Break Up with Your Utility Companies - or Get Dumped!

Sharon May 7th, 2008

So I spent almost $2000 today - to fill up our oil tank.  We heat primarily with wood, but use oil as a back-up system to keep the pipes from freezing, and occasionally on days when we’re going to be out for an extended period.  Our hot water is also heated with oil.  For whatever reason, most oil heat in the US is in the Northeast, mostly in towns beyond gas lines like mine.  I suspect today’s purchase may well be the last tank of heating oil we ever buy.

Now at our comparatively low rate of use I can expect 400 gallons of oil (at $4.13 gallon) to last us at least three years.  Could we do without it entirely?  Absolutely - but it is a nice cushion - I’m fond of the occasional hot shower, and it means on occasional busy days when we’re out, we don’t have bank the stove for extended periods (and thus create more particulate emissions).  It acts as insurance so that the pipes don’t freeze when we’re away.  And it means my mother doesn’t have to dress up like the Michelin man to sleep in the back bedrooms the stove doesn’t reach when she’s visiting in the winter.  Although at these prices, Mom might have to suck it up, or we’ll move a futon in near the stove.

Since I don’t think oil prices are going down anytime soon, and various sources in the know including OPEC and Goldman-Sachs are predicting $200 barrel oil by the end of this year, this actually doesn’t look like a bad deal.  And as I said, there’s a good chance this is our last tank.

The combination of laying out such a huge sum and Gail the Actuary’s latest article on the frailties of the electric grid got me thinking more about an article I wrote a couple of years ago.  In “It isn’t Gridcrash that Makes the Lights Go Out.”  In it, I argued that most of us should prepare for life without electricity, not because of a fear of the loss of the grid  (although certainly that’s a possibility as Gail point out) but because of a real likelihood that we may not be able to afford the electric bill.  Unfortunately, I think this prediction is more true now than it was when I wrote the original essay.

Looking at my 2K oil bill, I can forsee what is going to happen to large numbers of my neighbors around their oil and gas bills.  It started this winter.  Around here, the minimum oil deliveries are 100-125 gallons - it isn’t worth their while to haul out the truck to give you 25 gallons.  But as 100 gallons starts to cost 300 or 350 dollars, it becomes less and less likely that low income families can come up with that amount, much less fill a large oil tank. 

And most of them don’t see a tank lasting 2 years - the average American household in my region (where our record low is -30) uses almost 600 gallons a year.  By fall, if oil prices continue to rise (and there’s no evidence whatsoever that demand will fall, and a good bit of evidence that producers can’t produce more), which seems extremely likely, heating oil is likely to rise to between $5 and $6 per gallon.  That would make even a bridge delivery of 100 gallons cost much of the monthly paycheck for a working class family.  Hell, it would pretty much all of our discretionary income.  And since most families use about $100 a month, that’s going to be a big deal.  Already, 16% of all Americans plan to use their tax rebates to pay utility bills.  Stephen B. reports over at ROE2 that 10% of all National Grid customers are presently more than 3 months behind on electric bills, and natural gas is in similar shape.

What that means is that the 8% of Americans who heat with oil are likely to be casting around for options to allow them to both eat and keep tolerably warm.  That probably means electric space heaters and wood heat.  But with wood up at $250 a cord or more in many areas, electric prices rising steadily as well, and capacity tight, tens of thousands of new high demand electric heaters are likely to present problems - both for the private users and for the electric infrastructure as a whole.   As Gail Tverberg’s article suggests, particularly in areas like the Northeast corridor where the grid is already vulnerable, the addition of these loads may represent a real threat to grid stability.  Any modernization or added capacity will likely bring prices higher.

The cost of natural gas has also risen over the last few years, with mild winters helping to keep this from entering a crisis situation.  But North American gas is already past its peak according to Julian Darley, author of _High Noon for Natural Gas_, and over the coming years, there are likely to be sharp price rises and competition with Canadians, who, not unreasonably, would like to use their gas for home heating too.   Trade requirements now have Canada selling most of its natural gas to the US - but one cold winter in which Canadian needs can’t be met is likely to lead to a change in that situation - and if Americans have to rely on their own natural gas, prices will be vastly higher and supply much lower.  It is also worth noting the vast rise in proposed new natural gas electric generating plants - we are building our electric capacity based on gas supplies that aren’t terribly secure.

Meanwhile, as people turn to other utilities, replacing their oil bills with natural gas or electric bills, the number of people who are struggle to get by is set to rise for a whole host of reasons - higher food prices, rising unemployment, the stripping of benefits from jobs, rising medical costs for aging baby boomers - the whole shebang. And that means less ability to pay new bills.  And that means indebtedness to utility companies.  And that means shut offs.  This is likely to be especially acute in cold climate areas, but the American South uses more energy than the North does, and is generally poorer, so this is pretty much an equal opportunity problem, with different periods of seasonal crisis.

Getting shut off is easy.  Getting put back on is hard - there are hefty fees from your utility company.  Some places charge interest on overdue accounts.   There are a whole host of ways that once you are in the hole, it is very, very hard to climb out.  Many of us will get into the hole, and some will come out, while others will be stuck there.

 What we are seeing is the beginning of the end of many American’s relationship to public utilities.  As the costs of food and gasoline rise, and as benefits disappear and medical costs overwhelm many families, people are about to come hard against the costs of their fossil fueled lifestyle.  At first, this will be the poor, as is already happening - I’ve reported on the “Heat or Eat” crisis several times.  But it isn’t just heat - that’s just one canary in the coalmine.  The thing is, people struggling to get by tend to pay their bills in rotation, trying never to get far enough behind on any one bill to have a crisis.  But that kind of juggling is often disrupted - unforseen expenses always arise -  and often there’s a cascade effect, since all the bills are growingly large and somewhat overdue…  It doesn’t take much to lose heat and power and gas.

If you listen to the news reports, it sounds as though the economy is stabilizing, like we’re near the bottom.  Don’t worry, we’re told.  But it is worth noting that almost everything that we’re seeing now represents, at one level or another, the selling off of things that have in the past had value, often at very low prices.  Last year, I suggested that the new economy was going to based on bottom feeding - scavenging off the leavings of our prior wealth. I see nothing in the news reports that suggests I was wrong - both the highest levels of finance and the lowest are showing the same things - the repackaging of increasingly worthless assets for sale at pennies on the dollar.   There are already reports coming in of people stripping their attics of prized possessions and selling off anything they have, just to pay for basic bills.  Pawnshops are doing a booming business. It seems mostly as though the economy is staggering along, but whether you are repackaging worthless commercial assets, worthless luxury vehicles or worthless tvs, they all add up to…worthless in the most literal sense.  The days of keeping the bills paid this way are numbered.  The days of home equity loans are pretty much over, as almost half of recent homebuyers now have no or negative equity.  There’s simply nothing left - and when there’s nothing left and the money doesn’t meet the end of the month, off go the lights, and the heat, and the gas.

For now, it is mostly the working poor leading the way.  But it won’t stay that way. Most Americans live beyond their means - statistically, we spend about 5% more than we make.  Middle class Americans aren’t going to be able to eat the food bill, the heating bill, the electric bill, the mortage that isn’t worth much… something will have to give.  Fuel subsidy programs are already stretched - and a winter’s worth of fuel subsidies available to any household out here is good for about 3 weeks of heating at these prices.  Many of us are about to face the reality that we’re not that middle class.

What gives will be different for different people.  Some people will leave their homes, and some will consolidate, moving in with family.  Lots of people will skip meals - and their kids will go hungry to school.  And many will lose the utilities and attempt to compensate - they’ll spend more eating out, because there’s no gas to cook with on the stove, or eat only microwave meals, or things in bags and cold cans of food.  A few will get desperate enough to do things like bring in the charcoal grill and asphyxiate themselves.  The same goes for heat and light - people will cobble together bad solutions, and some people’s solutions will be bad enough that they do real harm - to themselves, of course, but it won’t be limited to themselves.  The fires in urban rentals won’t just destroy the homes of the cold and hungry, but their neighbors too.  And the costs of dealing with disaster after disaster will eat up city budgets - there’s no such thing as a crisis without unintended consequences.

As more and more of us can’t afford our relationship with our utility companies, we’re going to break up like we’re on a bad date.  And since there’s no money in the budget for the mass reinsulation of 90 million homes, or the subsidizing of fuel and electricity on the scale that Americans use it, we have two choices.  We can break up with our utility companies only when we’re massively indebted and when we’ve already sacrificed dinner and home and other security to try and keep the lights on and the heat running, or we can do it wisely, and break up before the crisis gets acute.

That means adapting our homes to live without them.  It isn’t easy - but for the 2000 bucks I spent on oil, many people could get the basic framework of non-electric living in place.  And we could subsidize these things just as we subsidize solar or wind power - instead of giving people tax breaks for buying pv panels, we could give them tax breaks for buying things to enable them to live without them.  Because while PV is great, it is demonstrably far too expensive for anyone struggling to pay their utility bills - and a lot of people who aren’t. 

$2000 will get you a wood, corn or pellet stove, two solar powered battery chargers and batteries for flashlights and table lamps, and for your CD player or ipod.  It’ll get you cardboard and tinfoil enough to make a solar oven for warm weather, and  you can put stew on the back of the stove in winter.  Depending on the size of your house and your needs, you might have enough left over for long johns, or a couple of personal battery powered fans.  It isn’t ideal, but you’ll have light, heat and food.

Another $40 will get you a tiny washer that you can do easily by hand, but a bucket and plunger will do.  If you don’t have water, you’ll need money for a well pump, a cistern, lots of rain barrels or some other water solution - and this will probably cost more.  But maybe if money is tight you can work on making the water solution collective - most places around the world have central water, and everyone walks over, chats at the well, and carries their jugs back. 

Is $2000 out of the question?  Well, how about $300 in long johns, battery chargers, down comforters and a few small electric appliances - a tiny efficient space heater to take the edge off of the room you are in and a microwave to ensure copious hot tea?  You can live without heating or cooling - no one has to freeze or die of heat stroke.   The simple fact is that we’re not going to be able to afford even these preparations once we get further and further in debt to the purveyors of fossil fuels - the abrupt transfer to the low energy lifestyle, without any preparation, is what I’d like to see everyone avoid.

The grid may or may not be there.  There may or may not be imported heating oil, or Canadian natural gas coming through your pipes.  Your utilities company may or may not still be in business.  But what is almost certain is that the present trajectory means that more and more of us are going to have to reconsider our usage - and many of us aren’t going to be using any at all.   

 Sharon

26 Responses to “Break Up with Your Utility Companies - or Get Dumped!”

  1. Green Assassin Brigadeon 07 May 2008 at 5:32 pm

    From a Canadian perspective most people are just catching on to the notion that through NAFTA we are obligated to sell the majority of our energy to the U.S. All it will take is one shortage and the screams will be heard in DC the unfortunate part is we can’t cut the U.S. off because our pipelines go into the U.S around lake Michigan and back into Canada and in a shortage we can’t trust the U.S. not to just take what they need from the pipe.

    Clinton and Obama were stupid to mention renegotiating NAFTA because you have much more to lose than we do, who cares about the auto industry and lumber when a depression and the end of car culture will destroy these industries regardless.

    In the end neither of us will prepared for the sudden change in energy availability and even if a national effort took place how many heat pumps, PVs, Solar water heaters could be built in only a year or two?

    As you say $2000 does not get you much but you might swing one of these
    http://www.yoursolarhome.com/solarsheat1500G.html

    $2000 would only be a down payment for solar water.

    A small house and a lot of labour might allow you to add straw bails and plaster to the outside of the house. While you are building add a built in solar oven facing south/southwest

    in two story houses a couple extra doors a reworking of the forced air plumbing, some water shut off valves and blown insulation could give you a convertable 2 story house. This would be more than $2k but might allow you to keep the heat on in during the cramped winter season.

    Most of these fixes won’t work for everybody, some will buy stoves, not tend them properly and broken pipes will destroy their homes. Other people will over stoke and burn their homes, I’ve seen a nearly see through red hot stove pipe, scared the crap out of me and I had to ban a friend from tending the fire.

    I see small, crowded, cold, multi generational homes as our future norm, we will dismatle McMansions for metals and fuel.

    Man reality makes me want to drink!

  2. Shambaon 07 May 2008 at 6:49 pm

    Sobering thoughts but necessary I think. My local utility, SRP in Phoenix metro area is restructuring their price levels this year. they used to divid the year into 2 parts, May-October, and November -April. Highest rates here were in the long, hot season.
    this year they’re going to dividi the year into 2 heating/colling seasons: May, June, September, october is one season; July and August will be the highest rate and hottest season; November-April will stay as winter/least costly season.

    I’ve got my bill averaged over the year and actuallly SRP has lower rates than the other local utility, APS.

  3. kateon 07 May 2008 at 6:59 pm

    I think I could live without heating and cooling. I am accustomed to the cold in Northeast NY. The issue I can’t figure out is how to stop water from freezing, not stopping me from freezing!

    I have a tiny camp in Vermont and got a chance to do many of the things you wrote about. No use of the fridge or furnace or plumbing. Used a composting toilet. Used the microwave for tea. The library invited me to charge my laptop battery there! But I brought water; it had been shut off in October when the temperature dropped. I was surprised how much water I needed, for tea, for my dog, for washing my hands, etc, and I rationed it.

    I enjoy your blog and all the material to think about!

    kate

  4. aleciaon 07 May 2008 at 7:26 pm

    Shamba, I am in Phoenix too- and I was just opening my SRP bill as I was reading your comment! I did not know about the new schedule- good to know! I too have noticed that SRP is (considerably) cheaper than APS as well.

    Luckily, we only REALLY need A/C for 3 months of the year, the rest is easy as pie. If it weren’t for water availability and family, I would likely stay here permanently. Unfortunetly, I will be moving back to the Midwest next year…..

  5. nicoleon 07 May 2008 at 9:10 pm

    Yeah - the heat thing worries me.

    We looked into having a wood burning stove installed but because we don’t already have a chimney the install costs for the stove would have to include building a new chimney. I don’t remember what the price was, but it was enough to make me choke (really, really choke).

    We got lucky with relatively mild winters the last few here in NJ, but it was still cold enough to have to run the furnace for 5 months. We keep the house temp low (55 night/65day — I know, probably balmy for some of you! — baby steps…) and wear lots of layers. I’m thinking about making insulated drapes for our many windows. But aside from those, wearing even more clothes, drinking more hot tea and cuddling under even more blankets, I’m out of ideas. But mostly, ultimately, I’m concerned about keeping the pipes warm enough so that they don’t burst.

    Ah, the new reality is truly going to be challenging (though on the positive side, the arrival of spring will truly be a blessing to celebrate).

    -nicole

  6. Texicalion 07 May 2008 at 10:10 pm

    The post reminds me of a story I heard at church not too long ago. The group I was with was mostly seniors, persons who had lived during the Depression. Somehow we got on the subject of the Depression and they told about how the utility had set up a system whereby when you were behind on your bill, you (the male of the family) went to work on the dam they were building. You only worked long enough to pay down your bill, and then the job went to someone else who was behind on their bill, and you went back to being unemployed. It was a way of getting the dam built, and to keep the power on.

    We have found that living without ac is a blessing. We live in Sacramento California, so it gets plenty hot. But when you have an air conditioned home it is hard to get out and work the garden, or do much of anything during the summer. Without ac you just go find a bit of shade to work in because by 4pm it is just as hot inside as out.

  7. alyclepalon 07 May 2008 at 10:44 pm

    As of this weekend $2000 would get us a used to very small new woodstove and it’s installation but not much else. We have no fireplace so it’s going to be entertaining to get one. We’re going to start picking up wood where ever we see it and gleen from friend’s farms over the summer. I made a veg. oil lamp from twine, a glass sauce bottle, and some spare electric fence wire and have found that it lasts MUCH longer then tealights—the idea being to learn to use nonelectric options at night. 2 inches of water and one of oil and it’s been lit for 3 to 4 hours every night for about 5days now. Trying out little things now so when the crunch comes we’ll hopefully have a clue. We have used a simple solar panel/inverter/battery for our yurt while camping but I’m a bit clueless in looking for systems for the house as backup. Any suggestions on something that comes as a kit and how to figure out what you need (if you’re not an engineer?)?

  8. Heather Grayon 07 May 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Hey Sharon,

    Bad link attached to this phrase ” selling off anything they have, just to pay for basic bills” — or at least I couldn’t get to the article.

    The rest seem to be fine!

    Thx,
    H

  9. Michelleon 07 May 2008 at 11:23 pm

    My electric bills have gone down recently.
    My attention to detail is finally rubbing off
    on my family. We’re looking at installing
    a metal roof OVER our shingle roof.
    According to The Carbon Free Home, this
    should lower the temp in the attic by 50
    degrees. Hubby scored sme free insulation
    recently. Yeah.

  10. Ameliaon 08 May 2008 at 12:34 am

    Because the Wasatch Front made the Top Ten List for cities with poor air quality again last year, the ONLY wood stove anyone in the Valley could legally install would be something like a RAIS, and they start at $4000 — that’s just for the stove — and still couldn’t be used on red air quality days without Hell’s own fines. As matters worsen, the city might not be able to stay on top of enforcement, but as all three of us have asthma if things reach that point we’ll be leaving town.

  11. Stephen B.on 08 May 2008 at 7:42 am

    According to today’s Boston Globe, heating oil dealers are going out of business already from absorbing the bad debt of customers who cannot pay:
    http://tinyurl.com/58fwnl

    So even if you have the $ to pay for oil, your choice of dealers is going to go down, credit terms may be unworkable, or oil may well turn out to be cash only.

    Stephen B.
    suburban MA

  12. Fle in Nashvilleon 08 May 2008 at 7:42 am

    Insulated window coverings of some type are a great way to go. I purchased the materials to make a type of quilted shade. At this time I have only done one room in the house, but what a difference it made. This room went from being the coldest in winter to the warmest, so far the covering is keeping the room cooler for summer. Yes summer has started down; I have neighbors running the ac fulltime already.
    In past years my husband thought of my sewing & gardening as “just” hobbies, not anymore, he is even helping with the major digging to expand the garden and is willing to let me take over a bigger area for sewing. Currently I have a day job and will keep it as long as I can, but that could be next month or next year.
    Thanks Sharon for helping me remember that being practial keeps from me from being depressed!

  13. Cathyon 08 May 2008 at 8:55 am

    What puzzles me about wood or pellet stoves is how you manage them if you are away at work during the day? How long will they burn? I’m gone from 8 am until 6 pm. Is this a viable option for me?

  14. Green Assassin Brigadeon 08 May 2008 at 9:12 am

    Internal insulated shutters are also a good insulation fix that can double as added home security. I hope to have moved before gas shortages make winter a big issue, if I can’t move I’m screwd. For now I’m frugal with the heat and have a very small house so I don’t expect to be priced out of the market too soon.

    I ended up adding AC because of grouchy babies who would not sleep, I was not pleased.

    I also found I had too much glass facing west (nearly 200 sq ft)and the AC could not keep up in the late afternoon sun, my main living area jumped from my normal 26 degrees C (that’s 80ish for you merikans) to a nasty ass 35 (95+). Since my wife has vision issues and hates a dark room, she does not pull the blinds like I plead. In response I built a Pergola across the facing of the house and added cheap Ikea reed blinds.

    The end result gave me a nice rustic looking awning that blocked about 80% of the direct light but did not darken the room, gave me nice structure to plant vining beans and things on , and took a great deal of the late afternoon burden off the AC. Total cost about 600 dollars, a sun burn, a case of beer and a sore back from digging post holes in clay.

    I found I had less AC days last summer despite some near record heat waves. Now I just need to figure out something for awnings on the second floor.

  15. wasteweardailyon 08 May 2008 at 11:39 am

    We decided to use our Bush tax rebate to help afford a solar water heater. It is being installed today. For the past 3 years we have been using hoses on the roof for our shower and laundry needs. My dad thinks it will not pay for itself over time since we use so little water, but I don’t think I will trust that.
    For cheap ideas to make your own solar water heater check out
    http://www.builditsolar.com/

    Cindy in FL

  16. Veganon 08 May 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Most people would abandon their homes in South Florida if there was no grid. Air conditioning, especially central air conditioning, must run with electricity.

    We built our 980 sq. ft. house in 1993 with excellent insulation and no air conditioning. However, after the heat spell of 1998 when I experienced heat exhaustion, we installed a room air-conditioner. BTW, I grew up in the 1960s in South FL with no air conditioning or fan. Definitely, it was not so hot then.

    The heat is too intense in South FL. It has inreasingly gotten worse during the last 10 years. Don’t believe the metereologists when they say it’ll be 88 F degrees for a high in Fort Myers, for instance. I assume temperatures are normally measured in shady areas on the coast. Or are they outright lying or “cooking the books” because of tourism? I live 20 miles inland and this morning we had 106 F in the garden area. In the shade it’s 99 F now at 2:06 p.m.

    The heat is so intense that moisture from the soil readily dissipates. One has to irrigate constantly or plants wilt in a matter of a couple of hours because of ambient temperatures. It’s very difficult to farm organically in this area with its sandy soils, multiplicity of bugs and high temperatures. I know climate change will transform this area into scrub and desert. The native Slash Pines are dying. It’s so sad to witness this. I water the younger native trees or they die from the drought and 100 plus degrees. I know I’m “wasting” water, but it’s so sad to witness their death if I don’t water them. My efforts are futile.

    In Cuba, gardens are shaded and they do o.k. However, South Florida is a swamp and it is hotter than Cuba (an island with higher elevations). Additionally, Cuba’s clay soils retain nutrients or organic matter and Cuban scientists work diligently to invent natural pesticides to combat the ever present bugs.

    My family and I are looking forward (with mixed feelings, of course) to relocating from this area — my husband’s birthplace.

    ~Vegan

  17. lydiaon 08 May 2008 at 1:43 pm

    First of all private utilities are almost always going to charge more than public. We used to have a public company for gas, then it was sold and guess what? The price of gas went up! And the service went down. Not always, but often private means rip the customer.

    I have a small energy efficient wood stove, with electric space heaters for back up. I burn scrap wood which I pick up on curb sides, fruit tree prunings, etc. There is always pallets when in a pinch. The truth is, regardless of the air pollution humans are going to stay warm when cold. Period. Making laws to curb the burning of fireplaces and such will eventually have to be re thought out. Or people will freeze to death.
    For the first time ever I purchased several pair of long johns at my local thrift store. Lots of extra comforters and I use a small heating pad on the really cold nights.

    My public city electric company has had an insulation program with new windows and blown in insulation for it’s older homes which is good, but they still charge a monthly fee for just the privilege of being hooked up-no matter how much you use! So, even when it’s zero, if you have them, you pay!

    Rates got too high, so they broke up the fees, called them something else and transferred the charges!

    Then they started charging for “surface water”, which is supposed to be run off from house roofs, however they still charge it even on vacant lots! This was never a cost for over 15 years, but now everyone pays it.

    The whole point being I guess is that no matter what you do, they are going to think up a way to collect your money for their own survival.

    I have rain barrels hooked up to the gutters for my garden. I use scrap bubble wrap for the windows in the winter, makes great insulation. Inside shutters are a great idea as well. Candles will heat up a small room as well, but dangerous while sleeping. Also the cost is more if used all the time than a heater. When I re-roofed I had a black one put on to hold more heat. In the summer, I turn off the breaker that goes to my hot water heater. The hot water lasts a couple or three days. Then I turn it back on and heat up the water for another 2 or 3 days. That has saved quite a bit on the bill just doing that. A hot water heater always on and cycling is a high energy user. Very inefficient.

  18. Jadeon 08 May 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Lydia-

    Did I read you correctly? Your utility company is charging you for rain?

  19. Rosaon 08 May 2008 at 6:55 pm

    lydia, Jade - our city utilities charge by the impermeable square foot for rain. It is a new charge - they used to charge sewer improvements to new construction, but decades of underfunding are taking their toll.

    The rain runoff from pavement and buildings (and turf grass, too) overflows the storm sewers. Sometimes our major streets look like shallow rivers in the spring.

    Also, when the storm sewers overflow, old sewage outflows that have still not been rebuilt dump raw wastewater into the Mississippi river. These are the “combined sewers” which were still allowed until the early ’80s - you can find a list of several cities which have them on the EPA web site, I think.

    Many small cities are in dire need of new storm sewers and water treatment plants because they have outgrown their old systems with no way to pay for an expansion. The federal government doles out money for some of these projects - it’s one of the uses of earmarks for rural-state Senators in the Midwest. And of course cities that don’t expect to flood often build their sewage treatment plants on the cheap lowland - in my hometown there was a flood that wiped out a sewage treatment plant (wiped downstream, I should say) about five years ago, and the great Mississippi floods of 1992 put sewage plants in Ames and Des Moines under water.

    So you’re paying that fee for everyone downstream of you.

  20. Green Hill Farmon 08 May 2008 at 7:14 pm

    As you say $2000 does not get you much but you might swing one of these
    http://www.yoursolarhome.com/solarsheat1500G.html

    You can make one:

    http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/SpaceHeating/mssungrabber.htm

    We have an uninstalled wood furnace (central wood powered heat) an inside one not one of those outside ones. Dh keeps saying he’s going to get it reinstalled I have been bugging him but I think the idea of $5 gallon heating oil may get him going :). We do have a wood stove in our basement that does a good job taking of the edge in winter. We keep the thermostat quite low but due to some south facing windows on sunny days with the wood stove its quite nice.

    Beth

  21. Sueon 08 May 2008 at 8:39 pm

    We had to buy a new septic pump with our rebate.

    We have supplimented our heat with wood for about 4 years now and brought our
    electric bill down.

    I believe we could do without, but it wouldn’t be pretty. The dang ash gets
    everywhere and I feel like cinderella.

  22. Tinaon 08 May 2008 at 8:46 pm

    We are looking to buy a pellet furnace and a pellet stove by Fall. I am concerned about water and sewer though in our area. Our mayor wants to lease our water and sewer to a private company and use the money to send urban kids to the local University. Sounds like a great idea. However, privatization almost always means a rate hike and less control on our part. Luckily we have a petition drive going to put it on the ballot.

    Thanks for continuing to prompt us to make the changes now Sharon.

  23. […] resale value of cars, and making them better, then there was a blogpiece at the grist blog about getting off the grid for heat. a really good blogpiece with a ton of good comments and some troubling aspects. By fall, if oil […]

  24. Gailon 12 May 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Sharone, I had a similar experience when I got the bill for the topping off of my 500-gallon propane tank. With that delivery, I have spent $2500 for a 4-month heating season, and 12-month use of a propane stove. And this is for a house that I am in only three days a week, with the thermostat turned down to 50 when I’m not there and 62 - 65 when I am there.

    My initial reaction to the tank-topping-off was to think, “Hey, I was thinking about getting RID of this propane tank–so why did you top me off now?”

    My second reaction was to realize that I don’t yet have another winter heat source in place, and perhaps I can do what you are doing: make the fuel (that I’ve already paid for) last as long as possible. But I do intend for this to be my last fill-up of propane.

    Part of the problem was that when 271 gallons were delivered in January, the cost per gallon was $3.71 (!!!). The April price was $2.99/gallon.

    So now I am researching every space heating option I can think of. I won’t need heating until mid-November, so I have until then to come up with a better solution.

  25. Gailon 12 May 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Please excuse my typo; I thought I had typed your name correctly as “Sharon.”

  26. Trishon 24 May 2008 at 11:07 pm

    very thought provoking. We are fortunate in Australia most are still public utilities but they still are in the process of selling off power.

    We also have fairly even temperatures and mostly our pipes don’t freeze.

    very scary for some people who can’t afford heating for just the basics.

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