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Power The Almighty Buck

Cutting the Cost of Household Bills? 370

Posted by Cliff
from the stretch-that-budget dept.
schlumpf_louise asks: "I'm in the UK, and I'm about to move out of university accommodation and live in a house, for the first time. When we move, we will have to pay for water, electricity and gas. We'll still be students renting from a landlord, so we can't make any major physical changes to the property. The house has gas central heating and a gas cooker. Four computers will be running pretty much all the time, in addition to the usual general household appliances. What tips do any of you have for (legally) saving on bills? Are there any technologies that are worth buying for long term savings? What should we not do, or not use?" What other saving tips, and frugal suggestions might you have for a house full of college students?
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Cutting the Cost of Household Bills?

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  • by orin (113079) on Monday February 06, 2006 @11:53PM (#14657470)
    It is the four computers running all the time that will cost you a significant amount of money. What you should all do is work out when your computers actually need to be running. Although its nice to sit down and instantly start working, or to check your email when you are up at 3am going to the loo, if you are pinching pennies you'll notice that even over the course of a month, shutting down computers when they aren't doing anything will save you a significant number of pounds. Chances are as students you'll be spending a lot of time away from the house anyway at the pub, classes, the pub again, the local curry place, the pub. If you add that to your sleep routine you'll probably find that the number of hours each week that you actually need your computers is only a small fraction of the 168 that they will be on. Set your automated tasks to occur when you are eating dinner or watching the TV rather than having your computer on at 3am just to backup and download updates. Is having a great distributed computing score worth the price of several meals each month? Also consider. If you all already have mobile phones, do you really need a landline?
    • by tepples (727027) <tepples AT gmail DOT com> on Monday February 06, 2006 @11:57PM (#14657506) Homepage Journal

      If you all already have mobile phones, do you really need a landline?

      If you don't have landline voice service, you can't get dial-up. If the local telco is unwilling to unbundle the local loop, and you don't have landline voice service, you can't get DSL. If you don't watch a lot of TV, and the local cable company is unwilling to sell Internet access to those who aren't cable TV customers, then you can't get cable Internet access. So yes, you may need to keep landline voice service or give up Internet access altogether.

      • Not if your neighbor has a wireless hub ;)

        -Rick
      • Living in a house with myself and two other Computer Science majors, we don't have a landline phone or cable TV (or any TVs for that matter...), but we do have excellent cable Internet, the cable company didn't have any problems letting us have it either.
      • If you don't watch a lot of TV, and the local cable company is unwilling to sell Internet access to those who aren't cable TV customers, then you can't get cable Internet access.

        if this happens you better ask for the rep's boss on the other end of the line because they will sell you just road runner and no tv. Many cable companies try to bully people into signing up for cable tv along with their roadrunner, but you don't have to have both. If it was actual policy to have buy both time warner would be in

    • Instead of using some kind of monster 500+ watt system, you could get a laptop or an Epia or a Mac Mini or this AMD Geode-based desktop* [outpost.com] or some other low-power system. Even underclocking and using power management on your current PC can help, too, and switching from CRT to LCD monitor helps a lot.

      *which, by the way, is cheaper (~$200) at my local Fry's for some reason
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:13AM (#14657578)
      Do your computers always need to be on?

      You must be new here.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:15AM (#14657584)
      What you should all do is work out when your computers actually need to be running.

      Leaking appliances is certainly something to consider. Unfortunately you're stuck with countless bad decisions by your landlord, including inefficient appliances, lousy insulation, poor choices in heating/cooling systems, etc. For those that aren't subjected to a landlord's provisions and can call their own shots, I'd suggest a few options we've learned:

      • Check with your electric utility for peak-demand control options: Ours has a wireless (440 MHz type frequency) way to shut off our water heater and other electrical appliances briefly during peak demand when it is experienced, saving them lots of money. By using this plan, we get a $0.06/kw hour rate vs $0.09.
      • Insulate like heck. Wish I would have learned this trick earlier on. Yes, there's a cost/benefit ratio, but I've yet to meet a rational insulating project that didn't pay back within 1-2 years (or earlier).
      • Vent heat: Got an attic? How well do you get rid of heat? Our last house actually had all the heat bottled up in the attic because the previous owner/bozo thought sealing all the vents was a good thing. Active fans based on attic temp are good things in extreme cases and are cheap to buy and install.
      • Blue-flame heaters. Live in a home older than 30-40 yrs? You probably have enough air exchange to use a blue flame heater, which is 100% efficient. Screw the old furnace or even the new 93% unit, blue flame is 100% efficient and uses no electricity! We got one after a week-long ice storm and discovered it lowered our total natural gas bill by 40%.
      • Get rid of incandescents! They generate waste heat like hell and are expensive to run. Go flourescent as much as you can. We switched out our outdoor lights too (including former mercury bulb yard lights) with this and have seen a noticable drop in electric rates.
      • Design for low cost: Things that must be left on must be cheap: That's my rule. Rather than keep all my systems running, I have a low draw laptop that's hooked up to a flat-screen (tested to make sure it doesn't suck power when off). I like to leave a few lights on when we're not here - they're all converted to flourescent. Anything that has to be left on must be cheap.


      • 100%. Really. Do tell.
      • Blue-flame heaters. Live in a home older than 30-40 yrs? You probably have enough air exchange to use a blue flame heater, which is 100% efficient. Screw the old furnace or even the new 93% unit, blue flame is 100% efficient and uses no electricity! We got one after a week-long ice storm and discovered it lowered our total natural gas bill by 40%.

        Ventless heaters, while efficient, also cause moisture problems. Moisture problems cause mold and destruction. Mold causes health problems. If you're going to u
      • Vent heat

        They're in the UK - that'll never be a problem ;)
      • by pestie (141370) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @08:42AM (#14659180) Homepage
        Get rid of incandescents! They generate waste heat like hell and are expensive to run. Go flourescent as much as you can. We switched out our outdoor lights too (including former mercury bulb yard lights) with this and have seen a noticable drop in electric rates.

        Mercury vapor and (high-pressure sodium and metal halide lights, too) are more efficient than flourescent! The only reason they're not used for indoor residential lighting is because the spectrum is nowhere near that of sunlight. Flourescent lighting is the most efficient type of lighting that also produces a reasonable spectrum. But for sheer photons-per-watt efficiency, HPS, MH and mercury vapor all beat flourescent.
    • I keep my computers running in the winter. It's free. If I don't run the computers, the electric heat runs more often. Rather get some use out of that energy other than heating up a hunk of ceramic.

      This working out when the computers ought to be on sounds like a lot of flailing around being overly proactive. Easier to do stuff like replace incandescent bulbs with fluorescent substitutes, buy LCD monitors instead of CRTs, and things of that sort that only have to be done once.

      One apartment I once ren

    • Why is the first post suggesting computers as a way of powersaving? For gods sake, look at things that use the most power first.

      I mean, if you're looking at things that use power, don't use driers. Heaters/Aircon, etc will use a heap more power than your computers do (assuming you've nothing out of the ordinary for casual uni students).

      Use off peak power if you've got an electronic hot water system, etc etc.

      Trying to save a few bucks on computer power when you're spending hundreds on heating is silly.

      Hope
      • They mentioned that they had gas central heating and a gas stove. Most uni students can't afford a drier. These are probably both out. I run four computers in my home lab, central gas heating and a gas stove. I live in a 3 bedroom house with my wife and son. My quarterly gas bill is almost 1/10th of my quarterly electricity bill. Going from "all computers on, all the time" to shutting them down at night and restarting them in the morning (I work from home) saved me more money than my entire quarterly gas a
    • At least one computer needs to be on all the time.

      They need to nominate one of the computers as the "bittorent machine" and do all their filesharing on that. Then the others can be turned off when they are not in use.

    • Going to the PUB 50% less (stay home) will save you more money then any other suggestion here.
  • by dslauson (914147) on Monday February 06, 2006 @11:54PM (#14657489) Journal
    Also, Macaroni and Cheese. Have you considered selling plasma?
    • My brother sold plasma in college. They discovered some strange antibody of some kind in his bloodstream that was desirable for some reason so they started paying him extra to come in... >)

  • Turn off (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Duhavid (677874) on Monday February 06, 2006 @11:54PM (#14657491)
    Turn off any and all electrical devices not in use.

    Pile on the blankets, dont run the heater.
    • Re:Turn off (Score:2, Funny)

      by mctk (840035)
      Yes, turn the heat off. We've done it. And saving on bills hasn't been the only plus! You'll be a lot closer to my friends. No really, you'll be huddled together all of the time. Leaving those nachos out for a few days will no longer be an issue. You'll be so incredibly happy when you get on the bus in the morning and thaw out your toes. You can overclock your computer without having to submerge it in oil. You'll no longer dread spring-cleaning as you long for the thaw. And, of course, you'll get ou
    • Better still, unplug them or cut their power using a powerbar when not in use. The cumulative energy consumption of all the modern electronics and appliances when they're 'off' is about as much as keeping one or two 100W bulbs illuminated all the time.
    • Yep, and if you heat, set limits:

      If temparature in the house below 15C, than heater can be turned on in rooms in use.

      If temparature with heater on 18C it is warm enough, keep temperature like that.

      Ofcourse no heater on at night or when you are not at home, and my place its gasbill was 75% lower than the 21C everywhere in the 2 room with kitchen appartment people.

      What also helps is live in an appartment anyway: Your neighbours do keep your place warmer. I had one place which always was a comfortable 21C with
  • by guspasho (941623) on Monday February 06, 2006 @11:55PM (#14657492)
    Only obvious things come to mind. In case they aren't so obvious to you: Use the computers for heat in the winter, try to pipe the heat away in the summer. Wear a sweater. Shower with your girlfriend. Wear your clothes multiple days to save on laundry loads. But of course all these habits you probably picked up in college anyway.
  • by Deffexor (230167) on Monday February 06, 2006 @11:56PM (#14657502)
    Lightbulbs that use Fluorescent tube technology, but screw right into the sockets of regular bulbs.
    - They use ~25% of the power of regular bulbs (for the equivalent light output)
    - They tend to last 5 times longer
    - The electronic balasts of modern CFB don't cause flicker (and thus avoid headaches...)
    - Modern CFBs use better phosphorescents that match the color temperature of typical incandescents.

    The only real downside is that they *are* more expensive than regular bulbs, but the energy (money) you save in the first few months allows it to quickly pay for itself.
    • Home Depot (not sure what the UK equivalent is) has 5 packs for ~$10. A bit more expensive then standard 60watt bulbs, but they put out the same lums as a traditional 60watt bulb at 14watts consumed.

      -Rick
    • by mrchaotica (681592) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:10AM (#14657570)
      You can get 11 watt (equivalent to 60 watt incandescent) ones pretty cheap ($1/bulb in a 3-pack, I think) at Ikea.
      • You can get 11 watt (equivalent to 60 watt incandescent) ones pretty cheap ($1/bulb in a 3-pack, I think) at Ikea.
        I have a bunch of those. They also have the nice property that they come on immediately like an incandescent, instead of the noticeable delay that many flourescents have.
    • The local electric utilities will buy the CF bulbs for you. One will hand them out if you visit their offices. Others offer mail in rebates. There's a limit of something like six per household so people don't turn around and sell them in neighboring communities for profit. I don't know how common this is but the local hardware stores advertise "free" CF lightbulbs all the time so they get their $10 on the deal.
    • You missed the main disadvantage of fluorescent bulbs: the color sucks. The spectrum of fluorescents provides a less aesthetically pleasing light than tungsten lamps. Fluorescents tend to be greenish and cold, tungsten yellow and warm.
      • Dunno about that - here in the UK almost all compact fluorescents give similar coloured light to incadescent. The only time we had "cold" compacts was when we bought some ultra-ultra cheap ones at the local market.

        I'd certainly strongly recommend compact fluorescent bulbs - we've switched 100% to them and had a noticable reduction in our electricity bill.
  • I would second the bit about turn the computers on ONLY when you need them. Wear COATS in the house, and keep the temperature on the furnace so you don't use so much gas. Limit the time in the shower so you keep the water heating bill down.

    All this takes cooperation and discipline!

    Good luck.
    • I would second the bit about turn the computers on ONLY when you need them.

      Doesn't starting and stopping the hard drives cause more wear and tear on the motor and bearings?

      • This is a common misconception. Modern consumer hard drives are designed for lots of starting and stopping. Where you will actually wear them out is leaving them spun up all the time. You'll normally wear a drive out in (a very rough as it depends on manufacturer) two thirds the time using it in a permenatly spun up server type pattern as apposed to the standard start/stop desktop pattern.

        There is a reason server rated hard drives cost more and it's not just because they spin faster.
  • by humuhumunukunukuapu' (678704) on Monday February 06, 2006 @11:59PM (#14657514)
    and every day when you leave. better yet, get an electonic thermostat if you can, and program it. turn out lights when you are not in the room. don't run water needlessly. if you aren't actually using your computer at night (uploading, compiling, serving, whatever), let the computer go to sleep or turn it off.
  • by thefirelane (586885) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:01AM (#14657528)
    In the winter months, they sell a clear plastic sheet you can tape along the rim of the inside windowsill. It is amazingly effective at preventing heat loss. Use that.
  • My Tips: (Score:2, Troll)

    by zerocool^ (112121)

    1.) Keep the computers off. I mean, wtf. I turn mine off when I go to sleep, cause I don't want to hear it. And that's even watercooled and very quiet - I just don't want to hear it. Plus it costs money. Are you even home that often? What's your computer even doing, really? If it's that bad, find an old laptop with a dead battery and make it the apartment server so you can leave it downloading your new Lost episodes or whatever. Need space? USB HDD. Laptops use less power. Also, encourage everyon
    • Re:My Tips: (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:34AM (#14657671)
      Dude, I bought one of those "Kill-a-Watt" power measuring devices. I measured all my CRTs and several LCDs.

      The LCDs do not pay for themselves in a year. Not even if you live somewhere where you have to run the air conditioner year round, and you pay for every watt twice, once to use and once to cool it.

      The max savings you can approach, presuming all the above, is about $25/year. The price difference between a CRT and an LCD is way more than that.

      Remember, just because it's high-tech, doesn't mean it's a good idea !
      • We don't always purchase items to pay for themselves. Using less energy to start with is just a good idea. Look at hybrid car drivers. We drive them not only for great gas mileage, but because it's the right thing to do - smaller environmental foot print, less pollution, etc.

        However - on the kill-a-watt topic, I plugged my entire PC system (monitor, speakers, etc) into it, and realized that even idle, it's using 140-150 watts. While gaming, it jumps up over 200 watts. It's also consuming over 25 watts at id
    • Brit's don't tend to use AC at home. They tend to wear awful short sleeved shirts, shorts, sandles, and optional sun burn. They'll also swelter away, whilst crying out how wonderfully warm the weather is, whilst drinking piping hot tea.

      Quite why - I find the weather horrible, and spend as much time hiding inside in the shade (and the nude), with as many fans going as possible.
  • We'll presume you're savvy enough to enable the various power saving options on your machines (remember to also turn your monitors off completely when not in use) so we'll focus on the other easy item - heating! Crank that thermostat down to the 50's and stock up on blankets and sweaters!
    Turn your hot water heat setting as cool as you are comfortable with. (Experiment a bit so you don't end up shorting the poor SOB who's last into the shower. :)
    Also, since you'v
    • Turn your hot water heat setting as cool as you are comfortable with. (Experiment a bit so you don't end up shorting the poor SOB who's last into the shower. :)

      Actually, that's a pretty interesting idea... Has anyone released a water heater with a thermostat and some way to monitor its status--current reserve, temperature?
  • Save! (Score:4, Funny)

    by pizza_milkshake (580452) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:06AM (#14657550)
    You can save on water and power by not showering regularly.... but I think that's a given.
  • by jlseagull (106472) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:14AM (#14657582) Homepage
    I once was a housemate with a guy that got kicked out of a fraternity for being too drunk and rowdy. He had stolen a 1968 vintage kegerator from a carnival, and the thing sucked like 1200 watts or more, and ran continuously with no thermostat. One day, he came home with a keg of Stroh's that he had bought for $20 on special. He came face to face with the resolution that it would cost him more in electricity to cool the beer with the antique device than it cost to buy the keg.

    Late that night, I found him outside dressed in all black, carrying a trenching shovel and a long extension cord toward our neighbors' house...
  • food (Score:4, Informative)

    by joebebel (923241) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:17AM (#14657592)
    If you have a nice gas cooktop and some cooking skills you can make a lot at home. Uni cafeteria can be a huge money drain if you're eating 3 meals a day. For 4 people, you could probably save 50 pounds a month if everyone chips in and does some food work. Nothing fancy, but stay away from prepackaged food also, it's just as expensive and not healthy either.
    • Or, if you've got any sense, agree to do all the cooking, on the proviso that everyone else does the other cleaning duties, and that they won't get food until everything you need to cook is clean. ;)
  • Learn to cook (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Frumious Wombat (845680) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:18AM (#14657597)
    Frankly, that one will save you more than most of the rest. There are a wide variety of not bad foods that can be made in semi-bulk (so you only have to cook new every couple of days), that can be dressed differently at the table for varied meals. It's how I survived grad school.

    Follow that one by shoping for clothes at the local version of Goodwill, turn down the heat, plug the drafts, and unplug appliances not in use. Consider adding an insulating blanket to your hot water heater, if it's not an instant-on type.

    And, of course, don't do anything that makes holes in walls. Those are pricey to fix and tend to make landlords a bit touchy. The same comment applies to carpets.
  • Build house with. . .

    1. Insulation. Lots and lots of insulation. Insulation is not sexy, but if you make very thick walls, like three feet thick, and spray in the fiberglass-pink, as well as use tin-foil to reflect infared back into the home. . , you can basically heat a home with minimal effort. A wood stove, or a heat from a compost heap set downhill from the house with circulating pipes to carry heat to the floors, etc., plus use of solar heat collection. . . Kill your heating bills. There are lots
    • 3. Solar collectors for power. Get off the grid altogether! Spend $10,000 on good panels, (which can collect even in low-light conditions), and batteries and all the wiring, etc., and you needn't pay another electricity bill ever again.

      For the last 10 years, I've lived in a few different apartments and my electricity bill has not often been above 50, and often below. With that as an average cost, that $10,000 is about 16 years of power. Would that equipment last that long without replacement?

      While I like
      • For the last 10 years, I've lived in a few different apartments and my electricity bill has not often been above 50, and often below.

        Me too, for about 10 years. (Though my power bills, even shared among room-mates, have been higher than that. I think the age of the building figures into the equation.)

        Anyway, if you want to start a family and live in a proper house, those costs suddenly become something to consider. My electricity bill for 2006, barring changes to global energy prices, is going to be abou
  • Seal it up (Score:5, Informative)

    by gerardrj (207690) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:23AM (#14657618) Journal
    Landlords generally want the property to look good and clean to attract tenants, they don't spend a lot of time or energy sealing up a house.
    A few tubes of caulk to seal up small cracks and some stick-on weather stripping for windows and doors will go a long way toward keeping the temperature more stable. Also there are foam gaskets you can put behind the wall plates of switches and sockets to keep drafts out.

    Drapes open on cold days to get in the sun's heat. Closed on warm days to keep it out.

    Showers are a huge point of waste. A few dollars/pounds will get you a shower valve you screw in-line with the shower head. You can then reduce the water flow when you're not actually needing it and then turn it up again to rinse off. Showers generally cost you 3x, incoming water, heating water, waste water charge.

    If you have access to your water heater and the pipes coming from it, add insulation to them. A water heater wrap and some foam tube insulation will keep the water hotter for longer in the tank and the pipes to the shower.

    If you have a smaller shower room, hang your wrinkled clothes in there, it will help remove wrinkles and prevent you turning on the iron (ha ha, I know).

    Keep the fridge full. The more "stuff" in the fridge the more efficient it is. Air heats/cools quickly and escapes readily when the door is opened. Stuff in the fridge will help the temperature come back to cold quickly and reduce run-time. Also, keep the door closed as much as possible. Standing in front of the fridge with the door open searching for something to eat is a tremendous waste.

    Line-dry your clothes indoors instead of machine drying. On a breezy summer day indoors with open windows the evaporation will cool the air; in the winter the humidity will help make the air feel warmer at lower temperatures.

    When cooking, use lower gas settings on the cooker. High-heat spills a lot of heat past the pan in to the air. Medium-low heat will usually get the job done just as well with only a slight increase in pre-heat and cooking time.

    Find, and keep clean the filer for the central heat if it's forced air.

    Try to cook for the entire house at one time instead of each member cooking their own meals. Economies of scale and all; better to heat the kitchen up once for 20 minutes that 4-5 times 10 minutes each.

    Low-cost 1/2 Styrofoam panels can easily be cut to fit in to windows to block out cold nights, or to fit around the outside of a particularly lame fridge.

  • Learn to cook. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pyromage (19360) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:25AM (#14657623) Homepage
    There's lots of good suggestions for other areas, so I'll add the odd one:

    If you haven't already, learn to cook. It's possible eat better, healthier, and cheaper than most of the restaurants you're probably eating at, if you know where to shop and what to make. Be willing to buy in bulk (things often cost half as much). Make a lot of meals based around rice (rice is cheap).

    Just consider this: where I'm at, I can eat filet mignon for the same price as a sandwich from Subway. Now just imagine if you start eating cheap food!

    Also, track your expenses in this area. Only when you know what you're spending can you optimize effectively.

    While you're at it, learn to bake. Cakes impress the girls.
    • Also worth noting that whilst it has hippy overtones, brown rice tastes far nicer than white, and instantly adds a bit more flavour to a meal.
    • Also, check with local green grocers, butchers, fishmongers, etc. rather than super markets. You may be pleasantly surprised by how cheap they are, how much better quality the food is, how much they'll help you (boning, skinning, etc.), if you're lucky they'll weigh after removing fat, plus you'll get as much meat as you want, rather than having to by ill fitting multipacks that don't divide down properly.
  • cooperation (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is the kind of thing that can test friendships.

    Several of these have been mentioned before:

    • Keep the heat down and wear sweaters. Turn down the heat when the house is vacant and when everyone is sleeping (buy blankets rather than gas)
    • Practice zone heating: don't heat rooms that aren't being used
    • Check for drafts around doors, windows, electrical outlets, etc. The landlord would probably approve weatherstripping repairs, or use rags or plastic as nonpermanent seals
    • Unplug tvs, entertainment centers
    • Assuming you've got a washer and dryer, pool your laundry. Don't use the dishwasher. Plan your shower usage. Devise a contract for how many minutes of showering or bathing you will each do every week.

      You forgot the most important thing:

      If its yellow, let it mellow.
      If its brown, flush it down.
  • by Anonymous Cowdog (154277) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:34AM (#14657669) Journal
    Here's what we did:

    * Cancel movie rental subscription (Netflix)
    * Get movies and some books from the library
    * Cancel old unused website costing a monthly fee
    * Scour credit card statements, found another forgotton hosting account, cancelled it
    * Called auto insurance company and raised deductible for collision to $1000
    * Bought a stovetop espresso maker so we don't need to buy good coffee by the cup now
    * Continued living with our old outdated computer monitor
    * No cable, no gaming accounts
    * No alchohol, no drugs, no lottery tickets
    * Pay things on time and avoid late fees
    * Remember if taxes take 50%, you have to earn $2 for each $1 you spend.
    * Stop buying stuff.
    * Get cheaper broadband plan
    * Cancel unused text messaging on wife's cell phone ($5/mo)
    * Cancel unused roaming plan ($5/mo)
    * Cancel unused Canada roaming addon ($3/mo)
    * Cancel unused "nights start at 7PM" addon on cell plan ($5/mo)
    * Ask nicely and get $10/mo unlimited cell data plan, including modem use (Sprint, Treo 650) instead of faster Cingular $40/mo+ plan
    * Refrain from getting car. Get exercise instead.

    Lots of little amounts, and some big ones. They add up.
  • by loraksus (171574) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:42AM (#14657703) Homepage
    This fatwallet thread "Living frugally without hardship" [fatwallet.com] is a great start.
    It is pretty long, but full of valuable information.
  • by cgenman (325138) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @12:43AM (#14657707) Homepage
    Plastic over the windows. You can buy the really good kind or just use big cheap sheets. Either way works. Check the windows first to see if they are double-pane, though.

    Check around the edges of windows, especially in older buildings. Frequently, cracks will form around the edges where you can clearly feel cold leaking in. Get some silicone sealant from the local hardware, and close those holes.

    Put cloth underneath and around any doors that have any space. Taking the doors off and stapling them is ideal, but in a pinch you can use glue or staple the strips to the front and back.

    Compact Flourescent bulbs are a lot more energy efficient than regular ones, and last longer. And if you look around, there have been a few batches at dollar stores recently... can't beat more efficient, longer lasting, and cheaper.

    Turn off your monitors when not in use. This will save as much as shutting off your computer, and is less of a pain in the arse.

    Don't get a house phone. Get high speed 'net access, skype, and use cellphones. But keep the landlines away. While you're at it, halve your costs: go in for high-speed access with the people above or below you, and run your own cable. Just make a no-uploading rule or you'll find your pipe clogged in no time.

    No cable: get utorrent and download shows.

    Avoid even thinking about World of Warcraft.

    Have a parking space you're not using? Sublet it.

    No offence, but don't worry so much about the "legally" part. Everyone assumes you sublet despite what your lease says. Everyone assumes you will do things to change the apartment like paint it. People share network access all the time. It's just built in. If you screw things up, it gives them legal right to sue you, but otherwise it is just business as usual.

    Don't buy any furnature. Wait until the students are moving out, if you can, to pick some up for free. Of course, you'll probably be moving out then too, so I guess that plan works best for the rest of us.

  • A simple electromagnet powered by a household DC converter will stop a mechanical meeter from meetering.

    Too many gause and you will break the meeter. So add wraps to your electromagnet untill it just stops the meeter.

    Then hook the magnet up to a timer (so you will still use some electricity and so the meeter will be running when read).

    Viola you've just cut your utility bills without any of that tiresome conservation etc.

  • LED Flashlight (Score:5, Informative)

    by Graymalkin (13732) * on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @01:13AM (#14657850)
    1. Think about replacing your entertainment appliances with a communal computer. A relatively low power PC hooked up to a decent LCD can play just about any sort of media type you can think of. It is also quite a bit more efficient than a bunch of individual devices in "sleep" mode sucking down 10Wh+. Turn off the sound system for such a computer when it isn't in use and place the system itself in sleep mode or hibernate or what have you when not in use.
    2. Convince your house mates that switching to LCDs in going to save everyone even though they're relatively expensive up front. A 19" CRT sucking down 100W will cost a fortune compared to the operational cost of a good LCD. The less power used means the less heat generated which leads to lower home cooling costs in hotter months.
    3. Turn the thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter. In the summer wear shorts and short sleeve shirts, sweaters and thicker pants in the winter. Grab some cheap solar shades to go on the outsides of south facing windows, they keep a good 70% of solar radiation from entering the window and require next to maintenance. Do what you can to seal up the windows in the winter time to keep cold air out and warm air in. There's lots of thermal seals for windows available that don't require permenant changes to the structure of the windows thus being renter friendly.
    4. Get a Watt meter. It's a little device you plug in between an appliance and the wall that can tell you the device's electrical load. Plug everything into one of these to figure out what is sucking down the most power when on and/or off. Grab some power strips or switch adapters for outlets to keep these power sinks from hiking up your electrical bill. You'd be surprised about how much power is used by appliances that look "off". Kitchens and living rooms are huge power sinks.
    5. Replace incandescent bulbs with CF ones. CF bulbs costs a bit more than incandescents but last quite a bit longer and use a fraction of the power to produce the same amount of light. You don't save up front with CFBs, you save months down the road when the power savings and long life have paid for the bulb several times over. CFBs are also getting cheaper so price is even less of an issue than it was just a few years ago. Make sure people in the house get into the habit of turning off lights in unoccupied rooms.
    6. Look into replacing a digital alarm clock with your cell phone. My cell wakes me up in the morning and has a clock that is always set. It works properly after an overnight power outtage.
    7. Cook for everyone at once and pick up some heat trapping storage bags (the sort used for camping and picnics) to keep food warm for latecomers. Try not to cook too much or else you're going to need to store that extra food for later...
    8. Get a small refrigerator and shop for only one or two days worth of meals. A smaller fridge is going to save on your electrical bill. Shopping on a smaller scale is a little less convenient than bulk shopping but can be done by a single person on the way home from work/school more easily than bulk shopping. It also means you tend to have fresher food and don't buy things you forget about that then go bad wasting the money.
    9. Agree on a beer everyone enjoys and buy kegs or mini kegs rather than cases with bottles. Kegs are cheaper than cases and can be reused.
    10. Recycle. I don't know about the UK but overhere in the Estats Unidos you can get a few bucks from every few pounds of aluminum and glass you recycle. This is nice after BYOB parties as you get a bunch of free change just by cleaning up and heading to a recycling center.
    11. Carpool and/or ride a bike. If you're not too far from work or school ride a bike. You save on gas and have better parking options. A good bike will make for a comfortable ride and you'll stay in shape even drinking a college portion of beer.
    12. Team up with your neighbors about high speed internet access. Split the bill between the households and share the bandw
    • Get a small refrigerator and shop for only one or two days worth of meals. A smaller fridge is going to save on your electrical bill.

      Actually, the small "dorm" refrigerators are so horribly built that they use about as much electricity as a normal sized fridge. The thing that will make a difference, though, is having a new fridge versus an older one. Same goes for old A/C units, don't bother with those.
    • Re:LED Flashlight (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SagSaw (219314) <slashdot@mmoFORTRANss.org minus language> on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @08:50AM (#14659219)
      Convince your house mates that switching to LCDs in going to save everyone even though they're relatively expensive up front. A 19" CRT sucking down 100W will cost a fortune compared to the operational cost of a good LCD. The less power used means the less heat generated which leads to lower home cooling costs in hotter months.

      I don't know about that. A LCD of similar size and resolution to my CRT would cost about $600. Let's even assume that by CRT draws about 200W (the label on the back says 1.7A/120V, but that's going to be worst case.). In my area, electricity costs $0.08 per kWh. The LCD would take 37,500 hours to pay for itself $600/($0.08/kWh)/0.2kW. At that rate, I would take over 4 years for the LCD to pay for itself, even if I leave my current monitor on 24/7/365. To me, the savings just aren't enough to make me rush out and buy an LCD. I might consider it when it comes time to replace this monitor.
  • by rcpitt (711863) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @01:25AM (#14657888) Homepage Journal
    You can change energy from one form to another but can't create or destroy it.

    If you MUST have 4 computers running - they will eat something like 500-800+ watts - so you need to use or get rid of that amount of energy. (note that CRTs use similar amounts - use LCDs!)

    Most refrigerators use something less than 500-800 watts to cool their interiors - but many (most) use motors to compress coolant and dump the heat out to cooling coils on the back (heating the surrounding room). Why not instead use a 'fridge that uses an absorption cycle (like the ones you find in a camper that use either electricity or gas to provide heat but don't use a motor) and run it off the heat of the computers?

    Note that you'll have to provide some dump for the heat - so you'll probably want to put the computers (and some part of the fridge) near an outside wall so you can dump heat outside (choose the side away from the sun) - use long monitor cables etc. to bring the video/keyboard/mouse connections to where you want them.

    In Summer - open the windows near the computers to let the heat out

    In Winter - put a fan there and blow the excess heat into the rest of the house.

    Of course you might want to run some copper tubing from the water supply near these heat sources to pre-heat the water prior to running it into the normal water heater too. You can also plumb them into solar panels on the roof in Summer (and even in Winter in some areas) to preheat water. A little bit of electronics might be necessary to ensure you don't overheat the water - I've almost burned my hand off the panels I have on the roof for my pool :)

    Lots of ways of (re)using the energy you take into the house before letting it out - and taking advantage of the energy that is freely available from the sun when it shines.

  • LCD's (Score:3, Informative)

    by Darth_brooks (180756) <clipper377@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @01:26AM (#14657891) Homepage
    Drop a few bills on an LCD monitor. New LCD's draw far less power than CRT monitors. This is especially true if you're using an old 14" clunker that doesn't do any sort of real power saving. Combine this with a VGA switch (or a KVM switch) to cut down on what you'll need to have plugged in.

    Find and eliminate "wall warts", those little black inverters / chargers that are constantly drawing anywhere from 4 to 15 watts. I'd suggest getting a cheap power strip (one that has a switch) and putting it on top of your desk, then taking plugging as many of the warts into that as possible. Phone charger, laptop brick, iPod Charger, PC speaker inverter, and anything you can plug in that has a remote control.

    When you're not using those items, turn off the strip. You can cut out anywhere from 20 to 80 watts of useless power. Multiply that by the hours you save (because hey, your PC speakers need to be sucking power when you're fast asleep...) and you can make a decent dent in your bill. (it's also a bit healthier for battery charged items to not be sucking power all the time.)

    Aside from that? Compact flourescent bulbs help, and not being a dumbass helps more. Don't heat anything with electricity if you can avoid it, don't leave lights on all the time, enable powersave features on the PC's when you can.
  • This doesn't directly apply to the poster, but for home owners, look into geothermal heat pumps [geoexchange.org].
  • It's rare, but you may be able to find a place that includs utilities, specifically electricity in the rental price. I lived in a small studio apartment for over three 1/2 years with all my utilities taken care of (power/water/gas/garbage. . .everything but phone/cable/internet), and not having to worry about power useage was great. You could keep things on all the time and never give it a second thought.

    I even used electric space heaters in the winter (the only heat option the apartment had was a firepla
    • I'd second this, even if it did work out slightly _more_ expensive than what you _think_ the place you're looking at now, it gives you the opportunity to manage your budget without having to worry about an unexpectedly high bill. Peace of mind is worth a few pennies.

      On the other hand, some people will say the experience of managing utility bills, wrangling co-habitants about their energy usage and learning to suffer a bit in your home is a healthy one.

      Another thing, think hard whether it's worth doing it at
  • Check out USwitch.com [uswitch.com] and find the cheapest gas/electric suppliers in your area. Change to them. Then start switching things off a lot, enjoying the benefits of going vegetarian (soya [vegsoc.org] is your meaty friend), or shop here [kwiksave.co.uk]. If you have a car, sell it and walk everywhere. If you need to go further than you can walk, then get a bike (buy a very cheap one and a good lock, as otherwise it'll get nicked).

    Most importantly, brew your own beer. It costs around 10p a pint and can even taste nice if you get a good rec

  • Recently I have begun to invest heavily into the use of power saving sytems. I have recently replaced all of my older generation computers with Turion based PCs and new laptops. Using LCD screens. in total I am now saving some serious money off my electricity bill. Minimising your use of gas heating will result in big savings. There have been reports on Television in the UK stating that by cutting the temperature by a few degrees in your house can save well over a £100 for an average family home. Its
  • 1. Compact flourescents. Been mentioned all over here, but can't be stressed enough. Modern bulbs work on standard sockets, produce a fairly decent color of light, and no flicker. Also, most large stores carry "value packs," which run $2 US or less (imagine prices can't be that much different there). I know where I live the local utility will rebate you for a certain number of these as well. I saw about 75kWh reduction in my bill over the course of a month by replacing every light I could with these.
  • I went into private housing with much the same impressions that you did with 6 other people I knew well. Unfortunately, they have no common sense or inkling to save power, and I argued with them for the first 3 months over the fact that they wanted to run the heating at full power 24 hours a day, and left lights (200W) and portable electric heaters running in their rooms.

    The bill was massive, but because their parents paid their share, they didn't care. So now the central heating (a 35kW gas combi boiler)
  • by rjforster (2130) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @08:23AM (#14659099) Journal
    There are a lot of folk on here who don't know a thing about the UK or what a typical student rented house would be like. Advice about A/C is irrelavent.

    Anyway. Assuming no structural changes allowed (so you can't touch wall cavities etc) and assuming you don't have UPVC double glazing etc.

    1. Draught insulation on all doors and windows. Find every draught and stop it. You can get thses strips in Homebase, Do It All etc. They come in different thicknesses so choose wisely. Be prepared to get dirty cleaning all the spaces in the joints where the spiders live otherwise the strips won't stick.
    2. When it's cold, wear more clothes and only heat the rooms you use and keep the doors shut so you don't heat the rooms you're not using.
    3. If you want to heat a room quickly (say you're the first one back after being at lectures all day) get a small desk fan and set it blowing across the radiator in the living room. It will cirulate the warm air surprisingly quickly.
    4. Cook and eat meals together as a group. This is cheaper, you'll eat better and it's relaxing to have everyone sit down together after they have all been out (hopefully) studying all day . Do the obvious like learn how to skin and quarter a fresh chicken rather than buy expensive chicken pieces (hint: kitchen scissors). You don't need to be a great cook, learn to do one simple meal such as a Chilli Con Carne, expand your repotoir later. We had a complicated looking list (it would be a spreadsheet today) of money spent by each person either for the group or for other individuals so we could work out who owed each other what at the end of the term. It saved any arguments and meant the whole 'cooking for the group' thing did work.
    5. Much has been said about computers already. If you can get to a power socket in the library, consider working there. This would obviously require a laptop but you keep warm, have free electricity and hopefully *don't* have a distracting net connection.
    6. If you have big windows, consider that platic double glazing stuff you can get. For what ammounts to some double sided tape and a sheet of clear plastic stuck over the window, then shrunk tight with a hair dryer you do get pretty good insulation.

    One more thing. University is getting stupidly expensive now in the UK, you are going to get into a lot of debt anyway. But you are not there to get a degree as cheaply as possible. You are there to enjoy yourself, to learn about life and yes; to get a degree. So have some fun along the way and don't sit freezing in a room when being warm isn't going to make much difference to the £20k debt you might well be facing at the end. Which is why I don't suggest not drinking beer. You'll be spending more on beer than on food and possibly utility bills as well.
  • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @09:47AM (#14659541) Homepage
    It all depends on the house in question, and the relative cost of gas to electricity. Here in Canada, and the US I assume, gas heat was cheaper than electric for many years, but recent rises in gas prices have made this less clear today.

    I lived in a house in Ireland for some time. It was built in the 1970s, and was astonishingly inefficient. I remember watching the TV one night and suddenly realizing why the house was so cold -- the drapes in the living room were blowing around, I had left a window open. Actually, the window was closed, the wind was blowing right throught the gaps around it. The whole house was like this, so if the one you end up in is similar, here's some thing:

    1) there's a film you can buy that heat-shrinks to form an almost perfectly transparent barrier over your windows. You put it up in late fall and tear it down in the spring. It takes 5 to 10 minutes per window to install. The effect, if you have windows like mine, is astonishing.

    2) get a timed thermostat. Set it to lower the temperature at night and during the day when no-one is home. That's 10-15% if you lower it enough.

    3) you can get foam gaskets that fit behind the electrical sockets, blocking airflow into the room. Yes, I know, it sounds like this can't possibly make a difference. Wait until you have a windy night then hold your hand over a socket on an outside wall some time.

    4) this one is slightly harder: buy a caulking gun, practice up on some cardboard, and then caulk around every baseboard, door and every other crack you can find. I highly recommend using the transparent silicone that you can later peel off. It costs a little more, but it's easy to fix if you blow it during application, and you can get rid of it if anyone complains. Caulking is messy when you first try it, but easy once you get the hang of it.
  • Foam and Caps (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Deanasc (201050) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @10:51AM (#14660059) Homepage Journal
    Since you're renting you don't have much choice in how it's insulated but there are a couple things you can do and your landlord might even let you deduct the cost if you approach him before you do it. If you have access or can get it for a day, take a look at not only the water heater but if you have hot water pipes for heating check those pipes as well. Every bit of pipe that's exposed is a source of heatloss so every bit of pipe you see should be covered in pipe foam. It's a couple dollars or pounds or euros for every ten feet or 3 meters. One or two bags should cover the pipes in an open basement. I know you can't run the foam all the way to your apartment, once the pipes go into the walls you have to hope there's insulation.

    The other thing you can do is check the wall switches and outlets. If you feel a draft a spray can of electrical outlet safe foam will go a long way toward sealing the draft. But you're not done yet, put caps on any outlet that isn't in use, all those slots in the house can equal a quater inch or one half centimeter open window.

    • Re:Foam and Caps (Score:3, Insightful)

      Every bit of pipe that's exposed is a source of heatloss so every bit of pipe you see should be covered in pipe foam.

      Side benefit is that if all the pipes are covered in foam you are far less likely to have problems with bursting from frozen pipes.

      Not a problem in my area, but some locales it's critical.

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