February 15, 2011 11:56:00 AM
Sam called from the office, "I got the mail, and there''s good news and bad news."
The good news was I got a package, a gift of books, from a friend. The bad news was we got the electric bill, as well.
The bill was disheartening because we had built wood fires day and night since the last electric bill. We thought that one was high, but this one skyrocketed. We went over all our energy uses and tried to figure out what happened.
A new heating and cooling system was installed just two years ago -- the one that was supposed to be so energy efficient, the one we got that tax credit for. What was that about I''d like to know? Last winter when we got a higher-than-normal billing, we called the installer and told him about the increase.
"Just set your thermostat on a comfortable level, and don''t keep adjusting it up and down; it''s not made to work like that."
OK, so we did. We even set it at a conservative 67. Robert at Robert''s Apothecary said he set his on 65.
"Well, we could set ours on 65 if we wanted to," I told him. I couldn''t let Robert look heartier than us Prairie folks. We lowered to 65.
Sam and I continued to brainstorm energy-saving projects. We had installed new windows and doors along with the new heating system. So back to the wood stove we went, wondering how long we could physically keep it up, cutting, splitting, hauling and having it all going up in smoke.
A neighbor said they used propane, and their bill had doubled. To order another fill-up now would cost the equivalent of my first beetle-bug Volkswagen. The neighbor was threatening to yank out his gas logs and put in a wood-burning stove like ours. We had hoped to pull out the wood stove and put in gas logs like theirs.
A few neighbors, mostly elderly, kept their thermostats at 72. They are now ordering blankets and snuggies. I thought about using quilts to cover the windows, but I was afraid I''d feel like Punxsutawney Phil living in a burrow.
A call to our neighborly construction consultant, Lee Hatcher, yielded potential kilowatt guzzlers. After Sam checked the attic insulation, we learned the pink batting was adequate by 1970s standards. Most of our heat was wafting out the roof along with the wood stove smoke. We ordered extra insulation blown in pronto.
Lee also said that running space heaters cost $2 to $3 a day. Light bulbs instantly replaced space heaters in the greenhouse and unused rooms.
Wanting to do my part, I committed to use the stove, oven, clothes dryer, iron and any other heat-producing appliance as little as possible. I am more than happy to fulfill my global responsibility to conserve energy and lower our electric bill.
"Honey," I told Sam, "It''s the very least I can do."
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.
4. A Stone's Throw: Beware COLUMNS