Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Frugal Kung-Fu Part 3

 If you're reading this series then congratulations!  You've probably already done at least one or two things to improve your Frugal-Fu skills.  Think you're ready to move up the ranks of the frugally minded and really be able to say you're becoming a master of Frugal-Fu?  Meditate on today's lesson about home energy use for a while and you'll certainly be on your way.

The Household Energy Audit

If you haven’t done so, perform a household energy audit and look at simple ways you can change what you’re doing to save you money.  Even if you’re not overly concerned about the environment, you’ll be impacting that too.  There are certainly more things you can do than what’s listed here, these are just the things we’ve actually done to our home.

  • Check your water heater temperature.  Many people have theirs set overly high.  Your temperature in general need not be above 165°F.  You can honestly probably be just fine with a temperature of 145°F.  You’ll use either less gas or less electricity.  Also, purchase and install a water heater insulating blanket if your water heater is in a non-environmentally controlled space in your home.  

  • Clean your air ducts.  Your home will both heat and cool more efficiently using less energy, and you’ll be healthier for it by reducing the amount of dust and particles in the air in your home.  

  • Get low flow shower heads if you don’t have them.  Generally a low flow shower head is considered to be anything that runs at 2.5GPM (gallons per minute) or less.  I think this is bogus.  There are great shower heads that run at 1.5GPM or less and have ‘miser’ settings you can use as well.  We have 1.5GPM heads in both of our bathrooms.  Then what I do when I take a shower is get my temperature comfortable, then I push the handle back in so it’s only producing enough flow to keep the shower from kicking back to the bathtub faucet.  Many times I’ll set it to the miser setting on top of that, especially if I’m just standing there shaving.  I’ve measured my usage by getting a gallon pitcher and measuring how long it takes to fill up.  With my method and settings I take a comfortable shower using a truly conservative 0.75GPM.  If you do the math, in a 15-20 minute shower you’ll go from using something like 60 gallons of water on an average 3GPM shower head to just over 10 gallons on a low flow head with the method I described.  Multiply the saved 50 gallons of water times the number of showers you take in a month.  At this rate, and considering one shower each day, you’ll save 1500 gallons a month.  And that’s just one person!  Consider a small family of three saving nearly 5000 gallons of water a month.  That’s certainly enough to lower your water bill.  

  • Take a look at your dishwasher.  This can be an iffy option for most people.  If you’re really pressed for time on a regular basis you probably won’t have time to do all your dishes by hand.  Many dishwashers do recycle their water, but when our older dishwasher went on the fritz we didn’t bother replacing or repairing it.  We now use it to store mason jars and do our dishes by hand and though we haven’t really measured it like we have baths and showers, we feel like we’re saving water and money to use a small amount of water in the sink and a bottle of dish liquid instead of buying dishwasher detergent.  This may or may not work for you but at least consider it.

  • Take a look at your washing machine.  If it’s old and your budget permits, you can get really miserly washing machines that sip the water instead of chug it.  Our older washing machine uses almost 100 gallons of water to do one load.  We don’t have the money to replace it, but we do what we can to limit how much laundry we produce such as using towels to dry off after a shower at least twice.

This is ours in the backyard
  • Consider your clothes dryer.  At 220 volts, they really suck up the electricity.  So what did we do?  We bought a nice collapsible clothesline and now we hang all our laundry out to dry.  After a month of two of our dryer simply sitting there unused we just gave it away and now we don’t even own a clothes dryer.  You may not be able to go that far, but consider putting up a clothesline of some kind and at least using it when you have time and the weather is nice.  We also got a stand alone laundry rack that stays in the garage to hang the laundry on to dry in the winter when it’s 30° outside and the water in the clothes will freeze instead of drying.  

  • Cooking outside as much as possible is something we do during the summer when it’s really hot out.  We have a charcoal grill as well as a propane stove we use as much as we can because around here it gets so hot in the summer the air conditioner can barely keep up.  Fire up the oven and burners and such in the kitchen and it gets just miserable.  I’ve heard many people complain about this happening in their own homes, and cooking outside is the solution.  Outdoor propane stoves with at least two burners can be had for under $50.   

  • Killing the summer sun and block cold air by applying heat reflective films to your major sun windows.  There are great films out there that don’t tint or darken your light if you prefer to keep your light as well as tinted types that will give you as much or as little shade as you want.  As usual, we didn’t have money for these nice films so you know what I did?  I got flat black paint and literally painted our sliding glass doors until they were covered solid and didn’t let in a single bit of light.  Now that it’s getting to be winter I just took a razor and it all came off perfectly clean in about 15 minutes.  This may not be something you’d do, but around here                                                we get things done however we can, even if it’s a                                                little… odd

  • Get some compact fluorescent or LED bulbs and install them in your most used sockets.  When they first came out, the math didn’t work when comparing cost savings to the cost to purchase the bulb, but that’s changed.  If you look there are coupons out for these types of bulbs now.  Wait for a sale, use a coupon, whatever.  Installing these throughout your home will create a situation where it costs just pennies a month to light your home.  

  • Check the insulation in your attic and crawlspaces throughout your home.  If any of it is missing or seems old and broken down, replace it.  The cost savings here should be obvious.

  • If you don’t have what’s called a ‘pro-vent’ in your attic you should certainly install one.  Lowering the extreme levels of heat in your attic will make your air conditioner run less.  We didn’t have one so we installed one at a total cost of about $200.  This was a tad pricey, but we had the labor done for us so that figure includes the cost of installation.  Regardless, the cost savings over just two summers will certainly pay for the cost of purchase and installation.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, these are just a few of the things we’ve done ourselves that have noticeably impact our recurring bills.  These tips should also be enough to get you started.  Once you’ve performed the Quality of Life Assessment recommended in the previous Frugal-Fu post and you’ve gone down the list of things suggested in the Home Energy Audit you’ll hopefully be looking at things a little differently and will have no problem finding plenty of additional steps you can take in your own home beyond the things listed here.  So pull out the ninja suit and start killing those utility bills with your mad Frugal-Fu skills!


  1. It was my understanding that dishwashers used between 9-16 gallons of water (1 gallon is about 4 litres), but when I went to double check online, the first article I found (a 'green' website) quoted studies that claimed hand washing dishes used 16-27 gallons of water and dishwashers used only a gallon or two. I used to haul my water in from a well and can attest to the fact that dishes can be done well in 1-2 gallons of water. When I put a bucket under the sink to catch tap water for grey water, I used about 3 gallons max for a whole day's dishes for a family of 4. Every other site confirmed the 9+ gallons of water estimate for dishwashers. Dishwashers also use very toxic detergents. I have to say, though, if there's one already installed, it's a great place to dry the hand washed dishes; saves counter space!

  2. Thanks for your comment Rabbithorns. Yeah, like I said, we haven't really measured our water for dishes but about 6-8 inches in the bottom is usually fine. We also stretch a bottle of Dawn forever. We're in the process of learning how to make our own dish liquid, but our first attempt resulted in something that didn't seem to cut grease very well and had a funny feel to it. We'll get there though!

  3. Down-to-Earth FB had a post with this link for sudsing homemade dish soap. I want to try it, but I haven't found Dr. Bronner's in Oz yet.


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