Monthly Archives: January 2014

I keep track of my year-over-year electrical use so I can tell, in a general sort of way, which of my energy savings methods is working and which give the best return on investment.

General background on my house

  • 1,100 square feet
  • Single story
  • Built in 1939 out of bricks laid in a Flemish bond pattern
  • One human occupant, two cats
  • Central air conditioning (heat is gas)

The numbers

2011 is the baseline year: 6,813 kWh used – highest usage is in summer with the A/C running.

In March, 2012, I had additional insulation blown into the attic to bring it up to code (R38) and 5 roof vents put in.

      • Project cost: $1700
    • Energy savings over 2011: 407 kWh
    • Cost savings over 2011: $52
    • Amount of time to see return on investment: 33 years

In May, 2013 dad put up three cheapo exterior blinds from Home Depot across my front porch which faces west. It’s also the side of the house with my biggest windows – ugh! I also started paying meticulous attention to my daily energy use by checking my account on aps.com. I am on their 7PM to noon plan whereby energy is less expensive during those hours and more expensive during peak usage times from noon to 7 PM. I found that by keeping the thermostat at 86° during peak times and 84° during the other times in the hottest months actually saved me money over trying to sweat it out with NO A/C during the hottest part of the day and suffering through indoor temperatures often in excess of 92°.

  • Project cost: $40
  • Energy savings over 2012: 1536 kWh
  • Cost savings over 2012: $115
  • Amount of time to see return on investment: Immediate!

APS 2011_2012_2013

So the winner by a long shot is “exterior shades and paying attention to thermostat settings”!

I’m glad I insulated and vented the attic too – don’t get me wrong. I can feel the difference the insulation has made especially in the really hot months when the heat build-up in the attic would make my interior walls warm to the touch. That doesn’t happen anymore.

I’m still working on strategies to keep even more heat off my house in the summer to stop the bricks (thermal mass) from heating up. Here’s one of my strategies from a few years ago – use summer vines to shade the porch. This worked pretty well and had the added benefits of being pretty and green and also, being a plant, transpiring a little, thus adding a tiny bit of cooling. But it wasn’t solid shade like the blind, and there was no way of covering the middle bay of the porch which leads to the front door.

passive shade, wix 071209 004

Here’s the front of the house with the blinds – notice that all three porch bays have a blind on them. They did an amazing job shading this western side of my house, especially in the evening when the sun was low enough to slide under my tree canopy.

front yard1 052213

Plans for more energy savings in 2014

With our intense summer heat and with my biggest windows on the HOTTEST side of my house (West), I’m investing in a “hedge fund”. What’s that you say? Yes – a hedge fund – basically some tall shrubs placed strategically along the inside of the fence surrounding the front of my property. These shrubs will ultimately grow to a height where they will act to block that low, setting sun in the summer, thus acting as another “solar baffle” to keep the heat off my house.

Basic model of the west side of my house at 6 PM on June 22nd without tall “solar baffle” shrubs.  Note the low sun angle in the evening allows the sun to shine right under my tree canopy and hit my house – including my windows.
Basic model of the west side of my house at 6 PM on June 22nd without tall “solar baffle” shrubs. Note the low sun angle in the evening allows the sun to shine right under my tree canopy and hit my house – including my windows.
Basic model of the west side of my house at 6 PM on June 22nd WITH an example of a tall “solar baffle” shrub.  Note the shadow of this shrub (6 ft) now blocks out that low sun angle and shades my front porch.  The idea is to plant a variety of “solar baffle” taller shrubs in the yard that will serve as another layer to protect against that low summer setting sun while simultaneously making the air around my house cooler with their evapotranspiration.
Basic model of the west side of my house at 6 PM on June 22nd WITH an example of a tall “solar baffle” shrub. Note the shadow of this shrub (6 ft) now blocks out that low sun angle and shades my front porch. The idea is to plant a variety of “solar baffle” taller shrubs in the yard that will serve as another layer to protect against that low summer setting sun while simultaneously making the air around my house cooler with their evapotranspiration.
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Hello and welcome to the first ever “Abundant Desert” Permaculture Design Course. I’ve taught sections of this course before, and now it’s time to teach the whole thing.

So what is it that you’ll be learning? What exactly do you get by being in a Permaculture Design Course and what’s expected of you? Let me answer these questions:

First of all, a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) is an organized way of taking you step-by-step through the philosophy and design principles to help you achieve your vision of sustainability. You’ll develop knowledge and skills that you can apply right away to experiments of your own. Since its inception in the late 70’s, permaculture has been used around the world to address some of the most pressing environmental issues of the day – soil erosion, water scarcity, pollution, the high cost of energy and dwindling resources, overpopulation, and lack of personal contentment with one’s life.

Although permaculture addresses some truly dire issues, it is based in positivism – the belief that we can make a difference – and it will give you the tools to do just that in a way that most speaks to you, your vision, hopes, beliefs and talents.

Becoming a Certified Permaculture Designer

At the end of this course, you will create an original design for a property of your choosing. You can work on your design as an individual or as a group, and present the design to the class. If your design demonstrates that you understand the basic design and philosophical principles of permaculture, you are awarded a Permaculture Design Certificate.

What’s that you say? You’ve never created a design before? Well, that’s what this class is about. I’ll make sure you get plenty of practice before the final project. Remember, I want you to succeed! We need more people with permaculture consciousness creating awesome projects and doing their creative thing in the world.

Philosophy

So about that final design….

As mentioned above, permaculture is based in positivism. Skills and confidence help build positivism, so throughout this course, there will be a lot of low-stress activities that will build confidence in your ability to realize your vision. As a guiding principle, we’ll use the Parable of the Pottery Class.

A ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pounds of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A".

Well, come grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

We don’t want to be left with grandiose theories and a dead design! So we will create lots of designs – both together and individually – and we will make all sorts of interesting mistakes and discover some cool stuff along the way. We will NOT get stuck in our heads or worry about creating “perfection” – after all, where can you go once you’ve attained perfection? No place. It’s a dead end. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather keep experimenting. That’s where the fun is!

So what exactly will you be learning?

Here’s the course schedule:

  • Jan 26th – Introduction
  • Feb 2nd – Concepts and Themes in Design – Part 1
  • Feb 9th – Concepts and Themes in Design – Part 2
  • Feb 16th – Methods of Design – Part 1
  • Feb 23rd – Methods of Design – Part 2
  • Mar 2nd – Pattern Understanding
  • Mar 9th – Mapping Lesson
  • Mar 16th – No class
  • Mar 23rd – No class
  • Mar 30th – Climate Factors
  • Apr 6th – Trees and Their Energy Transactions
  • Apr 13th – Water – Part 1
  • Apr 20th – Water – Part 2
  • Apr 27th – Soils
  • May 4th – Earthworks and Earth Resources
  • May 11th – Climate Design – Part 1
  • May 18th – Climate Design – Part 2
  • May 25th – Urban Application and Community
  • Jun 1st – Strategies of an Alternate Global Nation
  • Jun 8th – Final design presentation

Where will the course take place?

The course will be held at my home, “Dolce Verde” in Fairview Place. The address is 2017 N. Laurel Ave, Phoenix AZ 86007. There may be alternate locations for a few of the classes. Rides will be available to other locations.

Fees, payment dates and withdrawal policy

The course fee – for this one time only – is $375 – half the price of the lowest PDC in Phoenix. All future classes will be $750.

  • $100 is a deposit and is due by Jan 12th. This deposit holds your spot for you in this class and indicates that you are serious about learning. It is NONREFUNDABLE. If, for some reason, you find that you are not able to take the class after you’ve paid the deposit, you may apply it to a future PDC at Abundant Desert.
  • The balance of the funds is due by the first class.
  • Space in this class is limited to 8 students.
  • Withdrawal Policy: You have 30 days in which to withdraw from the class and be refunded your money MINUS the deposit.

Some of you ask, “Why is it so cheap?”

I have a specific goal in mind – to become a Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) certified instructor. Teaching this course is part of that goal – and I need your help! The PRI is the governing body of Permaculture and has a set of standards for those of us interested in becoming PRI-certified PDC teachers. So, as part of this course, you agree to:

  • Sign up on the PRI site (free), add a brief description of your final design and indicate that you had me has a teacher – this will help me earn hours towards PRI-certification.
  • I request plentiful feedback from you – what worked, what didn’t, what needed more time, etc. I need you to help me become the teacher I envision. Really.
  • You will help me build course materials that will be used and refined in subsequent PDCs that I teach.

Your experience

Each session of this course is 4 hours long – starting at 9 AM and ending at 1 PM. There will be at least 2 breaks during each session to get up and move around, grab a snack, etc.

Your comfort during the class is paramount. Please bring with you any food, drink or items such as pillows, sweaters, etc. that will aid in your comfort. If you feel so compelled, bring a snack to share with others. However, please note that the host site is a smoke-, drug- and alcohol-free zone.

Timeliness is CRITICAL. Please plan on arriving to class by 8:30 in order to get settled for a start time of 9 AM. I cannot stress how important it is to respect this point. As many of you know, I have physical limitations. By 1 PM I am near the end of my energy endurance for the day and I will need to rest my limited vision. PLEASE be cognizant of both my time and the time of other students in the class. You cannot receive a PDC certificate without completing the full 72 hour class. If you are late or miss a class, it will have to be made up later.

Participation

Each week, in addition to the time spent in class, there will also be some homework assignments. Depending on the topic, this may involve watching a YouTube video, reading a blog, taking a short quiz to test your knowledge, or finding an example of something and making notes about it. Because permaculture is based heavily in observation and thinking about those observations, we will talk about the homework assignments in class, compare notes, thoughts and develop ideas.

In closing…

I would just like to say how excited I am to interact with all of you. I look forward to seeing you on January 26th at 8:30 AM. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at: support@abundantdesert.com.

 

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