What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Dishwasher Tip

Baby Bottle Basket

Most dishwashers have silverware baskets with hinged lids that can be closed for smaller items. But what do you do if you have items that are too big for the silverware compartments yet too small to be left on their own in the dishwasher? After oldest grandbaby was born I noticed a special dishwasher basket in the kid's dishwasher for keeping nipples and bottle lids together. Immediately I saw where such a basket would be of use for me. I was a lot of smaller lids, canning rings and small utensils that would be all over the dishwasher if placed in the dishwasher as is. So I put this idea on my thrift shop/yard sale list. This is the type of thing that would go for under a dollar if buying used and should be in almost new condition. A couple of months after oldest grandbaby was born I found one at my favourite resale shop for 25¢. Now I can wash all those smaller items too big for the silverware basket but too small to wash on their own without worrying about them. It is a simple solution! Even if you have to pay the full price of about $5 it would be well worth the purchase.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Last Friday's Bargain Finds

I've been a bargain shopper ever since I can remember, well before it was cool to be frugal or thrifty. I love checking out resale and thrift stores. Yard sales are always a delight! For years I saw buying used as the ultimate in recycling so it became a challenge to find good quality used household items and furnishing without them looking like they were used. I still enjoy finding good deals on used items that we need. I even keep a running list of needed items always hoping to find good used instead of new.

Friday I had to grocery shop for the weekend as the kids would be home and we were hosting a larger get together. After dropping off my husband I stopped at the local Sally Ann. I found a cute flashlight for the grandbabies' toy chest as well as a children's book and a book for us to enjoy. I also found a meatball former for one of the kids, stainless steal measuring spoons, a small covered casserole dish and two specialty shaped loaf pans (Pampered Chef). My total came to $4.35!

One of the loaf pans had never been used and was in the original packaging complete with instruction booklets. These will be perfect for making shaped loaves of bread for the grandbabies and entertaining! Both books were in like new condition. I was especially pleased to find the lidded casserole dish.

I'm in the process of eliminating plastic storage containers (eg. GladWare®) in favour of glass storage containers but not for the same reasons some are. The plastic containers can't be used for reheating in the microwave oven so I end up dirtying another microwave safe dish. Over time these containers become stained as well. I've even stopped using them in the freezer because they chip and break if hit the wrong way when frozen. I think that going to glass for refrigerator storage will prove to be a better chose for us since I'm already using mason jars for storage for dried foods and in the refrigerator.

About 10 days ago I awoke to a horrible noise that gave a clear indication that something had got into the house. It sounded larger than a mouse yet we have found no signs of an actual intruder. Most of the foods in the pantry are either in glass, metal or food grade plastic pails with lids. Still I had a few foods that rodents if they got in could chew through. With this in mind I stopped at the local dollar store to pick up plastic bins to put these foods in knowing that the food would not come into contact with the plastic yet would be protected just in case. I bought 5 covered bins. I also picked up 2 glass cereal bowls that I plan on using as small mixing bowls, two small covered storage bowls, rice sticks, fancy Dora cookies for grandbaby's treat, an ice cube tray, moisture remover and dishwasher rinse agent. The grand total was $17.65!

I was rather pleased at getting the glassware so will pick up more on my next trip. What I was really happy at finding was the dishwasher rinse agent. The manufacturer of our dishwasher (Bosh) says that using a separate rinse agent is a must even if the dishwasher detergent has a rinse agent in it. The brand name (JetDry®) cost us 6¢ per load but only if purchased on sale. My husband found a store brand at nofrills® that cut our costs to 2¢ per load. Now that's not a lot per load however the dollar store had the same size 250 ml bottle for $1 that brings the price per load to 1¢. That's a savings of $15.60 per year. Hey, that's not a lot of money but why spend extra if you don't have to?

The ice cube tray will likely not be used for making ice cubes. Each well holds 2 teaspoons, just perfect for freezing small quantities of roasted garlic, herbs and tomato paste. Once froze I pop these little flavour gems out and put into a freezer bag until needed.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New Natural Gas Meter

Union Gas informed us last week that they would like to change out our natural gas meter. My only thought was it was about time! They changed it out yesterday and I even managed to pick the brains of the installers. I'm always on the look-out for making our home a little more energy efficient. Natural gas appliances in our home include hot water tank, furnace, gas fireplace and gas dryer. We also have an outdoor natural gas grill.

Natural gas leaks can be very dangerous to the point of causing homes to blow-up. For that reason natural gas which is odourless and colourless is scented with mercaptans to serve as a warning of a gas leak. If you smell a natural gas leak, cut off the main gas and electricity to the house, get out of the house and call the emergency gas leak line for your natural gas provider. If the gas leak is bad enough something as simple as flicking on a light switch is enough of a spark to cause a problem so be safe and cut the electricity as well. Gas meters should be kept clear of vegetation and snow as well. Not only does this prevent errors reading the meter it also helps prevent potential leaks.

Old Meter

We bought this house almost two years ago and from the get go I was not pleased with the gas meter pictured. First, the meter itself looked quite old and there were signs of rust. I also suspected there might be a small gas leak but despite several checks never smelled enough natural gas to call them. I called them asking to have the meter checked which they did as well as a bit of basic maintenance on the meter. Union Gas paints the meters, checks for leaks and replaces if necessary or as part of their maintence schedule. I was very pleased to hear they were going to finally replace the meter!

There were two large shrubs on both sides of the meter virutally hiding most of it, obstructing not only reading the meter but also trouble shooting. We cut the shrubs down last summer leaving about a 1' high trunk on each side, planning to dig them out when we were sure they were dead. The service technicians said we maid a good choice to remove the shrubs. Apparently roots from both trees and shrubs can cause the gas pipe underground to shift that can ultimately cause leakage problems. They also recommended not digging out the roots of those shrubs but rather cut them off just below the ground level and let them rot so as to not risk hitting or shifting the gas line.

New Meter

Pictured is the new gas meter. Two things are quite apparent aside of aesthetics even though I only indicated one major change (red arrow). There is also a little round upside down (I think) vent that wasn't on the old meter. The meter now shows our gas used in cubic meters making it a lot easier to track. All utility meters should be tracked to catch any problems before they become major problems. For example if you track your natural gas usage at the same time every day and you find you are averaging 10 m3 daily, a reading that indicates you used 15 m3 would be abnormal so start trouble shooting right then before it costs you a lot more.

Our gas was off for about 40 minutes during the installation process. Once the meter was installed the service technicians came inside to make sure each of our gas appliances lit properly and were working. Both our furnace and dryer have electronic ignition so there is no pilot light burning all the time. The gas fireplace and gas grill have manual electronic ignition. However, the technicians said we should light the gas fireplace and leave the pilot light on for the entire heating season. They said this will save wear on the thermocoupler and even though this part is about $10 to replace they said it is better to leave the pilot light on. To me that doesn't make sense to have a pilot light running for an appliance we use a couple of times a month. We don't leave a pilot light on the gas grill either just light it when we need it. So I do think this is a bit of bad advice for out particular gas fireplace. We are planning on updating to a newer model that may possibly need to have the pilot light left on but hopefully not. A gas pilot light is using fantum energy and even though it is not a lot there is no point using that energy unless the appliance is in use.

Ok, so the really great news is they thought our furnace looked very, very good. The one technician has the same model at home and said he was amazed there was no rust on ours! His recommendation was very consistently with those of everyone we have talked to about our furnace. Leave it alone until it goes! This is great new to some degree even though we were hoping to go to a smaller sized (physically not BTU) furnace that along with going to a tankless hotwater heater would free up a considerable amount of room to extend the lower bathroom. It would appear we will be focusing on other improvements this year and that won't be such a bad thing.
Garden Gnome

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Our Furnace Problems

Quite often when household problems occur there is a bit of troubleshooting to do if the problem is not immediately obvious. In this case we had problems with our furnace but it was not immediately apparent. The problem was gradual only becoming noticeable when our kids made the comment they had never felt our house that cold. I just thought the house was a bit cooler because we had the daytime setting at 19ºC (66ºF) instead of 20ºC (68ºF) as well as it being early in the heating season so you tend to notice the cold more. Thank goodness this was during our Thanksgiving (Canadian) weekend so we were able to start the troubleshooting early.

Natural Gas Usage Graph

We can view our gas bill online and we get a hardcopy. Both include a graph of our natural gas usage that can be used as a visual. These graphs can help you troubleshoot and make you aware of a problem even if you have not noticed one. A sudden spike on the graph can mean you have a gas leak somewhere that you may not be aware of.

Oct. 25 - Nov. 26, 2007 is indicated in turquoise and highlighted by the bottom green arrow. Note the arrows are what I put in using Photoshop®. In comparison Oct. 23 - Nov 24, 2008 is shown in yellow indicated by the bottom pink arrow. What I noticed was a slight increase in natural gas usage despite all of the winterizing we did in the past year. In short our gas use went up instead of down as expected.

A couple of days after the bill came in I noticed the furnace staying on almost constantly but no warm air coming out of the vents. I checked the furnace room that lies off the laundry room and it was very hot. Obviously the furnace was working just not blowing the warm air. My husband checked it and replace the fan belt. The fan worked for a couple of days then stopped again. He re-adjusted the fan belt and once again it worked fine for a couple of days. We thought things were fine until a few days later I got up to a nice clunk. So I shut off the furnace and used the gas fireplace for the day until my husband got home. He brought another fan belt with him just in case. It turns out that he thinks he tightened the belt too much causing the one pulley to come off but it could be that the pulley was loose to begin with. He fixed it again and so far everything seems to be fine.

Nov, 26 - Dec 27, 2007 is indicated by the upper green arrow. The use for the same period in 2008 indicated by the upper pink arrow shows that we did use more gas during the furnace troubles. However, we used less gas from Dec. 29 - Jan. 23, 2009 than we did from Dec. 27 - Jan. 23, 2008 as apparent from the graph. During that time period in 2008 we used an average of 14 m3 per day, the same amount we used this year but the average outdoor temperature was 7ºC colder than in 2008. So we used less gas to keep the house at a comfortable temperature during January 2009 than we did in January 2008. It is encouraging to see progress in our attempts at reducing our natural gas usage.

The Problem

Our furnace is a Clare Megasave (installed about 1983) I that has a secondary heat exchanger. If the secondary heat exchanger fails it cannot be replaced because the company is no longer in business. As a result these furnaces have become notorious money pits when they start to fail. The current recommendation is to replace rather than repairing these furnaces. However, our furnace is in quite good condition. There is no signs of rust and it has been well maintained. The former owner vacationed in Florida every winter for about 7 years before we bought the house. Everything including the utilities was shut down so for those years the furnace was only used briefly in October and April. It was serviced annually as well. Given this history and the fact that the furnace was performing quite nicely before the recent fan belt problem and it has been working well since the fan belt (blue arrow) was replaced, we have made no plans to replace the furnace unless it does quit.

The 2009 Canadian Budget introduced the Home Renovation Tax Credit (HRTC) for home improvements over $1,000 and under $10,000 up to a maximum of $1,350 tax credit to be claimed on the 2009 Income Tax Return. We figured if we combined this with ecoEnergy grants and provincial grants this would be a good year to replace the furnace. We are also considering other energy conservation improvements and if we take advantage of DIY projects we can maximize the improvements we can make while taking advantage of sales, tax credit and grants. After talking to several friends the recommendation is to use this furnace as long as possible. Apparently new furnaces only have a lifespan of 10 year! So we will be doing a lot of extensive research on furnaces over the next few months.

Garden Gnome