|Burning wood during more profligate times|
Steve and I are playing a game of chicken of sorts these days. As the autumn season wears on, we're trying to deal with being colder and colder by putting on more layers and sucking it up, rather than turning on the furnace. Oh sure, we have two cords of dry hardwood stacked up in the garage, but I'm determined to make it last longer than last year's one cord of mixed woods and pallet of Bear bricks, which gave out some time in February. A look at this past year's natural gas bill showed that March had the highest usage of the entire year, followed by April, then February, when the wood ran out, and then May. We want to start burning the wood as late in the fall as we possibly can, so that it will last as late in the spring as it possibly can. We also don't want to burn too much gas, so it's a balance of weighing how cold it is outside, against how cold it is inside, and deciding if: 1) we're going to tough it out, 2) it's cold enough inside but still warm enough outside that we can make the house more comfortable with just a little bit of gas, or 3) it's cold inside and too cold outside to warm the house with a little bit of gas so it's time to start burning the precious wood.
You might think we're crazy to be this obsessed with paying attention to our consumption of things but it really seems to be paying off. Part of this conservation, particularly with the gas, is being borne out with the solar water heater. Last year during the month of September, we used twelve therms in a thirty-two day billing period; last month's billing period was thirty-three days and we used a total of four therms. That's a quarter of what we used last year during the same month. It's hard to say how much gas I used for cooking for either year, but I would venture to guess that the savings is attributable to our solar water heater. It'll be interesting to see how that savings changes over the course of the fall and winter seasons when it won't be nearly as efficient as it is in the summer. The collector plates still heat up quite a bit in overcast weather, but rain definitely keeps the collector much cooler, so we don't get as much heat out of it then. However, it does warm it a little bit, which means the regular gas heater is heating pre-warmed water (which runs through insulated piping from the solar tank) rather than heating cold water, so we'll gain a little bit of benefit from the solar heater, even in crappy winter weather.
When the solar PV system is finally finished, I'll tell you all about that, but right now it's a bit of a sort spot. The darn thing is taking sooooo much longer than the solar water system did, and that appears to be the fault of the project manager of the company we used, which by the way, was the same company as the water system; the crew that did the solar water heater system was really great; the crew that installed the solar PV…enh, not so much. But that's all another post, and I promise pictures and stats and all that good stuff.
The other, more difficult to quantify, kind of chicken that Steve and I are playing is with the finances. We've decided to knuckle down and try to live on my income, and throw everything that Steve makes at the mortgage principal. This might not be so scary if our incomes were more in line with each other, and since I make about half what he does, what I really mean is if my income were a little closer to his, but since that's not the case, it means that things are about to get very lean for us. Aside from getting out from underneath the mortgage that much sooner, another reason this is a good idea is that it gets us used to living a leaner lifestyle anyway. I really want for the two of us to be able to retire together, because I want to spend more time with my husband. We had a late start in life together, and I'm bound and determined to make up for lost time. It doesn't mean that the minute the mortgage is paid off we're checking out of the rat race, it just means that once that's accomplished, we need to take a look at what we're currently doing and figure out how reasonably soon we could quit working. Probably the single biggest expense we'll have once we don't have a mortgage and gainful employment will be healthcare insurance, which, if I'm being realistic, will probably be more than our current mortgage payment!
But that's the challenge for the next six months: make the wood and the money last a whole lot longer than they usually do. Think we can do it? Think you could do it?
In the meantime, I need to stop writing and crawl under the covers with Steve on the couch. I'm freezing.