Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Save Energy With This LED Retrofit for Recessed Lighting

One way heat escapes from a house in the winter is through recessed lighting that vents to the attic. Oftentimes, the "cans" that hold the light were designed with holes in them so that heat from the bulb wouldn't build up. Those holes allow hot air to escape from the house 24/7, whether the bulb is on or not.

It seems crazy to heat air with fossil fuels, then let it escape through all these holes. Back when I was on the board for Mountain Lakes House, I inventoried the recessed lighting and concluded that the heat loss through them all must be significantly increasing the house's carbon footprint and energy bills.

At the time, the only remedy was to build airtight boxes over each "can" where it vents into the attic--a tedious, expensive process. Just throwing insulation over the cans in the attic wouldn't stop the air loss. I crawled into my own attic and built a box over one, then ran out of patience.

What a surprise, then, to stumble upon the solution years later, in the form of new LED inserts. Take out the old bulb, screw one of these things in, slip it into place,

and you now have a more efficient bulb that no longer leaks conditioned air.

They're called "recessed retrofit downlights", with lots of options for purchase locally or online.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Magnificent Lindbergh Exhibit at Morven Closes Sunday

Catch it if you can. The exhibit at Morven Museum (Richard Stockton's regal digs next to Municipal Hall) is well worth an eleventh hour visit.

The dramatic images and beautifully written prose speak of a dramatic life of worldwide fame and local tragedy, when the Lindbergh's first child was kidnapped from their Hopewell home.

I loved the patterns and textures in this photo of Lindbergh's welcome home after flying across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis.

While covering his contributions to American aviation and devotion to good causes, the exhibit doesn't shy away from the more problematic aspects of his life: the multiple families he fathered on various continents, and particularly his fascination with the innovations and efficiencies of the Nazi air force.

A docent explained that multiple institutions have offered to provide a permanent home for the exhibit, but many of the artifacts need to be returned to the Smithsonian. At the least, they should create a digital version of the exhibit for the internet.

Kudos to Morven for this 1st class exhibit.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Dashboards and the Race to Tomorrow

Those ghostly hands floating in the photo are ghosts of travels past, like the invisible clouds of CO2 that rise from my exhaust pipe and mix with countless others in the air to erase all trace of my participation in collective planetary suicide.

Wow, wasn't expecting to write that! Major guilt trip to lay on folks needing "exhausting" machines to get through the day, which is all of us. But that's the box of perpetual guilt that political inaction locally, nationally and globally keeps us in, forcing us into exhausting mental gymnastics of denial and compartmentalization, just to maintain a positive outlook.

But it was the graph in the photo that was to be the subject of this post. On a Prius dashboard, you can see updates every five minutes on how much or how little you're contributing to aforementioned collective planetary suicide as you glide effortlessly forward in peace, comfort and tranquility, insulated from any negative feedback, thanks to the technological elegance of synergy drive. On the left is the first five minutes, when the engine was still cold and guzzling gas, if a Prius can be said to guzzle. Ten minutes in, the engine warm, the 25 mpg guzzles have turned to 60mpg sips, which one deep and persistent stream of thought would say is unamerican. A good American car should be able to drink lustily, take full throated swigs and slam that empty gas tank down on the counter, its weighty fossil carbon contents flown off on the wings of oxygen to hover above us, in airy peace and tranquility, while it effortlessly wreaks havoc for centuries. Carbon liberation! Combust, combust, until we go bust!

All of which was intended to say that those first 5-10 minutes of inefficiency with a cold gas engine feed the dream of electric cars for puddle jumping Princetonians, charged at home with solar panels. But oh how slow the change as we hurl forward towards the climate tyranny of tomorrow, in a nation that cherishes its freedom to pollute.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Mr. Sustainable Gets a Twofer

I've had two broken Sharp brand microwaves sitting around the house for awhile. It seemed a shame to throw them away. One just needed a new plate, the other a new doodad that triggers the door to open when you push on the button. The plate online cost not much less than a new microwave, and it seemed too hard to track down an order number for the doodad to open the door. So they sat in the basement, until one day not long ago I made a very promising find about a block away. Someone had thrown out a Sharp microwave. Even though it was a different model, I just had a sense this could be the long awaited solution to one of life's persistent problems.

I tried the plate. Bingo. One microwave fixed. Now it was like a slow motion bowling ball--sent rolling down the lane, hoping for a spare--that had already knocked down one pin and was headed for the other.

Freeze-frame for a few weeks of procrastination, because retrieving the doodad required some dismantling of the old abandoned microwave. A larger task requires a longer inhale of time before the exhale of action. Finally the day arrived when this seemed like the perfect project to do, in order to avoid doing something else.

The extracted doodad was similar to the broken one, as I had suspected, but similar enough? Out came the hack saw to shave off some excess plastic on the scavenged replacement part, and bingo, the piece slipped into place. The figurative second bowling pin went down,

and I was now the proud owner of not one spared microwave but two.

The rest of the donor microwave went out on the curb, hopefully to be taken away by some scrap guy driving by. Within an hour, the motor with its copper coil had been extracted by someone, like an aboriginal hunter plucking the heart from fresh kill.

The satisfaction that comes from making this sort of repair is out of proportion to any actual gain. Megafactories spit microwaves out like popcorn. Spending this time and ingenuity would make sense in Cuba, or some other country with limited access to new stuff. It's strange to have 3rd world instincts while living in a 1st world country, and yet the hard-wired satisfaction suggests a deeper psychological origin, dating back to a time before factories, before extraction from the earth, when nothing came pre-made, when resourcefulness, the capacity to see promise not in human discards but in nature's offerings of wood, sinew and bone could make all the difference between shelter and suffering, feast and hunger. To engage those core faculties of resourcefulness and creativity, even for a prosaic end, is to feel more fully alive.

It's also a great way to avoid attending to less satisfying 1st world obligations.

My rule is never to search intentionally, the better to experience that wonderful thing called serendipity, knowing that, as in this case, chance favors the prepared mind.