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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Two approaches

I've a friend who was involved in a program to increase energy efficiency and promote alternative fuel use in northern NH. She did good work. Lot's of homes got insulated and tightened up against the blows of our harsh winters. Her efforts saw the installation of quite a few wood pellet boilers. A lot of fossil fuel oil got replaced with locally produced and renewable wood pellets.

There was training for contractors. Low interest loans and even outright grants were available for home owners. Help was provided to qualify for tax breaks. Everybody had all the proper licenses and permits. The big problem with the program? It's over. The talented people who ran it are scattered to the four winds.

Then there are the projects I've been involved in: small budgets, no tax breaks, but plenty of high quality red neck engineering. Take a buddy's solar electric installation for example. A repurposed fishing shack became a power shed with solar panels on the roof and batteries inside. The solar panel rack was a metal frame from a packing crate. Battery connector cables were made from junk jumper cables.

I know exactly how far one can go with electrical work without a license. In New Hampshire it's pretty far if you know the loop holes. I've also done insulation jobs with recycled materials and borrowed equipment. There are even little tricks like using old bubble wrap to add insulation to windows. While it blocks the view, light gets in so people aren't sitting in the dark. You wouldn't want to do it to all your windows, but it can bring warmth to some problem spots.

One of the things I'm involved in is spreading knowledge. Those of us on the low end of the economic scale need to be clever. Tax breaks and low interest loans make little sense to someone who doesn't make enough money to pay income taxes.

While I haven't installed and fancy wood pellet boilers I have rebuilt old woodstoves to make them safe and useful again. Plenty of people know how to weld up good solid woodstoves from junk steel. While they don't have the automatic features of the pellet boilers, they can burn regular wood just fine. Actually, many of the redneck woodstoves are more useful in emergency situations. Most pellet stoves don't function without electricity. A plan old woodstove just keeps on working. After one ice storm I heated my house with the broken branches that the ice had taken down.

What's better? Neither. High tech, professionally installed systems help a lot of people save energy and money. There are good companies installing solar electric and solar hot water heaters. However, not everyone qualifies or can afford such work. For the rest of us, it's home brewed systems, salvaged materials, and the sweat of our brows.



  1. My son is into solar panels with storage batteries. We have a lot of sun down here year round.