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 :)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas 2009 snow globe ornament

Garden Gnome

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hydro-One Time-of-Use (TOU) Prices

Towards the end of 2008 there were rumours of Hydro One, our electricity provider, going to a terms-of-use (TOU) electricity rates. I think it was in February that they came out to install our Smart meter. What the Smart meter allows Hydro One to do is read the meter via satellite eliminating physical meter readings. Now if you are in town or a city in Ontario meter reading is done monthly. If you are in a rural setting it is very different in that you get two months of estimate billing and one month of actual billing so essentially in rural areas your meter is actually read quarterly. This results in some very strange readings like our last December bill that showed us using 1 kWh per day when we average about 20 kWh which is hard to average due to the estimated billing. Then the estimates take into consideration the average electricity usage which means in the summer higher bills due to air conditioning despite the fact we had our air conditioning on for all of 5 days this past year. There has been a lot of complaints regarding the TOU metering but I for one am looking forward to it because I will be able to monitor our electricity usage online and it will eliminate the estimate billing.

According to the TOU pricing off-peak cost per kWh will be 4.2¢, mid-peak cost 7.6¢ per kWh and on-peak hours 9.1¢ per kWh in comparison to our current flat rate fee of 5.8¢ per kWh upto the threshold of 1,000 kWh then 6.7¢ per kWh above that threshold. So on first glance it looks like our hydro rates are going increase considerably. About 56% of our electric bill is service charges based on kWh used. So the cost per kWh is increasing but this will not affect the service charges based on kWh used. They are saying that if you shift your energy use to off-peak hours you can save money but looking at their pie charts it's easy to see this is not quite so easy. But what does this really mean? Essentially a large majority of Ontario households will change the way they use electricity from 7 am to 9 pm on weekdays year round.

We have high efficiency (HE), EnergyStar® qualified appliances. I'm home most days so can easily shift cooking and because we have HE appliances any shifting is going to have a minimum effect. They are suggesting running the dishwasher at after 9 pm or on weekends as well as doing laundry on the weekends. Well that is fine and dandy if you are a household of 2 but really I don't see much of a shift in energy usage for us. I usually run the dishwasher after 9 pm and the washer on weekends anyway so there won't be a change for us. I will likely shift more baking and canning to the weekends when the rates are cheaper but other than that there won't be a lot of change for us.

The reality is during the winter months the weekday hours between 5 pm and 9 pm are basically the dinner and after dinner hours at the highes cost per kWh. How exactly can you defer cooking times for dinner? The solution to minimizing the costs associated with cooking will be to use energy efficient cooking methods. Use a countertop roaster rather than an oven or use the oven to cook most of the components of the meal in the oven with an extra piece of meat to be used for sandwiches during the week will help maximize the energy you are using. A crockpot (slow cooker) while not my favourite cooking appliance can be set to take advantage of the lower mid-peak prices during winter days. A pressure cooker will help put tasty meals cooked during high-peak hours on your table without using a lot energy. Get into the habit of using lids on your pots and pans and any time you can eliminate boiling anything do so. It uses less energy to steam vegetables than it does to boil them and the results are nicer. Of course if you have the option to switch to cooking with natural gas entirely or partially you will definitely save all the way around since natural gas is currently considerably less than electricity in Ontario.

The TOU will affect people without HE appliances, those with children or on fixed income the most. Hydro One has a cute applet that helps you determine how much various electrical appliances will cost you to run based on the new TOU rates. This will give you an idea of what appliances could be switched to the low rate times. Now this tool is just a guide. For example the lowest time setting for the coffee maker is 1 hr but we use a purcolator or the espresso machine neither of which run more than 15 minutes. It also allows for 13 lights with no way to alter the number and a maximum of 12 hours on. Due to the design of our house we have 7 CFL on most days from about 8 am to midnight. It only gives 2 options for television, 50 - inch plasma or conventional and there is no allowance for hot boxes like cable or satellite. There are a lot of little energy users like phone adapters, alarm clocks and always on night lights that eat up electricity 24/7 that the applet doesn't account for either but it is a good start towards saving electricity.

Garden Gnome

Monday, December 7, 2009

Artificial Plants

Being a gardener at heart the idea of using artificial plants in our home doesn't really sit well with me. They tend to be huge dust collectors and well they just look fake. However, there are certain spots in the house where a plant would look perfect but the spot is not exactly conducive to good plant growth. This is were an artificial plant can come in handy.

It is easy to put together a fairly natural looking basket of ivy or other potted plant look. Craft type stores, dollar stores, department stores and even plant nurseries carry a wide range of artificial vines, flowers and greenery. With a little practice and tweaking you can get a realistic looking artificial plant for those spots where a real plant would not survive in your home.

Garden Gnome

Friday, December 4, 2009

Closet Decluttering

We bought this house based on it's unique character and location. This is the first home we've owned that has an abundance of storage! In addition to the generous closets there are custom built-ins and nooks for more storage. Each of the closets have been customized and the linen closet is cedar tongue and groove lined.

We have been decorating one room at a time so this past week we tackled the master bedroom closet as part of the preparation for re-doing our room after the holidays. This will be a DIY project. Our large master bedroom is on the lower level. The ceiling is two levels with the entrance half of the room about a foot higher than the sleeping half of the room. Adjacent to end of the closet (right of picture) there is the door to a large, unfinished storage room about 8' x 8' that will be insulated and finished during the make-over. We are planning on replacing the carpeting with hard flooring. One of our kids will be painting the ceilings and walls that will consist of 3 possibly 4 colours similar to how we used shades of complementary colours to tie the upper rooms together with the entrance and lower level. I'll be using colours complementary to the two Behr swatches I've been working with.

Like the rest of the house there is custom woodwork.
The master bedroom closet spans floor to ceiling with an opening 5'10" W x 6'6.5" H covered with double shutter style folding wood doors. The inside measurements are 7'11" W, 6'6.6" H, 28" D on each end and 31'5" D across the opening. The closet has a light with a 2' fluorescent tube.

We we moved in it was more of a concern getting rooms functional. All of the bedroom closets became semi-organized slowly being organized know they would have to be completely re-organized at some point. One of the bedrooms is being turned into a craft room which is another planned winter DIY project. The other bedroom will be redone as well for a guest room. We plan to remove the carpeting from these rooms as well.

inside master bedroom closetIt is surprising how re-organizing and de-cluttering a closet of any kind can be so disruptive. The work is not difficult at all but everything that was in the closet ends up being spread everywhere as the only way to do this effectively is to completely empty the entire closet. Once the closet was completely empty my husband washed the ceiling and walls with a 1:1 vinegar solution. We removed any scuff marks with a Mr. Clean® Magic Eraser®. We washed the wood shelving and baseboards with Murphy Oil Soap solution.

We used the 3 pile method of toss, donate and keep. This is really quite easy as long as you don't let emotion get in the way. The difficult part is trying on all your clothes to de-clutter all clothes that no longer fit or haven't been worn in the past year. This is time consuming. It's a bit depressing too when you realize it's your body that has changed not the clothes. In my case it was a bit worse because I had to go through over 40 pairs of shoes many in plastic lidded shoe boxes. I will admit to bending the worn in the past year rule when it came to my shoe collection but I did manage to relinquish 8 pairs. In the end 2 large bags of clothes and a bag of hangers were donated, 1 large bag of clothes went to one of our kids and a box of shoes/clothes went to another one of our kids so we cleared out a lot but that included the dressers as well as the closet.

closet shelvesAll of the closets have some type of customized shelving to maximize storage. The closet in the soon to be craft room has some rather impressive customization that I will show in greater detail when we get to that room. The master bedroom closet has 3 wood shelves on each end of the closet to make use of space that would normally be wasted. It is surprising how much extra storage space this adds in the closet.

On my end pictured, I have shoes in plastic shoe boxes neatly stacked 3 wide 6 high (18 pr). The bottom two shelves hold shoes that won't fit in shoe boxes and purses. The top shelf holds my doggie slippers and a couple of additional accessories. My husband uses his shelves for sports wear.

After using the closet for awhile I decided that bins spanning the width of the long top shelf would be quite helpful to keep things organized. I picked up 5 plastic bins at the dollar store. They are a nice taupe colour so will fit in with the colour scheme. There is room for 3 more so I'll pick those up the next shopping trip. I'll post more pictures of the finished results in another post.

Garden Gnome