Monthly Archives: January 2012

Grandma Said … A Let’s Blog Off Post


I was lucky enough to know both of my Grandmothers in their 70’s and 80’s.  This post is about my maternal Grandmother,  Lillian Elizabeth Cozier Baer – 1886 to 1966.


She and my Grandfather were both born in New York City and they both died in Boise, ID.  During that time they experienced many things and the Grandmother I experienced and have heard about is certainly a product of those experiences. She also made her own way. I believe she confronted her times with two different approaches to the situations that she faced in life.

Grandpa Baer worked in construction finance and accounting.  He began his career in Railway work, and then moved to road building and other types of construction.  The travels of Allison Harvey Baer and his wife, Lillian, are relevant here because they helped form or perhaps solidify my Grandma’s beliefs and practices that make up this story. They were married in 1911 and in late 1914 moved with two little girls to Peking, China.  Grandpa went to build Railroads for the Chinese Government of Sun Yat Sen and Grandma did what Mothers always do.  Keep home and hearth.

My Aunts, Betty and Ruth were the two little girls. When they returned, Aunt Jean had joined the family. They returned to Brooklyn, NY and my mother, Barbara, was born. Then Grandpa joined the company building the Moffett Tunnel in Colorado. So the family picked up and moved to Denver, with the newest baby, my Uncle Scott.  After they finished the tunnel, Grandpa joined Morrison-Knudsen of Boise, ID. Now you know the family itinerary.

I have been told 2 stories about my Grandmother and how she dealt with her family and the world.  The first by my mother, and the second by my cousin Betty. Betty is the oldest daughter of my Aunt Ruth. She grew up in Denver, except during WWII, when her father was in the US Navy, they stayed at Grandma’s house in Boise – on Warm Springs Avenue! Any one that has driven down Warm Springs Avenue, also US 30, in Boise will remember the aroma of the warm springs. Appropriate for an Energy Auditor, my first experience with a renewable power source, hot water heat.

During WWII Grandma was active in the Red Cross.  One day she left for a Red Cross Meeting.  Betty remembers noticing her shoes. Perhaps you remember the tie type shoes popular then.  Three standard colors, Brown, Black and Blue.  Betty asked Grandma, “Why are you wearing two different color shoes?”  Grandma’s response was simple and yet, not quite so simple. “I am going to the election of Officers for the Red Cross. I am running for President of the Chapter.  The competition is very stiff.  So some of those ladies will look at my shoes and think, poor Mrs. Baer and vote for me.” My Grandma is on the right receiving the check for the Red Cross.

Growing up, I remember my mother explaining why I should eat all my dinner.  Especially when it was something like Egg Plant. She would tell of hearing from Grandma about the poor in China.  It was readily imprinted on my mother that she should not spurn otherwise good food, because the starving orphans in China were not a lucky as she was.  She always told me that she wouldn’t talk about the starting orphans of China, but she would talk about the starving orphan in Korea.

Here was a lady that had graduated from college, one of 0.04% of her age group. She took her family to China maintained the raising and education of her children; and taking time to better her community. Returning to the US, she went with her husband and family continueing to raise her family, see to their education and still work to improve her community. All within the limited avenues available to her during the first half of the 20th Century.

In demonstrating these values through out her life, she made the world a better place. Directly through her efforts and indirectly through the lives of those she loved and raised.  Looking at her Great Grand Children, we have 2 that are heavily into IT and teaching; an Army Officer – just returned from his 3rd or 4th tour in the Mid East; a Navy Seal with service in Iraq, a physician, a nurse, a non-profit PR person, a college professor, her g-g grand children number 9 at this point, the oldest a Freshman in college.

In a time where travel was a novelty, most people did not go more than 50 miles from their birth place during their entire life; Grandma went around the world with her family. She worked to make the world a known place and to shrink the distance.  I think Grandma would be proud of  the strides made over the years in continuing to shrink the world, and to make the diversity we have in this world, something that is not so strange and scary. In parting, I share this picture of a small part of her family, two of her Great-Great-Granddaughters, Kim Nhat and Quan Minh.








The Energy Triangle

I attended a 3 Day Preservation, Sustainability and Energy Conference and Fair held last week in Wichita. Sponsored by Green Wichita .  It was interesting, I met a lot of neat people and got the inspiration for this blog entry.

I had one young lady, Nikki Gartner from Emporia, stop by our booth.  She is with Energy Innovators, a lighting firm.  They handle consolation, design and replacement of your lighting with new efficient and  practical solutions.  Later I stopped by her booth and visited some more.  She had on display an interesting diagram, which she called the Energy Triangle (link opens a PDF for you). She discussed the concept and her inspiration for the design, coming from the USDA Food Pyramid and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs .

These concepts also apply to Energy Consumption and plans to reduce the use through Conservation, Efficiency and addition of renewable energy sources to a property.

Conservation can be defined as ‘Changing the way People Work’.  Changing your habits! So energy measures such as turning the thermostat down one degree and putting on a sweater; or remembering to turn off lights are examples of conservation.

Efficiency can be defined as ‘Changing the way Things Work’.  The advantage to this is you don’t have to change habits of people or have them remember to do something. Energy measures such as adding insulation, installing an occupancy sensor to a light, or air sealing your home would be efficiency measures.

When you combine Conservation with Efficiency, you achieve a synergy that can drastically reduce the energy use of a building. This can be a home or it can be a commercial building.  These two approaches can, in a residential setting, decrease the energy usage by 30 – 50 percent each year. In a commercial building the dynamics are somewhat different from a residential building, the end result remains the same.  Obtain a significant decrease the energy consumption of the building.

The concept of Nikki’s Energy Triangle is helpful as people in their homes or at work, develop and implement various methods of reducing the cost of energy.  If you reduce the amount of energy used, you can reduce the cost in dollars.  The question most people have is: “what do I do first? Where do I get the biggest bang for my dollar?”  Conservation is the low cost, high motivation approach. Efficiency is a higher cost, lower motivation approach.  Like most good things on this earth, it takes some of both, not all of one or all of the other.

How do you answer the question “What do I do first? Where do I get the biggest bang for my dollar?” That starts with an assessment.  At home, some type of Home Energy Audit.  You can begin with a Self Audit, this one is from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.  You can then move to a full comprehensive Energy Audit. In the Wichita area Efficient Energy Savers – that is us – do those. If you are not in this area you can check here or here for a list of auditors in your area.  There are all types of Energy Audits with prices from Free to lots of dollars.  My friend Sean of Alabama Green Building Services wrote about the differences on Building Moxie’s Blog.

The report of the Energy Auditor will provide you with a prioritized list of things you can do. Implement them at your pace, all at once or as you can get to them.  Many times the issue is cost. The important thing is to do them in order for two reasons.

  • The low cost – high return items provide savings in Energy costs to pay for future improvements.
  • Some improvements need to be done prior to others for technical reasons. For example, sealing holes before you add insulation.

After you have achieved the best for your building that conservation and efficiency can offer in lowering energy usage, then you have a good usage to plan for renewables.

In the end, the journey you take along the road of saving energy will be yours; it may be similar to mine or very different.  What does not change is the basics.  Save some by changing how you work. Then save some more by changing how things work.  Finally think about adding some type of renewable energy source to your property.

I would be interested in hearing your comments and ideas about saving energy, so please comment. If you like the Energy Triangle give Nikki a Thanks in the comments.

My Nest Labs Thermostat – Week 1 Ends


 Last Saturday, I installed my new Nest Thermostat. You can read how that went   at .  It is billed as a “Learning Thermostat’, so I promised to let you know how the first week went.

Saturday and Sunday we just watched, as related in the previous link. On Monday night, we noticed the schedule had been filled in to some extent. The Nest was learning from our use over the weekend.



From the web interface here is the schedule the Nest thought we were following after two days of use.

Here is the schedule after I tweaked it a little. I filled in a few blanks and evened out some times.

My wife is somewhat more comfortable with the system.  She is checking it on her phone and even showing it to her friends. Last night she told me the wall unit is displaying some type of message. When I checked it today, the message said learning at home had started “Push Continue”. The next message said “Ready to Learn Away Schedule”, I pushed and the Nest will do it’s thing.  I’ll have to check regularly to see what it does next.

What have I learned so far?  The iPad or the Web Interface is the easiest for me to use to set and view the schedule. The phone is very handy to check the setting, to watch the outside temperature and to keep an eye on things.  On the smaller screen of the phone, turn from portrait to landscape view to see additional controls other than just temperature settings.  Under Settings – Technical, it will give you a reading of the interior Relative Humidity Level.

Monday through Thursday, we watched the settings change as scheduled.  The Nest was learning the settings for its ‘Away’ function.  Two times this week we have come home and found the Away setting triggered.  My wife is on my case. I need more info about exactly what that away function is.  I have the idea it should be like a vacation mode.  I am beginning to think it is more of a ‘not at home for a while’ mode. After reading a few other posts, I am wondering if it has to do with the function that turns the wall unit on, when you approach it?

Got up early Saturday morning.  I thought Tori might knock on the door selling those Wonderful Girl Scout Cookies! This is the weekend that Girl Scout Cookies can be sold! Headed out the door to see my dad and head for Woodturning Club.  Checked the Nest on the iPhone.  It is in away mode again!  So just 2 clicks and the temperature is set where I expected it.  LOML is still having a slow start Saturday.  Especially nice after her Fast Start Friday!  About 10:00 am from Turning Club, I checked the Nest and the temperature is up a degree.  LOML is up and around.

I just listened to the video on the Nest Site about the Learning Mode.  Away is when the Nest thinks the home is unoccupied.  During set up, you were asked to put in a Hi and a Lo.  So that is what is being used.

Following up on the video, I looked at the actual Nest!  The video went through doing everything from the thermostat, not from a remote device.  There are some differences in the interface, the ease of use was amazing.  You either turn the dial either way, or you push to click.  No double clicks.  The turning is not all that sensitive.  I actually under turned for a couple of tries. This is where you can change the Away Settings, not from a remote device. Right is a shot of the Nest with one click showing the menu.



One of the sub menus under Settings is Energy.  Here are two different shots of the Nest under the Energy Tab.

Sunday Morning, we were at church and the Nest went into away mode.  Nice to be able to control this on the phone.  The other blip was Sunday afternoon, the Nest lost the Wifi Connection. I ended up resetting the router. Nice to watch the Nest work as a regular non-Wifi thermostat also.

This is a thermostat that one week after installation, could be left with a parent living alone and a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. In this case they could still run the ‘stat’ and see what they were doing.  You could observe from a distance, if you hooked up the wifi connection. Your parent could also control their thermostat. Here is the schedule that has been set from the tweaked schedule shown earlier. (These three images are from Laptop Screen Shots.) Also an image of the schedule on the iPhone.


I still like this item!  It is learning! It is easy to see the schedule on multiple interfaces.  It is not the small buttons with clumsy fingers, or a screen that is hard to read.  It is fairly intuitive.  If you do Time Share vacations, and come across one, it will not be a problem.

I have a few further thoughts on improvements, but those will wait and see if I can find some others. It also makes for another post.

And last but far from least, my neighbor Tori will get here!  I will get some Girl Scout Cookies.  Then I can show her my Nest Thermostat!

How does an Energy Auditor Shed Stress at the end of an Audit?

You’ve been in the attic, the crawl spaces or basement, climbed up and down any stairs several times. The have been some questions from the home owner and perhaps from the kids in the house. If you are like me, you’ve bumped your head a few times on low hanging fruit. It has been a fun, rewarding and perhaps a little stressful.

The thing I do to relieve this stress, is to depressurize. Yes, let all that built up stress just flow out the door. It’s not Yoga, or some mystic belief in spiritual forces. It is the wind and the open door.

I set up the Blower Door and depressurize the house. The air moving past me, goes out the fan, and the stress goes with it. I just have to let it go!

Now you know one reason why I leave the Blower Door until very close to the end of the audit. Now questions may pop into your head. Why a blower door test? Why depressurize the house? What is the reading of the test? Is my test good or bad? How much better a reading is my new house, than the old house my friend lives in? What can I do? What does it mean?

Ahhhh! Those are all good questions and they are ones that I get asked regularly. What is the Blower Door and what does it test for? The Blower Door consists of a fan hung in a nylon insert that is held in a temporary frame placed in the front door. The fan moves air from the inside of the home out. It measures a pressure difference between the inside and the outside. It also measures how much air is being pulled out to create that pressure difference. As the Blower Door is pulling the air out, it blows past the Energy Auditor, and I get depressurized as well!

The blower door is used to test a home, or a commercial building, to determine how much leakage is going on. You have probably felt a cold draft in the winter somewhere in a home. Some of the drafts are fairly easy to locate, such as under a door. Other places that leak air are not as easily found. Leaks do not need to actually enter the room to cause a problem. If air leaks into the wall it can soak the heat right out of the room.

The Blower Door simulates a 20 mph wind on all 4 sides of the house and the roof at the same time. If the wind is blowing on the outside, the way to simulate that effect is to place the fan to pull the wind out of the house. By controlling the amount of pressure difference between inside and outside, the Blower Door can tell you about how your home keeps the air fresh. It will show you where the fresh air is coming in.

The air is coming into your home with all the doors and windows closed, can be correlated with the size of the home and an amount of leakage determined. It is also important to record the inside and outside temperatures during the test. Some temperature differences can change the test results. In the winter, the cold air outside has more density then the warmer air inside. The leakage will behave differently if you have a hot summer day with the temperature outside at 95 or higher.

Many people say your house needs to breathe. I don’t think so. I think the life in your house needs fresh air. How you provide that fresh air is your choice. Your home should change the air about every 3 hours to provide fresh air, for those live things in your home. Live things would include plants, pets, and people. Cooking, especially with a gas range, showers, the typical gas hot water heater, and a typical gas furnace also require fresh air. Providing fresh air is one step, providing quality fresh air is a second step. Both should be taken at the same time.

What is the reading of my test? Is my test good or bad?

Energy Auditors and Building Science types, refer to the results of a blower door test as “XXXX CFM at 50”. The test is standardized to depressurize the home to a difference of 50 pascals with relation to the outside. CFM is for Cubic Feet per Minute. The measure shows how many cubic feet per minute when depressurized to a difference of 50 pascals.

What is a pascal and how much is it? A pascal is a metric unit of pressure. It is not much pressure Here is the US we like PSI (pounds per square inch) or water column inches. Some of us are familiar with a bar, or an atmosphere, or a Torr. (You can read Wikipedia to learn about those! I did! ) 1 water column inch is 250 pascals, or about 0.03 PSI.

This image of my manometer is reading 45.2 pascals with a flow of 2552 CFM.

So is my test good or bad? It is not good or bad. It is just a score. It gives a measure for your Energy Audit to determine how much the uncontrolled air exchange in your home costs in Energy Bills, and how much we can reduce it for what price?

The air leakage can be evaluated by the volume within a home. It can also be evaluated by the size of the walls and the ceiling. Until those numbers are calculated to go with the reading, it doesn’t mean much.

How do I compare to a house down the street? That is not comparing apples to apples. The house down the street is different because a different family lives there. They have over a few or over many years, modified the house. How well have the inside walls been maintained, how many coats of paint. One of the homes I tested with the least opportunity to save on Energy Bills was built in 1912.

What can I do to reduce the uncontrolled leakage in my home.

You can become a caulker! Not a clunker! Caulk or something hard that you can not blow through stops air leakage. Insulation, most types, you can blow through does not stop air leakage. Where to caulk is a different story and deserves its own post on the blog.

Thanks for reading! Thanks to @splintergirl for the idea!

A Knock on the Door, Early Saturday Morning


I was just getting around, 8:03 AM.  Who could be at the door?  It’s January, Tori might be selling Girl Scout Cookies. That would be good!

No!  It is the FedEx guy.  On a Saturday!  He has my Nest Labs Thermostat!  Yes!!!  Arm Pull!!!  I know what I’m doing today.

First Cup of Joe!  Open the packing box. Look at the box, just what you would expect from a guy that helped develop the iPad.  Exquisite packaging.

Working my way down the first cup of coffee, into the package I go. The first Look at my Nest.

And take that out, the second layer.  Interesting! Again, just what you would expect from a guy that helped develop the iPad.

Ok!  Breakfast!  Check! 2nd Cuppa Joe! Check! Time to start! Here is the 20 year old programmable thermostat. It has small buttons and sliders and I’ve never been able to get it to program.  I can text on my phone, I build FileMaker Databases for my own use, and I have even written a number of Shell Scripts in Unix over the years!  Technologically challenged?  No!  It is just those small buttons and not liking to be controlled by that small white box on the wall.

It is off the wall and the base plate is mounted.  Not bad!  About 15 minutes.  Less if I had gathered all my tools first.  Just a pair of plyers, and a small punch.  Notice I will need to paint, but that can wait!  Also notice there are no screws to wrap the wires around and tighten down.  Eight wire holders. Push one down and push the wire in, let up.  That is why I needed the plyers, to straighten the wire.  Yes, that is a small bubble level at the top. Built in.

Now, Plug in the Nest ,to the base plate!  Oops! Error says no power.  Help on the Nest says RH wire is not connected.  Pull off the Nest – yes it is!  Must not be making contact! So, I pushed it in a little more.  Yes!  Arm Pull!  Nest is now asking to be hooked up to the Wifi Network.  Easy, just twist the dial and push to select.  No double clicking!  Done!

Nest Updating software! This finishes while I am setting up a Nest Account and getting it on both phones and the tablet. Then I run through the remaining set up steps. Max and Min temperatures, and a few others. All easy and common sense!

It works.  Shows the temperature setting in large numbers! Won’t need my glasses! Also shows the house temperature at 72.  That is the ‘free heat’ because I have a picture window on the south side of the room, single pane; very high Solar Heat Gain Coefficient!

Back on the 3rd picture what was there beside the base plate?  Oh!  A neat little Nest Screwdriver. Interesting!

Well, how does it work? The thermostat, not the screwdriver!  My wife posted on FB, that I got a new gadget and we will see how it works! Oh, Ye of little faith!

All day Saturday, I kept watch via the Nest App on my phone.  I could see the current temperature setting, the room temperature, and the outside temperature.  The high was 49° F.  The house stayed at 72° F until the sun went down and then started down. The thermostat did not call for heat.  About 8:00 pm, The room was down to 68° F.  Started turning the setting down 1° at a time.  Down to 65 at 11:00 and bed time.  We turn it down at night.  Usually 66° F.  Now, from the phone, I can turn it up in morning without going down stairs, so perhaps a little lower would be OK.

Sunday, I kicked it up to 69° F about an hour before the alarm.  Nice when we started getting around for church.  Oops!  In the the car heading for church. Forgot to set the thermostat back.  There is an app for that.  Done, set on 67° F.

I continued watching and saw the temperature in the house dropping much faster than yesterday.  By noon, I had dropped the setting to 66° F and the outside temperature is at 50° F.  Higher than yesterday.  Why the difference?  Windy today! That mean I need to do some more Air Sealing! I moved the setting up to 69° F about 15 minutes before we got home, and it was nice to walk into the house.  Set to 70° F now.  Outside is 63° F.  Windy!

The information on the website says, the Nest Learning Thermostat will spend the first week learning, your home, your habits.  So, I am going down this road.  Look for an update next week! This last image is the app on the table.

And what about Tori? After 2 cups of coffee I remember, Girl Scout Cookie Sales start closer to the end of January. So I will expect another Saturday knock on the door in a couple of weeks.