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Where to begin

Start by saving power...

When considering a switch to alternative energy, the first place to start is saving electricity. If you learn to reduce your electricity use, your alternative energy system can be smaller which will save you money up front and reduce the time it takes for the system to pay for itself.

Try these simple things that require almost no effort to reduce your electricity consumption:
  • Switch regular incandescent light bulbs to energy efficient flourescent bulbs, or even better, to LED bulbs.
  • Turn off lights, no matter what kind, when you are not in that room.
  • Install motion sensor light switches in places where you frequently forget to turn off the lights i.e. closets.
  • Install motion sensor outdoor lighting instead of leaving outdoor lights on all night.
  • If outdoor lights are not on motion sensors, at least use timers to turn them off instead of leaving them on all night.
  • Wait to run appliances like dishwashers and clothes washers until you have a full load
  • Turn off your computer when you are not using it. No matter how little you think it uses, it adds up quickly.
  • Unplug cellphone and other types of chargers while not in use. Those little black boxes consume power all the time.

For those willing to take it a step further, try these things to really save:
  • Read or play games instead of watching TV or listening to your stereo.
  • Raise the thermostat setting on your air conditioner.
  • Use ceiling fans instead of air conditioning.
  • Install solar light tubes or sky-lights. Moonlight coming in can ruduce the number of lights needed at night as well.
  • Only purchase energy efficient appliances.
  • If possible, use fewer lights or dimmer bulbs, especially in fixtures with multiple bulbs
  • At night, spend more time together as a family in one or two rooms instead of lighting every room in the house.

Understanding the different forms of Alternative Energy


The sun can provide us with two very useful forms of energy, heat and light. Let's take a look at the most common ways that the sun's energy can be harnessed, solar heaters and solar electric panels.

Solar Heating

Solar heaters come in many shapes, sizes, and functions. Solar heaters may serve different purposes but the basic function is the same for all types, transform the sun's light energy into heat. Though the sun's light and heat may be used in other ways, we will focus our discussion on heating water and heating air.

Solar Water Heating

There are many different types of solar water heaters, ranging from the most simple batch heaters, to the most complex evacuated tube designs. Pricing for commercial units varies with the evcauated tube units being the most expensive. Less complicated designs like the batch heater cost much less to purchase and install, and some systems can even be built and installed by the homeowner making them even more attractive. Some designs have also been made available in kit form so your time can be spent assembling rather than scouting for parts. A brief explanation of each type of collector will help with understanding solar water heaters.

Batch Heaters
Batch Heaters are the most basic of solar water heaters. A drum that holds water is placed in the sun. The sun heats the drum and the water inside. The solar heated water can be used directly but it is also common to use the batch heater as a preheater to feed into a standard water heater's cold inlet. When the batch heater is used as a preheater the work required by your standard water heater is greatly reduced. Instead of cold water entering your standard water heater the preheated water will be fed in which will reduce the gas or electricity required to heat the water.

In practice, a batch heater is more than just a drum of water in the sun. Most batch heaters, commercial or home-built, are enclosed in a small, insulated structure with one clear side facing the sun. The sun shines through the window, heats the drum and inside of the structure, and the insulated walls help to keep the drum warm throughout the day and night.

This section is not completed. It was last updated 2/10/09. We will continue to update this page regularly. Please check back frequently for the rest of the information on Solar heating and electrical. We will also be adding photos as part of this article.


Wind energy is a powerful and often overlooked source of energy. Many different devices have been designed to harness the power of wind. Wind power can easily be used for pumping water or generating electricity. Our discussion will be focused on wind power used to generate electricity and devices called wind turbines.

Wind Turbines

Wind turbines are electomechanical devices used to capture the power of wind. There are many different types of wind turbines but most fall within two categories, Horizontal Axis or Vertical Axis. We will look at examples of both.

Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines

The turbine design that most people are familiar with is the horizontal axis wind turbine. The pictures of wind turbines on this site are all horizontal axis designs. The free plans available are also for a horizontal axis design. This turbine style uses a familiar propeller shape called the turbine or turbine wheel. It is held perpindicular to the wind and a tail keeps it aligned facing into the wind. When the wind passes by the blades, they are forced to spin and they are connected to a generator either directly or with a gear reduction. The generator produces electricity when it is spun.

Vertical Axis Wind Turbines

An increasingly popular turbine design is the vertical axis wind turbine or VAWT. This type of turbine traditionally has no tail because alignment in any one direction is not necessary. Whatever direction the wind blows, most vertical axis wind turbines will start to spin.

This section is not completed. It was last updated 2/11/09. We will continue to update this page regularly. Please check back frequently for the rest of the information on Wind turbines. We will also be adding photos as part of this article.

Learn how anybody can make practical use of a wind turbine.

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