Do You Drive Differently Depending On Gas Prices?

It’s interesting to see the ‘flavor of the day’ when it comes to spending and saving money, and the tips that go along with that.

Most of us certainly remember the days a couple of years back when gas was $3 – $4 per gallon.  It seemed that every other personal finance ‘how to’ article was about the best ways to reduce your gas usage.

Now that gas prices are (for the most part) in the $2 – $3 per gallon range, it’s interesting to see how few of these articles actually populate the personal finance blogosphere.

I know that I still try to keep an eye on fuel efficiency, though I will admit that I’m not as regimented about it as I would be when the prices go up.

Still, I try to do things like:

  • keep my tires inflated
  • avoid jackrabbit starts and stops
  • anticipate red lights and coast accordingly

As I said, though, higher prices do definitely make you more aware of your driving habits.

Take, for example, a recent trip.  A few weeks ago, my wife and I were driving to ‘up north’ Michigan for our anniversary.  The total round trip was about 600 miles.

The vehicle we were taking gets around 20 MPG on the highway.  So, that worked out to about 30 gallons of fuel.  In the weeks leading up to the trip, the prices were around $2.65, which would cost roughly $79.50.

Two days or so before the trip, Murphy’s Law hit and some oil pipeline a few hundred miles away was shut down, and prices overnight went up 10% to about $2.95 per gallon.

I couldn’t believe our luck, and re-calculated our gas budget at $88.50, a $9 difference!

Because of the increase, though, I focused a little harder on driving efficiently.  By reducing our trip speed an average of 2-5MPH, we got 21 MPG.  Doing so caused us to use slightly less fuel (28.57 gallons based on the 600 mile round trip).  Although the cost (at $2.95 per gallon) was $84.28 and cost us more than the original budget at the lower prices, paying a little more attention still saved us a few bucks.

I’m all about keeping money in our pocket and out of the pockets of the oil companies, so even though it was ‘only’ $4, I was still happy to make a little change to save the few bucks.

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We Made It!

My goal each year is to avoid turning the furnace on until October 1st.  I don’t know why I came up with this goal, probably because it’s a nice easy date to remember and it usually is within a couple of weeks of the weather turning to require the heat to be turned on in the house.

As you can see, from the title of this post, we made it!

I’m pretty sure in most years past I haven’t made it, and there were a couple of days in the past two weeks that brought us close, but we stuck it out.

It will, however, not go too much further.  The temps are going to the low 40’s and even to the 30’s, so victory will be short lived.  Still, it’s pretty cool, I’d say.

Happy weekend!

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Reposting: Adventures In Insulating

Welcome!  I’ve been at this blog for slightly over two years, and I thought it might be time to re-visit what became my first ‘popular’ post.  When I wrote this back in September of 2008, I was getting just a few visitors per day (mostly my parents and family members that I was begging to come visit).  This was the first post I had that someone read that was submitted to StumbleUpon or Digg (can’t remember which) that got some attention, and got me a lot of traffic.  Since summer is coming to a close soon, it’s a good time to start planning a fall insulation project to save you money in the coming months, so thanks for reading this re-post of ‘Adventures in Insulating‘.

I’ve mentioned, a couple of times, adding insulation to your attic as a good way to save money in the long run. Along with my father-in-law, I added insulation to my attic this past spring. I’m hoping to realize the benefits of the extra insulation with the upcoming heating season, and of course many to follow.

I wanted to share my real-world experience. I think these are things to keep in mind, some of which I had thought of and some of which took us by surprise. Because most people use blown-in insulation, I’ll focus on this type for this post. Also know that this assumes you’re working in the attic, as this is where we did mine, and is the easiest place to add extra insulation.

  • Do it yourself – Adding insulation is a two person job, but one that isn’t too challenging as long as you can handle some grunt work. Chances are hiring someone to do this will double your costs, which would mean that it could take twice as long to realize the savings through your heating bills.
  • Understand the concept of R-value – The higher the R-value, the better level of insulation you have. Different products provide a different level of R-value, so this makes it easy to compare.
  • Know what you have – You’re adding insulation to what’s already there, so unless your house is over 50 years old, you should have some insulation in place. You can add the insulation right over the top of what you have. It doesn’t matter the type (fiberglass vs. cellulose) because you can mix and match with no problems. Your goal should be to get to at least R-50.
  • Know what you want – There are two types of insulation that you can blow in. Each has its pros and cons. The pink stuff is fiberglass. The gray stuff is cellulose. Fiberglass has a lower R-value per inch so you would need a deeper pile than you would of cellulose. It’s also a bit easier to work with and a little bit less messy (not much), but it is also very itchy and moves around easier. Celluose is a bit messier, but it is more compact, it settles in so there’s not as much in the air. It’s also made from recycled paper, so I would recommend that solely on the fact that it’s more eco-friendly.
  • Know how much you’ll need – Lowes has a pretty decent insulation calculator. Grab a tape measure to get some measurements of your workspace, and the store will give you a rough number of pounds that you’ll need. Use this once you get to the store to calculate how many bags you’ll need.
  • Get a free machine rental – Lowes and Home Depot will rent you the machine that you need. It will be free once you buy a certain number of bags (I think you need to buy at least 25 which is not a problem for most jobs).
  • Call in advance to ensure that they have a machine for rent – One thing to be very clear on is whether you’re blowing into an attic from the first floor or from a second floor. The power on the motors needs to be different. For the first store I went to, they had promised that machines were available, but when I got there and told them that I was working in a second-story access panel, I had to go to another store to get a different machine.
  • Stock up on essential supplies – When you’re at the store, make sure to get some work gloves, safety goggles as well as some masks to cover your face and nose. A lot of dust will be flying around, so you need to make sure to protect yourself. Earplugs aren’t a bad idea other for the person that will be working the machine.
  • Take extra insulation – We did ours through Home Depot, and the way it worked was pretty cool. They took my credit card for a deposit and counted the number of bags of insulation I took, but didn’t charge me until I got back. That was great because I could take extra without having to worry about going through the returns desk, and didn’t have to take the chance of running short.
  • Prepare the area – The machine will have a hose that you’ll need to run through the attic access panel. Try to have the hose in the least amount of space within the house as possible. If this involves running it through a window, then this will be the best way possible, trust me!
  • Get to work early – If you’re working in the attic, chances are that it’s going to warm up quickly. When we did the work, it was probably in the mid-60s outside, but it got hot in the attic quick! Beat the heat!
  • Plan to build up the area around the access panel – If you’re adding six to eight inches of insulation, you’ll need to raise up the area around your access panel, otherwise great amounts of it will spill out. The professional way is to buy some plywood, cut it to size, and build up the area. We didn’t quite make it to that level. We had some heavy-duty cardboard lying around that we cut and nailed into place. It should probably be replaced down the line, but it definitely got the job done, especially since it wasn’t something we thought of beforehand.
  • Know your jobs – The person up in the attic will be spraying the insulation in. They should get a good a feel for the hose, be familiar with how high of a pile they’re spraying (marking off a few spots on the rafters with a magic marker helps) and know how to signal to stop the person running the machine if necessary. The person running the machine will need to keep the insulation flowing into the machine at a steady pace, keep the are clean, be alert to any jams, and be able to sense when the person doing the spraying may need to stop.
  • Know your machine – We ran into problems with the hose jamming with insulation. Turns out we had the flue all the way open. Most machines have a setting at how much should be sent through the hose. We learned the hard way to start off at the lower end of the scale and work our way up. If you go too low, the insulation will come out in spurts. If you go too high, the machine will jam. Your ideal situation is that the machine is spraying steadily at a nice, even rate.
  • Prepare to be dirty – You’re going to get dirty. No way around it. The area around you will be dirty. No matter how many tarps you put down, how often you sweep up, it doesn’t matter. Afterwards, you’ll probably be tracking it into the house, so make sure you have the vacuum cleaner handy, because you’ll be using it often for the first few days following.
  • Congratulate yourself on a job well done – After you get everything done, the machine returned to the store, and your house put back to normal, pat yourself on the back because you are doing something that will pay dividends for years to come. As energy costs continue to rise, you’re going to save more and more.

As with any home improvement project, make sure to consult the professionals. By no means is this a comprehensive guide. The experts should be able to help you cover the basics, as well as make sure you know how to use the machine safely. The purpose of this post is to provide information that may slip through the cracks, and may end up making your day just a little easier.

Good luck and happy insulating!

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Small Gaps Can Mean Big Waste

Our bedroom has a vaulted ceiling.  It also sits on the second floor and catches a lot of afternoon sun.  So, it’s typically the hottest room in the house on warm, sunny days.

Even so, I was starting to get a little tired of exactly how hot it was getting and decided recently to get to the bottom of it.

I was noticing that the temperature in the room would rise much faster than in other areas in the house.  I expected that the things I outlined above would have an impact, but after spending some time watching the temperature fluctuations, I figured there was more to the story.  I started seeing the temperatures rising even before the sun hit it.  And, later in the day, I would see the temperatures stay warm even after the sun stopped hitting it direct.

I knew that I had some sort of leak or problem somewhere and was determined to fix it.

This past Christmas, I asked for and received a Black & Decker TLD100 Thermal Leak Detector.  This is a really nifty tool that will read the temperature of surfaces. It works really easy.  You turn it on and point to a spot that sets your baseline.  It will read out the temperature and shine a green light on the surface.  Move it around to where you think you have possible leaks, and it will both update the digital readout, as well as change the color of the light that shines to blue or red, indicating a temperature chane from your ‘baseline’ reading.

I’d used this over the winter to find a leak around the seal for the front door.  I suspected a leak, and when the light changed to blue, sure enough I found it.

This time, since I was looking for abnormally warmer temperatures, this time I was looking for the red spot.

I set the baseline on a wall, and began moving around.  I suspected the warmth was coming from a window, so I trained it all around the bay windows and window box.  While it was a little bit warmer, it didn’t seem to be any more so than usual.  I started going around the walls and up on the ceiling when, voosh, it turned red at the peak of the ceiling.

But, not all the way along the peak, just around the ceiling fan.

Upon closer inspection, I found the problem.  The fan is installed at the peak of the cathedral ceiling.  In order to create a flat surface to mount it, the builders installed a box that the fan hangs from (the box is attached to the rafters).  When I looked, there was a small gap between the top of the fan cover and the box.  Because the mount attaches directly to the rafters, I surmised that the leak was coming in from the attic.

So, the gap was allowing air to come in from the attic, and since we run the fan almost constantly, it was having an even greater effect by drawing air directly from the attic.

The temperature readout was about 12 degrees different in the area immediately surrounding the fan.

I had found my leak!

To seal it, I grabbed a little bit of insulation and stuffed it into the gap.  It’s not noticeable when you look up, but it has sealed that area.  After I did that, I waited a couple of hours and took some new readings.

Sure enough, the temperature around the fan was normal (the light stayed green) and the room no longer heats up like it did.  It still is a little bit warmer than other rooms, but it’s what I would expect.

The part that kills me is that this has probably been like this for the eleven years or so that the house has been standing.  We’ve lived here three years, so I’m just as guilty of assuming that the status quo is OK.  In this case, it was probably about eleven cents worth of insulation that will save a lot of money in heating and cooling costs over the coming years.

If you suspect leaks in your house, this tool will most certainly pay for itself very quickly.  I’d highly recommend it.  Check it out here.

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