Documenting my attempt to cut my energy usage in half.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Changing The Thermostat - What Affect Does It Really Have?

The Home Monitor that I built has been collecting data for several months now and I decided to look back at some of the data that was collected on how often my heat pumps come on and which zones are calling for air the most.  In particular I was interested in knowing what affect different thermostat settings had on how often the heat pump came on.

To do this I looked at a single zone on the upstairs heat pump that controls the temperature for the two guest bedrooms.  During this past summer when the guest bedrooms were not in use the thermostat was set to 80 degrees.  When we did have a guest using one of the bedrooms, the thermostat was set to 76.  The rest of the house is set to 76.

I then went through the data for the summer and collected information on 6 days where the outside temperature and attic temperature were roughly the same.   On half of those days the guest bedrooms were not occupied and the thermostat was set at 80.  On the other half the bedrooms were occupied and the thermostat was lowered to 76.

Below are the graphs for the attic and outside temperatures during those 6 days.  The data graphed in red is the attic temperatures, blue is the outside temperature.

Daily temps with guest rooms unoccupied.

Daily temps with guest rooms occupied.

The data for the guest bedroom zone was then graphed (shown below) when the thermostat was set to 80 degrees.  Average run time for the three days was 123 minutes per day.  Note that the zone typically didn't call for cooling until late in the day when the outside and attic temperatures were near their maximum.

Thermostat set to 80

The data for the guest bedroom zone was then graphed (shown below) for days when the thermostat was set to 76.  Note that the zone calls for cooling throughout the entire day and that by the time the hottest part of the day arrived, the zone had already been calling for cooling for over 200 minutes.  Average run time for the 3 days was 560 minutes per day.

Thermostat set to 76

What did I learn from this?  There was a 78% reduction in the time that the zone is calling for cooling when the thermostat was set to 80 instead of 76.   Installing a programmable thermostat and actually programming it (instead of just pushing the "hold" button), can have a dramatic affect on the amount of time your hvac system runs.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

End of Summer Update

This summer was a very good test of the changes I have made to reduce my energy usage.  Although it was hot, it wasn't quite as bad as last year.  The degree days show that it was well above average and slightly less than last year.    I did make a few changes in addition to the changes I made earlier in the year that were detailed here.

It is so humid here during the summer that it's very rare that we ever open the windows.  All of my windows are casement windows that have the bug screen on the inside.  So the first change was to remove all of the screens and store them away until early Fall when we start to open the windows again.  The reasoning behind this was all of the testing that's been done on solar air heaters using window screen as the absorber material.  If it's that good of an absorber, I need to just get it out of the way and let the shade reflect as much light and heat back out as it can.

The second change was to make better use of my programmable thermostats.  They have very specific schedules set to them now and in addition, the two guest rooms now have their dampers mostly closed on the days that no one is here using them.

The end result of this is some excellent news!  At least my wallet thinks so.   The total KWH usage for the months of June - Aug was down 4,255 kwh over last summer and the total bill for was down $365.  So far for the year I'm about 9,000 kwh under the usage of my six year average.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Water Heater Analysis - Part 3

Hopefully the saga with the water heater is coming to an end soon as the thermosyphon loop that was detailed here has been fixed.  After several months of sporadic discussions with my hvac contractor (who has supposedly been in contact with Water Furnace) about how to fix the problem, how much it was going to cost to fix, and whether I should bear the cost of fixing it, I now have an electronic valve installed on the outlet side of the desuperheater.  The valve only opens when the desuperheater comes on and should completely stop the thermosyphon loop that was sucking heat out of my tank.

 It's supposed to cool off a lot tomorrow and I turned on the hot water heater for the first time since the end of June yesterday.  When the desuperheaters stop supplying all of my hot water this weekend, I'll be able to get some temperature readings from the tank to see if this new valve really fixed the problem.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Home Built Heat Pump / Energy Usage Monitor

A couple of years ago I bought a small robot kit for my kid to experiment with from a company called Parallax.  Along with the robot I bought a couple extra of their Stamp chips just to play around with.  After a couple of months the "this is interesting" factor wore off and I moved on to something else.  Last summer (2010) after working in the attic one day I wondered how hot it got up there and thought about the possibility of putting a temperature sensor in the attic that I could monitor remotely.   Already having a BS2P from Parallax on hand, I connected a Dallas Semiconductor DS18B20 to it and wrote a small program to log the data to my PC every 15 minutes.   After a few days, I started wondering how the outside temperature affected the attic temperature and added some more code to log the outside temperature as well (a year worth of data is here at BuildItSolar).  I then added an additional sensor in the crawl space and not knowing where I was going with it, put the project on the back burner.

The Birth Of My Home Monitor

In Dec 2010 I ran across BuildItSolar and Gary's Half Program and I soon knew where I was going with those few temperature sensors.  The project needed to grow.  A lot.  After looking at a couple of options for chips/circuit boards to monitor multiple 1-wire temperature sensors, I decided to just keep on using the Parallax BS2P's since I had them on hand.  Personally, I've not used the Arduino yet, but from what I've read I'm sure it would be more than capable of doing what I've implemented. 

What I'm Monitoring

I now have 16 temperature sensors installed around the house with most of them monitoring what my two Water Furnace ground source heat pumps are doing.  Here's a run down of where the sensor are located:

UpstairsLogging Time
AtticEvery 15 minutes
OutsideEvery 15 minutes
HP Supply AirEvery 1 min when HP On
HP Return AirEvery 1 min when HP On
HP Desuperheater OutEvery 1 min when HP On
HP Desuperheater InEvery 1 min when HP On
HP Earth Loop OutEvery 1 min when HP On
HP Earth Loop InEvery 1 min when HP On

DownstairsLogging Time
Crawl SpaceEvery 15 minutes
Hot Water TankEvery 1 minute
HP Supply AirEvery 1 min when HP On
HP Return AirEvery 1 min when HP On
HP Desuperheater OutEvery 1 min when HP On
HP Desuperheater InEvery 1 min when HP On
HP Earth Loop OutEvery 1 min when HP On
HP Earth Loop InEvery 1 min when HP On

I also have 7 sensors that detect when the different zones for each heat pump come on.  The upstairs heat pump has 3 zones and the downstairs heat pump has 4 zones.  Detecting when the heat pumps are on allows me to log the heat pump temperature sensors only when they have meaningful data.

When I received and installed my TED 5000 in Jan 2011 I quickly found out that the load profiling software didn't work quite as well as I wanted it to.  To fix that problem I added the ability to retrieve all of the "seconds" data from the TED 5000 and save it to disk and I wrote my own functions to do the load profiling.  Since I have all the data locally now, I generate all the usage graphs within my monitor program and rarely look at the TED web console anymore.

I now have a fairly complete energy picture of my house and can see not only how much electricity is being used and what's using it but can also see how well things are working.  It also gives me the ability to log some baseline data so that when I do make changes I can actually see if it makes a difference.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Flatlined Hot Water Tank

One of the projects that I've been considering implementing for the house is a water based solar space heater similar to the $2K System that Gary over at BuildItSolar installed.  The basic idea is simple, gather heat from the sun during the day, store that heat in a large water tank, and distribute that heat into the house when needed. One of the issues that needs to be resolved before I jump in and start construction is what to do with all that heat during the summer.   From what I've seen on BuildItSolar and on the SimplySolar yahoo group is that most people use these system for both space heating and as a pre-heater for their hot water.  I would like to use all of the heat during the winter for space heating, but during the summer when I could make hot water, I wasn't sure that I needed it.  I suspected that my ground-source heat pumps with their desuperheaters provided all (or nearly all) of my hot water during the summer.  If that's the case, then my ROI would be significantly lower as the system would only be used during the heating season and would be stagnant for all of the cooling season.

Testing the desuperheaters

To find out if the desuperheaters could handle the entire DHW load I ran a couple of tests.  The first one was simple... turn off the hot water heater at the breaker.   After a short prayer service, the switch was flipped and the hot water heater flatlined at noon on May 24.

The graph above shows that the hot water heater really has been off for the last month.  The tank temperature seemed to be ok as all of the showers continued to be hot.  But to be sure, the second part of the test was to install a temperature sensor on the hot water tank.   The sensor is a DS18B20 and is installed against the inside tank wall underneath the insulation near the upper thermostat.  The sensor readings were spot on with the temperature of the water that I was drawing out of the tank, so now it's just a matter of logging the data every minute and graphing it.

The manual that came with the Water Furnace heat pumps says that the desuperheater circuity kicks out at 130F so I should never see tank temperatures above that.  The 5 day graph above shows that the tank temperature slowly drops during the early morning when the heat pumps run infrequently, but the temperature recovers nicely during the day and if it gets above 90 for any length of time during the day, there's a good chance that I will max out the tank temperature.  The big dip during the day on the 26th was a shower immediately followed by a bath just to see what would happen.

What I've found from this is that my desuperheaters can provide all of my hot water during the summer months as long as some thought is given to when things happen.  So, that brings me back to my original problem.  If I build a water based solar collector, what do I do with it during the summer months?


Saturday, May 14, 2011

My Half Project: 4 Month Update

After 4 months I'm happy to say that I have not gotten bored with my Half Project, in fact I think I have become obsessed with it.   Most of the projects that I have worked on so far have been related to monitoring where I'm at with usage and making minor changes to see what affect they have on usage.

Some of the projects that I've worked on so far are:

  1. Installation of a TED 5002-G Home Energy Monitor.  This has been a wonderful tool for allowing me to see what I'm using when I'm using it instead of finding out at the end of the month.  It also led to the discovery of a thermosyphon loop between the DHW heater and the downstairs heat pump that was causing the DHW heater to come on much more often than it should.
  2. Purchase of a Kill-A-Watt meter.  This has been useful for determining what some of the individual loads in the house are.   Because of this, things like the printer are now on a power strip so that they can be turned off.   Like off, off... instead of the kinda somewhat off but not really off that the power button does.
  3. Shades. Lots and lots of shades.   On all of the south facing windows that aren't shaded by the upstairs deck and most of the west facing windows.
  4. A scan of the entire house with a Fluke thermal imaging camera.  This led to the discovery of some minor leaks around some doors and the attic entrance access panel.
  5. A check of all the duct work and the repair of leaks that had occurred over time.
  6. Some general conservation projects.  This turned out to have a huge impact on reducing my energy usage with little to no changes in my lifestyle.
  7. A change in my driving.  I switched from using the SUV for everything, to only driving it when needed and driving the car for all my errands and trips into the city.
So what does this all mean?  It means that for the first 4 months of this year my energy usage for the house is down quite a bit from previous years and is the lowest it has ever been.

As you can see from the chart above, my usage is below or significantly below the monthly average for the first four months of the year. 

Which means that the total KWH usage for the year so far is well below previous years.  The degree days for this year have been slightly higher than for 2008 but yet I'm still 2000 KWH below the usage for 2008.

Now for the vehicles...  I thought that this would be a major area of reduction in GHG.  Switching my primary vehicle to one that gets 8 mpg more seemed like a sure fire win.  However, that victory has been hidden by two things.  First, a family members failing health has resulted in two 1,000 mile round trip visits to help out.  The whole family went which required taking the SUV.  Second, a change in scheduling now requires me to drive into the city three times a week instead of once a week at 80 miles per round trip. 

Even with all of the extra driving so far this year, I'm still equal on gasoline usage with my 8 year baseline.  

Conclusion:  The results so far have been extremely promising.  My goal was to reduce my usage by 5% per year knowing that some of the changes up front may result in drastic reductions in usage.  That drastic upfront reduction has occurred.  The minor conservation projects that I have undertaken so far will result in at least a 12% reduction in my energy usage and my electric bill for the year is down $379 (almost a $100/month) from last year.  Woot!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Conservation Projects

As part of my half project I have identified several areas where I could reduce my energy usage for little to no cost.


I have three PC's in the house that are used infrequently (less than 2 hours per day) which used to be left on all the time.   The kill-a-watt meter showed that on average these systems used 150 watts of power.  All of the systems have now been set up to hibernate if inactive for 15 minutes. 

Energy Saving/Yr3175 kwh
Initial Cost$0
$'s Saved/Yr$349
CO2 Reduction3779 lbs


Most of the lights in the house have been converted over to CFL's.  However, there are three 75 watt incandescent floods that are in the main part of the house and are on 16 hours a day, every day.  These have recently been replaced with 8 watt LED floods.

Energy Saving/Yr1174 kwh
Initial Cost$66
$'s Saved/Yr$129
CO2 Reduction1397 lbs

Printer/Fax Thingy:

My HP PSC2510 which was detailed in a prior post has now been put on a power strip so that it really is off.  I may actually use the thing once a month.  It's pointless for it to be using power 24/7.

Energy Saving/Yr149 kwh
Initial Cost$3.50
$'s Saved/Yr$16.40
CO2 Reduction177 lbs

Phantom Loads:

A survey of the house with the kill-a-watt meter showed that several devices that are plugged in 24/7 are using power even when "off".  The TV sets in the two guest bedrooms, a CD player and treadmill in the exercise room, and the TV in the master bedroom that was swapped out for a new LG.  Individually these devices didn't use much power.  As a group, they do.

Energy Saving/Yr203 kwh
Initial Cost$0
$'s Saved/Yr$22.35
CO2 Reduction241 lbs

Water Heater:

The issues with the water heater which have been detailed here have been temporarily fixed while waiting on parts from the local hvac company I use.  The savings for not pumping heat into the garage should be noticeable.

Energy Saving/Yr670 kwh
Initial Cost$0
$'s Saved/Yr$73.75
CO2 Reduction797 lbs


For the changes listed above, which had almost zero cost other than I just needed to be aware of what was going on, I expect to see the following savings per year.

Energy Saving/Yr5373 kwh
Initial Cost$69
$'s Saved/Yr$591
CO2 Reduction6,394 lbs

This is a significant amount just for being more aware of what I'm doing.  The energy savings of 5373 kwh is roughly 12% of my yearly consumption.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ductwork sealing and insulation

Today was "review the ductwork" day and I'm happy to say that for the most part it was still in good shape.  When the system was installed, all of the joints were sealed with duct mastic and then insulated.

The only issues I found were where the ductwork joined the heatpump itself.   Tape is an evil thing when exposed to attic temperatures for many years as it starts to gets brittle and either loses it's grip or tears easily.  The only option is to take out what's bad and replace it.

Since my ductwork was already sealed and insulated I'm not going to get a huge savings from the work I did today.  On the other hand, it only took about an hour to check it all out and I used maybe $0.50 worth of aluminum duct tape that was left over from a roll used on the solar air heater.

There are several sources (here and here) that suggest that 10% - 30% of the conditioned air in a typical home is lost via leaks in ductwork.  It's an easy and cheap thing to fix...

Thursday, April 14, 2011


We recently replaced an old 21" TV set with an LG 32" LCD model #: 32LD350.  One of the nice things about this TV is the energy saving modes which basically just turn down the screen brightness.  When the Lakers are playing and the wife is trying to sleep, it's nice to not have a screen that's so bright it looks like the overhead lights are on.  I plugged the TV into a kill-a-watt meter to see what affect the different energy saving modes had:

Energy Saving ModeWatts
Screen Off16.7
TV Off via remote0

I have found that the maximum mode is fine even for morning viewing when the sun is lighting up the room and thus the TV stays in that mode. One thing I did find interesting is that the Minimum mode actually consumes more energy than having the energy saving mode turned off.

CNET did a review of a lot of other TVs.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Water Heater Analysis - Part 2

After some discussions with Gary over at BuildItSolar I've decided that the hot water heater was coming on much more often than it should for its warming cycles when the desuperheater was turned off for the winter.  Over the past month it has averaged coming on for 5-6 minutes about every 90 minutes.   This results in about 90 minutes of "on" time per day just to keep the tank warm.  The graph below shows the warming cycles of a typical day.

90 minutes a day @ 5500 watts = 8.25kwh per day = $.90/day.  Since I keep the desuperheater off from Nov-March, that's about $140 per year in tank warming cycles.  The question is why is it coming on so often.  Gary suggested that I might have a thermosyphon loop occurring and after some investigation I believe he is correct.  The downstairs heatpump sits right next to the water heater and the plumbing between the two units looks like this:

When the valve on the cold water line at the top of the water heater is open (as it has to be when the desuperheater is on), there is an instant flow of hot water out of the top of the water heater, down through the heat pump and back into the base of the water heater.  Shutting the valve stops the flow and the lines stay cool.  Even though all the piping is insulated, shutting the valve had an immediate affect on the number of tank warming cycles that occur during the day as shown below.

The tank now cycles on for 7 minutes every 6 hours.  The "on" time for warming cycles has been reduced from 90 minutes to 30 minutes a day.  For my 5500 watt water heater, that's 825 kwh per winter that I'm not using and 982 pounds of CO2 that's not being pumped into the air.  In addition I'm also saving $.60 per day or $90 a year.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


The osprey are busy getting their nest ready for this year.  They arrived a couple of weeks ago and got right to work fixing what little damage occured during the winter.   This is nest #2 and sits on a "no wake" sign that's about 150 feet out in the river.   Nest #1 is made from a storm destroyed duck blind that I put a surface on for the osprey to build a nest.  It's about 500 ft out on the bay side of the property.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Water Heater Analysis

Since I've been able to work around the load profile problems with the TED 5000, I've started collecting enough data that I can start to change some things and see what affect it has on my hot water heater. 

This is a typical load profile for my hot water heater for a single day.  The heater was on for about 125 minutes of which 34 minutes was due to the shower at 8am.  The other 90 minutes of run time during the day was mostly just the tank keeping the hot water that I'm not using... hot.

I then turned on the desuperheater for the heat pump.  I usually keep this turned off during the winter and really had no way in the past of telling how much heat it supplied to the hot water tank.  Tank run time for this day was 68 minutes for the two showers.  Note that at no time during the day did the hot water heater come on to keep the tank warm.

Is this good?  I'm not sure.  During the summer months the desuperheater is always on as any heat that I can pull off the coil and put in the hot water tank is heat that doesn't get pumped out to the ground loops.  But during the winter, any heat that I pull off the coil and put in the tank is heat that's not going into the house.  So either the hot water tank comes on more often, or the heat pump runs longer.  I'm not sure which option is better.

Some of the issues/thoughts with using the desuperheater during the winter that I see are:

  1. If the desuperheater is off, the hot water heater will only come on when the temperature in the tank drops below a certain level and the water actually needs to be heated.
  2. If the desuperheater is on and it's a nice day outside such that the heat pump doesn't come on, it's the same as having the desuperheater off and the hot water heater supplies all of the hot water.
  3. If the desuperheater is on and it's cold outside, whenever the heat pump comes on, heat is pulled off of the coil and pumped into the tank even if it doesn't need it.
This last thought is the one that I have the most trouble with as it seems that I'm wasting money.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

HP PSC 2510

While I was surveying the house with a Fluke thermal imaging camera the other day I happened to take a look at my HP PSC 2510 all-in-one printer/fax thingy.

I sure wasn't expecting it to be using electricity as I usually keep it turned off since it's really only used maybe once a month.  When this picture was taken the printer had been off for over a week.  Interested in how much energy it was actually using, I plugged it into a Kill-A-Watt meter.

  • On (idle) - 18 watts
  • Off (or so I thought) - 10 watts
So, 10 watts for an entire year equals 87.6 kwh, or about $10 a year to sit there... off.   For the thousands of these that sit around "on" all day/night, it's about 157 kwh/year ($17). 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Half Project - Thermal Imaging

The other day I undertook an effort to scan the entire house with a Fluke Ti32 thermal imaging camera.  The good news... no bad news.  I didn't find any major issues.  I had hoped to run these scans when there was a large difference between inside/outside temps so that any issues would be more apparent, but the day I could get the camera the outside temperature was about 15 degress below the inside temp.  I have arranged to get the camera again during the summer.

The Fluke software is really nice in that it allows for a lot of post processing of images.  I really like that you can overlay the thermal image on the visible light image so it's easy to see where the picture was taken.

This is the backdoor leading into the garage.   The bottom seal could use a little work.  It's very obvious where the cat plucks at the seal in the lower left corner.

I was surprised to see how the windows looked.  This is a window on the north side of the house at 10am.  Outside temp was around 50.  All of the heat loss appears to be right around the edge of the window.  All of the windows had this same look.

The insulation on the water heater appears to be good.  Tank temp is kept at 120 and most of the outside of the tank is around 68.  The base is around 80 and it appears that the connection between the tank and the geothermal heatpump could use a little more insulation.

Looking straight up at the roof ridge.  Can you guess which is the south facing roof?   Outside air temp was 50, attic temp was 55.

Next step is to fix the few minor issues that I found.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

TED 5000 Load Profiling

The HA software has been logging "seconds" data from the TED for a couple of days and I've started to do a little bit of post processing on the data.  For the most part detecting when the hot water heater kicks on is easy.  Below is a snapshot of data that I'm pulling down from the TED and saving.  The log has date/time and usage in watts.

03/05/2011 14:34:21, 1362
03/05/2011 14:34:22, 1362 
03/05/2011 14:34:23, 1362  
03/05/2011 14:34:24, 6897  <-- DHW ON.    Load change of ~ 5500 watts
03/05/2011 14:34:25, 6897

This is easy to parse and detect that the water heater came on.  But it's not always this simple to detect.  Yesterday the water heater came on over a few seconds...

03/09/2011 00:49:59, 2796
03/09/2011 00:50:00, 2796
03/09/2011 00:50:01, 4109  <-- started
03/09/2011 00:50:02, 4109
03/09/2011 00:50:03, 4109
03/09/2011 00:50:04, 4109
03/09/2011 00:50:05, 4109
03/09/2011 00:50:06, 8104  <-- full load

And later in the day it came on while the heat pump decided to turn off.  This is a more difficult situation to detect as I have no data to indicate a load change of ~5000 watts.  Best I can do is detect the off event and back track and try to guess where the on event occurred.

03/09/2011 07:13:53, 2694
03/09/2011 07:13:54, 5697
03/09/2011 07:13:55, 5697
03/09/2011 07:13:56, 5697
03/09/2011 07:13:57, 5697
03/09/2011 07:13:58, 5697
03/09/2011 07:13:59, 6153  <-- DHW ON, heat pump is shutting off.

I can set up the HA software to detect most of these different "on" events because I know what's on each panel and I know that there isn't another load like the water heater on panel 2.   These multi-second on events is why I think that the load profile software within the TED has difficulties and sometimes misses either the on or off event.  The profile that it learned was for 5500 watts almost instantly and for most cases this is how the water heater comes on.   If the device doesn't come on like that every time, then the TED is going to have issues detecting it.

Detecting multistage loads while dealing with other loads going on/off will be challenging.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

TED 5000 Load Profiling

I finally got the load profiling data for my hot water heater that I could not obtain directly from the TED.   I went through a couple of iterations of retrieving data from the TED before deciding on a workable method.  I tried retrieving the historical minute data but that didn't give the resolution that I wanted.  So I switched to retrieving the historical second data.  It's a lot of data and the TED is really slow at delivering the data via XML.  I found in the API where I can get the raw second data and this downloads much faster.  The TED gateway only stores about an hour of second data so I have my HA software downloading the second data every 30 minutes and saving it off to disk for later processing.  This will be a workable solution.

The graph above is from the first full day of pulling second data from the TED.  It was a very low usage day for DHW which is what I wanted so that I could get a feel for how often the water heater comes on and for how long.  Total run time for the hot water heater for 3/6/11 was 83.95 min @ 5500 watts for a total of 7.7 KWH.  Almost all of this is the heater coming on just to keep the tank hot.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

My Half Project - Window Shades

34... I thought the answer was supposed to be 42, but 34 seems to be the number of shades that have been installed on the south facing windows.   The shades do not cover the transom windows so a lot of light will still be able to enter all of the downstairs rooms.  I also didn't install shades on windows that are mostly in the shade of the upstairs deck.   I'll start closing these when it gets warm enough for the AC to kick on.  I'm interested in what affect these will have on the hot summer months.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

TED 5000 Load Profiling

The Load Profiling still isn't working like a want.  As I mentioned in a prior post, the TED is missing some of the on/off events for the water heater.  While waiting to do the firmware update last night, I saw on the graphing tab that the water heater turned off in two seperate events.  I'm guessing that both elements were on and turned off about 3 seconds apart.  This was enough for the TED to miss the profile event.  Ugh.  The current plan now is to change the load profiling code that I put in the HA software yesterday so that instead of pulling down load profile data that the TED has collected, I'm going to pull down the historical minute data and parse that to find the water heater events.

The advantage to this is that the HA software can have more intelligence built into it since I know what loads I'm looking for and can set it up to handle events that occur over a period of time.  I will lose some resolution by looking at the minute data instead of the seconds data, but I think that will be ok.  One other note about the minute data is that the TED seems to only keep about 48 hours worth.  I'll have to set the retrieval of this on a polling timer and save the parsed xml out to disk for later processing.

TED 5000 Load Profiling

I had some success and some failures with the TED 5000 today.  First the good news... I made the changes to my HA software to query the TED for the historical load profile data.  This works well as it's now set up to pull data every 4 hours and I can also force a query as well.  The xml data is parsed and written out to disk making sure that there are no duplicate entries.

Now for the bad.... Failure #1, after I parsed the historical load data from the TED I noticed that it didn't always detect the water heater turning off.  When the next "on" event happens it won't log that either since it thinks the heater is already on.  If the heater comes on for 5 min, goes off for an hour, then comes on for 5 min, I will occasionally get xml data returned that says that the device was on for 1 hour 10 min.  It doesn't happen frequently, maybe once or twice a day.

Failure #2, I upgraded the TED gateway firmware from 1.0.400 -> 1.0.406 and the Footprints from 1.0.222 -> 1.0.223.  Checked the load profile tab and it still says I have no data.  Which is odd since I can query the XML directly and get the data.

In other interesting news, it looks like the water heater cycles on/off enough times during the day to get between 1 hour 30 min & 1 hour 45 min of actual "on" time just keeping the tank warm in hopes that I will use some hot water.  This is a trend I saw earlier but I want some decent data on disk to back it up. 

There are two things I'd like to compare that data with.  First, I currently have the geothermal DHW preheat turned off for the winter months.  I've never gotten a clear answer from the hvac people regarding if it should be left on or not.  I'd like to see what affect turning it back on has if any.  Second, I'd like to see how often the water heater turns on when the geothermal is in AC mode and the DHW preheat is on.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

TED 5000 Load Profiling

Good news for the TED 5000, I've found a way to work around the problem with the load profile tab not showing
any historical data.  Since the TED web site didn't want to easily give up their api, a few internet searches led to what I needed.  I can query the TED gateway directly with an http request and get an XML document returned that has all of the load profile historical data.  I like this method even better than just accessing the TED via IE as now I can retrieve the data and store it so that I can use it as I see fit.   I'll be adding the ability to retrieve this data to my HA software soon.

   <DATE>03/01/2011 19:33:58</DATE>
    <DATE>03/01/2011 19:28:10</DATE>

My Half Project - Degree Days

As part of my effort to figure out where I'm at on energy usage and knowing that heating and cooling are a large part of my electric bill, I did some research to help understand what affect outside temperatures have on my electric bills.

In looking at the last three years worth of electric bills I was surprised to find out just how consistent my energy usage has been.  I had less than 5% difference in kwh's used across those three years.  Degree day calculations for those years is a little different story though with an almost 17% difference.  What I found interesting is that the degree days for 2010 were much higher than the previous two years but my energy usage for 2010 was lower. 

When I look at the monthly kwh usage a trend definitely emerges, I spend more to cool my house in the summer than I do to heat it in the winter.  However, when I look at the degree days that shouldn't be the case.

Obviously something else is going on here.   I believe that what's happening is solar heating of the house via the large expanse of south facing windows that have no blinds or shades.  The sun helping heat the house would lower the energy usage during the winter and would increase it during the summer.  Installing shades will be a project for this spring.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Half Project

Gary Reysa over at BuildItSolar had several articles published in Mother Earth News and Home Power Magazine several years ago about his Half Project to cut his energy usage and green house gas (GHG) emissions in half.  He has managed to do this and more without making any major changes to his families lifestyle.

Reading through what he has done has got me wondering where I'm at.  I'm not sure I can do a half program because there are a lot more options for providing solar energy to heat a house during the winter than there are to cool a house during the summer.  However, to understand where I'm going, I have to know where I'm at and where I've been.

I retrieved the data for the last 6 years worth of electric bills and totalled up the kwh usage for each year. My house has a ground source heat pump to provide heating and cooling so I didn't need to figure in any propane, natural gas, or heating oil usage.  I did calculate the fuel consumption for the three vehicles, however I don't have a way of finding per year mileage so I ended up taking the total mileage on the vehicles and using that to calculate a per year average.  I know this isn't perfect as my mileage has dropped off a bit in the last two years but it's a reference point.

I'm not sure how these numbers compare to other houses in the area with similar square footage and all electric for heating, cooling, cooking.  I've found gvmt estimates for electrical usage per house but that includes houses that use some other form of energy for heating/cooking other than electricity.  What I haven't found is a chart of household or per person energy usage that includes all sources of energy.

My household uses on average over the last 6 years:  75,133 kwh/year
Per person average:  25,044 kwh/year

I was also interested in knowing how many tons of CO2 I'm belching into the air each year.  To do this I need to know where my electricity comes from.  The EPA was kind enough to provide this.

From that I was able to get this information on emissions.  Note that this is just from the energy used by the house.  This does not include emissions from my vehicles.

To calculate the emissions from my vehicles I needed to calculate how many gallons of gas I use each year.  From my earlier calculations for energy usage I determined that I drive on average, 15,336/year.  I also average about 18 mpg across all three vehicles.  That gives me an average usage of 852 gallons of gas/yr.  Each gallon of gas produces 19.4 lbs of CO2.  852 * 19.4 = 16,528 lbs of CO2.

CO2 emissions of 53,265 from electricity + 16,528 from fuel = 69,793 lbs of CO2.  That's the number I need to reduce.  I realize that this is not going to be an overnight change.  Gary has made significant reductions in his GHG emissions but over 6 year period.  If I can knock of 5% per year I will be very pleased.  I also understand that some changes that I make up front may have dramatic affects and that improvements in the years following will be more difficult.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fighting the TED

I'm not sure what's going on with the TED 5000.  Soon after I installed it I tried setting up the load profiling and noticed that for multi-stage devices like my heat pumps it has a very difficult time determining when the device is on/off.  So I gave up on the heatpumps and decided to just look at the water heater.  I figured the easiest thing to do would be to manually enter the load data for it since I know what it's going to be (5500).  After doing that, the Load Profile tab would correctly show if the water heater was on or off, however, the historical data portion of that page always showed "No Data".   I thought that maybe manually entering the load was causing a problem so I turned off the water heater, took a quick shower, started the load profiling, and turned the water heater back on.  It took about 10 secs for the load to be "learned".  After a day of running with the learned profile, I still have no historical data.

I called Energy, Inc since their forums are offline (it appears they didn't renew their domain name) and managed to get a support person that has "never played with" the load profiling. After chatting with him and one other support person, it was determined that they've never heard of this issue before and suggested that I upgrade to the latest firmware.  Since that will wipe all monthly historical data, I'll have to wait until first thing in the morning on the day my billing cycle starts.

I need to get this figured out and collect some data now so that I can see how much the water heater comes on (or doesn't come on) when the ground source heat pumps are heating the tank.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lacrosse EA-3010U Handheld Anemometer

I bought an EA-3010U the other day to help with calculating the CFM output of the recently completed solar air heater and have mixed feelings about it.  I was able to get the readings from it that I needed but it definately doesn't work as well as advertised.  The manual says that it will read as low as .4 mph and I highly disagree.  My unit requires a fairly strong gust to get it spinning, in the range of 6-7 mph or more.  I've been outside in 10 mph winds before and have not been able to get the blades to spin to get a reading.  This is not a battery issue, it's a blades not spinning issue.  If I blow directly on the blades I can sometimes get a reading starting at around 3 mph but the blades will abruptly stop spinning as if they hit a sticky spot.  No where near the .4 advertised.

I have attempted to contact their support.  Email is their preferred method of contact which is good since they don't have an 800 number.  At least they are upfront about the fact that it will take a long time for them to respond.  Clock is ticking at 5 business days so far.

Update: Sun 2/27/11.  The unit is being sent back to Amazon because it doesn't work as advertised and Lacrosse support has failed to respond to my email.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Solar Air Heater

I've been working on building a solar air heater for the shop to help reduce the amount of kerosene I have to burn to keep the shop warm.  The build of this was started about the time I found out about the Yahoo Simply Solar group and before I saw any of the testing results for different designs of solar air heaters.

The heater is based on a soda can design that I found here.  After doing a lot of reading during and after the construction of this, I believe that there are several designs that are better performing and in some cases, less expensive to build.  Those designs include the screen, downspout, and vented soffit.


Based on calculations for solar performance from built-it-solar, the collector is putting out about 3600 btus/hr at an efficiency rate of 43%.   I had to adjust the value for the density of air from the examples as they are based on a high elevation and I'm at sea level.  I ended up using a value of 0.075 based on this information.

The snap disc controller turns the fan on when the temperature reaches 110 and off when it drops to 90.  On a typical sunny day the fan will run for about 4-4.5 hours.  Starting at 10:30 and going off around 3.  There is one tree that partially shades the unit at around 2:30 and the fan will sometimes turn off then.

It's possible that I could get a little bit more run time out of the heater (by it starting earlier in the morning) if I had mounted it at a slight angle instead of flat against the building.  As mounted, the unit is facing 18 degrees west of due south.

One of the downfalls that I see with a can based collector is the huge pressure drop that occurs as the air tries to make its way through all of the cans.  For optimum performance the heat needs to be removed from the cans as quickly as possible to prevent heat from radiating back out through the glazing.   The low air flow can probably be solved by using a blower fan instead of an axial fan, but that increases the cost tremendously and the problem can be solved by a better collector design.


The 4x8 box is made of 3/4 x 4.5" oak.  The back is a piece of 1/8" plywood and is just there to prevent racking of the box.  The inside of the box is insulated with 1/2" polyisocyanurate with the foil side facing the inside of the collector.  This was not painted black as I have seen done in a few other builds.  The manifold at the top and bottom of the collector is ~6" high.  One thing I wish I had done differently is the cover for the manifolds.  It is currently a piece of black painted plywood insulated on the inside.  This should really be a piece of black painted aluminum flashing and not insulated so that the manifold areas can function as extra collector surface.   As it stands, only the cans act as the absorber plate for the collector with a surface area of 28 sqft.

The cans take a lot of time to prepare.  There are 17 columns of cans with each column containing 17 cans for a total of 289 cans.  The cans had the top/bottom cut out to open up the can as much as possible.  A v-trough made from some scrap 1x6 was constructed so that the cans could be aligned and sealed together with silicone.  The cans were then cleaned and painted with flat black high temperature grill paint.  Note that although most cans look the same, they all differ ever so slightly and that difference added up over 17 cans leads to differences is the lengths of the stacks of up to 1/2".

The fan I used is a 124 cfm axial fan.  The dimensions made it difficult to work with and I ended up having to make a mounting plate for it that was fastened to a 6" to 4" reducer to feed into the inlet side of the heater.  It's a good thing this is in the shop as aesthetic wise, this would not pass the "wife test" for being installed in the house.   The glazing is 8mm twin-wall polycarbonate.  I think it looks better than the single wall corrugated panels but it does add a bit to the cost.


Wood for box, back, manifold:  free, salvaged
Cans:  free
Twin-wall glazing:  $90
Silicone:  $10
Paint:  $15
Fan, snap disc controller:  $50
Wire, ducting, screws/etc:  $25
Insulation:  $10

Total:  $200

UPDATE Jan 2012:  There is a now a screen based collector #2

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Heating the septic tank

The TED 5002-G that I installed in early Jan has got me thinking about a lot of things.  The other day when taking a shower it dawned on me that all that money I spent heating hot water really did go right down the drain.  It takes < 5 secs for the water to leave the shower head and enter the drain at which point all it does is heat the septic tank.  There must be a better way!   If only I could recover that heat to preheat the cold water going into the water heater.

I got online later that day and found a graywater/drainwater heat recovery product.  The GFX website is web design hell, but it or a product like it should be required by code for all new building installations.  Lord knows the builders aren't going to install it just because it should be.

Green Gate Guest House has a really good article on the one they installed.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Heating the house

I've made a conscious effort this winter to open and close the few shades that are in the house to let in as much sunlight/heat as possible.  Has it made a difference?  I'd like to think it has but I'm not sure how to measure it as it's a passive heat gain and only applicable on days when the sun is actually out.  During the winter months, the heatpump is the major source of energy usage in my house.  Any changes in temperature from year to year make comparing savings extremely difficult.  In the past 7 years I've had my electric bill for January fluctuate from a low of 2900 kwh to a high of 4900 kwh.  So how can I compare?  Unless it's such a drastic change that it cuts my heating in half, any other savings could easily be lost in the noise of how many hot showers were taken, how many loads of clothes, running the dishwasher, etc.

Looking for ideas...

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Energy Detective

This year for Christmas I bought myself a TED 5002-G, handed the box to my wife who put a bow on it and handed it back.  How she always seems to know what I want for Christmas is beyond me.  What a woman!

For me, this thing is awesome.  Mainly because it makes me aware of what I'm doing.  The footprints software can be a little buggy at times especially if you swap back and forth between views.  The load profiling seems to have some issues.  I manually entered load values for some devices (like the hot water heater), and when I go to the load profile page, it can correctly tell me what the current state of the hot water heater is, but it can never find any historical data for it.

Some interesting things I've noticed so far... The house hums along at about 1.5 kwh of background usage.   Is that a lot?  Some of the things that are "always on" are:
  • 1 desktop system with external drive
  • 2 laptops.  Even when they sleep the power supply is always plugged in.
  • My electronics prototyping board
  • Router, cable modem, wireless router, 2x switches, 2x powered cable splitters
  • DVR, AV system, 5x TVs in standby mode, 3x DVD, Cordless phone base plus 2 charging stands
  • 6 lights (4 CFL, 2 Halogen)
This seems like a LOT and I'm sure I'm not listing several things, but it's better than it was!  It's taking some time to convert some of the other residents of the house to my way of thinking.

The hot water heater kicks on more than I thought it would just to keep the tank hot with no usage.  It's an 80 gallon, 5500 watt tank. The energy usage sticker on the side estimates 5200 kwh per year at a cost of $440.  Based on the data that I see from my TED unit, the water heater comes on about once an hour for about 4-5 min (these are estimates since the load profiling is buggy).  That's 9-11kwh every day, roughly 4000kwh per year, just to keep the tank at temp.  With my electricity rates, that's $400+ every year if I never use a drop.

Heating and cooling is by far the biggest use of electricity in my house.