‘misc’ Category

Under-cabinet LED lighting install

Under-cabinet LED lighting install

Since our house was first built 13 years ago, it’s had very basic builder-quality under-cabinet fluorescent lighting. The lights were adequate, but not great. They were spread out widely, leaving dark areas under the multiple cabinets between each light. They didn’t direct their light very well for task work, and being rather bulky, the fixtures were also visible, sticking out under the cabinets:

This weekend Kathie and I replaced our old fluorescent under-cabinet lights with new ultra-bright high-efficiency LED strip lights. I bought a 5-meter (16.4 foot) spool of LEDs on Amazon for $25, from a company called HitLights. Here’s what the spool looks like:

To give a sense of scale, the 16.4 foot spool contains 600 bright LEDs—three lights per inch! The entire spool uses only 48 watts of electricity, less than a single incandescent light bulb. We have a few sections of cabinets, and none are 16 feel long, but that’s not a problem! The spool is designed to be cut with scissors at any 1-inch boundary, and after the cut, both spans are still perfectly usable. I’ll be cutting this spool into three sections for our three separate areas of cabinets:

Connectors can be purchased for a couple dollars to join cut segments together, to connect cut segments to power supplies, to make right-angle turns, etc., so there’s a lot of flexibility with how these lights can be used. Once we had the right length of lighting for our main cabinets (9 foot, 10 inches), we drilled some half-inch holes in the cabinet frames, and fed the lights through from one end of the kitchen to the other:

Next was the serious part. After shutting off the circuit breaker, we removed the existing fluorescent fixtures:

Each of the existing lights was controlled by a separate wall switch. For our new lights, we wanted to re-use one of those wall switches to control the entire row of lights. After removing the existing lights, we prepared one set of AC wires to splice into our LED light’s power supply:

The splicing was simple, and we used some double-sided tape and packing tape to secure the lights’ DC power supply and all the wires under the cabinets. The strip lights have a 3M peel-and-stick backing, so we peeled-and-stuck the lights to the underside of the cabinets. The circuit breaker was turned back on, the lights were successfully tested, and we now have much more useful, very efficient lighting in our kitchen:

Here is a view from above, showing that a granite countertop is very reflective, and you can see the lights’ reflection any time you’re working at the counter. We did a dry-run for a week by scotch taping the LED lights under the counter, and the reflection wasn’t a distraction for us, and is really not very different from seeing the reflection of the fluorescent light before. What you can really see here is how bright and uniform the light is, which is great for working at the counters:

And here’s a straight-on view of the end result… a result we’re both quite pleased with! The entire 10-foot section we installed uses only 25 watts of electricity. We have a few more smaller cabinets to do, and now we’re also thinking about some up-lighting on top of our cabinets. This would provide some nice ambient light across the entire kitchen at night, instead of always running our nine 75-watt recessed lights (675 watts total), which is our only option right now.

  • on June 26, 2010 -
  • misc
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This final followup to Thoughts on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling focuses on recycling—the last option before heading for a landfill, and the one people think about most frequently.

Since recycling receives the most attention, most people have a pretty good idea of what should be done. The hard part then becomes doing it, all the time.

What can we easily recycle, and how do we do it? Unfortunately, this varies significantly from county to county and state to state. Here in Fairfax County, VA, we are lucky – we dump paper, plastic, glass, and cans into our cubside pick-up bins once a week. In other places, these items need to be kept separate, and sometimes even glass needs to be separated by color.

The things we recycle through our weekly curb-site pick-up include:

  • Paper mail and envelopes. If it has personal info, it goes through the shredder first.
  • All cardboard boxes, whether food (cereal, crackers, etc.) or shipping (corrugated cardboard, etc.)
  • Phone books, newspapers, and any other paper that comes along. No paper goes in our trash unless it’s contaminated with food.
  • Glass bottles, glass jars (from jams, ketchup, etc. — more and more are plastic now though), aluminum soda cans, metal food cans (soup, corn, etc.).
  • Plastic bottles and jugs. The interesting twist here is that only bottles with a neck narrower than the bottle are allowed—i.e. soda bottles and gallon milk jugs are good, but sour cream containers are not.

After these basics, there are a couple other things we regularly recycle that require a little extra attention:

  • Yard waste like weeds, branches, and brush has to be tied or placed in specific types of bags (check your county) and left at the curb on certain days.
  • Electronics recycling has gained attention in recent years. A few times a year we make a trip to a monthly PC Recycler, Inc. free residential collection event. We drop off any old or broken electronics such as computer equipment, DVD players, stereo equipment, etc. “Anything with a plug” is their motto.

Something we don’t currently do is composting food scraps. This is probably because the majority of our leftover food scraps end up inside our dogs! However, I’ve heard from friends who do it that it’s good way to reduce the need for purchasing fertilizer.

Have any other recycling suggestions? Click through to the web site and leave a comment on the post!

Click the Fairfax County recycling guidelines image below for a full-sized PDF version:

  • on May 24, 2010 -
  • misc
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This second followup to Thoughts on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling focuses on re-use. We’ve found there’s a lot of options here, and all it takes is a little thought before throwing something in the trash or recycle bin. Here’s some examples:

  • After getting take-out food, delivery, or taking home half our meal in a “doggie bag”, we often hang on to the “box” from the restaurant. Many are surprisingly high quality, and we use them to send food home with family after big meals (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) or to hold any leftovers from our meals at home.
  • When buying groceries, we select plastic bags (read: Paper or Plastic?). The ones that meet our quality assurance standard after use get taken with us on dog walks, to clean up after our dogs. The ones that don’t pass QA get taken back to the supermarket for recycling.

  • Kathie has a Tassimo single-cup coffee machine. These are convenient but can be pretty environmentally unfriendly. She takes the extra effort to take apart each T-Disc after use. The foil top goes in the trash, the plastic container gets recycled, and the coffee goes into our fridge to absorb odors (no need to buy baking soda!). After a while in the fridge the coffee goes into the garden as fertilizer.
  • Any single-sided printouts or papers go into my “scrap paper” stack which I use continuously for brainstorming and outlining when I’m developing software. Kathie also uses them to print out needlework (stitching and knitting) patterns until she’s finished. Then it goes into the recycle bin.
  • We rarely use paper plates, plastic forks and knives and cups. Use the real thing, wash it, and use it again. We have a great set of unbreakable cups we can use when kids are around.
  • When we buy things from Amazon (or wherever), we hang on to many of the delivery boxes, the styrofoam peanuts, bags of air, and other packing materials. We sometimes sell things on Ebay and are able to give these disposables a second life.
  • Speaking of Ebay, selling unwanted things is the ultimate in re-use, and makes us money! Mostly we sell Xbox 360 video games we’ve completed, and electronics like iPods when we upgrade to newer models.

We thought of a bunch of other things we re-use, but aren’t looking to make an exhaustive list—just some ideas to get the brain thinking. As before, feel free to click through to the article and leave a comment at the bottom with other ideas. Next up: recycling…

  • on May 12, 2010 -
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In this first follow-up to Thoughts on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling, I’ll be talking about reducing consumption, eliminating the need to reuse or recycle.

I’ve come to realize there are two types of things we can reduce – one is usage-based consumables like water, electricity, or gasoline, and the other is more traditional items we buy individually. Here’s some examples of what we do today. In many cases they’re minor, but that’s OK!

  • When shopping for just a couple items, we ask the check-out clerk to not put them in a bag.
  • Avoid accepting (or buying!) “junk”. For example, at work, vendors love to give out low-capacity USB memory sticks, gimmicky toys, or junky pens. These usually end up in the trash a few days later.
  • I recently switched to Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable batteries due to the rate my wireless keyboards, mice, and noise-canceling headphones were chewing up AA and AAA batteries.
  • We are very reliable at eating our leftovers, whether from a restaurant or our home-cooking. This means less new food to buy, and less trash!
  • Minimize printing, or print double-sided when possible.
  • Part of our morning routine used to be picking up the various free “Examiner” style newspapers from our driveway, and depositing them in our recycle bin. A quick call to the papers, and they now skip our house.
  • We’ve found that a half-sheet of Bounce works just as well to prevent static cling in the dryer, and the clothes don’t smell as strongly of Bounce.

The “usage-based” ways of reducing are probably much better understood and commonly followed:

  • Gasoline: we don’t use a lot, mainly because we don’t drive much (my commute to work is 6 miles, and I’ll sometimes be biking to work this summer). Our cars aren’t particularly fuel-efficient though, something we should improve the next time we replace them.
  • Water: We have a high-efficiency washing machine that uses very little water, and I’ve installed adjustable flappers in our toilets set to use the minimum amount of water possible. Outside however, we have a very large yard and irrigation system. We program it to use as little water as possible to keep our yard green, and ensure our sprinklers aren’t “watering the road” like many others on the street, but it still uses a lot of water. When we know the forecast calls for a fair bit of rain, we will turn off our sprinklers until they are needed again. On the bright side, the water goes into the ground to support the water table, rather than down the sewer.
  • Utilities: Fortunately, our house is very well insulated, so our heating and cooling energy usage is low for a house this size. When our air conditioner/heat pump failed last year, we replaced it with a 15-seer model which is 15-20% more efficient than the current government standard 13-seer. Our washer has an ultra-high-speed spin cycle that squeezes out more water than most which means less drying time needed.
  • Electricity: We’re pretty diligent about turning off lights when not in use (home automation FTW!), and our entertainment center is powered via a smart power strip that cuts power to all our accessories when the TV is turned off, eliminating so-called vampire power draws. That said, our TV is a power-hungry plasma, all our light bulbs are incandescent (they’re on dimmers, making fluorescent problematic), and we have lots of computers and other equipment drawing power all the time.
  • We use programmable thermostats in the house to use less heat/AC while no one is home and close vents in all the rooms we do not use. During the summer, we move our TV and office into the basement where it is cooler. This allows us to keep the main floor warmer than usual in the summer. In the winter, we move back upstairs onto the main floor and thereby reduce the need to heat the basement.

Have other suggestions? Leave a comment!

Thoughts on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling
  • on May 2, 2010 -
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Thoughts on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling

When I watch the news and see millions of gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the massive deforestation going on across the world, I sometimes wonder if my daily recycling of a couple soda cans and empty envelopes really matters. Part of the answer is that no matter how small my contribution is, it’s still the right thing to do, costs me only a few seconds of time, and I feel good about doing it. Of course the broader answer is that just like voting or volunteering, each individual’s contribution adds up to a whole that is millions of times more impactful.

We all know the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle trifecta, but in my experience only the last one—Recycle—gets much attention or conscious thought in our minds. What’s interesting is that the order they are listed in does matter.

While certainly important and worthwhile, recycling is the least effective and “last resort” solution for trash. Rather than sending something to a landfill, I can send it to be re-made into something new. It still needs to be hauled around though, and energy expended to recycle it, and its new form may end up in a landfill if the next owner is not as diligent.

Stepping up the ladder one rung, reusing items when possible is a significantly better choice. Now the item in question doesn’t need to leave my home at all, saving all that transportation and recycling energy. As an extra bonus, since it’s something I am now reusing, in some cases I’m also not spending money to buy a new one!

This leads us to the top of the ladder: reducing. Not buying (or accepting for free) an item in the first place not only means it doesn’t have to be sent away for recycling, it also means it doesn’t need to be manufactured in the first place—the ultimate in “green”.

My next three posts will address each of these options. I’ll be listing ways Kathie and I currently contribute to each “R”, and I hope you’ll leave some comments with other suggestions on how we can do more. We don’t claim to be an especially “green” household, but I think we do pretty well overall. If we can find a few incremental ways to improve, we’re looking forward to trying them out!

Landfill photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landfill