Many people cringe when the monthly electric bill arrives. Not us. In 2019 the average homeowner in the United States paid $115 a month. Our last bill was $13. That is right! Thirteen bucks. Almost everyone can tame their electric bill. Here’s how we did it:
Replaced incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs with LED (Light Emitting Diode) bulbs. They last almost forever and only use about a fifth the electricity of incandescents. LED bulbs were once expensive but now are as low as $1 each.
Purchased high-efficiency Energy Star Rated appliances. Yes, you pay more upfront. The savings are significant over time.
Turn it off! The human index finger has enormous bill cutting power and is free. If a light, television, computer, or any other power-consuming device is not being used…. we turn it off. Remember many of today’s appliances are “vampires.” All those glowing lights on appliances collectively suck energy and balloon your bill. Some you cannot unplug or turn off. Others you can.
Avoid night lighting. Our outdoor lights stay “off” unless we need them briefly for outdoor work. Use motion light sensors if you think you need to be aware of outside activity at night.
Soaking up the sun.
After completing the above steps, we installed photovoltaics on the barn’s roof. Photovoltaics (PV) are panels that use the sun’s energy to create electricity. Electricity generated by our small system partially powers our home’s needs. When we produce more than we’re using it flows out to the power grid. When we’re using more than we make, which always happens at night, grid power flows in. At the end of the month, we pay the “net”. Because our system is small, over time we never produce as much electricity as we use, but we make most of it. Combined with efficiency we tamed our electric bill.
The Federal Government and many states offer tax credits to homeowners who install solar. The value of credits diminishes each year, so acting soon maximizes tax savings and tames electric bills. It’s a great time to “go solar”.
Four years ago, we installed a net-metered photovoltaic system on our barn roof. Photovoltaics, or simply PV, is a term that means “light electricity” or solar energy.
On sunny days solar powers our energy needs.
We appreciate our PV system. On sunny days, when our system produces more electricity than we use, it runs our meter backward as power flows out into the energy grid. At night and on cloudy days, when we’re using more power than we’re producing, we draw electricity in from Alliant Energy, our utility. At the end of each month, we pay the “net” so it’s called a Net-Metered System. This eliminates the need to have storage batteries. We’ve had a monthly bill as low as $5!
But what happens when the grid goes down? It did on August 10, 2020, when a derecho roared through Iowa with 140 mile an hour winds. Hundreds of miles of wires were torn down as trees crashed into them. We joined thousands of other homes without power.
Solar chargers help keep people connected when the power goes out.
So, did our PV system power our lights, computers, and television? Nope. We used candles and lanterns when it got dark and couldn’t power our computer, television, or any other electric appliance for about two weeks.
Net-metered systems, like ours, have an automatic switch built into them so they don’t export electricity back to the grid when it’s down. It’s a safety mechanism designed to prevent a utility employee working to restore power from getting a shock. Our system produced electricity during the blackout, but it just dissipated. As soon as our power was restored the PV system again sent power outward.
An Important PV Safety Tip
Our PV system survived the wind intact but others were ripped from roofs and tumbled to the ground. A PV panel laying on the ground upright makes electricity. Grabbing wires or the panel can give someone a tremendous shock. If a PV panel is on the ground stay away……or cover it with a tarp to darken it so it doesn’t produce electricity. It’s safest to wait until after dark to flip it.
We love John Denver’s famous Sunshine song almost as much as we appreciate sunshine! After a long gloomy winter, the sun finally appeared toward the end of March. We welcomed it into our home and went outside to soak it up.
Although 93 million miles away, the sun constantly sends cheery energy to earth. Without it life couldn’t exist, so we celebrate the sun. Here are some sunny things to be thankful for:
It brightens our house. We are amazed at how many people keep their blinds closed, even in the winter, when they could open them and let natural light warm both the human soul and interior temperature. Sunshine can significantly reduce heating and lighting utility bills, and our nearest star never sends a bill!
It energizes plants. In early April we planted radishes and lettuce in a cold frame on the south side of our home. Sunshine warms those tiny seeds and fuels the miraculous process of photosynthesis that enables plants to grow. Soon we’ll be eating spring greens and enjoying the snappy taste of fresh radishes.
It is one of the best sanitizers. Sunshine can kill bacteria and some viruses. So, we sometimes leave things we want to sanitize in the sunshine before bringing them into the house.
But mostly we savor the way early spring sunshine brightens our mood as it stimulates the winter dormant world into glorious life.
Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish girl, overcame challenges posed by autism to sail across the ocean and encourage people everywhere to work to reduce damage to the atmosphere and resulting climate change. She is inspiring, but is she wrong?
Greta’s commitment reminds us of the youthful energy of the late 1960s that led to great progress in environmental protection and civil rights. It is our hope that she’s energizing both young and older people to make our planet’s future safer and fairer.
After Greta spoke at the United Nations critics attacked her for advocating governmental action worldwide to reduce emissions yet didn’t say much about individual action.
Is she wrong? Absolutely not. This young woman crossed the ocean in a sailboat to avoid burning fossil fuel. She advocates government action while demonstrating personal actions to keep carbon out of the air.
Winding Pathways encourages homeowners to heed Greta and enhance the health of the atmosphere, water, and land by living lighter on resources. Here are a few steps we all can do to follow the inspiring actions she advocates:
Replace the lawn, or part of it, with native plants that don’t require mowing.
Use a battery-powered, cordless lawnmower to mow the lawn less frequently and to grow higher. This allows, roots to penetrate deeper into the soil and absorb rain.
Insulate and caulk the house. Few actions are as inexpensive as insulating walls and attics, and caulking holes and cracks that let cold air in. These simple steps cut fuel use.
Many towns have built safe, pleasant bike trails. Try commuting and shopping by bike instead of by car.
Fleece is made from recycled plastic bottles and is toasty warm. Wearing a comfy fleece outfit enables turning the thermostat down a few degrees.
Keep Water on the Property
Replace the lawn, or part of it, with native plants that don’t need irrigation or chemicals.
Mow less frequently, allowing grass roots to penetrate deeper into the soil.
Install rain barrels. They harvest rainwater handy to use to irrigate garden plants, fill chicken waterers, or wash hands outdoors.
Install a rain garden to channel downspout water into the ground instead of to a storm sewer.
Avoid lawn and garden chemicals. Most lawns and gardens do just fine without them.
Compost kitchen waste. Vegetable peels, corn cobs, coffee grounds, and even many paper plates and cups readily compost into humus that lawns and gardens love.
Greta’s right. Governments should take action to reduce emissions. So should you and I in our everyday lives.
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.
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 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.
When we bought our first home back in 1979, we soon installed a new wood stove. It was a Lange brand made in Denmark. The stove kept our home toasty warm the next 30 winters. When we moved to Winding Pathways, we had to leave our trusty Lange at the old place.
We enjoy wood heat and like cutting and curing wood, so shortly after we moved, we purchased a Heatilator wood stove. For seven winters it did the job of warming our home. On the first cool night in the fall of 2018, we fired up theHeatilator and were astonished to smell smoke in the house. Then, we discovered a large crack in the stove’s steel top. As smoke seeped into the room, we shoveled out the burning wood. Then, we contacted the store where we bought the stove.
We were told we were out of luck. The Heatilator had a five-year warranty and our stove was seven years old. It was frustrating to learn the warranty was so short and that the stove failed. The company offered us a discount on a new stove that was not a good discount. We were wary and decided to look elsewhere.
For about a month our only home heat came from our gas furnace. Although the thermometer read 70 degrees, we constantly felt chilled. Forced air heat feels different from that emitted from a wood or gas stove. The furnace forces out low humidity air that feels cool. A wood stove, in contrast, emits heat directly. It’s very warm near the stove, so when chilled we love huddling close to it. There is an indescribable pleasure in the comfort given us by our woodstove.
On Friday, December 14, Colony Heating in Cedar Rapids installed a new stove. It’s a Century Heating steel stove made in Quebec, Canada, and we’re already enjoying its cozy warmth. Here are some things we learned:
If a stove cracks or gives off smoke stop using it. Get it checked out. If it has failed the company that made or installed it might replace it. Or not. It’s a good idea to find this out before you purchase a stove.
Look for quality. A wood stove should last decades.
Check the guarantee. Most quality stoves have at least a ten-year warranty on the firebox.
Have a stove installed by a professional and connected to a safe chimney.
Notify your homeowner insurance company that you have a professionally installed wood stove. They mig add a slight premium, but then the home is covered should a stove cause a fire.
Burn clean dry wood accordingto the stove manufacturer’s directions.
Keep the stove clean and havethe chimney cleaned and inspected annually.
We had removed the fire bricks from the old stove’s interior, and the two guys from Colony Heating who installed the new stove loaded the cracked Heatilator onto our pickup truck. An hour later a giant machine with a steel claw plucked it from the ground and dropped it on a pile of other scrap metal. Marion Iron Company paid us $16 for it. Not only are wood stoves recyclable, and they can be sold for scrap.
We’re looking forward to our new stove’s gentle warmth as cold wintery Iowa air sweeps past our home at Winding Pathways.
WindingPathways LLC did not receive discounts or free services or merchandise from either Colony or SBI International, which makes and sells Century Heating stoves. We paid their normal fee. And, we’ve found their products and services to be outstanding. www.colonyheating.com and www.sbi-international.com. We purchased the stove at the Marion, Iowa, Menard’s store.