Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reducing Utilitiy Usage

We hear rumblings from Washington that would cause our Utility Bills to double or even triple. That’s the last thing my household needs or can even withstand. They are already 50% higher than two years ago, so I’m making plans of my own right now concerning electricity in general, lighting, temperature control, hot water, and laundry.


#1 – Unplug.

If it produces heat, it’s using electricity even when turned off: computers, televisions, chargers, etc.

#2 – Lights.

Determine one or two work areas in your home: one for adult activities and only one for child activities. The dining table is a good place for children to gather for their studies. In these areas, provide substantially adequate, low-glare light. In all other areas of the house, make drastic changes. Where possible, reduce lighting to one single bulb per room and reduce the bulb wattage. It may be dim but it won’t be dark. Tickle the kids, tell them it’s romantic and you love them and move on. Put sensor night lights in the bathroom(s) and kitchen so that they are never totally dark and avoid using the more powerful lights as much as possible.

#3 – Temperature Control.

A programmable thermostat is useful and will save electricity but you can achieve the same effect if you will: A) Adjust the thermostat to be 5⁰ less than ideal as you go to bed and 10⁰ less comfortable as you leave the house for more than an hour. B) Keep an outdoor thermometer outside a north-facing window. When the air outdoors approaches an acceptable temperature, turn your system off and open the windows. You will even be healthier for the fresh air. C) Get in the habit of wearing sweaters or sweats and slippers in the house in the winter and using fans to cool and circulate the air in summer. D) A wet towel clothes pinned to the front of a fan will help cool dry, hot air. E) Search your memory for movie images from the 1930’s and 40’s. Doorways, especially broad, expansive openings between rooms were most often flanked by heavy draperies. This was more than a decorating trend. Unused rooms were most often closed off from the active areas of the home. Consider closing heat and a/c vents in and doors to rooms that are seldom in use. Formal living rooms and dining rooms can be tastefully closed off using the drapery techniques of days gone by. F) Windows, even thermal pane windows fight against your temperature control efforts in both summer and winter. Heavy or thermal-lined drapes are a necessity if you live in an area of temperature extremes and they will make a difference in your utility usage. Fortunately, flat panel drapes are very much in style and nothing could be easier to make or to hang. Inexpensive white fabric, even used, white, flat sheets can be used as liners so that the drapery fabric is protected from sun-fade. They also provide a uniform ‘look’ to your windows when viewed from outside your home. And when using the clip-ring method of hanging, they don’t even need to be sewn to the drapery fabric. The liners can simply be clipped together with the drapes and easily removed from each other for separate washing.


We think of it as a necessity. It isn't. My parents thought of it as a luxury. How did they manage?! They told tales of the wash tub in the kitchen warmed with pots of boiling water from the stove and of the children taking turns starting with the least dirty. Extreme? You bet but not impossible. Am I advocating this? Of course not but take heart, you could do it if you had to and even make a game of it. But, in the meantime, here are a few more practical ideas.

HEATER BLANKET - Spending money to save money - not necessary, can wrap your hot water heater. Insulating blankets are available at home improvement stores.

TIMER - Install a timer on your hot water heater so that it will not be reheating water continuously even when you are sleeping or at work.

BREAKER - Flip the switch. Your electric panel box has a breaker designated especially for the hot water heater. Keep it turned off for 20-22 hours out of every 24. Give your tank 1 hour to heat up and your family 1 or 2 hours for usage. Determine to get all household members bathed, shampooed and ready to face the world in one or two hours each day. Inconvenient? Yes. Impossible? No.

DISHES - Washing dishes without hot water? No, but without using the hot water heater. Here's how it's done: (For starters, forget using the dishwasher except as a rack for air drying.) Scrape the dishes, rinse in cold water and stack. Partially fill a sink or dishpan with cold water and add boiling water from a pot on the stove and add detergent. Fill a second sink or dishpan with cold water for rinsing. Cold water actually removes soap better than hot water. Wash glasses and cups first, plates and bowls second, silverware and pots and pans last. As each item is washed, give it a pass through the cold water rinse and set to drain. Towel dry or leave items to air dry.

BATHING - Bathing used to be a family affair. children were tumbled into a single tub, scrubbed by an apron-wearing mother and rinsed while standing as Mother poured a pitcher of warm water over their heads. Husbands were usually assisted by their wives and the wives were pretty much left to fend for themselves. (In case the thought of wearing an apron, triggered something in you, HERE is a link to aprons and apron patterns available online.)

The labor intensive full-body bath was most often a Saturday evening affair ensuring a squeaky-clean and sweet-smelling family attendance at church on Sunday morning.

Cleanliness over the remaining six days of the week was achieved primarily through cold water rinses of the hair, frequent soap and water washings of the face and hands, foot baths in a small wash tub before toddling off to bed and a mid-week sponge-bath, with which we are all familiar.

In my recollection, it wasn't until the 1970's that the weekly routine of shampooing ones hair began to change into a daily task. Coincidentally or not, it was during that same time period that commercial hair products hit their heyday. Salon formulations of products became available in retail stores and hair, as the crowning glory of one's person, became a social obsession. The population preference of he bath began to give way to a rising preference for the shower. For the man, a shower was quick. For a woman, it provided the perfect environment for the ritual shampoo even though water consumption was greater, it took longer, eliminated the relaxing properties of the "soak" and presented the challenge of shaving while standing on one leg.

Whether you hold to your habit of showering and adjust only your timing so that it fits into the hours you've chosen to have hot water available or opt for an entirely new approach to bathing - a great deal of money will be saved when the high cost of hot water is conquered.


WASHING - Simple solution: wash everything in cold water. If you feel you absolutely must do an occasional load in warm water, try this: After the last bath or shower, turn the hot water heater off by flipping the breaker. Then fill your washing machine using the 'hot' setting. that will make use of all the hot water remaining in the tank ant the water will simply run cold once the hot water is all used.

Click HERE to access a U-Tube video with recipe and instructions for making your own Laundry Soap for 40 cents a gallon.

THE DRYER - The clothes dryer is a huge consumer of electricity. Make sure your lint filter is always clean and clean lint from every area that you can access.

DRYING - the best way to conserve electricity (or gas) is not to use the dryer at all. Proper hanging methods will be covered in a later post. In the meantime, make a point to hang all heavy items like jeans and sweats. When using the dryer, dry items of similar weight fabrics together. If your dryer doesn't have a moisture censor, set the timer and check the load every 20 minutes. Soon you will determine the necessary drying times for different weight fabrics in your particular dryer.

IRONING - If you are in the habit of ironing items as they are needed, try to change the habit and set aside a weekly ironing time. Your iron uses more electricity in the time it is heating up than it does in the same amount of time once it reaches temperature. If you can plan ironing on laundry day, you can save drying time, whether on the line or in the dryer, by ironing tiems while they are still slightly damp.

CLOTHING - Reduce the amount of laundry you do by limiting needless changes of clothing. Just a couple decades ago, we owned far fewer clothes. School clothes were removed and hung immediately upon arrival home and would be worn again several days later. Play clothes were then put on, to be removed at bath/bed time and folded for the next afternoons use. Unless they were particularly soiled, they were expected to last a couple of days before going in the laundry. Underwear was changed daily. Socks were required to be rolled into pairs as they went into the hamper. Yes, that meant they had to be unrolled as they went into the washer but it ensurred that there were no unmated socks.


MD said...

Fortunately here in the great NW, most of us don't need to have air conditioners. I love the idea of adding the damp towel pinned in front of the fan. I do use fans a bit, since can get in the high 80's at times. Great idea.

Anonymous said...

That's good stuff! We could sure use it! Our electric bill is double from last year. Thanks for the tips!

cindylbaker said...

Boy do I remember the "family bath" stories! It was the "family towel" that pushed me over the edge! LOL! But seriously, I love the timer on the water heater! I'm gonna do that! Our electric bill doubled when we added the addition, and again when local rates increased! And the rest of the ideas are great too! Thanks again! Sure need the savings right now.

Anonymous said...

Your hot water heater is a major player in your electric bill. We can save 15 to 20 dollars a month with the simple use of a timer. The timer cost us 35 dollars. We put "on-off" switches for an hour in the early morning (6am) and on-off in the late after noon (around 4).
Now instead of the heater cycling on and off every time the kids turn on the faucet it only comes on twice a day ---2 HOURS !!! Instead of 24. Try it. You will soon learn how much how water you will have, and live accordingly AND SAVE MONEY