Living A Simplified Life!

Monday, July 25, 2011

How To Keep The Lights On - Saving Electricity

As temperatures in Oklahoma go on the 32nd day of over 100 degrees of heat, with heat indexes pushing at least 113 degrees and even higher in certain parts of the state, all of us are wondering how we can conserve on our electrical usage.

Trying to stay comfortable and still not break the household budget is a real chore for many of us. When you go from $42 a month bill to $94 and now looking at a projection of $107 this coming billing cycle, I am really wondering what else I can do to keep costs down, especially when I am far more conservative than others that I am compared to in my neighborhood.

We are on Smart Meters here in Norman and you can sign up with O.G.& E. and view your daily consumption hour by hour on a daily basis. You will be able to see where the peaks and valleys are in your usage. I have gotten so I check several times a day in an attempt to see what is causing these exceptionally high hours of usage. So far I’ve noticed that when the A/C runs a lot, the refrigerator kicks in, cooking (even though I do the majority by microwave), using the computer, washing in the washing machine, and of course a real electricity hog, the hot water heater.

I know that a lot of people have been trying to keep their A/C set at 78 degrees and a few are even pushing it up to 80degrees and still the unit is running almost continuously. Here are some things that I’ve done in an attempt to keep my bill lower.  I started by raising the temperature in my home in increments of 2 degrees above 80 to where you will usually find my unit set between 84 and 86 degrees depending on the humidity in the air. The less humidity, the higher I can turn the unit and be comfortable.

I try to dress as cool as possible, in shorts, bare feet and tank tops or T shirts. There are days when even a T shirt is too warm and by baring my arms I feel cooler. I will also wet a hand towel and drape it around my neck to help cool me off. Another trick that my grandmother taught me is to make a large pan full of cool water and stick your feet in it!

There are ceiling fans in several rooms in my home and I also use a box fan all set at the highest settings possible in order to help circulate the air. Moving air cools you better than just letting the A/C unit do all the work.

Some people swear that using a window unit A/C helps them lower their utility costs. Since I do not own one myself, I have to rely the advise of others. The consensus seems to be that the newer units that have the Energy Seal of Approval are worth their weight in gold and really do save you money. Some people use them in specific rooms and only during certain hours of the day. The room of choice seems to be in the bedroom, when you are ready to retire and needing to have a cool sleeping environment is important.

Taking a cool shower at night or in the morning, rather than a hot one, will also help cool your core body temperature down. Drinking lots of cold water during the day will also help keep you cool as well as keep you hydrated.

Close doors to room that don’t have an A/C vent, such as you bathroom or laundry room, there is no need to cool them on a continual basis.

Keep Curtains closed during the heat of the day.  As the temperature rises outside, close off the windows to keep the sunlight out which will heat your rooms quickly, especially rooms that have West facing windows.

Many surfaces in your home gather heat, whether you realize it or not, from upholstered furniture and  bedding to carpeting, as well as clothes inside your closets. Keep closet doors closed and it will help a lot.

Everyone will tell you that it is important to turn off the lights when you leave a room. Another thing you can do is lower the wattage of the light bulbs you are using in your fixtures. Even try installing a night light in rooms that you only occasionally enter during evening hours rather than having to flip on a switch and heat up a 100 watt bulb.

Use power strips for those things that steal electricity even when you aren’t using them. A good way to know what those items are, is look for the LED light that says it is on. I know that I have to leave my clock on even though I do have a battery backup, but I have my TV and converter box on a power strip and I turn it off and on from there. My computer and modem are also on a power strip and after powering down my unit, I turn off the power strip and in adverse weather, actually even pull that plug from the wall as well as the Ethernet cord which goes from the phone line at the wall to the computer. I learned a lesson the hard way, if that Ethernet cord is not removed from the wall, even though you have turned off your computer and even disconnected it from the wall, lightening can strike and fry parts of your computer, just like it can travel inside your house on just a regular land-line phone line. The microwave’s plug is also pulled from the wall when not in use.

Try rearranging your schedule so that you do many of your household chores in off peak electricity usage hours. Many suppliers charge you less per kilowatt hour during non-peak hours. Wait until after 8PM to run your dishwasher or do a load of laundry, or do them early in the morning. Rather than use your dryer, hang things out on the line to dry. If you insist on having fluffy towels and wash cloths and softer sheets and pillow cases, toss them into your dryer on the air only cycle for a few minutes after they have line dried them.

You will find that your refrigerator will cycle less often if you keep the freezer section at least full and take up the vacant space. If you don’t have enough food in there to do so, fill some pitchers full of water, about 3/4th’s full allowing room for expansion, and let them freeze. This will help keep that part cold and cut down on the cycling process.

On your water heater, many are set at 140-145 degrees and they can actually be lowered to around 120-125 degrees and still give you plenty of hot sanitary water for dish washing either by machine or hand and for cleaning and bathing.

If you really want to try and be conservative, why not shut off the TV, all the video games that the kids play, and the computer and at sunset go out onto your porch or patio and light some citronella candles to keep the bugs away, sit back and relax and enjoy the beauty of the sun going down and the peaceful feeling that you will have with no outside distractions. Take an hour away from using electricity and feed your inner soul.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Water - Waste Not Want Not

Right now Oklahoma is going through one of the worst heat spells that it has had in many years. For over the last 40 days we have had at least 99 degree temperatures to an actual 108 (in some parts even higher) along with heat indexes of well over 100 degrees. This is causing many cities to now ration water, as the lakes that supply our cities are extremely low. Right now they have gone to Odd/Even watering days for your lawns and gardens. The next step will be asking us to try and lower our indoor water consumption. Once you read this you may be astounded at how much water we use on a daily and monthly basis and will want to put some of these ideas into practice, if only to cut down your water bill.

First of all did you know that most water heaters are set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit?
For each 10 degrees that you reduce the water temperature, you can save between 3%–5% in energy costs. Most households only require a water heater set at 120degrees.If you have a dishwasher, without a booster heater, it may require water temperature within a range of 130 degrees to 140 degrees for optimum cleaning. By reducing the water temperature down to 120 degrees you will also slow down mineral buildup and corrosion in the water heater itself as well as pipes.  By reducing the heat inside the tank itself, you will soon learn that you don't have to run the hot water faucet until scalding hot water comes out and then turn on the cold water to bring the temperature down. This will save on the amount of water you use in the first place.

You can also reduce the water that goes to waste when you use your washer, by setting up a "gray water system" with a hose out the drain that goes outside and puts the water out on your lawn. The detergent (most are bio-degradable nowadays) will not hurt your lawn but feed it.  The average washing machine will use between 21gallons for a front loader to 37 gallons for a conventional top loading machine. If you have a large family and do several loads a day, think of all the water that is just going down the drain into the sewer that could be utilized elsewhere.

Add low flow fixtures to your faucets and shower heads and cut water consumption. With shower heads you can go from 3 gallons per use down to 2 1/2 gallons and on shower heads from 5 gallons to2 1/2 gallons.

Chill your drinking water. Fill pitchers of water and place them in your refrigerator rather than letting water run from the faucet until it gets nice and cold. Also put closed pitchers into the freezer (fill about 3/4ths full) and let the water freeze. If you have a freezer that isn't full of food, this will also help keep the freezer from running all the time once it is frozen and help cut down the electric bill as well.

When brewing your morning coffee, only make enough for the amount you usually consume, not a full pot and then throw half of it away!  Or if you feel you must make a full pot, put it into a container in the refrigerator and either reheat it in the microwave or enjoy a cup of iced coffee on a hot day.

 Instead of washing dishes after each meal, place a pan of water with some dish detergent in it in the sink, or if you have a double sink, just use one side and put some water in it. After eating, take your dishes and rinse them off in the sudsy water. Either stack them to wash after the final meal in the evening, or place them into the dishwasher to be washed when you have a full load. You will save both water and electricity doing this.

Most of us have cats and dogs and we put out clean water for them every day. Rather than just flush that water down the sink when you change their water daily, put it into a bucket until you have saved the amount desired and then use it to water your favorite flowers, your garden, or to fill the bird bath.

Use liquid detergent in your washing machine and wash with the "cold water only" feature. By using liquid detergent, you don't have to worry about powdered detergents not dissolving in the cold water and clinging to your clothes. If you really prefer powdered detergent, just put the amount that you would use per load into a container, add enough hot water to dissolve it well before putting it into the washing machine?

Tub bath, shower or sponge bath? Tub bathing requires a lot of water and not something you might want to do on a daily basis if there is already a water shortage. You might shower most of the time during the month, and then take a leisurely tub bath as your splurge and retreat time. Even showers can use a lot of water if you aren't careful!  The average person can usually shower in five minutes or less and that includes shampooing your hair as well. Try setting an egg timer to five minutes (especially for children who seem to lose track of time easily) and see if you can stay in that limit. Another thing that works well to save even more water is to get in and get totally wet. Turn off the water, lather yourself up from head to toe and then turn the water back on to rinse off.

Then there is the sponge bath or as my grandma used to call it, a "spit bath." Instead of getting in the tub, fill the bathroom sink with water, wet yourself well, lather up and rinse off actually using a sponge or a wash rag. Guess you could always go ahead and jump in the shower to rinse off all the soap if you still felt slick and sticky.

Oh hot humid days; some people think they need to shower more than once a day, which I guess is fine when there isn't a shortage of water. But why not just make yourself a bowl of water and periodically as you feel overly warm, dip in a wash rag, wring it out and wash down your face and arms?  You don't even have to towel dry, let it evaporate and it will help cool you off even more. You can use that same bowl of water all day long. When you are done, toss the water out on the lawn or the garden or in the birdbath.

Now this next suggestion is going to sound gross I know and I read about it on one of the conservation websites. That is don't flush the toilet every single time you use it. Their saying was "if it's yellow let it mellow, but if it's brown flush it down."  Every time you flush that toilet you are sending 5 gallons of water down to the sewer.

So for example, it is calculated that each person uses 100 gallons of water per day.  A family of three uses approximately 1303 gallons of water per month. If you have small babies and little children that like to get dirty all the time, that figure needs to be increased. These figures are calculated on just one load of dishes washed per day in a dishwasher and the washing machine being run through one cycle, which used 37 gallons per load with a conventional top loading machine.

Hopefully I've given you some ideas on how to be water conservative not only for these hot summer days where water is at a premium but all year long so that you can lower your water bill.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer Curtains

As the weather warms up, most of us like to change out our heavy winter curtains and drapes for lighter weight and colored material for our windows. There seems to be nothing that compares to wonderful breezy spring days when you can open the windows and have light weight sheer curtains fluttering in the breeze. It not only cleans the stale winter air out of the house but the sunlight and warm sunshine and breezes are good for the soul.

Now that we are in the thralls of summer and it is much hotter than normal this year, many people are thinking of ways to keep heat out of their homes which means cutting out some of the afternoon sun that enters the windows. Do you put up a different set of drapes an curtains, do you layer the ones you have and hope that you don’t make your house as dark as a dungeon?

I have a solution that I use an you may want to give it a try as well. I actually use double café curtains all year around on some of my windows. During the winter, I use heavier weight material and I line them, whereas in the summer I use very light weight semi-opaque sheer material and do not line them. One advantage to having double café curtains, is that you can open up the top set to let sunlight in and keep the bottom ones closed for privacy.

I also make  full length draperies or curtains, which I hang on top of the café curtains on a separate curtain rod. During the day, when it isn’t too hot, I pull them back and drape them loosely and secure them back using a curtain tie-back hook. When it starts getting too warm, I drop these full drapes to also cover the window and give another layer to help keep the heat from penetrating into the rooms. I also like to close them at night, to provide privacy. In the winter, this same method of double layering helps keep the cold out.

In my bedrooms, I have used floral café curtains with the long draperies, using a solid color that is predominate in the floral pattern of the café curtains. Since most people like to have the uniformity of all white or another neutral shade on all their windows from the outside looking in, you might want to line them with either inexpensive white cotton or bleached or unbleached muslin. If you do use the muslin, be sure to wash it first before using, because it is one material that will definitely shrink on you!

Café curtains are so simple to make even a beginner can master them easily. From the time you cut them out to hanging them at your window, should be less than a two hour project. If you do not want to make a placket to run a pressure rod through and gather the curtains on that, you can purchase drapery rings that just clip onto your fabric and then run those through your curtain rod. You can use the same methods for the long over draperies as well.  Gathering your curtains on a rod will give you a more country or cottage feel to your draperies. You might like to choose florals or gingham checks, and even embellish them with lace. Whereas the clip-on drapery hooks along with solid color fabric, will provide you with a more sleek modern appearance which many people prefer today. Most café curtains that you purchase in the store will not be lined and are reasonably priced. You could easily make a lining to be attached to them. Using bleached or unbleached, pre-washed muslin fabric or even use old white cotton bed sheets to cut to size and made into linings.

When it comes to making the long solid color curtains, why not use cotton flat sheets? You can use the top hem of the sheet as the top of your curtain to be run through the rod. You might want to run a line of stitching about 1/4th of an inch from the top fold to give a more professional look to your curtains. You will then run your curtain rod thru the remaining large pocket that is left below this top stitched section. Many stores sell sheets singularly rather than in packaged sets. You can hit the bulls eye by getting individual flat sheets in 200-220 thread count from $9.99 to $11.99, brand new, or check out your local thrift stores where you can often find them at just $2.00-$3.00 each.

No matter whether you decide to purchase café curtains, or make your own, I am sure you are going to find them well worth it when you see how much they help in keeping your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

You can purchase books on how to make cafe curtains here.