Ashley Cook

Tag: Efficiency

The tree that lived!

I wanted to hold off on this one until I was sure that it was going to live. At this point we have green leaves. I repeat we have new green leaves!

Some backstory. I really like tree lined streets. I think they bring a life to our cement city blocks (something to decorate for the holidays), they help decrease the temperature (read: lower AC bill!), and are generally nice to look at. Long story short, I want a tree.

Trees make for great photos

Disclaimer: not my tree, but another random tree in the city

With the help of P we found that in the tree plan for our neighborhood the house was originally scheduled to have a tree pit outside our front door. Bingo. Off went an email into the ether asking the city to come dig our tree pit! We could have hired someone to dig the pit for us (or maybe done it ourselves? unclear from the city website), but I’m not in a hurry and winter was approaching. After some waiting and pinging the city to see what the deal was. Answer: there’s a waitlist for tree pits, you get added to the list and X number of tree pits get dug each year. Sit back and wait it out.

My new tree pit! Complete with the don’t trip in me cone.

To my great surprise, so much so I couldn’t be bothered to take a good picture, I came home to this December 5th. Not to waste, since we had a warmer December, a tree was delivered on the 14th. Now I assumed I would have to go get a tree to fill it in the spring. I never thought we should plant a tree in December.

The December tree

Actually the next photo in my phone is putting up Christmas decorations. It was late in the year for this tree to get planted. And to be fair it looked a lot like a big twig for the next few months as it weathered an icing later that week and some snow after the first of the year.

The tree that lived!

And I’m happy to announce my tree is alive, well, and growing! One win for using city services!

The greening continued

It feels like this was a really long winter. The cold has been keeping me inside for the most part meaning my greening of the house has continued.

As an attempt to create more plants without shelling out the $$ (since I assume some of them won’t live very long) I’ve been interested in the idea of taking cuttings. Essentially taking a small branch from a mature plant and turning it into it’s own plant which 1. saves money and 2. makes small plants. Since I don’t have a lot of open counter/shelf space right now smaller plants are better (plus they’ll have more room to grow).

And then, it was as if the community was reading my mind. I noticed an event at Baltimore’s Neighborhood Grow Center all about Maximizing Your Growth through Plant Propagation. Perfect!

I attended the event which turned out to be a small group. It was perfect for swapping of stories, tips, techniques, and also taking cuttings from the plants the presenter brought to take home with us. She also created a short write up of the workshop!

Thus far the cuttings from the workshop haven’t completely died on me but only time will tell if they’ve taken root. In the mean time I’ve also gotten a hold of cuttings from some succulents that I have hopes of adding to the office.


Green Things are Growing!

I’ve been intrigued by adding plants to my house for a while now. There are few benefits of them that especially peak my interest namely, increasing air quality and general self sustainability. Plants can be a great addition for those seeking better air quality, they’ve been shown to sequester any heavy metals and reduce carbon dioxide from the air into harmless by-products. Its a topic that NASA explored as part of its possibilities for long term space habitation. (for a more detailed summary see this article). While I understand that any tiny houseplants I manage to keep alive won’t completely purify the air, they will (hopefully) add some benefit.

This is one succulent I’d love to have up by my desk. Image from

My eventual goal for the home is to have a nice spread of succulents on the 2nd floor since they require less light, water and day to day attention. In the kitchen I envision a few herbs that I can use for cooking. For the rest of the house I envision the occasional fern or other plant with a high filter rating and is rather hearty (again less hands on time needed). And in the backyard I’d love to have a few pots to attempt to grow simple things like tomatoes (I love home grown tomatoes) and zucchini. That’s a long list and I can’t guarantee it’ll all happen on this house. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out where was the best place to start this plant adventure.

Last spring my mom sent me some bulbs that I planted outside with my 2nd attempt to grow lavender (year 2 attempt at lavender). The bulbs did well and are now hibernating in my basement for winter. I managed to take no pictures of those guys so hopefully if they grow again in the spring I’ll snap a picture. And I don’t want to talk about the lavender I’ve attempted to grow twice.

With that little experience under my belt, I happened across a few tiny ferns on clearance when my local Walmart closed two weeks ago and for $1.50 I figured this was worth a shot. They lived on my windowsill successfully without dying for a week so I upgraded them to pots this past weekend.


Green onions in their onion mug

Using some pots I had in the basement, a mug, some coffee grounds, and the potting soil I had stashed in the basement last season, these guys have a new home. I also am attempting to see if I can grow these green onions (the start of my kitchen herb garden). See their new home in appropriately decorated mugs. As a side note there was a large number of coffee mugs in the house when I moved in. They are fantastic and I was looking for a great opportunity to use them. I’ll have to move the one fern from the mug (I think it needs a bigger space), but until I can get out and find one I like, it’ll have to do.


This fern has found his official spot above the TV

This is a start. Eventually I’ll be looking into using gray water to water the non-edible plants. But that is a topic for another day. Perhaps when there is less snow on the ground.

Energy Efficiency Update

I figured it was time to do an update on how these energy efficiency updates have been reflecting in my energy use and in turn my monthly bills. I’m going to share my numbers as I like statistics and I’m sure there’s other out there like me wondering if it’s worth it. First as a recap things I’ve done to increase the efficiency in the house and track my energy use:

  • Installed a Nest thermostat
  • Had a free home energy audit performed on the home (BGE)
    • Movement to nearly all CFL light bulbs in the house
    • Sealing of all vent edging with aluminium tape
    • Sealing off of extraneous vents with magnetic covers
  • Had a full home performance check (through Retrofit Baltimore)
    • Increase my attic insulation
    • Addition of gaskets behind outlet covers for exterior walls

While I was slow to implement these (thus I won’t see drastic energy use changes) I would expect to see slow decreases of energy (both gas and electric) over time. The Nest thermostat is pretty cool in that it notices when you are home and when you aren’t so it can move to your “away” settings and use less energy. For each day that you meet it’s efficient use criteria it gives you a leaf. These leaves are tracked and compared with other Nesters in your zipcode and emailed to you monthly to tell you how you stack up with the neighborhood. I’m pretty proud of my leafs: 31 leafs for December and 340 for 2015. I’m fairly certain those missing 25 leafs were from the summer when it was hot out and I just wanted to have air conditioning. But note you have no idea how many those are or what their leaf numbers are. I’d love to get ahold of the mean and median and total Nester numbers…

Screenshot 2016-01-12 13.07.06

Top 15% for December!

BGE also enjoys making me feel good by emailing monthly a report from my smart meter to show how I’m doing compared with people 80 nearby homes. Note that this would be a different demographic from the Nest data. My December report is below, again in the top tier of minimal energy use, and 13% less than my efficient neighbors. Whatever “efficient” means. I’m also unclear as to if the vacant homes are included in this data and where they would fall if they were.
Screenshot 2016-01-17 16.46.20

While this does make me feel good (just like badges for my Fitbit), I do want to know if there was a real energy use change. Which gets me into the nitty gritty. My new attic insulation was added in late October, and that was one of my largest changes, so I’ll compare October, November, and December of 2014 with 2015. I downloaded my data from the BGE website (look for the cool green button at the bottom of your My Energy Use tab) to look at this.

Electricity: Since my furnace is gas and my ac wasn’t running during these months my use should be about equal between 2014 and 2015. The only things that should affect this would be exchanged light bulbs and changes in my energy use patterns. My average electricity use those months were 317.3 kWh for 2014 compared with 251.7 kWh for 2015. That’s an average saving of 65.5 kWh per month. Which is kind of cool. I don’t think all this can be chalked up to light bulbs alone, but general awareness of my usage most likely also played a large role.

Screenshot 2016-01-17 17.39.33

My months compared according to BGE

Gas: This year saw the install of the insulation and the dishwasher, shoring up the vents, addition of door sweeps, adding a few outlet gaskets and a generally warmer winter to lower this bill. It also has an increase in the average water heater temperature and a generally warmer winter which could counteract these changes. The savings were slow accumulations so I honestly don’t know that I will save anything yet based on this.

Looking at my BGE bills proves to be unhelpful for this comparison as my smart meter was not so smart and stopped sending them data, causing them to estimate my use based on my neighbors from September 2014 until March 2015. Bummer I’ll have to wait a few more months to do a nice comparison that way.

Faulty math at work, don't believe what you see, 90 days vs 34

Faulty math at work, don’t believe what you see, 90 days vs 34

I do have my Nest data to fall back on for the furnace use at least. Nest estimates each month what to expect: more due to temperature, less due to being away more, more due to you overriding the schedule, etc. If you look at both years I tend to beat the estimated amount of change from month to month (if it estimates I should have 15 hrs more of use, I have 13 hrs more use that month). But I’m not sure I can say more until I can look at the full BGE data in March.

All in all it’s interesting from both the smart meter and the Nest I am more cognizant of how much energy I use, and have a benchmark to tell me when I’m doing “good”. Which helps on the bills front and gives me an idea of where I’ll be for the next month.

Energy Efficiency Here I come!

I figured while I’m listening to new insulation being pumped into the house I could put together this post I’ve been meaning to write about energy efficiency.

When I moved into the house I was super stoked about the $60 electric & gas bill. Super cheap compared to the newly renovated, apparently non-insulated, home I was previously renting. Of course the $60 was because the house had been empty for a few years and went up immediately. My installation of an A/C unit didn’t help either.

A whole box of light bulbs!

A whole box of light bulbs!

I had put myself on the BG&E quick home energy check up list awhile back for the rental home (because it was free and I didn’t want another $400 bill) and they finally called me to schedule before I was scheduled to close on the house. Needless to say I pushed it off a few months and then used the free energy check up on the new place. The energy check up was great and mostly because it was free. The catch for the free part is you have to do one of their recommendations on site while the inspector is there. This could be installing low flow faucets, putting a blanket wrap on your water heater, or installing CFL light bulbs (blankets and light bulbs, I’m in!). Needless to say I ended up with a box of CFL light bulbs for the house and a nice list of both “I can do” energy efficiency changes and “things to save for” changes.  Continue reading

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