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The Intrepid Homestead

One Family's journey toward a simpler, sustainable, prepared homestead and life

Month

August 2009

Reduce Refrigeration Power Consumption up to 95%!

We’re Saving About $135/yr

As I’ve been researching ways to reduce power consumption, I’ve been measuring the annual power use of each appliance in my house (see my post on the Kill-A-Watt for details). When I measured my refrigerator, I found that it used 2.17 Kwh in just 13:22. That means that at our average Kwh cost of $.1007, my fridge costs me $$.3896/day, $11.85/month, and $143.20/year. That might not sound significant, but what if it could be less? A LOT less?!

I’d recently seen some info about using a chest freezer in place of a fridge. I thought the idea sounded whacky at first. It’s being done by many power-miserly people – particularly those who use solar power. You see, refrigerators are inherently inefficient in their design. When you open your fridge door, in goes all sorts of room-temperature air that must now be cooled and the cool air you’ve been paying to cool comes out. This is where a chest freezer has quite an advantage. Aside from being better-insulated than refrigerators, chest freezers don’t lose much cold air when you open them because cold air sinks and hot air rises. You ever notice the open coolers in the grocery store with no lids, yet the contain frozen items? This is because the cold air stays down in the freezer.

So how does this work as a fridge, I mean freezers freeze stuff, and I just want my stuff cool, right? It’s simple:

You take a chest freezer, turn the thermostat to as cold as possible (so that when it’s on, it’s running at full-steam), then purchase a separate thermostat such as this Refrigerator or Freezer Thermostat (Temperature Controller). These have long been used by people who brew their own beer to keep their beverages at given temperature range for long periods of time.

Control your freezer temperature externally
Control your freezer temperature externally

This device (or others like it) plug into the wall, and your freezer plugs into it. It consists of a temperature probe which is placed inside the freezer (no tools required) hooked to a relay that turns the power (at the plug) on and off. This is totally safe and already how your freezer works, so no wear and tear. This just way easier than modifying the freezer’s internal thermostat and voiding warranties, etc.

Once plugged in, your set the external thermostat to your desired temp (mid to high 30’s) When the temperature inside the freezer moves above your set temp, it powers on the outlet, turning on the freezer until it reaches the desired temperature. Once reached, it cuts power to the freezer. Many people who use this arrangement report their freezer compressor running 2-5 minutes per hour!

So just how much does this save? Most people report an electricity use doing this between .10 Kwh to .4 Kwh per day. Our current average Kwh price is $.1007 (just a hair over ten cents). That means that doing the above will cost you between $.01 and $.04 cents per day. That’s between $3.67 and $14.70 per year! You will not find a fridge that approaches even half this energy use. Because I bought a new energy star freezer, I am projecting somewhere in the middle – $.20 Kwh/day. This is twice the cost that many people are experiencing, but I don’t like to get my hopes up. If I am anywhere close, my cost will be just $7.35 to run my freezer fridge for one year. That’s a 95% cost reduction. It could be even better, it could be even worse. Even if it were $.40 Kwh/day, the cost will still be less than $15 for the year, an 89% improvement!

Have a hard time believing that? A brand-new Energy Star freezer will use about $38 per year as a freezer – it’s right on the tag. When it’s used in the energy-sipping capacity like this, it uses a fraction of that energy.

Of course, you have to 1) have or obtain a decent chest freezer 2) have a place to effectively use a chest freezer as a fridge 3) and purchase or make an external thermostat capable of powering the unit on/off frequently. In our case, we had the willingness, the room, but not the freezer or thermostat. We decided on purchasing a new Energy Star 14.8 cu.ft. freezer for $398. We purchased the above thermostat as well. This unit should be going strong for 5-10 years, long after we’ve recovered our purchase price.

If this is something you want to consider, I recommend the following:

  1. Use a Kill-A-Watt to measure your power use and determine your real kwh cost per day
  2. Multiply this cost by 365. If you live in PA, remember that once we experience deregulation this winter, power cost will likely rise at least 30%.
  3. Consider if you can purchase or locate a decent freezer
  4. Consider if you can purchase or construct a thermostat relay (I could not build one for the cost of the one above)
  5. Consider if you could live with a chest freezer rather than a traditional fridge.
  6. If so, Consider the cost savings over 3-5 years after your cost to purchase the freezer (if need be) and a thermostat.
  7. If the cost is justifiable, go for it!

Regarding the last item, my wife was suprisingly willing to do this after going and looking at freezers. There’s some nice benefits of this approach:

  1. It can be hard to see items in the freezer, harder to reach them, etc. The top-down effect of using a chest freezer offers a bird’s eye view of the contents.
  2. The chest freezer doubles as quite a bit of effective work area
  3. The former refrigerator area can be re-factored into a pantry, more counter space, etc.
  4. The right chest freezer can be nicely organized. Ours came with four nice sliding baskets that make it easy to organize.
  5. Should you decide to implement an alternative source of power (solar or wind), the less power you need, the better.

This might not be for everyone, but we’re excited to give it a shot!

I’ll post an update in a few months with my power usage.

Eliminate Local and Long Distance Bill for Good!

We’re Saving $444/yr

If you could pay between $200-$250 one time and never pay for local and long distance calls again, would YOU do it? We had to ask ourselves the same question when we found out about the ooma Core VoIP Phone System with No Monthly Phone Service Bills.

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We spend a LOT of time looking into saving money on utilities. We’ve been focusing lately on looking for ways to reduce the cost of telephone use. This includes wireless (cell) phone service, local phone service, and long-distance calling use.

Many cell phone plans come with unlimited local and long distance calling. At first, we assumed this would be cheaper, but when we ran the numbers (using a spreadsheet) including the monthly cost, hardware (new cell phones) cost, etc. we did not find using unlimited cell phone plans (or any cell phone plan) to be the right choice for our family. Collectively, we use about 400 minutes of cell phone use per month (between two lines).  Our monthly cost for long distance and local calling is approximately $47/mo. on average. Upgrading to unlimited cell service, or even a limited plan with enough minutes would cost more than this amount per month.

We were already unhappy with how much cell phones cost our family  (more on that another time), so increasing the bill is not appealing.

We also considered magicJack: PC to Phone Jack, but don’t want to keep a computer running constantly. For those who don’t mind, magicJack is an even cheaper alternative than ooma. Our friends overseas really like this because they can get a U.S. phone number with unlimited calling for $40 one-time fee! You might consider this if you want ultra-cheap long-distance.

Further, we looked into using free services such as Skype, Gizmo5, and Google Voice as alternatives. We have accounts with each, but don”t see them as a practical alternative to replacing local and long distance calling, and certainly not cell phones – but they’re great for calling overseas for really cheap. These services too require either a computer to be on, or expensive phone upgrades. We also have friends who promote long-distance services, but we wanted to eliminate the bill – not just reduce it.

After reading copious reviews of Ooma and talking a real-life user, we decided to buy the Ooma. From our calculations, and those who own them, this will drastically reduce our local and long-distance, with a 10-12 month payback followed by unlimited local and long distance calling without paying another bill again!

Here’s what else we like about the Ooma:

  1. We can “port” our home telephone number (unlike many of our friends who have gotten VoIP systems like Vonage, etc). No need to change your number!
  2. It’s easy to install. Plug ooma into your home network router, plug phone into ooma, register.
  3. The device is simple – a few buttons – no rocket science.
  4. Voicemail can be checked from Ooma device, phone call, or online. Messages can even be emailed to us as MP3.
  5. We can get all sorts of cool additional services for $1o0/yr (Ooma Premier) –  again, totally optional. If we do this the first year, the price includes the charges to port (usually $39.99)

Now, this is not something everyone can use because you must have a broadband (DLS, Cable, Fiber Optic) internet connection. Also, if your broadband internet connection does not connect to a router, you’ll need one of those ($50 or less likely). We have DSL which currently costs us $31.99/mo. Because we will be removing our local phone service, we will have to change our DSL to “naked” DSL with a price increase of $10/mo. This is factored into our savings estimate below.

Here’s the math:

  • Existing Cost of DSL, Local and Long Distance per Year: $948.47
  • First Year Cost with Ooma, Extra “Scout” (which I want, but most people would not need), phone # port, and increased DSL Cost: $776.88
  • First Year Savings: $171.59
  • Recurring cost per year after first year: $503.88 (for DSL only, no local or long distance charges any more)
    *(+$100 if you want optional “premier” service)
  • Yearly savings (years 2 and on) $444.59 ($344.59 if you subscribe to Ooma Premier)
  • Savings over 5 years ( first year savings + ( yearly savings x 4 ) ) = $1949.95

Our long distance charges are $16/mo on average – That’s probably a bit lower than most people, so most would experience even bigger savings than us. Hope this news helps you find an affordable alternative to your local and long distance calling. Let me know if I can help you figure out your savings!

Why I love Junkmail!

Like most people, I used to spend much time cursing the senders of junk mail under my breath as I journey back from my mailbox. That is, until I realized the value of junk mail as a gardener.

Junk mail is primarily paper. Paper is a carbon, and carbon my friend is a key ingredient to good compost! Paper fulfills the same role as dead brown leaves in a compost pile. In my opinion and estimation, there is no more earth-friendly way of using waste paper than composting it. Even paper recycling uses immense amounts of energy to transport the paper to recycling centers and onward to those who recycle the materials into new products.

So why not use it to produce rich, fertile compost that will benefit your garden with essential nutrients?

We have both traditional compost and also vermicompost (worm composting). The worms make pretty quick work of the shredded paper and cardboard!

Some people try to make a case for this not being a good idea usually because of antiquated understanding of the ingredients of the ink used in printing. It is highly unlikely that you’ll find heavy metals in inks used to print your junk mail. Had this been 1950, I can understand the alarm, but today, most inks are soy-based and completely safe for composting!

You don’t have to stop at junk mail! We also shred and compost our cereal, snack bar, pasta boxes etc. Pretty much anything that can go through the shredder is headed toward the compost piles. Yes, the shredding does use electricity, and therefore fossil fuels, but the amount of energy used to shred household junk mail is far, far less than the energy required to recycle it otherwise.

We tend not to shred “waxy”types of papers since they would seem to take longer to break down. Further, we rip the plastic out of all the windo envelopes prior to shredding them.

So stop cursing your mailbox and start making wise use of your junkmail as compost. Your gardens will thank you!

Audit Heat/Cooling Loss to save up to 20% on heating and cooling cost?

I spent some time today using our utility company’s online self-help portal to determine some areas of cost saving measures. Without a doubt, heating and cooling is the #1 area of energy use in our home – and probably most homes.

Some of their tools show a savings of up to 20% by fixing areas of air infiltration throughout the house, as well as sealing leaks and drafts in the duct work.

In searching on Amazon, I discovered a device for $49 that scans for thermal differences so you can actually KNOW where the leaks are. I am wondering if anyone I know has had experience using this device. Here it is – Black & Decker TLD100 Thermal Leak Detector

Please comment if you’ve used it. I am considering getting this as soon as possible.

Audit your own electricity usage for $35

A few months ago, I purchased a P3 International P4460 Kill A Watt EZ Electricity Usage Monitor!

FInd Appliances and Devices quietly draining your electric bill
FInd Appliances and Devices quietly draining your electric bill

This nifty device allows you to see what kind of electricity your plugged-in appliances use. Simply plug the Kill-A-Watt into the your outlet and your appliance into the Kill-A-Watt and let it sit. It will show you the Kwh that your appliance uses in the time it’s plugged in.

This is very handy for seeing if some appliances have “ghost loads” – that is, they use electricity even when not in use. This is common in many appliances – especially those with “brick” plugs.

I have to admit, there’s two things I hate about this product (not enough to warrant not having one):

  1. Once you unplug the unit, the data you just recorded is gone, so make sure you write it down before you unplug it!
  2. There’s a rather obvious design flaw/annoyance where you cannot plug this and any other plug into a standard double outlet. I would highly recommend something like Power Strip Liberator Plus, 5 Pack to allow you to plug this into an outlet without interfering with other devices. These things are handy for those times when you cannot use all the outlets on power strips because bulky plugs take up to much space too!

I think this is $35 well spent since it will help our family unplug costly devices. Decide for yourself!

Money and Water Saving Showerheads

Recently, one of our showerheads broke. In shopping for a new one, I wanted to find a new showerhead that met several criteria:

  1. Affordable (no $100 showerheads for our family!)
  2. Energy Efficient (water conservation saves water and heating energy)
  3. Flexible – I am a tall guy, and we also have little ones. We need something that accommodates a wide range of sizes and positions.
  4. Quality – I chose Peerless because I’ve had good experience with them so far, they’re affordable, and best of all, have a lifetime warranty.

I could not really find an off-the-shelf solution I liked entirely. Most showerheads that include a flexible hose are 2.5 GPM (gallons per minute) – water-saving yes, but not quite enough in my opinion. I really wanted to get 1.5-1.6 GPM. The showerheads that save more water don’t usually have any flexibility and are usually under-powered too. Also, my wife wanted to maintain having a flexible hose showerhead so that we could shower the little ones.

My solution? Combine several showerheads and/or parts. Basically what I did was combined some items from several off-the-shelf showerheads with some stuff we already had to get the best of everything for less than many showerheads would cost. Now, I have a showerhead that combines fixed and flexible, is adjustable, affordable, and energy-saving. We could reduce our water usage (for showers) up to 40% and reduce our hot water usage, thus saving some electricity.

I ended up purchasing the Peerless 76154 1.6 GPM Water-Amplifying Showerhead, Chrome which we scored from Walmart (we usually hate shopping there btw, but didn’t have time to wait for Amazon) for $9.98. This gem of a showerhead was not only less than $10, it also uses 1.6 GPM – a full gallon per minute less than most showerheads. Yet, it seems to have a powerful spray pattern equitable to a 2.5 GPM showerhead. Very easy to install!

I also picked up a Peerless 4″ Sunflower Showerhead with Arm. I love the arm idea because it allows me to be able to stand under the showerhead (at 6′ 3″, this is usually impossible and I have to do squats to wash my hair). My wife didn’t want to give up the hose-mounted showerhead that we already had for the kiddos. So, I combined them! I simply replaced the fixed head of the existing two-headed showerhead with the Sunflower unit. Now, I have an affordable solution that meets everyone’s needs. I plan on buying an additional Peerless 76154 1.6 GPM Water-Amplifying Showerhead, Chrome from Walmart and replacing the Sunflower head so that my fixed showerhead is 1.6 GPM and my flexible showerhead is 2.5 GPM. This is a good compromise in my opinion.

If one were to do this from scratch, it would be pretty simple. This would allow for efficient showers that accommodate all size people, but also more forceful showers when needed. Here’s roughly what you would need:

  1. Buy a Peerless Sunflower Showerhead with Arm ($24.98) – if I can find just the arm cheaper, I would do that but most I have found have been as much as the entire showerhead system above.
  2. Buy an affordable matching showerhead with a flexible hose ($12.98)
  3. Buy a Peerless 76154 1.6 GPM Water-Amplifying Showerhead, Chrome ($13 at Amazon)
  4. Buy a Alsons #861-237 MP Chrome Shower Diverter
    to your liking ($2.03)
  5. Optional: Flow Control Valve ($2-$10)- let’s you slow the water down, or shut off while shaving or lathering up yet without turning off or adjusting the hot and cold supply thus saving more $$$.

Total cost for an adjustable two-headed, water-saving, flexible showerhead?  $49.98-$59.98. I know there are cheaper alternatives, but I think this is a reasonable price to get so many features in a showerhead setup.

To put it all together, you would first optionally attach your flow control valve (item #5), follwed by the diverter (item #4). To the main outlet of the diverter, you’d attach the adjustable arm from item #1 above. Next, remove the showerhead from item #1 above and replace with item #3 – the water-saving showerhead. To the other diverter outlet, attach item #2.

Doing the above, you’d have one extra showerhead which you could sell, give away, or tuck away for a plumbing emergency sometime.

These are just some ideas for anyone who has a hard time finding the showerhead of their dreams without spending $100.

Give yourself a raise – cut the cable

Possible Savings: $700-$1,000/Yr.

Okay, this isn’t new for us. We’ve been off of cable for years. However, I often wonder why people hang on to cable bills in desparate times.

According to Comcast.com, the main cable provider around here, their cable packages are between $58.70 and $114.90 per month. That’s $704.40 and $1378.80 per year respectively. Dish TV is not much better, starting at around $39.99/mo. and going up to $102.98/mo.

Just by way of example, if you’re income was $30,o00/year and you had basic cable, dumping your cable would be equivalent to a 2.4% raise if you have basic cable, getting rid of it would be the same as a 4.6% raise. I know countless people who have had their salaries frozen due to the economic situation this year and have been told they won’t receive a raise til things get better. Don’t let that stop you – give yourself a raise!

Now, we realize that people desire some form of entertainment and we understand what that desire is like. The thing is, there’s plenty of free simple ways to watch tv programming for free:

  1. Go to a friends or neighbors house – you might just make a new friend – (or enemy I suppose 😉 )
  2. Watch your favorite shows online at either the network’s web site, or places like hulu.com
  3. Pay per episode and view your favorite shows using Apple’s iTunes or Amazon. You’d have to watch a lot of shows a month to match the cable/dish prices
  4. Go to public places with televisions and watch there.

The point is, Cable/Satellite TV is a quick and easy way to put $700-$1,000 back in your bank account. To many families, that could mean the difference between eating or not, a house payment or two, etc.

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