Cutting the Energy Bill, or How We Are Learning to Live Without Oil! - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 19 Old 10-10-2010, 12:12 PM - Thread Starter
 
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This thread is a question: How did you/do you seriously slash your energy bill and/or consumption?

This thread is a discussion: As we run out of cheap oil and gas and the world population continues to grow, how are you preparing for the inevitable energy crisis -- on a personal level?

And this thread is a challenge: We are trying to eliminate our family's dependence on crude oil and coal energy products. Anyone want to join us?

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#2 of 19 Old 10-10-2010, 12:37 PM
 
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Fortunately our power here is hydroelectric. But for those who live in coal-powered areas--or those who simply want to save money on electric bills--there's a gadget to help. We can check these out at our library. You just plug something into the meter and then plug in the meter. Then you multiply the kilowatts you use with your energy company's price per kilowatt hour (KwH). I still haven't checked it out yet, but I'm curious to see how much energy I burn using the computer.

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#3 of 19 Old 10-10-2010, 07:09 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Your library rents Kill-a-Watts? That's so cool! I can't believe ours doesn't do that!

Hydro-electric is great. We switched to the Green Choice Program a few years ago, so our dollars directly support the state building more wind farms, but that is actually more expensive. So we have to offset the choice by using less power. This is extremely difficult in Texas in the summer! (As I speak, my A/C is running, keeping it a semi-cool 82 degrees in here -- silly when it is only 85 outside, but we have no breeze so the sun has heated the house...)

We will be adding a 3kw solar PV system to the house in two weeks (yay!!), but this will offset only about 30% of our energy use. The plan is to add another 3kw next year and the last the year after that. Still, this is very expensive, even with local and federal rebates, so it is less about cost-effectiveness than it is about a lifestyle choice, y'know?

We are getting one of our two cars ready to sell, and we will be a one car family, which is daunting since winter weather is fast approaching, but it is what is helping us afford the solar PV system, and it is drastically reducing our dependence on oil. We would downsize the other car if only DH had a job that was either on mass transit or in a place he could bike to. He's been begging to get them to introduce telecommuting for months!

So, those are a few things. The thing I am struggling with is the A/C. It is a big part of our bill. That and heating -- in the winter we use natural gas. We don't have a fireplace... I'm trying to figure out how low we can go this winter!

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#4 of 19 Old 10-10-2010, 09:04 PM
 
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I am not yet in a position to purchase a house, but hopefully will be soon. One thing I intend to do is to install a masonry stove. I have read a bit about them and, while they are expensive to install, they do heat quite efficiently and cleanly and don't use much wood (I have read that they use 1/3 to 1/6 the amount of wood a cast iron woodstove uses. The heat from the fire is retained in the masonry and soapstone to radiate out into the house when there is no fire. You can also use the heat to cook with. I also plan to buy quite a small house so there won't be much to heat. I would think that if you can close off rooms that don't have water pipes it would be a big help in using less heat. I mean, you don't really need to heat bedrooms that are only used at night with lots of blankets/comforters.
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#5 of 19 Old 10-11-2010, 10:15 AM
 
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Something happened to our oil pipe a few years back and they started to refuse to deliver it, since our hot water is electric we decided to use the woodstove full-time and it's been awesome. ~$750 for an entire Maine winter in our 1000sf house, we'll take it! This'll be our 3rd year with NO oil. We have 1 car for our 3-person family, my DH works evenings/nights.
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#6 of 19 Old 10-11-2010, 10:42 AM
 
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I am not going to get into a debate about the availability of oil; however, there is so much more to what we use oil for than electricity and gasoline. There are thousands of products that we use petroleum products for including medications, cell phones and anything made of plastic. Electricity is such a small part of oil usage. I am all for finding smart ways to reduce costs though.
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#7 of 19 Old 10-11-2010, 01:17 PM
 
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Plastic free living is an important goal to have as well
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#8 of 19 Old 10-11-2010, 01:20 PM
 
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I am not going to get into a debate about the availability of oil; however, there is so much more to what we use oil for than electricity and gasoline. There are thousands of products that we use petroleum products for including medications, cell phones and anything made of plastic. Electricity is such a small part of oil usage. I am all for finding smart ways to reduce costs though.
Food is a huge issue. Fertilizer, packaging, shipping ... grow your own and buy local, I guess.
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#9 of 19 Old 10-11-2010, 03:15 PM
 
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In my household I try to cut energy cost by practicing the basics, such as switching the lights off when not using it. Switching of the Tele, PC or labtop when not in use. I must say during the summer time the Ac runs continuously and of course there is an increase in energy consumption.

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#10 of 19 Old 10-12-2010, 05:27 AM
 
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When we had our energy assessment done, I was gushing about things like solar panels and composting toilets. The nice man from Clean Nova Scotia told me to do the really "un-sexy stuff" first, like getting a new, energy-efficient (oil) furnace and caulking drafts, etc., first. I sulked and then followed his advice.

Now, 3 years later, we have:
-Installed the new furnace
-Caulked everything and had our entire house insulated
-Bought a space heater
-Learned to shut off our hot water except for 1 hour a day
-Bought down vests for everyone to wear in the house and in bed at night

There is more, but I can't think of it right now. As far as other things for oil-dependence, we have joined CSAs for food and already have never owned a car. I agree that this is about much more than electricity usage. However, it gets us into a new and appropriate mindset to start addressing what we can. I'm with a pp who said that some of this is actually more expensive, given the laws etc. Our green power has a pretty similar profile.

That said, we are now ready for the sexy stuff! We are looking into solar roof shingles when they become available (through Dow Chemical, of all companies) in 2011. We are finally going to begin my solar dream.

We also bought a smaller, older home and it IS easy to heat. Start with less and go from there.
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#11 of 19 Old 10-12-2010, 10:16 AM
 
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When we had our energy assessment done, I was gushing about things like solar panels and composting toilets. The nice man from Clean Nova Scotia told me to do the really "un-sexy stuff" first, like getting a new, energy-efficient (oil) furnace and caulking drafts, etc., first. I sulked and then followed his advice.

Now, 3 years later, we have:
-Installed the new furnace
-Caulked everything and had our entire house insulated
-Bought a space heater
-Learned to shut off our hot water except for 1 hour a day
-Bought down vests for everyone to wear in the house and in bed at night

There is more, but I can't think of it right now. As far as other things for oil-dependence, we have joined CSAs for food and already have never owned a car. I agree that this is about much more than electricity usage. However, it gets us into a new and appropriate mindset to start addressing what we can. I'm with a pp who said that some of this is actually more expensive, given the laws etc. Our green power has a pretty similar profile.

That said, we are now ready for the sexy stuff! We are looking into solar roof shingles when they become available (through Dow Chemical, of all companies) in 2011. We are finally going to begin my solar dream.

We also bought a smaller, older home and it IS easy to heat. Start with less and go from there.
This is so true. Sometimes I am envious of my friends big, open, vaulted ceilings but then I remind myself how much they pay for propane to heat them!
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#12 of 19 Old 10-13-2010, 09:24 AM
 
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The problem with older homes is that the windows aren't likely to be very efficient. My house is 2 bedrooms 1 bath and 900sq ft and we pay $150 per month for the gas bill to heat the home to 60degrees. It's crazy high. And that's with the window's plasticked to heck. It's quite expensive.

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#13 of 19 Old 10-13-2010, 09:44 AM
 
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Originally Posted by EmsMom View Post
I am not yet in a position to purchase a house, but hopefully will be soon. One thing I intend to do is to install a masonry stove. I have read a bit about them and, while they are expensive to install, they do heat quite efficiently and cleanly and don't use much wood (I have read that they use 1/3 to 1/6 the amount of wood a cast iron woodstove uses. The heat from the fire is retained in the masonry and soapstone to radiate out into the house when there is no fire. You can also use the heat to cook with. I also plan to buy quite a small house so there won't be much to heat. I would think that if you can close off rooms that don't have water pipes it would be a big help in using less heat. I mean, you don't really need to heat bedrooms that are only used at night with lots of blankets/comforters.
I had wanted to install one of those in our house with a built in oven and had a nice man come a give me a quote. I would have cost at least $15,000/CDN to build it and the layout of our house just wouldn't work very well. Ideally those are built in the center of a house to retain as much heat as possible.

DH and I agreed that if we ever built a new house we would pay the cash for one. Instead we bought a high efficiency wood fireplace insert. Low emissions, long burns and heat our 850sq/ft with that.
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#14 of 19 Old 10-13-2010, 11:39 AM
 
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When buying an older home, don't just assume it's insulated. Nice looking outer walls can hide many sins. Here are some pics of our addition after pulling off shingles and tar paper on the outside and paneling on the inside. At some point in it's history, the roof had leaked and the wall sustained water damage. Needless to say, it wasn't properly fixed but we weren't able to see the full extent of the damage until everything was pulled apart. No wonder the room was so chilly last winter. I mean, I was putting layers of cardboard on the floor! (oh, there wasn't any insulation around the crawlspace/floor either).

So yeah, we bought a small, older home that once it's insulated properly will be easy to heat. It's a process. Luckily the windows were new and new electric baseboard heaters had been put in so that we didn't have to use the oil furnace. (Her bills were super high with it!)

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#15 of 19 Old 10-13-2010, 03:19 PM
 
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Originally Posted by cymbeline View Post
This thread is a question: How did you/do you seriously slash your energy bill and/or consumption?

This thread is a discussion: As we run out of cheap oil and gas and the world population continues to grow, how are you preparing for the inevitable energy crisis -- on a personal level?

And this thread is a challenge: We are trying to eliminate our family's dependence on crude oil and coal energy products. Anyone want to join us?
We live in a climate that is mild and we do not own any type of air-conditioning and we don't use our natural gas furnace.

We do have ceiling fans and we use those in the room we are in when it is hot. When it is hot, we also open windows at night [as soon as it cools down outside] and close them (and blinds) during the day. When it is cold, we do the opposite.

We also turn things off and unplug them when not in use. Interestingly enough, this also led to noticing which appliances (and other electrical items) we just weren't using very often. We consciously figured out ways to do without those items altogether and gave them away. As far as I am concerned, less STUFF (any and all kinds) equals less energy consumption.

DH works from home one day a week. I walk DD to school every day. We all three walk throughout our community whenever possible. When we do drive, we combine errands and carpool and make other such conservation efforts. Regular use of public transit is not realistic in this city, but we do use it when it is feasible.

We made the choice to buy a Prius when it was time to replace my Corolla (back in 2006). A Prius isn't perfect, but we felt it was a step in the right direction for supporting new technology and putting us (general) on a new path for new transportation ideas.

When we had a major flood in May 2009, the carpet/pad and vinyl flooring and tile flooring on the main level of our home was destroyed (approx. 600 sq ft). Instead of having insurance replace exactly what we had (would have been far easier, faster, and cheaper), we opted to get floating cork flooring throughout the main level and do all the labor ourselves. Cork is renewable (and no trees die) and it is amazing for regulating home temps for comfort. Plus a whole host of other benefits.

Due to that same flood and replacing all the flooring, we also took the opportunity to replace the old sliding doors. Most of our temperature/comfort issues are due to our West-facing backyard where the sun beats down and heats things up A LOT (higher than the air temp). The kitchen slider is 8 feet and pretty much let whatever the weather was outside dictate the inside. The other slider is 6 feet (standard) and that room is teeny tiny, so again...hot half the year and cold the other half. Replacing both sliders made that entire part of the house completely comfortable year-round. We already had a retractable awning outside those doors, which helped even before the new doors. The new doors and flooring really made a big difference.

We belong to a CSA and share it with another family, splitting a large box every other week. We also grow some of our own food in our teeny tiny backyard. We make sure to use it all, which sounds so simple and obvious, but it isn't nearly so. I am discovering a lot of people I know who throw out quite a bit of food every week. And this is just the families. Think of all the cafeterias and restaurants and grocery stores, etc. Food is a huge area for vast energy improvements. HUGE AREA!!!

This really is a massive topic, when you think about it. There are so many facets to energy usage. We focus on doing what we can in the areas within our control. We live in a townhome within an HOA. Solar heating isn't here, yet. Our biggest HOA issue is water usage right now (landscaping far out-uses residential)..... One step at a time....

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#16 of 19 Old 10-13-2010, 06:30 PM
 
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I had wanted to install one of those in our house with a built in oven and had a nice man come a give me a quote. I would have cost at least $15,000/CDN to build it and the layout of our house just wouldn't work very well. Ideally those are built in the center of a house to retain as much heat as possible.

DH and I agreed that if we ever built a new house we would pay the cash for one. Instead we bought a high efficiency wood fireplace insert. Low emissions, long burns and heat our 850sq/ft with that.
well that does seem pretty steep. That would rule it out for me as well!
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#17 of 19 Old 10-14-2010, 08:15 AM
 
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It's true about older houses and insulation. When we had our energy assessment done, our walls were rated at zero; probably old, disintegrated seaweed. We had all new insulation blown in last year.

As for the windows, the energy guy said they were pretty far down the list in terms of energy wasters. Our windows are old, but they are intact and so are the window casings/sills. They do have storm windows and I'm pretty sure that's a fire hazard. We do have a few different exits, though. This year, we are having a seamstress friend make us insulating drapes and draft stoppers. We will replace windows when they break or when the casings rot out.

Overall, though, I still think our older home (1940s) is a good bet, energy-wise. I might be wrong, though, if I did the math! Retrofitting for environmental purposes IS expensive! However, the things we've done over the 3 years we've been here do seem to be making a difference; the big things and the small things. And we are preserving an older house, living on a bus route instead of new construction in the suburbs. Those were the 2 big options we identified. I never did a formal watt-for-watt assessment, though. Maybe I'd be in for a shock!
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#18 of 19 Old 10-14-2010, 04:30 PM
 
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The problem with older homes is that the windows aren't likely to be very efficient. My house is 2 bedrooms 1 bath and 900sq ft and we pay $150 per month for the gas bill to heat the home to 60degrees. It's crazy high. And that's with the window's plasticked to heck. It's quite expensive.
Our older home (1920's) is similar to yours. It has zero insulation, old windows, drafty doors...
For us, the big thing was getting a new high efficiency furnace..we resisted for many years, but the old furnace DIED. We got the new one. wow. Our heating bills have plumeted. Like..our monthly bill, which is a budgeted amount, so it stays the same all year long, is like $45 now!
Our house is 2 bed 1 bath, 900 sq ft, but we have a basement with rooms in it also.
We live on the michigan line also, and get many feet of snow per year, freezing temps all winter, etc.
Oh..and we heat(or cool) as much as we want, whenever we want. We usually keep the house around 70-72. Heck..right now it's 63 outside, and the house was 68, and i was a tad chilled, so i turned the heat on to bump it up to 70.
I don't feel like being uncomfortable is something i need to do. I'll gladly work more hours, or even get a 2nd job, to keep my house as warm or cool as i desire. That's my personal preference.

We do do things like plastic the windows, we've caulked outside windows, and i dream of putting insulation in the walls.

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#19 of 19 Old 10-14-2010, 04:34 PM
 
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We focus on a few things. We live in a temperate area and don't spend a lot on heating and cooling. We do need to drive a lot so we have small fuel effecient vehicles (Prius, Bug). We purchase very little plastic and we don't buy plastic junk for the kids. We are green most ways. And we buy mostly local, organic food. We also live in an apartment, which is a more effecient dwelling.
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