Cider Press Hill

November 1st means....

Saturday, 7:37 pm

By Kate




clear night

Today, being November 1st, is the day when my regional gas utility hikes our gas rates by nearly 40%. They call this the winter cost of doing business. I call it the Annual Winter Heist.

In honor of the occasion, today is the day that I turn the gas hot water heater down to luke warm temps. I have been a little more liberal with hot water this autumn, but now I’m back to pinching those pennies earmarked for the gas company until they scream for mercy. I don’t like paying the gas company, especially when they take advantage of cold weather by their opportunistic rate raising.

Some might find fiddling with the hot water heater’s dial a pain in the neck. But I learned last winter that doing so saves a lot of money. That wasn’t the goal of the 90% Project, but it surely was a welcome benefit. Obviously, the less gas I use, the less the gas company can charge me. Too bad for them.

In the morning, I turn up the water heater to a temperature that’s comfortable for a shower. After a shower, the water heater replenishes and then I turn it down to the vacation setting until the next morning. Most newer hot water heaters retain enough heat through the day and well into the evening for general use. Older hot water heaters can be easily wrapped with insulated covers to gain the same effect.

If your hot water is electric and you are paying through the nose for electricity, this will work just as well for you.

Think of it as making an appointment with your hot water. There are certain times of day when we use more hot water than others. It really doesn’t make sense to heat water when no one is around to use it. It’ll cool off and reheat again and again. By turning the water heater’s dial down a few notches, the heating unit won’t kick on until you are ready to replenish your supply.

It all depends on your schedule.

Might take a little while to get into the habit, but it’ll pay you nice dividends and help reduce our use of a finite resource.

Of course, there is also the issue of not permitting the utility company to rob us totally blind.


Reflecting on small victories on a warm day

Monday, 7:18 pm

By Kate





We reached a high, today, of 59.3°. Never mind spring, that’s almost summer! Just a teaser, but welcomed, anyway. For once I wasn’t dressed 3 layers deep nor will I need a fire in the stove. And what is more natural than wanting to go outside on a nearly 60 degree day in February and do stuff?

I did go outside and stood in my backyard. In snow up to my mid-calves. That was kind of a surreal moment.

It was a good day to do some basic tidying, though. I cleaned out the wood stove and spread the ash in one of the raised beds. Then I turned my attention to the woodpile. That glorious mess. Finally. FINALLY, the ice melted enough so that I could pull the tarp all the way back and off the woodpile. I spent the next hour or so restacking. The dry wood on one side and the wet on the other. The wet wood needed to be raised off the ground and consolidated so that it will receive some air circulation and sunshine (should we ever get any). And I brought a two week supply of dry wood inside. By the time I was finished slinging wood around, I was quite toasty. And happy. I have a lot of wood left. It should easily get me through March. Maybe even a few days in April if spring dilly-dallies.

On days like today, there is no need for a fire. Even with the back door open, the kitchen and dining room rose to around 65° and the rest of the house was about 68°. One day of wood saved. Tomorrow will be much cooler, but I’ll still probably only need to burn one small fire in the evening. On a mid-40s day, sometimes just burning some tightly bound newspaper and a few sticks of kindling are enough to heat the stove so that it’ll give off a gentle warmth for a few hours—enough to maintain temps in my comfort zone.

It was sometime in early January that I devised an emergency plan to start saving wood. With the lad home and needing heat upstairs, I was burning through wood at a scary rate. Since I am not, not, NOT going to turn the furnace on this year, when I run out of wood, I am out of heat. Period. So, it seemed prudent to figure out how to conserve my wood without freezing.

The quilt solution, preventing all my heat from flying upstairs, has worked very well. I got to thinking that heating rooms that no one is using is really silly. It just makes the stove work harder and burns more wood. So, I installed a sheer curtain in the doorway between the living room and the dining room and kitchen. That blocks off about 200 square feet.

You wouldn’t think a sheer curtain would stop that much heat or air, but it does. Now that the lad isn’t home, the only room in the house that truly benefits from the stove is the living room. When I have the stove running, gently, the living room temp can easily reach 74 degrees. I usually only run the stove three or four hours in the evening. It’s enough to keep the living room between 64-68 degrees until the next evening, while the kitchen and dining room will remain a fairly constant 56-58 degrees. And, of course, when I cook, that provides quite a lot of heat in the kitchen, too.  Just enough heat manages to pass through the sheer curtain to maintain enough heat to prevent problems. That’s really all that’s needed. The upstairs, similarly, has rarely gone above 60 degrees most of the winter (except for when the lad was home).

I’ve gotten used to this large variance in house temps. I don’t mind being in colder parts of the house as long as there is one room where I can return to be warm. In fact, I have grown used to much colder temps in the house all the way around. I certainly sleep better with my bedroom on the cold side. And, really, the living room is where I spend most of my time at home. It’s where my desk, television, and comfy reading chair reside. If I spend most of my time in that room, why waste heat on the rest of the house? That seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom (or habit), but really...why heat infrequently used or unused rooms?

Consequently, I still have a lot of wood left. From 3 cords of wood, I will have kept myself comfortable and kept the rest of the house warm enough for six months. Possibly seven. That’s pretty good, I think. My entire winter heating has cost me $795 in wood. My neighbors have spent twice or three times that with natural gas heat (and complain bitterly about it). Though, there are at least two homeowners, that I’m aware of, who thought my quilt idea was worth a shot and have installed quilts/curtains blocking their upstairs with significant (and happy) savings. In the process, they’ve also reduced their carbon emissions substantially, though I don’t think that was quite on their radar. Makes me happy, though.

It’s kind of funny, or maybe a little bit sad, that people really aren’t all that tuned in to reducing carbon emissions, but saving money makes eyes gleam. Climate change and pollution are something to think about and (maybe, to some) something to worry about, but not something that most people think they can do anything about, if indeed they want to. It’s apparently not enough of a perceived threat to hit home.

High utility bills, on the other hand, hit home hard. I could probably talk until I’m blue in the face about conserving energy and climate change and all the rest. But when I mentioned my $20 electric bills, my neighbors got wide eyed and wondered how in the world I did that because, BOY, would they like to have a $20 electric bill instead of their $300+ one. They were very open to suggestions because, standing before them was living proof that it could be done. And I do seem to be living a normal lifestyle. Which just confirms my longstanding belief...people are much more motivated to change their behavior when their wallets are being drained.

The thing is, saving dollars on utility bills has the exact same effect as consciously conserving energy to reduce emissions. Exactly the same. Yet the approach is different. Rather than thinking about using only their fair share to help preserve the global environment, they’re thinking about the dollars they can peel off their utility bills. One neighbor who has quite vociferously claimed that conservation is for liberal loonies, nevertheless doesn’t seem to see the irony when toiling away at cutting energy use to save money. That’s not conservation. That’s saving money. I wisely kept my mouth shut. Small victories where you can find ‘em.

Anyway. It was a lovely day in spite of the on-again-off-again drizzle and I’m kind of pleased with the results of my labor today. I got a lot accomplished. And it’s a heat-free day, too. Gotta love one of those.


New water meter

Friday, 2:52 pm

By Kate





A couple of weeks ago, a notice came in my mailbox saying that the water utility would be sending someone out in the next couple of weeks to replace my water meter. And much rejoicing could be observed in this house. I thought my old water meter was virtually worthless from the consumer point of view. So, yesterday, when a truck pulled up out front with lettering suggesting a utility meter company, I was a happy camper. A young fellow hopped out and knocked on my neighbor’s door. He hauled his equipment inside and I heard some banging and clanging around in her basement. It took all of 15 minutes and he was out the door. He went across the street next. And was my turn. I was ready for him—I’d put the throw rugs down from the front door to the kitchen so that he wouldn’t track dirt/mud across my carpet. He was very careful to walk on them when he came in.

It only took him a few minutes to swap out the meter and attach a radio transmitter to one of my floor joists in the basement. When he came back upstairs, he made a bit of small talk and before you know it, I knew his entire life history. He is a young fellow, 28 years old. He has a wife and a 2 year old living in New Joisey. He’s been on the road for 6 months—two of them in Connecticut and four in Massachusetts. He doesn’t see his family except on weekends and he misses them a lot. This isn’t the best job he’s ever had, but he’s grateful for it. It pays really well and there are contracts stretching into late next year. He will have dependable work for quite some time. That makes him feel good in these unsure times. Oh, and he has never seen so much snow in his life as in Massachusetts this winter. As far as he’s concerned, he’d like never to see this much snow again, either.

He gave me a brief rundown of how the new water meter works. All the data is transmitted via radio signal. Although we will still have meter readers, they will be able to drive past an area and pick up hundreds of meter readings without having to drive past the specific houses. That’ll save a lot of fuel for the utility. At some point, the utility expects to install data collection units in various parts of the region that will automatically collect the data from all our meters and upload to the utility on a daily basis. Pretty cool.

Anyhoo, this is the shiny new meter he installed in my basement. I’m already in love with it. Not only is it a whizz-bang device for the utility, it is really useful for the consumer. For once, my water meter measures water in tenths of a cubic foot. I can, with this meter, find out EXACTLY how much water something uses. AND, this meter also tells me if there is a low flow leak in my system.

See that little blue whirligig on the meter’s face? That measures the movement of any amount of water flowing through my house. I was not pleased, but not surprised, to discover that cute little blue thingy spinning while there was no water turned on anywhere in the house. That means, there’s a water leak. And I had my suspicions where it was. I ran upstairs and turned the water off to the toilet and ran back down to look at the meter. The little blue whirligig was as still as can be. Well, that clears up the question of whether my toilet leaks. It does. So, until such time as I get around to replacing the toilet, I’ll leave the water to it turned off until it’s time to flush. I don’t know how much water that will save me over the course of a week/month/year, but I’m really curious to find out.

Since the meter was installed, it has registered .9 of a cubic foot of water use. That’s actually a lot less than what I previously thought was normal use over a 24 hour period. According to this meter, I’ve only used 6.7 gallons of water since yesterday afternoon. That’s kind of astonishing because it reflects a navy shower (with the pre-hot water running into a bucket for a later toilet flush) and a hand wash or two in the kitchen sink and a bit of dish washing. Seven gallons of water can accomplish a lot. A leaky toilet apparently wastes a lot. I’m going to have fun with this meter.


Fine Tuning

Saturday, 2:28 pm

By Kate




light rain

Okay. Having tried the quilt to shut off the massive flow of warm air to the upstairs, I have to say that, in the main, it works pretty well. But, not well enough. The six inch gap between the ceiling and the quilt still allows too much warm air to escape upstairs. It’s not as if the upstairs is all toasty warm, but it’s warmer than the 63° (or even less) that I’d like to keep it. Over time, the temps more or less even out between the two stories. That’s much better than how it used to be, but I’d prefer the upstairs to be significantly cooler than the downstairs. I want most of the heat to stay downstairs.

So, now I have to figure out how to fix this in the most attractive way possible. I could raise the rod from which the quilt hangs, but that would only close off an additional two inches. I don’t think that’s enough. Perhaps a ceiling-hugging valance behind the quilt would work. I haven’t come up with any other ideas, though.


With regard to gas pilot lights, the current bane of my existence, I am curious if anyone knows whether it is possible to shut off a stove’s pilot lights. Is there a valve someplace on a stove to cut the pilot light gas feed off without cutting the gas delivery to the stove burners? I am perfectly capable of using a match to start a stove burner. I’ve done it many times before and that doesn’t strike me as being an inconvenience. But the stove’s twin pilot lights, constantly burning, are going to drive me around the bend this winter. Not to mention that they’re sitting there silently burning up dollar bills for no good or logical reason. Once upon a time when gas was dirt cheap and an abundant resource, I’m sure pilot lights were a tremendous advance in household convenience. Now? Not so much.


I’ve been fiddling around in the basement, for the last couple of days, with bits and pieces of insulation. This year I’m trying the bubble wrap method of basement window insulation. It’s not exactly pretty, but duct taping bubble wrap around the window frames should provide some insulation and it still allows natural light to come through. I’ve also used fiberglass insulation around the basement door (by the bulkhead), with bubble wrap on top. When the wind blows (most of the time), a lot of air comes through the cracks around the door. When it’s 20° outside, that turns the basement cold in a hurry and then it never seems to quite recover until spring. There is a lot of heat stored up in the basement walls right now. I’d like to keep it. Hopefully, the added insulation will make a large difference this year.


Unrelated to energy matters...the resident gray squirrel who eats her weight in sunflower seeds every day, has been, up until today, a little nervous about seeing a cat on the other side of the sliding glass door watching her every move. Today she worked up her courage and curiosity. I think she’d reached the conclusion that the cat wasn’t that much of a threat—after all, the cat has been watching the squirrel for over a week now and nothing untoward has happened.

This morning, the squirrel tentatively approached the door while Abbie watched with absolute rapture. The squirrel stood before the door watching the cat, then placed her front paws on the screen with her little nose pressed against the screen. She and the cat were eye to eye and....nothing happened. Well, except for Abbie nearly expiring from the sheer excitement.

The squirrel now knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this cat is no threat whatsoever. She has been as bold as brass this afternoon, parading back and forth across the deck floor in search of seed with not a concern at all for the cat on the other side of the door. I hope that the squirrel doesn’t assume from this that all cats are safe. The one she’s tormenting right now, however, certainly seems to be.


Well, I dunno...

Sunday, 7:26 pm

By Kate




clear night

I’ve been casting about for an idea to keep the heat downstairs while the wood stove is burning this winter. I’ve actually tried a couple of things in the last couple of years, but nothing that worked spectacularly well. And then one of the people on the 90% mailing list mentioned using quilts as insulation to keep cold out and heat in. Now that was an idea, I thought.

So...I asked if anyone on Freecycle had a queen size quilt with red and green being the predominant colors. Turns out someone did. A brand new one that an in-law had given for Christmas and she utterly hated it. Hadn’t even taken it out of the package yet. All mine if I wanted it.

I picked it up today and, well, it’s got red and green in it. And a lot of brown paisley and other antique-y colors. It’s okay, but not something I’d go out and buy, either. Can’t argue with free, though. The quilt turned out to be the absolute perfect size—86” x 90”.

Off I went to Home Depot to find a dowel or some such device on which to hang the quilt. I found an 8 foot closet rod pole. A designer one, even. And then I found the rings from which to hang the quilt and the little brackets for the rod. Brought it all home and cut the rod to size and drilled the holes and affixed the brackets to the wall. For some reason nothing went wrong. Imagine that.

So, anyway. I now have the quilt hung and I’ve been standing back looking at it and I’m not sure that I like it. I think the idea has a lot of merit, but I haven’t talked myself into liking the quilt yet. It does sort of fight with my arts and crafts style stained glass lamp shades. (I think the lamp on the desk has to find a new home, too, if the quilt stays.) I could turn the quilt around—it’s a plain cream color on the back. Or I might get used to the front side.

larger drop down image

I suppose that before I decide the quilt’s fate, I should try it out first. There is about a 6 inch gap between the top of the quilt and the ceiling. That’s more than enough to let some heat upstairs. I would like a little bit to go upstairs, but not an entire roomful all at once. This should work.

I had thought I might start a fire tonight, but I’m not cold. That’s a borderline miracle since the house is only 66° and it’s only 45° outside. Drilling holes and hanging hardware and quilts must be warm work. 


Quality of Life with 90% Less

Monday, 8:34 pm

By Kate




partly cloudy

Yesterday, Pablo asked a good question, in a comment under my Big Drop in Electricity post, about the effects this 90 Percent Project has had on my life. It's a question that I don't think I've addressed very well so far.

He asked:

Okay, but I MUST ask, are you living well during this experiment? I have no quarrell with saving energy, and I have no doubt that most of us waste a LOT of energy (and resources). But in your effort to cut back, are you slashing part of your lifestyle and living less well than you care to? I don’t mean that we should live lavishly. I mean more like (and I exaggerate a bit) are you warming your soup over a matchstick rather than use your stove? Are you wearing dirty clothes rather than washing them? Are you reading week old newspapers rather than getting a current one.

I’m being a little funny there, but my point is that I am eager to know if you are hampering life in pursuit of savings? Or have you found that you can live comfortably and have an enriching life and still be able to cut back severely on energy and resource consumption?

So, Pablo, let me address your funny questions first.

1. I use my stove, my microwave, and my oven. I also use the haybox cooker. The haybox cooker is easy to use and saves quite a lot of natural gas. It's really no different or more time consuming than putting a dish in the oven and then taking it out, except that the bulk of the cooking is energy free. Cooking time takes longer, but if I plan ahead, no biggie.

2. This morning I put on a freshly washed wool turtleneck sweater (baby blue) along with my two day out of the laundry jeans. I washed the sweater by hand, of course, since it's wool. Oh, and clean fuzzy blue socks that I had just taken off the clothesline. I'll pass in polite society. smile

3. I only receive one newspaper and it's free. I have no idea why it's free, but it regularly appears at the end of my driveway and those of my neighbors. It's a local rag and, in fact, better than the official local paper that requires a subscription. The rest of my news and information comes from the 'net and I believe I'm better informed for it. I wouldn't object to having the Boston Globe delivered, but, in my experience, they end up soggy at the end of the driveway, frozen to the driveway in the winter, or buried in snow. Last winter I subscribed to the Sunday (Boston) Globe. The object of having that subscription was to spend Sunday mornings in bed with my Globe and a pot of coffee. The effect was totally ruined when I had to bundle up and shovel my way to the newspaper first. Now see...if I had a laptop... ;)

Okay, so more seriously.

As I said, the simple answer to your query is that, yes, I am living comfortably, without slashing away parts of my lifestyle that lend quality to it. In fact, I would say that I've gained quality while slashing away parts that I'd now consider flotsam/jetsam.

If only I had known years ago what I know now.


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