Category Archives: Green

Solar furnace

Passive solar furnace

Being a cheap-skate, I am incredibly excited about doing anything I can to put a little extra green in my pocket.  I have been looking online and thinking a lot about making a solar furnace to supplement our home heating.  We happen to have replaced 2 screen doors with full-length windows so I was presented with a couple of large pieces of tempered glass.

Insulation for passive solar furnace

You can look around online for solar furnace or passive solar heat and find tons of additional information, but basically, these things work by capturing heat and using the principle that hot air rises.  I snaked clothes dryer exhaust tube side-to-side through an insulated (with sheets of styrofoam insulation) wooden box.  I covered the insulation with roofing felt to make the inside of the box black (plus I knew roofing felt would live through high heat).  I painted the box and the dryer hose with flat black paint so it absorbs heat very well.

Air passage for passive solar furnace

Cool air from my family room floor is pulled in to the bottom of the system.  The sun heats it as it sits in the tube.  The heating causes it to move upward eventually running back into my family room at about waist-high level.

This version does not show a blower on it yet so air flow depends purely on the principle of hot air rising.  I am working on a version that uses a small fan powered by a solar panel to move the air.  I’ll post more on that later as I get the details worked out.

Passive solar furnace

Anyhow, for the results…I set this in the sun at about 4:30 one afternoon.  The input temp was stable at 62.8 degrees F.  I then measured the output temp.

Input air temp

I could not believe it but my digital thermometer maxed out when the temperature got over 160 deg F.  The last picture I took before it maxed out was at 157.3 deg F.  I have no idea what the temperature actually got to but I saw at least a 100 deg F temperature differential!

Output air temp

Maxed out my thermometer
I have some more info to post on this but it will have to wait until later this week…

Green Power in WV

WV Wind turbines

Appalachian Power has started a new program where customers can purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) to offset their carbon footprint.  Renewable energy credits are created whenever a renewable energy generator makes power from renewable resources.  Basically, when a wind generation station sells power to the grid, it generates these credits which are certified and sold to individuals or entities like AEP.  Credits are unique so when I purchase RECs, I know that the power we bought was generated at a renewable source.

We took a vacation trip to Canaan Valley 2 years ago and were able to see some wind turbines up close and personal.  They are incredible and massive and pretty neat landscape features actually…sort of like flowers springing from the mountain tops.

WV Wind turbines

Of course, I don’t live super near them but I certainly liked seeing them in action.  The Eastern mountains of WV are a great location for wind turbines and I am so excited to be able to buy power from them or similar sources.  WV is very much a coal state and that is fine (though I think mountain top removal is despicable), but I am particularly excited to be a part of helping to make WV an energy state.  We can make clean energy here.  So, we are planning to purchase RECs to offset our power consumption and make our stay on the 3rd rock from the sun a little cleaner.  We currently average 1447 kwh per month so we will purchase to offset that.  Our next goal, then, is to look around our house and find ways to reduce that number.  Our hot water and oven are electric and I am not compelled to replace those items.  We will likely have to address our normal patterns of usage and look at our other appliances as well.  It should be interesting but will pay off!

More green

Green Cayennes

Well, yesterday’s post was about bad green. Actually, green is my favorite color and there are tons of green things that I have snapped pics of this summer. These greens are much better than Soylent green.
Green bug on black locust

Humans have three types of color receptors in the eye.  Basically, they are for sensing red, green, and blue.  In general, humans are most sensitive to greenish wavelengths.  I suppose that is why greens seem so vivid (or is it just me?).  I used to do some physiological research on various critters, among them, zebrafish.  Zebrafish have four sensor types and are most sensitive to UV.  I wonder what their favorite color is…
Green zucchini pickles

I guess I am sort of glad, but also bummed that a camera just rarely seems to capture colors as vividly as they are in real life.  I guess that’s one of the things that makes the moment so special.
Green sunflower
Green Hillside

This hillside is outside my office and has been very interesting to watch evolve in color through the summer.  Right now, there are plants that are turning bright red and goldenrod has also really cropped up.  Green dominates but the hillside is alive with color!

My favorite green!

This is my favorite green…I am trying to avoid caffeine and drink more water and milk so it’s rare that I get to enjoy any of this nectar…so sad…


There was an old junky shelf in our basement that was pieced together with a 1×12 and a 1×8 screwed together. I hated to just burn it up but wasn’t sure what to do with it. Isaac and Abigail had a visit at their Summer camp program from the Three Rivers Avian Center where they learned about bird habitats and their bird rescue program. The kids were so interested that they suggested we make some birdhouses out of the wood. We’ve had a house wren pair that have nested in an existing house the last three years and hatched 2 sets of eggs per year. That leaves us with a lot of house wrens around. I found some plans online for a house wren’s house and our wood measured out sufficient to make 3 houses. That should hopefully help our wren-friends. I ripped the boards to width and the kids sawed them to length by hand. They did a marvelous job on the first house. Abigail primed the wood and painted it in a rainbow motif. She assured me that the birds will like it and never go to the wrong house. She also thought the bees would enjoy the colors. It is really a beautiful paint job. We’ll probbaly work on the other two houses next weekend.

Unscrewing the old shelf

Unscrewing the old shelf

Hand sawing the board
Hand sawing the board
Sawdust nose?

Needs more paint!

Priming the house

Abigail was a tremendous painter through it all. She applied several coats of primer to both the house and her legs. She waited patiently for each coat to dry…at least 10 minutes or so between coats. The best part was her work with colors. She was incredibly excited with her creation…with good reason!

The nearly finished product

She has not yet announced her design thoughts for the next houses.  She is opinionated about everything though so I am sure she will let us know!

Reel mower to the rescue

We have an old Lawnboy 2-cycle mower that has been passed around the family for hundreds of years. It has been a great mower but it became unreliable on our watch. We decided to go shopping for a new mower and had hoped to find something easy to push on our crazy hills. I had been looking at various reel mowers but had never used one. We decided to look into it as we shopped. We found a fairly light one made by Scott’s and figured we’d try it.

It gives an awesome cut! It is easier to push than our motorzied mower and doesn’t make me smell of exhaust afterwards. The best part is that it cost only $82 compared to $250 or more for the motorized ones. It produces no pollutants and costsus nothing in gas money. The only weakness we have found so far is that it does not do great with those weed things that stick up way above the grass. I think we are going to go shopping for a weed-whip this weekend to remedy that problem.

Rain Barrels

This was the first rain barrel we installed. I went to a seminar put on by DNR and the city. They discussed the need, the benefits, etc and subsidized the cost. The best part about it was that it started out white. No need to paint it! I don’t like the bottom drain so much but it surely works.

My parents got some blue barrels that were originally full of vinegar. I painted them (is it that obvious?!) and hooked them up. Both drain to the location the down spouts originally fed.

Don’t forget to install a drain! I didn’t have drains at first thinking that it wouldn’t flood too bad…well, I got a lesson in how much rain runs off of a roof in a downpour. Drains are critical unless you don’t mind the water running down your foundation.

I hooked two barrels together on the side of the house where the gutter drains the largest amount of roof. I could probably use 10 barrels on that area but it wouldn’t look too hot. Anyhow, I also saw some other folks who had a contraption built to allow the first several gallons to pour out rather than go into the barrels. Basically, on mine the water goes down into the big pvc pipe which holds a small plastic ball. As it fills, the ball floats up to the neck between the big and small pipes. When it reaches the top, it seals the large vertical pipe and redirects water into the ‘y’ and down into the barrel. There is a small leak in the big pipe so it drains ‘automagically’ between downpours. The two barrels are joined together by the hose that connects the two via their spigots. I just leave both spigots open most of the time (but I can close the individually when I want to use some water). Water will level itself between the two barrels without my intervention.

I could probably use some lessons in spray painting but it blends with the house from a distance…unless you ask Emily.