Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Saving Money on Electricity & Gas Bills

A friend of mine just told me about his gas bill for last month - a whooping $600+. Good thing that he lives in the house with 6 other housemates and the house is also an older house - so there are probably some leaks here and there which creating more work for the heater, hence more expensive payment.

Another fellow also is paying about $150+ per month for his electric bill per month.

I used to never really consider them as a big deal until I moved into a house, got married, and had a son. My expenses are piling up and I need to tighten my budgeting and do some cost cutting. One of the first area that I was able to successfully reduce is in the area of utility bills.

My gas bill used to be about $300 during the winter months and about $70 per month for the rest of the year. Last year, I reduce my gas bill from averaging $300 per month between December to March to about $150 per month (so about 1/2 of it used to be).

So how did I do it? Here are several tips that I found to be pretty useful...

I live in a 4 bedroom house, but we in most nights we only use 2 of the bedrooms: for my wife and I, and another room for my son. We use another room as my office and the last one as a guess bedroom. So keep in mind that the suggestions below may or may not apply to you in all situations - I am just providing tips that so far have been working pretty well for me and my family.

1. Get a programmable thermostat
This may cost you between $30 to $200, depending on how fancy you want to get with your thermostat. At least get a programmable one for both heat and cold air - and can be programmed based on daily basis. Some only has weekday or weekend setting. Depending on your need, get whatever suited for you. Mine is programmable by day and it is only $40 (one of the best investment in home improvement I have made).

2. I programmed it to turn down the temperature during the day on several days of the week where nobody is at home. Do not turn your heater off, but just lower the temperature. I lower mine to 10-15 degrees cooler than the regular temperature. So when I am at home, the thermostat usually shows 72 F and ~60 F when nobody is at home. You can program it so that it goes back up to the regular comfortable temperature 30 minutes before you are back home so you will come home to a warm house instead to a cold one. Obviously you cannot consider all possibilities, but try to get the "typical" schedule - and then program them it - you can override them as necessary.

3. If you are going away for a longer period of time (like on a vacation), lower your house temperature to the upper 40s F (but do not turn off your heater) and set it to come back up when you are about to come back.

4. If your household is like mine, where we typically are only using 2 rooms at night (or less), you may want to consider buying an oil portable heater. So at night, schedule your main house thermostat to lower the temperature to the 60s F and turn on your oil heater in your bedroom(s). That way, you are only heating the necessary rooms (typically your bedrooms) and not wasting energy on other unused rooms. I usually turn down the house temperature at 9:30pm and turn on the oil heater in my bedroom around the same time. Since the heat dissipates gradually in the main house so I won't notice much difference when I am walking into my bedroom (typically around 10:30pm) where the temperature is already picked up my the oil heater. My oil heater has a timer so it shut itself down around 7am, while my main house thermostat increase the temperature of the house around the same time (up to 72 F).

5. Reduce leaks. Make sure your doors, windows, etc are not leaking. You can buy weather strips at the hardware store to stop the leaks from doors and windows.

6. Install a ceiling fan. Heat goes up and ceiling fan helps to circulate the hot air from your heater better. You do not need to do this on every room of your house, but it will be very helpful to have it in your most used rooms in the house. Secondly, during the non-winter times, it can also give you some extra breeze.

There are other things you that requires much more money, such as replacing your windows with double layer windows, installing screen doors, fixing wall insulation, etc. I am going to get into those things in this post. Another thing you can do is put on an extra layer of clothing and lower the temperature. One of my friend set his daily temperature at 68 F during the winter months - and always wear a sweater or extra layer of clothing at home. Works great for him!

The principle is no different than "gas" - less usage means less payment.

1. Change filament based bulb with CFL bulbs. They cost more to buy, but they are worthy investments in the long run. Especially if you live in a house, where there are tons of bulbs. CFL bulbs usually cost you $2 per bulb but they also last longer than filament bulbs. In most cases, your average house filament bulb is a 60W bulb. Using CFL, you can get the same brightness with just 15W - that is 75% energy saving per bulb.

2. There are some light fixtures or lights that cannot use CFL bulbs. Light fixtures with dimmers cannot use CFL bulbs. Also, some of my lights are using fluorescent lights. In those areas, I would try to find the lower energy bulbs/lights (substitute 40W fluorescent with 34W, etc). Read more about CFL bulb here.

3. Always turn-off when unused. You can get a smart switch that automatically turn off the light when the room is unused for a period of time. OR ... you can just create a good habit of turning off the light when you are not using the room. In my house a good example of this is the kitchen, where there are 4 strips or 40W fluorescent light on the ceiling - totally to a 160W energy used when it is on. You can reduce the energy usage to 0 if you turn it off. Of course this also applies to other appliances and electronics, such as TVs, computers (or you can set it to hibernate automatically), DVD players, etc.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Future Quarterback?

Once sport that Jon was exposed to since early on is football. He basically grew up knowing that Ohio State is THE team in football and yelling "O-H" "I-O" is something considered to be much more precious than "da-da". His first ball is an Ohio State football and his first jacket is an OSU jacket.

Anyway, I took some pictures of him playing with buddy Andrew on Monday - and surprisingly he could hold the football correctly (most of the time) and threw some spiral several times.

So here are some pictures:

Call plays and reading defense ....

Ball is snapped ...

Fake pump to the right!

It's a Quarterback Draw!

He runs and he scores!!! Touchdown!!!

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Outlook Filter/Rule to Remove Spam from YOURSELF?

My MS Outlook Exchange account is littered with SPAM - so I turned on the junk email filter on. This enables the auto rules that move "junk"-ish email into the junk mail folder. It does not move all junk email to junk mail folder but for the ones that pass through the filter I can individually right click and include them as junk, so the next time the same email address sends me anything, it will be considered as junk.

So, I am golden, right? Yes ... for a while ... until I start to get junk emails from MYSELF. I am pretty sure that my computer is clean from adwares, viruses, etc. So, it must be that the spammers have gotten my email address and they are spamming me using it. If I try to include those email in the blocked senders list, I can't - since the sender's address is my own email address.

To handle this, initially I create a filter to block certain subjects (since they are all have similar subjects). This works for a while. But as time goes, I have to keep adding and adding more subjects into my rules - which becomes very large. There must be an easier way!

Here is how I solved the problem above:

I created a new rule in Outlook, and the rule is basically checking my email header. So I check for email sent by my email address but is not sent from my Exchange server and move those to junk mail folder (and stop processing any more rules). Voila! Now my Inbox is clean and I can remove my bloated "subject" rule.
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Hot Chicken Chowder

I made spicy chicken chowder last Saturday and it turned out great. The (already awesome) original recipe is from the food network - by Paula Deen and I put my own twist into it - although the main essence is still the same.

Here are some of the changes I made:

  • From the original recipe, it calls for 2 large onions. I used 3 large onions.
  • Instead of all poblano peppers, I used a combination of poblano, cubano, and jalapeno - and I left some seeds in to give more heat. If you want - you can roast the peppers first, make it even tastier.
  • Instead of 3 quarts of broth, I only used between 2 and 2.5 quarts. This will render thicker soup (depending on your taste, you may or my not like this). If you prefer thinner soup, you can use 3 quarts like the original recipe says.
  • Since I love cilantro, I added more to it during serving time.
  • If you want - you can add corn to it.

Now here is the kicker ... it tastes even better the second day - so my advice is to make it at night and eat it for lunch the next day! Get a cuban bread and you are set!
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Monday, February 9, 2009

Dynamic LINQ Library

Let's say you have an application that has a list page that displays a collection of records (i.e. product list)- and on this list page, you want to be able to sort based on the field headers by clicking it. If clicked again, it would reverse the sort direction/order (ascending/descending) - just like Windows Explorer.In regular LINQ - this is not so easy, since LINQ is strongly typed. So let's take a look how would we do this in regular LINQ. Getting all Products by CategoryId = 5 ordering them by SupplierId

var products = from p in Products  where p.CategoryId == 5  order by p.SupplierId  select p;
Now if we want to order it descendingly by SupplierId I would write in LINQ:
 var products = from p in Products  where p.CategoryId == 5  order by p.SupplierId descending  select p;
So not bad. But what if we want to sort by UnitPrice?
 var products = from p in Products  where p.CategoryId == 5  order by p.UnitPrice  select p;
How about sort by ProductName?
var products = from p in Products  where p.CategoryId == 5  order by p.ProductName  select p;
So if we want to have an option to make our product list sortable by ProductName or UnitPrice or Supplier, we would write something like this in our code:
var products;
switch (sortfield){
 case "ProductName":
  products = from p in Products
    where p.CategoryId == 5
    order by p.ProductName
    select p;
 case "UnitPrice":
  products = from p in Products
    where p.CategoryId == 5
    order by p.UnitPrice
    select p;
case "SupplierId":
  products = from p in Products
    where p.CategoryId == 5
    order by p.SupplierId
    select p;
Which is OK - but what if we have 10 sortable fields? It will be a super long code and very repetitive. So how can we solve this problem with proper refactoring while still using LINQ? This is where LINQ Dynamic Library saves the day!First of all, you need to download the library:
  • VB - under \LINQ Samples\DynamicQuery\ directory
  • C# - under \LINQ Samples\DynamicQuery\ directory
After the file is downloaded, include the Dynamic.cs (or vb) in your project. Now everytime you want to use dynamic linq, you will need to reference the namespace System.Linq.Dynamic in your code (or you can use a using statement - or Import in vb). Now using the dynamic library, the code above can be transformed into something like this:
var products = Products
   .Where(p => p.CategoryId == 5)
It is much more concise, clean, and configurable. So there you go, LINQ Dynamic Library - extremely useful!You can learn about LINQ hereScott Guthrie has an excellent post about LINQ Dynamic Library here
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