Monthly Archives: October 2008

Is a Programmable Thermostat for You?

One of the big tips I often read about for cutting your bills is to install a programmable thermostat in your home. And they can certainly be convenient. But are they for everyone?

I’ve lived with and without one. Many times, they have indeed been a good idea. If your home gets too cold at night, for example, it’s nice to have the house warming up a little before everyone has to get out of bed.

On the other hand, I currently don’t have one and don’t feel the need. I work at home, so I’m here all the time, and I know quite a bit about how much heat I tend to use in winter, and how much air conditioning I use in the summer.

Not a whole lot, actually.

Being in southern California, we don’t get the extremes that other places do. Our hottest is pretty hot, but our coldest is nothing compared to a lot of places. That means sweaters do an awfully good job of keeping me and my family warm in winter. It’s a lot cheaper to warm our bodies than to warm our house.

In summer we learn to adapt to the heat. That and fans allow us to minimize the use of an air conditioner.

Of course, I’m not at all opposed to programmable thermostats for most people. Many places you quite simply do need to heat or cool your home, and it’s probably on a predictable schedule. It saves a lot of trouble to have the thermostat turn itself up and down by the times you are going to need the house to be a particular temperature.

We can all forget little details like turning down the heater before leaving, after all. And that wastes a lot of energy. Much better to have it turn itself down at those times that you know you won’t need it.

Even if you have one, of course, you should be considering ways to use less heat and air conditioning, depending on the season. Even a few degrees difference in how you set it can save you quite a bit of money. How much you do depends on personal tolerance.

Quick Home Insulation

The weather is cooling off, even in southern California. While the process is slow where I live, the difference can be felt.

It’s a good time to think about how well your home is insulated. A few quick, affordable steps can help to cut your winter heating bill.

1. Install weatherstripping as needed.

I’ve been after my husband on this one for the front door for a while. The gap in some spots is visible. We don’t use the heater much in winter, but it would be nice to block that draft, as well as some of the bugs that can too easily come in.

Actually, the door has some already, but the landlord cut it too short on both sides. The gap is visible. This kind of work is pretty typical in the place we’re renting. Nice people, but not champion do-it-yourselfers, despite their best efforts.

A small opening like that can allow quite a bit of heat to escape. There’s a good tutorial on How Stuff Works on installing weatherstripping.

2. Insulate your hot water heater.

A hot water heater cover is affordable and may well pay for itself within one year.

3. Cover your windows.

In my area it works to let the sun shine into the windows in the morning to warm things up. But every other window is kept covered.

If things are particularly cold, get some heavy curtains or hang blankets over the windows. These create an insulating layer that can help to keep the cold out.

4. Add more insulation to the attic.

This costs a bit more, but if your insulation is too thin you’re wasting a lot of heat. Spending the money and time to get more insulation can make a difference.

Where Can You Walk To?

Despite that we will soon be getting another car, I do like being able to walk a lot of places in my neighborhood. Mostly to my daughter’s school, but once in a while my husband and I walk on a date, since it’s only 1-2 miles to a variety of restaurants.

So I found Walk Score to be a very interesting website. They didn’t rate my neighborhood as terribly walkable; just 32 out of 100. That doesn’t surprise me since for most people a mile is pretty far to walk, and it’s more than that to the nearest real grocery store.

I say real grocery store because they counted places such as 7-11 as a grocery store. I would have said convenience store for that sort.

I don’t walk to our local grocery store because a mile isn’t so far on the way out, but it’s pretty far when you’re on the way back with a load of groceries, some of which are heavy and need to be refrigerated soon.

The site also pointed out to me some businesses I hadn’t noticed yet. The categorization was pretty interesting… I didn’t know that a self storage place and U-Haul should be filed under Clothes and Music!

Having kids of course limits my interest in walking long distances. Mine do enjoy long walks, but have more patience for nature walks than anything on a sidewalk. Not that I mind.

Overall, it’s a nice reminder that there are many places in a lot of neighborhoods that you can walk to. Some of it is a matter of personal perception, but the reminder that you can walk in your neighborhood isn’t a bad one at all.

Figuring Out Natural Pest Control

One of the things I dislike about the house we’re renting right now is how poorly sealed off it is. We get ants and crickets in the house like you would not believe, even when things are clean. It’s something of a pain.

That said, I do like crickets… outside! If you relax about it, their chirping can be quite nice.

Inside, in the middle of the night is another story. I never knew how loudly crickets can chirp. And hunting for one in the middle of the night is not fun.

For the most part, you can’t get more natural than the main way we handle them. The kids think it’s great fun to catch a cricket by hand and throw it outside. It may take a little extra hand washing, but it’s fun for the kids. They’re gentle enough now that squashing the crickets isn’t really an issue.

We have a method for handling them outside once in a while too. My husband sometimes goes out in the evening and starts moving some of the stones they hide under. The local birds are pretty quick to come for such a feast.

The ants are more of a problem. We use Terro liquid because it’s effective and safe around humans and pets. Only trouble is how often ants keep coming back in new places. It can take a while to control a particular incursion if you aren’t persistent. Maybe that should be persist-ANT!

For those unfamiliar with it, Terro is basically a sweet syrup combined with Borax. In other words, you can make the same kind of thing at home if that’s your preference. Too much Borax can be a hazard to children and pets, but small amounts are unlikely to be any sort of problem. We’re always picky about where we bait ants even when using safe products.

And then there’s the occasional incursion of flies. This is really only a problem when someone leaves a door open a while (Yes, dear, I mean you mostly). Mostly we’ve handled this the old fashioned way – fly swatters! Last year we had to get out the flypaper, but things haven’t been so bad this year.

Which brings me to our worst problem…

Rats in the shed!

At least they’re outside. The shed was built by our landlord, and let’s just say he didn’t seal it at all from the walls to the roof. There’s several inches of opening there. No wonder the rats go in there.

These have been giving us more trouble. They’ve been too smart for the traps. No, I don’t mind killing rats. Most wild critters I’m very much into live and let live, but I’m admittedly biased against rats. And I really don’t want them getting so content in our yard that they go for the house. Rats being so notorious for carrying disease, this bias really doesn’t bother me.

Glue traps haven’t worked any better than spring traps. Rats really are too smart sometimes.

The neighbors have cats, but they aren’t out enough to make a difference. We don’t have pets; don’t want them while renting because moving is so hard with a pet. But sometimes these rats do tempt me with thoughts of a dog and/or cat to help control things.

I’ve been considering something like the Repels All Animal Repellent. As I said, rats are one I don’t mind killing, but the safer ways to kill them have been ineffective for us. We don’t want to risk neighborhood animals by using poison.

The way the shed is built, and the junk the landlord has behind it are the big causes for this problem, of course, so we’ve been trying to figure out a good way to take care of it. Not easy when it’s a construction issue in part.

Making the Shift Away From Being a One Car Family

One of the thoughts that kind of caught me off guard about having another baby is the realization that we can’t get by with just my husband’s car for much longer. While I don’t drive much, I will need to do a bit more when my daughter is born and has all the usual doctor’s appointments.

Not to mention that our current car is a 4 seater, incapable of seating a family of 5. The middle seat in back is cupholders. The car is also too narrow for another car seat.

So we need a car that can seat 5 comfortably, two of which are legally required to be in car seats, and the third who really doesn’t mind having a booster seat make it easier for her to see out the window. That’s perilously close to needing a minivan, which is one possibility we’re considering for the sheer comfort. I know my oldest daughter won’t be too comfortable being squeezed into even a wide backseat with two car seats beside her. But she may have to cope.

A lot depends on our budget, which is minimal to say the least. We’re trying, but it takes time to save up, even with my inlaws being willing to help out. They’ve suggested that they provide a down payment for something new, but I don’t trust my husband’s job stability enough to want to risk monthly payments. It’s just pushing things a little too far.

I did have to tell my husband that saving a mere $50 a month, his first suggestion, wasn’t exactly going to get us anywhere towards a decent car. Too little time.

We do intend to mostly live as though we only have the one car, assuming it will still be the most fuel efficient. The goal is to only use the second car when we need the space or I have to do something while my husband’s at work. We figure we can at least minimize how much gas we use that way.

Besides, I have a very solid habit of driving very rarely just now, and I’d like to keep it that way.

I had considered the possibility of using public transportation, and selling our current car once we have a second one, but I can’t see that working with my current obligations. One child in first grade. Another in speech therapy 10 miles away, no good bus route to it. Add in doctor’s appointments, which have a slightly better chance of being reasonable by bus, and things get difficult due to time.

We currently cope with the speech therapy by having my husband work the latest shift possible at his job. That means he starts at 11 am and leaves work at 7 pm. That sucks for family time, though. Our daughter in particular resents it because she sees so little of her daddy. They both got a little spoiled during the time he was out of work, I think.

Overall, I don’t feel too bad about this. We’ve coped as a one car family for more than a year and a half. It’s been hard at times but we’ve learned a lot about planning our needs more carefully. It’s a lesson I feel confident we’ll take into the future.