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The Intrepid Homestead

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

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Utilities

Tips for reducing your electric bill by up to 30%

Here in PA, we’re ever so fortunate (sarcasm) to be headed into a new era deregulated electricity. Our utility provider (PPL Electric) has announced that they expect most residential electric bills such as ours to rise about 30%-32%! Somehow, this is supposed to be a help to our electricity cost. We’ve not figured that out yet.

As the old saying goes, rather than curse the darkness, light a candle. If your bill is going to go up by 30%, try lowering your consumption by 30% or more. This will not only keep your cost down, but reducing demand lowers prices for everyone.

So what are some relatively low-investment ways you can reduce your electric bill by 30% or more? Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Setup a clothes line. This is the cheapest way to go solar there is! According to Dept. of Energy statistics, clothes dryers account for nearly 6%  of household electric bills (average).
  2. Go Green One Day – unplugging most of your non-essential electricity for one day a week. This could save most households up to 15% of their electricity cost.
  3. Track down and eliminate “ghost loads” of electricity – appliances that use power when not even on (DVD, TVs, Phones, etc). A Kil-A-Watt is a great way to find these. Conservatively, we think this could save most households 1-2%
  4. Install a high-efficiency, water-saving shower head. Doing so appears to reduce our family’s utility cost. This is not direclty reducing the electric bull by a whopping amount, but reduces our utility costs in an amount that equals approximately 5-8% of our electricity cost. This is roughly the cost of one month’s electric bill! See our recent post for details.

So, the above simple steps could reduce your expenses by up to 31% of your yearly electric costs (by our estimates). None of the above are expensive or difficult to implement or require advanced DIY skills.

Have additional tips? Post em’ in the comments.

Why water-saving shower heads are a good investment

Many people might not think to look at their showers as being a source of potential energy and cost savings. That’s unfortunate, because there’s money to be saved in the shower along with natural resources too.

Consider the following scenario: Here’s the simple math for a family of four each taking a 7 minute with an average water-saving shower head (2.6 gallons per minute, or “gpm”):

  • 4 people x 7 minutes x 2.6 gallons = 72.8 gallons per day
  • 72.8 x $.0015/gallon = $.11 per day
  • 72.8 gallons x $.02 to heat it = $1.46 per day
  • Cost per 7 minute shower = $.37
  • $1.46 + $.11 = $1.57 per day to purchase water and heat it for showering
  • $1.57 X 365 = $573.05 per year!

Here’s the math for the savings this family would see by just installing a high-efficiency shower head:

  • 4 people x 7 minutes x 1.6 gallons = 44.8 gallons per day
  • 44.8 x $.0015/gallon = $.07 per day
  • 44.8 gallons x $.02 to heat it = $.87 per day
  • $.87 + $.07 = $.94 per day to purchase water and heat it for showering
  • $.94 X 365 = $343.10 per year!

So just by installing new shower heads, there’s several hundred dollars a year to be saved in water and energy cost. We’ve installed Peerless 76154 1.6 GPM Water-Amplifying Showerhead, Chrome units that cost us less than $15 – money well spent!

As you can see, hot water heating can be a major expense. As we aim for a simpler life, we’re aiming to use less water, and less commercially-provided energy heating the water. Stay tuned for our future posts about our attempts to heat hot water in some non-traditional ways!

The specifics of moving from Verizon (with DSL) to Ooma

When we signed up for Ooma and decided to port our phone number, we could not get a consistent answer from either Ooma or Verizon regarding what would happen to our DSL service once the number was ported. Ooma was pretty sure that our DSL service would be dropped and we’d be without internet until we re-established the service. Four separate calls to Verizon regarding this resulted in four separate and inconsistent responses. Three times we were told from Verizon that our service would automatically shut off when the phone number port was completed. During one other call, the Verizon rep insisted that the default action when a phone service with DSL was ported was to convert to “dry-loop” or “naked” DSL. He was right.

You’d think that Verizon and Ooma would both have enough experience with people canceling Verizon phone service to go with VoIP services including Ooma to know what the standard process was! Since we could not locate straight answers from anyone, we decided to write this post to re-assure those who are going through the same process.

Yesterday, after about two weeks with Ooma, our phone number port was successfully completed. We didn’t lose internet service at all. Today, we received two communications from Verizon. One email, the other voice mail (on our newly ported number). Pretty much, all that’s required to keep the DSL is that we contact them within 7 days and provide a new means of paying for the DSL service since we won’t be receiving a bill.

Here’s the Voicemail left from Verizon:
Voicemail from Verizon

Here’s the text of the Verizon Email:

Dear Valued Verizon Online Member,

We know how important your Verizon High Speed Internet service is to you, which is why we are sending you this letter to help make sure that our records are updated following your recent request to change your voice telephone service to another provider.

As a result of that request, your Verizon Online account has been automatically modified so that we can continue to provide your High Speed Internet (HSI) service without Verizon voice service. Your HSI service remains active, and your email address, portal selection (if any), and value added services (if any) will all remain unaffected. If you were previously on a high speed internet annual plan, your commitment has transitioned to your new package and has not changed.

If you wish to continue enjoying Verizon’s High Speed Internet service, please contact our Billing Department at 1-800-567-6789 within the next 7 days. If you do not contact us within 7 days, your HSI service will be suspended for a period of thirty (30) days, then disconnected. If you attempt to access the Verizon HSI service during the suspension period, you will be presented with an opportunity to verify or change your billing information and restore your service.

If you do not wish to retain your Verizon High Speed Internet access service you do not need to take any action. Your service will be suspended after 7 days. Any charges incurred for HSI service following completion of your order to cancel Verizon voice service will be automatically credited within one to two bill cycles.

Your HSI service without Verizon voice is provided on a new dedicated data telephone line: [private]
Please retain this number to help us identify your account if you call us for assistance.

Your new monthly rate for Verizon High Speed Internet without voice is $ [private] per month, effective [private]. Any Verizon bundle discounts you may have previously had are no longer applicable and, if applicable, a bundle early termination fee will be assessed for cancelling the voice component of your Verizon bundle. Your use of the HSI service continues to be governed by the Verizon Online Terms of Service. You can review the Terms of Service by visiting: Internet Access Terms of Service

Thank you for choosing Verizon Online High Speed Internet!

Sincerely,
Verizon Online
Broadband Customer Care Team

So there you have it! If you’re porting a home phone to Ooma from a Verizon local phone service with DSL this is how it works – for now at least!

Converting Verizon Contract Phone to Pre-Paid

For months we’ve been trying to discover a way to reduce our mobile/cell phone service without compromising on the quality of service, etc. The issue is that one of us uses 200+ minutes per month minimum, the other maybe 50 at most. We’ve been using a Verizon Family Plan for a while that had a base price of $69.99, plus $9.99 for the extra line, plus all the other charges, surcharges, tax etc. It usually ended up being $95-$100/month because of the 18% combined taxes and surcharges.

We find this amazingly costly for such occasional use. We considered many alternatives and finally found that the best option for us was to keep one of us on a Verizon “post-paid” (ie. contract) plan and the other we moved to a pre-paid service. There’s an immediate savings with pre-paid of not paying the surcharges that are customary with contract plans.

We were about to purchase a new pre-paid phone/service with Verizon, but we were wanted to keep our phone number and our phone. After calling Verizon and putting up with their salesperson’s shenanigans to try to convince us that this was not a good move, we were able to get them to admit it was possible and instruct us what to do.

Here’s what was required to turn a contract plan into a pre-paid plan:

  1. Our contract date end date had already expired. You cannot do this without early termination fees otherwise.
  2. We were told by the rep on the phone that we MUST take the phone to a Verizon Store to do this – not a reseller, etc. but a VZW-branded store. I don’t know if this was just a ploy, or truly required.
  3. We then had to maintain our position with the in-store reps that this was what we wanted to do, and further resist additional efforts to get us to stay on more expensive plans. We chose the “Core” version of the Verizon Impulse plan because it includes unlimited mobile-to-mobile with other vzw users, only costs $.99/day that the phone is used, and $.10/minute for all other minutes. Since we use about 5o minutes a month for this phone, that should be less than $7/mo. since many of the minutes used are mobile-t0-mobile.
  4. The rep then disconnected the existing number and reserved it (requiring a call into some sort of main office), then re-established the phone number as a new pre-paid service.
  5. This required the purchase of airtime credit. One can choose differing amounts. We chose $50 in order to have 90 days to use those minutes.
  6. The whole process took 10-15 minutes and cost nothing outside of the minutes purchased.

Watch out for these gotchas
Tricky numbers: In the above process, we noticed that the Verizon rep on the phone used the most expensive pre-paid options when “doing the numbers” to show us how pre-paid would be more expensive. Therefore, they used the $3.99/day option when comparing cost. Don’t let this fool you – it’s a sales trick. Further, they also don’t consider the true cost of contract plans with the included surcharges and fees. These don’t exist in pre-paid accounts. In our state, contract taxes and fees tend to be about 18%. Pre-paid reduces that down to 6% in PA and is also on the minutes purchased, not on a contract fee, therefore it’s less taxes paid than in a contract unless our pre-paid usage exceeds a contract price (which is very unlikely).

Verizon Impulse Pre-paid plans compared: The in-store rep recommended a “cheaper” plan with no per-day charges, but a per minute cost of $.25 all the time. This might also appear good to those with poor math/observation skills, but that makes the minutes cost 250% more per minute than the other plans all to avoid a $1 charge for using the phone that day. Consider this example: A 20 minute call with $.25/minute/$0 per-day charge would cost $5.00. The cost to make the same call with the $.10/minute/$.99/day plan would cost $2.98 – that’s 40% cheaper!  Unless all your calls tend to be less than 4 minutes or less (breaking even with the $1/day plan), it’s not a good bargain to go with the $.25/minute plan. Consider yourself forewarned!

    First Impressions: Ooma

    Yesterday, our Ooma Hub and Scout package arrived just three business days after purchasing (not bad for Amazon’s free super-saver shipping).

    Opening the box was reminiscent of opening an Apple product. Those who own Mac’s and other Apple products will know what I mean. Most manufacturers simply see packaging as as way to get products safely into the hands of consumers. Apple, and apparently Ooma too, design their packaging to almost present their products. It’s quite fancy, simple and downright elegant.

    But who cares about packaging of the product sucks?

    Fortunately, the product itself could easily be confused for an Apple product. It’s design engineers appear to have taken some cues from Apple’s design team. These devices are simple, highly intuitive, easy to use, tidy and clean. Even the colors of white and silver are Apple-like. As a Mac family, we like this of course.

    So, we opened it up, found it very easy to understand with a quick start guide and a more detailed users guide. Very few parts in the Ooma Hub. The Hub, the power cord, a phone cord, a network cord. There was also an optional phone line splitter. Before we began installing any hardware, we registered the product which only took a few minutes. The only downside of that process was the lack of available numbers in our calling area, but that’s okay since we’re porting our old home number (more on that another time).

    Setting up the hardware was easy. We made it a bit harder because we wanted the device somewhere else in our house and Ooma insists on sitting between your modem and the rest of your network. Some might find this to be irritating, but their reason is to make sure they can prioritize web traffic so that calls don’t suffer should you be heavily using your bandwidth. This setup wasn’t complex because of Ooma, but because of our home network setup. Regardless, we got it setup in no time. From box arriving to installation was 45 minutes to an hour – most of which was spent re-arranging things to where we wanted them.

    Once we got things setup, we went ahead and signed up for Ooma’s Premier service. The $99 annual price also included the phone porting which is typically a one-time fee of $39.99. We’re glad we signed up for this. It gives us all sorts of cool features:

    1. Additional phone on-demand phone line – if someone is on the phone, you can just pick up another handset and make a call.
    2. Conference/Party Line
    3. Additional Phone Number anywhere in the US. In our case, we got one in our out-of-town family’s hometown so they could call us without long distance charges
    4. Personal Blacklist (optional) – we can permanently block calls to any number we choose, so when those telemarketers refuse to stop calling, we can just block em’
    5. Community Blacklist (optional) – when enough ooma users vote on blocking certain numbers, they’ll automatically be blocked from calling those who subscribe.
    6. Call Forwarding/Mult-ring – set your phone to forward to your cell phone or also ring your cell phone

    These are all in addition to some seriously cool included features that combine the best of many worlds together. The Ooma hub is sort of like an answering machine combined with telco-provided voicemail, yet with a web interface. There’s so many ways to access your messages. Some of the other features we really dig are the do not disturb feature, call screening, custom rings for different r or people, etc.

    The voice quality has been fantastic. Should it suffer, one can connect to the Ooma hub with a standard network cable and type http://setup.ooma.com into their web browser where they’ll be directed to the settings for their hub. This is only accessible when plugged directly into the hub! From here, one can increase the allotted bandwidth set aside for calls which should preserve good quality for those who have high bandwidth uses otherwise.

    All told, we’re pretty impressed with this product. First it was the savings on the phone bill, now it’s the usefulness and design of the product.

    Reducing the Cell Phone Bill

    Amount Saved: $445.01/yr

    As posted previously, I had been considering entirely dumping our Verison Wireless service in exchange for prepaid service through Boost Mobile. I spent several hours analyzing the true cost of doing so by evaluating the cost of the new phones (required for using Boost, optional to stay with Verizon), the monthly cost, etc.

    Boost Mobile really looked good at first, but to get a decent phone for each of us would have totaled over $350 dollars, thus reducing the money-saving nature of going this route. The real savings of switching to Boost after buying the phones would have only been about $80.

    With Verizon, we have a family plan with a base cost of $69.99/mo. I spoke with a VZW person who told me that the additional charges on wireless cell phone bills (at least in PA) totaled about 18%. Our true cost was usually around $100/mo. That’s because of an extra $5/mo. text messaging package that was added, etc. Our plan included free calling to any other VZW user. This cannot be discounted when choosing another service. It also included free nights and weekend calling – as most do.

    We considered dumping local and long distance, then upgrading our plans so that we could eliminate some bills, but after we found Ooma that turned out to be a money-losing proposition.

    Finally, we decided to keep one phone on a minimum verizon plan ($39.99/mo.) and sign the other one up for Boost Mobile and use per minute pricing ($.10/minute). Because one if us uses about 100-130 minute per month, this ends up being $10-13/mo total – no taxes or surcharges. Further, we found a refurbished Boost Mobile phone on ebay for $34.99 incl. free shipping.

    By going this route, we’re dropping our cell phone cost $480/yr with a 2-yr savings of $925.

    The take home lesson here is this:

    1. Evaluate your cell phone usage
    2. If someone in your family (if on a family plan) uses barely any minutes, then consider placing them on a pre-paid account
    3. By doing the math, you can likely find a way to save several hundred dollars per year.
    4. If you like to use your cell phone for your long distance calling while at home, consider getting an Ooma. You’ll save more that way if combined with the above approach.

    Have you found a way to lower your cell phone cost? Please share with us by posting a comment.

    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.

    41TUv85GkML._SL160_

    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!

    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.

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