Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Putting our Electrical Usage on a Diet!

After the ice storm, Bill's thoughts of a pretty fireplace disappeared and he was okay with installing a basic wood burning stove.  The new ones all have blowers, but if the power went out again, we'd still have some heat.  I had read up on firewood, so I knew that in our area, Osage Orange (we call it hedge) was the hottest wood locally grown.  But no one had any for sale.  Go figure, everyone else got it before or during the storm.  Okay, so we toughed it out with whatever we could find and made plans for securing cords of wood for the next winter.  It was a good, steady heat..and dry.  So, a big pot of water went on top of the stove for humidity (no extra power used, right?).  Then the light bulb went on.. cook on it.  Okay, so a lot of people have already figured out that you can do that, but hey, we're new to this kind of stuff.  So I tried some soup.  I put it on the stove in the middle of the afternoon.  At supper time I had half cooked rice and not a quality soup by any means. 
That night in bed, I had the 'ahh haaa' moment - think slow cooker.  I put a frozen roast in a pot, hotter burning wood in the stove and started it in the morning.  At supper time, it was falling apart tender, complete w/ spuds, carrots, onions..and no extra power used.  Wahoo! Victory!

Now my friends are used to seeing a variety of cookware on the woodburner - the water pot for humidity, another pot with supper, maybe potatoes wrapped in foil, roasting in the coals and a little metal coffeepot keeping coffee hot - which is pretty nasty tasting when I forget about it and it burns.  I did a search for campfire recipes, camping recipes, that kind of stuff, and have several printed out to try this next winter. Overall, I love the little woodburner and I'm glad we live in an area where we can use it.

On the subject of burning wood - It's considered to be 'carbon neutral', meaning that the carbon produced by clean burning wood is no more than what the tree converted while it was growing.  Carbon is also produced while dead wood is decomposing, too. We try to use as much storm downed wood as possible, wood from trees being removed, but some wood we have to cut ourselves or buy.  Every year we plant more trees than we have used in burning.  I just feel a little better about it that way.   And the ashes?  I started spreading them out in our rock driveway last year.  It raises the Ph of the dirt, so weeds have a hard time growing.  Since I don't like to spray, this seemed to be a good idea.  The areas that had the highest amount of wood ash did have less weeds this past summer.

Other things I do to cut back on electricity:

1)  I have an electric clothes dryer, so when it's getting cooler, I vent the dryer into the house.  I don't put any kind of screen or filter on the hose any more.  The heating element burned out really fast when I used some old panty hose to catch the lint, and I was faithful about cleaning it every time I used the dryer.

2)  For the most part, I line dry clothes, but I don't like stiff clothes.  So I throw wet clothes in the dryer along with a couple of odd size dry towels designated for that use.  I set the dryer on low heat, let it run for 10 minutes, then hang them up to finish drying.  The dry towels in the load make a huge difference!  My washer spins clothes pretty dry and that helps.  Jeans and towels need a couple extra minutes in the dryer and actually, I prefer towels from the dryer.  I don't have a clothesline outside yet, but probably wouldn't  use it too much even if I did.  I live in the middle of Kansas farm ground, and constantly deal with wind carrying seed, topsoil, grain dust, etc.  So I have an Indian clothesline in the house.  More on this later.  Of course, I use cold water to wash.

3)  When I make coffee, I try to put it in the carafe or thermos right after it's done and turn the coffee maker off.  One report I read said that the electricity cost for the coffeemaker was $80 a year.  Uh, was that for 2 hours?  All day long?  Some of us really, really like coffee.  I don't use the dry cycle on the dishwasher, either.

4)  I love my slow cookers!  There are some great blogs and recipes online for slow cookers.  In the summer, I have taken it outside to plug it in so there's no extra heat in the house.  Other times I wrap a towel around it, turn it on low and it cooks like it was on high heat.  If you try this, watch carefully!!  I can do that with one cooker, but I almost melted the cord on the other one!  Scared me half to death, too!

5)  CFL's of course and energy efficient appliances.  I'm not afraid to do low tech, either.  I don't have an electric can opener, do have a bread machine, but usually I knead bread dough by hand and bake it in the oven, 3 or 4 loaves at a time.

6)  Unplug stuff!  I was amazed when I went room to room, looking for everything that could be unplugged.  There was a ton of stuff that I hadn't thought too much about, meanwhile it all was using electricity.  Bill was less than enthused about having to plug in the microwave everytime he wanted to use it.  Even less so when he went to get a newly charged battery for his drill and every battery was drained.  Okay, I didn't know that I should have pulled them out of the chargers, but now I do.  And I quit flipping the shop breakers off after he gave me 'the look' a few know 'the look'.  Sometimes you just have to compromise.

7)  Turn off that office equipment!  Some will disagree with me, but I have not had one computer last longer because I left it on 24/7.  And there's no reason to leave the printer on when you are not using it.  I read a detailed article about the cost of the typical home office set up.  The annual electrical cost was over $200 if everything was left on.

8)  Cooking  - woodburner or solar oven first (I need to build a better solar oven!), slow cooker next, microwave after that, the George grill (George Forman type grill), toaster oven and then big, energy glut range last.  And cranking on the oven in the summer?  But we both love the scent of bread baking in the oven, and slabs of hot bread and butter, so I do use it when the weather is colder.  I just try to bake several things at once.  It uses just as much energy to bake four loaves of bread as it does to bake one.  Same with chicken, do at least two at a time.  Then bone the other one and pop it in the freezer for a future meal.  Then put the bones in a pot of water and cook up a batch of chicken stock to freeze.

9)  Landscaping or working on the micro climate  - We have planted a lot of deciduous trees on the south side of our house, but it's going to be a while before we reap the benefits.  We live in a windy area, so we're working on the windbreak trees on the north.  Did you know there's such a thing as a 'death hole'?  Three different trees, three different years, and all kicked the bucket.  Plenty of grass and weeds there, so it's not poisoned soil...the death hole.

10)  Wood burning furnace - Yes, another wood burner.  This is a big unit with ductwork to various rooms of the house.  Last winter was the first year in use and hey, it's great.  Lots of heat for the cost of running a couple of blower fans.

11)  Window coverings - Since we're still living in a construction zone, regular curtains are a long ways off.  So I made some 'shades' from a Velux blanket.  Worked great, added a layer of insulation over the glass of our windows.  The windows are Pella, but not their top of the line.  They do have the UV coating, so my houseplants just barely survive in the house during the winter.  The windows also are double hung, so there's an air infiltration in the channels.  I cut up a leftover piece of pipe insulation to make a little plug for each one.  Oh, the shades?  They really did work well until they were a year old and I washed them.  Then they turned into shreds and a million little pieces of fuzz and foam bits.  I'm working on Plan B.

12)  You already have your water heater turned down a notch, don't you?  And an insulated blanket around it if it's electric?  Everything caulked and insulated, like water pipes?  One of the hardest habits I have been trying to acquire is to not use the hot water handle on the sink when I don't really want hot water.  I'll have the cup/pan/whatever in my right hand and automatically turn the hot water handle with my left hand.  I'm just to give it a quick rinse, but it's still a little awkward to reach across to the cold water handle.  Sometimes I'll put the plug in the drain and leave the 'quick rinse' water in the sink.  Pretty soon it's full enough to give other dishes a quick rinse without using any more water.  Since we're on well water, every time I use water, I'm using electricity. 

Soon to come - my passion!  Passive solar!  Love the website !  If you haven't been there, get on over fast.  Tons of projects and information.

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