World record setter: Aniket Chindak

I have a reputation in my social circle for being unnaturally cold (freezing really). I not only feel cold, but I am really cold (my nails even turn blue). I carry a sweater around with me everywhere, no matter what time of year it is. In the summer my family calls me Linus! Whenever I visit they joke about turning the thermostat up for me. They drape the bed with extra blankets and I always need them.

So it may come as a real shock to know that I am too cheap to turn the heat on in my own home. It’s not that we live in a warmer place either. We’ve brought the plants in to protect them from frost and we wear our winter coats to take out the trash. It’s officially cold…outside.

How can this be managed? Well, first let me admit that I am blessed with my equal in pinching a penny until it bleeds. We challenge each other to a friendly match of temperature limbo every winter. How low can you go? I am always the first one to break, but I’m getting better at this game. There is an exception, several actually. We keep the minimum at 50°F to protect our home from damage. We also heat our home for guests, because we want them to come back and we don’t expect other people to find our eco-antics amusing.

So how do I stay warm?

Image by kwinton at SXC

  • I drink hot tea
  • I microwave a heating pad
  • I take a hot shower
  • I blow dry my hair
  • I cook (a lot)
  • I do the dishes (in hot water)
  • I do housework
  • I move around
  • I dry a load of clothes
  • I wear layers
  • I have many blankets
  • I light a lot of candles
  • My cat lays in my lap
  • My computer lays in my lap
  • I wear a hat, scarf, and warm slippers
  • I have a heated mattress pad
  • I have a hot water bottle
  • I have a space heater in the bathroom
  • I close off rooms we don’t use
  • I wash my hands with warm water
  • I let the sunshine in
  • I run errands
  • I cuddle

Some of these things keep me warm but many of them actually heat up the house too. My body heat alone raises it a notch. I don’t expect anyone to join us in our game, although it would be great for the environment and your budget if you did. Instead I would just like to encourage you to lower your heating costs by trying some of the things listed above to keep yourself and your house toasty this year.

How low can you go? I’m already breaking my last year’s threshold of 62! Have any more tips to keep me in the game?


We have a cat. I’m a little surprised I haven’t mentioned that before. We totally adore the fuzz-butt!

He fits right in, don’t you think? Well, we had one little problem. There wasn’t any place to tuck away his giant litter box. His Highness refuses to squat so he has to have an extra large throne. We finally decided to put it under the bathroom sink and remove a cabinet door for access. It wasn’t a great solution. Have a look:

My grand plan was to sew a curtain for the entry. It seemed like a great idea at the time. The thing is, my sewing machine and I don’t get along! I am quite talented at making enormous knots and jamming the innards! Here is a picture of my practice stitch:

So I threw up my hands and decided my sewing days are over (for now)! I still wanted a curtain though and I’d already cut and ironed the seams. Now what? I didn’t want to ask someone to finish my project for me. I was nearly done! So I decided I was going to tape it. I found some permanent double sided tape and went to work. Here is the final project:

Anyone had any luck making clothes this way?!

P.S. The urban homesteading posts are coming up. I had to make a curtain first!

The first year we moved down south, we cranked the AC. Mind you, it was August at the time, but the southern heat seemed so oppressive we didn’t even consider other ways of cooling our house. It was actually the familiar winter season that brought us to our senses. In the summer we just needed to do things in reverse. The savings from our power bill and the sense that we were helping the environment, motivated us to find even more ways to naturally cool our home. Considering that we are the only house on the block that hasn’t turned on the AC yet, and I’m wearing a sweater while I write this, I’d say we have a lot to share.

The main secret to our cooling: We open our windows at night. For most of the year the average temperature at night for our area is below 70°F. We have a remote thermometer to tell us when the temperature outside has dropped below the temperature inside. This is when we open the windows (if we need to). Depending on how cool it is outside or how hot we are, we may even put fans in the windows. In the morning when my alarm goes off, I shut the windows and pull the drapes (the earlier, the better). At that point it is cooler in the house than it is outside. For example it was 63 inside this morning.

Throughout the day there are things that raise that temperature. Becoming aware of them made it easier for us to regulate the temperature inside.

  • Cooking: boiling water for coffee or tea, toasting food, using the stovetop, and baking
  • Showering and blow drying hair
  • Laundry: the dryer, or hot water if you use it
  • Dishes: hot water use
  • Sunlight
  • Going in and out
  • Body heat
  • Poor insulation

First thing in the morning I take a shower and I don’t mind heating up the house a bit. As the day wears on, we try to be a little more careful, especially in the summer months. Actually the summer is a whole nother ball game. We go from being mindful, to being purposeful. Some of the rooms in our apartment have ceiling fans. In the summer these should be turning counter-clockwise if you look up at them. There’s usually a little switch at the base that will change their direction. We turn on all our box fans too. The best fan of all is an attic fan. If you have one, turn it on when the temperature outside is cooler than inside and it will draw in the crisp night air. We also keep cold drinks in abundance and eat ice cream in the summer. We eat cooler meals, like salads, sandwiches, and cereal, or use the microwave more often. We batch cook things that go on the stove or in the oven. An unusually cool day is a great day to batch cook and catch up on chores.

Many southerners, meaning well, make the mistake of just leaving their windows open all day. They suffer through the heat until they can’t take it anymore. I think the whole “open at night, close in the morning” thing isn’t common knowledge.

Exceptions:

There are a few days in July and August when it just doesn’t get cool enough at night to cool the house for the day. This is when we decide whether to adjust to the heat or turn on the AC for a few hours. We usually decide to crank it up!

There are also days when it’s so humid that you risk damaging your possessions. We learned this after it rained for a week. Just so you know, it’s humid when your envelopes seal themselves.

We also have allergies. The windows being open can make them worse, and if you haven’t found a good way to treat your allergies, by all means close the windows when they are bad. If you or a family member have bad asthma, it’s also a good idea to keep the windows closed and let your air be filtered through a regularly cleaned AC filter.

I’m not saying air conditioning your home is bad. Please don’t think I’m judging anybody (except for maybe businesses that are so cold I have to bundle up when it’s 100° outside). We will be using our AC at times this year too. When we’re not using it we will still be comfortable. We’ll also save a lot of money and lower our carbon footprint. And we’ll be comfortable! Did I mention that we’ll be comfortable?

Easy Compost

March 28, 2010

Have you heard of those people who reduced their trash to one bag over an entire year? Click here to read their story. Feeling inspired? Well, it’s no where near that extreme, but I can share with you one way to reduce what you send to the landfill. Besides recycling, which I know everyone does (right?), it’s really easy to set up a composting system to take care of all your biodegradable trash. This also saves you money later on, because you’ll have nutrient rich soil for gardening and won’t need to buy fertilizers or much of anything else. A lot of people think you need special equipment for composting or that it takes a lot of effort, so I wanted to share this simple, super secret, Miracle compost method (free for all subscribers)! ;)

To get started you create a healthy habitat for worms, grubs and other organisms that will decompose your food. We were lucky to have a head start when we moved in. Our landlord had been piling grass clippings in a corner of our backyard by the fence line. This was an excellent starter pile and it’s pretty easy to replicate. If you live in an apartment with no access to a yard, I recommend this easy indoor method.

From there, we started collecting food scraps from the kitchen: coffee grinds, tea bags, banana peels, onion skins, apple cores… We buried our scraps in the pile and the worms did the rest. With time we learned to trust the pile’s composting power. We started burying all sorts of biodegradable trash and within a few days or weeks it would disappear!

Just an ordinary bowl!

Here’s a list of other things you can compost:

  • paper towels and the cardboard tube
  • toilet paper and tissues
  • coffee grinds and the filter
  • tea bags with the tag and staple!
  • napkins
  • toothpicks
  • hair trimmings
  • lint from the dryer
  • dirt from the vacuum
  • cotton balls and cotton swabs
  • small amounts of shredded paper
  • old rags
  • parchment paper
  • natural kitty litter
  • yard waste

Be aware that non-food waste will take a little longer to disappear. Having a special section for more time consuming compost may be helpful during planting seasons.

Note: Some things should not go in the compost pile. These include anything treated with pesticides or chemicals, including nail-polish remover, bleach, or antibacterial cleaners. Also you should steer clear of burying meat scraps if you are worried about pests. Anything that can be recycled should also not go in the compost pile.

We have been composting for several years now with very little effort and great results. Combined with recycling and cooking from scratch we have greatly reduced our contribution to landfills. We also have fertile soil for growing our own tomatoes and herbs. My favorite part, besides all that, are the surprise vegetables that crop up in the pile. It’s a great discovery to find squash, celery, onions, garlic, and potatoes growing effortlessly in our yard! Now I just need to learn how to harvest them!

Photo from Harvest to Table. I forgot to take one!

Washrags to Riches

March 10, 2010

One of the small changes we made recently was to stop purchasing paper towels. When we ran out, I bought a stack of washcloths for less money than we would have paid for a new batch of paper towels. We also cut up old ratty (or pink!) white T-shirts to supplement our stack. Ever since, we have been saving money, paper, and Seth from holey shirts! We use them for anything we would have used a paper towel for. They even serve as napkins. Our guests don’t seem to mind. I know they make cloth napkins for this purpose. We just haven’t found them necessary yet.

We also use handkerchiefs for their intended purposes. We keep a box of tissues around for when we get sick because there just aren’t enough hankies for that, but you get the picture.

We still use toilet paper. I’ve heard of people using “hygiene clothes” and I say “Great for them!” but it’s just not on my radar.

When we are finished with our washcloths, hankies, and kitchen towels, they go in the wash and our off-brand laundry soap does an excellent job of erasing the evidence. If the cloths get badly stained we have the option of bleaching them because they are white. I also do this when they get left sitting somewhere and umm…start growing things. Yes, yes, I know about bleach. If you don’t, I’ll be happy to scare your pants off some other time but for now I’ll just tell you to be careful. Use sparingly. Wear gloves. Vent your space. Rinse well.

So far our washcloths are holding up nicely but I can’t wait to replace them with hand knits. How adorable would that be? I’ll teach you how, but not today.

Photo by Scullerymade @ Etsy

Trimming The Water Bill

February 28, 2010

Water is pretty inexpensive in the U.S. If you live on well or spring water it’s even free! So why worry about the cost? The simple reason is that there is more to lose than money when water goes down the drain.

So how do you save water? The simple answer is to think about it. I’m always impressed with people who are spartan with their water. I knew a family from India that took a shower with a bucket to save run-off. It’s not easy to be that conservative. I know we could do better. This is why I wanted to share with you something we did that has made a huge impact with very little effort. We changed our showerhead and sink aerators. The cost was low with a quick return on our investment in savings. The change in output was only noticeable on our bill.


We replaced our extra wide rain and spa standard 2.5 gpm (gallon per minute) shower head with a Whedon Deluxe ultra low 1.5 gpm shower saver. I thought I was giving up an awesome shower but the new one turned out to be an improvement! The pressure is better for starters. It also sprays wide and fine so there aren’t any cold spots. If you want to turn the water off while you soap up, it has a push button that reduces flow to a trickle. I love a good shower so you know it’s got to be good for me to recommend it by name.

Now for the sink aerator. Ours is a 0.5 gpm low flow model we found online. I don’t recommend going lower. The new aerator was an adjustment. It takes a little longer to fill up the kettle but it also drastically saves water. Our old faucet was a standard 2.2 gpm aerator.

This is how we saved a ton of water for less than $20. In two months we made up the purchase from our water bill savings. Now the savings are ours to keep! All it took was unscrewing some faucets and screwing on the new ones. Changing our habits to conserve water has taken more effort but the faucets are already working hard.

Here’s a link for more tips on how to save water.