Preserve Razors: Good for the environment and cheap too!

We’re constantly surprised just how much disposable razors cost. They must be made of gold and silver given the prices of the blade refill packs! In our opinion, the pricing structure really encourages consumers to keep buying the razors anew since it’s usually less expensive than buying the refill packs. So much for re-use!

On a recent trip to our favorite grocer – Wegmans – we discovered Preserve Razors and refill packs. These razors are made largely from recycled Stonyfield Farm yogurt cups! Aside from being made of recycled materials, these were far cheaper than any leading brand we could find. We were able to pick up a tripe razor with extra blade for $4.99. We even found 4-pack refill packs for $5! It would appear that these razors cost 50% less than the major disposable razors.

They work much better than the cheap disposable razors (although they’re not so cheap anymore) – the ones that come 6-8 in a pack – the one piece deals.

This might not sound like big news to living simply, but it’s one more way to make a positive difference for the planet and the pocketbook!

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!

First Days with the Chest Freezer as Fridge

IMG_2586

All the parts and pieces finally fell into place for us to setup our Chest Freezer as a Fridge. For those new to this thread, we had purchased a new Energy Star Chest Freezer from Lowes, an external Thermostat Control from Amazon, and put them together to have a super-efficient refrigerator.

We hooked the thermostat up in about 5 minutes. It consisted of unwinding the semi-stiff metal thermostat probe wire, running it up over the back of the freezer, down into the freezer, and across the back. We hid ours underneath a built-in rail used for hanging baskets, so it’s not visible or in danger of getting damaged.

The Thermostat

Once installed, we simply turned the built-in thermostat to it’s max setting, then plugged the freezer into the external thermostat, and then the external thermostat into the wall. The Johnson Controls Thermostat’s plug has a female receptical for the freezer to plug into.

It ran for about 3o minutes to reach our desired temperature of about 37℉, then shut off the power. From then on, it’s run less than 10 minutes per hour.

This AM, with the Kill-A-Watt attached for 12 hours, the unit has used .22 kWh of power. That’s quite impressive and at today’s prices equals a few nickels over $15 for the year if this stays consistent! That’s a whopping big difference from our old fridge which cost $115-$120/yr! We had thought that we’d save up to 95% from what we’ve seen others achieve and we’re currently realizing a savings of 87%. That’s acceptable 😉

How does it work for the family?

The new "Fridge"

So far, everyone really digs the setup. At 14.5 cubit feet, it’s quite a lot of space, it has way more room in it than our previous fridge, and everything is very easy to get to, except by our 4-yr old, which is a bonus since we are always telling her to get out of the fridge! We could literally store twice as much food as previous and still pay 80% less for the power. Not bad, eh? Looking and reaching top-down into the fridge is nice too. We have a bird’s eye view of everything and it’s all easy to reach. Hopefully the pictures give some idea of the setup.

Is it worth it?

A few people have commented that this is not much of a savings. If you just bought a brand-new Energy Star fridge, that might be the case. I wouldn’t go this route had we had a new, efficient fridge (at least not yet). However, if you’re in need of a new fridge, consider this for a minute.

Cost Comparison

New Energy Star Fridge New Chest Freezer as Fridge
Cost of Unit $900 $450**
Electric Cost 5yr. $275 $75
Total $1175 $525

The above prices for the fridge are based on what we’ve seen available in the size range that we would need. **Price includes extended warranty of 4 years and price of thermostat!

That should put things into perspective. Perhaps some people don’t care about saving $750, but we do! Further, our savings will continue year after year. So if you already need a new refrigerator, consider this option, otherwise, find another way to save $30-50/yr.

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.