|by Robert Waldrop
Better Times Almanac of Useful Information Energy Conservation Edition
ENERGY PRICES CLIMBING!
FAMILY BUDGETS THREATENED BY RISING PRICES!
No relief in sight. Next year will be worse. Over the long term, everyone should plan as though the price of energy will continue to increase.
|How will your family meet this challenge?The currently high prices for natural gas and electricity are not a temporary phenomenon that will go away soon. Plan as though the price of whatever energy you use will continue to increase over the long term. That’s what is going to happen, so you might as well get ready for it right now. If you procrastinate, your delay will cost you big money.
Energy prices are climbing because demand is exceeding supply, and the energy markets are being distorted by irrational and unjust economic structures. In California, the situation is so bad they are having rolling blackouts. While it’s true that more oil and gas is being found, we are using more fuel than we are finding. With about 3% of the world’s population, the US devours 25% of the world’s annual oil supply. Production in the US peaked in 1970 and has been declining ever since, so 60% of our oil is imported.
Usage of natural gas is expected to increase by more than 30% in the next 5 years due to new electrical generating plants coming on line. With demand showing no signs of abating anywhere, expect higher prices over the short and long term.
Some politicians are saying that if we drill for oil in the Arctic National Wilderness Refuge, this will help our energy shortages. But the most optimistic estimates of the oil available there amount to less than 2 years of US domestic consumption. Some petroleum geologists are saying that within 10 years, world oil production will peak and start declining. Less oil means much higher energy prices, so energy conservation is critical to preserving the health and safety of our families and neighborhoods.
Start by sitting down with your family and making a list of everything you do that uses energy. You have control over your energy bill. Every bit of energy you don’t use is money you can spend on something else. Even small things you do (or don’t do) add up over time. You can make changes in the ways that you do things that add up to big savings every month. It won’t happen without some effort, but aren’t we all tired of high utility bills?
Which would you rather do—give your money to a big corporation, or spend it on something nice for yourself or your kids? It’s your choice. Even if you’re renting, there are many things you can do to save money on your energy bills. Think of ways to do things differently so you use less energy, discuss them with your family, and get busy.
Take things 1 step at a time. Don’t try to do everything at once (although the more things you cut back, the sooner your energy bills go down).
|There may be some things you need to buy (like insulation), or you may need to move to a different house. Sometimes you have to invest money in order to make some money. In this case, the investment is energy efficiency, the profit is money that you don’t spend on energy. Start saving today to put aside the money you will need.Remember, it’s not only how you use energy that matters, it’s also how you waste energy. If your home or apartment is not well insulated, you’re piling up hundred dollar bills and setting them on fire. If you are a renter, the lack of insulation is like an extra tax added to your rent. Your most effective way of saving money might be to move to a different house or apartment that is better insulated, has more efficient heating and cooling, and is located closer to your work or to public transportation. Generally, you can get an estimate from your gas and electric utilities about the energy bills for any address, so it pays to check.
A refrigerator works best when it is correctly maintained and optimized for efficient use. If it isn’t working correctly, it will use energy inefficiently. It needs to be repaired. It won’t get better by itself.
A manual defrost refrigerator uses less energy than “frost-free” models. If you have a box freezer, use the refrigerator’s freezer compartment only for short-term storage and ice. For this kind of minimal freezer use, keep the fridge freezer at 20 to 25 degrees F—but if you are using it to store meats, the freezer temp needs to be at 10 degrees F. The main compartment of the refrigerator should be in the 37-40 degree range.
To measure this, you will need 2 small inexpensive thermometers. Put one near the center in the freezer compartment and one near the center in the refrigerator. After an hour or so, check both temps at the end of any cycle (when it stops humming). Record those temperatures. Then turn the appliance’s thermostat up a notch, & check the temperature again at the end of the next cycle. Keep doing this, up or down, until you get the temperatures right. If your refrigerator has an adjustable opening between the freezer and the refrigerator compartments, you can experiment with the width of the opening as part of this regulating process.
Make sure there is space around the refrigerator for air to circulate—at least three inches between the refrigerator and any nearby counters or walls. If your refrigerator is in a constricted space, don’t pile things on top of it because that will restrict air circulation even more.
|The refrigerator is most efficient when it is full, but not over-crowded (food holds coolness better than air, but air must be able to circulate around the refrigerator). Freezers work best when they are full. Fill empty spaces with 2 liter pop bottles filled about 3/4ths full of water. Try putting bottles of frozen water in your refrigerator and see if it runs less. Check the temperature regularly with a thermometer. Don’t let the frost build up—when it is 1/4 inch deep, defrost the freezer. Move the refrigerator away from the wall once a year and vacuum the coils—they work most efficiently when they are clean (do this more often if you have a pet that sheds a lot).Let hot foods cool before putting them in the refrigerator, and make sure that all dishes and foods are covered in airtight containers. Don’t hold the door open while you decide what you want to eat, especially during hot and humid weather. Locate the refrigerator away from the stove, out of direct sunlight, and away from any heating ducts.
If you use an extension cord to power your refrigerator, it must be the same gauge (thickness) of wire as the house wires, 14 gauge. Ideally, the refrigerator should be on its own circuit (breaker or fuse), with no other appliances or lights using that circuit. If there are additional electrical outlets on that circuit, don’t use them if you can avoid it. The freezer should also be on its own circuit.
Plug the refrigerator into a “Power Planner” This is a small box that plugs into an electrical outlet, and then you plug the refrigerator into it. If provides surge protection, smoother starting (less wear and tear) and saves electricity. They are available at most hardware and home supply stores.
If the door gasket isn’t fitting tightly, replace it. If your refrigerator has an automatic ice maker or butter warmer, disconnect it. Thanks to Clarence Yusik at The Fridge Doctor for help with this refrigeration section.
Your utility bills may seem mysterious, but you are the one who controls the amount of energy you use. To spend less money, use less energy.
Your largest use of energy is generally for heating and cooling your living space. The bigger your house or apartment, the more energy you will use and the more money you will spend. One advantage of smaller houses and apartments can be lower energy bills. If there are unused rooms, keep their doors closed and shut off any heating/air conditioning vents in those rooms. If your energy budget is severely restricted, you could heat or cool only one or two rooms in the house.
If you own your housing, you will save the most bucks by insulating and weatherizing. If you are a low income homeowner or renter, there are programs to help you insulate and weatherize your housing (contact a charity or Community Action center for a referral, the waiting list for these programs is long, so get in line right away). If you don’t own your housing, start planning now for how you can get into a place of your own. If you are low income, there are programs that can help you achieve home ownership. Sometimes you can “rent to own” a property.
A wood stove may be an effective choice for winter heat. Wood can often be found for free, even in cities, it is a renewable and sustainable resource.
Consider co-housing—where two or more families live together. Two or three families could pool resources and buy or rent a large house that could be subdivided, with the families sharing some facilities like the kitchen and living room. The group could save money by cooking and eating together, not to mention the time savings when there are more hands and feet available to do the work and the cleanup. Sharing appliances like freezers also saves money and energy.
It is easier to keep your house at a comfortable temperature when you dress for the season when you are indoors. In the summer, go barefoot in the house, and wear loose-fitting light clothes like t-shirts and shorts made from natural fabrics like cotton. In the winter, however. wear several loose layers of clothes while you’re in the house. If necessary, you could wear a hat and a sweater or light jacket. People have been known to curl up with fluffy blankets on the couch or a favorite chair. Clean clothes keep you warmer than dirty clothes.
|Vegetation is one of the most cost effective ways to cut your energy bill in the summer. Plant trees around your house for shade, and bushes up close to the house. If you plant fruit or nut trees, as an added bonus you get an annual high value crop. Although it takes many years to grow a tree, in the meantime you could plant climbing vines on the sunny sides of your house for shade in the summer.Many houses & apartments are poorly insulated & have lots of air leaks. To find air leaks, light an incense stick and slowly move it around doors, windows, baseboards, electric outlets, switches, shelves, and places where pipes and electrical conduits go through walls and cabinets. Most home supply stores have inexpensive products to help plug such leaks. You can get little foam pads to put inside electric outlets and light switches (if you can scrounge a larger piece of foam, cut it yourself to fit your outlets and switches).
Use caulk to plug leaks around windows. Wood putty or caulk can be used along baseboards. Read the label to make sure the caulk is suitable for the materials it is being used with. Latex caulk is the cheapest, doesn’t give off fumes, and before it dries it can be wiped off with a damp rag. Foam comes in cans so you can spray it around pipes going through walls and fill miscellaneous holes.
Weatherstripping helps seal doors tightly—a 1/4 inch gap at the bottom of the typical door is equal to a 3 square inch hole in the wall! If there are holes in your floors or walls, plug them as necessary. If you have nothing else, fill them with crushed newspaper or styrofoam (packing beads work) and cover with plastic and lathe (strips of wood sold by the bundle, they’re cheap) or duct tape. Patch (‘tuckpoint”) broken or missing mortar in exterior brick walls. Brick mortar is very cheap, just add water, mix, & if you don’t have tools, use a kitchen knife to fill the gaps with mortar.
There are many different kinds of insulation, so you’ll need to give some thought to what you need in your particular situation. Start with the ceiling/roof, and the more insulation you have, the more money will save on energy.
“Airlock” your doors that go outside. This requires going through two doors to get inside the house. Don’t open the interior door until the outer door is shut and thus cold or hot winds don’t blow in the house. It can be a temporary structure made from plastic and 2 x 4 boards and a door you find somewhere, or you could build permanent structures at your doorways (on the porch, or just inside the door).
Keep your heating and cooling equipment clean and in good repair. Change the filters as necessary, or wash them (such as the filters on window air conditioners). If the sun hits your air conditioner, rig a shade over it—but don’t block the air intakes. If you are renting, be sure to remind your landlord about this. And if it doesn’t get done, that’s another sign that you need to look for another place to live.
The Bottom Line on Energy is. . .
You must be brutally realistic with yourself about the resources you have available to pay for energy. The higher the thermostat in the winter, & the lower the thermostat in the summer, the more money you must pay.
If you are going to be gone for several hours, adjust the thermostat so that less energy is used keeping an empty house cool or warm.
In the COLD of the Winter. . .
Stop air infiltration through windows by covering them with plastic held in place with staples and strips of lathe. If the windows are really leaky, cover the inside with plastic also.
Hang heavy curtains, quilts, or blankets over the windows at night. These could also be hung over walls to help insulate a room. Mattresses also work for walls, windows, and doors. Fabric stores carry a product called “Warm Window” which is composed of several layers of insulating material and a metal foil liner. This can be easily made into indoor thermal shutters.
Another option is to cut sheets of rigid foam insulation to fit the inside of the windows. Put them up at night. Take them down during the day to let the sun shine in. This insulating foam is flammable, so keep these away from open flames. Cover it with some flame-retardant material as a safety measure. A well insulated window would have plastic on the exterior, double-paned windows, indoor thermal shutters of some sort, plus one or more wool blankets or quilts and a heavy curtain.
If cold air is coming up through a bare floor, you can improvise “carpet” by putting down several layers of newspaper and covering them with blankets or quilts. (If you do this, have people take their shoes off when they go in that room, and be careful about slips and falls.) Even better, learn to make rugs from rags and cover your floor with something you have created yourself.
If you have a waterbed, keep it heavily insulated during the day (a waterbed heater can use more energy than a water heater and refrigerator combined!). Use heavy comforters on top, and also on the sides. Even better, replace the water bed with a regular bed.
|Recover Heat. If you use an electric dryer, vent it indoors during the winter (you can’t do this with gas dryers due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning). Put some nylon hose on the end of the exhaust duct (secured with a large rubber band or duct tape) to catch the lint and dust. When you take a shower, put the stopper in the tub. Let the water cool before you drain it. Air dry your freshly-washed clothes inside the house. Don’t pour hot cooking water down the drain, let it cool first. These practices will add humidity & heat to the inside of your house that would otherwise go down the drain or out into the cold back yard.At Night. . . Turn the thermostat down or the heater off and pile on the blankets. Dress warmly for bed in sweat pants and shirt, socks, and maybe even a cap (depending on how cold it will get and how low you set the thermostat).
Adequate nutrition is essential. To help you stay warm, adequate food and water is a must. Drink plenty water and eat frequent meals with lots of carbohydrates. Winter is a good time for comfort foods like casseroles, stews, soups, and home baked bread.
Use solar heating whenever possible. Open the shades and curtains on the sunny side of the house. If the sun can shine on some heavy masonry (like a brick or concrete floor or wall), so much the better—it will soak up the heat during the day and radiate it at night. You could improvise such a heat absorber with buckets or plastic bottles painted black and filled with water (if the bottles are clear, you can use food coloring to darkly color the water). If you’re using 2 liter bottles, put them in trays so they don’t fall over so easily. Keep your windows clean so the sun’s rays aren’t deflected. Plans are also available for a solar heater that fits into a standard window.
|In the HEAT of the Summer. . .
Don’t laugh, but why not try living without air conditioning? People used to do this all the time, a growing number of people are doing it today. It helps if you live in an older house, built before air conditioning became so popular. When temperatures are cool at night & in the morning, ventilate the house. Open doors & windows so you get a good cross ventilation going. Put a box fan in a window on the north side of the house to draw in cool air. On the south side of the house, put another box fan in a window so that it draws warm air out of the house.
A ceiling fan circulates air & creates an effect where it seems several degrees cooler. Ceiling fans are very cheap (as low as $15), and are easy to install. For other indoor uses, box fans are inefficient and usually noisy, rotary fans are better. Variable speed fans will help you get the right amount of air. Use a fan (the exhaust fan, if there is one installed) to move cooking heat outside, but be sure to turn it off after the burners cool down, or you’ll send your cool air outside. Even better, cook outside in the summer.
In the summer, shade is your friend. Keep the sun’s heat from hitting windows, doors, walls. Install window shades on the outside of your house. Be creative and you won’t spend much money. An inexpensive bamboo roll-up window shade works fine, and there’s always aluminum foil and those automobile window shades with reflective surfaces. One or more curtains inside will help, and choose white or another light color (sheets are do-able and cheap, & more is better). Don’t forget to shade the doors if you don’t have a porch.
The best choice for your wall shade is vegetation. Although it takes many years to grow a tall tree, vines grow in just a few weeks. Morning glories provide plenty of shade plus flowers that are beautiful to look at. There are many varieties of pole beans which will climb right up your walls as well as cover windows. Hang some twine down the wall for each plant to assist their climb, or put up a trellis or some cheap chicken wire. Not only do your windows get shaded, but you also get fresh green beans to eat!
Keep hydrated. Drink lots of water. Sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and big heavy meals will make you feel warmer. Caffeine and alcohol will dehydrate you, so even if you drink a super big gulp soft drink twice a day, you still need 6 to 8 glasses of water. If you don’t drink enough water, you will feel hotter and a lot more uncomfortable. Large amounts of very cold drinks will fool your body into thinking you are cold, so your body’s thermostat will try to warm you up. The idea that an ice cold soft drink is the perfect solution for your thirst on a hot summer day is something you have been brainwashed to believe by billions of dollars in advertising. Water is better.
|If the heat becomes oppressive, take a cool shower or go outside and dowse yourself with a water hose. Keep a spray bottle of cool water handy, and give yourself a little spritz every once in a while.Minimize the heat you create in the house. Cooking inside during the summer adds a lot of humidity and heat. Use a grill and/or camp stove an cook outside, for example on your porch or in your back yard. If you do cook inside, do so early in the morning while it’s cool. You could really go for the gusto and build a simple solar oven and bake bread or cook a roast or casserole using the hot afternoon sunlight (yes, you can really do this, and no, you don’t need a degree in rocket science to make one). If you are cooking inside, small appliances like microwaves or toaster ovens are better than an electric stove.
Wash dishes by hand, don’t use the dish washer. Dress lightly for sleeping, use cotton sheets and a cotton mattress pad (or several cotton sheets if you don’t have a pad). Using a damp sheet also helps you stay cool at night, especially if you have a ceiling fan. If you smoke, do it outside. Don’t use the dryer; hang your clothes out to dry, especially heavy items like jeans and towels. (No dryer can duplicate that great smell of clothes that have been dried on the line outside, and there’s no in-house heat contribution.)
Even if you don’t abandon air conditioning completely, using these ideas can help you use less air conditioning so you save more money.
The more shade you can get on the outside of the house, the less work for the air conditioner to do. You could wait until the heat of the day to turn it on, or you could have one or more “no air conditioning days” each week. If you are low income, you may need to turn the air conditioning off during the day and go to an air conditioned library or other public space to meet your energy budget. Even if you did this only once or twice a week, every week, you would save money, plus you would gain the many advantages of spending time in libraries. It’s not for nothing that people say: “Read More, Learn More.”
|NEVER USE CHARCOAL BRIQUETS INSIDE A HOUSE FOR COOKING OR KEEPING WARM IN A WINTER WEATHER EMERGENCY. People die from carbon monoxide poisoning when they fire up charcoal briquets inside the house to keep warm. Carbon monoxide detectors are cheap; if there is a chance you may be using improvised heating, get one.Pregnant women and unborn babies are particularly at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. While using any kind of inside heat with an open flame, if the room seems “stuffy” and you begin to feel headachy and lethargic and/or your vision gets blurry, get everyone out of the room and ventilate it with fresh air immediately.
With all forms of alternative open flame heating, beware of the fire danger. Place a fire extinguisher where it can be quickly used if necessary. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, get a couple of large boxes of baking soda.
Cooking and Hot Water
If you are stuck with a big energy hawg of an electric stove, turn off the burners before the cooking is finished. It will continue cooking as the burner cools.
Crockpots, roaster/toaster ovens, and electric frying pans are more efficient than full size electric stoves. Large ovens don’t cook small meals efficiently, so use those small appliances.
When you do heat up the oven, cook several dishes at once; alternate their placement in the oven so that air circulates easily. Minimize pre-heating. Glass or ceramic oven pans are the most efficient.
Make sure the flame on a gas stove is blueish, a yellow flame indicates the gas isn’t burning efficiently.
Pressure cookers use less energy for stove top cooking because foods cook in less time. Uncovered pans can use 3 times as much energy as a covered pan to cook the food.
Defrost frozen foods before cooking them.
Use the smallest pan that will fit the recipe, and match the burner to the pan if possible (use a small burner for a small pan).
Keep the metal splash guards under the burners clean so heat reflects upwards, blackened guards will absorb, not reflect, cooking energy.
The microwave oven is generally an energy efficient appliance, but don’t use it to thaw frozen foods—that is a waste of energy when the same task can be accomplished in your refrigerator.
|Hot Water Use less by installing low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators. This can cut your hot water requirements as much as 50%, saving 14,000 gallons of hot water/year/family of 4.
Insulate the hot water pipes. Insulate the hot water tank with a special “jacket” made for the purpose (typically $10-20 at home supply stores), or wrap it with insulating materials. Do not cover the top or the bottom, the thermostat or the burner compartment of the tank.
Lower the temperature on the water heater to 120 degrees or less. Take quick showers, not baths.
You can make a simple solar heater: get a 5 gallon plastic bucket with a tight fitting lid, and paint it black. Fill it with water and set it in the sunlight. Voila, easy and free five gallons of hot water.
Pay attention to details.
Lights. Your grandfather was right: Turn off the lights when you’re not using them. Compact fluorescent bulbs work in regular light fixtures, last longer and use much less energy. They cost more ($10 for the 60 watt equivalent), but they use 75% less energy than regular bulbs & last for 1000s of hours. Use less electrical lighting during the day when natural light is available. Use more “task lighting”—smaller lights focused on what you are doing, rather than the entire room.
Washing Clothes. Whenever possible, wash clothes in cold water. Wait until you have a full load, don’t do small loads. Instead of using the dryer, air dry your clothes. Get some racks to use for indoor clothes drying when its raining or too cold outside. Wash small amounts of clothes by hand.
Dishwasher. The best thing to do with your dishwasher is disconnect it and sell it to somebody else. Washing dishes by hand should be a family affair—when many hands pitch in, the work is less tedious and gets done faster.
Small batteries. Avoid spending money for small batteries. For $30 or less, you can get a solar powered battery charger and some rechargeable batteries, and go solar. Or you could use a recharger that runs on household current. Small batteries are expensive—the fewer you have to buy, the more money you have for other things.
|Learn how to read your meters. This will help you manage your energy expenses, because you can tell exactly how much you will owe at any given time. The electric and gas utilities can tell you how to do this and calculate your bill as you consume the energy. If necessary, read it every day and adjust your energy use to meet your budget. Stop wasting energy, and you will start saving money. You will also give planet Earth a break from the pollution.
Gadgets and Ghost Loads. Many modern appliances and gadgets have “ghost loads”—they use power all the time, even when you think they’re “off”. When an appliance isn’t in use, make sure it is turned completely off, unplug it if necessary—especially the television (which consumes lots of energy and generates lots of heat). One way to deal with this is to plug them into an extension cord that has an on-off switch. Use the extension cord switch to turn it off and on, and you will avoid wasting power via the “ghost loads” in the appliance.
Be wary of bringing more electrical gadgets into your house and scrutinize what you already have. Do you really need all that stuff? If you have a water bed, drain it and replace it with a regular bed (a waterbed heater can use as much electricity as a refrigerator. If you have a computer and printer, don’t leave it on when it isn’t being used. Instead of an electric blanket, use more regular blankets or quilts (and never leave the electric blanket on during the day). Never use the television for “background noise” while you’re doing something else; a radio consumes less power. Sell your garbage disposal, or don’t use it. Compost your vegetable food scraps for your garden. Sell or don’t use your garbage compactor.
Wood Heat. For many people, a wood stove may be an effective choice for winter heat. Wood can often be found for free, even in cities. A wood stove can be a very cost effective source of heat and hot water. For a cheap wood stove, kits are available that allow you to turn two steel barrels into a wood burning stove.
The Devil is in the Details Department. . .
Watch Out for Indirect Energy Expenses
Everything you buy takes energy to grow, manufacture, transport, store, and sell. As energy prices go up, other prices will follow.
Your trash is an indicator of how much money you are wasting. The more trash from your household, the more you indirectly pay for energy. More packaging equals higher prices. Use less stuff, or as your mother advised: “Use it up, wear it out, do without.”
Minimize the number of times you go shopping each month. Car pool with friends or take public transportation for shopping. The more times you go into stores, the more money you will spend. Always shop with a list, & avoid “impulse buying”. Buy at thrift stores and flea markets, start avoiding “new stuff.” Plan your shopping, and never go to the store for “just one thing.”
Eat with the season. Fresh produce in winter is often shipped thousands of miles, that ain’t cheap & food prices are already climbing. Summer is the time for fresh salads made from local ingredients. Winter is a time for slow-simmered sauces made from the previous summer’s vegetables. Some produce is imported from very poor countries, where it is grown by transnational corporations, so buying lettuce in January may involve snatching that food from the hands of hungry children. Think about that before you bite into a nice January salad. Buy your produce directly from local growers – most areas have roadside stands and farmers markets..
Another way to manage food expense is to grow, process, & preserve some of your own food. Plant an organic garden & fruit & nut trees (lots of trees). If you have no space for a garden, join a community garden. Use compost from your kitchen scraps as fertilizer. Buy extra produce from farmers & preserve it yourself. Equipment can be purchased and the cost split among several families, thus reducing the out of pocket expense to get started.
Stop using disposable plates & cutlery, use cloth rags instead of paper towels. Save bottles for other uses, re-use gift wrapping, ribbons & bows, & be creative in reducing your trash load..
Ignore advertising. Your life will not be better because you buy advertised products, but you will be poorer. Teach your kids about the lies of advertisers.
Take the bus to work if possible, or car pool. For some people, a bicycle will be a cost effective option. If you have a gas guzzling car, look for a car with greater fuel efficiency. Drive slower (above 55 MPH, fuel economy crashes), accelerate gradually.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
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Defend the lowly and the fatherless, render justice to the afflicted and needy. Rescue the lowly and poor, deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82, 3-4
Love is a fruit that is in season at all times.—Mother Teresa
Originally published to cyberspace on the feast of St. John Bosco, the 31st of January, AD 2001, at http://www.bettertimesinfo.org/energy2001.htm, A.M.DG
The BETTER TIMES ALMANAC OF USEFUL INFORMATION FOR POOR PEOPLE is a print publication published annually and distributed free of charge by the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, 1524 NW 21st, OKC, OK 73106, Robert Waldrop, editor.
(S) Shareright 2001 by Robert Waldrop, this information may be redistributed in any free format.
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