Friday, February 3, 2012

chill out

When trying to stretch a dollar, one of the first things I look at are appliances. If you use a hair drier or other heated styling tool, keep in mind that they are energy eaters.  Reducing your time with these tools can help save on the power bill.  In our house, the kitchen holds most of our energy hogging appliances. 

We have a microwave, a chest freezer, a refrigerator/freezer, a hot-plate, a toaster oven and an instant-heat water carafe.  You may notice that I don't mention an oven or range - that's because I don't have one.  We had a propane oven/stovetop, but when the local gas provider continued to raise prices and decided to deliver on their schedule rather than ours, we decided to fire them and opted for alternative arrangements.  With just the two of us, it is fairly simple to use a large toaster oven (ours has a convection option as well as rotisserie capability) and a single hot-plate to cook our meals.  Larger meals are usually shared with my husband's mother and are prepared at her house.  The instant-heat carafe is used daily for my husband's Yerba Mate and my tea, as well as for brewing iced tea base.  None of these items remain plugged in when not in use, so they do not have that annoying trickle-draw of power found in most appliances.  For the same reason, I've recently unplugged the microwave when not in use.  That leaves the fridge and the chest freezer. 

A chest freezer is wonderful - when it is full.  Once it goes below half-full, it becomes more economical to move the contents to the smaller refrigerator-freezer and take the opportunity to completely thaw and clean the unit.  This clean out has the advantage of making sure you don't have any mystery packages lost in the depths of the freezer.  I grew up with a chest freezer in the basement that was a constant source of vegetables and meats that would be brought upstairs a day or two in advance for upcoming meals.  In fact, my mother not only has a chest freezer in her basement, she now has two additional upright freezers - and all three are completely full.  Having grown up with a separate freezer ever-present, it is odd for me not to have one.  However, we have put our little chest freezer into storage for the time being and are using only the refrigerator/freezer for cold storage.

There are some easy things you can do to make sure your refrigerator isn't wasting your energy dollars.  First, make sure the coils on the back and/or bottom are clean.  A brush attachment on a vacuum cleaner does a good job for removing accumulated dust and a quick wipe with a rag will take care of the rest.  Second, once the coils are clean, move the fridge away from the wall - give those coils a couple inches of  breathing room.  Air space will let the coils dissipate heat more efficiently - making the unit run less and costing you less money.  Next, make sure the unit is set at an optimum temperature.  Get a thermometer - I use the instant-read stick-type that I also use for testing cooking temperatures for meat - put it in a mug of water and leave it in the fridge for 24 hours.  It should be between 37 - 40 degrees F.  38 degrees is a good number to shoot for.  Tweak the temperature controls and check the thermometer again after another 24 hours.  keep doing this until you have the temperature fine tuned.  The fridge won't run as much and foods are less likely to randomly freeze when the temperature is set correctly.  Now, don't forget about the freezer portion of the unit.  Slip the thermometer between two frozen items and check it in 24 hours.  This time the temp should be between 0 and 5 degrees F.  Adjust accordingly. 

Keep in mind that a full freezer is a happy freezer.  If you don't have much in your freezer, it will have to work harder to keep the things in there at the proper temperature.  An easy way to bulk up your freezer contents is to freeze extra ice cubes.  Put them in gallon-size freezer bags for storage.  Or wash plastic juice or milk jugs and fill 2/3 full of water, loosely cap them and stand them in the freezer.  Tighten the caps once the water freezes solid.  These can be used as ice blocks in a cooler or picnic basket when you need the freezer space for other things.  Keeping your freezer full will save power and wear-and-tear since the unit won't need to turn on and off as often.

A little bit of maintenance makes cents.

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