Green4Geeks Blog

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Engineering Meet Agriculture - I'll Drink to That!

I love it when creative thinking solves a difficult problem, and manages to do it in a 'green' way.  Here is the problem:  hops, which are a tight commodity in the craft beer making market, just don't grow well in the Southeast part of the US.  It isn't so much that they don't grow well, it is more that they don't grow as well as they can elsewhere.  Longer days make for more bountiful harvests, and in Florida, the daylight hours aren't quite long enough.  Add some LED lighting to their unique farms, and what you end up with is longer growing days, bigger harvest, and a locally produced crop!  I have a relative in Missouri who does the opposite to trick certain flowers to bloom during the long summer days.  He has blackout curtains in his greenhouses that are drawn on schedule to shorten the daylight hours for Chrysanthemums and Poinsettias, causing them to bloom when they wouldn't otherwise.  Traditionally, it has been easier and more cost effective to take light away from a growing environment than it has to add light to it.  Modern LED lighting has reduced the cost, and University of Florida is experimenting with different varieties of hops in Hillsborough County.

Hops are like many ingredients in other food products; the supply of ingredients is protected by the big players by contracting a year or more in advance with the growers.  This leaves folks like small craft brewers struggling for supply, and often paying top dollar for this crucial ingredient.  Opening up local supplies would help them greatly.  I hope to soon be hoisting a lovely IPA to their success!

Below, the link for the Hillsborough County article about the lighting (tip-o-the-hat to Johnna for the heads-up on this piece),  The second link is for for the good folks at 47Hops for a great article detailing the current state of the hops industry.

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Basic Light Switch Automation

Light OnHow hard is it to automate the most basic of home electrical devices?  Well, it doesn't get any more basic than the lowly light switch.  On, off, and nothing in between.  Home automation tools make that simplest of controls a whole lot more.  Let's suppose the switch were upstairs, and you are downstairs, but forgot to turn off the light the last time you were up there.  One tap on your smartphone would take care of that without the trip upstairs.  Or, maybe you just couldn't remember if you turned it off.  You can check to see if it is on with your smartphone as well.  If you really want to get into automation, making your home a 'smarthome', there are many other options available once you add some smarts to your switch.  For example, automatically turning on the light when you get home, or setting a schedule for the lights.  Or, for the purposes of conservation and energy management, you just want to know when the lights have been turned on.  Depending upon the complexity of your setup, you can do any or all of these things.  But first, you have to start with a switch.  For this post, I'm walking through the selection, installation, and testing of a basic light switch.

 

The Requirements

I was looking for one simple need to be met for this setup.  My home has exterior lighting in the front that consists of two large carriage lights on either side of the garage door, and one downward facing spot over the exterior front door, that illuminates a small covered area.  All three of these light sources are controlled by a single switch that is located just inside the front door.

Intermatic installed

  Several years ago, I replaced the basic on/off switch with an Intermatic timer switch that fit inside the space the original switch took up.  It was called a 'Night Sentry Solid State Timer', model number EJ341, and was designed to have multiple programmable on and off times.

  I was never really very happy with it. The programming wasn't intuitive, and not everyone in the family had the patience to try to figure it out.  Most of the time we left it in the manual position, and mostly turned it on and off with an awkward little slide switch instead of the obvious push-button.  The timer's original purpose was to turn the lights on nightly or just when we were away, so that we could come back to a lighted house.  It would also make it appear that someone was home if we were away for an extended amount of time, like a vacation.  So, in short, the replacement switch needs to be easy to control manually, and should attempt to regain the functionality intended by the old Intermatic switch.  Nice to haves are the ability to control via smartphone, or to be triggered by other events or conditions.

I recently purchased a Wink Hub, and utilize the Wink app on my smartphone.  I also live in a very diverse home, meaning that we have both android and iOS living together.  It isn't always easy, but we somehow make it work.

The lighting fixtures originally held incandescent bulbs.  Over time, I've replaced the bulbs with high efficiency LED bulbs.  The carriage lights each have three candelabra style bulbs, with each socket listed as 40 watts maximum.  The LED bulbs installed are equivalent to 25 watt incandescent in light output, but only draw 3.5 watts each.  The overhead fixture in the vestibule area draws only 15 watts (1200 lumen LED floodlight).  Altogether, these three fixtures that are controlled by this single switch are 36 watts total.  Not bad for power savings, but believe it or not, this could be a potential problem for some electronic switches.  Many LED lights draw so little power that some electronic switches do not 'see them'.  Some actually require that a traditional incandescent bulb has to be in the mix somewhere for the switch to operate properly.  For many of those switches, the rule of thumb is 40 watts or higher load on the switch for LED or CFL type bulbs.  Dimmable switches can pose many other issues, but I'm not worried about that here - just a simple on/off will do fine.  Since this is a permanently wired fixture, I should also pay attention to the maximum load the switch could potentially handle.  The max load that the three fixtures are rated at (this would have to be incandescent bulbs) is 340 watts.  To summarize, the load characteristics of the switch would have to be between about 25 and 400 watts, and have to be able to handle 'electronic' or any other type of load..

The switch needs to fit into a standard box, just like a traditional switch, and fit in with the existing wide paddle style switches used in the rest of the house.

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LED Closet Light

The light in one of the closets in my house went out recently.  Usually, this isn't a big deal, I just go to my local home improvement store,buy a new one, and all is good.  My house is about 16 years old now, and the last closet light that went out ended up having a bad ballast in the fixture itself, so the new fluorescent tube was did no good at all.  That time, I ended up having to replace the fixture itself.  I chose to replace the aging 24 inch fluorescent fixture with a modern Light Emitting Diode (LED) fixture.  Why?  Even though it was more expensive than a new fluorescent fixture, and a new fluorescent tube, the payoff came in two ways.  First, the old fixture drew 17 watts of energy, which was not much, but I knew I could do better.  Second, over the last sixteen years, I've had to replace the tube at least three times, at about 7 or 8 dollars a pop.  The new LED fixture draws about 7 watts, and I will probably never have to replace it in my lifetime.

So, the new closet light was in a larger closet.  This fixture was 48 inches long.  Before replaing the bulb, I took a look at the ballast.  It was swollen and had leaked some tar-like substance.  I figured it had to go, with the assumption that it would not last more than a year or so, if that..  A new replaceent LED fixture was a little pricey; $60-70 depending on wattage/brightness.  I decided to try something different.  Using parts on hand from other projects, I reworked the existing fixture into an LED model.  My estimated cost was about $15-20.  Read on to see how I did it.

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Death Star Lamp

DeathStarLamp smNot too many science fiction movie images last longer than that of the Death Star in the original Star Wars movie.  While walking through my local IKEA recently, I came across a lamp that reminded me of that very thing.  As I stood there admiring it, I realized it was not just me that made the association.  I heard at leat a half a dozen people exclaim, "Look, it's the Death Star!"  It gets better.  I noticed two small cards hanging down from the bottom, and at the end of each one was a small version of the larger lamp above etched into the plastic surface.  Pulling on one of the cords makes the lamp expand, or explode.  The other cord colapses it back into a sphere.  See a video of it in action here.

I had my family with me, and we were actually looking for some hanging lamps at the time, but not exactly this style.  We needed downlights for over our bar.  Did we go home with a Death Star?  Yes we did.  This lamp comes in two colors - a kind of a lime green, and an electric orange.  The color is on the inside, as you can see from the video.  The outside of both lamps is a kind of matte, eggshell white.  I installed this over our breakfast table, and no one has been able to keep their hands off of it yet.  We did get separate lights for the bar - another story for another day.

That is the fun part, but the geekiness does not end there.  IKEA has been on a push lately to convert all their lighting products over to LED lighting.  While this lamp will take a standard incandescent 40 watt bulb, it does far, far better with a 60 watt equivelant LED bulb installed.  Even though LED bulbs (especially the clear ones) are high on the glare factor, this lamp does a superior job in blocking the glare, and providing remarkably even diffused light outward, and a little bit brighter up and downward.  So, here is a stylish, if not iconic lamp, that puts out as much light as a standard pendant lamp, but it only uses 9 watts of power.  Thats barely more than the old C7 style incandescent Christmas bulbs (each).  The lamp comes with a standard sized mounting plate that wires into a standard sized hanging light electrical box.  This is a huge improvement for IKEA lamps, as most of their hanging lamps do not have standard mounting packages.  Many come with just a regular plug, as if we have all our recepticles mounted in the ceiling.  I have a digital dimmer on mine, which allows me to dial down the brightness if I so choose, but the lamp could just be opened and closed to increase/decrease the illumination from it.

I have to admit, there is a part of me that wants to paint the outside of it black, and stencil on a circle for the dish that destroys planets.  Who wouldn't love to have their own personal Death Star?  In their kitchen!

The lamp is about 14 inches in diameter, and has a ceiling mount with about a five foot cord.  Once I converted my existing can light to a standard electrical box, it took me about 20 minutes to hang it, and assembly of the globe itself only took about ten minutes.  It comes in only two interior colors, green and orange.  I paid $69.99 for it.  Part number is 602.511.23 and it is part of the IKEA PS 2014 collection.

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