Low-tech air conditioning/cool tutorial for the mathphobes

Though we are sliding into heating season, it is never too late to talk about air conditioners. If you want to avoid buying one for the two weeks that it is intolerably hot in the summer or you just like to experiment, here is another option. Make your own!

Better yet, use it as a project for the kids in your life to show how math and physics are great tools for creative people.

Homemade AC

Here’s the background on one Engineering student’s cool project, complete with specs:


Lifehacker’s take on the project has some very interesting comments:


Other Simple Ecological Toilet Options

Put bulky objects into the ordinary toilet tank

You can experiment with your ordinary toilet by putting objects of various sizes into it to see how little water you can get away with before you have to use the plunger. The idea is that because the toilet tank stops taking in water when the ball reaches a certain level, if you put an object into the tank, it means less water is in the tank. Less water is therefore used in the flush. Avoid using bricks; they are not good for your plumbing. A closed container of liquid would be better eg: a full plastic bottle of Pepsi…or Coke.

Pepsi bottle or coke bottle

Lower-tech than a weight in the tank? Yes, flush less often!

This is the obvious low-tech, low-cost solution to water wastage in the bathroom. The common saying is: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down”. If you pee twice per flush, you have effectively created the same water-use profile as a low-flush toilet. Pee three times and you are at the technological cutting edge….

Separate Yourself from the Pack…perhaps in ‘the bad way’: The Humanure Option

A more specialized approach. This is an option if you live near a sawmill. Build a toilet out of a 5 gallon (20 litre) container and a toilet seat. Use rotted sawdust (but not sawdust from ordinary lumber which has probably been treated with chemicals) scooped directly on top of the excreta. It will not smell and will breakdown the excreta into compost! See the detailed, free online book on the subject: http://weblife.org/humanure/default.html


Waste Water instead of Trees Option

More worried about wasting trees than wasting water? Many Middle-Eastern and Central Asian countries use a pitcher of water instead of toilet paper. The bidet is a European variant of this idea and is used to clean up after the event. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bidet

A Tampon Alternative for the 21st Century?

Since we are already talking toilets and wastewater, municipal processing of toilet wastewater can be helped by the reduction of tampons. Something worth investigating is the Diva cup – a small silicone cup that you can insert instead of a tampon. See: http://www.divacup.com/ for info and advice on usage. Many women find it liberating, financially, environmentally, and physically. It’s about $35 and voilà – no more need to buy feminine paper products.

Hate your low-flow toilet? Name names!

It may seem that ‘low-flow toilets’ are secretly ‘flush-forever toilets’. Functional low-flow toilets do exist, however. Why do you keep encountering the bad ones? According to one theory, some of these bad low-flow toilets may be attempts by contractors who build new houses to….cut costs by using cheaper ineffective ones. They look good, sound virtuous in a sales pitch, but turn a short nature-call into a 15 minute battle between plunger and porcelain.

If you hate your low-flow/flush-forever toilet, leave a comment with the name and model of the toilet. I will make a list so that the Bad Johns can be known to everyone. Provide a photo of the culprit and I will create a special page so that people who threw away their manuals can know that they are not alone! Let’s get these things off the market and find out which ones are good ones!

Note:  Oct 2008 UPDATE with lists is here!

Taming the Toilet: Dual-Flush models

It works just as you suspect. A half-flush for the liquids; another full flush for the solids. Clearly, this is a great idea!

Here is the research by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (‘CMHC’ or ‘SCHL’ for francophones). Note to non-Canadians: Under Part IX of the National Housing Act, the Government of Canada provides funds to CMHC to conduct research into the social, economic and technical aspects of housing and related fields, and to undertake the publishing and distribution of the results of this research. Tax dollars at work!

Here’s their data: http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/publications/en/rh-pr/tech/02-124-e.html

Australia has made these the norm because it is drought-prone. For an overview of the subject, see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/17/AR2007011700649.html

A kit for converting my old toilet?

You can buy a kit for about $50 that allows you to convert your conventional water-wasting toilet into a dual-flush toilet. It is simple enough that you can do-it-yourself. See:

http://www.twoflush.com – for Canadians and Americans, won the first place award for industry innovation in the Kitchen and Bath Category at ISH North America’s 2004 new product showcase.

http://www.gaiam.com/retail/product/02-0205 – for $36

http://www.plumbworld.co.uk/1816-0000 – for 14£ , with diagram, based in UK

And thanks to a reader, here’s another conversion kit:






Coming soon: Energy-efficient incandescents?

Ads raving about compact fluorescent light bulbs are everywhere. There are often discounts and other incentives. The cost-saving in electricity is significant over a period of years when compared to the standard incandescent bulb. They are good for the environment but….I hate them.

bulb 2CFLReveal bulb

I have a few but I hate the quality of light they emit. I don’t want my living (and reading) environment to have a green cast. I have tried the two most available colours: “Cool white” and “soft white”. Both make me feel trapped at the office. This is especially true since I had already replaced all my conventional incandescents with GE’s ‘Reveal’ bulbs which waste power in the usual way but have a blue coating that cancels out the normal yellow one. The result from them is a superb light quality that is noticeably brighter – a real asset when you are inside the house in the evening. In Canada, you can get the Reveal bulbs at most hardware stores and pharmacies (eg: Home Depot, Shoppers Drugmart etc). There are similar ones under other brand names. If you think your eyes are going, you should try this light.

More info: http://www.gelighting.com/na/home_lighting/products/reveal_main.htm

Still, the problem of incandescent lights as energy hogs remains. But will it? I am guessing not. Immediately after Australia announced its plan to ban the bulb, on Feb 24, 2007, GE announced that it will improve the efficiency of the incandescent bulb to match that of the compact fluorescents and they will be ready for market…in time to meet the bans of various countries.

GE’s press release: http://home.businesswire.com/portal/site/ge/index.jsp?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20070223005120

The Quest for Better Lighting

This is the first in a series of entries on the problem of finding lighting that is eco-friendly, inexpensive, flattering, and ideally, contributes to an uplifting physical space.

Should you change your good old light bulbs to compact fluorescents? Must every living room look like a clinic? What makes the lighting in some newer public buildings so fantastic and where can I find those bulbs? Will GE really introduce an eco-friendly incandescent next year?

Surprisingly, light is a significant energy gobbler. In the US, lighting is responsible for about 20% of energy use. Much of that is incandescent (though not all of it). Clearly, it is an issue worth revisiting.

Many countries are planning to ban the sale of traditional incandescent light bulbs. Australia will phase them out by 2010. Canada will phase them out by 2012. The European Union is aiming for 2009. As of last week, California will also phase them out by 2012.

For a quick overview of different kinds of light bulbs, their energy efficiency and quality of light, here’s a useful link :


Home renovation and available subsidies

Looking for info on rebates from different levels of government in Canada? The feds have made a nice new readable site:


The info ranges from rebates for energy saving appliances to subsidies for composters and those fluorescent lightbulbs.

As you will notice (and as good Canadians, expect), programs and subsidies vary from province to province. People with time on their hands – semi-retired boomers with a bursting social conscience, that would be you – why not badger your province to match the programs you find interesting in another province?