeing the LED Quad lantern selling in the $50-to-75 price range, so check your favorite online retailers for the best price.  We think it's wonderful product, reasonably priced for what it offers.