Archive for November, 2010

Saving Money on Our Heating Bills

It’s that time of year again where the temperatures are dropping and everyone is preparing for winter. Around this time two years ago we were rushing to get our house ready for our first winter in it. Having a large older home and living in a cold climate we knew the heating bills were going to be high. Before we bought our house we had asked the previous owner for utility bills but she just made up a bunch of excuses on why she couldn’t provide us with any. Instead I called the company that she was using for fuel oil and just about feel out of my chair when I heard how much she had spent the previous winter. In a period of eight months she had spent nearly $6,000 on fuel oil! She went through the whole 225 gallon tank nearly every month and had two fill ups in December and January.

Now most people would have not bought the house after seeing those kind of bills but we knew there were a lot of things we could do to reduce how much energy the house used. Plus we were completely in love with the location, land, and potential the house had. So we bought it anyway and spent the fall doing everything we could to reduce our heating bills that winter. We did 4 simple things that cut our fuel oil usage in half. Here they are:


1.) We re-insulated the attic. During our inspection we found out that there was only 5” of blown-in insulation in the attic and most of that had been tunneled through by mice living up there. The insulation looked like swiss cheese. According to my handy dandy ASHRAE Fundamentals Book that equates to an insulating value of R-11 (probably less because of the holes but we’ll ignore those) which is nowhere near the R-38 recommended for our area by ASHRAE 90.1. Because our house is a ranch style the attic insulation is even more important because we have a huge attic at 2140sf!
We could have just blown in more insulation over the top but that would have meant we would need to put up vent guards between every truss to keep the soffits clear. Additionally we don’t like how blow-in settles over time and needs to have more added to it to maintain the R-value. But the nail in the coffin was that we were planning to do a lot of renovating that would involve tearing into the ceiling. The thought of being able to roll up the insulation and move it temporarily was much more appealing than constantly being rained on with insulation. So we went with two layers of R-19 unfaced batt on top of our existing blown-in.

Even though our attic covers a large area it is very short so I voted Flannel Man be the one in the attic while I squeezed the bundles of insulation up through the attic access. The insulation expands to be twice the size of the packages so we wanted to open them in the attic even if it meant a lot of squeezing them go get them through the access hole.

Flannel Man started by clearing out all of the debris in the attic. Workers from the original construction had left everything from pop cans to material scraps. He also found a lot of mice skeletons and stashes of acorns so he cleaned out as many of those as he could. It seemed like the mice were no longer a problem because everything we found was very old but just in case he scattered some large chunk mouse poison on top of the existing insulation in the areas that were the worst. Next he started rolling out the batt in between the trusses making sure to keep plenty of air space along the soffit vents. The second layer he put perpendicular to the first to help cover any gaps.

We went from a measly R-11 to an R-49! And because we did it ourselves it only cost $1500.

And just for fun this is where I found Sophie after pushing insulation up the access hole.


2.) We put plastic on every window. We have 16 large, single pane windows in our house and most of them are 6’x4’ so there is a lot of glass! We love the view out of them and understand why the original owners had the house built with so many windows but they are a huge waste of energy. At least they have storm windows though even those are ill fitting. So we have vowed to religiously put up the dreaded plastic on every old window until we have them all replaced.

Because our windows are so big we have to buy the extra large sheets of plastic that are meant for 5 windows but they only cover two of our windows. The price can add up but even buying 8 boxes only cost us __. Over the years we’ve gotten really good at putting on the plastic so it’s virtually invisible. It’s all about making sure there are minimal creases in the plastic where it sticks to the tape; with our size windows it’s a two person job. We also put clear packaging tape on all of the sides to help hold the loose ends in place. When you have the plastic on for a long period of time the ends tend to come loose especially the areas over a vent. We don’t care about the current 70’s trim because we’re going to replace it but we’ve had very little finish come off with all of this tape on it. And we’ve found that 3M is by far our favorite window plastic.


3.) We replaced the patio door that was rotten open! Yes that’s right the previous owner was living with a door that was permanently open. Not only did it let a ton of energy out but it let a lot of critters in! The whole basement was filled with every bug imaginable and of course there were mice living in the basement. But the mice didn’t stop there no a slim gap wasn’t enough for them they had to go and chew a huge hole in the corner of the door to allow for easier access!

Now why was this door permanently open? Because the house didn’t have gutters and all the rain from the large roof would fall onto the exposed basement. The wooden patio door was so rotten along the bottom that it wouldn’t budge. But instead of doing anything about it the previous owner just left if like that for 2-3 years. The first thing we did when we moved in was fill all of those holes with Great Stuff. Then in the fall we replaced the door for a more permanent solution.

I know this one doesn’t apply to everyone but it’s a good reminder to check the seals on all of your doors and windows because even a small leak can cost you a lot on your heating bill.


4.) We turned down the thermostat. The previous owner was unemployed and had some health conditions so she spent all day at home with the heat cranked way up. The first time we toured the house in November it was a sweaty 78 degrees in there! The thermostat was also non-programmable but we decided not to replace it since we knew we were going to be replacing the furnace in the next year. Instead we just kept the temperature down to as low as we could stand it and wore warm clothes. We also used an electric oil space heater for supplemental heat if we were spending a lot of time in just one room. We like that style because you can turn it on for an hour or two until the oil is heated up then turn it off and it will still be putting out heat. Electric heat isn’t the most cost effective way to heat but heating only one room vs the whole house is.


So here are the numbers:
$5740 what the previous owner spent on fuel oil in one winter
1910 gallons of fuel oil the previous owner used
$3.00 the cost of one gallon of fuel oil

$2200 what we spent on fuel oil the following winter
980 gallons of fuel oil we used
$2.25 the cost of one gallon of fuel oil

$1200 the cost of the attic insulation
$1500 the cost of the new patio door
$60 the cost of all that window plastic
$200 the estimated cost of the additional electricity used by the space heater

So when everything was said and done we spent $3540 less on fuel oil and used 934 gallons less than the previous owner. All of the improvements paid for themselves in just one winter and we still had $580 left over in savings. That’s one heck of a return on investment!

What are you doing to prepare your house for winter?


The Walk-In Gun Safe Is Finished!

I know you have all been sitting on the edge of your seats for this reveal so here it is.

To recap here is how we built the walls and installed the door to the safe.

After finishing the walls and allowing for a few days to dry Flannel Man (FM) started fitting out the interior by painting all of the walls with DryLoc to help keep to room dry. For the ceiling he screwed 3 layers of fire rated cement board to the floor joists above. Initially he wanted to make the ceiling out of a solid sheet of steel but supporting it would have been a big issue. With only two cinder block walls to support it additional brackets would need to be attached to the interior walls and that would have meant less rifles could fit in there. The fire rated cement board was just cheaper, easier, and had a better fire rating.

Next he attached some treated ledger boards to the walls for each shelf and barrel rack. They were attached to the walls by drilling a pilot hole and using blue concrete screws. The shelves were made from scrap wood we had from some poorly built shelving units the previous owner had left us. The shelves were all sagging and warped but the end pieces we were able to save and reuse. Unfortunately, they had some paint on them because the previous owners were also very sloppy with paint and didn’t believe in taping things off or covering them. FM was able to sand most of the paint off. There were a few boards that had a lot of paint on one side and those he didn’t bother trying to sand off he just used them for the bottom shelf with the painted side down. No one will ever be looking the underside of a shelf 14″ from the floor! Here we’re determining the best layout for the different length boards we had:

Since the shelves and barrel racks aren’t adjustable we had to take an inventory on what rifles we had and what we might have in the future. Our highpower target rifles are very long, heavy (we put lead in the stocks to balance out the weight of the barrel), and wide whereas our service rifles are shorter and slimmer. We ended up putting the barrel racks at 3 different heights to accommodate everything. For the spacing between the barrel cutouts we have wider spacing on the back wall at 4.5″ on center and 4″ on center for the rest of the walls. Using that spacing I calculated that we could fit only 37 rifles in the room. Hearing that FM just about lost it since we already have 23! Over time you need to build new rifles to keep up with the competition, we’ll probably inherent some, and FM has a small collection of old military guns so we need room for expansion. So we decided to add shelving on the 4th wall next the door and create an extra deep shelf with a barrel rack on one wall that would allow us to add a second row of rifles in the future. If/when that happens we’ll have to build a small platform for the butts of the rifle to sit on so they aren’t touching the concrete. That brought us up to a grand total of 51 rifles!

For pistols and scopes we have a 12” tall shelf that runs around the whole room. FM plans to make some pistol racks and if he spaced them 3” apart we could fit over 60 pistols in there too but that will never happen. We only dapple in competitive pistol shooting so we don’t have many of them.

When the layout was finally figured out FM cut all the boards to their final size and notched out the barrel racks.

Next FM stained and polyurethaned all of the pieces. Why? Because when you have a walk-in gun safe everyone wants to see it so it needs to look nice! Trust me I know these things. We picked out a rich warm color that was dark enough to hide the green tone of the pressure treated wood. FM originally didn’t want to stain the pressure treated pieces because they were already on the wall but I quickly pointed out that they are most of what you see on the barrel racks. Once he stained them he agreed that I was right but he did have to touch up the white paint from the stain drips. To keep the barrels from getting scratched I picked up some blue felt and we glued them in each cutout with wood glue.

Now some people would stop there but FM had visions of accidentally hitting a rifle and having a domino effect so he rigged up a flipper for each barrel cutout. To make them he used some thin, rounded trim, a wooden peg, and a shoulder bolt. Shoulder bolts have threading on the end, a smooth diameter section, and then the shouldered head. They were a special order item to get the right size. Instead of trying to cut the notch and rounded end on 51 flippers by hand FM used what he knows best and brought them to work where he cut them out on a CNC machine. It resulted in a lot of splintered edges but they are all constantly the same size.

To finish them off FM sanded them every night as he watched TV then added a coat of polyurethane.

Onto humidity control. We had originally planned to use two dehumidifier rods that simply plug into an outlet but they didn’t work at all! At the first signs of rust we broke down and bought a small dehumidifier and a temperature/humidity sensor so we could tell if it was working. We didn’t want to have to worry about emptying the bucket so we drilled a small ¾” hole in the cinder block wall and ran a line to the nearest drain. Ideally, we would have made the bottom shelf on that side an inch taller so the dehumidifier would tuck under the shelving but we didn’t plan for that. It probably works better not being up against a wall anyway.


And here’s the finished room:

To the left of the door.

The back wall with our top competition rifles.

To the right of the door. Lots of room to expand!

To get the most out of every inch FM made angled pieces for the corners. With all the extra space they work great for rifles with scopes on them.

Notice the nice rounded detail on the corners and the extended shelf on the right with more barrel racks for future expansion.

The pistols just sitting on the shelf for now and the dehumidifier.

On this shelf is a completion rifle who’s stock is being re-painted.

So what do you think? Are you jealous? ; )

This is the story of two twenty something newlyweds who are learning to adjust to life in their first house, a 1973 fixer-upper.
DIY Savings