Dollar a Gallon Gas

Want to buy gas for a buck a gallon?  Well, you can but you won’t find it at a service station. It’s available at the electrical outlet in the garage or shop.

Battery-Operated Tools

An array of cordless tools

We switched to cordless tools gradually.

Nearly ten years ago we switched from plug-in carpentry tools to battery (cordless) equivalents. We loved them for their power, effectiveness, quietness, and ease of use. So, when battery-powered yard tools came on the market we gradually switched.

In 2018 we ditched our gas lawn mower and replaced it with a battery unit….with concern. Would it have the power of our gas machine to chew through tall grass and weeds?  Would it have enough battery storage to mow the entire lawn?

 

Mowers

woman with EGO lawnmower

Maintaining the labyrinth is work. And a way to connect.

We quickly learned our concerns were false. The mower chewed through tough prairie grass and buzzed off our traditional lawn with ease. We liked it so much we bought another one so we could both mow simultaneously. Then came a trimmer, chain saw, and snow blower that all run on the same battery system. We love them all and believe gas-powered equivalents are on the road to obsolescence.

How about operating costs?  Experts at our utility, Alliant Energy, told us that one gallon of gasoline has the energy equivalent of 33.7-kilowatt hours of electricity. As of mid-June 2022, gasoline average cost pushed to $4.60+ a gallon in Cedar Rapids. 33.7 kWh of electricity costs, on average in Iowa, $1.03. 


Operating our battery tools costs a quarter of our old gas equivalents.  

Benefits of Electric Tools

Gas and EGO cordless lawnmower

Comparison of a gas mower and the EGO cordless lawnmower.

But, there’s more than cost savings with battery-operated tools.  Here are aspects we love about our mowers, trimmers, saws, and snowblowers:

  • No rope to pull to start the machine.  We save the shoulders! Just press a switch.
  • No filters or oil to change.
  • No need to buy and store gasoline. Fuel is always at hand at the electrical outlet.
  • No fumes to breathe while operating.
  • No noisy internal gas explosions. Battery electric machines are quiet.
  • Easy to fold and store.

So, what are the downsides of battery-operated tools? We had to think about that and came up with only one thing. They may cost more than gas machines, and batteries are expensive. However, the batteries last a long time, perhaps as many as 2000 charge/discharge cycles.

The cost of electricity varies from place to place.  Utilities print the kilowatt-hour charge on monthly bills. To calculate the cost of 33.7 kWh of electricity multiply that number by your per kWh cost and add in any taxes or service fees.  Almost certainly it will cost less to charge a battery than to buy gas. 

Have a cranky old gas mower? We suggest replacing it with a battery-powered equivalent.

 

Where Can You Buy Quality Tools?

Winding Pathways appreciates and enjoys quality tools. So, we have an affiliate relationship with Acme Tools. We do this because of their quality tools, supplies, and outstanding customer service.

Acme Tools carries multiple brands. All are of high quality. They are reliable, safe, and user-friendly. People come in different sizes.  Customers can find different sized tools comfortable for anyone of any size to use.

After years of using bargain tools that frequently broke or failed, Winding Pathways went to Acme Tools and purchased various Milwaukee Brand tools.  They cost a little more upfront.  In the long run, this purchasing philosophy has saved us money and reduced frustration.

Quality tools sold by Acme Tools last a long time and, unlike cheaper counterparts, can be repaired.

Here are some Milwaukee items we have purchased at Acme Tools and enjoy using.

Cordless Drills

Cordless Multi-Tool 

Cordless Saws

Flashlights

Apparel – Jackets, Gloves, and more

Radio 

Hand Tools – Screwdrivers, hammers, measurers, squares, and more

Vacuum Cleaners

Would You Buy a Rubber Roof?

Note: Winding Pathways received no discount or special consideration for selecting DeNeve Construction and writing this blog about class 4 rubber shingles. This reflects our personal experience and research.

Most of our Winding Pathways blogs are about managing a yard for beauty, health, and to attract fascinating wildlife. Sometimes we share house tips, especially about energy savings and photovoltaics.

We just learned something new. Our roof’s shingles had been put in about 20 years ago. They were supposed to last longer but were stiff, beginning to curl, and some nails were poking out above the shingles. It was time for a new roof.

Picture of DeNeve truck

The crew were fast, efficient and friendly.

We received three bids from local roofers and hired DeNeve Construction to do the work. Owner Rick DeNeve met us and said, “I suggest you use Class 4 shingles. They are a little more expensive but resist hail and wind and last longer than normal ones.   Give your insurance company a call, and you may get a discount if you use Class 4s.”

We did and learned that we’d receive a whopping 26% reduction in home insurance premium cost by using Class 4 instead of less expensive and durable shingles. That’s a savings of about $260 a year in insurance cost.

 

 

 

“Most shingles have a fiberglass base layer. Every spot hit by a large hailstone suffers damage, and this greatly shortens the life of the roof.  Class 4 shingles have a rubber base, and hailstones bounce off without damage,” continued DeNeve.

Life Cycle Cost

Men roofing

Men putting on shingles

Whenever we buy anything for the house, we consider life cycle cost. Simply put, that is the cost of the item based on its average annual cost determined by its expected life.   Some examples are the roof, paint, refrigerator, and just about everything else people buy.

In this case, cheap shingles would have saved us about $2,000 on our rather large roof but we could expect to change them within 20 years. Class 4 shingles are likely to last at least 30 years. The upfront cost is a little higher but the long-term cost is lower.

 

 

That seems to be a common situation. Anything that’s durable is likely to cost more to buy than a cheap counterpart, but in the long run, it is less expensive and saves money, time and inconvenience of replacing the less expensive product. In addition, durable high-quality items often look and function better than cheapies.

We’re probably not going to be around to ever need to reroof our house, but in coming years we’ll enjoy our insurance discount and a beautiful roof that will resist Iowa’s notorious sleet, hail, and heavy rain.

How Do You Care for Your Septic Tank System?

In July we hired Brown Concrete and Backhoe to pump out Winding Pathways’ septic tank. We were surprised to hear Trevor Dickerson, who designs waste treatment systems and helped with our project, say that septic systems share similar characteristics with cars.

“If you don’t take good care of a car it might die when you are in the midst of traffic. If you don’t take care of your septic system it could fail just when the house is filled with wedding or graduation guests,” he said.

We weren’t having any problems with our septic system but it hadn’t been pumped for seven years. That’s getting long so we hired Brown to pump it out, inspect the system, and share tips on proper septic tank maintenance and care.

Few people give their septic system much thought – until it fails. They flush and forget. But, every day millions of bacteria and other organisms quietly consume waste in the tank and soil. They are biological wonders that help prevent water pollution.

Most American homes are connected to a municipal sewer that channels waste into a treatment plant.  All they need to do is pay a monthly or quarterly bill and not worry about a personal septic system. Folks living in rural areas aren’t as fortunate. They must have their own septic system to receive and treat waste. Proper maintenance reduces problems. Here are some actions we take to keep our system working properly.

  • Only flush easily degradable items down the drain, such as human waste and shower and dishwashing water.
  • Avoid putting anything toxic to bacteria down the drain. Bleach, antibiotics, paint thinner, and many other chemicals can kill the bacteria happily living in the tank, thus causing the system to fail.
  • Consider food scraps, vegetable and fruit peelings, and other kitchen waste as valuable resources. They either go to our chickens or in our compost bin. Chickens convert food waste into delicious eggs and what they won’t eat becomes compost that nourishes our garden. We have a garbage disposal unit under the sink that we rarely use, as septic tank bacteria have a hard time digesting course vegetable matter.
  • Spread out water use. Sometimes a septic system is overwhelmed if a homeowner does many loads of laundry in one morning, putting more soapy water into the system in a short time than it can handle. It’s better to schedule laundry tasks throughout the week.
  • Have our tank regularly pumped. “Think of pumping a septic tank as similar to having the oil changed or doing a tune-up of the car. Regular maintenance reduces will extend the life of both,” explained Trevor Dickerson.

Every septic system is different because every family and yard is different. Our system works well because there are only two of us living in the home, we have flow restrictors on faucets and 1.6 gallons per flush toilets, and we’re careful to keep toxins out. We also live on the top of an ancient sand dune with steep topography. The soil in our yard readily absorbs water and the steep gradient allows gravity to channel waste quickly into and through our septic system.

Our system might fail if we had a very big family who flushed frequently. Here are some symptoms of a failing system:

  • Water pooling on the ground.
  • Odor.
  • Slow drains and toilets backing up.

Call a septic tank specialist if symptoms show up.

Chemotherapy and Medications

 Chemotherapy can result in an unexpected problem. These potent medications are highly toxic to the bacteria essential to septic tank operation. They vacate the human body in urine and feces and can kill bacteria and cause a septic system failure.
Coumadin and antibiotics can also cause problems.  And people suffering from Bulimia also can pressure their septic system by discharging large amounts of partially digested food into the system. Trevor suggests that anyone taking chemotherapy medications monitor their septic system carefully and have it pumped more often than the average.

Additives

Many additives on the market can be flushed down a toilet and supposedly help the septic system work. According to Trevor, these won’t hurt but they may not help. Any active septic system is filled with bacteria and millions remain after pumping. They’ll quickly reproduce, so adding additional cultures won’t help. Think of a yogurt culture. Add milk to a tiny scrap of yogurt and bacteria quickly convert the new milk into yogurt. Adding more bacteria just won’t make any difference – but it also won’t hurt.

Adding bacteria to a new system devoid of bacteria or one that has had its bacteria killed may help speed up the treatment process.

Permits and Information

 Our septic system was installed long before we bought the home at Winding Pathways, and we didn’t know its age or where the underground pipes were. Fortunately, we were able to get this information from our local county health department.  It issues permits that are required to install a system and keeps records of systems in place. Permits are required everywhere but the agency that issues them varies from place to place. A good bet for a homeowner seeking information about a system is the local county office. Some municipalities or states may also issue permits. Browsing on the web will help locate area companies that install and maintain systems and usually, they are a wealth of information. We used Brown Concrete and Backhoe.

We’re fortunate at Winding Pathways. Our yard is large and our soil sandy. We also have steep topography. Combined, these help create an effective septic system that drains well. We planted prairie over our drain field. Roots extend up to 15 feet into the ground. They capture water oozing out of our drain field and convert it into lush vegetation and delightful wildflowers.  So, even our toilet waste helps create a colorful wildlife haven.