Archive for October, 2008

Weatherizing Your Windows

It got cold this weekend. It’s my first year living in a big drafty Victorian house. We can hear the wind blowing through the skylight. So what is one to do? Go out and buy some industrial strength tape, some cling film, and get ready to weatherize! The best part is shrinking the wrap with a hairdryer. The worst part is cutting the plastic film. has a good instructional section about window insulator film.

Temple News talks about other ways to weatherize a leaky window.

Alliant Energy says it should only cost you $10-25.

And Thrifty Fun says that leaky windows can account for up to 40% of your home’s heat loss. Yikes!

It’s a bit time consuming, but my room already feels a ton warmer. Now if only I could insulate my walls as easily…


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Make Your Jack-o-Lantern and Eat It Too

In honor of Sasha, this post is about eating your jack-o-lantern.

Image from

Instead of letting all the perfectly good pumpkin food go to waste, it’s possible to make tons of sweet and savory treats from your Halloween decor. Carved jack-o-lanterns keep several days before they start rotting. Cut away any rotting parts before you cook. Instead of sooty candles, the the Ultimate Cheapskate recommends using an electric light.

When cutting, remove the seeds, rinse them, dry them, salt them, season them, and bake them on a lightly oiled cookie sheet in a 250′ oven for around an hour. Stir every 20 minutes.

Scrape out as much pulp as you can. Steam it for 30 minutes or until it’s tender, then puree it in a blender.

Painted jack-o-lanterns are OK too, but make sure you don’t get paint in the food. Pop them in the oven and bake them to make the skin flake off.

How-to from Mother Earth News:
1. Remove any paint with metal pot scrubber, or peel skin off.
2. Scrape out seeds and stringy fibers with soup spoon.
3. Cut pumpkin into 4-6 pieces, or keep whole and replace the cap when scooped
4. Place on greased cookie sheet
5. Bake at 350’F until tender (about an hour, or an hour and a half if whole)
6. If whole, pour off any collected liquied
7. Cool it quickly in cold water and drain. Cut the meat away from the skin and puree it to remove lumps.
8. If you have lots of pumpkin puree, pack it into pint or quart jars or freeze.

You can make pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread….

Some more ideas from Frugal Fun:

1. Pumpkin butter
(pureed pumpkin plus mace, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and apples)
2. Pumpkin soup
(pumpkin, hot pepper, apple, garlic, almonds, mozzarella)
3. Pumpkin chocolate chip bars
4. Pumpkin chips
5. Chilean Squash Casserole (from Moosewood Cookbook)
(pumpkin, cheddar cheese, carrots, cumin, salsa)
6. Pumpkin latkes
(grated with eggs, onions, and flour, and fry patties)
7. Thai pumpkin curry
8. Baked pumpkin seeds
9. Pumpkin pie
10. Stuffed pumpkin
(vegetables, cheese, milk, bread crumbs, spices)

If you don’t like eating pumpkin, there are still ways to get another use out of it – Gaiam Life recommends composting or donating it to your local zoo.

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How to Make the Most out of an Inefficient Furnace

So, like many renters, I don’t have much say over the furnace my apartment has. As it just so happens, our furnace’s efficiency is rated near the bottom. We live in a floor of a drafty old house, and I’m terrified of my upcoming Xcel bill. The Department of Energy says we spend most of our money heating and cooling our home (see this chart).

In honor of this expense, I bring you tips for maximizing the heating efficiency of your living space.

1. Lower the thermostat as much as you can stand. Even turning it down 2 degrees can save you $300/year, according to New Jersey Natural Gas.

This comes from a person who can’t stand it any colder than 66, but at least 66 is better than 70. They say you should be able to withstand 60 dressing in layers, but I just can’t do it. I do turn it down to 60 whenever I leave the house, though. But don’t turn the furnace off altogether – if you do, the furnace will have to spend a lot of energy the minute you get home.

2. Weatherize your home. If you have storm windows, be sure to close both sets of window. When fall has arrived, get plastic weatherization film.

3. Take shorter showers. It means you’ll spend less heating the water. Wash clothes in cold or warm water instead of hot.

4. Make sure your vents are unobstructed. I was keeping my laundry basket in front of a vent, which was dumb.

5. Open shades to let sunlight in during the day. Who needs solar panels! Close blinds and curtains before the sun sets to keep the night cold out.

6. Limit the use of kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans. This shoots your nicely heated air out into the world, wasting all that heat!

7. Add a rug to wood or tile floors.

AFUE is the American Fuel Utilization Efficiency rating. Your furnace will say what its AFUE rating is – a rating of 78 means that, of every dollar you spend on natural gas, 78 cents of it turns into heat and 22 cents is wasted.

(more tips from GasSouth)

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Energy Vending?

I think one of the smartest business decisions utilities made was divorcing the dollar from the service. By keeping the utility bill as far removed from the meter as possible, and by keeping the meter as far away from the power-using device as possible, it’s easy to forget what it costs to turn on the coffee maker.

So I started to wonder and plugged in some numbers. To wash and dry a load of laundry, you pay around $0.79 in energy costs. How different would our energy use be if we dropped quarters in a slot to power the TV?

Here are some common costs for common household actions:

$3.13 to keep the house heated to 70 degrees each day
$0.56 to keep food cold in the refrigerator every day
$0.54 to run a load of clothes through the washer
$0.31 to heat water for showers and handwashing for one person each day
$0.29 to run a load of dishes through the dishwasher
$0.25 to bake something for an hour
$0.25 to run a load of clothes through the dryer
$0.09 to cook something for an hour on the stovetop
$0.06 to leave a single light bulb on while you are gone for the day
$0.05 to dry your hair with a hair dryer
$0.03 to watch TV for an hour
$0.03 to vacuum for a half hour
$0.01 to run the blender
$0.01 to run the coffee maker
$0.01 to toast toast
$0.01 to run a computer for an hour

Check out your own energy use here.

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In Defense of Sympathy for Change

One thing I don’t like about “going green” being trendy is the insecurity and coping strategy of “holier than thou”ness that goes along with it.

This article, called “It’s Inconvenient Being Green,” was written in last November’s Time about “eco-anxiety,” apparently diagnosed as an actual mental condition (dubious, but it makes a point).

Living has an impact on the planet, and Americans are famous for having 20 times the impact on the planet than the rest of the world. Driving is part of our culture, shopping bags are part of our culture, and landfills are part of our culture.

We’re figuring out how to change our culture. There will be the unbelievers who will dig in their heels. Most people, though, can be changed with a little persuasion.

In my view, it does not help to accuse. Most cultures on the planet buy things, and consuming “green” has been found to unearth an emotional struggle in a 2007 study performed by the University of Leeds and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Says Dr. William Young, “Consumers find that being green or ethical is a very hard, time consuming, and emotional experience.”

Ironically, shopping at my neighborhood co-op is much more uncomfortable for me than shopping at Cub. I walk to the co-op and bring my own bags, and I bring my soap dispensers to buy soap in bulk… so why do I feel so out of place? Sometimes when I’m at my co-op, I feel like apologizing for breathing air and eating food.

So, this is a plea to fellow environmentalists – be nice. It’s the best way to win people over to your cause.

As the Guardian suggested earlier this year, “green finger-wagging killjoys would be better off directing their efforts at big business.”

So – to end on an optimistic note – keep on living greener. If you are a decision maker at a business, consider suggesting or implementing process changes to pollute less and save more resources. The small stuff adds up, and the more you do, the more you will inspire others. Save the activism for the public sphere, and be gentle to your fellow person.

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