Justifying the cost of a MADNESS

$25,000 is a lot of money for a furnace. If you won $25k, you'd be dancing. If you misplaced $25k you'd be depressed.

In spite of my tone in this blog, my wife and I took this decision seriously and here's how we came to it.

1. Assume we're replacing our furnace and air conditioner

That's $7,000 of assumed cost right there. Our furnace was mid-efficiency (by today's standards low-efficiency) natural gas. Our air conditioner is a piece of junk and we've never used it. With a baby on the way, it's a good plan to have one for emergencies. And resale of a home is quite difficult with no summer cooling.

2. Assume we'll get rebates

Total: $8,000

3. Assume we save $1,500 per year

  • No natural gas bill (no delivery charges, debt reduction, or cost per cubic meter).
  • Increase in hydro usage will only occur in low electricity demand months (electricity demand is always highest in the summer months as cooling systems operate)

Items 1 to 3 puts our pay-back period at about 5-7 years.

4. Assume there are no environmentally friendly investment mechanisms that make money

We wanted to save some of our money in "ethical" or "green" investments. My (and a few other) financial planners basically told us "don't bother".

The problem it seems is "green funds" are managed by people whose primary motives are not to make you money but to invest in green technology and historical performance (as short as it has been) is poor. Like losing money poor.

And companies who qualify as "green" are often run by people whose primary motives are not to increase shareholder value but to be the best green company they can be. Not a bad thing, just not money making for investors.

So, we decided if we're going to invest, we'll do it on our terms. Our veggie fueled car, our heat pump, super insulating the house, etc.

This blog doesn't just chronicle our "greeny" whims. These are our green investments and we treat each decision as such.


The Grease Car Mod

The GreaseCar modification to my car doesn't change anything with the engine - it's a 2nd fuel tank that's heated from the waste heat of the engine (coolant).

The GreaseCar website has an excellent flash animation explaining everything.

Here's what the modification looked like once I got it back from Young Street Garage.

1) Under the hood.
The red hoses contain coolant to heat up the fuel filter assembly on the right. At the bottom, you see the two solenoids to switch diesel/veggie/diesel-backflush. You can see the VW engine cover is still there, I eventually remove it.

2) The dashboard.
An aluminium plate holding the fuel gauge and 3-way illuminated rocker switch is attached quite snugly to the bottom of the standard centre dash. Below, the ash tray is removed (we don't smoke) and the GreaseCar temperature gauge is installed.

3) In the trunk.
The spare wheel is removed, and we now carry cans of RideFlat wheel sealant in our emergency kit. I've tried to insulate the tank with foil bubble wrap. Fiberglass would just get nasty and loses its insulating properties if compressed. Notice how we don't lose any trunk space with the modification. I suggest using a end of a roll of masking tape to protect the fuel-level leads from weight of trunk items (hidden by a block of white foam in the picture below).


I found the heat of the oil to suffer in the winter. So after reading InfoPop a lot, two upgrades that should solve my problems of winter vegoil fuel heating were discovered.

1) Brazed Plate Heat Exchanger

Click to animate.

Brazed plates have more surface area than flat plates, so they can transfer heat from the coolant to the vegoil fuel better. This is the "heavy lifter" for vegoil temp. The thermal energy transferred is much greater than the GreaseCar thermal filter assembly or the PlantDrive VegTherm. But it is limited by how hot the coolant is.

The engine cover doesn't fit anymore with all the extra hoses. I didn't like it anyways.

2) PlantDrive.ca's VegTherm Mega

30cm long, 32Amp at 12V of electrical resistance heating. This sucker burns skin on contact. After the oil is heated in the trunk tank, after it's insulated in the hose-in-hose line under the car, after it's warmed up a bit by the GreaseCar thermal filter assembly, after it's raised to the same temp as the coolant by the BPHE - the VegThermMega does it's thing.

I also stopped using foil bubble wrap for insulation and moved to copper pipe foamies - they insulate way better.

As you can see, things are getting very tight. But it's still manageable, even for me.

Yesterday, my BFHE was showing temperatures of 50C (it was likely warmer, temperature sensor heat loss to ambient air temp) I turned on the VegTherm and the oil temp out the other side was 68C.

Time will tell how it does in -30C.