Keep Warm without Breaking the Bank

Fall is upon us in the northern hemisphere, and with it comes cooler temperatures. Lacking fur, keeping warm has always been a problem for us humans. But we have found ways to adapt, even ways that seem strange such as burying ourselves in snow. The problem for most of us isn’t the technology, it’s the expense.

Wood Stacked for Winter

The first line of defense is to put on more clothes, and that works up to a point. But wearing full outdoor gear, as would be needed in the colder climates, is not always practical. Comfort requires that we be able to tell the outside from the inside of our homes and workplaces. To lower your energy costs the first thing you need is proper insulation. Without it, no matter what your heat source you will lose most of it to the atmosphere. Having bad insulation isn’t as bad as keeping a door open while you run the heat full throttle, but almost. If your insulation is inadequate there are a couple of things to do, depending on your circumstances. If you rent, try pointing the problem out to the landlord. If you own, look in to the costs to repair the deficiency. But if the landlord refuses or the cost of complete insulation is out of reach there are still things you can do. Start with the windows and doors, looking for leaks. Weather stripping is inexpensive and can really help. Make sure you have fairly thick curtains at all windows. Use wall hangings and rugs, anything that will pad the walls and floors.

Having secured the insulation and put on a sweater, what are the choices for home heating, and how much do they cost? If you live in a big city apartment complex you are likely stuck with whatever was installed when you got there. Rationing may be your only choice. If all you have is electric heat, which tends to be the most expensive, be aware that you may qualify for a reduced rate program through your local utility. These utilities are regulated by the state, and are forced to give a break to people under a certain income level. Because these programs are state by state, and sometimes even by city, I can’t include all the links. I suggest calling or visiting your local provider, or doing an online search on energy assistance programs or lifeline programs.

For those of us in the country the problem is a bit different. In many rural areas, there are no natural gas lines available, so the main source of fuel is propane. The price of propane is going up along with all fuels. Many rural homes heat with wood. But keeping a fire going all day is expensive and not particularly efficient. Where I live we use a mixed method. During the winter we set it at 60 degrees and leave it. We have found that this actually uses less gas then blasting it and turning it off right away.

But, if we are going to be home all day and it is very cold and stormy, we just build a fire. Most evenings we have a fire as well. We use a fire starting brick and a couple of sticks of kindling with no paper and a woodstove instead of an open fireplace. Open fireplaces lose more heat and are harder to control. The fire starting brick helps the initial load of wood catch faster and more thoroughly, producing a good bed of coals. This saves wood. Use a fan to circulate the heat and damp the fire down once it has caught properly to make it burn slower. When you go to bed, damp it down all the way. The residual heat will last till morning.

Wood is fairly expensive, but there are more opportunities to glean it. If you know someone who lives on wooded property they might be willing to share if you help cut and split. This is hard work, but you might be able to heat your house all winter for next to nothing.

If you are going to use the oven for cooking or baking, remember to open the door when you are done and let the heat into the room. It may not seem like much, but why waste it? It can take quite a while for a hot oven to cool down.

The cheapest source of heat is the sun, but going solar is not necessarily cheap or easy, and may not be possible at all if you are a renter. But you might be able to use passive solar. Do you have a widow that gets plenty of sun during the day? Open up the curtains first thing in the morning and keep them open as long as the sun is on that window. If you are home you can keep adjusting the curtains to catch the sun all day, and then close all the curtains at sunset. You might be surprised at how much heat you can catch. And the warmer the house is when you start your evening, the less fuel you need to burn. If you own the home, don’t assume that solar is out of reach. The market is changing all the time, and there are different degrees to going solar. Just do what you can.

Here are some resources for more information on home heating:

http://www.travisindustries.com/CostOfHeating_WkSht.asp?P=3 try this worksheet for ideas.

http://ezinearticles.com/?DIY-Solar-Energy—How-to-Build-Your-Own-Cheap-Solar-Panels&id=1929696

http://www.chiff.com/a/cut-heat-bills.htm some great ideas!

http://ezinearticles.com/?DIY-Solar-Energy—How-to-Build-Your-Own-Cheap-Solar-Panels&id=1929696

Water-Too Important to Waste

This is Blog Action Day, and the topic is water. Considering the facts that water is second only to air as a basic need, and that half the world’s population have no access to clean potable water, wasting it would be wrong even if it weren’t so expensive. The Frugal Goddess will leave the politics to others and deal with ways of conserving and saving our precious water resources.

The Water Planet

The first thing to do is a water audit on your house. Are there any leaks in the plumbing system? How about outside faucets? These need to be fixed as soon as possible. Then think about ways in which you run water unnecessarily. Think about all the uses of water in your house. If your appliances are old they use more water than the new greener models. Find out about yours. By doing a little arithmetic you will soon see whether hand-washing your dishes is better than the machine. And remember to always fill your machine (dishwasher or clothes washer) to capacity. When it comes to car washing, do it less often, and go to a public wash. It may cost a couple of dollars, but the facility is regulated by law to keep the chemicals in the soap out of the watershed. And the actual water used is less then what would come out of your hose at home.

Then there is the bath versus shower controversy. Common wisdom says that the five minute shower is the most efficient use of water. But, if you prefer a bath, just run the water for five minutes from the low flow shower head, and step in. You haven’t used any more water that way, so don’t worry about it. Remember to turn the water off while you are brushing your teeth or washing your hair.

One area that needs discussion is toilet flushing. Depending on the circumstances you might not need to do it every time. This may be offensive to some, and if it is to you, just move on. But before you do, consider this: even a low-flow toilet uses about three gallons of clean water, an amount that for many of the world’s people is their total allotment for the day for a whole family. Yet in America we foul that amount and flush it without thinking multiple times in one day.

When it comes to drinking water, the whole western culture has been seduced by the lure of the plastic bottle. This comes at a huge expense to the environment. Plastic pollution is a very real problem, but the financial cost is enough to make tap water the better choice. If you are concerned about the quality of your tap water get a filter.

When using water for gardening and landscaping there are many ways to save. If you must have a lawn, make it a small one, surrounded by drought resistant plants and natives. For the food garden get a drip system installed, and consider rain water harvesting. The initial expense will be recovered quickly.

The most important tool at your disposal is knowledge. What is the name of your watershed? Where does your wastewater go once it is down the drain? What is in the water coming out of your tap and where does it come from? What is your personal and household water “footprint”? Frugality is more than just saving money. It is a principle of wasting as little as possible and being a good steward of the Earth’s resources.

Here are some links that may help:

http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/water-footprint-calculator/

http://www.h2oconserve.org/home.php?pd=index two water footprint calculators

http://www.wateruseitwisely.com/100-ways-to-conserve/indoor-tips/water-saving-products-indoor.php products to help you save water

http://www.epa.gov/WaterSense/ the US government helps you save water

http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/water/bottled/ important information about bottled vs. tap

http://www.earthcrafthouse.com/documents/factsheets/27_rainwater-recovery-v2.pdf info on rainwater harvesting

http://www.harvesth2o.com/ a little more technical, but if you are serious about this technique it has good info.

http://cfpub.epa.gov/surf/locate/index.cfm find your watershed

http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/watershed.html what is a watershed? Find out here.

Frugality-Not Just for the Poor

I have heard from a number of people that they just don’t like the word “frugal”. It seems to conjure up images of reusing tea bags and saving hundreds of empty boxes. But neither of these things are what frugality is really about. It is not cheapness or hoarding. Or even clipping coupons necessarily, though that would be frugal if you were going to buy that item anyhow and the coupon price really was the best deal.
The opposite of frugality is waste, not luxury. It is about getting the maximum out of available resources. For the poor frugality is a necessity. But that doesn’t mean it is only for the poor. In fact, being wasteful can make us poorer, and conserving our resources (frugality) can make us richer. Except for the new high tech millionaires every rich person you can name is either frugal or has an ancestor that was. The one who made the fortune.
The best model for frugality is nature herself. She wastes nothing, and yet is exquisitely abundant. And considering the shape the environment is in the new frugality is essential to restoring the balance of nature with the least pain to humankind. Frugal is the new green.
When I write a post I create it so the information will help the “new poor” immediately. But each element will be of equal value to the voluntarily frugal. Most of whom very comfortable. And if there is a conflict I will explore it openly.
Once the true meaning of the word “frugal” is known, what’s not to like?

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