What is the purpose of a screen saver? Screen savers served both a technical and a marketing purpose. From a technical perspective, the purpose of a screen saver was to keep an image from permanently being engraved in a CRT monitor’s phosphors. But it wasn’t long before screen savers started serving a vanity or entertainment purpose.
If you’re wondering about a vacancy switch vs occupancy switch, both types of switches have their uses. The basic difference comes down to whether you want the light to turn on when it senses motion and turn itself off after the last time it senses motion, or only turn itself off after the last time it senses motion.
Sometimes you need to wire a bathroom fan and light on one switch. Code often requires a fan in bathrooms these days, but you may only have one switch. Or maybe you have two switches but just want one switch to run both. Fortunately it’s easy to do. Here’s how.
My local electric company is going to start including a power usage comparison on the monthly bill.
For the last several years, they’ve been sending one annually, but it’s not all that hard to miss it. This is why I generally know I use less electricity year over year, but I don’t know how many people actually see the report. Read more
Back in November, I bought a bunch of insulated vinyl blinds on sale. Installing them took about a week–I had to replace all the hardware, which involves drilling, so I had to be careful what I did and when so as to not wake the kids–but they’ve all been up almost a month now, and it didn’t take long for them to leave an impression. I know you’re asking, “Do insulated vinyl blinds work?” I have to say yes.
I got a new book recently about saving energy. I’ve read several of those, but this one had two tips I’ve never seen anywhere else: caulking baseboards and putting child safety covers on electrical outlets.
It didn’t explain caulking the baseboards, but I will. Frequently there’s a gap in the wallboard where it would normally meet the floor. Maybe it’s laziness—it’ll be covered by the baseboard, after all—but that gap is also a handy place to do after-the-fact wiring, reducing the need to cut into walls and then patch and repaint. The gap makes the area prone to drafts, however. So caulking where the baseboard meets the wall, and where it meets the floor if it’s not over carpet, makes rooms less prone to drafts.
The child safety outlets make for another interesting trick. I’ve talked before about foam electrical outlet inserts and their companion for light switches. And I’ve wondered about putting a child safety plug in. But recently I bought child-resistant outlet covers, after seeing them on This Old House. They come in varieties that twist or slide. I like the sliding ones better, both from an insulating and usability standpoint. They’re convenient because you can just slide the cover out of place, rather than having to remove an insert. And these covers do two things: They put more material between you and the gap in the wall, and they cover the outlet plugs themselves, eliminating that last little source of drafts. And when you have small children like I do, they’re a necessity anyway.
I do insulate interior walls as well as those that face the outside. I didn’t used to bother. But this book mentioned that gaps in interior walls can cause them to act like chimneys, drawing heat out of the room. So I’ve changed my ways.
Both of these are inexpensive upgrades that don’t take long to accomplish. When you buy the switch covers in bulk, it gets even cheaper.
I get ridiculed sometimes for talking about saving energy so much, but think about it. Energy isn’t getting any cheaper. My local utilities ask for rate increases just as frequently as the law allows them to, and more often than not, the state grants an increase. Not always as much as they ask for, but something.
More energy saving ideas
I’ve done a number of other things to help me save energy over the years. Most are pretty inexpensive. I installed thermal blinds and thermal curtains. Then I insulated my hot water pipes. And of course I use LED light bulbs.
My electric usage dropped 19 percent in 2011, so these things work.
I found a blog: Fivepercent.us is all about saving energy. Over the course of the last 4-5 years, Tom Harrison and his family cut their electric bill in half. I’m impressed.Politics aside (and Tom Harrison admittedly is to the left of me), energy consumption is one place everyone can save some money. He argues that many people can save $100 a month or more. That’s better than a $1,200 raise, because it’s tax-free.
And while I’ve done lots of things to get more energy efficient–programmable thermostat, new HVAC system, plastic on the windows, spray-foam insulation and weatherstripping–my bills are still a lot higher than I would like. $70 a month during the winter, when I’m not running the A/C, seems like a lot. And I know little to none of that is climate control. So I’m glad I found it.
Energy isn’t likely to get any cheaper. So it makes sense to get started now.
The air conditioner went out this week. Based on the local shop’s estimate, we’re probably looking at $3400 to fix it, which is more than the cost of a newer, better unit.
On Friday they bubble-gummed it together to get us through the weekend. It only got us through Friday night.
Here’s how we survived, and actually stayed halfway comfortable.I actually survived worse earlier in life. My high school wasn’t air conditioned, and unless temperatures reached 100 degrees, they didn’t call off school for heat. So on a day when the high was 87 or 89, I would have had to tough it out.
In college, I lived in a building without air conditioning that my uncle once derisively called "that old barn." School started in August, and temperatures often were still in the 90s, or worse, while I was there. Window air conditioners were banned, because the building’s decrepit wiring couldn’t handle more than a couple of units running at once.
So here’s what I did this weekend to keep things cooler, based on what I learned then and what I’ve learned since about saving energy.
First, any time it was cooler outside than inside, we opened the house up as much as possible and blasted fans as hard as possible to get as much cooler air circulating as we could. Besides running the central air conditioner’s blower (just the blower), we ran ceiling fans and portable fans. I wish we’d had more fans, in retrospect.
But once it started warming up, we actually did something controversial. We closed the house back up again, but that’s not all we did. I took a bunch of white foam-core board left over from a long-ago project and put those in any windows facing the sun. The white surface would reflect heat-causing light back out of the house. Then I pulled the shades down and closed them, and drew the curtains. Any place I could see a sunbeam, I would block it using any means possible. When I ran out of foam, I’d use anything else white.
I think my neighbors already think I’m nuts. Now I’m sure a couple of the busybodies down the street are talking about having me committed. It’s funny how little you care what other people think when you’re trying to keep cool.
Besides, I don’t care what they think because it worked. Today the high was 87 degrees, and the hottest it got in the house during the day was 80. Yesterday, without taking these measures, it reached 82 in the house. Two degrees makes a bigger difference than it sounds.
To determine if it was cooler inside or outside, I religiously checked the local newspaper’s web site and weather.com. A good thermometer would be even better, but I didn’t have one of those. And besides, now I need an air conditioner, so I need to save money.
The temperature is on its way down now, as I write, but some parts of the house are still getting punished by sunlight. We’ve opened the windows on the portions of the house that are receiving shade, and we’ve moved the fans to draw air through those areas. As shade conquered sunlight, we opened more windows. It hasn’t cooled off enough outside to make the temperature in the house come down yet, but getting more air moving made the house feel cooler.
To get relief, during the hottest parts of the day we would get out. Yesterday we went to Costco to stock up on necessities (we lingered in the walk-in produce fridge a lot longer than we needed to). This morning we went to church of course, and then after that we went and ate lunch at the mall food court and walked around the mall for a couple of hours.
Besides that, we also tried to avoid doing things that would cause heat. I kept as many lights off as possible, since light bulbs generate heat (even compact florescents). Unfortunately we had to run a load of laundry through the dryer, but we did that early in the day before things started heating up. When we cooked, we used the microwave. I also turned off anything else I could, since all watts of electricity used have to turn into heat one way or another.
We survived. Actually we did better than survive. I’ll daresay that for most of the day, we were actually comfortable.
I’ll add one other thing, and this is something that came to mind because we’ve been shopping for windows. If you have double-hung windows, you can open them from both the top and the bottom to get a chimney effect. Warmer air escapes through the upper window, drawing cooler air in through the bottom. In the days before air conditioning, this was how people cooled their houses. They fell out of fashion for many years, but now they’re back in fashion because you can open them just from the top, and a child can’t fall out of a window if it’s opened that way.
Today, the chimney effect is just secondary, but it can save you energy in the months when you just barely need A/C. We’ll be getting double-hung windows for that reason.
And as for the air conditioner itself? What we had was a cheap low-end unit, something often used by contractors and people who plan on selling a house quickly. Since we plan on staying in the same house for a good many years, we’re buying a high-end replacement. It will cost a lot more, but doing the math, it should pay for itself in about 10 years. Or, given the way the local electric company has the state government wrapped around its finger, probably a lot sooner.
Plus, the high-end models come with better warranties, which suggests the manufacturers have more confidence in their longevity. Or, it could be that they just have higher profit margins so they can afford to back them with better warranties, but I’d rather pay for higher energy efficiency than for extended warranties.
I spent the afternoon putting plastic film on my windows. It was supposed to be a short project, and I do get better at it every year, but it still ended up taking about an hour per window.
I think it’s time well spent. According to one article I read, it can cut your heating bills by 30 percent. That’s some serious money.
The film comes in kits that you can buy at hardware or discount stores. The two brands I see most often are Frost King and 3M. I like 3M better–I think the tape holds better and comes off more easily at the end of the season, and I think the film is a little bit higher quality–but I buy the kits in the spring at a steep discount and store them until winter, so I don’t really get to pick and choose much. And I don’t think the 3M is superior enough to be worth paying full price to get.
I have 10 windows. Four are newer and more efficient, so I don’t put film on those. Maybe I should. Five of the others have those awful aluminum frames from the 1960s, and many of them are single-pane. I’m going to replace those windows in a year or two, but in the meantime insulating them makes them leak heat considerably less, and it’s cheap. Buying off season, it probably costs me $1 per window.
I have another trick to save money. I tried this out two years ago, when I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have any money. I ran out of film and I still had windows to do, but I had saved my scraps. So I taped some scraps together with clear packing tape (a big roll costs $1 at Dollar Tree) to make a piece that fit one of the remaining windows. It worked fine. It didn’t look good, but at the time I was making $400 a week doing odd jobs so I didn’t care about appearances.
This year I wasn’t going to do that. I had so much film, I was going to have some left over to do one of the smaller windows next year. But the piece for my sliding glass door was considerably smaller than the box said, and of course by the time I realized it, I’d already cut the piece and ended up with something that covered approximately half the door. Worse yet, it was 8 pm and all the stores were closed, so going and buying a new kit, at full price, wasn’t an option. My Scottish blood probably would have staged a revolt at that, but the option wasn’t on the table.
I can justify it another way too, though. Oil is at $100 per barrel now. Do I need to consume more oil just to avoid having seams in my sliding glass door? I think I’ll save some money and conserve a small amount of oil and live with the seams.
One way I found to reduce the seams is to mount the scraps on the window as tightly as possible, then put packing tape over the joint. I used to lay the pieces on the floor and tape them together before mounting, but I think taping the mounted pieces ends up looking better, and the process goes faster. Surprisingly, when I shrink the film with the hair dryer, it doesn’t seem to have much negative effect on the cheap dollar-store packing tape I use.
Some people skip the kits altogether and just buy the tape (3M’s tape is available separately), and either buy a roll of shrinkwrap film from a packing supply store or a big roll of food-grade film from Costco and use that. That may be an even cheaper option than buying the kits off-season, and it’s certainly more convenient. I don’t know what those rolls cost, but I would think one of those would last at least three or four years, if not 10. Plus there would be very little waste.
At any rate, I never sat down and did the math, but I know this fall ritual ends up saving me money. (All I remember was that my gas bill was dramatically lower the first year I did this, without making any other changes.) If the potential really is 30 percent, I think I’ll do the newer windows next weekend to try to squeeze out a little more.