Friday, December 30, 2011

The Cost Effectiveness of Wood Heat

We've had the wood stove nearly a month and we've learned a lot about wood heat. I got some reader responses about wood heat and how effective or difficult it could be. Thanks for the feedback and keep the comments coming!

I have to tell you: I LOVE having wood heat. I am SO spoiled now! Our house is always warm and sometimes downright HOT! At first, we experienced a 80-90 degree living room and as you moved away from the living room, it got colder, until it you reached the laundry room at the back of the house where it was about 50 degrees. Not too bad, but we were looking for more heat uniformity. I investigated purchasing a blower but found they cost $300 on average. Since I only paid $695 for my stove, it didn't make sense to pay so much for a blower. We tried turning on our living room ceiling fan but found that didn't do too much. So, I went out to our garage and got an oscillating fan to put right next to the wood stove. Success! The fan blows right over the top of the stove and keeps the whole house very comfortable.

Our free, very effective blower

Its so great! For the past several years we've been heating with natural gas (at our previous home) and thus kept the thermostat at 60 and, when we moved here, 50. Since I REALLY don't like to be cold, I would dress in two layers of clothes but still sometimes be chilly. The wood heat has changed all that! It makes our house feel nice and cozy and makes me feel like I don't hate the winter quite so much.

We had to adjust to the wood stove because it dries the air out like CRAZY! The first couple of days, I was drinking water like a mad woman and putting lotion on like there was no tomorrow. However, we took the advice of others and started keeping a pan of water on the stove. This has helped tremendously. An added bonus is that we can put our wooden drying racks with wet clothes on them, next to the wood stove and they dry SO fast. This was not the case previously when we dried our clothes inside, since giving up our dryer completely over a year ago.

My girlfriend says she puts her wet clothes next to her space heater and gets the same effect: air humidified and clothes dry. Because my girlfriend works a professional job, she then puts the clothes in the dryer to de-lint and de-wrinkle them. She claims 5 minutes will get the job done and says she notices a big decrease in her electric bill. Our family isn't too concerned with wrinkles so we dry exclusively by using our clothes line outside or our two wooden drying racks inside.

Our high efficiency clothes dryer!

The final thing we purchased for our wood stove is a stovepipe thermostat. This helps us be sure that we don't over-fire our stove or create additional creosote, thus causing build up and fire hazards. The stove will heat more effectively if we keep it in the middle range on the thermostat.

$14 on E bay, shipping included

So, what's the real cost of wood heat? After the first month (December) we only spent $35 on wood heat. However, this was partially because we had some friends surprise us with some free wood. Had we bought that wood, the total cost to heat our 850 square foot house with only wood heat would have been $70 this month. Even to this cheapskate, that's money well spent!

Monday, December 26, 2011

How to Lower Your Winter Utility Bill

Last month we were heating our house primarily via space heaters because we hadn't gotten our wood stove yet. I was so nervous about getting the electric bill, but when it came I was relieved to discover it was only $35!

Since our move, our electric bill has been:

September (Partial month)        $14
October                                            $25
November                                       $35

While I was researching how to best use our space heaters, I learned a lot of electric saving information so I thought I would share some with you! My information comes mostly from Mr. Electricity's website. He really knows his stuff!

Here are some great ways to save on your winter utility bill:

  • Keep your house as cool as you can take it.

  • Turn down your thermostat when you aren't home. Contrary to what some say, it IS cheaper to reheat your house right before or when you come home than it is to keep it at the warmer temperature all day long.
  • Wear lots of clothes. When we kept our house at 50-60 degrees, I wore two layers of clothes as my daily uniform because I really prefer to be warm.  

  • Unplug items when not in use. Did you know that just having something plugged in uses electricity? Its called a phantom charge. Additionally, many electrical items have a little (often red) light that stays on any time the item is plugged in. Those little lights use electricity too! Unplugging appliances when not in use can cut your electricity bill by up to 10%!

  • Turn off the lights, fans, radios, TVs, etc when no one using them. Train yourself and your family to remember to turn things off.

  • Think before turning something on. Do you really need to turn on the light when its sunny out or would opening the blinds serve the same function?

  • Heat your body instead of the whole house. Electric blankets, even if they aren't the new energy efficient kind, ARE very energy efficient because they only heat you--not the whole room/house. They also make electric rugs and other interesting money saving items.

  • Put a rug on those bare floors. This serves as insulation and just FEELS warmer than bare floors. Even carpeted floors can use the added insulation of an extra rug in winter.

  • Winterize like a mad person. Installing weather stripping around doors and windows, caulking anywhere there's a crack, insulating around exterior wall outlets  . . .this all saves money!

  • Put a jacket on that hot water heater! When it breaks consider an on-demand water heater, solar water heater or another more energy efficient option.

  • Hang thick curtains. I'm currently sewing some thermal curtains which I will show you soon, but if you want to get a head start making your own, here's how!

  • Heat just rooms you use. If you have central heat, closing off vents to rooms can adversely affect how your system runs. Therefore, you may want to set your central heat to a very low temp and then use space heaters, a fireplace or something else to keep just those rooms you use toastier.

  • Wash your clothes in only cold water. I always keep the hot water to my washer turned completely off. That way no one can even accidentally run a load with warm or hot water. Heating all that water just for laundry is COSTLY! The best way to avoid needing warm water for washing is to use liquid laundry soap because powdered soap can have a harder time breaking down in cold water. Here's a recipe for how to make your own liquid laundry soap for about a penny a load.

    • Consider giving up your dryer. We have friends with a family of six, who told me when they started hanging out their clothes, their utility bill was $100/month cheaper. I talked to them again recently and they said they went back to using the dryer for one month and sure enough, their bill went back up $100!

      •  Evaluate your energy sucking appliances and figure out how to cut their use or replace them. For example, some people will tell you that it is cheaper to use the dishwasher than to wash dishes by hand. I personally haven't found this to be true, but because there are so many factors that go into appliance usage, you have to pay attention and figure it out for yourself. For example, do you pre-rinse? Do you hear the hot water heater kicking on more when you run the dishwasher? Can you try one method of doing something for a month and see if you notice a difference in cost?

        •  Understand your electric bill. Some companies charge more per kWh at peak hours and less at non-peak hours. If you know those hours and can focus your electrical use then, it could save you big! Our non-peak hours make electricity almost half price! That's a bargain!

        What's your best utility saving tip? How have you or will you make reductions in your utility bill?

            Tuesday, December 20, 2011

            Homemade Holiday Gifts in a Jar

            I was inspired by one of my friends telling me that she was going to make all of her Christmas gifts this year. In the past I've done all-used Christmas gifts. One year I did a lot of knitted gifts, but I think I still bought some stuff.

            Since making the big lifestyle change where my family of four is living on one part-time income, buying gifts just really isn't in the budget. Having anticipated this (and because my local recycling doesn't take glass), I'd been saving jars and lids for the past month.

            In looking at jar mixes, I was very inspired by this recipe. I chose not to make cookie mixes because I didn't think it would be very cost effective. Even though when I make cookies I never buy chocolate chips. Instead, I buy a family size dark chocolate bar and chop it up.This makes chocolate chip cookies MUCH cheaper, but still not cheap enough for me to mass produce.

            I was over at a friends house and her kids asked for hot chocolate. She replied that they were out. I promptly informed her that I could whip up some mix for her in no time with only three ingredients. I remembered this story and wondered, "Who doesn't like hot chocolate?" Thus, our Christmas present of choice this year!

            We started by removing the labels from the jars with alcohol.

            This is proof of my husband's love for jam!
             Then I let the kids paint the jars, personalizing each one.

            The kids painted names and holiday scenes on the jars.

            Then we filled them with ingredients

            A piece of clean paper serves as our funnel

            We made two versions:


            2/3 cup powdered rice milk
            1/2 cup powdered cocoa
            1 cup powered sugar


            1 cup powdered milk
            1/4 cup powdered cocoa
            1/2 cup powdered sugar

            The Snowman is my favorite

            Finished products

            Next year, we'll probably branch out to other jar mixes. I found recipes for spa scrubs which seemed pretty easy. I also think I'll give the kids more guidance in the decoration department. Rather than just letting them paint anything they like, I think I'll have them cut out and glue on shapes to make an agreed upon snowman or holiday scene.

            Other homemade gifts I'm giving this year are homemade laundry soap and knitted items as well as a couple of used and re-purposed items. Who else is taking a cheaper approach to gift giving this year?

            Monday, December 19, 2011

            Educational Resources

            I don't think I've mentioned it before but my husband and I homeschool our two kids. This is a life choice we've found to be extremely money saving as well as something that helps us to be really involved with our kids' education while growing closer as a family. Plus, its fun!

            Well . . .usually. Sometimes I come across a subject that I really don't enjoy teaching. Luckily, my husband has different strengths than I do, so largely I've been able to pass stuff I stink at off to him. However, recently I'd really been letting spelling slide. I just wasn't enjoying it and my kids were on very different levels, making it more difficult for me to teach. We'd tried Soaring with Spelling,

            Sequential Spelling,

            and now we are using an older program often referred to as the Spalding method, or The Writing Road to Reading (WRTR).

            I have to say that I LOVE the WRTR for phonics instruction. If you are teaching your kid to read or working on reading improvement through phonics review, it can't be beat! (Make sure and get/make the flashcards.) But for spelling we just needed something, well, fun-er!

            Since I also thought this might be a good time to start introducing my kids to computer work, I searched the Homeschool Buyers Co-op (HBC), where I buy homeschool curriculum if I'm going to get it new (which isn't very often.) Joining HBC is free and you can get some good deals on stuff you would've bought new anyway.

            HBC had a special on a computer based program called Click N Spell. My kids did the two free lessons and really liked it. I liked it too because it had the independent computer work we were seeking! The kids really look forward this computer time. Sometimes they even ask to do spelling lessons in the evening, after our school hours!

            Here they are engrossed in a spelling lesson.
            Overall, I really like ClickN Spell. The only thing I dislike about the curriculum is that there aren't more options for personalized settings. I set the standard for my kids that they must attain 100% before moving on to the next lesson. If they don't get 100%, Click N Spell moves them on anyway and I have to go in and manually set them back to repeat that lesson. Other than this, I highly recommend the curriculum!
            Visit ClickN KIDS web site for more information

            Because we are classical homeschoolers, another free website that I use a lot for homeschooling is the Well-Trained Mind Forum. This is a great way to search for curriculum to see if it has worked for others. They also have a board for people who are "Afterschooling". Afterschoolers are those of us who work with our kids on school related stuff outside of school hours. If you have kids, this is probably you!

            Lastly, a great free resource for math games is Fun 4 the Brain. My kids are crazy for these math games and they help with addition and subtraction review. Although we aren't studying multiplication quite yet, Timez Attack will be the free game we use to review multiplication facts.

            Does anyone else know about a cheap or free educational resources? If so, please share them!

            Thursday, December 15, 2011

            The CHEAPEST Breakfast

            My husband loves oatmeal. On a typical morning he gets up, boils water and fixes himself a HUGE bowl of oatmeal. It seems like he just throws stuff in it but I think his usual adds are: sorghum and jam.

            From Sandhill Farms

            Hubby's (more expensive) version

            So far, I just hadn't been able to make oatmeal from our quick oats like he does. In fact, until recently the oatmeal I made kind-of stank. I longed for the oatmeal my mother used to make--that is, the kind that comes in the individual packets. But finally . . .I figured out how to make them myself! Now I, too, can enjoy the cheapest breakfast I can think of! Here's my recipe for making my own "oatmeal packs":

            The ingredients

            1/3 cup quick oats
            pinch of salt
            1/2 TBS sugar
            1/4 tsp cinnamon
            a small hand full of raisins
            1/4 cup water (or more, according to taste)

            Without and with raisins

            We bought our oats in a 25 lb bag as part of our first bulk foods order. It is labeled "Organic Rolled Quick Oats" and costs $18.41. Since there's 4 3/4 cups of oats in one pound, that means one pound of oats has a little more than 14 servings. Having paid $ 0.74/lb for my oats, a serving size costs me $.05.  Once I add the other ingredients, I estimate that this "oatmeal packet" recipe (with raisins) costs less than $.10 a serving. If you omit the raisins, its even cheaper!

            The finished product

            So, I ask you: is there a cheaper breakfast than my 10 cent oatmeal recipe? If so, I'd love to know about it! Believe me, I'm always looking to save money!

            Monday, December 12, 2011

            $20 Kitchen Transformation

            The kitchen faucet that was in our house when we bought it was just gross.

             It had a disgusting sprayer with a scrub brush that NEVER looked clean.

            Additionally, when I turned it on, it leaked all over the place, making a river behind the sink.

            See the water standing behind and around the sprayer?

            We picked up the new faucet at Menards. After the mail-in rebate, the new faucet and sprayer only cost $19.99! I've always thought the arched faucets are fancy so I was super excited to get such a great deal on one. It didn't take long for hubby to install the new faucet--after we got the right connecting hose, that is.

            Doesn't it look so much better?
            A money saving bonus of the new faucet is that the hot and cold water are separate. This allows me to turn on only cold water, thus not forcing the hot water heater to kick on.

            I think my new faucet looks amazing and just makes the whole kitchen feel nicer.

            Has anyone else made a small change in their kitchen (or another room) that made a big difference in the look of the room?

            Thursday, December 8, 2011

            Free bananas!

            Although most of what we eat comes from bulk foods, we also shop at a wonderful local Mennonite store. This great store often has free bananas! These are the bananas that are so old nobody is likely to buy them. I love that they mark them as free rather than throwing them out. I also LOVE free stuff so I always pick them up when I see them.

            In addition to scoring these free bananas I also bought this GIANT can of applesauce!

            What do I do with a bunch of black bananas? I freeze them and use them to cook with. Sometimes I make some banana bread with them but more often I use the banana as an egg substitute in baking. You might remember me talking about how I like to substitute fruit in baked goods and then half the sugar and the oil. One egg = 1/2 banana (or 1/4 cup applesauce or other pureed fruit). Since most recipes call for two eggs, I just keep the banana whole and pull it out when I need it (with a little extra time to thaw of course).

            I put wax paper between the layers of bananas so I can easily get only one out at a time.

            Another thing my kids really like is frozen bananas. They eat them like popsicles by putting them on toothpicks. My daughter also really likes them because she can make them herself. So, I saved one of my overly ripe bananas just for her.

            She cuts it up with a butter knife

            puts toothpicks in each piece and then puts them in the freezer

            Does anyone else like to pick up free or reduced priced produce? Or do you too buy giant-sized cans of food (like my applesauce) and then freeze them into portion sizes?

            Monday, December 5, 2011

            Free holiday decorating

            Our new house doesn't have much extra room for a Christmas tree. Since we are also planning to be gone for the actual Christmas holiday, I just didn't want to mess with dragging all our traditional Christmas decorations out of the garage.

            I am so glad a friend shared this link with me! It inspired me to see what the kids and I could create together to make the house a bit more festive for this winter season.

            Enter our fridge. . .

            We started by making the basic snowman as shown in the link above. We cut the shapes out of construction paper and taped them to the fridge.

            Cute right?

            Then the kids decided he needed a scarf and hat. We cut out some Christmas wrapping paper to make it.

            They thought of the hat all on their own!

            Then a walking stick.

            Later they even added a pipe.

            A smokin' snowman

            The Snowman fridge helped us get off to a great start for our holiday season. The kids have asked to decorate their bedroom doors, we've talked about doing a paper Christmas tree in the living and we even got to work making some homemade holiday gifts, which I will share with you soon!

             Anyone else have cute free decorating ideas? Are you too planning on a low-cost or no-cost holiday?

            Friday, December 2, 2011

            Heat . . . at last!

            How I've eagerly waited to post this news! We have a wood stove!

            You may remember me posting about how we keep our house at 50 degrees. Because we had made this choice, it took a while for us to realize that our propane furnace actually wasn't working. Of course, we checked it when we moved in and it kicked on just fine, but it wasn't pushing out heat. Mr. Bushman tinkered with it and through the use of Youtube videos, he thought he'd fixed it by flushing the lines. It kicked on one time AND pushed out heat so we left for Thanksgiving vacation thinking it was fixed. When we returned we discovered it wasn't working again.

            We didn't want to invest any money or effort into the propane furnace since our goal was wood heat. So, we decided to use electric heaters until we could install the wood stove. In all the stuff that came with the house, we found three space heaters. Here's one hard at work:

            This heater kept the bathroom and one bedroom about 65 degrees at night.

            We shut off any room that didn't have plumbing by closing the door and/or hanging blankets. Here's a picture of our living room with a heat barrier up.

            There's some stove piping in front of it. :)

            We turned on two space heaters at night and the house stayed 50-65 degrees. In the daytime, we just roughed it since we didn't need heaters to keep the pipes from freezing.

            A couple of days ago some friends gave us this heater which works better and is quieter than the one shown above.

            This kept our kitchen and laundry room above 50 at night.

            Since this has been our heating set-up since Thanksgiving we have REALLY been looking forward to that wood heat.

            We were very lucky that some neighbors had called us in September when they were buying themselves a wood stove and asked if they could pick one up for us. They sent us this information about the stove. We got it for only $695 because the neighbors got a discount for buying two! We were also told that we get a $75 rebate on our taxes since this stove is considered to be energy efficient.

            Here's Mr. Bushman installing it with the help of a friend:

            They put down tile but because we were in a hurry they didn't use grout. To keep it in place, we will just put trim up around it.

            We are lucky that our house had an existing chimney that we could run stove pipe up.

            See the existing hole above the sweeper's head?

            My job was to rearrange the living room furniture to make room for the stove.

            I thought I was going to have to lose some furniture, but this L design worked.

            After about seven hours of work on the part of hubby and his friend, we finally had a fire! Within about 15 minutes it was 70 degrees in our house!

            I took down the heat barriers just as soon as we knew it worked!

            We were able to pick up sticks from the yard and have a truckload of seasoned wood delivered for $35. It may be kind of expensive to heat our house this first year due to being unable to buy wood and let it season ourselves. However, I'm convinced that next year we'll save lots of money by heating with wood. To be honest, though we haven't ever heated exclusively with wood so I'll keep you posted as to its cost effectiveness.
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