Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Homestead Cheapskate - Part 1 The Electric Bill

Probably nobody is more of a cheapskate, skinflint than me. Not in areas where quality far outweighs a cheap price. But in areas where "making do or do without" really counts.

For this installment of The Homestead Cheapskate, I'll address saving on the electric bill. I'm sure many of my tips will be just a rehash of things you've already read or learned in the past. I'm hoping some of them, though, will be a little newer to you. My goal is to so reduce my electric bill and electricity usage that a moderate solar array will actually supply all my power needs. It's a work in progress. At the end of this post, I'll show you our solar setup so far and my goals for extending its use.

  1. Unplug those chargers! The "phantom" load on phone chargers, and other chargers, is pretty small. But it still exists. Every hour of every day, even when not in use, those little chargers are pulling power. The more you have, the more power they pull. Unplug them when you're not actually using them. Better yet, seek out a way to charge your devices without having anything plugged into a socket. I use my laptop and a USB cord to charge my cell phone and other devices that need it. I also have a "vape" MVP (I think that's what it's called) that holds a charge for a long time and can plug into my phone to charge it up. It's the mini-USB end and it works for other devices as well. Once the MVP is fully charged, I can use it for my phone 2 or 3 times without needing grid electricity.
  2. Monitor your hot water usage! I do laundry in cold water unless something is really needing warm water, like extra dirty towels. Most of the time, though, cold water will work just fine. I also don't own a dishwasher, though they are pretty energy efficient, so I wash dishes by hand. I make sure my dishes are well scraped of any garbage. I fill up my dishpan with hot, sudsy water (it holds less than the actual sink), then I half fill the other sink with plain hot water with about 1/2 cup of white vinegar in it for rinse water. Even plastic items come out squeaky clean from the rinse. I've only used about 1 1/2 to 2 gallons of hot water for rinsing and about the same for washing. Rinsing under hot running water can use many times more than that!
  3. Switch the kind of light bulbs you use! Right now, I'm using CFL bulbs but the next bulb purchase I make will be LED. I get the brightness I want and only use a tiny fraction of the power. They also don't generate heat, which is a real blessing in the summer time since it reduces the need for so much running of the AC, which is a window unit.
  4. Monitor your electric stove usage! I do have an electric stove, and really wish I could have propane here. I can't, so I do the best I can with what I have. In this case, I actually turn the breaker off to the stove unless I really, really need to use it. After all, it's a 240 watt appliance. If I'm doing oven dishes, I do several of them at one time. Maybe a casserole, potatoes, and bread all together so that I'm only running the oven once for the whole meal. Even side dishes, like green beans, will go in the oven with the rest of the food in oven safe dishes or small skillets. I also make good use of my crock pot or my roasters. I have a large turkey roaster that can do double duty as a table top oven. In the summer, you'll often find it out on the table on the back deck where I'm baking bread in it. Yes! You can bake bread in a roaster and it does get brown! It bakes in exactly the same amount of time, doesn't use as much electricity to bake, and doesn't counteract the AC since it's baking outside!
  5. Turn off or unplug anything you're not using! I know, this should go without saying. But how many times have I left the bread machine plugged in, the coffee maker plugged in, or a light on in an unoccupied room. Yes, I'm guilty of all that. I bet you are, too. But part of reducing electric consumption is becoming more aware of what's going on in your home. The best method of making sure nothing is sucking those phantom loads is to have things plugged into an outlet strip. Just flip the switch on it, and you will have turned off everything that's plugged into it. Use these for your TV, stereo, DVD player, printer, computer...I'm sure you can look around and see lots of items that would be just fine if you switch off their power!
  6. Find and use non-electric appliances and kitchen tools! A short run-down of things I use in my home are a manual egg beater, hand crank grain mill, hand crank Victorio food mill, hand crank meat/veggie grinder, wire whisks, mandoline...I'm sure there are more I've forgotten until I am actually cooking. You get the picture, though. I can use my manual egg beater and whip up fluffy whipped topping for cobbler in the same amount of time (maybe less!) than it would take to get out an electric mixer, plug it in, put in the beaters, and do the project. I still have to wash the beaters and I have to wash the manual beater, so that time is the same. The major difference is that I can get the manual beater out, use it, and be done, and not use electricity for it! Same for all the other things I mentioned. They are easy to set up, easy to use, and easy to clean in minutes.
And, here's my solar setup. It's pretty small -- only 205 watts -- and 2 batteries. But, it is very useful when the power goes out. I can plug my modem into the inverter (10 watts) and my laptop (65 watts) and still remain connected to the outside world.

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