Sunday, April 14, 2013

GE Geospring Heat Pump Water Heater

One of the biggest electric expenses we face as a family is water heating.  It is the second highest use of electricity in the home, next to heating of course.  Last year, I looked into replacing the water heater with a more efficient model.  My friend has a tankless water heater and loves it.  Unfortunately, we are an electric only house, being out in the county and having no supply of gas.  To get an electric tankless, I would have to bring in 50 to 60 more amps for the water heater, plus the expense of the tankless water heater.  With another panel, additional wiring, an electrician to wire it and permits, this would run $3000-4000 and even more if more line is needed from the pole.

Another option is a hybrid water heater that uses a heat pump to heat the water in addition to the electric element.  Heat pumps transfer heat from the air to a heat sink then disperse that in some manner to the water.  Our home uses a heat pump for its heat and it is very efficient, so I like the idea.  Unfortunately, I didn't really want to spend another $1200 for a water heater.  According to estimates a hybrid water heater would save $200 to $300 a year in energy costs for a 4 to 6 year pay back.  Because the heat pump water heater is using heat from the air, I am not sure what the performance will be in the winter versus the summer.  Our garage runs 40 to 50 degrees in the winter and in the summer it gets into the upper 80s.  My assumption is we will have more savings in the summer than in the winter and will not realize the full $300 a year in savings.

At the end of 2011 Sears combined with Smart Water Heat to offer a $600-700 total discount for heat pump hybrid water heaters.  The best water heater I had researched is GE's Geospring water heater.  This water heater normally retails for around $1200, with the instant rebates from Sears I was able to purchase it for $600.  There is also a $300 federal tax credit that I didn't qualify for because I had spent the allowance already on energy improvements.

Most of the reviews on the Geospring water heater were 4 out of 5 stars with failure of the heat pump being the main problem.  Of course, this was on the older models, and the only reviews I found on the newer model that looks like the one I was purchasing was 4.8 out of 5 stars.  GE offers a 10 year warranty on parts, but service is slow according to the reviews.  Sears' extended warranty on the water heater was $450 and who knows if getting parts would be faster, so I skipped it.  For $450, I could almost by a second one.  My backup plan is to keep my existing water heater around and if the Geospring water heater fails and parts take 2 weeks to get, I will just put the old one back in.  That will be some work, but probably worth saving $450.

I picked up my water heater on December 22nd and installed it on the 23rd.  I have never installed a water heater, but the installation was pretty easy.  I cut the power to it at the breaker and turned off the stop valve going into the water heater.  Then I disconnected the water connections, this helped it drain faster.  Draining the water heater took about two hours.  My dad helped me take the old one down off the pedestal and put the Geospring heat pump water heater into place.   That is when the fun began.

I wanted to get it in before Christmas, so I could run out and get parts if I needed them.  Need them I did.  The first problem was that the Geospring water heater is taller than the old water heater.  While this shouldn't be a big problem, bending the existing flexible copper pipes that connect to the hot and cold lines to the new position was a pain.  It felt like I was going to break them they were so stiff.  I decided to replace them with something more flexible.   I had planned for maybe having to replace one but not two, so I only had one on hand.  Off I went on a drive to the plumbing store, 10 miles away.

When replacing the hose to the cold water line I found out, well subconsciously knew already, that a part of the connection to the cold water line was going to have to be replaced.  During the inspection of the house this was pointed out.  The leak went away; therefore, I thought the rubber washer in the hose connection was re-wetted so it fixed itself.  I had no intent to replace it with this water heater.  Before attaching the new connections, I tried to clean up the stop valve as best I could. Cleaning all the deposits out took 15 minutes.  When I turned the water back on, the valve began to leak.  In cleaning the valve I removed the deposits that were stopping it from leaking, opps.  This is when I knew that I need to do the job right and back to the plumbing store I went.

Getting the valve off was a pain.  I turned off the water to the house.  The line drained into the water heater since my connections were still in place.  I used a crescent wrench and lock jaw pilers to crank the valve off.  Of course, I had to take out a piece of drywall around the inlet because the nut was half way into the wall.  Because, I didn't have a pipe wrench I had to use a lot of force and cussing to unlock the value from the inlet. Frustrated and drained, I made a trip to the plumbing supply store again for a new valve.

Replacing the valve only took a few minutes.  I used plumbers tape on the brass threads and attached the valve. It took the next few days to get it to seal up.  I had slight seeping, maybe a drop every few minutes from the fittings.  My dad brought me over a set of pipe wrenches, which made the process so much easier.  I was able to crank on the connections and got them to seal.

I was ready to post this blog entry a week later, but decided to wait for my first bill to share the great savings I was having.  Then I got January's bill which covers the first 10 days in January and the rest in December.  From the previous year I had only saved 1 kW per day.  I assumed this was because end of December was colder than the previous year and I really hadn't had the water heater in very long, plus I had to fill the water heater and heat the water up. Therefore, I decided to wait for the next bill before posting.

February's bill came which included most of January and my bill went up from the previous year. We had a colder January then the previous year, so again I was assuming we were burning more with energy with heating.  Even with this assumption, I was starting to get kind of worried.  I was realizing that my suspicions were right. We were not going to get great performance out of the water heater in the winter because the garage is too cold.

Finally, I got March's bill and the savings were there.  My kW per day used dropped from 65 to 54 from the previous year.  This dropped the bill by $38 over the previous year, though some of that is the difference in days billed.  A few days ago I received April's bill.  The bill was $44 less then the previous year.  I dropped from 59 kW a day to 41 kW a day.  Some of the energy savings came from the fact the weather was warmer this year in February and March.  Below is a table of the my energy bills and the weather since I've had the water heater.  Each bill covers from about the 10th of each month to the 10th with a few days variance.

Daily kW
Total Bill
Avg Temp
Daily kW
Total Bill
Avg Temp

*My stepson is now living with us for 80% of the time so energy usage will increase slightly based on his needs.

Now that the weather is warming, I am extremely happy with the GE Geospring water heater and happy I made the investment.  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Chicken Tractor

Currently we are tractoring our chickens in the front yard.  Tractoring is where chickens are confined in a small run and moved to different parts of the lawn as needed.  This helps the lawn grow as well as feed the chickens.  The lawn is fertilized and aerated by the chickens.  The chickens also keep down bug problems. One thing I have just learned, is mashing down of grass with animals is important.  This builds up a mulch layer which encourages soil life and retains water.

The end goal with our chickens is to paddock shift them with electro-netting.  Electro-netting is a bit expensive for 6 laying hens, so currently we are just moving a tractor.  Next year we might bring in some turkeys and broilers which would make electro-netting justifiable.

This is not a typical chicken tractor because the coop was purchased on craigslist and is not meant to be a tractor.  I didn't have time to build a chicken tractor with all the other projects going on, which is why we purchased a coop that would work.  I ended up reinforcing the bottom with 2x4s and adding wheels for easier movement.  

Because it was just a coop, there needed to be a run in which chickens could graze.  The run is 8 foot long x 4 foot wide, built with 2x4s.  Field fencing was used along the sides.  I used a very light, nylon bird mesh on the top to keep the chickens from flying out and the hawks and eagles honest.  The reason it was built so sturdy is our Australian Shepard is just a puppy; therefore, I wanted a sturdy run he could not bust into.  He is starting to learn his role so it is less of an issue right now; therefore, if I had to do it again, I would use less wood.  Using less would make it easier to move.  The run wasn't bad to move in the garage but after the rains came it got very heavy. 

The coop and run is moved at least once a day, sometimes two.  The chickens graze on the lawn for most of the day.  Our lawn has a variety of plants in it like dandelions, rye grass, clover, etc... As we pile up table scraps we throw them into the run.  A couple of hours before dusk we will feed the chickens about 1 to 2 cups of layer feed just to make sure they are full.  A 50 lb bag tends to lasts our 6 birds about 10 to 12 weeks.  Unfortunately, we are new to raising chickens; therefore, I don't have a comparison of how much we saving in feed by tractoring them.

From the images, the chickens do a good job at scratching and tearing down the lawn.  This is a section they have recently eaten down.  Sometimes they will dig themselves a little hole, especially if a mole or something has made a dirt hill.  Any part they tear up I fill in the hole and put down a chicken seed mix on the bare soil.  

Here is a patch of grass that they were on 4 weeks prior (left).  This part is a little different than the part in tractor image because it was originally sod, which the chickens favored a bit less than native wild grasses.  The chickens still tore through it though.  After 4 weeks it is very healthy.  There is also a decent amount of weeds (chicken feed) in it such as clover and dandelion.  The second piece (right) is the same area that the chicken tractor image is in, 7 to 10 days later.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Chickens Love Catkins

We have some trees on our property that are dropping flowering seeds.  These small strands, about one to two inches and produce purple flowers.  This string of flowers is known as a catkin. The other day I threw one of these in for our chickens and they gobbled it up.  This is great because our property is littered with catkins right now and they are free source of food that the land is producing in the early spring.

The hardest thing was figuring out what the trees were.  After a bit of discovery, it turns out they are poplars.