Saturday, March 29, 2008

Update on Energy Consumption After the New Water Heater

This last month, our electricity usage was down to 25 kWh per day. This is the lowest level since November before we started heating, but we are still heating some.

It is really hard to tell exactly how much of a change there is due to the fact that we were not living here this time last year. Next month may be a better indicator as we will be heating even less, and not yet using the air conditioning. That will give us a better comparison to last October which had very similar conditions.

However, the conclusion thus far is that it is helping, maybe as much as 5 kWh per day which would equal out to about $15 a month or $180 per year which is good news for the payback period analysis.

More news to come.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Judging and the Wealth of Christians.

My wife posted this question on this blog: “I am interested to hear what you believe the Bible says on judging others. What made me think of this is your comment in the relevance blog about Christians owning a lot of nice things (like cars and multiple houses). You said that it troubles you. What troubles you about it? Is it our place to judge others from an outward appearance?”

The answer is Yes. “What?” you say completely flabbergasted. Let’s work on it.

The Bible says in I Timothy 2 that women should not be adorned in costly clothing. We know that the prohibition of braided hair and the types of clothing came from the societal norms of the time being that those so clothed were identified as prostitutes, but the prohibition of costly clothing is not tied to any time or place. Why is there a prohibition of costly clothing, and a more important question is how do we know if the clothing is costly so we can warn our brother or sister in Christ to avoid sin? It seems to me that there must be a judgment of how things look on the exterior, in fact, it is necessary because clothes ARE on the exterior. So, essentially yes, we must judge others from an outward appearance, but I must delve into that much more further down. At this point, it’s just for shock value.

It is things like this in the Bible that bother me about wealthy Christians. I must repeat that I have no problem with wealthy Christians, it is how they spend that wealth that gives me pause. I also must remember that in a worldwide sense, I am quite wealthy. No, I don’t have loads of expendable cash, nor do I drive a brand new car (now.) But I do eat when I want to, and generally what I want to, and I have a home that is heated, and a car that works, wear clothes that are warm and fit, and am in no present danger of starving to death or dying of dehydration or cold or disease. In a world wide sense, I am quite wealthy. But for now, lets take a Biblical look at judging.

The classic verse on judging, now quoted perhaps more often than John 3:16 is Matthew 7:1. Judge not, that you be not judged.” I’ve heard this more often that not to excuse aberrant behavior. I have personally witnessed persons of the attitude that this verse gave them license to do whatever they want. But we must remember to never read a Bible verse, anything less than a chapter on either side of the verse in question is asking for trouble. Jesus says that you should take the plank out of your own eye before you look for the speck in someone else’s. What he is condemning is hypocritical judging which is naturally the kind that rears its ugly head so often because Christians are imperfect. But we must see the end of the story as it is in context. Jesus says “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” That’s right, once your vision is clear, then you must seek to right your brother.

Judging, in the correct sense, is a caring loving Christian brother or sister noticing a problem in the life of someone they care about. These are not simple little petty accusations about what someone says or wears, but sin that cannot hide. The person I mentioned above was the leader of a Christian band that I was a part of, but he was also into porn. Now I’m not saying here that I was a good kid and rebuked him for his sin, and I am also not saying that I had the same sin so I kept quiet to avoid hypocrisy. Either of these would be acceptable, though the latter tends toward apathy and is technically more true. The situation should be remedied in a “brothers struggling with the same sin” kind of way. The truth is, I just kept quiet.

We know the very familiar story of the woman caught in adultery. John 8:7 says: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” This is another often quoted verse regarding judging. But again, if we look at the verse in the proper context, a different meaning emerges. The last verse of this passage says: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Jesus judged her. He judged her guilty. The accusation leveled against her was legitimate. But Jesus, as we should be in our judgment, sought not to condemn or sentence the offender with some punishment, but rather to lift the person out of their shackles of sin and set them free to a new life. He said “go and from now on, sin no more.” His forgiveness was the pinnacle of the story, but he commanded her to stop what she was doing and change her ways.

To see something that is wrong, as we are called to do, we must make judgments. We must look upon the exterior (the actions, the words, the fruit) to discern sin. But unlike the hypocritical judge, we must not condemn the person, we must look upon them with love and exhort them to change their ways. However, we must first judge ourselves to see if we are afflicted by the same sin so as not to fall into hypocrisy. We must not judge perceived motives or any other aspect of the person that we cannot with our own eyes see. Remember, God looks upon the heart and for us to take on God’s responsibility is for us to attempt to supplant him, which is blasphemy. Judging in the correct context is not sin, but blasphemy always is.

Ok, back to wealthy Christians. I guess the over arching problem I have is the disparity between those who have and those who do not. I just got back from Mexico where guys brave morning rush hour traffic to sell newspapers and windshield washes window to window at stop lights. I have been to Honduras where people still cook over open fires in smoke filled grass roofed huts and walk around in muddy filth between the days where they work steep hills trying to have enough food to feed their family. The early church had all things in common. Those who had needs had those needs met. Those who had extra gave it to those who had little. To me, an Escalade is extra. The base price for one is
$54,670. That’s half the price of my house, and I have a thirty year mortgage. The worst part is that it is unnecessary. Far cheaper vehicles fulfill the need just as good. No one I have ever known with an Escalade needed it to haul around a family. And even if they did, a minivan would have done the job.

I guess my conclusion is that I can’t see spending that much on a car when my Christian brothers and sisters the world over are suffering. The hypocrite test question is the obvious one, what I am I doing right that I should point out the wrongs of others. I don’t know because I don’t read their bank account statements. That’s why it bothers me. Could I live simpler? I am sure I could, but I already to as best I can. I have a house that is smaller than American average and bills likewise, cars too. And I have these smaller things by choice because I believe it is better for the world if I don’t live to my limit. Better if I don’t spend all my money just because I have it. But it still bothers me that what I have is so nice even though it is in many ways below average.

I think that Jesus was here to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mexico Mission Trip

I'll be gone for the next week and a half, going to Chihuahua Mexico for a missions opportunity. Wilson is going too, and we are gonna have a lot of fun with a bunch of high schoolers doing stuff like building buildings.

While I am gone, I still have not recieved any requests for anything to write about. So think about that.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Relevance and The Way

I had an email conversation with my good friend (I'll call her Liz, she wants to be anonymous,) lately about relevance and the Christian faith. It started when I left a comment on her blog. I thought I’d post the major bits of our email interchange and then offer some thoughts.

MY ORIGINAL COMMENT: “I agree with you about what you said about people trying to be relevant. However, it is not the relevant people who are concerned with this, it is the irrelevant. The relevant Christians (I like to be called a Jesus Freak, no ambiguity there) are the ones who are already in the culture, doing like Jesus did and tearing away the foundation from within.

No, leave discussions of relevance to church boards and congregations struggling to gain members. We are individually as relevant as we need to be.”

LIZ: “so according to your comment, am I irrevelent b/c I write about being relevent???”

ME: You should not worry about being relevant, that's what I intended to communicate. But if you think about it, there is some reason why you write about being relevant. It is obviously some concern in your mind. And what is relevance anyway? Is it what people care about? Who is irrelevant to you and why? Do you feel irrelevant?

The point I was trying to make was essentially this. Ignore the mean kids and they will stop picking on you. Do not allow yourself to be defined by others, cultural relevance is irrelevant. It cannot be held onto indefinitely if you can really have it at all. Of course, Jesus was relevant to his time, however, he transcended that to shake the foundations of what religion really is. The only rule he played by was he Jewish law, but he made all the rules anyway. Be like Jesus.

If you are trying to be relevant, you are essentially seeking popularity and I thought, as adults, we should have given up on that sort of thing already. Be a force, be a movement, lead, the sheep will try to be relevant to you. Don't be a sheep (in the world-type way.)

If I haven't thoroughly confused you, I'll try again later.”

LIZ: “a little confused, but I think I get most of what you are trying to say. I don't think it's a "popularity" thing to want to be relevant. At least from the angle that I'm looking at it from. I don't think you can reach people by not being relevant. So, take Josh for instance, he as a youth pastor can be totally isolated from the world and be in a spiritual cocoon with great relationships with other believers, but if he wants to relate to the kids, he needs to understand the culture in which they live. I call that being relevant. Knowing the people that you want to reach, and showing them how to seek God from the way that they see him. I guess you can call this being shallow, knowing that Britney Spears is having a melt down is not worthy or good- but when that fact helps you relate to a girl that hasn't been involved before, it's worth it all. It's finding common ground with unbelievers, knowing what interests them, relating to them to have a relationship, then taking it from there to a deeper place.
People that are "irrelevant" to me... if I'd answer a question like that... which I normally wouldn't b/c it makes me look small and judgemental.... would be people who don't try to reach others outside of their Christian Bubble of church, community group ,etc. They surround themselves with amazing people- don't get me wrong- but how is that helping/changing the world? how is that furthering the great commission? I think we are essentially saying the same thing, we just use different words and they have different meanings to us.”

ME: Don't be confused, I totally understand what you are saying. The thing I didn't explore is exactly the thing that you did. To what are we being relevant?

I think it is the difference between being traditional and being progressive. Some churches are 100% tradition and absolutely no progress. These churches die as soon as enough of their members die. Some churches are 100% progress and absolutely no tradition. These churches will end up burning out or splitting mercilessly before long, they have no cement to hold things together. A "relevant" church will hold the doctrines and (some of the) traditions of Christianity but present them in a way that is fresh. The entire world works the same way. Sin has been around (just about) forever, but just like Salvation, it loses it's fervor after time and must be repackaged and re-marketed constantly. However, if it loses its essential message, if it becomes something different, it is no longer what it was and becomes irrelevant. So we agree on what "irrelevant" is.

But as you see with the example of all progress and no tradition, a drive to be relevant ends in disaster. It's the whole "in the world but not of the world" paradigm. We can dress, eat, listen to music, partake in social events, etc. like unbelievers, but the minute we become like unbelievers in the deeper sense, we are no longer relevant to them, we are them. So that's what I meant about the popularity thing. Relevance is essentially external. We'd like to be externally relevant, but if we allow the culture to get inside, we become the culture, then it's useless to try to outreach, because we have nothing to outreach with. We try to be understanding, but not partaking. The way to reach drug addicts is not to become addicted ourselves, see what I mean? But if we never touch or speak to an addict, then we can't reach them.

What do you think?”

LIZ: “hmmmm. I see what you are saying. It is a fine line- to be in the world, but not OF the world. I think its kind of a grey area- don't shout at me now!! but I think it's kind of grey! I think even reading the bible and praying every day won't give us 100% of "what would Jesus do?". Maybe for you it's easier to know, but a lot of times I don't. is it a sin to buy the $60 jeans instead of the bargain $15 ones? Not everything is clear. I also don't think wanting to fit in is a sin either, we all have a innate desire to be in a group- to be loved etc. I think wanting to be popular can be wrong too, but that too is a fine line, I guess when it becomes your primary goal, and not just that feeling we all have.... I used to be really black and white, but the older I get I see more grey. Things aren't always what they seem to be. But all of this is getting away from my point on being relevent. I think it's imperitative that we are. My parents are leading a small group for FBC with the kind of people I have a little trouble getting along with, but used to be like (that is: we never want kids and both of us are working full time to pay for our expensive house, cars, habits and vacations) and she is having trouble connecting to the wives. They have such the opposite goals in life that my mom has, and they are Christians. How should she relate? She wants to be relevant to them so she can connect to have a relationship. I've watched stupid TV with the girl I'm mentoring b/c she loves it... I don't tell her I hate it, but I'll point out stuff that isn't biblical, or try to tell her what the bible says on marriage...etc. So am I becoming like her so I have nothing to offer? Perhaps. I really hope not. I think your drug addicted case is pretty extreme and not relevant (ha ha ha!) to my case I was writing about in my blog. What do you think?? :)”

ME: “I too have become more of a grey person, not that I see things always as relative, but many things I choose not to take an opinion on.

So is it a sin to buy the $60 jeans instead of the $15 ones? Is it a sin to buy not the bargain ones but say maybe some higher quality $25 ones? Let's go deep and ask is it ok to buy an Escalade when a Corolla will do? Is it ok to buy a big expensive house when we don't need one? Is it ok to have that and then a large lake house and the Escalade as well? I ask because there are people in our church who do, and it is something that troubles me.

I guess here is where I'll have to disagree with you on relevance. I do not believe that it is imperative that we are relevant to the world's culture. I don't think we necessarily need to be, I think we need to be outreaching and outgoing. Outstretched hands cross all sorts of boundaries that clothes, music, cars, philosophies and TV don't. I'm not talking about fitting in here, but what is the reason that one must fit in? Fit in with what and how?”

LIZ: “…its not that I intensely disagree with anything you said, … I agree, its so much wiser just not to take a strong opinion on a lot of things. I actually like that we don't agree on this, I don' think you are wrong, I just don't agree with everything you say. Or... can I kind of agree, but agree with myself more????

I don't think its a sin to buy the $60 jeans when the cheaper will do. I don' think its wise, per se, but everyone has their weak point that CAN LEAD sin. I would totally get the $60 jeans IF they made me feel good. I know that sounds strange, but nice jeans can do that for you. Seriously. (this may be a guy/girl thing that will never be resolved)

Let me see if I can explain myself- I don't think explaining myself will cause you to suddenly agree with me, but this may better answer your questions at the end. I dont think one "must fit in", its a choice to do so. WHY you ask... well, I think it's the people in your life that you are trying to reach out to, some people have been so burnt by the church that if you reek of it they are turned off. I guess it's not my place to change a lot of that, but if I can show them it's my relationship with God and not the judging church, then I can reach them. I feel like I'm the only Jesus they see right now, (I don't mean that pridefully in ANY way) and its kind of sad b/c I'm not the best person at all for the job- but I'm the one there. I'm the one they are calling to hang out with, and if I turn things too often to spiritual things they are bored and turned off by me. I try to keep lines open by doing things they like with them, and then when they ask me, I can give them biblical advice, and tell them how God has worked in me... and is still working! I am trying to tell them they don't have to be perfect to receive love from God.”

ME: “Don't let me sound like I am judging you here because I am not. I think I need to explore the jeans a little bit more. I attempt to be a very efficient person, so when I purchase a pair of jeans, I weigh a few things. Firstly, are they the real thin kind that seem like they wouldn't last long? Are they comfortable? Are they socially acceptable? How much do they cost? (I accidentally bought a few pairs recently when I was thinking more about the money than comfort or looks and I hate all of them.) Of course because I'm a guy and not a girl, the "how does it make me feel" doesn't so much enter the equation, but that's ok.

But the reason why I ask the cost question is what bothers me. Now I may seem like the "on the cheap" kind of guy, but much more enters into it. I don't need to go into the whole economic analysis process for you, but you know that some things last longer than others, and they usually cost more too. I buy $8 per quart oil for our cars because it lasts 25000 miles and the engines run better for instance. But I've been wearing the same camouflage floppy hat for six years. Shop Toyota for cars, but Payless for shoes. Anyway, the thing that bugs me the most is I am wealthier than 97% or so of the rest of the world. I buy new clothes when others in the world kill stray pets for food. I heat the house to 68 when people shiver in the cold. I eat Sonic when others eat garbage. Now I know the people at South Church, given a change of attitude, some clothes and a haircut could be just fine, but three billion people live on less than $2 a day or something like that. And $20 billion would end world hunger.

So what's the answer to all this? I don't know, but it bothers me.”

LIZ: “aw, I don't feel judged. I'm just thinking more intraspectively.... (I hope I used that word correctly!)”

I don’t know what I was trying to communicate with putting this dialogue on here, but I guess the issues Liz and I talked about could be wondered about by other people. You, the reader, might be one of those people. Just know that other people think about things too. I had someone leave me a comment on this blog about how I made them uncomfortable. I say great. Jesus made everyone uncomfortable, even his twelve closest disciples. They only reason they didn’t leave him like the rest was because they knew he had the words of life, and nothing else in the world compared to that.

Be uncomfortable. Uncomfortable people make things happen in the world.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

How War Works with Muslims.

I think maybe Jesus was onto something with the whole "love your enemy" paradigm. As the past 60 or so years will attest, Muslims don't respond to war in quite the gentlemanly fashion that the US and other countries would like. They fight back, to the last man, woman, and child.

So what to do about them? First of all, realize that Islam is a religion of war and violence and revenge and realize that Christianity is not. Then fight fire with water. I know I am speaking Cantonese to some of you conservatives out there, but kindness actually works.

Jesus said so anyway.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Don’t Get a Water Heater with a Tank

I came home the other week and as I was wandering around the house looking for something and I noticed that the wall was leaking. Now it had rained the day before so I was not particularly surprised that there may be water dripping from certain places on the house. But as I walked back by, I noticed that there was a puddle on the concrete in the carport, and more interestingly, the carport was dry, as it doesn’t rain in the carport because the carport has a roof like most carports do. Upon further investigation, the water was dripping quite profusely and was warm.

Not so long story short, there used to be a water heater in that part of the house. There isn’t now. Moral of the story, don’t get a water heater with a tank.

For a long time, I’ve espoused the wonders of tankless water heaters. Having no (in actuality very little) tank, they don’t need to keep a bunch of water warm all the time on the off chance that you’ll be needing it. Think about it, you use hot water to shower once or so per day, your dish washer (be it you or your wife or that machine under your counter) needs hot water every day or so, and your washing machine may need it every day or so if you lean toward using hot water for washing. Characteristically, your tankie water heater is doing nothing but keeping water warm for about 22 and a half hours per day. There is no such thing as perfect insulation, so that means some of that heat is escaping into your house. My old tanked water heater had only a single inch of insulation, which means it was heating the utility room. Heating with electric resistance is inefficient as is using your air conditioner to remove that extra heat in the summer.

You may read past posts here where I had said I wanted a tankless water heater, I was just waiting for the old one to die, and what a grand exit it was. I’m gonna have to replace a bit of the subfloor in the utility room now. Who knows how much else I’ll have to fix. Anyway, my brand spanking new Seisco RA-28 came in the mail today, yes, you can send a water heater in the mail. It’s about the size of a briefcase, about 16x16x5 or so. The only snafu in installing tankless water heaters is the power requirement. My old 40 gallon electric water heater used at max 4500 watts, but all the time. It heated rather slowly because of the limited power usage. Though it works slightly faster, a gas water heater is the same way. The Seisco uses at max 28,000 watts. Of course it wont need that much all the time, it will only heat the water as much as is necessary at the time it is used. To install a water heater with such requirements means new power hookups for it because the old ones wont work. Herein lies the added cost, I had to buy 75 feet of #1 copper wire, and 50 ft of #8. That totals up to about $150 and add to that the heater itself at $750 and the rest of the wiring and conduit and plumbing and I’m looking at about $1000.

This may seem like a lot at first, but my little EPA sticker on my old water heater said that it would cost me over $500 a year just to operate. A tankless water heater is supposed to shave about 30% off that and I expect a bit more because I no longer have to push hot water 50 feet across the house through the cold crawl space. The water would lose about 20 degrees on the way, that’s a lot of energy wasted for a shower. So I’m expecting to save about $200 off that expected water bill per year, and that means that the tankless water heater will actually pay for itself in five years or so, not a bad investment by any means especially since it is expected to last for better than 20 years. Additionally, its functionality to be able to “top off” pre heated water will make it easy to install a solar water heater later on if I get the chance. Additional savings will come from our low flow faucets and ultra low flow (1 gallon per minute) shower head.

My calculations conclude that this water heater will be able to, during a shower, heat water from well below freezing to well above scalding temperature. I’ve accidently installed a valve on the hot water line to slow it down for running baths in case the heater can’t keep up with something like 6 gallons per minute that the tub faucet uses. It’s one of those ones with only a single valve so you can’t limit the flow if necessary. You see, a tankless water heater has a certain ability to raise a certain amount of water to a certain temperature at a certain speed, and a tub faucet is designed to drain a pre heated tank as quick as possible so I need to make them work together.

For your benefit, I am going to detail some of the install with pictures and descriptions here and of course, I’ll answer questions and give updates on energy usage after a month or so. After February’s power bill, I’m hoping to be able to make some adjustments to our energy usage. It was the highest in KWh’s per day since we’ve lived here. I did adjust the furnace to use less propane because that’s several times as expensive as using the heat pump so we are saving some money there.

Here is the installation, I won't add a whole bunch of useless details, it took about 7 hours to do. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section, I always answer comments.

Here's what the Seisco looks like right out of the box, I put my RAZR on it for a size comparison. About the size of a really thick square briefcase.

Here's what it looks like right out of it's own box, you can see the four chambers for the heating elements and the big wires that go to those, and you can also see the circuit board and all the sensors with white and yellow wires.

The pictures I have here are the ones taken after everything was done, so you can see that the wiring is finished. One thing I'd do differently is to use black wire instead of white because white is usually recognized as being neutral which is definitely not the case here.

The black oddly shapen little boxes are the relays when themselves run on 24VDC which I assume is made by the transformer to the left. The silver things underneath the wires that are hooked to the intake pipe are called TRIACs. They are kind of like switches for the less electrically enclined, they are bolted to the tube so the incoming water can cool them directly.

I used 3/4" flexible blue conduit with the snap in ends you can buy with it. They snap directly into the water heater side plate. To attach them to the wood wall plate, I used threaded ones, drilled a 1" hole and hand screwed them into the hole, they fit almost perfectly and look professional. When the wall around it is finished with drywall, it will fit in well.

Here is the subpanel I installed to handle the power, it is rated for 125 amps which is what it will handle, make sure you dont get the six space one that is identical but says you can't use the 7th and 8th spaces. I don't know why they are there if you can't use them. There are four 30 amp breakers, one for each heating element. The heater specs call for #1 copper wire to the box which is quite expensive especially since I bought 20 feet too much. I did the same thing here with the blue conduit, one end snaps into the box, the other end screws into the wood at the top of the wall the heater is mounted on. I used standard 1 1/2" gray pvc conduit to carry the thick wires to the main box.

Here you can see the 125 amp main breaker for the subpanel as well as the 200 amp main breaker for the house. Follow the directions, make sure your house can handle the load. For this heater, you need at least 200 amp service. This is no problem for a new house, but some older ones may have a problem.

This is what it looks like with the cover off. I had expected it to fit differently which is why the pipe ends are where they are. This actually works better however because there are no sharp bends in the hoses. I used 18" braided plastic hoses because they are black, very flexible and look good. I thought of using stainless ones but they cost about 50% more, and I thought they'd lose more heat.

Insert drywall around the edge of the wall plate here and it will be finished. This is about the cleanest installation of anything I've ever done. Not that anything else was dirty, I just wanted this to look as professional as possible for the sake of longevity and convincing others to do the same.

Here is the final result. Add drywall and it will be finished. It is very close to the shower which eliminates the vast majority of the heat loss between the utility room and the bathroom where the prime use of the hot water is. The pipes are also insulated and as I discovered yesterday, the pipes will stay warm for quite a while, I don't have to wait and dump a bunch of cold water in the bath when I am topping it off.

The shower works beautifully, though my wife and I have been very careful with it to get used to the new quirks of the system. Actually, the water gets warmer a bit more gradually, instead of just slamming us with the hot stuff.

One thing I did have a problem with last night was when running a bath, it just wasn't getting warm enough even when I turned down the flow. I thought this was very strange considering the shower only uses about 2/3 of a gallon per minute from the heater and it has no problems. I adjusted the temperature up on the control board and it fixed the problem even with a higher flow rate. I am not sure if the problem was the flow rate or the temperature of the incoming water (it snowed last night.) However, the problem was remedied with no issues resulting. I'll just add that to the "getting used to new technology" sheet.

One of the benefits I like especially is the fact that the heater doesn't even keep the water in the chambers very much heated. It maintains a slight temperature gradient between the various sensors, you can barely tell, it is maybe just a few degrees above room temperature. But the less heat there is, the less there is to be lost so this is a very good thing.

At the end of March when we get the power bill, I'll give you an update on how that goes. Until then I'll be enjoying my shower.