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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 the ‘Lightbulbs’ Category


Solar water pump

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Hi Jeff,

I need to power a 12 volt DC pump with solar power and I’m not sure how to do it.

I need to feed water into an irrigation system in a remote location where there is no water or electricity on-site (it’s for a native habitat restoration project).  The water was trucked in and put into a water pillow.  I need to place a timer on the system, but the water pressure is too low for the valve to work.  So I’m going to install a surface pump to push water through the valve and I need to power it with solar power.  And I’m on a very limited budget.

I have spent a good deal of time searching the Internet, but I can’t figure out if I can hook the solar panel directly into the pump (I don’t need to water at night).  I would like to avoid using batteries, if possible.  It seems that I need a pump controller, but the ones I have found cost several hundred dollars and don’t look anything like the one in your article on solar water pumps.


Carie Wingert


I guess you already considered the obvious, move the water pillow to higher ground and you won’t need the pump!   Assuming that has been considered, it’s not a problem to install a solar panel, DC pump, DC timer, and DC valve.  However, it is a problem to do this “on a limited budget”.  Like they say, you can have any 2 of 3 order choices –  fast delivery, quality construction, cheap price, pick two!

You did not mention if this is a drip system not requiring very much water pressure, or some type of spray heads that require higher pressure.  The water pressure and flow rate will determine the size of the pump.  Once that has been determined you can select the solar array size that will provide this amount of power per day.  You must have a solar controller wired between the solar array and pump, and several safety devices like a low water cut off to protect the pump if the water bladder runs out of water.

All this equipment is off-the shelf, but is not cheap.  I don’t know your pump size, but most small DC pressure pumps will cost over $1,000, plus about $2,000 for the solar array and another $600 for the controls, plus some type of pole support for the solar array.  If you don’t spend the money to do this right, you will most likely have some dead plants when the lower cost system fails.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago


String lights to light dark steps

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Hi Jeff,

I am looking for solar string lights (like Christmas lights) to run down my deck steps to light the steps for safety. Right now the wired lighting leaves dangerous shadow areas. The challenge is that the steps are on the north so I will need 75 – 100 linear feet of lights to run from the south side along the deck rail then down the steps (my preference). OR I need 50 linear feet of plain wire between the solar collection to where the lights start then have them run 30′. Ideally the lights would need to be bright for 8 hours. What is your suggestion?

Eileen Obermiller


Not to talk you out of solar, but being on the North side of the house and all the other issues of running wires a long distance, why not just buy a string of white LED Christmas lights. If you check out a recent article I did on LED Christmas lights, you would see that I measued these as using only 2 watts of electricity for the entire string. That is less power that your cell phone charger uses.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago


Condo unit energy solution

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009


We live in a condominium apartment and a good part of the year we receive a lot of wind. We also have several south facing windows and a deck with good exposure to the sun. With condominium rules and regulations, we’re not able to put solar panels on the roof. Is there a solution to energy independence when you live in a condominium like this one?


Tanna Settle


Yes, been there, done that. My big concern would be reducing my electric loads and emergency power. When we lived a year in an apartment complex in the middle of a large city during the construction of our solar home, there were several power outages. Although this never affected us due to the emergency preparations listed below, we got a big laugh watching everyone bail out of the complex 5 minutes after the power went out and head for Mom’s house or a hotel. I still can’t believe how un-prepared most apartment and condo dwellers are.

First, reduce your energy usage. What difference does it make if you save 500 watts by reducing your electric loads by 500 watts, or keep the loads the same and install a 500 watt solar system – your bill still goes down the same amount, and you didn’t spend $5000 for a small solar system you aren’t allowed to install anyway.

Replace every light, and I mean every light, with compact fluorescent lamps or halogen. Buy the “warm” color fluorescent lights, which may require going to a lighting store. For most applications, a 15 to 25 watt compact fluorescent lamp will work where you had a 75 to 100 watt incandescent bulb. Anywhere you need really good color quality like a bathroom mirror or kitchen, replace with halogen. A 45 watt halogen bulb is blinding and has great color. It can replace an incandescent bulb 2 to 3 times its wattage.

Most likely your next biggest load is your refrigerator, and if it is over 10 years old it was built before major changes were made in the Federal energy guidelines. Also, if it came with the condo, it probably was “spec” quality, which is at the low end of efficiency even if its newer. You can replace this energy hog without the permission of the condo association. Finally, if you do not have one already, replace the standard wall thermostat with a good quality programmable unit, also something you can do without permission and this can really save if you are gone most of the day.

Next, be prepared. Since you have limited storage space take one small closet or under one bed and make that your emergency storage room. Build up a pantry in the upper half with foods that will store a long time and require minimum preparation. Buy a canned heat camping stove. These fold up and take very little room, yet easily heats a pan of water to prepare rice, instant heat-and-serve meals, etc. Add a few gallons of bottled water and 2 or 3 LED type flashlights. Extra batteries is a must have. Add a small battery radio and extra trash bags, paper plates, plastic utensils, and you are ready for anything!

There have been many past articles in Backwoods Home on how to make an emergency pantry and what you should have on hand at all times. I suggest reading these back issues for more ideas.

Good Luck,

Jeff Yago


LED Lighting

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008


I read the article on LED lighting in the most recent Backwoods Home magazine and I have a couple of questions for Mr. Yago:

Do these lights have mercury in them, and if so, how can these lights be disposed of properly so they do not adversley affect the environment? And, what about the radiation that these lights emit? I have read many times that the LED alarm clocks should never face directly towards one’s bed as they emit low doses of radiation. This is a real concern for me as I realize that so many of the electronic gadgets we use emit radiation and I wonder if over time we will see more cases of cancer and other illnesses due to this radiation exposure?

Thanks for a great magazine!

Lori Smith



Not to worry, there is no mercury in an Light Emitting Diode (LED) lamp, but there is mercury in Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL). The only radiation an LED lamp projects is light energy, no radioactive radiation like you are concerned with.

The older style clocks did have their glow-in-the-dark hands coated with a phosphorescent paint, and years ago they did use a very low radioactive type material. Since radiation travels in a straight line, turning these clocks away from you would be a good idea. However, much tighter regulations has forced most of these products to switch to non-radioactive and safer materials.

Perhaps you need one of those talking alarm clocks!

Jeff Yago



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