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?

 

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?

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?

Hot Water Bottle Cover

This weekend my Facebook feed has been a buzz with people asking at what temperature they set their thermostats. To chime in on the subject, we have a programmable thermostat that allows us to set the temperature for different times of day. While we are at work, the temperature is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, when we’re home it’s 60, and at night 58 degrees. Here are some of Jeremy’ s considerations for programming the thermostat:

  • It’s more efficient to use a space heater to heat the room that we’re in, instead of heating the whole house
  • You can dress warmly instead of raising the temperature
  • Minimize the difference between your high and low temperature settings
  • Consider the needs of house plants and pets before you set the temperature too low
  • Be mindful of diminishing returns

Jeremy has been able to acclimate to the cold better than I have. To make night-time more pleasant, we have invested in flannel sheets and a hot water bottle.

Every night, Jeremy brings a pot of water to near boiling. Then he pours the very hot water into the bottle and screws on the cap. We place the bottle in the bed between us, or at our feet. The bottle generates a good amount of heat and is often still warm in the morning. It makes the sheets toasty warm without much energy consumption. To make our bottle even cozier, we made him a cover.

In clearing out our closet last weekend, we unearthed some very large flannel shirts, like the one pictured. We decided this shirt would make a great cover for our hot water bottle.

Jeremy stuck the (filled) bottle into the shirt like so. After we had a few laughs, we decided that having a button-down cover is the perfect plan. So, I pinned the shirt tightly around the bottle and cut around the bottle, about an inch from the pins.

After a couple of adjustments and trimmings, I unpinned the pieces and ironed them.

Now the pieces are crisp and ready for sewing. But before I did any stitching, I fitted the pieces to the bottle again. I buttoned the front pieces together, and pinned the front to the back, right sides together, starting at the collar. I pinned as close to the sides of the bottle as possible, then removed the bottle to pin the bottom. I then stitched around the entire perimeter of the cover, as close to the pins as possible. When I was sure that the bottle fit properly, I trimmed back the excess material to a 1/2″ hem. Then I turned the cover right side out and ironed.

The buttons make it easy to get the bottle in and out. It even looks good from the back:

The flannel texture is much more inviting than the naked rubber bottle. The shirt is thin enough that the bottle should still radiate a significant amount of heat. We also hope that the cover will help the bottle stay hot longer.

This cover was really easy to make, once we got the fitting right. The whole project took less than an hour from concept to execution. Of course the best part is that we found a use for this old shirt.

What are you doing to stay cozy this winter?

Day Eight – Improve Your Budget

Jeremy loves to save money. He’ll follow me around the house, turning off the lights I leave on. I asked him to share some of his money-saving tips that can help you improve your budget. We didn’t bother talking about improved insulation and CFLs to cut back energy costs, using coupons to save on groceries, or killing your cable/satellite and land-line. I hope you enjoy. — Monica

We’re always looking for ways to limit our spending on day-to-day expenses. We’ve discovered a few techniques that haven’t been beaten to death elsewhere and are excited to share what we’ve learned. I hope at least one of these tips will be new to you.

Utilities

Sign up with alternative gas and electric suppliers. You can easily save a couple cents per kWh of electricity and therm of natural gas. This can save you several dollars every month (more during the hottest and coldest months). Do your research when selecting a provider and read the fine print; you won’t necessarily get a better price through an alternative provider. There could be fees or a tricky pricing scheme. We were able to find a reputable provider that handles both gas and electric.

Of course, you’re getting the same electrons and gas molecules you would otherwise and your utilities will provide the same services they always have. You’re just buying the production of your electricity and gas from someone else. It’s not all just accounting tricks though. Some electric providers give you control over the type of production you’re funding. For example, our electric provider offers plans that include varying degrees of wind power.

Budgeting

Use a service like Mint or Yodlee to keep track of your spending. These services allow you to aggregate all the balances and transactions from all of your checking, savings, credit card, retirement, investment, and loan accounts. This way you can more easily monitor for unusual spending and even be alerted automatically when your spending in a given category exceeds your average. I don’t use these services to enforce a strict budget, but to monitor spending trends and make gradual course corrections as necessary. We’ve been able to reign in our groceries budget (a bit) and to track the success of our home improvement projects in decreasing our energy bills.

We personally use Mint and it is fully capable of helping you manage a strict budget, if that’s your preferred money management method. It has other nifty features like tracking savings towards goals that you define and alerting you when bills are coming due.

Credit Cards

Take advantage of credit card rewards, discounts, and benefits. If you have the right card, and pay it off entirely each month, you can get a good chunk of money back every year. Our go-to card gives us 5% back on groceries, gas, and pharmacy and 1.5% back on everything else. This adds up to a couple hundred dollars a year and you’ll be building your credit score at the same time. I’ll reiterate that this is only worth it if you pay off the card entirely each month.

Some cards have added benefits that aren’t advertised very well. One I learned of recently is the extension of manufacturer’s warranties. Some cards will tack on an extra year or so to the end of manufacturer’s warranties on products you purchase using that card. You can read a heart warming warranty success story over at The Consumerist. A consumer was able to get a full refund on a laptop that stopped working just two weeks outside of the manufacturer’s warranty.

Extra rewards when shopping online is another oft overlooked credit card perk. See if your credit card offers extra rewards for getting to your favorite shop via the credit card’s website.

Small Power Saving Tips

This is definitely a small one, but turn off your ice maker when you don’t need it. I measured the power drain on ours using my Kill-a-Watt and found it is pulling a constant four watts even when it’s idle. I didn’t measure consumption during the different phases of ice making, because we don’t often make ice. Turning off the ice maker will only net you a few dollars a year, but small, constant power usage adds up.

A similarly small tip is to charge your devices at work, if you can. Here’s a practical example:

My phone charger draws a constant 5 watts when the phone is plugged in. If I left my phone plugged in overnight, it’d use about 50 watt hours. Monica’s laptop draws about 50 watts while charging. If it takes 2 hours to charge, that’s another 100 watt hours. This obviously isn’t huge, but if you’re already taking these devices between work and home, just make an effort to plug them in while you’re at work and you’ll save a few dollars a year.

Yard work

We have a small yard, so we save money by using a manual lawn mower instead of a gas-powered mower. Besides the obvious savings of not burning gas, these mowers require less frequent maintenance. Teamed up with a gas or electric trimmer, a manual mower is a great option for small yards. We have this reel mower from NaturCut. It takes more effort than a gas mower, especially if you let your grass get too long, but it’s not as bad as the reel mowers of old. Also, it’s quiet enough that you can carry a conversation while mowing, so it makes for a more relaxing experience overall.

These are a few of the techniques we use to save money on day-to-day expenses. These tips really do add up to a significant savings and give you more flexibility in your budget. Do you have any more budget trimming tips? I’d love to hear them!