Dual Flush Conversion

A few weeks ago, Jeremy and I converted the toilet in the hall bathroom into a dual-flush toilet. After reviewing our utilities, we saw that the one bill that hasn’t decreased over the years was our water bill. We hoped that converting our most used toilet into a dual flush toilet could help save more water (and monies).

Jeremy did the research and decided on the One2Flush drop-in converter kit. You can read about the kit and installation instructions here. Jeremy chose this kit because it comes with both a button and a handle. We thought that the double button would be more obvious to guests that this is not a “normal” toilet. With the handle, Jeremy worried that people would not realize that half-flush was an option. Another reason why we chose this kit is because it claims to fit most toilets and completely replaces the rubber flap. The flap is replaced with a piston mechanism that flushes the water out with an increased force. This allows the toilet to flush effectively with less water.

P1080284 P1080289The first step was replacing the rubber flap with the silicone seal that connects to the piston mechanism. In the first photo you might notice the ridges on the sides of the pipe. These ridges prevented the seal from fitting securely on top of the opening. A loose fit means that the toilet will keep running. Jeremy used his dremmel to shave down the sides of the pipe and make it smooth. Then he was able to secure the silicone seal and install the rest of the kit.

Complete KitHere is the final installation. On top of the seal is the piston mechanism. On this device is where you can set the water levels for “full” and “half” flushes. We have them both set to their minimum. This mechanism connects (via the yellow hose) to the button or handle. Other reviewers mentioned that a kink in the connection hose causes the toilet to not flush properly.

After the installation was complete we let the tank refill and tried a few test flushes. The button was not as responsive as we had hoped, and the full-flush always left the toilet running. After adjusting the pieces and trying to refit the silicone seal, we replaced the dual button with the handle.

Dual Flush HandleWe positioned the handle vertically, again to cue our guests that something is different about this toilet. We’ve been using the toilet like this for the past few weeks, and I have no complaints. The water level in the bowl is less than before, and we already had “low flow” toilets. There hasn’t been any clogs or issues with the half or full flushes. I think that the piston mechanism is making the toilet work better than before. Jeremy is still unhappy that the button did not work. The button’s malfunction may be because everything is too cramped in the tank (causing the hose to kink). This conversion kit works with a lot of the preexisting components of the toilet. There is another kit that replaces all the parts of the tank, and may make more room for the button mechanism.

During installation we filled and empty the tank several times, and there were a lot of test flushes – so, we don’t expect to see any water savings until our next bill cycle. Since this toilet is using less water, we’ve been prioritizing its use. Perhaps if there are noticeable savings we will convert our other two toilets.

Anyone else have experience with dual-flush conversions? Did you just decide to buy a new toilet instead?


What’s Going on Back There?

On Monday we posted about our utilities and what we’ve done to cut the cost. We mentioned our BGE SmartMeter, which allows us to view our energy usage online. The BGE website also has tips for how to save monies. One that we hadn’t considered before was cleaning the back of the refrigerator to help it run more efficiently.

Floor Behind Fridge

Back of FridgeWe pulled the refrigerator away from the wall – uncovering filth on the floor and a lot of dust on the back of the fridge. This dust can clog up the coils and cause the fridge to run inefficiently. We read some posts online about cleaning the coils. People were removing panels off the back of refrigerators to clean the coils. The back of our fridge warned us to not remove any of the panels. We certainly did not want to electrocute ourselves or unplug the fridge. So, I just did my best to vacuum the back vent. I also cleaned that gross mess on the floor.

Clean FridgeThat’s better! We haven’t cleaned back there since we got the fridge in July 2009. So, that was long overdue.

Is our fridge running more efficiently? We’re not sure. We haven’t noticed – and I think that’s a good thing. There have been times where we have heard the fridge running from our bedroom. Since we have cleaned the back vent, we haven’t really noticed the fridge at all. When I have noticed the fridge running, I definitely think it is quieter.

Anyone else having cleaning adventures? Tricks for making appliances run more efficiently?

Shut the Front Door

As you might know, we have been trying to find ways to make our home more energy-efficient. Earlier this year we had a home energy audit performed. One flaw of the audit is that it does not measure the efficiency of the front door (because of the blower door).

In these pictures you can see the dilapidated door sweep on our front door, and the rays of light coming in around the door.

My first order of business was to remove the old door sweep:

Now you have a better idea of how dilapidated the door sweep truly is. I used this classy plaid sheet to protect our bamboo floors while I worked, and to plug the gap under the door while I searched for the perfect replacement. Here was my issue: the standard 1.75″ wide door sweeps at Home Depot weren’t fitting. I was finally successful at Lowe’s.

The perfect fit came from the Frost King Slide-on Door Bottom. I am also super happy that it comes in white. All the Home Depot options were only in-stock in brown. The sweep did have to be trimmed about a quarter of an inch – using the hack saw.

Next was to tackle the daylight creeping in the corners. This cracked weather-stripping appeared to be the problem.

I was pleased to find that the weather-stripping was easy to remove and install. This weather-stripping does not have an adhesive backing. You slide the stripping into a notch in the door jamb. To test my installation of the door sweep and weather-stripping, Jeremy sprayed along the bottom of the door with the hose. A little extreme  – but the weather proofing held up.

Hopefully this overdue improvement means no more drafts coming in around the door. I wonder if these simple fixes will have a significant monetary impact on our energy bills.

What new ways have you found to be more efficient or save money?

Insulating the Attic Hatch

One of the recommendations from our Home Energy Audit was to better insulate the attic door in our master bedroom closet.

These photos are from the audit report and show the significant temperature difference between the edges of the attic door and the surrounding ceiling. Following the report’s recommendations, we purchased some rigid foam insulation and weather-stripping.

We also got hooks as recommended in this document from the Energy Star website – but we haven’t figured out that part yet.

Here’s how the door looked before we started. Ahhh! Big, scary, dead bee! When we first bought the house, the attic door was nothing more than a piece of drywall. Jeremy made a small improvement by adding this small piece of fiberglass insulation. So, the first order of business was removing this old, ill-fitting insulation and adding the new foam insulation. Jeremy cut the rigid foam down to size and attached it to the back of the door using paneling glue. The paneling glue is what we had on hand.

Then he attached the weather-stripping. The weather-stripping is 3/4 x 5/16 foam tape. You can see it’s placed along all the edges of the door. When we reinserted the door in the ceiling, it fit more snuggly then before. To see if the new insulation was actually making a difference, I borrowed a non-contact infrared thermometer from a friend. Jeremy used the thermometer to measure the temperature of the center of the attic door, the edges of the attic door, and the temperature of the surrounding ceiling. He found no significant differences in temperature. Too bad we don’t have access to a cool infrared camera.

Improving the insulation of the attic hatch was just one of the many recommendations of our audit. We still have not yet decide what improvements, if any, we’ll have contractors do for us.

Home Energy Audit Results

We’ve finally received the results from our home energy audit! A representative from the company, Green Market Solutions, came to our home to review our report with us.  The report started with an overview of our current energy usage and costs. According to the data, our main area of consumption is the electric baseload. So, anything that is plugged-in – including electronic appliances, computers, lamps, etc. Next is heating, then air conditioning. It’s not surprising that heating is more expensive than A/C. We seem to run the heat more than A/C; I rather be warm in the winter than super cool in the summer. The representative commented that we are already pretty energy-efficient.

The auditor also inspected our gas furnace and water heater. Both appliances passed the tests he conducted. There are other test that could not be conducted because our appliances are in a closed system. Our representative did say that this configuration is very safe. He also made sure that we have a carbon monoxide detector near the appliances. The rest of the report focused on ways to seal and insulate the house.

Above are two images of the attic hatch in our walk-in closet. The infrared image shows the cold air leaking in through the edges of the hatch. The best solution is seal up the hatch with some weather-stripping, and place rigid foam board insulation on the other side of the door. The report focused on ways to decrease the air flow coming in through the attic, basement and garage. The air sealing recommendations were to seal the top plates and service penetrations in the attic, and exposed rim joists in the basement with closed cell foam.

So, that’s what our attic looks like! I’ve never been up there before. The insulation we have in the attic is already pretty good, but they want to blow in more insulation to raise the R-Value up to R-52. Sealing around the floor joists in the attic would also make the insulation more effective. In the garage, the proposal is to cut holes in the finished ceiling and blow-in insulation between the beams.

The report includes the cost of all these recommended upgrades, as well as annual energy savings and payback period estimates. The good news is that our electricity provider offers rebates for 50% of the cost. Even still, our estimated annual savings for the air sealing is $14.34 and $34.91 for the insulation ($49.25 total). Much worse, the projected payback period is 58.55 years for the air sealing, and 29.95 years for the insulation (average of  38.28 years). The representative could not tell us exactly how the annual energy savings is determined, but the payback period is the cost of improvements divided by annual savings.

Our current plan is to do as many of the recommendations as we can, by ourselves. In order for the company to perform the blower door at no extra charge, some improvements have to be made by their contractors. We’re still doing the calculations to see which would be more cost-effective. Naturally, spending less would make the payback period shorter. Does anyone have experience with sealing joists with foam, or blown cellulose insulation?

Drafty Window Fix

The cold winter months have us looking for more ways to keep warm and save money. We already have honeycomb blinds on our windows for added insulation, but the kitchen window was still drafty. The strong winds were even making the curtains flutter.

Jeremy and I felt around the window to find where all the cold air was coming in. First, we took care of this gap in the trim:

I filled this in with some white latex caulk. Next, we tackled the gaps around the window itself. We purchased a tube of Red Devil’s Zip-A-Way removable seal from Home Depot.

The caulk goes on clear, and claims to stay clear (no yellowing). It is designed to be removed anytime after two weeks but before six months. We’re hoping to keep the window sealed up until summertime.

It’s worth noting that the Zip-A-Way was very difficult to get out of the tube. There are some amusing reviews on Amazon, saying that you’d have to be a linebacker to get this stuff out of the tube. Zip-A-Way also has a pretty potent smell; it’s not VOC compliant. In order to get the best seal, Jeremy used a gloved finger to flatten the caulk into the gaps.

We haven’t had any terribly windy days recently, but the seal seems to be working. You can no longer feel cold air blowing in. We’re hoping that will the Zip-A-Way, blinds and curtains combined that this window is cured of its draftiness. Next week we will receive the results of our energy audit. Hopefully there will be some cool before and after infrared photos of this window.

Fanciful Fireplace Vent Covers

We are always looking for ways to cut down on energy costs and save money (hence the audit last week). One problem that needed to be addressed is our drafty fireplace.

It is a gas fireplace; we’ve used it twice. It lacks a blower, so it is not very efficient at heating. The vents above and below the glass are bringing in cold air and thieving our warm air. I had thought about making a cover for the fireplace (like this, only prettier), but Jeremy said all we really needed were fireplace vent covers.

I found several retailers online (like this company) that sell different colored magnetic strips that cover the vents. Home Depot and Lowes also sell magnetic vent covers, but only 8″ x 15″. We need two strips with dimensions 35.75″ x 6″ and 35.75″ x 6.375″. Plus, the HD/Lowes covers only came in white. That’s when I decided to make some magnetic covers of my own.

I picked up two rolls of magnetic adhesive sheets (12″ x 24″ each). To make the 35.75″ x 6″ strip for the bottom vent, I cut one sheet lengthwise. For the 35.75″ x 6.325″ strip, I cut three pieces of magnet, each 6.325″ wide.

Then I stuck the sticky side down on the wrong side of some fabric.

I lined up the magnet strip with the waste of the fabric. Above you can see the pattern weights preventing the ends from curling up. I used black electrical tape to enforce the seams where the strip was pieced together. This helped to prevent further curling, and added some support.

Here they are! Definitely a colorful way to block drafts. I wish the bottom cover could be a little taller, so that you wouldn’t see the brass of the vent. Increasing the height would make the cover too floppy. The top of the vent is not flush with the sides, so the center of the magnet wouldn’t have anything to cling to.

The fabric is a little sheer, so the black of the magnet is influencing the colors. I already had this fabric on hand, so it did not add to the cost of the project. The fabric coordinates nicely with the other cool colors (and bright greens!) in the media room.

Here’s the view from farther away. Jeremy and I are pleased with how the colors and pattern of the fabric tie in with the elements of the room. We’re interested for the follow-up to our audit to see the impact the covers have made (albeit small).

Do you like our colorful cent covers? What are your solutions to drafty fireplaces?