Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Truck, Train, & Automobile

As I type this, I am sitting on Amtrak 712 from Emeryville to Fresno. I'm going to buy our new Prius. Why am I going to Fresno to get it? Because they don't seem to have a significant waiting list there. All the dealers in the Bay Area have waiting lists of anywhere from 2 weeks to 8 months, depending on which dealer you call and whether you're looking for a specific package and/or color. The Fresno dealer actually seems to have 4 white ones that they're having trouble selling. The one we're getting is silver and comes with package 6, which means it has DVD navigation (need to find out how often they come out with new DVDs and how much they cost), bluetooth, alarm, 6-disc 9-speaker stereo, etc. I can hardly wait.

I originally started talking to Fresno about the Highlander Hybrid after the Berkeley dealer told me that the Highlander Hybrid is allocated to the dealers according to total truck sales. I'm a little surprised by that, but the knowledge is turning out to be helpful to me. She said she's not expecting to be able to get any for new people on the waiting list for a year, but that I should call Fairfield because they sell more trucks. I called Fairfield, and they have a short waiting list. I called Fresno, and they had 2 sitting on the lot. The Highlander's pretty expensive, though (about 8k more than the Prius before taxes & fees), and it only seems to get about 28 mpg combined.

I have my iPod & laptop with me for the train ride, so I'm able to listen to tunes (lots of KFOG Live From the Archives) while doing work (even without a network connection, which was an issue when I was in NY last week). Then, for the drive home, I have some CDs, including stand-up discs from Robin Williams and George Carlin. I don't think I've ever actually listened to either all the way through.

Last night, we got a pretty good example of the difference all the insulation is making. I still think that the stuff we did to the basement is making the biggest difference for Rachel's room and has cut breezes a bunch, but the floor insulation is clearly helping with comfort too, as the floor's just a little warmer. Dawn was walking around barefoot Sunday morning, amazingly enough. I was looking for rebate information (for the floor insulation we did last week and the wall insulation we're planning on) and found a PG&E brochure online that says, among other things, that up to 25% of heating costs are lost through uninsulated raised floors. That's more than I expected, to be honest, but the goals of the insulation is three-fold: comfort, cost savings, and environmental. As with the solar panels, the cost savings on units of energy will probably only increase over time as the prices of gas & electric go up.

I got a call back from McHale Insulation, out of Concord, about the bid they gave us last January for blowing insulation into the walls of the main house. The addition ought to have batts of insulation in them already, but they can check to be sure later. They're going to come out 11/15 to do the work and are actually more than $1000 less than the guy who's been doing most of our insulation so far. Their bid for the floor & basement work was much higher than his, though.

I also have both Sears and L.J. Kruse coming out next month to do estimates for replacing our main furnace. It's somewhere about 20 years old, based on the fact that it has a lighting instruction sheet with a 1984 copyright. They certainly can't have put that on before 1984, and I imagine they most likely reprinted it within a couple of years after that, so that makes it no more than 21 years old, and probably no less than about 18. From what I've read and heard, it's being from the mid-80s means it's about 60% efficient, so replacing it with a new 93 or 97% efficient model will save us a lot on our gas bill.

I've also been hearing about hyronic forced air furnaces, which I'd never heard of before. Evidently, these use hot water from the water heater to heat air and then blow the air through the ducts just the way a conventional forced air furnace does. According to the guy who first told me about them, they use 30% less gas than conventional furnaces. I need to see what Sears & Kruse say about them, if anything. I may certainly be missing something, but it seems to me that if a new conventional forced air furnace is 93% efficient compared to, say, 65% on the furnace we have, that's a 43% drop in gas usage. If hydronic is then 30% more efficient than the conventional, that would mean we'd be going from 100% to 57% to 40% of our current efficiency. I am vaguely concerned about whether water in the furnace would stagnate or anything if it isn't being rotated regularly even when the furnace is not in use. Will have to see about that.

What else do we have to do? Solar panels are coming, although I haven't completely decided on what to do. We have Sustainable Spaces coming out next month to do a whole house inspection. I imagine they'll want to talk about sealing the envelope (seriously, it's called a building envelope) further, and we might talk about a new furnace and new, possibly tankless, water heater (need to see what Kruse & Sears have to say about that as well). I am very interested to see their whole report.

We have one window to replace for the moment, in the laundry room; I'd consider replacing the ones in the downstairs bedroom & our with double paned, but if we're going to do any remodelling back there, that work would be wasted, so I guess we need to figure that out first. I have some more fixtures I want to put flourescents in, if they'll fit, and I'd like to put photosensors on the front porch lights, if the 40W appliance bulbs are small enough to fit in the fixture with the photosensor adapter.

This train ride's been interesting. It only took about 20 minutes to get used to the occasional swaying, and while there's sort of a baseline bumpiness, it's not jerky. I got a much different view of some of the freeway-side stuff on the way out to Richmond than I see from the freeway. And there are definitely some wierdos, but I think the best bit has been seeing a guy get off the train in Merced who looked like a quintessential hobo from Jack London or Utah Phillips' stories. Tall, older guy, probably mid-60s. Grey hair, bushy beard, huge backpack, red flannel shirt. Oh, and an iPod (inferred from the white earphone cord).

Speaking of Utah Phillips, what better to listen to on MY iPod than a train than his music & stories? This is really quite cool, though the presence of only one Utah Phillips album on my iPod reminds me I need to get more of his stuff on disc. We'll have to take Rachel on a train ride soon, she was so excited about going to get the car, which we were planning on doing last Saturday. Maybe we can make a really cool outing of it by going for a couple of hour each way ride when Dawn's family is in town for our anniversary?

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