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***Now that the REALLY COLD WEATHER is arriving for most of us, I thought I would repost this - for those who missed it the first time around - and to permit the addition of any new ideas or thoughts on the subject - seeing as how those of us who survive on fixed incomes based on social Security will be seeing NO benefit increase this year, despite rising medical insurance premiums AND energy costs for some......***

I am a disabled American. Have been for quite some time now. I have become an expert at stretching less than $200 a month in food benefits into fairly nutritious and healthy meals that lasts for 30 days. I have learned how to cut back on my telephone usage to the point where my phone calls get everything I need done done in less than 60 seconds. I have cajoled my cable and Internet provider to provide me with the same bargain rates as they offer new customers by threatening to take my business to satellite providers or Dish Network. And I have taught my cats that Iams is a luxury - not a necessity - when it comes to staying alive.

Now I wish to share with my friends here some tips and tricks for lowering that utility bill this Winter. My typical bill from 2000-2004 ran nearly $270 a month in the Winter. It now runs less than $140. Here's how I do it.....

Heating:

  1. Turn your thermostat back to 60 degrees. Yes, I know this sounds chilly - but if you do it slowly, you will adjust to a slightly lower temperature in the weeks before the truly frigid temperatures arrive. I have found that wearing a Snuggie™ (or, to save money, a thermal blanket with head and arm holes cut into it) will keep one toasty warm even if the home itself is on the cool side.
  1. 'Randomly' heat your living space. By this, I mean let it get to the point where it is too cold to bear - and then turn your heat on for 20-30 minutes so that your abode warms back to a moderately warm level - then shut the heat off again and let the temperature gradually fall back again. I find that I can go several hours with NO furnace use whatsoever following this pattern.
  1. Seal every window and unused door with clear plastic. It may cost what seems to be a lot upfront - but your savings will be manifest almost immediately. Also seal any wall-mounted air conditioning units as these often bleed warm air. And seal over air vents in bathrooms and in your kitchen. These literally drain heat from your home faster than anything except an open door! Create a Velcro™ latch on the plastic wrap and only use them when necessary (meaning after bathroom use and during cooking on the stovetop). Keep them firmly sealed at all other times.
  1. Close off rooms you do not use, This means sealing the doorway (especially the bottom where door meets frame.) Use either a sliding barrier or else tape a towel on either side, making sure the towel passes under the entire door bottom and seals the space between door and frame. I find that towels work best, are cheap, and are easily removed and replaced if you need to enter the room during the Winter.
  1. Find 'hidden' air leaks by lighting an incense stick and walking from room to room and along walls. If the smoke does not rise vertically, you have a leak. Find it and plug it. Also move the incense along baseboards to locate hidden draft openings you cannot feel directly - and plug them with caulk or some other sealant.
  1. NEVER run your washer or dryer without a full load - and cut back to washing with WARM water (or purchase one of the new COLD WATER cleaners for even more savings.)
  1. Unplug any appliances that have 'stand-by' electrical components such as clocks, digital indicators, etc. Plug them in only when you are going to use them. Do NOT leave your computer on 'stand-by' 24/7 - it is a massive electrical drain. And purchase solar-powered outside lighting that charges during the day and provides illumination at night. Turn all outside lights and porch lights OFF unless you are expecting food delivery or guests.
  1. If you have ceiling fans, set them to rotate CLOCKWISE and turn them on LOW during the day to pull heat down from the ceiling back into the room.
  1. Of course, turn your heating completely OFF during the day if you are out - and invest in a regulated thermostat that you can set with timers if you can afford it. That way you can turn the thermostat down to 45-50 and have it turn on just before you are set to arrive home.
  1. Shut all vents at night in all non-bedrooms. And keep vents shut and sealed in rooms you rarely or never use. NOTE: This applies mostly to people in apartments or mobile homes - buildings without attics. If you live in a house with an attic, be careful about overtaxing your heating system using this technique.
  1. If possible, INSULATE YOUR WATER HEATER - and turn the temperature of that puppy DOWN to a point where the water is warm enough for bathing and washing, but not so hot that it scalds. 125-130 is probably a good range.

COOKING - CLEANING:

  1. Prepare and cook MULTIPLE DISHES AT ONE TIME. This is a true energy-saver. Instead of 1 or 2 pot pies, cook 10-12 at once and refrigerate the others - warming them up in the microwave during the week as needed. Prepare 4 or 5 casseroles at once and portion out and freeze the servings for microwaving later. (An over that is on for 45 minutes at 400 should NEVER cook only 1 item. It takes no more energy expenditure to cook multiple items as to cook 1 and waste the majority of the heat energy.) This goes for baked potatoes, squash, anything baked. Cook all of them ONCE and use the far cheaper microwave to reheat them later!

And when you DO use your oven, LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN WHEN FINISHED to permit the residual heat to waft through your home - not dissipate inside the walls of a closed oven!!

  1. If you use gas for cooking, locate the spot where your pilot light resides and PLACE CANS OF PRECOOKED VEGGIES OR BEANS ON THE SPOT IN THE MORNING. (Be sure to puncture the lid in 1 or 2 spots first.) By dinnertime, the contents will be nice and warm from the ambient heat that would be wasted otherwise - and any further heating to bring them to 'serving' temperature will be far shorter than heating them from room temperature. NOTE: Several people feel this is a health risk. I have never had a problem with it, but do this with caution. And REMEMBER TO HEAT THE CONTENTS TO BOILING BEFORE YOU EAT IT!! This should kill any microbes that manage to gain a foothold during the day while the contents are heating.)
  1. If making soup, make enough for 10-12 servings at once and freeze/reheat the leftovers. Always try to cook in bulk and save/freeze/reheat the excess rather than cooking from scratch each time. (This is especially useful with Macaroni & Cheese or boxed Scalloped Potato or other Potato or Rice recipes.)
  1. Do all of your household cleaning, washing/drying, ironing etc. AFTER 9 p.m. whenever possible as electricity rates tend to drop at night.

PERSONAL/ENVIRONMENTAL:

  1. Purchase a 'Microwave Neck Warmer". This is placed inside the microwave for a brief warming period, then worn around the neck to help the body retain body heat. Sounds like a great product!!
  1. If you have SOUTHERN FACING WINDOWS, open the blinds and permit sunlight to stream unimpeded into as many rooms as possible during the day. Keep the window shades up and the windows fully open to sunlight until the sun begins to set (usually after 4 p.m.). Then return any blinds or curtains or drapes to their position to retain warm air inside your home.
  1. For non-Southern-facing windows, COVER all windows with a quilt or comforter (after insulating with clear plastic and sealing them). This will help retain heat inside the home and prevent even the smallest leak from draining your precious warm air.

FINALLY.....

  1. Check out your local HEAP coverage to find out if you qualify for assistance. The income limits are higher than you might think - and any benefit might free up your scarce dollars for other uses - such as food or shelter. More information is available by simply GOOGLING "HEAP <your state>".

Or visit this federal site:

HEAP Program Explained

  1. If your furnace or heater should fail or stop working, HEAP will replace it for you or pay for repairs if you qualify for HEAP or any other state benefit. (This is a little-known benefit of the program.) Check your local state HEAP requirements and benefits detail to learn how to file a claim.
  1. If you face an energy emergency and your utility does not help you, you can often receive help through the following entities:

a. Your local Department of Social Services Emergency Fund
b. The Red Cross
c. Catholic Charities
d. The Salvation Army.

Catholic Charities is nonsecular - you do NOT have to be Catholic to receive assistance. I am an atheist - and they helped me immensely 5 years ago when I first became disabled.

You should contact those organizations in that order if you face an energy emergency or are threatened with a disconnect or termination of service. (Most states in cold climates forbid the termination of all power in the Winter. Utilities must use 'limiters' to cut back, but not completely cut off your power supply. Check with your local Department of Social Services or utility to find out what the law is in your state.)

  1. Go on a 'budget billing' system with your utility provider. This adds your previous 12 monthly bills together and divides them by 12 - spacing out your monthly payments so that you do not have huge increases in Winter (or Summer) when heating or cooling expenses usually spike. It is easier to pay a set amount each month that is predictable as opposed to getting into the habit of dealing with rising and falling monthly bills, which encourages one to 'spend more freely' in the Spring and Fall, when energy bills usually fall.

Cell Phone Savings:

You can learn more from this Snopes.com article:

FREE/DISCOUNTED CELL PHONE PLANS AVAILABLE......

The Lifeline™ program is available to many low-income Americans in every state and provides for hugely discounted installation and maintenance of phone service for very little per month.

Participation in any ONE of the listed state or federal programs qualifies one for these discounts and services. One does NOT have to be on 'welfare' to qualify.

But if you ARE on one or more of these programs, you may qualify for a FREE phone and FREE monthly minutes if you live in the 19 states covered by THIS program

FREE CELL PHONE and FREE MONTHLY MINUTES.....

Start at the link above and enter your ZIP CODE. If you live in a location where the program is available, you proceed to the enrollment form. They ship your phone and open your account within 5-10 business days. The number of FREE minutes you receive varies from state to state.

It may not be much - but many people can save between $25 and $50 a month through one or the other of these programs.

So if you need to watch your pennies, but are not comfortable having NO phone service whatsoever (in case of emergency or need to contact state agencies0, then PLEASE look into one or the other of these services!

They are there for a reason - to make sure no one is left cut off from the services they might need to maintain their households and their lives.
Hope this helps even ONE person avoid the suffering and the humiliation of being threatened with the loss of one of the most basic human needs there is - warmth and energy. And if anyone can think of anything I missed, please let me know and I will UPDATE this diary!!

Be well and warm this Winter!!

Originally posted to GayIthacan on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 10:26 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  This is very kind of you. (4+ / 0-)

      Thank you for taking the time to help others.  THIS is who we really are.

      ps.  I would love some money saving nutritious meal idea.

      And, not to be a debby downer, but I recommend not heating up food IN cans.  Cans are lined with BPA which isn't good for us, K?  You can do the research, or go to this diary for details:

      http://www.dailykos.com/...

      And this diary:

      http://www.dailykos.com/...

      I recommend buying dried beans and a stainless steel pressure cooker (an energy saving investment).  For instance, I can make a multi-veggie soup (with or without meat) in about 15 minutes that tastes like it has been simmered for an hour or so on the stove.  I then add dried, home grown herbs.

      Share this because I care.

      Poverty does not mean powerless. Unite!

      by War on Error on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 10:38:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  asdf (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        blueoasis, War on Error

        War:

        Note that when I mention heating things in cans, I add that one should then heat them to boiling in a regular pan in order to be safe.

        The pre-warming using the pilot light merely cuts down on the length of time one has to have the gas on full tilt in order to heat the contents up as one would do without the pre-heating.

        Why waste energy that will dissipate anyway? Use it to get things started - and save energy on finishing the task. :D

        I don't have "issues". I have a full subscription!

        by GayIthacan on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 10:43:20 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Good points, some comments (3+ / 0-)

    I tend to think running the ceiling fan will draw more energy than it saves in circulating warm air back down.  It's just not that efficient a recirculator.

    Computers in S3 sleep really don't use that much power at all.  S4 is still better, since it's basically off (except maybe for USB).  But computers overall are still power guzzlers, so if you really want to save, get a laptop (a low-end one costs about what a PC+monitor costs anyway).

    Health issues of heating cans on the stove are more than just microbes, it's also the can lining that isn't designed to stand up to high heat for extended periods.  It's just not good for you.  Of course most gas stoves these days have piezo ignitors anyway.

    Pretty much all detergent these days works just fine in cold, no need to waste money on special "cold formula".

    "I have only ever made one prayer to God, a very short one: 'O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it." -- Voltaire

    by sproingie on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 11:12:34 AM PST

  •  Some items: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raines, greengemini, Amber6541
    1. Admin: Tags: You put in "recommended" when posting. I have removed. That tag is reserved for diaries which make the recommend list. This might, but has not as of writing this comment.
    1. Admin: Tag:  Sustainable Energy Action added to tag.
    1. Some quite interesting material / thoughts in here.  Thus, thanks / kudos for the material.

    Some additional thoughts / items to consider:

    1. Cheap/near free Solar Heating: Take bottles (milk bottles, soda, etc) and fill with dark fluid. Put by south facing windows. Should build up heat during the day that will be slowly released when there is no sun / into the night. Window solar heaters: are pretty easy 'DIY' project that can boost solar gains of south-facing windows notably.
    1. Fireplace: Regular fireplaces are a heat loss when operated. And, make sure to seal the flue when they are not in use to reduce heat loss.
    1. Thermostat: Programmable thermostats pay off bigtime. Include in this turning down low (50 degrees or so) at night. Gives a good reason to snuggle with a loved one at night.
    1. Cooking: Microwave is, generally, most energy efficient. When boiling, make sure to use lid.  

    Etc ...

    •  **I have a question that will probably sound qui (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Amber6541

      stupid.  I have a gas fireplace that has not been used in at least 20 years.  Would it be dangerous to stuff a towel or something similar up into the flue?  I know a lot of cold air comes into the house this way (not to mention mice).

      Thank you for the many cost-saving hints.  The only one that frightens me is the can on the pilot light.  I understand  the concept, but it doesn't sound healthy.

      **I'm calmer now, and a little bit hopey.

      by greylox on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 11:30:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Comprehensive & very valuable diary. Thanks. n.t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Carol in San Antonio
  •  Insulate your pull-down attic door. (3+ / 0-)

    One day I looked up at my pull-down attic door and realized that it provided only a quarter inch wooden barrier between the house and my unheated attic.

    I got a six foot length of insulation, just wide enough to cover the opening, nailed the center to a piece of 1" x 4' board and slid the board over the opening before I came down the ladder and closed the door. The board supports and holds the insulation in place. When you need to go into the attic, just slide it to one side.

  •  I get a discount on my phone bill because my (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PhilW

    primary income is from Social Security, no W-2 income.  Very little other income in the form of interest on savings.  There are other assets, primarily home and IRAs
    Phone company (I am with AT&T) sends and processes application, credit comes from State and Federal programs.  Credit shows up on bill and amounts to about $10.00 a month.

    The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend. Aristotle

    by Amber6541 on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 11:56:13 AM PST

  •  Cheaper calling... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PhilW

    How about using Skype?

    $2.95 a month.
    Unlimited calls to any phones in the US & Canada.
    No long-term contract.
    No connection fees.

    $6 for 3 months or $20 for a full year of voice mail (answering machine)

    Calling computer to computer anywhere in the world free.

    Then back that up with a free phone and free minutes.  

    Or if you don't qualify use a pay as you go phone.  I bought a Trac phone for $10 and a buy buying a enough minutes at a time (~$100) I get one year's access.  Works out to about $10 a month to have a phone I can use away from home.

    15 to 6. Pulled ahead as soon as the gate opened and never looked back....

    by BobTrips on Sat Dec 05, 2009 at 12:08:31 PM PST

  •  bad advice (0+ / 0-)

    This posting contains quite a lot of bad advice which should not be followed.  

    For cell phone service it is possible for anyone to buy a cell phone for less than $20 and pay around 9 cents per minute for airtime with no monthly minimum.  9 cents per minute should be cheap enough for anyone with low usage.

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