Efficient

That drawer under the oven

Who knew? On some ovens, that drawer I’ve been keeping baking dishes in is intended for keeping food warm. They keep one dish warm while the others finish cooking, or to keep the whole dinner warm if there’s a delay in sitting down to eat. They don’t cook food, just keep it warm at around 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

Not all drawers under the oven are designed to do that. The owners manual will say.

52 Weeks: Water – Dishes

Which dishwashing method costs less, hand washing or machine washing? It depends on how much water you use when washing by hand. If you leave the water running throughout the wash and rinse process, that will use a lot of water. If you run a couple inches of water in each sink or in dishpans and wash and rinse using just that, well, that’s a whole lot less. You can compare for yourself.

First, find out how much water your machine uses. It will say in the manual or on the manufacturer’s website. Then wash a similar amount of dishes by hand and track how much water you use. You can use dishpans and measure how much water they contain. Or, you can use the sink directly and measure the water as you put it in, perhaps by filling a quart pitcher repeatedly and pouring it into the sink.

Luckily, you only have to do this tedious stuff once, just to find out the comparison quantity of water. When comparing costs, you also have to factor in the cost of buying, maintaining, and repairing the dishwasher itself. Hand washing has none of those costs. Hand washing still uses electricity to heat the water, but doesn’t use any to power the washing, nor for drying.

52 Weeks: Water – Laundry

In the summer of 2012, many areas in the U.S. and Australia had a severe drought. People posted on message boards about using less water. They also reused water that used to go down the drain.

Some folks in very parched areas are saving the rinse water from the washing machine. They pour it back in to the washer to be the wash water for the next load. In a drought situation, whether a drought of water or of money, there are ways to do less laundry.

Outer clothes that are not actually dirty can be hung up, either indoors or out in the fresh air, to air out before wearing again. Sheets can be aired instead of washed, perhaps every other time. You can reuse towels more times if you hang them up so they dry instead of souring. If your washer has settings for different levels, only use as much water as you need for the load.

52 Weeks: Water – Flushing

Thanks to the investors who sold me my current condo, I have the new water-saver toilets. Newer toilets have small tanks. There’s nothing gained by putting something in the tank to cause it to use less water per flush.

Pre-1995 toilets usually have larger tanks, so putting something in the tank to make it hold less will save water. The advice used to be to use a brick. Now they say bricks may fall apart and damage the mechanism. So if you use a brick, seal it up in a Ziploc bag. Or, maybe use a plastic container full of water, in a shape that suits your tank and won’t block the mechanism. You can weight it with pebbles or sand so it won’t float around.

There are also adjustable flappers available now that let you set the flush volume. I recently learned about a thing called a toilet fill cycle diverter. It stops older toilets from wasting water during the refill phase. You can get one from, among other places, http://www.niag ara conservation.com and www.nextag.com.

The old saying, “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down” would cut the water used for toilet flushing to probably less than half.

Some articles say to put a dye tablet in the toilet tank to check if the tank leaks into the bowl, wasting water. You can do this with food coloring just as well. Put a few drops in the tank. Don’t flush for fifteen to twenty minutes, and look to see if the water in the bowl takes on color. If it does, it may be time to replace the flapper that closes the hole through which water goes from the tank to the bowl.

Or, the chain may be lodging under the edge of the flapper, or maybe it’s too short and the flapper can’t go all the way down. There might be debris or hard water build up around the edge where the flapper sits. On my own experience, replacing the flapper and making sure the chain is the right length have always fixed it.

52 Weeks: Electricity – Zombies and Vampires

Those little lights on appliances are telling you that they are sucking electricity like tiny vampires even when the item is turned off. They’re still active when dead, like zombies. One source estimates that about 5% of our national energy use is for these items.

I have my TV, digital antenna, laptop, and Internet modem on a power strip, which I turn off at night. I didn’t know until now that my cell phone charger is pulling watts even when the phone isn’t plugged into it and even though there’s no little light. Oops. The same applies to anything that recharges a battery-operated gadget, such as power tools, cordless hand vacuums, Roomba, cameras, music players.

My Roomba’s instructions said to leave it on the charger all the time. I guess some zombie power drain is the price I pay for having a cleaning robot standing by to do my dirty work at the push of a button. (When my Roomba stopped working, I bought a Swiffer.)

As part of writing this part of my book, I did a room-by-room tour of my home. I looked for electricity uselessly draining away at my expense. In the bathroom, I noticed that the A/C adapter plug of the lighted makeup mirror felt very warm. This is using electricity all the time, for an appliance I use only minutes a week. I unplugged it. The treadmill! Besides the magnet-operated power switch on the console, there’s a switch down at the base, and yes, a glowing light. So, I’ll turn it off at the base from now on.

52 Weeks – CFL Bulbs, Is It True?

In 2013 I put a CFL bulb in my reading light in the living room. Fourteen watts vs. sixty, and I think I can see even better. They burn much cooler too, so that will save a little on the a/c.

I had it in my head that CFL bulbs cost a lot, but the prices have gone down since I formed that idea. I saw them on www.walmart.com at less than $2 a bulb. They are said to last as much as ten times as long as traditional incandescent bulbs, and use 50% to 80% less electricity.

On the other hand, when I went to buy some, I read the reviews on amazon.com. It seems that in real life the cheaper bulbs may not last very long at all! I learned from the reviews that their claimed ten year life might actually be less than a year in practice. So I searched on “complaints CFL bulbs.”

  • I learned that you’ll have better luck if you buy Energy Starrated name brand bulbs.
  • They do better in places where they will stay on for long periods.
  • It’s better not to use them in a recessed or enclosed fixture.
  • They don’t do as well where there is vibration, such as a ceiling fan or garage door opener.
  • You need special bulbs for fixtures on a dimmer switch, even if you don’t use the dimmer feature.
  • An ordinary light that stays on for hours is the best place to use them.
  • The used bulbs must be disposed of as hazardous waste because they contain a small amount of mercury. Home improvement stores like Lowe’s have collection centers for them.

After two years, the CFL bulbs in fixtures that stay on for long periods are still going strong. The ones in the bathroom light burned out.

Several people told me that it costs more to turn a florescent or CFL light on every time you enter the room than to just leave it on. I looked into it. This is old news from the ‘70s. The old style ballasts used a lot of energy. Modern fluorescent lights use only a tiny bit of extra energy on startup, compared to the energy used to leave it burning.

Frequent turning on and off can shorten the life of a bulb. But again, for modern bulbs this effect is very, very minor. According to Scientific American and http://www.consumerenergycenter.org, a rule of thumb for modern fluorescents, including CFLs, is to leave it on if you will be out of the room for less than five minutes.

52 Weeks: Electricity – Cooking

A microwave oven uses much less electricity than either a stove top or oven, about a third as much. On the other hand, some foods need baking, broiling, or searing to bring out their best flavors. When I use the full size oven, I often fill it up with a pan of chicken and three pans of vegetables to roast. When I’m baking something small, like baked potatoes, I use the toaster oven. I use the micro-wave for reheating.

A pressure cooker will cook food in about 1/3 the time that conventional cooking takes. The best foods for this are foods that can be cooked with liquids, because the cooker needs steam to work. This is great for rice and for beans, and it also works for meats and vegetables.

Solar ovens use no energy at all, but there are disturbing reports of vision damage from the reflectors.