2014 Year-End Review of Enduring Tech

Standard

Over the years I’ve published several posts about various devices. Frequently, I’ll return to the original posts and add notes describing my experiences with those gadgets that include details such as whether or not I still use them or if they turned out to be as useful as advertised.

For this post I’ve chosen to highlight the devices that I still use, at least a few times each year, that have endured and remain useful. Though I’ve acquired some excellent gadgets in 2014 I’ve chosen to exclude those here as those items have not yet been used for an extended period.

Unfortunately this won’t include every device worthy of this recognition – only those that I’ve previously highlighted in this blog. In addition, I chose not to write about all of the devices that have since failed, or failed to live up to expectations – those experiences are typically available in the older posts.

But my search for technology that works well, and meets or exceeds expectations, is the reason that I maintain this blog. Over the years I’ve chosen to share several experiences in the hopes that they’ll either serve as good recommendations or, unfortunately, as suggestions to avoid certain products (or at least know what to expect from them).

I’ll begin with the oldest item first.

Continue reading

Using a Smartphone App to Verify Solar Panel Placement

Standard

Distant-Suns

Prior to installing the solar panel for an attic fan I selected two candidate locations for mounting the panel. The first location was up on the main roof of the house. Though this seemed like the natural choice there were a couple of issues with this plan. The first is simply that it would be a bit of a challenge to safely access that part of the roof. I was also hesitant to do anything that would potentially compromise the roof.

The second location was on the west side of our back porch roof. By placing the panel there it would be easier to install and it also wouldn’t be visible from the street.

Placing it on the back porch roof became the more desired location but I was uncertain whether or not the panel would end up being shaded by the house during most of the day.

How could I determine if the panel would be exposed to direct sunlight most of the day?

Well, it turns out that I already had an app that could do this. It’s an astronomy app called Distant Suns. Typically, I only use it the night of an annual meteor shower in order to determine where the radiant for the meteor shower is.

Fortunately, the app can also calculate positions of celestial objects, including the sun, at different times of the year. Using the app I was able to advance the time and also the date to find the exact position of the sun relative to where I was standing (and oriented). For example, I was able to advance the time to 11 AM and then hold the phone up and move it around until the marker for the sun was visible.

Sure enough, I was able to determine that the solar panel would receive direct sunlight most of the time when mounted on the back porch roof.

 

Preparing to Install a Solar-Powered Gable Vent Attic Fan

Standard

Attic-Gable-Vents
Attic view of gable vents where the fan will be mounted, facing south.

This is a home improvement project I’ve been thinking about for a long time that may offer considerable benefit. It’s been on my mind since our first summer in the house. Cooling our home in the summer to a comfortable level is somewhat challenging and expensive. Our home was originally built in the 1920s. As a result, it simply doesn’t have much insulation. Yes, some was added over the years, but it just isn’t sufficient for a home of our size.

Unfortunately, due to other factors related to when this home was constructed, we can’t simply drop more insulation everywhere in the attic. I’ve added some, but it simply cannot be done in most parts of the attic without some major renovation.

Recently, I ordered a Natural Light Energy Systems 30W Gable Mounted Solar Attic Fan. The intention is to cool down the attic considerably, thus also making it easier to cool the house.

Continue reading

Secure Home Motion Activated Solar Light (SH-7103-WH)

Standard

Secure-Home-Solar-Light

Recently there were a few break-ins in our neighborhood so I decided to add some additional security measures to our shed. The contents of the shed certainly wouldn’t be a goldmine for anyone but there are a few tools that would be inconvenient to replace. The area wasn’t well lit so I decided to add a motion-activated security light. Just as with the car port, I added a solar powered light. However, this one is more powerful and appears to work much better than the other light.

I bought a Secure Home Motion Activated Solar Light (SH-7103-WH). The cost came in at about $150 dollars but upon opening the box the difference is immediately noticeable. Instead of using rechargeable AA batteries this one uses a single, large 6V sealed battery. Once mounted and working it was also apparent that the lights were much brighter than the one in my carport.

I’ve had the light in place for about a week and a half and so far it’s worked without any problems or noticeable dimming.

The first night I set it up I did have a problem with the light turning on and off again repeatedly. The motion sensor was somehow being re-triggered. Overall, I suspect the problem was related to a significant swing in the outdoor temperature from the time I first turned it on until later at night. I turned the light off, waited a couple of minutes, and then turned it back on. Since then I haven’t noticed a problem.

Updated 01/24/2013: So far the light works just as well as it did when I installed it despite the shorter days.

Updated 05/22/2013: It’s still working great.

Secure-Home-Solar-Light-02

MAXSA Innovations 40218 (Solar-Powered Motion Security Light)

Standard

One of my pet projects has become adding solar-powered lighting to our property. My goal is to increase security, ambiance, and safety around our property without having to extend power or add to our electric bill. On more than one occasion I’ve walked into a raised water faucet in the yard at night on my way to a shed (the last time this happened I went to Lowe’s the next day and bought a solar spotlight for that area).

I wanted to add a motion-activated light to our carport to provide a little more security around the cars and to illuminate the area better when we return home after dark (some light from the back porch bleeds over but it’s not always on and the carport wall blocks much of it). Since we don’t have power run out there I started looking at solar-powered options and settled on the MAXSA Innovations 40218. Overall, reviews seemed positive and since I wasn’t lighting a particularly large area I wasn’t too concerned if the LEDs turned out to not be especially bright.

Last weekend I installed it. The light/motion detector assembly is inside the carport and the solar panel was easily installed on the outside edge of the roof (thanks to a 9′ cable that came with it). So far I’ve been impressed with the light output. It’s not brilliant, but it does a good job of covering the carport, especially the areas near the lights. The motion detector reaches just to the edge of the carport when set near maximum sensitivity.

It’s currently mounted on the lower edge of the carport wall, where it’s within reach. I may move it up higher so anyone goofing around the carport can’t turn it off as easily, while I could still adjust simply enough with a ladder. It’s also not centered, which is a minor issue but it would probably look better if installed a board up higher to mount it near the center. I’ll also need to point the sensor down a bit more. Currently, it doesn’t detect motion that’s very close to the light and almost beneath it.

Updated 11/27/2011: For several months the light worked just as well as when it was new. About two weeks ago I noticed that it wasn’t working. Finally, about a week ago I replaced the rechargeable batteries with a set of Eneloop AAs that I recently purchased. So far it’s working. I’ll monitor the light to ensure that it’s actually recharging the batteries and not just operating off the original charge in the new batteries. If it stops working then I’ll check the solar panel and see if it’s dirty.

Updated 04/11/2012: Replacing the batteries didn’t solve the problem but the cause appears to have been exactly what I thought it would be. The solar panel was dirty. I think it was covered with dust and pollen along with a little bit of bird crap. I changed the tilt of the panel to its steepest setting (it was sitting flat with the hope that it would catch more sun) and then shot the hose up at it to clean it off. It seems to be working properly once again.

And yes, I really did put off fixing the problem for more than four months…

Updated 01/03/2012: Once again, I had to replace the batteries to get this light working in the winter. I installed a different solar powered motion light on my shed and I’m considering replacing this one with that model.

Updated 07/28/2013: This thing can’t seem to keep the batteries alive through a winter and barely manages to work with a fresh set. I haven’t even bothered to replace the batteries this season. At the moment it’s little more than an ornament. I’ll probably just remove it and toss into our pile of items for a yard sale. The other solar light I purchased is still working great and a similar model will likely replace this one.