1:5:10:365 EcoTip Blog

October 30, 2008

:304 Surge Protection

Take the 1:5:10:365 challange: Do one thing – for 5 to 10 minutes – 365 days a year to make our home and planet environment better.

1:5:10:304 EcoTip: Rather than merely surge protecting your computer – consider having a whole house surge protector installed at your breaker panel to help protect your whole house.

Source: NOAA


 Additional Information:

Suggested Review:

The following is an excerpt from my book – Extreme Weather Hits Home – Protecting Your Building From Climate Change

My family moved to Prescott, Arizona, in the late 1980s. Our home was a two-story on high ground near the middle of town. The public utility lines for our home ran along an alley at the back of the property. A transformer on the power pole served our home and our neighbors on either side. Arizona is known for some spectacular summer lightning storms.

Since the power poles were clearly the highest point in the vicinity, I was concerned about lightning strikes. Shortly after we moved into the home, I had lightning surge protection installed at the service panel for our home. Within that first year it proved to be a wise decision.

While our youngest daughter was in the bath one summer evening an unexpected lightning bolt (literally out of the blue) hit the power pole transformer at the back of our yard. Plumbing is typically grounded to the earth, but that does not always guarantee that the lightning will dissipate harmlessly. The house shook, the power went out and the transformer caught on fire, but in spite of my daughter being in the tub she was fine.

Many additional strikes quickly followed with brief but heavy rains, typical of Arizona summers. The rains, fortunately, extinguished the flames from the power pole. Other than no power for a few hours and the fried lightning protector that we had recently installed, everything else was

Our neighbors weren’t so lucky. The neighbor on one side had their refrigerator and some small appliances blown out. The neighbor on the other side had their television’s picture tube explode sending sparks into their living room. This lightning was probably a type known as “anvil to ground lightning” since the strike originates in the anvil-like head of thunder clouds. These lightning strikes frequently occur without warning well ahead of the main thunderstorm. This firsthand experience convinced me that lightning and surge protection were important additions and had probably saved our electrical appliances and possibly my daughter’s life.


Lightning flowed through the plumbing and electrical system and fried this laundry sink. Courtesy of www.lightningrodstuff.com

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January 30, 2008

:030 Mercury Clean-up


United Kingdom instructions for cleaning up broken CFLs

Suggested Review – :028, :029

Welcome to today’s 1:5:10:365 Tip for becoming a better steward for our home and planet.

1:5:10:030 Tip:  When fluorescent tubes break they release the hazardous heavy metal mercury. The above ten steps are the published recommendations in the United Kingdom. I would add to these ten steps EPAs recommendation to:  Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.

See you tomorrow


Additional Information

EPA’s information on broken CFL clean-up can be found at: http://www.epa.gov/mercury/spills/index.htm#flourescent 

They have additional mercury clean-up information including for broken thermometers. They state:

What Never to Do with a Mercury Spill

  • Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury (but see the “What to Do if a Fluorescent Light Bulb Breaks” section below for more specific instructions about vacuuming broken fluorescent light bulbs). The vacuum will put mercury into the air and increase exposure. The vacuum appliance will be contaminated and have to be thrown away.
  • Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.
  • Never pour mercury down a drain. It may lodge in the plumbing and cause future problems during plumbing repairs. If discharged, it can cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.
  • Never wash mercury-contaminated items in a washing machine. Mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
  • Never walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury around.

Top of page

What to Do if a Fluorescent Light Bulb Breaks

USEPA states: Fluorescent light bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines:

  1. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
  2. Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a sealed plastic bag.
    1. Use disposable rubber gloves, if available (i.e., do not use bare hands). Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the plastic bag.
    2. Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.
  3. Place all cleanup materials in a second sealed plastic bag.
    1. Place the first bag in a second sealed plastic bag and put it in the outdoor trash container or in another outdoor protected area for the next normal trash disposal.
      Note: Some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken lamps be taken to a local recycling center.
    2. Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.
  4. If a fluorescent bulb breaks on a rug or carpet:
    1. First, remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner, following the steps above. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.
    2. If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and put the bag or vacuum debris in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

[Note from John Banta: some sources are now stating the area of carpet that came in contact with the mercury should be cut out and thrown away. In any case vacuuming the area as suggested by EPA could release additional mercury vapors into the air of the home. It would be safer if the vacuum cleaner could be set outside or its exhaust directed to the outside where it would be diluted. Still none of this is very comforting.]


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January 29, 2008

:029 CFL Safe Disposal

Welcome to today’s 1:5:10:365 Tip for becoming a better steward for our home and planet.

1:5:10:029 Tip: Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) contain an average of 5 milligrams of mercury (older ones may have up to 20 milligrams). They should be recycled to remove and reclaim the mercury to prevent it from contaminating landfills with the hazardous waste. 



Tomorrow I will talk about what to do if a fluorescent tube breaks.


Additional Information

href=”https://1510365blog.wordpress.com/2008/01/29/029-cfl-safe-disposal/attachment/108/”>Suggested Review – :028

Every county in the United States is supposed to have a hazardous waste disposal program, but most don’t accept fluorescent bulbs and tubes.

IKEA stores have added mercury recycle/disposal station in its customer service area where they accept used CFLs and batteries at no charge.

Sylvainia corporation has set up a disposal program using the RecyclePac shown above. The pack contains padding material in a shipping box which is sent by to the recyclers. The cost of disposal works out to a little over a dollar a bulb.

Check with www.earth911.org to find other disposal options by entering your zip-code (or call 1-877-EARTH911).

According to the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers: 

“70.8% of the mercury-lamps used by business and 98% of the lamps used in homes are not being recycled.”

You can obtain a copy of their annual report and additional information at www.lamprecycle.org.

EPA has the following website to help you: Find fluorescent light bulb recycling programs in your area

Finally you should check directly with your local waste management agency for recycling options if they don’t have an easy recycling/disposal process in place in your community, you may choose to lobby them and your local community government to set something up.


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January 23, 2008

:023 Clean Fridge Coils

Suggested Review – :005, :019, :022

Welcome to today’s 1:5:10 Tip for becoming a better steward for our home and planet.

images-refrig.jpg  graphic source: www.hometips.com/content/refrigerators_ef.html

1:5:10:023 Tip: Yesterday you began monitoring your refrigerator for 24 hours to see how much electricity it uses. Today you should record the electric use and learn to clean the cooling coils. Once the coils have been cleaned you can see how much energy is saved by monitoring for another 24 hours. Manufactures and energy conservation experts are recommending the coils be cleaned twice a year. Even more often if you have indoor pets like dogs or cats since their hair tends to dirty up the coils faster. When the coils are dirty, heat builds up and more energy is used to keep your foods cold or frozen. The extra heat will also shorten the life of the refrigerator. Some estimates indicate that dirty coils can add up to $150 dollars a year to your energy bill. Spending ten minutes twice a year to clean the coils can really pay off. When I checked it with my energy use meter, I determined dirty coils would add an extra $3 dollars a month to my electric bill.

Record in your journal the energy use and let the monitor run for another day to see if it is fairly constant. While your cleaning the coils, it is a good time to also clean and check the condensate pan. Tomorrow I will tell you how.


Additional Information

According to Whirlpool: “the cooling coils for your refrigerator and freezer look like thin tubes, sometimes with connecting fins like a radiator on your car. Some coils are mounted at the rear of the refrigerator. Other are located below the refrigerator, where a fan moves air across the coil. When you stand next to the refrigerator in the winter and feel a warm breeze at your feet, it means the condenser coil and fans are working.”

“If the exterior condenser coils become dirty, they are less efficient at transferring heat into the air around the refrigerator. To clean the coils, you can carefully vacuum them or remove stubborn dust with a condenser cleaning brush”.

 If your refrigerator has coils and a fan below the refrigerator, you will need to remove some access panels to reach the coils. We suggest that you follow the specific instructions for your refrigerator and unplug the unit before you attempt to clean the coils.”


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January 22, 2008

:022 Frige Energy Use

Suggested Review – :005, :019

Welcome to today’s 1:5:10:365 Tip for becoming a better steward for our home and planet.


1:5:10:022 Tip: In comparison to other appliances the refrigerator uses more electricity – for example – five times as much as a typical television set, but of course the refrigerator must be kept operating 24/7. To find out your refrigerator’s energy use, plug it into your watt monitoring meter and let it run for 24 hours. Also check how many watts of electricity are being used when the door is open versus closed, and when the compressor is running versus off. If your door seal has a heater to prevent condensation at the door gasket, switch it on and check its electricity use as well as when the refrigerator is going through its defrost cycle – if you can catch it. Depending on your unit, it may be time to consider replacing it with a more energy efficient model.

Our refrigerator is about 5 years old and is using about 1.6 kilowatts per day. That’s not too bad considering an older energy hog model may use 5 or more kilowatts each day. At that rate, it may be time to buy a new refrigerator. But before you buy a new model, you will probably want to consider the 1:5:10:365 tips for the next few days.

Tomorrow we will find out how much energy our refrigerator can save by cleaning the cooling coils.


Additional Information

Make sure you record your refrigerator’s kilowatt use in your journal.


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January 21, 2008

:021 Auto-Off Powerstrips

Suggested Review – :002, :003, :004, :005, :019

Welcome to today’s 1:5:10:365 Tip for becoming a better steward for our home and planet.


1:5:10:021 Tip: In tip :019 I talked about how one of my computers with all of its peripherals had a trickle current that was using 40 watts of electricity even when the computer, monitor, printer and sound system were switched off in standby mode. This was needlessly costing about $80 a year. I suggested plugging the set-up into a power strip that could be shut off whenever the computer wasn’t being used.

What I have found is that my DSL cable box needs to have the “trickle current” or I loose my settings and have to wait for it to reprogram in order to connect to the Internet. That means about 5 watts of “trickle current” is essential for keeping my system functioning. That means switching off everything else should save $70 not $80 a year – which is still pretty good.

I have now purchase a “smart strip” which is able to automatically monitor power use and shut off the trickle current when the equipment is in standby mode. If you are dedicated to shutting your equipment off with a manually operated power-strip every time, that works fine, but I prefer the auto-off function. It remembers when I forget.

Tomorrow I will talk about using your watt monitoring meter to check you refrigerator electricity use and determine how to save energy from this big energy hog.


Additional Information

The auto-off power-strip I am using is the “SmartStrip”. It has one “control outlet”, three “constant hot outlets” and six “automatically switched outlets”.

The control outlet is for the item that will determine when the others should be shut down. I used it for plugging in my computer (“trickle current” savings 10 watts).

I have used “constant hot outlets” for my DSL cable box (5 watts) and my telephone answering machine (2 watts).

The “automatically switched outlets” are used for my monitor, printer, sound system which have a combined “trickle current” use of 25 watts.

 I had to play with the sensitivity adjustment a bit to get the power-strip to automatically shut down the trickle current when the computer was shut down. But now it works great.

The following is the smaller smart strip from Amazon:
SmartStrip (click here to go to Amazon)

Here’s the smart strip that I purchased. It turns out I could have gone with the smaller less expensive one because I have extra unused outlets:
SmartStrip (click here to go to Amazon)

(in the interest of full disclosure – I have signed up as an Amazon Associate. If you use this link to purchase a “Kill-a-Watt” I will receive a commission – I think it is 4%).


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January 19, 2008

:019 Determine Watt Use

Suggested Review – :004, :005

1:5:10:019 Tip: Today you should familiarize yourself with using your watt use monitor. This is the device I encouraged you to purchase in :005.

Begin by plugging it into an outlet and plugging a standard lamp into the meter. Follow the instructions and try pressing the various buttons to see how it works. The digital readout should closely match the wattage of the light bulb. By pressing the “kilowatt hour/time” button once it should indicate the number of kilowatts used. Pressing the button again should indicate the time that has passed.

Try plugging a number of appliances into your meter and record in your journal how much power they use when they are both on and off in standby mode. For example my computer, monitor and printer use a total of 150 watts when they are on and 10 watts when in standby mode. This is pretty good compared to another computer, monitor and printer that use a combined total of 350 watts when on and 40 when in standby mode.

That 40 watts is the trickle current that is wasted energy. By turning this computer and it’s peripherals off any time it is not being used by flipping a power-strip switch, I could save about $80 a year.

I will be discussing many other ways to use your wattage monitoring meter in future 1:5:10:365 Tips. 


Additional Information

The wattage monitoring meter is one of the fundamental tools for easily monitoring your electric use. If you haven’t already purchased one you can get it from Amazon. Right now it is selling for $20.98 plus shipping.

To purchase from Amazon (click here): Kill A Watt  (in the interest of full disclosure – I have signed up as an Amazon Associate. If you use this link to purchase a “Kill-a-Watt” I will receive a commission – I think it is 4%).


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January 5, 2008

:005 Determining individual appliance electric use

Suggested Review – :001, :002, :003, :004


1:5:10:005 Tip: Yesterday I talked about using your public utility electric meter to monitor energy use in your home to track hidden electricity use. If you would like to know how much energy a particular appliance is using, you can use yesterday’s technique to calculate this by turning the appliance on and re-timing the spinning dial, repeating the calculations and noting the difference. The extra electric use will be from the appliance that was turned on. This is the no-cost way to monitor the energy use for individual plug in items that operate off of 110 volts. This is obviously a real pain.

There is a very easy way to monitor energy use one appliance at a time by using an electric use monitor. 

These meters monitor electric use for any 110 volt electric plug in device. This one – the “Kill-a-Watt” retails for about $40.00 but can be found for under $25.00.
Tomorrow the 1:5:10 tips will head in a different direction for about two weeks, then we will come back and look at monitoring and reducing our electricity use by cutting down on the trickle current when the electrical appliance is in standby mode. The two weeks will give you a chance to purchase and receive an electric use monitor. If purchasing a meter isn’t an option you can also continue to use the meter method I described yesterday and today.
Additional Information
One of the least expensive places I have found the “Kill-a-Watt” on line is Amazon. Right now it is selling for $20.98 plus shipping.

To purchase from Amazon (click here): Kill A Watt  (in the interest of full disclosure – I have signed up as an Amazon Associate. If you use this link to purchase a “Kill-a-Watt” I will receive a commission – I think it is 4%).


Record the 1:5:10 time you spent. If you decide to purchase an electric use meter make sure to record the price you paid in your journal. Pretty soon we will be tracking expenses and savings, so you would consider this your first expense.


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January 4, 2008

:004 Establish your hidden electric use

Suggested Review – :001, :002, :003

Greetings and welcome to Tip :004 toward becoming a better steward for our home and planet.

1:5:10:004 Tip: Many home appliances have a “trickle” current that is running 24:7 when the item is in standby mode. You can use your homes electric meter to find out how much hidden electric use there is in your home. This is easiest if you have a dial type electric meter, but can also be determined if you have a digital electric meter. The first step is to be sure that all your lights and appliances are switched off or in the case of the refrigerator, furnace and air conditioning that they are not running.

By timing how long it takes the spinning wheel on you electric meter to rotate, you can calculate how much electricity is still being used. Granted some of this “trickle” of power is for things like smoke detectors or clocks which you want running all the time, but a significant number of appliances can be switched off so they don’t waste this energy when they are not being used.

To learn how to calculate how much “trickle current” your home is using, you will need all the information you have collected and recorded in your journal (:001 to: 004). The specific instructions follow in the additional information.

Tomorrows tip (:005) will teach you how to calculate the specific power usage for specific appliances. That’s my 1:5:10:004 tip for today.


Additional Information

To determine your energy use at any given time:

Step 1. Time how long it takes the dial on your meter to revolve one time.

Step 2. Find the Kh rating for your meter (on the meter below it is 3.6)


Step 3. Use the following formula to determine your Kilowatt hours

 3.2 X (Kh rating) ÷ seconds for one revolution

 Example if it took 45 seconds for my dial to make one revolution, then:

 3.2  X  3.6  ÷  45  =   0.256 Kilowatts per hour

 This is approximately one fourth of a kilowatt (250 watts).

 Step 4. To determine how much you are spending each hour at this level of electric use multiply the rate you are paying per kilowatt hour (check your :002 entry in your journal) by the number you calculated in step 3.

 Example: I am paying $0.229 per kilowatt hour so the trickle current is costing me almost six cents ($ 0.0586) an hour.

 Step 5. To determine the total cost per day at that level of electrical use multiply your answer by 24 hours in a day.

 Example:  0.0586  X  24  =  $1.41 a day

 This may not seem like a lot, but if this excess electricity use were eliminated, the monthly bill could be reduced by over $40.00.

It is important that nothing electrical changes while you are timing the rotation of the dial. If the refrigerator were to come on it could significantly affect your results.

Don’t forget to record your calculations and findings in your journal. You may want to repeat the timing of the rotating wheel a few times to be sure it is fairly constant. If you find big differences in the amount of time it takes for one revolution, there may be something using intermittent power that you aren’t aware of.

If you have a digital power meter it will take much longer to determine your power use since these meters will usually only measure in tenths of a kilowatt hour.

Illustration of a round electric meter with small dials and a digital screen reading 15232.2.This means using the previous example it would take approximately 24 minutes for the meter to go from 15232.2 to 15232.3. Tomorrow’s tip will include information about monitoring electric usage for individual appliances that can help over come this shortcoming for digital meters.


Don’t forget to record the 1:5:10 time spent and your total hidden electric use in your journal.


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January 3, 2008

:003 Read Your Electric Power Meter

Suggested Review – :001, :002

This week we’re taking stock of our energy and resources profile. Today you will be locating your electric meter and learning how to read the amount of power that is being used.

image of a dial meter

1:5:10:003 Tip: The location of your meter is usually going to be obvious and accessible. If you don’t know where it is you can call your public utility and ask them. Your meter will either be a dial type or a digital. Dial meters are being replaced in many communities by digital because they can be read remotely and do not require a meter reader. With the dial meters you will notice a wheel spinning. The faster the wheel spins, the more power that is being consumed. The dial type meters can be a little tricky to read. So I will go into more details as Additional information. In addition to writing down the current amount of power use, you could also snap a digital photograph of the meter showing the dial positions.

That’s my 1:5:10 minute for day three. Tomorrow we will be using your electric meter to learn how to detect hidden electric use that wastes significant amounts of power and needlessly cost money.


Additional Information

The Tennessee Valley Authority has an excellent web-site that teaches how to read ones meter. I’ve reprinted that information below. It came from the following site:


Reading that Mysterious Meter
on the Side of Your House

Reading your electric meter is a good way to know how much you’re spending on electricity.

Electricity is measured in kilowatt-hours. As sort of a quick reference, a 100 watt light bulb burning for 10 hours uses one kilowatt-hour. Electric meters keep track of how many kilowatt-hours you’ve used. There are two kinds of electric meters, digital and dial. Both are pretty easy to read and understand once you get the hang of it.

image of a digital meter

The Digital Meter.

Ready for this? All you have to do is read the meter like the mileage odometer in your car. What could be easier? Every time the number increases, that’s another kilowatt-hour used. Simple.

image of a dial meter

      The Dial Meter.

This is the tricky one. On a dial meter, there are five dials, numbered 0 through 9, with the 0 at the top. Look closely and you’ll see that the numbers go around the face clockwise on some of the dials, but counterclockwise on every other dial.

The hands of the dials move in the same direction as the counting order of the numbers. To read the meter, just write down the number that each hand has just passed. Start with the dial on the far left, and proceed to the right.

image of dials on a dial meter
The reading is 66,649.

If a hand is directly on a number, look at the dial to its immediate right. If that hand has passed zero, write down the number that the left hand is pointing to.

image of dials on a dial meter

The reading here is 70.If the hand on the right has not passed zero, write down the last number that the left hand has passed.

image of dials on a dial meter

Here, the reading is 69.

So, now what?

Once you know how to read your meter, it’s easy to figure out how much electricity you’ve used since your last electric bill. Simply look at last month’s electric bill to find the reading recorded by your local power company. Then, subtract last month’s reading from the number you just took off your meter. What you end up with is the total number of kilowatt-hours you’ve used since your last reading. 


1:5:10:003 Journal Entry – Read Your Electric Power Meter

Time Spent – 1:5:10 (example)     

Comments: Record your meter reading.


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