Monday, September 17, 2007

Frugal Tips from the Farm?

Found a neat link from Rather-be-shopping.Com, where he talks about his father's "neat" frugal ideas.

-He puts a brick in the back of the toilet tank...
- He puts a five gallon bucket in the shower and when it gets filled he uses the water in the bucket to water his garden..
- He has a wood burning stove and the furnace is NEVER to be turned on...

Our place has a metal farm gate which we open and close each time we leave and return home. I timed it and it takes about 30 seconds to get out of the car, close or open the gate, then return to the car. Since I leave home on the average of twice each day that is four opens/closes of the gate each day. That is 120 seconds or 2 minutes per day. Two times 350 days per year (I am not home every day) is 700 minutes or 11.7 hours that my car idles needlessly. I believe it would require 9 gallons of gas to idle that long. At $3 per gallon that is $27 per year I save by turning the the engine off when opening and closing the gate

The reply:
Wow, I don't know what to say man, I'm just kind of baffled from reading both. But maybe I have a strange sense of Frugality with a very big bent on "my time is important".

Why don't you just install a remote opener and save yourself 11.7 hours/year + part of the overall energy? You're worried about saving $27/year, I'd be worried about saving 11.7 hours/year.

Brick in the toilet? That's basically just saying "Hey my toilet uses too much water" and all things considered the brick is pretty imprecise. Why not just install a toilet that's built to use less water / flush? Then you'll save water and you'll get a correct flush every time. In fact, why not just find/build a toilet with 2 flush buttons (cleverly named #1 and #2) so that you can get a variable amount of water / flush?

The wood burning stove is only "cheaper" if he can chop the wood himself (and his time is worth very little) and he has the place to put the wood. Depending on location, electric heating may be more efficient (such as in Manitoba, Canada, land of Hydroelectric dams). Again, if he wanted to be really efficient he would move over to a high-efficiency pellet stove which is currently getting the most heat/$. A buddy of mine is involved in the manufacture of these (pellet, gas and wood stoves) and he says that the pellet ones are efficient enough that greenhouses have actually started buying them to maintain heat.

As to the "bucket in the shower", well I can't argue with that for utility. However (and this is a personal beef), I really wish that this wasn't actually efficient. I'd really like to see a day where homes had more efficient use of their own water, such as an in-home filtration unit. Right now we basically have "in" pipes and "out" pipes, so water that could be reused isn't being reused. By the same measure we could be capturing rain run-off into our own filters (if we had them) and then we wouldn't need to use as much "public water".

I mean, if you have a roof and a lawn that are about the same size, then every time it rains, you could actually "water" twice. However, right now we're just sending that extra water into the storm sewers. We already have eaves, if we could pipe the stuff into a reservoir, then we can water the lawn two days later using the water we were just going to send away. If we wanted to get fancy, we could run the bath water through the filters and send part down the sewers and part into the reservoir, so now it costs less to water the plants and the lawn.

Don't get me wrong, you and your father are definitely "frugal", but it's worth looking at the old "penny-wise / pound-foolish" deal. You spent 250 words talking about conserving $27 in gas; but didn't seem to care that you were "wasting" nearly 12 hours of your time. At what point do we start talking about the efficiency wonders of driving a manual transmission and when do we finally cave in and say "I was sick of trying to save small money, so I just bought a Toyota Prius (or other Toyota Hybrid) and decided to save big money for the rest of the life of the car". These are all neat ways to "squeak out" a little more efficiency, but the tips are actually just capitalizing on the poorly-designed inefficiencies of the existing systems.

Why not just make a better system?


Kyle said...

Awww, I love to see a well constructed counter argument, well done! I can speak to a couple of your points and will have to get my Dad on here to speak to a couple, particularly the gate idea, that one is a head scratcher for me as well. I have been trying to talk him into an electric gate for years for not only the time saver but also the added security.

Since the time I wrote the original post I have come to find out that a while back he installed a "low flow" toilet and has removed the brick from the toilet. This is a must do for anyone, I actually think the water department in his town pretty much paid for the toilet via some great rebate offers.

I can also vouch that he gets all his wood FREE to heat his home. He is always on the lookout. He recently was able to score a bunch of Eucalyptus wood which is some of the best firewood you can find. He did have to cut and haul it, but like me, he enjoys doing that kind of work. Not only is it great exercise but you immediately see the fruits of your labor. Plus, using a chain saw can be kind of invigorating!

I totally agree with your water conservation ideas. The question is at what point in the future will options like you describe be widely adopted. Perhaps when water is $3 a gallon? Oh wait, the other day I paid $2 and I only got 20 ounces!

Kyle said...

I just blogged about this further here My Dad’s Frugal Tips: The Counter-Attack!

Gates VP said...

I've been reading about lots of hi-tech and conservation ideas and the limiting factor is two-fold. They're not cheap/commonly available & people are generally bad at math.

Ever heard of ground-source heat pumps? Do you know anyone with a giant battery pack and an A/C Converter in their basement?

The former heats /cools your home, but it costs like 25k to set up when you build the house. The latter is still being developed, though some people are actually powering much of their homes off grid.

An increase in the price of water may help solve the problem, but it's actually deeper than that, b/c I can't just install a filter on sewer output. They actually need to meet a certain H2O content or the shit won't flow. So putting my idea into action would require lots of regulatory hoop-jumping just to save your own water.

The reservoir catch is cool, but also subject to all kinds of laws. Especially if you have unfiltered water in a big tub where kids and animals may get to it.

If we want people to start adding solar panels and wind generators and even mini hydro-generators, we first need a way that people can share energy with the grid. This all begins by having a battery in your basement that you can actually charge, but no one's really pushing this right now.

The same is true of the water issue, especially in cities. For the whole idea to work, you need to build big catch basins for houses where you can send non-potable but usable water. From there you could add filter systems or just route your rain-water. But again, you need a basin and a switch so that you can pick which tap you're using to water the grass. Nobody has these things, so all of the cool innovations that follow are just stifled.

Doing these things could actually help cap the cost of energy and water, but it would do so at the expense of today's resources. Without some serious money behind them, these type of big-time savings are just pipe dreams for now :(

Kenisha said...

Good post.

Kyle said...

I just blogged about this further here My Dad’s Frugal Tips: The Counter-Attack!

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