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NYT on Household Energy Monitors

Last week the New York Times Wirecutter ran an article whose headline posed a question; Do You Really Need a Home Energy Monitor? It’s an interesting question.

Wirecutter - Do your really need a home energy monitor

They say only that you might save some money. Maybe. And they even question that assertion. Well, we installed a Shelly 3EM last year for reasons that the Wirecutter article completely fails to mention. So, I thought it worth sharing our experience.

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Upgrading Our Home Assistant Server

Home_Assistant_Logo.300For our first couple of years using Home Assistant the software was hosted on a Raspberry Pi 4B with 4GB of memory and a 32GB High-Endurance micro SD card. To get started, the Pi4 was cheap and readily available. It had enough power to do most things. My initial requirements were very simple, so not a lot of CPU requirement. The RPi4 was an admirable, accessible solution at the time.

However, times change. I get silly new ideas that I’d like to try. For example, it would be interesting to integrate our surveillance cameras with HA. Perhaps with some AI-based object detection.

Also, in post-COVID times, RPi4 have become hard to get, and much more costly. They’re currently running about 3x normal price, if you can get them. Thus, it could be useful to reclaim the RPI4 from HA duty, if another suitable host could be found.

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T-Mobile: Breaking-up is very hard to do!

We have used T-Mobile for our mobile phones since 2005. Over the course of 2021 I grew frustrated With T-Mobile. They had become too costly. There were no deals for existing customers. As our monthly mobile bill approached $200 I felt there must be a better way.

In December I decided to make a change. In truth, I’d made this determination in the early summer, but had to wait until the end of the 24 month promo deal associated with our current pair of Pixel 4 phones. That agreement ended on December 13th.

December 18, 2022

Free of the encumbrance of the purchase arrangement, I ported our two active numbers to Mint Mobile on December 18th.

Mint vs TMobile

Mint Mobile is a MVNO that offers well-priced prepaid service on T-Mobile’s network. So, I was confident that the experience of the service would be unchanged. We’d just cut our monthly cost.

I took advantage of a holiday promo, paying $240 for 6 months of 3 lines, where each line had unlimited voice & text, with 15 GB of data. 15GB is more than we actually need, but the price was good and I didn’t want to feel constrained.

The third SIM was for my Lenovo X1 Carbon laptop, which has a built-in LTE radio. For the past couple of years the laptop serves as a backup to our Comcast Business Class service. Mint doesn’t actually offer data-only (aka tablet) SIMs. I just got an extra voice line and put the SIM in my laptop.

The cost of the 6 month term was very appealing given that we had been paying T-Mobile $185 every month!

In just a few days I received the SIM kits. The porting process went smoothly, taking about 30 minutes for each of our phones. The SIM card for the laptop was a new number. It just seemed to work. There were no issues at all with the transition to Mint Mobile.

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Decisions: 2021 Household Projects

As we come to the end of the year, I’m looking back across a range of substantial household projects. We rather famously lost power for a few days back in February 2021 during an unusually cold snap. This lead to some additional thinking about household projects, including the new air conditioner. Specifically, how best to adapt our home to operation without utility power? After all, the Great Texas Freeze of 2021 was not the first time we lost power for days. We were without power for several weeks after Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Generac Standby Generator Beauty Shot copy

The most common approach that we see around the neighborhood is the installation of a standby generator. These are permanently installed systems that startup and take over when utility power fails. Generac, Kohler and Cummins are the most common brands. They typically run on natural gas and I’ve seen systems from 14 kW to 32 kW hereabouts.

Standby Generator vs Air Conditioner

Given the position of our home on the lot, and the location of the gas meter and breaker panel, it’s not really practical for us to install a standby generator. It would be prohibitively expensive given the required location of the generator. We’d need to run buried pipe for natural gas, and conduit for electrical cable, a considerable distance. The cost of the installation is much more than the generator itself. The entire project cost is as much as a new air conditioner, for a benefit that that would only occasionally be realized.

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Staying Cool in Texas: Our Recent Air Conditioning Transition

Yeah, I know a picture of an air conditioner's outside coil is not very exciting. It's better than nothing.This begins back when we bought our home in 2001. We gave very little thought to the associated technical systems. It was our first home, which was excitement enough. It had four walls and a roof. A fenced yard for Dickson T. Dog. These were the explicitly stated criteria. It came some with old appliances, an old central air conditioner and a very old gas furnace. The house was built in the early 1920’s, so it’s safe to say that everything was vintage, but we didn’t care.

The Story Begins in 2003

About a year later, the compressor in that obviously very old air conditioner failed. While repairable, it was so old that a major repair (compressor) seemed a bad idea. So, we called our preferred air conditioning vendor and arranged to have a new system installed.

It was spring and not yet too hot. We opted for a 4T American Standard system rated for 13 SEER. Pretty basic, but a leading brand, from a vendor we trusted, with a 10 year warranty. Honestly, I don’t think we even considered anything beyond a single stage unit. It was a vast improvement over the ancient, recently deceased, Kenmore system.

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