Last week our new fridge was finally delivered, and this weekend we spent quite a bit of time reversing the door so it swung the right away. So, first, a few tips on determining when it’s time to replace a fridge, and then a few tips on reversing a refrigerator door.
When It’s Time to Replace a Refrigerator
Our apartment refrigerator had been making some rather distressing sounds for several years. A couple times we thought it was on the verge of death, but it chugged on. We held off on buying a new fridge because we were planning to buy a house. We ended up holding off for over three years! Then, because we had to get a cabinet rebuilt before buying a full-sized fridge, we waited another eight months after moving into the house.
When we finally removed the fridge, we learned two things:
- It was twenty-two years old.
- The thing cost more in energy than it probably would have cost to replace it four years ago when we started to become concerned.
So, if you’re on the bubble about replacing your refrigerator, ask yourself these questions:
- Does it need repair and how much does that cost? A friend of mine paid $300 to have her fridge repaired, while a new one was just $500. Worse, the repair didn’t work, and she still had to buy a new fridge. (She got her repair money back.)
- Is it more than ten years old? After that time, the likelihood of repeated breakdowns rises and the energy-saving technology is outdated, if it even has energy-saving technology.
- Are you planning to move or remodel the kitchen in the next few years?
- Can you get a rebate for buying a new fridge? Our utility offers $35 for recycling our old fridge, and may get $65 for buying a new Energy Star fridge.
Do the Energy Cost Comparison
Our new fridge is 21.9 cubic feet while our old one was about 14.4 cubic feet. Even with the size difference, the new one is significantly cheaper to operate. Use the Energy Star calculator to compare the energy costs of the old fridge to a new fridge. If you could save more than the cost of the new refrigerator in energy savings during the time you plan to own it, it’s probably worthwhile to replace the old one.
For example, our old fridge costs $173 per year to run, while a new one of the same size would cost $43 to run. It would pay for itself in four and a half years (assuming a $450 fridge plus sales tax and $75 delivery fee.)
Our new, larger fridge costs $60 a year to run. We didn’t opt for the ice maker, so I’m not factoring that into our costs. A fridge with an ice maker won’t deliver as great an energy savings over an older model. The energy savings from the new fridge will cover its cost in seven and a half years. Since we plan to stay in the house ten years (or we’ll remodel the kitchen at that point), we’ll sell the fridge with the house and start over with a new fridge.
And Now a Word on Reversing Refrigerator Doors
Ug. This took two hours! The instruction manual and the delivery people made it sound easy, but it was actually rather difficult because the instructions were unclear, and in some cases completely wrong. The instructions told us to simply move the hinge screws over to the other side. After twenty minutes of trying to figure out how that would actually work, we realized we should follow the instructions for removing the door instead.
If you’re planning to reverse a refrigerator door, I also recommend having an electric screwdriver, a thin manual screwdriver, a socket wrench, and a friend to help you on hand. Follow these steps:
- Empty the refrigerator door.
- Remove any hole covers or screws from the side of the fridge that opens.
- Remove the handle.
- Remove the hinge bolts on the top of the fridge. Put them in a safe place. You don’t want to lose 15 minutes trying to fish a screw out from under the fridge.
- Lift the door off the base hinge. Set it down gently.
- Remove the bottom hinge screws.
- Move the hinge to the other side and screw it back in.
- Put the door back on.
- Attach the top hinge.
- Attach the handle.
- Place the hole covers into the empty holes where the fridge now opens.
It’s that time once again. Time to recognize the effects of light pollution and experience just one hour of darkness. Even though the Earth Hour organizers ask that you turn off the lights at 8:30PM on March 27, 2010, usually go a step further.
Turn Off All Lights and Electronic Devices for One Hour
We can do this for one hour. It’s really not that hard. Turn off the lights, the TV, the computers, the printers, the DVD player, the game consoles, the cell phones, anything electronic that you can effectively turn off for an hour. Maybe even take the step of flipping off the power strips to block any ghost power consumption. Obviously, I’m not asking you to reach behind the cabinets to unplug the microwave or the timer on the oven – that might be difficult and potentially dangerous. But there’s no harm to be done by switching off for one hour.
What to Do During the Hour
I can think of lots of things to do in the dark. If you’re part of a couple and don’t have kids who are up at that time, do the thing you usually do in the dark. Or, have a romantic candlelight dinner. If you have a family, make it a family game night by candlelight. Throw a party to celebrate the occasion and turn off the lights at 8:30.
Surely at some point you’ve suffered a power outage. My family had them regularly when I was growing up due to a problem with our street’s power pole. We survived just fine for the hours, and once nearly 24 hours, without power. This is no different, except you’re doing it voluntarily.
Just in case you’re tempted to leave the lights or power on so you can see what other people are doing on the news, here’s a video of last year’s festivities so you don’t have to.
It’s starting to heat up around the country. Here in Los Angeles, it usually doesn’t really get hot until late June or early July, but right now we’re being walloped by a heat wave, just two weeks after the last one.
This is the perfect time to start planning how you’ll keep cool this summer. Aside from last year’s tips for efficient air-conditioning use, here are a few tips that will save you money, too.
Ten Ways to Stay Cool This Summer
There’s one really expensive way to keep cool: crank up the AC to full blast and let it run until icicles drip off your furniture. If you’ve got cash to spare and don’t mind killing the earth, go for it. If you want to be kind to your wallet and the environment, consider these instead.
Install a Ceiling Fan
Ceiling fans are much more affordable than AC because they draw less power. They also keep the air circulating in the room so you feel cooler than the air actually is. Unless it’s a really hot, really flat day, the fan should help keep you cool enough to sleep at night, especially if you can also open a window to allow fresh air in.
Use Box and Stand Fans
If you can’t install a ceiling fan, or need something more, then it’s time to stock up on box fans and stand fans. A stand fan will rotate, which creates a breeze in the room. Box fans are stationary, but you can turn them into air-drawing devices. First place two or three box fans in strategic positions facing into the room, then place one in the window facing out. In theory, this draws the warm air out of the room. At the very least, it will create airflow and prevent you from feeling sticky.
Run the AC Just Before Bed
We usually run our AC just before we go to bed so that we’re comfortable enough to sleep. Since we live on the first floor above a garage, our apartment really heats up about 10 PM. Set the AC to turn off about 30 minutes after you get in bed so you don’t waste energy once you’re asleep. If you have pets and want to keep the comfortable, crank it up to 80 while you’re gone during the day, then set it to 78 when you get home.
Open the Windows
If there’s a nice breeze outside, then open all your windows to create a nice cross-breeze. Keep them closed and the drapes drawn during the day to prevent the sun from heating the room.
Avoid the Oven
If you can, avoid using the oven on really hot days because it will heat up your home. Instead, do as much grilling as possible.
I don’t know why, but eating lighter foods makes me feel cooler. During the summer, I tend to eat a lot of salads, light fish and chicken, grilled foods, and cold pastas. I save the heavy dishes for winter when the extra weight makes me feel warmer.
Drink Cool, But Not Cold Beverages
Maybe it’s just me, but I find that water that’s just below room temperature, as opposed to ice-water, is actually more refreshing on a hot day. Cold water is bracing, but it’s almost like a shock to the system. Adding a slice of lemon or lime makes me feel a lot cooler, too.
Install a Window Unit in the Bedroom
If your ceiling and box fans just aren’t cutting it, consider installing a window unit that you only run before bed so the room gets cool enough to sleep.
Choose Lighter Sheets
We use light cotton sheets year-round. If you tend to switch to heavier sheets in the winter, choose an all cotton blend so your body can breathe at night.
Take a Cool Shower
You don’t necessarily want a bracing shower, but jumping in a cool shower for just a minute will cool down your skin and remove any sweat or stickiness that makes you feel hotter. Dry off with a fresh towel, then jump into your pajamas and go straight to bed. You’ll fall asleep feeling cool and refreshed.
Install Blinds or Window Coverings
Keep the heat out with quality, many of which can qualify for energy reduction tax credits. If you don’t already have blinds, that credit can help cover the cost. If you do have blinds, close them during the day to keep cool.
Of course, you could always just go naked, but then you’d have to close the drapes. That might be cooler, but there goes your breeze. Personally, I’ll stick with the ten suggestions above.
With Obama in office, the movement toward a greener economy will continue. With the recession continuing, we’re going to need to save money. Fortunately, you can do both. This weekend’s LA Times reported that the recession is slowing the contributions to our nation’s landfills because we’re buying less stuff. Let’s hope these 100 ways will continue that trend.
- Buy less stuff. Less stuff = less packaging, less production, less waste. And it doesn’t cost a dime.
- Shop less. Saves money and the gas driving to the store or delivering packages to your house.
- Think before you buy. Do you really need that item? Wait a few weeks and see if you still want it
- Buy less packaged goods. Packaging costs money, so focus on simpler products. They might even last longer.
- Fix rather than replace. Many electronics can be repaired rather than replaced to save money and the planet.
- Turn up/down the thermostat. Being a little warmer in summer and cooler in winter will save money on your electric bill and reduce your energy usage.
- Buy CFL lightbulbs. Yes, they’re more expensive at the start, but they save serious cash later.
- Make your own cleaning products. They’ll have fewer chemicals and be cheaper.
- Turn off the lights. When you leave a room, turn off the lights, TV, etc. Watch your electric bill shrink.
- Unplug unused electronics. Turning them off isn’t enough. For serious savings, you need to unplug.
- Turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth or wash your face.
- Use rags, sponges, and towels rather than paper towels to clean.
- Use cloth napkins.
- Replace the air filter in your house. When your A/C or heat is on, it will run more efficiently.
- Close the drapes at night. Keep the warm air in or out, depending on the season.
- Open the drapes during the day. Reduce indoor light use by relying on the sun.
- Choose energy-efficient appliances. They cost slightly more at first, but make up the cost quickly.
- Insulate your home. Again, it costs money at the outset, but saves a ton of energy.
- Plant native plants in your yard, rather than non-native water hogs.
- Don’t wear shoes inside the house. It will reduce carpet dirt, requiring less cleaning and allowing a longer life.
- Cover wood floors with throw rugs. In the winter, it will make your home feel a little warmer.
- Check the doors and windows for drafts and repair them.
- Check for gas leaks.
- Buy a water heater blanket or a tankless water heater.
- Buy a solar phone charger.
- Shower faster.
- Build a rainwater system for your garden.
- Trade the bounty of your garden with friends and neighbors.
- Make your own sauces, jam, jelly, and preserved fruit.
- Turn off your junk mail.
- Install low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads.
- Shower less. How dirty do you really get in a day? Consider a morning shower only unless you work out in the afternoon or evening.
- Reupholster worn but sturdy furniture. All you need is a sewing machine and access to good, cheap fabric. And lots of time.
- Ladies – buy a DivaCup. No more tampons for ten years.
- Wear less makeup. Less packaging, less water to wash it off, less energy to produce it.
- Buy or make mesh produce bags. You can buy tulle for $1-2 a yard. Use the bags for fruit and veggies.
- Carry tote bags. Take them to the grocery store. Keep one in your car for errands.
- Say no to plastic bags. If you forgot your bag and carry it in your hands, say no to the plastic.
- Only run the washing machine when you have a full-load.
- Resole your shoes.
- Repair seams rather than replacing your clothes.
- Be gentle with your clothes – they’ll last longer.
- Handwash clothes in bulk. If you have bras or handwash clothes, wash them in order from lightest to darkest in the same tub of water.
- Use towels for a week before washing them.
- Wash your clothes less often. You can go at least 2-3 wearings before washing them unless you worked up a sweat.
- Use the right amount of detergent. You don’t need to use the whole capful! Use the right amount for your washer.
- Drive less.
- Use mass transit.
- Ride a bike.
- Get your car tuned up to reduce pollution and fuel usage.
- Turn off your car when waiting more than a minute (lights not included).
- Ask to work from home. Reduce your company’s energy cost and your commute cost.
- Carry an aluminum water bottle with you.
- Bring a mug, plate, and silverware to work.
- Bring your lunch to work in a reusable container.
- Plant a vegetable or herb garden.
- Compost. Free fertilizer, less waste!
- Recycle. Not a money saver, but it doesn’t cost money either.
- Don’t buy bottled water. Either drink regular tap water or buy a sink filter.
- Use a clothes line or drying rack instead of the dryer.
- Don’t buy carbon offsets. I know, organizations push them, but I think they’re ineffective. Instead, donate your money to an environmental charity with a proven track record.
- Have fewer children.
- Switch to cloth diapers.
- Buy fewer plastic toys. Or really, fewer toys in general.
- Share kid’s clothes or buy used. They grow so fast that their clothes are usually in good shape.
- Share toys or buy used.
- Make your own baby food.
- Don’t be afraid of dirt. Dirt is natural. Kids who aren’t exposed to it tend to have more asthma and allergy. Let the dirt in to reduce the need for medications.
- Eat at home. Less carry-out waste, less wasted food, more cash in your wallet.
- Eat less. Your wallet, your waist, and the planet will thank you.
- Learn to cook from whole, natural foods.
- Eat less meat.
- Don’t buy packaged food.
- Reuse plastic butter tubs and other containers.
- Use up all your food before it goes bad.
- Use a refrigerator thermometer to set the temperature right. Saves energy and reduces food waste.
- Don’t buy more food than you need.
- Learn to love leftovers to avoid food waste.
- Learn to use your freezer to avoid food waste.
- Reuse baggies.
- Buy from local farms. Many farmer’s market vendors are organic or sustainable even if they legally can’t use the “organic” label.
- Quit coffee. Can’t do that? Buy reusable filters or take your own mug to Starbucks.
- Buy local clothes and goods. Local goods are often cheaper because there’s less shipping involved.
- Entertain at home. You’ll reduce your energy use at movie houses and restaurants, and save money.
- Reduce your gift lists. Prepare now to trim down birthday, Valentine’s Day, and holiday gifts. Not only will you save money, but you’ll contribute to less waste from wrapping paper and stuff no one wants.
- Read rather than watch TV. Reading requires only the energy from your lamp. TVs, especially flat-screens, are real-energy hogs.
- Don’t watch TV (or watch less). No TV means no cable and no commercials. It also means less keeping up with the Jones.
- Borrow books from the library.
- Use Paperback Book Swap.
- Read your news online.
- Print coupons online, and only the ones you need.
- Don’t smoke. If you do, quit.
- Think before you print.
- Shred your mail and use it as mulch during winter.
- Print on both sides of the paper.
- Steal used paper from work and print on the other side at home.
- Get a spouse or a roommate. Shared electricity, food, etc.
- Live a simpler life. Enjoy activities close to home with family and friends. Fill your heart, not your home.
Okay, that’s 100. Some are cheaper than others. Nearly all will save you at least some money. They’ll also help you do your part for the planet, without being the smelly guy who only eats lettuce and wears hemp everything. Got more ideas? Post them in the comments.
Although it doesn’t get super cold in Los Angeles, it does get chilly (really, it does.) I don’t like to crank up the thermostat, so I’ve come up with a few other ways to keep warm in the fall and winter.
Check for Drafts
Check your doors and windows for cracks or drafts before it gets wet out. Seal them or repair them now so the warm air doesn’t escape and the cold air doesn’t blow through them. If you rent and live in a colder climate, either ask your landlord to do it or ask to be reimbursed for your repair costs.
Put on a Sweater, Socks, and a Hat
It doesn’t get cold enough inside to require a ski cap, but I do bundle up in a sweater and socks throughout the fall and winter. You lose the most heat through your feet and head, so simply covering them helps retain body heat.
Use a Blanket
Not just in bed, although I’ve been known to pile them on there, too. I keep two chenille throws on the sofa and bundle up in one while watching TV. It keeps me warm and sometimes entices my cats to share their body heat with me, too.
Use Space Heaters
I don’t like to turn up the heat in the middle of the day. Instead I keep a small space heater under my desk. I turn it on for just a few minutes to warm my tootsies up, and then turn it off again to save energy. Avoid using space heaters while you’re asleep, though. Every year the news reports the death of at least one family whose space heater caught fire during the night.
Clear the Vents
Remove the vent covers and vacuum the vents. If you have stuff piled on the vents or furniture placed over them, move both. The vents should have clear airflow throughout the room so they operate the most efficiently.
Replace the Filter
The filter in your heating/cooling unit should be replaced every six months, at least. We replace ours around the equinoxes, but you could also do it at New Year’s and July 4. Replacing or cleaning the filter improves the unit’s efficiency, especially if you have pets.
Call for Maintenance
Don’t wait until the dead of winter to call for maintenance. If you haven’t had your system checked out in a couple years, schedule a service call before the winter rush to stay warm and save money.
Cover the Floors
If you have hardwood floors, the cold wood can be really hard on your body first thing in the morning. Instead, lay area rugs around the bed or keep slippers nearby so at least your feet will be warm when you wake up.
Light a Fire
If you have a wood-burning fireplace, check Freecycle or Craigslist for free firewood, and then burn it all winter long. One warning: do not attempt to burn green wood or pine wood. Both are fire hazards. You also shouldn’t attempt to heat your living space with a gas-only fireplace (ceramic logs). Although they’re pretty, they’re very inefficient at heating a home.
Use the Drapes and Blinds Properly
In the morning, open drapes over south-facing windows to let in the light and warmth. Close all your drapes in the evening to trap the warmth inside.
Replace the Windows
If you have older, single-pane windows, hang storm windows to add insulation. You might also consider replacing all of your windows with new windows designed for your region. The right type will vary, but it can save you energy and money for years to come. New windows will also usually come with new frames, which will solve the draft problem. Depending on the windows you choose, you may also qualify for a tax deduction.
Replace the Heating/Cooling Unit
If you have an older home, you may also have an old heating/cooling system. Not only are these inefficient, they also cost more to run. These units are expensive to replace, but you may be qualify for local, state, and federal tax deductions to help cover the cost. You’ll also find that your energy bill drops when the old monster is replaced with a new Energy Star model. If your home uses heating oil, consider an alternative like a pellet stove or wood-burning stove.
Really. Exercise gets your blood pumping and warms you from the inside out. Sure, you can’t exercise all night, but you should stay warm for at least an hour afterward. And you’ll stay in shape for spring.
Hopefully these tips will help you keep warm all fall and winter despite the rapidly rising cost of energy. Do you have additional tips? Share them in the comments.
Last weekend, summer arrived early in Los Angeles. It’s gone again, but the brief appearance caused thousands of air conditioners to be fired up for a few days. Even if summer hasn’t arrived where you are yet, now is a good time to check your system or develop a plan for energy efficient air conditioner use. Not only will it reduce your electricity bill, it will also help the environment.
Of course, air conditioning options depend on where you live, but here are a few suggestions for different types of housing:
For a house with windows, a yard, and space on all sides, there are four primary suggestions for reducing air conditioner use:
- Plant trees on the sunny side of the house to provide shade on hot summer days
- Turn off lights and close the drapes or blinds in any rooms you’re not using
- Open opposite windows or sliding doors to allow cross air-flow
- Apply window films to block additional light.
By doing this, my parents are able to limit their AC use to days when it gets over 95 in the house. Using a fan makes a room feel four degrees cooler, but when it’s over 90, that’s not much of a difference.
For an apartment without air conditioning and adequate air flow, some of the same above suggestions apply, but some don’t. For example, you probably have no control over the foliage outside your apartment. My landlord allowed a giant shrub to grow all winter, and then cut it down when it got hot outside. This is the exact opposite of the ideal, so I discovered several ways to keep cool in these conditions:
- Use an outdoor grill and limit oven use. If barbecues aren’t permitted by your lease, use a Foreman grill inside.
- Buy several fans. If your front door faces out to fresh air, place a box fan in the doorway to suck cool air from outside. Some of my neighbors said they had luck facing the fan out, so it sucked all the hot air out of the room, but I could never feel the difference.
- Open the front door and all windows to allow cross-air flow, but keep the blinds down. Instead, tilt them open to block some light, but still allow air through.
- Keep the lights off as much as possible. Don’t use candles, they’re just as warm.
- Take off your shoes and socks. You lose heat through your head, hands, and feet, so keeping them bare will help keep you cool, as will wearing shorts and t-shirts.
For an apartment with air conditioning, and adequate air-flow or direct light, use the same suggestions to avoid turning on the air conditioner until it’s absolutely necessary.
For an apartment with air conditioning, but little air-flow or direct light, some of the above suggestions apply, but most don’t. My current apartment is a more modern building surrounding a courtyard, but we get little air-flow or direct light because of the design. To keep our apartment cool without using a lot of AC, we follow these suggestions:
- Turning off lights in other rooms
- Grill outside or use a Foreman grill inside to reduce oven/stove use
- Wear shorts, t-shirts, and go barefoot
- If you have airflow, keep the windows open longer and use fans to cool the room
- Set the overnight AC above 78 degrees. Turn it up just long enough to bring the temperature down before you go to sleep.
In summer, you should also drink lots of water and other refreshing beverages – not soda – to stay cool and hydrated.
Extreme temperatures usually necessitate air conditioning, especially for children and the elderly. If you don’t have air conditioning, go the library, the mall, or some other air conditioned location. Even if you do have it, you can reduce your energy bill by going outside in the twilight hours to enjoy the fresh air or use the library or mall’s AC. With wise AC use, you can reduce your energy bill significantly and still be comfortable.
If it’s still winter where you live, try these tips for reducing winter energy costs.
What’s your favorite way to avoid using the air conditioner? Tell me in the comments.
I’m blessed to live in Southern California. The shiny brochures advertise it as the land of the sun, sand, and surf. That’s true – in the summer. For those of us who live here, winter is cold. Visitors from say, Iowa, may be content to walk around in shorts in January, but Southern Californians are ready to crank up the heat when the temperature dips below seventy. (I never said we were a hardy people.) Certainly, our heating costs aren’t as high those for people who live in Minnesota, but thanks to California’s screwed up energy regulations, our costs aren’t small, either.
So here are my tips for reducing winter energy costs:
Install a thermostat with a timer. My heater is set to turn on about half an hour before we get home at night and half an hour after we go to bed, then to turn on again half an hour before we get up and ten minutes after we leave (to allow for running late.) That means our heat is on for approximately seven hours a day, but not continuously. It only warms the room when it falls too far below our preferred temperature. Since my thermostat is also somewhat broken, that’s 72 degrees. I know that some experts recommend 68 degrees, but our apartment isn’t well insulated and that doesn’t get the chill out of the air.
Dress warmly and use blankets. Before you go turn the heat up any further, put on a sweater and socks. You might even consider a ski hat. That will reduce the heat loss from your body and will make you feel warmer. If you’re just sitting on the couch watching TV, use a throw blanket to keep warm. We have two chenille throws in the living room so we can cover up when it gets a little chilly. As an added bonus, the throws are also excellent ways to cover gaps in the sofa slipcover from that time the dry cleaner shrank it. Just artfully drape the blanket over the gap in the zipper and now the damage is hidden from guests.
Seal pipes, doors, and windows. If you own your home, check the pipes, doors, and windows for leaks, and then do what you must to repair them. This could mean replacing old windows with new, more energy-efficient models, re-caulking, applying duct tape, or putting a film over the windows to lock in heat. If you rent, you can at least close the drapes at night to keep the heat in. Ask your landlord if you can film the windows.
Check your furnace. You should change your air filter at least twice a year. Mark it on your calendar. You may also want to vacuum the vents. The easier it is for the air to flow through the vents, the faster your home will heat. If you have an old furnace, consider replacing it with a new energy efficient model. Although a new furnace is expensive, over time it will more than pay for itself.
Close the fireplace damper. If you’re not using your fireplace, close the damper to prevent cold air from blowing in or warm air from drifting out.
Close vents in unused rooms. If you’re not using a room, close its vent. There’s no reason to heat an empty room.
Replace lightbulbs and old appliances. Remember, that although winter heating takes up about 50% of your energy bill, your lights and appliances still impact your energy bill. By using more energy-efficient appliances and buying Energy Star appliances, you can reduce your total energy bill. By the same token, turn off the lights when you leave a room and turn off any appliances you’re not using. The printer doesn’t need to be on all the time. Unplug your cell phone or battery charger. The little things do matter.
If you follow all of the above tips, you can reduce your energy costs without feeling cold. Visit the following sources for more tips:
For everyone: SmartMoney
For homeowners: Consumer Energy Center
For renters and condo-owners: Focus on Energy