Author Archive

How Much Insulation Do I Need in My Attic?

Perhaps the most neglected area of insulating ones home is the attic area. Here are two major misconceptions:

  1. A single roll of extra thick (12″) fiberglass will take care of my insulation.
  2. I don’t live in the far north, so I don’t need as much insulation as someone living in WI or MN.
  3. I live in a warm climate, so attic insulation is not needed.

Addressing, the first misconception, if you live in a northern climate, you will need an R-value of R49.  A 12″ batt of fiberglass will only give you R38. And, if you have gaps between batts where the trusses separate batts, you will have cold spots! The remedy here is to go over the top of your 12″ batts with additional 12″ batts that are perpendicular and cover up the gaps. This will solve the R-value problem and the loss at the trusses causing gaps.

Addressing the 2nd misconception, you will see in the map below, that those living in prairie states like Nebraska have an even greater R-value need than those in cold Minnesota! This is due to the windy conditions. Wind will sap your home faster than cold every time. So if you live in a wide open area where temps get below freezing, you should assume you need R49.

Finally, those living down south still need R49 in their attic! This is due to the AC costs in the summer. With little or no insulation in the attic, the heat from outside will cause your AC to work non-stop. After all, your ceiling consists of as much surface area as your floor. Heat will naturally flow from hot to cold.

For more information on this topic, see my articles at


R-Value Chart
Map and Chart Used With Permission From US Department of Energy

Just Say NO To Outdoor Woodburners!

woodburnerOutdoor wood burners were considered to be a great way to heat your home about 10 years ago. The “mess” and smoke was outside the home, and these wood burners not only could heat your home, they could also heat your water since they sent heat to your home in the form of hot water. But after talking to a friend who recently decided to scrap her 7-year old leaky and non-working unit, I must recommend that you stay clear of these units. Here is why:

  • These units produce a LOT of smoke. And if you live anywhere close to neighbors, they will hate you for having this unit. See This Report.
  • The cost is anywhere from $4000 to $10,000 for complete installation. This is not just a woodburner, it is a hot water system that needs to be integrated into your homes hot water and heat system. Think of how well you could better insulate your home with all that money!
  • The expected lifetime of these units is as little as 6 or 7 years, although many units offer a 10-year limited warranty and some even offer an additional 25 year warranty (for extra cost). My friend was not so fortunate as her model did not offer much of a warranty and her steel water jacket corroded and leaked, along with water lines leaking and freezing. If you pay $6000 and only get 8 years of use, that amounts to $750 per year! Add to that the cost of wood and you may end up paying out $1000 per year to run this unit!
  • These units require a LOT of wood! About 5 full cords (15 face cords) were required each year for my friend’s stove. A whole bunch of people from her church and our church would cut and split the wood for her. Otherwise, it would have cost her even more to have the wood cut and split.
  • These stoves require electricity to run the blower to keep the fire going. Otherwise the fire dies out. Also water pumps require electricity. This makes the outdoor wood burner useless as a heat source in case of power outages.
  • In short, don’t buy one! Your much better option is to spend your money to better insulate your home – for tips on this, see If you really want to use wood heat for the aesthetics or as a backup heat source, consider supplementing your current heat with a free standing decorative wood fireplace – these require smaller amounts (1 full cord or less) of dry split wood that produce less smoke, cost far less to purchase, and can keep your home from freezing up in the event of an extended power outage. See for a summary of wood heat choices. Make sure to check your local codes first to see if wood burning appliances are allowed. If a wood burner is not allowed, a decorative gas fireplace might be a nice choice.

    Lithium Battery Used in Electric Cars

    The lithium battery has made a splash in cordless power tools and is now the industry standard. It is much lighter and charges much faster than former rechargeable batteries. The light weight, however, makes it a great prospect for electric cars. See news at discussing new lithium battery plants that will supply the Nissan 5-seat electric car. Also, watch the video below discussing the lithium battery used in electric cars.

    Solar Shower Time Again!

    Solar ShowerUsing a solar shower in March might not be a big deal if you live in Arkansas or Florida, but it is a very big deal in northern Wisconsin! Yes, last night I took my first solar shower as our temps got up in the low 60′s. The water was lukewarm. Not cold, but not overly warm either. But still, in March? Usually, we are still shoveling snow this time of year, and many years all of our snow is not gone until early May!

    The solar shower that I redesigned a bit last summer works fantastic! The tightly sealing glass top allows the water to heat up very quickly. In fact, in the 85+ degree sunny days the water is too hot – I must either put in some cold water or wait until after sundown to take a shower. Another thing I could do on those hot days is rig up some sort of shading device to partially shade out the sun on the very hot days. That might be a good project for next summer!

    For plans on how to build this shower, see Free Solar Shower Plans.

    The 10 Year Light Bulb Conspiracy?

    iqbulbAbout 12 years ago I noticed some light bulbs on clearance at a Menards home store. As I recall, they sold for about 50 cents each and were called IQ light bulbs, made by Philips.  They were advertised as a bulb that would shut off automatically after 30 minutes. Furthermore, you could override this feature by turning the light on and off quickly. So I bought some. Wow, they really worked! No longer could my kids leave lights on in out of the way places.

    Boy did they work. I still have two bulbs from over 10 years ago that work!  The photo on the left is one such bulb in a utility closet. I also have a working IQ bulb in a basement bathroom.

    So why did they discontinue this bulb? When I tried to get more bulbs at the Menards they told me that the bulbs they sold were no longer manufactured. They told me they got a whole train car at a discount price and then sold them at dirt cheap prices – the fellow at the store said they normally would have sold for about $5. In fact they were even giving them to store card owners as a promotion I was told.

    So it appears Philips wanted to unload this item they discontinued. And fairly quickly. Why? If you try to find information on this product at the current Philips website, you won’t. And if you try searching Google for this information on this product, you won’t find but one old forum page! It is as if the product never existed!

    A light bulb that lasts 10 years and saves me gobs of money on electricity is certainly not a bad product to me the consumer. So it is very tempting to conclude that this bulb was just too good. I suppose it is possible that the original price was so high that people were not buying it, but I would think in today’s climate of incandescent = bad, bad, bad that people would be willing to pay $10 or even $20 for such a bulb that lasts and lasts. I know I would.

    The one result I did find on this product was from a 2004 Philips forum. I found an official response of

    The Philips IQ Lighting was discontinued and there is no replacement. We apologize for any inconvenience.

    Then, several more people exclaimed

    I love mine and have been looking all over. Bought it 13 years ago and it’s going strong.

    The auto off bulbs are great. I have some on my front porch, utility room and bathroom that must be nearly 8-10 years old.

    And then, another post by the Philips person:

    The IQ lighting Auto OFF were discontinued and there is no replacement. We apologize for any inconvenience.

    Sound like corporate talking points to you?  The additional sad news about all this is that you can not find a similar product made by another company – I have looked high and low! Apparently, the patent rights prevent a similar product from hitting the market.

    And just in case they delete this forum or the posts, I made a few screen shots below.



    If anyone from Philips wishes to clarify what happened here, please do.

    The New Improved Solar Shower!

    This new solar shower has the following new features:

  • Solid walls don’t blow around in high wind conditions
  • Sturdier base
  • Door that closes and locks
  • Glass top that opens on hinge with pully
  • No tools needed to change bags
  • Water heats up better
  • It is lighted for after dark use!
  • Now the water will actually stay warm even to the next morning, if it was hot and sunny the day before. And the shower itself will be somewhat heated from the water above. So you can take a shower on a 50 degree night and it is not too cold inside the solar shower unit. Go to Free Solar Heated Shower Plans for directions on how to build this.

    The 300 MPG Aptera Automobile

    The Aptera is a 2-seat, 3-wheeled car being developed in Carlsbad, California that gets up to 300 miles per gallon of gas! There are two versions of this vehicle: One is electric and can go up to 120 miles per charge and the other is a hybrid that can go up to 300 miles per gallon of gas. The top speed is 95 miles per hour and it takes about 11 seconds to reach a speed of 60 MPH. And here is a real nifty benefit: Solar-powered AC that keeps your car cooled while parked in the hot sun!

    Since the state of California puts this vehicle in the motorcycle class, it can then use the single-driver carpool lanes, another big plus.

    The Aptera is a two-seater; three-wheeler, two in front, one in back. California classifies it as a motorcycle, meaning it can legally travel in carpool lanes carrying just the driver.

    See for more information.

    Solar Car!

    Is this a car or a spaceship? Actually, it is a car . . . and completely powered by the sun!

    This solar car, designed and built by Marcelo da Luz, will go 0-50 in 6 seconds and has a top speed of 75 mph. Marcelo drove this car a record 13,000 miles, including travel up to the Arctic Circle in low light conditions. This solar car can even go 130 miles at night if its batteries are fully charged. Very nice!

    And yes, his car has been mistaken as a highway-bound UFO many times. da Luz states that he has been pulled over by highway patrolmen about 15 times and in one case he was reported to law enforcement as a “UFO driving down the highway”.

    70MPG VW Rabbit Priced at $7000!

    1981 Volkswagan RabbitWow! That is all I can say if this title line is true. But, according to the story We Build a 70 MPG Car, this is exactly what a group called Top Gear intends to do in their project car called Sipster.

    And they intend to accomplish this with a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel, retrofitted with a modern, computer-controlled, turbocharged VW TDI engine. Also, they will modify the gearing, oils, tires, and aerodynamics to squeeze every last MPG they can.

    And the intended price of this car is only about $7000!


    Note: The photo above is a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit, used with permission, courtesy of The Rabbit Archive, a site I found that is perhaps the worlds most comprehensive VW Rabbit information site.

    Tata Nano – World’s Cheapest Car

    Welcome the Tata Nano – the world’s cheapest car! They call this the “people’s car”. But wait, wasn’t Hiter’s  German car named “Volkswagon”, which, coincidentally, also means “people’s car”. See Volkswagen History.  The Volkswagen was largely a result of Adolf Hitler’s actions, where engineers of Nazi Germany teamed up with Porshe to create the VW Beetle in the early 1930′s. Another interesting coincidence: The VW Beetle incorporated features from the Czech vehicle manufacturer Tatra!

    Aside from those strange coincidences, we see that the Tata Nano is only a bit over 9ft long and sports a two cylinder engine stored in the rear (again like the old VW bug). The top speed of the Tata Nano is about 65MPH. If you have ever had the opportunity to drive a 60′s era bug, you will know that 65MPH was about the top speed for that car as well. There is no AC, radio, or air bags (like the old VW bugs). Gas mileage is reported to be anywhere from 42MPG to 50MPG. (Again like the old bugs).

    Make this car a freezer on wheels during winter months in northern Minnesota and I think we can just call it the India Version of the VW Beetle! But even if that were so, I think this car will become a darling with some folks, just like the old VW bugs.

    According to some sources, the Tata Nano may be available in the US as early as 2012. I think the Tata Nano will make a nice affordable commuter car for urban areas and slow highways where accidents are rare.