Daily Archives: March 29, 2009

Our cars weigh too much and cost too much

Or do they? What all of our cars weighed 1500lbs and cost $4000 and got 54mpg? I mean all of them, so you didn’t worry that you’d get hit by an SUV weighing 4 times as much. Would that be a good thing? Not so obvious. On the other hand, I agree that it seems crazy to spend so much on helping US car companies. Time to move on. Even the Prius is going to seem like a joke in 10 years. I hope. I mean, it should. But I don’t really hope. All depends on what happens to the price of oil.



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All I wanted was a chair mat!

So, the floor in my office in the house we are renting is not exactly smooth, so I foolishly thought I would buy a chairmat. You know, those clear plastic things to make your office chair roll nicely? So I was next to a Staples today so went and grabbed a nice looking one. I did my usual “plastics sniff test” as I do with all plastic (if it smells, out it goes!), and it seemed to pass, and nowhere on the display or labeling did it say what it was made of, so I foolishly gave it the benefit of the doubt that it was not PVC (vinyl).

Silly me. After only maybe an hour of use in my office, my throat was beginning to bug me. Oh no. Phthalates strike again! So I sniffed again (this time, maybe away from all the other smells in Staples, it did have a noticable smell… darn, not a good sign!) And I called the manufacturer, E. S. Robbins, and they are emailing me back (they never did), but this EPA website (and my sore throat!) seems to indicate that it probably does have phthalates. What a shame!

“Acute exposure to dimethyl phthalate, via inhalation in humans and animals, results in irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.” From: EPA: Technology Transfer Network Air Toxics Web Site: Dimethyl Phthalate


So what should I have bought? Well, it looks like there are actually mats made out of wood or bamboo that one can buy, but really what I need is something more flexible. 2 options that would probably work are: 1) carpet (but something natural with good IAQ without phthalates or PBDEs like wool) -or- 2) maybe a section of linoleum (not imitation vinyl flooring) which is also a winner.

I guess my main complaint is… should life be so complicated? No! phthalates/BPDEs/BPA/etc should be banned from products where there is a reasonable alternative! Which is almost everything, most likely!!!
Tisk tisk companies, phase out this nasty stuff, or be left behind by your competitors who are!

UPDATE: I give up. I am going to buy a section of all-wool carpeting (no PVC backer) and use that instead. That’s the ideal solution for my situation I do believe.

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Deep Energy Retrofits

So, we’re building a house. But part of that is because any existing house I bought, there would be significant improvements I would want to make. This article (link below) from Affordable Comfort has a reference (p23) to $75,000 as the amount needed to do a Deep Energy Retrofit plus add a 3KW PV solar array (presumably on a small house) in an effort to get to Net Zero Energy (with yearly savings of (7000k less heat+4300k from PV=11300KWh). From just a $$ standpoint at 2008 electricity prices in the northeast ($.25 for a green KWh) that’s

7000 * $0.10 (=0.25 / 2.5 COP of a air-source heat pump in new england)
+4300 * $0.25
=700+1075 = $1775 per year

(** I have no idea if this 11300KWh is even ballpark close to a reasonable number… I think it might be though… the 7000KWh seems to be like reducing a $1400 heating bill for a year to $700 — at my $0.10 for an air-source heat pump ==> $700 = 7000*0.10)

You really (in my opinion) need to keep the heating separate, because you aren’t going to realistically use straight resistance heat at $0.25/kWh. You are going to either use an air-source heat pump, or fossil fuels (which end up costing pretty much the same per BTU of delivered heat as an air-source heat pump)

OK, so that $75k is going to have a simple payoff of 42.2 years. (75/1.775) OK, so I began this post hoping it would come in under 30 (length of a mortgage), because then…

Well, the idea is that if you could somehow buy a fixer-upper house, but get an extra $75k thrown in on the mortgage, that guess what… you’d save money in a cash flow sense from day one.

You mortgage would cost a little more per year (at 30years@4.5% interest , $75k is $4560 a year)


And darn. You don’t save nearly enough on heating and electricity bills ($1775 saved per year) to make up for the difference in your mortgage ($4560)

So I guess that’s essentially why we are building a house?

And I guess that’s what the Affordable Energy paper is talking about. How to deal with all of these existing inefficient houses.


PS. Of course, remember this example is all about $$ payoff. If you do a BTU payoff or try to use a price per KW for energy which might better reflect the true cost to the country (in environmental degradation, a lack of energy independence, etc.; due to electricity or fossil fuel usage; which would probably jack up the cost per KWh or BTU of fossil fuels by several times.) Then you are in good shape. Your pocket book is still hurting significantly, but I think you are on firmer moral ground — you are trying to be part of the solution to our energy woes. A 42 year payoff is suddenly 21 years if you think oil is half as cheap as it should be. Now you’re in business.

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