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Get Powered Up! Certified Energy Manager Jeff Yago answers your alternative energy questions

Wondering about a great new energy-saving device
you found on the Internet? Then CLICK HERE!

Sorry. Jeff no longer answers questions online.
This will remain as a searchable
resource for all BHM website visitors.

Archive for August, 2008


Flashlight review question

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Thanks for the information from the flashlight review. I had a min mag old bulb but had a battery go bad and corroded inside so I threw it away. I like the looks of the Garrity and Dorsy led but can’t tell if either has the capability of going from spot to flood light by twisting the head.

Interested in the small 3 AAA models.

Thanks for any information forwarded.

Joe Lucey

Most LED style flashlights do not have the same distant beam “focusing” you may expect as compared with incandescent or halogen type flashlights. However, the models you are asking about will provide some beam size adjustment, just don’t expect a super bright center spot of light.

Good Luck,

Jeff Yago


Switching power supply from Inverter

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

Hi Jeff!

Hoping you can help.

I need to run a switching power supply (MasTech 5020E: off an Inverter.

It seems to trip off/overload 800 & 1000W units; is bigger going to work?

Thanks in advance.

Jim Blanner


The specific power supply you have selected can provide up to 1000 watts of DC power output at full load. Even assuming a high conversion efficiency of 90%, this means it can draw up to 1,110 watts from the wall outlet (inverter) when dialed all the way up to full output load.

However, if it is still tripping out when powering a very small load, most likely it will not operate on a lower cost modified sinewave inverter due to its very high quality voltage control which is expecting a pure sinewave 120 volt AC input at exactly 60 cycles. If you do not need to operate it at its full power output, you still may be able to use an inverter in the 800 to 1000 watt range, as long as its a pure sinewave type. I have found many sensitive electronic devices will not work when powered from a modified sinewave inverter.

I have actually seen some of these sensitive electronic devices actually heat up and start smoking when connected to a modified sinewave inverter, and power supplies and battery chargers of any type not only do not work well on lower cost inverters, but also do not work well when powered from a generator.

Good Luck,

Jeff Yago


Solar panel safety concerns

Friday, August 29th, 2008

I am in the process of using solar panels as my total source of energy but have been hearing that some of the products in the solar panels are cause for concern. Have you heard any concerns with any of the products used in the solar panels, such as cadmium telluride.?




What you are probably hearing about is the European Union issued a directive in 2006 that clarified their regulations on banned materials in products imported. From this long list it further identified 6 materials that it considered “the worst of the worst” which they were now applying even stronger limitations. One of the six totally banned materials was cadmium, and the normal restriction of 1000 parts per million on all other restricted materials was lowered to only 100 parts per million allowed for these. This applies to any single part of any product sold, so even if only one tiny part contains any of these materials, the entire product is banned.

Cadmium Telluride has been used for years in many electronic components and recently in some thin film solar cells due to its very high efficiency to convert sunlight into electrical energy. However, only a few solar module manufacturers use thin film technology, and only a few of the thin film materials use cadmium telluride in their manufacturing process.

Thin film solar modules made by First Solar Inc. was identified when this import ban was imposed, as having 470,000 parts per million of cadmium telluride in one of the layers of the thin film. I do not know if they have changed their product line since this ban or if they do not plan to market overseas. Although cadmium telluride is less of a danger to humans than the banned cadmium, it appears that any company still making modules that have even a tiny amount of cadmium telluride in the process will not be allowed to be sold anywhere in Europe due to the cadmium ban.

I am not aware of this banned material being used in solar modules other than thin film, and am not aware of any bio-hazard associated with any brands of single crystal and poly-crystal modules, but its always good to check before making a purchase. Also, some solar module manufacturers offer a recycling program to keep more toxic materials from going into landfills. I would be more concerned with the very toxic materials being used in new battery technology than in solar modules, due to the much shorter lifespan of batteries.

Good Luck,

Jeff Yago


Inverter and battery charger question

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for being such a great resource. I’ve had fun reading your archives. I have an inverter question and a battery charger question.

1) I’ve heard inverters are most efficient when operating near their max wattage, so I’m wondering if it’s better to run small stuff from a small inverter. I have a 350w inverter for lights and computer stuff, but I plan to buy a 1500w inverter that can run our well pump when the power is out (which is pretty often). Can I hook them both up to the same battery bank so I can plug in selectively to the one that is most efficient for the job, or should I just run everything off the 1500w inverter.

2) My battery bank will have more solar power eventually, but for now when it needs a quick boost I’ll need to charge it up with the 10amp car-battery charger. Will this hurt the charge controller, inverter and DC circuits attached? Or can I just slap the car charger on the battery bank as it sits.

Thanks a bunch,

Steve Sonntag MD

Not sure why you want to charge the batteries with a 10-amp car battery charger as this will take forever. The the battery charger built into most inverters is much faster and will do a better job of providing the proper charge without battery damage.

The answer related to using two inverters will depend on their quality and size. Yes, some people use dual inverters, with a small inverter taking care of a group of smaller loads that run more often, and a larger inverter for the larger loads with less run time. However, I have used some “cheap” small inverters that consumed more battery power just sitting there with no loads turned on, then some of the larger inverters that have a low energy “idle” feature. If you are planning to purchase a new inverter and can select one with a very low idle or standby energy usage, you may be better off to just use it for all loads and get rid of the smaller model.

If you are planning to purchase a larger inverter that is a modified sine-wave model, these do great on larger loads like well pumps, furnace fans, power tools, but have problems with some electronics, computer printers, and light dimmers. In this case, you can buy a small “pure sine-wave” inverter to handle your sensitive electronics, and use the modified sine-wave inverter for your well pump. Also remember that most existing well pumps are 240 VAC and most inverters are 120 VAC, so you may need a transformer or will need to replace your well pump with a 120 VAC model, and most likely if you do this you may discover the wire run to the well was sized for a 240 VAC pump and will be under-sized with double the voltage drop when using a 120VAC pump.

Yes, you can wire each inverter to the same battery bank, just make sure each one has its own dis-connect switch and circuit breaker or fuse, and make sure these are rated for DC service. AC fuses and AC circuit breakers cannot be used safely on DC circuits -trust me on that one. However, the SquareD “QO” line (not Homeline) circuit breakers are dual rated for up to 24 volts DC and can be used if that is all you can find.

Yes, you can attach a battery charger to a battery bank while a solar charge controller is also charging and connected. The solar charge controller “looks” at the battery voltage to decide when to put more charge into the battery bank. If the battery voltage is high during charging by another charger, it just decides the battery is full and shuts off. If you have other DC lights or DC appliances connected to the same battery bank, remember these can be damaged if you set your charger voltage higher than the voltage rating for these devices. This is a real concern during battery equalizing charging as this requires a much higher charge voltage than normal charging.

Hope this helps,

Jeff Yago


Wiring question

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008


You have a great website!

My wife and I have won two Emmys for sound on the show “24” on Fox using sun power, hehe That’s a first I’m sure!

We have been off the grid for 13 years and just recently upgraded to a Xantrex 5500 watt inverter and a 25kw Guardian generator.

My question is can I take one leg of the 220v (120) to power my washer and propane dryer and one leg (120) to power my new inverter – charger?

Due to the writers strike in my biz I will have the time to tinker with the new gear.

Thanks again,

William Dotson


First, my wife and I are 24 fanatics and have all of the past seasons on DVD. We also live almost off-grid in a solar home, air conditioning required here all summer and we use grid power for that. Most everything else is on solar since 1994.

If you just upgraded to a SW5548, I am sure you think you have died and gone to heaven, although if you had waited for the new Xantrex XW6048, it has 240VAC output and you would not need to split generator output.

You have a problem related to your generator that you need to consider. Not to bad-mouth any generator brand, but most of the generators like the brand and model you selected are designed for true “stand-by” service while still connected to the utility grid. Most are shorter life 3600 RPM, and most have a very complex diagnostics control package and battery charger circuit which operate 24 hours per day. This constant drain of electrical power is of no concern when they are connected to the utility grid, but this is a really big deal when battery-powered and no grid. Also, most high speed 3600 RPM generators are only designed to operate a few hours per year, and at most for only a power outage lasting 1 to 3 days. However, when used in an off-grid application, most dealers will void the warranty because they will have a very short lifespan when operated every few days throughout the year. If you have a large solar system and this generator will only be called upon to run a few hours each month during bad weather and no sun, then you should be OK, otherwise, expect lots of service calls and an engine over-haul every year or two. A good match for your inverter would be more like a 12 or 15 kW Kohler or other lower speed 1800 RPM generator, which are designed for this type service.

Now to your question. Yes, you can connect one leg of the generator to the inverter and the other to your washer and dryer without a problem, but here is the best way to do this. Install a standard 120/240 VAC circuit breaker panel. The “main” breaker should be 100 amp, which is less than the 104 amp rating (at 240 VAC)for this model generator. In this panel install a 60 amp single pole breaker to feed the 120 VAC inverter input. Then install other breakers to supply your large loads that will only operate when the generator is running like your washer and dryer. I assume your well pump is 120 VAC, otherwise, unless you add a 120/240 VAC transformer, any 240 VAC well pump will only operate when the generator is operating.

Final note – look at the buss bars in the circuit breaker panel. Your generator will be connected to the “L1” and “L2” buss bars, and the neutral buss bars, all near the top of this panel. This means connecting anything to only “L1” and neutral, or “L2” and neutral will provide 120 VAC, and anything connected to both “L1” and “L2” will provide 240 VAC from the generator. However, if you look and the buss bar arrangement, they alternate left and right down the panel, so for you to achieve the desired load balance on the generator, you need to make sure the circuit breaker supplying the inverter is attached to a different buss bar from the circuit breakers that will be connected to the other loads. This means you will either have them opposite each other left and right, or will need to “skip” a space as you go down the panel. Hope that makes sense.

Good luck.

Jeff Yago


Solar trailer power to house

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Hi Jeff,

I’ve been working on a solar trailer design similar to yours for a few months now. I really loved finding your article last month. I also plan to generate a surplus of power to help out at a group camp, event or disaster.

Is there a way I can plug the trailer in to supplement my home electrical supply to knock down my electric bill when the trailer is sitting unused at home?


Steve Sonntag MD

Lame Deer, MT


The short answer is yes, the long answer is this may be more trouble than its worth. Your state has had a net metering law since 1999, so it is legal for a homeowner in Montana to sell back to the utility. However, each state has allowed the local utility to set up specific requirements that must be met to ensure the safety of their service people and the quality of the power for the other customers.

Normally, in most states these requirements include filing a form with the local utility that describes the system, the installed hardware, indication that this equipment meets grid-interaction safety requirements (usually listed on nameplate), and the wiring into the electrical system was completed by a licensed electrician who also signs the form. Some states also add the requirement for an exterior dis-connect with a lever handle that can be locked-out by their service people. Again, these requirements vary from state to state, and you can contact your local utility for more information.

However, it does not matter that the source of the power that will be “back-fed” into the utility line is coming from a portable trailer, you will still need to meet most if not all of the states requirements just as if the solar system was mounted on the roof of your home. THey may omit the dis-conect at the meter since you or they could “un-plug” the trailer from the house, but I am betting this will be too complex a decision to make for the non-technical person you will most likely be dealing with and they will still insist on meeting all of their requirements.

Keep in mind that many inverters will meet the requirements for grid-interconnect and can easily be switched manually over to the “sell” mode. However, your trailer will most likely only have an “input” cable to allow charging the batteries from the house or a generator, so your trailer will need a second cable to connect its output to the house and this should NOT be a standard “male” plug with exposed pins since these exposed pins will be HOT at 120 or 240 VAC, depending on the model inverter you install.

If you want to stay “legal” but not go through all the hoops, why not just run a heavy extension chord from your solar trailer into your home and plug in a few appliances like a freezer or other load that closely matches the output of your trailer. This will remove this load from your utility bill, yet keep your trailer wiring from connecting into the other house wiring.

Hope this helps and good luck!

Jeff Yago


Wood stove/radiant floor heat

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Hi Jeff,

I saw your site for the first time tonight and thought you might be able to offer some advice.

I am ever so slowly modifying our existing home. We currently have a “woodchuck” which is a wood burner with forced air. The system is installed in our basement. Although it heats much better than our heat pump, I would prefer radiant type heat over forced air. Also, most of the radiant heat from the unit is lost to the dark corner of the basement.

What I would like to do is install a traditional wood stove on our main floor to use as our primary heat. Here is my big question- Is there a way to enjoy a traditional wood stove and use that stove to heat water for a subfloor radiant heat system or even wall mounted radiator for hard to reach bedrooms and bathrooms???

I have seen someone install an old beer keg at a 45 degree angle, suspend about 6 inches above a wood stove. They had brought their water supply into the keg and preheated their water before it got to their hot water heater. This significantly reduced their electric bill.

I guess I’m looking for something similar and code friendly of course….

Thanks for your time,


Polk County, NC


Although most heating of buildings and homes before the advent of central air conditioning systems was hot water or steam radiators. Now things are changing again and many up-scale homes are starting to utilize hydronic heating due to the higher energy savings and comfort. Our 3 story solar home has a built-in masonry fireplace in our ground level (partly below grade) family room. This fireplace has a Hydro-Heater hydronic firebox which is “hollow” on all 3 sides and the bottom which allows water to flow around these areas then this water flows up into a heat exchanger containing 90 feet of boiler tubing. This heated water is then pumped into a air heat exchanger located in the discharge side of my central air handling unit, which circulates this heated air to every room of our home including all 3 floors. When we have a roaring fire in this fireplace, every room of our home stays at the same temperature and there are no cold spots.

I have also designed many systems like this for others only we piped the heated water to baseboard hot water radiation located in each room, and used motorized zone valves to allow each room wall thermostat to separately control the temperature of each room. Although most of the wood-forced boilers you will find advertised these days usually are the self-contained type that is located outside and piped into the home, there are still several manufacturers that offer “hydronic inserts” that look like a log holder that you place inside a standard fireplace. Many wood stove manufacturers offer an optional hot water coil feature, but these are usually intended to only heat a domestic hot water tank and not the entire house.

Yes, you can heat a radiant floor, but the problem is most radiant floor heating systems keep the water temperature in the lower 100 to 120 degree range, and most hydronic wood stoves can easily produce hot water in the higher 160 to 180 degree range which is much better suited for a baseboard radiation system. This means a radiant floor system will require a storage tank with one small pump circulating tank water through the hydronic fireplace to heat the tank, and a second small pump to circulate heated tank water at a different flow rate through the radiant floor piping. Remember, boiler water or water passing through hot water radiators and radiant floor piping usually will include additives to reduce sludge and rust, and you cannot mix with your domestic hot water system (sinks and baths), so if you want to also heat your domestic hot water tank, you will need a separate coil in this storage tank for that piping.

You are on the right track, but remember, these are classified as a “boiler” and if you don’t include the proper pressure and temperature safety relief valves in your piping, these things can blow up and do some real damage. Also, manufactured hydronic stoves are made from “boiler grade” steel which is much stronger with no flaws or weak spots. This may be why there are not as many manufacturers these days and why I do not agree with your “beer keg” idea!

Good luck,

Jeff Yago


Remote cabin water heater

Sunday, August 24th, 2008


My cabin in Utah is almost complete. Solar equipment is on the way. (2) panels, (8) batteries, outback inverter, etc. Outside is done. Basically trim work and plumbing left on the interior. My question is what would you recommend for water heat. I am looking at tankless heaters. Do they pull a lot of electricity or should I go propane? Also, what is your opinion on composting toilets?


Brent Toft


Don’t even think of using electricity to heat water. We rarely do this with large systems, much less a system the size you described.

You have 3 choices depending on how much you use this cabin and access.

My first choice is an instant tank-less hot water heater as some brands like a Infinion does not require any electricity and uses just propane. The problem with any tank-less water heater is there piping will quickly freeze if the home is not heated while you are away and should be drained each time.

My second choice is a solar hot water heater, which you can buy with an optional DC pump powered pump which uses very little battery power but also can freeze when away for long periods if not properly designed and installed.

If you are not lazy, several companies still make a wood fueled water heater that is an old style insulated water tank with an internal flue pipe and a fire-box below. most hold less then 30 gallons, so they heat up fairly quickly when you build a fire. However, their fire-box is small and will not hold much wood so don’t expect to have hot water all day after building one small fire. There are also hot water heating coil options for many standard wood cook stoves that can heat a separate insulated water storage tank.

I own 2 composting toilets, one in a garage and one in a trailer. They are great if you do not have a large family. For one or two people, you may be able to go many months without emptying the recycled soil and you only need to add a little compost material each time it is used. They also make larger models with a separate holding composting tank located under the floor and separate from the seat part. These usually requier an electric motor and some even have electric heaters so keep it simple.

Good Luck,

Jeff Yago



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