Two of Years of Living with a Tesla Model Y

I received my Tesla Model Y, Long Range version, two years ago and have driven it about 20,000 miles. It was one of the first batch of cars released as I had pre-ordered it as soon as it was announced. Current production vehicles have had some changes, but my comments should be relevant to anyone considering a Tesla.

Prior to getting the Tesla, I had a couple other electric cars. I had an early VW e-Golf. I loved this car, but its limited range (~100 miles) made it an “around town” vehicle. I also had (and still have) a 2016 Chevy Volt. Officially the Volt is a plug-in hybrid, but it has about 50 miles of all electric range so you only have to use gasoline for longer trips. Before those vehicles, I had a variety of gas cars, from pickup trucks to sporty turbo convertible. So I have a decent range of cars for comparison.

Before I go on, I should say that I’m a pragmatist – I buy vehicles for very practical reasons. I don’t care about brand loyalty. I am NOT a Tesla Fanboy but I do like their vehicles for many reasons.

Most of my driving these days consists of short trips, ranging from 10 to 100 miles per day. I also took several road trips from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts (~330 miles each way) and a long trip to South Carolina (~700 miles each way).

I am also participating in the Full Self Driving Beta program (henceforth referred to as FSDBeta). There have been many articles about Tesla’s “self-driving” capabilities, so I’ll keep my comments about that to things that I feel might be most relevant to actual purchasers of the car who are NOT part of the beta program – i.e. the general public.

Things I Love About the Tesla Model Y

Acceleration / Drivability

Every review of Tesla’s cars starts with raves about the acceleration. I’m not a performance driver. I don’t really care that it can go 0-60 in 4.1 seconds. Sure, that’s cool, but it’s not the way I drive. In fact, I almost always drive the car in “chill” mode, which makes the acceleration much smoother (i.e. slower). I find the normal mode to be too jerky, as it lurches forward as soon as you touch the accelerator. Some may like this but I prefer smoother acceleration.

That said, having great acceleration makes the car much safer than a typical gas engine car because the acceleration allows the car to be much more responsive. And the acceleration from an EV is more intuitive than that from a conventional gas car. You press the accelerator and the car goes faster. If you’re sliding into traffic on the highway, you simply step on the accelerator, and in a second, you’re cruising at the same speed as the rest of the traffic. In most gas cars, there are often those seconds of panic while you hope the car will go fast enough to avoid the traffic coming up from behind.

Once you’ve experienced the sheer drivability of an electric car, you’ll never want to return to a conventional gas car. It’s a night and day improvement. It’s the way driving should be. All my electric vehicles have had this benefit but the Tesla is in a category with sports-cars, while the other EVs I’ve had are simply “sprightly.”


The Model Y has been tested to be one of the safest vehicles ever produced.

The Model Y, like most EVs has a heavy battery pack, mounted low, which makes it much less likely to roll over than a conventional vehicle of this size. A lower center of gravity helps hold the car flat to the ground during turns and sudden swerves. There is none of the lean that you get with other cars.

The overall design of the car promotes safety. Lacking a large engine up front gives the front of the car a much large “crumple zone” to absorb impact during crashes. It also has an abundance of air bags to further improve safety. Fortunately, I’ve never had to test these features, so you can find more safety info in other reviews.

Space – Interior Layout

I’ve always liked practical cars with lots of storage space. The Model Y, in spite of its streamlined design, has ample interior room. Legroom and headroom are awesome. Cargo space is also exceptional with the additional “Frunk” (small trunk under the hood) as well as standard rear area with folding flat seats. There’s also another storage space under the rear storage area that’s large enough for me to store a few bags of groceries.

With the rear seats folded, the back area is large, though it’s not very high. You can easily fit a lot of luggage in there for a two-person road trip. I usually keep my golf clubs and pull-cart stashed in there without the seats folded down and still have enough room for a trip to Costco, which usually entails a giant shopping cart full of groceries, paper towels and toilet paper. Very convenient to have all that room!


I love the convenience of the Tesla app on my phone. At any time, I can see the amount of charge in the battery. I can close the windows if I forgot to do that. The car unlocks and locks automatically using my phone as a “smart key.” I now hate using cars that require keys. It just seems so much better to not have to think about remembering a key or having to remember to lock the car.

Another thing you can do is turn on the air conditioner or heating while you’re away from the car. This is a god-send on hot days. A few minutes before I get back to the car, I simply turn on the AC and it’s comfortable when I get in. No more scorching hot seats and suffocating air! The car also has a feature where it can turn on the climate automatically if it gets too warm in the car. It has another feature where it can keep the AC on and the interior comfortable so you can have pets in the car while the car is parked. When in this mode, it displays a message on the large screen to remind people that your pets are comfortable and safe in the car.


This is really a “convenience” feature, but also so much more!

With it’s long range (around 300 miles) the Model Y LR doesn’t require frequent charging, however most people will plug it in at home at night. This is one of the best features of EVs – you don’t have to go to the gas station anymore. Simply plug it in and it’s ready in the morning.

I installed a 230V charger in my garage for my previous EVs. However the Model Y came with a charger (it doesn’t any more) that can run on normal 115V or on 230V. I got adapters so that I can plug it in to a standard electric dryer outlet. This provides a full charge overnight from near empty.

If you don’t have the luxury of a 230V outlet, you can charge using a normal house plug. This is much slower, providing only a few miles of range per hour of charge, so you probably have to keep the car plugged in whenever you’re not using it if you want to maintain enough for a daily commute. When we went to South Carolina, we only had access to a standard outlet, but it worked out fine. I just kept the car plugged in when it wasn’t in use and had plenty of range for our short day trips. I’ve done the same thing on my trips to Massachusetts, though now I have access to a 230V dryer outlet in the garage of my family’s house, so I can charge pretty quickly there.

I also love the convenience of charging on the road. From where I live up to Massachusetts, there are Superchargers sprinkled around enough that I don’t have to think much about charging. Many of the rest areas along I95 have chargers that are fast enough to add the needed charge during a 15 minute “bio-break” or a longer lunch stop. For me, most of the time, I have to stop to relieve myself more often than I have to stop to charge so charging on road trips is actually more convenient than stopping for gas. The Tesla Supercharger network was the primary reason I purchased a Tesla.

However, the charging system isn’t always reliable. I’ll talk more about charging on the road in a later section.


As an energy geek, I think Tesla deserves much more praise for the efficiency of their vehicles. The Model Y is a much larger vehicle than my other EVs and yet it provides as many miles per kilowatt-hour (kWh) as them. And if you compare it to other electric vehicles currently being produced, the Model Y is vastly more efficient than most.

Think of this as the MPG for electric vehicles. Overall, I get more than 4 miles for every kWh of electricity used in average driving. Highway driving consumes more, giving about 3 to 3.5 miles per kWh. Put another way, it uses 0.25 kWh per mile.

For comparison, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, which is virtually a clone of the Tesla Model Y, uses around 0.4 kWh per mile, meaning you get only 2.5 miles for each kWh. That’s a HUGE difference in efficiency.

Tesla has created an entire power train and vehicle tuned for efficiency. The electronics are more efficient. The motors are more efficient. The software is more efficient. It’s in a class by itself.

This translates to fewer charging stops and lower operational costs. It’s one of the main reasons I bought a Tesla.

Auto-pilot (not Full Self Driving)

I’m breaking this into two sections. In this one, I’m only talking about the Auto-pilot feature (referred to as AP). However, while driving, the Tesla doesn’t tell you which mode you’re in, so I can’t 100% be sure which was operational so my comments may be slightly inaccurate.

Think of Auto-pilot as a smart cruise control. It maintains speed and keeps you in lane. This is a great feature for road trips. In fact, without it, I would have had a much harder trip home from South Carolina. It makes driving so much safer and more comfortable because it holds the lane far better than I normally do! It also pays attention better than me. A couple of times, it noticed that traffic was slowed ahead and beeped at me before I noticed. Without it, I might have rear-ended someone.

With AP/FSD, you still need to pay attention with your hands on the wheel. Every several seconds (something like 10-15), it reminds you to apply force to the steering wheel. If you don’t it harshly beeps at you and then disables it if you further ignore it. This is why most Tesla owners know that any recent reports of people sitting in the back seat or working on the computer while “driving” are fake. You simply can’t do this.

AP is best used on highways and well marked roads without a lot of sharp turns. Again, think of AP as a smart cruise control. It maintains a safe distance behind the vehicle in front and keeps you in lane (most of the time). It can also pass cars, switching lanes and accelerating, if the traffic in your lane is going substantially slower than your desired speed. I personally do not use this feature (like I said, I’m a conservative driver). I’ve found that usually, if the traffic ahead is slow, then adjacent lanes will be as well, so I don’t want the car changing lanes. That feature can be enabled or disabled as desired.

Over-the-air Software Updates

This feature is amazing. Every few weeks, my car gets software updates. And most of those recalls you hear about for Tesla – they’re almost always fixed by software updates, so calling them recalls is misleading.

Things I Don’t Love

Fit and Finish

Every Tesla review for early Model Y’s complains about the construction of the car. For a car in this price range ($60k+), the construction is sub-par. Panels don’t align perfectly. Plastic trim parts have popped out. It’s just weird.

My car, as delivered, was better than most. However, when you look closely, you notice stupid misalignments. And, like I said, having plastic pieces randomly pop out is unacceptable, especially for a car this expensive.

Inconsistent Supercharger Performance

Tesla claims most of its chargers work at 150+kW, and drivers count on this performance when planning road trips.

When the chargers are working at full speed, they’re wonderful. You plug the car in and come back 20 minutes later and you’ve got another 200+ miles of range. However, on my road trips, I found that many of the chargers were only charging the car at 50ish kW. This occurred regardless of whether there were others charging at the time (this can affect charging performance). 50kW is really too low a charging power for a road trip. Several times during our long trip to South Carolina, we had to charge for 45 minutes to over an hour in order to add 200 miles of range. Fortunately, most of these were at meal stops, so we just ate while the car charged. However, it was very apparent that charging was slow. If we had been on a deadline and didn’t have the liberty of waiting, we would have been out of luck.

Another issue we experienced only once is “ICE’ing.” – this is when gas cars intentionally park in front of an electric car charger, preventing EVs from using the charger. Fortunately, it was not at a Supercharger, but at a small charger in the development where we were staying.

For some reason, there are obnoxious people who like to do this. I don’t understand the mentality, but it exists and EV drivers need to be aware that there’s a chance that they won’t be able to charge their car because of this bad behavior. Very frustrating!

No Spare Tire

About Tesla’s “Full Self Driving”

There’s been an incredible amount of discussion in the press about Tesla’s Full Self Driving Beta program. It’s been split between “this is going to revolutionize driving!” and “Tesla is incredibly irresponsible for testing their software with live drivers!”

Now, I’m going to give you my take…

First, let me tell you about myself. Before I became an energy geek, I started a company that developed software for scientific digital imaging. Think Photoshop, but for scientists. This experience gave me years of experience working with video cameras and interpreting the images that come from them. It didn’t involve AI or anything like what Tesla is doing, but it allows me to provide an educated opinion on what they have done and are trying to accomplish.

FSD is supposed to provide the ability to safely drive the car with minimal human interaction. Think of the great benefits this would afford society. Accidents would be greatly reduced. Drunk driving could be essentially eliminated. Those with impairments that prevent them from driving would be given new freedom. And, insurance rates would drop because there would be so many fewer claims. Those are the aspirational goals of self driving cars. They are also the expectations of many people about FSD.

Tesla has achieved amazing things with their FSD Beta system. Under many conditions, the car can drive itself, holding in lane, stopping and going at traffic lights and stop signs. Making turns along navigated routes. It often “sees” things that I might have missed, like cars in the blind spots, pedestrians on busy streets, and so forth. However, as a Beta, it is necessary for the driver to maintain complete control and vigilance while in FSD mode.

Driving is incredibly complicated. Humans require considerable concentration in order to navigate safely. There are, literally, an infinite variety of situations that can arise. Potholes can be anywhere and are sometimes filled with water. How do you tell the difference between that and a puddle? People can run out into the street without looking. Other drivers can choose to ignore the rules of the road. The sun can blind you (or a camera). Roads can be under construction with or without flaggers. People can open car doors. Emergency vehicles can be stopped in the shoulder requiring the software to know that it has to change into the passing lane. And on and on.

In spite of this, the FSD Beta software does a remarkable job of driving. But, it is far from perfect. And near perfection is the only standard that will be acceptable in order for the software to be considered “ready for prime time.”

Many will argue that even an imperfect system will result in fewer traffic deaths than human drivers cause. This may be true, but psychologically, if an autonomous car’s mis-operation causes a death, there will be huge lawsuit public outcry to ban these vehicles will be a nightmare. Even if it’s only one death vs. tens of thousands of human driver caused deaths, people will demand the system be outlawed (they already are…)

Back to reality of the current FSD Beta software.

In my personal experience, I have found that overall, the FSD Beta software handles a lot of situations, as noted above. But the mistakes it makes are a deal breaker for its intended use and all such issues will have to be remedied before it is released to a wide audience of people who will expect it to be essentially perfect.

I respect what Tesla has done and is trying to do but it has a long way to go. Here’s some of the most glaring safety issues that I have personally experienced with FSD Beta in June 2022 version 2022.12.3.20:

  • It doesn’t drive along bends in the road properly, often crossing the center line in a way that could cause an accident if there was oncoming traffic.
  • It appears to be lacking “sanity checks” for speed limits. I have had it decelerate from 65 to 30 on a highway and have had it accelerate to highway speeds while on small roads with much lower speed limits.
  • It doesn’t avoid potholes at all and would drive through large ones that could break wheels, flatten tires or cause accidents.
  • It takes turns into roads where it couldn’t possibly see if there was oncoming traffic (such as where corners are obstructed by shrubs).
  • It has tried to pass vehicles that were stopped in the road. This occurred while waiting for a flagger at a construction zone and while cars were waiting for trash trucks and delivery vehicles.

There are also quite a few minor problems, such as braking for no apparent reason (called “phantom” braking), that make the experience less than ideal. Again, what they’ve done is amazing but I say that as a technologist. As a normal driver, I would find even the minor problems to be unacceptable.

I consider myself to be an excellent tester. I’m a conservative driver and monitor my surroundings and the car’s behavior carefully. I anticipate problem points and take over as soon as it appears that the car is doing something unsafe. For Tesla’s benefit, I think their testing group should be limited to people like myself who fully understand Beta testing and the limitations of the software.

Tesla is to blame for the bad press they’ve been getting. They’ve been “over-promising and under-delivering for years”. As a software developer, I personally consider the current software an “Alpha” or pre-Alpha version which should be tested by a small testing group with significant limitations. I definitely would not have permitted the press to evaluate the software, other than being passengers for a demo ride.

Hopefully, Tesla will remedy these issues and create a truly self driving car that lives up to the hype. Until then, they are still producing the best and most advanced electric vehicles on the road and I am more than satisfied with my Model Y.

Why I Bought a Used Chevy Volt

For the last few years, I’ve been closely (Evy would say “obsessively”) following the electric vehicle (EV) market, waiting for the “perfect” car. I wanted something compact yet spacious enough to haul my bike or golf clubs. It had to have good range, preferably enough so I could use it with only a single recharge when visiting my folks on Cape Cod. It should be comfortable. It couldn’t cost a fortune. Easy, right?

VW e-Golf had been my daily driver for the last couple years

I had been driving a Volkswagen e-Golf for the last couple years. A friend wasn’t using hers, so I took over her lease. I liked the e-Golf a lot, and would have bought it IF it had more range. But this was one of the early models with under 100 miles of range under the best of conditions, so it was unsuitable for road trips. That was fine, as 99% of the time, I’m only driving locally and could use Evy’s car for road trips.

The Kia Niro EV seemed to be my “perfect” car

But the time had come for me to get my own car. The Kia Niro EV looks like the perfect car for me. It is exactly the right size, has a range of about 250 miles. Supports fast charging for road trips. It looks sharp. Has a ton of cargo space and is priced competitively. BUT, it wasn’t yet on the market, and I wasn’t willing to wait for it to come to Pennsylvania. Scratch that off my list, darn it!

The Hyundai Kona EV was my backup…

The Hyundai Kona Electric, the sibling of the Kia Niro was my second choice. It’s smaller than the Niro but still has ample cargo capacity. Since it shares the drive-train with the Niro, it’s peppy and has even more range (since it’s smaller). It’s similarly priced (mid $30’s before $7500 tax incentive). But again, it isn’t available widely yet. Plus, dealers have been marking it up well above MSRP, and I refuse to support price gouging. So back to the drawing board.

Tesla’s Model Y AWD is my “aspirational” car but it won’t be available for a long time

Then Tesla announced the Model Y, their compact SUV. The Model Y checks all the boxes for me except it’s a little larger than I wanted. It’s also more expensive. But it looks like a great vehicle. It has a range of up to 300 miles. Since it will use the Tesla supercharger network, there are plenty of charging stations along the i95 corridor, so I could drive anywhere around here conveniently. A big plus is it’s available in an AWD version, which is a big plus for Evy, who is a Subaru AWD die-hard. Even better, Tesla’s (poorly named) auto-pilot feature and top safety ratings make it desirable for longer trips. Finally, Tesla has a big head start on all the other car manufacturers so their cars are several generations ahead. Unfortunately, the Model Y won’t be on the market for a couple of years (at least!) Darn you Tesla for teasing me so!

Because I really wanted to get a car ASAP, I starting looking at used vehicles. I knew I didn’t want another first generation EV because their ranges were too short. A used Tesla was too expensive. What to do? What to do?

The Chevy Volt – an EV disguised as a Hybrid

After doing a lot of research, and checking used car prices, I decided that the Chevy Volt was the vehicle for me. Here’s why:

  • It runs ~50 miles on batteries alone, making it perfect for local travel.- As a hybrid, it has unlimited range (just like a regular hybrid) and gets good gas mileage (42 mpg) making it suitable for road trips.
  • It’s compact without being tiny.
  • You can buy used 2nd generation (2016-) with low mileage for around $20,000
  • It has decent cargo space with the rear seats folded down.
  • It’s comfortable as long as you don’t sit in the rear seats!

As luck would have it, a local Chevy dealer had a spotless Volt with modest miles on the odometer. They were selling it for a good price so I grabbed it.

I should note that Chevy recently announced that they were discontinuing the Volt, so I think dealers are moving them off their lots. Who wants a discontinued car? Me!

Why is the Chevy Volt Much Better than a Conventional Hybrid?

The first thing people ask is: “why not get a plug-in Prius or other plug-in hybrid? The answer is, basically, they suck as electric cars. Every other plug-in hybrid uses it’s gasoline engine at the same time as the electric motors in order to generate a useful amount of power. They were designed as conventional hybrids where the gas engine always runs. When they converted them to plug-in hybrids, which are just hybrids with larger batteries and a mode that turns off the gas engine, they neglected to give them powerful enough electric motors. These things are downright pokey in electric only range!

The Chevy Volt is what’s called a “serial hybrid.” Instead of using the gas engine to power the wheels directly, it’s used only to generate electricity to charge the batteries. The batteries, in turn, power the electric motors. The generator (gas engine) can also feed electricity directly to the motors. The electric motor is the primary drive and has to be powerful enough to do the job of accelerating up to highway speeds and pass safely. The Volt does this admirably. And, while it’s no Tesla, it leaves all the plug-in hybrids in the dust.

Here’s how the Chevy Volt’s drivetrain works

The downside is that it still has a gas engine, so the system lacks the utter simplicity of a completely electric car. But for $20,000, it’s a great vehicle. It’s been on the market for a number of years, so Chevy dealers know how to service it. And, as the battery capacity diminishes over time (they all do), it will still be useful because the battery is much larger than a conventional hybrid.

Is the Chevy Volt perfect? No, but no car is. The rear seats are definitely “child sized.” They have decent legroom but the headroom is pathetic. Evy whacked her head on the roof as she entered the rear seat. Ouch!
The cargo space with the rear seats up is enough for groceries, but not big enough for my golf clubs, so mostly I drive with the seats folded down, figuring no passenger would want to sit back there anyway!
Acceleration, while good (~8 seconds), is not blistering. But I’m not a motor-head, so that doesn’t bother me. It’s at least as good as other cars I’ve driven. But acceleration fanatics will find it lacking.
Hybrid gas mileage could be better. Modern hybrids are getting more than 50mph, so the Volt’s 41mpg seems low. I won’t know the “real” mileage until I take a road trip since I drive it 100% on electricity now (infinite MPG!!!) I’ll report back after my first trip.

Overall, the Chevy Volt is a great “gateway” vehicle. It runs very nicely in electric mode, but you have none of the “range anxiety” you have with other electric cars. You just drive it normally and burn no fuel. Until you drain the batteries and the gas engine kicks in. This type of every-day normalcy makes it ideal for those who are looking at having a very eco-friendly vehicle without worrying about “will I get there?” And at their current used-car prices, they’re a “best buy” that I’d recommend for anybody looking to test the electric car waters.

(UPDATED 2018): Why I can no longer recommend Fujitsu mini-split heat pumps

This article has been updated as of January 2018.

Readers, please note that the original article referred to the original line of inverter mini-splits manufactured by Fujitsu. Over the years, many of you have echoed these comments regarding premature system failure and inadequate manufacturer’s support leading to extremely expensive repairs and replacements.

Subsequently, Fujitsu has gone through at least two generation updates to this line of products. They have also updated their warranty policies, indicating a greater confidence in their products.

I have also been told by several installers that the new Fujitsu units are considered tops in the field.

Given these changes, I change my rating of Fujitsu to “Neutral.” I cannot personally recommend them because I have no first hand experience with them recently. However, I do not wish for people to be discouraged from installing their new units.

If you have first hand experience with the new line of Fujitsu mini-split heat pumps, please contribute to the discussion.

Thank you!

(original posting from 2014 follows)

Sadly, I can no longer recommend Fujitsu due to their unacceptable support and warranty policies.

Poor product durability eliminates all cost savings gained from efficiency

A home’s heating system is a capital expenditure. That is, it’s considered a long term investment in your home. Typically, you figure that it will last 15-20 years with some cost for maintenance. And generally, that’s conservative. How many of you still have heating systems in your homes from the 1970’s or 80’s? In general, these systems are very durable. Unfortunately, with the Fujitsu mini-split heat pump, this has not been the case. Continue reading

Initial impressions of the CREE 60w Warm White LED Bulb

Having received the just released CREE 60w warm white LED bulb, I wanted to get you my impressions ASAP since many of you are already asking about this ground-breaking bulb.

The vital stats:

  • Manufacturer: CREE
  • Cost: 6-pack, $74.82 at = $12.47 each.
  • Brightness: 60w equivalent – 800 lm
  • Consumption: 9.5 Watts
  • Efficiency: 84.2 lm/W
  • Life: 25,000 hours
  • Usage: Indoor/outdoor
  • Dimmable!
  • Assembled in the USA
  • Lead free / Mercury free

For comparison, an incandescent bulb has:

  • Cost: 4-pack, $6.00 on Amazon (Philips name-brand bulb). Sylvania are close to $0.50/bulb.
  • Brightness: 860 lm
  • Consumption: 60 Watts
  • Efficiency: 14.3 lm/W
  • Life: rated 1,000 hours

Operational costs?

Based on simple lifetime cost, the LED lasts 25x as long as the rated life of the incandescent and is roughly 25x the cost of the inexpensive Sylvania bulbs, so by that measure, these are the “same cost.” However, that doesn’t figure in inconvenience of having to replace the incandescent 25 times, going to the store, or paying for the electricity! It doesn’t take a physicist to see that the CREE LED bulb is the big winner.

For the 25,000 life of the bulb, the CREE saves 1262 kWh or electricity. That’s a LOT of energy savings! How much? That’s about a month of your home’s entire electric usage. Compare that with your electric bill and you’ll immediately estimate your cost savings. For me, this electricity costs about $200. 

Subjective comparison

The bulb feels different from any other bulb. It must have some sort of rubberized coating on the translucent housing. It almost sticks to your hands. In fact, I felt the urge to wash my hands after touching it. Very strange. The positive thing about this is that you’re not going to drop this bulb., unlike normal glass, which is slippery.

I immediately replace the bulb in my desk lamp, which is an old CFL. That works fine once it warms up, but it always seems to be a dim yellow for the first 10 minutes, by which point, I’m about to leave the room. Note however that I strongly recommend that you use this in fixtures with good reflectors on the back surfaces. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of light that doesn’t reflect off the back of the fixture. I learned this the hard way in my downlights (recessed light fixtures). Standard incandescent flood lights have internal mirrored surfaces to project the light forward. These LED lights are omni-directional, so you’ll waste a lot of their light output if they’re used in fixtures without good reflectors.

The CREE, being an LED light, is essentially instant-on to full brightness – very nice.

As for the color, it does appear to be a “warm white.” If you don’t tell someone that it’s an LED, they probably wouldn’t know, which is exactly the effect they’re looking for. In fact, combined with the shape of the bulb, I’m guessing that the only way one would know that this isn’t a regular bulb is when you dim it. Incandescent bulbs grow very warm at lower dimmer settings, whereas LEDs maintain their color temperature throughout the range or brightness.

The next replacement was in one of the downlights in my bathroom. These are particularly important because you want to maintain a neutral skin-tone. Nobody wants to look in the mirror and see a strange skin tone! In this case, the yellowish cast is definitely noticeable compared to the incandescent. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s quite obvious.

I then replaced the LED in my closet, which was a bright blue (my wife says it looks like s dentist’s office or something). The change in color was very apparent – definitely yellowy. I’m not sure it I like it or not. It’s definitely “warmer” but perhaps not as natural. I need to try some of the whiter versions of the CREE bulb which is supposed to be off-white. Here’s a comparison photo:

Which is which?

Which is which?

The container is very white while the counter tiles are almond. The photo was taken using the camera with manual white balance that is tuned for incandescent bulbs, so it will make the incandescent image look as white as can be. If you used a spectrophotometer, you’d get a more accurate image. However, it’s not how you’d perceive the colors.

Looking at the color spectrum, I found what would be expected, the light from the LED bulb consists of three distinct peaks – red, green and blue, whereas the incandescent is a smooth spectrum. In theory, you should be able to come up with a close color match using the three primaries, but contrary to popular opinion, you will not be able to perfectly match the color produced by a continuous spectrum source.

Perceptually, these images are a fairly close match to what I was seeing. Pretty good colors but not exactly what I’m used to. Your mileage may vary!

Here’s a striking comparison between the LED and the CFL using my desk lamp. Again, I kept the white balance on the camera set to “incandescent”, meaning a pure white would match an incandescent (which really isn’t white, but it’s what we perceive as white in our ordinary indoor experience).

Using the same camera settings, the LED is much closer to an incandescent

Using the same camera settings, the LED is much closer to an incandescent

Keep in mind that perception changes our reality. The CFL doesn’t really look that yellow, because our brain tries to color balance things. However, the camera is good at showing things without this bias. The main take-home message is that the LED bulb is a vastly better match for what we normally think of as household lighting.

As you try out different bulbs, let us know what you think. The CREE, at only around $10 has broken new ground for quality and efficiency.  It’s well worth a try.

The Energy Geek Video 3: Ultra Efficient Heat Pump Review

I bumped this back up to top of the list since it’s one of the most popular posts I’ve ever done. I also just had the misfortune of losing ALL THREE indoor units during a recent storm and power surge that killed appliances all around my development. Argh! However, they’re up and running again, good as new.

I love these heat pumps! There’s one in the bedroom, one in the basement “party room” and one in the large, living room that’s full of windows – a space that has been uncomfortable for years.

After installing these systems, I don’t know how we dealt without them before. The summer comfort is waaay better than ever. And in our basement room, I turned off the main heating system and used the Fujitsu exclusively all winter.

Keep in mind that this is one special little unit. There are many mini-split systems on the market that look like this, but most of them are barely half as efficient as this one. They’re just not in the same league.

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Energy Geek Video – New CREE CR6 LED Downlight Replacement

The CREE CR6 is the latest in a line of energy efficient LED lights made by CREE. This light addresses some of the issues of the earlier lights, allowing dimming down to 5% and having a compact, light-weight package at about half the cost of earlier models.

It draws only 10.5 Watts yet produces as much light as a 65W incandescent bulb, so it’s definitely an energy saver. That’s a 55 lumen/Watt rating, putting it in the same ballpark as a normal CFL spiral bulb. But the fair comparison is with dimmable fluorescent downlights. Those range from 40 to 50 lm/W, so on average, you get 10%-25% more light from the CREE than you would the equivalent fluorescent.

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Pharox Dimmable LED Bulb

Pharox 300 Dimmable LED

Just got a Pharox 300 dimmable LED bulb after my nephew (thanks Jason!) reported success with his. Guess what? It actually works as advertised! The thing dims right along with a conventional incandescent bulb – finally!

This is a standard Edison bulb, so you can use it in just about any fixture. The light is bright white and it stays that way as it dims. I know we’re all used to the dull yellow-orange light from an incandescent as it dims, so seeing a dim white might at first be a little disconcerting but over time, I suspect people will get used to it.

The Pharox is surprisingly bright for a bulb that only uses 6 watts. Remember that the output of LEDs is somewhat directional, so you’ll get the most light if you use this in a desk lamp that points towards your work surface or put it in a light fixture above you that’s pointing down. In this application, it works really well.

The dimmability is really impressive. I’ll have to do a video showing how it dims along with a conventional bulb. I’ve never seen an efficient bulb work this well. Every other one that I’ve used cuts out after it dims just a little bit but this one actually provides useful dimming. Very cool!

I’ve ordered another four to try in more fixtures around the house. At under $30, they may seem expensive (ok, they ARE expensive) but they’re a steal compared to other high quality LED bulbs. And for the energy savings, you’ll pay it back in a year if you put some in the kid’s rooms!

I’ll do more reports about it when I get some longer term tests. But for now, it’s definitely worth a try!

Other Pharox Resources

Pharox website review

KK Cool Tools review

LED Insider – review of an older version of the bulb

1 Green Product – News and reviews. One of the longer reviews of the Pharox

The Energy Geek Video 2: LED Recessed Light Retrofit

A lot of people ask me about recessed lights, so I put together this video so you could see some of the pros and cons of the best LED light I’ve ever seen.

The CREE LR6, LED based recessed light retrofit is the current one to beat. It’s simply amazing. It turns on instantly, it supplies high quality light and it’s built like a tank. Watch the video for the full scoop!

*Update: 3/13/2011*

After reading some other reviews, I decided to purchase several CREE CR6 retrofits. You can get them on the Home Depot website for $50 and they’re supposed to be dimmable down to 5% as opposed to 20% for the CR6. So there’s some hope for a good dimmable retrofit bulb.

I’ll do another video comparing the two once I’ve had a chance to play with the CR6.

CREE also has a number of other new lights that I wasn’t aware of. The new LR6 puts out 50% more light for the same amount of watts for a luminous efficacy of 80 lm/W

Other posts and sites covering the Cree LR6

Consumer Reports – preview of the CREE CR6

CREE 6″ downlights page – The official CREE page on all their downlight products. Dimmable to 20%

CREE CR6 page – The official CREE page on the CR6 “low cost” LED light. Dimmable to 5%.

CREE LR6 page – The official CREE page on the LR6. Dimmable to 20%

Dave Hultin blog post – The CREE LR6 – A Beautiful Light!

Dave Hultin blog post – The CREE LR6 – It Really is That Good!

GreenTex Builders – Commercial builder’s perspective on the CREE LR6

House+Earth – LED Lighting – CREE LR6 & CR6 Can Lights

Inside Solid-State Lighting – CREE LR6 Downlight Replacement

Ranch Remodel – A real homeowner’s blog about remodeling their ranch with CREE LR6 lights


Mini-review: Bosch Ariston 4-Gallon Point-of-use Water Heater

Does it take a long time for hot water to get to your sink? Do you think that it’s wasteful to run the water for a minute or two just to be able to wash your hands? Have you thought about installing a recirculation system for instant hot water? If so, this unit might be for you.

I had all these issues in my kitchen because the kitchen water run is quite a distance from my main water heater. So we just got used to washing our hands in cold water. And if we had to rinse some dishes and some needed hot water, we would turn the hot water on full and wait…and wait…and wait until some hot water came out the faucet. I knew there had to be a better way.

For years I’d researched water recirculation units and found one, the Chillipepper, which people seemed to really like. However, I have granite counters and no convenient place to drill a hole for the power switch. I also have other fixtures on the kitchen water line and I didn’t want my wife to have to remember to push a button and wait for hot water. Finally, because I have long pipe runs from my water heater, this still wouldn’t solve the problem of wasted energy because gallons of hot water would be left in the pipes.

After doing some calculations and determining that any solution using the main water heater would waste several times as much hot water as a point-of-use unit, I broke down and bought one of these mini-water heaters.

Our house has a utility closet in the basement that is directly under the kitchen, so I mounted the unit in there. Plumbing was easy for me, but I’ve done a lot of plumbing work. Most people would need to hire a plumber to install the unit. But because of its size, installation is a snap.

Some people will plumb the cold water intake to the heater from the hot water feed to this part of the house. There’s some logic in this, in that if you need lots of hot water, this heater can provide quick water for hand washing but if you need more water, it flows into the tank and provides you with a much greater supply than this little heater can provide. However this still leads to a lot of wasted energy because you’re leaving all that hot water in the long pipes every time you use a little water to wash your hands.

Instead, I chose to connect it to the cold water supply. My logic was that the kitchen sink really should not be used for long washing sessions. rinse a stubborn dish or wash your hands and that’s it. I also had an ulterior motive – if there was only a few gallons of hot water available, it would force my family to use less hot water. Additionally, our washing machine is on this water circuit, and I prefer washing in cold water but my mother-in-law, who likes to come over and do our laundry (don’t ask!) is old-school, and insists on setting the washer to ‘hot.’ Now she gets the satisfaction of thinking she’s washing in hot, but I know the water heater can only supply a few gallons of hot, so it ends up providing the first few gallons of hot water for the primary rinse, but after that, it can’t keep up with the demand. I consider this a bonus energy saving!

The unit uses normal 110v house current, so you just plug it in a nearby outlet. However, I would recommend a dedicated circuit or one that doesn’t have other heavy loads on it because electric water heaters pull a lot of juice. If the water heater turns on at the same time as you’re toasting some bread, you’ll blow a circuit breaker. So make sure you plug it in an outlet on a circuit that is lightly used.

As far as heaters go, this is an attractive unit. As you can see in the picture, it has a white plastic case. Nothing special, but not just an ugly metal box like most. But really, it goes in a utility closet, so they could have painted it any color they wanted and I wouldn’t have cared!

Does it Work?

The main question is: does it work? The answer is “yes,” up to a point. We can now wash our hands and run the dishwasher (which has it’s own super-water heater built-in). As noted above, it also provides hot water for our front-loader washing machine, but because of its limited capacity (four gallons in this case) it won’t provide a lot of hot water. You can wash for a minute or two before the water runs luke-warm then cold. This can be a plus or a minus depending on your needs. I know some people would find this objectionable. But that’s just the way these things work. They enforce water conservation and force you to change the way you use hot water. If you don’t like this, then a small point-of-use water heater is not for you!

Energy Savings

Like all good geeks, I measured the actual electricity use of the water heater. Because it just plugs in an electrical outlet, I plugged it into my kill-a-watt meter, and make daily measurements to see how much energy it is actually using. I’ve been very pleased with the results so far.

Under normal usage – rinsing a few dishes and regular hand washing in the kitchen sink, it consumes 1.5 to 2.0 kWh of electricity per day. This is about 1/3 the electricity that would be required if I used the main electric water heater and just “lost” the heat in the pipes every time I used the sink. On laundry days, this consumption increase by about 2-3 kWh (about 20 gallons of hot water). So we’d still be better off always washing in cold water, but some habits die hard….

Conservatively, I project that for my family, with it’s modest hot water needs, this unit is saving me about 4 kWh per day (about 25 gallons of hot water). That may not sound like much, but over the course of a year, that’s 9,000 gallons of hot water and about 1,400 kWh of electricity. For most people, that’s a full month of electricity saved every year. In my area, that’s a saving of $232! I’ve checked on, and this water heater cost $169 when I wrote this article, so it pretty much pays for itself in the first year if you install it yourself. If you hire a plumber, it may take a couple years to pay off. And, I haven’t included the ecological and financial cost of the water you’re saving.

Addendum – this is not an “on-demand” water heater

To avoid confusion, I should add that this is not an on-demand water heater. On-demand water heaters use much more powerful heating elements to heat water on-the-fly. They provide an infinite supply of hot water because they heat water as needed. The Ariston water heater is just a miniature storage tank water heater. So it’s the same as a conventional water heater, but tiny.

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Note on my Amazon store

Like any informed consumer, it probably raises red flags when you see someone reviewing an item then potentially profiting from it. I couldn’t agree with you more. For years, I refused to profit from any of the products I’d recommend to my clients for fear of conflict of interest. But then my wife convinced me otherwise. She said “you’re recommending these products because you buy them and believe in them, not because somebody is paying you to do it. How does it compromise your principles by gathering the products you recommend into one convenient place?” How could I argue with that logic?

So now, whenever I find a cool product, most of which I’ve purchased for my own use, I look it up on Amazon. I check the reviews and make sure that the actual seller seems legit and then add it to my “store.”  I don’t really have a real store. It’s just a convenient way of pulling together the products I’ve found and like.