Sunday, November 27, 2016

Rainwater usage update & analysis

At the beginning of October I reset my flow meter to zero.  I wanted to measure exactly how much rainwater I used in one month.

The result?  I used 607.7 gallons. That was for flushing a toilet, washing cars, and watering the lawn.  I wanted to use up what I had in the barrels.  Good thing I did too, because it went below freezing in the first week of November.
My sophisticated gauge showed that my barrels were empty on November 2.  I used a shop vac to remove the inch or two of water that was left in the bottom of each barrel.  Then I disconnected the hoses from the pump and briefly ran it to get any remaining water out.

So what are the results? 

I've been saving my water bills for the last few months.  I think the results are inconclusive.  The bills range from 28 to 34 days so I can't compare total gallons used.  Thankfully the water company is kind enough to list the average daily usage.  They even include a handy-dandy graph.
My average daily water use for my August bill (July 08 to August 05) was 125 gallons.  I ran rain water to my toilet on August 13.  I expected to see a drop in water usage on the next bill.  But it hardly made a difference.  My average daily usage for my September bill (August 05 to September 08) was 123 gallons.  My usage dropped only 2 gallons per day!

The October bill is where things got interesting.  It ran from September 08 to October 07.  My daily average usage for it was 100 gallons.  That was a big drop.  I have no explanation as to why.  My most recent bill (October 07 to November 07) average usage was 119 gallons.  That was with the toilet back on the house water for the last 5 days of that billing cycle. 

I don't know what to make of these results.  I was expecting to see fairly significant (5-10 or more gallons per day) drops in my water usage, and I only saw that during one month.  It hardly made a difference in the other months.  I can say that my bills would have been higher without the rainwater.  I'll certainly keeping an eye on this next year.  It'll be interesting to compare those graphs year-to-year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hurricane Matthew and how we went for almost 48 hours without power.

Hurricane Matthew dumped a lot of rain on North Carolina last weekend.  We got around 8" here in Raleigh.  It wasn't a fun experience, but compared to the devastation in Haiti and even other parts of our state still deluged with flood waters, we didn't have much to complain about.  We were without power for roughly 46 hours.  Thankfully we were fairly prepared (it's the Boy Scout motto).

We knew that the hurricane was coming, but we had no idea how bad it was going to be.  I filled both vehicles with gas earlier in the week, and tested the chainsaw.  The rain and wind started Saturday morning.  I had my counter top ice machine going and was adding ice to the chest freezer.  We were pretty much stuck inside at that point.  All we could do was wait.
The creek on my property during the hurricane, and the day after.
The power went out around 2:30 in the afternoon.  I was naive and was holding out hope that it wouldn't be out for very long.  I was wrong.  It didn't come back on until Monday at 12:30.

Saturday night I got out my MSR Pocket Rocket backpacking stove and some freeze dried Mountain House meals for dinner.  (I only buy the buckets of Mountain House when Amazon has them on a daily deal for $48 or less.)
For light in the kitchen I used a 5ft. Luminoodle LED rope light and an LED lantern.  The Luminoodle has a USB connection and connects to any USB power source.  Speaking of USB power sources, I have multiple USB batteries.  The main one I used is a 20,000mAh Limefuel battery bank.  The other is a RAVpower 6000 mAh travel router.  Those two batteries kept our phones charged and powered the Luminoodle for hours.

I used a Schumacher car battery jump starter to keep my living room lit.  It has a 200 watt inverter.  I plugged three lamps in and the room was as bright as usual.  I had Cree LED bulbs in the lamps, so they hardly drew any power.

We kept ourselves entertained by playing card games and reading books.

One of the other really useful things we had were LED motion lights.  I keep these throughout the house all the time.  They really came in handy with the power out.  I have two types.  

The Eteckcity lights to the right are generally very nice.  They plug into the wall and stay charged.  When the power goes out you can remove them from the wall and use them like a flashlight.  The biggest drawback I found (and it's a big one) is that the batteries in them die in just a few hours.  They didn't last very long at all once the power was out.  

The lights that actually worked better in this situation where the AA battery powered Mr. Beams lights.  They are a little annoying during normal use because I have to take the batteries out every 2-3 weeks and recharge them.  But unlike the Eteckcity lights they lasted the entire time we were without power.

There's one other really useful item that I couldn't have done without.  My 32 oz. thermos!  I used my Coleman stove to make coffee with an old fashioned percolator coffee pot.  We drank our usual amount of morning coffee and the rest went into the thermos.  That kept it hot all day!  There was no need to fire up the stove again for more coffee later in the day.  I just got it from the thermos.

So what didn't work so great? 

There were a few things that didn't go very well.  We had difficulty keeping the refrigerator and chest freezer cold. We kept both closed as much as possible to keep the cold in.  We were able to keep an eye on the temperatures by using a wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer and remote wireless thermometers.  I normally keep one of the remote units outside and the other in the garage.  It made more sense to put them in the freezers once the power went out.

Anyway...  We knew the temperatures were rising in both.  The freezer in the kitchen eventually got above 32*, but the one in the garage only got to 30*.  I lucked out and was able to run it for a little while Sunday afternoon.  I hooked up an 800w inverter to the battery of my car.  It wouldn't start the freezer Sunday morning, or Sunday night, but somehow it worked when I tried in the afternoon.  The freezer only draws 100w or so when it's running.  The problem is the huge spike in power when it first starts.  It draws more than 800 watts which caused the inverter to fault.  Like I said, I lucked out and it worked once.  I don't know why, but it isn't reliable for running the freezer.  It did however run the counter top ice maker like a champ.  I made several pounds of ice during the day.  I'm not sure how helpful it was, but I did it anyway.  And since I had the car running to make ice, I plugged in my USB batteries and the Schumacher jump pack and charged them.

In the end we did end up losing a lot of food.  On the bright side though, our kitchen fridge hasn't been this clean in a long time!  It looks brand new.

So what did I learn?

I learned that I was fairly prepared, but not enough.  I'm going to look at generators and I'm sure I'll have one before next year's hurricane season.  I don't want anything huge.  I just need a 2000w unit that can run the fridge and freezer every couple of hours to keep them cold.  Otherwise I don't think there's a whole lot that I would do differently. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Garden Update -- October 2016

I didn't post a garden update last month.  I don't have a lot going on.  We had a bad thunderstorm come through.  I lost a lot of tomatoes and all of my cucumbers to wind.  I basically just have a few pepper plants left.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Rainwater usage report after one month

I've been flushing one of my toilets with rain water for a month now.  The results are in.  The flow meter says that I've used 565.5 gallons of water. 
Not all of that water was used to flush the toilet.  I also pressure washed some of the driveway and washed my cars.  That doesn't really matter though.  Using rain water means that I'm not using water from the water company.  I'm interested to see how my bill will be affected.  I just have to wait and see.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

AUKEY 14W Solar Charger

I like to go backpacking.  My backpacking trips generally only last a weekend.  Keeping phones, GPS, and other devices alive for that amount of time isn't an issue.  It will become a problem on longer treks.  Carrying backup batteries can help, but on long enough treks even those won't last.

I have a 20,000 mAh Limefuel battery pack with two USB ports.  (Amazon only sells a 15,000 mAh version now.)  I charged my phone from it for several days to get it down to 10%.  I wish I had counted how many charges I got from it.  That would have been useful information.
Limefuel 20,000 mAh USB battery pack.
To charge this battery pack on the trail I intend to use a solar panel.  I bought a 14w Aukey, dual port, charger.  I set it up in my garden at noon and pointed it west towards the sun.
Then I plugged in a digital meter so I'd have some idea of what it was actually doing.  My initial results were not good.  It was cloudy so the panel only produced 0.5 watts.
An hour later it was producing 1.45 watts.  At least it was something, but not much.
The battery showed that it was at 30% of capacity.  I was actually pleased with this.  It went from 10% to 30% in 3 hours with a cloudy sky.
Less than an hour later things were happening.  The clouds went away and the solar charger was putting out 7.66 watts.  That's nowhere near the claimed 14 watt capacity, but I'll take it.  I live in North Carolina, not the desert of Arizona.  
After 5 hours my battery was at 48%.  Assuming that it actually holds 20,000 mAh, and that the display is correct, then it went from 2000 mAh to 9600 mAh.  That's enough to charge my cell phone 3 times. 
This battery pack and solar charger look like a winning combination for the trail.  The biggest downside is the weight.  I haven't put either on a scale, but Amazon lists the solar charger at 1.1 lbs. and the battery at 12 oz.  That's a lot of additional weight just to keep your phone charged.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Rainwater usage report

Earlier this month I attached the toilet in my powder room to my high pressure rain water system.  At the same time I installed a flow meter to measure how much rainwater I was using.  I checked tonight, and after 10 days I used 206.1 gallons of water.
The top number shows how much water was used since the pump last ran.  It gets reset by pushing the left button, or after 30 minutes of inactivity.  The bottom number is cumulative.  It gets reset with the right button, otherwise it just keeps counting.  The biggest drawback is that it only measures up to 999.  After that it goes back to 0. 

The other noticeable thing is the 1.8.  My toilet clearly says "1.6 gpf" right on it.  That's either a lie or the meter is wrong.  I guess since the water is free I shouldn't worry too much about it. 

I should also note that not all 206 gallons was due to the toilet.  I did wash my cars the other day.  I checked the meter then and had used about 30 gallons. 

I'm happy with the result, but it doesn't tell the entire story!  The flow meter only measures the high pressure water going through the pump.  It doesn't measure the low pressure drip irrigation system.  I'm saving water there too!  I just don't know how much.  I connected the flow meter to the drip irrigation line, but the flow was too slow to register. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Using rain water to flush a toilet

I've wanted to use rain water to flush toilets for quite some time.  I got a notice from my water company the other day saying that they were raising my rates.  That motivated me to plumb the toilet into high pressure rain water system sooner rather than later.

I started by drilling a 5/8" hole in the floor behind the toilet.  I hated to put a hole in the hardwood floor, but this was a lot easier than opening and then repairing the wall.
 Next I went into the crawlspace and pushed the reclaimed PEX pipe through the hole.
Then I had to go back to the powder room and connect the valve to the pipe.  I love these Sharkbite push-to-connect fittings.  They're expensive, but so easy to work with.  You just push the pipe into the opening and you're done. 
 I used a braided hose to connect the valve to the toilet.
Then it was back to the crawlspace.  I used another push-to-connect fitting to tie the new line from the toilet into the existing line.
Finally I added a warning tag to the supply line and opened the valve.  I'm pretty sure the tag is required by code, although I doubt too many people would attempt to drink toilet water.  I wanted it more for a means of advertising the fact that the toilet is being flushed with rain water.

Everything works fine.  The toilet fills more slowly than it used to, but that's not a big deal.  (The pump gets the water to 55 psi and the city water is 80 psi.)
Lastly, I added a flow meter to the pump.  This will give me some idea how much house water I'm saving by using rain water instead. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Garden Update -- August 2016

Here's the garden update for August.
Here are all of the raised beds.

I need to not grow so many jalapenos next year.  Each plant produces a lot more than I can eat.
The tomatillos have taken over this entire bed.  The other stuff I had in here can't be found.

Tomatoes and dill.
The cucumbers are going like crazy, but aren't producing a lot.
The pictures below are some of what I've harvested.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The rain water pressure tank has been relocated.

Let me be perfectly clear with this post.  I am not a plumber.  I am not an expert on building codes.  I'm making this post to show what I did in my situation.  It is not intended to be a how-to guide.  Always seek qualified professionals when making home improvements.

That said, I finally got around to relocating my pressure tank to my crawlspace.  I don't know if it was absolutely necessary (again, I'm not a plumber) but I thought that getting it out of the elements was a good idea.  It's also cooler down there so it won't be subjected to the high (90+ degree) heat and temperature swings.  Also, I won't have to drain and move it in the winter.

I used the following:
I glued all of the PVC connections and used thread sealant on the brass fittings.
The pressure tank is rated to 100 psi.  The pump that I have shuts off at 55 psi.  In theory the pump should never cause enough pressure to make the tank fail.  I didn't want to take any chances.  I got a spring loaded pressure relief valve that opens at 75 psi.  The hose connection allows me to drain the pressure tank, and the other connect attaches to the existing PEX pipe I recently ran through my crawlspace.
The above picture shows the tank in its final location.  It's against the wall out of the way near my water heater. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Garden Update -- July 2016

Things are coming along in the garden.  I'm getting a lot of peppers and tomatoes.

I don't know what happened to this plant and the one next to it.  They both turned brown and gave up.

More tomatoes.


More jalapenos.

Tomatillos gone wild.

Green peppers.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Moving rain barrel water to another location

The pump I mounted under my deck has been working great.  The one downside is that the pressurized rain water is only available in my back yard.  I frequently need water in my front yard.  The solution was simple, but not easy to implement. 

I bought 100' of 1/2" Purple Reclaimed Water PEX Pipe on clearance from Home Depot 2 years ago.  I knew that someday I might need it for this reason.  I lucked out.  I paid $32 at the time.  The 100' coils have been discontinued, and the 300' ft. coils are $118. 
I attached one end of the PEX pipe to the PVC pipe under my deck.  I drilled a hole through the wall and ran the pipe into the crawlspace.  This was the difficult part.  Crawling around in 35" of space and snaking pipe around obstacles, and nailing it in place isn't easy. 
I attached the other end of the pipe to a frost proof sillcock at the front of my house.  I mounted it near my existing hose bib.  That way I could fill the rain barrels that feed my drip irrigation system when they get low.
I was tickled with delight when I turned the valve and water came rushing out.  The next step was to connect the rain barrel to the new hose bib.  I did that and immediately had a problem.  The float valve in the barrel had too much resistance and caused the pump to pulsate very badly.  (The pump comes on at 30 psi and goes off at 55 psi.)  The float valve in the picture below is rated for 1.5 gpm at 60 psi.  The pump was pulsating and shaking violently while trying to push water through it.  I was very disappointed.
My solution was to change out the float valve.  I had the one in the picture below from the rain barrel that I had next to my chicken coop.  It wasn't being used since I recently moved that barrel to my front yard.  This valve is rated at 12.5 gpm at 60 psi.  It allowed the pump to operate with out pulsating for a little while.  When the water level started to get high, the valve started to close causing back pressure which made the pump once again pulsate. 
The pump works great with sudden on/off changes in pressure.  It doesn't like gradual changes at all.  There's a solution for this.  I needed a pressure tank.  What's a pressure tank?  It's a water tank that also has a pressurized air bladder.  When a valve is opened the air pressure in the tank causes the water to flow.  As the tank empties the pressure drops and the pump turns on.  It eliminates the pulsating pump issue.

Initially I was going to get the Shurflo Accumulator Tank.  They made the pump, so why not get their tank?  It looked small, super simple to hook up, and it was only $41.  I read the reviews and saw that they only hold 10-16 oz. of water (no one was really sure of the exact amount).  That didn't seem like much of a buffer.  Luckily for me, my local Lowes had a 7-gallon pressure tank on clearance for $41.  The tag on the shelf said $88, and that's the price it was listed for at that other Lowes in the area.

The box looked pretty beat up.  When I got it out I noticed some scratches, and the manual said the pressure was set to 25 psi from the factory.  I checked it with a tire gauge and it was at 39 psi.  Someone bought this thing and returned it.  I was fine with that as long as it worked.  I put a 3/4" FPT x 3/4" FHT fitting on the tank, and attached it to my PVC pipe with a garden hose.  This is not, is not, _is not_, a permanent solution.  I'm going to move the tank into my crawlspace and plumb it in properly.  I just wanted to see if it would solve my pulsating problem.
The pressure tank worked perfectly.  I was able to fill the barrel in my front yard without the pump pulsating at all.  It never had an issue.  It would come on, fill the pressure tank, and shut off.  Then the water would trickle into the barrel with just the pressure from the pressure tank.  I'm really pleased with how it works.
My last step was to label the hose bib.  I don't want anyone to mistake it for municipal water.  It's untreated and while my rabbits and dog have been drinking it for years, it's probably not suitable for humans.