DIY for the Weekend! A Home Energy Audit

Classes have started, football season is here – as much as we hate to admit it – fall (and winter!) are upon us. Maybe it is time to look at how much – and where – our living spaces use energy. This may not sound like a fun way to spend a weekend, but think of the money you could be saving! If you leave in a dorm or rent an apartment, you may not think these energy tips pertain to you, but there are many things you can do to help shrink your carbon footprint.

How many times did your parents tell you to “turn off the lights” when you left a room?” They were right – turning off lights when not in use can save a lot of energy. One way to do that is with a timer – not only with lights, but with appliances you know you use at a certain time each day. Dimmer switches, energy efficient light bulbs and, if you live in a home, motion detectors also can save a significant amount of energy/money. Another trick is to keep your lamps away from the thermostat – the heat from the lamp can cause the air conditioner to run more frequently. A programmable thermostat, much like a timer switch, can also save energy and money.

Power Monitor. Tool Library Box XX

Another thing you might want to do is figure out how much energy it takes to run the major appliances in your home. There are tables that can help you estimate costs for a home, but why not use the Power Monitor from our Tool Library. The power monitor will help you discover your “phantom” electrical use. Many household devices use power, even when turned off. It is easy to use – plug the power monitor into the wall socket and then plug the device into the power monitor. It measures the power usage for the entire time it is plugged in. An easy fix for using too much electricity are electrical power strips. Simply turn off the power strip when the device is not in use. These can save money if you are in a home or apartment where you are responsible for paying your own electric and heating bills.

A high energy user is your refrigerator. It runs 24/7 for years – even that small dorm-size refrigerator. The electric motor and air compressor take a lot of energy to run. So, what can you do? Check your the temperature in the refrigerator. Ideally your refrigerator temperature should be between 35 and 41° F. Your freezer should be around -18ºC which is-0.4ºF. These temperatures are best for keeping food fresher longer, slow the growth of bacteria and keep your food from getting freezer burn. Another easy refrigerator fix is simply making sure the door seals are kept clean. Evenly spacing out items in the refrigerator and keeping it full will help keep energy costs down, too. If you don’t have enough food in the refrigerator placing sealed and empty refrigerator containers can help. When you open the refrigerator door, the cool air stays in the container and is not lost through the open door.  Keeping a pitcher of cold water will not only help even out the cooling in the refrigerator, it will keep you from running water long enough to get it cold. Vacuum your refrigerator coils regularly and – as David Findley says in Do it yourself home energy audits – don’t “sightsee in the refrigerator.”

Water usage is another way to reduce your carbon footprint and save money. Easy things such as taking showers and not baths; take shorter and cooler showers; turn off the water while brushing your teeth; only wash full loads of clothing and wash in cold water. A common misconception is that it takes warm/hot water to kill germs, but is really the detergent and not the water temperature. Also use drying racks instead of dryers.


There are also ways to use “gray water,” the water from washing dishes, doing laundry, and other things like dehumidifiers. That water is safe to use on plants and in yards. Using gray water reduces water usage and prevents it from ending up in streams and rivers.

If you live in your own home, you can do a “pressure test” to find energy leaks in your windows, doors, and around wall sockets. Energy Efficient Homes for Dummies (pg 92-98) has complete step-by-step instructions for doing the test and how to stop those leaks.

Spend a little time this weekend doing a quick energy check, because whether you live in a house, apartment or dorm, there are DIY projects that can help you save money and reduce your impact on the world around you.

Engineering Library TJ163.5 .D86 F523 2010
Engineering Library TJ163.5 .D86 F523 2010


Findley, David S. 2010. Do it yourself home energy audits: 140 simple solutions to lower energy costs, increase your home’s efficiency and save the environment.  New York : McGraw Hill. Engineering Library TJ163.5 .D86 F523 2010

DeGunther, Rik. 2008. Energy efficient homes for dummies. Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley : Chichester : John Wiley (distributer). Engineering Library TJ163.5 ..D86 D44 2008.



Other resources:

Do it yourself home energy audits. June 24, 2013.

8 easy projects for instant home energy savings. Feb/March 2008. Mother Earth News.

Rehfeld, Barry J. 2011. Home sweet zero energy home: what it takes to develop great homes that won’t cost anything to heat, cool or light up, without going broke or crazy. Gabriola, B.C : New Society Publishers. Engineering Library TJ163.5 .D86 R44 2011

Lubeck, Aaron. 2010. Green restorations : sustainable building and historic homes. Gabriola, B.C. : New Society Publishers. Engineering Library TH4816 .L82 2010

For more intense energy-saving projects: Top 10 best do-it-yourself green projects. 2015. The Green Optimist.

DIY for the Long Weekend: Want to ‘Noodle’ Around?

The last long weekend of the summer – Labor Day – is upon us.  Don’t you really want to do something fun and different? Have any of those swimming pool noodles lying around?


You may not want to store them over the winter – so why not make your own airframe, floating, flying quad? Make: technology on your time can walk you through the steps and in no time you’ll have a sturdy, airframe, quadcopter that can fly and float!

Quadcopter photo from Behold the Noodle Copter project.
Quadcopter photo from Behold the Noodle Copter project.

The April/May 2015 issue (vol. 44) of Make will not only help you make an inexpensive fun drone for the whole family, it has several articles on drone races, drone derby guidelines, 3-D printed racing drones and tricopters. This issue, in fact,  has DIY instructions for 5 multicopters!

There is also information about making your DIY drone watertight and protecting it from the elements. Each project has a list of materials, tools, and estimate of the cost and time involved in creating your very own DIY drone. The Noodle Copter requires pool noodles, battery, flight control board, among other things. The specific size and types of items and tools needed are specifically listed.

Mark Harrison, the designer of the Noodle Copter, uses it as a trainer. He says “I can’t imagine much you could do to break a pool noodle!” Perfect if you want to try your hand at flying a drone for the first time, or to get better at it before you use the more expensive ones. Harrison has also filled a Noodle Copter with LEDs making it possible to fly it at night.

Make a Noodle Copter and enjoy the long weekend!!

DIY for the Weekend – Raspberry Pi

Classes have started and you need a project to take your mind off all that homework you already have…. Try Raspberry Pi – it is more than just a yummy dessert!

It’s a small computer – credit-card sized – that is inexpensive and was designed with hacking and computer experimentation in mind.  The introduction to Raspberry Pi Projects by Andrew Robinson and Mike Cook, likens learning to use computers with learning to cook – everyone should have those basic skills. That doesn’t mean that everyone will become professional chefs or computer programmers, but it is good to know those basics. Eben Upton developed Raspberry Pi while working with computer science students at Cambridge University. He found that students weren’t “tinkering” with their computers. So he developed an inexpensive – around $25 – computer that is designed to be hacked and used for experimentation. Raspberry Pi is a great way to learn the basics of Linux or Python programming, and electronics.

Raspberry Pi 2
Raspberry Pi 2

Want to geocache from the comfort of your car? You can do that with Raspberry Pi! Maybe the only kind of pet you are allowed to have in your dorm or apartment is fish. Trying to maintain the proper water temperature can be tricky.  So, make a smart, communicative thermometer to let you know when the water in your fish tank fluctuates to a dangerous degree.  You can do it using Raspberry Pi. Or how about making a lamp that creates mood lighting, but can also check your Twitter messages? You can, with Raspberry Pi.

We have resources to help you get started with your Raspberry Pi experimentation. For the reader who has never used it before, Raspberry Pi from the “Teach Yourself Visually” is available. For those ready for a more in-depth manual, check out Mastering the Raspberry Pi.  We have books with Raspberry Pi projects and hacks that will walk you through working with both software and hardware, from games like Minecraft to controlling a LEGO robot to creating a one person band.

Piqued your interest? Want to try your hand at using a Raspberry Pi? We have one in the Tool Library!  We also have many other tools to help you as you tinker and explore. The lamp that creates mood lighting and checks your Twitter account calls for a multimeter – we have that in the Tool Library, too.  Incidentally, the mood-lighting-Twitter-checking lamp is called a “Giraffe Mood Lamp” in Make: raspberry Pi and AVR projects. You’ll have to check it out to find out why! Don’t have a Twitter account yet? We have Twitter for Dummies.

We have what you need to get started with Raspberry Pi – and it could be just the project you need for this weekend!


Hoile, Cefn. 2014. Make: Raspberry Pi and AVR projects. Sebastopol, CA : Maker Media, Inc. Engineering Library QA76.8 .R15 H65 2015

Suehle, Ruth. 2014. Raspberry Pi hacks. Sebastopol, CA : O’Reilly Media. Engineering Library QA76.8 .R15 S84 2014

Wentk, Richard. 2014. Raspberry Pi (Teach yourself visually). Indianapolis, IN : John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Engineering Library AQ76.8 .R15 W46 2014

Robinson, Andrew. 2014. Raspberry Pi projects. Chichester, West Sussex : Wiley. Engineering Library QA76.8 .R15 R53 2014

Gay, Warren. 2014. Mastering the Raspberry Pi. Berkeley, CA : Apress. Engineering LIbrary QA76.8 .R15 G39 2014

Raspberry Pi 2. Lichtenberger Engineering Library Tool Library

Multimeter (Voltmeter). Lictenberger Engineering Library Tool Library.


Other Resources:

Raspberry Pi official website

Raspberry Pi 2: Six things you can (and can’t) do. February 11, 2015.  Information Week.

Build a Raspberry Pi powered joke machineMaker Media. Date Accessed: August 25, 2015