Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I loved this comment -- no, LOVED it

Here's an off-topic comment from the EconoWhiner blog. The blogpost is about tasting cheap wine. The commenter went off on her own topic...whining and economics. I'd love to read more of her, but googling her turns up no hits .... not even this comment. Roberta Shearson, where are you? Who are you? Tell us more!

[i write this as my heater blasts]

Roberta Shearson

Cut your energy bills, and you can buy more wine.

Respect the British Thermal Unit(BTU); don’t throw them away. (The BTU is a unit of energy, like the dreaded calorie, only bigger.)

For example, consider the BTU and natural gas.

You buy natural gas in units of one thousand cubic feet. That is what the letters MCF on your gas bill mean. This winter, one MFC (1,000 cubic feet of gas) is predicted to hit $20 in Ohio where I live. A few years ago the same quantity of gas cost $5.

I have a keen interest in natural gas at $20 a MCF. My house is planted square on the bank of beautiful Lake Erie. In the winter, the Lake morphs from balmy blue to howling wilderness. Here the wind roars, fresh from Canada, over 60 miles of ice at speed 70 mph. Temperatures cower in the teens for weeks on end. In brief, prime BTU territory.

Now one cubic foot of natural gas at normal pressures contains around 1,000 BTU, so one MCF of gas has 1,000,000 BTU.

Wow! you say, that’s at lot of BTUs for only $20. What a bargain! Well, hold on. A small, forced air gas furnace burns 50,000 BTU in one hour. That’s one twentieth of a MCF of gas up in smoke (or, to be more precise, up in carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and water). So every hour your furnace runs, it burns up $1 of your hard-earned money. If your furnace is on 8 hours a day (a reasonable time), your basic monthly gas bill will be $240. That’s just for the furnace. Add the cost of heating water, drying clothes and cooking dinner if these appliances are also gas. If you have a 100,000 BTU furnace, your bill will be $480. This plus a flat service fee of $12.50 for the gas company to read your meter and fiddle around with their service lines. And don’t forget the tax.

So what’s my savings plan? Insulating and installing thermal pane windows are, of course, the first step. Then turn down your hot water tank to 120 degrees and wrap it in an insulation blanket. Buy some clothes line and abandon your clothes dryer.

Now the BIG step. Install a programmable thermostat for your furnace. Set the thermostat for 45 degrees (45 is as low as regular thermostats go) at night and 50 degrees in the daytime. This will get you to a point where the furnace runs one to three hours a day.

The temperature of your house at night is relevant only to your water pipes. You yourself will not be cold. Breathing 45-degree air puts you, not to sleep, but into coma. You will sleep like baby. Don’t worry about having to go to the bathroom. Feet hitting the 45-degree floor will cause your bladder, normally not a thoughtful organ, to reconsider the severity of its distention.

In the day you must dress as your stalwart pioneer ancestors did. Put on long underwear, a long-sleeved shirt, and finish with a wool sweater and a wool vest. A wool tube scarf and fingerless gloves add a nice touch. (But don’t answer the door bell clad in scarf and gloves. You will be hauled off to the funny farm.) These wool garments should be knitted with 5-ply gansey wool or merino wool and with fine stitches–7 to the inch. (Try the Goodwill.)

Above all, don’t sit down. This means getting rid of you TV. No TV reduces your electric bill slightly and eliminates the cable bill altogether.

Above all, keep busy.

Also buy a small electric heater and run it when, for some reason, you are forced to sit down, for example, when you’re paying your gas and electric bills or calculating your income taxes.

You may actually save on the electric bill by running a small,700- or 800-watt electric heater for a few hours a day, that is when you are absolutely must do the no-no, i.e. sit down. This is because, even though you had added the heater, the electric fan on the furnace will be running less.

The scientific, small-heater theory is based on the fact that the heater warms mostly YOU…not vast empty spaces in far off rooms, or the pictures on the wall, or already well-clad, over struffed furniture, or any other such inanimate object. These things have no interest in heat and being warm. (The exception is your piano. Heat, causing excessive dryness alternating with summer dampness, is not good for it.)

Another idea from the treasures of thermodynamics. Remember the Second Law–i.e. everything tends to go from bad to worse or, put another way, houses can easily go from toasty-froasty to lukewarm and then on down to wintry. The speed at which this terrible process happens is directly proportional to the temperature difference between the bad and the worse, in this case, between the inside and the outside of your house. The hotter your house, the quicker it loses heat. Read: money. (Picture a child in a white dress eating a chocolate ice cream cone on a very hot summer day. Nature abhors temperature difference and color contrast!) On a cosmic scale, the ultimate purpose of your furnace is to heat the great outdoors. So the more you crank up the thermostat, the faster the furnace accomplishes its divine mission.

So stop whining. Turn down your thermostat. I dare you.

Hey, it works for me. I’m seventy years old. If I can live and thrive at 50 degrees, so can you. I haven’t had a cold in two years. I read that flu and cold viruses like cold, but I think even they have a threshold of discomfort below which it’s not worth their effort to go out and find a nostril to crawl up.

Why my grandfather, born in the last year of the Civil War, told how, as a boy, he woke up with snow on his bed covers. He had to break ice in the water pitcher to wash his face in the morning. He went “on the Lakes” (in Ohio that phrase means to became a sailor on the Great Lakes) at the age of thirteen–his early years spent on sailing ships. You can bet he was cold. In his later years, and much to my mother’s horror, he bragged that he took a bath only once a year, at which time he also changed, most unwillingly, his long-johns.

Now there was a man for you–frugal,hardy–no whiner he.


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