Archive for October, 2012

I have spent my few spare minutes this past week (when not dealing with family life) investigating electric cars in earnest.

The driving force behind this is the need that my current car has for (expensive) maintenance – a timing belt and clutch in the near future. I don’t want to spend the money on it.  I’d rather use that money for a down payment on something that not only doesn’t need to have any oil change – ever – but that will not need to filled up with gas – ever.

I’m not a fan of the plug-in hybrid (Prius plug-in, Chevy Volt, Fusion Energi, etc.), as I think it’s just too much of a compromise. Over the last 6 months, I can count on one hand the number of times that I would have had an issue with the range of a Leaf or similar electric vehicle (EV), and the dramatic decrease in range as a result of carrying around the weight of a second powertrain just defeats the purpose in my mind.

I have also had the luck to use a Leaf for two weeks through my day job, which I wrote about here, so range anxiety is not as large a concern for me as it might be for other commuters.

The biggest hurdle for me to overcome, not surprisingly, is cost. A Leaf is $38,500+ the usual taxes, levies and new car fees. An $8,500 rebate from the Province of Ontario surely takes the edge of this price, but it’s still a barrier to entry for all but the early adopter. For more people to adopt EVs as a real alternative to the internal combustion engine, prices needs to come down, and that likely means that the cars need to be simpler.

Thats why my drive today really had me thinking. I had a Mitsubishi i-MiEV for a trip to work, some photo opportunities during the day while charging, and then a trip home.

i-MiEV Charging

Now, after my time with the Leaf, I was underwhelmed. The 120km range was still acceptable, but for $33,000, you’d think you would get a bit more car.   I understand the economics, and that the battery cost is anywhere from 30-40% of the cost of manufacturing an EV.

The Leaf has a lot of electronic whiz bang gadgets (really called telematics) that make me happy, but that completely baffle most people who are not tech-obsessed.  Even putting the Leaf in gear takes some thinking, or training. The i-MiEV (I have trouble even typing that, let alone trying to say it), is easy to understand. You sit in the seat, put your belt on, put the key in, and turn it. A beep signifies that you are ready to shift into gear, which is not a joystick, but a true P-R-N-D labelled shifter. It does have an eco-mode and a more aggressive regenerative mode, but really, how often does the average driver ever use anything but “d” anyway?

i-MiEV Dash

Even the dash is easy to understand. Speed, charge status, estimated range, whether you are discharging or regenerating the battery, and thats it. No LCD displays telling you things that are neat, but really unnecessary.

I think Mitsubishi is onto something – although not with the looks, as this is a face that only a mother could love – with the i-MiEV’s simplicity. Really, this simplicity is how EVs will go mainstream. IF prices come down. The built quality, driveability and general fit and finish of the i-MiEV feel like a $20,000 car.  Its a shame, because it will turn a lot of people off an otherwise fine subcompact commuter car. I could see this car as perfect for a new grad – complete with $1,000 discount if you bring your diploma.

Simpler electric vehicles will take some of the fear of the unknown away from new buyers. Many new car owners might not want to consider an alternative from what they consider to be a “normal” car.   Nissan, GM, Ford and other EV manufacturers could learn a lesson or two from the i-MiEV’s simplicity.

As for my car search, the Leaf is still my preferred EV. The Volt is too expensive and its performance is a compromise, and the i-MiEV just doesn’t provide enough value for me.  I have to see what I can sell my Subaru for, and deal with payments (that will be offset in whole or in part by gas/maintenance savings).  Stay tuned to see what’s next in my EV saga.

How Fresh is the Air in There?

Posted: October 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

Have you put much thought into the air quality in your home? If you have allergies, the answer is probably an emphatic yes. Sadly, many people simply do not realize that the air quality in their home is likely worse than the air outside their front door.

Many sources contribute to this. Volatile organic compounds are in many common materials, like paint, aerosols, glues and furniture.  The cleaning products we use can also detrimentally affect the quality of the air in your home (or business).  Regardless what your elders may tell you, the smell of bleach in a home is NOT a good thing. Using EcoLogo certified cleaning agents is a good first step, and better products are coming out all the time.

In extreme cases, sick building syndrome can result from poor air quality and contaminants in your home. For a worst case (commercial building) example, check out this 60 minutes clip:

The opposite is also true. I will give you an anecdote that has proved to me the value of good indoor air quality.  I used to work in primary steel manufacturing. My first two years out of engineering school were spent on the waterfront of Hamilton Harbour, the first 14 months in a blast furnace to-be, and the second year in a basic oxygen furnace.  Something like this:

Not the nicest place for air quality. I would usually be the recipient of at least one sinus infection every couple of months, which would cause me to take a day or two off. Imagine that cost in absenteeism in a company with 2,000 employees.

Fast forward four years, and I’m working in a green building. One with incredible amounts of fresh air delivery, and well maintained filters. My home has air filters and an HRV (heat recovery ventilator) that I clean every season change. I have not had a sinus infection in over 3 years, and I have two kids under 5, the oldest in the germ-sharing factory that is kindergarten.

This time of year, you can take some positive steps to improving the quality of the air in your home. Check the filters in your furnace before you turn it on. It may be already to late, as in my home we have now turned our heat on (yes I changed the filters first). If you have a newer home, you should also check your heat recovery ventilator. They typically have washable screens or replaceable filters that will keep that nice incoming fresh air clear of dust and other particulates like pollen. Don’t forget the grate on the outside of the building (mine was completely plugged).While you’re at it, check your carbon monoxide alarm. If you haven’t had your furnace serviced in a couple of years, now is a good time to make sure it is burning clean (assuming you are burning gas to heat).

Many building certifications, like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) have strict criteria that award points for Indoor Environmental Quality strategies, designs and product selections. Check out LEED for Homes, Greenguard certification, EcoLogo, Green Seal,  Design for Environment and the United States Green Building Council’s Greenhome guide for more information than I can possibly add here!

Start with changing your filters, and then pick away at anything you think might be a chemical, or off-gassing product. Your lungs (and kids) will thank you.