The Real Know How

How-Tos, Videos, Tutorials — Ramping Up for the 21st Century

Archive for the category “electricity”

How to convert a washing machine into a water powered generator

buddhanz1, in New Zealand, shows us how to convert a washing machine into a water powered generator. It looks as if he may be using the municipal water supply to power his generator. At any rate, he gets enough power to live off-grid (powers his fridge, PC, lights, appliances — all the modern conveniences) and as he used mostly recycled parts the costs were minimal.

How to Make an Inexpensive Vertical Axis Wind Turbine Using Plastic Barrels

Jeff Berezin of Berezin Technologies shows us how to make a vertical axis, Savonius wind turbine using plastic barrels.

Make Your Own Zoetrope Wind Turbine

“The Zoetrope is a vertical-axis wind turbine made from common materials such as stove pipe, metal brackets, plastic sheet and a trailer hub. Many of the materials can be found at local hardware or home improvement stores, the rest can either be made at home or purchased online. The Zoetrope was commissioned by Washington (USA) resident and renewable energy supporter Mike Marohn to provide supplemental water heating.

Applied Sciences made the decision to open source the wind turbine and provide a freely available introduction to wind power, thereby allowing others to improve the design and functionality.”

View the construction guide, templates, videos and CAD drawings for the Zoetrope here.

Since it is a vertical axis wind turbine, the Zoetrope avoids many of the problems of the horizontal axis wind turbines we are more used to seeing such as noise, creating hazards for birds and so on.

Using a Temperature Controller to Save On Kitchen-related Electricity Costs

I was pretty blown away by this project.

Mikey and Wendy live on an off-grid, homestead in New Mexico (see their Holy Scrap Homestead blog). As such, they were looking for more efficiency from their appliances. Mikey has come up with a temperature controller that has allowed them convert a small chest freezer into a refrigerator and so downsize from their full-size fridge that cost them a lot in energy and was underutilized.

The temperature controller can also be used to regulate temperature for stuff like tempeh and yoghurt making, incubation, heat pads, raising bread dough, and controlling the temperature on simple crockpots and on hot plates for tasks like candy-making. There are a lot of possible uses.

The design and instructions on how to build it are “open source” in other words, free, off his website but he also sells kits to build it yourself and already completed units from there, as well.

Here is Mikey talking about the controller and what he was able to do with it. BTW, I don’t know Mikey or Wendy and they haven’t asked me to blog this. Just stumbled across this and thought it should be shared.

Here’s Wendy making yoghurt using the device:

Wendy using the temperature controller to make tempeh:

Mikey raising bread dough.

Besides the temperature controller, Mikey has other useful open source projects.

How to Make Your Own LED Light Fixture

I personally draw the line at fiddling with electricity (I’d have to gain some experience and confidence there first), but if that’s a skill that’s part of your toolkit building your own LED light fixture seems fairly straight forward.

The benefits of LEDs:

1. Long lifespan

2. Use less electricity than even compact fluorescent lights (CFLs)

3. More durable than CFLs

4. Turn on instantly – no delay as sometimes happens with CFLs

5. Aren’t affected by frequent turning on and off, a practice that shortens the life of CFLs

6. Emit much less heat than CFLs or incandents

7. Aren’t affected by temperature or humidity as CFLs and incandescent lights can be

8. Don’t contain mercury as CFLs do

9. Won’t need to be replaced as often

As compact fluorescents (CFLs) have gotten more efficient the cost savings with LEDs have diminished. Still, the LEDs last far, far longer than CFLs. LEDs can offer, for example, 50,000 hours of use before they need to be replaced versus 10,000 hours for a CFL. Both in terms of electricity cost and length of lifespan they completely leave incandescents in the dust. I found these comparisons useful.

Another plus for LED lights — since they don’t contain mercury as the CFLs do, so they don’t require special toxic materials disposal.

Note that a lot has changed regarding LEDs. Just a few years ago when I first looked into them, they were hard to find (I was going to have to mailorder them from a wholesale company) and were insanely expensive. I remember being frustrated that they were readily available in several developing countries but were almost unattainable here. Now there is a choice of three different brands of LED light fixtures at my local hardware store, retailing for about $30-45. I’ve noticed them available outside my area for as low as $25.

But. if you are handy in this way, you can likely make an LED fixture for less than that and increase the cost savings.

Converting Your Car to Electric – Step by Step

Tom Graulowitz, with Ben Nelson behind the camera, in Wisconsin, shows us how to convert a Dodge Neon to electric. He uses it to commute to work via the highway and demonstrates in the videos at the end how it gets up to good freeway speeds.

Electric Car Conversion in Illinois

This video looks at how Bud Wren, a mechanic in Illinois converted his pickup truck to electric for about $1,000. He gets about 25 miles on a charge for about 50 cents worth of electricity (so less than 2 cents a mile). Bud’s conversion gets a top speed of 48 mile per hour (note that other conversions get much higher speeds than this).

His components:

– DC motor
– Charge controller
– Batteries


– You can use an older, used vehicle, since it will be gutted
– Extremely low cost to run at a time when gas prices are high
– No direct emissions
– No noise (though this can also be a disadvantage since we are all so used to hearing cars that it can be a safety issue)


– You do need an initial investment in money (in Bud’s case $1,000) and time
– Batteries: They are heavy and you need several to run a car, plus when they’ve come to the end of their life, they are extremely toxic waste. If everyone in America converted their cars there would quickly be a huge problem figuring out how to safely dispose of all the spent lead batteries that would produce over time. Even the car company produced electrical cars which use more sophisticated batteries have these problem and apparently the car companies are working together to try to come up with better batteries.
– The energy has to come from somewhere. The electricity from the grid could come from dirty coal burning or nuclear plants. Though I’d imagine that it would be possible to build a car charger that is powered by solar panels.

Pedal-Powered Cellphone

This video shows you how to modify a hand crank radio with a USB port into a bike-powered charger for your cell phone. In the vid it’s just duct taped to the bicycle. There is probably someone out there who has created a nice housing for this on their bike.

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