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Christmas Village
Middlebury Inn


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Jewels of the North
Breezy Blackpool
Witches and Hot Pot
A Lightning Tour

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The Island of Crete

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Ancient Rome
Renaissance Rome

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Some tips on
Living Simply


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By Pat Mestern
September 12, 2003

Recent power outages have shown just how fragile our delivery system really is, and dependent we are on electricity. The outage prompted a few questions about what we can do, and should do, to become more independent of “the grid” and to preserve what electricity we do have. For the benefit of readers, I’ve listed a few things that everyone can do to both conserve, and save, electricity. I’m sure that I’ve missed a few good points. You’re welcome to be in touch so that I can add your favourites to my list. Here goes . . .

Set your refrigerator’s temperature up a wee bit and clean the coils at the back of the unit on a regular basis.

Move the fridge away from the wall and cabinets to allow the air to circulate around it.

If you are going to purchase a new fridge, don’t buy one with an ice dispenser on the door. You don’t need a fridge with all kinds of bells and whistles. You do need one that suits your basic needs and has been certified energy efficient.

Get rid of the old fridge in the basement, the one that holds your beer. It’s adding up to $150. per year onto your hydro bill
If your house is heated with natural gas, consider purchasing a gas stove for your cooking needs. If purchasing a new electric stove, buy one with a self-cleaning oven as they are better insulated.

Consider lining the bottom of your oven with fire brick. It will save you money in the long run as it heats up quickly and loses heat gradually, while maintaining an even oven heat. And you can open your oven door after you’re finished baking to allow the heat from the bricks to warm up your room.
When cooking, put small pots on small burners; large pots on large burners.

Use your microwave a lot as it uses 75% less power than a traditional oven.

When you use your traditional oven, plan a marathon cooking session. Do a week’s worth of oven cooking and baking at one time and freeze it.
Use an electric kettle rather than a kettle on a stove element. If you do use an old-fashioned top-of-stove kettle, like I do, only boil as much water as you need for your cuppa’.

Only turn a dishwasher on when it is fully loaded and air-dry the dishes rather than use the drying element. Don’t superheat your water prior to washing or use the pre-rinse cycle. It’s not necessary. Do small lots of dishes by hand.

When doing laundry, only do full loads and use cold water with an appropriate soap or detergent. Sort dirty clothes into heavy and light loads, and adjust water levels accordingly

When you need a new washing machine, buy a front-end loading unit. They use less energy and water.

Hang wet clothes on an outside line. During the colder months use folding racks inside the house. A fan blowing on a clothes rack will assist with the drying process.

If you must use a clothes dryer, make it a gas dryer.

Consider a gas or oil-fired hot water heater. Electric heaters are the most expensive way to heat water.

If your hot water needs are few i.e. if you are living alone, try an “on-demand” model of water heater, like the type used in motor homes.

Insulate the tank on your hot water heater and don’t forget to wrap the first few yards on the outflow pipe.

Turn the temperature down on your water heater to 110-115 degrees.

Set your water softener to cycle one to two times a week. You don’t have to soften your water every night.

Take short showers rather than long baths.

Fix those leaky faucets, especially those on your hot water taps. They can leak a lot of gallonage of water and waste not only water, but the electricity to heat it.

Clean air ducts and change furnace filters regularly.

When you have a bit of cash on-hard, add more insulation to roof and walls, including basement walls. In a real pinch, you can insulate with cardboard.

Caulk drafty areas before winter arrives. Check your outside doors for leakage. Use sand cats to hold back the cold air from seeping under doors.

Use area rugs on cold floors rather than turn up the thermostat. Remember, because heat rises, your floors will never be warm. Wear thick socks and a good pair of slippers if your feet get cold.

Chuck the electric blanket and buy a feather bed/mattress and a thick duvet for your bed.

Go to bed a half-hour earlier, with a good book and an old-fashioned hot water bottle.

Turn your computer off when you’re not using it. Plug everything into a power bar and switch the bar off.

Next time you need a monitor, buy a flat screen LCD which uses 60-70% less energy than cathode ray tubes

Don’t use your television for company during the day. Turn it off if you’re not watching the show. Better still, rather than tolerate garbage programming, turn the TV off during the evening and read a good book.

Unplug TV, VCR. and other gadgets when not in use as they “leak” electricity - up to 10% of total home consumption. This will drive “time-freaks” nuts but who pays attention to the clock on a VCR anyway.

If you do need “company” during the day, consider using a battery-operated radio that can be carried from room to room - the good old-fashioned way.

Unplug any electronics that have heavy transformer plugs.

Toss some of those useless electrical appliances and gadgets. Do you really need an electric tooth brush, electric can-opener, knife, hair curler and dryer, electric lawn mower - edger - leaf blower, electric blanket, sun lamps, tanning beds. What “things electrical” did your parents live without? That’s what you can do without too. Simply, simply, simply.

Shut that air-conditioner off. Open all your windows during the summer months to catch cross-breezes. When did opening windows become a crime? Don’t rent or buy a property unless it has windows that open - wide. Even during the hottest days, there are cross-breezes.

If for health reasons, you must use an air-conditioner, set it at a reasonable temperature. 70-72F. Anything less and you’re putting yourself into an artificial environment. Too long in an artificial environment and it becomes a permanent necessity, sometimes a very unhealthy necessity.

Use electric fans to move air throughout the house. They are energy efficient and cost a lot less to operate than an air-conditioner

If you have an old house, use your furnace fan to circulate cool air from the cellar throughout the home. Furnaces usually have side doors that open for circulation and changing filters. Our basement/cellar is like a cave. It never gets above 60F during the hottest summer days. Cool air coming out of the heat ducts is wonderful on a hot day.

Don’t touch that thermostat! Wear a sweater. Set the thermostat to 65-68F in winter daytime, 45F at night and snuggle. Use a programmable thermostat to do the job for you.

Use motion detector lights rather than leave yard lights on after dark.

Plant lots of deciduous trees on the south side of your house - those that lose their leaves. Trees lower summer temperatures by at least 10%. As the trees lose their leaves, light can get into the house during the winter months.

Plant coniferous trees as windbreaks on the north and east sides - those being evergreens/pine/cedar. As these trees don’t lose their needles, they provide protection during those nasty winter blasts from both north and east.

Do you really need all those outside lights? Who are you trying to impress? The neighbourhood skunk?

If you do need outdoor lighting, use solar-powered garden lights which have several advantages. When the power goes out, you can bring them into the house to provide light - provided that the sun has shone previous to the outage.

If you have a swimming pool, turn the temperature down and use a thermal cover. Use a solar-powered heater.

Around the house and garage, use compact fluorescent bulbs which last 10 times longer than regular bulbs. They are more expensive but burn less hydro so pay for themselves in a short period of time.

Use clear bulbs rather than frosted bulbs. They are 25% more efficient

Reduce lightning in your house by turning off lights, appliances, gizmos when you leave a room.

Speak up, and to, corporations who waste energy. Supermarkets do not need to be so cold - hot or over-lit. Garish electrical signage can be toned down or shut off. Refuse to patronize energy guzzling businesses. If they can afford to pay for the excessive use of electricity, they don’t need your bucks. Give your hard earned money to a responsible business who is easy “on the grid”. Better still, buy as close to the farm gate or small manufacturer as you can. This helps the people at the bottom of the ladder who for the most part, are more conscientious about conservation.

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