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lowest possible utilities?

 
master pollinator
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Looking for out of the box suggestions for lowering my utility expenses in an urban neighborhood even further than I have so far!  Singler person home,  in my 50s with new RA diagnosis,  so things that are labor intensive aren't going to work.  Needs to sort of be passive ideas.  

Most (all) of my friends are pretty conventional folks,  and my bills are already unbelievably low as far as they are concerned, and mostly they just laugh at the idea of getting them even smaller.   I figured where better to ask then here?  

Water:   currently at $27/ month.    I only use rainwater outdoors,  limit my toilet flushing to 1-2x a day , shower 1-2x week,  have a small apt. washer that I run on "fast" cycle only.  Wash dishes with wash and rinse buckets, don't leave it running.   What else can I do?  

Electric:   our suppliers here just doubled delivery charges, ugh.   I'm at about $60/ month right now.  I line dry my clothes 9 out of 12 months.  I got rid of computer, internet, cable, etc.  I try to remember to unplug things I'm not using (I could be better at this).   I have a small new refrigerator, I keep my freezer pretty full.  Maybe I could turn the temps down more?  I'm not sure what they are at now.   I do watch DVDs as my only entertainment source at home,  other than reading.  My range/oven is electric and it's older, could use replacing?   What else?

Gas:  my heating bill is on a budget plan for $50/ month for 10 months.   It's set at 60-65 all winter, and my home is 650sqft.   This winter I closed off a 2nd bedroom that has no water pipes running along it, and it made no difference at all to my heat useage.   Cold aggravates my RA symptoms, so just being colder all winter isn't a good option.  More insulation is the obvious answer for this I guess.   Aside from that expense/labor, any ideas for what else I could do?   My hot water heater is also gas, and it's pretty old and extra large.  
 
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you look like you're already ahead of the game, but a few things we learned last year when we were rationing water and now that power/gas are crazy expensive:

bucket in the shower to catch extra water as you're showering. when you are done with the dish wash/rinse water, dump it in that bucket to flush toilets. I think at a certain point we were only actually pushing the flush button once a day with 3 people, if that.
We also captured rainwater and brought the buckets inside for wash (not rinse!) and flush water. In an apartment setting, that might not be viable.

there are some excellent threads here on Permies about winter heating efficiency. I'd say the use of a hot water bottle and careful planning of where you are in the winter months (having a certain spot insulated well, where you stay most of the time) helps a lot. [and I hear you, I have arthritis in my hands, I'm not looking forward to this winter. but we don't have central heating here, so I wear lots of clothes, make a hot water bottle every day and use a heated mouse pad (because of course, my office is the coldest place in the house), and when things are really bad I just gird up my loins and get out the space heater. There's only so much suffering I can take.]
I remember from living in upstate NY and New England that insulating windows was a big thing for staying warm. You might want to try to identify where is the draftiest place and consider curtains, window seals, etc.

If your range is electric, you may be spinning your meters when you use it. I recently bought an induction cooktop (just one burner) when the price of cooking gas soared here, and I'm in love with it. It uses much less power than traditional electric stoves (it uses electromagnets, not resistance), and it looks like in the US you can get one on Amazon starting from 50 bucks. If you already have compatible cookware (anything a magnet sticks to- cast iron or stainless. Not aluminum), it might be worth trying out. It is also fabulous if you do low-temp cooking (I make yogurt every week, lots of pudding, my kid used it to make soap, it's excellent).

edited to add: i also remember living in one house where the water heater lost a lot of heat and we needed to put an insulating "jacket" on it. If yours is extra large and in a cool basement or something, that might be worth looking into.

and how about extending your hang-clothes-to-dry season, is there any way you can do that by using a rack, hangers, etc inside your house? I know that may not be viable in january in MA, but you might be able to shave off a bit more dryer time. When I had twin toddlers and laundry involved a trip to the laundrymat (shudder) I bought these hanging racks for things and hung them in the living room window to cut the amount of stuff I needed to dry.
 
Heather Staas
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OH,  thank you!   Yes, several things I didn't think of or had forgotten!    I often have more water in my rain barrels than I use, so bringing some in for flush water is TOTALLY doable and a great idea.   Hot water heater insulation..  totally forgot that exists!   I need to look at window drafts,  I used those insulating films my first winter here but didn't think it made much difference so didn't repeat it.  But now I have winter numbers without them to compare to.  I bet they helped more than I realized.   Going to implement and explore several of these ideas!!  
 
pollinator
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You could replace your HW tank with an on-demand tankless heater. It heats water only as you use it, and avoids heating a "second tank" just after you have taken a shower, for example. If you live alone, there's no need for that! I don't recall if there were rebates when my mom replaced hers (in Massachusetts). Check with your utility? They like to gain/retain customers, and efficiency is less expensive than infrastructure upgrades.
 
Heather Staas
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That makes a lot of sense.   I'm not sure how much life this one has left, or how long I'll be in this house.  But I'm going to look into some estimates for this replacement.   Now I'm thinking about how often do   use hot water?   Does it make sense to keep a huge tank heated on stand by for just me..  not really.   I like this idea.
 
pollinator
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It sounds like you are doing an outstanding job already.  The only thing I would add to the other suggestions is maybe looking into making kume curtains.  They make an enormous difference in the amount of heat loss through your windows, are easy to make, inexpensive, especially if you recycle materials, and can be rolled up during the day to let sun's heat in, and rolled down when the sun isn't hitting them.

The instructions can be found here on the Instructables website.  Kume curtains
 
pollinator
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At least where I've lived, it seems like a relatively big chunk of the utility fees are connection based rather than usage based. My electric bill might be $30 for the connection and then another $20 for the electricity that was actually used. Since these set fees are the same regardless of how many people are using the service at the house, the best way I've found to lower utilities is to just live with other people.
 
gardener
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One idea that you may want to consider is solar power.  I don't know if your home space is ideal for solar energy.  There are programs run by utilities where they set it up for free, but you don't get all of the electricity. I think they pay your bills and collect the rest.

John S
PDX OR
 
Heather Staas
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I was turned down fora few of those programs offered here because I don't use enough electricity to qualify ;)   I love the IDEA of solar though.  Have been considering it for some of my indoor lighting needs!
 
master steward
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Many municipalities have a minimum for their utilities.

Your utilities are so low you may be using less than the minimum.

A simple phone will confirm my suspicions that you are paying the minimum.

At best you are doing a great job.

Some great suggestions have been offered.
 
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Tereza Okava wrote:
and how about extending your hang-clothes-to-dry season, is there any way you can do that by using a rack, hangers, etc inside your house?....I bought these hanging racks for things and hung them in the living room window to cut the amount of stuff I needed to dry.



I love my drying rack. I try to "close the loop," urban-style, with my drying-rack/dehumidifier set-up! (My plants love the very clean water.)


Drying-Rack-Dehumidifier-Meyer-Lemon-Copy.jpg
[Thumbnail for Drying-Rack-Dehumidifier-Meyer-Lemon-Copy.jpg]
 
Heather Staas
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All 3  utility bills show actual usage with rates per unit,  so no set minimum amt.   If we have one for any of them,  I haven't hit it yet or seen a set billed amount.
 
Anne Miller
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The point I was trying to make is that I thought the OP was doing a great job getting the lowest possible utilities.

Without making a phone call I don't know how to go about finding a minimum amount.

The only reason I know about them is that we had owned a second residence since 2004.  To keep from having the electricity turned on and off often, we just paid the minimum electric charge of $50.00 whether we used electricity or not.

We were happy to pay that just for convenience.

Back when I worked in town, my boss was complaining about the water/sewer change since it was a business where very little water was used and no one ever took showers as there were none. The city told them that that was what they had to pay.
 
Heather Staas
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I appreciate the feedback about checking for a min. amt.   I didn't think of that and went back to check that I was being charged for actual useage.  

I DO have a set sewer bill for work that comes out to something like $290 a year, if i remember right.  There is a well here so no meter.   So we get a bill for a set fee.   But looks like my home property isn't billed that way.   It does make me wonder if I lowered useage if I'd get some sort or surcharge or fee for not using enough.   @@.  

I'd love to shave another $15/off each of my bills.  That's my imagined goal.  With prices increasing rapidly though,  holding steady may be enough of a challenge!   My electric bill has gone from an avg. of $45 to $60  even with all the conservation changes I've been making.  
 
pollinator
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Heather Staas wrote:I need to look at window drafts,  I used those insulating films my first winter here but didn't think it made much difference so didn't repeat it.  But now I have winter numbers without them to compare to.  I bet they helped more than I realized.   Going to implement and explore several of these ideas!!  



You probably lose the most heat through the windows. Besides insulating films using heavy drapes can make a huge difference. Some people go low-cost and put bubble wrap over the windows.

In my bedroom I taped insulated foil bubble wrap packaging that cold-sensitive food items came in over the window that faces north. It normally has a window a/c in it so I don't ever look out that window anyway.

So that north-facing window is totally sealed off with insulation and tape. It makes all the difference in keeping that room warm. I also cover the west-facing window in that room as it is only used for sleeping.

This may sound crazy, but if you want a warm place to sleep without heating the entire bedroom, you can put your bed in a tent. I sleep on an air mattress that is inside a cheap (about $30) mosquito tent.

I covered that tent with multiple space blankets. It was built because the neighbor's smart meter transmissions were waking me up in the middle of the night.

But it also makes a warm, toasty place to sleep even if I turn the power off or don't use the heat in that room. If we have a power outage, I'll move all that in front of the fireplace.

Then I'll open the front up to use fireplace heat and then close it up if I want to let the fire burn down to retain that heat. NOTE: it gets REALLY HOT in there in the heat of the summer so I have to open up the front of it.

Look first at all north-facing windows and doors. Add insulation around them if they are letting cold air in. Then check all other windows and doors.

Before good insulation was common, everyone had heavy drapes over windows. And most people also had exterior shutters they closed during storms.

RE: Flushing. IF you have a place to bury or compost what is left, a luggable loo saves water. In a pinch, a 5 gallon bucket, a kitchen trash bag, and a bag of shavings (available at pet stores or feed stores) = power outage toilet.

In the country, many people have composting toilets. The commercial version is super expensive. But many just make their own by putting a seat and sometimes a box around a 5 gallon bucket.

Do your business, cover with shavings (or dried leaves, wood chips, peat pellets, etc.). When the bucket is full, empty it and start again. People who are off-grid or compost a lot may have separate wet and solid containers.

After composting a year, humanure is safe for plants. The squeemish only use it on trees, bushes, etc., - not food plants. Keep in mind that the cleaner your food, the better this compost will be.

And also be aware that if you take prescription anything, residue ends up in either the sewer, septic or compost. (And if you use city water, probably in what you drink and bathe in, too!)
 
Heather Staas
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So many great ideas on here, and many I've put on my list to try.

Quick update,  I unplugged my electric range at the beginning of the month and ordered a single burner induction cooktop.   It's pretty great.   I haven't missed my stove at all,  yet.   I did have to buy a few new pots/pans but that's ok.   I am eagerly awaiting the end of the month and my next electric bill to compare useage with last year at this time.   It's not time to put the ACs in yet and I am pretty sure they went in mid-June last year as well.   So hopefully it's comparable.  

I will report back when I have the bill in.  

I'm also looking at different solar oven builds but haven't had much time to play around with it, other than gathering some materials and piling them in my shed.  
 
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Here's an off the wall one which we use. We were surprised to see someone using in Arkansas because we thought it was unique to us.  We used simple clamps to hang lace fabric on the outside of our northwest windows.  In the summer it blocks the late afternoon sun and in the winter it blocks the north wind when fronts come through. It has made a huge difference.   Those windows even get less winter condensation build-up now.

I was surprised how easy it is to see through, almost as inobtrusive as the traditional screens. It made a big difference.   So did updating the screens to one specifically designed to block more sunlight but that takes more time, money and materials than the lace.
 
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Wow!  You seem to have done very well and as I read through the comments, nearly all my potential suggestions were covered.  Here's are a few that might have been missed.

Take what is known as a "Navy Shower".  Don't run water continuously during shower.  Instead, turn on water and let it warm sufficiently (catch warm-up water in bucket for toilet flushing), wet down thoroughly, then turn off water while soaping and scrubbing.  Finally, turn water back on to rinse.  Sort of like you already wash your dishes.  The result is a 3-minute shower vs. a more traditional 10-12 minutes shower.  This will save a lot of water and especially water heating energy.

Szymanski Fort - Named after a dear departed friend of mine who built one and used it for several winters.  Using scrap cardboard boxes and duct tape, he built a large box in his living room that enclosed his chair, a small table, and his TV and computer.  Sort of a tiny room inside a bigger room.  He kept his apartment thermostat set at 55 degrees and spent most of his time cozy inside his box sipping coffee and comfortably reading, watching TV, or working on his computer.  Body heat and electronics kept the box warm, occasionally augmented with a small heating pad under his feet.  Basically, he built a grown-up "fort" like we all used to build when we were five.

Unplug the refrigerator - Several years ago I stopped using refrigerators and freezers.  I was in the process of going off-grid and the power drain they represented was just too great for the simple life I sought.  I've adjusted my diet so I use very few refrigerated items and I'm careful not to create leftovers.  The only traditional refrigerated items I use are eggs, milk, and butter.  I use eggs within a week of purchase so no refrigeration is needed.  The only milk I use is for cooking and I mix what I need, as needed, from powder.  I buy butter 1/2 pound at a time and keep it in "butter bells".  I use it within two weeks and it always stays fresh.  I do have a small counter top ice maker that I use on occasion for ice tea and lemonade in the summer.

Turn off water heater?  This is a little extreme, but think about how much hot water you really use as compared with how much is heated and kept heated in the water heater, 24-7, month after month.  You can heat water on the stove for dishes and body washing.  Laundry can be cold water washed.  It might be worth trying for a month to see how important it is to have hot water at the tap.
 
Heather Staas
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Thank you Jack!   When DO I actually use hot water?   Hmm.   You have me wondering how I might implement or adjust that I idea to work for me.   I could heat water for doing dishes in a tea kettle, my induction cooktop heats water fast.   That hot water heater is the biggest ticket on my gas bill for 7 months of the year.    

Great ideas, appreciate it!
 
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I've been on this site for years, but this is the first topic that compelled me to sign up.

Have you considered processing your butter into ghee for longer term storage?  Milk into yogurt?  Yogurt into lebneh?  Lebneh into lebneh balls stored in olive oil?  Souring yogurt into curry (the conventional, made with chickpea flour)?  Yogurt can also be thinned with water for some milk substitutions.  Unwashed eggs last a couple of months unrefrigerated.  Biltong for meat? Rendang?  Adobo?  It's not difficult to live a high quality life without refrigeration (higher even than most of the developed world).  Most of us just need to learn the old arts (including synchronizing our lives with the seasons) and convert a closet into a larder or use some other traditional food storage technique.  The fridge belongs in the same category as instant yeast, microwaves, OSB, etc.  Mere solutions looking for problems.  

Regarding hot water, if you can heat dish water in a kettle you might try bucket showers.  Experience has shown me that 1gal of water brought to a near boil will warm 4gal of very cold water to a temp with which it is possible to get a comfortably warm shower even while standing in a cold (40ish F is about the coldest tested) and drafty room.  You might be able to find 1gal kettles for your induction burner.  Kettle is nice because it heats quickly and makes transporting boiling water more convenient and I suppose safer.  

Another trick I've used in the past is to just work up a sweat and then take a cold shower.

Cold showers/soaks have been shown to be very good for our health.
 
gardener
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I don't think anyone's posted about slow cookers yet. Cook various meals with just a few Watts. I like them because the timing of the meal is very flexible, although these days I would use the bottom oven of the range. A variant is the haybox type cooker, see this thread for example - bring your dish to a boil and then leave in the insulated container to cook through.
If you cook porage then soaking overnight means it takes very little time to cook in the morning, the same applies to other grains and pulses of course.

Water use - save your urine for plant food rather than flushing away, or leave in the pan until something nastier needs a flush. Just put the lid down on the WC. ("If it's brown flush it down, if its yellow let it mellow"). Turning the tap off (or collecting the water) whilst brushing teeth or rubbing in soap on hands makes a big difference.
 
jack vegas
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One I forgot - a spin dryer.  Newer clothes washers have more powerful spin cycles, but older ones less so.  I picked up a separate spin dryer and it is a marvel.  It looks like and is about the size of a large kitchen garbage can.  After clothes come out of the washer, run them in the little spin dryer for 3 minutes.  The amount of water they remove spinning at 3,200 rpm is amazing.  Clothes feel nearly dry when done.  Then hang for final dry or put in conventional dryer to finish.  Much less drying time needed.  An added bonus is the clothes aren't beat up tumbling in the dryer.  Cost is between $150-$200.  Mine is "Panda" spin dryer.  Another equally well reviewed is "Ninja".  Check Amazon to see them.  There are probably other brands out there.

Something I haven't tried yet but will when my current clothes dryer dies, is a tent type clothes dryer.  These are small zip-up fabric "closets" that have a small hot air blower attached.  Usually about 850 watts so they run on standard 110 volt power.  Cost is $60-$100.  Combined with my spin dryer and wooden hanging rack, that may be all I need.  It would also be handy to finish line hung laundry during the winter when its hard to get out the last bit of moisture.  I'd really like to hear from people who have used these to see if they might meet my future needs.
 
Tereza Okava
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jack vegas wrote: a spin dryer.

tent type clothes dryer.  
.


I've seen spinners at pools when I used to swim competitively, but had no idea tent dryers existed in the US!

We have both of these in the corner of the developing world where I live. Traditionally people hang dry their clothes (only 10 years ago dryers were unheard of), but we have a winter that can be raw and rainy, and so you end up just not doing laundry for a week or 6 til it passes.  Spinners are good, especially if you don't have a washer with a good spin cycle- here washers are expensive and often people wash in a deep sink by hand and just have a spinner.

The tent dryer is essentially a hair dryer linked to a plastic tent that is usually the size of a dishwasher, more or less. You could probably conceivably rig up one from a tent and a hairdryer, but I'd be concerned about heat/melting. Here at the end of the day it's easier just to wait for the sun to show up, but if you live in a place with less sun, it probably would be a better option than, say, moldy clothes.
I now have an outdoor covered laundry space, so it's no longer an issue, but what I used to do when things reached absolute desperation (the kid and spouse only had so many uniforms for school/work...) was hang them on a rack and run the fan and/or dehumidifier in the room.
 
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jack vegas wrote:

Take what is known as a "Navy Shower".  Don't run water continuously during shower.  Instead, turn on water and let it warm sufficiently (catch warm-up water in bucket for toilet flushing), wet down thoroughly, then turn off water while soaping and scrubbing.  Finally, turn water back on to rinse.  Sort of like you already wash your dishes.  The result is a 3-minute shower vs. a more traditional 10-12 minutes shower.  This will save a lot of water and especially water heating energy.



This has always perplexed me. At most, my shower - soaking, sudsing, and washing - takes 5 minutes. Granted, I have short hair, but it was the same when it was longer. Sometimes I indulge in a couple extra minutes in the winter for warmth, but I could never understand how people take 15 minute showers. What are they doing, scrubbing down every inch of skin? Is this counting people who shave their legs in the shower, because I've never done that - always sudsed up separately and rinsed off in the shower itself.
 
Cletus Hatfield
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I love long, hot showers/soaks which is why I plan to build a private sauna/hammam asap.  The RMH will double up as a winter laundry drier.

I've gamed for periods of water rationing and as someone with long hair I've found a real boar's hair brush to keep my hair healthy for much longer periods than I could go with a plastic or even wooden comb.  My theory is that oils from my hair are transferred to the brush and keep it conditioned as well.  They're expensive, but very much worth it.  With a plastic comb/brush I might only be able to go a day or two before my hair looks/feels greasy.  With a boar's hair brush I've gone several months before I've decided to just wash my hair because it seems like the right thing to do.  Scalp is healthy.  Girlfriends have assured me that my hair smells fine.

Another thing that has cut down on laundry and increased comfort is cultivating a wardrobe of mostly wool clothing.  I find it difficult to wear plastic clothes anymore simply because it reminds me of a clinging shower curtain.  I make exceptions for certain gear where it makes sense and where I've yet to identify better alternatives.  I wear plastic clothes for dirty jobs (clothes have to be washed regardless), wool for everything else.  I'm much more of an OCD germ-phobe than a dirty hippie and this routine has worked for me.
 
jack vegas
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Hey Cletus!  Welcome aboard!  These days, time spent on permies is about the only thing that keeps me sane.  I'm a long-hair too and appreciate the boar's hair brush tip.  I used to enjoy long relaxing showers but a couple years ago I built a small one-person Japanese "furo" soaking tub out of plywood.  I think I saw an article in Mother Earth News outlining the construction.  My three minute showers are an everyday affair, but once a week or so I fill the furo and hop in after the shower for a long hot relaxing soak.  Finally I finish with a quick 30-second cold shower rinse.  A lot of water and energy saved and there's nothing like floating in warm zero-g bliss.

I'll warn you that the cold rinse is an acquired taste... Many years ago I visited friends living on the Mendocino Coast who did all their bathing in an outdoor cold water shower... year round.  A very stoic couple.  By the time I left I was a convert.  That was 50 years ago and since then I've always ended showers with a quick cold rinse.  A great way to start the day!
 
pollinator
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i'm hearing you on the extreme minimalism, although i do like some comforts.
my suggestions --
~ electric blanket. these run on very minimal power, pennies for hours, very low wattage - to generate quite a bit of warmth. turn it on a few hours before you get into bed, mostly they auto shut off after a few hours. then you can turn the heater way down at night. i always feel like that night time heating is wasted, since i dont get to enjoy it. i enjoy sleeping in cooler environment anyway.

~ consider getting timers for your appliances. you cant just use any old timers since these tend to be high wattage, but for any of your high energy appliances you can get good timers for them. look for specific appliance timers, or any one that can handle higher watts.
in this way you can shut off your fridge all night when you wont be opening it, shut off a hot water heater except for the times you generally use it, etc.

~ the cost of gas has gone up a lot recently and this may be a bit pricey in the initial costs, but i do like the small "fake fire" type propane and gas heaters. these work really well for a small area so that you can retreat to one room and just heat up that room instead of whole house. that used to be a fairly economical thing for me, but unsure in the current whirl of things these days, how the pricing would work out.

definitely solar. even just one or two small cheap panels and a simple inverter. maybe dedicate a few things to use this, like you could run just your screens, laptop and stereo stuff on very small scale solar for free ish, once the initial price was paid off.
i wouldnt have laptop and screens and all that entertainment stuff be things to minimize, especially with current technology, it doesnt take very much power to use these things and just a couple of panels could power most of that for your minimal use.
 
Heather Staas
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Very quick report;   my first electric bill came in since unplugging the gas range and using only the induction cook top or my  microwave.

Useage is DOWN 33%  from this month last year.   Now that isn't a very precise comparison,  I don't remember the weather last year, when I put my AC in,  etc.  BUT it's tentatively very encouraging.    I'm going to do a quick "average temp." comparison for the two months, and then see if this pattern repeats next month.   Unfortunately the bill is actually HIGHER than last year,  because delivery fees have exploded.  But still,  without the lower useage that would have been higher, and 33%  is a HUGE difference!

Also,  related,  I purchased a pressure canner/ cook that works with my induction cooktop!   yippee.
 
Tereza Okava
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Excellent! We also had a great outcome with the induction burner (which we are using to replace gas). Our power bill went up slightly, but with the end of the drought here our power rate went down (here we use hydro and an energency drought rate had been applied) and the increased use was balanced out by the discounted rate. I also started using plant grow lights that same months so the burner might not be 100% responsible. Now to see how our gas use is affected (usually takes 2 months to use a canister, we will pass that this week).
 
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Unsure if you consider your internet part of your utilities, or if you pay for internet at home.  For those that do, we bought our own modem and no longer rent a modem from our internet provider which shaved $10 per month off our bill.  

Our electric supplier has a program where we can choose to pay less for off peak hours and more for peak or high energy use hours (2 PM - 7PM).  We set our electric car to charge only after 7pm and we don't run our major appliances from 2-7  We don't have the data in yet to see how much this actually saves us but it does make us more mindful of our energy use in general, so that's good. You could call your electric company to see if they have a similar program.

We only turn on our hot water heater 15 minutes before we shower, why keep heating a boiler full of water all day and night?  Can't believe this just occurred to us this winter. We noticed a huge drop in our propane use.  Like having an on demand water heater, which we are working toward getting soon when we get a heat pump and finally get away from using natural gas.

I just saw a video of a sand furnace that I am going to try.  Whenever we use our electric oven in the winter, or make a fire or bbq outside, I will also put on a cast iron pot filled with sand to collect and store the excess heat. Then you simply place a "heat only powered" wood stove fan on top of the sand, position it near you and use it as a personal heater. Supposed to last 2-3 hours and you can add copper strip placed into the sand it to better reach / conduct the heat from the center of the sand to the fan.  Would love to hear if anyone else has tried this.

Another item I am saving up for is an all metal hand pump, sprayer webpage ).  I want to try adding a mister attachment and taking a "hot misting bath" to see if it is just as relaxing as a full bath.  I have a deep soaking tub that I can tent off with a large towel.  Hoping it will feel like a mini steam room.  I would heat the water on my induction cook top instead of using water heated by propane.

And now after reading this thread, I will definitely try the lace outdoor curtains on our north facing windows, such an interesting idea!  
 
pollinator
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There are some very good ideas in this thread -- I'm going to have to make a list, and see how I can improve things here.

One thing I didn't see addressed is the RA.  Were you aware that a change in diet will almost certainly help alleviate the pain from that?  Cut out as many carbs as you possibly can, and see what happens.  I have found with mine that if I eat more than a bite or two of anything sweet, my RA flares up almost instantly; as long as I stay low-carb, it's inactive.  You'd have to experiment to see just how low on the carbs you need to go.  Also, reducing the amount of high-oxalate foods you eat may help quite a bit. I've decided that it's not worth it to eat sweet things, although it's probably a good thing that the pain flares up so quickly that my brain easily made the connection.  
 
Heather Staas
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Yeah,  Low carb has made a HUGE difference in all sorts of inflammation situtions for me,   arthritis, allergies, energy levels, etc.   I've been eating low carb for almost 30 years now and I find every decade or so I need to reduce my carb counts again.   Now in my 50s I eat keto pretty strictly and keep my carb count to 18g or so.   I joke that I'll have to go full carnivore at 60, and by the time I hit 70 I'll be on whale blubber only ;)   Good advice though!    It's helped me manage SO many health issues over the years!  

I had full bloodwork done recently and my cholesterol, etc. is all super good, and she commented that my kidney and liver function looks like someone 2 decades younger :)  
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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I think our bodies become less and less able to handle carbs as we get older.  I'm just about on full carnivore myself (at 65).  And have my daughter on it, because she has lupus (she's 42, but severely mentally handicapped and autistic).  We are still eating small amounts of green vegetables, and a little sauerkraut from time to time, but otherwise it's all meat and eggs.  I don't know if we can handle dairy or not -- we are off of that for another couple of months, then will try to reintroduce it and see what happens.  I have fibromyalgia, and had been eating too many carbs for a few months; was in so much pain that it was either go to the doctor or go carnivore, and I decided we'd try carnivore first.  It's helped a lot in just the few weeks we've been on it.
 
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A quick tip for increasing the efficiency of your fridge/ freezer or rubber seals in general.  Apply petroleum jelly (Vaseline) to the seal. This will rehydrate the rubber and fill any gaps in the seal.  Lard may also be a more permaculture-friendly option but seems less effective at rehydrating the rubber (definitely preferred on food gaskets like jars).  Doing this once, maybe twice a year will improve the insulation in the weak link of the fridge, the door.
 
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I live with an off-grid solar system providing all my electric power which has taught me ways to be ultra conservative with electric around the times of the winter solstice when my skies are cloudy and days are short!  I do have an electric water heater and have found that a hot shower is at this point the most power hungry thing I use between heating the water and running the well pump.  Things I've done to majorly reduce this.  First I got a low flow shower head that works great with lower water pressure systems. Second I installed an easy to access switch that allows me to turn off the water heater until shortly before I want hot water, as others have already mentioned here.  I jokingly call it my poor mans not so instant hot water heater.  I probably shouldn't smear it with the label "poor mans" since it's really about being conservative more than being unable to afford.

What I had for a water heater was a 30 gallon one.  I realize that isn't huge by some standards, but I also live alone and don't need to be taking one shower after another.  So my third major improvement in conservation was replacing that aging 30 gallon water heater with a super insulated 15 gallon one.  I never noticed the difference when taking a shower, as in it doesn't turn cold on me.  So now when I challenge the electric system to heat up a batch of water it's only needing to heat half as much rather than a huge tank of which I'll only use a little.  I should also note that I've had a second person here and as long as we take short showers 15 gallons has been enough for two.

Another major electric savings point for me was replacing my old standard fridge which was too big for just me, not to mention too inefficient in general.  I did a lot of research looking for a smaller unit that would meet my needs but use as little power as possible.  This was years ago but back then the lowest power consumption one was a couple thousand dollars while the one I got was rated to use slightly more but only cost about $250 and I could buy it at the local big box appliance store, saving on shipping costs.  It doesn't have any fancy features like ice makers or auto defrost but it hardly uses any power.  I tend to keep it on the lowest or next to lowest setting.  When I've measured actual power consumption in the past with a kill-o-watt meter it was consuming between .3 to .5 kw a day.

Others have already mentioned window coverings to conserve heat.  Years ago I did a blog post on the ones I made.  They were relatively cheap and easy to make.  During the cold months I use them over the windows when the sun goes down, removing them in the morning.  They either roll down or are small enough such that it's easier to pull out and put in.  As an added bonus they work great as black out curtains to make my bedroom nice and dark at night. (or during the day if I want to sleep in)  One really cold day/night I did some temperature tests to see just how effective these were.  There was a 20 degree F difference between the outside of the window and the immediate inside of the window.  This is what the window itself was providing.  Then from the inside of the window to the other side of the insulating window covering, ie. inside my home, it was another 49.8 degree F difference.  Meaning the window covering provided almost 250% more insulation.  The actual temperature difference was from -13.5 degrees F  to 56.3 degrees F.  
 
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For cooking, consider a toaster oven:  I rarely turn on my full size gas oven (think THanksgiving and maybe Christmas, when I have guests).  Since I'm only cooking for myself, I scale down the size of anything that needs to be baked or roasted.

The solar ovens are great, and I use mine a lot for baked things (sweet potatoes, for example), stews and soups, even in the winter here in Colorado.

I use a footstool covered with a heating pad under my feet when I'm sitting at the computer.

I have a small, cheap pole and plastic greenhouse (was around $85) set up in an unheated bedroom with south facing windows for growing greens in the winter indoors, and will sleep in there if the power is out completely.

Bubble wrap on the south facing windows (stuck on by misting with a mix of distilled water and a drop of dish soap) works really well, and doesn't cut out the heat that comes through when the sun is shining on the windows. Tap water may leave lime scale on the windows...ask me how I know!

I pre-warm the bed with an electric blanket then turn it off in my (thermostat set at) 50 degree temp bedroom.

I set my water heater to the absolute lowest temp that works for showers with the shower controls set as hot as they will go.  Because I keep my house temps pretty low in the winter, I want to be warm when I get into bed!

I installed a storm door on my south facing front door so I can open it for passive solar heating during the middle part of the day.

I bought 1 1/2" thick insulating panels and cut pieces to fit inside my north facing windows and sliding glass door (by making this part in two pieces, I can use it if I need to).

In my area, if you are retired and low income, you can apply to the electric company to have some of their solar panels dedicated to paying your elec usage (tho you still have to pay the access/delivery fee).  

I installed pool-noodle type insulation on all the pipes in my crawlspace, and close the crawlspace vents for the winter every year.  

I always use the door furthest from my living space to enter and exit the house during the winter.

I put plastic over the screens on my porch, mainly to keep large amounts of cold north wind off a big area on the back of my house.

I leave water used to boil foods on the stovetop until it cools down before discarding it or using it for watering indoor plants:  why pour heat and humidity (which makes the air seem warmer, and is always welcome in the high desert where I live) down the drain?

I save up laundry and dishwasher use for very cold nights:  this heats the house a bit and, with the influx of warm water, hopefully keeps my septic tank from freezing up.

I wrap a thrifted sleeping bag around my downdraft cooler (swamp cooler) before putting on the winter cover, to keep wind out, and use magnets and sheet plastic to cover the downdraft grate on the ceiling inside the house to keep my heat in.  

While not technically affecting utility bills, I forego paying for trash pickup every week, and drive my trash to the dump, paying $7.00 about every six weeks rather than the $25 plus for regular trash service.  

I know, not all these are environmentally friendly, but they are useful to keep the bills down!

Hope these help!

(edit was to add the trash service savings)
 
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[quote=David Huang
What I had for a water heater was a 30 gallon one.  I realize that isn't huge by some standards, but I also live alone and don't need to be taking one shower after another.  So my third major improvement in conservation was replacing that aging 30 gallon water heater with a super insulated 15 gallon one.

Another simple idea for using less electricity for a water heater is to put it on an easily accessible switch.  My parents did this many decades ago.  They'd shower in the evenings so didn't need hot water afterwards until the next day.  In the morning they'd turn the switch back on if they were home during the day and expected to need hot water.  Otherwise it went back on before supper to have hot water for dishes and for the evening.
 
David Huang
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Katie Dee wrote:

While not technically affecting utility bills, I forego paying for trash pickup every week, and drive my trash to the dump, paying $7.00 about every six weeks rather than the $25 plus for regular trash service.  



Recently the last trash service provider for my area that allowed me to buy tags for individual bags/cans of trash stopped that service.  So my only option from any of the trash companies is paying their weekly or monthly rate for a bin.  Since I generate 3 to 4 bags of trash a year there is no way I'm doing that!  I believe my dump charges $10 so that's looking like a better route for me.  Though right now I've been using my RMH.  I wait until I've got it running good and hot before I toss in what little amount of burnable trash I have, usually plastic food wrappers and such.  My thinking is that the temperatures should be hot enough with the rocket mass heater to fully combust it all.

This reminds me of the biggest thing I've done to reduce my utility bills is build a RMH to heat my home!  I realize this doesn't work for everybody, esp. those renting an apartment.  With the significantly lower amounts of wood these need I've thus far been able to source ample "free" firewood to heat my home during the cold months here in MI.  I put free in quotes since I do spend effort gathering, cutting and splitting the firewood, though I view this as quality exercise time.  I now use propane mostly just for cooking on my stove and rarely for doing any home heating.  Here though I've run into the minimum charges thing.  Because I'm not buying enough propane annually they charge me a "tank rental" fee.  Grr...
 
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Hi,  A friend of mine is 93. He put in an under the sink, (point of use) electric tankless water heater-replacing his 5gal under sink heater because it was starting to fail.  Cost was about $150.00.  He has a tank heater which he turns on for bathing and then shuts off when done. The electric bill is slightly smaller and the cost for the unit was about $50.00 less than the tank heater. Not having to use the big tank heater that much saves him 1 propane fill each year. This year is around 1.5k per fill.

He uses an induction cooktop, and rarely the microwave. He was able to cut $20.00 by not using the microwave and do most of the cooking on the stove.

All his windows are sealed and have heavy weather curtains.  

He kept his house at 85F but with the radiant heater was able to drop it to 80F.  If  I remember correctly, warm the person and not the air is more efficient. Clothing is also a factor. Don't assume that what is sold in stores is right for you. Look for other ideas to stay warm or cool.  And Always buy quality.  Sometimes thicker, well made clothing that might outlast your lifespan is worth a few dollars more than having to replace the cheap stuff.  I save up for really good clothes and my wife buys my christmas present. This way she gets the colors she likes, is able to buy something I need, and is really giving me a gift.  win win win.

 
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