Originally published in 2005.




No relief in sight. Next year will be WORSE!

How will your family meet this challenge?

Three years ago we published the 3rd edition of the Better Times Almanac of Useful Information that focused on energy. We said (about the then high prices for energy): "(There is) No relief in sight. Next year will be worse. Over the long term, everyone should plan as though the price of energy will continue to increase." We hate to say "we told you so", but we were right in this prediction. And we make that prediction again: three years from now, energy prices will be higher than they are now.

High prices for natural gas, gasoline, and electricity are not a temporary phenomenon that will go away soon. Plan as though the price of whatever energy you use will continue to increase over the long term. That's what is going to happen, so you might as well get ready for it right now. If you procrastinate, your delay will cost you big money. Energy prices are climbing because demand is exceeding supply, and the energy markets are being distorted by irrational and unjust economic structures. With about 3% of the world's population, the US devours 25% of the world's annual oil supply. Production in the US peaked in 1970 and has been declining ever since, so 60% of our oil is imported. With demand showing no signs of abating anywhere, expect higher prices over the short and long term. Some petroleum geologists are saying that within 10 years, world oil production will peak and start declining. Less oil means much higher energy prices, so energy conservation is critical to preserving the health and safety of our families and neighborhoods.

Start by talking with your family and making a list of everything you do that uses energy. Every bit of energy you don't use is money you can spend on something else. Even small things you do (or don't do) add up over time. You can make changes in the ways that you do things that add up to big savings every month. It won't happen without some effort, but aren't we all tired of high utility bills? It's your choice. Even if you're renting, there are many things you can do to save money on your energy bills. Think of ways to do things differently so you use less energy, discuss them with your family, and get busy. Don't try to do everything at once (although the more things you cut back, the sooner your energy bills go down).

Remember, it's not only how you use energy that matters, it's also how you waste energy. If your home or apartment is not well insulated, you're piling up one hundred dollar bills and setting them on fire. If you are a renter, the lack of insulation is like an extra tax added to your rent. Your most effective way of saving money might be to move to a different house or apartment that is better insulated, has more efficient heating, and is located closer to your work or to public transportation. Generally, you can get an estimate from your gas and electric utilities about the energy bills for an address. If you own your housing, you will save the most bucks by insulating and weatherizing. If you are a low income homeowner or renter, there are programs to help you insulate your house.

Your utility bills may seem mysterious, but you are the one who controls the amount of energy you use. To spend less money, use less energy.

Because of the high price of energy, and the hard times in the economy, more people are seeking assistance from charities to help pay their utility bills, BUT generally the amount of money that charities have to help people with has not increased. More needs are chasing less help. If you need assistance in paying your utility bills, start looking for help early and be persistent, but you may not be able to find the help you need. Thus, it is imperative for low income people to do everything they can do lower their utility bills, otherwise people may find their utilities cut off in the middle of the winter.


Size Counts. Your largest use of energy is generally for heating and cooling your living space. The bigger your house or apartment, the more energy you will use and the more money you will spend. One advantage of smaller houses and apartments can be lower energy bills. If there are unused rooms, keep their doors closed and shut off any heating/air conditioning vents in those rooms. If your energy budget is severely restricted, heat or cool only one or two rooms in the house.

Thermostats. The higher the thermostat in the winter, & the lower the thermostat in the summer, the more money you must pay. If you are going to be gone for several hours, adjust the thermostat so that less energy is used keeping an empty house cool or warm.

Co-housing. This is where two or more families live together. Two or three families could pool resources and buy or rent a large house that could be subdivided, with the families sharing some facilities like the kitchen and living room. The group could save money by cooking and eating together, not to mention the time savings when there are more hands and feet available to do the work and the cleanup.

Dress for the Season. It is easier to keep your house at a comfortable temperature when you dress for the season when you are indoors. In the summer, go barefoot in the house and wear loose-fitting light clothes (t-shirts and shorts) made from natural fabrics like cotton. In the winter wear several loose layers of warm clothes while you're in the house. If necessary, wear a hat and a sweater or light jacket inside. People have been known to curl up with fluffy blankets on the couch or a favorite chair. Clean clothes keep you warmer than dirty clothes.

Plug the Leaks! Many houses & apartments are poorly insulated & have lots of air leaks. To find air leaks, light an incense stick and slowly move it around doors, windows, baseboards, electric outlets, switches, shelves, and places where pipes and electrical conduits go through walls and cabinets. Most home supply stores have inexpensive products to help plug such leaks. You can get little foam pads to put inside electric outlets and light switches (if you can scrounge a larger piece of foam, cut it yourself to fit your outlets and switches).

Caulk! Use caulk to plug leaks around windows. Wood putty or caulk can be used along baseboards. Read the label to make sure the caulk is suitable for the materials it is being used with. Latex caulk is the cheapest, doesn't give off fumes, and before it dries it can be wiped off with a damp rag. Foam comes in cans so you can spray it around pipes going through walls and fill miscellaneous holes.

Weatherstripping helps seal doors tightly -- a 1/4 inch gap at the bottom of the typical door is equal to a 3 square inch hole in the wall! If there are holes in your floors or walls, plug them as necessary. If you have nothing else, fill them with crushed newspaper or styrofoam (packing beads work) and cover with plastic and lathe (strips of wood sold by the bundle, they're cheap) or duct tape. Patch ('tuckpoint") broken or missing mortar in exterior brick walls. Brick mortar is very cheap, just add water, mix, & if you don't have tools, use a kitchen knife to fill the gaps with mortar.

Super-insulate! If you own your housing, you will save the most bucks by insulating. If you are a low income homeowner or renter, there are programs to help you insulate and weatherize your housing (contact a charity or Community Action center for a referral, the waiting list for these programs is long, so get in line right away). If you don't own your housing, start planning now for how you can get into a place of your own. If you are low income, there are programs that can help you achieve home ownership. Sometimes you can "rent to own" a property. There are many different kinds of insulation, so you'll need to give some thought to what you need in your particular situation. Start with the ceiling/roof, and the more insulation you have, the more money you will save on energy.

Wood Stoves. A wood stove may be an effective choice for winter heat. Wood can often be found for free, even in cities, it is a renewable and sustainable resource.

Doors. "Airlock" your doors that go outside. This requires going through two doors to get inside the house. Don't open the interior door until the outer door is shut and thus cold or hot winds don't blow in the house. It can be a temporary structure made from plastic and 2 x 4 boards and a door you find somewhere, or you could build permanent structures at your doorways (on the porch, or just inside the door).

Maintenance. Keep your heating and cooling equipment clean and in good repair. Change the filters as necessary, or wash them (such as the filters on window air conditioners). If the sun hits your air conditioner, rig a shade over it -- but don't block the air intakes. If you are renting, remind your landlord about this. And if it doesn't get done, that's another sign that you need to look for another place to live.

The Bottom Line on Energy is...You must be realistic with yourself about the resources you have available to pay for energy.

In the COLD of the Winter. . .

Windows. Stop air infiltration through windows by covering them inside and outside with plastic held in place with staples and strips of lathe. Hang heavy curtains, quilts, or blankets over the windows at night. These could also be hung over walls to help insulate a room. We make indoor winter thermal curtains using those shiny mylar auto sun screens and heavy blankets or curtains. Duct tape the sun shades together so they cover the window. Lay a blanket on the floor, put the sun shades on top of it, and then add another blanket. Put a 1 X 2 across the top and nail the blankets/sun shades to the 1 X 2, and then hang or nail that at the top of the window so the window is covered. During the day, if the sun shines through the window, roll up the thermal curtain (you can use wire coat hangers nailed to the 1 X 2 at the top to hold the curtain up, simply bend the wire down to accommodate the thickness of the rolled-up curtain.) Note that this was obviously designed by a guy, people with more decorating sense can make something like this quite attractive. Fabric stores carry a product called "Warm Window" which is composed of several layers of insulating material and a metal foil liner. This can be easily made into indoor thermal curtains. A well insulated window would have plastic on the exterior, double-paned windows, indoor thermal shutters or curtains, which could simply be one or more wool blankets or quilts and a heavy curtain.

Walls. Blankets, newspapers, and extra mattresses can be used for insulation for walls, windows, and doors. Check regularly behind any such materials you hang up to see if water is condensing and if so, dry the walls regularly to keep mold from forming. If cold air is coming up through a bare floor, you can improvise "carpet" by putting down several layers of newspaper and covering them with blankets or quilts. (If you do this, tell people to be careful about slips and falls.) Even better, learn to make rugs from rags and cover your floor with something you have created yourself.

Waterbeds. If you have a waterbed, get rid of it. But if you must keep it, insulate it during the day - it will try to heat the whole room and can use more energy than a water heater and refrigerator combined. Use heavy comforters on the top and sides.

Recover Heat. If you use an electric dryer, vent it indoors during the winter (don't do this with gas dryers due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning). Put some nylon hose on the end of the exhaust duct (secured with a large rubber band or duct tape) to catch the lint and dust. When you take a shower, put the stopper in the tub. Let the water cool before you drain it. Air dry your freshly-washed clothes inside the house. Don't pour hot cooking water down the drain, let it cool first. These practices will add humidity & heat to the inside of your house that would otherwise go down the drain or out into the cold back yard.

At Night. . . Turn the thermostat down or the heater off and pile on the blankets. Dress warmly for bed in sweat pants and shirt, socks, and maybe even a cap (depending on how cold it will get and how low you set the thermostat).

Get the right eats. Adequate nutrition is essential. To help you stay warm, adequate food and water is a must. Drink plenty of water and eat frequent meals with lots of carbohydrates. Winter is a good time for comfort foods like casseroles, stews, soups, and home baked bread.

The sun is your friend in winter. Use solar heating whenever possible. Open the shades and curtains on the sunny side of the house. If the sun can shine on some heavy masonry (like a brick or concrete floor or wall), so much the better -- it will soak up the heat during the day and radiate it at night. You can improvise a heat absorber with buckets or plastic bottles painted black and filled with water (if the bottles are clear, you can use food coloring to darkly color the water). If you're using 2 liter bottles, put them in trays so they don't fall over so easily. Keep your windows clean so the sun's rays aren't deflected.

In the HEAT of the Summer. . .

Shade is your friend. Keep the sun's heat from hitting windows, doors, walls. Install window shades on the outside of your windows. Be creative and you won't spend much money. An inexpensive bamboo roll-up window shade works fine, and there's always aluminum foil and those automobile window shades with reflective surfaces. One or more curtains inside will help, and choose white or another light color (sheets are do-able and cheap, & more is better). Don't forget to shade the doors if you don't have a porch. The best choice for your wall shade is vegetation. Although it takes many years to grow a tall tree, vines grow in just a few weeks. Morning glories provide plenty of shade plus flowers that are beautiful to look at. There are many varieties of pole beans which will climb right up your walls as well as cover windows. Put up a trellis or some chicken wire for the plants to cling to.. You get shade AND fresh green beans to eat! Plant trees around your house for shade, and bushes up close to the house. If you plant fruit or nut trees, as an added bonus you get an annual high value crop.

Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water. If you don't drink enough water, you will feel hotter and a lot more uncomfortable. Avoid alcohol, soft drinks, and caffeine, these will dehydrate you. The idea that an ice cold soda pop is the perfect solution to thirst is a delusion fostered by hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising and its purpose is to enrich the stockholders and management of soda pop corporations at your expense. The more soda pop you drink, the more thirsty you will be, the hotter you will feel, and thus the more uncomfortable you will be in hot weather. Soda pop advertisements are LIES! This is a problem with both sugared and sugar free soft drinks.

Dress for the season when inside your house. Wear shorts and a light shirt. Loose fitting clothes are cooler and more comfortable than tight fitting garments. Go barefoot or wear sandals. Natural fabrics are cooler than synthetics. At night, use light cotton sheets on your bed. Minimize indoor fabrics, as fabric increases interior humidity. This is good in the winter, but bad in the summer. People living without air conditioning should probably opt for no carpet on the floors; during the winter they can lay down area rugs, but roll them up and put them away during the summer. Using a damp sheet also helps you stay cool at night, especially if you have a ceiling fan.

Minimize heat buildup inside the house. If you have a dishwasher, don't use it or at minimum don't use the heat dry at the end of the cycle. Take cool or lukewarm showers, rather than hot steamy showers. (If you aren't using AC, you won't want a hot shower in the summer anyway.) Check your electronic equipment. Many devices such as "instant on" televisions draw current all the time, and thus create heat. Plug them into an electrical outlet strip and turn it off and on with the switch on the electric outlet strip, and thus eliminate the secret "hot plates" that add heat to the indoor climate. Don't use the clothes dryer, hang your clothes on a line outside to dry. If you smoke, do so outside. Turn your computers off when not in use.

Cook outside during the summer. One of the biggest contributors to indoor heat and humidity is cooking, so during the summer, we cook outside, on the porch. I set up a "summer kitchen" on our shady front porch (on the north side of the house). This consists of a small two burner camp stove, and a conventional backyard gas grill. Both are hooked to 20 pound propane bottles, and are thrifty with their propane consumption, especially the 2 burner camp stove. To use a 20 pound bottle with such small stoves, which usually run on a small one pound bottle, you need a special adaptor, sold at most propane and outdoor supply stores. We also have a large gas ring (advertised as a "turkey fryer") for boiling larger amounts of water. When I make pickles in the summer, my boiling water canner fits it perfectly, and it brings the water to a boil much faster than the natural gas stove in the house. A little roller cart, bought at a garage sale, completes the setup. I have a cast iron skillet with a cover, it makes a fine "dutch oven" so that the gas grill becomes an oven for baking casseroles or biscuits. I do the prep work in the regular indoor kitchen, load everything onto the cart, and roll it out onto the front porch for cooking. When I cook outside, and see the large clouds of smoke and steam rising from the pans, I am reminded about how much heat and humidity cooking contributes to indoor atmosphere. Cooking outside also makes sense for people with air conditioning, because the AC will have to work hard, and consume energy, and thus cost you extra money, every time you cook a meal.

Shade interior surfaces that will soak up heat. If you have indoor thermal mass, such as concrete or brick floors, a masonry fireplace, etc., make sure it is shaded so it doesn't soak up heat during the day. (The opposite of what you want to do in the winter, of course.)

Keep the air moving around inside. We use ceiling fans and rotating fans to create breezes in the house during the day and the night. Moving air can knock ten degrees off of the apparent temperature, so fans can add considerably to indoor comfort. They can also be used in conjunction with conventional air conditioning. With breezes inside, you can set the thermostat temperature higher than would be the case without the fans. Box fans are good for use in windows, but for other indoor uses, they are inefficient and usually noisy, rotary fans are better. Variable speed fans will help you get the right amount of air.

Gettin' by WITHOUT air conditioning. The basic rule is: keep the house closed up during the day when it is hot outside, and ventilate it in the evening and at night when it is cooler. At night we put box fans in the south windows to pull hot air out of the house, and in north windows to blow cooler air into the house. Open every window and door to facilitate cross breezes. During the day we close up the house to keep the heat out, usually about 8 AM, depending on the outside temperature. We open up the house again whenever it becomes as hot inside as it is outside, but we wait to turn the window fans on until it is definitely cooler outside than inside. We sometimes run a small window fan in a window that pulls air that has been cooled by our shady trellis during the day, but we keep the rest of the doors and windows closed. You may find exceptions to this rule, so in the beginning you will want to experiment to find the right combination for your own particular situation, which is influenced by the design and construction of your dwelling and the microclimate of its site. Ventilating a non-air conditioned building is as much art and science, and it may take you a couple of summers to get the hang of it. We are better at it now than we were 4 years ago when we first stopped using air conditioning in Oklahoma.

If you are not using air conditioning at home, try to stay out of air conditioned spaces. I am most uncomfortable when I come home from my "perfectly" air conditioned office. But on my days off, when I generally stay out of air conditioned spaces, I am more comfortable. You body does acclimate itself to your surroundings, whatever they may be.

Ventilate your attic. We did this during our third summer without air conditioning, and it

added appreciably to the indoor comfort level. Insulation and weatherization help moderate indoor temperatures in the summer too.

Window AC. A window AC is more efficient than a whole house central air conditioner IF you only use it to cool 1 room. If you can't afford to cool your whole house, then cool only 1 or 2 rooms, and use the other strategies listed above in the rest of the house. Another strategy is to wait for the hot heat of July and August to use your air conditioner.

Even if you don't abandon air conditioning completely, using these ideas can help you use less air conditioning so you save more money. The more shade you can get on the outside of the house, the less work for the air conditioner to do. You could wait until the heat of the day to turn it on, or you could have one or more "no air conditioning days" each week. If you are low income, you may need to turn the air conditioning off during the day and go to an air conditioned library or other public space to meet your energy budget. Even if you did this only once or twice a week, every week, you would save money, plus you would gain the many advantages of spending time in libraries. It's not for nothing that people say: "Read More, Learn More.

Keeping warm in a winter weather emergency

For when there is no electricity or gas due to a utility shut-off or natural or man-made disaster. If the electricity or natural gas is disrupted during the winter, you must take action to protect your family. Depending on the weather, lack of heat can be life threatening! Don't try to heat the entire house in a winter emergency. First bundle up your body. Then heat a single room. Hang blankets over doorways and use plastic sheets, blankets, quilts, & newspapers over windows. Blankets can insulate floors without carpets. Don't seal the room so tight that no fresh air can get in. Even if it is cold, you need fresh air to stay alive.

Layer clothes, in loose layers. Beware of wind and wet. Keep dry. Wet clothing loses its ability to insulate, and can suck heat right out of you. Stay out of the wind as much as possible. Clean clothes keep you warm better than dirty clothes. Make sure your head, hands, and feet are protected.

Use newspapers for emergency insulation. They can be wrapped around legs, arms, torso, taped over windows, laid on the floor. The best place for babies is on their mother's bodies. in their arms or using one of the many ways of carrying a baby and still having your hands free.

For emergency backup heat, the best choice is wood heat -- IF you have a fireplace or properly installed wood stove. If you don't have one, the next choice would be propane and kerosene. These fuels have been used for indoor heating and cooking for many years. Look for this equipment at a flea market or thrift store; propane bottles are sold in most discount stores. Even when bought brand new, this equipment can be relatively inexpensive. A free-standing natural gas heater can be converted to run on propane. Ventless propane heaters certified for indoor use are also available.

Ventilation. Any form of indoor open flame heating requires adequate ventilation. Always place the propane or kerosene heater in front of the ventilation opening (such as a window open 1/4 inch). If you place it away from the ventilation, the fumes will first fill the room before they start to exit from the window. Always have a carbon monoxide and smoke detector in rooms where you use kerosene heaters.

If you are in a winter emergency without any backup heat, use candles or "canned heat" like sterno or chafing dish fuel. Even the flame of one candle can generate enough heat to keep a person from freezing to death. NEVER LEAVE CANDLES BURNING UNATTENDED OR WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING. Make sure there is nothing burnable close to the candles, and that they are secure in a candle holder that can't be knocked over.

NEVER USE CHARCOAL BRIQUETS INSIDE A HOUSE FOR COOKING OR KEEPING WARM IN A WINTER WEATHER EMERGENCY. People die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning when they fire up charcoal briquets inside the house to keep warm. Carbon monoxide detectors are cheap; if there is a chance you may be using improvised heating, get one. Pregnant women and unborn babies are particularly at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. While using any kind of inside heat with an open flame, if the room seems "stuffy" and you begin to feel headachy and lethargic and/or your vision gets blurry, get everyone out of the room and ventilate it with fresh air immediately. With all forms of alternative open flame heating, beware of the fire danger. Place a fire extinguisher where it can be quickly used. If you don't have a fire extinguisher, get a couple of large boxes of baking soda and a bucket of sand.


Cooking. If you are stuck with a big energy hawg of an electric stove, turn off the burners before the cooking is finished. It will continue cooking as the burner cools. Crockpots, roaster/toaster ovens, and electric frying pans are more efficient than full size electric stoves. Large ovens don't cook small meals efficiently, so use those small appliances. When you do heat up the oven, cook several dishes at once; alternate their placement in the oven so that air circulates easily. Minimize pre- heating. Glass or ceramic oven pans are the most efficient. Make sure the flame on a gas stove is blueish, a yellow flame indicates the gas isn't burning efficiently. Pressure cookers use less energy for stove top cooking because foods cook in less time. Uncovered pans can use 3 times as much energy as a covered pan to cook the food. Defrost frozen foods before cooking them. Use the smallest pan that will fit the recipe, and match the burner to the pan if possible (use a small burner for a small pan). Keep the metal splash guards under the burners clean, blackened guards will absorb, not reflect, cooking energy.

Hot Water. Use less hot water (and water in general) by installing low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators. This can cut your hot water requirements as much as 50%, saving 14,000 gallons of hot water per /year for a family of 4. They are cheap and easy to install. Insulate the hot water pipes. Insulate the hot water tank with a special "jacket" made for the purpose (typically $10-20 at home supply stores), or wrap it with insulating materials. Do not cover the top or the bottom, the thermostat or the burner compartment of the tank. Lower the temperature on the water heater to 120 degrees or less. Take quick showers, not baths. You can make a simple solar heater: get a 5 gallon plastic bucket with a tight fitting lid, and paint it black. Fill it with water and set it in the sunlight. Voila, easy and free five gallons of hot water.

Lights. Your grandfather was right: Turn off the lights when you're not using them. Compact flourescent bulbs work in regular light fixtures, last longer and use much less energy. They cost a bit more, but they use 75% less energy than regular bulbs & last for 1000s of hours. Use less electrical lighting during the day when natural light is available. Use more "task lighting" -- smaller lights focused on what you are doing, rather than the entire room.

Washing Clothes. Whenever possible, wash clothes in cold water. Wait until you have a full load, don't do small loads. Instead of using the dryer, air dry your clothes. Get some racks to use for indoor clothes drying when its raining or too cold outside. Wash small amounts of clothes by hand.

Dishwasher. The best thing to do with your dishwasher is disconnect it and sell it to somebody else. Washing dishes by hand should be a family affair -- when many hands pitch in, the work is less tedious and gets done faster.

Small batteries. Avoid spending money for small batteries. For $30 or less, you can get a solar powered battery charger and rechargeable batteries. Or you could use a recharger that runs on household current. Small batteries are expensive -- the fewer you have to buy, the more money you have for other things.

Beware of the Energy Draining Ghosts! Many appliances have "ghost loads" -- even when they're "off", they are still "on" and burning up dollar bills of electricity. This is common with televisions, for example. Plug them into an extension cord that has a switch and put it in an easily accessible place. If you use the extension cord switch to turn it off and on, you avoid wasting power. One of those "plug strips" with an on-off switch also works well for controlling these kinds of energy wasters. If you have "wall warts" - those little boxes that you plug into an outlet in order to charge something like a cell phone, always unplug them when they aren't in use. If you feel them, you will notice they are warm even when not charging something. This means they are burning up dollar bills while you sleep.

Be wary of bringing more electrical gadgets into your house and scrutinize what you already have. Do you really need that stuff? If you have a computer, don't leave it on when it isn't being used. Instead of an electric blanket, use more regular blankets or quilts (and never leave the electric blanket on during the day). Never use the television for "background noise" while you're doing something else; a radio consumes less power. Sell your garbage disposal, or don't use it. Compost your vegetable food scraps for your garden. Sell or don't use your garbage compactor.

Watch Out for Indirect Energy Expenses. Everything you buy takes energy to grow, manufacture, transport, store, and sell. As energy prices go up, other prices will follow. So Use Less Stuff and you Will Use Less Energy, and thus you will Have More Money. Your trash is an indicator of how much money you are wasting. The more trash from your household, the more you indirectly pay for energy. More packaging equals higher prices. Use less stuff, or as your mother advised: "Use it up, wear it out, do without."

Minimize the number of times you go shopping each month. Car pool with friends or take public transportation for shopping. The more times you go into stores, the more money you will spend. Always shop with a list, & avoid "impulse buying". Buy at thrift stores and flea markets, start avoiding "new stuff." Plan your shopping, and never go to the store for "just one thing." Stop using disposable plates & cutlery, use cloth rags instead of paper towels. Save bottles for other uses, re-use gift wrapping, ribbons & bows, & be creative in reducing your trash load..

Ignore advertising. Your life will not be better because you buy advertised products, but you will be poorer. Teach your kids about the lies of advertisers.

Take the bus to work if possible, or car pool. For some people, a bicycle will be a cost effective option. If you have a gas guzzling car, look for a car with greater fuel efficiency. Drive slower (above 55 MPH, fuel economy crashes), accelerate gradually. Living close to your work can save you hundreds of dollars every year.

Learn how to read your meters. This will help you manage your energy expenses, because you can tell exactly how much you will owe at any given time. The electric and gas utilities can tell you how to do this and calculate your bill as you consume the energy. If necessary, read it every day and adjust your energy use to meet your budget. Stop wasting energy, and you will start saving money. You will also give planet Earth a break from the pollution.


A refrigerator works best when it is correctly maintained and optimized for efficient use. If it isn't working correctly, it will use energy inefficiently. It needs to be repaired. It won't get better by itself.

A manual defrost refrigerator uses less energy than "frost-free" models. If you have a box freezer, use the refrigerator's freezer compartment only for short-term storage and ice. For this kind of minimal freezer use, keep the fridge freezer at 20 to 25 degrees F -- but if you are using it to store meats, the freezer temp needs to be at 10 degrees F. The main compartment of the refrigerator should be in the 37-40 degree range.

To measure this, you will need 2 small inexpensive thermometers. Put one near the center in the freezer compartment and one near the center in the refrigerator. After an hour or so, check both temps at the end of any cycle (when it stops humming). Record those temperatures. Then turn the appliance's thermostat up a notch, & check the temperature again at the end of the next cycle. Keep doing this, up or down, until you get the temperatures right. If your refrigerator has an adjustable opening between the freezer and the refrigerator compartments, you can experiment with the width of the opening as part of this regulating process.

Make sure there is space around the refrigerator for air to circulate -- at least 3 inches between the refrigerator and any nearby counters or walls. If your refrigerator is in a constricted space, don't pile things on top of it, that will restrict air circulation even more.

The refrigerator is most efficient when it is full, but not over-crowded (food holds coolness better than air, but air must be able to circulate around the refrigerator). Freezers work best when they are full. Fill empty spaces with 2 liter pop bottles filled about 3/4ths full of water. Try putting bottles of frozen water in your refrigerator and see if it runs less. Check the temperature regularly with a thermometer. Don't let the frost build up -- when it is 1/4 inch deep, defrost the freezer. Move the refrigerator away from the wall once a year and vacuum the coils - they work most efficiently when they are clean (do this more often if you have a pet that sheds a lot).

Let hot foods cool before putting them in the refrigerator, and make sure that all dishes and foods are in airtight containers. Don't hold the door open while you decide what you want to eat, especially during hot and humid weather. Locate the refrigerator away from the stove, out of direct sunlight, and away from any heating ducts. If you use an extension cord to power your refrigerator, it must be the same gauge (thickness) of wire as the house wires, 14 gauge. Ideally, the refrigerator should be on its own circuit (breaker or fuse), with no other appliances or lights using that circuit. If there are additional electrical outlets on that circuit, don't use them if you can avoid it. The freezer should also be on its own circuit. Plug your refrigerator into a "Power Planner" This is a small box that plugs into an electrical outlet, and then you plug the refrigerator into it. If provides surge protection, smoother starting (less wear and tear) and saves electricity. They are available at most hardware and home supply stores. See www.energysmart.com for details.

If the door gasket isn't fitting tightly, replace it. If your refrigerator has an automatic ice maker or butter warmer, disconnect it. Thanks to Clarence Yusik, The Fridge Doctor for help with this refrigeration section.


1. Avoid sudden jack rabbit starts and stops. Accelerate slowly. If you see a stop coming, take your foot off the gas pedal, don't accelerate and then suddenly break hard unless it is an emergency stop..

2. Fill your gas tank when it is half empty. Don't overfill the tank.

3. Keep your tires inflated to the manufacturer's specifications.

4. Don't buy a higher grade of octane gasoline unless your engine manufacturer recommends it.

5. Change the air filter and oil regularly and get tuneups as needed..

6. On the highway, keep a steady speed and drive slower. For many vehicles, fuel economy goes way down when you drive faster than 55 MPH.

7. Don't carry extra weight by leaving stuff in the trunk or back seat that doesn't need to be there.

8. If you will be idling more than 2 minutes, turn off the engine.

9. Small vehicles get better mileage than big ones.

10. Keep the windows rolled up, but avoid using the car air conditioning. Use the vents. The car heater doesn't impact gasoline consumption.

There are no gas additives or special gee-whiz gizmos that you can buy that will significantly increase your gas mileage.

For more energy conservation resources, visit

www.energyconservationinfo.org | Better Times Almanac Home | Better Times Website Index

Robert Waldrop