Cold Showers

I had a recent experience with cold showers, which got me to thinking that they’re not so bad — at least in the summer.  Not only does taking cold showers have many health benefits (i.e., there are many claims of health benefits), it also saves money.

Every time you turn on the hot water, cold water flows into your water heater and that increases the amount of power (either electric or gas) it uses.  One sure way to reduce your bill is simply to reduce the amount of hot water you use.  If possible, don’t even touch the hot water faucet handle when you wash your hands or shower.  Use less hot water, and you save money every day.  Cold showers have the largest potential for saving money by reducing hot water use, because hot showers use a lot of hot water.

Cold showers are easiest in the summer, when the temperature of the “cold” water might be above 70° F (~ 20° C).  That’s not as warm as most people like for a shower, but it’s far from really cold.  For the past several days, I have taken only 100% cold showers, no hot water at all, and I’m getting quite used to it.  It’s really not bad.  Quite refreshing, actually.  (Of course, it’s July now.)  I’ll probably continue taking cold showers until fall, but I anticipate using less hot water than I’ve previously used during cold weather.

cold_showerNot only am I saving on the gas bill by reducing the amount of gas used to heat water, I’m also saving on the water bill.  Here are three reasons I use less water by cold-showering: (1) I don’t send water down the drain waiting for it to “heat up” as hot water moves through the pipes from the water heater to the shower.  I’m only using cold water and it’s there as soon as I turn the faucet handle.  I’ve read   (2) I use less water in the sense of gallons-per-minute of water flow and (3) I take shorter showers.  I also use the minimum amount of shampoo and soap, so as to reduce the amount of time and water it takes to rinse off.  No question about it, a cold shower is a quick shower.  Of course, I still use a shower shutoff valve.

Q: If cold water saves money, why not just turn off the water heater?

A: Hot water is absolutely necessary for washing clothes and dishes.  When doing laundry, hot water does a great job of killing germs, dust mites, and getting all of the grease and dirt out of your clothes.  Even though some detergents claim to work well in cold water, I still use hot water for the reasons stated.  If you try to wash dishes in cold water, you’ll find your dishes come out greasy and spotted.  (However, it’s a good idea to turn the water heater off when you go on vacation.)

To sum up: The shower is the place to save money by reducing your hot water usage.  Why not take the cold shower challenge?  Ease into it.  Reduce your hot water use in the shower by about half for your next few showers, then go total “cold shower” after that.  Good luck!

 

Trusting Your Car to Turn Off the Headlights

c ar_parked_headlights_onAs far as I know, this opinion is unique to me, and I think there’s a good chance that some people might find it a little wacky.  But here goes:  Every time I see a driver get out of their car and walk away, leaving the headlights on, I think, “I could never do that“.

Yes, I guess it’s a little crazy.  These days most cars have some sort of electronic mechanism that automatically turns off the headlights a few minutes after the engine is turned off or the car is in park.  Sometimes I watch, and, sure enough, I see that’s what happens.

Bur suppose the lights don’t go off by themselves?  If that happens, the car’s owner might return to a car with a dead battery.  That’s a chance I don’t want to take.  Sure, the car lights go off by themselves more than 99% of the time … but there’s going to be that one time when it wasn’t a good idea to act as if you believe that no automotive component could ever fail!  Nothing in a car ever just stops working!

Besides the risk of the lights staying on and draining the battery, there are a few other things that come to mind.

Could leaving the headlights on mean that they will burn out sooner?  It stands to reason that any sort of headlight is only going to last so long, that is, some certain number of hours of “on” time.  If you burn your headlights an extra few minutes every time you start the car, they’re going to reach the end of their useful life sooner.

Also, using the headlights needlessly wastes gasoline.  The electricity in a (gasoline-powered internal-combustion-engine kind of) car’s battery doesn’t just come out of the air.  The electricity is generated by the car’s alternator, which is turned by the engine.  When it’s actually making electricity, it’s a little harder to turn, and therefore the engine uses a little more gasoline whenever the alternator needs to make electricity to charge the batter or operate the car’s electrical components.  Not only does burning the headlights for no reason waste gasoline, it also adds wear and tear on the alternator and battery, shortening their lives.

Buttons and Bolts

Eventually, you’re going to need a button.  Or a bolt.  It’s a pain to have to make a special trip to a store to buy the one button you need to fix the shirt you need today.  Likewise, when you find you need a bolt or a screw for some minor repair.  It’s especially frustrating to have return to the same hardware store that you had been to just 2 hours earlier because you need one more bolt to finish your project.

buttons_jarIf you have a jar full of buttons, there’s a good chance you can find one that’s close enough to do the job.  A jar full of bolts and nuts, screws, and similar hardware is also very useful.

This is more a matter of saving time than money, but your time is worth a lot of money (isn’t it?).  When you’re throwing away old clothes or old furniture or anything that has buttons, bolts, screws or any other kind of fasteners (and when you see these things that other people have thrown away), take a look and see if you can salvage some of those useful fasteners and add them to your home store.

Whenever I throw away an old shirt, I remove all the buttons and put them in the button jar.  If I have several matching buttons I sometimes keep them together on bit of string or thread.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve added to my nut and bolt collection by just taking a few that are easy to remove from furniture that my neighbors have thrown away.  I’ve also taken knobs from drawers and cabinets that I’ve found on the curb.  And some hinges.  And many of those cool IKEA fasteners and the little dowel rods.  (It’s good to have carry a Swiss Army knife or multi-tool for this sort of thing.)

Keep stocking your home store with buttons and bolts that would otherwise end up in a landfill and it will serve you well.

Washing Shower Curtains

shower_curtainAccording to the internet, when confronted with a shower curtain that has become icky with accumulated dirt, limescale and hard water deposits, mildew and mold, soap scum, and serratia marcescens bacteria (!) … many people will just throw it away and buy a new one.  Even members of my own family would do this!

However, a spin in the washing machine will make a shower curtain as good as new and repeated washings can add months or even years to their useful lives.  Just put them into the washing machine with a few heavy towels (especially for top-loading machines, which can tear up shower curtains without the towels to act as padding and buffers) and add the usual amount of detergent.  As a booster, add about a half cup of ammonia (my favorite), or some baking soda, borax, vinegar,  or bleach.  [Of course, never use ammonia and bleach together.]  Run the machine on the longest cycle with hot water.  You might pause the machine for some additional soak time.  There’s no need for a high-speed spin.  Don’t put the shower curtain in the dryer.  Just re-hang it in the bathroom and admire it as it dries.

You can also admire the money that stays in your bank account each time you do this.  A new shower curtain might cost at least $8.  Washing it in your home washing machine costs about 50¢.

If you have a mildew, mold, and serratia marcescens problem in your bath and shower area, a fan in the bathroom might help.

Re-Use Pepper Grinder

pepper_grinderIt’s damn annoying that some of the “disposable” pepper grinders (the kind made by spice manufacturers and sold at grocery stores) can’t be easily opened so they can be refilled and re-used when they are empty.  I recently found myself with an empty disposable pepper grinder at the same time that I couldn’t locate my salt grinder.  I thought I could wash it and fill it with sea salt, but … it’s made so as to be very difficult to open.

Here’s the trick:  Soak the plastic top in very hot water for several minutes.  This makes the plastic just a bit more flexible, which should allow you to pull the plastic top off the glass jar.  Just hold the glass jar in one hand and the plastic top in the other and pull them straight apart.  Then you can dry it and re-fill it.  Once it’s refilled, to put the top back on, just press the top firmly onto the jar.

Self-Fusing Silicone Tape Fixes Leaking Washer

One more reason that fairly-new-and-in-good-condition washing machine was on the curb slowly revealed itself as we used it.  It evidently had a slow leak.  After several uses, the floor around the washer would be slightly damp, as if it were leaking just a few spoonfuls of water with each load.  Water where it shouldn’t be is all kinds of trouble for machinery.  It can cause corrosion, electrical shorts, who knows what else.  It also provides a water source for roaches and other vermin.

I carefully looked at the supply line intake hoses, where they attached to the back of the machine, but I never saw even a drop of water on the rear of the washer.  However, I realized that I had re-used the hoses from the previous machine, which meant I had old hoses.  I couldn’t figure out just how old, so just for safety’s sake, I got new ones.  They also didn’t leak.

The floor under the washer, a concrete basement floor, still got damp each time we did a load of laundry.  If the inlet hoses weren’t leaking, then the leak must be somewhere inside the machine.  Attempting a repair to some interior part seemed daunting, but I liked the thought of calling a repairman even less.

I unplugged the machine  and moved it away from the wall, removed the back, and took a look.  Yikes!  There was a pool of water in the bottom of the machine.  Evidently, it was deep enough (maybe a quarter inch) to overflow onto the floor each time the machine was used.  More troubling, the water wasn’t too far from various electrical connections, thought, intelligently, none of the electrical connections were at the bottom of the machine. I felt around inside, hoping to find some dampness.  Nothing.

Having come this far, it seemed that the only thing I could do next was plug the machine back in and do a load of laundry.  I did this and sat back and watched, being sure not to touch anything.  With a flashlight I scanned the interior of the machine.  Only after several minutes of patiently watching, when the machine drained at the end of the wash cycle, did I notice the slightest drip.  Just one drip.  Aha!  The discharge hose!  I marked the location and waited for the machine to finish.

After the machine was done, I removed the hose and inspected it carefully.  Sure enough, there was a small hole near my mark.  Hardly more than a pinprick.  The hose wasn’t routed near anything that might damage it.  Perhaps it was a manufacturing defect.  I checked on the prices of replacement hoses from the manufacturer — of course, they were outrageous.  An internet search found some generic one-size-fits-all hoses, but they  weren’t quite as long and were a slightly different shape.  Such a small hole being the problem, it seemed repairing it with some kind of patch would be the best solution to the leaking washing machine problem.

silicone_tapeSomewhere I’d heard of self-fusing silicone tape, so I thought I’d give that a try.  Interesting stuff.  It’s tape, but it doesn’t stick to anything — except itself.  It’s especially useful for repairing cords, hoses, pipes, tubes or anything that can be wrapped with tape.  The basic idea is to wrap the leaky hose with the tape, making sure to stretch the tape as it overlaps.  The stretching causes the tape to adhere to itself under tension, which holds it tight.  When the tape comes into contact with itself, what was multiple layers start fusing into one solid layer.  Once that happens, it can’t be separated and it’s not coming off (unless it is cut off with blade).

After a good wrapping with the silicone tape, I put the discharge hose back into place and did a few loads.  No evidence of any leaks.  Several days and several loads later, the concrete floor under the washer was completely dry.  The silicone tape did the job.

Self-fusing silicone tape isn’t cheap.  The roll I bought cost about $10 and I used about 1/3 of it to repair the washing machine hose.  But the job has held.  Months later, the floor remains dry.

 

 

The Salux Washcloth

The Salux washcloth is one of those things that made me wonder, “how did I not know about this before now?”, when I became aware of it a few months ago.  After using a Salux washcloth, I now feel that when it comes to showering, “I’ve been doing it wrong”, at least for my whole pre-Salux life.

saluxWhat is a Salux washcloth?  Materially, it’s like the bath pouf (“pouf”, yes I guess that’s the word) that is common in showers in North America and probably elsewhere.  Both the Salux and the pouf are made of nylon and polyester or similar synthetic fabric.  But while the traditional bath pouf is bunched up into a spherical shape (usually with a cord loop for hanging), the Salux washcloth is shaped like a scarf, flat, about 10 inches wide and 35 inches long.  You might not assume this difference in shape would make much difference in performance, but … you’d be wrong— it really does.

The Salux washcloth has a bit more texture than the pouf, so the Salux does a better job cleaning and exfoliating.  After I’m done, I feel really clean, cleaner than I’ve ever felt after showering any other way.  (Although I should mention that I don’t think I need that much cleaning every day; I use the Salux two or three times per week.)

How to use it:  While you’re in the shower, skin wet, you put a small amount of soap, body wash liquid, or shower gel onto the Salux washcloth.  You should turn the water off, so that you don’t rinse away the soap before it’s had a chance to do its work.  Then, holding the Salux by the ends, one end in each hand, you wash yourself with a back-and-forth “shoeshine” motion.  This is especially good for washing your back.  (See the picture.)  The Salux makes lots of suds — more than the pouf, probably due to the quick back-and-forth motion.  You can also bunch it up and use it as you’d use a pouf or old-fashioned (cotton terry) washcloth, but I mostly use it fully stretched out between two hands pretty much everywhere: my back, underarms, legs and feet, even between toes.  (But not my face, the Salux experience is a little too intense for face cleaning.)

How it saves money:  The main advantage to using the Salux washcloth is that it allows you to use less soap.  With the Salux I use only about 1/3 the amount of body wash liquid as I normally use without it.  Getting cleaner while using less soap means that the Salux will pay for itself long before it wears out.  One reviewer on Amazon mentioned that after a Salux washcloth is too worn out for use in the shower (because it begins to fray at the ends and loses some of its texture), he saves it and uses it for household cleaning in the kitchen and bathroom.

Another nice thing about the Salux is that because of its shape it’s easier to rinse clean after use and it dries quickly and completely, thus making it more sanitary.  Poufs don’t dry as well because the bunched-up shape doesn’t allow as much contact with air.  You can also wash the Salux in a washing machine (same for the pouf), but this doesn’t seem necessary.  They get clean just by rinsing them well after use.  The need to launder cotton washcloths is one of the main reasons they are inconvenient and inefficient.  (If you launder your Salux washcloth in your washing machine, be sure not to put it in the dryer.  To much heat is not good for synthetic fabrics.)

A couple final notes.  (1) Some webpages use the word “towel” to describe the Salux.  I think that’s a mis-translation (given that these are made in Japan).  The Salux is a washcloth, intended to be used with soap and water for cleaning, not drying.  It wouldn’t be good for drying off after a shower.  (2) It’s been reported that Chinese-made fakes and knockoffs are common, but the consensus seems to be that these are inferior and that the real Japanese-made Salux is much better than any imitator.

Sunlight Brings TI Solar Calculator to Life

ti_15_calculatorWhile cleaning the basement a couple weeks ago I found an old TI-15 calculator.  It’s so old, I can’t even remember when we got it.  It was covered with dust.  I cleaned it with a paper towel that was slightly dampened with a spray of Windex.  Being solar powered (at least partially), I held it up close to the light for a minute and tried to turn it on.  Nothing.  I tried again, giving it more light, still nothing.  I was about to throw it away, but decided to give it one more chance.  The next day I put it on the front porch rail, propping it up in the bright light of the morning sun.  A couple of canvassers came by to talk to me about their party’s candidate.  I noticed they looked curiously at the calculator, but they didn’t say anything about it.  After 20 or 30 minutes in the sun, I picked it up and gave it a try.  It worked perfectly.  It’s been working fine for over a week now.  Makes me happy to have a quality product that has gone above and beyond the call of duty.  I’m glad I gave it another chance.  Instead of being thrown away, I can now use it or give it to someone.

Bathroom Fan

“Bathroom fan” usually means a fan that takes air from the bathroom and moves it outside, i.e., it’s an exhaust fan.  A bathroom fan performs two functions: (1) removing unpleasant bathroom odors, and (2) removing humid air from the bathroom.  If it’s the first function you want, the typical bathroom fan connected to a duct that leads outside is what you need.  But if you want to reduce the humidity in the bathroom, there’s an alternative you might want to consider, especially in the wintertime or in the cooler months when you’re neither air-conditioning nor heating.

First: It’s a good idea to reduce moisture and humidity levels in the bathroom and running a fan to move air out of the bathroom is a good way to do that.  If you take a shower or bath and then do nothing to dry out the bathroom, you’ll eventually have all kinds of problems with mold and mildew, peeling paint, rusting metal, rotting wood, decaying drywall, … and your towels won’t dry between uses.  You might also get nasty stuff growing on your shower curtain, but you can wash your shower curtain instead of throwing it away and getting a new one.

In the summertime, it makes good sense to use the bathroom exhaust fan to remove the post-shower warm, humid air from your bathroom and replace it with cool dry air that comes from the rest of your house.

But in the wintertime, your house actually could use that warm humid air.  If you move it outside with a bathroom fan, you’re not only getting rid of something useful, but you’re also getting rid of air that you paid to heat with your home’s heating system.

desk_fanDuring cold weather, I’ve had good results dehumidifying the bathroom with a desk fan placed on a bathroom shelf with the airflow directed to the open door.  This moves the warm humid bathroom air into the hallway, and from there it circulates throughout the rest of the house.  As air moves out of the bathroom it is replaced by drier air from outside the bathroom.  Some of it comes in from the hallway, as the fan is mixing the bathroom air with the hallway air.  But there is also some air movement from the bathroom heating duct of the forced-air system.    Houses generally need some additional humidity in the wintertime, and this practice helps out in that regard.  It also helps warm the air inside the house by capturing the heat from the hot water.  All in all, it seems to work.  The bathroom, and everything in it, gets dry.  The rest of the house gets a little heat and humidity that it needs.

Hand-Powered Washing Machine

wonderwashFor a long time, I’ve wondered if maybe some day I might take an old washing machine and hook it up to a stationary bicycle such that peddling the bike powers the washing machine.  Maybe some day.  While thinking those thoughts I searched the internet for inspiration and I discovered a hand-powered washing machine called the Wonderwash.

Basically, it’s a bucket with a watertight top that is attached to a base that allows the bucket to spin on an axis when a crank is turned.  Put dirty laundry in the bucket, add water and detergent, close and spin, … you get the idea.

Recently, the goddess of good luck smiled on me and I found a Wonderwash machine at the local Goodwill.  As it was only about 1/5 of the normal price, I couldn’t resist buying it.  After using it a few times, here are my thoughts.

First, most people will probably find that it won’t replace a full-size washing machine.  You will still need your regular washing machine to do large loads, especially for things like blankets or towels.  But for small loads, the Wonderwash is a good alternative to using a regular washing machine — especially if that would require transporting clothes to a laundry room or laundromat (as apartment dwellers often need to do).  I can easily see how someone could save time and money by using the Wonderwash for washing loads of small things like underwear, tee-shirts, and socks.  It might also be useful for camping trips or in a cabin or vacation house that doesn’t have a regular washing machine.

Most videos of people using the Wonderwash show them using it in a kitchen.  I thought it made more sense to use it in the bathtub.  I did a load of 3 tee-shirts, 3 shorts (underwear), and a fitted sheet, which seemed like a good-sized load for the Wonderwash.  I filled it about half way with hot water, using the bathtub’s handheld shower.  I added just a small spoonful of liquid laundry detergent.  After screwing on the top, I turned the crank a few times to spin the bucket, then let the laundry soak for a minute or so.  I should mention that the bucket is well-balanced on its axis and spins quite easily.  I continued to crank few times each minute or so for about ten minutes.  (During this time I took a shower, with the Wonderwash right there in the tub with me.)

The machine has a drainpipe at the bottom (which you need to attach to use, but need to remove to spin the bucket), but as I had the machine sitting in the bathtub I thought it was easier to just dump the water out the same way it went in, by removing the top and tilting the bucket.  Then I added fresh water for the rinse cycle, closed the top and spun it a few times.  I like my clothes well rinsed, so I repeated the rinse cycle.  After dumping the rinse water out, I removed the clothes, wrung them by hand to get out most of the water, and hung them up to dry.  The next day, the clothes were dry and seemed just as clean as if they had been washed in a regular washing machine.

Overall, I’m glad I have the machine.  Even though we do most of our laundry in a regular washing machine in the basement, this is a good alternative for small loads or when the regular washing machine is unavailable because someone else is using it.  And, as already mentioned, if I lived in an apartment and didn’t have my own washing machine, I’d certainly consider getting one of these so as to minimize trips to the laundry room or laundromat.  Using the Wonderwash in a apartment would save all the time (and perhaps money) it takes to transport clothes to a laundry room or laundromat.