Notes From The MetaEfficient Labs

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I’ve been doing a lot of work in the MetaEfficient lab. I thought I would post an update on my experiments and research:

Ultra-Efficient Laundry System

I’ve been assembling an ultra-efficient laundry system. The system makes use of the following elements: a front-loading washer from LG, a centrifugal dryer by Laundry Alternative, a liquid detergent derived from soap nuts, and an indoor drying rack and clothes line.

As you may have read in my washing machine review last month, the LG washer (WM2016C ) is one of the highest rated washers by EnergyStar — it consumes 152 kWh / year, and 4323 gallons of water per year on average. I bought it for about $600. This washer is quiet and has been cleaning my clothes very well. I use cold water, since heating water is the most energy consuming factor in clothes washing (90% of the power consumed).

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In place of laundry detergent, I use soap nut liquid concentrate. Soap nuts are the sun-dried fruit of Sapindus Trifoliatus trees in south eastern India. I buy my soap nuts on eBay, they cost about $12 a pound. To make a soap nut concentrate, I boil the nuts on the stove top for about 10 minutes, and put the resulting liquid in a bottle. You can add essential oils at this point for fragrance.

When I’m done washing clothes, I use a centrifugal spin-dryer to dry my clothes further. I bought this dryer for $130. It spins your clothes at 3000 revolutions per minute (RPM). For comparison, my LG washer spins at about 1000 RPM. You have to split your laundry load into a couple of batches to fit them into the dryer. You also have to make sure you balance the clothes inside the machine. When you’ve done this, you turn on the dryer, and it takes about 30 seconds to a minute to extract about 1/2 a cup of water. An electric dryer would take about 30 minutes to do the same thing, and it uses a lot more electricity. The clothes come out almost completely dry. You can hang dry them or put them in a tumble dryer for a few minutes.

I hang my clothes inside on a wooden drying rack and clothes line.

Hyper-Minimalist Electricity

I running a experiment to see how much I can reduce the electric consumption in my home. So far, I’ve reduced it to an average of 20 kilowatt hours per day.

Here are some of things I’ve done:

  • Reduced the temperature on my water heater’s thermostat (it’s at 110 degrees)
  • Set up the ultra-efficient laundry system
  • Finished installing compact fluorescent bulbs
  • Installed low-flow faucets and showerheads, reducing hot water use
  • Replaced my old TV and computer monitor with LCD displays
  • Switched to a laptop as my main computer (with LCD as a external monitor)
  • Replaced my old refrigerator with EneryStar model
  • Bought an energy efficient stereo system, the Vers Wood iPod Speaker Doc
  • Started using power-strips to turn appliances completely off
  • Started wearing warm clothes increase, reducing the need for heating
  • Used the toaster oven instead of the larger oven where possible

I’ve just ordered these devices:

First Alert Motion Sensing Light Socket

I’m going to use an LED light or Cold Cathode Compact Fluorescent in the these sockets because they can be turned off and on quickly.

Maxxima MLS-10 2 LED AC/DC Occupancy Sensor Light

Order another one of these motion sensor lights. I’m using one of these in the bathroom, so that I don’t have to turn the light on during visits at night – works well.

Turbo-Aire Aerodynamic Fan with Stand

This is a highly efficient fan.

Harvesting Urban Rainwater

I’ve been researching how to harvest rainwater in urban areas. I want to drink rainwater, use it to water my garden, and possibly use it to supplement my household water supply. I’m going to start with a rain barrel, and then probably install a compact rain tank. Here the books I’m currently reading on rainwater:

The Drinking Water Book: How to Eliminate the Most Harmful Toxins from Your Water

Rainwater Collection for the Mechanically Challenged

Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds for Domestic Supply, Fire and Emergency Use

Design for Water: Rainwater Harvesting, Stormwater Catchment, and Alternate Water Reuse

The New Create an Oasis With Greywater: Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systems

Ultra-Efficient Toilet

I’m planning on constructing an innovative green toilet. Flushing toilets, sewer systems and water treatment plants are very inefficient method of disposing of human manure. After much research on this topic, I’ve come to the conclusion that I will have to build my own toilet. It will be a compositing device plus a bidet. The bidet aspect will eliminate toilet paper (air drying will be used instead), and will be more hygienic overall. Because it will be composting, there will be no water involved. I’ll post an update on the project when I’ve progressed further. These are the books I’ve been reading:

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure

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Composting Toilet System Book

Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants

The Bidet: Everything There Is to Know from the First and Only Book on the Bidet

This book has misplaced pages and typos, but it’s full of information on bidets.

Here’s the Bidet 200 from BioBidet, which I’m currently using with my flush toilet:

Public Transportation

I’m been poring over the bus routes, subway maps, and train routes of my local area. I’ve found it to be a time-consuming process to the learn all the different routes and timetables. Unfortunately, DC is not one of the cities covered by Google Transit, that would make things a lot easier.

(You may want to skip this paragraph if you don’t live in the DC area). I found out that there’s a shuttle bus that goes from Rosslyn to Georgetown, and there’s now a free “trolley” service that goes from the Alexandria Metro to the Alexandria waterfront. The trolley was actually a bus made to look like old-fashioned trolley. I then used the recently introduced ferry service to travel to the new National Harbor (their website is currently down). I also discovered that Washington DC has a new bike sharing program called SmartBike DC. Another service I heard about but haven’t tried is Arlington’s EnviroCab fleet. They make use of hybrid vehicles, and serve the DC metro area.

I also want avoid air travel. I don’t enjoy flying, and it’s not a sustainable method of travel. My plan is to take trains and buses instead, and when possible, do some long-distance biking. To help in this endeavor, I’ve ordered these books:

This book, All Aboard!: The Complete North American Train Travel Guide, sounds like it will give me an good overview of train travel in U.S. and Canada.

I hope this guide will give me some tips on long-distance biking: The Essential Touring Cyclist: A Complete Guide for the Bicycle Traveler.


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Biking and Walking

For urban biking, I purchased the E-Zip 2008 Trailz Hybrid Electric Bike from Wal-Mart for $348, which is about half the price of any other electric bike out there. It will be delivered to my local Wal-Mart for free. I could have bought it from another vendor but it would have been $399 + shipping. I will test this bike and see if it increases my biking range. The specs on the bike say the range is 15 miles in electric assist mode. Obviously the range could be better (the electric bike I’d like to get is an eZee bike), but I hope to be able to travel to Washington DC using this bike (about 25 miles away). I will be attaching my Burley d’lite trailer to the bike, for the purposes of transporting my daughter and other things like groceries. It’s available here.

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Photo of a Burley d’lite trailer.

I’ve amassed a collection of bike maps for the DC area, including this map by ADC that shows all the bike trails of the DC area:

I requested some maps from the Virginia and Maryland Departments of Transportation — most states have free bike trail maps available.

I’ve also been attempting to walk long distances to my destinations, but I discovered that many neighborhoods here are not conducive to walking.

Efficient Food

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I am experimenting with growing vegetables in self-watering containers. Apparently, the self-watering planters are very helpful when growing vegetables on balconies. Herbs, however, like to dry out between waterings, they like regular pots. I bought my self-watering containers from Gardener’s Supply Company.

I’m also joined a local food co-operative that supplies my family with raw, pasture-fed milk, eggs and other dairy products. The food comes from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania. I’m planning on visiting the local farmer’s market when it opens next month, using my electric bike and trailer.

I’m also growing some vegetables from seed. Here are some self-watering devices I’ve been using:

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Some micro-greens starting to sprout in glass self-watering containers.

These seed starters are from Veseys:

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Compact Plant Trainer from Veseys.

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40 Cell Self Watering Seed Propagator from Veseys

Here are some of the books I’ve been reading in relation to food and growing:

Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers

How-To Hydroponics

Weed ‘Em and Reap: A Weed Eater Reader

The Untold Story of Milk: Green Pastures, Contented Cows and Raw Dairy Products

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

Here’s my newly installed vermicomposting bin, conventional composting bin and rain barrel:

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Junk Mail

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I’ve been eliminating the junk mail that gets delivered to my house. Using the web site OptOutPreScreen, I printed and sent opt-out letters to various bulk-mailing companies (see the all the letters above).

To remove my name from catalog lists, I used Catalog Choice.

I’ve got a few other long-term building projects in the works, you’ll probably hear about them soon on this site.

Comments

  1. JM says

    First off.. I found your site recently and do enjoy learning about the things going on.

    The one real big issue that I have with the green movement if you will, is that for people who are low income with not a lot of spare cash. It is not very practical to go green. Even the up front cost for a light newer style of light bulb, while it could save cash in the long run, it’s not practical. 7$ for a newer style of bulb vs. 67 cents. More so when the cost of food and gas are going up.

    I love the ideas that you have presented in this entry. It’s just a shame that stuff is so expensive right now. Going green is only for those who can afford to do so. The rest of us commoners can’t afford that kind of luxury.

    • Heidi says

      I must say… that is so not true. There are so many different ways someone can go green and actually save themselves a lot of money, and not really spend hardly anything. People can start cloth diapering, sewing their own clothes, make their own diaper wipe solution and use rags. People can actually garden themselves, turn off all devices while not being home… and I mean all. How about riding a bike to the store. There are SO many ways to save money. You do NOT need money to save money. That’s just rediculous!!

  2. Obiwin says

    Sounds like you’re in the DC area. Two sites you might find useful.

    1. Bikewashington.org. has nice information about recreational bike trails

    2. Hopstop.com makes Metro bus and subway planning very easy. (also works for NYC, Chicago, Boston, and SF)
    Cheers

  3. John David says

    I don’t think one needs to be wealthy to conserve energy. It doesn’t cost anything to just TURN OFF THE TV WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING IT! Actually, being poor is conducive to saving energy. I don’t own a TV, DVD, stereo, or microwave. The appliance you don’t have will use less energy than the most efficient appliances on the market. I generally consumed 3-4 KWH a day in an apartment. Then I got a roomate and our electric bill tripled in the first month. Our incomes weren’t the issue, our energy habits were. We had a little chat about leaving lights on all day. Plus, poor people are more likely to use public transportation, bike or walk. It is the wealthy of the world who are using the lion’s share of its energy resources.

  4. says

    i have read your site regularly for three years. the slow times of no posts for weeks almost made me quit. i’m glad to see you are on a semi regular posting schedule.
    in reference to the start up costs for the poor comment, i find simply making a conscious effort to conserve and use less is the single most important metaefficient thing. we are extremely poor by american standards but feel rich beyond all standards. we spend the little we have to make a difference wherever we can.

  5. Scott says

    I have just discovered your website. Keep it coming.
    I too have been trying to lower my home energy use and while I have been implementing energy savings devices for over twenty years, I still don’t know how my household compares to others. There are so many factors that are involved. I have been working on the key factors and trying to come up with a coefficient for each factor. So far I see climate zone (I have been using the Sunset garden Zoning system), square footage and number of persons as the most relevant factors. I haven’t quite figured out the best way to account for all electric or gas burning (natural gas/propane) homes. For our home we consume about 12 kw-hrs/day, but taking into account the square footage (1500) and my family (6), we average 1.38 watt-hrs/sq.ft./person/day in Climate zone 15 with gas used for cooking and clothes drying.

    Scott

  6. says

    I just found your site. I am still new to computers. I was admiring your wooden vermicomposting bin. I am trying to build one myself. Would you be willing to share your plans or even pictures of the trays (inside).
    I am working with a very low budget (family of five, little work), can’t easily afford the commercial bins, but I do seem to find access to alot of wood and garden/farm scraps.

    Thanks,
    Bill

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