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!

Kefir: The dairy “swiss army knife”

One if the things we’re interested in doing is maintaining a good variety of healthy foods, but in a way that is affordable and sustainable. At this time, due to where we live, we cannot  get a cow or goats for milk. Despite this, we still want to be able to produce simple dairy products on our own without having to depend on the market for every dairy product. We still have to purchase milk, which we get raw from a local farmer.

Enter Kefir – an ancient fermented milk drink that has been around for eons. We think that kefir is the swiss army knife of dairy for those looking to be able to use one item to produce a variety of other items. Kefir on it’s own is much like yogurt and offers all the same benefits, but in bigger doses and with less work. If kefir grains are added to fresh milk, they will ferment the milk within 24 hours. Once fermented, the resulting kefir can be left to sit for another 1-3 days during which time it will separate into curds and whey. The curds can be eaten, or further refined into “laban” which can be used as cottage and cream cheese right away. Or, salt can be added to this laban and becomes the basis for harder cheeses like cheddar and Parmesan cheese. Also, kefir can be fermented to different lengths and strengths producing different tastes and usefulness.

This whole process does not require refrigeration and is a good way of getting usefulness from milk without energy use. Further, the kefir grains are constantly growing and multiplying, thus keeping the owner in a constant supply of kefir grains to eat, use, or share with others.

This is all in addition to many health benefits known to accompany kefir!

If you’re looking to add a “tool” to your simple life arsenal – particularly if you have access to a fresh supply of milk – consider kefir! You won’t be disappointed!

Finishing the Root Cellar

When we moved into our house years ago, we had no idea that we had a root cellar. From our point of view, we had a wet, nasty closet area off our foundation that needed to be cleaned up and made to stop leaking. Needless to say, as we came to understand the value of root cellars and what they were, we were glad that we had not been able to make a significant change to our root cellar since moving in.

We were able to put an insulated door on the root cellar, paint it, run electricity to it, and build shelves turning it into a great place to store our potatoes, sweet potatoes, homemade wine, canned goods, etc.

Vented Root Cellar

A good root cellar has a few components – good insulation, high humidity, and good ventilation. We had plenty of humidity, plenty of insulation (the ground) but no ventilation. We fixed that by adding vents. This was easily done by drilling holes in the foundation (through the cement block) and running 1 1/2″ PVC pipe through the side, then up through the flower beds outside. We used a bend at the top to keep out rain and a screen on each one to keep the critters out.

Root Cellar

The way this works, the supply vent should bring cold air (when it sinks) down the pipe and into the root cellar. The source pipe goes nearly to the floor and the vent pipe on the adjacent wall has a vent at the top, to let the rising hot air escape. We decided to give it a little assistance by adding a powered fan to the vent. This was done using a few PVC fittings from Lowes and carving out a spot for an old computer exhaust fan wired to a 12v DC cordless phone power cord. We then plugged it into a timer like this to have it come on at the cooler parts of the day to cool off the root cellar and keep the fresh air moving through.

Root Cellar with Shelves

Lastly, we added shelves made from furring strips. This was a cheap alternative to purchasing shelves and allowed us to make custom-fit shelves for the root cellar. It took just under four bundles of furring strips (10 to a bundle) to finish – so for about $40, we were able to build simple shelves that would allow the air to circulate through the shelved items.

We plan on covering the nasty floor that is currently there with some small gravel. This will allow us to spray water on the floor that will then evaporate to maintain the humidity at or around the 95% humidity that root cellars need.

If you don’t have a root cellar, they’re easy to make in many homes. Just find a non-heated section of your basement (preferably with no window), wall it off with well-insulated walls and a door and vent it. Most people tend to aim for an ideal temperature in the mid 50’s. This keeps things like apples, potatoes, onions and garlic, sweet potatoes, etc. good for just about the entire winter.

In our case, this allows us an energy-free (mostly – when the fan isn’t running) means of preserving the freshness of our summer harvest. If you don’t yet have a root cellar but enjoy growing your own produce – consider a root cellar as your next DIY project!

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.