Condo Blues

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Why Solar Panels Won’t Work Year Round in Central Ohio

Recently I was discussing how to reduce city energy costs on an online forum. A user offered the opinion that once everyone had converted to producing electricity using only solar and wind energy that we would end our dependency on fossil fuels forever. Many others chimed in, everyone agreed solar, and wind for everyone is the way to go.

Great idea until I looked out my window and saw this.

The branches and what's left of leaves on the tree in my front yard are encased in ice from an ice storm

I noticed that the person who offered this opinion was from Costa Rica, where they have sun in abundance.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How to Make a T Shirt Quilt

My mom decided she wanted to declutter her house. Unfortunately, that meant that she was going to clutter up my house with a bunch of boxes of my childhood stuff.

Try as I might I could not convince her that it was a far better use of storage space if she kept those boxes rather than me. No dice.

I eventually went through the boxes and found a ton of old t-shirts. I was in a boatload of clubs, plays, service days, etc. in high school, college, and adulthood. If I wanted to commit a fashion faux pax and wear nothing but those t-shirts every day, I wouldn’t have to do laundry for about, oh, 3 months.

I really needed to thin the t shirt herd. I donated some of the shirts to a thrift store. But, I’m a softie. There were some shirts that I didn’t want to give up even though I wasn’t going to wear them again.

What to do? I decided when life gives you T shirts – make a quilt!

So I did.


I’m not a quilter. In fact, this t-shirt quilt is my first real quilting project.

Note: Please don’t feel intimidated by this project! Some of the quilting sites I checked while researching this project made me feel like there were tons of rules and “you musts” when making a simple t-shirt quilt. Some of those Quiltzillas made me feel like this project was way too hard and I’ve been sewing since I was 5 years old! A t shirt quilt is a good beginning sewing project because it can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it.

A t-shirt quilt also makes a great graduation gift or a gift for someone who participates in local sports, clubs, or just has lots of t shirts.

Make a T-Shirt Quilt the Easy Way!

You will need:

A 12 x 12 inch piece of paper/plastic/cardboard to use as a template

Rotary cutting wheel & a self healing mat


Sewing machine



Backing material (I used a flat jersey top sheet like this one)

Quilt batting or a thin blanket (optional)

Disclosure: I have included affiliate links in this post for your convenience. 

Make it:

1. Center the template on the t shirt design and cut a 12 x 12 inch square from each t-shirt using the scissors or rotary cutter and mat.
  • Depending upon the size and design of the shirts you are using you may be able to get two squares from each shirt if you cut a square from both the front and the back of the t shirt.
  • If you have some large t shirt scraps leftover you may be able to cut them into squares and use them as dust clothes or hem the edges and make handkerchiefs from them, or cut them into long strips and braid them into dog or cat toys.
  • For each size quilt you will need approximately the following number of squares for the following size t shirt quilts.
    - Twin = approximately 45 squares
    - Full = approximately 63 squares
    - Queen = approximately 72 squares
    - King = approximately 81 squares
2. Lay out squares out on the floor and arrange them into columns and row.
  • For each size quilt you will need approximately the following number of squares for the following size t shirt quilts.
    - Twin = 5 rows wide x 9 rows long
    - Full = 7 rows wide x 9 rows long
    - Queen = 8 rows wide x 9 rows long
    - King = 9 rows wide x 9 rows long
  • To keep the quilt from being too busy I tried to alternate a printed shirt front square with a blank shirt back square.
  • Now is the time to get creative! For example, I used red and white t-shirts to make a St. George’s Cross on my quilt.
3. Once you have the t-shirts laid out in the pattern you like. Pin the t-shirt squares together into columns that are nine blocks long.

4. Sew blocks together to form columns.
5. Pin the columns together.
  • It’s a good idea to put the pinned together quilt together on a bed to check that it will be the desired size. If not add or subtract rows/blocks as needed.

6. Sew the columns together.
  • Press the seams between the squares opened if desired. My mom taught me to always press my seams open when I sewed. So that’s what I do. I think it looks neater and helps me avoid the,”Oh my God Lisa - I taught you better than that!" speech.
  • If you don't press your seams open you probably won't get this speech from your mother.
7. Make a quilt sandwich. Pin the top of the quilt to the backing fabric right sides together. If you are using batting, layer the optional batting/thin blanket on top of the backing fabric.

8. Sew all of the layers together along three and a half sides of the quilt.

9. Remove the pins, turn the quilt right side out, and press the seams. Again, because that’s how Mom taught me. And again, it’s a good way to avoid The Speech.

10. Sew the opening closed by either by hand or by machine.

11. Finish the quilt so that the layers will not shift while you’re using it or when you wash it.
  • Hand Quilt Method - The easiest way to finish the quilt is to you can tie the layers together at each square with yarn, ribbon, or crochet thread.

  • Machine Quilt Method - I sewed down each column and then sewed a crossed each row. I like this look better but it was difficult because I have an older sewing machine that doesn’t have a lot of room around the sewing arm when I was trying to finish the inside of such a big quilt.
  • has more detailed information on how to finish a quilt. This site has great information although I think they make it sound a little more complicated than it was.
  • It helps if you wash and iron the t-shirts before you cut them into squares.
  • If you find that your sewing machine doesn’t sew t-shirt material easily, you can back each square with interfacing to prevent it from stretching.
  • Instead of using interfacing, do what I did and back each square with a second square of t-shirt material with the grain of the material in the opposite direction.
  • For a fancier look you can use a contrasting material around each square/the quilt as sashing/border/binding.

If you don’t think you’ll have the time or gumption to finish this project, don’t sew, or just don’t want to make it yourself consider contacting stitch’T. They are a cool company that makes t-shirt quilts using your own t shirts!

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Would You Use a Toilet Lid Sink?

Here’s an interesting way to save water in the bathroom. Replace your traditional bathroom sink with a toilet lid sink for washing your hands after doing, uh… you know bathroom activity.

The toilet lid sink connects to the same water pipe that feeds a regular bathroom sink with clean water. After hand washing the faucet shuts off automatically and the dirty water drains from the sink into the toilet tank reservoir for later flushing. That’s where the water saving part comes in because you are using greywater to flush your toilet.

The toilet lid sink is about the same price as a basic no frills conventional bathroom sink.

There are a few drawbacks. Some report that the toilet link sink may not fit on nonstandard toilet tanks. Others say that the water can be cold in winter because the sink only has one spigot and it is not temperature controlled.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How to Heat a Room using Passive Solar Heat in Winter. Works Anywhere!

My bedroom has a pitched ceiling. It was a selling point and I thought it was a very nice feature when I bought The Condo. That is until I tried to heat the bedroom because, well, heat rises. Now of course I could replace the bedroom chandelier with a ceiling fan and run the blades in reverse during the winter to pull the warm heated air from the pitched ceiling to the lower part of the room where the people live. That’s a very good idea if it weren’t for one thing.

I find almost all ceiling fans with lights horrific and UUUUUUUUUUGLY!

I wanted to heat the bedroom up in winter but I was hesitant to use a space heater to do it. Since I was trying to reduce The Condo’s use of electricity, I really didn’t want to use an electric space heater. I didn’t want to use a propane or kerosene space heater either. I didn’t want an accidental case of hot burning Pekingese on my hands if you know what I mean.

Instead, I tried using the free passive solar space heater that I already had – opening the curtains on the bedroom windows. According to Build It Solar:

“Windows are very good solar collectors -- they are just as efficient as a commercial solar collector you might add on your roof, and can be less expensive and less complex to install. No ducting or plumbing required.”

In addition to opening the curtains, Building it Solar also suggests adding some shading to the Passive Solar Heating System, I mean, Open Curtains on My South Facing Windows. They say:
  • “Adding some form of insulating thermal shade to the window will greatly reduce night heat loss. While windows are very good collectors, they do lose a lot of heat at night, so some form of insulating shade is very important to reduce night losses.
  • You should include some means to shade the window during the summer. Unwanted solar gain through an unprotected south facing window during the summer can aggravate cooling problems. There are many ways to provide shading.”

I didn't install any of the complicated (and ugly) outdoor awnings or shade screens that Making It Solar suggests on my windows. Instead, I made two insulated roman shades and put them up on tension rods in my bedroom windows. They work just fine. 

Why do the solar energy advocates have to make using passive solar heat so complicated? Yeesh.
I was very skeptical that opening the curtains on the south facing windows of The Condo would help heat up the bedroom. Sure, I sealed the air leaks on my double paned windows. That wasn’t the problem.

The problem, I thought, is that we don’t get that much sunlight in Central Ohio, especially during the winter. In Columbus, 51% of the days of the year are overcast – the same amount of sunlight that they get in Inverness, Scotland. And they aren’t exactly known for their balmy weather or big solar farms.

But, hey, the price was right – free – so I tried it. My bedroom is on the second floor of The Condo, so I didn’t have to worry about peeping neighbors or burglers. I opened the curtains on the south facing bedroom windows in the morning before Husband left for work. I let the sun shine in during the day and kept the bedroom door open to let the air circulate around the room (and I’m kinda lazy about closing that door anyway.) I closed the curtains in the evening around 6:00 or so – when I finished work.

So did it work? You tell me. Blitzkrieg by his very nature, seeks out the warmest places in The Condo during the winter, usually on the first floor or in the second floor computer room. Guess where he’s hanging out now?

That’s right. In the now much warmer solar heated master bedroom.


Yes, opening my curtains and shades and using this freebie passive solar space heater did heat up the bedroom, despite the pitched ceiling. So much so that I didn’t have to even think about buying a space heater to use in the bedroom as long as I remembered to close the curtains and lowered the insulated shade at night to keep in the heat.


During the summer, I keep the roman shades down and the curtains closed on the bedroom windows to keep the hot summer sun from heating up the bedroom too much.

It worked. In Ohio. Who knew?!

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Friday, January 16, 2009

How to Keep Water Pipes From Freezing

Like most of the country, we are experiencing some cold weather. Make that very cold weather. Like it’s going to be 5 degrees below zero with a wind chill factor of twelve degrees below zero at night kind of cold weather. Brrr.

With weather like that we don’t want the water pipes in The Condo to freeze. We’re following the advice we got from the evening news. We are letting a small steady drip of water run from the faucets with plumbing that’s on the outside walls of The Condo. They also suggested that you open the cabinet doors under those sinks so the room heat can reach the pipes and keep them from freezing. So far, it’s working.

One caution that goes with keeping the cabinet doors open all day is that you might have to worry about small children or pets getting into the harmful cleaners that you may have stored underneath your sink. Well, here’s another unexpected surprise I got when I switched to using environmentally friendly baking soda and vinegar to clean The Condo (yeah, I know. I thought it was weird but it worked, who knew?) is that I don’t have to worry if Blitzkrieg gets into the cleaning supplies I store under the sinks. The worse thing that could happen to Blitzkrieg is that he might get a foamy baking soda and vinegar beard on his chin.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dairy Free Dark Pumpernickel Bread Recipe

For us, 15 bean soup is a quick, easy, and cheap dinner even though we cook it slow. “Slow cook a quick meal? What are you talking about? Have you been sniffing low VOC glue again?” You say.

No, I’m not crazy or damaged (much.) I say that 15 bean soup is quick because it’s a low effort meal – perfect for those nights when you can’t cook a huge dinner due to prior commitments but don’t want to feed the family junky fast food.

I say that 15 bean soup is slow because we use the crock pot to cook the 15 bean soup mix. 15 bean soup is one of the few meals that we buy in premix form. It’s one of the few things we eat that it’s cheaper to go with the mix than with buying bags of all the different types of beans that are typically in this soup and most of the dried bean soup mixes sold in our area are pretty healthy.


Husband tosses the beans, water, spice mix, and whatever meat we have on hand in the slow cooker) in the morning and by the time he comes home from work, we have a very tasty soup ready for dinner. If you’re a vegetarian, I’m told that beets make a tasty substitute for using meat to flavor this soup although we haven’t tried it because Husband doesn’t like beets.