Tag Archives: Energy

Stadium Lights

We’re gradually making energy-saving adjustments to our old, old house. The new windows have helped our energy efficiency (and comfort!) tremendously. But for the most part, the changes we make have been, well, free. Or taxpayer-funded.

The city has been giving out those snazzy CFL bulbs at nearly every city-sponsored event I’ve been to in the past year, from picnics to lectures. And if you happen to be present towards the end of the event, organizers tend to hand them out in pairs or triples, rather than packing them back up. Which leads me to believe that the city knocked off a truckload of bulbs bound for Chicago. After all, every single individually packaged bulb (how’s that for green?) is printed with the seal of the City of Chicago and the Richard M. Daley, Mayor insignia. Sometimes they have a “City of Elgin” sticker slapped over the top, but not always.

Anyway, like good citizens we’ve been installing the new CFLs as the old incandescent bulbs burn out. We were even proactive and bought (ie, overpaid for) bulbs for the front porch lights two years ago, since they’re the longest running lights in the house. (Though it should be noted that the first ones last a mere six days – apparently brownouts burn the bulbs, literally browning them. But the second pair bought the next week is on its third summer, running every night from sunset until 2 AM.)

We haven’t noticed a huge difference in the energy bills, but (mercury concerns aside) we’ve been pretty diligent. However, the quality of the light is very different than that from incandescent bulbs. This isn’t an issue outside, where more light better illuminated the drug deals that used to happen across the way, and the security lights from HALF A MILE ACROSS THE RIVER blare into our bedroom at night.

But in the living room, with first one, then two and now four CFLs spotlighting the couch from the overhead fixture, we’re just about to buy some more incandescent bulbs. They’re so bright – Don has compared them to stadium lights – that they prevent relaxing (read: napping). I’ve found Don stretched out on the couch watching tv with his hand shading his eyes from the glare.

So we’re not going green for the sake of being green. Rather, a little bit of common sense must prevail. Though we’ll continue to collect the bulbs at city events – I wonder if there’s an aftermarket.

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Fabulous New Windows

Last Monday, with an arctic cold front encroaching on the Midwest, my new windows were finally installed. They’re fabulous. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Monday was a seasonable day in the upper 20s, and the installers worked carefully so there was never more than one hole in the side of the house at any given time. By the time they left, we had five new windows – three in the living room, and two in the office.

The next day, the bottom dropped out and we had a series of days where we never broke 0 degrees, with overnight windchills hovering around -40 degrees. And the windows met their first test with fortitude and grace. No drafts. I noticed the biggest difference touching the glass itself. The new windows felt cooler than the room temperature, of course, but not bad at all. The old windows still elsewhere in the house were caked in sheets of ice and were barely touchable.

Definitely worth it. I just hope the heat bills reflect it.

Dim Expectations?


A coworker recently redid his bathroom. Of all the things they replaced, he said the very best investment was a dimmer switch for the lights.

I had never really thought about it, but I can see the value. My bathroom has a Hollywood Barbie strip of lights which could probably land a plane. They’re far too bright early in the morning and late at night. I keep a small nightlight plugged in to ease the transition in the morning.

A previous owner must have had the same thought. When I first looked at the house, there was a very odd dimmer switch in the bathroom. At some point between the inspection and move-in, it stopped working, so I replaced it with a standard switch.

I’m tucking this away for when the bathroom project becomes reality.

Upcoming Projects

I spent part of Saturday planning out my projects for the next six months, along with budget and a bit of Dad guidance. Here’s my tentative plan for the next few months:

1) Fence. Must do this soon, before the ground hardens. I’ve done quite a bit of research (including the need for a permit!), taken tons of measurements, and am just about ready to go. Except, of course, for a few nagging questions. Like, what do I do with the old fence? And what happens to all the junk my neighbor has propped up against my back fence? Those will be answered soon.

2) Windows. I’ve been window shopping lately, learning as much as I can about replacement windows. I spent a couple good hours at Home Depot learning from their window expert and have read countless websites. In the interest of time, sanity and proper insulation, I will be hiring a company to do this project – their estimates will determine how many I replace now versus next year. I’ve got three contractors identified for bids; I hope to have them all out within the next few days.

3) Replace cracked window panes. Related to replacing windows, I’ve got two cracked panes on my porch. Replacing them will take a bit of research, but I should be able to handle it myself.

4) Finish caulking the porch roof. I started this with half a tube of leftover caulk, so I might as well finish it. A little extra insulation never hurt anyone.

5) Light-a-palooza. I have a couple u-g-l-y light fixtures that continue to annoy me. The next time that Home Depot/Lowe’s/Menards has a great lighting sale, I’m going to bite the bullet and replace a couple of the most egregious – like the Hollywood Barbie light bar in the downstairs bathroom and the naked bulb in the stairwell.

6) Dining room floor. My floor has been uneven since I first looked at the house – the joys of 110 years of history – but the dining room has always been the most noticable and disconcerting. My home inspector said it stemmed from a cracked floor joist that must have occured when a previous owner installed ductwork in the basement. The inspector and another contractor concurred that the floor isn’t sinking – it’s moved as far as it will – but it’s always been a bit unsettling. Regardless, I plan on ripping up the otherwise nice hardwood floor and pouring a leveling compound, then laying a new subfloor and some sort of flooring. I may also replace the support beams in the basement to make them all uniform and get rid of the potentially-scary shims.

Mower Wars: The Finale

After months and months of frustration with my reel mower, I finally caved and bought a real mower. Mind you, I didn’t go the full-fledged gas guzzling route. Rather, I went with my alterna-yuppie tendencies and bought an electric mower. My yard is small enough that even the far edges are reachable with a 100 foot extension cord. Plus, an electric engine is far more environmentally friendly and doesn’t entail the sparkplugs, flooding threat and other hassles of a more traditional gas mower.

I started my research a couple weeks ago with a stop at Lowes. I had nearly made up my mind that I wanted to go the electric route, but I wanted to actually see an example. While there, I snagged a brochure, jotted my notes and weighed the relative merits of each. The kindly Lowes employee – an older gentleman – came by to offer his sage advice: “Women usually prefer the self-propelled. They’re less work.” Now, there would have been plenty of other ways to suggest that upsell without inserting the gender aspect. He could have mentioned a number of features that may merit the higher cost. Instead, when I explained that I was interested in an electric and asked for the difference between the two models on display, he tried again: “You know, electric means you have to mess with a cord. You should really consider a self-propelled.” I smiled, thanked him and walked out.

Later that week, I again mowed with my reel mower. Even after cross-cutting the lawn, it was still uneven and looked ragged. Over the next ten days, it grew and grew and grew as unrelenting rain prevented me from cutting. So Saturday morning, I set off to (a different) Lowes and its neighboring Home Depot, notepad in hand, and compared the scarce few models available at each. I came home and discovered that my leading front runner was $30 cheaper on Amazon, with no sales tax and free shipping! Nearly ready to Add to Cart, I stopped by Menards while I was out running other errands. Success! They had a very comparable model on sale for even less money. I snagged it and brought it home.

Sunday morning, I donned my grubby yard clothes, did the small amount of necessary assembly and sat down to unravel the extension cord. With it sufficiently untangled, I ran into the screened porch to plug it in. Suddenly, for the eleventh day in a row, the skies opened. Within the next two minutes, as I frantically pulled everything back to the garage, thunder rumbled and lightning brought torrents of hail. I sighed and went about my day. By the time I got home from a Cougars game, the sun had been out long enough to make things nice and steamy, while drying out the lawn. I mowed my lawn with the words of reviewers in my head. It did look like I was vacuuming my lawn! But in a relatively quick span, the lawn was nice and even and looked better than it has since I’ve lived in this house.

I’m sad to give up my defiant reel mower. But the resulting lush suburban grass makes it worth it.

And besides, I can keep using the reel mower on the slower-growing, shaded backyard – just to keep it real.

Easy Electric

I bought my timer switch last weekend, read the directions, and realized that it may be a better daylight project since it entailed cutting power to the circuit with the hall light.

Finally, I got around to it today. I cut power – thanks to some previous owners for meticulously labeling the breaker box with “Living room – South Wall” type detail – and tested my switch to make sure it was good and dead.

I pulled off the faceplate – there are three switches right there – and evaluated the situation. The switch had obviously been there since the Carter administration (at least), as it took some prying to expose the poof balls of black schmutz and insulation. The switch wasn’t grounded at all. After a minute of gentle tugging, I realized wire snips were the easiest way to cut the old wire from the switch – after I triple-checked that the power was indeed off.

One of the joys of an old house is the old wiring. While the breaker box has been updated, some of the internal wiring is, well, old (and I have some old, retired outlets to prove it!). The wires in the wall are wrapped in black cloth. I used my wire snips again to gently peel back about half an inch of insulation so I could fit the wire into the caps with the new switch wires. I lined up the wires, made my connections, grounded the thing (an improvement already!) and then struggled to get all the new wires back into the hole. I kept at it until the (much whiter) new timer switch was nearly flush with its old, almond neighbors. Then it dawned on me that before I finished the arduous tightening, I should probably turn the power on and make sure that everything was connected right. Success!

In many ways, the hardest part of the whole project was getting the faceplate back in place and lined up. It’s still not quite perfectly flush, since the new switch is a tad larger than the old ones, but it gets the job done. I set the program – lights on at sunset, off at 2 AM – and we’re good to go.

It was my very first solo electric project – hooray!