52 Weeks: Water

Home water usage breakdown charts on the Internet vary a little bit as to the exact percentage each function uses. Most of them put it in this order:

  • Toilets use the most, around 26%
  • Laundry, about 22%
  • Showers come in third at 16% to 18%
  • Cooking and drinking use about 9% to 15%
  • Dishwashers around 1 to 2%.

The rest is accounted for by leaks and faucet uses like washing hands and face, brushing teeth, etc. Leaks are more common than I thought. All the charts included leaks. To find out whether you are paying for any leaks, turn all the water off and go look at the meter. If the reading changes, there’s a leak. For wells, if the pump kicks on when you aren’t using water, there’s a leak.


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.

52 Weeks: Fridge Gasket – Is it True?

For years, I’ve read the advice to test your refrigerator’s door seals by closing the door on a dollar bill. They say that if it’s easy to pull out, the seals aren’t keeping the cold air in well enough. Once long ago I priced a new gasket and it cost nearly $100, so I didn’t buy it. Recently I saw a variety of gaskets on eBay for $10 to $40, so that’s not so bad. Www.ehow.com has detailed instructions on how to install a new gasket.

BUT, in the comments on one site, an appliance repairman said that even good gaskets would let you pull a piece of paper out. He said the gaskets should last over fifteen years. So I closed a dollar bill in the door of my nearly new refrigerator and it pulled out easily. So much for decades of saving-money articles! Apparently, they all quoted each other without checking it out.

Another poster said that if the seal leaks because it has warped or twisted, you could heat it all around with a blow dryer to soften it. Then shut the door and it will reshape itself to a better seal. You should replace the gasket if it is torn or cracked. I did notice that the seal feels tighter if I gently push the doors shut instead of just letting them fall shut.

I read in Reader’s Digest’s “Penny Pincher’s Almanac” to check the refrigerator seal by putting a bright light inside, closing the door and looking for the light. They used a 150-watt floodlight on an extension cord. They aimed the light at the opposite side of the door from the side where the cord went in. I don’t have such a thing, so I used my solar camping lantern. I aimed it first at one side of the door and then the other.

By golly, there was a bit of light showing at the top corner of the door on the opposite side from the hinges. The gasket is fine, but the door is not hung straight, leaving a tiny gap. Hunh. I don’t have what it takes to re-hang a door. So I laid a bead of white caulk along the inner dimension of the doorway (not on or touching the door). That partly blocked it, but a dim light still came through. So I put a tiny bit of caulk on the flat front edge of the doorway where it is slightly recessed. That stopped the gap completely. So yay me! It remains to be seen how the cold will affect the lifespan of the caulk.

52 Weeks: Electricity – Refrigerator

Refrigerators and freezers work best if they are nearly full, but there is room for the cooled air to move around the food. In the freezer you want to be sure you don’t block the temperature sensor. If yours isn’t full, you can fill plastic containers such as milk jugs or water bottles with water to hold some space. The water will expand as it freezes. Leave an inch or two at the top to allow for that.

In a power outage, the frozen containers serve first as an ice block for preserving the food, and then as a water source. Cold containers of water in the refrigerator help the unit to cool back down more quickly after you have opened the door. Keep liquids covered.

I filled two-liter soda bottles with water and rolled them to the back of the lower refrigerator shelves. This helps the refrigerator work more efficiently. It also prevents foods from being pushed to the far back of the shelves and forgotten. I can put in more or fewer bottles of water, according to how much empty space there is.

For the best food safety, the refrigerator should be between thirty-five and forty degrees Fahrenheit. According to one article I found, keeping it ten degrees colder than that will use 25% more electricity. And freeze your produce! I put a thermometer in the refrigerator and learned it was 32° F. I set it one number warmer on the temperature dial and it became 35°. I’m not going any warmer, because I want to keep my food as fresh as I can for as long as I can.

52 Weeks: Electricity – Make Some Shade

To reduce heat transfer from the sun hitting the windows, cover east and south windows, or the part of them that gets sun the longest. This condo complex forbids aluminum foil. I used white paper, and later pieces of white blackout curtain liner cut to fit.

A shade outside the windows works even better. One house I lived in had a long roof overhang. I hung a bamboo shade from the underside of the eave. I let the shade down to keep the morning sun from even hitting the windows in the first place. After the sun moved on, I raised the shade to let light in. I’ve read of people using the sun shields made for car windows on their house windows.

You can use bubble wrap as a window cover. It’s good insulation and it gives you privacy while still letting light in. You can buy some, but maybe you don’t have to. If you receive it in a package or collect it from a store that’s throwing it away, you can repurpose it to the windows. It’s useful for privacy on bathroom windows or those narrow windows on the sides of front doors.

Apply it by getting the flat side wet and pressing it onto the window. Or you can spray the window with water and then apply the wrap. It’s wonderfully easy to take it down any time you want to. Once you’ve cut it to fit, if you take it down, label each piece as to what window it goes on, so it will be easy to put it back up.

If you live in a hot area and replace your window screens, look in to the UV blocking screens. They cost more, but they block in-coming heat. They’d be most useful on the windows that get the most sun.

Plant trees that lose their leaves in winter on the south and west side of your home. They will provide shade in summer, and let the sun’s warmth through in the winter. Fir trees planted on the north side of the house will serve as a wind break in winter time. Trees that shade the air conditioner unit will save as much as 10% on your cooling bill.