Natural Gas Offer

In the old days, a householder just bought gas from the gas company.  The gas came in a pipe, the bill came in the mail.

gas_meterThese days, the gas company company can deliver not just its own gas, but also gas from other, “energy supply company”, providers.  You can choose to get the gas from one of the other suppliers.  This means you pay two bills: one to the alternative provider and one to your local gas company for the use of their distribution system.

A while back, I got an offer from one of the alternative suppliers that serve my area.  $90 per month for natural gas, with the commitment of a 1 year contract.  I wondered if that was a better deal than the usual pay-the-gas-company’s-current-rate on a month-by-month basis.  So I added up my gas bills for the past 2 years and divided by 24 to get my average gas bill.  It was a little something below $90, which made me feel pretty happy.

Waiting until late November to turn on the heat, wearing sweaters, sitting on the couch under a blanket, and taking cold showers, … seems like it’s all paying off.

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DIY Washing Machine Lint Trap

It’s a good idea to prevent lint from going down the laundry-sink drain.  At the local big-box home improvement store, you can find lint traps that attach to the end of your washing machine’s discharge hose.  They cost around a dollar each, if you buy them at your local grocery store or hardware store.

However, you can get them a lot cheaper (per unit) if you buy them in bulk numbers (e.g., dozens) from a big online retailer.  That’s by far the best way to do it.  They’re a good value and worth using, considering that you’re likely to have a clogged drain if you don’t use them.

mesh_bags

I’ve used the ready-to-use lint traps for many years and been pretty happy with them.  Recently I had one that was completely filled with lint, ready for the garbage, but I didn’t have any new ones in the house.  I wondered if I could create a DIY substitute out of something I had on hand and I though of the mesh produce bags that onions and oranges, etc., are packaged in.

I soon noticed that the mesh pattern of the produce bags is more widely spaced than that of the typical lint trap, so I doubled up by putting one mesh bag inside another.  Instead of using a cable tie to attach my improvised lint trap to the discharge hose, I cut a strip off the top of the mesh bag itself and twisted it into a cord, then used that to tie the bag to the hose.  You could also use a screw-type hose clamp and keep re-using it indefinitely.

The results:  The DIY produce-bag lint probably doesn’t catch as much lint as a purpose-made lint trap.  It might work better if it were tripled or quadrupled with three or even four bags.  On the other hand, it’s free.  Overall, I think it’s probably best to buy lint traps in quantity and get them for a good price.  In a pinch, though, the DIY version is definitely better than nothing.

Btw, check the internet: there are lots of DIY projects that use mesh produce bags.  I am certainly not the first person who has looked for re-uses for them.

Fixing Flapper Valve in Toilet

If you notice the water coming on by itself to fill the tank of your toilet, the problem could be your toilet’s flapper valve.  You can easily renew it or replace it yourself and save plenty of money.

flapper

Flapper valve?  Most toilets have a flapper valve.  The flapper valve holds the water in the tank until you press the handle to flush the toilet; doing so raises the valve and allows the water to flow from the tank into the bowl.  (There are some other methods of getting the water from the tank to the bowl.  There are other methods of getting water from the tank to the bowl, but the flapper-valve method has been around a long time and is probably the most common.)

Over time, the flapper valve and the seat on which it sits can be fouled with hard water sediment, rust, lime, or other dirt and grime. (Amazing how much dirt and grime is in “clean” water.)  The valves can also lose their flexibility, which keeps them from sealing properly.  Thus, water slowly and continuously seeps from the tank into the bowl.  If you watch closely, you might see it form little ripples in the bowl.  When the water level gets low enough, the toilet mechanism turns the water on to re-fill the tank, and you hear it, which lets you know it’s time to work on the flapper valve.  You can verify that the flapper valve is leaking by putting a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank and looking to see if any of it ends up in the bowl after an hour or two.

You might try cleaning the valve and valve seat.  Remove the valve and clean it with a scrub brush, scouring pad, or steel wool.  A bit of dishwashing detergent might help. Do the same with the valve seat.  Once it’s all clean, re-assemble it and check to make sure it no longer leaks.

In my experience, once a flapper valve is leaking, it needs to be replaced.  Obtain a new one from your local hardware store.  Remove the old one and install the new.  There are plenty of youtube videos that will show you how.  You might want to save the chain and the metal clip in your hardware jar; they might come in handy for some other job.  I used such a clip once to replace a lost cotter pin.

One final note:  the various toilet cleaners that “clean the bowl every time you flush” are bad for the toilet mechanism in the tank.  Avoid toilet cleaning products that go into the water while it is in the tank.

As usual: Do it yourself and save $$$.

Which reminds me of a story:  I had a friend, a little old lady, who called a plumber when the water in her toilet kept coming on.  The visit from the plumber cost her something around $100.  That seems like a lot to charge for the few minutes of labor needed to replace a part that costs about $6 (retail)  — but I can understand that the plumber had to take the time to go to her home and he could have been working on another job (maybe something that would better justify a plumber’s time) instead of replacing a flapper valve.  Still, I wish she had told me about the problem before she called the plumber.  I would have been happy to do it for free.

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.  (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 or shower curtain liner 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 shower curtains and liners 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.