Intro to Solar Workshop with Rex Rohrer of Silver Seed Farms, LLC

First solar array for InterCounty Electric Coop, St. James,MO

First solar array for Inter County Electric Coop, St. James, MO

Saturday, September 12, 2015

8 am to 4 pm at Waynesville Senior Center

1401 Ousley Rd, Waynesville, Missouri 65583

Fee: $25.00 ($15.00 for Each Additional Household Member) ~ Lunch included

Pre-registration Required By 9/4/15**
HOSTED BY: Wild Side Farm, LLC & Responsible Growth, US
Grid intertie w/ micro inverters

Grid intertie w/ micro inverters


Are you ready to go solar but don’t know how to get there? Does it seem expensive and a bit daunting? Did you know that you can start with a very small, relatively inexpensive system and work your way up?

Geared to the homeowner, we will start with the basics and go beyond. The information you receive in this class will help you make informed decisions about your solar requirements and will help you ask the right questions of a solar installer and know what to expect from your electric coop. You will be a much more knowledgeable consumer embarking on the path of solar ownership, be it a small or larger system. 


Become comfortable in your understanding of solar energy:

  • Learn the Language of Electricity
  • Receive informative handout and resource list
  • Hands-on access to solar equipment

Learn all about PV solar power systems:

  • How solar power works
  • Solar site evaluation, use of passive solar
  • Each type of system ~ grid intertie, grid-tie with battery backup, off-grid ~ and associated costs
  • How each system type is configured and constructed
  • How these systems can be incorporated into daily use

Be An Energy Guru:

  • Learn about recommended manufacturers and time-tested products
  • Learn about the laws pertaining solar energy, rebates and credits, and how to work with your electric provider.
  • Assess your household’s electrical load using simple mathematical equations.
  • Get rid of phantoms!
  • Develop and implement your own efficiency and conservation plan, cornerstone to efficient use of solar energy.
  • Get started providing your own electricity from the sun.

What to Bring to the Workshop: 

  • one year of month-by-month kwh totals, obtained from your electric provider
  • calculator
  • pen and paper

Registration:

Pre-registration Required By 9/4/15

Call 573-855-0128 or email carrieb806@gmail.com

**Homemade Lunch will be served to those in attendance

** Net proceeds will be used to help establish a community sustainability education foundation for Pulaski County, MO

 

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When Are We Going to Have a Real Shower?

There is an ancient charm to heating and cooking with wood.  The irresistible draw of tending a fire on a cold winter day, and the cozy warmth of our natural home encircling us, gives us pause to be thankful and to feel the connection to our ancestors through our contact with the land and nature ~ through the straw, mud, rock and wood of our home and hearth.

tie dye fire 2

We have always wanted to use the wood stove to fire our hot water.  We wanted to use the wood we burn wisely and efficiently and always thought we could get more out of the wood we use. When heating our home, there is always heat on the stove top, which allows us to cook soups and stews and stir-fry veggies.  Inside the wood stove, we cook potatoes or cobbler among the coals. Still, couldn’t we devise a way to capture heat for our hot water tank, so that we could shower and bathe from the wood heat?  Of course, this has been done by others in different ways, but we wanted to do it affordably and with little, if any, electrical output.  Up until a few years ago, we heated the water in our water tank with propane.  We always knew that was a temporary solution, but once you settle on one way of doing things (especially a way that requires no work, other than the monthly service fees, ad infinitum!), it is harder to find incentive to change it. 

Nature is Perfect

When we lived in the tent (back in 1994) and for many, many lovely summer evenings over the years, we used black camp shower bags down the trail, which was definitely more work!  We had to think ahead – plan our day, refill and hoist the bags full of water over our heads, and give them time to heat up. The beautiful part of this method is that the sun heats the water in the bags and, by virtue of natural law, gravity allows the shower water to flow effortlessly over us.  Nature really is perfect. We try to respect and take advantage of the laws of nature in a lot of what we do.

The “Simple Life”

Oftentimes, the “simple life” is romanticized by those of us who yearn for times unencumbered by modern (in)conveniences.  The truth is, the “simple life” ain’t really that simple!  It can be a lot of work, but it can also be satisfying and full of joy.  This applies to our desire to bring awareness to natural resources and how we use them.  In the summer, to keep the house cool, we shut off the propane stove in the house kitchen, and our Summer Kitchen is open for business!  Thanks to the beautiful nature of straw bale and earth architecture and some well-placed fans and shades, our home stays pretty comfortable year-round, even in winter and in summer. Outside in summer, we use a propane camp stove, the cob oven, the sun, and a campfire for cooking or any hot water needs.

Kitchen 1

But what about hot showers and baths?  For the summer, we cool off in the pond or the pool.  We also enjoy hot-ish to cool showers, and for that we will stay with outdoor shower bags until we come up with a solar batch heater that is pressurized and heated by the sun. We also have our hillbilly hot tub, in which we can enjoy hot, therapeutic baths under the stars, even when the evenings are quite cool.

hillbilly hot tub 1     hillbilly hot tub 2

But during the autumn, winter and spring, we wanted to use the residual heat from our wood stove for our indoor shower.  And we had special encouragement.

We decided not to change anything until our propane water heater broke, because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  It’s hard to tell just how many projects and how much child-rearing and cooking was accomplished in those 13 years that our propane tank worked for us, but we can say unequivocally – a lot!  It worked well for us – and for that we were very appreciative – but it was time to move on and do what we had always wanted.

The Complicated Life

Once the tank gave out, our showers consisted of hanging a shower bag over the bath and drawing it up or down with a rope and pulley. We heated water on the wood stove during late fall, winter and early spring to fill our shower bag. During the times of year with no indoor wood fire, we heated a kettle up on the propane stove in the kitchen or on the camp stove out in the summer kitchen and brought it into the bathroom to fill the shower bag. Taking showers inside the house had replaced our outdoor camp showers over time, due to convenience and the fact that our trees have grown bigger over these 20 years, and the showers down the trail had become more shaded!

Now, inside the house, our family of 4 became accustomed to heating water in a large pot and showering with 1 to 2 gallons of water per person ~ now that sounds efficient!  But unfortunately, that meant very short showers, and no one but Rex was real happy with this!  This was a temporary (almost two-year-long!) solution, which allowed us to continue all of our day-to-day activities and still be able to shower.  We all tried to be game for this new adventure, but on occasion there were a few refrains heard around here, such as “When are we going to have a real shower”?

All the while, we toyed with different ideas for heating our water.  We didn’t want to go back to propane, and most of our options carried with them some major drawbacks.

Pros & Cons

402px-The_Thinker,_Auguste_Rodin small Weighing the pros & cons went like this:

  • A regular propane water heater was certainly the easiest option and had the least start-up cost, but it would have kept us dependent on (“Frack and Iraq”) propane, which is a 50/50 blend of natural gas and crude oil.
  • The tankless propane heater was the next easiest option, but it still uses propane and has to be cleaned out every 6 months to a year due to the lime build-up inside the narrow tubes.
  • Solar Thermal 1 bending aluminum absorption plates smSolar thermal was our choice at first – Rex and two friends, Barry and Paul, built a solar thermal panel for just this purpose. While solar can be a great option, there were some big drawbacks for us. Our one-or-two panels would only pre-heat the water in the winter; we would still need a back-up system, as most people have unless they have several solar thermal panels.
  • We considered the heat wand, a $600 copper tube that goes down into the electric tank. Checking the rated BTUs per hour, it seemed like it wouldn’t get the water hot enough just on its own by the sun, and a few of us like really.warm.showers. You can buy tanks that have internal heat exchangers built in, but they run about $1500. Another option for solar is an external heat exchanger.  For us, being off-grid, these external heat-exchangers require more electricity than we would prefer to use.  If we had grid-connected solar, we might be inclined to rethink this one.  Our goal is to still use the solar panel/s in conjunction with wood-fired heat, if we can work that out.  Otherwise, we will use it during fair weather on the summer kitchen or one of our other part-time buildings.
  • For wood-fired heat, the biggest hold-up for us was where to place the hot water storage tank.  We needed for it to be up in the air to take advantage of natural convection, but we didn’t think we had enough room with a conventionally-sized hot water tank. However, once we found the tank we were looking for that would fit, it was smooth sailing.  🙂

And the Winner Is….Efficient Use of Wood Heat for House and Water!

Ultimately, there was enough heat coming from the wood stove during at least 6 to 7 months of the year, and we wanted to be able to use it, allowing it to perform triple-duty heating the house and the water and cooking some of our food. Ultimately, this also ended up being our least expensive option, we have no monthly fuel charges, and we live in the forest (with lots of dead wood available). We wanted a smaller electric hot water tank, one that was shorter and would fit into the space we had envisioned, so we had to purchase a new tank. We went with 30 gallon capacity, due to the tank’s size dimensions.  The copper pipe was the only other big expense for this system.

We made a thermosiphon loop of copper coil spiral-wrapped around the stove pipe. Rex forming coil  The key to the coil is: cold water goes in at the bottom of the coil – travels up the coil via natural convection, heating along the way – and hot water goes out and into the top of the water heater tank for storage. A big part of the thermosiphon loop lay in the placement of the hot water tank, because it needs to be high enough in the air to receive the heated water from the copper coil. A real bonus is the fact that this system requires no moving parts, which means there is less opportunity for mishap and it won’t be a constant drain on the electricity our solar PVs produce!

Hot Water Tank 2

We elevated our tank above the bathroom sink and just above the thermal mass brick wall dividing the wood stove and the bathroom.  We built a cob wall between the stove pipe and the water heater to allow heat transfer but to also protect the wood framing and equipment from excessive heat (see photo with coil below).

bathroom thermal mass 2

Water in the coil rises due to the natural flow of heated liquid in a thermosiphon loop.  The heat from the stove provides the mechanism to move the water upward.  This really heats up the water in the tank – really hot…which is why you want a Temperature Pressure Relief Valve (T & R valve), so that you don’t have an explosive situation on your hands! Unfortunately, a mixer probably would not work well in this system, due to the fact that internal mixers work with stable temperatures; whereas, our stove temperatures vary, based on how much or little we feed our fire.  ***Therefore, with our system, we have to mix hot and cold water manually. Turning on hot water at the faucet must be done thoughtfully so as to not get scalded! 

coil stove 2

We have been using this system for a year now, and it works great!  We have modified it, with the most notable difference after insulating and covering the copper coil recently, during this really cold winter.  The unfaced  fiberglass insulation (“unfaced” so that it has no paper backing to be a fire hazard!) allowed us to better capture and hold heat from the stove pipe, raising the pipe’s temperature significantly! The insulation did not diminish the heat radiating into the house; quite the contrary, heat actually radiated out further into the room than before! It also caused our fires to burn much more cleanly and efficiently, with no noticeable creosote build-up in the stove pipe now.  

Also, our initial concern about using a 30 gallon tank instead of a 40 gallon has not been an issue, because water in the tank reheats pretty quickly, especially now with the insulated coil. With a hot fire, we easily get 5 luxurious showers and can also do the dishes!  We will probably have to clean out the copper tubing at some point, just like the tankless propane heater, but all other factors make this a very promising solution for people who heat their homes with wood. 

As long as there is a fire in the wood stove, the water continues to circulate and heat up. Even a small fire provides enough heat on a marginally warm day. What would have been wasted heat going out the chimney, has now become an efficient use of the energy embodied in the wood, now heating our water for a delicious shower or bath. Expectations exceeded!

wood fired heat 1

**We will cover more detail about the copper coil wood-fired hot water system as well as detail about the solar hot water panel in upcoming separate blog posts.  🙂  Happy Adventuring!

Straw Bale vs. Cob Building

What is the difference between cob and straw bale building?

Cob  Good question – we get it a lot!  Give a Lift web large

We assume you want a comparison of building method, insulation, and function/wear.  There are several aspects that need to be addressed to answer this question.  Basically, a home can be built with either cob or straw bales, or both. Their function is different, though.  Straw bales are insulators, holding in the temperature and keeping the interior of your home warm or cool, depending on time of year.  Cob functions differently, not as an insulator but as thermal mass, in that it absorbs any radiant heat or cooling and then slowly releases it as it cools off.   

When you are building with straw bales, you are essentially using the bales as your framework, especially when building a load-bearing, Nebraska-style structure.  Straw bale building is done with straw bales (not hay bales), which then need to be covered – usually with earth plaster, lime plaster or cement stucco**.  A covering is just that – a cover material (generally, layers totaling about 1″ or so thick) that protects the bales.

Cob is a lot like earth plaster, although it is much more specific. You want the right amount of clay-soil (binder), sand (aggregate), water, and straw or horse manure (tensile strength).  Cow manure also makes a nice additive binder to clay-soil, creating a nice texture that functions differently from horse manure, more as a binder but not a strengthener.  You want your mix to hold together, for the individual clay platelets to cover each of the tiny bits of sand. Clay binds it, sand (or other aggregate) keeps it from cracking, and water makes it all possible. Straw/manure/fiber makes it stronger.  You want to get your cob mix right so that it doesn’t crack too much when it dries out.  If you rely on water to bind your materials without getting the mix right, you might be disappointed with the results.  Also, clay and water is really pleasant to work with, but too much clay and not enough aggregate will definitely crack too much and fall apart.  You have to have a lot of aggregate – a lot more than clay, generally 2 or 3 parts aggregate to 1 part clay-soil.  All of this specificity is important when building a cob oven or something structural.

When building with cob (or cobb, as some refer to it), you are making the balls or loaves into the actual building material, essentially sculpting your house with no framework; the cob is the framework.  Cob can also be used within framework, such as within stud walls.  One application might be to use cob in a south-facing wall for heat absorption when the sun is lower in the autumn, winter and spring, allowing for slow release of heat on cool nights. Also, cob can capture the cool of a summer night and slowly release that cool into your home during the day.  With these bitter cold Missouri nights, a really good application is to use cob on the interior of your straw bale house – in the form of a bench or trombe wall – capturing and absorbing the sunlight pouring in through your south-facing windows.  An earthen floor will also capture solar gain.  Everything works best if your foundation is well insulated, as well as good ceiling insulation and weatherization techniques.

Straw bale building really performs optimally.  We personally love the marriage of straw bale and cob architecture. You can have the insulation you need for colder winters by building with straw bales, and cob can be used on your home’s interior for absorption/thermal mass, to round out straw bale walls and/or to add sculptures and depth.  How you use these materials just depends on the climate where you live and the dreams you want to manifest.  Missouri is the perfect place for a marriage made in heaven, a love between two “naturals” – clay and straw.  🙂  

 decorative_sun**About Cement Stucco:  We aren’t really recommending cement stucco for covering bales anymore, now that we have more experience and knowledge about the function of earth plaster vs. cement stucco.  Here in moisture-rich Missouri USA, large roof overhangs or a covered wrap-around porch adequately protect straw bale walls from water. Further, if earthen walls become moistened/wet, the hygroscopic properties of the clay/earth kicks in. Clay gets wet and tiny clay platelets expand; as clay dries out, platelets shrink. If your bale wall takes on some moisture (using precautions mentioned), the clay will literally suck/absorb any moisture back out of the bales. This is the “breathing” process often referred to – straw bale walls need to be able to “breathe”so that moisture doesn’t get trapped in the straw, causing rot. This is why you do not paint with synthetics on your interior walls (see Natural Paints and Finishes).This is also why we would not now recommend using cement stucco as a cover material for straw bales (or cob or anything natural, for that matter). Cement will absorb water, but it does not release water very quickly or in the same way that earth plaster does.  We have cement stucco covering our house – so far, so good, but we live in a protected woodland, and our house has large overhangs; due to Missouri’s moisture, we would recommend having an earthen exterior. Even though clay/earth (not topsoil) is well suited to absorbing and releasing water, you still need to have good roof overhangs (approximately 2 feet). As a final cover, lime plaster (with or without colorant) will give a lot of added protection to your walls. 

Solar Power: Renewable Energy for the 21st Century

Solar Power: Renewable Energy for the 21st Century

solar web small 

**This is on our website, but in an effort to meet more readers – and hopefully, actors for the planet – the general information bears repeating, in that it may help you decide that you too can go Solar!** 

Solar photovoltaics provide the electrical energy that we can use to power our appliances ~and our dreams!  With manufacturer warranties of up to 25 years, PVs are a long-term reliable investment that buffers us from a volatile energy market. Since most people in America are already connected to the electric grid, a photovoltaic grid intertie system makes a lot of sense. Net metering (Prop. C in Missouri) allows for us to produce energy at our own home and then use that energy, measured in kW hrs, to offset – at the consumer price rate – what we consume from our electric supplier.

In remote locations, or if one wishes to be off-grid, PV solar panels combined with batteries provide us with energy independence and years of off-grid pleasure! Solar electric power is clean, reliable, affordable, safe, long-lasting and requires very little maintenance.

Germany and Japan have been on the solar energy forefront, leading the way by example and showing us that we can significantly decrease overall energy consumption if each house will offset their energy usage with solar power and energy conservation. With the decreasing prices in solar equipment, Federal Tax Credits and electric provider rebates, solar power is a very attractive and earth-friendly option for anyone wanting to reduce their carbon footprint and be green.

Three Types of PV Systems

The three basic types of photovoltaic systems include: grid-intertie, grid-interactive (with battery backup), and totally off-grid. A grid intertie system allows you to make your own solar power, feed any excess back to the utility grid at the consumer rate, basically using the grid as your storage bank; therefore, excess energy accumulated during the day goes back to the grid, to be used at night or on a another day. In most states, including Missouri, the utility company will offset your PV system production dollar for dollar, until you produce more than you use (avoided costs). Net metering can reduce a utility company’s peak load demand.

A grid interactive system, or grid-intertie system with battery back-up, is different, in that when the electric grid goes down, your essential home electric needs, as determined by you, can be satisfied, through the use of batteries as storage banks.

In a system that is completely off-grid, you are not connected to the electric utility company and all electricity needs are supplied with solar panels and batteries. Occasionally, a generator is needed to fully charge the battery bank.

We have lived off-grid and mainly powered by solar energy here at Silver Seed Farms, Leasburg, Missouri for well over a decade (since 1998). We started out with a very small system and have added to it over time. Our system is still small by some standards. We are fairly frugal with our energy usage and have absolutely no phantom load. It has been an enjoyable and satisfying experience to be using the amazing power of the sun.

decorative_sunLearn more about solar electric power, photovoltaic systems, and energy rebates and incentives at Silver Seed Farms’ website.

Creating Solutions Through Sustainable Landscapes

Rex waterfallAccording to a recent symposium of Landscape Designers and Architects (link below), water is the critical issue facing humanity. Water resources are becoming increasingly burdened, with high population growth, water shortages and changing climate. I would also add that soil is paramount as well. We have lost much of our topsoil already, and water and wind erosion contribute greatly to our loss; however, soil loss and water run-off is really about our (human) practices. This, we can change.

Each of us must learn about water resources and make some changes: in how we use water and, in what water-intensive resources we use. We must also teach our children – well. Begin to implement small changes at home – by collecting rainwater for watering gardens and by using permaculture techniques, which protect water and soil. Educate ourselves about the manufactured products we use, the amount of water and chemicals inherent in their production.  Opt for recycling and upcycling wherever possible.  Choose wisely.

If you live on some wooded acreage, allow leaf mulch to collect and leave some standing dead wood and some fallen wood on the ground.  This is good for the decomposers, birds and mammals, and erosion control.  If you graze animals, please use good stewardship practices, such as grass finishing and pasture-rotation.  Try to grow native too!

Wildflower creek walk 2013Keep in mind entire systems – how everything works together.  I like to think – how would Nature do it?  Truthfully, if we do nothing, nature will take care of itself. However, we like our veggie gardens, shrubs and flower beds, as well as pathways that are not only aesthetically pleasing but that serve a purpose – allowing us to walk unimpeded by ticks, chiggers and snakes (at least, here in the country!).

2832917We now also need to remove invasive species of plants in order to help our natives survive and thrive , which includes some selective harvesting of trees.  My treehugging soul has fought admitting this for many years, and I still prefer to err on the side of keeping the trees and weeds as much as possible! Thankfully, Rex is patient with my process, always balancing our ethic of helping the earth with our ethic of “do no harm”. 🙂   Go here to see our Rogue’s Gallery of invasive plants.

rudbeckia and echinacea (640x480) (2)I would also suggest that big yards should be a thing of the past, opting for encouraging our vital pollinators with native – and sometimes ornamental – flowers and grasses, and importantly, for growing some of our own food plus a little extra. After all, more than six billion people rely on food grown on about 11% of the global land surface!  (from National Geographic “Our Good Earth”, September 2008).  Why not be a little independent of the box stores by growing our own greens?  Of course, try to buy at your local farmer’s market or small local stores when necessary.

U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The history of every nation is eventually written in the way in which it cares for its soil”.  And Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1746, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water”.

Let us all determine ourselves to be part of the solution – for the water, for the soil, for ourselves and for each other.

~ Lorian

For more information on the water resource symposium, read up on it in The Dirt. http://dirt.asla.org/2013/04/24/what-is-the-most-critical-issue-designers-dont-even-know-exists/#like-13588.

Peas Please Me

The peacocks and chickens love to free range on this beautiful mid-winter day in Missouri. They particularly enjoy hanging out in front of our south-facing glass on the sunny patio.

DSC05577

Our straw bale cottage forms a barrier from the northerly winds, and the sun shines happily.  That’s why our patio is so feathery! Yes, we do give it a regular spritzing-off.  In the summer, oregano and small stray petunias grow between each of the flagstone pieces – happy – thanks to what our feathered friends leave behind. It’s all part of the natural cycle.  🙂

The Power of Phantoms

This article concerns anyone who is into being more sustainable, solar powered, or just generally more energy efficient…

We remember those awesome appliances that didn’t hide anything.  They did what you expected them to do  Toaster Lady (once you got over the excitement of the fact that they actually *did* those things).  And they didn’t have any “sensing” abilities or black boxes. Ever wonder about those little black boxes that are attached to our power cords and what our appliances are “sensing” about us?

Phantom Dr_CaligariStandby power, also called phantom load, vampire power, vampire draw, or leaking electricity, refers to the electric power consumed by electronic appliances while they are switched off or in a standby mode.  

Any device that includes a remote or a little black transformer box is always on.  Home theater systems and other remote control “sensing” equipment draws on electricity 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.  These sensing devices are always on, watching…waiting…literally searching…for a signal, a sign of life from the couch.  Phantom load, as this is referred to, is approaching 15% of the electrical usage in the U.S.  Imagine all of the fossil fuels needed to run stuff we don’t even think about or know is turned on!  In Missouri, coal supplies most of the energy, then nuclear and hydro.  Many new products have phantom loads, products which may be inventive but are unnecessary, such as light-up picture frames.

The wasted standby power of individual household electronic devices is typically very small, but the sum of all such devices within the household becomes significant. Standby power makes up a portion of homes’ miscellaneous electric load, which also includes small appliances, security systems, and other small power draws.

Fix Those Phantoms!

One way to get around the phantom load issue is to plug equipment into $3 power strips, U.S. power stripand you can turn off the switch for the 2/3 of the day the equipment is not in use.  Also, cell phone chargers, camera chargers – anything with the little black transformer box on it – uses power when left plugged into the outlet.  These chargers also work well on a power strip.  We like to use the kind of strip that has a little red light.  It is much easier to see if it’s been left on.  Another option is to have an electrician wire your miscellaneous electronic devices to wall switches.

A Small Change in Habits…

Standby power can be as high as 10 to 15 watts per device, and occasionally more. A 2005 study estimates the number of standby appliances in the EU at 3.7 billion.  Although the power needed for functions like displays, indicators, and remote control functions is relatively small, the fact that the devices are continuously plugged in, and the number of such devices in the average household means that the energy usage can reach up to 22 percent of all appliance consumption, and around 10 percent of total residential consumption.  It’s up to each of us to make a difference, so turn off those phantoms!

 For something a little more technical…

Research on Phantoms

Alan Meier, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in Berkeley, noted that many household appliances are never fully switched off, but spend most of the time in a standby mode. His 1998 study estimated that standby power consumption accounted for approximately 5% of total residential electricity consumption in America, “adding up to more than $3 billion in annual energy costs” (this is calculated at current 2010 cheap electricity rate per kW/hr).  According to America’s Department of Energy, national residential electricity consumption in 2004 was 1.29 billion megawatt hours (MWh)—5% of which is 64 million MWh. The wasted energy, in other words, is equivalent to the output of 18 typical power stations!  Meier’s 2000 study (2 years later) showed that standby power accounted for around 10% of household power-consumption, twice as much as he estimated 2 years prior.

On a personal note, we are fairly frugal with our energy usage and have absolutely no phantom load, except for the occasional “I forgot to turn off the power strip last night!”.  Being aware of what appliances are running or being used and when really gets you involved with your energy usage.  It’s a good feeling, this Awareness.  🙂