revisiting washlets

I lukewarmly wanted a washlet after trying to use one in Tokyo 10 years ago (?). I figured out how to use it but getting one wasn't top of mind. Recently I was able to use another washlet in a hotel in Suwon from Novita (a South Korean brand) and I was reminded that these washlets are actually really nice. Like mind-blowing nice and they've gotten way better since the last time I used one.

So I went and bought a Toto washlet and installed it (was very easy to do). This Toto washlet has a remote control, an automatic open and close toilet seat cover and seat, front and back wash with varying degrees of spray control, a booty dryer, a deodorizer, a night light, and a heated seat. All very sanitary and Apple engineers would be proud (in fact I think you should get a washlet instead of upgrading to an iPhone 11/Pro).

The other reason I was compelled to get one was because a house two doors down in our Bushrod neighborhood sold for $1MM dollars. It's a very nice craftsman style house but not exactly a mini mansion or on beach front property and *NO* washlets. I'm embarrassed to think our house is worth $1MM. BUT if you walk into our bathroom and enjoy the Toto washlet, you will walk out feeling like a million bucks. Guaranteed.

Anyway, I recommend this one -> Novita BH 90 or any of the Toto branded ones.

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' aka Eastern Redbud

This is my third try at growing a Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' also known as the Eastern Redbud also known as the Judas tree. The story goes, this is the tree that Judas chose to hang himself. Fun!

It has really pretty pink buds when flowering. Then the leaves go from a glossy, deep red heart shaped leaf to a large matte red to eventually a matte green leaf. It's a slow grower though so I'm giving it a lot of worm compost to hopefully super charge its growth (maxes out at 20ft tall/25ft wide)

Here's a better set of images of the tree. Third time is hopefully the charm (since I've killed two redbuds and a manzanita in the same spot) and maybe this tree finally grows and delivers some shade. I amended the soil properly this time around removing and replacing a lot of the clay with better soil. Turns out it's hard to grow plants in clay soil.

I'm watching it a lot more closely and hopefully it'll grow strong like our neighbor's tree (although unfair advantage since he's a professional landscaper).

Sometimes, you've just got to keep trying.

home energy checklist

energy history graph

In the US, the average household consumes 10,766 kilowatt hours or 897kWh a month. Louisiana is 14,881 kWh per year, Hawaii is the lowest at 6000 kWh per year.

With our 2 bed/1 bath house, we consumed 4748 kWh in 2008-2009 about 389 kWh per month. We're now at 2800 kWh for this year or 235 kWh per month, 154 kWh per month less.  Daily, we use about 3kWh to 10kWh a day. Can attribute the low usage mostly because of Oakland's temperate weather  and we made some energy efficient choices too over the years.

Here's a home energy checklist but for the most part this is what we did:

  • efficient properly sized central A/C and heater w/ Nest thermostat
    • double-pane windows (that we open when it's too hot instead of running A/C)
    • insulated attic (made a huge! difference) and subfloors, we could further insulate our walls but it would be expensive to do
    • strategic exterior landscaping provides shade to the house
  • energy star efficient appliances: refrigerator, dishwasher, front loading washing machine (spins out excess water)
  • efficient gas range and clothes dryer (gas dryer heats up and dries faster than electric, gas ranges technically aren't efficient but we have a super high btu range and convection stove so we do end up cooking a little faster)
  • LED light bulbs for every light (only a couple of CFLs in the bathroom) 3-20 watts per bulb down from 60-100 watts
  • efficient electronics, laptops e.g. Apple TV at .03 watts standby/5 watts on, down from DirecTV receiver's 18 watts standby/20 watts on
  • NOT buying high energy use/always on products and products we don't need

The only thing left to do is to update our gas tank hot water heater to a more efficient tankless water heater but that's not going to effect our energy usage that much. Not really that big a deal.

We also could install solar panels but as I had posted before, at 235 kWh a month, solar panel installation would need to be around $5k for us to breakeven.

What's great is that we aren't compromising convenience with being energy efficient nor are we overpaying to conserve energy. It's a bit of location luck and buying ready products that are thankfully environmentally sound.

tankless water heater – redux

Takagi T-H3M-DV-N
Takagi T-H3M-DV-N

The last time I wrote about tankless water heaters was in 2006 and our current water heater is still going strong.

You could say I'm jinxing it but we have a 9 year tank that's 16 years old. We might be able to get another 4 years out of it or it might go within the next year. Probably best to be prepared and still best to wait it out.

The tankless water heater I'm looking at now is the Takagi T-H3M-DV-N. It's a condensing natural gas version with a 0.93 energy factor, 1/2" gas line, 6.6 gallons per minute flow, and a 15 year lifespan/warranty. It's for indoor use and vents via pvc.

What's new(er) in tankless water heater technology is the fact that they're able to use a 1/2" gas line whereas before you might have needed to upgrade to a 3/4" gas line which would've been an expensive retrofit. The condensing feature is new which drives the efficiency to the higher 0.93 energy factor. Also, the use of pvc for venting and then the whole connecting to a network and managing stuff via smartphone (overkill) are also new.

These newer tankless water heater units are now cheaper and also cheaper to install because of what I've mentioned already with no gas line retrofit and pvc venting. Before, cost to install would be $3,000 – $4,000 and now we're looking at under $1,500.

Takagai, Noritz, and Rinnai are brands that folks seem to like.

 

the right color blue

I think our house is the right color blue (Kelly-Moore: Postcard Perfect KM3118-2/#7d9dbc for color but Benjamin Moore paint done via Cydney Ortzow Painting).

We asked if our house was too blue 13 years ago and it might have been without the landscaping and plants. As an aside, I need to put up the American flag again and if we switch out from DirecTV to DirecTV Now, we can take down the satellite dish.

Another aside, based on How many times does the average person move? (11.4 times!) we're on the opposite end of that spectrum. My number is 8 times.

Built in 1924, the house still looks pretty good.

 

$1MM house rule

Noe Valley, SF Home
Victorian in Noe Valley SF, sold for $2.5MM, photo by Open Home photography

Here's the new rule. If you buy or own a house that's worth $1MM, it *must* have a toilet with a washlet (aka bidet).

$1,000,000 has to mean something. Used to be a house had a $1MM view and those houses exist and those houses are probably worth $1MM because of that view/size/architecture/finishes.

Now, $1MM homes, especially in the Bay Area, are just houses — maybe 2 bedrooms and 1 bath, maybe in a generally ok neighborhood, maybe recently renovated, maybe near BART. None of those things combined or separate are enough to justify a $1MM price tag – ever. So install a toilet/washlet where you can at least say for your $1MM house, you have a toilet that washes your ass for you.

Don't even need to buy the most expensive toilet/washlet combo out there, a cheap $250 washlet will suffice. You don't even have to use it. It's the idea that matters.

See here/below for a decent toilet/washlet #lifegoals, #iwantone

toilet/washlet pic
Carlyle® II 1G Connect+™ S350e One-Piece Toilet – 1.0 GPF

thoughts on solar panels (again)

Sunpower and Tesla/Panasonic seem to have the best solar panels with over 300 watts and 20% efficiency. Next gen solar panels may reach 45% and even greater efficiency still after those go to market (w/ in next 5-10 years?).

The problem for us is still breakeven. We're low in our electric consumption, about 250kWh per month on average. We're usually under 300kWh and sometimes even under 200kWh during the summer. That usage comes out to be $500 a year on electrical (even with PG&E raising prices/price gouging after the San Bruno pipeline explosion) .

$500 a year on electrical with a 7 year breakeven point means the cost of the solar system that makes sense would have to be $3,500 total. Even extended to a 10 year breakeven, we're looking at $5,000. The cost of a 2kW system is roughly $9,600 ($7,000 after incentives). For 2.5kW it would cost $11,500 ($8,000 after incentives). So, we are getting closer on price but we're probably still a good 10 years away because the cost isn't just in the solar panels, it's mostly the labor for installation.

Cost of one panel is around $300 – $350. We need about 6-8 of them which is about $3,000. The rest of the material costs are the railings, converters, wiring so another $1,000 or less. This DIY solar system kit is about $4,300, if I was super handy, this kit could be an option.

Anyhow, won't be surprised if we start seeing 500kWh panels at 40-50% efficiency which means all we'll need are four panels to power up the house and that'll probably happen within the next 5 years. It could even be 1000kWh panels and all we'll need are two panels. That would aesthetically (to our roof line) be pretty nice.

In any case, we're still a no go for solar panels because our breakeven just isn't there– enough so that Tesla/Solar City and others won't even bother to come out. But I have a feeling a 500kWh panel w/ 45% efficiency at $200 a panel isn't too far away. Then we'll be at $3,500 for a fully installed system sooner than later, *if* we can find someone to do the install.

cork floors

L1020395

I installed some cork floors in our condo at Kirkwood this year (kitchen last year, living room and dining room this year). We bought the panels from Ecohome Improvement. The cork floors are manufactured by Qu-Cork (Carina) and it was a lot easier to install that I thought. Didn't turn out too badly. Now we have to see how well they'll last given the foot traffic of snowboard boots and ski boots.

evaluating solar panels

As much as we want a solar panel system for our house, they're still not currently priced where it makes economic sense for us — solar panel systems are still too expensive for the amount of energy that we use. I'm hung up on solar because they're really cool and it just feels like the right thing to do (invest in). But it's really hard to justify given their current expense.

We received a quote a couple years ago for 16 175 Watt, BP solar panels which would generate 3,529 kWh a year or 294 kWh a month average. We fluctuate between 170 to 360 kWh but we usually stay under 300 kWh a month and average in the 240-250 kWh range for the year. Homes of our size are in the 400 to 600 kWh range so an average of 500 kWh.

On the finances side, we're looking at $36 a month electricity bill or $440 for the year. The cost estimate for a 16 panel solar system was $20,000 which would go down to $14,000 after the state rebate and Federal tax credit.

I like 7 – 10 year break evens which would mean the cost of the solar panel system would have to be in the $3,000-$4,000 range which is in the range of installing an HVAC system or tankless hot water system so not far fetched that one day it'll be this cheap to install. The $14,000 is about $10,000 more than we could financially justify. From a "save the earth" perspective, our efforts to continue to conserve energy (LED lights, insulation, programmable thermostat, efficient windows, efficient appliances) is still the better way to go.

It's possible that we'll increase our electricity usage and of course we're at risk for electrical rate increases, but at this time solar panels still need to go down in price unless we make it a DIY project and buy and install solar panels ourselves. For $3,000, DIY would make sense. Given the interest in solar companies though, solar panel systems will get cheaper as more panels are available and made cheaper and more companies are available to install them.

Some links: