Sunday, 22 February 2015

New Stove - No More Leaking Gas

Do you remember my excitement when i fixed the stove by myself here.  Well, turns out no amount of my "fixin" was going to save the old Westinghouse that has served us well for 20 years.  Whenever i opened the cupboard underneath i got a nose full of gas.  I will admit that i did have something connected backwards at one point and when i was cooking one day there was a big "Whoop" and the stove literally lifted off the bench.  It happened so fast i wasn't sure what happened but had the sense to tell hubby.  No biggie, he showed me what i had done wrong, it was fixed and we went on.  But the gas leak continued and the ancient ignition wiring meant that more often than not i had to use a lighter to get it started. Not a good combination so me thinks its time for a new stove top.

I ummed and arghed about this metal finish.  Seems to me its a lot harder to keep clean but i am mindful that we do need to keep our appliances up to date and that our kitchen is looking decidedly out dated. After seeing Emma's kitchen in my last post (here) i have kitchen envy.  Rob loves the metal finish and so that is why the new fridge is also the same.  It really just takes a wipe with a clean microcloth and water.   It does look shiny, doesn't it, and the new hobs come with a wok holder which I've never had before.  Rob was telling me how quick it is to cook in a wok and i told him he should feel free to use it any time he wants.  I opted for one the same size so it was an easy fit.  I never use all 4 hobs at once so why opt for a massive 6 hob or more? Trouble is that when you put in new and shiny appliances you have visions of it staying that way.  These are working machines.  Scratches happen.  I'm going to try hard to keep it clean but i don't believe it will look like this in 20 years.  I do love how i can now simmer without it blowing out.

Rob praying to the God of Gas that its all going to work.  As an electrician, he knows a fair bit about most trades but did his due amount of research before starting.   See the old oven/grill? Its next.   The new one is about 3m behind Rob in the living room.  Its part white and part metal as a compromise.  Since its finished, he's walked into the kitchen about 10 times and turned it on.  Do all men do this?  I get it, it works. 
As i told you in my solar post, we are replacing all the ancient appliances in one swoop on one interest free loan.  Everything is the highest energy efficiency i can afford.  On my dream list is replacing the front of all my cupboards and benchtop.  I can wait.  I'm patient.  Our house was definitely a budget fitout 20 years ago.

Since i can't stretch a whole post on installing a stove, here is a garden update (cause you know that's really exciting).  Like everyone else we are having a glut of most things at the moment.  We cannot eat enough tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce. The neighbours and friends are doing well.  Rob has this glazed look when i present him with yet another side salad.

Pickings this morning.

It was at this point that Rob told me he doesn't like those squash things.  Doh!  Since he reads this blog I wont tell him what they are going to go in.  He will never know! He's been glowing this week about a pickle i made last year made of   "Zucchini"! Ha Ha

Tromboncino - they are escaping out of the beds and making their way up and down the paths.  Its become an obstacle course avoiding these and the pumpkin vines.  

Huge leaves sheltering the fruit from the sun.

I love these little toms.  They are so sweet.  

This week i made some pickled cucumbers and Spanish onion.  I cant wait for them to mature so that i can marry them with a crumbly vintage cheese.  

Mother nature knows best!   Doesn't she just!  When I'm pruning my tomatoes of excess leaves to allow air and sunlight to penetrate, I'm often undecided about which ones to take off.  Just wait for a really hot day and Mother Nature will kill of everything not needed and protect the vine and fruit.

This is what i was faced with after a hot day of high 30's.

Clean up all the dead leaves and all that is left is strong vines and healthy fruit.  

I want to pick this beauty but Jess tells me i must wait till the vine whithers.  

The sweetest crunchiest baby cos lettuce.

Here is someone you haven't seen for a while.  She really is beautiful.

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Off Grid House - Open Day in Little River

At last, something for me to write about.  Last weekend Rob and I went to visit the home of Emma & Mark Sutcliffe and their two teenage children, in Little River.  This small settlement between Melbourne & Geelong includes many small acreage holdings.  The Sutcliffe's  inspired choice of  finding an alternative for bringing power to their 17 acre property has resulted in the creation of their very own personal power station.  I'm not suggesting they are unique but it is a great example of how with good design and planning, it is possible to live off grid.  Imagine never having a power bill and being self reliant.

During the day they use the free power generated by 30 panels on their garage roof and in the evenings they rely on the stored power contained in their bank of single cell batteries.   These batteries are stored in a purpose built ventilated box in the garage.

Inside their beautiful home is a small panel on the wall which indicates the capacity of stored power.
At 2pm on a sunny summer afternoon, it showed 100% which i guess is what you would expect.  Emma explained that the previous evening after a regular night of usage (with two teenagers at home) it dropped to 97%.  In two years they have not used their generator once.  It seems to me that the size of their system can more than meet their power requirements.

This kind of fully off grid system is not economically viable for those that live in suburbia where there is a power pole/pit outside the house.  Emma and Mark had a choice of spending $35,000+  on bringing grid power to the house or spending more and never having a power bill again.  The batteries are by far the greatest single expense at this time.  As we were recently told, great advances in this field are under way and we are all hoping that in the next 5-10 years they become more affordable for domestic users.

OK, at this time, i should point you in the direction of the TOGSH blog and Facebook page.  In there you will find tabs for costs, specifications and frequently asked questions.  Emma would be most helpful if this was something you were looking at so pop onto the Contact tab.   Though Emma is a "Climate Reality Leader" she is careful to distinguish between off grid living and climate action. Of course these go hand in hand but she is focused on this being a economic and lifestyle choice rather than environmental.

Emma asked me if i knew Gavin Webber from Melton and i had to laugh, I'm practically his disciple.  She also knew my good friends Jessie from rabidlittlehippy and Bronwyn from Shoestring.  Funny how its such a small world.  
I did have some indication of what the house looked like on the outside.  There was a photo on the invitation i received from our Wyndham City's Department of Environment and Sustainability.  The open day was part of their Green Living Series.    You can sign on to receive the Experience Wyndham's monthly enewsletter here.

I noted from the photo the very traditional homestead architecture with wide verandas that provide shade and living space. What wasn't obvious was the number of environmental design features that were included internally and externally.  All the windows are double glazed.  This might be quite common in the Northern Hemisphere but for some crazy reason it is not that common down South.  Why?  I guess cost but you would have thought that this very effective method of insulating from the cold used by our European fore-bearers would have also been used here to keep out the heat and the cold.  I would suggest that 99% of all windows in Oz are not double glazed.   Gavin from Greening of Gavin has recently installed them and you can read about it here.

Click here to enlarge
Other features included breeze-ways, overhead ceiling fans (no air conditioning needed), polished concrete floors (so cool on a hot day),  two wood fireplaces.  One fireplace is in the open kitchen, dining and living area at the rear of the house and the other is central.  The warm air flows throughout the house.

Though Emma kindly gave me permission, it seemed invasive to take photos inside someones house.  So this is it.  
Isn't this kitchen beautiful.  I love how the gas hob stove is mounted into a fireplace with mantle and the range hood is (i think) up the chimney.  This is a two and half year old house so you know this was designed. It all looks like a remodelled old homestead.  Well done guy's.   You cant see it but there is a massive walk in pantry behind those two sliding doors on right.  It all looks like it came out of a "Country Living" magazine.

OK, so we are all goggle eyed at the solar system but i bet i can do (or perhaps they can) one better. They have a gravity fed worm septic system.

This is so cool.  I don't know the actually distances but it looked like the pit with the wormies was about 50m from the house.  It did not smell at all and i had my head over the top of it looking inside.  It just looked like a small chimney with a little whirly gig  on top sticking up out of the ground and on inspection of what looked like a domestic compost bin a large pit with some sort of tank inside.  A a gravity fed pipe entered on one side from the house.  Down in the bottom were lots of wormy (Emma told me she just started with a box of 2000 from Bunnings) which number roughly around 20,000 (no one is going down to count them).  On the other side there is another pipe that runs out about another 80m via a filtered agi pipe and into long pit full of gravel for further filtration. The fertilising was evidenced by the lush patch of canola growing above the pit. I'm sorry Emma, if my measurements are all out.  Feel free to jump in on the comments and correct my mistakes and I'll edit.  

So that's it.  A great few hours with hubby giving him inspiration and motivation to build his own off grid system for use in the garage.  It would certainly be handy to have an alternative when there is a blackout.  I am certainly looking forward to watching the Sutcliffe's develop their veggie garden, water tanks (i think one will come before the other).  If you look at the soil in the above photos you will see it is very rocky.  There are piles of massive rocks left over from building the house. Emma is interested in aquaculture so keeping it local I'm sending her across to Western Aquaponics in Melton.   I've seen a presentation and experienced their system for domestic use at Shoestring Gardening.  See Gav's post here, we both went.  They have now eaten their first batch of trout and the second lot are growing, and pooping and doing their bit for the Shoestring veggie garden.

Don't forget to click on links and go say Hi to Emma.  I am but a conduit.  LOL.

Thanks for visiting Living In The Land of Oz

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Solar Panels Have Arrived

Yep, there they are.  Aren't they beautiful. All twenty of them.  Our roof is ideally place as the the length of it (or at least half) is North facing.  Can't do much better than that.  This has been a very long process and there arrival has been much anticipated for over 5 months.  That's 5 months of keeping a secret and not blurting it out to all of you that they were coming. OK, so i told a few of you.  Well, maybe just a few more than just a few.

I paid my deposit in September and have been waiting for first one installation contractor and then another. Good thing is that these installers were contractors for Simply Energy.  I didn't have to deal with them directly. I had a SE Solar team i could harass, loudly and often. Read "very often".

The first contractor took his sweet time and then had no panels, made appointments for installation and didn't show up (even when i had taken a day off work) and then they lost their very large contract with one of Australia's largest energy retailers. So sad, Not.  I wasn't the only unhappy customer it appears.  I waged my phone war and just before Christmas i received a $500 credit on my energy bill for my inconvenience.  They offered me the chance to pull out of the contract but i really wanted the deal they offered me.  The new installer took only a few extra weeks as i was assured i was "on top of the list"  and that new plans had to be lodged and approved by the energy provider as well. So i cant complain, again, can I?

You bet i can.  Since i am known for having more front than Myers I'm going to push for every cent of compensation I can.  For almost all of spring and summer i could have been earning free energy up there. Tom was home all day running air cons, TVs, gaming consoles, projectors and burning every light in the house (during the day).  Yes, i know what you are thinking but you don't live here, with them.  Aspie's are very "Switched On" and apparently blind to black balloons.   I've negotiated with SE that when the energy provider finally switches over the metering to solar, my last two quarters will be reviewed and another credit WILL arrive.  If not, i think they had better get a large supply of oil. I feel more squeaking coming on.

I'm not very environmentally conscious, am I?  I could be personally responsible for the energy and oil crisis, all on my own!  (Kick me, this is no laughing matter)
So why did i choose Simply Energy (SE).  Well apart from them being my current energy retailer that gives me a very nice 30% discount off standard rates (if there was a better deal elsewhere, id be with them) they made one very important sales point that made a lot of sense to me. There are many many solar companies in Oz.  Each one trying to out do the other with gimmicks, cheaper panels etc and annoying us all with those cold calls right on dinner time most nights.  The truth is that many of these companies come and go in the blink of an eye.  So how good is your warranty going to be when they are out of business. Good luck getting service or replacements in a hurry.  Choosing a large retailer gives you peace of mind that they will actually be in business to honour their warranties.

My SE system warranty is:

Panels (Power Output Warranty) 25 years 
Inverter 10 years
Racking 10 years

Workmanship 10 years 

I have it in writing that if anything goes wrong it will be replaced there and then.  No sending off to China for parts with my system down for a month.  You know that i made them spell out these warranties in writing, in a personal email to me, so that i can flash it their face when and if i ever need to, now didn't you?.   Did you know i was like this?  Is this a personality flaw?  I could be very annoying but I'm also a handy person to know. I get things done.

For all the tech heads out there this is what i had installed.  I have PDF's full of serious writing, scribbly graphs and circuit diagrams but i haven't done Gavin's Blogging Course and i don't know how to import them into a post. I've left all this technical stuff to Rob, he's the electrician.

CNVP High Performance 60 cell Optimal Premium Poly Crystalline 156×156mm Solar Photovoltaic Module 
Model Number:CNPV-245P
Power Range

These are Tier 1 solar panels which represents only the top 2% of manufactured panels.  Tier 1 panels are fully manufactured using robotics (precision and quality control) by a company that has over 5 years experience in the industry (read, not a fly by night operation hoping to make a quick buck).  The silicon used by a Tier 1 manufacturer is of a higher grade and will out perform and outlast the majority of cheaper panels on the market which are rated as either 2 or in some cases 3.

My panels are actually much smaller than the ones that were first quoted way back in September.  Even in that short time (though it felt like 100 years) there were technological advances that reduced the size of the panels.  Smaller size = less materials which is better for the environment.

ABB String Inverter PowerOne PVI-5000 - TL OUTD 5KW

Both Rob and I are pleased that the inverter is an ABB product.  We both work in the electrical industry and ABB products (including the switchboards that we build for them) are good quality.  Best of all it comes with an RS485 Communications Interface allowing it to be connected to smart phones, laptops or PC's.  Rob was especially pleased about this one.  The more techy i can make this the more interested he will be in reducing our power usage.

OK, so what's my feed in tariff??  It was a very lowly 8 cent/kW but from 1st Jan 2015 it dropped to 6.2 cents/kW.  No one is going to get rich with this kind of rate but what it will do is cover the cost of my system so that in five years, i will own it outright.  My calculations are based on an average of 3.7 hours of sunlight per day.  We all know that throughout spring, summer and autumn we get more than that in Melbourne so these calculations are quite conservative. The trick is to understand your system and how and when it generates power (solar hours.)  The less power you use during these solar hours the more power is returned to the grid.  This returned power can be maximised by having the largest system you can afford.  As we both work and hopefully (fingers crossed) Tom will soon have at least a part time job, there will be less usage during the day and we will have our only little power station up there on the roof.  It was only on for a moment during testing and it generated 3.6kW.  Until the inspector passes the installation it cannot be switched on.  I think im still looking at mid March before its up and running.

Did i tell you that my "Deal" with Simply Energy includes an INTEREST FREE loan for five years.  I've checked the pricing, quality and warranty of my system against other suppliers and it was comparable after the Govt Rebate (SRES) of around $3500 on a 5kW system.  Given the success of the rebate scheme it has been recommended that these government incentives be phased out and so it was a good time us to purchase and take advantage of the interest free loan.  The reduction in my energy bill will more than offset the monthly payments.

If you are considering getting solar panels, i highly recommend this government site 

Installing your Solar Panels

This is all part of my master plan to be prepared for retirement when we will have a lower earning capacity. The government might want me to work till 70, but really, I'm tired already.  Part of making our home more affordable, productive and efficient is not only paying off the mortgage (about 8 years) but also retiring some of our very old appliances.  My fridge for example was still working.  It worked ALL day and ALL night. That compressor never stopped and it was so loud.   So, as i have furnished every other item in this house over the last 20 years, the lovely people at GE have once again offered me a 5 year interest free loan.   If you couldn't have guessed, I HAVE NEVER PAID A CENT INTEREST IN 20 YEARS.   They must hate me.  I really don't know why it is so hard for people.  Total bill divided by number of payments, set up a direct payment online weekly (or whatever you pay period is) and then let it roll. The weekly amounts are so small i hardly miss them.  I usually take off 12 months and pay a little extra than calculated so it is paid well in advance.  Emergencies happen in life and you need to be way ahead at all times.

Rob insisted on buying a fridge with an inverter for efficiency and quietness.  I was focused on those stars and the Energy Consumption.   There were many fridges to choose from that were larger and cheaper but this one was the only one in this class of energy efficiency.  You should see how power hungry those ones are that have an ice maker in the door.  Rob's eyes were going Ga Ga but i said NO!  This one has the fridge up top and the freezer down below.  I like the working height of the fridge as i use it more often. Im going to get old, remember!  We also updated our oven to one that was more efficient.  The old one was leaking heat and took almost 15 min to pre-heat to 200.  20 years was a good innings.  My thinking is that while we are both working we should update these items rather than leave it for an emergency purchase. Rob has fixed this fridge several times already.

The next step is to make our house more efficient so it uses less electricity.  I know what you are thinking. "Turn a few things off" i hear you shout.  Well i'm working on it, OK!  The lights are all LED and im planning a few whirly gig thingys on the roof to moderate the roof cavity temperature and also looking at insulation. We purchase some individual room coolers instead of trying to make the big split system cool the whole house.  If you want to know anything at all about this topic, then go to the guru Gavin from The Greening of Gavin and check out his ebook on the subject of saving power.  I could not possibly compete.  All his advice is for normal suburbanites who just want to save money, if not the world.

So, you will be getting future posts on our journey with solar energy.  I can't tell you its going to be interesting to anyone but us but perhaps you'll enjoy the ride as Rob makes his way to "Off Grid Power Storage". More about this in next post.  See, he's getting interested already!

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