Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The Water Heater

This is something we've been meaning to do for years--ever since we moved here, in fact. We have a gigantic, ancient water heater in the basement, and I'm quite certain that it is responsible for most of our electric bill. So we finally got off our asses to

Turn down the water heater to 120 degrees.

Our tank is a beast: 80 gallons, which is way more than we need. It's electric, which is the least efficient thing ever. It's also 15 years old, so we're on borrowed time. We need to replace it soon, but in the meantime, this little change should save us some cash.

There's going to be a lot of rough math here, because the thermostat on the water heater looks like a child's toy:

As near as we can tell, this decal is fake, as there is no knob to turn. Instead, Kirk had to take a screwdriver and move a tiny screw inside that hole to change the temperature. The choices were 150, 125, and 90. It had been set at 125 according to the (surely inaccurate) screw, but we often burn our hands in the kitchen, so we know we can turn it down. We were aiming for 120, but since that's not marked, we just made a guess about giving it a quarter-turn toward the cold side. 

I guess I'll find out in the shower tomorrow if that's too cold.

Anyway, we'll assume that we lowered it by 5 degrees to 120. According to energy.gov, for every 10 degrees lower you turn the thermostat, you save 3-5 percent on heating water your water. So since we turned it only half that amount, we'll say we saved just 3%. They also said that hot water usually accounts for about 18% of a household's electric bill. I have a feeling our percentage is higher--we never use an air conditioner, and our hot water heater sucks, so we probably use a much higher proportion of our electricity for heating water. If we call that 25% of an average monthly electric bill of $138, the portion we spend on the hot water is $34.50. A 3% savings on that amount is about $1 per month.

Hmm. That's not very much at all. On the bright side, it wasn't hard to do, and we won't be burning our hands while washing the dishes any more.

Savings per month: $1

Total Savings for November: $1614 (this month's savings plus the savings already in place from previous months!)

Total Savings in 2014: $9337

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Post-Frost Harvest

After a week in which we were struggling to acclimate ourselves to the blustery cold, today we were granted a sunny, almost-warm day. It was actually pleasant to be outside again, so we wasted no time picking up the last of the leaves and cleaning up the last bits of herbs that finally died in the freezing temperatures of the past week.

We also were able to bring in a surprisingly ample post-frost harvest. There's still plenty of food out there under the cover of glass, plastic, or straw, so we should be eating well for the next few months. It may well be the last nice day, but it's not the last harvest. Here's what we brought in today:

This kale bouquet is just a small bit of what we have. A lot of the Russian kale got nipped back by the cold since we left it unprotected, but we fixed that today, and there are still a whole lot of leafy greens left for the winter.

Our last three cabbages were unaffected by the freezing weather, but won't last forever outside. The small one will be gone this week on tacos, but the other two should keep for quite a while, until we figure out something to do with them or turn them into sauerkraut, whichever comes first.

Since we've had a frost, the horseradish is ready to go. Cold brings out its flavor, and I will try to find some goggles so I don't cry grating this all up tonight.

The broccoli is still going. Some of the stems have fallen limp, but there are still plenty of florets near the centers of the plants that are in fine shape, and quite sweet after the frost.

The fall lettuces and arugula didn't grow very big this year, but because they are so close to the ground, they are still in great shape, even after the freezing weather. I pulled this whole bed, which leaves just one last row of lettuce under a tunnel for the winter.

Those greens, plus some dill, parsley, and beet greens made it into the salad spinner, and eventually onto our dinner plates.

Speaking of beets, I pulled the rest of the fall crop. They aren't huge, but we do have a bunch. As I speak, they are roasting in the oven, and then we'll freeze them to use throughout the winter.

I also brought in a big bunch of carrots. We still have a lot outside, but these were all in a row right along the wooden edge of one of the raised beds, a spot that freezes pretty quickly. Now that it's cold, it's better to get them inside before the ground freezes them in place for the winter.

Oh, winter. It felt far away today out in the sunshine, but by mid-week it will be cold again, and if the wind blows the right way, we could end up with snow on Thanksgiving. Glad we got all of our side dishes harvested and under cover today!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The Tissues

It's that time of year again: the sniffles are upon us. Wintertime colds and (fingers crossed, not this year) flu mean an investment in several boxes of tissues, and that go us thinking about trying to skim a little off the price of those. From here on out, we plan to

Replace name-brand Kleenex with store brand tissues.

This isn't one of the biggest money-savers in the world, but it is a really easy one. It turns out the Market Basket tissues aren't too bad--a little thinner, but not terribly scratchy or rough. And since our typically wasteful children appear to use just a tiny corner of a tissue tissue before throwing it away, they probably won't notice at all. The boxes are uglier, but whatever.

The math on this involves some estimating, as I can't honestly claim to know exactly how many tissues we go through in a month. Let's say we average two boxes per month for the family (less in the summer, more in the winter).

The box of 160 Kleenex tissues are $2 each at Market Basket, while store brand tissues are 99 cents for a box of 144.

It's a total pain that these aren't easily comparable boxes, so now I need to figure out how much an individual tissue costs as well as how many we go through each month. Good thing I like math.

Each box holds 160 tissues, so that's 160 tissues x 2 boxes, or 320 tissues a month.

At $2 per 160 tissues, the Kleenex cost 1.25 cents apiece. Multiply that by 320 tissues, and the cost per month to not be gross is $4.

At 99 cents per 144 tissues, the Market Basket tissues cost just .6875 cent apiece. Multiply that by 320 tissues, and the price per month is $2.20.

Quick subtraction shows us that the difference per month is $1.80. Not amazing, but nothing to sneeze at.

Ba dum DUM.

As always, I'm rounding up.

Savings per month: $2

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Spring Chickens

As I mentioned earlier this month, our chickens are done laying for season, and we will be out of eggs until they stop molting and we can turn the light on in the coop to trick them into thinking it's spring.

Last year they all laid so well throughout the summer that I was able to freeze enough eggs to use throughout the winter molt, and we never had to buy any from the grocery store.

This past summer? Not so much. Dolley is no longer laying at all, and the other girls have slowed a bit with age. (Dolley is a Red-Star hen, and it turns out that this hybrid breed is a rock star daily layer for about 18 glorious months, but then it's over for good, which was not advertised. Luckily for her, she's the smartest, best-trained bird we have, or we might have considered her for soup.) Without her efforts, we still had plenty of eggs to eat fresh in the summer, but not enough to put up for winter. We're back to buying them at the store until we get them laying again (I'm hoping by January, but we'll see how the feathering goes).

All this means that it's time to add to our flock. If we had known that Dolley was going to shut off production this summer, we would have ordered new chicks back in April, and they probably could have kept us in eggs throughout the fall. As it is, today I ordered three day-old chicks to arrive over April vacation (just five wintery months away!).

We always narrow our search by laying ability and cold hardiness, and then we read up about their personalities to make sure they aren't bitches. This time around, we chose a Rhode Island Red, a Welsummer, and a Golden Laced Wyandotte.

File:Rhode Island Red.jpg
Public domain photo

We wanted a Rhode Island Red the last time we ordered chicks, but the hatchery ended up not having enough and sent Dolley as a substitution. A Rhode Island Red is the classic red hen of storybooks, and its perfect for our region, as its name suggests. They're also supposed to be among the best layers, which is what we're looking for.

Photo by A Chicken a Day

Welsummers lay dark reddish-brown, sometimes speckled eggs and are popular in England. The roosters are like the one on the Corn Flakes box, so it's a pretty classic chicken that's been around forever. 

Photo by Ariel188

The Golden Laced Wyandotte is really pretty. I wanted one the first time around, but they were sold out by the time we ordered our chicks--this one is the reason why I got chick-shopping done five months in advance this time. 

Unless we end up with substitutions again, these new birds will be arriving April 21, 2015. Stay tuned for another round of adorable baby chick photos when spring finally comes back around!